“Colour journalism”: coded apologism for violence against women

A few weeks ago, a young woman journalist in Egypt was severely sexually assaulted and was brave enough to share her story. She was rewarded with a comment thread full of people telling her she must have been making it up. Many were the standard shit, but others took a different tack: because she was a journalist, she must have been lying.

This is exemplified in some rather ghastly tweets from @leninology, who said:

Natasha Smith’s account of being raped in Egypt is dripping with racist poison, and related very much in the style of ‘colour’ journalism.

When asked to clarify what he meant by colour journalism, he did:

basically, it’s there every time there’s a case of fraudulent journalism and it should always raise alarm bells.

Thanks to the clarification, there is no way this can be construed but as “this woman was making it up”.

It is hardly the only instance of woman journalists speaking out about experiences of gendered abuse being disbelieved in this fashion. If you’re feeling particularly strong (and I wouldn’t recommend it) check out any unmoderated comment thread on any article in this vein.

They argue that journalists exaggerate and therefore this woman must be exaggerating her experience all for the point of a good story, and, often implicitly we therefore shouldn’t believe this woman speaking out in the public sphere about an experience of violence or abuse.

It’s a coded method of articulating an age-old rape culture trope, often among those who pretend to be progressive. These people know they look like raging shits if they outright say they do not believe a first-hand account, so they dress it up in a faux-concern for press standards. They pretend that they don’t think all women are liars, just those who speak out via the mainstream media, because they’re journalists and for some reason that makes them different from all other women.

It kills two birds with one stone, when people throw around accusations of colour journalism. It allows faux-progressives to attempt to put space between themselves and their misogynistic views, and it contributes to silencing women. The phrase “I don’t believe you” keeps us quiet; it is used as a weapon. Cloaking it makes no difference and achieves the same ends.

The truth is that statistically speaking, these women are unlikely to be making it up. False allegations are staggeringly rare, and their incidence is inflated by proponents of a culture of violence to allow it to thrive. Yes, the mainstream media is thoroughly fucked, and riddled with lies, but it is worth remembering that these lies tend to be about others rather than an unbroken stream of a woman talking about an experience she is astronomically unlikely to be lying about. A woman talking about abuse, violence or even rape is never an appropriate forum for a debate about press standards, and to say otherwise is no more than veiled apologism.

When I last wrote about rape culture’s use of “I don’t believe you” as a weapon, I concluded that we need to meet this weapon with a loud chorus of belief, in every comment thread, in every tweet. This still stands, and must stand every single day.

Update: I have since spoken to leninology and he accepts the implications of embellishment he made were out of order

Pride: a staggering lack of imagination.

This year’s Pride celebrations have been drastically cut back, hacking some of the best bits such as outdoor drinking, big glittery floats and anything happening in Soho (unfortunately, Boy George will still be performing)

The reason? Not enough money. Boris Johnson cut thousands from the Pride budget, and the corporate sponsors haven’t dug deep enough in their pockets to provide the money required to pay for policing and relevant permissions for floats, according to a statement from Pride London.

The writers of the statement are, correctly, furious about the corporate mess that Pride has become, in particular the fact that vast amounts of money are needed for Pride to go ahead and they are dependent on allowing businesses to whack their name all over the event to procure this. The statement writers suggest a need for discussion about how things could work in the future, although the only thing proposed here is more “openness and accountability” as if this is the magic bullet to fix everything.

The statement, while making some good points, ultimately attempts to offend no-one. This is a pervasive problem with queer rights campaigning on the whole: in the determination not to rock the boat, we are hopelessly cast adrift. The mainstream control the discourse and we are obliged to answer them on their own terms. This has lead to a distinct lack of imagination from the queer community in our demands: we ask for “equality” in a way which translates to merely “blending in with the heteros”.

Pride was once all about defiance, angry queers being unabashedly visible, a movement growing out of the Stonewall riots. These days, everything seems to be precisely targeted at avoiding offending the straights.

For Pride to work in the future we need to return to these radical roots. The original marches did not need money or corporate sponsorship. There was no need to set up a big stage to showcase pop stars: that wasn’t what it was about. It was about freedom and liberation.

We also shouldn’t be paying for our own policing. The police will show up whether we want them there or not; their presence makes nothing safer with them shepherding us from A to B. The same goes for floats. If we want to build a big fuckoff float and shut down a road, we absolutely don’t need to bother with paying for this.

We have pandered for long enough, hampered by our lack of imagination. In the years since Stonewall, we have moved to a larger cell, and that’s it. It’s time for a real change.

Things I learned today: Moff’s Law

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about how totally fucking sexist the portrayal of Irene Adler was in the Stephen Moffatt adaptation of Sherlock. Judging by the comments I received, it was by far the most controversial thing I have ever written, prompting an epic comment thread which I wouldn’t recommend reading, and instead would suggest spending your evening edging bamboo shoots under your toenails.

Much of this thread was people explaining to me–in tones ranging from “furious” to “incandescent”–that I should stop analysing because it was just a show and I should really just relax.

It gives me an ironic sense of glee, then, to have discovered the existence of Moff’s Law, which draws attention to precisely this sort of nonsense:

As comments continue in a feminist [social justice] discussion of pop culture, the probability of someone saying “why do you have to analyze it? it’s just a movie/cartoon/book!” approaches 1.

Well, quite. Rapidly approaching 1. Like, approaching so quickly it looks a bit blue.

When I first saw the name, I assumed it was named after discussions surrounding Stephen Moffatt’s sexist oeuvre: not only have I got shit, but so have others drawing attention to bullshit in most of his other works.

Any similarities are, alas, purely coincidental. But what a beautiful coincidence it is.


Thanks to @stfumisogynists who alerted me to the existence of the law.

Sweden and rape: the myth of the feminist haven

National stereotypes of Sweden tend to involve pop music, loud jumpers, sexual liberation and a fairly good grasp of feminism and gender politics. Julian Assange labelled Sweden the “Saudi Arabia of feminism”, presumably due to their desire to ask him some tricky questions about the rapes he probably perpetrated.

A vital part of good gender politics is taking rape seriously. Rape is a frighteningly common occurrence, and is typically gendered. These issues must be dealt with sensitively. A few stories have come to my attention which suggest that Sweden is not doing very well at this at all. Trigger warnings apply for the remainder of this post, and any links.

In one case, a cis male perpetrator was acquitted for attempted rape because his survivor was a trans woman. The survivor had not had SRS, and did not have a vagina. The court ruled that because the perpetrator had set out to rape a woman and the survivor was not a woman the crime could not have possibly happened. This verdict seems to imply that, simply by being trans, a person cannot be raped. This “not a real woman” line rears its head from all corners, from the misogynists to some branches of radical feminism. It is a thoroughly repugnant, antediluvian mode of thought that needs to be extinguished.

Regardless of gender or sex, a person can be raped. That a court bought a defence that stated “actually, she turned out to be a man” suggests not only that trans women cannot be the targets of sexual abuse, but also cis men. The ruling reflects the patriarchal belief that rape is something that exclusively happens to women who make ideal victims.

Another case involves a young woman with Asperger’s who was raped. The perpetrator was acquitted as the Court of Appeal ruled that he could not read the woman’s expression due to her disability. This acquittal represents the swallowing of a different rape myth: that consent is the absence of a “no” rather than the presence of a “yes”. The implications of this case for other non-neurotypical survivors are quite, quite terrifying.

And of course, one can make the point that the allegations against Assange were not taken seriously by the authorities initially. While Assange’s cheerleaders like to suggest that this is due to some sort of evil conspiracy and the lying bitches were probably making the whole thing up anyway, there is a rather more mundane explanation for this: rape allegations against powerful men are seldom taken seriously. It was only as Assange’s star began to fall that Sweden began to take an interest.

A legal system is always inextricably bound up in the beliefs of the culture that created it. Rape culture is alive and well throughout the world, and therefore this damaging set of assumptions gains a degree of credibility as judges believe untruths and the minds of the lawmakers are swaddled in lies. Sweden is no different, and its implementation of “justice” is as likely to engage in rape apologism as any other legal system. It is not a haven of feminism, it is the same as anywhere else.


Many thanks to @konvention who linked me to the article about the woman with Asperger’s.

German court rules non-consensual genital mutilation as assault: what will the future hold?

A bit of news I missed from last week: a German court has ruled that ritual circumcision of boys amounts to grievous bodily harm,  and ought not to be practised on children unable to consent.

The regional court in Cologne, western Germany, ruled on Tuesday that the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents”, a judgement that is expected to set a legal precedent.

“The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised,” the court said.

This is a big victory for bodily autonomy here, placing this right above any others, including carrying with it the implicit assumption that parents do not always know best for their children.

In an ideal world, of course, we would not need to be having this discussion: people would just know it was a bad idea to lop bits of genitals off someone without their consent because it might have been a good idea among a desert-dwelling nomadic people in the Bronze Age, and they would not do it. It is unfortunate that it requires state intervention to get this message across.

Using state intervention to rule for the essential right of bodily autonomy is problematic. Firstly, it has caused outrage and accusations of persecution from those who practice ritual circumcision, who view this risky and unconsensual procedure as an essential part of their cultural heritage. This may provoke tensions.

Secondly (and relatedly), state intervention does nothing to address the root causes of ritual circumcision: the genuine belief among many that this is what ought to be done because a possibly fictional book says so. Due to this rather dangerous belief, I am concerned the practice will continue anyway, in back rooms or by crossing borders to every other country in the world that fails to respect bodily autonomy. As for those boys whose parents followed the law, what might be their fate? The court has explicitly protected the parents’ “right” to “educate”, suggesting that these boys will be bombarded with “information” about why their bodies are dirty and disgusting and they should undergo a procedure that carries risks as soon as the law will allow it.

In this situation, is it really any more consensual than hacking a bit of penis off a baby?

And this is the thing that really needs to change, a shift in thinking from archaic tradition to a respect of bodily autonomy. It is one thing for someone to decide to remove their foreskin because they like the way it looks, or it’s a kink. It is quite another for this procedure to be performed on someone without their consent, or under conditions of coercive misinformation. Religion has an ugly habit of poking around in our pants and, as with issues such as clitoridectomies and abortion, it needs to stop.

Perhaps the use of state intervention will promote discussion of these issues, awareness of the absolute deal-breaker that is bodily autonomy. Perhaps it will provoke a slow shift towards religion relaxing its grasp on people’s genitals. This is the route that thought must go, rather than reaction and backlash and searching for loopholes.

What a person does with their body must be a free choice.