Monthly Archives: November 2009

Switzerland considering Polanski bail

A Swiss court has agreed a £2.7 million bail deal for child-raping fugitive from justice Roman Polanski.

The Swiss government is deciding whether to appeal this decision, but if they don’t, Polanski will be free on bail.

Either the court is really stupid and figures money is going to deter Polanski from skipping town, or it is counting on him running away, so that he becomes another jurisdiction’s problem. I’m sure his art-loving friends will chip in to help him avoid any actual punishment for his crimes.

Jam, Jerusalem, Feminism? 2

A couple of weeks ago at the university where I teach, I spoke at an event organized by socialist students to debate the future of women’s liberation. One woman in the audience said afterwards that it was a relief to hear something political about women. Recently she had gone to another talk which she thought was going to be about feminism, and found it was actually a pitch for the Women’s Institute.

My reaction was much the same as hers had been—incredulity. Why on earth would 18-21 year-old students be interested in joining the Women’s Institute? But a few days later I read a newspaper report which claimed that women students all over the country are setting up branches of the WI. Or at least, they are trying to. According to the report, some of them are running into difficulty because many students’ unions refuse, on grounds of gender equity, to recognize societies which do not allow both sexes to be members. And so it has come to pass that an organization founded during World War I, and long associated with a very traditional view of women’s role, now finds itself in the vanguard of a movement to reclaim women-only space on university campuses.  What is a radical feminist supposed to think? 

I have my own, not very positive, memories of the WI. In the early 1980s when I belonged to a rape crisis group, I sometimes gave talks to local women’s organizations like the WI, the Townswomen’s Guild and the Housewives’ Register. Invariably the WI women were the most conservative. They tended to be very keen on the law and order aspect—locking rapists up and throwing away the key—but what they understood by ‘rapists’ was monsters leaping out of the bushes to attack some innocent maiden on her way home from church. And it was always a bit surreal giving a talk about rape which was preceded by announcements about jam-making sessions and followed by a competition for the prettiest scarf or the most effective spring flower arrangement. 

But it seems the WI has moved on. Today, the causes it supports include not only fairly uncontroversial ones like Fairtrade, and women’s development projects overseas, but also less comfortable things like the Campaign to End Violence Against Women.

If press stories are anything to go by, such political concerns are not high on the agenda for the new campus WI branches. Their reported activities have included tea-drinking, cake-baking and (allegedly) knitting iPod covers. But as retrograde as this might appear, I think there is something behind it that feminists would recognize and support.

To get to the ‘future of women’s liberation’ event, I had to fight my way through a college bar full of braying young men in what appeared to be fancy dress (they wore flat caps, plus fours and patterned socks, and some of them were carrying leather whips).  On inquiring who they were, I was told that they were known as ‘hunters’, and that one of their recent exploits had been to organize a ‘hunt’ in which female ‘foxes’ were chased by male ‘hounds’. When one woman complained that this sort of thing was all too common, and that the students’ union had ‘a completely sexualized entertainments policy’, it was clear that her words struck a chord.

Women students today inhabit a culture where sexual objectification and predatory male behaviour are normalized, and it seems that quite a lot of them are angry about that. At the same time, they are reluctant to be labelled ‘feminists’ because of the social disapproval that would incur among their peers. If the WI provides such women with an alternative—an acceptable way to spend time with other women, and potentially a space in which to explore their feelings about the way women are treated elsewhere—then on balance I think I’m for it.

Good news for women who have been prostituted 7

Clause 14 of the Policing and Crime bill passed through Report Stage unamended in the House of Lords last Tuesday 3rd November.

Clause 14 aims to protect vulnerable and exploited people by shifting the focus of the law onto those who create the demand for prostitution. The clause makes it an offence to pay for sex with someone who is subjected to force, deception or threats.

During the debate Baroness Scotland, the Government Minister in the Lords said “We are faced with a choice tonight: do we speak for the victims, do we stand up for those who have no voice for themselves, do we stand in the breach for them—or do we provide a cloak of anonymity and protection for those who do not wish to face what they do when they purchase sex from a woman or a man, quite often of tender years, who has been coerced or forced into that position?

I need to be clear that the Government’s view is that those who purchase sex from people in that position commit a wrong. They enable a situation that is avoidable to continue. We have a choice tonight to decide on which stand we will set our mark. Who will we support, and who will we defend?”

The succesful passage of this clause is a huge victory for women who have been exploited by the sex industry,  especially given the amount of opposition to the clause and the totally unbalanced media coverage of the issues involved.    But there is still a long way to go.  Eaves Housing and OBJECT have orchestrated a campaign called Demand Change to challenge the legitimacy of the demand for prostitution.

Child raped, marries rapist who impregnated her 7

How’s that for a headline? Instead, in the Daily Mail yesterday, we get Bulgarian girl, 11, gives birth to her daughter… on her wedding day.

You see, a miracle happened. Or at least abuse-disguising language happened:

Kordeza – who fell pregnant within two weeks of her 11th birthday – spent the night in hospital with Violeta and then headed back to church for her wedding with 19-year-old Jeliazko Dimitrov.

Falling pregnant. Is that like falling asleep? Falling sick? Or could there be an actual male adult involved in the process?

Add another abuse-disguising term: “couple”.

The couple met when Jeliazko rescued Kordeza from bullies in the playground.

Note to all media: Stop referring to abused children and the adults who abuse them as “couples”.

Round off the article by letting the abuser spout some responsibility-denying, self-justification:

He added: ‘I was walking past the school when I saw some boys mocking her and I told them to leave her alone.

‘Then she arranged to meet me and asked me out on our first date. I thought she was 15. She didn’t tell me she was 11.’

Apparently, he didn’t find out she wasn’t 15 in the entire week it took to get her pregnant.

Nice one, Daily Mail; you hit all the child-blaming, rape-denying targets!

Seeking safety in Afghanistan

Fawzia (not her real name) is eighteen. One of Helmand’s 13 police women found her wandering the streets, dragging the shackle by which her sister-in-law had chained her to the wall. Fawzia had dared to leave her brother’s house because of the violence and abuse by the married couple. Some months later she was back, imprisoned, chained, hair shorn off and beaten. Somehow she managed to escape again. When we met, her concerns were that she would be considered ‘mad’ and that she must not return to her brother’s house. Was she downtrodden and defeated? No. She had literally dragged herself away from the violence and broken her chains.

We couldn’t find her a safe place to go. So now she’s in prison. The brother is not. Nor is the sister-in-law. The only solution to her situation is for someone to find her a ‘good’ husband. I’m trying to get her out and moved away from the area. Where will she go? There is one safe house for women in Afghanistan and it’s in Kabul. I’m trying to get her there.