#nakedisnormal, but for Playboy, #nakedisprofit

Today, Playboy announced that it was bringing nudity back to its magazines, a year after it had previously banned naked spreads. Following a series of tweets tagged #nakedisnormal, Chief Creative Officer, Cooper Hefner made the announcement this morning, stating that naked is normal and should not be treated as something to shy away from.

Naked is, indeed, normal. However, for a magazine that has been founded on the profits of pornographic material, naked is a profitable kind of normal, one that is used merely for exploitation. Playboy has founded itself on the oppression of women, and to claim that a return to featuring nudity is in our interests is nothing more than a lie. It’s a return to instant gratification, and the ownership of women’s bodies in an attempt to bolster sales.

In their return to featuring nudity amongst their pages, Playboy has co-opted the Free The Nipple campaign. But this is a campaign that is troubling in itself, given how it has been backed by Nice Guys TM, who want to assure women that if they want to sit topless beside them, that’s absolutely fine. It’s troubling, given that a quick search of the related tag on Tumblr shows that the tag has been co-opted by porn blogs, rendering the campaign something that can be – and has been – hijacked for the male gaze. The trouble with this lies in the fact that men have been raised in a society – that we’ve all been raised in a society – which treats women’s bodies as a reward. You can pay in and be rewarded, whether it’s with money, with kindness, or with your so-called support for their activism.

Given Hugh Hefner’s past – his involvement in the rape of Linda Lovelace and involvement in the rapes perpetrated by Bill Cosby– and the misogynistic undertones of Playboy that have run from conception to now, it’s easy to see the roots of this latest development. In a year where we have a President who has countless accusations of rape and assault to his name, in a culture where rapists are spared jail in exchange for being told they have to refrain from sex until marriage, this isn’t progressive. It is nothing more than rape culture, coming full circle.

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Alan Carr; “Not My Nigel” – Justin Lee Collins edition.

Dear Alan Carr,
 
You can harp on about how the Justin Lee Collins who assaulted his partner wasn’t the Justin that you knew, but the truth of the matter is that he was.
 
See, this is the kind of talk that silences abuse victims. Talking about how it was a “toxic” relationship. Minimising the abuse. It’s telling victims that their experiences of an abuser aren’t accurate, because yours are different.
 
Abusive men are good at hiding who they are. And often, they put on a front of being a “Good Man TM” to the general public. They might volunteer for charity. They might be that bloke you have a laugh with, day in – day out. They might be the chap in the office who has a wife, kids, and hell – they might even say to your face that he’s a good guy. They’re trained to, because society tells us – on a daily basis – that if a man abuses a woman, she can be – in someway – blamed for it. Abusive men rarely show their abusive nature to people they consider their equals. Once they meet an inferior, however, it’s a different matter.
 
(With my ex, it was me. It was Muslim taxi drivers who didn’t pick up his fare. It was a homosexual man I considered a friend. A colleague who went out of his way to be a kind and considerate individual at every turn. And – it took me a long time to admit this – it was his Nan. To every person my ex abused, to every person for whom I wish I had stepped up and defended, I’m sorry.)
 
But these men survive on these fronts that they put up. On the exterior that their peers buy into. After all, abusers rely on confirmation that their actions are justified, that they must have been pushed into acts of violence. It means that they can refer their victim to all these people who can vouch for them. They can point you in the direction of a well-meaning police officer who will point out that your abuser was drunk, very remorseful, and who’ll call you the morning after your abuser was arrested, asking if he can come home.
 
But minimising the abuser, talking about their good sides, is a dangerous game. It leads to the victim accepting the abuser back into their lives, because the narrative that surrounds them is one of blame. It leads to the victim wondering if their abuse was “really that bad”, as other women have it so much worse. It leads to victims wondering if they are the reprehensible individual that their abuser leads them to believe they are, as they’re the only people who witness the abuse. It leads to families pushing victims back to abusers for the sake of the children, because “all children need a father in their lives”. Oh, what bull that is.
 
You may not have recognised the man that abused Anna Larke. But I do. The women who are experiencing abuse right now, or the women who have survived abuse – the women who have died as a result of abuse do. Because we see both sides of abusive men. We see the sides that you recognise, the sides that you applaud and that you’re comfortable with.
 
And we recognise the sides that are held up in court, the same way that many of us come to recognise the defences that come along with their actions.
 
It’s not a “toxic relationship.” It is, quite simply, male violence against women; it is systematic, it is universal, and it is deadly.

#ibelieveher: Why Evans’ supporters have no right to criticise Rape Crisis.

I have finally read the entire Daily Mail article in which the Evans family discuss Ched Evans’ conviction and Rape Crisis’s reluctance to converse with them.
The Evans-Massey clan claim they wanted to see if there was a way they could help ‘raise the awareness as to the issue of consent, rather than any sensible debate getting lost in media hype.’

No. Just /no/.

I have spent the past two and a half years, alongside some incredible women, doing all we can to counteract the harmful rape myths that this family has perpetuated. I have tried to educate them on the legal stance of consent, as have many other supporters of the I Believe Her campaign. We have watched as they have re-traumatised countless rape survivors whilst allowing the continued abuse, even promoting said abuse, of the survivor of this attack.

I have watched as women come forward with their own stories in the inbox of I Believe Her, some speaking out for the first time about having been raped, and I have held discussions with those working to help such women on what needs to be done to support survivors.

The thing is, consent is not a bargaining tool. If you don’t have it, then anything you proceed to do after that is not sex, it’s rape. You help no-one by trying to engage Rape Crisis in discussions about this, especially when you have discredited a rape survivor on a daily basis. You do not try to raise consciousness of consent when you have tried to use the fact a rape survivor had traces of drugs in her system as an attempt to prove her to be a liar. And you do not take the chance to engage in discussions about rape with a charity who know what they’re doing in an attempt to find ‘middle ground’, whilst still trying to say that your family rapist was part of a witch hunt.

I do not speak on behalf of Rape Crisis, but as the manager of the I Believe Her campaign – and I hope with the backing of the wonderful people who have supported the campaign over the past two years – I support their decision not to speak to the Evans family with regards to this topic.”

[Cross-posted from Facebook and TwitLonger]

Refuges at Crisis Point; And It’s All About The Men…

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that a number of refuges are facing closure, and the source of their latest dilemma? The expectation that refuges should provide spaces for male victims of domestic violence. 

The Guardian further reports of the threats faced by The Haven, Coventry and The Wolverhampton Haven, both of whom have been threatened by the expectation to extend their services to male victims, despite the fact that less than one in seven victims of domestic violence are men.

The Wolverhampton Haven, which runs six properties across the city, recently reported a £300,000 cut to its services, which would affect the services it provides to 63 women and 120 children. Further to this, the charity has been ordered to set aside a portion of its places for men. As of yet, no referrals for male clients have been made. 

Furthermore, Coventry Haven were unsuccessful in claiming funding this year, with funding going to Refuge, the national charity that makes so much of the Refuge system work, and a new partnership that provided self-contained units and accommodation for male victims. 

Whereas there is arguably a need for domestic violence provisions for male victims, this worrying trend of insisting that services that currently cater to women take on male victims as well is both harmful and potentially deadly. We currently see two women a week killed through domestic violence, but by giving men access to the very refuges where these women stay gives their abusers a chance to manipulate the system and gain access to their victims. It’s not something I’d have put past my abuser, nor the abuser of many women I met in the refuge system. 

At no point has anyone said funding should be withheld from male victims who are fleeing domestic violence. But the expectation that the services that cater to female victims should be made to cater to men as well is a bizarre one; At no point is any other charity sector refused funding based on whom it caters to; but when it comes to charities aiming to protect women, it’s open season. Women escaping abuse need the space, support and time to heal, and they need that away from men. 

The Work Programme and The Erasure of the Value of Women’s Work

Last Friday, I came home, shouted at my son, and promptly burst into tears. This, for anyone who knows me, is a rarity. But just 40 minutes beforehand, I had felt emotionally destroyed.

As many of my readers know, I am a lone parent. And, as many of my readers know, when I say I’m a lone parent, I mean that I am lucky to have more than three nights away from my son a year. At this current moment in time, I’ve had two nights away from him this year. Two days away from the label of being ‘Mum’, and no-one more.

Yet a mother is not all I am. A frequent writer, a learner, someone who takes every opportunity to read something new, in the hope of gaining knowledge. Someone who returned to college with a two year old child, and further embarked on the first year of a degree. I later left the course due to poor health, something that sadly couldn’t be avoided. I am, as many of you know, a campaigner, a fighter, and someone whom sets their sights on a greater aim.

Yet, as I fall into the category of the long term unemployed, battling to find my way back into work, a large proportion of who I am is erased and minimised. To those who run the work programme, those who see me week in, week out, I am little more than a statistic. Someone they believe hasn’t worked for five years.

My time as a student is erased, due to my inability to complete my degree. My time as a mother is erased, due to my status as being legally unemployed. My time as an activist is erased, and I couldn’t tell you why. Is it because I work to make the world a better place for women? I couldn’t tell you.

Since January this year, I have repeatedly asked for help in improving my CV. To date, none has been received. On Friday, it became apparent that my CV had never been seen before by my advisor, given that, upon asking for help from her, she finally noticed an error on one line. A line I had corrected ten weeks beforehand, when she had asked me to email the CV over. For some reason, my corrected CV was not on file.

When asked of ways to improve my CV, I found my questions dismissed. As I asked for ways to make my CV more appealing, due to the lack of interviews I seemed to be receiving, I was dismissed with a comment about being unable to lie on CVs, as if that was the question I had asked. No advice was given that day. Instead, who I have been for the past five years was replaced with a sign that said ‘unemployed’.

I have asked repeatedly for help in obtaining a basic IT qualification. One that proves my claims of being more than slightly capable of navigating my way around any computer are true. These requests have been greeted with empty promises repeatedly since October, and as I was told last Friday that there were no longer any relevant courses available, another step into work was removed. Details of my work can be verified. The fact I’m self-teaching myself HTML and CSS can, as far as I’m aware, not.

And then came the voluntary position debacle. Some of you will have read my rant on Saturday morning. This was an exchange that had continued to upset me almost eighteen hours later, as the stress prevented me from sleep that night.

It seems that my advisor had intentions of forcing me to take a voluntary position, starting during the summer holidays. As the issue of childcare was raised, I was patronised and told to stop using childcare as a barrier. Not once prior to this, during my entire time on the work programme have I raised the issue of childcare. But when you face an expense you cannot afford as the result of an action you’re expected to undertake, it is reasonable to question how you can afford it. It is not avoiding work if you point out you would have difficulty paying for childcare during school holidays if your income remains at its current level. I have already found myself chastised for bringing my son to an appointment as childcare for the duration of the appointment could not be found. But yet raising genuine concerns about affording the expense of childcare, whilst knowing extra help would be unavailable from tax credits due to the unpaid nature of the work, earned me the threat of sanction and the label of work-shy. It was ignored that I had attended every available interview that I have been offered during my time unemployed. The fact I had childcare planned for had I received any of these jobs was also ignored. And the Work Programme wonders why just 2.7% of the lone parents it ‘helps’ find themselves in sustainable, long term employment. 

I could tell you why. It is because, in ignoring the work that parents do in raising their children, in ignoring their requests for help and guidance, and in pretending their achievements no longer exist.

The help I have received in my time at the Work Programme so far has amassed as follows:

  • A one hour course on how to apply for jobs. This provided me with no new details, beside the fact that the course leader considered telling a room full of JSA recipients that if they were complaining about the lack of permanent employment available in our town, they should consider moving to another town. 
  • Repeated agreements from my advisors to look over my CV either before or during my next appointment. As of yet, I have only found myself told it would get overlooked. I was then told it would be discussed further at my next session. 
  • Criticism for forgetting to write out my jobsearch twice, despite the fact I had handed in one copy just minutes beforehand at the Job Centre. Had they asked, I could have likely retrieved it from said Job Centre for the sake of that appointment alone. 
  • Promises of help in obtaining a basic IT qualification, in order to make moving into work a little easier. 
  • A four day course that was supposed to focus on improving your chances of finding a job, but instead focused on Problem Solving for Idiots. 
  • Criticism for bringing my son to an appointment having previously been told by another advisor that it would be acceptable to do so, due to a lack of childcare. 
  • Threats of sanctioning for asking if it would be possible to take on a voluntary work experience placement during term time, as opposed to during school holidays. 
  • An email that demanded I applied for a pot-washing job that started at 8pm and finished after public transport in our town ended. 

No-one enters the benefits system, expecting a job to be handed to them on a plate. What we do expect, however, is to receive the support we need to find our way back into work. And while the achievements and the work people do outside of paid employment, particularly lone parents, goes unrecognised as such, is it any wonder so many people struggle to find themselves leaving benefits behind for good? 

A Celeb’s Guide To Misrepresenting Feminism

“[I’m not a feminist] because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance. With myself, I’m very in touch with my masculine side. And I’m 50 percent feminine and 50 percent masculine, same as I think a lot of us are. And I think that is important to note. And also I think that if men went down and women rose to power, that wouldn’t work either. We have to have a fine balance.”

Shailene Woodley – “Shailene Woodley on Why She’s Not a Feminist, Time, 2014-05-06

There’s been a lot of talk of Shailene Woodley of late. Having taken on the role of Hazel in the movie adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, and Tris in the recent adaptation of Divergent. For weeks, the media representation of her has been, on the whole, positive. 

It didn’t take long, however, for the above article to find itself gaining attention through Tumblr, and rightly so. 

The problem we have is that the aims of feminism have been distorted by the patriarchy sufficiently enough throughout the years that, even when attempting to resurrect a women’s group in my home town two years ago, the previous chair of the group interjected “We’re not crazy feminists, though. We’re not ripping off our bras and burning them, just trying to get a woman friendly space.” (Does anyone even remember where the bra-burning trope came from?)

Women are picking up on pro-woman messages, feminist messages, but even upon citing them feel the need to rebuff them. After all, we’ve been taught that feminism is a dirty word, usually by people who have no problem calling any woman who says otherwise a ‘bitch’, or likening her to Hitler. We’ve attached a stigma to the words ‘I am pro-woman’, ‘I am a strong woman’, and so forth that many celebs feel the need to suffix these words with ‘but I’m not a feminist’. 

But the problem we have as women is that we so frequently take our definition of feminism from men, whether we intend to or not. My first exposure to the ‘dirty word feminist’, was whilst calling out a customer’s sexual harassment, at which point, it was asked whether I was one of those ‘bloody feminists’. Feminism wasn’t something that was discussed in my household, nor in my school. And whilst I was reading articles in Bliss, More and Company about sexual harassment, rape and abuse, none of them ever name-checked feminism itself. So whilst women-produced media sets out the basics of feminism for so many young women, albeit the bare basics and an often contradictory message, so many girls and women first meet the term with a side order of derision. 

We need to stop allowing men to use feminist as a silencer, and this needs to stop. But what also needs to stop is the culture of celebrity dismissing feminism as wanting nothing more than female superiority and that ever pervasive myth of misandry. 

What we need more recognition for, however, are the celebrities who make pro-feminist statements beyond stating a woman’s right to be ‘sexy’. We need more women like Anne Hathaway, (although the only declaration of Hathaway being a feminist comes from another self-proclaimed feminist, Lena Dunham) and we need a fuckton more women like Ellen Page, and Louise Brealey who cites herself as a feminist very publicly on her Twitter biography. And, as I leave, I think we all need to consider this quote from Ellen Page, who puts it more succintly than I ever could. 

“But I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists. Maybe some women just don’t care. But how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?”

On my absence from the blog

So, for some of you, it’ll be clear I haven’t been on this blog for quite some time. Updates have been sparse at best. And for me, it’s been a matter of self preservation. 

Many of you know of my past. It laces throughout this blog, and spills over in my more rage fuelled tweets. A lot of you even know of my illnesses, particularly of the PTSD. It’s that which has kept me from the blog since the last update, almost six months ago. 

My health spent quite some time steadily declining, worsened by the comments from my mother in relation to my weight gain. Worsened by the threat of losing my home near Christmas last year. Worsened by hearing that the first of my rapists had become a father. I reached the point that I no longer felt anger or sadness when writing about men’s violence towards women. Frequently, I felt nothing more than numb. And when I feel despondent at best; when I come to expect the horrors I write about, then I find myself losing hope. 

Thankfully, I have developed a few friendships of late; survivors of abuse, women living with PTSD. Or sometimes just people who do what those I came to call family in the previous 25 years of my life are incapable of. Respecting my own needs. I wouldn’t say I’m in recovery yet. But I’m reaching a space which has seemed alien to me for half a year. 

I have never stopped writing, but at long last, I feel ready to begin writing here again. It may take time until the updates are frequent, and the blog posts meaningful. But in short, I intend to return.