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Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas

It is very strange for it to be a few days before Christmas and I'm not running around buying last minute presents or wrapping paper. I finished all my shopping a couple of weeks ago, and my wrapping last week. Cards all sent. Odd.

Today is winter solstice, so after today the days start getting longer again, which will be much appreciated.

Hope you all have a fab Christmas time!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Amanda Knox

I first wrote this for the F Word blog.

Amanda Knox has been convicted of the murder of Meredith Kercher, and if you weren't paying attention, you might believe that she did it alone.

In fact, two men have also been convicted of the murder - one last night and one last year, but they are very much secondary to the story, even though, as far as I can tell, it has never been decided who did the actual killing.

Now, I have not studied the trial or the evidence, and I do not know whether Amanda Knox did or did not kill Meredith Kercher, but I do know that this is seeming to be another legal case where the woman involved is demonised to a degree rarely seen in male defendants.

And the fact that Amanda Knox appears to be a young woman with some confidence in her sexuality has certainly worked against her. That she had condoms and a vibrator in a see-through bag has been widely reported, as some kind of proof that she was deranged enough to kill her housemate in a sex game.

That her nickname is Foxy Knoxy has been repeatedly mentioned, though very few reports tell you that that nickname apparently came about due to her skills on a football field rather than anything more salacious. Because that wouldn't fit the story quite so well.

With the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, Maxine Carr has arguably been more slated by the press and public than Ian Huntley, who actually killed the girls. Maxine Carr's crime was to lie to the police by giving Huntley an alibi, and there is no indication that she did so with any knowledge of what he had done.

Amanda Knox even got a longer sentence than Raffaele Sollecito, who was also convicted of Kercher's murder. Issues which seem to have been used against Knox during the trial are so telling about what women are still up against compared to men in these situations.

1. There was a youtube video showing her drunk.
2. She sent an email to a friend saying she had had sex on a train.
3. She wrote a story about a woman being raped and a photo of herself with a machine gun entitled 'the Nazi'.
4. She did cartwheels in the police station while waiting to be questioned.

Now, while the third of these is certainly questionable, and the fourth somewhat odd, the first two are unremarkable, and are in no way legal evidence for murder.

According to the Guardian,
Italians shrug off extramarital sex, yet they are prim in their attitudes to premarital sex, at least outside the stable context of fidanzamento (engagement). They use the same words for boyfriend and fiance.

So many were taken aback to learn that, by the time she was arrested at the age of 20, Knox had had sex with seven men. They were less outraged by how this information was obtained: Knox was told in prison she was HIV-positive and asked to write a list of her lovers. Before she was told that a mistake had been made, the list was passed to investigators, one of whom passed it to a journalist.

The ethics around that 'mistake' are appalling, particularly if it was a tactic to obtain information about her sexual history to use against her during the trial.

Amanda Knox may or may not have committed this murder, and I certainly do not know whether she did. However, two men have also been convicted and rarely even mentioned. That Knox is a woman, and a woman with some sexual history, appears to have damned her.

Monday, December 07, 2009

God Wants to Cure Me

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Yesterday a man approached me at a farmers' market, and said, "I can't help but notice you use a walking stick". This exact phrase is regularly used by people who want my address to send me mobility aid catalogues in the post.

However, he then went on to say, "And God wants you to walk home without your stick. I have seen healings here today, and wonder if you would let me pray for you so that he can heal you."

I was amused at the time, refused his offer and walked on. However it wasn't long until I was actually furious.

Firstly, how dare he make all sorts of presumptions on the basis of my using a walking stick? Actually, my stick is a good thing. It helps me to get around without falling over, which is always a bonus. Sure, it's a hassle sometimes and it's wrecking my wrist, but his outlook assumed that mobility aid = awful, must be fixed. When my outlook is mobility aid = great, helps me go places.

And secondly, I don't think that your God does want me to walk without a stick. If he did, he's had a good few years now to sort that out, and hasn't. If he was that bothered, he'd have done it by now, and frankly wouldn't need you praying to him to get around to it.

So please, don't make presumptions about my rather gorgeous purple walking stick, whether I should want to get rid of it or not, and whether I want you to get inside my head by promising something you can't possibly achieve, by means of superstitious nonsense.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Not-So-Helpful Advice from Women's Magazines

My fifth guest post at the F Word.

Yesterday while waiting for an appointment, I picked up one of the women's magazines on the waiting room table and started skimming through it to pass the time.

I came across an article entitled '25 health tips women doctors want you to know'. I thought this may be interesting - or at least more interesting than how to emulate the latest look from the latest celeb, so I started to read.

To say it was disappointing is somewhat understating the matter. One tip told me to use moisturiser. Another to walk rather than take the lift. Another to eat plenty of calcium. Then one tip was to buy a vibrator. While this may be good advice, the explanation behind it was infuriating! It said that some men are not good at foreplay, and if this is the case with 'your man', then rather than be frustrated, get a vibrator instead and you won't have any problems any more.

On so many levels, this is dreadful! Firstly, many women are single, many are with women not men. Heterosexist presumptions still prevail everywhere. Secondly, still calling it 'foreplay' separates it from 'sex' as if they are two completely different matters, with one building up to the other rather than it all being one whole experience. And thirdly, if your partner is bad at sex, or does not understand your sexual needs or desires, then that is something to work on with them, have fun exploring and mutually learn about. Saying, 'oh he's not good at that bit' is kinda letting him off the hook, let's face it!

If your male partner was having trouble enjoying sex with you, you can be sure the magazines wouldn't advise you to get him a blow-up doll or simulated vagina, it would tell you 'how to please him' and exactly what you should do to make sure he was happy.

By all means buy a vibrator, and enjoy it. But don't take advice just because it comes from a doctor in a magazine and use it to substitute a partner with good technique rather than talking to that partner about the problem and what you do and don't like.

I very rarely read women's magazines these days, and if I do it tends to be the Chat and Take a Break type when I'm ill, rather than the beauty / fashion ones. But whenever I do look at those - usually in a doctor's waiting room - I see that the same old messages we have always had from them are still there.

A few weeks ago I made some photocopied flyers to surreptitiously slip inside teenage and women's magazines in shops. They counter some of the usual crap messages we get from these publications, and question their content. If you want to get hold of any of these flyers I'd be happy to send you some if you send me an SAE to
Pippa, PO Box 4663, Sheffield, S1 9FN
Alternatively if you want to get any of my zines just let me know when you order that you want some of the magazine flyers and I'll stick some in the envelope for you.

It's small actions like sticking the flyers in the magazines that can actually make a real difference. When we are feeling powerless in the suffocating patriarchy around us, knowing that a woman or girl somewhere who might never have been allowed to challenge the presumptions of heterosexuality, the fascist beauty standards around us or the everywhere-written laws of body hair, who bought that magazine today, may get some relief and empowerment from the words they unexpectedly find stuffed inside, really does help.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A Tweet Too Far?

My fourth guest post at the F Word.

As an avid tweeter, I'm not sure how I missed this story when it actually happened, but I became aware of it about a week ago.

Penelope Trunk, a woman in America, was widely condemned after sending the following tweet:
I'm in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there's a f**ked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.

The main criticisms aimed against her seemed to be that:

1. it was insensitive to those who had had miscarriages and were devastated about it,
2. that it was an inappropriately detailed message, which her many followers did not want to read, and
3. that she was heartless and abortions are bad.

I think these are all different points, and the former certainly has more validity as a criticism. A miscarriage can be an utterly awful experience for a woman who wants the baby. And indeed women who aren't sure. There is huge grief, loss, fear and hopelessness. Penelope Trunk herself has experienced such a miscarriage, and said on her blog
there are many women who want the baby and have a miscarriage. I was one of them. I cried for days. I get it.

In a blog post at the time, she said
I am four months pregnant. But the baby is dead, inside me, and must be removed. I am devastated. I always knew this could happen, in the back of my mind. But you are never prepared for something like this to happen.

This is not a heartless woman talking! In defending her tweet, she says,
To all of you who said I should not be happy about having a miscarriage: You are the ones short on empathy. Any woman who is pregnant but wishes she weren’t would of course be grateful when she has a miscarriage. [...]

But if you have ever had an abortion, which I have, you would know that a miscarriage is preferable to an abortion. Even the Pope would agree with that.

It is clearly a difficult area to negotiate. Some women are devastated at miscarriages, others are relieved. I suspect that very few women who are relieved feel able to speak out about this, their fears confirmed by the attacks on Ms Trunk.

But if you have just miscarried a wanted child, I can only imagine how awful it would be to have read it.

On to point 2, it was detail that people did not want to know, it was gory and personal, and who wants to hear the details of that?

This is where I defend Ms Trunk absolutely. Women's bodily functions are normal and natural, not dirty and shameful. I talk openly about my periods, about the joys of using washable sanitary towels, and about having endometriosis and PCOS and the problems that come with that. About spending 4 days of each cycle in agony and unable to move. About the amount of blood that comes out.

As a teenager I was as coy about it as everyone else my age was. But then after several years of medical tests, investigations, interventions and surgery, I realised that it was ridiculous that I was not supposed to talk about *that*, whereas if the problems I was experiencing were in most other parts of my body, people would not shrink away from hearing the details.

For centuries, women have been taught that their periods, along with other 'women's things' should be kept quiet. And why should they? One of my favourite things is reading feminist radical menstruation writings and looking round the Museum of Menstruation site. Partly because I like breaking patriarchy's rules, and partly because it is fascinating.

I have no doubt that while some people would prefer I kept it all quiet, I have every right to talk about bleeding, and I will continue to do so.

Why, then, should Ms Trunk *not* talk about her miscarriage? If I want women to be free to talk about periods, breastfeeding, childbirth, and other 'women-only' subjects, so we all know we are not alone, then miscarriage must come into that too. She should not have to keep it quiet in order to not offend the sensibilities of delicate men who are reading. Miscarriage is a fact of life, and it is often painful and messy and emotional. And the more women feel able to discuss it, the less isolated and alone other women will feel, whether the miscarriage is, to them, a relief or a profound loss.

The third point is perhaps the most enraging. How dare she feel relief at miscarrying? How dare she be planning an abortion at all? How dare she complain about abortion provision?

I'm not going to use this post to argue about why women deserve ultimate control over their own bodies. But we do. I hope I'm preaching to the converted, but if not, the debate occurs in so many places that it should not be necessary here.

Ms Trunk's situation does, of course, brings up issues of access to abortion. For a woman to have to be relieved to miscarry, because getting an abortion is so fraught with difficulties, is a really appalling situation.

I will not condem Penelope Trunk for sending that message. Not at all. At worst, it was perhaps insensitive, but this is a woman who was miscarrying in the middle of a board meeting. She might have been relieved, but it would nonetheless have been a difficult, awkward and painful situation. Sometimes women need to stop putting everyone else first and express themselves as they need to.

She had every right to feel relieved when she realised what was happening, and she should never made to feel shame at feeling that, nor should she be, or feel, silenced by others who find it distasteful.

Her body was going through something that millions of women experience. Some of those women are devastated, others are ambivalent, and some are glad. Some, like Penelope Trunk herself, miscarry more than once and feel very differently about each instance. And this is all common.

I recommend this post on the subject at DoubleX. She says,
not talking about a miscarriage or an abortion—or all the complicated feelings that can get rolled up in both—because it's just too personal is fine. But not talking about it because no one else ever talks about it—so maybe we're just not supposed too—is not.

We need the freedom to discuss the things we need to discuss, to continue the work of the feminist health collectives of the 70s and truly liberate ourselves.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Disabled Feminism

My third guest post over at the F Word.

I was very anxious before writing my first post here, but when the comments starting rolling in, I was overwhelmed by the positive messages in response to it.

Firstly, it really helped me. The encouragement that I am doing ok, I am doing good things, and I am making a difference, even if I can't necessarily do the 'outside' things.

And secondly, that it touched so many people. Not especially that my words helped, but that talking about disability and feminism seems such a rarity, and that many people were reading about it for the first time. I'm so glad I could do that, and I'm so glad that it provoked thought for some and reassurance for others, but we need much more!

I mentioned on my main blog that I had posted here, and one of the commenters there said,
Isn't it a shame that writing about disability and feminism and inclusivity is something that is still a remarkable thing?

And she's right! Feminism and activism really needs to catch up, and really address this.

I appreciate that some groups have limited resources, or not much choice of venue, but seriously, if you are a feminist group and you are not meeting in an accessible place, what are you thinking? Would you meet somewhere that excluded other groups of women? Some kind of white-only venue?

You wouldn't, because, even if the founding members of the group were all white, you would know instantly and instinctively that this went against every human and feminist value you have ever held. You would not want to associate yourself with a venue like that, nor would you want to support that venue in any way. If you did meet there, that would give out a message to black women that they were not welcome, so they would not enquire about the group, which might give you the impression that black women did not want to join the group, so it was ok, for the moment, to meet there. This might eventually give you the false impression that actually, meeting in a white-only venue wasn't so bad, black feminists weren't trying to join so it was less of an issue than you had predicted, and after all, the room hire is free.

You know, reading that, that it's wrong! And meeting in an inaccessible venue is the same. Even if no disabled feminists have enquired about the group, this may be because they know they can't use that venue. Or maybe they even turned up, waited outside for a while when they couldn't get in, then went back home. What if one of your regular members becomes disabled? Will they be no longer welcome?

However, overall there was a really positive message from the commenters to my original post, which is that online activism is relevant, is important, and does make a difference. Raising awareness, taking action and sharing stories and experiences can all be done extremely successfully online, and even more effectively than in real life at times. This is a good reminder to me, and to all the women who responded who also have limited spoons, whose uses have to be carefully chosen.

Kitt, in the comments, said
I know disabled feminists have a lot to offer - we have been forced to plumb the depths of our ingenuity to do the things we want to, using as few spoons as possible, and to choose our battles because we simply have to prioritise everything, everyday. Feminism has always benefited from the ingenuity of women - letting disabled people in will only add to this. We are another voice in the choir that will make the song sweeter and stronger.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Send a card, save a life?

My second guest post over at the F Word.

For some reason, last year was the first time I ever took part in the Amnesty International Greeting Cards Campaign. It was on the long, long list of things I intend to do, but never got round to.

But then last year, I did it. I made greetings cards from some of my photos, wrote encouraging messages inside, and posted them to the people I had chosen. It was easy, creative, and actually felt like a good reason to be in a Post Office queue.

I would have loved to send cards to everyone in their campaign, but I knew the postage would be prohibitive, so I had to decide on who I would send to. I went for sending cards to all the women in the campaign, and sending one to Binyan Mohammed, who was a British resident being held in Guantanamo Bay.

So when my booklet for this year's Greetings Card campaign arrived in the post yesterday, I instantly read through it and started ticking the pages of the ones I wanted to send cards to.

Again, I will focus my attention on the women. Amnesty says:
Our Greetings Card Campaign brings people across the world in touch with each other in a simple way - by sending a card with a friendly greeting or message of solidarity to someone who is in danger or unjustly imprisoned.

Below are 32 stories about people around the world who have suffered human rights abuses and would benefit from a card with a friendly greeting or message of support.

Between 1 November 2009 and 31 January 2010 we'd like you to write to as many of them as you like and remember that just one personalised message will mean the world to a prisoner in a cell or a family waiting for news of a loved one.

They give advice for each person about whether you should avoid mentioning anything religious, or political, and a suggested message. The website also gives translations of their suggested messages, if you want to write to the recipient in their own language.

Amnesty has checked with each potential recipient that it will be safe for them to receive cards, and even if you only send one (there really is no requirement to send all 32!), it can make a massive difference to somebody out there whose situation is otherwise dire.

Some examples of people you can send cards to this year are Justine Masika Bihamba in the Democratic Republic of Congo who has found herself and her family under attack because of her work for a women's rights organisation. In September 2007, soldiers forced their way into Justine's home while she was out, and tied up her six children, aged between five and 24, at gunpoint. One of the soldiers kicked her eldest daughter in the face, breaking her tooth. He then attempted to rape Justine's 21-year-old daughter.

Having failed to do so, he sexually assaulted her with a knife. Although Justine and her children were able to identify the soldiers, they have not been arrested or brought to trial. Workers at Justine's organisation have regularly been threatened and attacked because of their peaceful work against sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Another woman is Sonia Pierre in the Dominican Republic. She is a human rights defender and has been threatened and harassed as a result of her work to stop discrimination against the Haitian community in the Dominican Republic. Sonia is executive director of the Movement for Dominico- Haitian Women (MUDHA), which works to combat the anti-Haitian prejudice and racism that is an everyday reality for many migrant workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent.

Then there is a group of 9 women's human rights defenders in Nicaragua. They are Ana María Pizarro, Juanita Jiménez, Luisa Molina Arguello, Marta María Blandón, Martha Munguía, Mayra Sirias, Violeta Delgado, Yamileth Mejía and Lorna Norori. They belong to various organisations that work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse; promote sexual health and promote the rights of women, children and young people.

They are facing legal proceedings for their involvement in the case of a nine-year-old girl who was raped and made pregnant in 2003 and obtained a legal abortion in Nicaragua. In October 2007 a non-governmental organisation backed by the Roman Catholic Church lodged a complaint against the nine, accusing them of concealment of rape, crimes against the administration of justice and other misdemeanours. We fear that the complaint is because of the women's human rights work and their activism to ensure the right of women and girls to safe and effective sexual and reproductive health services.

They list so many people whose lives you could help by a simple action. You can put as much work or money into it as you want to, really! Send one card to one person, or get your whole community to write and send cards to everyone!

As you can tell, I believe strongly in this campaign, and will be posting my own cards off in the next few weeks. I'm also going to be photocopying some of the booklet and sending pages out with the zine orders I get until the campaign ends. If you have the spoons, give it a go.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Bankrupt the BNP

From Bristol Antifa:
Bankrupt the BNP!
Well, maybe not quite bankrupt, but folks in the UK can help make this bunch of fascists considerably poorer.
They've just got themselves a freepost address:
British Heritage FREEPOST
Nice and easy to remember eh? Every 'letter' to this address costs them 42p, and can simply be an empty envelope with the address on it. It's cheap to buy a bunch of these (you can get 50 self-seal ones for 75p from Wilkos) and run them through your printer while you're off doing far more interesting things. A friend has so far sent 1250 envelopes, costing the fash over 500 quid. That's less than £20 of my mate's hard-earned cash very well spent!
Please feel free to join in.
42p may not sound like much, but it would pay for dozens of BNP leaflets. Multiply that by potentially tens of thousands of empty envelopes sent their way and the impact on their activities becomes much more obvious. And when an envelope costs little more than a penny, it really does make sound economic sense!

We're advised that it's not worth sending heavy objects as they'll be filtered out at the sorting office, and we don't want to make our posties' jobs even harder than they already are.

Current good ideas are:
Christmas catalogues with your name and address torn off
Leaflets
Takeaway menus
Envelopes of glitter (it's hellish to get off your clothes, and the mental image of perpetually sparkly fascists is too good to miss)
Postcards or letters with anti-racist and anti-fascist messages
Chopped up cardboard boxes
Anything at all else you can think of. Within reason.

Feminist Spoons

My first guest post over at the F Word.

You may not have heard of the Spoon Theory, but it is worth a read.

A woman called Christine Miserandino was trying to think of a way to explain to her best friend exactly what it was like to live with a chronic illness, and came up with the Spoon Theory to give her an idea of what her life was like.

I find myself quite regularly using it, e.g. "I was planning to do that, but I don't have enough spoons". It is also becoming more well-known and well-used by other disabled people I know. It's very simplified, yes, but it gets the message across, as long as the person you are mentioning it to knows what you are talking about.

Friends and family are aware enough of my health problems to understand when I have to cancel things, or rearrange them. But these days, I am much less involved in feminist activism than I ever have been.

This is definitely spoon-related, and also directly related to my main local feminist group meeting in an inaccessible venue for so long that I gave up arguing with them about it. (They now meet somewhere which may be accessible, but they're not sure. I feel so thoroughly disenamoured with them that I'm not willing to test it out).

But I have also found that while individual feminists can be very understanding with my lack of spoons on a day-to-day basis, it sometimes seems less acceptable when it interferes with my ability to attend actions, protests and meetings.

I have it when there is a feminist action going on which I am not well enough to get to. I think of little else the whole time I should be there, I berate myself and feel thoroughly miserable. It then doesn't help when it is implied at a later date that those who did not attend were not committed enough, didn't care enough, aren't good enough.

This is far from universal, and many, many feminists have, or are developing, a really good understanding of disabled politics and the issues affecting disabled women. It is also not unique to feminism. The same attitudes can prevail in general lefty politics, the peace movement and more.

But historically, a lot of feminism has failed to address disabled issues. To quote from a blog post I wrote many moons ago,
Feminism needs to integrate disability politics, needs to embrace disabled women and our experiences, to be fully feminist. Excluding disabled women from feminist academia, analysis, activism and community not only is crap for the disabled woman, it prevents feminism from becoming all it needs to be to liberate women.

While I wrote that in fury about a particular situation, it still stands. It's not just about making sure we can get into the building! It's about understanding that without addressing issues affecting disabled women, feminism can never be fully representative of women, nor can it adequately support us, campaign for us or understand our lives.