The view from cloud cuckooland: Dorries and abstinence

The UK has long lacked any compulsory requirements for sex education, but that changed today. A tiny proportion of MPs voted through a 10 Minute Rule BMotion proposed by the chronically batshit religious nutter Nadine Dorries. The motion proposed the following:

“Sex Education (Required Content): That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require schools to provide certain additional sex education to girls aged between 13 and 16; to provide that such education must include information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity; and for connected purposes.”

As the motion was voted through, this means that young women will now be taught about abstinence as a component of sex education. There are numerous problems with this proposal.

First of all, abstinence-only education doesn’t work. There’s a plethora of evidence. Quite simply, teaching abstinence and only abstinence is about as good as teaching young people nothing at all.

Dorries does not explicitly call for abstinence-only education. What is worrying, is that abstinence education is now the only compulsory part of sex education.

Dorries’s attitude towards policy for sex seems to be heavily influenced by two things: a fundamentalist Christian sense of morality and either dire stupidity or wilful misrepresentation of evidence. It is not just sex education she wishes to meddle in: she is also rather fond of twisting evidence to try to reduce women’s access to abortion.

Dorries, then, seems keen on controlling the reproductive freedom of women, as her motion only targets young women. There is still no compulsory sex education for young men of the same age. Young women, meanwhile, will be taught how to abstain.

This is deeply disconcerting. Teaching abstinence to women only suggests that women are the gatekeepers of sex: that it is their responsibility to abstain. This view has damaging consequences for everyone. It teaches men that they are creatures driven entirely by their dicks, and they cannot control their natural urges. It teaches women that they must always be the ones to say “no” to these piggish men and their piggish dicks. It reinforces rape culture, fostering the “no means no” notion.

Societally, what Dorries has proposed is disastrous.

More MPs need to propose more bills making comprehensive sex education compulsory, going beyond simple birth control into education about sex and rape and consent. People need to learn that sex is absolutely tremendous fun if you do it safely; that as long as everyone involved is consenting enthusiastically, there is nothing wrong. Knowledge needs to be taught: pregnancy, STIs, contraception, abortion. Skills need to be taught: contraception use, saying no, and saying yes.

With all of that compulsory, Dorries’s motion will be unproblematic. Abstinence is the best way to prevent pregnancy and STIs. However, as a good fucking is really, really fucking good, many will not make this choice, and abstinence education does nothing to address the nature of sexual consent.

Dorries needs to stop controlling women. It is for the good of everyone.

Seeing the system

The verdict was finally returned on the Ian Tomlinson inquest, with unexpected speed. As many have been saying for the last two years, Tomlinson was killed by a baton blow and shove from PC Simon Harwood. Immediately, Twitter exploded. The hashtag #PCSimonHarwoodIsAThug began to trend.

It was not until much later that people began to point out that the problem is much deeper than that.

Harwood’s behaviour was not an example of a rogue thug, behaving in a way that is at odds with policing. The only difference is that Harwood actually killed someone, rather than doling out a maiming or bruises and psychological trauma.

It is easier to follow the view that Harwood is a thug, rather than seeing the problem is systemic. It is always easier to see a problem as a personal choice rather than a broken system. This is called the just-world effect.

I had my ‘feminist click moment‘ relatively recently; it has been less than two years since I took the red pill and began to understand, fully, that I inhabited a system which was fundamentally skewed against me as a woman. Less than one year ago, my understanding of injustice broadened as I became politically active. I saw it everywhere. What had once been a vague noise, largely beneath my perception, had exploded into a scream.

The system is fucked. I could no longer ignore it. Personal choices meant very little. The system is fucked.

At the back of my mind, the cognitive shortcut I had used still splutters, ‘but, but, but…’

Its argument means nothing to me.

It is hard to suddenly see ourselves as figures playing a rigged game, that it is not a problem of bad individuals, but a fundamentally broken system. It feels like suddenly there is a fight that cannot be won.

Consider the Tomlinson verdict: it took almost two years for a jury to rule that he was unlawfully killed. The video evidence of the attack has been present for all of that time. It was only due to immense public pressure that the inquest happened at all.

It helped that Tomlinson was an ideal victim. One cynically wonders whether the charges against Alfie Meadows, another victim of police brutality are a pre-emptive attempt at avoiding another inquest into unjustifiable violence.

There are two systems that are visible to me at work in the Tomlinson case. There is the immediate, the police culture of covering up their actions. Then there is the broader culture of placing blind trust in institutions, of victim-blaming, of discomfort with political protest.

There may be more systems. I cannot see the whole picture, none of us can. My brain is a product of its environment and its biology; it will not let me see everything.

PC Simon Harwood is a thug. He does not exist in a vacuum. He is a product of a system, as is everything that came after he attacked a man selling newspapers.

To fight injustice–be it police brutality, be it oppression based on gender, race, or any other factors, be it a broken state–we need to see the system. It is a battle, but it is a battle worth fighting.

Feminism, feminist identity and man-hating: a research study

I briefly touched upon a fantastic piece of research into the myth of the man-hating feminism in the post about ambivalent sexism. It was quite an interesting paper which warrants further discussion. In order for this post to make sense, it is probably best to read the ambivalent sexism one first.

The paper is entitled: “ARE FEMINISTS MAN HATERS? FEMINISTS’ AND NON-FEMINISTS’ ATTITUDES TOWARD MEN“, by Anderson, Kanner and Elsayegh (2009). The title is the holy grail of psychology paper titles–it grabs attention and it manages to neatly summarise the research conducted.

In short, the authors administered a questionnaire to feminists and non-feminists. This questionnaire measured benevolent and hostile attitudes towards men. The group of feminists had a lower level of hostility towards men.

The questionnaire was constructed very similarly to the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: “hostile” items included “When men act to ‘help’ women, they are often trying to prove they are better than women”, while the “benevolent” items included “Women are incomplete without men”, and “Even if both members of a couple work, the woman ought to be more attentive to taking care of her man at home”. It was hypothesised that were feminists man-haters, they would be more inclined to agree with the hostile statements than non-feminists.

Of course, the authors also needed to measure “feminism”, or at least separate the feminists from the non-feminists along a meaningful dimension. Many of us are familiar with the statement, “I’m not a feminist, but…” proceeded by reeling off a list of feminist statements, so the task of identifying feminists is somewhat difficult. The authors used a rather elegant solution to this problem: participants were asked to write a definition of feminism, then asked whether they identified as a feminist.

Participants who were unable to define feminism were excluded. A worryingly large proportion of participants failed this criterion: from the original sample of 488 participants, only 296 were able to adequately define what feminism was. This shows an area where work is still required: many people do not know what feminism is, and therefore lack the knowledge to accept or reject its ideas.

In the sample of people who were able to define feminism, around 14% identified as feminist, with 58% identifying as non-feminist and the remainder unsure. There were gender and ethnic differences in identifying as feminist; 17% of women participants identifying as feminist, compared to just over 7% of men. White people were most likely to identify as feminist, with African Americans least likely–less than 5% of African American participants said that they were feminists. It is unsurprising that people from minority ethnic groups were less likely to identify as feminist–feminism is often seen as reflecting the concerns of and solutions for of middle class white women.

With feminism measured and large differences in ethnicity and gender found, analyses were conducted based on these differences. On the whole, it was found that feminists displayed lower levels of benevolence and hostility towards men, that is, feminists were less likely to report “hatred” towards men, but also less likely to report the infantilising, protective, hegemonically hetrosexual attitudes towards men.

Gender differences were visible: on the whole, women reported higher levels of hostility towards men, while men reported higher levels of benevolence towards men–this effect is also visible when assessing attitudes towards women, where it is reversed.

The paper was less than perfect, relying on self-report measures, and it is possible that feminists were filling in the questionnaire with a social desirability bias: feminist participants may still “hate” men and agree with sentiments such as “men believe they are better than women”, but they know that it is wrong to report this in a questionnaire. If this is the case, it’s still a start, that a chunk of the population believe these attitudes to be undesirable.

This research shows some directions for the feminist fight. Firstly, we need to raise awareness of what feminism is: an approach to fighting for gender equality. Additionally, the hostile and benevolent attitudes towards men were not zero in the sample of feminists–this suggests we need to work towards eradicating seeing a group through the lens of the “other”. This goes for all such attitudes, this is our goal: ambivalent sexism must disappear.

Calm down, dear, it’s just casual sexism

For once, I agree with Labour.

In Prime Minister’s Questions our rich, heterosexual, cisgendered, able male Prime Minister told a woman MP, a member of the shadow cabinet, to “calm down, dear”.

This was, rightly, immediately pointed out to be sexist.

The Prime Minister denied sexism, claiming that he was simply quoting an advert for a car insurance firm.

Perhaps he thought he was. Perhaps our Prime Minister genuinely believed this comment not to be sexist. This is, after all, the same man who merrily made a casually transphobic remark in the Commons. Perhaps, on his rich, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied male planet, he did not think that a patronising, dismissive attitude to a woman colleague was in the slightest problematic.

Perhaps our Prime Minister had no idea that the original “Calm Down, Dear” adverts were themselves revoltingly sexist. In these ads, Michael Winner, himself a revolting sexist, patronises a woman fitting the hysterical woman trope to a T.

Casual sexism still flies. The subsequent shitstorm following the Prime Minister’s remarks has been referred to as a “sexism row”: the media appears to be presenting both sides, when what it actually achieves is simply to obfuscate the reality of the situation.

It is not PCgawnmadcantsayanythinganymore.

It was simple, blatant, casual sexism.

Thanks to Tim from beyondclicktivism for pointing out the casual transphobia exhibited by the PM.

Ambivalent sexism: research into attitudes towards women

Many of us are familiar with the concept of misogyny: hatred of women. Sexism has another face, though: the belief that women are wonderful and must be protected from the big, bad world.

These two sides to sexism were given a name in a paper by Glick and Fiske (1996): ambivalent sexism. Ambivalent sexism consists of two types of attitude towards women: hostile sexism, and benevolent sexism. Hostile sexism is classic prejudice; benevolent sexism is the view that women are lovely, fluffy nurturing caregivers (or, as the paper puts it, intimacy-seeking and prosocial). Within these categories are three “sources” of ambivalent sexism, each with its corresponding hostile and benevolent face.

First, paternalism. Paternalism is theorised to come in two forms. Dominant paternalism is the idea that men should control women, while protective paternalism is the notion that men should protect women.

Second, gender differentiation. Competitive gender differentiation is a set of beliefs that bolster the idea that men are the better sex, while complementary gender differentiation, its benevolent counterpart, focuses on the “equal but different” myth, wherein women have their own, special roles in the kitchen.

Finally, heterosexuality. The theory of ambivalent sexism acknowledges that a major source of sexism is the hegemonic heterosexual ideal. Heterosexual hostility is the viewing of women as sex objects and fear of female sexual power, while intimate heterosexuality romaticises this objectification and sees men as incomplete without a woman.

The theory therefore provides a fairly comprehensive account of sexism. It does not just stop at theorising.

Measurement of ambivalent sexism

Ambivalent sexism is measured by a questionnaire called the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI). This measure was subjected to the rigorous development and validation standards typically used in questionnaire development (for those interested in methodology, it is described fully in the Glick and Fiske paper, which is available in full without paywall).

The ASI consists of 22 items; 11 in each category. Examples of questions which tap hostile sexism are “Once a man commits, she puts him on a tight leash” or a reverse-scored item “Feminists are not seeking more power than men“. Reverse scoring allows researchers to check if participants are just selecting the same response for every item on a questionnaire, and also help to test the reliability of the measure.

Examples of questions which tap into benevolent sexism include “A good woman should be set on a pedestal“, “Women have a quality of purity few men possess“, and “Men are complete without women“. Spot the reverse-scored item.

The Glick and Fiske study found that benevolent and hostile sexism were distinct, but they were also correlated with one another, suggesting that people who hold hostile sexist attitudes also hold benevolent sexist attitudes.

A problem with the ASI, though, is that it is dependent on self-reporting. Even in an anonymous questionnaire, research participants may give responses that make them seem socially desirable (i.e. less of a sexist knobend). Furthermore, a questionnaire may influence their behaviour or responses to other questions if the participant guesses that the study is about sexism. For that reason, some researchers prefer to modify the ASI to present scenarios or observe behaviour.

Effects of ambivalent sexism

Much of the ambivalent sexism research has focused on workplace sexism. Hostile sexism has been linked to negative evaluations of women candidates for a managerial job and higher recommendations for a male candidate for the same role. It has also been linked to greater tolerance of sexist events after hearing a sexist joke, which suggests that sexist humour does have real-world implications, for hostile sexist people, at least.

Benevolent sexism has many real-world implications. It, too, has been linked to low evaluations of women in the workplace, as women are seen to be neglecting their traditional roles as caregivers and homemakers. As well as this systemic negative effect on women, the impact of benevolent sexism extend to psychological effects. When experiencing benevolent sexism, women perform worse at various cognitive tasks, which suggests that the benevolent sexist attitude further reinforces a vicious circle which allows women to do worse.

What about teh menz?

A similar scale has been created for measuring attitudes towards men: the Ambivalence Towards Men Inventory, a 20-item questionnaire which also differentiates between hostile and benevolent attitudes. This measure has generated much less research than the ASI, with fewer real-world implications. However, using the measure, it has been found that feminists are not man-haters: in fact, women who identify as feminist score significantly lower on hostility towards men.


While the problems of hostile sexism are well-known, and generally viewed as less acceptable in our society, “benevolent” sexism, too, has huge implications for equality for women. Benevolent sexism still allows women to be viewed as objects, and unworthy of equal employment, yet it is thoroughly acceptable to express opinions that women are cute little walking wombs. This needs to change.

Destruction and rebirth

Three years ago today, my destruction began. Nothing lasts forever.

Once upon a time, I was in a very long, monogamous relationship with a man. Including the agonising death throes, the relationship lasted a hair under five years.

Three years ago today, the death throes began.

I knew exactly what was happening, that the comfortable, happy reality I had inhabited for much of my life was falling apart around me. He was cheating on me; I knew with whom, I knew when it had began. I am not the most perceptive person, but this was blindingly obvious to me.

I decided not to rock the boat. I did not want a confrontation, then. I was afraid to let go and shake up everything that I knew.

For two months, I stayed in that relationship, insisting to all and sundry that it was just a rough patch.

I knew it was not a rough patch. I was afraid to let go. I still believed us to have a future.

It occupied my thoughts perpetually, the fear of change, the knowledge that I was all of a sudden cast off and thoroughly unwanted, unloved. I cried a lot.

He was miserable, too. He was afraid to let go.

It was never the cheating that bothered me. It was the lying, the sudden gulf that had opened up between us.

In the end, I had to know. It had turned to an obsession. I broke the last taboo of being a trusting lover and looked at his phone. I felt awful for that. It’s just not the done thing, is it? It’s what bonkers bunny boilers do, isn’t it?

So I finally confronted, by email.

I walked around all day with a weight sitting on my chest, frantically checking my emails for a reply.

I was afraid to let go. I fervently hoped I was wrong. Perhaps I would receive an email which told me I was wrong and featured a marriage proposal? Or what if I’d completely fucked everything by my confession of Going Through A Mobile Phone? Shit. I could have ruined it all by my refusal to trust.

None of this happened.

I had been right with my suspicions all along. We agreed to “a break”.

I insisted on a break, rather than a break-up.

I knew all hope was gone.

The mourning began in earnest.

I spent the best part of two months in my dressing gown, alternating between tears and numbness. My ashtray looked like a tar-stained porcupine. All the while, a vast knot of wretchedness wrapped itself around my guts. My body ate itself.

We were not even friends any more, me and him. The link was severed. We attended one last festival together and I have not seen him since.

The universe is riddled with cycles of destruction and rebirth. Stars bloat up and explode, spewing their innards out to create new stars, planets, life. Fleetingly-sentient blobs of matter die, and become new parts of life; maybe some blobs of their matter become sentient, too.

Having eaten my body, phase two began. I was an unethical slut.

I made sure I never fucked anyone I liked.

I had some blindingly good sex during that phase. I was still unhappy, albeit getting lucky.

It was a nebula; my new self was coalescing. I was disillusioned with monogamy; I just had not quite learned how to have functional, happy connections with other human beings.

I was a spinning mass. The star at the centre had not yet ignited.

When it did, it was not the dramatic, sudden explosion of illumination. It grew slowly; a phoenix egg incubating in smouldering ashes.

My reality, what I had accepted to be real, had been torn away. I reshaped my reality.

I am unfamiliar, now, with the woman who cried and held on. I see her as weak, even though she was not. She was working with the options that she had available.

I feel intense sympathy for people who have experienced being cheated on. It seems alien, though, that I was one of them.

Yet I am still that woman who wept and ate herself. I am still the woman who would not let go. It is all the same materials, just as we are all made of the remains of an exploded star. It is reconstituted into something different, yet it is all the same molecules.

Destruction and rebirth. I am grateful for it.

The Bellend effect

It is gratifying to see that a shift in public attitudes means that more Americans support marriage equality than oppose it. This would be better news if the figures weren’t ~50% in favour, ~46% against; there is still a long way to go.

I was more interested, though, in the graph of poll data surrounding support for marriage equality.

It looks like a willy. Let’s all giggle and get it out of our systems.

It looks exactly like a cock.

The reason it looks like a cock is due to a spike in opposition–in combination with a decline in support–around 2004. This statistical trend just happens to make the rest of the graph, where the trend holds fairly steady, look like a bellend.

What happened in 2004 to create the bellend?

It could be that in 2004, pollsters began asking the question differently: how a question is asked will have a great impact on what the answer is. As this graph combines data from several surveys, however, it seems that something else is contributing to The Bellend Effect: the effect of question framing declines when synthesising results from several sources.

2004 was a big year for same sex marriage in the States. Same sex marriage was briefly legal in San Francisco, theorised to be an entirely politically-motivated PR stunt. In Massachusetts, too, same sex marriage was legal.

The conservative Right lashed out, and referenda were launched in Massachusetts to overturn the marriage. In San Francisco, it was doubtful as to whether the marriages were ever legal in the first place.

In the face of all of the rhetoric in launching referenda, in combination with a huge, all-pervasive right-wing media, is it any surprised that The Bellend Effect occurred? In 2004, Americans were bombarded with propaganda informing them that marriage was only for heterosexuals.

The Bellend Effect, therefore, reflects the success of the right in affecting public opinion.

Due to this, I will now call right-wing propagandists bellends.