Weekend Mum

Maternity leave is over. Five mornings out of seven, I get up at six, feed Jimmy his milk and banana, wash and dress while he’s still eating and leave, shutting the door behind me; by 7.30 at the latest.
I don’t think about him at work. I even try not to think about work when I’m with him. I just concentrate on doing one thing at a time, to the best of my ability.  It’s easy because I enjoy almost everything I do. I live a good life. A man’s life really. I shut the door behind me and go off to argue with tribunal judges, write training materials on the bedroom tax, talk to other adults and eat lunch while reading the paper.
I enjoy the security and pleasure of a family life without any cost to my career or my sense of self.
I reckon if I was a stay at home mum, I’d want a husband like me. One, who helps in the mornings, gets home for the bedtime routine and still does a hand’s turn around the kitchen. Nick doesn’t always agree. There are certain things around the house that neither of us has taken responsibility for. It’s not clear whose job they are and they cause little arguments and resentment every time they need doing.
I contemplate career progression and speculate aloud about going for promotion. Not yet of course, some time far in the future, when Jimmy’s at secondary school and doesn’t need me about so much.
Nick is amazed at this. “No Man would think like that” he says and I consider things from another angle. I’m the bread winner now. Perhaps that’s a responsibility worth taking seriously as well.
2 days out of 5, I play fun weekend mum. I take Jimmy to soft play, to the library, to the swimming pool. We sit in little Italian cafes so he can eat pieces of penne off my saucer and charm the waiters into tolerating our mess.
“Is he old enough for the zoo yet?” I wonder aloud and Nick says “No, not quite. Perhaps in another 6 months” I don’t know these things anymore. I have to ask.
Jimmy’s eyes light up when he sees Nick enter the room and he does that delighted little baby squeak. Nick holds him close and I see how easy they are with each other now.
“I love to see you two together like that” I tell Nick; “It’s a real reassurance to me to know, he’s being cared for so well, while I’m away at work”
Apparently this is also something a man would never say, which surprises me. As a good Marxist, I always assume material conditions determine consciousness. Living this husband’s life- I imagined my concerns would be similar to any of the fathers at my work.
“Oh no, Men don’t have that sense of responsibility. We see children as competition if anything.”
My husband is not one of those men who would describe themselves as a feminist.
He’s something better than that. A man who is willing to let me in on what men are really like- instead of always trying to convince me of how different he is from the others.
I know what he says is true. How else to account for the increased risk of domestic violence when women are pregnant or have recently given birth? It would be a mistake to assume violent men are the aberrations. Every heterosexual relationship plays out in the shadow of those same power relations.
On some deep level I have known this already. That deep pleasure I feel when I see them getting on together. I can name it. It is relief.

A Sorry Sort of Privilege

There’s a description in Carol Craig’s excellent book: The Tears that made the Clyde
of women and children hanging around the gates of factories and shipyards, or outside pubs. It was pay day and they were hoping to run into their men folk and shame them into giving them something from their pay to run the household, before everything was drunk away.
 At the time, it was common, accepted practice, for the man take all the money and spend it on his own pleasures. So much so, that trade unionists, recognising alcoholism as a problem, had a campaign to persuade landlords to refuse service once half of a man’s pay had been drunk.
 In other words, the most progressive, left wing men around at that time thought that it was reasonable for one member of a household, to spend half of the entire money for a family, for one week, on himself, in a single night.
 I read this, with a short lived sense of relief at how far we had come.
Short lived until I noticed the number of adult men coming into the advice centre, where I then worked, with raging substance issues and cheerfully tell me about the financial help they were getting from aged parents, from girlfriends, from ex partners even.
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Organisational Response to Sexual Violence in Activist Groups: Six Common Mistakes

Trigger Warning: This post discusses Sexual Assault

Recently, the issue of sexual violence in activist circles has very much come into the fore. A number of attacks have come to light and a lot of people have been wrestling with the hard fact of sexual predators in the scene.
In light of all this, I’ve decided to write a post, on the some of the  most common mistakes and pitfalls I’ve noticed in activist organisations trying to deal with these issues. Here are my top 6 common mistakes to avoid:
  1. Not having a policy.
The most basic mistake is not to have a policy. Perhaps you hope you will never need one and I certainly hope you are right. The fact is however, that sexual violence is as prevalent amongst the activist community as it is in wider society and failing to prepare will certainly not protect you from having to deal with it.
Perhaps you don’t feel qualified to write one. This is natural enough, but think about it: if sexual violence is a difficult subject to broach now, how much harder will it be to deal with when it happens. Better to think it through now and be prepared.
  1. Ill defined Responsibilities
Activist spaces are often places where new methods and structures of organisation are pioneered and experimented with. This can mean a very loose structure where responsibility and decision making is shared. The flip side of this is that sometimes no one takes responsibility and important issues fall through the cracks.
It is not acceptable for anyone’s safety to be left up to chance.
Regardless of organisational structure: It should always be clear to all participants, who they should speak to if they feel uncomfortable with someone’s presence or behaviour or if they have information which may be important to the safety of others.
That person tasked with this role should be competent to carry out the task, should be clear about the response required and should be supported to carry it out.
  1. Open/large meetings
Some activist spaces make decisions in large open meetings. These can be empowering and fun but also unpredictable and intimidating.
Large open meetings are not safe places to disclose personal, sensitive or painful information and it should go without saying that survivors should not be expected to bring instances of sexual assault in activist spaces to meetings like this.
  1. Not believing women who report a sexual assault
This is possibly the single most damaging mistake. The worst possible thing you can do to someone who has been sexually assaulted is to not believe her.
  1.  Hearing “both sides”
Activists like to feel they are fair. They don’t like to jump to conclusions about people. A common error is to attempt to achieve fairness by making space for a person accused of sexual assault, harassment or rape a “right of reply”
It should be obvious that this is inconsistent with point 4, but since a surprising number of people have trouble with this, I’ll go into more depth.
What “hearing both sides” amounts to is setting up a quasi judicial process, within an activist group. This is not something any activist group is really qualified to do, and neither should they try.
The reason a real court adopts this approach is that they have a responsibility to ascertain exactly what happened, beyond reasonable doubt and the power to send someone to prison.
Putting aside the woefully low conviction rate for rape, which is a subject for another day, consider this: as an activist group, do you have the same power or the same responsibility?
You don’t of course. Your only responsibility in this situation is to keep your own members safe and your only real sanction against people who threaten that safety is to exclude them from your events.
Even if we accept the judicial “hear both sides” type approach from the legal system therefore, it doesn’t follow that we need to adopt it ourselves.
More sensible and pragmatic then, given that you will NEVER know for an absolute certainty what went on between two other people in private, is to work from the understanding that false accusations are vanishingly rare.
Believe the survivor, thank her for bringing this important public safety information to your attention and then act on it as appropriate, hopefully in line with her wishes and the sensible policy you already drew up.
  1. Letting everyone having their say
It’s understandable that when information about a sexual assault comes out, everyone is shocked and upset. They want to know details of what happened and they want to have their say. This is particularly true of those who are close friends or comrades of the perpetrator.
It’s understandable that they want these things, but they should never be allowed to have it. Any conversation about the rights and wrongs of a particular incident puts the word of the survivor up for question and this cannot be tolerated.
Plus, if you allow everyone to have a say, rape culture will tend to rear its ugly head and all sorts of hurtful and wrong headed stuff will be said.
This is where that written policy is so important, because you can point to it and say
 “Look this is the policy. We agreed democratically to adopt this and now we will have to implement it.”
This hopefully takes some of the heat out of the situation and gets everyone people to back off before they inadvertently and for the most understandable of reasons, fuck things up worse than they already are.
 So, What should we be doing instead?
This is a question, no one person is qualified to answer in full.
The truth is that collectively we need to improve our response to these situations. I would like to us build a consensus across the movement on some basic principles that should, in all cases govern a response, adopting a survivor centred approach.
I would also like to see some formal lines of coordination between different activist groups, similar to the pubwatch scheme so that if someone has been a sexual predator in one activist group, it shouldn’t be possible for them to simply move on to the next.
The fractured and sectarian nature of some of our scene is a major structural weakness, but in this case it is a danger to our members as well.

 

Riding the waves

Feminism is in flux these days.

As the waves lap at the shore, generational differences are crashing into one another and creating a lot of white water. I’m not old enough to remember the start of the second wave, but I am almost certain that there would have been conflict between first wavers who concentrated on the political and legal situation of women, and the next generation who explored the social and sexual. Not, of course, that these are necessarily in conflict: the legal framework of any group defines its social position, and indeed it was only at the start of the second wave that the Equal Pay act was introduced, and well into it before women got the right of independent taxation.

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On Defeating the Kyriarchy (post 3/3)

Consciousness raising is critical to any attempts to overcome kyriarchical thinking, but it needs re-envisaged. Traditional consciousness raising of the type which became popular during second wave feminism concentrated on examining the oppressions to which the recessive group were subject highlighting to other members of the group their oppression. It is for the radical to examine their own oppressive practices and behaviours. As a member of a privileged group – whatever that privilege may be in any particular circumstances – it can be both an enlightening and humbling experience to examine the oppression which you perpetuate. Developing an oppositional consciousness, allying ourselves with the oppressed and encouraging others to do likewise is a more productive strategy than consistently fighting the other from a position of weakness.
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On Defeating the Kyriarchy (post 2/3)

Within each of the identity based oppressions there are a number of different strategies used to attempt to overcome them.  At its most fundamental is consciousness raising, alerting members of the oppressed community imbibed with the its values to the ways in which it oppresses them to encourage them to challenge and fight against it.   Conciousness raising is a critical issue and one which should not be underestimated.  From birth we are shaped by the society in which we are born into.  That society is not universally experienced, a Black child born to Black lesbian parents in a Black dominated suburb will experience the kyriarchy differently from a white child born to a married couple in the same community, never the less the dominant values, transmitted through mass media, legal governance and state ideological apparatuses operate directly on the sense of self, while interactions with others, also subject to the same social effects and each with individual experiences of their own identity, their immediate environmental identity and the identity of their social community.
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On Defeating the Kyriarchy (post 1/3)

Kyriachy is a term coined in 1992 by Fliorenza and adopted by many third wave feminists as a more encompassing view of power and privilege than the concept of patriarchy, which dominated the analysis of most second wave feminists.  Understanding the concerns of, in particular, women of colour, third wave feminists have attempted to go beyond the narrow “ranking of the oppressions” which caused so many difficulties towards the end of the second wave, causing division and resentment within feminist ranks.

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On the Jury and Sectarian and Sexual Violence: A Response to Lallands Peat Worrier

I’m a big fan of Lallands Peat Worrier, his blog, his Tweets and his person; he’s on the side of angels and he has a lovely brain the size of a planet. His latest post disturbed me a little though, so here is me writing out my understanding of why I’m disturbed. I also ramble into more of a response to the content of his post and the case it discusses: the implications of the Neil Lennon sectarian / assault case for Scotland’s anti-sectarianism law.

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Kill the Goddess and Birth the Cyborg

A cyborg is an odd creature, not entirely of woman born, but one which lives in the complex hybrid spaces between man and machine, a fictional creature with a lived social reality. Traditional conceptions of humanity rest with our primate origins, our connection with nature and our material existence; the cyborg however unites the man with the man-made, where human augmentation reaches beyond the traditional senses. Hearing is amplified through the use of the telephone; sight through televisuals and touch through haptic technologies. Identity and personhood extend beyond the embodied through the created and on into the ether.

It is in this world that contemporary womanhood is situated. Technology is not created in a vacuum, it is the dominant with access to resources – material and human – that drives technological development. Much of contemporary technology is developed for military and commercial purposes, for the exercise of domination, power and control whether physical or economic. Technological production enslaves Third World women, paid bobbins to produce expensive luxury consumer electronics for Western consumption; uneven technological distribution empowers the wealthy over the poor and technological consumption enslaves workers to their bases, ever on call in a virtual workplace.  Yet technology is subversive, once the genie is let out the bottle, it cannot be contained. Advances in technology, although originally developed to wield power, eventually seep to the masses.  Literacy, a highly prized skill, which required scarce and expensive resources in the middle ages was originally used to enhance the power of the Church, but eventually provided mass communication through the development of the printing press and the ballpoint pen. Many of the developments in audio-visual technology, such as the polaroid camera (first edition: “The Swinger”), cable television and streaming video were driven by the pornography industry, yet now provide citizen recording. So too with the rise of the internet – originally conceptualised by the US military as a means of maintaining information and survival in the event of a nuclear strike, today it operates as a mass communications device. In the West, mass technology is ubiquitous, although this is not yet the case in the developing world, the growth rate is phenomenal, with several steps of development skipped – why lay land lines in Africa when mobile phones require so much less infrastructure?

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