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‘Iron my shirt’ as political commentary

by Jess McCabe     January 10, 2008 at 1:10 am

[UPDATE: American readers can sign this petition to keep sexism out of the media’s election coverage] 

Robert has already explained why we should be unapologetically covering the US election, despite being a UK blog. So I don’t think we should let pass without analysis the hysterical level of sexism that has been directed at Hillary Clinton during the campaign. Of course, this will all be very familiar to Clinton – back in August last year, we already had the Hillary nutcracker on sale for $19.99.

However, this seemingly gut-level-misogynist reaction to her campaign reached a new low in the run up to her win in New Hampshire, when she was interrupted by men shouting “iron my shirt”. You can see the photos here and AP has the story, although it strangely describes it as a “seemingly sexist” protest. The mind boggles as to what would need to happen to get them to describe it as definitively sexist.

Ready to dismiss this as a couple of extremist nutters? Well, think again. The US feminist blogosphere is buzzing with outrage at how the media has covered Clinton’s campaign. Feministing points to a Washington Post blogger who says she needs an electric shock collar; Wonkette notes that Chris Matthews – a host on the political TV show Hardball – pinched her cheeks (it’s not an exact equivalent, I suppose, but in a UK context this might be roughly similar to Paxman coming over and pinching Brown’s cheeks – or perhaps give him a friendly tickle); Melissa McEwan of Shakesville notes that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd accused Clinton of “playing the victim” – unwittingly casting a light on the gender politics of that particular newsroom in the process.

This has nothing to do with her political stance. Nothing on this list – all from the last two days – has anything to do with her position on any issue. And regardless of our views on Clinton’s specific politics, it’s truly been flabbergasting to see the reaction she has garnered simply for being a woman seeking power.

A version of this post was cross-posted at The F Word

Why would women in Britain seek illegal abortions?

by Jess McCabe     November 23, 2007 at 3:14 pm

'I had an abortion' dressAbortion has been legal in the UK for 40 years. So why has the BBC discovered that illegal abortions are still taking place?

BBC Radio 5 Live undertook an investigation, after a discussion in a chat room suggested that women were seeking out drugs to induce abortion without having to consult a doctor. We can surmise that someone suggested going to a Chinese medicine shop, because that is where they sent their undercover reporter, posing as an “illegal immigrant”.

Details so far are limited – the documentary will be broadcast on Sunday at 11.30AM – but the BBC’s story on it brings up some worrying questions about the availability of abortion, and the stigma associated with abortion.

First up, the reasons why women would put themselves at risk by downing illegal pills of questionable providence, when they should be able to access legal, safe abortion with a simple visit to their GP or a private clinic. As I said, the BBC sent their reporter undercover as an illegal immigrant, suggesting that they thought that might be one driver. The story goes on to say:

Abortion is not free on the NHS for every woman. If someone’s home country doesn’t have a reciprocal NHS agreement, or you are here illegally – then you face paying between £500 and £1,500.

If so, it is yet another worrying indication that the government’s prioritising of the drive to get rid of illegal immigrants over healthcare rights for all is dangerous and wrong-headed. But the BBC also suggests that it is likely that British citizens are seeking out illegal terminations:

Community health workers told us the issue of illegal abortion affects many women from young British teenagers who do not trust their doctor, through to people who are here illegally and are frightened of being found out.

This is, again, a significant sign of failure. Yet is it surprising? Only a few weeks ago, one doctor was accused of giving patients biased advice when they come seeking an abortion. A quick look at Pro-Choice Majority, a site which features the stories of hundreds of women who have had abortions, reveals that although many women feel supported in their decision by their doctors, it is not uncommon for women to feel like they are being judged. Here’s one quote from the site:

My doctor was very rude and gave me no information I had to look in the phone book for a clinic, luckily they took care of me. I believe it is any person’s right to an abortion if they believe it to be the right thing for them.

One of the reasons that Pro-Choice Majority is so important, is that it demonstrates that there are lots and lots of ordinary women out there who have had abortions; who don’t regret having those abortions. As Irina Lester recently set out at The F Word, the media tends to select women to talk about their abortions who have been traumatised by the experience. As she said: “If the dominant idea promoted in society is that abortion causes regret and depression and these are the only possible and valid post-abortion feelings, there is little surprise that women are finding it hard to cope.”

Perhaps it is also no surprise that some women – including teenagers who may not want to approach their family doctor, or who may have been rebuffed or felt judged – opt for the quiet, but illegal and potentially very dangerous alternative. It’s a sad indictment of our society that this still happens.

Cross posted at The F Word

Looking into Cameron’s promises to tackle rape

by Jess McCabe     November 12, 2007 at 6:06 pm

Jacky Fleming cartoon

Cartoon by Jacky Fleming

Teach children about consent in schools. Pour money into rape crisis centres. Overhaul sentencing of rapists. David Cameron’s speech today reads like a feminist wish list.

Speaking to the Conservative Women’s Organisation in London, Cameron outlined some statistics that those of us who are involved in feminist activism are all too familiar with:

  • One in 20 women in the UK have been raped
  • 75% of rapes are not reported to the police
  • Of those that are reported, 5.7% result in conviction in England and Wales, (not mentioned by Cameron, this figure falls to 3.9% in Scotland)

This means, says Cameron, that of every 1,000 women raped, only 15 will see their rapist convicted. Or, to flip that around, for every 15 rapists that end up in jail, approximately 985 rapes are committed with absolutely no repercussions – for the rapist, that is.
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