a host of urgent and depressing issues

Read this. It was brought to my attention after communication with REACT, a project concerned with raising awareness about the experiences of asylum seekers in the UK.

One of the ongoing projects they are engaged in is concerned with the particular problems facing women refugees and asylum seekers, with the process systematically failing to address gender-specific issues, despite approx 50% of refugees being female.

For instance, an chronic lack of childcare for women refugees means that women often have to make their cases for asylum, at the initial interview, in the presence of their children; if – as is not uncommon – the woman has left their home country having suffered gender-based violence such as rape and other forms of sexual violence, the presence of her children often hinders giving a description of these experiences. So can the presence of male interpreters. When, later in the process, allegations of rape are then made, they are not believed precisely because it wasn’t mentioned in the initial interview.

Lack of childcare means that women often cannot attend ESOL english language classes. These seem like two pretty clear instances of locutionary silencing (see Langton, 1993); conditions are such that women feel they simply cannot speak – perform locutionary acts that they wish to.

Some of the issues raised in the article (above) also highlight the epistemic injustices (see Fricker, forthcoming) that these women often face – their testimony being treated dismissively, as they are not treated as credible testifiers.

A very comprehensive document to consult is the refugee council’s review ‘Making Women Visible’.

sex transitions

Article here about individual whose ‘gender identity disorder’ specialist referred her – and a number of other patients – for surgery after inadequate consultations. Legal proceedings are apparently underway.

It reminded me of a paper presented recently by Christine Overall at a recent SWIP-UK conference. The abstract is here. These kinds of cases might be understood as supporting her proposal about how to understand transsexualism – not involving a ‘masquerade’ metaphor (taking of the mask of previous sex/ putting on a mask of assumed sex)- but rather like other important transitions; voluntarily engaged in, a significant project for the individual.

Cases where individuals regret sex changes undergone after misinformation – or insufficient information – seem to fit nicely in her model, which can presumably account for these cases in terms of taking on a (significant, life-changing) project without knowing enough about what you’re getting into. It’s harder to see what the ‘masquerade’ views would have to say – that individuals were confused about whether they were ‘wearing a mask’, say, which seems implausible.

The Size Zero ‘Controversy’?

Anyone who has watched television or opened a newspaper recently can’t have failed to notice the so-called ‘size zero controversy’ over super skinny models and celebrities. There is something rather unsavoury about the media debate. As Zoe Williams notes in this article, most programmes and magazine/newspaper articles about the issue are simply an excuse to show pictures of very thin women without appearing to endorse their thinness. Moreover, since there is undoubtedly pressure for women to be thin, this is yet another case where women are pressured to live up to an ideal, then ridiculed for doing so. Nevertheless, Zoe Williams’ claim that there is no real controversy here at all is surely disingenuous. She claims that designers choose skinny models because ‘they look better in clothes and photographs’. End of story. However, this completely misses the issue. Very few people would deny her explanation of why designers choose thin models – I suspect only a handful of the unhinged think there is some deliberate conspiracy at work here. But it is not simply a brute fact that we find thin models more beautiful. This is a cultural norm that has developed. And the more that extreme thinness is equated with beauty, the more entrenched the ideal becomes. Furthermore, the norm is extremely problematic. The problems associated with it have been well documented and discussed by many theorists. (Susan Bordo’s Unbearable Weight springs to mind, although her excellent discussion is just one of many examples.) Thus it is surely a good thing that the fashion industry is beginning to reflect on its practice of sending such thin models down the catwalk. Thoughts?

Pregnancy discrimination on the rise in US

Apparently there is a widespread lack of awareness that discriminating against pregnant women is illegal. For more, see here. Employers are also refusing to give mothers the puny 12 weeks unpaid leave mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act. (Puny by European standards. The UK, which the rest of Europe thinks is pretty bad on this stuff, offers 52 weeks, with varying amounts of pay at various points.) Lack of awareness of these issues is a real problem. My partner was recently at a business networking event (oof!), talking to a small business owner (SBO) and an anti-discrimination officer from the chamber of commerce. SBO said “there isn’t really any discrimination any more, is there?” My partner told him about the study discussed below (Third Gender Post) of discrimination against mothers. SBO said “Yeah, but that’s legitimate discrimination, isn’t it?”