3 current freedom of speech issues which the media neglect to cry over no-platforming

Content warning: this post mentions CSA and benefits

Freedom of speech is under threat. Like, really really badly under threat. Some teenagers aren’t interested in listening to what crusty old bigots have to say.

No-platforming is a pretty hot topic in the media at the moment, as it seems to be whenever some crusty old bigot gets offended that not everyone wants to listen to their special snowflake opinions. However, what’s more interesting is the things which aren’t hot topics, which don’t get endless opinion pieces churned out, nor ubiquitous Newsnight debates. Now, of course, I’ve said before (and I’m fucking sick of saying it), that no-platforming and censorship are wholly different things. This holds.

In fact, while everyone’s talking no-platforming , they’re helping draw the fire away from some genuine and real freedom of speech issues which are going on, and are current. Your Germaine Greers and Peter Tatchells and Julie Bindels are helping the government get away with instances of censorship and suppressing free speech by simply banging on about their hurt feelings and making that the big media issue. These issues are the ones which we need to look at, because these present a real danger.

Gagging scientists and charities

The Cabinet Office wants to “muzzle” scientists whose research conflicts with government policy. Say you’ve done some research where you found that disabled people are dying at a higher rate under Tory welfare, and the research clearly points to a change in policy. If you had any government grants contributing to your research (which most academic research does!) tough fucking titties. You can’t publicly state the conclusion you drew from your research. Best hope you concluded that Iain Duncan Smith is The Best, or your science will never see the light of day.

This clause to be added to all new grant applications also affects charities. Charities which receive public funds (for example, pretty much any charity that provides any service) also can’t criticise or lobby to change government policy. This could ultimately prevent charities from functioning at all, since there’s rather a lot of government policy which directly impacts their issues.

The Trade Union Bill

The Trade Union Bill will suppress the democratic rights of workers to organise and protest. This, obviously, benefits the government, bosses and very few real people. The right to strike is hugely important, and the government would like very much to take it away, because it makes them feel sad when they have to get a bus instead of a tube. They’re also aiming allow bosses cap the amount of time union reps can fulfill their role and represent union members–which, you may recognise as something which union reps do. 

This is an enormous freedom of speech and civil liberties issue, and sadly the government is trying to force it through as quickly as they can. Near-silence on the part of the mainstream media has probably helped. There’s little that remains in terms of doing much about it, save cross our fingers and desperately hope that the House of Lords–yep, those unelected oyster munchers–manage to halt it or take out the worst. In short, workers freedoms are about to be severely fucked over, with little fanfare.

Coverups, all the coverups!

From calls to stop naming perpetrators in historic CSA cases, to demanding a public investigation into undercover officers deceiving women into sex and relationships be mostly private, the police have been helping cover up rather a lot recently. It’s weird that this goes mostly unremarked, considering usually the media hate a coverup and will do their best to dig at the truth. However, peculiarly, these issues have not been treated as the free press and free information issues that they are.

The police are covering things up. And it’s fucking working.

Freedom of speech is under attack. Usually that sentence leads to some bullshit whining, but it is actually true. While the bores at the media continue to spill column ink about sad baby boomers being deemed irrelevant, let’s talk about what’s actually going on, because it’s more frightening than we think.


Things I read this week that I found interesting

It’s the weekly round-up, for once actually done a week after the last one!

You Are Oppressing Me! (Sara Ahmed)- On screaming censorship as a PR tactic, standards of evidence and killjoys. This is an absolute must-read.

Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the ‘War on Terror’ (Jin Haritaworn, with Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem)- This chapter is a good read. Defender of freedom of speech Peter Tatchell thought it was a bit rude about him so had the book pulped. Seriously. Read it for that reason alone.

A Sophisticated Insult: A Critique of the Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Diagnosis (Amy Silbergard)- An in-depth look at BPD diagnoses, and how they enable doctors to abuse.

Inside the public galleries that will destroy courts (Wail Qasim)- A radical article on court galleries, with just a little bit of theatrical analysis.

Luqman Onikosi’s deportation shows we are all being asked to become border guards (Alana Lentin)- How universities are being forced to do the UKBA’s dirty work for them.

A Kind of Grace (Hannah Black)- This is a beautifully-written article on safer spaces.

I Don’t Need White Progressives Telling Me, A Queer Muslim, About Homophobia In Islam (Aaminah Khan)- This is a terrible habit white progressives have that needs breaking. Here’s why.

And finally,  My Mom Interned at a Non-Profit and Now All Her Emails are Different. idk if this is funnier if you’ve had a job involving writing emails for non-profits, but it made me cackle.


So, you don’t like no-platforms. Fine. Let’s make public debates better.

Debate doesn’t really do a whole lot. Sorry, but it doesn’t. A public debate won’t change your interlocutor’s mind: in fact, them publicly stating their own opinion commits them to it, making them more inclined to stick with it. But maybe it’s not really for them, after all–perhaps, stating the facts publicly will make the public change their minds? Er, no. Not that either. Essentially, the whole form is a performance.

Nonetheless, columnists and crashing bores alike maintain a deep emotional attachment to debates, presumably because they’d never get paid gigs if everyone decided they’d had it with their shit. They believe a refusal to a public debate is some kind of suppression of free speech, rather than everyone finding something better to do with their time than spend an hour trapped in a room with a bigot. They believe refusing to provide someone with a space to spout their godawful special snowflake opinions is akin to censorship, which ought to achieve them little more than the public embarrassment of revealing they have no idea what censorship is, but actually seems to get them even more paid gigs.

These people are going to continue wanting money, and there’ll be fewer and fewer student venues that will take them on if they’re just going to be bigots about everything. Because of this, they’re going to need to change it up. I offer a few suggestions to those who continue to hold their emotional attachment to debate, and wish to continue to relive their glory days of Year 10 Debate Club… but make it a little more exciting for the rest of us.

  1. Each person in the debate takes one side of an unwieldy prop labelled “The Truth”. They wear matching comical outfits. Upon making each point, they begin with “to me, to you.”
  2. Armed gladiatorial combat. Perfect for debates like this one, featuring Julie Bindel and Milo Yiannopoulos. There can only be one winner, the last person standing.
  3. Make everyone participating in the debate live in a house together. They must stay in the house until one opinion has been proved to be right. We tell everyone the proceedings from within the house are televised, but they aren’t.
  4. As above, but on a deserted island, and anybody losing the debate gets eaten.
  5. Get everyone involved in the debate drunk. Everyone knows people are more truthful when they’re drunk.
  6. As above, but with LSD.
  7. Mention how David Cameron fucked a dead pig at least six times during any debate. It’s always pertinent. It cheers people up, remembering it.
  8. Program two AIs to take each side of the debate. Give them lasers and shit, too. Let them fight it out for all of humanity’s sake. Automate debate.
  9. Learn that people have fucking boundaries and you’re not entitled to be platformed everywhere, and quit your whining.
  10. Replace every instance of the term “logical fallacy” with “logically, phallus.”
  11. Encourage panto-style audience participation. Throw sweets out to all the boys and girls at the end.
  12. Armed gladiatorial combat, in the style of the 90s TV series Gladiators, except without foam padding or crash mats, because that would make the debate a mollycoddling safer space.
  13. Set everything up as you would for a normal debate. Dub the debate with fart sounds. The louder the fart, the better the argument being put forward!
  14. Bring back the gunge tank. Students love 90s nostalgia. They’ll be booking you as a speaker again in no time if you submit to being gunged if they disagree with your assertions.
  15. Have everyone involved in the debate wear a Donald Trump mask and wig. Do the arguments still sound reasonable when coming out of Trump’s mouth?
  16. Take a leaf out of the pro wrestling playbook. Take all the leaves out of pro wrestling. God, please, just make it pro wrestling, but with media personalities.

These are just a few suggestions I can think of for improving the form of public debate, and making this form of entertainment more entertaining. Please dump yours in the comments!

Things I read recently that I found interesting

Hi and welcome to the semi-regular links roundup! Here are some things I read recently that I found interesting.

Feminism and Fragility (Sara Ahmed)- This is glorious, a longread on breaking and the fragments coming together.

‘Sorry, we can’t ban everything that offends you’ – the Julie Bindel school of fighting the wrong fight (Jonathan Boniface)- Shit that shouldn’t need saying, said very very well indeed.

You went back to being a man? (Wail Qasim)- Wail attacks femmephobia in the gay community.

“I Sit on Her Face All Day”: A Conversation on Sex and Wheelchairs– Wheelchair users talk to each other about sex, their wheelchairs, and assumptions made about them.

A feminist’s guide to making guys like Roosh V irrelevant (Eleanor Robertson)- Perhaps the most effective solution to men like Roosh V.

Roosh V is your comrade (ItIsIWhoWillIt)- Uncomfortable truths.

How Full-Time Airbnb Landlords Are Making the Housing Crisis Even Worse (Corin Faife)- They’re also probably breaking the law, so while I don’t usually advocate telling the authorities, I’m willing to make exceptions!

7 Things That Happen When You’re The Child Of An Alcoholic (Seaneen Molloy-Vaughan)- Brutally honest, beautifully written.

The real reasons we are silent about depression (Sean Faye)- Warts-and-all look at depression, and how it makes it impossible to talk about itself.

The Three Letter Word Missing From the Zika Virus Warnings (Paula Young Lee)- Zika Virus warnings are putting all of the responsibility onto women, when someone else is involved in causing a pregnancy…

Sheryl Sandberg and Christine Lagarde have done nothing to advance feminism (Dawn Foster)- A shortread, summing up a lot of the arguments presented in Dawn’s book, Lean Out, which you should totally read, here’s why.

Tory Smear Campaign: ‘Playing dirty’ Tricks with Women’s Lives (Sisters Uncut)- Sisters Uncut have uncovered a scandal. A Portsmouth councillor is planning on smearing them. Read this, and remember if the smear comes out.

Cat Funerals in the Victorian Era (Mimi Matthews)- My new aesthetic. But seriously, this is a very interesting article on a little bit of forgotten history.

Support for the Empire Shows it Matters Who Controls the Past (Tom Cutterham)- A recent poll found high levels of people proud of the British Empire. This is perhaps largely to do with how we look at its history.

“But, do you think Empire was really all that bad?” (Maya Goodfellow)- And in case you’re wondering just what’s so godawful about the British Empire, here’s a brief overview.

To Fall Free: Overcoming Cultural Cringe (Benjanun Sriduangkaew)- Meditations on how Thailand is represented in literature. Worth reading her short story That Which Stands Tends Toward Free Fall after.

A successful black woman saying “I deserve this” is exactly what we need (Bridget Minamore)- On the Oscars, and how Shonda Rhimes is doing great things for television, which we must hope to see translated into film.

Does AA have a problem with women? (Sean Faye)- The second from Sean this week, because she’s just that good. This is a great article, with stories from women about awful things they encountered.

Why I Just Dropped The Harassment Charges The Man Who Started GamerGate. (Zoe Quinn)- This is sadly too common a story: how charges are dropped.

Why Won’t Hipsters Integrate? (Raf)- Tongue-in-cheek, makes a damn good point and pissed off all the right people, that’s how satire should work.

And finally, oh holy shit, it’s another kitten cam!

Bernard Hogan-Howe probably would have let Rolf Harris get away with it

Content warning: this post discusses child sexual abuse, sexual violence and police

It was reported today that Rolf Harris will be charged with seven counts of indecent assault, with one of the seven complainants being just 12 years old at the time the offence occurred. This follows his conviction in 2014 for twelve counts of indecent assault, with one of the survivors being just eight at the time it happened. Rolf Harris is a predator. A convicted paedophile. So, why is it that one of this country’s top police officers would have let him get away with it?

A few days ago, Bernard Hogan Howe, head of the Metropolitan Police, wrote an article outlining what he reckons should be done about sexual abuse investigations (warning: if you click this link it contains discussion of CSA and sexual violence and is absolutely viciously infuriating). Hogan-Howe advocates a two-stranded approach which will have a devastating effect on encouraging survivors–particularly survivors of historic sexual abuse–to come forward:

  1. Making it clear to survivors that they will not be automatically believed if they report to the police.
  2. Offering anonymity to those accused.

Both of these affect reporting sexual violence to the police. A lot of survivors don’t report because they’re scared of not being believed anyway. The man in charge of the capital’s police force making it explicit that the police might not believe you isn’t exactly going to alleviate these concerns.

Anonymity for the accused sounds nice and fair in theory, but it, too, has an impact on reporting, particularly for serial rapists and abusers. We see the pattern again and again: one or two survivors stick their head above the parapet and speak out about what happened to them, and it encourages more and more survivors to follow, knowing that they’re not alone. It happened with Savile (although, unfortunately, after he died, so he was never brought to justice). It happened with Bill Cosby. It happened with Greville Janner (although, again, he died before being brought to justice). And yes, it happened with Rolf Harris, which is presumably why further charges are being brought 18 months after he was convicted.

In his nasty article, Bernard Hogan-Howe describes what happened after Savile as “a dam burst[ing]”, as though it’s a bad thing that more survivors come forward. He acts as though a senior police officer telling historic abuse survivors, “Come forward, we will believe you,” is a bad thing. It isn’t and it wasn’t.

So why has Bernard Hogan-Howe laid out a roadmap for helping serial rapists and abusers like Rolf Harris get away with it? Again, Hogan-Howe is kind of clear about this in his article: it’s been more than a little inconvenient for some powerful men who have been accused, but there isn’t enough evidence to bring charges.

The right-wing media have been all over Hogan-Howe, baying for his blood. Not because Hogan-Howe is proposing measures that will help serial child abusers like Rolf Harris get away with it, but rather the opposite: a high-up army man and a Tory peer got accused and weren’t charged because of insufficient evidence. Lord Bramall’s case is getting ugly, with him calling for an investigation into his accuser, and today’s Sun front page headline outright calling the accuser “a serial liar“. Meanwhile, Lord Brittan was implicated in dossiers on the Westminster paedophile ring  being ignored, allowing child sexual abuse to go on.

I have no opinion as to whether Brittan or Bramall committed the crimes they were accused of or not. It’s worth noting at this juncture that a lot of historic abuse cases are dismissed because there’s not enough evidence. Even in recent cases of sexual violence, there’s often not much of the sort of evidence which will likely secure a conviction through the courts. With historic abuse, the case may be investigated over 40 years after the incident took place. In a way, it surprises me that there have been any convictions of historic sexual abuse at all, especially ones for abuse which happened decades ago. Again, I am not saying that Bramall or Brittan raped anyone. Rather, the point I would like to make here is that what helps these convictions take place is more victims coming forward. Indeed, one of the things which contributed to the lack of evidence against Bramall–and indeed the media frenzy over how unfair it was to investigate him–was it was based on only one complainant’s testimony.

So, the way things are set up, for historic abuse claims to stand a chance of seeing the inside of a courtroom, plenty of survivors need to come forward. It’s probable that if just one person had come forward to accuse Rolf Harris, he would have got away with it. It’s probable that if other survivors didn’t know an investigation was taking place, they wouldn’t have come forward. It’s probable that nobody would have come forward to accuse Rolf Harris if they’d felt they might not be believed.

Bernard Hogan-Howe would have let Rolf Harris get away with sexual abuse of children and adults alike if he’d decided to say what he said a couple of years ago. In pandering to right-wing media outcry over the poor powerful old white men, Hogan-Howe has achieved only one thing: making it easier for rapists and paedophiles to never be brought to justice.

The media are of course complicit in this, and I am sure they know exactly who they’re helping and who they’re hurting.

I’m sure it’s incredibly inconvenient for the police to be investigating powerful old white men, but this doesn’t mean they should try to discourage reports that they have to investigate. I don’t know, maybe if they stopped harassing BME people using stop and search powers, they’d free up some resources to investigate complaints.

The fact is, under Bernard Hogan-Howe’s ideas, Rolf Harris would have got off scot-free. Think about what when talking about how historic abuse investigations are handled, rather than Bramall and Brittan.

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“Bathroom bills” terrify me far more than trans women having a wee

Content warning: this post discusses transmisogyny, transphobia and sexual violence

A bill that would empower people to inspect your genitals on demand came one step closer to being law across the pond yesterday. Calls for such legislation are becoming increasingly popular, because of transmisogyny.

How bathroom bills work is like this:

  1. People must use bathrooms that fit with their genitals.
  2. The ladies’ bathroom is actually for people with vaginas, the gents’ for people with penises.
  3. However, nobody is proposing changing the names of the bathrooms to make this clearer because they’re cissexist pigs.
  4. Anyway, it’s illegal for people with penises to use the ladies’ and people with vaginas to use the gents’
  5. ??????

Make no mistake. The entire rationale behind bathroom bills is rooted in transmisogyny. It’s a neat little way of excluding trans women from public life by denying them access to the toilet. To sweeten the deal, such bills make things just a little bit easier for creeps and rapists.

This is presumably why many of the most vocal supporters of bathroom bill are the kind of crusty misogynist old white dude conservatives who also like to curb our reproductive rights and blame us for getting raped. They’re salivating over increased and legal access to grope and peek at women.

Ultimately, this is what such bathroom bills do. There’s no way of knowing what genitals someone has unless you have a pat or a shufti. All venue owners, bouncers, security guards and so forth need to do to demand access to your genitals under a bathroom bill is to say they suspect you’ve got the “wrong” genitals, and then it’s simply a case of expose yourself, or hold. The latter option is often unfeasible, because bodily functions need to happen. Essentially, they have given men a legal excuse for sexual assault.

The other impact of bathroom bills is it means there will definitely be men in the ladies’ toilets, because trans men need to wee too, and some of them will have genitalia that requires them to use the toilet for vaginas. Trans men have pointed this out on social media. This has some truly awful implications: it would actually make it easier for cis male perverts and rapists to access ladies’ toilets. Rather than having to go to the trouble of disguising themselves as trans women, they could just swan on into the ladies’ and say they’re trans men.

Essentially, bathroom bills increase the risk of sexual violence surrounding using the toilet, which, you’ll recognise, is the complete opposite of what any reasonable person would consider a good idea.

And yet there are self-identified feminists advocating for measures that can only raise one’s odds of being a victim. Their transmisogynistic bigotry has blinkered them to anything else. They prop up the deeply misogynistic conservative men, adding a veneer of feminism to a measure which literally exposes more women to sexual violence. Their bigotry is their weak spot: they’re so obsessed with what genitals a trans woman might or might not have, that all thought and reason flies out of the window.

Anybody who opposes sexual violence should be vocally opposed to bathroom bills, not cheering them on.

As a cis woman, bathroom bills terrify me, as all it takes is someone deciding my hairy arms mean I should have the contents of my knickers checked. I’m not even the primary target of these bills, nor would I be most at risk from the violences inherent in such bills. Those most at risk are, of course, trans women: it’s yet another avenue for increasing the risk of victimhood to a group who are already far more at risk of becoming victims of sexual or violent crimes.

It’s disappointing and infuriating to see anyone advocating for legalisation of sexual assault, which is the crux of what bathroom bills entail. Objectively, it’s going to be to pee with these panty police abroad than with trans women using the loo.


In which I gush about a book I read: Lean Out by Dawn Foster

I’ll confess. When I first picked up Dawn Foster’s Lean Out, I wondered just how relevant it was. Was Sheryl Sandberg’s corporate Lean In brand of feminism not just a fad in 2013, like everyone suddenly snapping themselves naked on wrecking balls, or the Doge. Had we not, as feminists, successfully rejected Sandberg’s corporate feminism already? Didn’t feminism start digging a little deeper in its analysis? Wasn’t it kind of old hat? So, while I read Lean Out, I found myself nodding along, but questioning whether it wouldn’t have been more important had it been published this time two years ago.

Just as I put down Lean Out, feeling roused, validated and furious all at once, I made a terrible mistake. I clicked on a New Statesman link. And I saw this, by Sarah “Never Knowingly Right” Ditum:

FireShot Capture 207 - The Thatcher Problem - http___www.newstatesman.com_2016_02_thatcher-problem

Rumours of the demise of Sandberg’s brand of corporate feminism were premature. Women, according to Ditum, deserve to sit alongside men as oppressors, and all criticism of what women do as leaders is misogyny. Rather than questioning power as a step towards liberating ourselves from it, Ditum espouses the individualist, corporate brand of feminism that I’d thought was dead–or if not dead, at least no longer articulated quite so nakedly.

So Foster’s book is just as relevant as it would have been in 2013.

Lean Out seethes with raw anger, and yet Foster’s claim that corporate, individualist feminism not just ignores the conditions of the majority of women, but actively exacerbates them, is meticulously evidenced. She examines how austerity hits women hardest in often-painful detail, outlining the complicity of the corporate feminists in this continuing gendered oppression. She takes a look at Yarl’s Wood, and the attitudes towards poor and working class women having children, compared to those of the women in the boardrooms and parliaments. She looks at wars, and how women’s rights are often used as a justification for bombing women–again, this is more relevant than ever following the discourse around bombing Syria. She clearly explains how this individualist model of feminism turns a movement into a palatable brand, a series of personal lifestyle choices, as women further down the ladder struggle, starve, and find feminism increasingly unrelateable and irrelevant.

The world is fucked, and Dawn Foster does not mince her words in articulating this fact. She shows how these issues are interconnected, how trickledown feminism does little for the enormous majority of women except paint a feminist sheen on a system which actively harms most.

Despite the doom and gloom of the subject matter, Lean Out isn’t all doom and gloom. Foster writes with a fabulously sardonic humour, and ends the book on an uplifting note, a celebration of the resistance organised by working class women. The title, contrasting with Sandberg’s unimaginative invitation to lean in and only focus on your nuclear family and your job, invites women to organise and resist, to lean out and fight. It is perhaps one of the most accessibly radical texts I have read in a while, and I feel like few women who relate to Foster’s book (rather than feel attacked by it, as no doubt many of the establishment feminists will) are likely to find themselves unstirred.

In a very short book, Foster has neatly articulated the problem and its possible solution: it is a truly empowering text. As a bonus, it really is short: I read it on the tube to and from work, and then finished it off in a bath. It doesn’t even feel like preaching to the choir, but rather validation. 

I hope that Lean Out becomes one of those seminal texts, that it represents the beginning of the end for the kind of complicit feminism that just wants a few more women to have a seat at the oppressor’s table. It certainly instilled me with a sense of optimism that maybe, just maybe, it might.

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