Tag Archives: rape

DrinkAware? Some victim awareness too please!

 

In wider society, there is nothing inherently wrong with promoting the responsible consumption of alcohol. In a worst-case scenario alcohol becomes an addiction requiring medical treatment. However, there is much wrong with the latest campaign poster from DrinkAware, and the messages it promotes are harmful to girls and women, and a get out of jail free card for perpetrators.

The image depicted is that of a hospital corridor, with two arrows pointing in opposite directions towards the Maternity Ward and the Sexual Health Clinic respectively. Written across the poster is the caption;

“Being drunk just once age 13. Twice as likely to have unprotected sex.”

This poster explicitly blames young girls regarding the possibility of getting drunk and pregnant through unprotected sex. However, sex is not a singular act. It is a plural one. This poster erases completely the responsibility and role of men in a drunk 13-year-old becoming pregnant. It is their responsibility not to engage in sex with a girl or woman who is drunk and in the scenario outlined on the poster it would also be an illegal act. Also, it does not provide a source for its claim that girls are twice as likely to have unprotected sex

But we live in a victim blaming culture, and this poster places the sole blame on teenage girls. It does not say anything at all about the role of men and boys in taking advantage of intoxicated girls, nor does it address their responsibility to be in control of their actions.

The finger wagging, paternalistic tone struck by this poster is extremely disappointing, and it does nothing to encourage girls who may have been raped while under the influence of alcohol to come forward to authorities if they want to and speak about their experiences.

This poster is pure blackmail. In terms of its subtext, it says “just once age 13 is enough and it is all your fault you silly girl!”

Boys and men are equally responsible during sex yet this poster renders them conveniently invisible. They would be responsible in the event of pregnancy too, yet this poster renders them invisible. Where are the posters telling men and boys that being drunk just once aged 13 could get a girl pregnant and instructing them to keep it in their pants? Exactly! Nowhere!

In wider society, we love to shame and condemn women and girls as that poster does, yet we turn a blind eye, or even reward boys and men for bad behaviour.

There is something else wrong with this poster is. We have two arrows pointing in opposite directions, firstly towards the Maternity Ward and secondly towards the Sexual Health Clinic.

This gives the impression that there are only two outcomes with respect to unprotected sex. The complete erasure of boys from the campaign may cause you to believe that it is women alone who are responsible for these outcomes, when in fact men bear the responsibility to.

Turning first to the maternity ward the poster completely neglects to mention the option of abortion, an option which any responsible clinician would discuss with a girl faced with this scenario, and any responsible campaign should make girls aware of this possibility too.  To frame pregnancy as a consequence over which a girl has no control is disrespectful and damaging to women, and irresponsible on the part of DrinkAware.

With regard to sexual health, sex as I said previously is a plural act. Men also have responsibility for their sexual health, and as such would be responsible for any woman getting an STI.

Overall though, this campaign makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. It gives the impression that women are totally responsible for unwanted sexual advances (ergo rape) and for the consequences. It blames them totally for drinking alcohol at a young age, despite the fact that a man may be buying it for them and taking advantage of the situation, yet there are no equivalent campaigns warning men of the dangers of having sex while drunk, and telling them to keep it in their pants.

This campaign leaves women isolated and at sea. It plays on the politics of fear and shaming women. Yet sadly, this campaign represents a missed opportunity. It could have been used to educate women and girls about the support that is out there for rape victims who have been raped while under the influence of alcohol. It could also have been used to educate them about the help and support that is out there in the event of unwanted teenage pregnancy.

As it stands this campaign poster is damaging. It blames the victim for a traumatic ordeal, and renders invisible every male perpetrator. As such it is serving no other purpose than to be a servant of patriarchy and I would advocate for its immediate removal. I would also ask DrinkAware to be more careful planning future campaigns with how it uses language to avoid belittling, victimising and shaming rape victims.

NB: Jane England has started a petition to try to get the poster banned. She has petitioned the Media and Public Affairs manager at DrinkAware, Kelly O’Sullivan. PLEASE SIGN.

The Congo Stigmata: A Response to the Cultural Appropriation of Eve Ensler

 

Eve Ensler is a writer whose best-known contribution to the world of literature is The Vagina Monologues. At the time of publication it caused controversy, for its frankness and openness about the vagina. The vagina has an air of mystique about it and it is something we very rarely talk about in public space.

In this book excerpt however Ensler talks about her experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo with raped women. The excerpt though is highly problematic. I will not be drawn into a line by line analysis of the piece because it would be very long and boring for you to read.

However, I will point out the main problem areas and the folly in Ensler’s approach to this issue.

Dealing first with the title, The Congo Stigmata I believe it is highly offensive. Firstly, stigmata have their origins in the Christian faith. Stigmata describe bodily marks or pain sensations in the same locations of the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ. The phenomena of stigmata is primarily associated with the Roman Catholic faith and notable figures with stigmata include St Francis of Assisi and the apostle Paul.

However what Eve Ensler does is not only offensive it is inappropriate. She brands the whole Democratic Republic of Congo as suffering from stigma, which affects her vicariously as much as the women of the Congo. She aligns herself with them, as one of them, rather than looking in from the outside and respecting their own trauma. To brand a whole country as having  stigmata is grossly offensive.

The subject matter of the article is of course rape. Whilst there are commonalities of experience amongst rape victims, the individuality of everyone’s experiences must be respected.

Eve Ensler though appropriates the experiences of other victims though, and claims them as her own in a highly narcissistic and selfish way. She had a cancerous tumour inside herself between the vagina and the bowel which had in turn fistulated the rectum.

This meant that for her she had to have the same surgical intervention as many rape victims in the Congo.

By this point in the article though, my alarm bells were ringing. In a macabre way, she almost seems to delight in it, as though she is happy about it, or under some illusion that having the same surgery means they have a strong bond between them.

Cancer though is physiological, rape is not. The point is those Congolese women would not need the surgery had they not been raped, yet Ensler exhibits almost a kind of euphoria about the whole thing. It reminds me of somebody being happy about having their legs amputated so they can adopt the physical appearance of an amputee.

She also seems worryingly obsessed by the possibility of supernatural intervention in what happened to her. Doctors come across all sorts of things in careers, some familiar and some not but I think it is very unwise to frame the fistula in a spiritual context. This leads to it being viewed as some kind of spiritual gift which for the many rape victims who have also been through the pain of fistulas I am sure it is not.

She is so cold and clinical about the symptoms arising from fistulas too. There is no sense of empathy from the writer not even when it comes to the indignity of urine or faeces flowing through the resulting hole. No sense of embarrassment or contrition. Instead, I am left with the impression that the writer is completely indifferent to the trauma suffered by these women, and is instead more interested in the biology of fistulae.

Ensler then  described how she needed to see a fistula. Most of us want to see a famous landmark, or meet an idol, or to see a beautiful sunset. But no Eve Ensler wanted to see a fistula. By this point the article feels highly abnormal and disturbs me as I read. Not only is she being insensitive, and culturally appropriative, but also highly voyeuristic. Doctors of course need to be present in operating theatres as part of medical training, and those who have had surgical procedures can now in the Internet age perhaps look them up on YouTube. But there is no reason for Ensler to see somebody else’s operation. This feels intrusive, wrong and highly unethical. The ethics of it disturb me the most. Did the woman give consent to Ensler watching her operation? Was she aware that Ensler was watching the operation, and intending to recount it in a book?

For us on the sidelines, these are rhetorical questions, but I find them disturbing nonetheless highly so. When I wrote about FGM in a recent blog entry I did so with the utmost sensitivity. If you have your writing chops that is what you do. It is common sense.

But instead Ensler chooses to write about the operation in highly flowery dramatic prose. It is highly appropriate if you are writing a work of fiction and want to keep your readers on the edge of their seats. However it is not appropriate to transform a traumatic operation into dramatic exaggerated prose for your own selfish benefit.

She de-centres the person having the surgery completely, and bearing the hallmarks of a true narcissist, she appropriates the experience that this woman on the operating table has had and makes it all about herself, compelling her readers to shift their focus away from her subject on the operating table and back  on to her. I hope however that most readers worth their salt would be to see through this and feel sympathy for the woman anyway.

Semantically, just look at how many I and me sentences there are, given that is supposed to be an extract about raped women in the Congo. I could feel myself falling, except that what happened to the woman on the operating table was not Ensler’s fall to have. I can appreciate that witnessing the operation may have reawakened personal memories for Ensler. However I think it is wrong and disrespectful to conflate the two together for the sole purpose of literary exaggeration and dramaturgy.

The whole way through this piece I felt like I was reading a novel, rather than a realistic account of rape in the Congo. Eve Ensler is a writer. She is not Congolese. Therefore she should not be appropriating Congolese female experience for her own writerly gain. Yes, she may have had the same surgery due to a horrid diagnosis, and I am sorry for that. But that is where my sympathy for Eve Ensler ends.

I have never read many pieces which are as offensive as this, so appropriative, so disrespectful of the experience of these Congolese women, using their lives as a crude plot device. I hope I never do again. Eve Ensler has certainly not contributed to ending the stigma of rape by writing this.

Rape: Myths, Truths and Experiences

NB: This post comes with a trigger warning. Contains sexual descriptors and mentions  maltreatment of a prostitute. Please be careful and read with caution.Be safe, please. 

Much of the current discourse around rape seems to be based around two things. Firstly the magical ‘if’ and secondly victim blaming. These appear to be the current things ironically holding back productive discourse on rape whilst driving it at the same time.

I have no problem with the police or other agencies issuing safety advice like people walking in groups late at night, and carrying mobile phones for example. However what I resent is that safety advice being used as a blaming mechanism when the advice itself is not enough.

Rapists will often present the excuse at their disposal that somehow their victims were asking for it, or that the sexual act was consensual in some way.

The problem is women are told to be careful women are told to be safe but men are never told not to rape. This is because of the different characterisations which influence gender. They are at best social constructions. We have constructions such as the well worn trope that if a woman is sexually active regularly with different partners she is characterised as a slut. However if a man repeats similar behaviour he is a stud.

These flaky misunderstandings are the heart of our culture in the UK and drive our conception and understanding of rape.

I listened with incredulity to a debate on BBC Radio Five Live’s Stephen Nolan programme. The debate came about as a result of female anger at some controversial comments on rape he has made in a new book.

Nick Ross has been dealt with in a fulsome manner by other writers so I do not wish to focus on that again.

However the testimonies of two victims who phoned into the show were moving, touching and chilling at the same time.

I applaud the bravery of these women in recounting their stories to be disseminated on the radio. I feel sure that it will have brought benefit to some people who maybe feel less alone after hearing the struggles of others.

Another misnomer about rape is centred around alcohol. There is no evidence to suggest that my drinking alcohol women are inviting rape. Women should be able to go out dressed as they wish, and drink sensibly preserving their own dignity without being told they are targets for rape.

Perpetrators need to hear phone-ins like Stephen Nolan’s in order to fully understand the consequences of their actions.

In both cases the interviews started off sympathetically but as they wore on there was very sadly little sympathy directed at the victims. This is how much patriarchal culture has inculcated and been inducted into our society as an inevitable force in daily life. I say to you that it’s high time that this status quo was brought to an end.

I believe the change in tone was due to a BBC raison d’être of balance. The BBC’s greatest asset is also the weakest part of in that it is a government funded organisation. This means that it cannot show bias at any time even with rape victims.

We do live under patriarchy that is not in question. Nick Ross’s book was essentially a piece of academic research. The commentator Brooke Magnanti opines that Nick Ross has “fallen into the trap of thinking like a criminologist.” This is exactly the problem. Academic writing is often cold and emotionally detached. Therefore seeing an almost academic publication serialised in a Sunday newspaper, quite apart from the headline in the Daily Mail is always going to be a difficult process for rape victims.

Women should not have to read such publications in a Sunday newspaper because of the triggers it brings them. The memories and the reliving of very painful experiences are a heavy price to pay just for opening a newspaper. The truth of rape is that each victim reacts differently, and processes differently but the common trait is the palpable pain that lasts afterwards often infinitely. I was captivated by the interviews and found myself just wanting to reach out to the women involved to tell them they were not alone and to tell them that they must not ever feel that they are suffering in silence and unable to seek help either from empathic family, friends or trained professionals.

We must too reduce the stigma of reporting rape. Rapists are evil and calculated people and likely to reoffend. Therefore the more cases that are reported the better.

In saying that though it is important that women are believed. I myself always want people to be heard when they confide in me about many issues. It seems to have been an ongoing pattern over the years that people share their trials and tribulations with me.

I am not myself without personal experience in this area. My disability has always added that extra layer of vulnerability to my life particularly physical vulnerability.

I’m not going to be specific about names and places from here on in for reasons that will become clear.

Once I was in a nightclub. It was the end of the night and my wheelchair had broken down. I had gone out with my carer at the time in my manual wheelchair. A man came up to me and stuck his tongue down my throat. He rubbed himself against me and tried to give me (feed me) a drink. This was not consensual in any way. I tried to push him off me but he was too strong and held my shoulders against the back of the wheelchair. Therefore I was physically disempowered even more than usual.

I never reported it. Looking back I should have done but the experience helped me to empathise with the loss of control people feel when they go through such an experience. Also the force of physical domination by another person in a non-consensual sexual act is chilling frightening and scary. I always feel generally disempowered without my electric wheelchair anyway due to not being able to be as independent as I normally would. Having to rely on other people is something that upsets me as I feel I already rely on them enough.

My second experience was a betrayal of the caring relationship. It happened during my time At University. My regular carer had gone for a break as was usual. I was introduced to a new live-in carer who would be looking after me for a fortnight. She seemed nice if a little depressed herself.

I had supportive flatmates and a good Hall Manager. I went out for my regular cheese themed night out on a Saturday night. I danced the night away and had a couple of drinks. As an aside a bit of an 80s woman on the quiet don’t tell anyone!

So the night ended and I was taken to the toilet before going home. I did what had to be done but began to panic when the carer locked the door. She then proceeded to try to kiss me I told her I wasn’t interested and said I wanted to go home. She sat looking at me in the toilet for a bit longer and then unlocked the door.

I was tense on the way home as though there was more to come. Don’t ask me why I just sensed something.

I got back to my room and she undressed me as normal and put me to bed. However I was not expecting what happened next. She then climbed on top of me held my arms and told me to relax. Relax I thought! I feel anything but relaxed right now I feel terrified. Again I tried to push her off but lacked the strength. I tried in vain to tell her I was gay. She accused me of lying. This was prior to my transition. She didn’t listen. I felt genuinely disempowered once again. She stayed in my room until 6.00 a.m

I confided in my flatmates the next day. My flatmate said she knew something was wrong because she had seen the lights on under my door when she got up to the loo but didn’t think anything of it. The reason why this should have been a red flag is because there was no way technically speaking or physically that I could have operated the light switches myself from my own bed.

My carer returned from her break and knew something was wrong because when the person tried to kiss me goodbye I put my head down on my chest as a protective gesture. She said that this was most out of character for me and she was right. We then reported what she had done to the relevant agency and suspicious behaviour had been reported the previous week. She did not keep the job.

After this, I worked with a counsellor on strategies to keep me safe.

My third and final experience is not related directly to me. It concerns another former flatmate of mine. There’s no nice way of putting this. Essentially he brought a prostitute into our home and raped her with a number of men. This experience was made all the worse by the fact some of the men carried knives and my other flatmate who was deaf was also asleep in the house at the time.

He “reduced her to c*nt” in the words of Kate Millett. He didn’t pay her. Then afterwards he came full of highly inappropriate glee to tell me what he had done in explicit detail. He was boasting about the things he had done. I was disgusted with him. Sweat was pouring off him and he did not even seem to care or grasp the gravity of what he had done in violating the dignity of another human being, of inviting himself into another humans body without her permission. Or maybe with permission analogous to Anne Hathaway’s superb portrayal of a desensitised mechanical and traumatised Fantine in Les  Miserables.

I woke my carer up after phoning her. Initially she thought I was joking. I only wish I had been truly.

Next morning the police came and I gave a statement. He almost got kicked out of University. The callous coldhearted nature with which he had gone about his dealings with this woman, complicit with other men objectifying her reducing her to nothing but a shell outraged me. It offended me and upset me. For I myself cannot imagine comprehending myself disrespecting a woman in such a vulgar manner. As she shouted out to him in the street; “I may be a whore but don’t treat me like a c*nt.”

There will of course be people reading this who do sex work and they will say their clients are nothing like that. Therefore I am pleased for them. But however I am disgusted and remain disgusted at my former flatmate and to this day we have never kept in touch. I just felt so sorry for this poor woman being treated in this way stripped of dignity and humanity. I cried buckets of tears that night.

Ironically to some it was also around this time that my suspicions around my birth sex began to crystallise. I was just nothing like a man at least an alpha caveman anyway. I was not driven by carnal desires but by empathy, love and compassion. I have no sense of male entitlement or any desire for male power because I have seen first hand the damage these things can do.

In my trans years I am interested in supporting women, helping women listening to women and understanding women. Also, men who have been affected by such issues. Social issues and feminism are what motivates me. Illumination on matters where education is needed and only darkness exists. But I feel passionate the women should not be blamed for the misdeeds that have been committed against them but should feel confident and be supported by the full force of the law to bring charges against those who have wronged them. Furthermore I believe they should have access to the type of support that benefits them most individually.

All we do not need is mythological fantasy telling us that rape is somehow preventable. One of the things that made me feel extremely bad on that night was that my disability prevented me from getting out of bed to do anything to help that prostitute out of a dangerous situation. But then the best way to avoid rape is for people not to rape at all. If it happens above all what needs to happen is for victims to be listened to and to be treated as victims, not enablers in the crime. The amount of false rape allegations is extremely low.

Nick Ross’ intentions may have been good but academia should stay where it is and the most credible primary source we can listen to are victims themselves.

 

Has any good come out of Savile?

 

So, International Women’s Day has been and gone for another year. Yet, at the moment, every day seems to be International Women’s Day. Every day, a new horrific story involving women, breaks and comes to the forefront of the news agenda. In this article, I want to address three things. How that happened, where it happened, and why.

I bet there was not a single woman, or man who was not repulsed, disgusted and shocked when the dossier of allegations against the one time television presenter Jimmy Savile was made public. Savile was a television personality, who to all intents and purposes, enjoyed success because of children. The Jim’ll Fix It badges, with their red ribbon and iconic slogan “Jim Fixed It For Me” became synonymous with Saturday night must see TV.

However, it has become all too apparent that Savile broke, not fixed many people. He was the ultimate master of deception, and left his victims with a lifetime of sorrow, misery and trauma to contend with.

The current revelations from the recently published report into the scandal reveals a Pandora’s Box of missed opportunity to see Savile convicted, and for his victims to see and feel justice being done. Had the police acted more swiftly, more lives could and should have been saved. There was also an overlooked chance to convict in the 1960s because he was “a celebrity.” My feeling is that no one, celebrity or not, should ever be above the law.

That said though, the Savile allegations are not a moment of panacea for the ongoing problem of misogyny and violence and abuse perpetrated against women and girls.

It is a psychological issue too, with even the former Editor of Newsnight dismissing the allegations made as being those of “just the women.” Would we ever hear a similar remark made about a man? I think not.

I meant that this is a psychological issue in terms of how such issues are perceived in wider society, and that the wider structure of it is unashamedly patriarchal.

Social mores have meant that over the centuries we have grown up with, and to some extent embedded the notion in our minds that women are weak and feeble, and that men are big and strong. Also, that men are rational and sensible, whilst women are angry and hysterical. Such tropes, though populist are misguided and should be avoided.

The effect of such tropes though cannot be avoided. They are what give rise to the notion, in a patriarchal society that women’s accounts of abuse and violence should not be taken seriously and are being over-exaggerated.

In a sense, this is hardly surprising. It is what one would expect those who feel comfortable with the status quo and those who defend it to say.

But the truth is, Savile is merely the tip of the iceberg, and we are told by the CPS to expect a new wave of high profile arrests over the next few weeks.

The Savile allegations were closely followed by those against Lord Rennard, although apparently some think a bit of light knee touching is OK.

So that is how it happened. But I strongly believe that this story does not begin and end in the world of celebrity, nor with the celebrity culture and subsequent power relations that run deep within it. It begins and ends with the everyday women in the UK; the women who are fighting back.

To my mind, there is no doubt in one thing, women in this country, are annoyed, not just a little but a lot. It is as if Savile acted as a catalyst, for women to stand up and be counted, in essence that they have had enough. Too often, wimmin’s problems are perceived as exactly that. Wimmin’s problems, cooked up as a scheme by the “bloody feminists” to annoy men and make their lives difficult and demean their reputation.

But the best thing about the current crop of visibility around feminist activism is this. It is not a Government initiative. It is not a charity. It is activism generated by women, for all women.

One of the best known agents of such activism currently is the Everyday Sexism website, founded by Laura Bates.

A fair criticism made by many feminists is that often, we don’t name the problem; we dance around it, alluding to it but never quite name it.

Well the website very much names the problem, and holds it up clearly for the world to see.

The most fabulous thing about Everyday Sexism is that it is not dramatised fiction, but real life experiences that are happening right now. Through the medium of Twitter and emailing the website, women are telling their own stories from their own souls. Nobody is asking them to do so, they are absolutely making that choice.

From a quick scan of the Twitter account, it seems that something as innocuous as walking to the laundrette with a pile of washing can provoke a disgusting slur, or that being pregnant can prevent you from managing an account in your company as your long term commitment is not guaranteed.

So Twitter and the Internet are powerful mediums. Whilst men seem to be frantically flailing around trying to find ways to justify patriarchy, women are fighting back, and fighting back hard.

There is also the painful stain of violence against women and girls. It is a sad indictment on our society that this is such a problem. Women and girls live with the trauma of rape and violence for a lifetime. Interventions like counselling can help but it never fully leaves you.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer yesterday issued a report showing that false accusations of rape are extremely rare, and he appealed to police not to develop an over-cautious attitude, since this may deter victims of rape.

BBC Radio 1 the BBC’s youth station, whose primary target audience is 15-24, ran a report on Newsbeat that directly contradicted the findings of the DPP. They suggested, to outrage across the Internet, that false rape allegations were a common problem with a “devastating impact for those involved”

This kind of reporting is irresponsible for two reasons. Firstly, it falls far below the normal high standards of journalism one would expect from the BBC.

Secondly, it is irresponsible on the part of the BBC due to Newsbeat’s young, impressionable target audience.

Is it truly the sort of message we want to be sending out to our young people? That we want to tell girls if a boyfriend does something inappropriate, that it would be better for them to keep quiet, as no-one will believe them anyway?

Or to boys, do we want to send the message that it’s absolutely fine to rape, because they will probably get away with it?

These may be the consequences of Radio 1’s unusually baseless reporting, in actuality. It sets a dangerous precedent and that is why I thoroughly endorse and appreciate the stance of Keir Starmer, on this issue.

It is important that all victims of rape, whether female, male, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or non-binary know that their allegations of rape will be dealt with seriously and sympathetically. By broadcasting such a report, the BBC did nothing to assist in this aim.

In terms of my own situation, trans people are subjected to misogyny too, with some traduced to mere objects of fetish for the enjoyment of men. This too is unacceptable.

However, we as trans women, must stand shoulder to shoulder with all women in their struggles. To be a separate side dish is not appropriate in my view is not appropriate as that is not why I transitioned.

I transitioned to be at one with myself and the sisterhood. Food for thought.

So has some good come out of Savile? Through organisation, of women, by women, for women, it has brought issues that are normally special interest into the public gaze, and into sharper focus. It has made women stand up and say enough is enough, which it is. It has shown women they are not alone. It has allowed women to take the power back from the patriarchy, and to gain strength.

Above all, through the pernicious medium of social media it has allowed women to control their own narrative, and share it with each other.

You know the best thing is this. When I ask myself the question, who brought this change about, there is one clearly answer. Women themselves. That piece of knowledge is so beautifully empowering.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Need Feminism…….Why We All Do

I don’t remember much of my academic life. In all honesty, looking back most of it is a blur. But three things stand out for me. Reading, creative writing, and feminism. I loved them all. Two quotes stick in my brain. The first from one of my A-Level Sociology lecturers, Marilyn, which was;

“Women are a sponge to soak up all men’s inadequacies”

And secondly an accolade I am still proud of to this day.  My English lecturer Helen dubbed me as “the only male feminist she had ever taught.”

I admired Helen and Marilyn, because they were both women of passion and conviction, impact notwithstanding. The fact that I still remember their musings to this day is a compliment to them. I am proud to know, and to have known some wonderful women in my life. Women who I have cared about, loved, been inspired by, cried with, laughed with, and empathised with.

If women are a sponge for men’s inadequacies, then I have been a sponge for women’s strength. Despite never having had siblings of either sex, I have always gravitated naturally towards women, they have been my heart, my soul, and my rock when I have needed support too.

I have never looked at what I can take from a woman, but instead, what I can give to them, in the sense of  solidarity and support. Helen also said she had never met a man like me before, and doubted she ever would again. That is because the construct of a man was alien to me, and I did not, and still would not want to live up to.

Womanhood then, is not about the clothes on your body. Feminism, is about the clothes on your soul. Whether you stand up and be counted as a woman , or well, you choose to do nothing.

During my University days another thing I did was to find the poem Leda and the Swan by W.B. Yeats disgusting. Even now when reading it back, it still turns my stomach. The reduction of a female, to her mere body parts for the delight of a man is patriarchal to the extreme, and when you see it written down in the cold light of day, it makes it even more vile.

The radical feminist Catherine McKinnon argues that;

“Understanding free speech as an abstract system is a liberal position. Understanding how speech also exists within a substantive system of power relations is a feminist position.”

What this quote suggests is that speech and writing in the first instance do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in a patriarchal context to subjugate women and other minorities too it has to be said. We in the UK are a culture which privileges misogyny over mindfulness, and pornography over pragmatism. 

This is not surprising though, when a 9 year old child was subjected to a disgusting slur after the Oscars, and we are told in a week where a sex scandal is embroiling the Liberal Democrats, we are told, with all the empathy of a toilet roll, “well, he only touched her knee, it’s hardly Jimmy Savile”.

Oh. So that makes it OK and I can stop writing then? No chance! I will not be silenced now, nor ever! It is preposterous, not to mention   mocking and silencing to categorise the experiences of abused women and men, and to judge them in a quantitative, tokenistic, and insulting way.

But you know, things have changed since Marilyn’s sponge. The abuse and violence haven’t, but with the advent of social media, women are being able to voice their anger across the Internet, and to gain support, and kinship from other women, who have suffered similar pain.

Why am I angry too though? Why do I feel the fire of womanhood burn inside my heart? Why do I need feminism, and why do I care?

I never really knew my biological father well. I w0uldn’t recognise him if I saw him on the street. My mother brought me up as a single parent, and we were always so close. Mainly I think because of my disability, I depended on her for personal care. I was born in an incubator, and was lucky to survive the first few days of my life.

My father bought me with with toys  and gifts, but as for any moral or indeed financial contribution to my upbringing, it was never forthcoming. I loved my mum. She was my role model and friend.

But things changed in 1989 when she met Mike. He was horrible to her and me. Two experiences stick in my mind. He emotionally abused me relentlessly, branding me useless, and a disappointment, and a vegetable. He would never do any personal care for me. On a Saturday, initially, mum had a job in a pub as a chef. If I needed anything in the way of personal care, I would have to wait until she got home. He also wanted me to toughen up and be a man. His behaviour to me and mum alone demonstrates that patriarchy is alive.

Two more experiences for you. My grandparents bought me a gift of my first motorised wheelchair, in order that I could get about and have more independence. However they bought me the newest model of this particular wheelchair, and the wheel was prone to falling off.

One night we had been to a barbecue with mum and his friends, and on the way home the wheel feel off. What would be the natural response? To offer help and assistance perhaps. No! Not that pathetic excuse of a human being. He got angry, yelled, screamed and shouted, flexed his patriarchal muscles  and went home. Moreover, this meant my mother had to get me, plus this piece of heavy machinery home. She did it though I do not know how.

The second time that sticks in my mind was when Mum had to go to hospital and the scumbag refused to let me see her. He told me she wasn’t allowed visitors. When she got home, the one thing she told me was that she wanted to see me, and she was. She also had to give me a shower just after coming out of hospital, with an open surgical wound.

So firstly, I need feminism as a counterbalance to help dismantle male power structures in my mind that were drummed into me as a child. I need feminism to help me articulate my fears and feelings, as well as my oppression as a woman with a disability. I need women as friends for mutual support, love and kinship. Even as a trans woman, I need to help all women not to fear these power structures Mackinnon speaks of, or to farm the power out to men, but to take that power back for themselves, and to cradle it wholeheartedly, as if it were a newborn baby. The power of the collective female conscience is a wonderful thing.

Secondly I need feminism because it is a narrative for the oppressed and marginalised. I was marginalised and oppressed from birth as a person with a disability. People for the most part, can be selfish or uncaring and this shines through, and perhaps this is why I have an affinity with the female struggle, be that with such issues as rape, eating disorder s, or self injurous behaviour. Men experience these things too of course. But the first two are borne out of a search for perfection, a perfection which is idealistic, flawed and unattainable. Every woman is beautiful in her heart and soul.

Throughout my life, my friends have been women. I have grown up with them, lived with them and learned from them, hence the sponge metaphor at the top of the piece is appropriate. Feminism came for me long before transition, friendships with women came long before transition, and my studies of  feminism were deep-rooted in me long before any gender transition. The thing is, I didn’t want to toughen up and be a man. It felt alien to me, and toughness just phallogocentric.

Now to address the elephant in the room. Rad Fem 2013 is a conference taking place in London, with amongst others, Julie Bindel,  Cathy Brennan and Sheila Jeffreys. 

In the trans community, they are renowned for thinking that trans women are men, for wanting an end to gender, and are in a continual quest to abolish patriarchy.

By contrast, the trans community label them TERF’s (Trans Excluding Radical Feminists) and counter protest at most venues they speak at, and organise autonomously at.

Now I have wrestled and wrestled with my conscience over whether this post would be written, for the thoughts I am about to express may seem  like a revolution to some.

Radical feminism, at its core, is a narrative 0f pain, of trauma, and of hurt as a result of extreme violence and abuse in many cases. Furthermore, it  is a narrative of damage, and damaged people. That’s why in this feminist school of thought there are no shades of grey, only black and white.

Beyond the rhetoric and name calling, the conference will discuss sexual violence and will allow women a safe space in which to share their stories. Don’t forget, abuse is very VERY isolating and lonely, and for all I know, RadFem2013 may be the only time these sisters will have the chance to make friends on their terms.

Autonomous organisation seems to have annoyed people. Women do have a right to organise freely. I am not saying that in terms of permission, I am stating it as fact. Trans people are however, being excluded from this conference.

However, if one is organising an event, one sets its parameters. Remember what I said earlier? Radical feminism is a narrative of pain, and women are coming together to share.  

Being frank, the p*s is a male organ, and represents trauma and pain to many women. Perhaps they find trans people triggering, in the same way as they would find a man triggering, whilst at the same time having no particular beef with that person’s character?

I’ll be damn honest here. I find some straight men triggering. Due to the wheelchair, I am lower down than they are so am always looking up. Mike was tall too so this can be frightening.

I always protected my mother though, and hated it when he shouted and screamed at her, and at me.

We need feminism to allow space for such things to be aired. Another problem I think the radical feminists have around trans people is that they have entered their space, and taken on their identity, whereas they were born into that identity of struggle from time immemorial. In  a way, I understand that grievance. It is hard to see identity changing around you, and to see people claiming an identity you thought was exclusively yours, then in come the trans people, snatch it away, and parade it around like a trophy, and never mind all the years of abuse and trauma you’ve suffered. I get that, truly. But I don’t want to erase you, nor reinforce patriarchy, nor am I interested in  power. I have very little anyway, since I rely on others to accomplish most tasks of daily life. I do have personal power inside me though which ensures that I can guard against being subjugated again.

We also need feminism as a response to misogyny, as an angry response to “women being reduced to c*nt” as Kate Millett would have it.  According to the charity Rape Crisis joint statistics from the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Office for National Statistics reveal that 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year. Similarly, they show that over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted every year. Finally they show that 1 in 5 women, aged 16-59 has experienced some form of sexual violence.

These are sobering and cannot be ignored. For behind each number is a person, and behind each person, a life scarred. But hopefully through kinship, love and support scars can heal. 

Frankly though, that’s why I am a feminist. I got sick of hearing stories over the years from women who’d been touched up in clubs, to having men saying, hmm lesbian,I bet I can turn you.

This was brought home to me vividly, when I started going to my local gay club. All the women there had stories, that is why they too are fragile and vulnerable sometimes. I can assure you though, I want to defend their interests. I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with them whilst respecting their boundaries. Women deserve respect for they are beautiful, kind, caring and compassionate. I don’t know where I’d be without my sisters. So thank you all of you.

So why do women need feminism? For support, for a bridge where once before there was a deep chasm. Why do I need feminism? It gives me a voice, in a male dominant culture. It speaks to me and for me. When I hear feminism expressed it speaks to me and for me.

Before I conclude let me say this. Many trans women suffer abuse too. But there is nothing to stop us opening our own autonomous discussions about that. Julie Bindel is a campaigner against domestic violence, which to me is a laudable occupation. Sheila Jeffreys Kate Millett lecture got me through insomnia last night. I also found this interesting having spent a long time studying feminist literary theory at uni. 

I need feminism because it means I can live with pride, confidence and self esteem (recently discovered) in a world plagued by ableism. Most of all it enables me to stand with and for the people I love the most – women.

I wish RadFem 2013 the best of luck, and I hope it helps the women who attend. Meanwhile, I’ll do as Cathy Brennan suggested and be me.