I Did Not Ask For It

From The F-Word, I’ve learned of an interesting campaign:

Based on similar campaigns in India we are launching an “I DID NOT ASK FOR IT UK” campaign. We are asking women to send us garments they were wearing when they were sexually harassed, in any way. We would like you to add the message “I Did Not Ask For It” to the garment, sew it onto a tee-shirt or marker pen it onto a pair of jeans, embroider it onto a dress or boiler suit… Or draw, paint or digitise the message “I Did Not Ask For It” and then pin the drawing onto your chosen garment, photograph it and send it to us at our e.mail address or send with a comment to our myspace. Feel free to add other messages of your choice, be as creative as possible.We are going to make the pictures and garments into a washing line exhibition of art. The washing line will contain all types of clothing, therefore illustrating that sexual harrassment has nothing to do with what we wear, and everything to do with male power. From boiler suits and baggy jumpers to short skirts, this exhibition will say loud and clear that whatever we wear, we do not ask for sexual harassment. The washing line will march with us on this year’s Reclaim The Night march 07 and will then be exhibited at our rally. It will then appear at various other exhibitions across the UK and it will grow and grow. At the moment we are working on getting a po box or friendly postal address for women to send garments and designs in to us. Watch this space and see our website.LFN website here, MySpace here, email address londonfeminist@yahoo.co.uk.  

Women who are harassed often feel silenced and unable to respond, and this offers a way to give them a voice.  Hopefully, it will also get some press and help to communicate the important message that we’re not sending coded “harass me” messages with our choice of outfits.  Another great way of speaking out is of course the old favorite Holla Back.Lots of interesting stuff on harassment today, actually.  Feministing discusses some here: a woman’s diary of her harassment and what she was wearing, interviews with street harassers, and much more.  It sounds a bit like nobody comes off too well (the woman sounds pretty racist and blames this on her harassment experiences), but still interesting.

‘Rape’ banned in rape case

A judge has banned the use of the words ‘rape’, ‘victim’, ‘assailant’, ‘sexual assault kit’, and ‘sexual assault’ in a Nebraska rape case, accepting the defense argument that they are prejudicial. This has, it is said, left only the word ‘sex’ to describe what took place. (Though the defense has tried to get that banned as well for the re-trial: the first jury deadlocked.) Dahlia Lithwick at Slate writes,

Bowen [the complainant] testified for 13 hours at Safi’s first trial last October, all without using the words rape or sexual assault. She claims, not unreasonably, that describing what happened to her as sex is almost an assault in itself. “This makes women sick, especially the women who have gone through this,” Bowen told the Omaha World-Herald. “They know the difference between sex and rape.”

Of course, some, such as MacKinnon, insist that rape is very much a kind of sex (indeed, an all too common kind of sex). But Lithwick suggests that use of the word ‘sex’ carries a very strong presumption of consent:

The real question for Judge Cheuvront, then, is whether embedded in the word sex is another “legal conclusion”—that the intercourse was consensual. And it’s hard to conclude otherwise. Go ahead, use the word sex in a sentence. Asking a complaining witness to scrub the word rape or assault from her testimony is one thing. Asking that she imply that she agreed to what her alleged assailant was doing to her is something else entirely. To put it another way: If the complaining witness in a rape trial has to describe herself as having had “intercourse” with the defendant, should the complaining witness in a mugging be forced to testify that he was merely giving his attacker a loan?

It seems to me that there is indeed a widespread use of ‘sex’ on which rape is a kind of sex, but also a widespread use of ‘sex’ on which sex must be consensual. Given the latter, it certainly seems that forcing the complaining witness to use the word ‘sex’ is prejudicial. It also seems to me that whether the event which occurred should be described as ‘sex’ or ‘rape’ is precisely what’s at issue, and that both sides need to be able to describe the facts as they see them. Interestingly, Lithwick notes that it’s increasingly common to get words like ‘victim’ banned in courtroom proceedings. This seems to me somehow different. If a person is being charged with a crime, surely one has to be able to name that crime in the courtroom. And, importantly, Lithwick notes that nobody is trying to ban the use of the word ‘murder’.

Update: I’ve learned here that I made an error in the above description. It was the prosecution that tried to ban ‘sex’ and ‘intercourse’ in order to avoid the connotations of consent. The discussion at Sex in the Public Square also makes a very nice case for avoiding both the terms ‘rape’ and ”sex’– that testimony would be much clearer and better if it contained more explicit and precise terms than those.

New Women Drs Out number Men

Here’s an interesting one. Women make up 58% of the 2006 graduate class of medical Drs in the U.K., according to UCAS. The BBC has a report here, and the British Medical Association’s press release is here. Superficially, this seems like a good thing, but the BMA have surveryed what they take to be a representative sample of this graduate class and found that one in five of the female Drs expect to work part-time for most of their career (only one in twenty five male Drs had this expectation). Also, 80% of these female Drs expect to take a career break at some point, this is compared to 50% of male Drs. In the NHS which has “all or nothing” training contracts and inflexible attitudes to working practice, this can pose a problem for women.

From the BMA press release, it is not made clear why female Drs expect to take career breaks or work part-time for most of their working lives, but, I suspect it has something to do with women still being primary care givers and taking most responsibility for domestic work in the home. Indeed, the BBC report has an interview with someone who suggests this is precisely the reason. If that’s the case, this is interesting in that it shows then even when women come to make up the majority of an important and well regarded profession, they still have to manage their careers in expectation of conforming to socialised gender roles.

The BMA’s response is interesting in that it recognises a potential problem and calls for greater flexibility in training times and NHS working hours. But, as many people know, working part-time can have a detremental effect on people’s careers, and is often seen as a lack of commitment to the job. (chapter one of Jennifer Saul’s Feminism: Issues and Arguments, and Joan Williams’ Unbending Gender have some good discussion on this). In fairness to the BMA, they do say that the need for flexibility is about more than catering for the increased number of women, but all the same, I think something other than a call for part-time hours is needed if we don’t want newly qualified female drs to suffer in the long run.

Progress on Transgender Rights

New Jersey has just made it illegal for landlords and employers to discriminate against transgender people, or against people who fail to conform to gender stereotypes, joining 8 other states that ban discrimination against the transgendered. Pathetic that it’s still legal in 42 states, but still– progress is good. In the UK, it is currently legal to discriminate against transgendered people in the provision of goods, services, and housing, although not employment. More on UK law here. Thanks to S for passing this on to me.

Female feet

Feet. They contain 25% of the bones in the body, and carry us about all over the place, bearing the weight of our bodies, and making sure we don’t topple over. Sensible folk might consider them best left alone, unless they need fixing. But this isn’t the view of female fashion, which has at various times and in various places, dictated foot intervention. Modern folk may shun foot binding, but that doesn’t stop us from cramming our tootsies into pointy-toed platforms with ten inch heels. Willing to suffer ankle, knee, hip, back and neck problems for the latest stiletto fancy, women – particularly in the US – are now turning to surgery to deal with wayward feet. Shortening procedures are available for unsightly toes that flop over the sides of sandals; fat toes can be toe-tucked; the balls of feet can receive extra cushioning in the form of collagen injections to make wearing extremely high heels more comfortable. One can even book oneself in for a complete feet-lift. So, gals, there’s really no excuse for stomping around in those flat lace-ups. More info here.

What women want…

…other than a sparkly laptop, that is. See here for details of a very interesting sounding exhibition called ‘What Women Want’, at The Women’s Library (London Metropolitan Univ).

The library itself looks to be a very useful resource for feminist philosophers also – details of collections here, with many online resources.

Weight Loss or Bowel Control?

I know which I’d pick, but apparently others feel differently. Via Broadsheet, I learned of a wildly popular new weight loss drug. It’s very expensive, and its side effects are such that the makers need to warn: “Until you have a sense of any treatment effects, it’s probably a smart idea to wear dark [trousers], and bring a change of clothes with you to work.” The fact that women are flocking to buy this shows something very important about the priorities girls and women are taught.

Work, childcare, ending gender

Zoe Williams writes here about recent statistics on fathers’ participation in childcare and workplace strategies for enabling this – they indicate relatively low participation (1 in 20 refusing payrise, 1 in 10 going part time – though it is not clear whether the data concerns all men, or all men who are fathers). Her take, similarly to Okin’s (1989), seems to be that until we ‘end gender’ – in particular, the assumptions about who does what, family-structure-wise – problems of equal participation in the work place and the family will remain.

She recommends that men should sacrifice the potential to earn more in the short term, in order to take advantage of, and normalise, the working structures that permit more equal participation in childcare. Interesting that this is expressed all in terms of ‘sacrifice’, rather than emphasising the surely many good things for men who have more participation in the family…