Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Well last Saturday night was a lot of fun. I joined the Reclaim The Night march in central London. Something like 2,000 women marched to protest violence against women in all it's forms. I managed to meet up on the way round with Jess McCabe and Catherine Redfern from The F-Word and Cate Sevilla from Dollymix who had brought Sophie - her talking vagina (it's a puppet before you all write in asking for tour dates). And I met Julie Bindel, of whose journalism I (usually) approve. Many photos taken but still not seen them other than the one here of myself and Catherine Redfern.

One of the most interesting people I spoke to all night was [well I won't name her cos it's a bit politically sensitive but she works for an organisation which deals with women in the immigration system who are victims of trafficking or of domestic or sexual violence]. Of course the big issue is how few places they have available versus how many people are in need of their help. And the big issue with solving that is the difficulty of getting media attention to the good work their doing. She said most journalists aren't interested in these women's stories unless the women are virgins abducted from their loving family homes. Women in more complicated situations - such as those who've agreed to take a well paid lap-dancing job and then been forced into poorly paid prostitution, those who suffered abuse from their families or ran away from home, those who have children or those who haven't followed asylum-seeking protocol exactly correctly - are not considered media-friendly. So I was pleased to see this story in the Guardian about a woman seeking asylum in the UK and the horrific treatment meted out to her by a country that then sees fit to go marching into Afghanistan and Iraq claiming to be defending human rights.

Anyhow so hello to all the cool people I met and hung out with on the way round. Apparently it was the biggest ever EVER this year. London Feminist Network (who organise it) has a social on 12th Dec and the next demo is A Million Women Rise on 8th Mar, so feel free to add to your diaries if interested.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Silent Voices

The debate on this one seems to be raging on over here. The issue is should the queen be inviting people round for tea who run countries where the law indicates 200 lashes for a woman who gets into a car with an unrelated male? Now I think we all know the answer to that. What the case has highlighted though is the views of Muslim groups in this country. This is a perfect opportunity for them to express their revulsion at this sort of behaviour. Muslim Council of Great Britain? No comment. Yet if Muslim groups spoke out against our sucking up to oppressive regimes it would REALLY embarrass the government, much more so than if me, a couple of other liberal bloggers and Mark Steel are left screaming in the dark.

Also thanks to the Britblog Round-Up for featuring another Cru-blog post in their reading list this week. And Muslimah Media Watch who featured my piece on Islam's sense of humour.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tony Blair - What A Nutter!

Tony Blair wasn't famous for his brutal honesty and quelle surprise - he's now owning up to what he didn't tell us when he was in power. Apparently (and I think we had mostly guessed) he's deeply religious, but had feared that if he publically announced his beliefs, people would think he was a "nutter".

Well sorry but I think the great British public is entitled to know what our politicians stand for and entitled to make up their own minds on what that says about them. And if the consensus view of the public is that there isn't a big guy in white robes who's sat up there on a cloud making careful notes every time we swear or go to work on a Sunday ready to burn us for eternity if we don't say sorry afterwards, then good for them. And if the consensus view of the public is that they'd rather have someone in charge who doesn't subscribe to that sort of nonsense either, then even better.

Now of course the church has been asked to contribute to the debate and said "It would have led to more constructive social policy at home and principled policies abroad" which is atrocious bandwagon-jumping. If he'd listened to his religion we wouldn't have gone to war or screwed the country over. Really?

What sort of example does the Bible set for going to war? Well the Bible's full of war, every five minutes God smites another nation down or sends a bunch of plagues or tells people they're the chosen people and they have the right to go killing everyone else.

And what sort of social policy at home was the church looking to advocate? Women forced to stay in the home, gay people excluded from society and abortionists burnt at the stake?

I don't want a religiously-motivated defense (read "attack") and social welfare policy.

And as it would appear - nor does the rest of the country!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Not Legal Enough

Abortion has been legal in the UK for 40 years now. It's still a big taboo subject though and it's clear that a large number of women believe if they ask for an abortion their privacy won't be respected and they may be charged a small fortune for the service. As a result we still have an unsafe and illegal backstreet abortion market in this country. This is not a happy state of affairs.

We need to enshrine the following in law:

1) If women get pregnant, they can get an abortion.
2) That abortion will be free, regardless of whether they are seeking asylum or are illegal immigrants to the UK, and any follow-up treatment will also be free.
3) All information about them and their consultation will be kept confidential from everyone - including their families and their community leaders.
4) That free impartial counseling is available to them before and after they make their decision.
5) All school girls are taught what their rights are as a part of comprehensive compulsory sex education, whether that be in a state school, a faith school, a private school or at home.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Nanny State

Rather frightening story from the BBC about a woman who got pregnant and decided - not as many in her situation quite understandably would, to abort - but to have the child and put it straight up for adoption. Now the local authorities have asked a court to over-rule the woman's own wishes and seek out the woman's parents and the man who got her pregnant and see if they want to keep the child. The court have quite rightly said no.

Now firstly when was it ever permissible to go over a 20-year-old woman's head and talk to her parents without her permission? Never. She's a responsible adult and she's entitled to make her own decisions.

Secondly if the father of this child had been around at all in the last nine months he would probably have known the woman in question was pregnant. There are tell-tale signs like having a big bulging lump on the front of her body. So my initial suspicion is that he may not be the most responsible type. But of course we don't know if the woman was in fact avoiding him, and if she was why she was avoiding him.*

The question is - were the local authorities intending to suggest he raise the child himself as a lone parent or did they want him to help them load pressure on the mother to raise it herself? There are lone fathers in the UK and I'm all in favour of encouraging men to feel that they can take on the job of parenting either alone or as the main carer in a larger family. If the guy were suitable and willing to take on such a role though, wouldn't the mother have noticed?

Instead we are looking at a local authority too lazy to go out and find a suitable adoptive family for a needy child, instead loading pressure on a woman trying to do the right thing to keep a child she doesn't feel able to raise.

*And in a country with a 5% conviction rate for rape, we actually cannot assume he didn't rape her, in which case he definitely has no right to see the child.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Sad Day For English History

Last night as the England football team made their early departure for contention for the European Cup next year Alan Hanson said "This is a sad day for English history". Well I like watching football so I was sorry to see the team go out but I hardly think it registers on the scale of historical events. I mean when I'm 103 am I going to be sat in a rocking chair telling my grandchildren "I remember 2007, we went and murdered thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, and then we lost to Croatia"? No.

I have no problem with people playing sports, I think that's great, I think more people should be encouraged to play sports. I have a big problem though with corporate sponsorship and huge-scale government funding for facilities and events that only a tiny elite will ever get to be involved with. And I have a problem with the sport = good mentality that sits behind our Olympic ambitions and behind the way that some city councils help pay for sports stadiums in their cities.

My problem is with the idea that it's some sort of societal good for lots of people to watch sports. I don't see any evidence that watching sports encourages the watchers to play sport themselves. More like it encourages them to eat pies and sit on the sofa with a beer in one hand and the remote control in the other.

Professional sports are also profoundly discriminatory. Women's events are often paid less and relegated to obscure TV stations. A relatively tiny number of women make a living as sportspeople, compared to thousands of men. Last night in front of the match - which I watched with a Scottish friend and Mr Cru - who is American - I was being teased somewhat about Englands performance and flippantly remarked "It's not my team, I support England Women". But the more I thought about how much Scotland, Germany or Argentina's players and fans might hate England, it occurred to me - surely no-one hates England Men's Team like England Women's Team do? The women on the England team have no hope of earning a professional wage from their sport in their own country. They get little or no glory, they're not paid to do adverts, commentate or coach major international teams when they retire. Yet they know full well the men doing the same job as them typically have 20 cars each, huge mansions, earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a week and are featured with their glamourous wives in the likes of Hello and OK magazine in sumptuous surroundings. If I played for England Women I would be bitterly laughing my socks off at the men right now.

The other thing about watching sports is that it often leads to big groups of men meeting up and developing a rather tribal mentality. We have a long and less-than-proud history in this country of football crowds getting out of hand. And there's a reason some pubs don't let people in in team shirts - because it can create an intimidating atmosphere. As if to confirm that for me my attention was drawn to a rather disturbing post over at Shakesville.

...and yes the photo is me, in my platinum blonde years playing for (and captaining) Onnabelievable LFC, Tokyo.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


BBC has another candidate for the much-fought-over UK press stupid question of the year. So Does Islam Have A Sense Of Humour? Now the answer in real life is "no". Only some creatures, certainly more than just humans but probably only the great apes - us, orangutans, chimps, gorillas and bonobos - have a sense of humour. A religion can't have a sense of humour.

What else are those diligent journalists trying to achieve here (aside from re-gurgitating a press release from someone organising a themed comedy tour of the UK)?

Do Muslims have a sense of humour? Of course most of them do. Being a Muslim doesn't affect your ability to enjoy and generate humour. It might affect your ability to go out and enjoy specifically-staged humour, if you are in one of those Muslim cultures which forbid entertainment. There were certainly a few Muslims who failed to see the funny side of the Danish-published cartoons of Mohammed. And there is certainly one lunatic Christian extremist who hasn't seen the funny side of Jerry Springer The Opera.

But also the article is about three male Muslim comics touring the UK. How out of date are they? Don't they know we now have a female Muslim comic in Britain? While their interviewees are explaining "women in hijaabs do laugh you know", there is pretty good evidence to suggest that some Muslim women (with or without hijabs) actually tell jokes too. While the men interviewed are still making jokes about "marriage" and "mother-in-laws", the fabulous Shazia Mirza (pictured) is making documentaries on TV and performing at all the major comedy clubs around the country. Keep up BBC...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Reclaim Saturday Night

Looks like for the first time ever I'm actually not working on Reclaim The Night night! So I'm going to try to meet up with the F-Word team and join the march. If you're London based (and female) let me know if you want to come along.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Eating With The Enemy

Last week King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was being treated to lavish receptions with the Queen and assorted British dignitaries. This week, one of his courts has punished a women with 200 lashes and six months in jail for BEING gang-raped. They apparently increased the sentence from 60 lashes to punish her for attempting to draw attention to the case internationally, and have withdrawn her lawyer's right to practice law after he appealed on her behalf. I love a good dinner party, but I have to say I'm a little more picky than the government and royal family are about who I invite.

Of course the Queen dressed for the occasion in a rather raunchy outfit by Saudi standards, with her lust-inducing face fully exposed, a crime which in Saudi Arabia would be punished severely. During the visit the Queen said the UK and Saudi Arabia should work together against those "who threaten the way of life of our citizens". What Saudi Arabian "way of life"? Virtual perpetual house arrest for women, who are treated like goats and have no human rights whatsoever?

Oh sorry, just heard, apparently they sell oil to power our SUV habit and buy expensive arms from our corrupt giant defense companies to use against their own people and regional rivals. OK, everybody put your heads back in the sand please...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Terrible Teens

I'm generally in favour of not going totally mad with juvenile offenders. You know six year olds who pick up Dad's gun and shoot someone. I don't hold them responsible. I don't believe in locking kids up when they're too young to know what's going on. This is a little more sinister though, I saw it over at Feminist Law Professors. A group of teenage boys (ages 15 to 17 at time of crime) ganging up on a teenage girl, raping her, filming it, distributing the DVD and not even getting a custodial sentence?

And they don't use the word rape either, they say "procuring sexual penetration by intimidation". If anyone understands Australian law better than me I would love to hear how those two crimes differ. I know we've been talking on here recently about rape conviction rates and the difficulties faced by courts in getting convictions, but surely showing the jury the DVD would clear the matter up. Plus the perpetrators pleading guilty. Surely that's enough for more than a lightly slapped wrist?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

You know you're doing something right when...

...the Daily Mail calls you "Dr Death"! I'm generally a fan of Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris. The Mail feels differently. They describe him as "the Lib Dem MP Evan Harris who backs embryo experiments, euthanasia and freer abortions". Embryo experiments? Those would be the ones to find cures for horrible illnesses and disabilities that are ruining the lives of adults and children alive in the world now. Euthanasia? The right to die in dignity for people alive now who may suffer from illnesses that lead to unbearable suffering and an agonising death. And freer abortions? Yes Dr Harris thinks that women can make their own decisions about whether or not to have an abortion and don't need two doctors to grant them permission first. He also believes that medical (pill-induced early-stage miscarriage) can be done at home, allowing women a more comfortable environment to complete their termination and freeing up hospital space for people who actually need treatment!

If I didn't know better I'd say Dr Harris is trying to improve and enable life for those people already alive. While the "Deathly" Mail is doing just the opposite.

But it gets worse "he is an aggressive secularist, serving on the council of the National Secular Society and attacking anyone - particularly Christians - who allows their faith to influence their attitude towards abortion" Mmmm. So he thinks that religion shouldn't be allowed to influence political decision-making? Of course he doesn't advocate compulsory abortions for Christians - he's not stopping them practicing their own faith in the comfort of their own homes. He's trying to stop them pushing their beliefs on other people through drawing up of religiously-based laws which are then applied to people who aren't religious. I imagine he is also against the idea of stoning those who blaspheme... Radical stuff. He did write a very concise piece about the rise of fanatical religion on his own website earlier this year. And they didn't even get round to mentioning some of his other ideas. Action to reduce carbon emissions. Proper care for the elderly.

Instead they went with: "Fixated on his work, he is rarely seen around Westminster without the earpiece of a mobile phone." Sorry - now they're complaining he works too hard!?

And you know these guys have been trying to dig up dirt and having absolutely no luck when they resort to "he has eschewed the suit in favour of a more proletarian jacket and odd trousers". That's the best they can do? He wears "odd" trousers. The bloke is clearly a saint, albeit a secular one.

But even they admit he has, maybe, one good point about him. "He bravely volunteered, for instance, to act as a guinea pig in trials of a new vaccine to combat the HIV virus." Yeah, yeah so he willingly risked his own life to help develop a vaccine to stop the spread of AIDS. So what? I'm still thinking about those "odd" trousers ... ewww!

Actually very uplifting to think maybe there is still a politician left in government who isn't just trying to screw the country as hard as possible and see if we all notice.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Plymouth Spin

One of the reasons for the quiet on the blog this week is that I spent a few days in sunny Plymouth. Lots to report. The reason for the trip was a show on Wednesday night which went pretty well. The highlight being the bouncer's mobile phone going off and his ringtone loudly announcing "I AM HUNG LIKE A DONKEY" in the middle of Ray Crawford's (my co-star for the show) set. The low point was after the show chatting to some members of the audience, a group of laddish guys who'd been in the front row and had been quite chatty during the show. One of them runs a building/plumbing/similar business and was talking about how he's now hiring mostly Polish labour. To which the other replied "well at least they work hard, and they're white"! I was seriously hoping that was a very bad taste joke but it quickly became obvious it wasn't. As I pressed them on the issue, they just dug in. At one point one of them said he thought Jim Davidson (racist, sexist, homophobic comic who on one occasion famously refused to do his show because their were disabled people in the front row!) should be Prime Minister.

And they did seem embarrassed about their views. Like they couldn't say "black person", they would say "you know - one of them" while tilting their head to one side with a meaningful expression. Strange - in London I don't really meet people with views like that, I don't think it'd be easy to live in Hackney and be very racist. I like Hackney.

Of course there are good things in Plymouth too. Here are my recommendations for a visit:

Hire a bicycle from Plymouth Cycle Hire 01752 257 701 and take it up onto Dartmoor, up the Plym Valley Cycleway (they will lend you a map, repair kit and lock with the bike), £12 for 24 hours.
National Marine Acquarium - britain's biggest acquarium.
Boat trips in the harbour and out around the area
Walking around the Barbican and "The Hoe"for the great views
Touring the Plymouth Gin Factory. There are various options depending on whether you want to be able to walk when you come out.
Drum Theatre sometimes has good stuff on (I was lucky and caught Life After Scandal which was very interesting)
Eat fantastic seafood - my recommendation is the Pasta & Seafood Bar by the docks in the Barbican area for scallops, monkfish and a menu as long as your arm.

Guess Whose Fault This Is?

I know this is a little out of date - but it's only just come to my attention. Nauseating stuff.

He starts with an odd line "Isn't it time to acknowledge that it's beyond the capacity of the judicial process to deal with date-rape?"

So what should we do? Legalise date rape? So we'd be saying any woman who intentionally spends time alone with any man effectively consents to any and all sexual acts that he has the physical strength to force her into or indeed the cunning to trick her into (perhaps by physically incapacitating her in some way). Does he mean that? So in response women would have to take chaperones with them on all dates/business lunches/dental appointments/etc. Presumably male chaperones since a female chaperone might be construed to have shown up for a three-way date (and therefore three-way date rape). And of course the chaperones couldn't possibly be guys you weren't related to because what if you got stood up on the date - suddenly that's a new date with the chaperone. And don't bother telling me you should stick with people you trust - because statistics show people you trust do you a lot more harm than people you don't trust! So instead you'd have to pick someone you couldn't be dating - your dad or brother for instance...

Effectively you'd be restricted to never leaving the house without a close male relative. And imagine how many other social ills can be cured simply by LIVING UNDER THE TALEBAN!

In any case the idea that prosecution rates don't seem to be too hot so lets give up is hardly the approach. I mean Harold Shipman killed a lot of older women, it must be really hard to tell if a doctor is quietly poisoning some of his/her infirm patients. So should we legalise doctors murdering their patients? No we should take extra steps to prevent it.

He goes on to explain how all the measures attempted or called for are unfair or unworkable. For instance:

"If evidence about an accuser's lifestyle is ruled impermissible, jurors are left wondering. Might a supposed victim's behaviour indeed have seemed to imply consent? A victim whose lifestyle might have implied the opposite is denied the opportunity to get this across."

No - the point is that a victim's behaviour DOES NOT, CANNOT, and WILL NEVER imply consent. Consent is a process that is entirely specific to the individual situation. Having willingly slept with all ten outfield players from the local football team is not consent for the goalie to do whatever he wants to you. Defences in the past have tried to bias the jury by presenting the victim as promiscuous. Which doesn't seem to hold much water, what is a defence lawyer said "Your honour, the alleged victim often gave money to charity" and the jury would then acquit a poor person accused of robbing them!

And then he goes on what can only be described as a victim-blaming spree...

"When our houses are burgled, we're hardly more likely than rape victims to see the intruder end up behind bars. So what do we do? We fit locks to our doors and windows. We keep our valuables out of sight."

The low prosecution rate for burglary exists because often the perpetrators leave the premises without being seen by the victims or other witnesses, who may be asleep or not at home. We might however find that prosecution rates among those who know the name and address of their burglar are rather more impressive. And as to keeping valuables out of sight, we already know that rape is a crime of violence, rather than of sexual attraction. So-called "provocative dress" affects nothing. Is he calling for chastity belts? Or for women to disguise themselves as men so they're not seen as "available" for rape?

But of course his main point is that feminists are doing it all wrong!

"The insistence of feminist activists that the courts must provide the only solution to rape is surely political. They want a demonstration that the state backs women against men. Yet, in perpetuating the idea that women have no part to play in securing their own safety, campaigners are doing them no favours."

Like every feminist in the universe I think no rape is a better situation than lots of rape with a decent prosecution system. I think educating men and women about their rights and responsibilities is vital. I think a lot could be done, for instance, to address the media messages being sent out to men and women on the subject. Teaching women that rape is their fault and therefore men that they have a "right to rape" is not on my agenda however.

How telling then that he characterises feminism as wanting the state to side with women against men. On the contrary, feminism wants an end to any sense of there being an ongoing conflict between the sexes. Radically in this case they want to end the horror of rape.

And how is telling women that they shouldn't allow their lives to be ruled by fear, paranoia and self-blame somehow "doing them no favours"? Telling rape victims that they have only themselves to blame doesn't strike me as a big favour.

Who allows nasty pieces of work like that into print?