Dear Amanda Marcotte

Content note: This post discusses rape

Dear Amanda Marcotte,

I read your piece in Slate justifying a decision to incarcerate a survivor of rape to force her testimony with a kind of slack-jawed disgust, slowly morphing to a deep and visceral sense of terror.

I was horrified to read what happened to the woman who, having survived something so vile, was arrested and incarcerated until the trial. My heart shuddered at the thought that could happen. And the bile rose up in my throat as you said, over and over again, that this was all right. You say that in domestic violence cases, a lot of survivors recant their testimony because of the abuser, and go on to speculate that perhaps this is what happened with this woman. You say that there’s nothing that can be done to heal this in time for lawyers to get what they want, as though that’s the important thing here. You pretty much out-and-out blame women who do not comply with the justice system for any future violence that may be perpetrated.

Your article is sickening and frightening to me, a rape survivor who never reported what happened to me to the legal system. I’ve had to deal with many shades of bullshit from rape culture in my time, but you’ve given me something new to feel horror over. It had never occurred to me that some people might decide to blame me for any other things that might be perpetrated by that man. It had never occurred to me that the state could lock me up if they wanted to for not wanting anything to do with them, and self-professed feminists would cheer them on. I know that men who rape often don’t stop at one. And yet, what happened to me was deeply personal and I chose to deal with it in the way that made me feel safest. I feel like, for the most part, what I needed to happen, happened: all I wanted was him out of my life and to not have to talk about it in great detail to anyone.

As a feminist, I believe that the needs of the survivor are the only thing that matters in any instance of sexual violence. The way of starting to heal a deeply personal violation is also deeply personal, and deeply individual. For some survivors, this might be the route through the legal system. For others, it might be making sure everyone knows the name and face of the perpetrator as a warning. For others, perhaps recognition of what happened and reconciliation with the perpetrator is possible. For others, maybe setting the perpetrator on fire. It’s individual, it’s unique, and all of these are valid if that’s what the survivor wants.

Under rape culture, the wants and needs of survivors are ignored twice. First, in the initial violation, and second, in the response. We have our autonomy completely stripped of us by a state which supports and enforces rape culture, by peers who support and enforce rape culture, and, apparently, by people who consider themselves prominent feminist commentators who are also doing their best to sweep the wants and needs of survivors under the carpet when they get a little inconvenient.

So fuck your “greater good” guilt trip. Any greater good which involves kidnapping and incarcerating women is not worth it at all. Fuck your decision to ignore the wants and needs of survivors; you are just as bad as the rest of the rape culture which spawned your ideology. Fuck your supporting a move which will only put survivors off speaking out about what happened.

There is only one thing that matters, Amanda Marcotte, and that is what survivors want. Our role, as feminists dismantling rape culture, is to support each individual survivor unconditionally, in whatever course of action she chooses. Any other course is just rape culture, rebranded.

Things I read last week that I found interesting

Hi. Late with the round-up post, on account of having had a Bit Of A Shit Week. Anyway, I think I’m out of the waaahmbulance now. I didn’t read much this week.

It’s Time to End the Long History of Feminism Failing Transgender Women (Tina Vasquez)- Everything you need to know about Cathy Brennan and her ilk.

How the west’s attempts to stop the anti-gay bill could hurt Ugandan LGBTIs (Edwin Sesange)- Very, very worth reading.

Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race (Reni Eddo-Lodge)- Reni states her position, and with damn fucking good reason.

“Olivia Pope,” “Claire Underwood” And The Desire For Feminist Female Characters On Television (Gradient Lair)- On truth in characters.

On Idris Elba, Tom Hiddleston, Race and Shame (Suleikha Snyder)- On racism, with pictures of pretty men which illustrate a good point.

10 Ways to Show Love to Someone With Depression (The Darling Bakers)- While not prescriptive, it’s really lovely when people do things like this for me.

And finally, this buzzfeed is mistitled, and I’m pretty sure these problems are shared by a lot of femmes.

Rescue me! An open letter to carceral feminism

Dear carceral feminists–or, whatever you want to call yourselves,

You all say that you are against exploitation of women, so I am dearly hoping that you can help me with the predicament I’m in–and, to be honest, I’ve been in for much of my adult life. See, I’m fucked. Completely and utterly fucked.

In front of me, I have my latest payslip. I work four days a week–eight hour days (with an unpaid hour-long lunchbreak)–at London living wage. The mathematically-minded of you may have noticed that living wage is calculated based on full-time employment, and therefore a 28-hour week on living wage is kind of unlivable. For the last year or so, I’ve just about made ends meet, because untaxed it averages out as just under a grand a month which can cover my bills and rent and food and travel. Not this month. This month, you see, I have hit the point where the government decide you have earned enough to start nicking a cut of your money, and therefore, with NI and income tax, I’ll be taking home less than £700 to cover my bills and rent and food.

The sharp-eyed among you might have spotted that the second time I listed my expenses, I didn’t list “travel”. This is because this problem has conveniently gone away–in the most inconvenient way possible. See, tomorrow is the last day I’ll have this job before my contract expires and, being unable to afford to keep me on in this horrid economic climate, I will be boarding the merry-go-round of unemployment once again.

I was unemployed about a year ago, just before I got this low-paid and precarious job. Do you know how much being unemployed sucks? Have any of you ever been on the dole? Because let me tell you this: the less-than-700-quid a month I have is significantly better than the 70 quid a week you have to jump through hoops for. And I’m one of the lucky ones, because at least I’m old enough to claim the stuff that might just cover my expenses if I’m incredibly creative and don’t mind not eating much more than baked beans out of a bowl. That way, I should be able to afford the bus to the JobCentre.

Did you know, in my line of work, the number of applicants could be up to triple figures? I’m considering putting a gender-neutral name on my CV so I can at least increase the chances of getting a job interview. I already use a more traditionally-British sounding surname because research shows that that improves your chances. Perhaps I just need to work on making myself prettier: apparently that helps, too. I have my own style, but I’m desperate. If it helps, I’ll gladly fluff myself into patriarchal ideals of beauty. I have to eat, and apparently this is what the industry wants from me.

I suppose I could go back to what I was doing before I got into campaigns work, but I am loath to do that. The work was poorly paid and truly exploitative; they played upon gaslighting us into thinking we wanted to be there. Sometimes, the work would take such strain on my body and my mind that I would have seizures.  I got given a pittance, but I had to pay to be there! Imagine that, paying a fee to work! The whole ideal had been sold to me on a lie, and I was trapped in their by the continued lie, and it took every ounce of my effort to exit.

And now I am an exited academic. I warn people like me, fresh-eyed and eager, bouncing with the romantic myths about that line of work. I tell them the truth, that nobody could be happy doing that (if they say they are, it’s probably false consciousness stemming from brainwashing into liking a line of work valued by patriarchy). It’s exploitation, pure and simple.

So what can I do?

Sometimes I consider journalism. I can write quickly, and I can write well, and I have a good follow-base already. As I understand it, I am above and beyond the level of qualification for a comment journalist. The thing is, I really don’t want to do that. I don’t want to sell the most intimate part of me to the highest bidder. My mind is the essence of me, far beyond my body, and it is not for sale. I don’t want my thoughts and feelings to be transmuted into my bread and butter, forced to write and think and compromise myself lest I starve. Sure, some defenders of the industry might say people can consent to doing that, but I’m not so sure myself. How can anyone consent to selling a soul?

Like I said, I’m pretty good at campaigning. I can turn this stuff around quickly and I’m bloody good at it. Fuck it, if any of you want to hire me, I’ll strategise your campaigns until they’re something even I’d participate in. But, unfortunately, even that wouldn’t help at the moment. Because that’s the thing, carceral feminism. You’re blinkered at the moment, not opening up your campaigns to the linked struggles. Sex work isn’t exploiting women, work is. The worker-employer relationship is always exploitative. And it goes double for women, and then piles on the second any of us face intersecting oppressions. Ultimately, I’m better off than many: I have no kids, I have white skin, and I can hide my disability until the ink is dry on a contract.

I think, carceral feminism, that all of these women can be saved. We want to be saved. We need support from you, with all of your resources, to focus on all work, to support all struggles, and to strive towards the complete destruction of capitalism. Let us be. Let us grow. Let us not have to break ourselves over and over.

I am asking to be rescued, and I hear you like rescuing women. So please, please rescue me.

Biological essentialism: can we not?

Last week, I wrote about why I’m pro trans and pro choice. Given the sheer quantity of comments, I’m not sure I made myself clear enough.

I think that broad judgments based on perceived biology have historically had some bearing on the oppression of women. I also think that biological essentialism is meaningless and can only be deployed oppressively in the present day, as scientific and sociological understanding of gender and sex has progressed. Some time ago, I wrote about evolutionary psychology, and very charitably decided to pretend that perhaps all of the just-so stories explaining differences in behaviour of the sexes were true. And I concluded that even then, that does not mean it is in any way relevant now:

Wisdom teeth, though, were highly useful to humans when we first evolved. Humans were still a long way off inventing dental hygiene, and, so, tended to die once all of their teeth had rotted away and they could no longer eat. Wisdom teeth, emerging in the mid-twenties, gave an extra few years of life: four more teeth meant more time being able to eat. With the advent of dental hygiene, we no longer lose all of our teeth to decay, and wisdom teeth have become an annoyance. When a wisdom tooth grows into a mouth full of healthy teeth, there is often not enough room, and the new tooth impacts. I had a wisdom tooth that solved the lack-of-space problem by growing horizonally. Each time I bit down, it would take a chunk out of the inside of my cheek. I had it removed.

Wisdom teeth, then, are a solution to a problem that no longer exists, and when the tooth becomes a problem we have it yanked out.

If one were to assume that claims regarding gender made by evolutionary psychology were true, these gender roles are as irrelevant to modern life as wisdom teeth. They are a solution to a problem that no longer exists: we shop in supermarkets now; we have modern health care; our children are sent off to school; we have DNA testing for identification of fathers; we can have sex for pleasure with a very low risk of reproduction. The adaptations we developed to childrearing and mating problems no longer exist.

Why, then, would we cling on to the notion that it’s perfectly natural to rape, to cheat, to subscribe to the idea that male and female minds are inherently different, and so such things are inevitable?

We can overcome wisdom teeth, and, if any of the shaky claims of evolutionary psychology regarding gender turn out to be true, we can yank that out of our society, too.

The same is true for biological essentialist arguments. Maybe once upon a time, “woman” was defined only by capacity for childbirth, or only by presence of a vagina, or only by whether she had periods or not–although, you can see by the quantities of “ors” in that sentence that even if we try to trace back through history, what defines a woman is pretty complicated if we’re going on biology alone. And yes, this nonsense has persisted through time, from the bizarre belief that uteruses could roam throughout the body causing all sorts of negative effects to the belief that everything a menstruating woman touched became unclean. It becomes a chicken and egg scenario: society was built upon misogyny, along with its science. Science, after all, is not objective: the questions it asks and answers are rooted in the society asking those questions.

It’s only relatively recently that we have even begun to ask the right questions, and noticed that actually the whole thing is a house of cards, and should rightly come crashing down. We realised that biological sex is far more complicated than the somewhat-complicated way it had originally seemed. Hormones and chromosomes, internal and external biological characteristics–none of it necessarily matched up. Some still cling to essentialism, despite its utter meaninglessness, to produce bad science to suggest that rape is inevitable, or that men and women have different brains and only men can do the logical stuff. But the science is not on their side, and there is an increasing level of criticism levelled at such work because, at its heart, it is terrible science and tells us very little beyond what misogynists believe to be true.

Most feminists are rightly deeply critical of biological essentialism, knowing, as we do, how it keeps us down. And many of us embrace the advances that have brought us closer and closer to liberating ourselves from it. It is fucking lovely not having to be defined by our reproductive status, freeing ourselves from the idea that this is what our bodies are for. Many of us use synthetic hormones to regulate our bodies, and sometimes to eradicate menstruation. Surgery has advanced so that women without cunts can have cunts if they want. Science is looking into the possibility of uterus transplants, so women who cannot bear children will be able to. We are making a hell of a lot of progress, and the hold of biologically essentialist misogyny is slipping.

Unfortunately, some feminists are holding us back. Some feminists have embraced biological essentialism. The motive for this is an attempt to somehow “prove” that trans women are not women, cloaking their transmisogyny in pseudoscientific language by pretending that “female” and “woman” are two different things, and that “female” is somehow a scientifically valid category. Often, this is presented in a way that is even more dehumanising than the way MRAs talk about women, like this gem from Gia Milinovich where she bangs on about “female mammalians” and claims that our understanding of biology is in no way related to culture.

Taking this argument to its logical conclusion leads to some deeply unpleasant thought, like this:

twitter-boodleoops-glosswitch-vaginas-are-for

Twitter   Glosswitch  @boodleoops Bleeding is okay ...

Here, we see an attempt to define purpose of vaginas, deeply rooted in biologically essentialist misogyny*. Now, I have made the choice to not give birth, and I don’t need to go into why, because it’s my body and my choice, and the world has progressed to a position where I am able to make that choice. My vagina, if I get my way, will never be used for a role in babymaking. As for the bleeding, I find it quite fun**, but I don’t really feel like it’s an essential characteristic of my womanhood, nor would I feel that if my period ever stopped, my vagina would become purposeless. But my vagina is hardly a useless hole: far from it. It’s for shuddering orgasms. This part of my body is a delight to me. A finger or a dildo in there feels like heaven as I feel it brush my G-spot, and I feel my clit grow hard around it. And yes, I tend to prefer dildos, and I am aware of just how horrifying homophobic patriarchy finds that. I don’t use it for reproduction, and I don’t have to because we have moved on enough to no longer be defined and confined by our reproductive organs.***

I am a woman. I am still a woman, despite not even knowing what hormones my body produces due to years of taking synthetic hormones. I am still a woman, despite the fact that I have never given birth and do not plan to. I will still be a woman if, like my mother, severe fibroids necessitate a radical hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy at some point in my future.

Once upon a time, biological essentialism was all there was. We grew up. And we are slowly slinging off this burden, leading to the liberation of all women. We must fight biological essentialism wherever we see it, and liberate ourselves fully from these archaic constraints.

Further reading:

Un-gendering sex: a feminist project? (I am because you are)

Writing the Body: Stories of sex and gender (Alice Nuttall)

“The day an extremely popular white feminist advocated eugenics and mass abortion of trans people”  (Red Light Politics)

How Cissexist Partiarchy Works (Alien She)

Duplicitous or £9 notes…? (UnCommon Sense)

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*I am 95% certain that the “ten pound note” reference refers to wanknotegate, which suggests that this Twitter conversation is basically barbs targeted at me, which has been expanded into misogyny.

**It is worth noting at this point that a common trope among transmisogynists is to claim that trans women will not let cis women talk about menstruation. I think it is abundantly clear here that such policing of discussion of menstruation can come just as much from cis women.

***DISCLAIMER: This, of course, refers only to my own relationship with my own cunt.

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Note on comments: I’m not approving TERfy/MRAish comments (I find it impossible to distinguish which is which, because they all just use the word “female” a lot and cast women as walking wombs), as this blog is a safe space for marginalised women. Go and whine about me on your own blogs.

Things I read this week that I found interesting

Hello everyone. I read things. Here are some things I read this week that I found interesting.

Put a Rainbow on It– Excellent documentary on recuperation and pinkwashing.

Sochi 2014- So far, So Gay (A Thousand Flowers)- Round-up of the bullshit surrounding Sochi from “allies” so far.

I Did Not Sign On For the #Outrage (Alexander Chee)- Ignore the subeditor stuff, this is something about Twitter written by someone who gets it.

9 Ways To Be In Solidarity With Sex Workers (small time hooker)- Some simple things we can all do to support sex workers.

Sara Ahmed on attacks on women of colour being disguised as critique of identity politics and intersectionality– A storify of some excellent analysis.

“You can’t do that! Stories have to be about White people” (Hip Hop Teacher)- On white supremacy and a way of getting through it.

The significance of plot without conflict (still eating oranges)- Conflict in plots is actually quite a Western idea.

Class Consciouness (sometimes, it’s just a cigar)- On class and enjoyment of sex.

A Peaceful Death (Phoebe Day Danziger)- A thoughtful and moving piece on abortion as end of life care.

I could pick a side… but I won’t (yetanotherlefty)- Blistering response to a common biphobic trope.

Hugs, if wanted. (sometimes, it’s just a cigar)- On consent for non-sexual touching.

Fragments on Intersectionality, Anger & the Left (Automatic Writing)- This is really good.

Valentine’s Day Isn’t to Be ‘Survived’ (Feminista Jones)- Takedown of patent media nonsense relating to Valentine’s Day.

And finally, animals with their babies.

People I will never have sex with, ever: creepy white-knighting body hair enthusiasts

Hairy girls, rejoice! We’re not smelly and unattractive after all. Let me introduce you to our hero, Jon-Jon Goulian who has written an article in Vice, explaining exactly why we’re sexy.

I am going to assume the best of Jon-Jon, as I am in a charitable mood this morning, and imagine that his intentions are kind. Unfortunately, the effect is nonetheless something that makes my minge cringe. The article is framed around a conversation that the author had with a friend, and how this friend finds body hair on women gross, and how Jon-Jon explained that actually body hair is OK.

The framing is in and of itself pretty problematic, and is a subtle form of negging. Jon-Jon is making it clear that while he finds body hair on women sexy, other men are disgusted by it. The outcome of his conversation makes this obvious: his friend remains unconvinced, despite Jon-Jon’s impassioned arguments. This is what the friend (who, again, I am going to charitably assume is real, and not an authorial wingman) concludes:

“The reason you believe that women don’t freely choose to be hairless, and have simply been brainwashed by advertisers into believing that hairlessness is what they really want, is that you don’t believe that hairlessness is sexy. And just about every other man in America disagrees with you.”

The message here is that Jon-Jon is the only man who can ever love a chick with a hairy bum. And we ought to be grateful, because he will ride to our rescue and defend us.

The thing is, Jon-Jon’s fascination with body hair on women is fairly creepy, and articulated in a way that is more than a little bit reminiscent of James Joyce’s love letters. Here is a sample:

A woman with a hairy body has essentially four vaginas—two armpits, the asshole, and the vagina itself.

Yeah, no. Biological improbabilities aside, ew. Just ew.

There is a certain level of squick in knowing that certain parts of your body are being fetishised: that you, yourself, are irrelevant, because all this guy is into is your pitfluff. It’s just objectification: there is a marked contrast between someone enjoying the smell of your furry bush because it’s your furry bush, and someone enjoying the smell of your furry bush because it’s furry bush. And, to be honest, Jon-Jon’s florid excitement over carpeting makes me want to run as fast as I can in the opposite direction.

On top of all of this, there’s his presumption that we hairy chicks care what men think about us. He clearly believes his opinion on our bodies is important enough to pitch to a magazine. He clearly thinks we’re in need of defence, a much-maligned minority who need him to smite the unbelievers with his sword. In truth, we’ve got this. We really do. We’re not damsels in distress, in need of a man to protect us from patriarchy. And we don’t need validation from a man.

I get the feeling Jon-Jon wrote that piece in the hopes that suddenly all the fluffy ladies will drop their knickers, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The whole piece just feels gross, objectifying and patronising. It’s like journalistic bonerkill, and has taken me from not knowing who the hell Jon-Jon Goulian is to adding him to the list of people I will never have sex with, ever.

Why I’m pro trans and pro choice

I’ll start by owning a mistake I’ve made more than once in the past, and am trying not to make again: I once thought the pro-choice position only applied to cis women. In fact, at the peak of my making this silly mistake over and over, I didn’t even know the word “cis”, so I kept thinking it was all about “women”–for a certain, cissexist construction of woman. Then I opened my eyes.

Curating the Dear Nadine Dorries project* helped a fair bit, as letters came in from people who were not cis women. Sitting the fuck down and listening helped a hell of a lot more. My understanding developed a lot, and began to coalesce into a more coherent, and more inclusive pro-choice stance.

At its core, pro-choice is all about bodily autonomy. It’s about the freedom to do what you want with your body, and to ensure access to, and safety within medical procedures to achieve these goals. These aims dovetail incredibly neatly with the struggle against cissexism. For example, access to necessary healthcare for trans people is often impeded: sadly, feminism has a lot to do with that, which is why it’s our mess to clean up. This trend of denying access to healthcare translates into some very real consequences for reproductive freedom: there are still 24 countries in Europe which require trans people to be sterilised. Even if one adopts the position that pro-choice is only about reproductive rights, compulsory sterilisation of trans people is definitely a pro-choice issue.

And if we narrow our focus further, and decide that being pro-choice is only about abortion rights, then it’s still necessary to care about trans people. It’s not just (some) cis women who have uteruses, and the sooner we recognise that, the better. Intrinsically linking the capacity to get pregnant with womanhood is not just cissexist, but it’s actually quite misogynistic. Biological essentialism is the rhetoric which has been keeping a hell of a lot of people down for millennia. Biological essentialism is the root of misogynistic bullshit from the concept of “hysteria”, for the enforcement of social roles, for the way preventative healthcare often treats cis women of a certain age as “pre-pregnant”, for every time a sexist asks if you’re cross because you’re on the rag. Biological essentialism is the fuel that feeds cissexism and the fuel that feeds misogyny, and drives the two to interact and smack down some people. Truly, it would be liberating for those of us who get fucked over by cissexist patriarchy if we freed ourselves from the notion that woman and womb are anything to do with each other.**

The more inclusive we are as a movement, the more of us there are. And the more of us there are, the stronger we are as a force to be able to achieve our intrinsically-related goals, and ultimately overthrow the system that has been keeping us down. However, all of this hinges on inclusivity as a movement.

Trans and genderqueer activists have presented a very simple request, asking to improve the language we use when advocating on pro-choice issues. What needs to happen is to avoid equating uteruses with women. The fiddly bit here is the aforementioned millennia of social conditioning under capitalist patriarchy, which has unfortunately shaped the way we talk about such things. But this is nothing that cannot be cured without a bit of thoughtfulness. For example, instead of saying “woman”, think about to whom you’re referring. Are you talking about an issue that affects pregnant people? Why not go with “pregnant people”? That level of specificity is important both for challenging cissexism (it’s not only women who can get pregnant) and also misogyny (because fucking hell, we’re not always pregnant). Think about what you mean–what you actually mean. And get creative. Challenge it where you see it, and advocate for providers to use more inclusive language (there’s a petition you can sign). Oh, and if you ever see me slip up, call me the fuck out. Please.

Being pro choice and pro trans is a win-win situation. In developing solidarity between related struggles, we only become stronger, and better able to fight the constant stream of assaults on bodily autonomy.

Further reading:

Commit to being #ProTransProChoice

The fight for bodily autonomy is on multiple fronts! (trans is not a noun)

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*This is still open, and will be open forever, and please submit if you feel like it!

**Apart from sharing a few letters, and the latter being  a character shorter than the former. This is literally why my email address has “womb” rather than “woman” in it, and I now look at it with the faint embarrassment as I do with all of the Hotmail addresses containing Nirvana lyrics I had when I was 14.