Does Rolf Harris’s conviction mean anything?

Content note: this post discusses rape and sexual violence

The news has just broken that entertainer Rolf Harris has been found guilty of all of the charges of indecent assault he was tried for. My thoughts go out to the survivors; I hope that they feel a sense of closure and justice after they bravely came forward.

Harris’s conviction follows hot on the heels of Max Clifford, who was convicted and imprisoned for similar offences early this year. Does this mean that the tide is finally turning on the rapists and the abusers, the men who use their power to violate?

Sadly, the answer is, probably not. Rolf Harris sexually assaulted these women more than three decades ago. It has taken this long for the climate to be right for his survivors to seek justice. This timespan is completely unacceptable, allowing Harris to live out his life before the state even started to care.

The picture is still gloomy for survivors. While the CPS may brag that rape convictions are at an all time high, it still translates into a measly 1070 convictions in a year, despite over 15,000 reports. And even when convicted, what does that mean? If you get raped by a powerful man, the negatives can easily outweigh the benefits of reporting: take, for example, the woman who had the misfortune of being raped by footballer Ched Evans. Her name was leaked to the internet by keyboard warriors, and her rapist will be playing football for Sheffield United again before long.

Perhaps at some point in the future, the state will consider the perpetrators of today finally worthy of their attention. I fear a kind of delayed-reaction mechanism, a focus on the historic rather than the current. By looking at it like that, it’s easy to view structural conditions favouring rapists as a thing of the past, as though rape culture stopped at some point in the Seventies. It absolves responsibility of the present, despite the fact that things are still objectively terrible where we’re standing.


But more than anything, I want to reiterate my admiration for the courage of the women who came forward in a system which still tends against believing survivors, in a system where powerful men are worshipped and women degraded, in a system which seldom doles out any justice for survivors. I couldn’t do what they did, and neither can millions of others. I hope they feel peace at last.

Things I read recently that I found interesting

Well. It’s been rather a while since I’ve written one of these round-ups, because I’ve been doing work (if you hate our media, you should sign this petition to piss the rich white fuckers off) (also, if you love me, please sign up to this Thunderclap. It will help me times a billion.) I’ve also been busy getting trolled to ribbons by the sort of person who likes picketing lesbian pride parades, which hasn’t been much fun, but they’re spitting feathers I’m still going.

Anyway, there’s a corresponding huge fuckoff stack of things I read in the last few weeks that I found interesting. Maybe you will, too.

Will gay rights and feminist movements please return to your assumptions (Rewriting The Rules)- On binary assumptions which just won’t go away.

9 Visions of Utopia from Broadmarsh Shopping Centre (Judy Thorne)- All people want is communism and robots and I can get behind that 100%

Losing Pride (Huw Lemmey)- On how Pride in London has evolved to be miles away from its roots.

Gatekeepers get written about: how the media shuts out trans voices (J Mase III)- Excellent and useful piece, proved right again and again, sadly.

IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Went On A Date With An MRA (xoJane)- This is, sadly, the sort of thing I’d expected dating these men to be like. Trigger warning for misogyny and violence.

I Was Sexually Assaulted By Someone I Thought Was A Feminist And An Ally (Black Girl Dangerous)- …but don’t trust those nice, safe-seeming men any more. Same trigger warnings apply as above.

Cis Privilege (Cis Is Not A Dirty Word)- Some may find this privilege checklist a useful resource.

PurrVerse: The Mean Girls Of Lesbian Porn (Kitty Stryker)- On body policing in lesbian porn.

How sexist video game animators keep failing women (Aja Romano)- Take-down of the whine “women are too hard to animate” refrain.

“Game of Thrones” fails the female gaze: Why does prestige TV refuse to cater erotically to women? (Lili Loofbourow)- Why doesn’t Game of Thrones give women something to look at?

For The Billionth Time, Magneto Is Not Malcolm X (Muslim Reverie)- Brilliant post on the politics of X Men and appropriation and the handling of mutants of colour.

Jane Doe, Trans Women, and the Myth of the Perfect Victim (Katherine Cross)- On the demand for perfect victims in order for cis people to care.

Five Reasons why “If Modern Anarchists fought in Spain” isn’t Funny or Clever.  (Self Certified)- Taking down some manarcho-douchebag wankery.

Luis Suarez, the perfect mascot for this World Cup; or, “Aliens are Watching the World Cup”. (Musa Okwonga)- Lovely post about synecdoche.

And finally, I love Uzo Aduba, who plays Suzanne in Orange Is The New Black. Here she is doing all of the other characters. Her Alex is particularly good.


I was there when a lesbian pride march got picketed by bigots

Content note: this post discusses transmisogyny

Over the last few years, I’ve regularly attended London’s Dyke March. It’s important to me to be with my sisters who also love women, out in the streets showing our solidarity and strength. The march organisers are brilliant, ensuring maximum turnout by pursuing an inclusive policy: all dykes are welcome.

In the light of this inclusive policy, it was only a matter of time till bigots tried to disrupt this annual dyke demonstration. I’d heard rumours of some sort of presence from bigots online, who objected to the inclusive stance of the organisers and their proactive selection of diverse dykes outside of the traditional cis white lesbian speaker selection. At this point, some women, including my girlfriend, were put off from going on the march. I don’t blame these women at all: the last thing anyone wants at a day celebrating queer women’s identity is a confrontation with bigots. I imagine this is exactly why the bigots publicly threatened to show up, to put women off from coming. There’s a full summary of what they did before the march here, if you want to see their tactics.

On the day, my friends and I arrived late, running predictably on queer time. Luckily, the march, being run by queer women, was also running on queer time, so we hadn’t missed the speeches. We grabbed a spot near the stage. I looked around, unsure as to whether the bigots would have turned up.

As the speeches started, I realised with a sinking feeling that they had. A silver-haired woman handed me a leaflet. Through the block of text, I could see that it was transmisogynistic conspiracy theorising about Sarah Brown, one of the speakers. I ripped it in half. They held up placards, revealing their obsession with genitals. They yelled misogynistic and transmisogynistic slogans over a speaker, as the rest of the crowd shuffled away and told them to shut up. In all, I think there were five or six of them, and one of them was literally wearing a fedora.

I’d seen all this before. I have seen this sort of thing outside abortion clinics, where Catholics try to harass women seeking access to abortion. I have seen it at Pride, where every year bigots show up to picket queer people gathering together and being themselves.

A lot of TERfs claim to be political lesbians, but if that’s the case, why are they picketing London’s only lesbian pride parade? Why are they attempting to disrupt a gathering of queer women? Why did they try and stop dykes from joining with their sisters in solidarity?

It was clear that they were not here as fellow lesbians, which was evidenced by the fact that they did not participate in the march itself. They just showed up to try and wreck the event. I consider their intervention an act of lesbophobic violence.

I cannot say I’m surprised that this happened. In women’s circles, transmisogyny is too often treated as a kind of abstract intellectual difference. Let it be known that it is not: it is a belief system which directly leads to attempting to disrupt lesbian pride and solidarity.

Some musings on love (and gender)

If asked to, how would you define love? Would you rattle off the ways you express it? A touch of a hand, a kiss, wiping a snotty nose and brushing their hair? Would you maybe try and explain how it feels to you? A kind of rising feeling from the bottom of your stomach that crashes all over you, a sense of gladly doing anything for that person, an overwhelming closeness? Would you think about the different kinds, and how different it is between comrades, parents, lovers?

It’s difficult, isn’t it, and that’s because ultimately it’s something of a silly question because every single one of these answers is a correct and valid answer. We know that it’s something so beautifully complex and so completely personal that no definition would ever be sufficient. We know that there’s no real universal answers, as much as some would like there to be. Science thinks it can answer this question by reducing the matter down to hormones and evolutionary purposes, and we can see that this isn’t the full picture. The state tries to define it for us, and the best of us react with disgust, because this is simply co-opting something to serve their own purposes.

It’s only the worst sort of bigot who makes up a definition of love and rigidly enforces it on others. The rest of us are kind of content to let others make up their own meaning, knowing and celebrating the diversity of feeling. It’s almost intuitive, thinking about love that way, so why do we have so much trouble thinking about gender on similar terms?

When it comes to gender, there’s also no right or wrong answers, no definition that can ever be universally applicable. This is not a problem: far from it. It’s exciting. It’s mysterious. It’s deeply personal, just like love is. And I for one think that’s brilliant.

Things I read this week that I found interesting

Or rather, this fortnight. Getting a little lax on these. Been working a new job, in case you missed it. Definitely worth signing this petition. Anyway, here’s some things I’ve been reading.

On Whether You Have A Right To Sex (girlonthenet)- This really shouldn’t need to be said, but it’s said well.

On Continuing to Live In the Same World that Made Elliot Rodger (and Many Like Him) (Rachel)- Beautiful piece about living under misogyny.

Maya Angelou: a phenomenal woman (Reni Eddo-Lodge)- A touching obituary for a remarkable woman.

5 Reflections on the European Election Results (Novara)- Useful analysis of what happened.

Trigger warnings and toothpicks. (sometimes, it’s just a cigar)- On the importance of trigger warnings.

An open letter to privileged people who play devil’s advocate (Juliana)- Are you this dick? Don’t be this dick.

Brown beauty: from TV to the high st the beauty industry is still racist (Reni Eddo-Lodge)- Reni explores the racism in the beauty industry.

No country for young women: Honour crimes and infanticide in Ireland (Stephanie Lord)- Disturbing and upsetting, important to know.

Not All Men, Redux. (That Pesky Feminist)- I wish we didn’t need to keep saying this, but Tilly says it so goddamn well.



Shit I cannot believe needs to be said: I don’t dwell on your genitals

Content note: This post discusses transmisogyny

At the age of about three, I used to go around asking every person I met the same question: “Do you have a willy or a vagina?” This, I learned very quickly, was not a polite thing to say to people, so I stopped. In an ideal world, everyone would have grown out of wondering what other people’s genitals look like at around that age. We do not live in an ideal world.

See, there’s two broad groups of people who are still fascinated with what other people have under their clothes: misogynists and transmisogynists. Among misogynists, it’s a classic male entitlement to sex: they believe our bodies to be public property and they are therefore allowed access to every inch of them. Among transmisogynists, it can be a bit more complicated, as many of them happen to be women. They make a litany of excuses, conveniently forgetting that rape isn’t just about penis to attempt to excuse their obsession with other people’s genitals. However, ultimately, it’s all about entitlement nonetheless. They genuinely feel entitled to know the precise configuration of everyone else’s private parts.

It seems so alien to me. When I’m out and about, I’m generally not dwelling on what sort of genitals everyone around me might have. When I spend time with women, I’m not sitting there constructing a mental map of what their genitals might look like. When I shower or swim with women, I’m not gawping at their genitals, because frankly, that’s just rude.

I’ve known for a long time that men are often thinking about my cunt, and that’s why I don’t really enjoy the company of men that much. Knowing that there are women who do this too makes me feel less safe in women’s spaces, like they might just suddenly ask me about my cunt or grab at my crotch to make sure I have correctly-shaped equipment.

This feeling that I have pales into insignificance compared to what trans women go through. If you think trans women don’t get sexually assaulted in order to verify what their genitals look like, you’re wrong. This is a very real threat that women face due to societal fascination with something which should be completely private and up to the owner of said genitals to share or not.

There are precisely two times in live when someone else’s genitals are really relevant. The first is if you are a medical professional and someone needs some medical assistance with their genitals, something which, for the vast majority of us, is never going to be the case. The other is during sex, and even then it really doesn’t matter exactly which way they point. People say “oh, but I just don’t like penises/vulvas”, but that, too, is rooted in cissexism and general poor sex education. You can have sex–great sex–with someone with a penis without any penetration whatsoever. You can have brilliant sex with someone with a vulva with plenty of penetration. I instinctively distrust anyone who professes a dislike for a certain type of genitals: it usually means they’re either cissexist, or completely lack imagination in bed, or both of those things.

I cannot believe I’ve just had to write a blog about how generally disinterested I am in what your genitals look like, but I feel it’s necessary to punch through what risks becoming a dominant discourse. Returning to dwelling on what someone’s genitals look like does not help feminism one little bit: in fact, it sets us way, way back. It can be hard, unlearning the fascination with genitals in a generally genital-fascinated society, but for the sake of a feminism which does not equate women to walking vaginas, it’s utterly essential.