Category Archives: Social Justice

Death by a thousand cuts

Earier this month, NHS England chief Simon Stephens urged the govenment to change their mind on measures that would see an estimated 30,000 nurses deported. The preposterous decision not to include nurses on the list of “shortage occupations” would mean non-EEA workers who earn less than £35,000 after six years in the UK will be deported.

As someone who works in frontline NHS services in London, I immediately recognised that – in one fell swoop – this would bring the NHS to its knees. The vast majority of my qualified colleagues are from overseas. NHS staff have not had a pay increase in 5 years – because a 1% increase when the average rate of inflation is 2.67% is a pay cut.

The starting pay band for a qualified nurse is £21,692 (Band 5) – this would mean mass deportation of people who have chosen to train in the UK and remain to care for its population. Oh, and paying tax, which supports the very system they work within and we all use. The top of Band 5 is £28,180 and would take 7 years to attain – even with London weighting this disqualifies all non-EEA nurses. Only staff of Band 7 and above would earn enough to be permitted to remain. Outside of London, it becomes even more impossible to achieve. In addition, the government are proposing severe cuts to pay for junior doctors, driving even those who are UK born and bred to look to other countries for a living wage.

The nursing exodus already started. We are not only failing to recruit into the NHS, we are drastically failing to retain the experienced staff we have as pay remains static and the cost of living rises. Recruitment and Retention payments staff previously received have also been been cut. Many go to Australia, where their profession is respected and welcomed, and the standard of living is better.

There is an unhealthy conflation of immigration, migration, and those seeking refuge. There is a presumption that everyone is desperate to get into/stay in the UK: with the ungrateful way people who work all hours, day and night, 365 days a year (including bank holidays, weekends, Christmas and New Year) are treated is it any wonder they are looking to greener pastures? The government keep saying they are going to train more “home grown” nurses, but that does not happen overnight – plus do we benefit by losing all the experience our current nurses have?

The recent Joint union membership survey from the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) states:

The NHS trade unions’ latest joint survey of members across the UK highlights high levels of dissatisfaction with the level of pay awards, low levels of morale and motivation due to workplace stress.  NHS workers do not feel there is enough time and resources to carry out their jobs and regularly work in excess of their contracted hours in order to provide the best care they can for their patients. 

No news there…

So, in a spectacular but fairly predictable climbdown, it has been announced that the government have temporarily lifted restrictions on recruiting nurses from overseas.  What this means for the enormous number of care workers who do not have a nursing qualification (eg. heathcare assistants) is anyone’s guess. Simultaneously the government announced a “cap” on “expensive agency staff”. No Trust chooses to use agency staff instead of substantive staff! In Mental Health care a personal knowledge of your patients and a rapport with them is unbelievably important, as it is in all other areas of healthcare. Agency staff are filling the gap left by years of pay freezes, real-term pay cuts, removal of overtime payments…the list goes on. Substantive staff are resigning and going to work for agencies because they are paid more! Oh, and next Jeremy Hunt thinks abolishing unsociable hours payments is a grand old idea – but avoided a commons debate about the £1bn NHS deficit. This year MP’s got a 10% pay rise, while NHS staff again got only 1%. Would you work Christmas Day or New Year’s Day in A&E for £9.00 an hour? Well apparently that is a living wage my friend, so you best get used to it.

So now Nurses will temporarily be added to the government’s Shortage Occupation List, which means nurses from outside the European Economic Area will have their applications prioritised. So they are temporarily as necessary as ballerinas.

Meanwhile, the government’s obsession with kicking vulnerable people while they are down continues unabated. Following on from the outrageous “bedroom tax” and proposed cuts to working tax credits, it has now been confirmed that UN representatives will visit the UK to investigate “grave and systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people, alledged to have taken place under austerity measures. Mental Health services have been cut, at a time where they are more oversubscribed than ever. People are literally dying from the impact of austerity – a policy that has been repeatedly shown as counter-productive by economists. In Paul Krugman’s The Austerity Delusion he highlights:

Since the global turn to austerity in 2010, every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer, with the depth of the suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity…The economics of austerity are the same – and the intellectual case as bankrupt – in Britain as everywhere else.

You remember the Blairism “Tough on Crime, Tough on the Causes of Crime”? Whatever you think of the speaker, violent crime is currently at its lowest rate in twenty years. But not for long. Today, Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe highlighted that the proposed cuts to Police budgets “will put London at risk”. With cuts estimated at a cool billion, Hogan-Howe estimates a loss of 8,000 officers in London alone.

In the meantime, while we continue to imprison more people, cut the number of prison staff to a minimum and do almost nothing to prevent reoffending we tax payers continue to pay more than it costs to go to Eton for each person we incarcerate. On average our prisons are currently at 97% capacity, but some are so overcrowded that they are running at 179% of the CNA level (Certified Normal Accommodation). Half of the world’s prison population of is held in the US, China or Russia; but you may be surprised to know that in England and Wales we incarcerate more people per head of population that the Chinese. 148 people in every 100,000 to be exact (in China it is 118 ). Heaven forbid we invest in adequate mental health provision, probation services, affordable housing and education to prevent people offending, reoffending or being recalled in the first place. No, far better to force people into abject poverty and just wait and see what happens.

But maybe if we can just push all those nurses out it’ll be okay.


We stand #withMalala!

It’s time! Tweet now to stand #with Malala and show your support for Girls Education. Join the campaign and sign the petition: www.change.org/withMalala

Mal Malala

Source: We stand #withMalala!


Election 2015: Play Nice – “Pile On!” is for the Playground

On the eve of election day, I took to Twitter to push my views in other people’s faces. After all, that’s what Twitter’s for, right?

This election will be a first for me – I will not be voting Lib Dem. I still believe in their ideology, but unfortunately Clegg chucked it under a bus, so as a proud employee of the NHS I will be voting Labour tomorrow and hoping against hope for a new government on Friday morning #VoteNHS.

I despise the Tories (I am Scottish, so it was bred-in), however way above them in the scumbag stakes, and way below in my estimation, comes Farage’s UKiP.

No amount of slippery rhetoric can get around the fact that, with the BNP effectively neutered, their cohorts have gone in two distinct directions: UKiP and the EDL. Or both. This does not forgive or forget the numerous faux pas of other parties’ candidates, however the Daily Mirror’s video of a UKiP candidate threatening to shoot a Tory candidate purely on the basis of racism makes all others pale by comparison. If you haven’t had the displeasure, the link to Robert Blay’s outrageous outpouring is here.

So, I duly added my cyber voice to the @hopenothate Thunderclap using the hashtag #NotVotingUKiP. Unsurprisingly, the kippers are out in force trying to tear down those using the hashtag, alongside a fair number of professional and wannabe Trolls who just can’t face not being the most hated show in town. What was surprising was the poor quality of the Trolling – I am either not interesting enough or do not rise to the bait properly anymore (as I write about Gender Equality this is not my first rodeo).

Luvvie

Fairly lackluster.

Meanwhile in a different Twittersphere, and unknown to me, a young feminista was being “piled on” in an attempt to shut her up after someone sympathetic shared a post where @staywithgrace gave her personal reasons for not voting for UKiP. The main issue I have with Twitter is how easily someone can summon their friends/minions/cohorts to an argument to back them up and attempt to silence the person at the other side of the argument, not with facts and figures or considered opinions, but with weight of numbers. That is, of course, a classic bullying tactic. And ironically one that UKiP will probably be most proud of. When the barrage finally made Grace say she was not going to engage further her new ‘friend’ cyber cheered to all his Twitter inclusions by calling her a victim.

Goodbye Victim

 

But don’t worry – the boy can multitask:

Harrass

While the first (and arguably worst) onslaught was cut off, like the mythical hydra three more heads rose in its place. Being that the initial post came from *shock horror * a woman – and self confessed feminist – the assault inevitably turned sexual in nature. No better way to shut a woman up than by trying to slut-shame her into the bargain, right? Our friend @hattondog appears to have removed the initial tweet to all his cronies saying Grace was sending him “filthy” private messages, but the response remains:

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Others suggested she “make them a sandwich” andbemoaned the “terrible” treatment of convicted rapist Chad Evans.

I had already sent Grace a couple of supportive Tweets, but this last one got my goat and I entered the fray! I was riled, so I was almost disappointed when the best @hattondog could muster was the following:

Bedtime

The fight continues on Grace’s page just now – a person I have never met but feel hugely connected to as I have experienced some fairly hardcore Trolling myself on the #HeforShe facebook page. One guy sent my literally hundreds of messages, cramming my inbox with his woman-hating, “feminists are Nazis and here is the proof” propaganda. Like somehow I was going to decide not to be a woman anymore and just shut up.

It started because he ‘liked’ The Launch of  the Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… nights, ostensibly because we promote gender equality through male and female creatives working in collaboration. He messaged saying how great we were, unlike ‘evil feminists’, and I corrected him explaining I am a feminist but that does not mean man hating – taking me back to an old post I wrote called The F Word. The result was a deluge of material, too much to read, digest and respond to. Which of course is the point. You can’t respond, or can’t fully appraise yourself of everything you have had thrown at you quickly enough to reply citing all the ways in which they are wrong. So they chalk it up as a victory – as Grace found out today. I tried ignoring it, assuming my guy would get bored and move on, but oh no, he continued to inundate me.

Realising the thing he desperately wanted was my engagement I continued to ignore him (through very gritted teeth) as he likened me to Nazis and genocidal dictators. While that likely frustrated him it equally frustrated me as I was effectively STILL BEING SILENCED! Finally I composed a well thought through, even-handed response to him explaining I do not have enough hours in the day to wade through his screeds of ‘evidence’, and that perhaps we had best agree to disagree. The response I received was surprising. Not vitriol, not a redoubling of his efforts to bury me and my account under a weight of cyber info. Shockingly it was a very emotional outpouring, accusing me of failing to listen to him, of not valuing him. I could paste what was written here, but despite his behaviour what he told me was very personal and revealing and I wouldn’t feel right about doing so. Up until that point I had assumed I was dealing with a professional Troll, someone who is not particularly invested in the fight but enjoys the reaction they get. In reality this was a fairly damaged human being – one I entirely disagreed with, but who seemingly felt entirely voiceless and had a pathalogical need to be heard by women who, given the forum he chose, were inevitably going to disagree with him.

This feeling of being voiceless, of being silenced, is therefore one that is strangely shared on both sides of the argument, and perhaps this is the appeal of political parties like UKiP. There are large numbers in their ranks who are bigots and sexists, but it would be a mistake to assume all fall neatly under that banner – though it may be more comforting to make that assumption. The fact is that people feel so removed from the political process, and so powerless, that fringe parties are picking up votes from unexpected places. The political power of fear should not be underestimated, and all three of the big parties have lost so much respect and broken so many promises in the past that the electorate are looking for alternatives. The Greens will likely (and hopefully) pick up seats tomorrow, with the Lib Dems expected to take heavy losses. With the Tories balancing uncomfortably between their natural base and some more forward-thinking policies (supporting marriage equality for example) some of their voter base are looking for alternatives, and some have allowed the blinkers to go on so that they can ignore the fact that UKiP is a party that includes a huge racist/xenophobic/sexist element.

After a long period of financial and political uncertainty – the recession, the coalition, austerity – I suspect that what everybody really wants is some stability. What I want is a government that values the NHS, immigration and equality, and one that recognises taxing the middle to fund the rich is a recipe for disaster.

At work today, I asked my colleagues what would happen if all the “immigrants” decided to take the day off work tomorrow. My hospital would certainly grind to a halt – we would not even be able to muster the bare minimum of staffing required to run our wards, full as they are of inpatients who were largely born in this country and are primarily cared for by people originally born overseas. If we included two generations as the Nazis did, or three as the BNP did, the place would be empty and I would also be at home. Even if there were people ‘eligible’ to come to work, there would be no public transport to bring them. This idea that ‘our’ country is overcrowded with benefit-hungry foreigners is an absolute nonsense: the vast majority of immigrants work, pay their taxes, and contribute to the welfare state that the Tories have yet to successfully destroy. Recent economic studies have dispelled the myth over and over, showing that immigrants contribute far more to the country financially that they take out of it. It is all scaremongering – look over there, it’s his fault you don’t have a job! Those than can work should, those that can’t through no fault of their own should be looked after, because that is what a civilised society does:

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”

So, for the first time in my adult life, I am voting for Labour tomorrow. I hope, whoever you vote for, you are voting for Hope not Hate and #NotVotingUKIP.


Face to Face Festival – Lost Theatre

Face2Face

I’m very excited (and nervous!) to announce that I will be performing three of my monologue plays at the Lost Theatre on 9th and 12th July as part of their Face To Face Festival of Solo Theatre.

Two of the pieces, which will be performed together on the 9th, are part of a suite of monologue plays called Crossing Lines – a title inspired by the theme of this year’s National Stalking Awareness Day.

Crossing Lines

deb-promoWritten and performed by Deborah Klayman

On the phone, at your home, at work or in the street – they wait.

In the shadows, online, or right at your door.

Where is the line between flattery and fear, attraction and obsession,

persistence and pursuance?

 

Crossing Lines is a suite of monologue plays that take us inside the mind of stalkers and their victims. Two of these plays, Smash & Grab and Lock Up Your Sons, will be performed at the Lost Theatre on 9th July as part of the Face to Face Festival of Solo Theatre.

“She laughs. She laughs the way she only does for me.”

 

Civil, another short play by the same author about the impact of civil war on family members overseas, will be performed on the 12th July.

It is not about politic, it is economic…the gun looks the same, the violence is the same.”

 

All of the plays are written and performed by Deborah Klayman.

Deborah Klayman is a Scottish playwright, actress and voice artist based in West London. Plays include: Smash & Grab, Lock Up Your Sons, Civil, Para, Cause for Alarm, and Eve & Lilith (with Jessica Martenson). Deborah recently completed a twelve month attachment as one of the Traverse Theatre’s ‘Traverse Fifty’, and was previously a member of the theatre’s Young Playwright and Class Act schemes. She has recently finished her first full-length play, The Boundary.

Deborah is one of the founding members of Whoop ‘n’ Wail Theatre Company, and has co-authored a number of plays with Ali Kemp including: eXclusion, Losing Light, My Bloody Laundrette, Majesty, and Cascade of Baubles. Their plays have been performed at The Canal Café, the Edinburgh Fringe, Waterloo East Theatre, Rochester Literature Festival, and South Hill Park Arts Centre.

 


Stalking – how far is too far?

As most people who know me personally can attest, I appear to be somewhat of a magnet for stalkers. In my relatively short life I have had a range of unwanted attention: this does not make me unusual, most of my female friends (and a large percentage of the men) have experienced someone who is persistent beyond the point of flattery. The question is, where is that line? When does ‘pursuing’ someone you like and are perhaps romantically interested in cross the proverbial line, and who decides where that line is?

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It is a difficult question. If someone were to physically assault you, or to openly advance on you in a way you found threatening, that would seem clear cut (and awful). However it is in the realm of persistent but non-physical harassment that it all gets a bit murky.

If someone repeatedly asks you out, even when you continually say no, is that harassment? It is unwanted attention, and it can be uncomfortable, but does it cross the line? If someone emails you a few times, repeatedly asks friends and colleagues about you, is that stalking?

For me, the key word has been ‘repeatedly’. It is this persistence, this inability to hear the word “no” and accept it that makes these unwanted advances in to something more oppressive.

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In my time I have had the phone stalker (repeated unwanted calls) who used to trouble my poor mother in the days before mobile phones, and who sometimes turned up outside my school. I was sixteen and had met him in a nightclub but then decided he wasn’t for me and started dating someone else. Luckily that was short lived, and young as I was it didn’t really strike me as more than a guy who really fancied me trying his luck. However, when I banged into him years later he approached me again to apologise and tell me he had been in a bad place back then. I was somewhat impressed by the apology, but less so with the fact he then asked if he could maybe have my number…

When I was eighteen I worked in a pub and was advanced on by a guy 20 years older than me who also worked there weekly playing guitar. It turned rather nasty and he tried to smash the windows of the pub after he was rebuffed. Unbeknownst to me he had already managed to get my (landline – still no mobiles!) number from a friend under false pretenses, so after that called me at the home I shared with my then boyfriend. Going to work was frightening in case he turned up, I stopped answering the phone at home, and left working the pub soon after.

Then there was the stalker-ex. A break up was followed by 3 months of silence followed by 3 months of persistent calls, emails, and the odd threat to turn up at my house. This was irritating rather than frightening, but I still dreaded opening my inbox in case I had another email from him as I couldn’t help but read them. After a distressing one where he said he had made an attempt on his life I deleted and blocked his email and thankfully have heard nothing since.

stalker

Finally, there has been the stalker-colleague. For the last 3 years I have been subjected to persistent and extremely unwanted attention from a man I work with in the form of emails, face-to-face contact, unwanted gifts and cards, and on one occasion him turning up at a theatre I was working at. I had a fantastically supportive boss throughout which enabled me to deal with it in the way I chose, which rightly or wrongly was informally. I truly felt, knowing this individual, that the obsession would abate if someone in authority set him straight, and after intervention by my manager and his things improved. Although I had nightmares about him, and dreaded going in to work for a time, I felt empowered by the fact I was dealing with the situation on my terms. Things improved significantly over the last year, however recently he has made another attempt to make contact with me entirely outside of the shared work environment and I have now had to deal with it another, more official way.

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Things that made these incidents more or less tolerable were, without doubt, being believed and supported. My pub manager did not want to bar the man who posed me such a threat (until he tried to damage property), and ultimately I left that place of work. My recent troubles were made manageable by my understanding boss – but more difficult by colleagues who did not see the seriousness of the situation and often found it rather funny. Cries of “hey, here comes your boyfriend!” as the man who was harassing me approached my work station did nothing to diminish the problem, but did a lot to reduce my feeling that I was right to be distressed. I’m sad to say it was generally a male/female divide: the guys told me not to worry, this guy wouldn’t hurt me; the girls recounted their own experiences of stalking and/or harassment.

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It wasn’t until November 2012 that the law was changed in England and Wales to make stalking a specific offence for the first time. Scotland was a little ahead of the game, criminalising Stalking in April 2010. Baffling, but bear in mind spousal rape didn’t officially become a crime until 1991 (1982 in Scotland)…

That aside, better late than never, and I can say from first hand experience the Police do take stalking seriously, and more importantly now have the legal infrastructure behind them to do something about it. Please don’t feel you won’t be believed – you will be. Report it. If not to the Police, confide in someone you trust, and keep a diary of events, however innocuous they may seem. Once I put 3 years worth of ‘little things’ and ‘minor incidents’ on paper it not only filled three full A4 pages (small font!) but it became clear to me that this was not just an irritation, not just something bothersome that felt a bit uncomfortable: I was being stalked. I had always assumed, and still feel, I was not in physical danger so never felt it was appropriate to report it as I felt I was perhaps being a little dramatic – a classic ‘hysterical woman’. This could not be further from the truth – what I have tolerated is more than anyone should ever have to endure from someone that supposedly ‘loves’ or ‘cares’ for you, and ultimately we never know what someone else is capable of, particularly if they are already deluded as to their relationship with you.

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Of course, in the grand scheme of things I feel lucky – this has encroached on my life and thoughts for the last 3 years, however I have never felt that I am at risk of physical violence and thankfully this man has never had my home address or phone number. My heart goes out to women and men who have been stalked in a far more aggressive manner than I have, because if what happened to me felt that overwhelming at times I hate to imagine if it were also literally following you home.

Websites such as 192.com make it easier and easier for stalkers to find your personal information. It is just one of many websites that provide personal information, usually for a fee. They get their information from the Electoral Roll, Telephone Directories and Companies House and offer it for sale unless you opt out of their service (one you never asked for and likely don’t know you are on). Fortunately for me I realised this a few years ago and had my details removed – something I am hugely grateful for as otherwise I might well have had first-hand experience of the home stalker. I would personally recommend to everyone that they request their details be removed from the site, and also that you remember to check the ‘opt out’ box on your Electoral Roll Form as otherwise they have the right to sell your information to websites and companies such as 192.com.

192.com Opt Out Form

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Another concern is social media: Facebook has improved but you still have to be careful about your privacy settings and letting ‘friends of friends’ have access to your page. Twitter is more difficult as it is essentially public domain so you have no control over who sees your posts. If in doubt, go for the highest privacy setting or disable your account and report it if you feel you are being targeted through the site. People joke about ‘Facebook stalking’ someone, but the reality for a lot of people who have experienced it is far from humorous.

Ultimately, you decide how far is too far. Any behaviour that makes you fearful or anxious, that encroaches on your life or makes you uncomfortable should be challenged – not necessarily directly as that can potentially escalate the situation, but perhaps through a trusted third party, manager, or the police. If someone knows where you live, please please call the police, even if you know the person and think they pose you no threat. Everyone deserves to feel safe at work and at home, and that includes you. You did not cause or encourage this behaviour, so don’t let self-blaming put your safety at risk.

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I have included several links to UK websites on this post (click on the images), but if you are from another country the same services are hopefully available. The 24th April 2014 is National Stalking Awareness Day in the UK, and if you or someone you know is being subjected to this treatment please do contact one of the helplines or charities to get some support and advice.

Obviously, if my stalker is reading this: you know who you are. Stop. Imagine someone was doing this to your mother. Stop.

National Stalking Helpline


Happy Malala Day!

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Today, despite great odds, Malala Yousafzai turned sixteen. The young activist and campaigner continues to inspire those many, many years her senior and turn the world’s attention to the treatment of women in her home country of Pakistan and the wider world.

Shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to demand an education, Malala miraculously survived and now lives in Birmingham, where her life-saving surgery took place. Today, on her 16th birthday, she will address the United Nations and will ask global leaders in New York to call for better access to education for children and young people across the world.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-23282494

Malala is a true inspiration, with wisdom and integrity way beyond her years – and I suspect in 50 years time we will still be talking about her.


The F Word

Feminism.  Is this still a dirty word in the modern age?  Many women (and men) I know who hold the tenets of the women’s rights movement dear are still uncomfortable being saddled with the title of ‘Feminist’, laden as the term is, with many still ascribing it to angry women who just don’t like men.

This of course could not be further from the truth: women who fall under the banner are variously in relationships with men, are mothers to sons, and have fathers and brothers they love. It is not about ‘us versus them’, it is about rights, and equal and fair treatment regardless of gender, creed, colour, race, religion or sexuality is one we should all have without having to ask.  The definition of Feminism, in fact, is “an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women”.

Unfortunately, although we have come a very long way, there is further to go.  Women are still under represented in almost all professions, and even in occupations where we have a long history of representation there is still a dearth of women at the top.  This holds true in all levels of Government including – as reported in The Guardian – The House of Commons:

“The House of Commons has 650 MPs. Of these 650, there are 504 male MPs, so women are seriously underrepresented.”

There are many who would draw a parallel between the rights of women in the Western world and that of their counterparts in other countries.  You need only look at the case of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teen activist who was recently shot in the head for daring to demand that she be allowed an education, to see where the difference lies.  However, equality is not a contest, and just because other women face tougher challenges that does not mean we should accept being treated as a minority in a country where women make up 51% of the population.  Rather we should be blazing a trail for these women, and supporting them in their struggles while still challenging inequality wherever we find it.  Also, we in the West are not as enlightened as we think. Only this week I read two articles that concerned women’s rights issues, and both gave me pause.

Firstly I read Rebecca Watson‘s excellent article “It Stands to Reason, Skeptics Can Be Sexist Too” in The Slate.  When she opted to speak publicly about Feminism and her first-hand experience of sexism in her professional field she was treated to a hate campaign that would have sent many into a hole never to return.  One suspects this was the intention.

My YouTube page and many of my videos were flooded with rape “jokes,” threats, objectifying insults, and slurs. A few individuals sent me hundreds of messages, promising to never leave me alone. My Wikipedia page was vandalized. Graphic photos of dead bodies were posted to my Facebook page. Twitter accounts were made in my name and used to tweet horrible things to celebrities and my friends.

What was particularly disturbing about her article was how brazen her critics were and are, not even thinking to anonymise threats and attacks.  This in itself shows that the problem is endemic, and the fact that women are being ostracised for daring to speak out about such treatment frankly beggars belief.

The second article was in The Guardian, written by Jill Filipovic and with the stand-out title “The real Republican rape platform“.  This was nothing short of terrifying as it showcased some incredibly disturbing comments made by both men and women in the Republican Party ahead of the US elections.  Whatever your views on abortion, most will find it shocking.  Being that I am pro-choice, I was gobsmacked.  Let us begin with Richard Mourdock:

“I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

Familiar as I am with the pervasiveness of right-wing Christianity in American politics, some of the quotes in Filipovic’s article still made me check the date on the article.  Was this written in the 1950s?  Nope, definitely 2012.  Despite senior Republicans disowning these remarks, Indiana senatorial candidate Mourdock has as yet refused to retract them – though he did make an ‘apology’ of sorts (no doubt with an arm twisted up his back) for “any interpretation other than what I intended”.  I consoled myself with the fact that this opinion was coming from a man, someone for whom women’s rights are not important, and also with the fact that even Romney and his ilk wanted to distance themselves from his views.  Surely he is a lone voice?  Sadly no.  Cue a quote from the Tea Party’s Sharron Angle, a female Republican senate candidate who believes abortion should be outlawed, even in the case of rape and/or incest:

“she insisted that a young girl raped by her father should know that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Much good can come from a horrific situation like that, Angle added. Lemons can be made into lemonade.”

Much good can come from a horrific situation like that.  That is her true belief.  Understandably this statement has made a lot of people very angry. Add these comments to those of “legitimate rape” exponent Todd Akin, Roger Rivard who tells us “Some girls rape easy“, and those of Douglas Henry who believes that “Rape, ladies and gentlemen, is not today what rape was” and you begin to feel that the whole world has disappeared through some kind of time portal to the dark ages, where women were chattel and had no say over their body or choices.  How much more enlightened then is our Western world compared to that of our Middle-Eastern sisters?

Thankfully, in this dialogue almost entirely dominated by men (according to 4th Estate 81% of people quoted about abortion in election news stories between November 2011 and May 2012 were male) some opposition voices have come to the fore.  President Obama, when asked by Jay Leno for his thoughts on the ‘rape debate’, replied:

“Rape is rape – it is a crime – and so these various distinctions about rape don’t make too much sense to me, don’t make any sense to me. The second thing this underscores though is this exactly why you don’t want a bunch of politicians, mostly male, making decisions about women’s healthcare”

Lena Dunham and Tina Fey have also spoken strongly on the issue, with the former recording a video endorsement for Obama and the latter speaking at the center for reproductive rights:

“if I have to listen to one more gray-faced man with a $2 haircut explain to me what rape is, I’m going to lose my mind.”

Lesley Gore has re-recorded her 1964 hit “You Don’t Own Me” to encourage women to get out and vote at the US elections on 6th November.  It shows a variety of women singing along followed by some shocking facts about Republican plans to remove funding from Planned Parenthood, shut down all family planning services and repeal affordable care – all actions that would primarily impact women.  This attempt to remove any prospect of choice, along with the means to prevent unwanted pregnancies, is a workaround as the Republicans know they can’t just outlaw abortion overnight.  That’s right, the Pro Life lobby are so Pro Life that they don’t even want you to have safe sex!  Aren’t we overpopulated enough as it is?! They even want women to have to disclose to their employer their reasons for being on birth control, an idea which if it ever became law (perish the thought) would surely discourage women from taking precautions.  Will these measures prevent unmarried couples having sex?  Hell no, but at least they will suffer the STIs, unwanted pregnancies and stigma that they clearly deserve…

On an election theme, CNN also published an article (and quickly retracted it) stating that women who are ovulating are more likely to vote Liberal as they will be feeling ‘sexier’.  Yes that’s right, rather than staying home and having all that sinful sex you are still able to safely have (and if the Republicans win you’d better make the most of it), the hot-to-trot ladies will be off to the polls to cast a lustful vote for the incumbent President.  The article, referred to as “craptastically craptastic” on the Daily Kos, is utterly ridiculous – however I do urge you to read it as it really does beggar belief.  It does, however, attempt some balance by asking the opinion of Susan Carroll (professor of political science and women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University) who, unsurprisingly, is not convinced:

“There is absolutely no reason to expect that women’s hormones affect how they vote any more than there is a reason to suggest that variations in testosterone levels are responsible for variations in the debate performances of Obama and Romney”

Carroll sees the research as following in the tradition of :

“the long and troubling history of using women’s hormones as an excuse to exclude them from politics and other societal opportunities…It was long thought that a woman shouldn’t be president of the U.S. because, God forbid, an international crisis might happen during her period!”

So, in a nutshell, if you think that Feminism has no real relevance for those of us in the First World, I beg you to reconsider.  The articles I have cited are but a few of those I read or consulted whilst writing this post, and the sheer volume of polarising pap in the run up to the US elections should give anyone, regardless of their political persuasion, pause for thought.  The attitudes and opinions expressed certainly bring a few F words to mind, but surprisingly Feminism is not top of the list.

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Since posting this I have come across an ‘Ad’ from Todd Akin where a rape survivor endorses him.  You can watch it here.  Presumably as she got pregnant she was not “legitimately raped”…


The Recoil Factor

 

Several of my friends and colleagues have suffered in recent years from a phenomenon that, in my head, I have begun calling “The Recoil Factor”.  This is essentially a negative reaction that those close to the sufferer have after the person goes through a trauma, illness (mental or physical), bereavement or major life change.  This reaction is baffling to those who do not experience it, and unfortunately means that a friend or loved one in great need of help and support suddenly finds those around them backing away, disappearing, and generally running for the hills.  This can often contribute to feelings of isolation, depression, and a low sense of self worth.

Recently the victim of a sexual assault, one of my friends has bravely chosen to tell others about her ordeal so as to hopefully catch the perpetrator, and also so that others can avoid being in a similar situation in the future.  The after-effects of the attack have been traumatic and life-changing, and she is currently suffers from anxiety, panic attacks.  In the short period since the terrifying experience she endured she has been avoided, told to “get over it”, been given the distinct feeling of not being believed, and also due to a period of sickness from work to recover now feels her job may be in jeopardy.  ‘This must be an isolated case’ you cry!  No, sadly this is often the norm, and there are people all over the UK (not to mention the world) who are experiencing the same feelings of rejection and disappointment just when they are at their lowest ebb.

I can cite numerous examples of this.  Friends with eating disorders who are “hard to be around”, victims of psychological and physical abuse who “should’ve just left”, an ex-colleague who survived cancer only to find half her ‘mates’ seemed to have lost her phone number, and a friend whose sibling was murdered who apparently was “just no fun anymore”.  So what is it about tragedy that makes people so damned unappealing?  When we have a relationship with someone, romantic or otherwise, is it not understood that this is for both good times and bad? Often it seems to be a case of when the going gets tough the tough are on their own and the rest get going.

Of course, not everyone does this.  Conversely in the face of disaster there are those who step up, often those the victim of the personal tragedy would least expect to come to their aid.  Perhaps it is the friend who always seemed a little self-centred before, or a colleague who goes the extra mile, or even a stranger on a train.  Sometimes, just when it seems darkest, someone completely surprises you by giving you just what you need at just the right time.  These people will ultimately be the real friends that you treasure for life, while those that recoil are consigned to the friendship bin of history.

Ultimately, your friendships and relationships are a reflection of who you are as a person.  If you find yourself thinking, “that’s terrible, I don’t know what to say” then say nothing – listen instead.  If the situation is difficult for you – perhaps it relates back to a bad experience of your own – then be honest and say so, don’t just switch off your phone or sidestep a person who needs you.  Just remember, if you were in the same boat you’d wish there was someone around to help you keep your head above water.

 


Let My People Vote 2012

As election fever hots up in the US of A the Republican attempt at vote manipulation has begun in earnest. 

For those of us this side of the pond, American politics may not seem to be of that much importance or interest to we Brits, dealing as we are with our own financial pressures and revelations of serious corruption in the wake of the independant Hillsborough report.  For those who have any interest whatsoever in freedom or fairness, however, it does and should concern you.  At this very moment a concerted effort is being made to deny basic voting rights to scores of American citizens, primarily because they fall into the groups most likely to vote Democrat.  This insidious push to topple Obama by unscrupulous means has been well documented, however still has the power to shock and awe.

 Five short days ago, on 17th Sept, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was caught on camera branding almost half of Americans as ‘victims’ and intimating that he does not care about those people.  The video can be found at: http://www.motherjones.com.  The gaffe, which he has thus far poorly defended, is taken from a recent address he made to Republican donors, where he is heard describing almost half of Americans as “people who pay no income tax” and are “dependent upon government.”

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…My job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Romney has not apologised for these comments, although he has conceded they were not elegantly stated, but the worrying element is not purely that this man could potentially be the next leader of the ‘free world’.  What is of greater concern are the tactics that have been employed in order to ensure that these “victims”, who by his own admission he cares not a jot for, are being blocked from their inalienable right to vote by introducing a new voter ID system that is intended to prevent them.

In a surprisingly guileless admission in June of this year, Mike Turzai (the Pennsylvania state House Republican leader) stated:

“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation – abortion facility regulations – in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” 

Feel free to draw your own conclusions by watching the video of said statement here, although in all honesty the intention is not really in dispute.

Essentially the new voter ID rules mean that those who do not have a driving license or, hilariously, a firearms license, are all but exempt from voting.  This is allegedly to prevent voter fraud, but the real fraud is in the targeting of this policy as it disenfranchises the core Democrat voters – namely people who are poor, elderly, young, disabled, and/or non-white.  Sarah Silverman, who was the spokeswoman for the Jewish Council for Education and Research’s ‘The Great Schlep‘ at the last election has again starred in an entertaining and educational short film detailing the underhand tactics of this latest attempt at winning by obstruction rather than via support – watch it here.  Unfortunately there is little anyone can do about this new system as it is now in place and will be the one used for the November elections, however what the citizens of America certainly can do is ensure they have secured the right ID to make sure their vote will count, and with any luck block the election of Romney and his undemocratic party once more.

The following is taken from the website www.letmypeoplevote2012.com:5 things you should know about voter id laws

  1. These are not bipartisan efforts. They are initiated by Republicans, passed by Republicans, and signed into law by Republicans. The State House Majority Leader in PA asserted that these voter restrictions would allow Mitt Romney to win the state.

  2. The voters most likely to be burdened by these new voting restrictions are Democrats. Consider which voters don’t have ID. Among seniors and young voters, 18% don’t have valid ID. Among African Americans, 25% don’t have valid ID.

  3. Restrictions on voting, like poll taxes and “literacy” tests, have a long history. They are used by one party to prevent supporters of another party from voting.

  4. If someone were trying to steal an election, in person voter fraud, where a voter pretends to be someone they are not at the polls, is the last method anyone would chose. Absentee ballot stuffing is much easier. But more Republicans vote by absentee ballot. So no new restrictions on absentee voting.

  5. The Brennan Center has estimated that as many as 3.2 million citizens could find it harder to vote because of new voter ID laws.


Same-sex Marriage: The Last Taboo?

“We are committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same-sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships. We believe that this is the right thing to do.”

Nicola Sturgeon

Four days ago the SNP announced plans to allow same-sex marriage in Scotland following a consultation which garnered a record 77,508 responses.  Unsurprisingly the proposal is being staunchly opposed by the Catholic Church and Church of Scotland, who seem to believe the fabric of society will unravel if the bill goes forward; however the majority of the Scottish people seem to be in favour as long as the government allows religious institutions to opt out of performing ceremonies if they feel it is contradictory to their beliefs.  With British society becoming increasingly secular and same-sex civil partnerships already permitted throughout the UK, is the decision to allow marriages in addition to what is already available not simply removing the specifying of gender from the legislative vernacular?

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, recently referred to same-sex marriage as a ‘grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right’.  This kind of inflammatory language, coupled with bizarre comments from Archbishop-elect Philip Tartaglia insinuating that the tragic death of MP David Cairns was somehow as a result of his sexuality or lifestyle (rather than complications of acute pancreatitis as cited by medical professionals), has certainly lent credence to gay rights campaigners assertion that this is just another attempt at ostracise and vilify LGBT people rather than a genuine debate about the proposed bill.  Cairns’ partner, Dermot Kehoe, called the Archbishop of Glasgow homophobic and prejudiced after the comments, which Tartaglia is yet to show contrition for.

“It is not homophobic to say you don’t agree with gay marriage. It isn’t homophobic to think it is unchristian.  But what is homophobic is to make generalised views based on their sexuality…  It’s generalising on the basis of ignorance. It’s taking something you know nothing about and saying it’s because he’s gay, that’s the definition of prejudice.”

Dermot Kehoe

The concept of marriage predates reliable records, however it has always been based on the contractual rather than the religious.  In Jewish custom, the Ketubah (a contract akin to a prenuptial agreement) is signed at the time of the marriage and is essentially a written agreement setting out the terms for the relationship. The marriage ceremony, therefore, is meant to be a public demonstration of a couple’s commitment to this agreement, and it is this legal document rather than the ceremony that constitutes the marriage.  The same type of contact also exists in Islam and is known as Katb el-Kitab or Nikah-Nama. The blend of the secular and religious is purely a choice: twice as many heterosexual couples opt for a non-religious registry office wedding or humanist ceremony as are married in a church, therefore it seems the question of same sex marriage should not be debated primarily by religious institutions.

“It seems like it is the last vestige of an older morality.”

John Haldane

The fact is that civil partnerships have gone along way towards allowing LGBT people to have their relationships legally recognised and to affording them most of the same rights as heterosexual couples.  Many of the critics in the marriage debate are simply asking, isn’t that enough?  For many it is, and understandably given most religious institutions’ views on gay lifestyles a church wedding is not high on everyone’s agenda.  That said, it should surely be a choice left down to the individual couple, and one that should be theirs to make.  With gay ministers now being ‘accepted’ in the church (provided they declared their sexuality and were ordained before 2009) it does not seem too great a leap to assume that there will also be parishioners who are gay and would like to be able to be married in their church.

The SNP have made clear their intentions stating that “no religious body will be compelled to conduct same-sex marriages”, also adding that although protection for religious bodies not choosing to conduct such ceremonies already exists under the UK Equality Act they will also amend the law to give further protection.  With this in place and no one being forced to participate in ceremonies they cannot reconcile with their religion, the refusal to allow two people (who love each other but happen to be the same gender) to have the same rights as a straight couple smacks of nothing more than bigotry cloaked in faith.  If the church survived the coming-out of the clergy it is unlikely that this latest step towards genuine equality will cause it to crumble, but if it does then surely it is not truly an institution built on love as it professes to be.

“I believe that love shared and celebrated in society between two people of the same sex should make no-one afraid and can only enrich communities.”

Rev. Scott Rennie