Independent | I’m not surprised that the BBC chastised Jenni Murray over her transgender comments – this is what institutional sexism looks like


Impartiality is the necessary fiction that allows the BBC to exist. A public service broadcaster that didn’t attempt to hold its head above bias would be untenable, and this is why the BBC’s editorial guidelines make it clear that news and current affairs presenters are not to publish their personal views on “controversial subjects”.

But what do you do when the controversy comes for you? When, however much you’d rather not be the object of dispute, you become the frontier in an ideological war? When what you are – and how you name yourself – slips from neutral to contentious, without you doing anything?

Jenni Murray has presented the BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour for 30 years, and she’s been a woman for even longer than that. At the weekend, the Sunday Times published an article by her titled “Be trans, be proud — but don’t call yourself a ‘real woman’”. Under that headline, Murray criticised some claims of trans activism (and she was careful to say she was talking about the extreme of the debate): that anyone who identifies as a woman has “always been a woman” no matter the age at which they transition, and that references to the female body should be censored in the interests of inclusion.

Read the full post at the Independent

Independent | The problem isn’t that police officers sexually exploit people – it’s that men in the police sexually exploit women


“People”. That was the word that blew my mind while I was drinking my cup of tea and listening to the news bulletin this morning. A national review of police forces, released today, reports that 334 police personnel have (in the words of the Radio 4 announcer) “been accused over a two-year period of using their position to sexually exploit people”. Who are these mysterious “people”, and could they have anything in common apart from being sexually exploited by police personnel?

To be fair, the report itself is not much more informative. Read it from beginning to end and you will learn that a third of these allegations involve victims of domestic violence, but not much more. But we can guess. Victims of domestic violence are mostly female. Victims of sexual exploitation are also mostly female. “People” in this case must mean, specifically, “women”. And the people doing the exploiting? Well, the police force is over 70 per cent male, and 80 per cent in senior roles. It’s a fair bet that it’s not the minority of female staff who are perpetrating this.

Read the full post at the Independent

New Statesman | The Femicide Census honours the victims of gender violence


The phrase “isolated incident” often turns up in media reports when a man kills a woman. The police use it at press conferences. It’s a code: it means the story ends here, no one else is in danger, the rest of the world can sleep safe because this particular killer does not have his sights on anyone else.

Thanks to the Femicide Census – a collaboration between Women’s Aid and nia, two specialist services dealing with violence against women – we now know how many of those “isolated incidents” there are, in England and Wales at least. Between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2015, it was nearly a thousand: 936 women (aged 14 and over) were killed by men in seven years.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

New Statesman | What’s missing from the transgender debate? Any discussion of male violence


One of those things that supposedly never happens, happened. Luke Mallaband was convicted of six voyeurism offences after a female student at the University of East Anglia found his phone hidden in the university library’s gender-neutral toilets. The probation report described him as “high risk of posing serious harm to females”.

That creepy men would abuse mixed-sex intimate spaces in order to breach women’s privacy seems, perhaps, a predictable outcome; but it’s not something that the UEA students’ union took into account when it recommended installing more gender-neutral toilets.

“It’s about extending safe spaces to everyone regardless of gender. Once you’re in a cubicle, what does it matter who’s in the cubicle next door?” said LGBT+ officer Richard Laverick at the time. “All issues surrounding toilets and safety would occur regardless of the existence of gender neutral toilets,” said a blithe 2015 report into facilities on the UEA campus. But who you share a space with makes a considerable difference to how safe it is – especially for groups of people liable to become victims of male violence, which means women and transwomen in particular.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

New Statesman | As the Johnny Depp domestic abuse claims reveal, we are too quick to make excuses for men we admire


Maybe he didn’t do it. Maybe that man you care about didn’t do that awful thing to the woman you don’t care about very much. Maybe this time, of all the times, is Gone Girl in real life and that man you like – the sports star one, or the actor one, or the musician one, I’m not going to specify – really is the victim of a vicious feminine plot to destroy him. After all, you’d know the real thing if you saw it, wouldn’t you? You’re no rape apologist. You’d never harbour liking or admiration for a man who was abusive or violent to women. We all know that this is at the core of your moral thinking, because you’ve been extremely careful to say so, explicitly, before declaring that this time – this one time – is different.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

New Statesman | The Becky Watts murder shows that in a world of violence against women, porn is just one more form of it


In Ali Smith’s novel How to be Both, teenage girl George – recently motherless – becomes obsessed with a pornographic clip. She spends almost all her free time watching it, and watching it, and watching it. It features a very young woman, perhaps young enough to be a girl herself, although of course George knows nothing about who she is or how she came to be in this film. Understandably, George’s father is concerned when he finds out what his daughter is doing. He wants to know why, and so she tells him:

This really happened, George said. To this girl. And anyone can watch it just, like, happening, any time he or she likes. And it happens for the first time, over and over again, every time someone who hasn’t seen it before clicks on it and watches it. So I want to watch it for a completely different reason. Because my completely different watching of it goes some way to acknowledging all of that to this girl. Do you still not understand?”

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Why talking about male violence matters

November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which is also the international day of tediously explaining why violence against women needs to be discussed as a category. November 25 is the day when you will be reminded that two thirds of homicide victims in England and Wales are male, and that (according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales) men are twice as likely as women to have been victims of violence. November 25 is the day of being reminded that women commit violence too. Last year, I was at an End Violence Against Women event in Bristol where a man had bought a ticket solely so he could stand up in the middle of the discussion and shout, “What about Joanna Dennehy?” (Dennehy became the first woman subject to a whole life tariff in February this year, when she was convicted of the murders of three men). What about Joanna Dennehy, then? After all, it’s true that women are also implicated in violence:

Yes, women are violent too. But the traffic of violence is overwhelmingly from men, and disproportionately to women. As a class, men are the bearers of violence. As a class, women are its victims. And this is why feminists talk about male violence: not for lack of concern about the violence perpetrated by women, but because as a demographic phenomenon, violence is masculine. For this reason, we can draw connections between the patterns of violence and other areas of male domination. What about the fact that women are more likely to live in poverty than men? The fact that the UK has a pay gap of 19.7% in favour of men? The fact that women make up just 23% of MPs? What about the fact that purchasers of sex are exclusively men – is that relevant here? All of these inequalities exist in an environment shaped by that traffic of violence: from men, to women. All of them must be addressed in the acknowledgement of that context, if they are to be addressed at all.

But there is still something troubling about the demographics of violence, and it’s this: if the majority of victims of male violence are men, why is there no male-led political movement for the dismantling of male violence? Why is this analysis a feminist project alone? If male violence were to end, this would benefit all victims – meaning that, in theory, men would benefit more than women. Instead, emphasis on male victims is raised almost solely as a spoiling tactic, to undermine discussions about the male-majority perpetrators. Why would men seemingly be acting against their own interests?

The answer is probably to be found in double-entry book keeping: every debit has a credit, and every unforced sacrifice an expected reward. This is an approach that can be usefully applied to many areas where men appear to exercise power in a way that exacts a cost from them. For example, philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards points out that sex discrimination in the workplace will lead employers to pass over better qualified female candidates in favour of less suitable men – which, in pure commercial terms, is a stunningly silly thing for any employer to do. “It means the job will be less well done, and therefore (to put it schematically) that he [i.e. the employer] will be losing money by appointing the man. Why should he do that?” asks Richards, and then she answers: “He is actually willing to pay for something or other, and it is hard to see what it could possibly be other than the simple cause of male supremacy.”

In the case of violence, men are paying with their lives for the cause of male supremacy. The end of violence against women means the liberation of females from our subordination to males. It means men giving up power in exchange for a less brutal world.

In which I consider some pragmatic, rational responses to male violence

There’s a desperate tedium in catching yourself explaining the same things over and over again. No, a woman’s body is not like a laptop or a house. We are people, not items of portable property liable to be snatched up if not carefully concealed; not buildings that might be smashed open and penetrated if left unguarded. Yes, women have the right to get drunk – raging drunk, dancing on tables drunk, blackout drunk – and not have men stick their penises in us and then claim they couldn’t know we hadn’t said yes. No, women are not the ones responsible for avoiding attacks and assaults. Yes, a woman should be able to go on a packed train without a man rubbing his cock on her, walk through a deserted underpass without getting flashed, keep all the filthy pictures of herself she wants to on her own private phone and not have them hacked and published.

These conversations bore me. I’m bored of myself. What if we did things the other way? What if we took every piece of advice we’ve ever been given by all those well-meaning people who just want us to understand that the world can be a dangerous place and that women need to take measures – just a few moderate, practical measures; they’d barely impinge on your quality of life at all! – to protect ourselves. Let’s start with the booze. It’s a filthy habit anyway, I’ve been meaning to cut down, so why not follow the kindly advice? So no more Saturday nights on the lash. No more Friday nights in the pub having just one more because the conversation is so good and you’re not ready to go home yet, because what if that one more is the one that means the police decide the jury would never believe you? No more drinking at home, and definitely no drugs of any kind. Women can forget about living carefree. Instead, we should enter a sober state of high alert, constantly vigilant for any threat.

With this clean living, we might as well start training ourselves up. Learn a bit of self-defence. In fact, learn a lot of self-defence. The kindly advisers tell us we’re like a house waiting to be smashed into, so let’s change the structure. No more being a delicate maisonette with a vulnerable lower-floor window: we’ll convert ourselves into brick shithouses. Of course, it won’t always be possible to completely avoid the places that the kindly advisers have identified as enemy territory for women, because the kindly advisers’ definition of enemy territory for women is, tacitly, “a place where men are”. Sometimes, however much we might strive to protect ourselves by living totally separate lives, we’ll find ourselves occupying the same space as men.

But when we go where men go, we’ll go as soldiers entering hostile land. We’ll travel in troupes, a street-swaggering show of strength; or in twos, each scoping the surroundings for their buddy and eyeing potential threats; or if singly, we’ll sneak like snipers, spotting danger and taking it out before it even knows we’re there. After all, the kindly advisers tell us that we simply can’t expect men not to harass, assault or rape us, and attack is the best form of defence. A female militia could assert its right to freedom of dress by force, I suppose; but a soldier needs to dress for battle. No high heels that fix us to the tiny spot, no fripperies or frills we could be caught by the enemy. If men hate us so much they rape us and then blame the clothes we wear, let’s dress for the war that’s been declared. Perhaps the kindly advisers would permit us one feminine indulgence: a small scraping of optional lipstick, brightest red. A single slice of violence, intent in the middle of the face.

How could we communicate? Not by any established means. It’s been made abundantly clear that those aren’t meant for women. When we speak or write, we receive invective, abuse and sexual threats. When we send emails, they’re hacked, published, exposed to ridicule and sanction. When we store the intimate records of our private lives, they’re stolen and circulated, and then we’re told it was our fault for having something men wanted to steal – because no woman is entitled to say where her boundaries are and have them respected, not really. So we’ll launch our own closed channels for planning manoeuvres. In public, we’ll run a counter-propaganda campaign: broadcast our own programmes, publish our own papers (on every page of the Daily Femigraph: women doing things, written about by women. It’ll make a change). After all, the kindly advisers tell us men just like reading about themselves and looking at pictures of women, so let’s make our own media instead.

Women are told all the time to live as though we are under siege. That certain public places cannot be open to us, because of the harm that men might do. That certain ways of dressing are an invitation to violence. That our bodies are not our own. That even to have a secret is to incite its violation. That any slip of consciousness is the surrender of our consent. Of course, the people who offer this thoughtful guidance don’t use the phrase “under siege”: they talk about “being rational” or “taking pragmatic steps”. They think that this is “just the way the world is”. What is the rational, pragmatic thing for a population under siege to do? Start an insurgency. Organise an uprising of martial feminism. I am tired of arguing with the people who justify the oppression of women. What if we fought them instead?