Tag Archives: sexism

Liberal = incontinent

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(access to) pornography has changed the landscape of adolescence beyond all recognition

I don’t quite buy that. The (intellectual) stumbling block I’ve always found with critics – mainstream critics, that is – of porn is the notion that it depraves and corrupts. I’ve read/viewed enough porn over my (near) 42 years to realise that it fairly represents my sexuality. Nonetheless, I’ve never felt license to violate human bodies to the extent that the GP in the above article describes. And what is this thing with anal sex anyway…

‘…in-vaginal ejaculation is so novel it occupies its own, minority-interest ‘kink’ category (‘creampie‘, if you’re interested): the converse ubiquity of ejaculation on faces and/or breasts (as far as possible from the vagina, note) and anal sex‘.

Male sexuality is a very simple thing. We find an opening; we insert; we thrust unto orgasm. That’s pretty much the definition of male. Which is not to say we’re not capable of more, or different, simply that this underlies more and different: fires it, motivates it. We simply have to choose better: to choose ways of expressing our sexuality that are less damaging; or not damaging at all.We need to reject the – currently trending – mode of liberalism that promotes ‘anything goes’; that damages both our bodies and our partners’ bodies; our minds and theirs.

Please share this post, or the above article. When we’re hurting others, and diminishing ourselves just to feel/be ‘normal something’s gone badly awry.

We need to choose better, because we can…

Anthropomorphukupzthanyoucanshakealadystickat

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What my cat taught me about gender… (from medium.com)

Little if anything, it seems… Hee hee.

‘Lolita, my 16 year-old female cat, emerged from her kitty litter box with a penis.’ On the basis of which you assign her male?

Your cat has a penis ∴ your cat is male. ARRGH! Fucking bigot! How do you know this? Have you not stopped to entertain the possibility that this is the fabled lady-penis? Later in your article you clain to have learned that ‘…gender (is) experienced from within — it’s not something you can (or should) identify from the outside…’ And surely you’re aware most MtF trans folks have intact male genitals? Party line says this is a class issue, that the surgery is prohibitively expensive for most. It is a class issue as it happens; more in the sense that the penis is both symbol and instrument of class oppression (and more fun than a stress ball to knead in times of dysphoria, boredom, horniness…).

Hell, you even go on to say ‘Mr. Lolita, as far as we know, doesn’t have a gender identity. He just has a sex: male.’ As far as you know? You’ve not bothered to take evening classes in cat tongue that you might be able to have the conversation? He/She/Zie/Hir/Miaow might identify as a dog, a wombat or a Russian space station for all you know! Good Lord!

‘Others that met Lolita, would use words like “diva” and “bitch” to describe his personality (“bitch” seems harsh, but he could get a bit hissy with strangers; especially female strangers, if that means anything)…’

Yep, it means they’re (and you’re) sexist. Cos only females get ‘hissy’ with females, right? Never males, no Siree. Male divas? What a ridiculous idea. Jeremy Clarkson, Rob Downey Jr and the drum tutor in Whiplash would be falling over themselves to be the first to scoff at such a suggestion. And you realise a bitch is a female DOG, right? How d’you think Lolita feels about being mis-specied? (assuming that he/she/zie/hir/Lord/Lady/Dr/Pope/Emperor does in fact identify as a cat; and let’s not even get started on race: looks kinda like a long-haired Burmese, but that doesn’t mean a thing: might be thinking in Siamese or Sphynx). How damned inconsiderate of his former owners not to dye his fur blue and teach him to carry an identity card…

And you don’t own him. He owns you. If you’d taken that evening class you’d understand ‘Fuck you! Just feed me! And none of that fucking Iams sawdust! No? Iams it is. Another fucking eviscerated, half-dead mouse on your pillow tomorrow morning, sonny boy.’ when you heard it.

And ‘Lolita‘. Lolita?! ‘Nuff said.

Oh, and the barista thing…

‘…Not only was this formerly female classmate of mine now a male, but — by all appearances — he was a gay male working at a gay coffee shop. (I would later see him out with other gay male friends at a gay bar.)…’ So you assumed he was gay because he appeared gay. Like you assumed your cat was female cos ‘her‘ name was ‘princess‘; and now assume he’s male cos he has a penis? Sheesh! Aand a gay coffee shop? WTF does that even mean? That they only serve super-skinny caramel lattes with rainbow sprinkles? Be sure to wipe the seat before you sit down, then; wouldn’t want you to catch anything nasty, now.

And you know, ‘formerly female’ but now a male? Either he was always male (wrong body yada yada, unlike the 99% of cis-sy folks who just love their perfect physiques) or is still (biologically) female but has busted out of the prison of ‘assignment’ in a cloud of rainbow-coloured confetti) and now identifies as male. Even the most batshit crazy MRA transjacktivist types seem to grasp that a person can’t actually change sex. Though to be fair, any kind of concensus amongst professionals and lobbyists looks to be a ways off.

You got one thing right, though; about gender and sexuality being socially constructed. Who knew?

…from the mouths of babes?…

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WTF?! Yeah, that was my initial reaction. Not in a bad way, though…

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/109573972″>Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism by FCKH8.com</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/fckh8″>FCKH8.com</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Easier to berate kids for using cuss-words than face up to the crushing realities of sexual violence, gender stereotyping and pay inequality. Is this clip effective? Jury’s out on that one; but it’s certainly on-message…

I could pick, but I’m not going to. This is one of those odd occasions – District 9 springs to mind – when po-mo irony kinda works for me.

FCKH8‘s clip landed in my inbox via Upworthy.com

Gender role model

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‘This is not about gender…’

No? Legler‘s opening statements ‘I am a woman. I model men’s clothes’ immediately beg the question, ‘but are they men’s clothes, when a woman wears them?’ She’s a woman, and they’re her clothes, at least whilst she models them. Legler might not wish gender to be the focus of critical discussion around her position in the fashion world, much as Eminem might not have wished race to be the focus of critical discussion around his position (at least initially) in the hip hop world; but the reality of those worlds, and the world at large creates a certain inevitability that it will be so. The suggest otherwise seems disingenuous, as does her offense at ‘…the notion of being so removed from reality as to require a school for trends, and repulsed at the blatant attempt to co-opt and commodify culture for business profit over participation and engagement with it.’ Really? In the fashion industry?

‘To limit this conversation to the red herring of gender is dangerous, careless and nothing short of ignorant – it takes for granted the intelligence and wellbeing of our communities … It shames those who are gender-conformative and perpetuates a construct of homogeneity and belonging that is nothing short of destructive for our youth. It offers a false sense of privilege and ignorance to those who “fit” the norm (or trend) while potentially destroying those who don’t and ignoring those who are able to survive outside of it…’

There’s nothing false about the ignorance of those who ‘fit in’, nor the privilege they accrue; and there’s little to suggest they feel much in the way of shame about it. In any case, there’s a valid distinction to be made, I think, between ‘fitting in’ out of a desperation born of ignorance, and making an informed choice to live the same way. It’s not discussion around gender which is destroying anyone, so much as the fact of its existence and that too many people are too busy, lazy, scared or exploiting its opportunities to question it. No one is suggesting the conversation ought to be ‘limited’ to gender; indeed, the inclusion of gender in any conversation seems guaranteed to open up and delimit discourse, if taken in earnest.

‘…There is a historical tradition you should know about and it is certainly not about gender. It is about being fierce… [t]he cultural context further supports this wider angled discourse on the acceptance of difference (or lack thereof) beyond the specifics of female-masculinity and masculine-feminity and posits the isolated focus on gender as incorrect.’

There’s something inevitably contradictory in these kind of statements. One wonders what ‘historical tradition’ Legler is referring to which is ‘certainly not about gender’. Whilst the lens of history and changing social mores have done much to rehabilitate ‘fierce’ women safely consigned to the past – e.g. Joan of Arc – fierceness is still overwhelmingly perceived/prized as a ‘masculine’ quality; i.e. appropriate to men. Tabloids and the public (male and female) revel in denouncing confident, assertive women as ‘cold’, ‘hard-nosed bitches’, ‘predatory’ and the like, whilst continuing to laud similarly-qualified men. Modes of behaviour and attire are frequently, if not always judged thru a gendered lens; twice-gendered in fact; depending on the sex of beholder and beholden. In a world free of such divisive social constructs Legler’s career as a model would be considered unremarkable, much less newsworthy. If she is taken to heart as a role model by those striving for ‘acceptance of difference’ as seems to be her aim that is all well and good; that she couches her argument using terms such as men’s/women’s clothes; masculine-femininity/feminine-masculinity and describes herself as butch demonstrates how far off we are from being able to get past gender. That such linguistic and imaginative shortcuts are probably necessary and still make any sense to us demonstrates how far off we are from getting past gender. I read a comment on another blog recently (neglected to bookmark it – doh! but will try and dig it out) from a butch lesbian expressing consternation that so few people apprehended the difference between (her) rejecting traditional feminine behaviour and attire and co-opting masculinity. To be butch, she posited was less about being masculine per-se than expressing a natural state of female-ness untrammeled by patriarchal norms of expectation. In an egalitarian world, she suggested – to approving comments from other posters – all women might be like this. Whilst Legler cautions against ‘…taking for granted the intelligence of our communities…’ her sartorial and identity choices are likely open to the same kind of misinterpretation… because gender. It’s pervasive to the extent that male and masculine, female and feminine are inextricably linked in most people’s minds, even many who consider themselves open-minded and liberal to a fault.

In a HuffPo article inspired by a dream, shortly prior to her death, Danielle Kaufman M.D. declared unequivocally Male Organ Or Not, This Really Is A Female Body. Gender sceptics might beg to differ, of course; but we’ll leave that debate for another day, and I touch on it only because Kaufman‘s florid testimony evidences strains of the same kind of confusion that arises when one attempts to confront gender on liberal terms, to redefine away the complexities of nature and nurture. The statement ‘I am a woman [and] I model men’s clothes’ makes no more sense to the gender sceptic than Kaufman‘s (above). To be fair, Legler makes no bones about entering a man’s world as a woman, though the phenomenon of butch women embracing full-on (faux) masculinity-as-survival-tactic is being increasingly reported. People in that siyuation, who have the most to lose under gender also have the most to gain by seeing the likes of Legler successfully negotiating it, maybe? (Or maybe that’s what’s making me uneasy here; she’s negotiating the diktats of gender to her advantage, kinda like men do… Does that make me perceptive or just more sexist than I care to admit: over to you prospective reader). At 6’2″ with her chiselled features, sculpted hair and fierce demeanor, feminine is not the first word one would reach for to describe Legler. I’d wager that any number of spectators on the fashion circuit wouldn’t clock her as a woman at all – a fact which perhaps brings her some amusement as well as satisfaction:

‘If images of me out there in the world make it that much easier for another kid, and the kids around them or their parents, to get on with the more important business of figuring out who they are and how they can uniquely contribute to the stream of life, then my job is done.’

How can this not be read as a statement on gender? On gender non-conformity in particular.

The main take-out for me on this subject is that our words need to reflect both our reality and our aspirations. Wishing for good (and bad) qualities to be recognized simply as universal human qualities is somewhat futile when the language we use undermines our intent. To describe a quality as feminine is axiomatically going to demean it in a world where female is valued less than male: denying that it is ‘about gender’ cannot gloss over such deep-seated connotations. One might dream of a day when ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are simply used in jargonistic parlance when discussing the anatomy of intersex people; paralleling the way Caucasoid and Negroid are respectable terms in scientific literature, but not polite conversation. But we are not there yet.

When Legler and her peers can simply state ‘I am a woman (or just someone) modelling clothes’ we will have arrived.

Piñata

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Poetry slams can be pretty hit or miss: there’s always a danger that the message can get lost in or distorted by the medium; that delivery might obfuscate substance, or lack thereof, in that egoistic complicity between performer and audience. Katie Roiphe‘s controversial 1993 tract The Morning After detected shades of this in its postmodern critique of America’s Take Back The Night movement, for example. With that in mind, I still found Pages Matam‘s Piñata (below) both convincing and moving. As we discover at 2.00 this is a subject close to his heart, and it’s heartening to see a man calling out sexism amongst his fellows: it happens too rarely. I’m surely not the only guy guilty at times of keeping his head down for fear of being alienated amongst my peers for not being ‘one of the lads’. I says much about the current state of sex relations that I and others feel that men who do so are still worthy of note, and that men persistently fail to alter their standards of behaviour until another man calls them out on same.

A piñata (little donkey – Mexican), for the uninitiated, is a device featuring in ceremonies and celebrations – commonly associated with Mexico, though thought to date back to ancient China – consisting of a hollow receptacle which is smashed open with sticks to release candy or other treats. It’s not hard to imagine why Matam seized upon it as metaphor for (sexual) violence. For cultural and experiential reasons that might require another whole post – or book – to elaborate on, men seem to be drawn to metaphorical modes of thinking, and nowhere more so than in this subject area, and Matam‘s response to a stranger’s crass proclamation well articulates certain toxic connotations of ‘beauty’ and ‘masculinity’.

Via upworthy.com

Thank You Hater! This one’s for you…

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Another nugget of genius that fell into my inbox via upworthy.com, one that ought to bring a smile to the face of anyone who’s been on the receiving end of the kind of aggressive, spiteful and often embarrassingly-inarticulate messages that deluge Twitter, Tumblr and Youtube. It’s been up awhile, and unsurprisingly, a fair proportion of the 5,571 comments on YT come from exactly the kind of morons that Clever Pie and Isabel Fay were taking aim at. Anyone for irony?

Thank You Hater! song is now available:

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/than…

All profits will go to http://www.beatbullying.org/

Online aggression and cyber-bullying/harassment have been increasingly problematic in recent years: Osbourne/Gaga; Anita Sarkeesian; Moore/Burchill; Carolina Criado-Perez are just some of the more high-profile cases that spring to mind. 18 months on, Fay’s satire remains as timely and pertinent as ever, sadly. It’s as serious as it is funny, sending out a clear message to stay strong in the face of the bullies, and for that she is to be much commended…

On a related note, here’s a link to a recent study reported in the New Yorker: The Psychology of Online Comments. Social networking platforms are too often portrayed as the boogeyman, enabling, if not actually encouraging harmful group psychologies and feeding cultures of sexism, racism and general negativity and aggression. As so often, the truth is a little more nuanced than that: interesting reading.

Man up…

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…except don’t 😉

Repeat until sane…

‘How many boys have to kill themselves … how many women have to be abused, how many trans* people have to get assaulted … [2.48] Heartening to hear a man lay the responsibility for sexism at the right front door…

‘…Miller Lite is not the most flavourful brew…’ [1.32] got that rite [sic] 😉

‘Nobody says WOman up [1.55] they just imply it … because being directly ordered around by commercials, magazines and music is dehumanizing … when will men figure that out?’
Now there’s a question…

‘I want to be strong in a way that isn’t about physical dominance or power, MAN UP! …’

State of denial

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And the revelations continue. Today, comic Jim Davidson is identified as the latest in a succession of celebrities to be questioned as part of the ongoing Yewtree investigation into the culture of sexual crime and misdemeanor within the media.

Like Max Clifford‘s ‘…birth certificate…’ interview, Davidson‘s blog comments (apparently now deleted, see extract below) could be read as a cynical disclaimer in advance of his impending questioning. Was he one of the ‘dirty dozen’ who contacted Clifford? Did he know he was in the firing line? Pure speculation, of course…

‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

‘The Jimmy Savile witch hunt is going a bit silly now. We all are starting to speculate and accuse… even in jest. So no I don’t know who’s next. Well, if I was in the pub with the lads it would be a different story.

‘Everyone has had the nod. Everyone is now an expert. Just pick someone you don’t like and say it’s them. So I’ll be the first one to knock it on the head and belt up. How’s about that then?’

DAILY STAR

‘Front page eh?……Well I was only stating the obvious (Jim’s Newspaper). It just goes to show how much interest this Saville (sic) thing is having. I read a thing today (in The Express) some one saw Jimmy Saville (sic) pinch some girl’s bum . Apparently that is a sexual assault. Where will all this end. As odd as he was, Saville (sic) can’t defend himself.The bloke’s dead for Godsake (sic).

‘Let’s move on and get some important stories in the paper. I haven’t heard anything about Jordan lately. What’s happened?

‘Fund raising for the British Forces foundation tonight. Monday sees me, Bobby Davro, Claire Sweeny and Mike Osman off to entertain the Navy on HMS Dauntless.

‘Spare a thought today for the two British troops KIA. There’s news.

‘Oh and do I really know who the next exposed pervert is?….well, have a guess,because that’s what the press are doing,that’s what we’re all doing!’

PANORAMA

‘How come the BBC can make a program blaming the BBC?

‘It’s like having yourself arrested and then being your own prosecuting barrister!

‘The BBC has finaly (sic) gone mental. This hot bed of leftyness has asked itself the question: “Should we have known?” The answer is yes. We all knew didn’t we?

‘A bloke who’s a loner dresses and acts like a nonce and thinks he is the most important person in the world. Hmmm. I knew… and didn’t do anything. Mind you I had no proof. To me he was just another pervert.

‘There are lots of them in Showbiz. There seems to be more gay ones than straight, but that’s because there are probably more gays in showbiz than most professions.

‘Who’s next to be the victim of a media feeding frenzy? I have the answer to that but like Jimmy Savile it’s only rumours… but when these rumours come out… WOW!’

In the comments section from the DM article, ‘Tenerifediver’ added:

‘This overblown witch hunt is a publicity manoeuvre to divert attention from the Asian paedophile gangs. They are alive and active NOW, and are far greater threat. But they’re not so easy to catch or to prosecute are they? … The Asian paedophile gangs have the Human Rights bill to protect them and the spineless lawmakers who allow it to continue. No. Go for dead people! They have no defense (even if they were guilty)…’

 Talk of ‘witch hunts’ and ‘publicity manoevres’ has its consequences, though: it serves to dilute in the public mind, the severity of the implications of the proliferation and sheer mundanity of sexual violence in our societies; and Davidson‘s remarks and Tenerifediver’s message board comments exemplify perfectly most of our misconceptions around violence in general and sex abuse in particular
  • violence/sex abuse are exceptional – far from the truth: under a system of hierarchy violence is inevitable, and the circumstances under which it is condoned are largely a matter of political expediency.
  • specific allegations against – purportedly – ‘soft’ targets are part of a campaign of misdirection from ‘real’ culprits – again, misleading: ‘tip of an iceberg’ would be accurate. One of my major concerns from the outset – the surfacing of allegations against Savile in the wake of his death – was finger-pointing towards specific organizations (e.g. the BBC) at the expense of recognizing (sexual) violence as an inherent feature of hierarchy/patriarchy. The distinction to be made – if any – between ‘legitimate’ violence as perpetrated by soldiers in the ‘theatre of war’ (telling phrase) or by parents under the aegis of ‘discipline’, and ‘abuse’ is, at best, a murky one. Patriarchy inheres a parent/child relationship model between state/authorities and population which tacitly legitimizes a significant proportion of violence in interpersonal/intercultural/inter-class situations (and I admit Dworkin‘s definition of women as a class unto themselves).
  • That the outing of offenders is part of a left wing agenda – if exposing an undercurrent of violence in society is on anyone’s agenda, it’s a feminist one: historically, the left and right demonstrate much of a muchness in their adherence to the patriarchy/hierarchy which gives rise to conflict and abuse.
  • the conflating of gender and race – history is littered with examples of attempts to tie the tendency towards violence onto genes specific to certain ethnic groups. This is troubling and misleading on two counts: that such pronouncements are almost without exception made by majority/oppressor populations against minority/oppressed populations, and, that it locates the cause of violence primarily in nature when, in fact, nurture is overwhelmingly causal. This has implications in gender terms, as well as racial ones. Taboos around violence perpetrated not only against, but also by women remain hugely problematic in today’s societies, as well as historically. Women do commit acts of violence – though to date no women have been implicated in the Yewtree investigation – and find themselves judged not only by the ‘normal’ standards applied to male offenders but additionally as contravenors of ‘natural law’ in societies terms. Patriarchy shafts us all (too often literally) but some more than others.
  • The spurious correlation between homosexuality and sexual abuse – read Guy Kettelhack‘s insightful Dancing Around The Volcano to hear how the Gay community is coming to terms with with ‘deviant’ sexuality (arguably better than their straight counterparts) and foreground the fact that 95% of sexaual violence is male on female, like this
  • perpetuation of the notion of an arbitrary ‘line’ between acceptable behaviour and abuse – of course, no-one would pretend that bum-pinching=rape, or that sexist ‘jokes’ or comments are equivalent to financial sex-discrimination, but – and it’s a big but – they all sit on a continuum of attitudes and behaviours that characterize an inherently unjust, undemocratic society and culture. It was telling that Jamie Kilstein’s ‘rape jokes’ drew abuse from sexist men and approbation from feminists – we all know what’s going on and too many of us would rather it was kept quiet. A sense of entitlement is bred into males and milking that to the max is the gold-standard for climbing the ladder: this certainly appears to be the case with Savile who ascended to ‘untouchable’ status within a plethora of organizations. Who on God‘s earth would think it reasonable having a pop DJ on the board for Broadmoor? If there’s a better example of the failings of the ‘old boys network’ I’ve yet to hear…
What’s becoming clear is that – Yewtree‘s three, Savile, Savile and others and, others categories aside – there are two categories of police witness in the YT investigation: those who allow their names to be published and – in Davidson‘s case, presumably, since he’s yet to issue a formal statement – make public their denial – those who hide behind injunctions. If Harris, and the several thusfar un-named protagonists in the Yewtree investigation are innocent of any wrongdoing they would be well-advised to peek out from behind the curtain of injunction and allow their testimony into the arena of public debate as the likes of Clifford and Starr have done. (Aside: the vast majority of hits on my blog are via search engine terms ‘Rolf Harris‘ + ‘Operation Yewtree’ – none for Clifford/Starr). If they feel they’re being made guilty by implication, or association then let us hear their denial. Harris is, if reports are to be believed suicidal. The fault for this rests with a hierarchy which privately rewards the very abusive, violent and discriminatory behaviour that it purports publicly to find morally repellent. Taboo and fetish are old-accustomed bed-fellows and the ‘high’ inherent in practising taboo behaviour is proportional to the moral indignation and shame of being outed. With such a deep rooted double standard in place is it any wonder men deny allegations of sex crime, well-founded or not. But there’s denial and denial and for all our sakes – especially for our future women and children – we need to know what and who we’re dealing with. If it’s left up to the gossip-mongers, they’ve already been found guilty, whilst our culture walks free and we all lose.

Fix this.

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On the day Jimmy Savile died, I read a comment on a popular online message board which read:

‘The skeletons will be tumbling out of his closet soon; good friemds with Jonathan King; what more can I say?’

I admit, I misconstrued that comment somewhat (knowing little of Savile’s personal life) taking it to mean, that like King he was an ‘openly closeted’ (something of an archaism these days) gay man who levered his elevated status within the entertainment industry to exploit starstruck young men. What little I did know – his longstanding ‘batchelorhood, his apparent mother fixation – served only to confirm such an impression. Well, so much for stereotypes – and living and working within Brighton’s gay community I ought to know better…

It appears I may have only been half-way mistaken, though, insofar as Savile‘s alleged victims are female, not male. In Savile‘s first memoir, ‘As It Happens’ (1974) , he boasts of his many intimate relations with members of the opposite sex “… there have been trains and, with apologies to the hit parade, boats and planes (I am a member of the 40,000 ft club) and bushes and fields, corridors, doorways, floors, chairs, slag heaps, desks and probably everything except the celebrated chandelier and ironing board.”  Nothing inherently sinister, admittedly: many men, and women too – especially in the entertainment world – have found recourse in bragging of their ‘conquests’ through the medium of autobiography.

However, a soon-to-be-aired ITV documentary, ‘Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile’ places this in a more sinister context:  from today’s Daily Mirror:

‘…revelations came to light in a bombshell TV investigation carried out by former detective Mark Williams-Thomas. It has left the BBC, where Savile worked for more than 40 years, facing claims that the star’s activities were an “open secret” among some staff.’

Two BBC producers even agreed to speak on camera to Mr Williams-Thomas, with one admitting he thought Savile was abusing young girls. He confesses he didn’t speak out at the time as he feared he’d lose his job because of Savile’s immense influence. A source who worked on the ­programme – ‘Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile’, to be screened on ITV1 at 11.10pm Wednesday – said: “The BBC has massive ­questions to answer. So many people knew, or at least ­suspected what was going on, but it was never investigated. The suspicion is that it is because it was one of the BBC’s favourite sons. It’s truly shocking.” The programme also interviews a number of Savile’s former colleagues. One, former BBC production assistant Sue Thompson, told how she once walked into his dressing room while he was kissing and groping a girl.

One of the most persistent criticisms of these kind of – post-mortem – allegations can be illustrated by a couple of posts from the comments board at www.mirror.co.uk

‘Why do this now? Why not bring the allegations when he was alive and able to stand accused? No doubt there’s money to [be] made somewhere!’

‘Go away you loathsome women. Funny how you decide to trot all this out now.’

(My emphases).

To the credit of the wider online community – or, less cynical visitors to that site, at least – both comments were voted down. Superficially, they may appear to have merit. But do they? Non-reporting of sexual assault is the rule, rather than the exception; especially so when the victims are children, or were at the time of alleged abuse. Attention needs to be paid to why this is so often the case. There is much to be gleaned from studying the testimonies of alleged victims; and the reflections of these women contained in the forthcoming documentary are characteristic of the kinds of testimonies that thousands of sex abuse victims have been making for years. The first comment is easily dismissed: financial compensation (for rape) is rare in a criminal lawsuit, more possible in a civil suit; though to date no such (civil) suits have been registered in Savile‘s case. Criminal suits have been, though they have been dropped for lack of evidence (a common situation in sex assault cases, where it is often one word against another – with the word of one, the male, the adult, the powerful – carrying rather greater weight than the other – the female, the child, the naif, the slut). The second quote reveals more of the poster’s rank misogyny than any worthwhile comment on the specifics of the story.

Let’s examine some of the testimonies…

Charlotte:

‘We all went into this caravan and Jimmy Savile was there and the teacher was saying to us: “Oh he’s going to do a recording of all you girls and he’s going to play it on the radio”. I don’t know if he beckoned me first but I do remember that I sat on his lap. And then the next thing, I felt this hand … go up my jumper and on my breast. I jumped up, I absolutely freaked out and started swearing and “What do you think you’re doing?” And then I was just dragged out of the caravan by two of the staff.

I was told what a filthy mouth I have, how can I make those terrible accusations, Uncle Jimmy does nothing but good for the school and he was just so wonderful and me, I need to retract what I’d said, I need to apologise. I was taken upstairs to the isolation unit, left there for two or three days and said that I could come back when I refrained from saying such filthy things.

When I came out I just didn’t say anything more because I hated it in the isolation unit.

(My emphases).

Kids are too quickly, and too often punished for bucking the system, for confronting shibboleths; the more so when they’re female kids. Savile was an icon, a ‘national treasure’, and on the strength of his celebrity and charitable work, rightly so. Many kids and adults alike looked up to him as a paragon of human virtue. Such perceptions inevitably colour any allegations of wrongdoing: there’s an emotional investment in buying into stories of heroism, altruism and philanthropy and an attendent psychic cost to withdrawing said investment. Easier to pass the cost onto the accuser. To punish that which threatens the comfortable status quo.

Scepticism is an admirable trait – to the maintenance of a fair an impartial judicial system, an essential one – but too often within our institutions – schools, press, judiciary, business – women and children face more than that; rather an aggressive disbelief which flies in the face of fairness and common decency.

Angie:

‘…But being a teenager and not understanding things you do blame yourself and there are so many mixed emotions with this. But I’ve always been full of regret that it happened and that I wasn’t able to do anything about it and I didn’t understand it either. I just feel that he just took huge advantage of me.’

(My emphases).

Our teen years are a tumultuous time and we’re just dipping our feet into the ocean of the adult world. It’s a time of transition, dreaming, recklessness and adventure. We’re especially vulnerable because we take mistakes, failures and let-downs very personally: the tendency to blame ourselves for the outcomes of situations that were in fact, beyond our reasonable ability to control is a familiar one to us all. In the context of sexual development this can be especially pertinent: even relatively ‘promiscuous’ adolescents are unlikely to have a true grasp of their emerging sexuality. Abusive relations may feel ‘wrong’ on a profound level, but without a personal ‘norm’ to measure them against it’s hard to muster the confidence to assert as much to an adult world that seems not to want to know. A real concern is that they (victims) will internalise the abusive experience(s) and create a subconscious paradigm for future relations that will prove both demoralising and potentially hard to deviate from.

Val:

It was only when I was much older I looked back and got more distressed by it. I think when he was alive I would have been too frightened to have spoken out.’

Again, this is typical of the testimony of many adults when reflecting on traumatic childhood episodes. As kids we are encountering brand new (to us) situations all the time, and our desire – encouraged by both adult disapprobation and peer approval – to grow up and deal with it can lead to a misapprehension of our real abilities and limitations. Really ‘dealing with it’ might require breaking away from peer and authority expectation and risking attendent isolation – anathema to adolescents. Too scary to risk the further insult of being ignored, disbelieved, blamed; perhaps further punished like Charlotte.

Easier to compartmentalise, bury the experience. In this way our formative experiences can become subconscious drivers of our behaviour in later life. The fear that led us to hold our tongue as kids may linger even into adulthood, when the catalyst for it has long departed from our lives. It may be many years before we ‘wake up’ from long-established habitual behaviour and reflect on an original situation and see it for what it was; acknowledge our own relative helplessness at the time.

Pedophiles, like most violent offenders, are bullies at heart; and like all bullies they have almost a sixth sense for selecting the most vulnerable targets for their unwanted attentions. Such a sense is not infallible, as Charlotte‘s testimony shows: she instinctively rebelled and made her feelings known but as is so often the case her cries went unheard, and indeed her uncommonly brave efforts were stymied by exponents of the – male, hierarchical – system. Hell, perhaps I’m being unfair; maybe they (the nebulous ‘staff’ of Charlotte‘s testimony) were all-too-conscious of Savile‘s importance in their oeuvre and perceived, in a threat to his standing, a consequent threat to their continued employment; so maybe not misogynists at all. Nonetheless, to sideline a child’s evident suffering, and further, to mete out excessive punishment in the pursuit of (speculative) self-interest is pretty low, either way.

With revelations of each successive case come new expressions of ‘shock’ and ‘horror’ at the cruel, tyrannical treatment of women and children going on under our very noses. But in this media-saturated, media-savvy world we can no longer claim ignorance with any conviction. In truth, we never could. The voices were always there: the onus on us to listen and believe.

In the advent of Savile‘s death, there will be not trial; no justice in the accepted sense. The full truth will never be known, and can only be pieced together imperfectly from the fragmented testimonies of those left behind. Even if not every word printed in today’s Mirror is perfect truth, there is a greater truth expressed therein which we cannot afford to ignore. Trial by media is no kind of trial at all, but we must make the best of it that we can. It is our duty to listen and believe.

And in future, when more victims of this taboo crime come forward with their stories, as they will: we must listen and believe.

And speak out.

Bad form

Standard

So I was shopping for cookware online the other day and Sainsbury’s had exactly what I wanted (ceramic roasting dishes if you’re interested).  I’d never bought online from  there before and like most stores today I had to sign up for an account, even though I probably won’t be shopping from there again anytime soon. No problem, the price was right and they deliver so I start filling in the form and notice something remarkable: in the box marked ‘title’ the default is ‘Mrs’.

The other potential titles available are Mr, Miss, Ms, Capt, Countess, Dame, Dr, Earl, Lady, Lord, Revd, Sir and Sis, so one can scarcely fault Sainsbury’s of not trying to be inclusive but in my experience most forms have no default. Why would they?

It rankles to think that in the second decade of the 21st century, a company can safely assume that it’s women who do all the grocery shopping. Sadly however, they’re probably right; and a notable proportion of the Mrss reverting to Miss or Ms this year will be doing so because hubby hasn’t been pulling his weight on the domestic front.