Notes on the BBC documentary ‘No More Boys and Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?’ Episode 1

Since this documentary is only available for a few more days, I want to record some brief notes on what happens in it.

The children taking part in the experiment are seven (Year 3), and already have very stereotyped ideas about what men and women are like, with boys being ‘better’ and ‘stronger’ and ‘more important’, and girls being ‘pretty’.

The school, on the Isle of Wight, has two Year 3 classes, both classes are measured, but only one experiences interventions, while the other is used as a control group.

As a side note, the school seems a really lovely place; I have very few good memories of primary school, bullying was rife, the level of physical violence from the boys was epidemic, and the teachers mostly did nothing. In one assembly, there is a girl wearing an ‘anti-bullying ambassador’ tabard.

One of the first thing the presenter, Dr Javid Abdelmoneim, notices in Mr Andre’s class, is that he calls all the girls ‘love’, or ‘sweat pea’, and all the boys ‘mate’ or ‘fella’ – already marking them out as different.

Abdelmoneim goes to visit Dr Gina Rippon, professor of cognitive neuroimaging, who tells us that structurally, there are very very few differences between the brains of girls and boys, that the brain is very very plastic, and that brain development is entangled with society and a person’s experiences.

Abdelmoneim quotes research from Stanford University, saying that seven is a key stage in a child’s development, because it is at this age their ideas about the roles of men and women become fixed.

The children take a psychometric test to measure what they think about men and women, their own levels of self-esteem, their perceived intelligence (how clever they think they are), and things like empathy, assertiveness, and impulse control.

The results show that the girls have low self-esteem, significantly underestimate their own intelligence, and only describe themselves with words relating to their appearance (‘pretty’, ‘ugly’, ‘lipstick’), while the boys over-estimate their abilities, and the only emotion they can express is anger. 50% of the boys describe themselves as ‘the best’, but only 10% of the girls.

Abdelmoneim changes the classroom, adding signs saying that ‘boys are strong’ and ‘girls are strong’, the same with ‘sensitive’, ‘clever’, and ‘caring’. He also adds a lottery to make sure that children are picked randomly to answer questions (Mr Andre had been observed calling on boys more often than girls to answer questions).

Abdelmoneim then tackles Mr Andre’s use of gendered endearments. He asks a number of the boys how they would feel if Mr Andre called them ‘sweet pea’ and they react with horror and outrage (the documentary does not make this point here – it is very much, and rightly so, about challenging gendered norms in order to benefit both boys and girls – but it is clear that the boys already know that being ‘treated like a girl’ is the worst thing ever, the girls don’t mind occasionally being called ‘mate’). As Abdelmoneim points out “this kind of language has power,” and “constant reminders of difference sink in.”

The classroom is given a ‘score board’ for the children to add sad-face stickers to every time Mr Andre uses an endearment. Also, the two coat cupboards, which were segregated by sex, are desegregated and the children paint them orange together (they are both originally pink, and some TV reviews said that they were pink and blue, which I find amusing; we are so used to such splits that our brains fill them in automatically).

The children all have very gendered ideas of what jobs men and women can do, so they are introduced to a male dancer and make-up artist, and a female magician and car mechanic. All the children have a great time, the girls find a car engine really interesting, the boys enjoy learning dance moves and having fake black-eyes painted on (the make-up artist had worked on Star Wars and Avengers, which would obviously be impressive to the boys, but it is still showing that there is more to make-up than ‘lipstick’). Abdelmoneim points out how easy it would be for every school to do something like this.

Abdelmoneim visits professor Rippon again, who shows that girls who played Tetris intensively for three months had improves spatial skills (related to mathematical ability), and showed structural changes to the brain. Tangram puzzles are introduced to the class, the boys do better, but the boys have been playing with Lego for a long time, so have had more practice.

Next, there is a recreation of the ‘Baby X’ experiment that was conducted in the 70’s, there is a clip of this available here, and very little has changed in over 40 years, adults treat a baby very differently, depending on whether they believe this baby is male or female, in ways that reinforce sex stereotypes.

Abdelmoneim points out how sex stereotypes affect men and women differently, and both negatively, with men more likely to behave violently while women turn their distress inwards.

Mr Andre removes any books with sex stereotypes, all the books with superheroes (competition and aggression) aimed at boys, and passive princesses aimed at girls. One of the girls being interviewed says that girls are better than boys at ‘being pretty’ and ‘wearing dresses’. The class read books with princesses being brave and confident; one of the girls in the class says she does not like reading, but she liked the book with the active princess.

All the children think boys are stronger than girls, but Abdelmoneim points out that, before puberty, boys and girls have no difference in muscle mass. ‘Strong’ has an emotional component; at seven years old, the boys already know that they are not allowed to cry, they express their anger by breaking things instead.

A fairground with a ‘test your strength’ machine is set up in the playground, the boys all say they are the strongest, and all the girls under-estimate their abilities; one girl who scores 10 after predicting she would only get 5 is so overwhelmed she starts crying. One very confident boy who predicted he would get a 10, scores zero because he does not have the co-ordination to hit the button with the mallet; he reacts by throwing himself on the ground, screaming and crying, then starts kicking things – an illustration of boys’ inability to cope with negative emotions.

Interviews with the children throughout the documentary show that they do change their opinions and ideas about boys and girls for the better.

Episode 2 coming soon!

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QotD: “Harriet Harman hits out at unions for backing decriminalised sex work”

Harriet Harman has accused two major unions of “legitimising exploitation” after they backed the decriminalisation of sex work.

Aslef and the GMB will on Wednesday urge the Trades Union Congress conference to decriminalise prostitution, claiming it would improve safety for the thousands of men and women who work in the sex industry. The unions want the TUC and the government to back the launch of a scheme where sex workers have full legal protection.

Opponents say the move could increase sexism and violence against women, legitimise grooming and make schoolgirls grow up seeing prostitution as a “career choice”.

The former deputy Labour leader tweeted her opposition to the motion and urged TUC delegates to vote it down:

[…]

The Aslef motion, which is backed by the GMB, demands the overturning of legislation which “forces sex workers to work alone, leaving workers vulnerable to crime and the threat of losing access to their families”.

It says “austerity measures since 2010 have led to an increase in the number of people working in the sex industry”, and claims that many people would not choose to work in the sex industry and do so “because of economic necessity rather than criminal coercion”.

It says “sex workers should have the same rights as those in other industries”.

The motion supports the New Zealand model of “full decriminalisation which would give sex workers protections as workers in law”.

At a fraught TUC fringe meeting on Monday, sex workers pushed the case for decriminalisation – saying the current law infringed their human rights by preventing them from setting up brothels. They were criticised by campaigners who said prostitution demeaned women.

One critic argued that the New Zealand model would mean women could set up small brothels without any registration. She said: “That is the model you want for this country: to bring prostitution to every street corner so all our daughters can choose to work there. What about the right of women not to be prostituted?”

A delegate from the National Education Union said thousands of schoolgirls were being groomed. “The problem is if you say it’s a job like every other … sex working will be presented as a viable option, a career choice,” he said.

Full article here

Kate Millett Obituary

Kate Millett, author of the groundbreaking bestseller Sexual Politics, was the feminist who launched the second wave of the women’s liberation movement. Millett, who has died aged 82, developed the theory that for women, the personal is political.

The basis of Sexual Politics (1970) was an analysis of patriarchal power. Millett developed the notion that men have institutionalised power over women, and that this power is socially constructed as opposed to biological or innate. This theory was the foundation for a new approach to feminist thinking that became known as radical feminism.

Sexual Politics was published at the time of an emerging women’s liberation movement, and an emerging politics that began to define male dominance as a political and institutional form of oppression. Millett’s work articulated this theory to the wider world, and in particular to the intellectual liberal establishment, thereby launching radical feminism as a significant new political theory and movement.

In her book, Millett explained women’s complicity in male domination by analysing the way in which females are socialised into accepting patriarchal values and norms, which challenged the notion that female subservience is somehow natural.

“Sex is deep at the heart of our troubles …” wrote Millett, “and unless we eliminate the most pernicious of our systems of oppression, unless we go to the very centre of the sexual politic and its sick delirium of power and violence, all our efforts at liberation will only land us again in the same primordial stews.”

Sexual Politics includes sex scenes by three leading male writers: Henry Miller, Norman Mailer and DH Lawrence. Millett analysed the subjugation of women in each. These writers were key figures in the progressive literary scene. Each had a huge influence on the counterculture politics of the time, and embedded the notion that female sexual subordination and male dominance was somehow “sexy”. Mailer, darling of the liberal left, responded with an article in Harper’s magazine in which he viciously attacked Millett’s theories.

And the well-respected critic Irving Howe wrote that Sexual Politics was “a farrago of blunders, distortions, vulgarities and plain nonsense”, and its author guilty of “historical reductionism”, “crude simplification”, “middle-class parochialism”, “methodological sloppiness”, “arrogant ultimatism” and “comic ignorance”.

It was never the intention of Millett to become a career feminist, being much more interested in her art, as a sculptor. But after being featured on the cover of Time magazine, in August 1970, she was catapulted into fame, which led to a backlash from some feminists who accused Millett of styling herself as a movement “leader” – an accusation she rejected.

That December, Time outed Millett as bisexual, and claimed that “[the] disclosure is bound to discredit her as a spokeswoman for her cause, cast further doubt on her theories, and reinforce the views of those sceptics who routinely dismiss all liberationists as lesbians”.

At the time the women’s movement was divided over the issue of lesbianism – Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique (1963), had labelled lesbians the “lavender menace” – and many liberal feminists turned against Millett. Yet more than three decades later, the feminist writer Andrea Dworkin wrote of Millett: “Betty Friedan had written about the problem that had no name. Kate Millett named it, illustrated it, exposed it, analysed it.”

Born in St Paul, Minnesota, Kate was raised by strict Catholic parents. Her mother, Helen (nee Feely), worked as a teacher and an insurance saleswoman to support her three daughters after her alcoholic husband, James, an engineer, abandoned the family when Kate was 14. Millett went to the University of Minnesota, graduating in English literature in 1956, and then to St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She taught briefly at the University of North Carolina before focusing on sculpture in Japan and then New York. In 1965, she married the Japanese sculptor Fumio Yoshimura. During their open relationship, Millett had sexual relationships with a number of women.

She went to Columbia University in 1968, and Sexual Politics, based on her doctorate, was published in 1970. At the time, Millett was living as an impoverished hippy in the Bowery district. She wrote about the impact of her newfound fame in Flying (1974) and followed this up with Sita (1976), about her relationship with an older woman. In 1979, she travelled to Iran’s first International Women’s Day with her then partner, Sophie Keir, a photojournalist. They were arrested and expelled, an experience they documented in their book Going to Iran (1981).

Millett had been committed to mental health institutions by her family on various occasions and she became an activist in the anti-psychiatry movement. She wrote about her experiences in The Loony-Bin Trip (1990). She also wrote The Politics of Cruelty (1994), in which she railed against the use of torture, and Mother Millett (2001), about her relationship with her mother.

In 1998 Millett wrote a piece for the Guardian, The Feminist Time Forgot, in which she said: “I have no saleable skill, for all my supposed accomplishments. I am unemployable. Frightening, this future. What poverty ahead, what mortification, what distant bag-lady horrors, when my savings are gone?”

I had met Millett the year before, when visiting Dworkin in New York. Millett was shy and warm, and not the angry, self-pitying person I had been warned about. She was preoccupied, however, with what she perceived to be the wealth held by other feminists, in particular those who had not contributed to the movement in any original way. Dworkin later told me Millett had lambasted her for owning a brownstone in Brooklyn, for no apparent reason other than she was unhappy with her lot.

In her later years, Millett and Keir lived on a farm in Poughkeepsie, New York state, where at first they sold Christmas trees, and later established a women’s art colony. In 2012 she received the Yoko Ono Lennon Courage award for the arts, and in 2013 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in New York.

Millett’s marriage to Yoshimura ended in 1985. She is survived by Keir, whom she married in later life.

Julie Bindel

Newcastle child sexual exploitation network convicted

The BBC has managed to report on this better (although I still had to change the headline from ‘child sex’ to ‘child sexual exploitation’):

Eighteen people have been convicted of abusing girls in Newcastle who were plied with alcohol and drugs before being forced to have sex.

The vulnerable victims, some as young as 14, were exploited by a “cynical organisation”, a court heard.

The 17 men and one woman were convicted of rape, supplying drugs and conspiracy to incite prostitution.

Over the course of four trials, 20 young women gave evidence covering a period from 2011 to 2014.

These trials involved 26 defendants, who were mostly Asian, facing a total of more than 100 charges and 22 victims.

Those prosecuted were from the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish communities and mainly British-born, with most living in the West End of Newcastle.

Of the 26, three people have been jailed. The rest will be sentenced next month.

Continue reading here

An absolute low from the Guardian

In an article describing how underage girls and vulnerable women in Newcastle were groomed using drugs and alcohol, then trafficked and pimped, we have this paragraph:

Although many of the defendants were charged with conspiracy to incite prostitution for gain, there is no suggestion that any of the victims were sex workers.

It’s disgusting. It implies that there is a separate class of underage girls and vulnerable women who are unexploitable, because they are ‘sex workers’. It implies that some women and girls can be complicit in their own exploitation, that if any of those women and girls laid claim to a certain ‘identity’ (or had that ‘identity’ applied to them, as happened in Rochdale), then they wouldn’t have been victims of exploitation.

It is also implying that there is a separate realm of ‘sex work’ which has no connection to paedophilia, grooming, exploitation and forced prostitution.

I will be emailing the editor (guardian.readers@theguardian.com) and the journalist (frances.perraudin@theguardian.com), not that it ever does any good. Frances Perraudin is also on twitter (@fperraudin) if any reader of this blog would like to let her know that she is throwing vulnerable women and girls under the bus.

A temporary hiatus and a new media platform

There has been a brief (semi) hiatus on this blog, there are comments (and emails) to be answered, and that is not going to change for a while longer.

I have created a tumblr blog, most of what I re-blog here is from tumblr, and the sheer volumn of material has become overwhelming.

I will continue to run this blog, but will reblog from tumblr on tumblr.

Let’s see how it goes!

The Guardian is still calling raped women ‘workers’

From a long article today about a housing development in Cambridge:

It’s not quite so positive in the eyes of the Cambridgeshire police, called to the development “a disproportionate number of times”, not only to patrol late-night student antics, but to investigate the trafficking of sex workers. “We’ve seen an awful lot of ‘pop-up brothels’,” says Detective Inspector Nick Skipworth, who recently asked the council for extra resources to police the area.

“A huge number of the properties are available as short-term holiday lets for a week at a time, so they’ve been targeted by the sex trade. We’ve been running an operation to safeguard sex workers over the last two years and made several arrests related to trafficking in the CB1 area.”

And so, unfortunately, are the police, but I’m not sure how one complains to a police force over this kind of thing.

I have emailed the Guardian before about this, and never received a reply (the Observer has been better), but I’m going to keep on trying. Please feel free to copy or adapt this template:

Dear editor,

I am writing to you to complain about the article ‘‘An embarrassment to the city’: what went wrong with the £725m gateway to Cambridge?’, published in today’s Guardian.

It is wrong to call women trafficked into prostitution ‘sex workers’, rape is not ‘work’ and a raped woman is not a ‘worker’.

Under any other circumstances, coerced sex is called rape, but when the rapist hands over money to a third party, who has violent control over the rape victim, it gets called ‘sex work’. This makes no sense, and invisibilises the men who are happy to pay to rape trafficked women; it turns a sexual abuse issue into a mere labour issue.

The fact that the police officer interviewed for the piece used the term ‘sex worker’ is no excuse, newspapers are supposed to hold public bodies to account.

I look forward to hearing back from you on this issue.

Kind regards,
Abi

guardian.readers@theguardian.com
politics@theguardian.com

“Romanian couple jailed for trafficking girl, 14, into prostitution in UK”

A Romanian couple have been jailed for trafficking a 14-year-old girl and other women into prostitution in the UK, in the first prosecution for child sex trafficking under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.

Romelia Florentina Radu, 32, and Petre Niculescu, 39, were each sentenced to 14 years in prison after they pleaded guilty to trafficking the child and eight women.

A third Romanian national, George Maracineanu, 47, who persuaded a woman to come to the UK, promising her love and work before handing her over to the couple, was jailed for two years and eight months.

The criminal network run by Radu and Niculescu was dismantled by the Metropolitan police and Romanian police after an eight-month joint operation.

The trial at Kingston crown court in Surrey heard that the group preyed on women from impoverished backgrounds, telling some they would be given work in shops or restaurants.

“The defendants benefited criminally from the sexual exploitation of a number of women,” prosecution counsel Caroline Haughey told the court. “They beguiled and deceived their way into their lives and them put them to work on the streets.”

In the case of the pair’s youngest victim, they “deliberately and callously stole her childhood,” she said.

The pair had operated in the UK since 2013 and lured the 14-year-old, one of nine siblings from a poor family, in 2016 after promising her a job as a waitress.

But on the night she arrived in the UK, she was told to change into “sexy” clothes and put on heavy makeup, because “she had the face of a child”, said Haughey.

The court heard that the girl was forced to have sex with men every day for four months.

In a victim impact statement, the girl said: “I was forced to have sex continuously. Many times it was painful and I was disgusted.”

She said she lived in permanent fear and was told not to tell anyone her age or her real name. “They would swear at me and threaten me with violence. They would tell me that they are going to hurt my family and that they would set fire to the front of my door,” she said.

Met police became aware of the gang after one of the victims, a 41-year-old woman, went to a north London police station. She told officers she had been recruited by Maracineanu, who had promised they would earn money together to buy a house in Romania.

The court heard that other women had been controlled by the couple, recruited through friends and family with the promise of a better life. One had been offered work as a prostitute when she was 14. Four years later, she agreed to go with Radu for unspecified work in the UK, but when she arrived was told she would be working as a prostitute.

Others knew they would be working as prostitutes and were told they would share takings. But when they had arrived in the UK thye found themselves in debt bondage – told by the couple they owed money for their travel costs, as well as their “patch” of the street and rent in the flats they used in Paddington, west London. While the women could earn at least £250-300 a night, they were often given as little as £20-30 a day.

They described physical and mental abuse. In a victim impact statement, one of the women said: “Once [Niculescu] beat me really badly. He punched me and then hit me many times with the pole from the hoover… I was covered in blood. I still have a scar because of what happened that day.”

Another described being beaten by a man who refused to pay for sex. “The client was under the influence of drugs and beat me for an hour, both during and after sex,” she said. “He slapped me all over my body, including my face. I was praying to God to escape alive.”

DC Alison Hines said all the women had been subjected to various levels of abuse. “All of them were threatened that their families would be harmed, their houses would be burned down, or they would be beaten up,” she said. “The fact that they were willing to give evidence against their traffickers is incredibly brave.”

Damaris Lakin, a prosecutor in the Crown Prosecution Service London’s complex casework unit, said: “All three suspects initially denied controlling these women and girls for prostitution. The bravery of these women in providing evidence and supporting this prosecution has helped stop a dangerous criminal network taking advantage of vulnerable young girls.”

(Source)

“Hiding in Plain Sight: The Life and Crimes of Dr John Davies”

Julie Bindel is using Byline to raise funds for her investigation into John Davies:

Teflon John: The Man Who Hid In Plain Sight

This is the story of suspected baby trafficker, pimp, kidnapper, and major charity fraudster John Davies.

It is also the story of a world renowned academic, missionary, gold-hearted philanthropist, and expert in combatting trafficking in women and children.

Which of these two descriptions is true?

After an investigation lasting almost 20 years, Julie Bindel knows the answer. But will you believe her? Or might you prefer the version peddled by Davies and his supporters since the rumours began to circle back in the 1980s?

The intensive 18-month stage of this long-term investigation has been self-funded by Julie. She now needs to secure production costs to make a ten-part series.

The estimated cost per episode is approximately £500. The remaining funds will go to promotion and distribution in order to disseminate the story of John Davies far and wide. Julie is confident that on hearing the evidence against Davies, more victims and witnesses will come forward.

Once the first two episodes are funded, the team will begin to produce them.

Once properly underway, with regular donations coming in, we aim to produce a 20 minute podcast on a regular basis, covering the ten major phases of the story.

Please help fund this vital investigation, where there will be attempts to silence Bindel’s reporting and allow the podcast team to start producing.

You can listen to a taster of this story here: https://t.co/i4BmmJzM69

Julie Bindel is a British journalist, researcher and feminist campaigner. She has written hundreds of articles published by The Guardian, The Independent, The New Statesmen and other news agencies in Britain and around the world.

She has appeared in countless television interviews and debates in defence of feminist perspectives of male violence, and is a co-founder of the law reform group Justice for Women https://www.justiceforwomen.org.uk/

Bindel is sole author of the forthcoming book, ‘The pimping of prostitution – Abolishing the Sex Work Myth’ (Palgrave McMillan, 2017).

Bindel has devoted her working and non-working life to campaigning against male violence – going after the men who murder, stalk, abuse, terrorise and rape women and girls. Equally, she has exposed the structures, cultural, legal and political practises and ideas which lend themselves to the epidemic of male violence, particular the very idea that the bodies of women and girls are things to be bought, sold, acquired and taken in service of male power and privilege.

Read more at:https://www.byline.com/project/68

QotD: “Why studying porn is like taking a cold shower”

It is almost impossible to talk about pornography without wading into a swamp of controversy. Facts are not neutral, the politics are contradictory and, if you suspend judgment altogether, it often reads as silently taking a side. And still, we try. Good old us.

Last month’s Goop was The Sex Issue. If you browsed through pieces on the ethics of porn and one titled “Reality Check: Anal Sex” you found yourself in Gwyneth’s “Get It On Shop” where you could spend $885 on a pair of silver “benwa balls” to “strengthen your kegels and have a better orgasm all at once”, and $20 on individual sachets of “sex dust”. Goop sex is mindful, artisanal, aspirational and typically expensive. If US shipping costs put you off I have a good recipe for sex dust you can make at home that simply requires a swab from the underside of the far booth in the Brighton All Bar One, and some finely ground turmeric.

Last week, Rowan Pelling (ex-editor of the Erotic Review) launched the Amorist, which she describes as “an erotic version of Woman’s Hour”, a phrase that will undoubtedly be swimming in your head the next time you wake at dawn with a start, sweaty and scared, the taste of pennies on your tongue. It’s “a general interest magazine for those who are generally interested in sex and desire – and an antidote to Brexit”. It seeks to “counter the excesses of online pornography and the tendency to see sex through a functional prism”. It’s based in the same building as the Oldie, and the tone is that of a frisky couple whose youngest child has recently left home to study PPE.

Elsewhere, porn is being investigated in a new Netflix series of documentaries called Hot Girls Wanted, produced by a team led by Rashida Jones. In their first film we meet female filmmakers in the porn business; in the last, a teenager in Ohio facing 20 years in prison and a lifetime on the sex offenders’ register for livestreaming the rape of her friend on Periscope. Jones “wanted to show where there was dark, there was also light”. In particular, she said she was interested in “self-empowerment versus self-objectification”.

Except, says the New Republic in a crushing critique: “In their rush to ‘humanise’ adult performers and explore the concept of ‘empowerment,’ the producers enact precisely the kind of objectification and dehumanisation that they aim to critique.” Thinking about sex sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Every seven seconds, a thesis.

We snap the word porn on to images of excess. We understand the meaning of phrases like food porn, property porn, plant porn, travel porn, cocktail porn, not because these are sexy things, but because we associate the word “porn” with the feelings we have when we look at them – a combination of desire and guilt, and fantasy, and disappointment at the celibate reality of our real lunch, our real home.

But while we know what porn means, what it stands for, to judge by the ever-growing number of takes on the subject, the lure of learning about it seems almost as powerful as porn itself. That’s how we excuse our obsession: porn stops being something private and dirty, and becomes instead something you can discuss with your partner’s boss at dinner parties over cheese.

The cycles of thought have rolled between empowering to dangerous and back again, with new incendiary debates on whether it’s right to call porn “work”. What the commentaries have in common though, is that they’re all deeply enervating.

Porn has proved as slippery and ungovernable as sexuality itself. However much people attempt to pick away at it with words, porn remains, this mountain looming above us, its shadow falling over everybody’s private lives. Ironically the act of intellectualising porn, drilling into the stone of it, is the one thing that threatens it, in that it makes pornography a chore and not sex, and therefore much harder for a person to enjoy during their “me time”. Despite featuring nudity and lust, debating pornography is the opposite of talking dirty.

Eva Wiseman