Here is another example of how the idea that family courts favor mothers over fathers is a myth. It’s from a much longer piece on surrogacy, which is an interesting read in its own right, but not what I want to address here.
On 27 January 2014, baby M was born. She was conceived using an insemination kit bought over the internet. Her mother and father had been friends for many years. These are just about the only facts about this little girl on which her parents now agree. The names of the child and her parents cannot be published for legal reasons, but even the baby’s name is the subject of a dispute between her mother, S, and her father, H.
According to H, who is gay, he and his partner entered into a surrogacy arrangement with S. She had agreed to give the baby to them to raise. According to S, there was never any surrogacy agreement. Instead, she says that she and H – a friend for 25 years – had a co-parenting agreement, by which they would raise the child together, “like two heterosexual parents that have a child and are separated”.
Unsurprisingly, given the gulf between the two stories, the case eventually came to court when the child was 15 months old. The father and his partner were represented by a QC; the mother represented herself for most of the proceedings.
The judge, Ms Justice Russell, made it clear that although the issue to be decided was residency and contact arrangements for the child, not legal parentage, the determination of who was telling the truth was fundamental to any decision about the child’s best interests.
From the first day, S says, she felt the judge had already made up her mind: “The way she looked at me, the way she spoke with me… and then the way she looked at [H and his partner], spoke with them.”
After a five-day hearing, the judge sided with the father. Referring to a previous case of “insemination by surrogacy”, the judge said: “On the balance of probabilities… I find that S deliberately misled [H and his partner] in order to conceive a child for herself, rather than changing her mind at a later date.”
Although accepting that “S is able to care for M well physically”, the judge expressed concerns about her “overemotional and highly involved role in this infant’s life”, noting that S still breastfed M, carried her in a sling, and “does not set out any timetable for returning to work”. The judge ruled that the child should be removed from her mother, with full custody given to the father, and full parental rights to the father’s partner.
“I had to hand her over at the high court on the day of the judgment,” S says, crying. “No transition period, nothing. She was at home, so a friend had to bring her over to the high court, and I was absolutely terrified. I was sitting by the entrance, security guards were giving me tissues, and I was waiting for my friend and my baby. I breastfed her there, on a bench in the big hall in the high court. And then I was told I had to hand her over. My baby was asleep, and I was thinking, ‘What is she going to think when she wakes up?’”
Since that day, S has been allowed a short supervised visit with her child in a contact centre once a fortnight. “We play, she calls me Mummy. Then she is taken away, and she looks back at me, and I see she’s puzzled. It’s heartbreaking.”
The long-term impact of the child’s removal from her mother is acknowledged in the court judgment, but not dwelt upon: “M is very young and will settle quickly… Very sadly, this case is another example of how ‘agreements’ between potential parents reached privately to conceive children to build a family go wrong.”
Emphasis in red added by me. It shows that whatever a mother does, it will be wrong, even if in most other circumstances a mother would be condemned for not doing these things.
A row has broken out at York University after plans to mark International Men’s Day on Thursday were cancelled following an outcry from staff and students.
The university had signed up to the event, which aims to highlight issues affecting men and boys, including the high male suicide rate, men’s shorter life expectancy and “the struggles that boys can face in getting an education”.
It has since been cancelled at York after students, staff and alumni signed an open letter to the university objecting to the event. However, a number of students are campaigning to reinstate the day, and accuse the university of sending out a message that “men’s rights are not important”.
A petition has been launched, which states: “It is important that we recognise men’s day just as much as women’s day. True feminists should be fighting for gender equality for both men and women. To cancel men’s day is simply hypocritical. Equality is not just for women and should concern both genders.”
The dispute began after a statement appeared in connection with International Men’s Day in which Adrian Lee, of the university’s equality and diversity committee, said men were under-represented in some areas of the university and that women had a higher chance of being appointed to academic staff posts than men.
“In the area of gender equality, the focus has rightly been on raising awareness about – and removing barriers for – women,” Lee was quoted as saying. “We are, however, also aware of some of the specific issues faced by men. Men are under-represented in the student population as a whole; they are also significantly under-represented in a number of academic disciplines across all three faculties.
“In academic staff appointments, the data suggests that female candidates have a higher chance of being appointed than men. In the professional support services, there are areas where men are significantly under-represented. Likewise in academic departments, the support staff complement is often heavily weighted towards women, with some departments employing no men at all in these roles.”
About 200 members of the university staff, students and alumni signed an open letter suggesting the reputation of the university could be damaged by aligning itself with the event.
“We believe that giving practical application to concepts of equality and diversity should be taken seriously by the university,” the letter said. “However, we do not believe that this is furthered by the promotion of International Men’s Day in general and are concerned by the particular way in which the university has chosen to do so.
“A day that celebrates men’s issues – especially those outlined in the university’s statement – does not combat inequality, but merely amplifies existing, structurally imposed, inequalities.”
Addressing claims about men’s under-representation at the university, the letter said secretarial and support work were demeaned as “women’s work” whereas men dominated senior, better-paid roles. “The statement is particularly crass in view of the fact that of the 12-strong university senior management group, three-quarters are male.”
The university later apologised. “The intention was to draw attention to some of the issues men tell us they encounter and to follow this up by highlighting in particular the availability of mental health and welfare support which we know men are sometimes reluctant to access.”
Matthew Edwards, a third-year politics student, said the university’s U-turn was shameful. He is among those calling for the event to be reinstated. “By cancelling the day entirely, they have sent out the message that men’s rights are not important, which is astonishing,” he said.
“International Men’s Day is about raising issues like the high male suicide rate, male rape and male domestic abuse; it’s about issues in education, and child-father relationships. These do not necessarily conflict with women’s rights.
“Perhaps I am a little biased given I am a male but that does not mean my points are not valid. Indeed, they are not just my points but many people’s points who are disgusted with the university’s shameful decision.”
A university spokesperson said: “We have withdrawn the original statement about International Men’s Day, and do not propose to mark this event formally. In gender equality, our main focus has been, and will continue to be, on the inequalities faced by women, such as under-representation in the professoriate.
“At the same time, we will not neglect other aspects of equality, and will take a balanced approach to all nine protected characteristics as defined in the 2010 Equality Act. Our overriding goal is to strive to treat every member of the university community with dignity and respect.”
Increases in sex offences are not due to more historical cases emerging after the Jimmy Savile scandal but reflect a sustained change in behaviour, according to the lord chief justice.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd believes improvements in the way victims are treated by the criminal justice system are encouraging more people to report sexual assaults.
Giving his annual press conference at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the most senior judge in England and Wales said the sustained growth was due to contemporaneous cases.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics for the year ending June 2015 showed there were 31,621 rapes and 63,861 other sexual offences in England and Wales, the highest level since the national crime recording standard was introduced in 2002/03.
The Crown Prosecution Service has said it has seen the “highest volume ever” of cases involving violence against women and girls. Convictions last year increased by 17%.
“The rise in sexual offences is continuing,” Thomas said. “Some people thought it was because of historic crimes. The view now taken is that this is not right but that there’s an increasing [amount] of sexual offending … which is contemporaneous. I have no doubt that the way in which we have improved the treatment of witnesses at the police station, by the prosecution authorities and in court [have contributed to the rise].
“Although there’s a long way to go, people may be more willing to take their complaints to court. We have made giving evidence better, [although it remains] a horrible experience.”
Pilot projects in Kingston, Liverpool and Leeds, where victims are cross-examined shortly after an attack and the exchanges recorded to be shown later to a jury, will be expanded, the lord chief justice implied. They help victims to “move on with their lives”, he said.
QotD: “What this man had realized is that although individual cases of rape are perpetrated by individuals or groups of individuals, the systematic targeting of women and girls for sexual assault is supported by the imagery and belief systems of our wider culture”
In 2006 I took part in a discussion for men who were attempting to address issues of men’s violence against women. Toward the end of the event, men began sharing why they had been moved to get involved. One young man spoke emotionally of dealing with the rape of his female partner by a mutual friend. Her body and rights, and their trust in a friend, had been savagely violated. He wanted to make sense of the assault without re-creating the cycle of violence. He wanted to support his partner and find support for himself. He wanted, much more broadly, to eradicate rape culture. He began reading widely and thinking deeply as part of these efforts, and he began to realize his own role in perpetuating the problem. He said:
‘I’ve never raped a woman, and I’ve never even been in a fight. I strive to treat women with dignity and respect. But I’ve realized that rape is in me. It’s in the way I look at women walking down the street. It’s in the music I listen to and the movies I watch. It’s in the games that I play. It’s in me. And I don’t want it there.’
What this man had realized is that although individual cases of rape are perpetrated by individuals or groups of individuals, the systematic targeting of women and girls for sexual assault is supported by the imagery and belief systems of our wider culture. That culture is the water we’re swimming in, and he was starting to realize that it was toxic … Rape is in me. That’s a powerful realization.
Matthew B. Ezzell
International Women’s Day is on 8 March: 24 hours (of the 8,760 annually available) set aside to celebrate women and all of their achievements. And people get furious about it.
Surely, you might think, you could only be cross about it because that definitely isn’t enough time to celebrate the achievements of over than 50% of the population. But no.
On Twitter, at least, every 8 March thousands of men (and the occasional woman) tweet something along the lines of: “International Women’s Day? So when’s International Men’s Day?”
This churlish response is supposed to make us consider the massive inequality and sexism of there being a whole day dedicated to women, because there would never be a day like that to venerate men. It wouldn’t be allowed. Because of political correctness gone mad. You’d be laughed off the planet if you dared to suggest such a thing in this day and age. So you can see why these anti-sexist warriors are up in arms …
Except there is an International Men’s Day. It’s today. I hope that answers your question, guys.
I love the fact that the kind of cheese-helmets who feel the need to question the concept of International Women’s Day don’t even know there is already a day for men (an official one, rather than the regular days where they get more pay and power and privilege). I love it when people try to manufacture an injustice out of a position of clear superiority.
It’s all so transparently self-centred. It’s the impulse that drives your kids on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day to whine: “When will there be a Children’s Day?” Though at least the children have the excuse of being children and thus naturally self-obsessed and unable to spot that the world pretty much revolves around them already. But delightfully (and to keep this analogy spot on), there actually is an International Children’s Day. It’s on 1 June.
That won’t assuage your complaining spawn, of course. Because, like the grownups questioning International Women’s Day, they are probably asking: “When will I get someone to wait on me and bring me breakfast in bed and let me put my feet up and watch the telly? When will that happen? You know, apart from every single fucking day.” These people must be furious every day that isn’t their own birthday. “Why aren’t I getting any presents?”
So for the last two International Women’s Days I have tried to highlight this stupidity. I have got up early, logged on to Twitter and searched for the phrase “International Men’s Day”, found every single person who has tweeted the question and responded to them all individually: “It’s 19 November.”
There are thousands to get through. It goes on relentlessly, for hours and hours, but I try to get to them all because to see the same moronic question asked over and over again by people (who don’t even think just to check Google to make sure they’re not making an arse of themselves) is very funny, and shows exactly why an International Women’s Day is necessary.
Incidentally, nobody tweets me back to say “Oh thanks for the information. I was wondering when it was.” Almost like they don’t want to know the answer to their own question.
My hope is that if I can spend a day a year dealing with this issue, then that means that everyone else can get on with making International Women’s Day about celebrating women and not complaining about the supposed raw deal men get. So I let men know that they do have a day if they want to celebrate themselves. Though not many of them do when it comes along, weirdly.
Of course, on 19 November my timeline is now full of people jokingly asking me when International Women’s Day is and it seems only fair for me to promote women on men’s day, so I let them know it’s 8 March. But this year I am going to celebrate men as well, by helping to promote Target Ovarian Cancer who, for one day, want to give a shout out of gratitude to the men who support the women in their lives who are affected by this disease.
Every year 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 4,300 lose their lives. So this International Men’s Day, Target Ovarian Cancer are highlighting that men matter too and saying thank you to those husbands, fathers, brothers, partners and friends who have also been affected by ovarian cancer.
And I am fully expecting to have to deal with a bunch of idiots asking “when’s Ovarian Cancer Day”? Because those blinkers work really well and block out all sense of irony or shame. Well don’t worry: World Ovarian Cancer Day is 8 May.
People can find more information about ovarian cancer on the Target Ovarian Cancer website. And people can find more information on the date of International Men’s Day by browsing through my Twitter feed on 8 March.
QotD: “We need to be able to put what happens to these bodies in a gendered context, otherwise we are not talking about systematic oppression at all: we’re just having a whinge about a series of random irritations”
Somewhere between these two extremes we find the entire range of female experience – or we would, were it not for the fact that female experience cannot be categorised in any way, shape or form. There are infinite variations thereof and to pin down anything at all is to exclude. Hence it turns out even Shania and Caitlyn are on dodgy ground. What about women who aren’t allowed to have fun? What about naturists? Not every woman wears clothes, Jenner, you bigot!
It’s all so difficult, isn’t it? As Tanya Modelski argued in Feminism without women “the once exhilarating proposition that there is no ‘essential’ female nature has been elaborated to the point where it is now often used to scare ‘women’ away from making any generalizations about or political claims on behalf of a group called ‘women’.” Modelski wrote this in 1991, long before feminists were being ordered, in the name of inclusion, to stop making connections between women as an oppressed class and the female body as a biological entity. Because sex is a construct, don’t you know? And reproductive difference is really, really hard to define. Indeed, it’s pure coincidence that people with penises seek to appropriate and control the reproductive labour of people without penises (it’s not as though the possession of a penis offers a massive fucking hint as to which side of the potential impregnator/impregnated divide one might fall on).
If I’m honest, I’m getting a little sick of all this. It’s gaslighting, plain and simple. Women are being asked to deny things they know to be true or face derision and exclusion themselves. We all know that reproductive difference is fundamental to the construction of gender as a social hierarchy. We all know that most people who have female reproductive systems are capable of gestating babies and no people with male ones are. We all know that most of the forms of oppression associated with patriarchy – rape, forced marriage, reproductive coercion, economic exclusion, FGM – can be linked to the broader objective of controlling female sexual and reproductive agency. We know all of this. And it harms women to tell them they cannot say it.
“It is not altogether clear to me,” writes Modelski, “why women, much more so than any other oppressed groups of people, have been so willing to yield the ground on which to make a stand against their oppression.” But this is precisely what has happened. It’s not enough to be told we are still “allowed” to talk about our bodies as long as we do so in an “inclusive” manner; we need to be able to put what happens to these bodies in a gendered context, otherwise we are not talking about systematic oppression at all: we’re just having a whinge about a series of random irritations. And clearly that’s how some people would like to portray the things that harm female people. As though there’s no rhyme or reason to it. As though it doesn’t mean anything at all.
Gone are the simple days when subway advertisement just wanted me to see Need for Speed; now they keep pushing the Museum of Sex, which already sounds like a nightmare, but now there’s a new exhibit called “Hard Core” which apparently documents America’s inching away from God’s light starting in the early 19th century until, to paraphrase, porn became an industry in the late 20th. In case you were wondering, it’s celebrating the “artists” who made this possible with their bravery and profit from the exploitation of women. And suddenly I feel wistful for Dismaland.
QotD: “It is not a question of whether pornography “caused” this crime, but of the culture we have created around gender, sex and power”
Pornography is produced by and for men, an orgiastic confirmation of the most brutal sexual and racial stereotypes. At this point, it’s habitual for pornography defenders to step in and muddy the waters. Not all porn is like that, you will be told, and anyway how can you define porn, and even if you could, how would you prove that pornography actually caused harm?
One thing at a time. There is actually a perfectly good and workable definition of pornography – it’s from Dworkin and MacKinnon’s Antipornography Civil Rights Ordinance. This is it: “Pornography is the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures and/or words.” They also specify that in porn, women will be dehumanised as sexual objects, or shown to enjoy pain and humiliation, or to take pleasure in being raped, or shown tied or mutilated or injured, or presented in sexually submissive poses, or reduced to body parts.
The difference between porn and not-porn, which is so often presented as an intractable question of taste beyond which the discussion cannot proceed, is clearly described here as political rather than aesthetic. There will be cases that test the boundaries or demand deeper consideration than others, but for the most part, everything that you think is probably porn would count as porn under the Ordinance. (Which is not to say the Ordinance, were it enforced, would ban it: the purpose of the Ordinance is not censorship, but to allow women harmed through the production or use of pornography to sue the makers for damages.)
I imagine the 19,000 images possessed by Nathan Matthews and Shauna Hoare, the killers of Becky Watts, would pass the Ordinance definition. They preferred images of teenagers, young women in school uniform, threesomes; most of the material was legal, but one of their files was a video of a woman being raped. […] I say “they”, but it is pretty clear whose sexual tastes this collection reflects. The schoolgirl fetish is Matthews’: Hoare was the schoolgirl herself when Matthews first picked her up, a child of 14 or 15 who had been in and out of care.
He was seven years older, and confirmed his control over her in all the usual ways that men do: isolated her from her family, stopped her going to college, attacked and strangled her, told her she was fat, withheld food and cigarettes, and when all that failed to keep her in line, threatened to harm himself. The evidence presented in court showed Hoare was a collaborator in the fantasies of kidnap and rape the two concocted, but she was exactly that: a collaborator, an occupied population choosing between resistance and compliance with the occupier.
It is not a question of whether pornography “caused” Matthews and Hoare to commit their crime. What matters is this: in a world sodden with violence against women, pornography is one more form of it. Matthews and Hoare apparently made no distinction between legal images and the video of the rape. All served the same need to see women (in Hoare’s case, other women besides herself) subordinated and dehumanised. Pornography is the propaganda of gender. Through it, men and women alike learn what women are supposed to be for: something to fuck, something to use, something to hurt if you’d like to, and something to dispose of when you’re finished. Matthews and Hoare dismembered Becky Watts with a circular saw.
Mark Bridger watched images of child abuse and murder before he murdered April Jones. Stuart Hazell watched images of child abuse and searched for incest porn before he murdered Tia Sharpe, the granddaughter of his partner. Vincent Tabak watched pornographic videos of blonde women being strangled before he strangled blonde Joanna Yeates. A 13-year-old boy raped his eight-year-old sister after watching pornography. Jamie Reynolds used violent pornography with images of nooses before he murdered Georgia Williams by hanging. First the theory, then the practice.
And this pattern does not apply only to confirmed criminals and obvious monsters. A 2014 BMJ study of teenagers found an increasing prevalence of anal sex, which the participants explained they had learned about from porn. There was little thought that the girls would enjoy or even consent to it – boys “accidentally” penetrating the wrong orifice was presented as normal, and girls expected anal sex to be painful. It was pornsex: the subjugation and humiliation of women to serve male desires. And this is how porn operates: first through the eyes, and then in the mind, and then back through the body, against other bodies. Humans are creatures of culture, and the culture we have made for sex is one where women are destroyed. Do you still not understand?
Babies as young as a few weeks are being seen at Northern Ireland’s only sexual assault referral centre.
The Rowan Centre at Antrim Area Hospital has dealt with about 1,700 people since it opened in 2013.
It is the first centre of its kind in Northern Ireland and is funded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Department of Health.
Representatives of the centre have said referrals ranged from infants to people in their 90s.
Service manager Karen Douglas said “sexual violence knows no boundaries”.
The number of referrals has been put down to more people reporting rape and sex assaults. Some 13% of those referred were male, almost double the figure at other similar centres in the rest of the UK.
“We get reports from police and social services about children needing support and services, but the person who has displayed the harmful sexual behaviour are children themselves,” Ms Douglas said.
“We hear about peer on peer, that’s not unusual.
“What we’re starting to see and hear about is the impact of modern technology and unfiltered items on phones and devices.
“The children are acting out in a particular way, not knowing the full consequences of their actions.”
The centre has been designed by victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault and provides support and services, including a forensic medical assessment by a specialist team of doctors.