Prejudice or Privilege? Some Difficulties with Privilege-Checking

A couple of weeks ago there was a fairly spirited exchange between the former MP Louise Mensch and the feminist writer Laurie Penny over the phrase “check your privilege”, which started out as a feminist term on Livejournal, and has turned into something of a Twitter trope. It’s mostly (though not exclusively) used in online feminist debate. Louise Mensch isn’t a fan of it.

And that is what the modern feminist movement has become. Full of intersectionality, debates about middle-class privilege, hand-wringing over a good education (this is again “privilege” and not well-deserved success), and otherwise intelligent women backing out of debates and sitting around frenziedly checking their privilege.

It does nothing. It accomplishes nothing. It changes nothing.

Laurie Penny defended the term.

Telling someone to “check their privilege” isn’t the same as censoring or silencing, but to people who aren’t often introduced to the concept that they might be wrong, it can sometimes feel that way. When someone asks you to check your privilege, it doesn’t mean you should stop talking – it means you should start listening, and sometimes that involves giving the other person in the room a chance to speak. That’s what often upsets people most about the whole idea. It’s about who gets to speak, and who has to listen, and social media is changing those rules.

I’ve been pondering this for a while, and I’m going to give a list of what I think are some of the problems with privilege-checking. Some have suggested that the only people who have an issue with being asked to check their privilege are those who are privileged themselves. Given that I’m white, male, straight, cisgender, middle-class and able-bodied, quite possibly I may be guilty as charged here.

But here’s something I’ve noticed about the often-virulent arguments between feminists on social media (anyone who says, “If feminism ruled the world, there’d be no war” doesn’t have a Twitter account). These are debates where I’m at best an ally and at worst merely an outside observer, but when I’ve criticised some of the discourse, I seem to get an easier ride than when those on the inside say the same thing. Why are those involved expending so much energy to hurl vitriol at other feminists like Louise Mensch, Caitlin Moran and Helen Lewis? Why aren’t they flaming me?

I suspect that might be one to file under, “Be careful what you wish for”.

Anyway, here’s what I think are some of the problems with saying, “check your privilege.”

1. Not all privileges and oppressions are immediately apparent.

When someone says “check your privilege”, it suggests that they know what privileges the other person has. Trouble is, there are plenty of hidden oppressions and privileges. A history of mental health problems and/or childhood abuse, for example. I recently spoke to a woman with an anxiety disorder who got Twitterstormed by various feminists who (wrongly) interpreted a comment by her as transphobic. Getting bombarded with abusive messages telling her to check her privilege for several hours prompted a mental health relapse.

Even apparently straightforward privileges/oppressions might not be especially visible, especially if all you know about someone is from their social media profile. I spoke to a woman who’d been accused of showing her “white privilege”. When she pointed out that she’s actually mixed-race, she got the retort that since she could pass for white, she still has white privilege.

2. It’s patronising and dismissive.

I’ve actually seen some suggestions that Stephen Fry, when talking about his mental health problems, is doing so from a “privileged” perspective. Admittedly that was said before he disclosed his recent suicide attempt, but even so, do we really want to tell people with a mental illness to check their privilege? Sounds a little too close to, “Chin up, you could be starving in Africa.”

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3. Privileges and oppressions don’t necessarily affect prejudices in straightforward, linear ways.

This point leads me onto the question whether we should really be talking about prejudice rather than privilege. There seems to be an assumption in “check your privilege” that more privileged = more prejudiced and more oppressed = less prejudices. Okay, there’s plenty of examples where that’s true, but by no means always. George Orwell was educated at Eton, and went on to become one of the sharpest observers of injustice and the abuse of power in English literary history. Or there’s Joe Strummer, the son of a diplomat.

Sadly it can also be the case that some people subject to various oppressions can internalise the oppressor’s logic, and even applying it to their fellow oppressed. There isn’t a shortage of people on benefits who will tell you that there’s too many benefit scroungers in this country – though they’d frequently be mortified if someone suggested that they might be seen in the same way by others. Likewise, a while back I had a conversation with a Nigerian-born woman, and was surprised to discover that her views on immigration were well to the right of mine. She simply didn’t view herself as that sort of immigrant.

4. Privilege isn’t the only thing that affects prejudice.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying privilege doesn’t affect prejudice. It can affect it a lot. But it’s not the only thing – what about your life experiences, the people you’ve met, your cultural background, the books (and blogs and Twitter feeds) that you’ve read? this is why I think it’s better to have a wider discussion about prejudice (of which privilege can be a part) rather than talking simply about privilege.

5. It talks at people rather than with people.

Laurie Penny insists that “check your privilege” is an invitation to listen rather than telling someone to shut up. That’s fine in principle, but having seen it used in various Twitter flame-wars, it’s clear that all too often it does get used as a shorthand for, “You are male/white/straight/cis/able-bodied therefore argument invalid.”

And even if it is used as an invitation to listen, is the other person also listening? I actually agree with Penny that social media is changing the way people communicate, but for slightly different reasons. Social media changes the old world of books and newspapers from one in which ideas are presented to the public, into one in which those ideas are co-created by people talking and listening with each other rather than at each other.

I’ve actually found blogs and Twitter to be powerful tools in challenging and reshaping my prejudices. I can hear about the lives of prisoners through @PrisonerBen or sex workers such as @itsjustahobby or @pastachips – two groups that tend to be talked about or to rather than with. Just recently I’ve been reading about the experience of having a gender identity that doesn’t fit into a binary male/female divide from @halfabear and @jaspergregory – a group that’s barely written about at all. But these people didn’t change my thinking through, “I’m going to tell you about your life and what you think”, which is what “check your privilege” does. They did so by saying, “I’d like to invite you to hear about my life and my thoughts.”

Ultimately, I don’t think people’s views are changed by simply tweeting “check your privilege” at each other, and in that sense it fails in its purpose. It doesn’t get the recipient to think differently. If anything, it’s the obsolete old media thinking of talking at people rather than with them. I think views are changed through civil constructive discourse where people tell each other about their own lives rather than presuming to tell someone else about theirs.

On Cyberbullying

It occurred to me recently that in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) we seem to come across more cases of cyberbullying these days than real-world bullying. It shouldn’t be considered a trivial issue simply because it happens online. I’ve seen more than one case of a child winding up in hospital from an overdose following a cyberbullying incident.

My (admittedly anecdotal) impression is that the problem is getting worse. Possibly this may be due to the ever-evolving and increasing variety of ways that people can get online. The kids who use these new platforms via their computers, phones, iPods and XBoxes (give it another week, and they’ll be doing it through the fridge) are often more technically adept at social media than the parents, teachers and other adults who are supposed to be keeping an eye on what they’re doing. I consider myself pretty social media savvy. I use Twitter and blogs every day and have been for years. But even I keep coming across platforms mentioned by kids that I’ve never heard of (what the hell is Kik?) And if I’m struggling to keep pace, what hope for the more Luddite colleagues and parents I work with?

The trouble is, our kids may be the most technically-adept generation when it comes to social media, but in many cases they haven’t developed the emotional awareness to deal with some of the issues they may come across. If it’s a particularly vulnerable child, then this can be a recipe for disaster. If you include not just cyber-bullying but also online issues like pro-ana, or pro-self-harm sites, or online grooming, then there’s barely a day that goes by recently where we haven’t dealt with an issue of a child running into difficulties due to social media.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying social media can’t be helpful. Those of you who’ve read my writings will know that I’m a big advocate of the manner in which these platforms can be used as a force for good in mental health. I do also come across kids gaining benefits from social media. Resources such as Teen Depression Connect have been recommended to me by young people who found them beneficial to their recovery. Socially isolated teenagers have found the internet a lifeline that gives them someone to talk to when there’s nobody else. But the pitfalls are there too.

A site that seems to be especially problematic is Ask.fm, in which users invite others to submit questions to them, sometimes anonymously. People have misused it to send abusive messages. The site has been criticised for lacking ways to block users or to report abuse. When I was browsing it yesterday, it looks like blocking methods are now in place, but I’m told they’re pretty easy to get around. Worryingly, I’ve been told of cases where a young person has suddenly received hundreds of abusive messages in the space of a few hours on Ask.fm.

Then again, if we’re talking about someone receiving large volumes of abuse in a short space of time, perhaps some of us adults can’t preach to the kids. In my previous post I mentioned an online friend with an anxiety disorder who relapsed after being Twitterstormed by people who identify with intersectional feminism. Although most of the reactions I’ve received to that post have been broadly supportive, some people have expressed scepticism that the woman who got piled-on didn’t deserve it. So I think I’ll say a bit more about what happened.

A prominent feminist with a large following stated on Twitter that she felt the other person had made a comment in an article which was transphobic. This person then responded saying that it wasn’t actually a reference to transgender people, but she had amended it to avoid any confusion.

Frankly, the matter should have ended there. Unfortunately the person who challenged her didn’t do it by messaging her directly. She publicly “called out” the other person to her tens of thousands of Twitter followers. The result was a large, intense stream of hostile messages that continued for several hours. Days later, the recipient was still getting the occasional angry message from people who got the memo late.

I suspect most people don’t know how intimidating and upsetting a Twitterstorm can be until they’ve been Twitterstormed themselves. I have been – not by the intersectionalists, but by the fans of a TV celebrity. It leaves the recipient feeling victimised, targeted and angry. It’s probably also fair to say that the experience of a participant in a Twitterstorm is likely to be very different from that of the recipient. They may not feel they’re bullying anyone. They may feel they’re just sending a message expressing disagreement. However, the person on the other end may have received hundreds of such messages in the past hour, and is unlikely to see it in the same way.

If this was an attempt to persuade the woman in question to come over to a more intersectional way of thinking, it was a dismal failure. Not only did her anxiety disorder relapse, but she also came to the decision that she wanted nothing more to do with feminism because, “the Raping Patriarchy seem more interested in fairness than the sistahood.” (note to the irony-deficient: she was being sarcastic there.) She’s also now gone on a break from the Internet in order to safeguard her mental health.

But then it’s debatable how much of this is about winning people over. Intersectionality – the idea that different liberation movements should unite and understand how different forms of oppression intersect with each other – is in itself a very laudable aim. I fully agree with it. But I don’t think these intersectionalist Twitterstorms are actually prompted by the ideas and theories. I think they’re more the result of certain communication styles.

I’m sure I’ll get some angry disagreement for saying this, but some of the pile-ons by intersectionalists strike me as having more than a whiff of personal vendettas to them. Frequent targets seem to be figures who are perceived to be major figures in feminism or on the broader Left. The Times columnist Caitlin Moran, the Independent columnist Owen Jones and the New Statesman editor Helen Lewis get this particularly regularly; often for the most mind-meltingly trivial reasons. Frankly, it reeks of jealousy. As in, “Why did they get newspaper columns and book deals, and not me?”

I want to conclude on a positive suggestion, so I’ll recommend this post by the feminist and trade union activist Ellie Mae O’Hagan.

I will continue to voice disagreements with other feminists, but I will do so in a spirit of solidarity and respect, which recognises that ultimately our aims are shared.

I will not be rude. I will not be condescending. I will not turn debates into a kind of theatre by ensuring they are as public as possible.

I will be civil. I will be kind. I will approach debates remembering that all feminists want independence and equality, even if we disagree on how to get there. I will recognise that I don’t have all the answers myself.

In social media we’re dealing with an evolving technology. Our ideas of kindness and decency don’t so much need to evolve with it as much as we need to take the age-old concept of respectful disagreement and apply it to new media.

Bullying is wrong, whether in cyberspace or meatspace. We as adults need to role-model that, because if we don’t refrain from cyberbullying, how can we expect our children not to?

#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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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.

stavvers

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.

 

Should men embrace feminism?

Just recently I’ve been marshalling my thoughts about the male view of feminism. Should men engage with feminism, take an active part in it, even call themselves feminists? I’ve come to this topic at least partly as a result of a bizarre, distressing sequence of events that happened to me over the past year.

First off, I’ll present a dissenting view. Stuart Sorensen is a blogger with whom I rarely disagree. His training resources and opinion pieces on mental health are of consistently high quality, and he is clearly a very decent guy who cares passionately about improving the care received by people who use mental health services. But if I agree with him on mental health, I have to disagree with his views on feminism.

I support the rights of all people but because of reactions such as this I and a great many men cannot support feminism. This is not because I disagree with womens’ rights but because I cannot & will not ally myself with this sort of bigoted, superficial reasoning.

At its heart feminism has some very laudable aims which I do support. But I’ll never call myself feminist because I don’t want my support for reasonable political principles to be hijacked by those who seem determined to maintain a divide between the sexes.

In all fairness to Sorensen, his view on feminism has been coloured by an unpleasant experience where he’d been falsely accused of domestic abuse by a former partner. Also to be fair, the feminist movement does have its nasty extremes. Only last week, there was an uproar on Twitter about the RadFem2012 conference, which plans not only to ban men from the premises, but also transgender women who were born as men. A classic case of the oppressed becoming the oppressor.

I certainly wouldn’t subscribe to any demonisation of men (or transgender people, for that matter). I don’t think men have to apologise for being men, and I certainly don’t think men accused of abuse should be considered guilty until proven innocent. But feminism is a broad church, not a narrow ideology. If I would reject the bigots of RadFem2012, I would also accept that certain branches of feminism contain little, if anything, that I would disagree with. Sex-positive feminism, for example, echoes a lot of my views on gender, sexuality and censorship.

I suspect, ultimately, my disagreement with Stuart Sorensen may amount to little more than a semantic debate about what does or doesn’t constitute feminism, rather than any dispute about how people should be treated.

If it was a nasty set of events that propelled Sorensen away from feminism, it was an equally unpleasant experience that has recently drawn me towards it. A couple of years ago I was editing a group blog called Mental Nurse, which had developed a reputation (which I like to think was deserved) for campaigning for the rights of people with mental health problems, and for challenging stigma. At the time that the site closed in March 2011, it was one of the UK’s most popular mental health blogs.

In August 2010, somebody e-mailed me a link to an article about borderline personality disorder, written by an American psychologist. The tone of the article shocked me.

Cluster B’s aren’t “mentally ill” like Schizophrenics and Bipolars are mentally ill. Schizophrenics and Bipolars can’t control their bizarre thoughts, behaviors, impulses and/or hallucinations without medication and deserve our compassion and sympathy. Many self-identified BPD’s and other Cluster B’s plaintively bleat the following statements with great regularity:

“But I can’t help the way I am!”

“I didn’t ask to be BPD!” (Reminds me of a disaffected teen shouting, “I didn’t ask to be born!” Yeah, well, you’re here now, so what’re you gonna do about it?)….

Instead, let’s call them what they are; sociopaths. All the Cluster B disorders are just similar flavors of sociopathy. Giving Cluster B individuals and their ilk the protective cloak of “mental illness” provides them with a “get out of jail free card” and allays our existential dilemma on the concept of evil. Instead, we tell ourselves, “She has problems. She’s sick. We have to be patient and understanding.”…

There’s a lobby of BPD activists who want the psychiatric community to change the term “Borderline Personality Disorder” to Emotional Dysregulation Disorder. Aside from having to edit all of my previous posts, I say a rose by any other name would still have nasty, hooky little thorns. Pardon my language, but I think the terms crazy asshole, mean jerk, toxic person or bad person are better than diagnostic labels. Why? Because everyone knows that you should avoid crazy assholes at all costs and whenever possible.

This is stigma. Pure and simple. And against a very vulnerable group of people. I don’t believe people with borderline personality disorder are simply bad people. As a CAMHS practioner, I’m a strong believer in early interventions, getting them into therapy at a young age to help them to develop the coping skills in order to function with life.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the psychologist in question was part of what’s come to be known as the “Manosphere”. They go by various names – the Mens Rights Movement, Mens Rights Activists, Men Going Their Own Way. They advance a view that men are emasculated in contemporary society, by feminism, by false allegations of rape and so on. The psychologist’s rant against borderline personality disorder was intended as a warning about the dangers of manipulative or deceitful female partners.

Whatever one thinks about such a viewpoint, these Mens Rights Activists (MRAs for short) have an unfortunate tendency to come out with statements can be, quite frankly, vile, to an extent that they have come to the attention of anti-hate organisations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.

There are literally hundreds of websites, blogs and forums devoted to attacking virtually all women (or, at least, Westernized ones)…While some of them voice legitimate and sometimes disturbing complaints about the treatment of men, what is most remarkable is the misogynistic tone that pervades so many. Women are routinely maligned as sluts, gold-diggers, temptresses and worse; overly sympathetic men are dubbed “manginas”; and police and other officials are called their armed enablers.

For an eye-opening (and frequently hilarious) primer on the antics of the Manosphere, I highly recommend David Futrelle’s Manboobz (Warning: possible abuse triggers) blog, which documents and mocks online misogyny.

I didn’t know about the wider Manosphere back then. I just knew that I was reading a spectacularly hateful article by a self-proclaimed mental health professional. Some British women attempted to debate with the psychologist on her (yes, her – the Manosphere has a Women’s Auxiliary) blog, and got some very obnoxious replies for their trouble.

As tends to happen when a bunch of British people come across a bunch of Americans being not only very nasty but also with a total lack of self-awareness, the result was a minor explosion of mickey-taking, on the Mental Nurse site, on other blogs, on Facebook and on Twitter. After Mental Nurse started being described by the MRAs as “the primary enabler site”, several people amended their Facebook profiles to read “Mental Nurse is my primary enabler”. Admittedly some of the ridiculing did become rather juvenile and silly, but no worse than many of the regular Twitterstorms that erupt whenever somebody says or does something offensive.

A couple of months later, when we’d by and large forgotten all about it, the Mental Nurse site got an e-mail from a UK solicitor, who had been hired by the psychologist, demanding damages and information about various people who she held responsible, including me. We then did what most people do when they get a legal nastygram – we bricked ourselves and backed down on the spot. All references to the psychologist were removed from the site, we e-mailed other people to warn them to take stuff down, and then my co-editor e-mailed the solicitor asking him for an update on the situation. We got no reply.

No response? Fair enough, we’ve had a nasty letter intended to scare us and scour her Google rankings of anything negative about her. That seems to be the end of it.

Or that’s what we thought.

What followed was a long saga in which the psychologist – initially entirely unkown to any of us – went to extraordinary and expensive lengths to track down the people who had ridiculed her views – sending solicitors letters to domain providers, hiring bailiffs to go to peoples’ homes, obtaining court orders for internet providers to reveal peoples’ addresses.

In February 2011 she found someone, and submitted a court claim against him. Bizarrely, the defendant was in Scotland, but the claim was submitted in England. It was struck out on the spot on jurisdiction grounds, and never went to court.

The defendant was concerned that she might try again to sue him in Scotland, and decided to write to her solicitor and offer a settlement. He had taken legal advice and been assured that she had no case. Even so, the eye-watering amounts of money needed to fight civil litigation mean that it’s not at all unusual for people with good defences to cave in rather than risk being bankrupted by the cost of fighting.

Fast forward to June – I and two other people got e-mails from the defendant. The claimant wanted our personal details as a condition of settlement. Did we consent to our details being handed over? We all wrote back refusing consent.

In July, one of the other two people got a letter from her solicitor to his. It transpired the identities had been passed to her as demanded. I don’t blame the guy for doing so. He was just trying to protect himself and his family. To his credit, there was one identity that he didn’t reveal. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s the person who he regarded as the most vulnerable if publicly outed.

This second defendant was entitled to Legal Aid, and so was able to fight. There was a court hearing, and the judge ruled that the psychologist’s claim was so riddled with errors (both factual and procedural) that she would have to re-draft it, pay for wasted court time and also pay a deposit sufficient to cover the defence costs if she were to lose. Predictably, she never showed up to the next hearing, and that was that.

She now owes an absolutely ridiculous sum of money in legal costs. Naturally I would never indulge in Schadenfreude.

By encountering this woman and her MRA goons, I feel like I’ve stared hate in the eyes. I’ve had nearly a year of living in fear, experiencing anxiety, nightmares, thinking every estate agent that parked up on my street was a bailiff hired to look for me.

Hate needs to be challenged. This mens rights “movement” is an affront not just to women but to common human decency. That is why I now think it’s right that men should align themselves with feminism.

Do I think there should be a Mens Auxiliary of the kind imagined by Valerie Solanas, in which men are expected to repeat, “I am a turd, a lowly, abject turd”? No. Men are entitled to proudly and unapologetically be men. Just not at the expense of women.

For feminism to truly succeed, there needs to be a cognitive and behavioural shift in men. We need to be willing to challenge assumptions, both in ourselves and others. I commend Manboobz author David Futrelle for doing exactly that, in a very educational and entertaining way.

I’ll say it now. I am Zarathustra, I am a man, and I am a feminist. To the psychologist who’s occupied my mind so much over this past year, I say this. I owe this conversion to you.

International Women’s Day and Feminism

Mind the gap: how women have to work until today to earn what men did last year

Today is International Women’s Day. Does there need to be a day specifically for women? Maybe, maybe not. It would seem churlish not to mark it in some way though.

I remember growing up with a sense that ‘feminism’ was of the aggressive variety and with the perception that it was about radical women who wanted to be men.  No one I knew identified themselves as ‘feminist’.

I realised over time how wrong I was and how wrong my perceptions had been. Feminism was being defined by those who  felt threatened by it. It was presented (when I was growing up in the time and area I lived)  as something to be embarrassed about. As a girl, I fed into the groupthink that feminism was about ‘man bashing’ or somehow undignified. I went to school and studied alongside boys, there was no reason for me to feel different. We had a female Prime Minister. The ‘battle’ had been won so there was no fighting left to be done. Women and girls were positioned to feel embarrassed about being ‘feminists’ as if striving for equality was some kind of struggle for equivalence.

I was wrong. I was very wrong.

In some ways, when we feel embarrassed by the labels, we are allowing feminism to be defined and marginalised. The word and the label is one to be proud of and not ashamed of. It isn’t about the ‘wanting to be men’ or ‘hating men’, it is about being proud, open and respected as women.

The world is not equal. There are discriminations and prejudices faced by women as there are for many who are marginalised for other reasons but we mustn’t be afraid or embarrassed of wanting to fight and project the need to be proud of who we are and respected as what we are.

I will never be embarrassed about calling myself a feminist. I don’t have to defend my position or pride in being a woman to anyone else. For those who feel that women have reached ‘equal status’ with men, we need only look through an average newspaper on an average day and understand the differences in reporting and tone to know that we still have a long way to go.

‘Women’s issues’ are marginalised and specialist. ‘Women’s jobs’ are lower paid and less respected. There will be exceptions but generally they will be exceptions which prove the rule.

My wish for International Womens’ Day is that we can promote feminism as a positive and inclusive which is about acceptance and understanding of different perspectives rather than using the word as a tool to oppress those who might feel differently.

We must embrace feminism and we must define it ourselves. Some feminists are feminine, some feminists aren’t, some feminists enjoy dressing up and some enjoy dressing down. We can’t  define who can and can’t be a feminist by what they do or say or are. We can all support and be feminists and should be allowed to feel proud of that.

Oppression is when people attempt to define or change  how we define ourselves.

Happy International Women’s Day.

photo: European Parliament/Flickr

Daily Mail Autism Sweepstake

And so the Daily Mail continues its mission to troll the entire nation…Today, they ask,

Is the changing role of women in our society behind the rise in autism in the past 30 years?

Oh well, I suppose it makes a change from vaccines.

There then follows what looks to me like a pretty flagrant misreading of a theory by Simon Baron-Cohen. The Mail’s idea is that brainy men are marrying other brainy women instead of some pretty simpering girl, and because brainy = autism, they’re producing autistic babies.  If that  sounds completely ridiculous to you, then you’ve understood it perfectly.

So, let’s have a sweepstake. What will the Daily Mail announce as the cause of autism next? The BBC? Irish travellers? People who live in Islington? Give your suggestions in the comments thread. Whoever predicts the right answer (or alternatively, whoever comes up with the funniest answer) will be declared the winner.