#RadFem2013 Supporter’s Online Tirade of Hatred and Abuse

[Trigger warnings: transphobic abuse, rape, cyber-bullying]

In June of this year will be the Radical Feminism 2013 conference in London. Their event got cancelled last year after a storm of controversy when they decided to ban transgender women who were born as men. As far as I’m concerned that’s a ridiculous and immoral decision that stigmatises a deeply marginalised and abused segment of society. I would say more, but Stavvers has already said what needed to be said in a far more eloquent and informed way than I could.

A year later, have they learned their lesson? Here’s the answer. Cath Brennan (tweeting as @BugBrennan, though she seems to have made her Twitter account private in the last few hours) is one of the supporters of Radical Feminism 2013. According to RationalWiki, when she’s not at conferences her hobbies include writing to the UN to demand that transgender people should not receive human rights protections; and outing transgender teenagers to their schools. Apparently her school of “thought”, if you can call it that, is known as Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminism, or TERF.

Claire OT is a British occupational therapist with an interest in the use of social media in mental health. She’s also proud to call herself a feminist, though unlike Brennan she doesn’t demonise men or transgender women. Earlier today she got into a brief Twitter exchange with Brennan, and promptly received a deluge of abusive tweets , including such charming responses as “you two can be dick pleasers all you like” and “stop telling lesbians to suck your dick, rapist”.
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Is Claire OT the only person to have receive abusive tweets from Brennan? A quick Twitter search suggests not.


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And the organisers of Radical Feminism 2013 have the nerve to consider themselves a civil rights movement? What they’re propagating is hate speech. While they make a lot of noise, it also seems that they’re also pretty unrepresentative of contemporary feminism. Younger feminists in particular aren’t buying this bigoted codswallop.

The conference is due to take place at the London Irish Centre. If you want to let the venue owners know what sort of ideas are likely to wind up being promoted on their premises, here’s their contact details.

EDITED TO ADD: It seems I’m not the only person who’s been screenshotting abusive tweets by the charming Ms Brennan

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The Socialist Workers Party: Sex, Power and the Abuse of Trust

[Trigger warnings for rape and sexual exploitation]

I’ve blogged a couple of times about the scandal engulfing the Socialist Workers Party, an organisation I regard as closer to a cult than a political party. Just to recap, a senior figure in the SWP was accused of rape by a female party member. Rather than call the police, the SWP held an internal inquiry by a “Disputes Committee” made up of the accused’s friends, who completely exonerated him. Details have been published on the internet, prompting an internal revolt.

There’s been intense discussion of this on various left-wing blogs. This has resulted in details emerging that paint the whole affair in an even more disturbing light, bringing to bear issues over possible abuse of power dynamics.

To summarise these details, here’s a post by former SWP member Anna Chen. She replied to an exhortation by one of the SWP leadership not to listen to “filth” on the internet.

WHAT IS FILTH?

“Filth” is an alleged rape taking place when a woman is nineteen, 2 years after she and her party leader meet, at which time he is forty-six and she seventeen.

“Filth” is an appeal to the party’s internal disciplinary body being met with a kangaroo court run by several of the party leader’s friends, who then exonerate him.

“Filth” is the woman denied access to his evidence while he sees hers: the game is surely “I’ll show you mine IF you show me yours.”

“Filth” is a woman ostracised, cast out as unclean with a scarlet letter “A” carved into her forehead.

“Filth” is her friends put under heavy manners by the party’s attack dogs, fresh from their two-minute hate.

What particularly concerns me here – quite aside from what sounds like allegations of disgraceful treatment of the woman by her party – is the age difference between the two people involved. When they met he was 46, and a party leader, and she was only 17?

Given the widespread discussion of the case on various blogs, I don’t think it’s breaching any secrets to say that the accused is Martin Smith, former SWP secretary, and currently the national organiser of Unite Against Fascism. My understanding is that he denies rape – not that the truth can now be established either way. The SWP’s kangaroo court will have massively prejudiced any attempt at a criminal prosecution. However, he admits to having had a consensual sexual relationship with the girl in question.

There’s references to this in the transcript of the Disputes Committee report, which was leaked onto the Internet.

We also however thought it was important to be clear that the disputes committee doesn’t exist to police moral, er, bourgeois morality, so we agreed that issues that weren’t relevant to us were whether the comrade was monogamous, whether they were having an affair, whether the age differences in their relationahip, because as revolutionaries we didn’t consider that should be our remit to consider issues such as those.

Trouble is, this isn’t just about “bourgeois morality” but power relations. Let me draw an analogy. Normally, the age of consent for sex is 16. However, if the older person is classed as being in a “position of trust” over a younger person, then the age of consent runs up to the 18th birthday, for the simple reason that trust can be abused. Teachers are an example of this, and I previously made this point while discussing the Jeremy Forrest Case. As a nurse in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, I too would be classed as being in a position of trust. Hence if I slept with a 17 year old patient I wouldn’t only be committing gross professional misconduct. I’d also be committing a crime under the Sexual Offences Act.

Obviously, leaders of Trotskyist sects are not subject to the same legal obligations as teachers and nurses. Even so, the power relation still exists. When considering the power relation, remember that the SWP is absolutely notorious for authoritarianism, control-freakery and groupthink.

At its most extreme, the sycophancy appears cult-like.  A number of [Central Committee] members are big fans of jazz music. Under their leadership over the past few years, the party has organised a number of (mostly loss-making) jazz gigs as fundraising events.  Regardless of their own musical tastes, comrades were told they were disloyal if they didn’t purchase tickets.  This elevates the cultural tastes of the official leadership to a point of political principle; and clearly is not in any way a healthy state of affairs.

This is an organisation that claims to speak truth to power. Yet they seem incapable of understanding the potential for abuse of power when a middle-aged party leader is having sex with a teenage volunteer barely old enough to be out of school.

Then again, maybe their relationship had nothing to do with power relations, and Mr Smith cuts a dashing Robert Redford-style figure?

 

The World of Mentalists

I started working in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in 2007, which doesn’t sound like a long time ago in the scheme of things. Even so, I’ve noticed a lot of changes in what we do and how we do it. This post is an attempt to summarise those changes – some good, some bad.

 

 

CAMHS emerged out of what used to be known as child guidance clinics. These emerged in the early twentieth century to prevent “maladjustment” as it was then called, and to promote emotional wellbeing. There’s a potted history of them here – critics of the DSM-5 might wish to note that using psychiatric jargon to describe delinquent or even merely shy children has a longer heritage than they might think.

As a result, a lot of what was being brought to our doors back in 2007 could be viewed as psychosocial problems…

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Feminism, The Left and Unnecessary Twitter Feuds

Recently I blogged about an unfortunate tendency within the online feminist movement to engage in Judean Peoples Front-style feuding, particularly on Twitter. Yesterday that exploded in spectacular fashion. On my lunchbreak from work I checked my Twitter feed to discover that the left-wing Independent columnist Owen Jones and the feminist blogger Zoe Stavri were having an argument. From scrolling back, it became clear that they’d been arguing all morning. When I got home from work that evening, they were still arguing. Not only that, but various left-wing and feminist tweeters were piling in, and things were getting more and more heated. Oh good grief, it just went on and on and on and on

What on earth produced such a vitriolic and lengthy row? Sadly, the answer is depressingly trivial and pointless.

A couple of days ago, Stavri tweeted this.

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The article by Jones is online here. His argument is that George Galloway is an often-unpleasant character, but has a talent for winning over audiences, and that the left should learn from his communication style.

Despite what Stavri suggests, Jones does call out Galloway’s rape apologism and much else besides. In fact he does so in the first paragraph.

He was mocked for a largely disastrous appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. He has made unacceptable comments about rape – “not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion” – that repulsed virtually everybody. He has made apparently sympathetic remarks about brutal dictators (although, unlike some of his detractors, he hasn’t sold them arms, funded them or even been paid by them).

Jones concludes:

Gorgeous George is one of the most charismatic politicians of our time, but also one of the most divisive, and still manages to win over the audience. You don’t have to like him; but, if you want to change the world, you do have to learn from him.

I’ll state my own views on George Galloway. I don’t like him. For all his populist hero-of-the-left image, I’ve always got the impression that his main overriding ideology is himself.  There’s plenty to dislike – his aggressive and at times litigious approach towards his critics. His former support for the old Soviet Union. His periodical sucking-up to dictators and demagogues.

And of course, there’s his utterly revolting comments about rape, which were thoroughly condemned and rightly so. I hope this goes without saying, but I also condemn them.

Personally, I’m not sure that I agree with Jones that Galloway is charismatic. Some people seem impressed by him, but personally I’ve always found that his communication style reminds me of Swiss Toni from the Fast Show.

Jones responded to Stavri.

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And so it continued. Take a look at the Twitter thread. It just doesn’t stop! In fact, the whole row continued for over two days. Jones tetchily insisted that he had condemned Galloway’s comments, while Stavri and various other feminists more and more stridently claimed that he hadn’t condemned it enough.

The whole thing escalated into something more akin to a Twitter-wide slanging match than a debate between putative allies. At one point I rather cheekily decided to respond by tweeting my joke “Generic Condemnation of This Thing That Person Said on Twitter” blog post. Within minutes I received a tweet asking whether I, as a mental health nurse, would be flippant when talking to a rape survivor.

The NMC social networking guidelines require me to uphold the reputation of my profession when blogging, so I can’t repeat the language that went through my head when I read that. Suffice it to say that as someone who works regularly with young people who have been abused, I took it as an appalling and uncalled-for slur on my character.

At this point it would be tempting to declare both sides as bad as each other, and admonishing the whole of the left and feminist Twitterati to Go To Your Respective Rooms And Have A Think About What You’ve Done. But I don’t actually think both sides were as bad as each other. The various feminist tweeters rushed to form a twitchfork mob not because of what Jones did or didn’t say, but because they felt he didn’t sufficiently emphasise something. As a result they created a totally unnecessary feud.

The depressing thing about all this is, most of the time tweeters like @stavvers, @sazza_jay et al have good and worthwhile things to say. I agree with them more often than I disagree, and I consider myself instinctively sympathetic to feminism. I suspect this post may get dismissed as “mansplaining” but I spoke to women who self-identify as feminists who were equally dismayed by the exchange.

Personally I am, to use a tagline that Stavri uses regularly, not angry just disappointed.

Ultimately, who does this sort of pointless feuding benefit? It certainly doesn’t benefit either the left or feminism.

 

The World of Mentalists

In Saturday’s Grauniad there was a debate on the topic of “Should workplaces have on-site psychiatrists?” Personally I think it would make more sense for workplaces to have on-site counsellors and mental health first aiders than psychiatrists, but that’s not really the point of this post. I’ve been irritated by the condescension of Oliver James, one of the debate participants.

The debate was between Oliver James and Alistair Campbell, the former Downing Street spin doctor who has spoken publicly about his recovery from depression and alcoholism. James is a psychologist (though he doesn’t appear to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council as a practitioner psychologist), and author of books such as Affluenza and They F*** You Up.

In the debate, James states,

Psychiatrists mostly offer pills and other sticking plasters, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). For the commonest problems, depression and anxiety, neither really work. The…

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The Didn’t Stop the War Coalition – Ten Years on From Feb 15

It occurred to me earlier that yesterday was ten years since the global protests on February 15th 2003, when millions of people across the world took to the streets to demand a halt to the then-imminent invasion of Iraq. It was an expression of protest unprecedented in history. It also accomplished precisely nothing. In other words, it was a glorious failure.

If you’re interested, here’s a pic of me (I’m on the right) in the pub at Paddington station, after attending the London march. My face looks rather pink from the cold of that day.

Depends on whose estimates you believe, anywhere between 750,000 and two million people marched through London. Whatever number you call it, the one thing you can say with certainty is that it was a lot. My day started early in the morning, joining a large convoy of buses from my home city. When we stopped off at the motorway services, the car park was crowded with buses from other convoys all over Britain. It was as if the armies massing in the Kuwaiti desert were being matched by another, entirely unarmed, force, descending on London.

At times you couldn’t really call it a march. It was more of a shuffle, the sheer volume of people being too great for the streets they were passing through. It wasn’t just the numbers that were striking either. The people in attendance were not just the usual types one would find at a protest. Sure, there were the Trotskyists, the veteran, grey-haired Communists who’d forgotten the Cold War was over, the anarchists, the Greens. But the overwhelming majority of people were just concerned individuals, many of had never been on a protest march before.

The whole thing culminated in Hyde Park, where the Rev Jesse Jackson exhorted a vast crowd to “keep hope alive”. I then tried and failed to find my coach home, which was logjammed in somewhere among a massive fleet of other coaches. In the end I gave up and headed to Paddington to find a train.

For a very brief period it seemed as if something truly epoch-defining had happened. The Stop the War Coalition had become a genuine mass movement, representing large swathes of the population. Surely something had been changed.

In fact, nothing had changed. Just over a month later, troops surged across the Iraqi border. A million or so British people marching through London hadn’t stopped the British Army marching through Basra. You know the rest – a messy invasion followed by an even messier occupation. Another messy occupation in Afghanistan. A steady stream of civilian deaths in both those countries. Another stream of British lads coming home in Union Jack-draped coffins, or with limbs missing, or without a scratch but inwardly tormented by what they’d had to see and do. Plus all the nasty hangovers that we’re still left with – instability in the Middle East and North Africa, drone strikes in Pakistan and so on. Not to mention the ruined legacies of Bush and Blair, paving the way for the presidency of Barack Obama – the only Nobel Peace Prize winner in history to have a kill list.

As for the Stop the War Coalition, their time as a mass movement was short-lived. With the failure to achieve the goal they were named after, the number of people attending their protests shrank rapidly. The demographic also changed. For many of those who attended their first protest on February 15th, it was also their last. The STWC quickly shrivelled to its rump of the Trots and those scowling old men in red sweaters.

Two of its core organisations – the Socialist Workers Party and the Muslim Association of Britain – joined to form a political party, the Respect Coalition. The two groups shared an opposition to the war, a stance of support for Palestine and precious little else. They scored some minor electoral upsets before the coalition was torn apart by the differences between the two groups. Respect still exists, but mainly as a small fan club for George Galloway MP – a man whose main ideology tends to be George Galloway. Meanwhile, the SWP is currently deservedly imploding due to a rape scandal.

February 15 may have been a mass outpouring of the word “No”, but was it ultimately heard?

There was also another throwback to ten years ago this week. Real-terms wages have now fallen back to 2003 levels.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose….

 

 

Diagnosis Shopping

The following story is fictional, but inspired by several real cases that I’ve been involved in.

A child is brought to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) by his parents. Mother is convinced he has aspergers. The child is clearly troubled, and shows signs of palpable distress. However, he shows no signs whatsoever of being on the autistic spectrum. On the contrary, he’s sociable, emotionally responsive, with no ritualistic behaviours and no sensory issues.

The school report he’s emotionally fragile, with low self-esteem. His teachers report that Mum seems very negative towards him.

The family spend some time with the family therapist. Themes emerge that Mum is strongly rejecting of the lad. She seems to be projecting something onto him, but we don’t get to find out what because Mum promptly sacks the family therapist as soon as he starts exploring that particular route.

Mum tells the consultant that he needs individual work on anger management and social skills, not this family therapy rubbish. The CPN gives him some individual sessions. For some unfathomable reason, the CPN has a habit of ensuring that Mum is in the room during the “individual therapy”. This is what is known as family therapy by stealth.

The boy is reviewed by the consultant. He’s now doing better, and there’s no evidence of mental illness or developmental disorder. Mum insists he has asperger’s, and demands a second opinion.

Another consultant provides a second opinion. No evidence of asperger’s or any other problems. Mum declares that she is outraged by this shabby treatment at the hands of the NHS.

The case is discussed in our team meeting. We feel we’ve done as much as we can. There’s nothing wrong with the boy, but Mum won’t take no for an answer. A team decision is made to discharge him from CAMHS.

As the discharge letter is being typed up, we get a phone call from the school. Mum has taken him to a child psychiatrist in private practice. After a single appointment, the private shrink has diagnosed him with asperger’s.

It seems that in a free market, even diagnoses are for sale.