Archive for the 'Violence Against Women' Category

A year of feminist blogging.

As I’m reviewing the year that has passed since starting the blog here at soisaystoher, today has presented 2 events that provide a starting point for reflecting on how the feminist landscape has changed, or stayed the same!

Women’s bodies – NOT FOR SALE!

My adventures in feminist activism started with a billboard that presented a faceless, personless pair of boobs to encourage people to buy cars. Since the message was sent, by us, to local companies loud and clear that women deserve to be treated like human beings rather than a sum of their body parts, have we seen any real change in the way our gender is depicted in the media here? We’ve had the Hunky Dory’s furore, with some useful debate and a decisive ruling from the ASA. The outgoing Labour government showed some late commitment to tackling the hyper-sexualisation of women’s bodies through a home office report that highlighted the particular effects of the mainstreaming of porn through lads’ mags and music TV in particular. But on the other hand, feminist groups all over the UK have had to take on retail giant Marks and Spencer over their decision to profit from sexual exploitation by sub-letting property in Bristol to the infamous Hooters restaurant chain. Products like ‘POM Wonderful’ juice still think the only way to break into a new market is to place your juice bottle beside some naked ladies on every TV ad – when you run out of creativity in your marketing department you can always rely on the currency of sexism. Local company Harlequin / Burning Desires costume shop have recently drawn a snarl from my lips every time I pass their billboards advertising their sexy Halloween costumes for women, with a tacky porn0-vampire character accompanied by the truly cringeworthy tagline ‘HELLOween boys’. Because there’s nothing like drawing your pop culture references from 1994. There are many people who’ve written brilliantly on their frustration at the strict code of Halloween practice for women which apparently states ‘Thou shalt be sexy and look like a het male fantasy and we shall ensure this by not giving you any choice of costume that doesn’t allow us to view your boobs and legs through nothing but corsets and fishnets.’ My biggest problem with the whole culture is actually that it seems to say women are never funny. Men are funny – they go as crazy cavemen and whacky werewolves. Women are not allowed to be funny, therefore we should settle for sexy and shut the hell up.

One local company that has upped its game of late is the notoriously sleazy Creations furniture who seem to have finally grasped the concept that they are selling furniture and therefore a near-naked woman does not have to appear in every ad. I’m wondering did they have a spate of people expecting to get a free lady with their chest of drawers like the one in the billboard and realised they better stick to picturing the essentials? Whatever has caused this apparent enlightenment I say, well done folks. More of the same please.

The reason I bring this issue up for reflection is that a bunch of us from Belfast Feminist Network are preparing to restart Feminist Friday this evening after a bit of an extended summer break. This simple piece of activism which involves covering lads mags with positive feminist slogans and explaining to shop owners that we’d rather they didn’t sell them, is a hugely satisfying and motivating thing to be involved in. We’ll keep working in this way at the grassroots, keep pushing for the debate to be aired and keep reclaiming the idea that women’s bodies are not for sale.

Update: having braved the rain and cold tonight to take a swipe at lads’ mags I felt it worth commenting on that the stance ‘Spar’ (run by Henderson foods) has taken on the publications is truly fantastic. What it means in practice is that a massive percentage of local grocery shops and petrol stations do not stock these offensive mags. Because of that we have real choice as consumers and I can’t imagine it helps the fortunes of what is a disgustingly sexist corner of the magazine industry. It would be great for us women to find a way to show our appreciation. On the other hand, tonight I was struck by the difference between Spar and Centra on this issue. While we have invariably found pleasant and sympathetic sales staff in all the Centra stores, any managers we have come into contact with aggressively defend the sales of lads’ mags and dismiss our feedback with rudeness and disdain. One particular manager prides himself on having the highest sales of one of these mags in all of Northern Ireland. I’m increasingly feeling that a focused campaign to single out the attitude of Centra and compare it to the progressive policy and practice of Spar might be in order.

Understanding sexual violence.

This morning’s lead headline in the local radio and television news was the announcement that the PSNI and DHSSPS are relaunching their ‘Be SMART’ anti-rape and sexual violence campaign as a response to rising numbers of this type of crime being reported – a 10% increase in the last 6 months. My heart sank. In an earlier post I expressed my complete disgust at the pink version of this public awareness flyer that is riddled with victim blaming ‘advice’ and the very clear implication that if you are raped then you have not been smart enough to stop it. However, as the police officer interviewed began to speak the first words out of his mouth were,

“This campaign is designed to encourage people to better understand the issue of consent” (slight paraphrasing perhaps as I can’t access iPlayer to check it.)

The fact that this was his starting point left me feeling that at least progress is being made. There is a blue version of the Be SMART flyer which carefully outlines advice for men on how to ensure they have consent for any sexual act and helping reinforce the fact that consent cannot be assumed under the new legal framework in the Sexual Offences Order (2009). Hope at least that some of the feminist discourse extremely visible in the UK and Ireland over the last year, which challenges victim-blaming assumptions about the ‘causes’ of rape, may finally be filtering through. Policy makers and law-enforcers are starting to realise that it is simply unacceptable for the focus of rape prevention work to be on demanding that women engage in fewer ‘risky’ behaviours. The conversation must begin at the point of men’s behaviour and their abuse of the physical, mental or emotional power that enables them to rape. I have to admit that this is heartening.

It would also be naïve however to think that this is any more than a baby step in the right direction. Until we see an increase in the conviction rates for rape and other serious sexual offences and we see the number of these attacks significantly decreasing then we definitely have more to work at than to celebrate. Even the ongoing confusion of messages shows how far we have yet to travel – while the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster report may have provided space for a coherent and appropriate interview to be aired, their local news website features the same story with a very different focus. Here the discussion of consent has been sidelined in favour of what appears to be a regressive focus on the implications of drinking too much:

“We, as a police service, want this campaign to encourage people to make more informed, responsible and healthy decisions about their alcohol intake and also to think about the possible harmful consequences of impaired judgement.”  Det Ch Insp Don Glass

This leaves me with so many questions, like when you say ‘people’, do you mean women? Is it women who need to watch our alcohol intake? Or do you understand that for many who are attacked their attacker is the drunk one, just too big or intimidating to fend off? When you say ‘impaired judgement’ do you understand how offensive it is to make rape sound like nothing more than a one night stand we cringe about the next morning? Do you have any idea how much damage these few simple lines can do in the mind of a rape victim, already riddled with the voices of prejudice and stereotyping that our culture tortures them with? Do you give a shit about improving reporting and conviction rates when you come off with patronising bollocks like this? And then there’s this little piece of nonsense:

“Sex without consent is rape and the consequences for being convicted can have a devastating effect on both the victim and accused.”

No actually, I think you’ll find the consequences of an attacker NOT being convicted can have a devastating effect on the victim, something you should perhaps be a little more concerned about.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it until they wise up and treat us like adults – everyone, male and female, should be encouraged to be aware of our own personal safety. But when the overwhelming majority of all communications from the authorities tasked with protecting women from rape focus on telling us to be more careful then that is sustaining the problem. It puts people off reporting, it creates a myth that women raped by someone they know/flirt with/be polite to have only themselves to blame. It provides a protective layer of secrecy and shame that allows rapists to safely manipulate and abuse women again and again and again because they will get away with it. The only way this will change is when we leave the victim blaming out of it and throw all our efforts into convicting more rapists. End of.

Update: A very similar story was announced in London today, with that city reporting a horrifying 37% increase in reported sexual attacks in the last year. Notice the difference in how this trend is being responded to however – when will we have this level of insight and commitment to equality?


“She was like summer warmth on a cold day – she was a girl who would make any dad proud.”

It’s hard to believe but I’ve been at this blogging lark for almost a year now, my first post having been on 26th October 2010. I started this because I didn’t know where the young feminist voices were in Northern Ireland and it seemed that if I started to shout out then maybe they’d shout back. It’s an absolute honour to now be able to make noise together as part of Belfast Feminist Network along with all the other great feminists I’ve been lucky enough to meet because of this pursuit.

Over the next couple of weeks as soisaystoher approaches its first birthday I am going to try and review the main issues that have been discussed here this year and try and put some perspective on what has actually been done. Have there been positive changes in any of the areas our blog posts have highlighted or are we struggling to get off square one?

It would also be good to plan some actions for November/December as we focus on the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. Last year I wanted to do something but alone it felt impossible to make an impact. This year alone is not a word that describes my feminist experience I’m glad to say, and so I know we can come up with some ideas to remind the people of Northern Ireland that violence against women is all of our responsibility. A quick scan of today’s news alone brings a terrible reminder of the ‘two women a week’ statistic that describes the number of women who die at the hands of partners or ex-partners in the UK.

Continue reading ‘“She was like summer warmth on a cold day – she was a girl who would make any dad proud.”’

Lessons in violence from the UK Top 40

I’m a bit of a pop music fiend. In my car, in the gym, in my office…I love my daily fix of catchy tunes and sexy beats. Sometimes however, I’m tempted to give it up for good…

I noticed a fair amount of debate on the feminist blogs recently regarding the theme of domestic violence in the latest tune from Captain Misogyny himself, Eminem. Somewhat disturbingly, Love the Way You Lie features vocals by Rhianna singing about her attraction to a man who ‘hurts’ her, a word which she mouths in the video with a bite of her lower lip and a strained look of longing and desire. The drama played out by the two fictional characters in the video came under The Guardian CIF scrutiny drawing some degree of debate as to whether it appears to highlight the problem of domestic violence in a responsible way, sexualise and hence glorify it, or neither. My own feeling about it is summed up by one canny CIF commenter who stated ‘The only thing this video tells us about domestic violence is that it’s something people do before having sex.’ As the universally adored Queen of Sexyface Megan Fox flounces about a sweaty apartment in slow motion with the hobbity bloke form Lost who’s a bit buff, I see only a sanitised, Holywood version of relationship violence that tells me nothing of the horror of the ‘behind closed doors’ abuse that kills 2 women every week in the UK.

Continue reading ‘Lessons in violence from the UK Top 40’

Rapes at Latitude and festival co-ordinator’s disappointing response.

Hey all. So I’m a little bit behind with this one but my week in work has been beyond stressful.

Anyway, I was upset at the beginning of the week to hear that two rapes were reported at the Latitude festival in Suffolk. Having had my best ever festival experience at Latitude in 2007 (glorious sunshine every day, jumping like mad to CSS, screaming along with Arcade Fire, being mesmerised by Jarvis Cocker’s charms…) I was gutted to hear about attacks like this happening. The group of mates I went with generally agreed that one of the things that made Latitude great for us was the relative lack of pricks. No one threw pints over the crowd during gigs, there appeared to be more people conscious than passed out and loads of cute little kids ran around all day with their parents’ mobile phone numbers scrawled in permanent marker up their arms. It felt relaxed, it felt inclusive, it felt safe.

Knowing that two women were raped at this year’s event does impact on my desire to make a return visit to Latitude, it taints my warm fuzzy festival feelings about the place and I’d be looking for some reassurance from the organisers if I was to consider returning. So when the Guardian covered the story on Monday I was hopeful that their superior journalistic sensibilities would elicit such assurances from the festival coordinator Melvyn Benn of Festival Republic. What I actually read made me a little nauseous. Have a look at the first two paragraphs and tell me it doesn’t make you want to throw a pint over him:

Continue reading ‘Rapes at Latitude and festival co-ordinator’s disappointing response.’

Zoo and Danny Dyer cross the line, but join the dots and it’s easy to see how the ‘production error’ happened.

Feminist Friday in Belfast

When the current issue of Zoo, a weekly lads’ mag, featured an advice column in which ‘actor’ Danny Dyer advised a reader whose girlfriend seemed to have moved on after a painful breakup to ‘cut your ex’s face then no one will want her’, the general reaction from all corners was disgust. I just had a gander at the Zoo website to see if I could find any ‘calm down/ it’s only a larf/ PC gone mad’ type defenses and came across only one. While most of the commenters had clearly registered purely for the purposes of stopping by to yell ‘YOU SUCK’ and run away again, a significant proportion were from regular readers and subscribers who wanted to let Zoo know the love affair was over.

So they’re officially in the dog house. The problem is that they didn’t suddenly leap there…if we’re surprised that an incitement to violence against women slipped through the net then we haven’t been joining the dots that reveal a big old picture of a 21st century misogynist. A magazine that stuffs its pages full of as many naked ladies as it possibly can and then slaps the title ‘Zoo’ on the front cover is giving us all a massive clue as to the respect it has for women’s humanity.

Continue reading ‘Zoo and Danny Dyer cross the line, but join the dots and it’s easy to see how the ‘production error’ happened.’

Another reason to get lads’ mags off our shelves…

So I was reading FHM the other day. Not a paid for copy I’d like to add, just one that I thumbed through off the shelf at WH Smith before I fulfilled my duty of turning it, and all the other lads’s mags, around. The sole purpose of my excursion to the dark side was to check out an article I had heard advertised on the radio in the gym; a claim that in amongst the pages of photos of Audrina off The Hills was “everything you need to know about…Chalire Sheen!” I wouldn’t normally pay much attention to the promise of a gossipy read about some burnt out actor’s exploits but my blood began to boil pretty quick when the radio ad referred to Mr Sheen as “Hollywood bad boy.”

Continue reading ‘Another reason to get lads’ mags off our shelves…’

Do something to help prevent rape in your community.

Here’s the context: rape and sexual violence is a problem. Men and women both experience it, however the most recent stats from the Northern Ireland Crime Survey show that twice as many women as men report having been attacked in this way. The figure is 1/4 of all women who took part in the survey, which is consistent with stats from similar surveys in the UK and USA.

Rape prevention strategies tend to focus on telling women to be more vigilant against attacks by watching how much they drink and not going off with strangers etc. This is partly shaped by the reality of the need to be aware of your personal safety but is unfortunately heavily influenced by a deep rooted belief that women who are raped when drunk or flirting with men are partly to blame. This is seen at all levels of the process involved in dealing with rape from men who assume the right to take advantage of a woman who isn’t able to protest or defend herself, to police officers who do not investigate these rapes consistent with how other violent crimes are investigated, to lawyers, jurors and judges who turn courts into circuses where women endure character assassination, humiliation and judgement if they haven’t behaved like the perfect victim should.

It’s a mess. It is a system that is failing women so terribly that finally the UK govt has had to call an independent review in the shape of the Stern Review to find out where it has gone so badly wrong. It is often messy for men too; any man who has ever been falsely accused of rape will have suffered all the same frustration, pain and trauma as the women who are raped and not believed. Except that those women are dealing with that while also trying to heal from a devastating sexual assault. It’s an issue that divides men and women who choose to see only one set of injustices. I would be incensed if either happened to someone I loved but I make no apology for the fact that my priority is challenging the deep sexism that makes it so difficult for women who have been raped to see their attackers brought to justice. Reporting rates for rape stand at around 27% according to the NICS stats, conviction rates in the UK as a whole are worse than they were in the 1970s and the public are still not convinced that all women have the right to prosecute men who mistakenly believe they have a right to sex with or without consent.

Here’s the plan: All of this mess just described means that what passes for rape prevention is extremely inadequate, sexist and only serves to reinforce the idea that a drunk/provocative/flirtatious woman is a victim of her own bad/stupid behaviour. Flyers that warn women of stranger danger and have nothing to say to men to challenge their own attitudes not only let men off the hook but ignore the fact that over 80% of serious sexual assaults are not carried out by strangers but rather by someone the victim knows. A partner or ex, a date, friend of a friend, a bloke they’ve been drinking with who seems like a pretty good guy… There are numerous ways that women might find themselves in the company of someone who goes on to rape them but the common demoninator is this: it’s never their own fault. It is the fault of the person doing the raping and that is where truly effective rape prevention strategies need to focus.

So having written to the DHSSPS to ask them to consider this possibility and gotten a dismissive response, the next step seems to be to give it a go ourselves. The flyer below is one that we’ve created and hope to distribute as widely as possible by leaving it in pubs/clubs/cafes/gyms… It’s pretty simple, its message hasn’t been focus-grouped or signed off by the soisaytoher public policy department but it seems to make sense. Please print as many as you can, take them with you when you’re out and about and leave a few behind when you go. I’d recommend printing 4 to a page so they’re postcard size. And I’m going to print mine on red paper.

We haven’t abandoned the idea of a collective flyering expedition but having discussed it with a few peeps it seems it will be easier to do it on a saturday night sometime in the new year. Maybe the one after January pay day so we can make a proper night of it! I’ll create an event on Facebook so email me if you’re not on there but would like to be kept in the loop.

And please post any interesting experiences you have while distributing flyers in the comments section below!

Many thanks to Stu who designed this. Clicking on the image should open the full size jpg in another window.

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