Tag Archives: gender equality

No, a convicted rapist should not be allowed to resume his former job

On Friday, Ched Evans – a convicted rapist — will be released from prison after serving half his prison sentence. In 2011, he raped a 19-year-old woman at a hotel in Rhyl, Denbighshire. The victim did not consent to sexual intercourse, and Evans’ friends are said to have watched him rape her. If Evans were a lawyer, doctor or teacher, the prospect of resuming his former job would be out of the question. Yet, Ched Evans is a famous footballer, and his former club, Sheffield United, are rumoured to be considering reinstating Evans in his former position. The chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Gordon Taylor, has stated that Evans should be allowed to play professional football again, and told the BBC: “I didn’t know there was a law that said once you come out of prison you still can’t do anything.” However, over 140,000 people disagree with Taylor, and have added their signature to a petition urging the Chairman of Sheffield United, Kevin McCabe, to refuse to reinstate Ched Evans as a player.

High profile footballers are influential people; their actions receive a great deal of media attention; they are revered by fans; and they are role models. It goes without saying that they have the power to influence impressionable young people. If a convicted rapist is allowed to walk back into his former job after serving half his prison sentence, what kind of precedent are we setting? Furthermore, Evans’ case will convey a clear and unambiguous message: rape is not a serious crime.

During my secondary education, I recall being counselled, along with my fellow students, by teachers and careers advisers that we must avoid at all cost getting a criminal record should we wish to go to university, and get a good job. If Evans walks back into his former job scot-free, the credence of teachers’ advice will be called into question.

Judy Finnigan’s comments earlier this week that “the rape was not violent, he didn’t cause any bodily harm to the person” was, to say the very least, ill advised. Freedom of speech is a basic human right, and Finnigan has every right to express her opinion as part of a healthy, balanced discussion. However, in discussions about rape there is a danger of worsening the existing problem of victim blaming, and Finnigan’s statement “she [the victim] had far too much to drink” certainly bolstered this victim blaming thread, regardless of her intentions. If someone is drunk when they are murdered, does it mean it’s their fault? Rape is still rape regardless of how “drunk” the victim is. Furthermore, this victim blaming culture confuses and undermines the important moral lessons instilled by parents and teachers regarding consent and rape. And how will parents taking their children to Sheffield United matches explain the chants from the opposing crowd?

The backlash that ensued, and the deplorable trolling of Finnigan’s daughter obscured the important issue here: we must not talk about rape in degrees. Rape is an absolute: one is not slightly raped, or very raped. Rape is an act of violence, and its primary driving force is violence. The dictionary defines rape as “forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with the offender against their will”. The very act of forcing someone is a violation; a violent confiscation of someone’s free will.

Asked if Evans should be allowed to return to professional football, Finnigan said: “Well I think everything depends basically on, of course, whether the club wants him back but more importantly perhaps whether the fans want him back.” Finnigan’s assertion that Evans has “served his time” was echoed by broadcaster Jonathan Maitland on Sky’s Press Preview on Tuesday night. But, in reality, he has not “served his time”; he’s served half of it. If Evans had stopped playing at half time, would he have still played a full match?

It has also been argued that Evans has been amply punished for his crime, and it is unfair to prevent him from returning to his former life. To those of you in favour of Evans’ reinstatement, I ask you this: if a teacher were released after serving half their sentence for statutory rape, would we simply shrug and allow them to resume their position? When a doctor is convicted and struck off after years of study and training, does the nation scream “injustice” when his life is ruined? I see no outpourings of support, no outcries of sympathy when it comes to anyone else. So, why protest the fairness of this isolated case? This is a question of parity. Is it right that we make an exception for a famous footballer?

If Evans were guilty of murder, I sincerely doubt that his fans would be welcoming him back with open arms. Rape is a serious crime and it ruins lives. The take-home message should Evans be reinstated is that rape is not taken seriously as a crime. Approximately 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year, with less than one rape victim in 30 seeing their attacker brought to justice. What hope does this case give to rape victims seeking justice?

It has also been argued that once a criminal has “served their time”, they should not be further punished. But, what about the victim? Once Evans is released, will his victim forget and move on? The rape will most likely affect her for the rest of her life. Do not underestimate the damage caused to victims’ lives.

No one feels good about ruining a young man’s career, but unfortunately, he did it to himself.

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We need to talk about sexism at UK universities

The London School of Economics, a leading UK university, launched an inquiry yesterday after its Men’s Rugby Club distributed a misogynist and homophobic freshers’ fair leaflet describing women as “slags”, “trollops” and “mingers”. The leaflet, distributed at the university’s freshers’ fair on Friday, encouraged prospective members to “pull a sloppy bird” on a night out, and referred to female “hockey, netball and rugby birds” as “beast-like women who play sport so they can come out with us on Wednesdays”. It was only when an image of the leaflet began spreading on Twitter that the university was prompted to launch its investigation.

Though it pains me to write this, I am by no means shocked, or even surprised by this behaviour. I, too, attended a top ten UK university, and spent four years growing increasingly irritated by the endemic sexism and rape culture that was widely accepted as an integral part of campus “banter”. On the few occasions I attended varsity rugby matches, the crowd would chant about the university’s bounty of “tits, fanny and rugby”. Yet, I was even more horrified by a term that was bandied around freely by scores of sportsmen to describe their nightclub ritual: “sharking”. This term referred principally to the practice of hunting “fresh meat” — preferably drunk female freshers – for sex. This behaviour is nothing short of predatory and reminiscent of Neanderthal hunter-gathers. This is not a case of casual gratuitous sex, but instead suggests women are prey; mere meat to satisfy the hungry jaws of primeval man. Furthermore, this predator versus prey dynamic hints at an attitude that sex is an act of violence against women akin to killing an animal for food, where ultimately men consume women.

A recent NUS survey showed that more than one third of female students (37 per cent) had experienced unwanted sexual advances at UK universities, and two thirds of students said they have seen fellow students endure unwelcome sexual comments. NUS President Toni Pearce, in response to these statistics, has urged UK universities to deal with ‘lad culture’, stating “these stats show that harassment is rife on campus, but we still keep hearing from universities that there is no fear, no intimidation, no problem — well this new research says otherwise.”

Sexism at UK universities is not just a cluster of isolated incidents, but a real and present issue that students face nationwide. We go to university to learn, to better ourselves, to progress, but we do not expect to be harassed, objectified and subjected to misogyny. It is disturbing that the future leaders of our country, future forces for change and future decision makers not only espouse misogyny and the objectification of women, but actively participate in it. If we view universities as microcosms of society, it is patently clear that sexism is a huge problem in UK society; a problem that requires urgent attention.

Some colleges at the University of Cambridge are hosting sexual consent workshops for freshers in their first term, and reports suggest that Oxford University has plans to do the same. I believe workshops and classes of this kind would make a considerable difference in the struggle against discrimination on campuses. On a larger scale, such workshops should be included in the curriculum for high school and sixth form sex education. Other than literacy and numeracy, I cannot think of a more fundamental and vital education than teaching the concept of consent and respect in schools. This is no longer a case of “banter”, but of human rights.

Reclaiming the F word: in defence of feminism

At the UN in New York this weekend, Emma Watson sent a powerful message to the world: the fight for gender equality must be fought by men, as well as women. Marking the launch of the HeForShe campaign, her speech put into words the thoughts of feminists across the globe; that feminism has become a dirty, uncomfortable word; a word with which women choose not to identify. But, since when did feminism have such a bad rep?

You don’t have to look far to find evidence of the pejorative connotations hanging over the word feminism. A simple Google search throws up a plethora of negativity that leaves one truly baffled:

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Stupid? Ugly? Annoying? Sexist?! Are we to glean from this that the negative perceptions of feminism far outweigh any positive thereof? Or is it quite simply that the negativity is more readily available? As Emma said in her speech: “Feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men, unattractive even.”

The recent Tumblr movement Women Against Feminism has positioned itself as an enemy to feminism, yet despite its antagonistic presence on the Internet, it is patently clear that a complete lack of understanding of feminism is at its core. The followers of this movement are steadfast in their belief that feminism is tantamount to “man hating”; that feminism pertains to equating consensual sex with rape; and that feminism judges women who do not comply with a rigid set of rules. To say this is an inaccurate portrayal of feminism would be an understatement.

So, what is feminism? Well, to quote Emma Watson, “feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” The word equality is of central importance here. Feminists are not female supremacists; we do not want to be superior to men; nor do we wish to have more rights than our male counterparts. We want to be equal. We do not hate men. Feminism is not a rigid set of rules to be obeyed. Feminists do not judge other women for the decisions they make. We believe in freedom, in choices and in rights.

Just as Germaine Greer reclaimed the C word, I believe we need to reclaim the F word. This word was, is and should remain a symbol of power and liberty, yet if these rampant fallacies persist, the word will become entirely detached from its original meaning. The misconceptions that form the driving force behind social media movements need to be addressed. Just as sex education is taught in schools, we should teach the basics of gender equality in our classrooms. Parents should talk to their children about gender equality. If you are a feminist, be proud, and don’t be afraid to tell people.

It is a sign of real progress that celebrities are coming out as feminists. Beyoncé’s iconic VMAs performance sent out the message that women should be proud to identify as feminists. High profile feminists such as Beyoncé, Emma Watson and Taylor Swift are already playing a pivotal role in inspiring younger generations of women to identify as feminists, promoting a positive image of feminism for all to see.

Feminism is getting a rebrand, and we are all brand consultants. By reclaiming the F word, we are active participants in the future of gender equality. By changing perceptions of the word, we encourage more people to become feminists and we move further towards achieving true equality.

Beyoncé’s ***flawless VMAs act: feminism’s most powerful moment in pop culture

Earlier this week — the 25th day of August, to be precise — the world awoke to a remarkable, and powerful sight. As I lay in bed, bleary-eyed and dry-mouthed I went through my morning routine of checking Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Yet, this was no ordinary Monday morning. My feeds were ablaze with a very potent image, and I immediately sat up in bed. The scene was this: Beyoncé Knowles at the VMAs standing proudly in front of an enormous screen emblazoned with the word ‘FEMINIST’. The most powerful celebrity on the planet was sending the world a very clear and very poignant message.

Beyoncé, during an incredible 15 minute medley of her album at Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards, performed ‘***Flawless’; a song which samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s iconic and utterly inspiring TED talk ‘We should all be feminists’. 

We teach girls that they can not be sexual beings in the way that boys are. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls “you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful otherwise you will threaten the man.” FEMINIST: the person who believes in the the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.

As I watched Beyoncé standing sentinel in front of the 8-letter F-word, I listened to the song that has become my anthem of late and I was moved. I had already seen the tweets and comments from the naysayers and eye-rollers of the world — one of which even held Beyoncé’s physical beauty as justification for her not being a feminist — and I, in turn, rolled my eyes even harder at them. I was in no doubt that I had just witnessed a historic moment for feminism. Why? Well, there are several reasons.

Feminism has in recent years been dubbed a ‘dirty word’; something proponents of gender equality sought to distance themselves from. Here Beyoncé stood in an act of defiance, reclaiming that word as something infused with beauty and power. As something to be embraced, and most of all, something to be proud of. Just as Germaine Greer reclaimed the C-word, Beyoncé was reclaiming the F-word.

Moments earlier, Beyoncé had performed a very sexy clip of ‘Partition’, in which she pole-dances flanked by beautiful dancers wearing nothing but g-strings and bras. It is no coincidence, then, that the ‘Flawless’ opened with “we teach girls that they can not be sexual beings in the way that boys are”. Not only was this a reclamation of the word, but a statement on the nature of femininity itself: that women, too, are sexual beings, and that feminists are pretty fucking sexy.

Furthermore, the fact that the most famous performer in the world stood up on stage to proclaim herself a feminist exemplifies how far we have come. Not only are we living in a world where feminism is no longer a shameful, hated word; this is a world where feminism is being celebrated. And it’s about time.

This is a woman with massive reach, who has the potential to teach young women to place value on gender equality, and to inspire other women to carry out similar acts of courage, and to proudly wear the badge of feminism.

Are we all bad feminists?

The release of Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist got me thinking. Aside from my concerns that yet another great book title has been taken, I think it’s really interesting to see the ‘bad feminist’ epithet being turned on its head. The label has gone from being a pejorative term bandied around by holier-than-thou feminist purists to something positive, something to be embraced. This speaks volumes about where we’re at in 2014 in terms of feminism — are we beginning to cut women some slack?

The recent Women Against Feminism Tumblr movement raised an important issue: that people don’t understand what feminism is. The movement suggested that individuals believe that feminism is a bunch of rigid rules that must be strictly adhered too, and that aren’t open to interpretation. With such a false misconception of feminism, is it any wonder they don’t want to be a part of it? I was horrified at yet another anti-feminist social media campaign, but I couldn’t help but think that — hidden deep inside this well of misunderstanding — there was a clear message about feminism: pressure. What do I mean by this? That we women have put so much pressure on themselves to be ‘good feminists’ that we’ve lost sight of what feminism really means. Have we tried so hard to be good feminists that we’ve become bad?

Zosia Mamet’s essay for Glamour magazine really resonates here:

As women we have internalized the idea that every morning we wake up, we have to go for the f–king gold. You can’t just jog; you have to run a triathlon. Having a cup of coffee, reading the paper, and heading to work isn’t enough—that’s settling, that’s giving in, that’s letting them win. You have to wake up, have a cup of coffee, conquer France, bake a perfect cake, take a boxing class, and figure out how you are going to get that corner office or become district supervisor, while also looking damn sexy—but not too sexy, because cleavage is degrading—all before lunchtime. Who in her right mind would want to do that? And who would even be able to?

When I read this, I am reminded of myself a few years ago. I had become so caught up in the idea of being a good feminist, I had forgotten to have fun. At parties I would roll my eyes when boys would chat me up, and I placed so much pressure on myself to succeed that became a recluse. Looking back, I find this totally crazy. Perhaps it’s a strange thing to say, but I’ve become more relaxed about feminism. I take it just as seriously as before, but I now know that being a ‘good feminist’ 100% of the time is just not sustainable. I also acknowledge that I had mistakenly interpreted feminism as being a rigid life model; one to be adhered to at all times.

I think it’s wonderful that women can now publicly admit to being bad feminists. This is certainly a progressive step, and symptomatic of fourth wave feminism, which places choice and the freedom to choose at its heart. Assuaging the pressure on women is now another wonderful addition to the feminist agenda.

The Downing Street Catwalk: The Daily Mail’s heinously sexist coverage of Cameron’s ministerial reshuffle

This week got off to a great start, when the General Synod voted in favour female bishops; a landmark turning point that ends 20 years of division over the issue. Yesterday’s drastic ministerial reshuffle added momentum to this series of progressive steps towards gender equality, when the Prime Minister promoted 10 women to ministerial positions. Cameron described his new team as one which “reflects modern Britain”, and while there is still much work to be done to redress the lack of women at the top of the government, this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Nonetheless, the Daily Mail’s coverage of the reshuffle took a turn for the retrogressive today, offering a fashion critique of the “new girls” on the Downing Street “catwalk”.

photo (8) o-DAILY-MAIL-570

 

The Mail was widely criticised today for its “heinously sexist” coverage, which made a mockery of the promotions, undermined the achievements of these women in favour of objectifying them, and judging them solely on sartorial merit.

Yet the sexism goes far deeper than objectification, its subtext reads “hey ladies, you may be in the Cabinet now, but we’ll never take you seriously. You’ll always be silly females to us. Go back to painting your nails, and looking pretty!”

Many slammed the newspaper’s coverage for its patent misogyny, choosing to report on image instead of policy.

More reassuring, however, was the mass ridicule and parody of the Mail’s spread. Highlighting the injustice at the lack of male MP fashion coverage, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg even went so far as to tweet his own catwalk outfit.

Faced with a barrage of criticism and ridicule, I sincerely hope that the Daily Mail will take heed of the backlash it has faced today. Yesterday’s reshuffle should have acted as an encouragement to young women considering a career in government. Instead, the Mail’s coverage conveyed a clear message contradicting this, and warning women that attitudes have not changed towards women. This is by no means the truth, but it is important to bear in mind the powerful influence held by the media. The public reaction to the Mail’s misogyny is comforting, and proves that men, and women, however high profile are calling out sexism and ridiculing those who engage in it. This is 2014, and we will not tolerate sexism.

The feminist playlist….

Let’s face it, we all have one. An empowering, wake-me-up and grab-today-by-the-balls playlist. I mostly use mine to wake myself up in the morning; particularly when I’m bleary-eyed and half asleep during my morning commute. However, my playlist also serves another purpose. It may sound strange, but if I’m having a bad day, or if everything goes monumentally wrong, I listen to my playlist, remind myself that I am a feminist, and suddenly the world seems a less bleak place. As for the rest of the time, I am not ashamed to say that I am a big fan of strutting; and my feminist playlist is the perfect companion to this very satisfying pastime. Enjoy!

1. AKA the reason no one will ever be able to utter the word ‘question’ without being serenaded with ‘tell me what you think about me.’

2. HOT STUFF. 

3. Because they really do.

4. I’m every woman…

5. Let’s go, girls.

6. Just because. 

7. Any song that samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s incredible TED talk gets my approval.

8. I don’t want no scrub.

9. NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

10. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

11. ROAR

12. This is for my girls all around the world. 

13. First I was afraid, I was petrified….

14. WHO RUN THIS MUTHA.

15. I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation!