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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Check your privilege.

'Check your privilege' a sentence oft heard around the internet and until now not one I was sure I subscribed to, not because we shouldn't be checking our privilege but more because it is often abused and used to censure and silence rather than encourage healthy debate. However, today the idea of checking ones privilege was never more appropriate. In Texas the primarily old, primarily white and primarily male state government are attempting to pass legislation (the controversial SB5 amendment) that would close down all but five of Texas' abortion providers and decrease current 20 week limit. When questioned on abortion in the case of rape the (sadly female) Texas lawmaker Jodie Laubenburg was on record as saying "In Emergency Rooms we have something called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out" Not only does this show a stunning arrogance and ignorance of both the purpose of a rape kit and the reality of how babies are actually made, but also a frightening attitude of some towards women's reproductive rights. One that seems to echoed throughout the GOP, which whilst having some well known anti abortion women members is proportionally speaking largely white and male. The people who hold these views will often describe themselves as 'Pro-life', but nothing could be further from the truth. Even ignoring the fact that in the case of Texas they still have and make use of the death penalty, anti -abortion campaigners are showing themselves to have little or no respect for the life of others. It is the same people who will campaign against universal health care, food stamps, social security. These are the very same people who demand that their 'rights' and 'freedoms' to own dangerous weapons and ammunition despite the fact that children die every day in America as a result of lose gun legislation,  but want greater regulation over what a private individual does with their body. They argue that life begins at the moment of conception but willfully ignore that it also doesn't end at the moment of birth.

This evening Texas democratic Senator Wendy Davis attempted a 13 hour filibuster in order to shut down or at least stall the bill. She was shut down by the house GOP on point of order, a technicality. These mainly old white men, who will never be affected by the issues which they are so arrogantly legislating on essentially made that lady shut up. Unlike so many times in the past the filibuster attempt was streamed live and was watched by millions around the world. The world knows what happened. We all saw. We all know those rich, white men who will never find themselves pregnant as a result of rape, will never find themselves facing the hideous choice of whether or not to bring a life into the world that they are not equipped, either financially, emotionally or mentally to raise. Like those of are against marriage equality, they are railing against an issue that will never make one iota of difference to their lives but can make a huge difference to someone elses. They do this not because they think it is for the best, but because they feel that it is their right to impose their will and beliefs on others. That rights and freedoms only extend to the rights and freedoms they feel are important but not those that are important to others. They make efforts to legislate on private individuals and their private lives in order to exert their own power and privilege.

People who support the right to abortion are not 'pro-abortion' they are 'pro-choice'. There are very few (if any) who would make the decision to terminate a pregnancy lightly regardless of the circumstances. There are few if any who believe that abortion should not be carefully regulated, but in a way that ensures the safety of those who undertake it. There few if any who think that abortion is an alternative to contraception. Pro-choice means allowing people the rights to make their own choice. By lowering the amount of time a woman has to make a decision the anti-abortion faction  believe that they will lower abortion rates by essentially forcing those who are over 15 weeks to have their children regardless of the circumstances. I would argue that possibly the opposite might be true. Given less time to consider their options (particularly women who find out about their pregnancies later or who after screening might be considering their options due to the impact on their family) women might well be more likely to choose an abortion as they do not have enough time to fully consider their options, to look at the support available to them should they opt to keep their babies. Also the banning or limiting of abortions does not stop them happening. As in the case of Ireland, where abortion is banned, the problem is still there, its just been exported to the UK. The same will happen in the US, as people are forced (where possible) to travel to other states for the procedures or more worryingly have illegal procedures.

As Bill Clinton stated, abortions should be 'safe, legal and rare' and this should be the case. Everyone has a right to their own opinion and should a person be anti-abortion (or pro-life) then they have the right to exercise that belief, to choose to never consider it as an option regardless of the circumstances. But by the same token a woman should also have the right and choice to terminate a pregnancy if that is what is best for her. This is not an issue like guns, where there is a legitimate public safety concern, this should be an individual choice and freedom, one that a woman takes on her own counsel and that of those she chooses to talk to about it with. Not some group of law makers, made of of old men and women who don't even seem to be fully aware of the facts of the very issue they seek to legislate upon. So before you tell a woman what she can or can't do with her body, check your privilege.

Addendum: In the time since I wrote this post there were numerous protests in the public gallery over the bill, and what can only be described as an awesome act of public filibuster. However, the very same people who had Senator Davies shut down over a rule, it appears to have been quite happy to break the rules themselves holding the vote after the midnight deadline. There seems to be some dispute as whether or the vote actually happened, but at the moment it does seem that it did. And that those people who protested (you know, the people who vote and these people claim they speak for) were being removed and in some cases arrested. So yeah, check your privilege.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Meeting hate with hate

Those of you who live in or are from the UK (and many of those of you who are not given the nature of 24 hour world news) cannot have failed to have heard about the terrible, stomach churning crime which took place in Woolwich, London yesterday.

In broad daylight in the middle of what appears to be a busy street two men attacked a third and killed him. Details of what happened during the attack remain patchy with some reports stating he was run over by a car driven by the assailants who then proceeded to 'hack' at the victim with meat cleaver style weapons, others simply that he was attacked with weapons. The two then, covered in the blood of their victim (who reports have said is likely to have been a serving soldier, the attackers clearly believed this to be the case) requested passers by take photographs and pretty much gave an interview citing their own messed up version of Islamic Jihad and the need for revenge for the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan as the motive for the crime.

As a crime of this utter brutality and cold bloodiness should illicit,  there has been outrage and disbelief. It is an indefensible act of murder.  But there has also been those quick to point the finger. Those who have been quick to use this act of barbarism as an excuse to vent their own prejudices and intolerance. Those who would hijack another family's pain and grief and horror to push their own agenda.  There has been much talk of how they should 'go back to where they came from', despite the fact there is nothing at this moment in time (evidence is still thin on the ground at the time of writing nothing beyond the videos is known about the two assailants - their comments about 'our country' are more likely to be them talking about a wider Islamic community than an actual country, particularly when quite clearly neither of them were Afghan nor Iraqi), including the accent of one of the attackers in the widely circulated video, to suggest that these assailants are not in fact British. There are those who are quick to blame it all on the 'Muslims'  despite the fact that the vast majority of Muslims, not just in Britain but across the world, are horrified at the fact that a tiny minority of those that claim to follow the religion of Islam would commit such brutal and heinous acts in its name.

Groups such as the EDL and BNP will use this tragedy to add an element of perceived self righteousness to their ignorant and bigoted words and deeds. Already Mosques have been attacked in retaliation and even benign (ish) Facebook groups are using words like 'vengeance' when they should be looking for justice. But what I do not understand is what this actually solves, who it helps.

Violence and hate is not the antidote for violence and hate. It just breeds more of it. Making a scapegoat of an entire group, whether it be religious or ethnic based on the actions of a few is not helpful. It solves nothing, it helps no one. It just perpetuates the cycle.

One of the attacker said he was taking 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' and there are many who think that in this case it should work both ways, but to paraphrase the great wisdom of Ghandi, that just leaves everyone blind.

Friday, April 5, 2013

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Playing the Blame Game

Its been quite some time since I addressed UK politics in my blog, but its safe to say that I am sufficiently incensed that a good old Cranky Pants style rant is in order.

The Brits amongst you, whether residing in the Motherland or overseas will, I am no doubt sure be aware of the changes to the benefit systems and also the decrease in the top tax rate from 50% to 45% (as failure to close tax loopholes meant that people were able to get away with not paying it either by backdating their money or holding it over until the new tax rate came into play). Now even with this very cursory and none too detailed description you can probably already work out that these changed were very much skewed in favour of the haves at the expense of the have nots.

In terms of the benefits, several measures have come in such as the much derided "Bedroom Tax' whereby those in social housing who find themselves with a spare bedroom (because maybe one of their children was lucky enough to be able to actually afford to move out) will see their benefits cut by around 16%. The idea behind this ridiculous attempt at hurting the poor is that those living in larger houses can move into smaller ones thus freeing up larger houses for families. Okay, works in theory. Except that in actuality it doesn't work at all. There are absolutely no where near the number of single dwelling homes needed to shift people out the homes they currently live in so even if people wanted to leave their homes they couldn't and the reduction in benefits further punishes them for no greater crime than being poor already.

In addition to this many of those on sickness and disability benefits are losing their benefits and pushed into training schemes and before you rush to say that many of them are fakers anyways (as undoubtedly some are, but probably nowhere like the percentage the like of Osborne and the Daily Fail would like to have you believe), its worth bearing in mind that 1700 disabled people died last year within weeks of being found 'fit to work'.

Alas for the already poor and downtrodden of Britain the case of Mick Philpott and his wife Mairead was tried this week and both were convicted of killing six of their children in a house fire intended to frame Philpott's estranged girlfriend. Rather than focusing on the reality of this case, six innocent children who lost their lives in the perfect storm of poverty and domestic violence, the case has been politicized and Philpott, as practically the poster boy for 'benefit scroungers' (multiple children to multiple partners, criminal convictions and an appearance on the Jeremy Kyle show to boot), has been used by Osborne and the Tory lap dogs at the Mail to highlight everything they see as being wrong with 'poor people'. They have claimed that rather than the culture of domestic violence and extreme control that pervaded the lives of the Philpotts and eventually led to the tragedy that unfolded, that the fact this family largely lived on benefits was reason for this atrocity. And to me this link between being poor and criminal is not only grossly unfair to the majority of those on benefits (and its worth bearing in mind that not everyone receiving benefits are long term unemployed, or even unemployed at all, and of those who are long term unemployed only a small percentage of those are so through choice), unfair to the victims of domestic violence (be they adult or children) as there is the insinuation that it is a crime of the poor when quite clearly evidence presents to the contrary.

Shamefully, the Philpott children and lives and deaths have now become a footnote in this new Tory era of blaming the less well off for societies woes. Given a further excuse to make the lives of the most vulnerable even worse. When I worked in inner city Manchester I came across families in dire need, families where children came to school hungry, I know more than one colleague who actually used to buy toiletries and school uniforms for their pupils and I don't know a teacher in the whole school I worked in who hadn't fed a student at least once. And it is these children and families that are at risk. Most of these families are not in that position because of Mick Philpott esque parental figures, but because there just wasn't enough money to go round. Younger brothers and sisters got first priority when it came to being fed and a lack of jobs coupled with low levels of education coupled with lack jobs created a vicious circle of poverty that few of those children could escape from.

But if Osborne has his way, this hardship, this national shame that is going on all around us already and which will be significantly compounded by this latest round of cuts and people will be encouraged to look away because like, Philpott who hopefully will spend the rest of his days behind bars, he would have us believe they deserve all they get.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

All We Need is Love

Yesterday (Tuesday 26th March 2013) the US Supreme Court began their deliberations on whether or not bans on same sex marriage in the US in some states is both legal and constitutional, specifically the case of 'Proposition Eight' or 'Prop 8' as its more widely known. The law in California that denies same sex couples the right to marry. Today (Wednesday 27th March) they will begin to deliberate the Defence of marriage Act. This act denies same sex couples the same rights and mixed sex couples by defining a marriage as between a man and a woman. Neither ruling are expected to be made until sometimes in June, but whilst we wait for these decisions (and very much hope that the right decisions are made) there are still discussions to be had.

My own position on Same sex marriage is very clear. It should be allowed in all cases, in all states, in all countries and for all who want it. Same sex couples should be subject to and benefit from the same benefits and rights as those in marriages who just happen to have two different kinds of genitalia. I can see no good reason why any loving couple should be denied the right to a life together equal to that of heterosexual couples for no reason better than they both happen to be of the same gender.

There are numerous 'arguments' put forth against same sex marriage, a great deal of them religious in basis and quoting the bible as their source for this (Leviticus 20:13 and Genesis  19:1-30 being some of the main stays of the genre), yet this conveniently side steps the fact that even those who are religiously inclined side step parts of the bible that by virtue of being somewhere in the region of 3000 years old in the case of the Old Testament, no longer fit in with life in the 21st century. It is a clear cut case of religion being used as an excuse for very earthly prejudices and intolerance. Its worth remembering that in the past Genesis 9:25-27 was used as justification for Slavery, yet there is no one (or very few) who would seriously suggest that Slavery should be brought back on religious grounds. Opposition to Same sex marriage is a prime example of how religion can be used to promote intolerance and give it a veneer or respectability. Thankfully there are a growing number of individuals of all religious persuasions and in a few cases religious denominations and institutions who do not endorse this kind of bigotry and equality, but unfortunately many of the more powerful and institutionalized religions (I'm looking at you Catholicism and Islam and Judaism) are openly homophobic and other smaller fundamentalist churches share this view point.

And do you know what? I do not understand it. I genuinely do not understand why people have such a problem with the idea of two people who love each other marrying. When you strip it down to its most base points it just seems so ...petty. Because if same sex couples are allowed to marry it does not 'violate natural law'. Homosexuality is not a choice, its just who some people are, a quirk of evolution in the same way that some of us have blue eyes, or red hair or are double jointed, or can run really fast or like Brussels sprouts. Same Sex marriage It does not 'offend God because either like me you don't believe in God in the first place or if you do believe in God you remember that He also told you to 'Love your Neighbour as your self' and that includes your next door neighbour with the same sex partner, or blue eyes or even the one that likes sprouts. But either way lets not pretend that it offends anyone but you.

There is the argument that same sex marriages can't produce children, but a lot of heterosexual marriages (for a variety of reasons) don't either. Plus despite what the likes of Pope Francis might say Same Sex couples adopting does not 'discriminate against children' . It offers children without families the chance to be part of a warm, nurturing and loving domestic unit. A family.

And that is the crux of the same sex marriage debate in my eyes. Why in a world where there is so much hate, so much sadness, so much hardship, would we deny people the rights and equalities of being married to the person they love? Why when we live in a world where children are stolen from their beds and forced to kill or be killed are people so offended that same sex couples might take children who find themselves alone in this world into their families and give them a loving and secure upbringing? And at its most basic level why the hell do we even care? It is an issue that should it become enshrined in law will affect exactly none of those who oppose it. Their lives will not change. The only thing that will change is that marriage equality will be extended to all regardless of their sexual orientation. There will be a bit more love in the world. And surely that cannot be a bad thing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

She had it coming...

Two days ago two sixteen year old high school footballers were convicted of the rape of a sixteen year old girl. What should have been seen as a case of justice being served and perpetrators punished has instead highlighted the issues that still seem to face women and the stigma and appropriation of blame when it comes to sexual assaults.

The girl in question, was apparently drunk, very drunk. By all accounts unconscious. And this, according to a frightening number of internet commentators seems to be a good enough reason to basically excuse these boys of all blame and plant that blame firmly on the door of the victim. The fact that these two boys were footballers, possibly good enough to have promising careers in the game seems to have compounded the 'blame the victim' culture in this case. Much has been made of how their lives have been ruined at such a young age. In fact CNN, a broadcaster that I have erstwhile admired, aired an exchange between two female journalists, Candy Crawley (a journalist whom I have always liked and respected) and Poppy Harlow, which waxed lyrical and the fate of the these 'poor' boys with scant regard for the victim, in fact she was hardly mentioned. Twitter has been abuzz with people expressing their opinion on the case. The girl has been labelled a slut, a drunk, a whore. There have been accusations that she consented and later cried rape out of embarrassment. At this point I should also point out that the 'poor' boys who perpetrated this horrible crime took photographs of the victim which they shared with their friends.

The Steubenville rape case highlights a very disturbing trend and one which highlight the real issues we, as women still face in the pursuit of equality. Sexual crimes are still a matter if stigma, they are still a crime where jokes are made, elbows are nudged and where the victim is the one who is violated time and time again after the initial assault.

And this is true in all manner of cases. An example from earlier in the week, a Facebook group of which I am member had posted upon it an article about a female police officer being groped whilst at work. Cue a number of juvenile, frat house jokes about whether her boobs were any good and letting her frisk them etc etc. When I and another female member of the group pointed out that sexual assault is no laughing matter we were labelled as 'militant feminists', 'pains in the ass' and as having 'no sense of humour'.  Obviously on the sliding scale of sexual assaults this is on the less serious end but highlights perfectly the lack of respect with which crimes against women are often treated and displays a stunning lack of understanding of how, even relatively unserious assaults can impact on their victims.

Regardless of the severity of the assault there seems always to be an unending stream of people (some of them shockingly and despairingly women) who are willing to make excuses for either the crime itself or those who commit them. In the Steubenville case, people blame the victim's inebriation, her dress, her attitude, her reputation, hell one of the defence attorneys even went on Piers Morgan to blame the crime on the fact his client's brain was not sufficiently developed. In the case I talk about above someone went so far as to state that because the victim of the groping was a Vietnamese traffic Police Officer that she was automatically guilty of being corrupt and therefore deserved it. Even in the horrific case in India where a woman and her male companion boarded a bus where she was beaten, gang raped and later died of the horrific injuries she sustained, a religious leader was quick to use the victim's perceived lack of piety coupled with the inebriated state of her attackers to excuse their actions and place the blame on the victim.

The question is why is there this skewed view when it comes to sexual assaults? Why are some people so afraid to place the blame where it belongs? Why is the victim that often the one that ends up on trial?

Statistics across the globe support the notion that a vast majority of sexual assaults go unreported, often out of shame or the belief that they will be somehow blamed. Even at the highest level sexual assault is often not treated with the gravity it deserves. Todd Aiken a republican nominee for the Senate in the 2012 election made world news with his comments about 'legitimate rape' whilst his colleague Richard Mourdock made the comment that pregnancy that resulted from rape were 'something that God intended'. Presumably those who think like this have not yet figured out that their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are women.

Rather than debating nuances such as the victim's attire or her mental state or her sobriety or her past the message on rape and sexual assault should be this. If she says no, its rape, if she can't consent, its rape, if she tries to fight you off, its rape, if she's wearing a short skirt or a low cut top, or both its not the same as consenting, if she is judgement impaired then that's not consent. We should not have to teach our daughter that she should act in a certain way if she wants to be avoid being sexually assaulted, but we should be teaching our sons how you should treat women. There should be no lamenting of opportunities lost for those convicted of raping a 16 year old girl in Ohio, regardless of their wasted potential. Whilst they may legally be children at sixteen they are old enough to understand the concept of right and wrong, of criminality and of basic human decency. They made a choice and their actions have, very rightly so, had consequences. Yet I can't help but think its the victim who's life has been ruined here and that seems to be a point that a lot of people are missing.