Friday, 30 December 2011

Top people of 2011

After the 'pandagate' row the other day, I thought about putting a list together of my top people of 2011. Then I realised that would be hard and would potentially lead to more arguing, so I didn't.

However, there are some really ace people who I would like to pay a bit of tribute to, and those are the people I met off Twitter this past year, whom you should all follow. There's quite a few to get through, so I might miss someone out. Let me know if I do and I'll rectify it straight away.

Without further ado...

The first person I met from Twitter was @juliet_mcr. A wonderful woman, who was maligned by the Daily Mail and took them to court. As a result of this, now a law student. That same day I met @RopesToInfinity. Sarky but loveable git who writes No Sleep Til Brooklands, a great Mail-fisking blog, when he can be bothered to update it. Boyfriend of @other_red, who is awesome. Now, in order to make sense of things, I'm going to break the rest of the people up into categories...

People I have been out for drinks with:

@cpoffers - My most frequent drinking buddy in That London. Wonderfully acerbic sense of humour and a great source of cat pictures when I'm feeling down.

@stavvers@mediocredave@jedweightman@seanjohalloran@a_y_alex@marxroadrunner - very funny, fiercely intelligent people who are often found plotting the demise of the Tories, of which I wholeheartedly approve.

@ludditewebdev@iamminihorse@karen_hackett - along with some others mentioned above, got me drunk on shots and kidnapped me at Victoria Station. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Had a great time with them and they're a pleasure to follow.

@scriptrix@LosTheSkald - Classics-loving couple. Always have an interesting angle on politics and teach me a lot with their tweets.

@sonniesedge - one of my favourite people ever. Hilariously funny, totally on the ball and one of the best people to watch Doctor Who when hungover with (and one of the best people to get drunk with in the first place).

@scattermoon - great woman - gave me a much-needed place to stay after London Slutwalk and got me a job (even if it didn't work out!)

@JulietJacques@ParisLees - fantastic Graun-writing trans* rights activists.

@QOFE@sandyd68 - my wonderful Brighton-based Twitteraunties - if you could get kettled with your aunties then go get hammered with them while you scream obscenities at Question Time.

@nautilusinred - Trade Union activist who always has something good to say.

@voqo - very clever lady. Great fun to be around.

@Puffles2010 - or rather, Puffles' bestest-buddy. Offers an interesting perspective from inside the Whitehall jungle.

@interama - very nice person. Incredibly intelligent and knows her baking.

@ruthiedee@clogmuso - Labour party members I didn't want to fight - a rare occurrence. Lovely Bristol-based people.

@heyhayley - now housemate of mine - her fault I moved to Bristol. Thankfully :)

@commuterist@amipepper - fab couple. Commuterist has taught me a lot about economics through his tweets.

@BookElfLeeds - great tweeter on the subjects of Marxist feminism, libraries and literacy. Can handle obscenely strong strawberry cider that's served from a box on the end of the bar very well.

@bolli_bolshevik - very funny radical feminist and organiser of Leeds Reclaim The Night.

@Stebax - very talented media blogger at Enemies of Reason and at the New Statesman.

@DocHackenbush - comic genius and awesome at captioning images. Made my Facebook profile picture. Totally worth getting lost for two hours trying to meet him and Hackenbush Jr.

@kit_withnail - the man for whom the phrase 'fiercely intelligent' was invented.

@jaykayell_ - helped me avoid the Royal Wedding in London. Deserves a medal just for that.

@5ChinCrack - brilliantly hilarious author of Five Chinese Crackers - gives out the not-coveted 'Tabloid Bullshit of the Month' award.

@Trishie_D - laugh-out-loud funny American ex-pat. Always willing to help people. Me in 20 years time, without the being funny or American or nice.

@JenClone@pitandpendulum@Oddtwang@SuperRetroid - one of the funniest groups I've ever had the fortune to meet. All great tweeters, and introduced me to a story I can neither erase from my memory nor tell anyone about.

@jdthndr - lovely student of Proper Journalism (it can be done!) and great person to have around. Cheered me up many a time.

@atomicspin - brilliant science and media blogger at Atomic Spin. Moved countries just after we managed to have a pint together. These two events may or may not be related.

Bristol Feminists:

@sianushka@annifrangipani - awesomely dedicated co-founders of Bristol Feminist Network. Tireless campaigners and organisers of Bristol Reclaim The Night. Sian blogs at Sian and Crooked Rib and has just published a feminist anthology titled The Light Bulb Moment.

@NimkoAli - another woman who seemingly never gets tired. Co-founder of anti-FGM groups Daughters of Eve and CLIT-ROCK.

@marstrina - awesome radical feminist. Blogs at Not a Zero Sum Game.

@madamjmo - writes a great feminist blog with an emphasis on book reviews at Madam J-Mo. Once saved me from being stranded in Birmingham.

People I've met at demos and similar places:

@kateosgreatos@toivoperson@andyhaden@sinisterpics@ayiasophia@bristolnoborder@nynyflower@iaincollins@latentexistence@penners_@seancourt@mortari@catalyst45@anonymoosh. Special mention in this category goes to @SallyBercow, who took a picture of my chest at London Slutwalk and sent it to Guido Fawkes, who then put me in the 'top protest totty' section on his blog. Cheers for that Sally.

Super-special mention:

@Pani_Bufetowa and @NeverFadingWood - who I am sure would be the most awesome drinking buddies ever if they didn't insist on living in Poland. Wonderful, caring, brilliant, funny couple. Definitely top of my 'to meet in 2012' list.

Last but not least, my lovely boyfriend @Chris_GLS, who I started talking to about this time last year on Twitter and started dating in March. There's not much I can say here that won't make people vomit, but he's proper awesome and really helps me out all the time.

There you have it, my favourite people from 2011. Meeting all of you has made this year so much fun,  and compiling this list has also made me realise how many more people off Twitter I'm absolutely desperate to meet. So... how's everyone's diary looking for 2012?

Monday, 19 December 2011

Crowdfunding for INTERSECT

INTERSECT is a one-day conference taking place in Bristol on the 19th May 2012. It will feature speakers from several minority groups who are fighting for women's rights and give them a platform to present their organisations and aims and to inform attendees how they may get involved. 

This conference was borne from the idea that many members of the groups invited to take part feel that they are not included or catered for within what may be termed 'mainstream' feminism, and the conference aims to make some way towards solving this problem. The conference will hopefully conclude with an open debate titled "How do we create a more inclusive feminism?".

Invited groups include anti-FGM campaigners, trans* rights activists, disabled women's rights activists, female refugee/asylum seeker's rights activists, female prisoner's rights activists and groups involved with advocating the inclusion of women in foreign political systems. We are also in talks with a prominent feminist comedian to chair the event.

Website, Facebook and Twitter accounts will be live by 5/1/12. For more information before then contact @TheNatFantastic on Twitter or

Right, here comes the begging part:

I could really do with some sponsorship for this event. It's as simple as that. All donations will go solely to the conference for things like securing a venue and helping pay speaker's expenses.

This plea would have hopefully gone on a crowdfunding site (and hopefully will when technology stops being horrible to me), but I've been trying with two for over an hour now and can only conclude that I am at the centre of some kind of conspiracy because they keep going wrong.

Anyway, here's some incentives to whet your appetite:

Every single donation will get you thanks given on the website when it goes live (and in person!).

Donations over £10 will receive a mention of them or their group in the event programme (as long as the group abides by the ideals of the conference - you will be offered a refund if the group you wish to mention is considered unsuitable).

Donations over £25 will receive a quarter-page advert in the event programme (if they wish and the group advertises abides by the ideals of the conference - you will be offered a refund if your advert is considered unsuitable).

On the top left of the blog is a Paypal button which can be used (until I can get a separate account sorted later tonight) to make donations to INTERSECT. If you'd like to give anything you can to help this conference go ahead, please, please do. (This is currently my personal Paypal account, the balance pre-publishing is £0.00, so as soon as I set up a new account I will immediately transfer all funds to it and create a separate button)

Friday, 16 December 2011

On underage sex, bad science and pearl-clutching

Batten down the hatches folks, we're in for a good ol' fashioned moral panic!

This week the NHS published the results from their annual Health Survey for England, which is a study that looks at general health among the population. Usually this would pass by without much of a fuss, other than the predictable sneering from some sectors of the media about rising obesity levels, but this year they decided to take a break from that and focus on the fact that teenagers are having sex.

I know, right? Unbelievable, isn't it? Teenagers. Having sex. With each other. Someone best pop over to the grave of Mary Whitehouse with some chalk and a silver dagger because this is some big shit.

What the survey actually found is that 22% of men and 27% of women aged 16-24 were aged under 16 when they first had sex. Cue the media exploding, both left and right, to use these statistics to promote their personal agendas.

The survey seems to have some problems with it (the methods used for gathering data may be seen here). Firstly, this is a self-report study. This means that the researchers have no idea whether someone is telling the truth or not. The obvious problem with this is that when people answer questions about their sex life, they might give what are known as socially desirable answers - for an example of this, see the fact that men in the study reported a mean of 9.3 sexual partners and women only 4.7 - who are all the men fucking?

A second, linked problem with this study is that there is no satisfactory definition of sex. I mean, yes, there's the very heteronormative idea that sex occurs when a man puts his winkie in a lady's vajayjay - but I can think of several lesbians I know who would be both insulted and confused by the insinuation that they'd never actually had sex, contrary to what they thought they'd been doing. Sex really isn't that simple - last night on Twitter, @interarma linked to this great flowchart from Autostraddle:

Other problems I have with this survey directly relate to the under-16s figures, and they are that the report doesn't tell us how much sex these teens are having - they might have had four partners but only slept with each one once, or they might have had one partner but spent the best part of a year holed up fucking away like demons. Also, the survey didn't ask these teenagers their reasons for having sex - which is why newspapers have been able to sell us their pet peeves as explanations. 

So, first into the dock is the Guardian, who use an article titled "Quarter of UK women had underage sex, report finds" to blame their bĂȘte du jour - the 'pornification' of society for these statistics. Here's a fun fact: if you search for 'pornification' on the Graun's site, you get 42 results. It's not even a real fucking word. 

Right, so here's my problems with the Guardian story:

  1. The focus on underage female sexuality only. If I told you that 27% of 15 year old women and 22% of 15 year old men had eaten chocolate cake, would your response be to say "those greedy bitches!"? 
  2. That no emphasis is put on the fact that in the same survey 26% of women and 32% of men aged 16-24 said that they'd NEVER had sex.
  3. It doesn't mention that the reason for the disparity between the male and female results may (if it exists, which there is reason to doubt) be explained by the fact that in heterosexual relationships, it is seen as normal for the man to be older than the woman, and aberrant for the woman to be older than the man. So a 15 year old girl may be sleeping with a 17 year old boy, but it is unlikely for the reverse to occur.
  4. That bloody 'pornification' explanation, which I am now going to prattle on about at length. 
Diane Abbott MP is quoted as saying:
"The underlying cause must be the 'pornification' of the culture and the increasing sexualisation of pre-adolescent girls. Too many young girls are absorbing from the popular culture around them that they only have value as sex objects. Inevitably, they act this notion out."
May I be the first to say: Bullshit. Get a damn history book. I hate this 'female sexuality is always weak and passive' narrative. It's just another side of your bog-standard misogynist 'women don't have a sex drive and only fuck men to get things' drivel. Seriously - broadband and access to high-speed internet porn has been around for what, about ten years now? Yeah, and teenage pregnancies only started happening a decade ago too. Oh wait except they didn't, because they always have done, regardless of the availability of porn. Get this - teenage girls usually have sex because it feels nice. I mean, goddamn. I went to an all-girl high school which was essentially a holding-pen for hormones. We were very interested in the whole 'fucking' malarkey. Has Diane Abbott really not realised the correlation between the discovery that playing with your bits can be fun, that other people playing with your bits can be even more fun and teenage sex? Or does she seriously think that all teenage girls would be nuns if it weren't for this damned pornography?

As I have said before, I do not like mainstream pornography*. Really not a fan. But not because I think that it encourages people who aren't ready for sex to have sex, but because it a) gives people who are not having sex an unrealistic idea of sex and of women's bodies and b) because it doesn't teach how to have good sex. (*Before anyone starts a flame-war about how awesome homemade queer porn is and how I'm a total prude blah blah blah please bear in mind I'm talking about Flynt-esque 'Busty Babez 4' types of porn.)

Anyway, the longer the Guardian and Diane Abbott pursue this pearl-clutching 'all young women are victims' shite, the worse things will be, since as we can also see in the results, 12% of all women and 9% of all men have been diagnosed with an STI. Which to me suggests that just suggesting to women that they don't have sex doesn't work and we need some fucking better sex education in schools. We don't need to tell people not to fuck, we need to tell them to only fuck if they are totally sure they want to, how to make sure the other person is totally sure they want to fuck, and how to use (and make sure their partner uses) a barrier method to prevent STIs. As I mentioned quite forcefully above, sex feels good. Once people realise this, telling them not to have sex is not going to stop them having sex. (I know that most of this polemic has ignored asexual people. I believe firmly that it is also important to teach teenagers both about the existence of asexual people and to make sure that asexual teenagers are able to actualise their feelings in the best way possible for them without stupid societal pressures.)

Next, the Daily Mail tried to stoke the fires of ignorance with a charming piece titled "Promiscuous Britain: one in four young women admit they had underage sex - more than twice as many as their mothers' generation" (direct link). As well as the recreation of all the Guardian's mistakes, here's the problems with this article:

  1. It doesn't mention men and their rates of underage sex until the ninth paragraph
  2. It sensationally claims that "nearly 60% of women 'don't always' use contraception", then says "40% of men said they always used contraception". In other words, about the same bloody levels. But y'know, women are all harpies and sluts or something.
  3. It quotes critics who "say that the rise in promiscuity over the generations is linked to increased sex education in schools that has 'broken down the natural inhibitions of children with regard to sexual conduct'". I'm just going to come out and say that the guy who said this is really fucking stupid. Have you ever seen a kid in a jacuzzi? I don't want to spell this out graphically but they're really big fans of sitting right over where the bubbles come out. (I'll come back onto the sex education part of the quote in a bit)
  4. The box that looks at sex education 'throughout the ages' seems to conflate 5 year olds knowing the names for the parts of their body they wee out of with actual 'this is how you have sex' education. It also claims lessons were 'explicit'. Now, I fall into the 16-24 bracket and first had penetrative sex under the age of 16 (yeah, fuck you Daily Mail), but I don't ever recall my teachers getting us to make a big 'FUCKING IS FUN' banner to hang up on the wall next to our drawings of bugs. In fact, I went to a Catholic school where they taught us the biological stuff under duress then stressed our likelihood of going to hell if we ever practically utilised the information. WE STILL HAD SEX BECAUSE IT FELT GOOD AND WE WANTED TO.
  5. They claim that 'one in seven women aged 16-24 who lost their virginity underage had contracted an STI'. You may note above that I point out that the survey showed that 12% of all women had had an STI. My maths is pretty dodgy, but isn't one in seven only around 14%? Also, people aged 16-24 are more likely to take the responsible measure of having themselves tested, which is how diagnoses occur.
  6. They refuse to EVEN ENTERTAIN THE NOTION that the reason that self reported incidents of underage sex from women seem higher could possibly be because female sexuality is no longer viewed as an abhorrence, which would seem likely given that TEENAGE PREGNANCY HAS ALWAYS BEEN A THING.
  7. They concede that teenage pregnancy rates went down by 7.5% between 2008-2009 (despite the horrific and borderline abusive sex education that is taught nowadays), but still manage to have a big fit and moan about underage abortion rates (which haven't changed, so the number of teenagers getting pregnant really is dropping) and our 'increasingly sexualised society'. While 20 out of 34 stories on their sidebar involve gratuitous perving at 'clingy' and 'revealing' clothing.
However, none of that could compare with the most stupid part of all, which I am now going to go on a very sweary rant about in order to draw together and reinforce all the other points that I've been making.

*clears throat*

The same dude quoted at (3), Norman Wells from the Family Education Trust (who sent out a fire and brimstone pamphlet to all secondary schools last year warning teenagers that premarital sex led to a 'lifetime of regret and misery'), is further quoted as saying: 

‘Over recent years we have witnessed the systematic removal of every restraint which in previous generations served as a disincentive to underage sexual activity. 
‘Sex education in many schools has had the effect of breaking down the natural inhibitions of children with regard to sexual conduct, and the age of consent is rarely enforced, so young people no longer have any fear of legal proceedings.
‘On top of that, the ready availability of contraception means that a girl’s fear of pregnancy is no longer considered a good enough reason for rejecting her boyfriend’s advances, and confidentiality policies mean that a girl need not worry about what her parents would think about her being sexually active, obtaining contraception, being treated for a sexually transmitted infection or even having an abortion, because they don’t have to be told.’

This is where I nearly put my head through the wall. As I said before, this guy is fucking stupid. He's just another hypocritical, evidence-denying misogynist bastard with a chip on his shoulder about those nasty dirty women doing their dirty dirty sex. Aside from what he said before, he should know that it's always been the case that if two 15 year olds fuck each other it won't be prosecuted because you'd have to prosecute them both for the same crime against each other, and how is it actually in the public interest to spend money going through the court system to punish two people for a consensual activity which, as long as they used an appropriate barrier method will have no further consequence than a vague feeling of disappointment? But oh no, he doesn't want them to be taught about barrier methods or contraception because nasty nasty dirty sex ew. Going further, he actually considers pregnancy an adequate 'punishment' for teenage harlots. And despite all the evidence showing that abstinence-based sex education DOESN'T WORK, this moron wants to stick his fingers in his ears and pretend like teenagers would never get those damn funny feelings in their groin if they never heard the word sex. Because, as I have said before, nasty filthy dirty biological urges yuck.

I am now going to reiterate the main point of this post in big letters:



Saturday, 10 December 2011

Shocking News! Rapists live in the same society as we do!

This week, the internet has been abuzz with a press release from Middlesex University and the University of Surrey which posits the question "Are sex offenders and lads' mags using the same language?". The study seems to show that:

  1. Lads' mags use the same way to describe women and female sexuality as convicted sex offenders do in interviews.
  2. This is to the extent that participants in the study could not accurately tell where the quotes originated from.
  3. A lot of men who took part identified with the statements expressed by the convicted sex offenders.
In other news, the sky is blue, grass is green and we live in a goddamn rape culture.

Jezebel got a list of some of the quotes used by the researchers - see if you can tell the difference (answers at the bottom):

1. There's a certain way you can tell that a girl wants to have sex . . . The way they dress, they flaunt themselves.
2. Some girls walk around in short-shorts . . . showing their body off . . . It just starts a man thinking that if he gets something like that, what can he do with it?
3. A girl may like anal sex because it makes her feel incredibly naughty and she likes feeling like a dirty slut. If this is the case, you can try all sorts of humiliating acts to help live out her filthy fantasy.
4. Mascara running down the cheeks means they've just been crying, and it was probably your fault . . . but you can cheer up the miserable beauty with a bit of the old in and out.
5. What burns me up sometimes about girls is dick-teasers. They lead a man on and then shut him off right there.
6. Filthy talk can be such a turn on for a girl . . . no one wants to be shagged by a mouse . . . A few compliments won't do any harm either . . . ‘I bet you want it from behind you dirty whore' . . .
7. You know girls in general are all right. But some of them are bitches . . . The bitches are the type that . . . need to have it stuffed to them hard and heavy.
8. Escorts . . . they know exactly how to turn a man on. I've given up on girlfriends. They don't know how to satisfy me, but escorts do.
9. You'll find most girls will be reluctant about going to bed with somebody or crawling in the back seat of a car . . . But you can usually seduce them, and they'll do it willingly.
10. There's nothing quite like a woman standing in the dock accused of murder in a sex game gone wrong . . . The possibility of murder does bring a certain frisson to the bedroom.
11. Girls ask for it by wearing these mini-skirts and hotpants . . . they're just displaying their body . . . Whether they realise it or not they're saying, ‘Hey, I've got a beautiful body, and it's yours if you want it.'
12. You do not want to be caught red-handed . . . go and smash her on a park bench. That used to be my trick.
13. Some women are domineering, but I think it's more or less the man who should put his foot down. The man is supposed to be the man. If he acts the man, the woman won't be domineering.
14. I think if a law is passed, there should be a dress code . . . When girls dress in those short skirts and things like that, they're just asking for it.
15. Girls love being tied up . . . it gives them the chance to be the helpless victim.
16. I think girls are like plasticine, if you warm them up you can do anything you want with them.

Right, now that I have got the formalities out of the way, time for a small rant about bad science...

I have seen a number of people, including some prominent feminists telling us that this study 'proves' that lads' mags 'cause' rape. It does not. It shows us the depressing reality that we live in a society where talking like this about women and female sexuality is normal, and is used by some people to 'justify' rape. While it may lend credence to other arguments that rape jokes and victim blaming 'normalise' rape in some people's minds, this study doesn't 'prove' it.

We don't full know the methodology used yet, and we don't really know what the samples were like (although this very good article in the Guardian explores the research and the results in the most detail I could find). As I scream at the TV whenever a right-winger appears, correlation does not imply causation! As @SciencePunk said yesterday
"How can you possibly infer lads' mags normalise rape unless you show that how rapists talk about women is different from general discourse?... Couldn't I just as easily say "people couldn't differentiate pictures of schoolteachers from those of rapists ergo teachers = rapists"?"
The only thing this study reliably shows (and is bloody useful to point to, please don't think I'm knocking it) is that rapists talk the same way about women and female sexuality in the same way that most other people talk about women and female sexuality. It shows us that rapists are not the slavering beasts of myth who grab virgins in broad daylight and drag them down dark alleys, and any other rapist isn't really a rapist because those sluts knew what they were doing. It shows us that there's no point in telling women not to walk alone after dark to escape the clutches of a rapey-bogeyman when most victims of sexual violence know their attacker. It shows us that we live in a world where 'non-rape-rape' (i.e. fair maiden dragged off by hairy-knuckled dribbling stereotype) is so bloody prevalent that women in the US military are more likely to be raped by their 'brothers in arms' than killed by enemy fire. It shows us that a startling number of people believe the same victim-blaming, rape-justifying excuses of convicted sex offenders - as the infamous Amnesty International survey of 2005 showed us all too clearly. It shows us rapists don't have a big fucking neon sign above their head saying 'Watch out! Rapist about!', but instead look and act like most other people

To reiterate: this is a bloody useful tool to make people remember that the public's attitude to victims of rape totally fucking sucks, and that 'othering' rapists is pointless and futile.

But it does not "show us that lad's mags cause rape". So please don't say it does. Misusing science in this way just leads to getting bogged down in arguments about what a study 'might' show rather than giving us the fuel to tackle what it does show.

Answers. 1. Rapist, 2. Rapist, 3. Lad mag, 4. Lad mag, 5. Rapist, 6. Lad mag, 7. Rapist, 8. Lad mag, 9. Rapist, 10. Lad mag, 11. Rapist, 12. Lad mag, 13. Rapist, 14. Rapist, 15. Lad mag, 16. Lad mag