lavendersparkle: (Sh!)
Every so often, usually in a discussion of sex education or sexual health services for teenagers, I hear someone come out with something like "Abstinence isn't always feasible" or "we need to be realistic: not everyone can control their underwear". Obviously, the fact that some teenagers will be involved in sexual acts which they have no control over is trivially true because some teenagers get raped, but I don't think that that is what people are referring to when they say these things. Usually these kinds of views are expressed by Good American Liberals as part of an explanation of why abstinence only education doesn't work. I wonder where this idea comes from. I've never felt that I didn't have control over my sexual behaviour. Maybe in retrospect I'll think "Knowing what I know now that wasn't the best thing to do", but I think I've always done what I felt was the best thing to do in the situation at the time. I guess it comes from a hideous compromise. We know that most teenagers have sex, even if you hand out tacky jewellery in return for them promising not to. However, in the popular consciousness teenage sex is still viewed as a Problem. So people say "Obviously I don't approve of teenagers having sex but it's going to happen no matter what we do we better give them condoms." These conversations seem to treat teenage sex like a unpreventable natural disaster.

I think that there are three things which people don't want to acknowledge when they claim that teenagers can't control their sexual behaviour.

1) Some teenagers engage in sexual acts because they enjoy them and the benefits of them outweigh the risks of them in their judgement. Sometimes it's easier all around to frame teenagers as helpless victims of their libidos than people who just don't want to do what you want them to do. I think people also like avoiding this idea because if teenagers are in some way rational rather than automatons driven entirely by lust, then you'd have to admit that, yes, providing access to contraceptives may tip the balance for some teenagers from not having sex into having sex or from engaging only in less risky sexual acts into coitus. That behavioural switch is going to be hugely outweighed by the decrease in sexual infections and unplanned pregnancies, but if you care more about whether teens have sex than the consequences, it does make sense to keep them away from condoms.

2) Some teenagers are engaging in unfulfilling and/or unwise sexual behaviour because they live in a culture which tells them that to be happy/successful/of any value as a human being you have to be rubbing your genitals against someone else's. However, I'm not holding my breath for the day that people realise that if you don't want teens to fuck each other, maybe not raising them diet of films in which the female characters' happy ending is to be sexy and submissive enough to get a man's attention would be more effective than not letting them buy the morning after pill.

3) Some teenagers are raped. Often by other teens. In fact, several studies have found that abuse, including sexual abuse, is more common in teenage relationships than in older age groups.

Point 3 brings me around to why I really hate people claiming that teenagers have no control of their sexual behaviour: it contributes to rape culture. If you spread the idea that people can't control their sexual behaviour, it promotes the idea that maybe it wasn't the perpetrator's fault that he raped someone. And if it wasn't his fault maybe it was his victim's because she excited his uncontrollable lusts. Our society is already more than willing to find any excuse to excuse poor ickle rapists and blame their victims. Let's not add to it. Teenagers have sex because they want to or because they are coerced or forced by someone else who wants to. They don't trip and end up with their genitals inside each other.
lavendersparkle: (Candles)
This post is a muddle of Christian and Jewish ideas about forgiveness because my life is a muddle of Judaism and Christianity and the experiences I'm particularly drawing upon involve Christians I know.

We are now in the month of Elul, the month when the Shechinah is said to be most accessible, the season of introspection, repentance and renewal which began in the darkness of the fast of Tisha B'Av and crescendos in the Days of Awe and the transcendent fast of Yom Kippur. My thoughts naturally turn to repentance and forgiveness, but as I mull over the events of the last year I can't help but think about the ways that the principle of forgiveness can be misused in ways which are incredibly harmful.

In my pootling around the internet I found a report on domestic violence presented to Methodist conference in 2002. I think that many people might be surprised by what aspects of Christian theology cause problems for victims of domestic violence. The report, as one might expect, found that Methodists tend to stay in abusive marriages longer because marriage is regarded as a lifelong commitment. A more unexpected and more troubling problem comes from a different theological source:
"Christian forgiveness was mostly seen to mean continuing to welcome an abuser as a member of the Church while an ex partner was excluded from Church attendance by fear."

This was very much the experience of my friend Ellie, and part of the reason for why she no longer feels comfortable worshipping Methodist churches (although her situation was complicated by the fact that her abusive ex-husband is the son of a senior Methodist minister, the Revd Peter Pillinger who is the District Chair for the Plymouth and Exeter District). Some members of her congregation would admit that the thought it was wrong that her husband beat her, but they refused to 'take sides'. They thought that it was wrong of her to get the police involved and, oddly enough, the forgiveness which poured out for her abuser was not forthcoming for her 'sin' of securing her protection.

I think that the difficulty is that humans have a tendency to distort religion to suit their own prejudices, whether that be an Orthodox Jew assaulting a woman for performing rituals which are halachically permitted or a liberal priest justifying sexually harassing a congregant on the grounds that G@d is very nice and only nasty bigots disapprove of his sexual behaviour. Generally people don't want to have to confront the reality of domestic violence within their community and so some Christians use doctrines of forgiveness to avoid confronting domestic violence, in ways which hurt victims within their communities. It's difficult to address but let's begin with talking about what forgiveness is and isn't.

Forgiveness is not saying that what the person did was OK.
Forgiveness is the opposite of that. There is no need to forgive actions which were not sins. Forgiveness requires confronting an action head on, in all it's horror, acknowledging that justice would require that this action resulted in punishment, and still forgiving.

Forgiveness is not saying that what a person did was justifiable or excusable.
Forgiveness should be available at all levels of culpability and so unless someone was completely not culpable, and therefore not in need of forgiveness because they were not to blame for what happened, excuses are not relavent.

Forgiveness does not mean putting the interests of the perpetrator above the needs of the victim.
Loving people equally, despite their sins, does not mean treating them all the same. People have different needs and sometimes those needs conflict and when they do you need to come to a solution which causes the least harm. Generally it is more harmful for a victim to be excluded from her community because they refuse to rebuke her abuser or take her suffering seriously, than for an abuser to be excluded for the safety of his victim.

Allowing an abuser to continue to abuse is not loving to the victim or the perpetrator.
Care must be taken to not make a situation worse and to respect the autonomy of the victim, but as a general principle, if it takes exclusion from his community, restraining orders, convictions or prison time for an abuser to stop abusing his victim, then that is better for the abuser as well as the victim. The abuser will one day have to confront his sins, in this world or the next. Better for him to have been stopped before his sins grew further.

Repentance is not just words.
Many abusers love to say sorry. They'll beat the shit out of their wife and then show up the next day with flowers and tears begging to be forgiven and promising they'll never do it again. How could a Christian wife refuse just because that's what he did the last x many times before when "love keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Corinthians 13:5) and she should forgive her brother "seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:22)? Repentance is not just saying that you're sorry, it also resolving to not to sin again. Someone who is genuinely repentant should be willing to give their victim some space, seek treatment for any issues contributing to their abusiveness and allow their victim to be open about what she has experienced. Someone in a position of power should be willing to renounce it for the sake of their flock.

I think this long post was better summarised by Isaiah 1:16-20:
Wash yourself clean;
Put your evil doings away from my sight.
Cease to do evil;
Learn to do good.
Devote yourself to justice;
Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.

Come let us reach an understanding,
says the L@rd.
"Be your sins like crimson,
They can turn snow-white;
Be they red as dyed wool,
They can become like fleece."
If, then, you agree and give heed,
You will eat the good things of the earth;
But if you refuse and disobey,
You will be devoured by the sword.
For it was the L@rd who spoke.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
A while ago a friend of mine, who is sort of patrilineal, possibly matrilineal and either way planning to convert, asked whether I ever thought that being a Jewish convert was oddly like being transsexual. There's the feeling that ones internal identity doesn't match the way one was originally perceived; trying to convince big important gate keepers of the validity ones identity; holding oneself to behavioural standards far beyond those of people who had your identity from birth; trying to 'pass'; getting into pointless counter productive hierarchies over who's a 'better' Jew/woman/man based on (among other things): being a bit Jewish to begin with (based on ancestry), who was a bit male/female to begin with (based on hormone levels/physical characteristics), who's frummer, who's more feminine/masculine, who was younger when they made the decision; and finally, for some, there's the genital surgery.

Another way in which they're similar is in the importance of accepting and respecting people's identities and the labels they use for themselves. Every so often you get someone in a queer/progressive/feminist circle declare that gender is just imaginary and doesn't really exist and ze is going to only use gender neutral language from now on and anyone who thinks they're a particular gender is just a schmuck to patriarchy and actually reinforcing it through their actions. This tends to be responded to by a transsexual pointing out that she wouldn't have gone through all of the cost and pain and hassle and side effects and loss of cis-privileged of transitioning if gender didn't fucking matter.

Sometimes, in discussions of religious matters, I feel like the pissed off transsexual woman. Sometimes during cuddly, cotton candy, 'we're all the same really' interfaith dialogue I feel like screaming "No, no actually. We're not all the same. I wouldn't have gone through the expense, hassle and exposure to antisemitism of becoming Jewish if all religions were the same really and it didn't really matter. It matters a fuck load to me."*

Things get a bit more complicated because there are some people who are genderqueer/intersex/don't really care about gender, who have been really hurt by a binary system of gender. They need to advance a concept of gender which is more fluid and muddy and liminal. Similarly, there are people who come from interfaith families or have an interfaith religious identities who find the binary of Jew/non-Jew limiting and advance a more fluid concept of Jewish identity and claim for themselves identities such as interfaith/multifaith and half-Jew.

Ideally, this shouldn't cause problems. The fact that one person is genderqueer doesn't mean that another person isn't a woman, even if she wasn't identified as female when she was born. Just because one person is interfaith doesn't mean that another person isn't a Jew, even if she was born to gentile parents. The problem comes when that in our attempts to assert our own contested identities we can over step a mark and start denying each others identities. A Jew with a non-Jewish father might assert "You're either Jewish or you're not Jewish and I'm as Jewish as fucking Tevyeh". People campaigning for acceptance of interfaith and half-Jewish identities may sometimes claim people as the one of theirs regardless of how those people identifies themselves. I'm sure you can imagine equivalents for gender. It's further complicated because, simple as it should be to understand that people with similar backgrounds often have different identities, inevitably we're going to get labelled with each other's labels, even if we don't do it ourselves. That doesn't stop being mislabelled smarting. And of course there's the age old problem that we're all arguing over the scraps from the master's table and it's really tempting to try to get up the ladder by treading on each other's heads.

I don't really have a solution other than to appeal to us all being a little bit more careful and considerate with each other. I'm not perfect in this because my approach to Judaism is really binary and I struggle to fit half-Jews into it. I'm just saying that I'm not interfaith or multifaith or half-Jewish or Jewish identified or both, and I'm going to get pissed off if you call me those things. I'm a Jew and I'm a convert. I'm a Jew-by-choice but I'm going to get pissed off if you use that term and then go on to refer to Jews-by-birth as just 'Jews'. Now to the deliberate mistake in the title. Lots of women who are perfectly open about being transsexual get pissed off by the term transwoman because almost everyone who uses it doesn't use the term ciswoman when referring to women who aren't transsexual. If your fluid concepts of identity are contesting the identities of people whose identities are already marginalised and contested, more than people whose identities are reinforced by existing power structures, you're probably making a mistake somewhere along the line.

*There's a whole n'other issue about the way that so much interfaith dialogue relies upon ignoring differences between religions. Ignoring the ways in which I differ from you is no more accepting than ignoring the ways in which we're similar.
lavendersparkle: (Good little housewife)
Last weekend I ended up mooching about in an Early Learning Centre. A friend was having her hair done and I decided to pootle about the shopping centre rather than sit and watch. I headed for the ELC for a number of reasons. One is that I am a creepy crazy broody lady. I more respectable reason was that several blogs I read, which combine my love of babies and grumbling about the patriarchy, had talked about how children's toys are becoming increasingly gendered and girl's toys are becoming increasingly sexualised and promoting the idea that women's primary roles in life are to shop and be pretty.

Surely not the ELC, I thought. I remembered it from my own childhood. A haven of sensible educational toys, usually with a big wooden train set in the middle you could play with whilst in the shop. I remember the adverts they used to run featuring a Barbie and an action man trying to break into the shop because they weren't the sort of things ELC would stock. I walked through the door into a world of pink and blue. Again and again I saw the same toy in two versions: one pink (and possibly green) and one blue (and possibly red). Separate pink and blue vacuums. Separate pink and blue toy cash registers. Separate pink and blue paddling pools. No other colour options; just pink or blue. The boxes helpfully tell us who the toys are meant for. The blue toys have pictures of boys playing with them on their boxes and the pink toys have pictures of girls on the box playing with them. I spotted one girl on the box of a boy toy, but no boys on the boxes for pink toys because you wouldn't want them to catch teh GAYZ! The item which really took the biscuit: gendered stacking cups. Heaven forfend that a six month old might because confused about their gender identity by stacking and blue cup (if a girl) or even worse and pink one (if a boy). Stacking cups! For fuck's sake!

I wonder about whether it's a cunning way to get parents to buy even more stuff. With three older brothers, I played with a lot of Lego* and star wars toys as a child. I had some 'girl's' toys: some dolls, some My Little Ponies**, a dolls house. However I also had a lot of hand-me-downs. Maybe ELCs cunning plan is to get parents to buy completely new versions of everything if their second child appears to be a different sex to their first.

Anyway, here are four toys I would like to get if (G@d willing) we have children, regardless of their gender assignment at birth:
Non-gendered stacking cups
Sophie the Giraffe. Sophie's made of natural rubber and painted with non-toxic paint. She's designed to be grabbed and chewed by babies and squeeks.
Uncle Goose Aleph-bet blocks. I'd like to be an anti-consumerist parent but I think my weakness will be Jewish/Hebrew toys. I guess I can justify them as I'd be growing up outside of a large Jewish community. Uncle Goose make blocks in lots of different alphabets, as well as ones with presidents and insects on. They're made in the US from farmed wood and child-friendly non-toxic inks.
Kathe Kruse Ikibar Dragon. He's made of 100% organic cotton and is machine washable. He also rattles. I like the idea of a cuddly dragon because I'd like a Puff the Kosher Dragon themed nursery, with a big mural of Puff's bar mitzvah in the middle, filled with mythical animals wearing kippot and tallits (yes, I am trying too hard at this Jewish thing).

*And not the special girls' Lego.
**However, my My Little Ponies were roughly pony shaped unlike the deformed anorexic horse whore shaped ones they sell today.
lavendersparkle: (Labservative)
Lots of people on my Facebook feed are complaining about Theresa May being made minister for women and equality. Part of this complaint seems quite valid, in that she voted against gay rights legislation in the past. I think part of this problem stems from the fact that women, queers, talking animals etc. are all lumped into one portfolio. As there are more openly women people than there are openly gay people, it would not be politic to fill the role with a gay man. This means that the Conservatives were stuck trying to find a woman they were willing to give another cabinet position to to fill the role. If you restrict that to someone who has a good record on LGBT rights you've got pretty slim pickings. According to a quick skim of The Public Whip, the only female Conservative MPs with vaguely good records on gay rights votes are Theresa Villiers and Eleanor Laing.

The thing which is annoying me, however, is that one of the things being held against Theresa May as Equalities Minister is that she voted to reduce the gestational age at which abortions could be performed upon foetuses who are not disabled and do not pose a serious risk to their mother's health, to 22 weeks. This annoys me for several reasons.

Firstly, abortion has nothing to do with the equalities minister. Changes in the legality of abortion are always free votes and the everyday administration to do with the availability of abortion is the responsibility of the minister for health. So her views on abortion in themselves have nothing to do with how she will execute her role as equalities minister.

Secondly, a couple of people seem to be completely conflating LGBT issues with abortion, which is odd because I'd image queer people tend to have a below average demand for abortions. There seems to be an assumption that if you're in favour of gay rights you must be in favour of liberal laws do with abortion. Same sex marriage is legally recognising the union between to people for purposes of immigration, financial claims, tax status, next of kin rights etc. Abortion is killing humans. Not that similar. There are lots of queer anti-abortion people and we get pissed off when people lump it all together.

Thirdly, voting for the gestational age at which abortions could be performed upon foetuses who are not disabled and do not pose a serious risk to their mother's health, to 22 weeks. Doesn't strike me as that great a shibboleth of someone's feminist credentials. Even if the vote had passed and the limit been lowered to 22 weeks, the UK would have been almost the only country in Europe where it is legal to kill a foetus at 22 weeks on purely social grounds. What is going on in the world when we declare a politician unfit to represent women because she wanted to lower the abortion limit so that it would be only 4 rather than 6 weeks later than it currently is in Sweden?
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
A week or so ago I heard a scientist on the radio talking about scepticism about climate change. I'm not sure what the correct term is to use to describe people who don't think that man-made emissions are causing changes in the climate. "Climate change deniers" has connotations to to holocaust deniers and is therefore seen as incendiary and generally I'm not in favour with comparing things to the Shoah willy nilly. "Climate change sceptic" doesn't necessarily fit the bill either. 'Sceptic' is coming to have the meaning of a polite term for 'denier'. Sceptics don't take people's word for it but then put the effort into investigating the issue and trying to come to their own conclusion based upon the available evidence. I think that possibly part of the issue is that all of the people who get lumped together because they claim that there isn't man-made climate change are actually quite different creatures. There are genuine climate change deniers, the David Irvings of climatology. They think that man-made climate change is happening but have a financial/political/social interest in convincing everyone else that it isn't. There are also the genuine sceptics, people who having carefully examined all of the evidence truly believe that a different hypothesis fits the data better. You'd expect this to be the case, no science is an exact science after all. However, most people who say that they do not think that man-made emissions are causing climate change are neither Machiavellian fiends nor maverick scientists, but ordinary Joes who aren't really convinced by what they've heard about climate change but are unwilling to investigate further.

I can't look down on these people for not looking into it in too much detail. There is a lot of stuff in the world to know about and only a horrifically small number of years before all of that knowledge you've accumulated rots away. It makes a lot of sense to defer to experts because otherwise life would be unworkable. Every morning one would be frozen with indecision about whether the water was safe to drink or the building about to collapse. It makes much more sense to for groups of people to find out whether water is safe to drink or buildings are structurally sound and then tell the rest of us. These experts certainly aren't infallible and do have their own agendas, but if you're going to disregard something that they've said you should probably have a good reason to.

I don't think that most people have a good reason to disbelieve climate change scientists, at least not a good epistemic reason. I think a lot of people don't believe in man-made climate change because they don't want it to be true. Humans aren't very good with probability and weighing up evidence and I think that something which comes crashing into people's estimates of what's going to happen in uncertain situations is what they want to be true. I think most of us are natural optimists and when faced with the possibility that we may have to radically alter our lifestyles and economies and the polar bears are still going to become extinct, we naturally think that other possibility is probably true and it's all going to be OK.

This is where the parallel with victim blaming comes in. Statistically, if the CPS bothers to prosecute you for rape or domestic violence, you're probably guilty. Even if you're acquitted, you probably still did it and a lot more besides, but they just couldn't pin it onto you beyond reasonable doubt. Why then, when a woman goes to the police about her violent husband, do so many of their mutual "friends" not believe her? I think a lot of it has to do with the optimism bias. A world in which a few women lie about their husbands' treatment of them would be a lot nicer than the one we currently have where a startlingly high proportion of normal looking men are horrifically violent toward their 'loved ones'. Similarly, a world in which a few changes in one's dress and behaviour could make you immune from sexual violence would be a lot nicer than the one we have, where sexual violence in endemic regardless of how long your skirt is. So otherwise nice rational people decide that she must be lying or it was her fault because they don't want to live in a world where they might be next.

The problem is that, outside of Never Never Land, believing in something doesn't make it true. Climate change won't go away if we all ignore it, it will only come faster and more extremely. Not believing victims just makes them more isolated and harmed and leads to more victims as the perpetrators are able to carry on with impunity.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
People often talk about criminals' and defendants' rights and victims rights as being in opposition. Actually, I think that are a lot of things which could make things better for both victims and defendants or make things better for one without being to the detriment of the other.

I get the impression that the courts are overloaded. This leads to long waits before things come to trial and that's bad for almost everyone. Firstly, memories get muddied over time so the chances of getting the correct verdict is decreased. The victim has the case hanging over her for month, during which time she can't really get closure and move on. The defendant also has the case hanging over him and bail restrictions. The only people who benefit from the delay are criminals who hope to scarper or harass witnesses into not testifying and sadistic bastards who want to use the court to string out the suffering of their victims. I don't think that we should be running a justice system for their benefit.

Even of we have to manage with overloaded courts, they could at least communicate better with the people involved in cases. Expecting a victim of a serious crime to just call up the court listings everyday to find out if her attacker's case is going to start the next day does not seem reasonable. Not bothering to tell her that it definitely won't start for a couple of days because the defence barrister is busy with another case, also not good.

I think a lot of victims of crime, rather than wanting longer sentences, just want their lives not to be even further fucked over by the trial process and not be treated as an inconvenient peripheral figure in the trial of their attacker.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
I often realise that I'm marching to the beat of a drum no-one else can hear, or at least doesn't like the sound of. One of these moments was when listening to commentary on Conservative Party plans to give transferable tax allowances to married (and I think civilly partnered) couples.

Lots of people have referred to it as bribing people to get married, with ripostes of "If I marry it will be for love, not tax efficiency". The conversation is about whether marriage is a good enough thing for it to be worth bribing people to join it or whether it's fair to people who aren't married. I think my approach is quite different. In my mind I have always separated out civil marriage/civil partnerships from religious/cultural/emotional marriage. Maybe it's because I spent my teen years dreaming of marrying a girl before that would have been recognised by the state. In the end I religiously and legally married on the same day. Marriage is complex institution with lots of cultural and religious significance, but stripped down, civil marriage is basically a way of getting the state to recognise a raft of rights and entanglements between two people: immigration, medical consent, claims on each other's property and, indeed, already tax exemptions. In this discussion I haven't heard anyone claim that inheritance tax exemptions are unfair bribes for people to marry. Whilst they were all also in love, I know several people who married to obtain these legal rights. Two people very happily lived with each other for over a decade with no urge to marry until one of them was offered a job abroad and a marriage was the easiest way to obtain a visa for the other. Another two friends went to a register office and signed the paperwork with two witnesses to secure their legal marriage. The £100 it costs to secure a civil marriage is much cheaper than the cost of writing wills, medical directives and financial arrangements with a solicitor.

So adding another way to the ways in which the legal and tax system recognise civil marriage/partnerships does not seem to me to be a great break from previous form. The question should rather be whether it is desirable. The people who would benefit from a transferable tax exemption would be couples where one earns less than their tax allowance and one earns more. The most obvious example of this are couples where one partner does not work to care for children, other examples would be couples where one partner is in full-time education, or unemployed. One argument that I can see against transferable tax allowances would be that it would encourage couples to specialise with one working doing the paid employment and one doing the unpaid work. Some people feel very firmly that all parents should engage in equal amounts of paid employment and housework, and having non-transferable tax allowances encourages this. I don't think that all couples should share all work equally. Lots of people have good reason to want one partner to do more of the paid work: one partner can earn more, one partner enjoys domestic work more or one partner enjoys their career more. In my own marriage we tend to see-saw a bit in terms of who brings in the money, mainly dependent upon who's had a lucky break and who's doing something low paid for the sake of their future career. To me the question is about whether to add the ability to share tax allowances to the things which can be obtained through signing some paperwork at a register office, not about bribing people to marry or punishing the unmarried.

In my ideal world the tax system would involve a citizen's income rather than a tax allowance and these questions would be irrelevant. In the mean time I'm not really sure what I think of the idea of transferable tax allowances. It would probably benefit me, but then I'm not in the greatest need. I'd much prefer to see transferable parental leave, but I don't see why we couldn't possibly have both.

Edit: Someone posted a link to this article on Facebook and I wrote a reply.

I'm not convinced of the merits of transferable tax allowances, but some of those arguments are stupid.

Independence: if you think that you currently maintain financial independence in marriage, try getting divorced and seeing how dangerously deluded you are over that issue. Even if you don't have children each partner can make a claim on the assets amassed over the course of the marriage, regardless of who earned the money to pay for them.

More insulting than a tax allowance is the suggestion that non-earning partners aren't part of the labour force. Most estimates find that stay at home parents actually do more work than their earning partners. Does Chris Giles think that children raise themselves whilst their mothers paint their nails?

Also more insulting than a tax allowance is the implication that civil partnerships between same-sex partners are second best to civil marriages between different sex partners, which is suggested by the claim that once you let gays have transferable tax allowances, of course you should extend them to everyone else. Heaven forbid two heterosexuals shacking up together weren't given all of the benefits awarded to two people of the same sex who've made a legally binding commitment to each other.

I'd also contest this preciousness about people's motivations for marriage. I'm only 26 but I've attended two weddings which were heavily motivated by immigration considerations. I've also seen two people marry to secure the other legal protections of civil marriage. I'm sure there are other cohabiting couples who don't have a strong religious or cultural motivation to legally marry but would if there were transferable tax allowances and one of them was planning to take a break from paid employment. Marriages in this situation protect the non-earning partner who would have a greater claim upon the others income if the relationship ended.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
I've been thinking about this for a while. To be honest, I don't know if it's a serious suggestion or a bizarre satire.

I think I took things a bit too much to heart as a child when they taught us about sharing. I'm so lucky to have everything I have and I get the urge to share it with people who weren't so lucky. An example of this is that I get the urge to share my husband. I'm so lucky to have him and he's so wonderful that whenever I hear of female friends having difficulty finding a nice male partner I get the urge to say "Look, I found a great one. We could share." Now this is a non-starter because Alec has a say in things and he is deeply monogamous by nature and took the message from Big Love that three wives means three times the nagging and more than three times the arguments. He also claims that if I talk about this to much with female friends they'll start avoiding me.

From a less personal point of view, I notice that there seem to be more good single women than good single men. When I think of my friends, there are lots of women who I can't understand still being single because they seem like such perfect girlfriend/wife material but not so much so with my male friends. I'm starting to think that there just aren't enough good men to go around.

From a more political perspective, I think polygamy could be like political lesbianism lite. I can see the logic of feminist separatism on statistical level. Women with male partners are more likely to be abused by their partners and their children are more likely to be abused by their partners because men are much more likely statistically to be abusive toward their family than women. Sometimes I get infuriated by the way feminism is always having to make itself palatable to men and sometimes I think that logically we should just up and off and set things up without them. On the other hand, I like some men and I don't want men who act kingly and righteously to be excluded from this utopia. I'm also aware that for some women, all the feminist theory in the world isn't going to stop them liking cock.

I think political polygamy could bring some of the advantages of political lesbianism. Women might be safer in polygamous marriages because they are sharing their partners and their living spaces with other women who could be more likely to see and act to protect each other and their children from abuse. They could also help to screen potential husbands for each other. Women could see how a man acted with his current partners to see whether he had abusive tendencies which only came out when he was living with a partner. So one side of the benefit can be summarised as women who share husbands would be able to protect each other.

The other side of it is that if you practise polygamy you don't have to have as many married men as in polygamous society. You can skim off the least sexist/abusive x% of men to have relationships with women and not have to expose women to the rest of them. Furthermore, the very real risk that if they don't sort themselves out they'll not be able to get a female partner, could force men to stop thinking that they're G@d's gift just because they have a Y chromosome. If a man doesn't want to do his share of the housework, he knows that his girlfriend could leave him for a man whose wives will confirm that he does. I suppose it's a similar argument to those saying that popular schools should be able to expand their intake. Good husbands will have more wives and all men will have to be better husbands if they want to have a wife.

Like I said, I'm not sure if this is a serious suggestion or a parody. Just some thinking out of the box.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
Today is Tu B'Av, but I feel more like it is Tisha B'Av. I spent several hours of it talking over the phone to a friend whose husband has just been charged with multiple violent attacks against her. She is now facing going through a Crown Court case against him because he refuses to plead guilty, despite his solicitors advice, and the severity of the charges are too much to be tried by a magistrate. At least now she should be safer as his bail conditions prohibit him from entering the city she lives in and the police have installed a panic button in her house.

I want to curl up and weep for her; for her pain; for the injustice she faces; for the abuse from her husband's family, who tried to silence her by accusing her and slandering her in her religious community; for the baby she lost when he threw her down the stairs.

Patriarchy is the galut of all women.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
Or rather, upon closer inspection of her wikipedia page, she's a militant secularist attempting to restrict other women's freedom of expression whilst styling herself as a "human rights' advocate.

She was on Womens' Hour today actually advocating the criminalisation of wearing a burqa in England. I am actually almost shaking with anger at such brutish intolerance to attempt to turn the potentially violent force of an institutionally racist and sexist police and criminal justice system upon women who refuse to show enough flesh for the majority's liking. Let's explore some of the arguments used to justify such a move.

1) Immigrants should conform to our ways.
This argument always fits a weird paradox in Western Europe. Among the many vague values which get mentioned when you ask people what they like about the values of their country are often tolerance, freedom and (particularly in England) room for eccentrics. What could be more British than letting someone wander around wearing a tent with eye holes if they want? What could be less British than banning certain items of clothing? We're a nation who developed a police turban. I don't want us to lose that. I also have a sympathy for the women who must exist who want to wear a burqa and aren't immigrants. Should we drive our daughters into exile if they want to dress in ways we don't approve of?

2) People shouldn't have to see religious clothing.
I really don't understand the delicate little flowers who are likely to faint at the sight of a burqa. It's not that scary. Every day I walk past lots of churches. I occasionally see the odd monk or nun. I frequently see clergy wearing dog collars. Despite this constant onslaught I manage to both survive and remain non-Christian. If seeing a burqa is all it takes to magically achieve your reversion to Islam, maybe you should be a Muslim.

3) It's a security risk.
I think these sorts of issues should be dealt with empirically. When we worried about Sihks carrying their kirpans in public we looked into it and found that kirpans had almost never been used to commit crimes. How many crimes have been perpetrated by women wearing a niqab or burqa in the UK? I hesitate to say that because it will incentivise members of the BNP and the National Secularist Society to wear burqas to commit crimes just to prove a point. If one needs to identify a woman a female attendant can ask to to step to a secluded place to see her face. Airports should have female attendants anyway to frisk and search female passengers. Face recognition technology is currently piss poor at identifying people.

4) Now we've gotten past that lets get to the one people who think that they're liberal like to trot out. Women aren't wearing burqas voluntarily, they're being forced by their fathers and husbands who are also abusing them and restricting their freedom.
We could get into a very long conversation and coercion, consent and embedded decision making, but unless we're also going to put on the table wearing make up, heterosexual sex and full time working hours let's pretend that these concepts are as simple as most people pretend they are. Some women freely choose to wear a burqa or niqab. I know this to be true. I do not know what proportion of British women who wear burqas do so because they want to. Let's assume, for the sake of argument that the majority are being forced, what would criminalising burqa wearing achieve? At best you now have abused, controlled an threatened women, but now you can see their faces. You still can't tell whether they're being abused and you're still not doing much to stop them being abused, but you've made them look like everyone else so you don't have to think about it.* Men aren't going to magically stop abusing their wives and daughters. Their faces being seen in public doesn't stop non-Muslim men abusing their wives. At worst what you've got is abused and controlled women who are allowed out of the house less. You've got abused controlled women who are at risk of prosecution. You've got abused controlled women who have much less ability to escape their situation and access services to help and protect them. Not an improvement.

I cover my hair for religious reasons. No one forced me. My husband is neutral about it. My family finds it odd but tolerates it. My religious community see it as an eccentricity. I was born in England. I can beat almost anyone in a "whose ancestors have been here longest" contest. However, because I refuse to let men other than my husband see my hair:
I am excluded from serving as a judge in Denmark.
I would not be allowed to work for a French state school or hospital and would not be allowed to attend a French state school.
I would not be allowed to be a teacher in 8 out of 16 German states (even though nuns are allowed to teach wearing habits).
These are abuses of women's human rights.

If that's all made you too angry and depressed, here's a great treatment of the issue which might inject some sense into the people who think legislating over what women wear is a great way to liberate them.

*And before people chime in that you'll be able to see the bruises if they're not wearing a burqa, I know a woman who dresses conventionally and was beaten by her husband and no one had an inkling of what was going on. I saw her the day after she was thrown down the stairs and I never suspected. There are lots of ways to hurt and control which don't leave marks.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
Lots of my friends are posting about rape and the rhetoric and activism surrounding it. Don't worry, this post is a bit lighter.

A problem which is often raised is the way that we live in a rape culture and the way that this leads to people thinking that it's acceptable to coerce people into sexual activity and not thinking of that as rape or sexual assault. So I thought I'd start a discussion about films buy into and go against that rape motif. I'm thinking of the films I've seen over the last couple of weeks. Three of them (Coraline, The Bishops Wife and Keeping up with the Steines) are kind of neutral, in that they don't involve any hooking up. Star Trek was a bit pro-rapey, in that the hero Kirk harassed Uhura a bit. I was trying to think of a film which was a good example of only having sex when consent is freely and enthusiastically given. Oddly enough the example which came up with was Austin Powers. OK, it's part of the joke that all Austin Powers has to do to get enthusiastic consent is to wiggle about with his shirt off, but there is a lovely moment when his partner who he's been wanting to have sex with and who he ends up having a romantic relationship with, gets drunk and starts flirting with him in the hotel room they're sharing and he makes clear that he's not interested in doing anything like that when she's drunk and might regret it in the morning.

So, what films do you think of which promote rape mentality or an anti-rape mentality?
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
For full disclosure, I cover my hair. I've covered my hair since I got married, just under eight months ago. I really like covering my hair. I like having parts of my body which I keep private for myself and those I choose to show them to. I like the way my pretty scarves look. I like the way the scarf can pull together a whole outfit. I like being able to fall out of bed and rush out of the door without having to brush my hair. I like not having my hair blow in front of my face when I'm cycling or falling into things I'm doing. I also come from a background where this is unusual. I am white. I was raised in an Anglican family where hair covering was not practised. I go to a synagogue where one other woman covers her hair. I am married to a man who has no expectations about how I should dress and very much takes his lead from me. When I am pooteling about people probably look at and think 'hippy' rather than 'danger to democracy'.

This all, I am increasingly realising, gives me a very different approach to head scarves than an awful lot of people. When I see another woman covering her hair I think good on her.* I project onto her my feelings and motivations and assume she's happy with what she's wearing. I'm sure that there are some women who are forced to cover their hair, legally required in some countries. This is not nice, but actually, in the big scheme of things, I doubt that being made to cover their hair is the main problem facing these women, in the way a lot of the media makes out. Generally, violence and the threat of violence and economic disempowerment are far greater threats to women than any dress code. A burqa (contrary to what my nearest Amnesty International book shop might claim) is not violence, the threat of violence to a woman who does not wear one is. Generally, it just baffles me why anyone would be so concerned about what other people choose to wear.

I was rudely awoken from my benign view this morning. I vaguely remembered that some employer in the UK had commissioned staff hijabs for their hijab wearing staff to wear, in the company colours.** Now, I think that this is just a bit of fun. Most employers are perfectly happy with women wearing hijab in black or white or he company colours and have no need to make a special corporate hijab. I wanted to show pictures of the hijabs to someone so I Googled a bit to find web pages about it and was really saddened by the results. As well as Ikea, the Metropolitan police an the Lincolnshire fire brigade*** have introduced uniform hijabs, that's a good thing in my book. What saddened me was the number of Google results which saw these innovations as the end of Western civilisation. I just can't for the life of me understand their point of view. Usually I'm quite good at understanding views I don't agree with but I just can't understand why people would object so strongly to police woman covering her hair in a way that matches her uniform. Part of the sadness is that this is slightly personal in that, in the unlikely event I ever joined the Metropolitan Police, I'd probably end up wearing the snazy police hijab. However, more it saddens my to think that hijabis, and muslimahs in general, have to face this constant barrage of negativity from the media. It makes me think of how I feel whenever Israel is involved in conflicts and why I don't read the Guardian anymore.****

Muslimah Media Watch is a blog which comments on this sort of thing. I was struck by one story she was dissecting, the BBC coverage of yet another "I was raped and beaten by my evil Muslim family but then I fled to the West, took off my hijab, abandoned Islam and became free!" stories. Now, there are women who are beaten and raped and escape to the West and abandon Islam and feel better for it and they deserve to be believed and have their voice heard. The problem is, call me cynical, but I don't think that these stories get lots of coverage because of the media's deep concern about violence against women. These narratives serve a nice purpose. They make non-Muslim Westerners feel good and allow them to think that their hatred of Islam and Muslim countries is based upon honourable concern for their poor women-folk. Rape is endemic in every country on Earth. Lots of women are raped by their Western secular step fathers. Lots of rapists are successfully prosecuted in Muslim countries. I'm sure there must be a woman somewhere who was repeatedly raped by her Western secular step-father, was ignored by the Western authorities, escaped, converted to Islam, married a Muslim man and moved to a Muslim country where she now happily potters about feeling free in her abaya. You'll never see that story published and if you did it would be spun as crazy brain washing Muslims preying on a vulnerable woman rather than as a indictment of the whole of Western society. The bias comes from choosing which stories to report, which stories can be made to fit into a particular narrative.

This is very, very bad. It's bad because it confirms prejudices. It's bad because it breed complacency and denial about the violence against women in Western societies. However, it's worst effect is upon Muslims. It sets up the discussion that either you're for rape or against Islam, you can't support one and not the other. This paralyses attempts to combat violence against women in Muslim communities because it closes off the discussion if the possibility of being both against rape and for Islam is denied so strongly. The obvious defence is denial and there is a terrible temptation to deny the experience women like Fatimah and call them liars to protect Muslims from the threat of Western Islamophobia. Even more cruelly, it causes Muslim women to silence themselves to protect their communities. Would you seek help from domestic violence from the authorities if you knew that your suffering would be used to discredit your religion? If you knew that you might be exposing your friends and family to police violence and more state intrusion against your community? When you use women's experiences to serve your own agenda, sometimes the only defence women have is to keep silent.

*I'm far too white to be able to get away with thinking like "you go girl".
**It turns out that the employer I was Ikea as you can see here.
***Before we get into 'political correctness gone mad' the fire brigade hijab is for wearing to school visits etc. not for fighting fires, when I presume they wear helmet and such like.
****Referring to funding organisations who have in their charter that they want to kill people like me as 'anti-war activities' is a good way of getting me to stop reading your paper.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
I was faffing on the internet and came across this. It struck me as a bit off and you can see my reply to it. The thing I found objectionable wasn't so much their anti-Zionism in itself, although I'm never going to agree with a position that removes the country of many millions of Jews, it was the fact that the 'occupation of Palestine' was the only conflict they mentioned specifically. There are 2 billion Christians in the world. The whole of the EU, the US, Canada, Australia and Russia are all Christian majority, at least culturally speaking. Could they not have found a conflict involving Christian majority powers to have mentioned? It just strikes me as a bit odd and clueless. If you're going to have a group of left wing members of group X, which has huge amounts of privilege compared to group Y, which has been oppressed by group X for hundreds of years, starting off by criticising a large section of group Y for being all nasty and oppressive is probably the wrong way to go. It's a bit like a group of middle-class feminists focussing on domestic violence among the working classes. Stop trying to make yourselves feel better by concentrating on the perceived misdeeds of a group you've othered. It never ends well.

Unrelated to Israel, is the other thing which makes me get twitchy around some left-wing Christians. A tendency toward Marcionism. Angela Tilby gave a lovely sermon about this heresy which is reprinted in Heresies and How to Avoid them. The problem comes that if you are a nice liberal Christian there are lots of bits of the Bible which aren't so nice and liberal and lots of actions of the early church weren't so nice and liberal either. So they have a bit of a problem. So, like Marcion, some of them decide that bits of the Bible are 'inauthentic' and edit those bits out. In the late 1990s the Jesus Seminars colour coded the Gospels to show what was authentic and inauthentic accounts of the words of Jesus. Oddly enough this left wing group came up with a picture of Jesus who was an anti-authoritarian hippy who wasn't big on rules.

According to Angela Tilby, antisemitism is one of the diagnostic tests of slipping into Marcionism. Marcion attributed the bits of Gospel he disagreed with to the Gospel having been corrupted by Jews. Left-wing Christians tend not to go in for that sort of conspiracy theory, but they do sometimes tend to attribute any bits of the Bible they don't like to the patriarchal nastiness of the culture its authors came from, and guess which culture that was. Acknowledging that all writings which have been written so far have been written within and influenced by patriarchy is a perfectly sensible thing to do, but sometimes it turns into externalisation, if one doesn't acknowledge the patriarchy of one's own tradition. There's a strain of left-wing Christianity which portrays Jesus and Christianity as this great liberation from patriarchy, homophobia etc. This works to better effect if you can portray what came before as really really patriarchal and if you shift all of the troubling bits of Christianity to Judaism. So some Christians forget that 'love your neighbour as yourself' appears in that much maligned book, Leviticus (Leviticus also instructs us to love the stranger as ourselves, so we've got everyone covered) and ascribe anything which might seem a bit sexist in Paul to his Jewish side getting the better of him. In its most extreme manifestation German Protestant feminist theologian, Christa Mulack, saw Judaism as analogous to Nazism, obedience to the commandments of G@d as analogous to obedience to the commandments of Hitler. She saw Judaism as the source of patriarchy and therefore responsible for all genocides of Western civilisation, including the Holocaust.

Rhetoric like that is bad enough in the pulpit, but the idea of The Jews as wicked, violent, sexist and militaristic compared to pacifistic feminist Christianity can easier spread from the pulpit into the streets and everyday and political discourse. I suppose this is where it comes full circle. I can understand why Western Christians would be genuinely concerned about the welfare of Palestinians. However, when Christians fixate on the misdeeds of Israel to the exclusion of consideration of any other conflicts, particularly those involving Christian aggressors, one has to worry that the Marcionite habit of externalising all the sins of patriarchy to the Jews has reared its head again.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
A couple of days ago I came across these videos which are mighty entertaining.

OK, they are sort of political in that they're very amusing ridiculing of the portrayal of women in the US media.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
This morning I was listening to Woman's Hour and there was a piece on, well it's a bit difficult to sum up what it was on, I think the best way to summarise it would be to use the term 'the unworthy poor'. The things being discussed were benefit reform, teenage pregnancy, benefit bundles and people being bone idle whilst good middle class people's tax paid for their ciggies. Whilst listening to it I was struck by a question which I often ponder: what is wrong with teenage pregnancy?

Everyone seems to just assume that teenage pregnancy is a Bad Thing in and of itself and doesn't bother to explain why. The government has a target to reduce it. Ian Hislop shakes his head at the UK topping the European chart at it. I've even hard people refer to it as a Bad Thing because the daughters of teenage mothers are likely to become teenage mothers themselves. So here is my attempt to untangle the issue.

The first candidate for a reason for teenage pregnancy to be a Bad Thing would be physiological. Even if a girl is fertile, it doesn't mean that she has finished growing and pregnancy may be better delayed until puberty is completed. A problem with this argument in regards to Western societies is that we have a peculiarly extended childhood and very early menarche. I've been trying to look up information on when the optimal age to support a pregnancy is and I've found 20-25, 20-30 and 20-35, depending upon the study. There also seem to be compounding factors in the data because pregnant teenagers tend to be poorer, worse nourished, less likely to receive pre-natal care and having a first baby, all of which increase the probability of complications. I very much doubt that a well fed healthy supported 17 year old, who will have been menstruating for 6 years, is at much more risk than a woman who delays first pregnancy to her thirties. There may be a physiological reason to be concerned about 13, 14 and 15 year-olds getting pregnant but there doesn't seem to be much of a good reason to see all pregnancies under 20 as a problem.

Another possible answer to why teenage pregnancy is a Bad Thing is that it 'ruins' women's lives. To this I like to paraphrase the president of Feminists for Life. Babies don't ruin women's lives. Universities with no facilities for student parents ruin lives. Schools which exclude pregnant students ruin women's lives. Employers who discriminate against mothers ruin women's lives. The society we live in in the UK generally pushes women to delay first pregnancy until their 30s or 40s. This is not the only way to set things up. In some communities it is quite usual for a woman to have children in her teens and early twenties, before she has completed her education, and for her to return to education and build her career a few years later, with the help of childcare from her extended family. Why shouldn't a woman have her children before she begins her career? The main arguments seem to be hat she will not be able to afford them at that age, which is a product of our economic and tax and benefit system, or that she will need as much human capital as possible to overcome the discrimination she'll face when she returns to paid employment, which is product of law breaking fuckwit employers. It seems the problem is less that teenage pregnancy is of itself a problem, but that it is made problematic by the institutions of society.

People sometimes back up the claim that teenage pregnancy 'ruins' women's lives with correlations between teenage pregnancy and unemployment, low levels of education and poverty. A problem with this is the direction of the causation. I remember once meeting a parliamentary researcher who had had a baby whilst studying at Durham. She was employed and appeared to be reasonably well off as I think her son was attending a prep school. She definitely fit the image of doom we're often sold. Could it not be that perhaps women with few prospects are more likely to have a baby whilst a teenager? Who could blame them? Face with a choice between forty years working at Tesco for minimum wage or becoming a stay at home mother I know which one I'd choose. I can see how this could pose a problem for the government but perhaps it would be more honestly rephrased as "We need a pool of people to be willing to do menial unfulfilling jobs for low wages. They will not do this if there is a better option so we need to push them close to destitution if they don't take a low paid job. Unfortunately, we feel a bit guilty about doing this if they have children who will also be made destitute. It is also inconvenient if the proletariat sometimes take time off to give birth or care for children. So we have to find a way to force the lower classes to delay birth, which doesn't make us feel guilty about indirectly harming children." I would suggest the alternative of improving the lives of lower class people, whether or not they are parents. Of course, middle England will cry, they'll just waste money on sky TV and clubbing rather than good middle class uses of money, such as wine and skying holidays.

A third possible problem is that teenagers may not be mature enough to be good parents. I don't think that it's accurate to refer to this problem as teenage pregnancy. There are mature teenagers who manage perfectly well with their babies. There are deeply immature 30 year olds who become terrible parents. It also assumes a nuclear family structure. I have often thought that the way to avoid the economic penalty placed upon fecundity without having to give birth after it is physiologically optimal, would be for people to raise their grandchildren. That way women could give birth in her 20s, immediately return to work/education and have a career until her 40s when her own daughters start having babies, whom she raises.

I can see that it is a bad thing for women to have babies when they don't want to have babies. This is true at all ages. I am deeply suspicious that the real problem with teenage pregnancy is that it inconveniences the powers that be and upsets middle England's social norms rather than that it is a bd thing in itself.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
Why exactly is Radio 4 allowing people on it's programmes who don't just believe in but have actively participated making education and employment conditional upon stripping for real women and talking to him as if he's a normal rational human being rather than a racist shit bag?

I have one thing to say to all the people who very calmly intellectually discuss how they have a lot of sympathy for the French policies which would exclude me and my children from education and almost every job I've ever held:
Fuck you!
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
There are several words which are used the majority of the time by people who do not really understand what they mean.

Fascist is one of these words. My little dictionary which came with my MacBook says about Fascism:
The term Fascism was first used of the totalitarian right-wing nationalist regime of Mussolini in Italy (1922–43), and the regimes of the Nazis in Germany and Franco in Spain were also fascist. Fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach.
The majority of people who use the word fascist in discussion use it to mean 'bad', 'very bad', 'nasty', 'authoritarian' or 'right-wing'. It would be better if people used terms such as 'authoritarian' if that is what they mean because that would make the meaning of their statement clearer, and would make them sound less like a idiot who spews hyperbole rather than constructive discussion.

A similarly misused term is 'enlightenment'. Last night I went to a talk in which the speaker seemed to think that 'enlightenment', 'scientific', 'progressive', 'objective', 'truthful' and 'good' were essentially interchangeable concepts. My PhD involves looking at ideas from philosophy of science and this has given me a bit of an appreciation of the problems with just accepting an enlightenment world view. 'Enlightenment' worldviews have been used to justify atrocities and oppression. Enlightenment worldviews have been used to promote the interests of white, upper-class, men by labelling their attitudes as rational and objective, thereby dismissing the views of non-'white, upper-class, men' as irrational and subjective. Such issues may not be inherent in an enlightenment philosophy per se, but if you're going to refer to he enlightenment you should at least be aware of these problems.

And another thing, several times I've had the experience that I'll be discussing an issue with a man and he will either notice that I'm female or hear me say something vaguely feminist and, instead of engaging in the substantive points of my argument, they start saying things which they think will appeal to the idea they have of what feminists think. Sadly most of them seem to think that feminists are extremely stupid or poorly informed, so the things they think will appeal to feminists tend to take the form of 'group X disagree with my view and are sexist' as if they expect my little lady brain to go "Really? I never knew there was sexism in Saudi Arabia. I will now agree with everything you say so that you can protect me from teh evil Mohamedians."


Oct. 27th, 2008 10:21 am
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
I must say that being a big grown up grad student and a married old lady lead to me frequently looking at undergrads and thinking that I was like that once and one day they'll learn like I did. These moments frequently occur when I read the student press. This week was no exception. There was a feature in the TCS magazine called 'women discuss g@d' (notice the lower case letters, how edgy). The conversation got onto the topic of standards of women's dress. Generally I found the whole tone of the discussion problematic. The women who tended to cover more generally justified it in a 'we should help our brothers avoid lustful thoughts by keeping our sexy bits covered' which the no-religious women reasonably responded to with 'maybe men should develop some self control rather than changing my dress'. Generally, I think that men tend to get turned on regardless of what women wear. Sexual and erotic cues vary from person to person. I find people being barefoot rather attractive and my husband finds me particularly attractive when I have smudges of flour on my forehead from baking. There's also a problem that men's idea of what is lascivious is dependent upon what they see around them. If all women covered their thighs, knees would become the new erotic delight. Cover the knees and it'll become ankles until eventually women are 'asking for it' if you can make out their eyes through the gauze of their burqa. There are lots of reasons I dress a certain way, but protecting men from their libidos isn't one of them. As my husband once put it "For you, modest dress isn't about men, it's all about you".

Anyway, I digress from my main point. One of the exchanges in the conversation went:
IE (Catholic): What is it that one trying to portray by dressing in a more revealing way?
HT (happy atheist): I actually feel it is to do with confidence, I wear what I feel I look nice in, I show off the parts of my body which I like.

and later:
KN (practising Christian): Certainly, sometimes I would like to wear revealing clothing because I would feel confident. But for me it's not about how I feel in those clothes but about what kind of image I'm giving off.

Twice on a page different women made the showing lots of flesh=confident connection, which I can't quite understand myself. I wondered whether it as just a young thing. There's definitely something exciting about being able to dress in ways your parents wouldn't approve of. Maybe the women in this piece were experiencing the joy of young rebellion and mistaking it for confidence. However, as I was listening to Women's Hour this morning a piece about a new Gok show:

The ultimate in body confidence?

In a new television programme called Miss Naked Beauty, Gok Wan sets out to help women feel good about their bodies in their natural state: free of fake tan, cosmetic surgey and make-up. Increasingly, women are taking their clothes off on television programmes in the name of liberation and confidence boosting, but how much can this actually increase a woman's self esteem?

So grown women seem to also be making the less clothing=more confident connection. It just makes no sense to me. I doubt that someone who met me would think that I lacked confidence, despite my long skirt, high neckline and headscarf. I can't see how there is any correlation between amount of clothing and confidence. I can see that some women have such bad body image that they can't bear to be seen naked, but once you've established to yourself that this isn't the case for you, why would you feel the need to show flesh on a regular basis? On the other hand, maybe some women are wearing revealing clothing to distract attention from their personality which they're less confident about. It can go both ways. Now, call me a paranoid feminist, but I suspect that this might be one of those 'patriarchy convincing women that they're somehow liberated by actions which actually conform to men's desires' things. What do you all think?
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
Sex neutrality is a great term. I found it in a comment thread on a post on I Blame the Patriarchy. It came in a discussion about the way that conservative anti-sex culture and dude pornacious culture are mutually dependent. Dude pornalicious culture enjoys being able to seem 'liberated', 'naughty' and 'rebellious' and it can only brand itself like this if it can point to people who disapprove. It also means that people can be coerced into buying into commercialised, male fantasy centred sexuality with the threat that those who don't are frumpy old-fashioned squares. On the other hand, anti-sex conservatives need a Great Satan to react against and warn that people will fall into if they don't stick to not being along together before marriage. Sex neutrality is a way of trying to escape this duality by seeing sex as something that people do which is, in itself neutral, but can result in both enjoyment and harm, depending upon how people go about it, a bit like tennis. No need for moral panic. No need for proof of how hip and liberated you are.

The way I explain it like this. I have friends who span a range of sexual behaviours. I have friends who did not touch a member of the opposite sex until they married someone they had met two months earlier through an arranged match; I have friends who've practised various forms of polyamoury; I have friends who have engaged in a variety of other sexual lifestyles. Looking at all of these people I can't really say that one sexual lifestyle choice is clearly more conducive to human flourishing than all the others. I suspect that it's a bit of a 'horses for courses' situation and the only pattern I really notice is that people tend to have happier sex lives if they have consciously thought through their sexual choices and been able to choose the lifestyle which they believe will be best for them, without their decision being constrained by external sanctions. Of course, these doesn't completely remove the need for sexual ethics. Sex is potentially an extremely harmful activity and as such should only be engaged in by people who have given full informed consent. That means that coercion is unacceptable and so is withholding information which is relevant to the decision of whether to engage in a certain act. Something which impedes upon people being able to decide from themselves what sexual practices will be best from them is a social expectations about what sexual choices are acceptable and which are not. Lots of progressive people are happy to recognise the harm done by cultural standards which expect people to be celibate or heterosexual but they are also harmful when, as in our popular, they are disapproving of people being celibate and only approve sexuality which ranges from serial monogamy to the occasional one night stand.

All this seems rather obvious to me but it was interesting to see the reactions to it of a group of hip progressive student types yesterday. I mentioned an 'article' which had appeared in one of the student papers one week when they couldn't be bothered to find a news story and instead did a survey into the sexual habits of the students. The entire of tone of the 'article' could be summarised as 'all the cool kids are doing it', it explicitly assumed that the only reason anyone in Cambridge might be not having sex would be inability to get someone else to have sex with them. It was rounded off by a quote from the CUSU president thoroughly in the 'look how great we are for rubbing our genitals together' tone. I said that I thought the tone of the article was unhelpful, but about what I have come to expect from student journalism, and that the quote from CUSU president gave the definite impression that CUSU was not supportive of all students' sexual choices. One of the men I was speaking to, who'd already talked about how he wanted to be a 'cool' dad one day, was happy to accept that we should be more accepting of polyamoury but found accepting and supporting choices to be celibate more difficult, particularly if they were motivated by religion. I said that if it helped him he could think about people being asexual so that he could fit it into a LGBTQWERTYOMGWTFBBQ framework. He defended the article in a sort of 'waahaa, just a bit of naughty fun' way. What was more interesting was that when I mentioned the article an why I objected to it one of the women there mentioned that she had been a first year and choosing not to be sexually active at the time of the article and it had made her feel isolated due to it's 'everyone else is doing it' attitude. This hread in popular culture makes people feel bad about their non-mainstream sexual choices and makes them choose to do things which aren't most conducive to their flourishing. That's harmful and that's what I want to avoid. See, I'm not just a humourless prude. Honest.