Wednesday, 16 March 2011


After the triumphant feeling that surged through us all after the Where are the Women event on the 6th March, I have started to spiral into a state of despair. Despair brought on not just by the thumping realisation of how far we have to go to tackle even the most basic right to live without the fear of rape and violence, and despair at the sheer bile, hate and anger that is thrown at you when you point this out.

Since the 6th March here is a snapshot of what I’ve learnt:

•    The UK has fought to change the wording in the EU’s commitment to fight violence against women and girls so that instead of reading ‘violence against women is a violation of human rights’ it reads ‘violence against women constitutes a serious obstacle for women’s enjoyment of human rights’
•    An 11 year-old girl was gang raped in the USA by 18 men. The NYT decided that it was because she dressed older than her age. Local residents worried about the perpetrators and asked where the girl’s mother was.  
•    Women’s unemployment rate has increased for the 8th month in a row
•    George Osbourne has launched an attack on maternity leave for small business employees.
•    Women protestors in Tahrir Square were subject to violence and attacks on International Women’s Day
•    South Wales police has reported that forced marriage is at a record high, and the force dealt with 49 cases in the last 12 months

A lot more has happened of course. In the past week and a half, a couple of women in the UK will have been murdered. Around 2000 women in the UK will have been raped, according to the Pixel Project on my Twitter feed ( Across the world, girls are trafficked into the sex industry and girls are raped on their way to school. Countless girls will have been held down and cut.

These things happen every week of course, and I know they do, so there’s no real reason to feel more despair on this week than any other.

But this week I have felt more and more the huge, overpowering strength of anti-feminist feeling that exists so clearly, leaving me with a sense of utter anger and despair at the ignorance about gender inequality that is, quite literally, leaving women to die.

As part of International Women’s Day, I wrote an article about why we still needed feminism for Liberal Conspiracy. I was expecting a certain amount of pain in the comments, but even I was shocked at the level of rage (from men and women) directed at me for daring to point out that, for example, 60 million school girls are sexually assaulted on their way to school. I was quite happy to share the sources of my statistics – after all, why wouldn’t I? but this didn’t satisfy the critics. They claimed, with no evidence to support this, that my statistics were flawed. When I say ‘no evidence’, I mean that they couldn’t produce any stats that contradicted mine. They seemed to base their disbelief solely on the conviction that the numbers were so bad, they couldn’t possibly be true. Bad news. It is true.

They angrily argued that blaming men, something which I had not done at any point in the piece, was unhelpful (I agree, it is). One person with breathtaking ignorance and naivety argued that 1 in 4 women in the UK suffering domestic abuse was not, actually, that much, and that if 2 women a week are murdered, well, that’s ONLY 100 a year which again, apparently, isn’t THAT much (it’s actually 104 when you multiply 2x52). Quite how many women he thinks should die before this issue matches his definition of ‘enough’ I never managed to learn.

Of course I know statistics can be used to serve an agenda. We only have to check government biased civilian casualty lists of the Iraq war to know this. But I find it infuriating that when you don’t use statistics, people criticise you for not giving evidence, and when you do, they criticise you for being ‘duped’ by stats. My statistics, FYI, came from a range of sources, including the UN, WHO, Amnesty International and the Home Office. Some came from smaller, specifically feminist organisations.
The overwhelming feeling in response to the stats was people choosing to quibble over numbers (‘how do YOU know 60 million girls are sexually assaulted on their way to school? Do THEY press a button to alert you every time it happens) rather than using the numbers as a way to start a discussion about why violence against women is so huge, so endemic, and such a problem in peaceful and war-torn societies. It was classic derailing to avoid discussing the real issue.

It seems that every article about feminism I read these days, even on feminist blogs, becomes a dreadful match where rather than being a space to explore issues such as violence against women and girls, commenters (men and women) argue about moot points, or try and fight a battle about who are the real victims and who are the real ‘goodies’. It’s hard work and above all its depressing, because whilst anonymous internet typists shout at each other, women are dying, being raped, losing their jobs, losing their rights, being beaten.

I believe more and more that when people try and derail the conversation in this way, it is because they do not want to look this issue full in the face.  After all, it’s a pretty ugly world where around 4 million women are trafficked every year, many going on to be repeatedly raped to make money for someone else. It’s a pretty disgusting world that rapes its children (men and women). It’s not pleasant to deal with a world that cuts off women’s clitorises, often leaving them with innumerable health problems. It’s a lot to cope with. How much easier it is to bicker about whether the UN has reliable statistics on trafficking, how much simpler to state that the World Health Organisation is “probably not” an authority on women’s health. Why bother trying to discuss what can be done when we can just accuse feminists of being wrong.

If I go on one more feminist blog and read ‘what about the men’ I think I will cry. I hate this idea that if you are against sexism against women, you can’t also be against sexism against men. It’s stupid. It’s unnecessary and creates divides where there should be unity.

I believe that domestic violence against men, and male rape, must be taken more seriously. We need to encourage greater awareness, greater reporting and greater support for survivors. And yet I am endlessly accused of ignoring men, or not caring about men, because I do not caveat every sentence with ‘and men too’. Because I also believe that men and women are different, and we need different approaches to resolve the issues of domestic violence and rape. A one-size fits all approach to resolving domestic violence is never going to work. Police need different training; awareness campaigns that appeal to women may not appeal to men; different myths need to be broken down, e.g. the myths that blame women for their rape, the myths that men need to be ‘tough’. The same goes for trans victims of domestic violence, and domestic violence in gay relationships. We need to find ways to support all survivors and victims of violence. But this doesn’t mean we can’t talk about women and domestic violence, and women and rape. Why is the response to talking about violence against women and girls to tell the speaker to not talk about women and girls? Would we do this in another discussion?

Whichever way you spin it, domestic violence and rape does affect more women than men, and there are more male perpetrators than women. And so to counter every mention of domestic violence or rape with ‘what about the men’ is to try and derail and ignore that this issue is killing two UK women a week. And when commenters (men and women) ask what about the men on a thread that is talking about violence against women they are, to me, trying to derail a conversation in order to ignore and belittle the levels of violence against women.

I would love to go on a site such as Liberal Conspiracy and read an informed, researched and pro-active article about domestic violence against men. But when we’re discussing the mind-boggling levels of violence against women? It’s not the time. And, whilst we’re having a moan, why don’t those people pitch an article about it? Why don’t they do something, seeing as they are so concerned that the ‘pendulum has swung too far the other way’. Again, I think it’s because it’s easier to moan at the feminist view, than face the issues that need confronting.

Another thing I have found so despairing lately is the number of commenters (men and women) who feel threatened by discussion about feminist issues. The insecurity, that we are somehow blaming ALL men for ALL the horrors in the world, dominates discussion that could be used for more positive speech and action. Even when the article doesn’t blame men, this defense appears. And it’s a way of saying that the reader does not want to take the article or the point seriously, because they don’t feel it has anything to do with them.

What’s the point? What’s the point of being so defensive, and turning the debate into one about why you are not guilty? It completely turns the whole conversation away from ‘what can we do about violence against women’ and instead makes it about why feminists are man-haters who blame men for everything and don’t understand subtlety. Why can’t we have a grown-up, sensible and pro-active talk about women and violence? Why is that so much to ask for?

Because every time we sit there arguing whether every conversation about violence against women should actually be about violence against men, or about how one individual has never been violent so why should they care, we’re ignoring the fact that women are being beaten, raped and dying. We’re drawing attention away from that. We’re derailing the conversation away from that. Whether you like it or not, whether you can deal with the fact or not, whether you are ‘not to blame’ or not, this is the bigger issue. This is the bigger picture.

And that’s why I’m full of despair. Because all this derailing, all this bickering, is all a way to hide heads in the sand and ignore the fact that violence against women is something people don’t really care about.

If these commenters cared, they wouldn’t say that 1 in 4 women experiencing domestic violence isn’t very much. They wouldn’t say that we have equality now, or the pendulum has swung too far the other way. They wouldn’t look for reasons as to why it was really the woman’s fault. They wouldn’t look at the stats that show two women a week being murdered and come back with an anecdote to ‘prove’ that another problem is worse. They wouldn’t make jokey, sarcastic remarks about a terrifying number like 60 million schoolgirls being sexually assaulted on the way to school. They wouldn’t try and make the conversation about them. If people cared, it would be on the news. It would be top of our agenda. It wouldn’t be an easy, quick thing to ‘cut’ services that save lives to ‘save money’.

I’ve been accused of being hysterical. Of being emotional, of ranting. But I think it is ok to respond with emotion when you see what is happening to women around the world, and women you know. I was accused of treating women as victims by discussing violence against women. But when there is so much ignorance, so many people who don’t even know the basic extent of the problem – if we don’t talk about it how are we ever going to start solving it? How are we ever going to get it into the open if we don’t have the conversations? It isn’t victimising women to talk about the facts and the affects of violence. It is trying to make sure people know what happens, to work together to make it stop.

So, within my despair at the sheer bloody battle we face at getting the issues out there, I do have hope that by continuing to fight that battle, we can, one day, create a change.

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