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