Monday, 2 January 2012

The Sian and Crooked Rib Feminist Review of 2011

Review of 2011

2011 was a big year for news and a big year for the so-called resurgence of feminist activism in the UK (I say so-called as feminist activism never went away, we've just been doing it behind the media's backs since 1985 apparently!). It was also a big year for me - the year I published two books, Greta and Boris and The Lightbulb Moment, spoke at a number of academic conferences, won awards for my professional work and went on a lovely holiday to the Caribbean.

So, like many bloggers and writers out there, I present to you my review of the year from the feminist perspective, as we look back on 12 months that, despite many fantastic achievements, showed us how clearly the battle for women's rights is not over, how we still live in a rape culture, and how both the left and the right are willing to trade away women's rights when it suits them. I'll link to other posts I've written this year in case any of the stories tickle your fancy.

Jan 2011:
The tragic murder of Jo Yeates in December 2010 sent shockwaves through my home city of Bristol. Our thoughts and love was with her family and friends. Her murder resulted in the police sending out safety warnings to women living in the city to avoid walking home after dark and to avoid being on their own in the streets, leading to frightened young women taking cabs everywhere, and avoiding taking part in volunteer activities. Even I was given a talking to from a colleague when I said I was walking up to Clifton to see a friend. This was despite the fact that the evidence suggested the attack took place in her home. BFN responded by having a meeting with Avon and Somerset police and issuing a statement, resulting in the police changing their safety advice so that a woman's right to freedom of movement was not compromised by the deliberate actions of one man.

Sky Sports pundits Andy Grey and Richard Keys showed sexism in sport is alive and well when they discussed in anger the fact that there was a 'woman linesman' refereeing a match, followed by a frankly disturbing conversation about 'smashing' women. Resignations and firings happened, followed by the usual backlash that women lack a sense of humour and that women are sexist too. After all, Giles Coren, we have Loose Women, don't we!

I didn't really write anything this year about the Arab Spring, which began at the start of 2011 in Tunisia. I don't know why I didn't (it has been such a busy year). The uprisings in the Middle East came to define this year. Women played an active and leading role in protesting the oppression they experience in their countries - and are still playing that role today as new governments are formed, or as the violence continues. So, to make up for my failings, here's a piece in Ms magazine by Robin Morgan:

Feb 2011:
Assange continued to be in the media spotlight as he appealed his extradition to Sweden on the grounds, it seemed, that he would be smuggled in to the USA. At the height of Assange fever we observed an ugly tendancy by some on the left (including former heroes of mine - looking at you John Pilger) to sell women's rights down the river in support of man who had done good work in exposing international corruption but who, despite that, was accused of rape. Unfortunately the idea that someone is capable of doing good work and still be a misogynistic shit was hard to grasp by many. Left commentators (men and women) accused the women of being a CIA honey trap, postulated conspiracy theories, tied themselves up in rhetorical knots trying to 'prove' that penetrating someone when they are asleep was not rape, and mocked the idea that penetrating someone without a condom, when consent relied on the presence of a condom, was some kind of hilarious Swedish law. Whilst Assange was treated as a hero by the left (and even, when they saw a way to blame women, by the Daily Mail!) the women were mocked, derided, accused of lying and much more. Their actions were critcised as they 'didn't behave how victims are supposed to behave' (apparently there's a guide book?) and because 'he stayed at their house and they went to a party' (because unless it's stranger rape it ain't real rape - more on this later). As I said at the time, and as I still say now, conspiracy theories to do away with powerful white middle class men via CIA honey pots are far, far less common than a man sexually assualting or raping two women. Assange is still appealing the extradition decision.

March 2011:
March saw me share a panel with the wonderful Bidisha and Dr Sue Tate at the Watershed as we talked about the invisibility of women in our culture. It also saw me get called a 'hysterical ranter' and lots of other names on Liberal Conspiracy, for daring to suggest on International Woman's Day that, you know, prehaps maybe there's an international crisis when it comes to VAWG. I also started writing for the Fresh Outlook, and my first piece dealt with the change in regulations for dealing with rape cases, after a woman was imprisoned for 'falsely retracting a rape claim'. The woman had suffered years of violence at the hands of her husband and when she reported it, he pressured her to withdraw her accusation. She then found herself guilty of perverting the course of justice, in jail and having lost custody of her children. This horrific case showed us what happens when women aren't supported in making accusations against violent partners, what happens when the media narrative on rape focuses on alleged false accusations and why the guidelines certainly needed to change.

One of my most popular posts of the year was about a Daily Mail article (recently cited by women's groups at the Leveson Inquiry) about the gang rape of a 12 year old girl and the rape of her 13 year old friend. The article called the girls Lolitas and pretty much blamed them for the violence committed against them. The men were found guilty, but were eventually released on appeal. This is the first time I have seen child rape blamed on the victim, both by the newspaper, the judge and the commenters below the fold. and

March also saw dire warnings from Women's Aid about the impact the government's austerity measures would have on women, particularly women survivors and victims of male violence. The cuts are resulting in the closure of refuges, in support services losing all their funding and being forced to close and will, ultimately, result in the murders of more women. The government are playing with women's lives and their answer is to tell councils not to see it as an easy cut. In response to the Women's Aid statement I wrote to the coalition leaders to find out what they were doing to make this stop. I collected nearly 400 signatures in a week. Theresa May sent a disappointing response and the party I voted for, the Lib Dems, well, they didn't even bother to reply.

April 2011:
In April we all got excited about fetishizing brides, the area I have lived in most my adult life caught fire and got smashed by rioters who were angry about Tesco ( and I got embroiled in an online row across twitter and the New Statesman despite not knowing half of what had happened. Meanwhile, a serious scientific report postulated that feminism is bad for women's sex lives because women are naturally submissive (like rats!) ( and the Poppy Project lost funding as the government once again played roulette with women's lives and well-being ( France banned the burqa via a logical leap that telling women what they can and can't wear is somehow more liberating than letting women wear whatever the hell they like (

May 2011:
I went to ATP! And then came down with a horrific bout of flu that left me so delirious I cried at the Fleetwood Mac episode of Glee...

Meanwhile Ken Clarke showed his ignorance around rape when he tried to split it into two categories 'violent rape' and 'you know, that other kind of rape that isn't violent'. His comments exposed what feminists have known for years; there is a huge issue when rape is only considered to be violent or 'real' if it is committed by a stranger, outside (or an intruder) with additional physical violence, and that issue is that rape is rarely taken seriously.  All of this works together to create a culture where women aren't believed, where women are blamed for the violence committed against them and we end up with 90,000 rapes a year and a conviction rate of 6.5% (see this post for stat sources: His suggestion that low rape sentences (5 years or less) were the result of teen boys having consensual sex with their 15 year old girlfriends showed not just a very troubling ignorance about rape law, but also a very troubling ignorance about how messed up sentencing for rape is (the men mentioned in the March Daily Mail article were out within a year) and how comments like his encourage a rape culture where women aren't listend to, believed or taken seriously.Clarke's comments were exacerbated by Roger Helmer MEP, who wrote a blogpost about how if a woman gets into bed with her boyfriend, she should expect that he will have sex with her (whether she wants to or not), followed by distressing editorials from Littlejohn and Hitchens full of lies and nonsense about false accusation rates, and women lying about rape because they 'regret sex' the next day. For the record, there are an estimated 90,000 rapes in the UK every year. The majority will be committed by someone the victim knows. (

And those two weren't the only Tories pissing feminists off in May 2011. Oh no. David Cameron's sexism was showing when he told Angela Eagles to 'calm down dear' ( and Nadine Dorries proposed a bill for abstinence only education for girls (and only girls) in her continuing war against women's bodily autonomy and reproductive rights (

May also saw the start of the Slutwalk movement, as a Toronto police officer warned a group of young women that if they wanted to avoid being raped, they shouldn't dress like sluts. As well as getting lots of press attention the Slutwalk debate caused a lot of conversation across the feminist movement, as people asked whether it was possible to reclaim the word slut, discussed the actual aims of the movement, asked questions about privilege and why, in Canada and the US, so many slutwalkers seemed so anti-feminist. I think the Slutwalks in the UK seemed really positive and succeeded because they got the message out there about victim blaming and VAWG. I still do have questions though. A lot of them.

Also, DSK was arrested - more of that later.

June 2011:
Halfway there! In June I decided to write about street harassment again ( and I loved Caitlin Moran's book ( After BFN got attacked - again - I wrote about why the work we do is so great ( and I put on an event about VAWG in the DRC ( In other news, the Playboy Club opened with a fabulous feminist protest shouting eff off Hef! (

July 2011:
If the accusations against Assange highlighted how the left will still defend a man accused of rape, then the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn showed how society closes ranks to protect the powerful against rape accusations. When he was arrested in May, I saw the footage of him being bundled into the car. And I said, he'll never go to jail. He'll get away with it. His story changed many times, from him saying he wasn't even in the building, to him saying he was there and whatever happened was consensual. Yet, this changing his story did not seem to destroy his credibility. Meanwhile, his alleged victim Diallo was called a prostitute. A liar. She was told she wasn't credible because she hadn't disclosed her 'FGM status' to immigration. She was accused of trying to extort money, and when this accusation proved untrue, well let's just say that that story didn't get the coverage the false one did. The very normal traumatic symptoms that many rape victims demonstrate were used to discredit her - she lacked 'perfect recollection of the night's events' and her narrative structure kept changing (this is perfectly normal). She wasn't the 'perfect victim'. She was poor, black, an immigrant. He was rich, white, a world leader. Diallo's bravery in waiving her right to anonymity opened her up to more and more personal attacks. This woman did a brave brave thing. She has had her life ruined, because she dared to stand up and say that (if he did it) it wasn't acceptable for a man to allegedly assault her. That she wasn't going to stay silent because he was more powerful than her.
Because the case collapsed we will never know if DSK was guilty of rape or sexual assault. Because he has dropped the case against her we will never know if she was guilty of false accusation. Currently neither are guilty of any crime. But we learnt from this that even now the alleged victims are the ones on trial, not the alleged perpetrator.

Meanwhile, the accusations against Assange rumbled on. During his extradition hearing, his own lawyer, his DEFENSE explained that he had penetrated a sleeping woman. That, whichever way you slice it, is rape. A woman can not give consent if she is not awake.

August 2011:
In August, the Scientific American published a ridiculous article positing that porn reduced incidents of rape. This was based on research that showed that rape was less common in areas of the USA where there were lots of internet users. Seeing as porn is not the sole cause of rape, and seeing as porn is not the sole content of the internet, this research was Bullshit (

Meanwhile, Britain caught fire as riots raged across London and beyond. The rhetoric in the aftermath spent a lot of time blaming 'broken families' and therefore single mums, so I wrote this in a rage:

And Dorries made a comeback as she tried to push through a law restricting women's rights to abortion. She proposed that charities that provide abortion services - such as Marie Stopes and the BPAS - should be prevented from offering pre abortion counselling, as they had a 'financial incentive' to 'encourage' the woman to have an abortion. This is of course nonsense, and such a proposed change would prevent charities with a proven record in great care for women offering an expert and needed service. They would then of course be replaced by anti abortion groups with a bias and interest in preventing a woman from having an abortion she may want or need. The proposal was debated but defeated in parliament. However this year has seen a very real attack on the right to abortion. Life replaced the BPAS on the government's sexual health advisory board - FTR, Life don't believe condoms prevent STDs. In the states, the personhood amendment came close to being a reality. This year showed us that we can't rest on our laurels if we want to maintain our right to bodily autonomy.

Debates about 'fun feminism' seemed to take hold across the feminist blogosphere - here were my takes on it:

September 2011:
I go on holiday! I turn 27!

I get involved in an online row with a really, really sexist, white male privileged and deeply unfunny TV comedy panel show!

Some numpty sues LSE because he found gender studies sexist!

October 2011:
Three women won the Nobel Peace Prize in October, making them the 13th, 14th and 15th women to do so in 111 years. Yet despite this, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman failed to make it in the BBC's 2011 Women of the Year list - that honour went to brides, bridesmaid-with-nice-ass, victims and, erm, a panda.

David Cameron announces he is in favour of gay marriage (or, as I like to call it, marriage) but that doesn't stop the right wing press being homophobic, whilst ignoring that the problem is their homophobia: (this is one of my least read posts, but one I am most proud of)

Meanwhile, the much-derided-by-feminists Bailey Review into the sexualisation of children continues its mission to suggest that it is only bad to degrade women if someone under 18 sees it by suggesting that blocking porn sites would be a good idea. Rather like putting a band aid on a broken leg in my opinion. You can't just block young people from seeing porn when the issue is the acceptance of violence against women, women's degradation and the harm done by the porn industry.

Meanwhile, rape culture shows it is alive and kicking as two big victim blaming stories make the feminist headlines. The first involved a school attempting to ban girls wearing skirts 'for their own protection'. By refusing to deal with the causes of sexual bullying, harassment and violence, the school is letting down its female students, who are instead told that any violence committed against them is their fault for wearing a skirt. Meanwhile, as department stores start playing Christmas songs, the annual Christmas anti-rape campaigns appear. This year we saw some welcome posters that targeted men. But that didn't stop some men bemoaning them as offensive, whilst the usual fare that tell women to avoid becoming victims were still there (

The Occupy movement swept the world, as groups came together to protest a capitalism that benefited 1% of society at the expense of the 99%. Unfortunately, disillusionment set in quickly to me. London invited Assange to come and speak, a man accused of rape yet still loved by some of the left. Considering women are disproportionately affected by poverty and bad capitalism, I don't know why they couldn't find a woman who wasn't accused of rape to come and speak. Meanwhile, rapes and sexual assaults were reported in the camps - along with victim blaming from men in the camps, and stories that the women were told not to go to the police in case it 'harmed the movement'. In Bristol, Occupy members have been rude to BFN and Fawcett on mumerous occasions, demonstrating an unwilligness to see that women make up more of the 99%, and men more of the 1%. A revolution that maintains male privilege is not a revolution at all. We canont have change if we don't challenge the power structures that maintain the oppression of women. To me, Occupy is behaving as though it is for the 49%. As a woman, I am not made to feel welcome.

Our campaign to raise awareness of women's rights in Afghanistan culminated in a vigil on Pero's Bridge, where we demanded that women have a voice at the peace negotiation table, and that women's rights aren't traded away for peace.

November 2011:
November saw the publication of Bristol Fawcett's report into the impact of the cuts on the women of Bristol. Shocking stats revealed that the changes to the tax and benefits system would cost the city's women £44 million, double the cost to men. The impact of the austerity measures on women is one of the great under-reported stories of 2011, and I was proud to be ever-so-slightly involved with this project to reveal just how bad things are.

Helen Lewis-Hastely's report in the New Statesman on online abuse experienced by women bloggers catapulted an issue we had all experienced and known about for years anyway into the mainstream. Conversations about the very specific type of sexist abuse women experience online suddenly dominated the blogosphere. This is not a new issue, but it was great to have it being talked about and debated, even if the inevitable backlash decided that rather than challenge male abuse, women should just get off the internet. This was the most read blogpost ever on my blog!

I went to Fem 11 and was totally inspired by the wonderful Natasha Walter:

Bristol Reclaim the Night was one of the best we have ever had. A fantastic turnout, amazing speeches and a fab after party helped us raise awareness of why violence against women and girls persists to be a problem in our city and internationally. Speakers talked about rape, intimate partner violence, the impact of the cuts on VAWG, FGM and violence against women and girls in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the revelation in the Bristol Fawcett report that there are 130 rapes in Bristol every month (20 reported on average pcm) clearly showed why we are still fighting this fight.

December 2011:
Exhaustion set in. So many issues to write about and campaign on this year meant that by December, I had no energy left to write.

So I published a book instead:

Meanwhile, the Leveson Inquiry is asked to look at sexism in the media, particularly how media reporting on rape, and the objectfication of women in the media, encourages violence against women and girls:

And, that's it! My very very long review of the year! Jan 2012 marks the 5th birthday of my blog. Thanks for all sticking with me. You all rock!

Happy New Year everyone!

No comments: