Friday, October 28, 2011

On Eamonn Holmes and Unexpected Allies

When, like me, you're a left-wing feminist blogger, and you get an email saying, "Oh my God you're in the Daily Mail", the automatic response is to expect the worst. I had an idea what it would be about, because I had done some interviews with journalists about the story I broke about Eamonn Holmes saying to a girl who had been raped, "Well, I hope you take taxis now".

The tweets I had initially sent about him saying it had been retweeted hundreds of times, and I had had lots of support for what I had written, but what on earth would the Mail have to say about it...?

Well, it turns out that they weren't mocking my feminism, or defending Holmes' comments. In fact, they quoted me in a broadly sympathetic article. So next came the Daily Telegraph. The same thought process. A panicky click through... also sympathetic, with quotes from a telephone interview I had given as well as the blog post.

Then aol lifestyle, and unreality primetime, and this morning even The Sun.

It's certainly been a weird 24 hours. I won't be recommending the Mail, Telegraph or Sun for their feminist content any time soon, but I'm certainly pleasantly surprised that I've been quoted in them all, and not in a horrible way.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Recent Things...

Some of the things I have been up to lately.

[The image is a photograph of dozens of brightly-coloured sweets in the shape of flowers.]

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's World Mental Health Day, so stop stigmatising my pills.

Today is World Mental Health Day, and amidst the stamping out of stigma and awareness raising there is also a loud and pervasive perpetuation of misinformation. I've already been asked to give money to people 'at risk of mental health', for instance, when mental health is surely the goal - mental ill-health is where it becomes problematic. I've certainly never been asked to donate funds to fight physical health.

Mental ill-health has characterised much of my life, and is frequently far more incapacitating than my physical impairments. I've taken psychiatric medications for 17 years, and that's unlikely to change any time soon. I'm not overjoyed at the sheer range of pharmaceuticals I swallow every morning and evening, but it is far from the most significant aspect of my mental distress. So why do so many people focus on the pills as the problem?

For instance, as part of World Mental Health Day awareness on twitter, a study telling me that women's use of antidepressants is at crisis point keeps appearing. In this, Platform 51's director of policy, campaigns and communications Rebecca Gill, said:
"These shocking figures reveal an escalating crisis in women's use of antidepressants"
I appreciate that their study goes on to explain that they are criticising the practice of prescribing antidepressants in the absence of any other psychological support, the frequently highlighted statistics like, "A quarter, 24%, of women on
antidepressants have been on them for ten years or more" serve only to stigmatise people like me.

Rebecca Gill goes on to say,
"Worryingly, our research suggests that there is still a huge stigma attached to mental health problems. With 1 in 5 not telling their families and 1 in 10 keeping it a secret from their partner, it is clear that women fear they will be judged on the state of their mental health",
seemingly without the awareness that scare statistics about antidepressants contribute to that stigma. Their chosen headline is not that rates of women in mental distress is at crisis point, rather our use of antidepressants to cope with it.

Antidepressants are not the enemy. I agree that appropriate psychological support should be more widely offered, and that medications should be reviewed regularly. However the problem is not with the pills. The problem is the world we live in that makes so many of us despair enough to seek medical help to manage it. It's with the levels of rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation and sexual abuse that can make live unbearable for so many. World Mental Health Day should not be 'celebrated' by stigmatising us for coping in whatever ways we can.

[The image is a photograph of many different medicinal pills and capsules. It was taken by e-Magine Art and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Things that are not like rape *Trigger warning*

Trigger warning: this post talks about the language and reality of rape. All of the links do the same. Please progress carefully.

This morning, Johnny Depp is reported to have said, when talking about being in a photo shoot,
"Well, you just feel like you're being raped somehow. Raped ... It feels like a kind of weird -- just weird, man. But whenever you have a photo shoot or something like that, it’s like -- you just feel dumb. It’s just so stupid."
In doing this, he portrays an increasing cultural acceptability of comparing rape to things that are not at all like rape.

For instance, a few months ago, Netflix in the US increased their prices, and BuzzFeed collated some of the 'most outrageous netflix price increase reactions': 7 of the 24 accuse Netflix of raping them. Similarly, a writer having their words stolen does not constitute rape. Countering this misuse of the word, Angela B says,
If your copyright is infringed... may not even know it happened; once you know, not much changes for you.
...there are clear legal remedies and an enforcement arm that is usually willing to do its job.
...people believe you. bruises, pregnancy, STDs or other physical repercussions.
...nobody takes the side of the infringer.
...nobody asks what your article was wearing.
Cara at Feministe and Sady Doyle have written about a man describing the development of a TV show as being like rape; podcasts talk of ear rape; there is a type font available called date rape; there is a different kind of font rape; instant messenger rape; AIM rape (different from IM rape, apparently); instructions on how to facebook rape your friends, and a website with examples; and on and on and on. You get the idea.

There are two main issues with using the word rape to describe things that are not rape. The first is that it devalues the word and desensitises us to what it means. If someone has just been facebook raped, it might not mean that much to them if their friend is actually raped*. Not if, over time, rape is consistently used to mean price rises, annoying pranks, loud noises and blog posts reprinted without permission. It takes the impact out of the word, when the crime of rape can have an unbelievably significant impact on a person's life. Angela Rose, from PAVE, said,
"The more we dilute this word, the more we play down the power of sexual violence. It actually adds to the silence surrounding this issue because it diverts attention."
Mikki Halpin goes on to say that
"This demoralizes victims, whose traumatic experience is now ranked along with a poor performance review or a hefty cell phone bill."
The other danger is that of triggering rape survivors. Not only can we see our experience being demeaned by the misuse of this word, but the way it is casually thrown about can trigger flashbacks, nightmares and trauma. Many rape survivors have the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A PTSD trigger can be many things, including a sound, a smell, a memory, a word... This website talks specifically about PTSD in rape survivors. lists 'Forty-nine things that are not rape and one that is'. Number 50: Rape is rape.

Edited to add: I appreciate that I might not have worded that particular sentence as well as I might have, to convey the meaning I intended. I was talking about the verbal impact of the word, and I was thinking about it from the point of view of the person who has been raped. As I may have expressed it badly, I will present an alternative now: If you have been raped and you want to tell somebody, and they then tell you they have just been facebook raped, it may well put you off because it might lead you to believe that they did not have an understanding of what being raped actually meant, if they were happy to use the word in that way. I apologise that that was not clearer.

[The image is a photograph of a traffic STOP sign, which has been subvertised with a sticker of the word 'rape' underneath it. It also has two other stickers on it, and is above a traffic 'all-way' sign. It was taken by Nigsby and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Wearing a pair of tottering heels...

I remember noticing, as a child, that when the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in the news for having met with one foreign official or other, the report frequently went along the lines of, "Mr X was keen to strengthen relations with Britain, and Mrs Thatcher looked very fetching in a blue suit and matching handbag". I didn't understand why she had gone into these clearly very important meetings with no views or policies or corners to fight for, so instead the reporters had had to resort to describing what she wore. I didn't realise that it was a flaw in reporting, it was a flaw in society that meant that even the most powerful woman in the country was judged more on her appearance and her attire than what she said.

Now, to say that I am no fan of Thatcher would be a vast understatement, but it was unfair that she was represented in this way purely because of her gender. I was talking about this very thing last week, how we laughed, remembering the good old 80s and its chauvinism.

Then today, while scanning the twitter feed for the Conservative Party Conference, a headline caught my eye: Baroness Warsi ignores 'anti-Ed ban': Wearing a pair of tottering heels, Sayeeda Warsi stomped on Ed Miliband and his rhetoric at conference last week.

The feed in question was moving fast, so as I clicked on the link I assumed I had misread the subheading, but sadly I had not. Baroness Warsi's shoes were apparently so notable that a report on her conference speech had to mention them in the subheading, and the article itself.

I haven't yet noticed any reference to the shoes of the men who have spoken at the conference. William Hague is talking as I write this, and I have no idea what he is wearing on his feet. Which is either slack reporting, or proof that footwear isn't in fact that important in political oratory.

[The image is a drawing from marker and colored pencil, of a red shoe accented with pearls, large pearl jewel and gold braided trim. It is by erichazann and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]