New Statesman | The reporting of India Chipchase’s murder shows the true extent of Britain’s rape culture

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Why India Chipchase? For the Sun, it must have been the booze: “Woman ‘drank six Jagerbombs in ten minutes on the night she was raped and murdered” went the tweet, for which the newspaper was rightly damned. India Chipchase is not dead because she had one boozy night. She’s dead because a man, Edward Tenniswood, picked her up outside a club when she was intoxicated and unresisting; because he took her to his home to rape her; and because having raped her, he choked her to death.

Still, why India Chipchase? Why, when we know (thanks to the diligent recording of the Counting Dead Women project) that a woman is killed by a man every 2.9 days in the UK, did this woman become the face on the front pages? Why did this trial, of all the trials of men who kill women, get so much coverage? Her murder was unusual because her murderer was a stranger to her – 68 per cent of female murder victims are killed by someone they know – but still, not that unusual. It happens about once every ten days, yet we don’t see 30-odd cases a year reported as extensively as India Chipchase’s.

So why her? What did the media see in her that made her the perfect victim? The grotesque answer is, the same things as the man who murdered her did.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Emails to Roz Kaveney on the issue of no platform policy

Yesterday, I emailed Roz Kaveney to request a quote for this New Statesman article on the subject of no platform policies. Kaveney has subsequently tweeted to say that I requested “an immediate response”, the implication being that she was not given enough time to compile the materials in support of her position or that it was unreasonable of me to expect her to do so. Below, I have reproduced all four of the emails I sent her. None requests an immediate response. For the record, I would have been happy to wait or to approach an alternative source had Kaveney decided not to provide a statement.

Subject: Request for comment on no-platforming

Sarah Ditum

Mon, Mar 17, 2014 at 1:30 PM

Hi Roz, I’m working on a piece for the New Statesman about no-platforming and I wondered if you’d like to contribute a comment towards it. I know that on Twitter you’ve said you “don’t object” to the no-platforming of Julie Bindel, and I wondered if you might be able to briefly outline your reasons for saying that. I believe that you’re a founder member of Feminists Against Censorship, and it seems like there would be an interesting tension between supporting no-platform (which is arguably a form of censorship) and opposing censorship.

Thanks so much for you time and your thoughts. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Sarah

Kaveney has published her reply to this email as a post on LiveJournal.

Sarah Ditum

Mon, Mar 17, 2014 at 1:58 PM

Hi Roz, and thanks for getting back to me so quickly.

I suppose it’s the definition of hate speech that I’m interested in – of Bindel’s work, which parts do you consider to be examples of hate speech?

Thanks again and kind regards,

Sarah

Sarah Ditum

Mon, Mar 17, 2014 at 2:14 PM

I appreciate that this is a sensitive area, and I don’t want to pressure you to go over a subject you find distressing. However, it would be really helpful in explaining the case for no-platforming if you were able to provide some specific examples of what you consider to be hate speech – I’m conscious that if I quote your remarks so far, it might not be enough to convince readers that no-platforming her is justified.

Thanks again,

Sarah

Sarah Ditum 

Mon, Mar 17, 2014 at 2:16 PM

Absolutely fine. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, best of luck with your lecture tour.

Kind regards,

Sarah

Why women’s mags might not be the great Satan on glossy pages

ImageHold onto your hoohahs because I am about to shock the liberal ladypants right off you: I like women’s magazines. Yes, I know that feminist blogs are existentially bound to be the mortal enemies of anything glossy that sits on a news stand. Yes, I know that there’s some egregious bullshittery within the editorial gospel of these shiny-papered organs. I know it’s easy to hate on women’s magazines.

And yet women’s magazines are the only publications where female writers aren’t massively outnumbered by male ones. They’re one of the few sectors in any industry where female authority is the norm, rather than a freakishly dickless aberration. And they’re almost the only media where things in which women are interested – fashion and beauty, but also friendship and family and sex – are treated as things a normally intelligent person might be interested in, rather than the brainfluff of vacant-headed boob carriers consigned to a section called “Lifestyle”.

Let’s take a look at Elle, because it’s the one I read most (and the one I’ve written for). Yes, actually read, not just look at the pictures: every issue, Elle carries at least four good quality features, the kind of thing you can start in an idle moment while the kettle’s boiling and find yourself still reading as your tea goes cold.

Over the last few years, they’ve run a fantastic essay about feminism by Sarah Churchwell; a series of outstanding pieces by “beauty extremist” Avril Mair, going into the kind of genuine hard work it takes to develop and maintain a fashion-class body; and wonderful discursive articles about careers, relationships and the meaning of style. Seriously, you haven’t even inflicted consensual superficial bruising on the subject of fetishwear as fashion unless you’ve read UK Elle’s article from 2011. (They also have the inevitable occasional Ultimate Celebrity Interview, but you can’t get everything right.)

When it comes to the actual fashion – the photo shoots – I think even the most passionate defender of the glossy has to acknowledge some capital-I-issues. It’s obscene that teenage models are routinely presented as avatars for an audience twice their age. It’s obscene that a starvation level body mass index is presented as a normal, desirable female look. It’s obscene that short, black, fat (and I’m talking fashion-fat here, as in size 10 or above) and disabled women are either non-existent to fashion or fetishised half to death if they do appear.

All that sucks. But get this: it sucks the same in almost every branch of the media. Wailing on women’s magazines as if they’re the only place this happens is so self-defeatingly dumb, I almost can’t bear to think about it. I mean, take one of the main purveyors of the j’accuse approach to women’s magazines: the Mail’s Liz Jones. A woman whose entire journalistic career is founded on niggling and picking at other women, and who when she’s not writing about how disgusting fat poor people are is whining about the privations of being an anorexic living in a massive barn. (CONFIDENTIAL TO LIZ: YOUR EMPLOYERS MAY NOT BE AS CONCERNED FOR YOUR WELFARE AS THEY SAY IF THEY’RE PAYING YOU TO INDULGE YOUR POTENTIALLY FATAL NEUROSES,)

Women’s magazines could be better. They could adopt a saner approach to diet and exercise. (Seriously, if you have six weeks to get a bikini body, you need to either have one to start with or think about buying a bigger bikini.) They could act like consumption isn’t a sacred rite (and maybe they will, when the advertisers finally all walk into the online sunset and readers are actually paying the paper and production costs rather than being a bought audience). They could let go of the crack-brained arguments about “having it all” or “keeping him happy”.

You know when that’s going to happen? When smart, funny women recognise that smart, funny women make women’s magazines. When readers demand better and writers push to provide it – we know they can, because of how many great women writers already work (or have worked) for women’s magazines. And please, tell me where else I get to see female performers and creators lauded on the cover just for being rocking. (Well, beautiful and rocking.) When Wired magazine – with the notionally gender neutral remit of “tech and shit” – puts a woman on the cover, she’s posed to mark her token nature in a male dominated industry, or she’s naked, or she’s just tits. WT everliving F is up with that, Wired?

So every time some chippy blogger rips into the great Satan of the glossies, as if they’re the only papery barrier between us and total emancipation, I like to take a moment to count all the other brilliant venues for women’s interest journalism. And then, after I’ve blinked, I take a chilly satisfaction in thinking of how happy that blogger would be to get – if she’s one of the very, very fortunate and talented ones – a single page of Grazia to spread her thoughts on.

Image taken from jaimelondonboy‘s Flickr stream, used under Creative Commons

An earlier version of this post appeared on The Flick

“There are upsides to being this obnoxious”: why newspapers hate me for being successful

By the Daily Mail

The other day, I got over 1.5 million hits. “They’ve come from Twitter,” explained the digital editor, “to tell you what a repulsive pustule on the face of journalism you are.”

You’re probably thinking, “What a lovely surprise!” But while it was lovely, it wasn’t a surprise. At least, not for me.

Throughout my online life, I’ve regularly had hordes of readers sent my way by people who think they’re better than me and want their friends and followers to share in the glow of moral superiority that only right-wing rags can shed over liberal-leaning punters. Continue reading

This stylish man: on Christopher Hitchens

“I once had the easiest job in journalism: editing Christopher Hitchens,” tweeted his Slate editor June Thomas, shortly after his death. A short tribute, but a touching balance of the personal and the professional; and also, an accidental summary of the thing I hate about his work. Christopher Hitchens wrote with such an assured and powerful voice – exactly the same voice he spoke with – it’s easy to believe that editing would require only the lightest touch. All the words are correct, and in their right places. Nothing needs changing, except for the fact that whole pieces could benefit from being run through with a red pen.

Continue reading

Private lives

I feel ancient. I remember when a Tory vice girl story was a thing of joy and wonder, a hose full of snigger juice soused across the news. “Aha!” you could chortle back in the days of section 28 and Back To Basics, “They love to govern our bedrooms, but they’re not so straight themselves!” And then you could giggle yourself into a mildly-satirical frenzy, and maybe climax with a joke about oranges. Innocent, undemanding days.

Continue reading

What’s the blogging story?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

There are some questions I didn’t realise were still worth asking. Is blogging journalism? Will blogging kill journalism? Can bloggers save journalism? So I was a tiny bit surprised to find myself talking about all these at a Bristol Festival Of Ideas event last Friday. As far as I’m concerned, the definitive answers are “sometimes”, “no” and “not completely”.

Blogging is a platform, and just like print it hosts good practitioners and bad practitioners. It’s well established now as a complement to straight news – so much so that most newspapers publish their comment sections in a blog format online. Meanwhile, a Wired feature by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff argues that the rise of the app market means that the open internet in which blogs have thrived will soon be eclipsed. Media companies might just have found what they want: a way to use the astonishing distribution potential of the internet and make readers pay for it.

Which means the time when blogs were serious competion for an audience’s attention and money could be on the way out – a good thing for the financial security of the journalism industry and its employees, a bad thing if you like the way the web opens up journalism to non-pros with a story and scrutiny-minded amateurs.

The debate I took part in made me realise that not everyone is thinking that way. For some  journalists, bloggers remain an exisential threat – forgetting that there are plenty of journalists who blog professionally, or who self-publish extraordinary reporting and testimony, or who do so as an unpaid addendum to their employment. For some bloggers, blogging is the scourge that will clean up a corrupt mainstream media – forgetting, natch, that there are plenty of bloggers as billious and hateful as the worst newspaper employees, and that bloggers have seemingly worked hand in hand with traditional media outlets to get some truly grotesque non-stories going (Guido, The Mail, I am giving you a squinty look).

One of the strangest points in the discussion was when the idea of a code of conduct for bloggers came up, and Brooke Magnanti suggested that bloggers already had their own code of conduct, pointing to the fact that while her identity was known to some in the blogging community, none of those who guessed chose to sell her out. To me, this only says that bloggers are a group with shared social norms that value anonymity: that one principle means nothing in terms of accountability to or honesty about people who aren’t bloggers.

In the Saturday workshop, the delegates from the Bristol NUJ seemed to tentatively approve the idea of extending NUJ affiliation to bloggers and inviting them to adhere to its code of conduct, which is quite good. I hope they do. Bloggers – I think, anyway – are quite likely to become workers for media companies over time, and it makes sense for the union to cultivate the sympathetic ones from early on whether they ultimately turn pro or not.

There were some objections to this from NUJ members: one suggested that bloggers should be required to suspend posting in sympathy with industrial action, because they believed that blogging counted as supplying copy if a journal scraped the content to fill a page. Tagging bloggers as blacklegs for being plagiarised struck me as highly daft, and showed a real lack of understanding about how copyright applies to work published online. Which means that, if the happy anarchy of the web really is on the wane and blogs with it, some people still have a lot to learn before it’s all over.

If you’re really interested in the discussion, you can watch the video above – with contributions from Roy Greenslade, Anton Vowl, Sunny Hundal, Iqbal Tamimi, Brooke Magnanti, Elisabeth Winkler, Kevin Arscott and Donnacha DeLong (yes, there was a vast panel, and it probably didn’t help the discussion to stay focused). I can’t because it’s excrutiating to hear myself talk.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2010