At the same time that the “PayPal14″ face felony charges in California for involvement in an Anonymous DDoS campaign in support of WikiLeaks, other Anonymous cells are using their hacktivist energies against feminists who report misogynist harassment on Twitter. Anonymous: a baffling mixture of vital, considered political protest and incomprehensible pubescent wankery.
In one document, an Anonymous cell names four women as having “pull” in getting Twitter accounts suspended; two feminist activist groups are also criticised, despite having no such power. This hints that the Anonymous cell’s problem is not feminists with influence over Twitter per se, but the feminist goal of changing attitudes to gendered hate speech. And herein lies a delicate tension: what, for some Anonymous cells, constitutes feminazis instigating an evil Trollocaust against free speech, I understand as activists working with an awareness that rape and harassment don’t happen in a vacuum, but in a cultural climate in which it is OK to intimidate women sexually.
Some Anonymous campaigns (for example, Steubenville, Maryville, Reteah Parsons, and Hunter Moore) have clear feminist motivations. And while I have nothing but gratitude and admiration for the activists who dedicated their time, energy and expertise to these causes, there is also a critique to be made. These campaigns position Anonymous as a knight in shining armour, bringing justice to wronged victims. They do not change the culture of rape, violence and sexism that underlies the crimes they’re avenging.
Rape culture does not exist only in acts of unwanted penetration. It also exists in beliefs and attitudes about men, women, sex and consent. If you want to do more than chop off eternally recurring hydra heads, you need more than vigilante justice. And I’m not saying that there’s no role for vigilante justice – Steubenville proves that there is – but it is absolutely hypocritical to clap when one Anonymous cell takes down a big bad rapist, yet cheer on hacktivists who intimidate – under the guise of protecting free speech – those working tirelessly, daily against the sexist behaviours and beliefs that are the root of rape culture.
Anonymous is always anti-authoritarian, but it isn’t always anti-hegemonic. Power isn’t simply top-down; as thinkers such as Antonio Gramsci and Michel Foucault remind us, power is something that also exists in and through the opinions and actions of the collective. We need to keep an eye on authority, as Anonymous rightly does, but the other eye needs to be on wider social beliefs and behaviours that disadvantage oppressed groups. Any political movement that loses sight of individual freedom is ethically screwed, obviously, but individual freedom in a world where misogynistic abuse goes unchecked isn’t freedom at all. Or maybe it is – but only for the aggressors.
A witness to an alleged case of sexual misconduct at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre is being threatened with deportation, provoking fresh claims of a cover-up.
Afolashade Lamidi, 40, from Nigeria, alleges she saw a male Serco employee harassing and pushing a female detainee who had lodged a complaint against several guards over allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct.
Lamidi claims that an inmate called Tanja was physically targeted and intimidated by staff in the Yarl’s Wood canteen and also saw the 23-year-old self-harming. Campaigners claim the Home Office is trying to silence another witness to sex abuse allegations at Britain’s largest immigration removal centre for women.
Last month, the Observer revealed the case of Sirah Jeng, who alleges she saw a male Serco employee having sexual contact with Tanja but faced being detained and deported before she could testify to police.
Anthony Gard, of civil rights group Movement for Justice, said: “We are shocked that the Home Office is harassing and trying to deport yet another witness.”
On Tuesday, immigration minister Mark Harper and David Wood, the Home Office’s director general for immigration enforcement, will be asked by members of the home affairs select committee what they are doing to ensure detainees are not abused.
Lamidi claims that after Tanja, not her real name, made her complaint about alleged sexual advances she told police she was targeted by staff. “We were in the canteen. She wanted to fetch water from the drink machine. There were four officers and one of them started to push her. So we started shouting. A couple of days after that they released her,” said Lamidi.
Three Serco staff have been dismissed over Tanja’s allegations, but it is not known if this includes those involved in the alleged canteen incident. Lamidi said that after being interviewed last month by Bedfordshire police over Tanja’s claims, the Home Office is trying to deport her.
“I am worried that they want to get rid of me because of this,” said Lamidi, who has lived in the UK since 2004 and is engaged to a British citizen of Nigerian origin who was born here.
Her fiance, Tony Babatunde Adebanjo, from Tottenham, north London, said: “They want to get rid of all the witnesses to the sexual abuse. They are keeping her in Yarl’s Wood and because she’s a witness they want her out of the country.” He said the UK Border Agency had said she could go to Nigeria voluntarily and return on a spouse visa within a few months. The couple were due to marry last Wednesday but officials would not release Lamidi. Lamidi, who has lived in the UK illegally, said: “They say they will give me a spouse visa but they don’t put that in writing.”
Although the couple have bought a flight to Nigeria for 26 January, they claim they have been offered a refund by officials, heightening fears that they intend to deport Lamidi.
Jeng, 59, was told she would be deported within five days and was detained in Yarl’s Wood hours before a police interview. When the Observer revealed this she was interviewed by police the next day and released.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Any allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated.”
We have been asked, by many people in the societies in which we live, to accept that we women are making progress. You see, because you see our presence in these places that we weren’t before. And those of us who are berated for being radical have said: that is not the way we measure progress. You see, we count the dead bodies. We count the numbers of rapes. We count the women who are being battered. We keep track of the children who are being raped by their fathers. And when those numbers start to change in a way that is meaningful, we will then talk to you about whether or not we can measure progress.
It is incontrovertible that women have been disproportionately affected by austerity, be it from public sector job cuts, the disappearance of Sure Start centres or fewer refuges for those desperate for a place of safety. But what many people might not be so familiar with is the devastating effect legal aid reforms are having on some of the most vulnerable women in our society.
In the grand austere scheme of things law reform might appear marginal, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. More than six months after a law was passed reducing access to justice for victims of domestic violence, women’s groups are ratcheting up efforts to shed light on its repercussions.
In the run-up to Human Rights Day on 10 December, organisations including the Women’s Resource Centre, the North East Women’s Network, and Southall Black Sisters, will try to focus attention on how a raft of changes have put additional barriers in the way of victims’ access to justice, including a “residency test” that affects women with insecure immigration status.
Among the obstacles is a requirement that victims produce specific “evidence” that they have been domestically abused, such as a criminal conviction of an abusive partner, before qualifying for legal aid. In addition, there is now a limit of 24 months during which victims can come forward with evidence. Given that we know many women take years to come forward about abuse, this restriction is both baffling and needlessly cruel.
Women’s groups and many legal aid lawyers say victims (almost always female) are increasingly not coming forward for help because they don’t have the necessary “proof” (or it falls outside the new time limit), meaning many are put in greater danger of prolonged or future abuse.
Cris McCurley, a legal aid lawyer and partner at the firm Ben Hoare Bell explains that now a victim has to either prove they are a victim, with very exacting and hard-to-acquire evidence, pay privately, or represent themselves. For many, this is out of the question.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) came into force in England and Wales in April with the aim of culling a quarter (£320m) of the civil legal aid budget by 2014/15. Laspo meant that for the first time in its 60-year history, legal aid was removed (with some specific exceptions) from the majority of cases involving divorce, welfare benefits, clinical negligence and child contact. The bill had a tortuous passage through parliament. There were some concessions including the Ministry of Justice broadening its original definition of domestic violence to take into account psychological abuse.
The MoJ insists that its reforms are not about cuts and that domestic violence victims who need legal aid are still getting it. But try telling that to someone who doesn’t meet the threshold for evidence even after years of abuse. And try telling that to a victim who doesn’t have funds to pay for evidence, or who can’t get it quickly enough before she is beaten again.
Rather ironic that on the same day that all the brain sex! articles came out, in the morning on BBC Radio 4, the Today news programme ran a feature on the women who, during WWII, worked as secret agents for the British government, over 80 of whom were dropped behind enemy lines in Europe. One of the interviewees described how the women went through the same physical paramilitary training as the men, what was, at the time, described as “the art of ungentlemanly warfare.”
The programme is still available for four more days, the feature starts around the 1h 19min mark.
On a related note, and also in the news a lot at the moment, the preparations for the 100th anniversary of WWI in 2014, including the arrival in London of “sacred soil” from 70 battlefields in Belgium, helps put paid to the MRA myth that wars prove that men are seen as ‘disposable’. Soldiers, at least when the wars are safely in the past, are lauded and valorised, nobody pays this much attention to dead women in the mainstream, or goes to these lengths to memorialise them.
There is, of course, a kernel of truth to this claim, but it is not true that men as a whole are seen as disposable; certain classes of men are, wars are much better understood as old powerful men sending young, comparatively powerless men off to die on a battlefield. As I have pointed out before, MRAs take what is a class issue and distort it to claim that all men are oppressed. As Robert Jensen puts it so well, lots of men are powerless, but no men are oppressed as men.
1989 – A lone man walked into an engineering class at L’École Polytechnique at the University of Montréal. He separated the men from the women and told the men to leave. After the male students complied, the man declared his hatred of feminists and began to shoot the women with a semi-automatic rifle. While police forces stood outside, Marc Lépine went on a rampage, shooting and stabbing the women at the school. He then shot himself.
He left behind a note that included a list of prominent Canadian feminists whom he planned to kill. It was clear that these women engineering students symbolized the progress of women’s equality. Lépine’s actions could have pushed back women’s demands for increased equality through social change. However, women organized in defiance of his attack.
Women rose up to demonstrate in towns and cities across the country. They connected Lépine’s acts of violence to the everyday sexism to which women are subjected. Women dedicated themselves to feminist organizing to bring into reality their expectations of freedom for the present and the future.
The 14 women who were killed as feminists:
Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik Widajewicz, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte.
Among his list of 19 feminists he planned to kill were:
A freelance journalist, the first woman firefighter in Quebec, a television host, the vice-president of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, the Quebec Immigration Minister, the first woman police captain in Quebec, the Canadian champion of the 1988 Chartered Accountant Exams, the former vice-president of Montreal Trust, a radio sports show host, and a transition house worker.
The worse thing by far was having a middle age man tell me that porn was a vital part of his “gay subculture”. When I asked him how he would feel if he found out the performers in his porn were straight and/or hated what they were doing, he said it wouldn’t matter to him.
He then say that Andrea Dworkin was a “twat” and he was glad she was dead and he hoped Catharine MacKinnon would die soon. When I told him that what he said was hateful, he said he didn’t care.
There were two young women at our table at the same time as this man, I don’t know if they were friends already or if they bonded through attacking us, but they were happy to then air-kiss with this man who had just wished death on any woman who tried to take his porn away.
But, but, the very worst thing about this disgusting, hateful man, is that he told me he worked in prisons with sex offenders! He said that while some men had “a problem” with porn, for others it could be “healing” – which is, quite frankly, terrifying.
Judith Butler says that ‘gender is drag’. Gender then becomes a way of holding the body, clothing, appearance and it is not surprising that Butler is able to come to the conclusion that all forms of swapping gender about, such as drag and lesbian roleplaying, are revolutionary. But it is unclear where the actual vulgar oppression of women fits into all this. When a woman is being beaten by the brutal man she lives with is this because she has adopted the feminine gender in her appearance? Would it be a solution for her to adopt a masculine gender for the day and strut about in a work shirt or leather chaps? When gender is seen as an idea, or a form of appearance, then the oppression of women does disappear.
Sheila Jeffreys, The Lesbian Heresy
There’s a study in all the papers today claiming to show fundamental differences between male and female brains, and that these differences prove that gender stereotypes are hard-wired.
It’s funny how the putative differences between male and female brains are always used in defence of the status quo. Early studies suggested that male brains had more connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and this was used as proof of men’s intellectual superiority. When later studies suggested that female brains were the most connected, this was not used as proof of female intellectual superiority.
Male single-mindedness is never used to prove that men are better suited to dull, repetitive work, such as cleaning; and women’s ability to multitask, empathise and communicate is never used as proof that women are suited to exciting challenging work like running the country.
Instead ‘brain sex’ is always used to prove that women are hard-wired for domestic drudgery, and don’t want careers, or reproductive rights, or the vote; while men are hard-wired for dominance, control and violence, and rape is inevitable, and pornography and prostitution are necessary – or else.
The simple fact is that we know very little about how the brain works, and even less about how the brain relates to the mind or the self. This study used a technique called “diffusion tensor imaging” to create a ‘road map’ of male and female brains. The problem with this is that a ‘road map’ is only part of the story, it tells us nothing about the density or flow of the ‘traffic’.
We know that brains are plastic, we know this because people with brain injuries are still able to do things that a lack of brain plasticity would preclude them from being able to do; eg a person with an injury to the part of the brain thought to be associated with language, may still be able to speak, because the brain is plastic and re-routes itself (to put it over-simply).
What I would like to look at though, is something in the news reports that seems so far to have been completely over-looked in the mainstream press: There is no brain sex before 14:
Male and female brains showed few differences in connectivity up to the age of 13, but became more differentiated in 14- to 17-year-olds.
Let me repeat that: there is no brain sex before 14. By the standards accepted by the proponents of ‘brain sex’ theory, there is no brain sex before 14.
This is actually rather important, if there are no significant differences between male and female brains before 14, how then do we explain gendered behaviour in under-14 year olds?
Under-14s are not amorphous, genderless [EDIT: I should say gendered-behaviour-less], personality-less blobs until they hit puberty. Lots of adults continue with interests that they developed as children, there is no flip-of-the-switch changeover between childhood and adulthood.
Children, in fact, are largely the most gender conforming – some people even believe that babies are born with gender roles hard-wired into their brains, and that newborn babies display gendered behaviour.
Cordelia Fine, author of Delusions of Gender, explains that small children’s adherence to gender roles is due to the fact that children are trying to understand the world around them, and that they can only understand it in simple, black and white terms, therefore they become ‘believers’ in, and reinforcers of, gender roles. But of course, they don’t get the original ideas of gender roles out of thin air, they get them from the adults around them.
(at this point I wanted to add a video I watched fairly recently, that related to experiments done in the 1970s(?) that showed that adults treated the same baby very very differently when it was dressed in blue and when it was dressed in pink, but ugh, I can’t find it again.)
EDIT 05/Dec/13: I still can’t find the video I’ve seen, but I did find this abstract from a very similar set of experiments:
The present study investigated adult behavior while interacting with a three-month-old infant under conditions in which the child was introduced as a boy, as a girl, or with no gender information given. Gender labels did not elicit simple effects, but rather interacted significantly with the sex of the subject on both toy usage and physical contact measures. There was a stronger tendency for both male and female adults to utilize sex-stereotyped toys when the child was introduced as a girl. Most of the findings, however, reflected a differential response of men and women to the absence of gender information. In this condition, male subjects employed a neutral toy most frequently and handled the child least; in contrast, females used more stereotyped toys and handled the child more. All subjects attempted to guess the gender of the child (with “boy” guesses more frequent, although the child was actually female) and all justified their guess on the basis of stereotyped behavioral or physical cues like strength or softness.
If gender rolls occur before ‘brain sex’ appears, then we have to entertain the idea that gender roles have nothing to do with brain structure, but are then, in fact, culturally dictated. How can we say they are ‘hard-wired’, when the ‘hard-wiring’ isn’t there yet?
Whatever these brain differences mean, if they actually mean anything at all, they do not mean that gender roles are hard-wired.
As an afterthought, I also want to examine this rather bizarre comment from one of the researchers:
I was surprised that it matched a lot of the stereotypes that we think we have in our heads. If I wanted to go to a chef or a hairstylist, they are mainly men.
Since when were cooking and cutting hair considered ‘masculine’ activities? The vast majority of the people in the world preparing food are female, but once it becomes well paid and prestigious, once a cook becomes a chef, it becomes a male activity. The same with ‘hair stylist’, the vast majority of people going to beauty school are female, and hairdressing is low-paid work, the hand-full of people at the top, with their own shampoo brands or whatever are all men.
This reflects something else Fine covers, how what are considered ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ characteristics can change with the circumstances, so that whatever is considered a ‘good’ quality in a particular situation, becomes a ‘masculine’ quality; when cooking, or cutting hair become important, they become ‘masculine’ activities.