Saturday, 28 October 2017

Banter boys Gove and Kinnock

In a programme to celebrate BBC R4's 60th birthday Michael Gove, Environment Secretary and Neil Kinnock former leader of the Labour Party, swapped jokes.

When asked what they thought about the Today programme Gove replied "Sometimes I think coming into the studio with you John, is a bit like going into Harvey Weinstein's bedroom"

Neil Kinnock added "John goes way past groping"

Gove added "You just hope you emerge with your dignity intact"

After receiving cross party and public condemnation, Gove began trending on Twitter. Then he apologised.

Neil Kinnock hasn't. He has issued this statement :

In an off-the-cuff comment I made light of Mr Gove’s remark on a live programme.
“Apologies if that caused offence – I certainly do not treat the recent allegations as anything but grave and repellent.”
Apologies if that caused offence, isn't an apology. 
It's a non apology, apology which completely disregards the damage his joking has done.It sidesteps taking responsibility.
I've seen many of the Labour MP's I respect tweeting in condemnation of Gove, but so far nothing comparable in respect of Kinnock.

I don't know why this is but Kinnock, who is equally culpable by replying in kind, is being shielded from strong criticism if he isn't treated with the same angry responses as Gove.

For absolute clarity, when a foolish man makes a stupid sexist joke the correct response is to call him out, not banter back. Joking about sexual harassment of women targeted because of their gender, is sexism. The assault & abuse is misogyny.

For equal clarity if a member of your own party who just happens to be a veteran former leader makes an equally crass sexist joke, you treat him with the same degree of censure.

If we cherry pick our condemnation, we send a message about power structures and enablement which the news and allegations about Weinstein have highlighted as being a casual factor.

Both Gove and Kinnock enjoy privilege and platforms. Both deserve approbation.

Two white middle aged men in public life have found themselves at this point in the unveiling of the Weinstein story, to make jokes in public. Lucky them, they clearly have no concept of the lifelong effect of sexual abuse and enforced silence.

Isn't that one of the tools that keeps women silent, dehumanises them when they muster the courage to speak out and in the meantime keeps all predators safe?

We owe a debt to every woman who has suffered, a solidarity of support and condemnation of those who minimise gender based suffering with casual disregard.

We also need to send a clear message to those still yet to speak, that they will be heard and listened to as we work to change society for the better of all.

The many not the few.

Rape jokes.

A version of this article first appeared in Indy Voices in 2012 entitled "Being offended by rape jokes, doesn't mean lacking a sense of humour". I'm not offended I'm asking for pause and contemplation.The subject is once again under the microscope with the horrific news of sexual abuse, harassment and rape.
Unfortunately my article has recently been inadvertently deleted and so while I wait for it to be reinstated, I've reproduced it here.

A photo from my first comedy gig

There has been a spate of celebrities defending rape jokes to the world and their fan base on Twitter recently.  Comedian Daniel Tosh at a recent LA gig, called for comedy topics from his audience; then when someone suggested rape as a topic, he allegedly silenced a woman protesting the idea, with the suggestion that she be gang raped .
Comedy that makes you think can’t be bettered, however all I think of this comedian, is that arrogance is no arbiter of decency.
Comedian Louis CK was disappointingly being touted as an example of a 'good rape joke'.
I think this joke actually counters defence of him 
The premise was that CK had invited a woman back to his hotel room and when she had said stop, he'd stopped. He then went on to explain that the woman told him afterwards that she hadn't meant that. She'd meant yes, but that she hadn’t wanted to tell him that. CK pointed out that this was a dangerous situation.
He had stopped. He hadn't raped her. This was circulated and repeated. Taken at face value it’s an odd tale but it’s important to look more closely at the premise . What his fans failed to recognize were two glaring flaws in his joke. The first was that not raping someone isn't an opportunity for self-congratulation. Not raping a woman is the act of a normal human being.
The second point is the most worrying.
His whole joke was based on the premise of probably the most damaging myths about rape there is. ‘She said no, but she meant yes’. If you're a rapist looking for celebrity endorsement, that’s the place.
The next usual suspect to step up in defence of Tosh was Doug Stanhope. Doug can often be found defending things he feels passionate about, like free speech or in Doug’s interpretation, calling people with Downs Syndrome a "retard"
I’m no supporter of the viewpoints of Sarah Palin, or of the columnist Alison Pearson who clashed with Stanhope over her opposition of the right to die . However this crucial argument was reduced to adolescent ranting, with Stanhope wishing a fetid ovarian cyst on the columnist for having a different viewpoint
He waged a Twitter war and behaving very like the trolls he says he loathes, galvanised his fan base to heap abuse on the woman who had angered him.  It was disappointing to see the issue being sidelined by Stanhope’s inarticulate tantrum. 
In his defence of Daniel Tosh he went for another oft repeated allegation  "We only have her word to go on". At one point Stanhope in fact calls the woman a liar. As the saying goes, you can have your own opinion Doug but you can’t have your own facts.
Doug, although not actually there himself, derided people commenting. Oddly he appears to have preferred to believe the word of the comedy club owner where the protesting and silencing took place. The club owner himself admitted that he hadn’t heard  it correctly  That didn’t stop Doug wading in with his condemnation and reassurance that the woman was apparently an unreliable witness on her own feelings and experience, when she blogged about it.
His feelings were expressed via Twitter when he tweeted Tosh saying,
“You're hilarious. If you ever apologize to a heckler again I will rape you. #FuckThatPig"
Self regulation in comedy is at times as inadvisable as self regulation of banks, but I suppose if it’s “just” rape or “just” people with a learning disability then according to Stanhope “it’s funny because I tell you it is”.
Both comics were extremely vocal that Tosh's apologies were unnecessary and ironically they seemed really offended by them, whilst simultaneous ridiculing anyone who was offended by rape jokes.  Again the Pavlovian defence of it’s “just a joke”. 
The oft-repeated and good phrase that people shouldn’t confuse the subject of a joke and the target or a joke was wheeled out. 
Although true, my concern is the less well-observed truth that the subject of a rape joke and the target of a rapist are usually the same thing.
The notion that people are just humourless, or PC when it comes to rape jokes is as exhausting as it is wrong. The idea that those who speak out against rape culture because they are simply being offended, is also tiring.
This isn’t about offence, this is about fury at the number of rapes, which go unreported, the number of rapists who never face a jail term and the blame being shifted from the assailant to the target. Much more troubling are the famous apologists for rape jokes, who bolster a culture whereby those who complain about enablement of cruelty are decried and ridiculed.
From jokes about disability, which target the disabled person, to jokes about sexual torture that target the person who is raped, if you utilize free speech to complain, you’re told to be quiet.
The fact is the notion of laughing at people for something they can’t help or prevent needs much closer scrutiny because despite the peddled myths of culpability - it wasn’t your fault. The fault for your attack lies solely and completely with the person who raped you. 
It doesn’t matter if you were drunk or what you were wearing. It doesn’t matter how late at night it was or whether you were alone. It doesn’t matter if you knew your attacker or you didn’t. It doesn’t make it your fault if you are mentally or physically disabled, or if you have Alzheimer’s, or mental health problems, or if you were a child.
It wasn’t your fault. It was their fault.
It’s time that the jokes about rape stopped focusing on the wrong issue because instead of blaming the rapist, they're blaming the target. 
At the moment the people laughing the loudest are the ones who are benefitting from the promotion of rape “jokes”, the 97% of rapists who never spend a single day in jail in the US and the 90% of rapists who go unreported in the UK.
These shocking facts alone should cause some to stop and rethink their material, which promotes a culture that discourages people from reporting their rapist.
According to Home Office data table for Recorded Crime in England and Wales in 2011 the total number of recorded sexual offences stands at 54,982
Not that Stanhope or Louis CK or any of the other famous comedians with huge fan bases, running to embrace Tosh and tell the rest of us that we are humourless, will allow this type of PC nonsense to frame their narrative. Given the outpouring of negative public reaction to Tosh and his comments, the people who pay the wages of the famous are making their feelings clear.
As inconvenient as it is, perhaps it’s a truth worth considering. But then when it comes to challenging famous people via social media whether through Facebook, blog or on Twitter to paraphrase Doug from his own website:
”This is the arrogance of a media, celebrity comic that is beginning to realize that they no longer have a monopoly on public discourse.”
With news from The DPP that 9 out of ten rapes go unreported the question isn't “can you make rape jokes”, but if the target of the rapist and the target of the joke are the same, should you make that rape joke?

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Reclamation. Bitch, patriarchy and Aspergers & "men"


We need to talk about language….I mean if that’s ok? I don’t mean to be pushy or bossy but….Ok, you’re a bit silent now and look disappointed …I mean you didn’t put this on the agenda and I realise we’re all busy and this was unexpected but…Look, I’ll just carry on and finish and you can think about it and maybe we can talk later when you have more time….Is that ok?

If the opening paragraph seems familiar that’s how many of us do it, because that’s how many of us have to do it. Let’s face it raising a difficult topic like the mass oppression of women by men through physical, mental, verbal, financial and sexual manipulation and abuse, isn’t the easiest of things to do. Is it.

The sociologically identified construct of patriarchy is widely treated as a word best whispered if said at all, and yet its reach and scope has recently been shown up to be very real. In an industry where older men routinely gather in silence around a camera rigged to a monitor, where a much younger half naked women simulates sex with another man, as it sells more units of art; we were “shocked” to learn that sexual abuse and harrassment of the vulnerable by the powerful, is routine.

In any institution or power based construct there is bullying and there is abuse. Depressingly women are being blamed both for their silence and for speaking out. But this also is routine for one clear reason.

Patriarchy permits abuse.

When a society is based on the exploitation of one gender over another for the benefit of one gender and the detriment of the other, then it enables abuse and prevents equality.

Put bluntly, men rule.

For the purposes of this blog I want to be clear. This is about the oppression of women by men.  I’m not going to cite instances of oppression of men by women.

There’s rarely a topic, that directly and disproportionately affects women that, when addressed isn’t now diluted by the “ But what about men” argument. That’s the patriarchy at work.  If you want to stop and read something which focuses on that, I recommend anything written or said by Philip Davies MP. Which isn’t a statement I’d usually make.

As I said, men rule.

So to return to language, I want to state something clearly, I’m a bitch.

I know I’m viewed as such because as I’m 51 and because I’m a woman and particularly a woman with autism, I’ve learnt that women with autism are no friend to the patriarchy. I have a rather fixed view of fairness for one thing and the utterly disconcerting habit of saying exactly what I think. Autism aside there is an invisible rule when it comes to expressing opinions “men can, women can’t”

I expressed one of my illegal opinions this week, when I watched Chris Packham’s excellent documentary entitled “Asperger’s and Me”.  There was only one thing missing from the programme, a woman with autism. There were women of course, Chris’s partner and a mother of a young man with autism and there was some historical footage of a girl being forced to conform to ABA but autistic women? Not so much.  

I did wonder comedically if they should have called it “Asperger’s and Men” but I only thought it, I didn’t say it, because it was widely and rightly praised and that would have meant flowing against the tide of opinion which is a bit knackering online, after a long day of fighting for my autistic adult daughter’s rights, offline. 

I did like it though for many reasons including his coat hanger system.

My energy has been spent for as long as I can remember on attempting to fit in.
If you want to read about my road to diagnosis you can in my blog, which I wrote in 2014, called “Asperger’s and me”  Oh the irony 

Highlighting that there were no women in the show, doesn’t take anything from the show, unless you’re a woman or girl with autism currently living through diagnosis of a condition, which is predominantly seen as male. In that regard the program’s gender bias, didn’t really help dispel that myth.

The reason I created the hashtag #SheCantbeAutistic stems from the difficulties women and girls face in being diagnosed, because we present very differently from men. Therefore the default position when you’re being assessed lies in proving that we are autistic. Aspects raised when I started the hashtag are things like “being able to do stand up comedy, having children, being married, holding down a good job, being creative, wearing makeup and being interested in fashion and having friends”.
It’s an odd position to find yourself in but as I say, men rule.

As a self-proclaimed bitch, I’m saying this for two reasons. Firstly I want to reclaim the insult and instead wear it as a badge of honour.

Women who are called bitches by men are usually confident and able to clearly state what they want. They highlight the fact that they are expected to be much better than men in gaining promotion and identify when their rights are being compromised. They call out injustice and won’t be silenced. Men calling women bitches are misogynistic.

Men calling other men bitches, are using the term to state that in their opinion the man to whom they refer is less than human, inferior, whiny, and owned by the superior male. It’s a call to deference. Men calling men bitches are sexist.

Women also call women bitches. They do so from a misogynistic construct. They have been taught that to call another woman a bitch is an adherence to male dominance, as it is traditionally the word used to control. In using that term about another woman, either to a man about a woman or to a woman in front of men, they establish their conformity to the patriarchy and their deference to its rules. It highlights that the other woman has stepped temporarily, out of their pre-designated “place” and that they as the user of the term is remaining firmly within it. Women calling other women bitches are serving at the will of the patriarchy.

I’m happy to be referred to as a bitch for the simple reason that it means I’m speaking clearly. I’m challenging the status quo and I’m disconcerting those who need to be disconcerted.

The second reason for referring to myself as a bitch, is to reclaim the power of the insult.

Insults are opinions but the word bitch, carries a weight of societal approbation, which is tiresome. It speaks to predestination, to lines that are drawn of which I had no say, of place, of time and most worryingly is used to silence women. We are supposed to be afraid of being described in this way. We are required to be cowed by the term and to be schooled in the manner in which we are supposed to behave, by men.

The patriarchy moves in mysterious ways its oppression to perform.
Ultimately it would be better if women weren’t called bitches. However until we reach a time when true equality is achieved, I’m happy to take the word back and highlight its intentions.

I mean, if that’s ok…?..I’ll leave you to think about it shall I? You know when you have more time… Please don’t… you know…think I’m being a bitch, or anything….

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Universal credit crisis

The debate on Universal Credit today

Yesterday morning, David Guake, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced that the charges for the Universal Credit Hotline would be scrapped. It was in advance of the Labour Party Opposition day motion requested by Debbie Abrahams Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions calling for a halt in the rollout.

I'm sure it had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the 25 back bench Tory Mp"s who David Guake met with and who had grave concerns about the flaws in the rollout in the new benefit, which comprises 6 existing benefits, into one.

I've spent a few hours watching the debate and I'm struck by Labour's passionate call for a pause and Tory determination in insisting that it's a fair reform.

For seven years we’ve seen that the Tories determined dismantling of social security, has at times been overt and at times covert. How many MP’s across all parties understood, that in voting for Welfare Reform they were also voting to have Blue parking Badges taken away from passengers who are Learning disabled adults, people with Alzheimer’s disease and even blind people? But in transferring from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments this is exactly what’s happened. All councils who formerly allocated passenger or driver badges under DLA, are now prevented from re-issuing them under PIP, unless the criteria, for 12, or more mobility points, is met. The criteria is whether the applicant can walk (aided or unaided) for a set distance. This is literally rewriting the definition of disability.

When it comes to Universal Credit we are already seeing the hardship imposed on claimants where the rollout has been enacted, with the new benefit having a mandatory wait for claimants transferring to it, of 6 weeks. A six-week wait for money leads to rent arrears, evictions and other hardships and deprivations for people for whom social security is a lifeline. The fact that advance payments are offered, is misleadingly reassuring, given that these advances are in fact loans, against future payments.

For people needing help with the labyrinthine complexity of the current benefits system there is also that hotline number to call. Which is good, except that someone, somewhere was making money because the charge for claimants, from their mobile phones is 55p per minute until David Guake's change of "heart". In the future all calls to the DWP will be free, rather like the opinions of the Tory MP's who claimed that the concerns voiced by their opposition colleagues were scaremongering. The closed mind is a wonder to behold.

I know when I was trying desperately to sort out my learning disabled, adult daughter’s benefits in 2016, no call I made to any department lasted less than an hour. Between wading through the recorded dial options, then holding for the right person and then finally having to explain at length to everyone I spoke to the situation at hand. 

Some people at the helpline were kind and helpful and others sadly, were short, snippy and accusatory if my voice betrayed even a hint of frustration. That’s when they didn’t inadvertently cut me off and so the whole disaster had to be restarted from the beginning.

On the Daily Politics last week, Liz Truss MP calmly pointed out that people could just go into a job centre and get advice. I’m not sure if Liz Truss has been into a job centre lately but that isn’t how they work, it’s not your mum’s kitchen.

Aside from the fact that many job centers are closing, not everyone lives close to one. As Andrew Neil also pointed out to Liz Truss not everyone has a landline anymore, so for many people their only option is to reenact the steps I detail above at the obscenely high, per minute charges.

I’m proud of my party for highlighting this social injustice, I’m comforted too that they are joined in their concern by 25 Tory backbench MP’s, who also have concerns. 

The motion was carried 299 votes to 0. It's notable that John Bercow, Speaker of the House asked that the government attend the house and explain what it intends to do. It's not within the Speaker's power to compel the government, only to ask.

This morning Andrea Leadsom MP, Leader of the house responded to questions from the Shadow leader of the house Valerie Vaz, Mp for Walsall South, as to the Conservatives three line whip abstentions. 

Leadsom detailed that the government was listening and that pauses are already built into the Universal credit system, a huge comfort I'm sure to those people already evicted from their homes and facing huge debt. Her own backbench MP Sir Edward Leigh summed up both her response and the abstentions with the words "The road to tyranny is paved by executives ignoring parliament"

The devil they say resides in the detail. The Tories feel a pause is appropriate for EU Withdrawal Bill but not in the rollout of Universal credit, a system which currently, is weighted against people in their time of greatest need.

If you would like to help disabled people whose lives have been made worse by the loss of Blue Badges, please sign my petition here

Friday, 2 June 2017

Politicians Pledge for disabled people

With only a week to go before the 2017 general Election, I'm reposting my Politicians Pledge for disabled people & carers from 2015. I've amended and added to it in the light of the devastating cuts to disability benefits and services.

I'm going to ask candidates in my constituency to sign it and some others via social media. Sadly that won't include Tory candidate Daniel Kawczynski as he blocked me on Twitter (I think it was because   I asked him to watch the Ken Loach film "I Daniel Blake")  but I'll email it to his office. 

His PA Helen is absolutely lovely.

I'm also going to send it out via social media. If you want to forward it to candidates in your constituency that would be great. Ask them to reply to and I'll add their name. Let's see how this pans out.

Best Nik x

“I the undersigned pledge not to forget disabled people and carers once the election is over but instead, I agree to add my name to a list of MPs who are in agreement that no policy, which directly  affects disabled people and carers, should henceforth be drawn up without disabled people and carers being involved in it. 

I call for a committee of independent cross party disabled people, carers and campaigners, (with no financial input from government except travel expenses) to be a working group within my constituency, who will be consulted over all policy decisions that I'm expected to vote on. In the case of abstaining from the vote I will meet with the group to explain my reasons why.

I also agree to be held accountable if the aforementioned group is not assembled within 3 months of my election.

Because I actually do care and this is just the sort of thing that made me want to be an MP in the first place”

Signed by : 

Dr Laura Davies ( Labour Parliamentary GE Candidate for Shrewsbury and Atcham)
Emma Bullard (Green Party GE Candidate for Shrewsbury and Atcham)

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Richard Herring is a "twat" (spoiler alert- he isn't)

This morning I’m mostly thinking about jokes.

Last night we managed to get to see Richard Herring at Theatre Severn. I say managed because during the day we’d had a pretty bad episode with our 20-year-old learning disabled daughter Emily that I wasn’t sure we’d resolve in time for us to the see his show, aptly entitled, The Best. After 4 trips to her house, and several phone calls in between She was eventually calm and happy enough for us to leave her.

So we got to the show. Unbelievably we weren’t the last in. I had no makeup on from crying and Phil was bruised and we were both really shaken up by it all but we made it. It was really important for us both to laugh last night.

It was a collection of highlights of some of Richard Herring's best work and remind us all why he is the best at what he does. I saw him in the same theatre a few years ago and at one point the microphone and then the lights failed. He kept going, making up new material on the spot about the technical failure and we kept laughing.  

What a twat.

He’s also a twat because he has a diva requirement in terms of what he expects from the theatre staff. At the end of every show the staff stand at the doors holding collection buckets raising money for Scope.  That’s the problem with celebrity culture these days. It’s all about them. Bastards.

Probably one of the most obscenely annoying traits Richard Herring has, is in his attitude towards making jokes about subjects, which some people don’t think anyone should find funny at all. Because Richard Herring is a twat, he deals with it in a nuanced and balanced way. Mining the subject for the inherent humour rather than laughing at the subject itself. 

I wrote a piece about rape jokes a couple of years ago for The Independent. I didn’t write the headline, I made a point that laughing at rapists is the key, not their target.  It’s a tricky issue but it’s an important one because I think humour is a lifesaver but that’s just me. 

I need to make clear that I don’t think it should stand in lieu of the emergency services. I don’t want to give the Tories any more ideas especially as they’re currently very busy trying to tell us why we should vote for them. Actually not for them, so much as for interim head teacher Theresa May.

The woman who repeatedly tells us that she’s so strong and stable, she needs Donald Trump to help her walk across a flat surface. I don’t know what Michelle Obama was doing highlighting that fact that slaves built the White House, but she needs to rethink their walkway crafting ability, because it made our Prime Minister have a little wobble and The Donald, famed for his chivalry, had to reach out and grab her. He did his boy job brilliantly when she had that girl job wobble. 

Take that Hilary Clinton, you emailing loser.

Jokes about bad things aren’t the same thing as bad things. 

That’s like saying ice cream and wafers are the same thing. They often exist in the same area but their physical components are so different as to be entirely distinct from one another. Try making a coke float with an ice-cream cone rather than actual ice cream and you will see the wisdom in my logic. Also you may have to Google “what is a coke float” But more importantly when you’ve finished doing that you could come and rescue me from my analogy, which I’m lost in, and actually I'm starting to feel a bit frightened.

I read a blog this week, which lifted a quote from another comedian’s show. The quote was about rape and the joke was about the juxtaposition of sentencing for murder as opposed to the rape of an elderly woman. The joke wasn’t mocking the elderly woman it was stating the fact that if you rape an elderly woman with dementia the sentence will not reflect the crime.

That’s a serious point wrapped up in a few minutes of a 60-90 minute comedy show about other serious things and delivered to people, who, it’s doubtful, would ever attend a lecture on the issue. But because that comedian is also a twat the blog tended to focus on how offensive that comedian is.

It’s all about the proportional responses to punch lines and storytelling but it’s also about confirmation bias.

To put it another way ”Seek and ye shall find” said the catholic priest to the choirboy.

That was all you. You made that offensive connection and I'm ashamed of you.

My life from the age of twelve when my brother died has been pretty "challenging" and disability has been a large feature of my life. Michael's heart condition, my sisters asthma, Mum's Alzheimer's, Lizzy, Emily's and my Autism, etc. 

I campaign and write on the subject and have fought very hard against disablist and disabling attitudes. The lack of empathy which is so popular along with the rise of populism is worrying and exhausting to tackle,That’s why I’m not keen on humour, which in anyway, denigrates, mocks and further humiliates people over something which they can’t help ; like illness, disability, skin colour, sexual orientation and inherent gender. 

The journalist that Trump got a huge laugh out of from his audience.

Religious beliefs don’t fall into this category because they are a choice, without accompanying evidence. Where the power balance remains manifestly in the hands of the structures and systems of the hierarchy of religions, leading to proven abuse of us, by them; then we should all resist doctrine and punch upwards with humour, because they can take it. If your religious beliefs are so shaky that Ricky Gervais's atheist tweets compromise your beliefs in some way; perhaps you should address whether your beliefs are strong enough to justify you determinedly ordering women what to do with their own bodies and reproductive choices. 

More than anything we need to recognise that humour is very subjective and links directly to our emotions. A short time after my brother died I was watching an episode of the Dave Allen show. Far ahead of his time in challenging the systems and structures I’ve just mentioned, he was and is, a comedy genius to me.

The sketch concerned two funeral processions approaching a cemetery and then both racing to be the first at the graveside. I watch it now and laugh. I watched it then and cried.

Timing is everything in comedy. But for those offended, it’s worth investigating whether the timing for you, in your own life, is robbing you of a clear perspective. Reflecting on whether it's emotion, or intellect that has triggered your anger is important. It might be both but a default to your own emotion alone needs closer examination. Placing the context of the joke into the context of your life is just an idea but one that is worth at least some consideration.

There are comedians for whom context is irrelevant. Comics who find that the punch line need go no further than “Learning disabled people are retards and people who are retards are funny, aren’t they? With their funny walk and their funny talk and their funny mistakes”

Yeah that’s “funny”, as is the fact that they endure hate crime, sexual abuse, financial abuse, violence and neglect and routinely entirely disenfranchised in society, buddy. Retard and retarded mean learning disabled. Dress it up anyway you want, you mean learning disabled people and you know you do. I don't want the word banned even though, naturally in asking people to choose not to use it, that's what people have assumed and argued with me about. That's why my twitter name is Mrs Nicky Clark. It's not some kind of anti-feminist reclaiming of subservience to my husband's surname, it's a reference to the fact that when I started campaigning many people suggested I was a pseudo Mrs Mary Whitehouse.

Annoyingly for them free speech is still free when it's me using it.

Comics who rely on this type of reaction laugh, are lazy and their audiences are lazy too.

Richard Herring expects his audience not to be lazy and his comedy isn’t lazy either. This is why he’s a fucking twat.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

"They called the cops Mummy"

Reading this piece and watching the video in The Telegraph this morning has led me to revisit something that happened to Emily. I'm posting it so that people are not mistakenly believing that this is only something that can happen in America. My heart breaks for this boy and his mother.

On 22nd November in 2016 at her home Emily went into a meltdown. A care worker phoned the police who arrived at Emily's home, with the blue lights lit. They were let into the property by the same care worker and after period of time where she didn't calm and things didn't de-escalate, Emily was placed in a prone restraint on her bedroom floor and handcuffed.

The care worker declined to press charges against Emily and it's a good thing she did, because as I understand it, Emily would then have been taken by the police to the local psychiatric hospital and sectioned.

I live in fear of that happening again. I'm so frightened I can't begin to even tell you what that is doing to me. I can't begin to imagine what this must have done to our beautiful girl.

Apparently with her hands still handcuffed behind her back, Emily went into the living room, picked up the sky remote control and put Thomas the Tank Engine on the TV. The incongruent mix of those two images is making me cry as I type.

When we found out we went to see her. She had marks on her wrists and she put on a youtube clip from 101 Dalmatians of the scene where the maid is locked in a room by the two villains and shouts "I'm calling the police"

Emily said "They called the cops Mummy."

I can't imagine ever making that choice myself. Even when I sustained broken bones and alone with Emily in full meltdown, I never made that choice. I'm not better than the individual care worker who made this decision, I just know that the police have a course of action and a protocol they must follow in an emergency. That's why I never called them.

The police aren't social workers, they're not care workers. They deal with emergencies and they deal with criminals and in any acute situation they have to contain it for everyone's safety. That's what they did. Crucially however the police should never have been called in the first place.

We've been offered a meeting with the police and I'm going to accept because this is a reality for learning disabled people in our country and around the world.

Lots of people are talking about lessons being learned from this. What this is supposed to have taught Emily, or anyone with autism, I have no idea.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Catastrophe of casual disablism.

Like pretty much everyone I love Catastrophe. The show written by and starring Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan details a couple struggling with all the issues that couples struggle with. Family, work, sex, illness, ageing parents and siblings.

It’s written with huge heart and it brilliantly observes the struggles of us all. In the second series the issue of foetal testing in relation to Downs Syndrome was also broached with great integrity and compassion.  It was done without being judgemental because the characters are relateable and the writing was sensitive and measured, whilst still being funny and kind.

If any casual bigotry surfaces, it’s met with a grimace or frown.  It’s brilliantly judged because as with all great writing no subject is taboo but it’s dealt with.

On Sunday I caught up with last week’s Catastrophe.  It was World Autism Awareness Day and I’d been tweeting my film out as I do every year and this year as with many years recently, the terrain for disabled people is tough going. There’s a hardening of attitude from government and a tabloid need for scapegoats, so disability benefit claimants are hounded by the DWP and the public is accepting of it. So I needed to take a break and to vaccinate my brain with laughter.

Watching Catastrophe was wonderful as always. Funny, heartfelt and sad in equal measure.  Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan are as wonderful on Twitter as they are in character. Tackling the nonsense of Trump and the horrors of sexism, the trampling of women’s rights to their own reproductive choices and the cruelty of anti-refugee rhetoric.

They’re admirable and really well liked for very good reason.

Then watching the show, I felt like I’d missed a step walking down the stairs.  

On a trip home to Ireland to visit her dad, Sharon’s brother Fergal produces a photograph of her as a  teenager and as brothers, do he mocked her. When he was asked where he got the photo from, he replied,

“Oh Sharon used to be a flight attendant for retarded slut airlines”

Then all three characters laugh.

No frown, no question, just a big laugh.

That’s where the problem lies. Fiction, as I’ve always said on the subject of pejorative insults, needs to be free to use language which is unpleasant, because it needs to be highlighted as the actions of unpleasant people. No writer should sanitise the world with censorship to make it as we would wish.

In fiction we can see that unpleasant people, unpleasant characters will use bigoted phrases to reveal themselves as bigots, racists, misogynists and homophobes. This is also true of disablism.

Where I felt the step was missed was that Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan gave the joke legitimacy. It was ok, because Sharon laughed. It was funny. It was fine.

It was the laughter that changed it from an unpleasant comment to acceptable ridicule. Irrespective of who it was aimed at the word "retarded", is still a punch in the guts. Because it mocks learning disability, not teenage fashion choices. 

"Spastic Slut" and "Mong slut" would do that too, but retarded is the last acceptable bigotry because "loads of people say it" so that must mean it's ok.

The problem is that when a well loved character laughs at a joke which uses “retarded” or any disablist slur as it’s axis, at it’s root, then it sends a clear message that this is more than ok. 
Laughter is the fastest communication of any stigma intentional or not.

It’s very difficult to raise this as an issue because of the popularity of the programme and it’s makers but actually the normalising of the joke by popular people is the problem. We can’t just question the choices of people we loathe, or disagree with, we have to question everyone or we’re cherry picking examples of the issue to suit ourselves.

The treatment of learning disabled people, particularly in this political climate is worrying and dire. To call out disablism is key. Casual disablism is no different. 

I don’t ever ask for language to be banned. I ask for people with a public profile, with the luxury of popularity and with the privilege of creative freedom, to decide whether normalising stigmatising attitudes, really is the serving their core integrity. Or whether in encouraging millions to laugh at a joke with disability at its core, they're actually doing the same as those they decry.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

An intelligent woman with a network of friends (Warning: Blog contains descriptions of domestic violence)

My Parents 1956. Kenya

My father was a tall man 6’ 3” and I often wonder if the Parkinson’s tremor my 5’2” Mum developed along with her dementia, was a result of the blows he dealt to her head, during the 21 years in which they were married and apparently, fairly soon after they met.

A few years after I was born my mum became pregnant for the fourth time and whilst in hospital after a miscarriage, brought on by his violence towards her, my Grandma, his own mother said to my mum, “I love my son, but would you really want another child with that man?”

His violence, as is routine, extended to his children too. Once when my brother, Michael was getting out of the car at the supermarket, his car door touched the door of the car parked beside us. The driver leapt out and started complaining. He hadn’t even checked to see if there was damage, he just launched into a complaint.

My father turned to my brother who at 16, was almost as tall as he was and without a word, slapped my brother very hard across the face in front of everyone.

The angry man looked horrified. My father said, “There, are you happy now?” and walked into the supermarket.  We followed. We knew not to speak or to complain. My Father said to Michael, “I’m sure you understand why I had to do that. Be more careful in future” My brother said nothing.

The last photo taken of my brother summer 1978

We knew the anger my father carried meant that violence was always a real and present danger. Even over the simplest of things. As a child I hated combing my hair, so it would sometimes form huge knots. Mum would painstakingly and gently comb the knots out, chatting and laughing with me about it all. She knew it wasn’t deliberate on my part. This would irritate my father.

He decided I was being spoilt so on one occasion he combed it for me. His “combing”, literally meant pulling clumps of hair out of my head. It took ages and it was one of the most painful things I remember. I didn’t cry. I was seven and I knew that if I cried, it would make it much worse. So I just sat there while he did it. He didn’t even seem angry.

The violence was physical but it was also emotional and verbal. He liked to demean us. Sometimes with “jokes” always at other people’s expense, sometimes by telling us how stupid we were but also he would criticize one of us and encourage the rest of us to agree. This would extend to other people outside the family who would usually protest. 

me, my sister and my brother 1970 Chester.

 He would sometimes be hysterical over some perceived slight at work. Memorably sending an anonymous gift-wrapped wooden spoon to one of the secretaries who he had decided was causing trouble for him by “stirring”. He was very pleased with himself, when he’d heard she’d burst into tears.

Rules were everything. We weren’t allowed downstairs in pyjamas, except on Christmas morning. We had to put things back “where they lived”. We had to do our jobs without excuse and to a high standard. We couldn’t criticize, complain argue or “showoff” All standard stuff except the consequences.

Once when I was told to tidy my room, I was practicing ballet instead. Little girls often get distracted like that. I remember the door opening and my father slapping me so hard across the face that I fell over. Again he didn’t seem angry, just white faced. “I said tidy your room” he said and walked out.

He was capable of huge emotional cruelty too. After the last time that he left, which, over the years was a frequent event, my brother was diagnosed with a terminal heart & lung condition. My father had refused to allow Mum to go with him to the diagnosis. When they came back from the consultants in Stoke my father walked in and said to my Mum “He’s had it” and walked out.

Michael was in his room playing his guitar and Mum obviously didn’t want to ask him, so in terror she’d phoned the GP and asked if she could speak to the consultant herself.  He explained that Michael had a very rare condition, which would last ten to fifteen years, before he died.

He was wrong, Michael died six weeks later after getting a cold and part of Mum died with him. My father had to be found by the police on Christmas Eve, as he’d taken a woman to a hotel.  I don’t know who the woman was. My father always denied having an affair with anyone. Always, no matter how much evidence my Mum found to the contrary.

After Michael’s death, my Father refused to allow Mum to participate in choosing the wording on Michael’s gravestone. “It’s my six foot of ground, not yours” he said to her, to his wife of 21 years, to the mother of his dead son.  He wouldn’t even walk beside Mum, behind their child’s coffin into the church. After Michael died, Mum divorced him.

In 2011 after Mum died, my father transferred his anger onto me. In the days after he’d died I’d asked him if Mum’s ashes might be interred in Michael’s grave. He said yes. Mum was cremated and we’d chosen a casket for burial. It was one of the few times I’d ever felt gratitude towards him.

Then my Father changed his mind. He’d been causing trouble with family members and for the only time in my life, I’d told him exactly what I thought of him doing that. I think like Mum, the pain of grief made me unafraid of anything, even him. I didn’t swear and I didn’t lose my temper, I just told him to stop causing trouble and to stop being the puppet master of other people’s pain. He put the phone down.

A few days later, before the funeral I walked into the house and a friend was with me. I played the answer phone messages and one was from him and he was almost screaming with fury

My friend said, “I thought you’d been exaggerating about your Dad. I know now you weren’t. What father does that to their own child when their mum has just died?”

He followed this up with a letter revoking permission for Mum to be laid to rest with my brother. There was no discussion, no conversation, no debate. There never is with an abusive bully. If you stand up to them they act as though they’ve been attacked. For bullies the world is full of enemies and they’re always vigilant.

That final cruelty was one too many for me. I never spoke to him again and five years later he died.  I was told that I was not welcome at the funeral, by his widow, who I hadn’t spoken to for over 30 years, but I went anyway. It appeared from the moment we arrived that his first family had been a secret.

I needed to see his coffin. I needed to know he was really gone and I needed more than anything not to allow his abuse & bullying to continue. 

I’m not sure that domestic abusers every change. There is denial and huge shame experienced by victims. A refusal to allow the truth to be known, allows the history of the abuse to be rewritten. No one wants to believe that the people we love, the people closest to us can cause us such pain. Fear is the primary driver in silence though. I can only write and speak about this, now that he's dead. That's the length of the shadow that is cast.

Irrespective of the monster that he undoubtedly could be, I loved my father. I have no idea if he loved me or in fact anyone. I think he had needs and I think he was capable of affection, but I believe he was a true narcissist, for whom his own comfort was an imperative. 

Illness frightened him, “weakness” appalled him and poverty disgusted him, yet his own human frailties belonged to a capacity of self awareness he didn’t wish to learn. I wish the man being described in the speeches in that church, had been my father. He sounded like a wonderful man. No mention of us was made. Not even of my brother who’d died.  I expected nothing more and I got nothing less.

I knew nothing of the extent of the cruelty of my father that I hadn’t personally witnessed until many years after he’d left. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t care about me or my nieces and nephews. I thought there was something wrong with me that meant he didn’t want to know me. Gradually over the years, Mum explained.  The code of silence was broken and she was able to let go of a lot of the blame, through the catharsis of talking. I’m detailing this all here for the same reason.

In the six years since my Mum died, she’s stayed at the funeral home who took care of her. The idea of a family argument over my brother’s open grave didn’t appeal in the least to me. Mum would have loathed the idea too.

After my father died, I waited a year out of respect, before, In January asking his widow to transfer the deeds of Michael’s grave to me or my sister. She said she had no idea where the deeds were but would transfer them to my sister who after a break of several years had re-established contact with our Father, after Mum had died.

I discovered today that, shortly after this request from me, my sister transferred the deeds into her name. I also discovered that she is choosing to respect my father’s wishes and not allow our Mum’s ashes to be buried with my brother.

My sister is a devout Christian. She believes in forgiveness of sin. I love my sister, as I loved my father. That isn’t always enough though. Grief is different for us all and it can take a long time to work through.

Possibly he apologized to her in the years before he died. Possibly she is honoring her father. 
Perhaps she remembers our father differently. Perhaps she has forgotten what he was capable of.
I remember though.

I remember the night my sister as a teenager came home fifteen minutes late from a night out.
I remember him telling her to get upstairs and clean her “pigsty of a bedroom”.
I remember her, emboldened by cider, saying, “Why should I?”
I remember thinking 'he’s going to kill her this time'
I remember my father dragging my sister up the stairs by her hair.
I remember the sound of the dog barking and my Mum pleading with him not to hurt her.
I remember the sound of my sister’s nose cracking against the banister rail.
I remember my sister screaming as he threw her into her room.
I remember him running down the stairs, the back door slamming and his car screeching off the drive.
I remember going into my sister trashed room with my brother and the blood running from her broken nose.
I remember Michael telling me to go back into my room, in case he came back.

We were all his targets. Everyone who loved him, was ultimately hurt by him, let down by him and left by him, to pick up the pieces, on their own.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Parking Points Campaign

When my daughter Emily was three years old she was diagnosed with learning disability, autism and ten when she was diagnosed with epilepsy.

Now 19, Emily is beautiful funny and fascinated with many things. She can become highly anxious and present behaviours which challenge.

When Emily received Disability Living Allowance she was in receipt of a Blue Parking Badge and this helped her in so many ways. Her lack of complete cognitive understanding can cause her to become overwhelmed when we’re out in public. Yet as with all 19 year olds she loves to go into town shopping, go to the cinema and go out for day trips. The close proximity of a disabled parking space made these trips much easier for her and for us.

In the old days of Blue Badge eligibility I would be able to take proof of benefits, a passport photo of Emily and other forms of ID to my local mobility centre in town. I would receive the badge there and then.

When Emily went to a residential school she naturally lost all benefit allocations.

When she moved into her own home last year, with a three to one care package, she began her independence and was back in the heart of the community.  As she has bonded with her carers she has grown in confidence and asked to go on a day trip to Thomas Land. Like many learning disabled people on the autistic spectrum Emily loves Thomas the Tank Engine.

I tried to call the mobility centre to make an appointment to pick up a Blue Badge. Emily had transferred over to PIP, as I was told there was no longer DLA but her disability remained unchanged.  She was just taller.

I learnt that although the mobility centre was still there, they no longer allocated Blue Badges. This was done by a third party provider, once the Council found that everyone applying met the eligibility criteria.

I spoke to a very nice man at the council eventually, who asked me what Emily’s points were on the mobility component of PIP. 
I said she received the higher rate. 
He said “No how many points does Emily score for moving around?”

So this was where it all started to go wrong. Emily scores zero points for moving around because she can walk more than the required number of metres. She has to have someone with her all the time and will do for the rest of her life but because Emily can physically walk for a short distance she scores no points for “moving around” at all.

Emily can walk. Emily can run. Emily can run straight in front of a bus, if she’s frightened or angry or upset.  But although Emily is profoundly learning disabled she is, to use the phrase that is in the news today, not “really disabled” when it comes to getting a Blue Parking Badge.

Whereas once she was eligible, now this has been cut from her life. A Blue Badge is crucial for learning disabled people, for carers, for those with Dementia and people who are partially sighted but along with other conditions, all people with those disabilities are no longer eligible for a disabled parking badge. If we lived 15 miles away, in Wales this wouldn't be the case but we live in England so it is.

The Badge, which is not a gateway to anything other than a parking space, is to be issued so sparingly that many disabled people are not allowed to have one. Like Emily although previously qualifying, the new PIP ruling on moving around is the determining factor which Councils have to abide by.

There is at the heart of this a staggering inequality and a return to a time when disability was only deemed to be apparent if there was a physical inability to walk.

Many thousands of disabled people need the support of all aspects of independent living.  The Blue Badge makes community and independent living easier. It facilitates accessibility to many aspects of life for those with a learning disability and so I’m asking you to support my new campaign.

The “Parking points” campaign is calling on the Government to reinstate Blue Badges to those in society, recently deemed ineligible. To recognise that disability comes in many different forms. To assist councils to give the people they work for, the dignity of a full life in every way they can and to stop this divisive practice of redefining who is and who isn’t disabled.

In conjunction with my campaign I launched a petition on the government website. Please sign and share and please, if you are a charity or group, activist or individual ;  support, sign and share the link.

My Petition (relaunched after it was closed for the election)

Not all disability is visible but everyone with a disability should be allowed to be seen.

Nicky Clark

“Parking points Campaign”