Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Abortion Rights Public Meeting 7th October, House of Commons (please come!)

In case anyone has still missed the news - abortion rights in the UK remain under fire thanks to elements of the Human Embryology and whatnot bill. And at the same time there is a possibility of actually improving the situation for women in the UK - getting rid of the hurdle of having to obtain two doctor's signatures and most vitally allowing women in Northern Ireland the right to access safe and legal abortion if they choose.

These subjects don't come round very often in parliament so the decisions made now could be with us and future generations for a long time. So it's vital that we do whatever we can now to make sure women's rights are protected.

Which is all a rather long-winded way of saying PLEASE COME TO THE PUBLIC MEETING AT 7pm ON 7th OCTOBER. Click here for more info. A really big turn-out will make sure MPs realise how important this issue is to us.

And if you should happen to be the owner or creator of a feminist blog/website/organisation/girl-gang please let your members know about the meeting and encourage them to attend. If you would like leaflets, an e-flyer, etc, I can provide, just give me a shout. See you there, do say hello if you're a blog reader!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Same Shit, Different Religion...

Remember when we discovered that protecting the rights of Muslims to practice their religion was more important than saving women's lives? By the way it was yesterday.

Well what do you know? Now a Catholic school is refusing to allow it's girls to be innoculated against HPV (which leads* to cervical cancer, which can lead of course to death). Worse they're insisting their decision is "not a moral one" but has to do with concerns about side effects like "headaches" and "nausea" and the school "not being the right place" to administer the vaccine. So just to clarify in case any govenors of St Monica's, Preswich are reading:

1) Headaches and nausea generally considered less serious conditions than cancer.

2) Best place to do vaccinations? Wherever we can be most certain that all children will receive it, i.e. at school where we can record these thing.

And a bonus one: (3) Best place for your religion? Further down the priority list than the lives of young women in your care.

*Note, as my wise commenters have pointed out - I am explaining this wrong: HPV can lead to cervical cancer. Having HPV does not mean you'll get cervical cancer, lots of people have HPV and have no problems as a result of it. However the vast majority of cervical cancers develop in women with HPV, so protecting against HPV protects against cervical cancer. (Thanks to those who pointed this out!)

Stating the Obvious. Slowly.

Hope you all saw me on BBC One this morning explaining why expecting kids to wear school ties is (a) pointless - they will always push the rules and wear them as untidily as possible, (b) out-dated - no-one from investment bankers to boy scouts wears ties any more and (c) classist - if we teach kids that you must wear a tie to be respected we teach them to respect accountants and lawyers but not builders and shop-keepers. All went pretty smoothly. The guy I was debating with (Nick someone - I have no idea who he was) was a significant idiot...

Dressed like a Victorian dandy, cravat, silk hanky, cuff-links, leather briefcase and probably sock-suspenders but I tried not to look. In the waiting room the floor manager came through and said they were ready for us in the studio. I leaped up and headed for the door, he started making a cup of tea as though a national television show would be happy to wait for him. Oh yes we'll just fill in chatting about the weather until you prepare yourself with Pimms and a quick twenty minutes of birch twig self-flagellation!

Then - and this was really the amazing bit - while we were waiting for the cameras to come to us he asked me what I did for work and I said I was a stand-up comic to which he said "good grief, what is the world coming to?". Not sure what he thought WOULD be appropriate work for me: scullery maid? seamstress? lady in waiting?

Once the sound was rolling he said "Jesus Christ" loudly, resulting in the presenter having to apologise to viewers for the blasphemy. I'm no fan of the religious anti-blasphemy lobby but really before you go on air the only thing they tell you is "don't use bad language", how hard is it?

Anyway here's how prepared he was for the interview - half way through he admitted that "if we're going to use logic" I was right. And then kept talking as though listeners had tuned in to a news show to hear his illogical faeries-and-pixies-based theories!

Another quickie for this morning - an article from the BBC about the joys of sexism. Apparently men with "sexist" views about the role of women in the workplace earn more than men with more liberal views. Now I don't quite get their point here, they seem to be saying: Career path moving too slowly? Try misogyny for an instant boost!

Maybe the point(s) to be concluded are a little more subtle, maybe (1) people who are a**holes in one area are a**holes in other areas too. Maybe being an a**hole in general gets you ahead in business. (2) Maybe guys with old-fashioned beliefs also believe that it is their responsibility as men to be the bread-winner, to earn all the money to support the whole family. So maybe they are more incentivised to do that, even when it means sacrificing family time or indeed principles. (3) Maybe guys with sexist views about a woman's role are likely to marry women who want to stay home and look after kids, etc and maybe when your partner does that you need to get ahead in work in order to support the family on a single income rather than sharing that burden. Or (4) maybe it's because these cultural dinosaurs are more likely to be wearing a Hawke and Pilkington kerchief and cummerbund combo tied in a reverse triple Windsor knot with Queen Anne tassles unachievable without three years at finishing school and a very open-minded man-servant!!

Can someone remind me which century this is? I seem to have missed a meeting!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Domestic Violence Laws Scrapped in UK

Dealing with domestic violence is a notoriously complicated issue. Victims are often unwilling to testify either because they fear reprisals from their violent partner or the wider community or because they may have internalised the abuse to the point that they genuinely believe they are responsible for it.

In 2005 the CPS announced a major review of policy in the area aimed at combatting these very issues. Under the new guidelines they said "The responsibility for deciding to charge a suspect in all but the most minor cases now rests with the CPS." - a very important measure which meant that a violent partner could be brought to justice even when the victim asked not to press charges. The new policy also stated as follows: "CPS prosecutors are being encouraged to think imaginatively about the charge - perhaps charging for witness intimidation when the defendant pressures their partner to drop the case, false imprisonment when a victim is prevented from leaving their home or sexual charges in forced marriages."

So it appears the CPS believes that cases should be brought to a criminal court even when the victim wants no charge brought. So why are they allowing Muslim perpetrators of domestic violence to move their cases to a British Sharia court which will order only anger management classes and no protection or support whatsoever for the victim?

On the one hand they no doubt feel they are "helping" the Islamic community by allowing these courts to operate as binding "arbitration tribunals" - with their conclusions then enforced by the British Judicial system. Remember that every week in the UK two female victims of domestic violence are murdered by their partners. So what they are actually doing is saying "We don't care about domestic violence when the victim is Muslim, send her back to her family even when her life is at risk".

These legally binding arbitration courts have also ruled that women are entitled to less inheritance than their brothers and are regularly ruling (no doubt in a totally equality-led way?!) on divorce cases. If they were cutting off hands for stealing and stoning murderers in the streets the uproar would be all over the papers, in the streets and in the (proper) law courts. But it's "just" (minority) women's rights so it would appear no-one cares!

(That's me and Catherine Redfern from the F-Word marching at Reclaim The Night last year by the way)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sex and the Tories

Thanks very much to everyone who's been in touch since Saturday about my appearance on BBC Radio Five Live. For those who missed it - the subject up for debate was those dreadful "purity" and "virginity" cult spreading over here at the moment from the US. Of course there was mention of religion being pushed on school children, as well as the drive for abstinence-only education. What we ended up focusing on though was whether there is some objective "moral good"- regardless of religion - to holding off on sex until you are married. Well my point was that sex isn't dirty or disgusting or morally bankrupt - done right with the right person it's a lot of fun.

Well of course the phone lines started ringing saying I didn't know what I was talking about and that casual sex causes disease*(1), teen pregnancy*(1) and leads to emotional hurt when relationships break up*(2). So I said that I had had casual sex in my life so I did know what I was talking about, probably rather better than those arguing with me.

Anyway that was about the last word of reason on the show because the phone lines were going crazy with people ringing in to call me all sorts of names... I mean people were actually cut off because of the language they were using towards me! Too funny. One guy rang in to say I'd never get married now and that if Mr Cru had heard me on air he'd be gone before I got home (he was still there)...

And amazingly while healthy, safe, consensual sex between two adults is enough to have the general public screaming in outrage, it's considered so normal and commonplace for men to go out and pay women for sexual services that they hand out discount vouchers for it at the Tory party conference! How screwed up is that?

For some reason that picture of David Cameron, which I saw in the Daily Mail, seemed appropriate...

*(1) The evidence suggests the opposite - that the abstinence promotion organisations in the US and the UK have resulted in more STDs and teen pregnancies because young people are not taught the facts about their own bodies and not encouraged to carry condoms.

*(2) Weird - because you don't have to have sex in a relationship to be hurt when it's over. And who the hell goes through life without experiencing some emotional pain? Why would you even try to do that, regardless that it's pretty obviously not possible?

Family Fortunes

The new scheme to give parents the option to find out if people close to their children have a history of sexual offenses is about to start. Detractors of the scheme are already warning about vigilante attacks and there's no doubt that could well be an issue shortly. But one thing that doesn't seem to have been mentioned is that this move, if it helps at all, will only help protect those children whose parents are bothered about protecting them. We seem to live in a world where the government is obsessed with giving parents the choice of protecting their child, of sending their child to a better school, of getting good healthcare for their child. No-one is looking out for those children whose parents aren't jumping through hoops for them.

And when we consider that the vast majority of incidences of child sexual abuse happen WITHIN the family, we have to wonder whether this move is just pandering to tabloid hysteria. Actually we don't have to wonder - it's blindingly obvious. There's so much really good legislation we could be bringing in to improve the lives of children and make sure they're reaching their full potential. This isn't it and it's infuriating when the government would rather be posturing to please the tabloids than getting on with actually solving the very real problems faced by our kids.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The End of the Line

On Wednesday night I compered a charity gig in Ipswich. Mr Cru was on the bill too and lots of friends of ours so we were really looking forward to it. Having originally planned to get a lift to the gig, we then heard that this was actually going to be awkward and necessitate another car being brought along just for our benefit. Thinking of the environment as well as the inconvenience we quickly volunteered to get the train to Ipswich and catch the others up there. Got to Liverpool Street Station and headed for the ticket office. Two returns to Ipswich? £116.

Yes fifty-eight pounds EACH! This is a less-than-an-hour journey. Lots of people commute this route. Now of course if you book years in advance and make the journey regularly you can pay much less than that but I don't have the kind of job where I am going to make the same journey very often and nor do I always know miles in advance wherer I am going. And anyway what is the point of having a £58 fare unless you actually intend to charge people £58 for a return train journey London to Ipswich? In the past when I've made that journey it's never been more than £25 return. And the single fare was £55.

It would, of course be cheaper for the two of us to rent a car and drive to Ipswich. In the end we took a £14 return to Cambridge and got a lift across with another act from Cambridge. And Cambridge is actually a longer train journey from Liv St Station.

Every time I open the papers I see people complaining that Gordon Brown should do something about the cost of driving and then do something about climate change. Am I the only one who can see one simple way of dealing with both problems? Caps on train fares! What is the point of privatising the railways and then allowing them to rip the general public off all the time?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Notes from a Gorgeous Island

Well at risk of having all my readers melt away in jealousy and/or accuse me of taking neo-colonial holidays totally lacking in respect for local culture - I have been away. I had a one-day acting job in a resort in Bali and it seemed rude not to extend my stay for a few nights and soak up the tropical sun, amazing local seafood and opportunities for snorkeling, para-sailing, surfing, etc. Yeah! We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Bali which is definitely one to keep in mind in the when-I-win-the-lottery folder.

And here are some things I noticed or thought about on the way round:

1) Didn't The Body Shop used to be an ethical shop? Now I know they were bought out but surely the new owners realise that the reason people shop there is for a DIFFERENT toiletry and cosmetic shopping experience. But no, the branch in Kuala Lumpur International Airport is selling, wait for it, skin lightening creams. "With liquorice, to suppress melanin production..."

2) Took a seven-hour layover in KL on the way to Bali and ended up waiting around with the passengers for a delayed flight to Riyadh. The guys were dressed in anything from jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts to business suits, the women all, without exception, head to toe in darkest black, eyes only just visible. Really unsettling. I think in the UK while some women do dress this way, at least there are plenty walking around in a range of other options. You can at least hope in the UK that those that do dress that way do so to some extent from choice. Not the case the Riyadh passengers. Something very powerfully awful about it. I nearly cried. I couldn't help but imagine myself compelled to dress like that, to effectively disappear from public view forever. It's so wrong.

3) If you're trying to cut back on your alcohol intake try this great "virgin" cocktail: pineapple juice, coconut milk and lime juice, blended with ice. Really tasty and meant I hardly drank the whole trip so along with lots of exercise and massage on the beach most days, I should be at my peak physical condition by now. Except...

4) Some kind of heat rash. Like goosebumps, but red and itchy. All over my tummy, back, shoulders and legs. Now I am really careful about sun protection - cover myself from head to toe in cream every hour or two and after every dip or towel-off. So could be: reaction to sun/sun cream/as-yet unidentified tropical bug/jelly-fish stings (see below)/something in the diet (pineapple? coconut?)/my own sweat/humidity/something else? Seems to be calming down at last now but still a bit worrying...?

5) Snorkeling as usual brilliant fun, amazing variety of fish on the reefs. However as so often in recent years - millions of jellyfish. Tiny little string ones almost invisible to the human eye and causing only a small amount of irritation. Still annoying and I suspect symptomatic of the problems of over-fishing the seas. The jelly-fish are taking over...