New Statesman | The abuse aimed at Yvette Cooper is part of the war on women’s voices

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It can be hard to keep track of what qualifies as Legitimate Feminist Business (LFB), but here is a rough-and-ready test that you can use. Step one: be female. Step two: publicly criticise the thing that you think might be sexism. Step three: wait and see if you get abuse for it, and if yes, congratulate yourself on having correctly identified some LFB. Or as Lewis’s Law, formulated by the New Statesman’s Helen Lewis, more elegantly puts it: “The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.”

Unfortunately, the abuse you’re now dealing with might well distract and depress you so much that addressing the LFB will drift into the remote realms of unlikelihood – indeed, at least half the purpose of anti-feminist harassment is to grind feminists down past the point of doing anything – but there you go. At least you get the satisfaction of knowing you were right.

Right now, for example, Yvette Cooper should be feeling the warm glow of vindication. On Saturday, the Labour MP gave a speech to the Fabian Society which in part addressed the issue of online abuse, including that targeted at women of all political affiliations. As soon as it was reported, she was being called “bully”, “bitch”, “Tory” and “saboteur”, accused of using the abuse issue to attack Corbyn and charged with having failed to defend Diane Abbott. The abuse didn’t all come from the left, but a lot of it did.

Read the full column at the New Statesman

New Statesman | There’s no justice for women when men like Robert Trigg are not investigated

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When Robert Trigg was given a life sentence for the killings of two women this week, it was much too late. Not just because it came six years after the death of Susan Nicholson – who Trigg murdered in 2011 – but because in 2011, he should already have been convicted of the manslaughter of Caroline Devlin in 2006.

The deaths of both women had been declared not suspicious by the police on first investigation, despite evidence of Trigg’s controlling behaviour and history of intimate partner violence. It’s only because Nicholson’s parents sought justice for their daughter at their own expense – hiring an independent barrister and pathologist to reexamine the original pathologist’s report – that Trigg isn’t still at large, terrorising another woman in her own home, perhaps killing again.

Sometimes, of course, criminals exert great deviousness and the police have to exert even greater doggedness and ingenuity to catch them. That, however, is not the case here.

Read the full column at the New Statesman

Independent | Let’s not shy away from the real reason why everyone mentions the DUP’s stance on LGBT rights, but not women’s rights

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Before 10pm last Thursday night, the DUP was a shambles of a party whose leader Arlene Foster was responsible for the cash-for-ash scandal which has cost an estimated £490m and caused the collapse of power sharing in Northern Ireland. The moment the exit poll was in, it became one of the biggest forces in British politics as the prospect of the party entering into a confidence-and-supply arrangement to support a minority Tory government took hold.

And not long after that, senior politicians were making it clear that the DUP’s regressive social agenda would be staying in Stormont. Same sex marriages remain unrecognised in Northern Ireland, and the 1967 Abortion Act (which permits abortion under certain conditions in England, Scotland and Wales) still doesn’t apply there. The DUP has blocked legislative efforts at liberalisation on both counts.

Over the weekend Ruth Davidson, the Conservative’s leader in Scotland, demanded – and got – assurances from Theresa May that LGBT rights would not be up for debate. Soon after, Jeremy Corbyn gave an interview in which he declared: “LGBT rights are human rights. They must not be sold out by Theresa May and the Conservatives as they try to cling to power with the DUP.”

And as for abortion…

Well actually, as for abortion, there’s been a bellowing silence at the senior levels of politics. Corbyn’s formulation echoed Hillary Clinton’s famous formulation that “women’s right are human rights”, but there have been no specific words of assurance for the humans who are women and whose right to safe, legal abortion is routinely placed under threat at Westminster.

Read the full column at the Independent

Independent | Yes, Theresa May has been an awful prime minister – but resorting to misogyny is not the answer

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It was a couple of weeks ago, the first time I felt it. An odd twinge of… compassion? Sympathy? No, pity. And the object was Theresa May.

Less than two months ago, May was supposed to the Tories’ biggest asset. In all the campaign materials, her name and face dominated, with the words “Conservative Party” sneaking in at the bottom in tiny print. The Spectator drew her as an iron-clad icon, alongside A N Wilson breathlessly declaring a phenomenon called “Maymania”. “Mummy sweeps onwards, borne in heavenly chariots, floating above painted clouds,” he wrote – “mummy” being a nickname for May among activists. It’s a sentence that sounded fairly insane at the time and utterly deranged now.

May didn’t have to call an election, and she shouldn’t have. She bet national stability (and her party’s fortunes) on the public loving her personal brand, and has found out that twitchily reciting empty three-word slogans isn’t the magic charisma tree she thought. The “iron lady mark two” mythologising has been melted down in no time at all, with former staffers coming forward with damning stories about May’s susceptibility to the toxic influence of her key advisors, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill. Whatever in May looked decisive and commanding at the start of the election, now looks antsy and autocratic.

Read the full column at the Independent

New Statesman | A government that includes the DUP is profoundly bad news for women

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This extraordinary election has seen one horrible irony for women traded for another. At the start of the campaign, when Theresa May looked to turn her high personal ratings (lol) into an even higher Conservative majority (lololol), it seemed that the UK’s second female prime minister was going to bring about a depressing decline in female MPs: because only Labour has a substantial record of getting women into parliament (thank you, all-women shortlists), anything that hurts Labour hurts sexual equality on the benches.

Back when a 1930s style collapse seemed plausible (lololololol), names on the line included Jess Phillips and Thangam Debbonaire, among other redoubtable feminists who have brought their feminist politics into parliament. Well that didn’t happen. Instead, Labour’s surge saw Phillips add 10,000 votes to her majority; Debbonaire’s vote share went from 33.7 per cent to a dizzying 65.9 per cent.

Instead of losing women, Westminster gained a record intake of them. And the Tories lost, lost, lost (one final lol here). But this is where the next irony comes in, because the only way for the now-diminished Tories to form a government is for them to join a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. And a ruling coalition that includes the DUP is profoundly bad news for women.

Read the full column at the New Statesman 

The Lancet Psychiatry | The merciless mirror: Sylvia Plath’s art, suicide, and influence

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The relationship between Sylvia Plath and suicide – the extent to which she glorified death in her work, and has been glorified for her death posthumously – has niggled at me since I was a teenager reading her for the first time. In an essay at university, I compared her to Medea based on a fairly overwrought reading of one line of Ariel: not strictly supported by the text, but the closest I could get to explaining the witchy and destructive power invested in her most famous work.

Yet the death she is famous for is a poor representative of her as a writer. It gives no account of her vivacious wonder at the miracle of her own children, for example, in a poem like You’re: “Right, like a well-done sum. / A clean slate, with your own face on.” Nor does it recognise her tremendous funniness: The Bell Jar is savagely witty, something that comes as a delightful surprise every time I go back to it.

When The Lancet Psychiatry commissioned me to write an essay about art, influence and the phenomenon of suicide contagion, it became an opportunity to reckon with all the parts of Plath I struggled to reconcile. The end result is something that made me understand her, and the cult around her, more than I ever have before. 

Sylvia Plath was 30 years of age when she died by suicide in 1963, and in her lifetime published only one volume of poetry and one pseudonymous novel. But in the subsequent decades, this material has been joined by a large body of posthumous work and has become the basis of a furiously contested mythology, profoundly shaping the understanding of the relationship between art and suicide. Indeed, her death inspired the landmark work of literary criticism on the subject: her friend Al Alvarez’s The Savage God.

Read the full essay at The Lancet Psychiatry (subscription or purchase required)

Independent | The New Jersey governor who supports child marriage knows exactly what religious freedom means – an end to female liberty

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New Jersey almost banned child marriage this week. But then Governor Chris Christie had a think about it and decided to veto the bill – on the grounds that it “does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this state”. To which the only sensible response it to say “duh”, given that, according to the organisation Unchained At Last which campaigned for a change in the law, most marriages involving at least one minor are indeed religious arranged marriages.

This law was not supposed to comport with religious customs; the entire point of it is that religious customs such as these are very bad indeed.

While the median age of marriage in the US has crept up into the late twenties and early thirties, the laws that allow children to be married have stayed on the books and, sickeningly, in use. In New Jersey, 16- and 17-year-olds need parental consent to get married, but with the approval of a judge, it’s possible to be contractually locked into a lifelong sexual relationship at even younger ages.

Read the full column at the Independent