Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Term time

The 10-minute bill through parliament which suggested the maximum term for abortion should be cut to 21 weeks has been rejected. Not that ten minute bills ever make law anyway but nice to know most MPs are opposed to the concept. The suggestion was that there should also be a compulsory ten day "cooling off" period. Now I think other people telling me what I can and can't do to my own body sucks but one thing that really really sucks about the bill is that they say: "a woman should be given access to information and counselling about the medical risk of termination as well as of carrying a pregnancy to term". Yeah - it is much more dangerous to carry a pregnancy to term than it is to have an abortion. Furthermore the later one has an abortion the more dangerous it is so a ten day cooling off period would kill some women.

Nadine Dorries, the MP who tabled the bill also said that "Such a cooling-off period is necessary, because the decision to terminate a pregnancy or not is one with which the woman concerned will have to live for the rest of her life" by which arguement cooling off periods should also be introduced for moving in with a partner, tattoos and piercings, getting a dog or a cat and in fact deciding to have a baby, right? Or is it just women not prepared to raise a child in an environment when that will more or less certainly cost them their career whoshe wishes to have victimised in this way?

There is a very interesting article in the Guardian featuring the stories of nine women who've had abortions. None of them regret it and one says without it she would have killed herself. I've never met a woman who's regretted an abortion. And I have met some who've regretted having kids!

If you want to reduce abortions, make it compulsory for employers to provide adequate child care, chase up absent fathers who don't pay maintenance on time, provide proper benefits, chase up companies who push out pregnant employees and drag them through the courts so it really hurts.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Whoops, there go our civil liberties...

What's the big thing with flag burning? I mean so what? In fact much better to burn a symbol of the country you have a problem with than to actually hurt people from there. Next they will be outlawing holding a placard, looking a bit hippy and using the word "bollocks". All I can say to that is, well, BOLLOCKS!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Girls vs Boys

There is another report out showing that in spite of various measures being taken boys still lag behind girls in terms of GCSE results. And of course the government is "deeply frustrated". What I want to know is why all these over-achieving girls are still on the receiving end of a massive pay gap and hold virtually none of the top jobs in this country (see dozens of other Cru-blog articles for details). When girls are behind boys in some measure the reaction is "Ah, exactly, that's why women should be barred from the top jobs, see?" in the reverse case scenario it's "We are failing our men and improvements must be made".

The truth is (if you ask me) that girls are better at following instructions and getting on with working hard on things even when those things are easy, boring and repetitive. And that is probably mainly a nurture thing - being told to sit still, be quiet, smile and not make a fuss. It could have some genetic basis too - women often have better endurance than men and men often have better burst strength than women - and that might apply to mental work too. School is boring. Parents don't teach kids stuff at home like they used to and schools and curriculum designers are so paranoid about getting (a) everything covered in case they've missed something and (b) the best results possible, so that schools who shop around for easy exams will choose them that school is not challenging for a majority of kids. Now there are two reactions to that - buckle down and get on with it, do the 47-page project on how-to-light-a-bunsen-burner (I genuinely was marked on this when I did GCSE combined sciences many years ago), or refuse, get bored, muck about, etc. And coursework is always about who did the most work rather than who got to the right answer quickest, which rewards those used to doing as they're told. I had a teacher at school who used to weigh coursework projects on a set of scales and predict the grades they would get - he was never wrong! That structure favours hard-working girls. It just does, and perhaps to some extent rightly so since in most workplaces those are the skills that are of greatest importance.

Girls should be commended on having done so well in GCSEs and having worked so hard. All children should be given the option if taking extension work. I'd like to see all educational areas offering ealry GCSEs in a small number of subjects for those who wish to take them - studying at a government-sponsored after-school or weekend club and then being allowed to sit out the corresponding lessons in school in the library or other quiet room.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Lifting the Veil

Seems like the last week or two I've been fielding questions on the whole to-wear-or-not-to-wear the veil question. I guess what with it being an issue of feminism and religion it definitely falls in my court so here goes:

The idea, touted by Jack Straw, Tony Blair et al that the veil is alienating for non-muslims totally misses the point. The veil is not worn to create a barrier or as a symbol to show a woman's religion. The veil is worn because Islam teaches women that their bodies should not be seen because they are a temptation to men. Now pause> rewind> play>. Men are tempted by their bodies and that's their fault and they should cover up so men won't feel bad. You know if men are tempted by the sight of me in hot pants that is THEIR problem and THEY need to deal with it. The whole idea that women should blame themselves for the effect they have on men is ridiculous and offensive. It comes under the heading of well-if-you-wear-mini-skirts-you-deserve-to-be-raped school of thought and we don't believe in that rubbish.

The veil is also not required by anything in the Quran, which simply says men and women should dress modestly and women should use a their scarf to cover their bosom (not their eyes!). The idea that the hair and even the face must be covered comes from Islamic leaders - male ones - who use it as a means to oppress women. There is no end to the things that veiled women cannot participate in fully - sports, physical work, dance, theatre, and of course now meetings with Jack Straw...

I don't think we should prohibit adult women from wearing the veil if they wish to. Remember these women have been taught that they are revealing sexual parts of their bodies if they take the veil off, that's like saying women should go to work topless, which they shouldn't unless they really need the money to put themselves through college... We should however look with pity on those women who do wear it and who often do so insisting it is their own choice. These are victims of extensive long-term cultural brain-washing and intimidation from their own families and communities. These women need more contact with the outside world, not less.

As if to prove my point for me there is a very revealing interview on the BBC with Aishah Azmi, the teaching assistant who lost her job as a result of her insistance on wearing a full face veil. During the interview she is asked whether or not she wore her veil when she was being interviewed for the job by a male member of staff. Her reply is - and this is amazing to me - "Do I have to answer all the questions?". Now I put it to you that this is NOT a woman who lives her life freely based on her own choices. This is a woman who has been pushed around, who is used to being told what to do.

This case also highlights the fact that expecting school girls to wear the veil is sick in the extreme. Firstly because it teaches them that their pre-pubescent bodies are somehow sexual and secondly because they're too young to have made up their minds yet whether or not they are religious. We should never refer to Muslim children, or Christian children. They are the children of Muslim or Christian parents. We wouldn't talk about a 6-year-old capitalist or an 8-year-old existentialist. Children should be allowed to make their own decision about religion when they are 16 or 18 or older if they choose based on fair teaching, dealing in facts. This is covered in length in Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion as recommended in just about every other post I write at the moment!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Creationist Ahoy!

A very interesting female (and indeed self-proclaimed feminist!) Muslim blogger, Zola Malay has been commenting on my post on richard Dawkins over the last few days. Something I've found very interesting since she's actually a creationist. And prepared to talk about her views - in my experience most creationists are shut off to discussion. Anyway so I thought some of you might like to read the latest from her and from me and join the discussion.

From Zola:

"Cruella my response to "who created god?" is fortunatley already given in Islamic texts.

According to the Quran, Allah tells us that He is the only creator and sustainer of all that exists and that nothing and no one exists alongside Him, nor does He have any partners. He tells us that He is not created, nor is He like His creation in anyway. He calls Himself by a number of names and three of them are:

A) The First - (Al-Awal)
B) The Last - (Al Akhir)
C) The Eternal, who is sought after by His creation, while He has no need from them at all. (As-Samad)

He always has existed and He never was created, as He is not like His creation, nor similar to it, in any way.("He" is used only out of respect and dignity - not for gender, Allah has no gender).

A number of sceptics ask this question. But God by definition is the uncreated creator of the universe, so the question 'Who created God?' is illogical, just like 'To whom is the bachelor married?', i.e. God cannot be a creation if He himself is the creator?I will try and post more on this on a seperate piece on my own blog. "

Well fair enough, let me respond to that...

Starting, if I may, at the end with the notion that the creator cannot him/herself be created. That for me doesn't hold water. Only this afternoon I created a very nice tray of cinnamon shortbread. And by your reasoning I was created by Allah, which makes me both creator and created. And before you suggest that it was in fact Allah who created the cinnamon shortbread let me remind you that (a) I don't believe in Allah so it sems odd that he would help me out in the kitchen and (b) I've also created some very interesting variations on the bacon sandwich. I'm sure Allah wouldn't have wanted to help me with those. So if you believe I was created then a creator can be created. So for me the issue of who created Allah remains.

Evolution offers an explanation for how life on earth came to be. Your argument is that A created B and A "just does" exist. That's not an explanation, it's a refusal to address the issue. You might as well cut out the middle man and say life on earth "just does" exist.

Now secondly the proof you offer of your theory comes from a book. Surely if that's proof enough then I might say "Evolution is a fact because it says so on Cruella-blog". There are books about teenage wizards, talking rabbits, two-dimensional planets and inter-gallactic time-travel, it doesn't mean that such things exist.

And finally, strangely, the book you choose to accept as fact is littered with contradictions and inconsistencies not to mention things that are simply horrific. A pertinent example of a contradiction is in Quran 02: 256 "There is no Compulsion in religion. ", then in Quran 9: 29 "Fight those who do not profess the true faith". And for general horrificness Quran 4: 34 "As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and beat them."

And now some more questions - open to anyone who wants to answer them:

1) What is your view on the dinosaurs? Did Allah bury stacks of giant reptile bones as a big trick to confuse scientists?

2) There are millions of people around the world who believe just as strongly as you do that the earth was created by a God other than Allah. How can they all be wrong and you right? Do you think you would believe in Allah if you had been raised by, say, Japanese Shinto-ist parents?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Two of my Favourite Subjects

Pharyngula has a great article on "Why religion is like pornography". I'm not sure which side comes out worst!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Going on the Game

This BBC article makes for disturbing reading. It's focus is on the plight of women who have been trafficked into the UK to work in the sex industry. And the situation is genuinely shocking whichever way you look at it.

The "incidental" information in the article is pretty shocking too: one in ten guys in the UK visits prostitutes. How does that affect the way they subsequently deal with and react to women in their workplaces and homes (the typical prostitute-visitor is married)? The report suggests that visiting prostitutes is increasingly becoming "normal" behaviour. "Divorce rates, sex tourism, stag weekends, lads' mags and the ubiquity of internet pornography have all been blamed." Of course any rational person will realise it's the guys who visit brothels who are to blame... Apparently there are even websites on which people can write reviews of prostitutes they have visited!

Now the point of the article is that there is a campaign underway to encourage guys who visit prostitutes to report to the police if they suspect that the women may have been trafficked. Hmmm. So what are the signs to look out for? "Not only is there likely to be some distress on the victim's part, but there are other clues - like being offered an Italian woman, but finding an Albanian who speaks no English. Other clues might be that the price quoted is lower than normal, or unprotected sex is offered". Right so we're asking guys who want to pay the minimum price to have unprotected sex with clearly distressed women who don't speak English? Are these guys really the best people to turn to for help? Shouldn't the police be identifying and searching brothels, putting these men into jail for rape (if she doesn't speak English I don't see how she can consent - and if she's clearly in distress I'd take that as a no) and getting the women into safe, secure homes where they can get medical treatment and counselling?

Worse still we're told that some of the punters are aware that women they're having sex with are illegally trafficked and working under duress and "Some enjoy the women's plight, police say". Police say? If the police hear of someone who enjoys having sex with a woman under duress then they should surely arrest them for rape immediately...? What planet are we on? And again I'm not sure I want to work and live around these people.

Finally the campaign betrays itself with a piece of classic misogyny: "Awareness campaigns have emphasised their status as unwilling participants and men have been reminded of how they would feel if it were happening to their own sister, girlfriend or daughter." Yes suddenly we're expected to believe bthat men will not want to rape women who might have an older male family member who might be upset. Don't rape her - she might belong to someone else... And it's not about how she might feel being raped up to 30 times a day, it's about how other men who know her might feel. Screw that. Women have rights, even women without older male family members or long-term partners. I don't have any problem perceiving male suffering as part of human suffering which affects me. I do have a problem understanding how this sort of project gets underway without someone noticing that's it's implicitly condoning the misogyny which is at the root of the problem itself.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Putting in the Hours

There's a report out today that more or less all the gains of the last few years in terms of women in top company boardrooms has been wiped out.

Now one thing about the Guardian report linked above really drives me mad: "some employers were improving attitudes to flexible working, they tended not to apply the same principles to very senior jobs."

What that's telling us is that the reason women aren't making it to the top of these professions is because they need to work flexible hours. Now firstly - not all women have major family commitments that prevent them working fuller hours. When I worked in the city I often worked 15 or even 18-hour days. Male colleagues doing half that were consistently promoted ahead of me. Women I worked with accepted that they would have to put in more hours than colleagues to try to overcome ingrained sexist corporate cultures.

Furthermore if it were true that women are held back by having to shoulder a greater percentage of the burden of family care than their partners then we would notice that the few women who made it to the top jobs were women without children. That's simply not true. Dame Marjorie Scardino, one of two remaining female FTSE 100 heads has three children, Dorothy Thompson, the other, has two, Linda Cook, the only other woman mentioned in the article for her role at Shell has three, Margaret Thatcher has two, Segolene Royal, now running for the French Presidency, has four and even Hilary Clinton, potential US presidential candidate, has one. The truth is girls that sacrificing your plans for a family to concentrate on your career is a waste of time. It's not the burden of raising children that will hold you back. It's workplace misogyny. Stacks of it. Across sectors, across industries and across nations. And we should stop pretending it isn't there. It is.


Very interesting - 61 people complained to the BBC after Jonathon Ross suggested council estate residents should be chemically restricted from having children. To me this brings up three issues:

1) No-one makes a fuss about the idea that there should be restrictions on who can adopt a child, and very stringent ones too. They check everything from your criminal record, to your income, your sexual orientation, marital status and even how clean your house is and stuff. If he had said people living on council estates shouldn't be allowed to adopt children I'm sure no complaints would have been raised. Now I think that volunteering to adopt a child in and of itself makes you a more suitable candidate to raise a child than being able to get a shag. I'm not opposed to running a check on people to see if they have obvious reasons for being unsuitable but I don't think nonsense like marital status and sexuality, for instance, should be taken into account. This would help reduce the number of children in the care system and make it possible to offer more foster care to parents who are struggling.

2) We're back to the "wrong kind of babies" argument. While (white) university educated women with good jobs and so on are consistently on the receiving end of criticism for not having enough babies, teenage mothers and anyone from a lower class (or minority ethnic*) background is moaned at for having too many babies. What we need is of course (a) a bit less racism and (b) an education and welfare system that allows children from under-privileged backgrounds to grow up into the "right kind of adults". And we have a long way to go on that right now.

3) 61 people is not an awful lot, but it got a news story onto the BBC website. As a group, the people who share my views on things like secularism and feminism reading this blog and and so on number quite a lot more than that. It's amazing how small a group is needed to agitate on an issue. We should use this as a means to get our voices heard.