Recent Equality Articles
I oppose positive discrimination because white men have run the most successful positive discrimination scheme of all time
I was invited this week to speak at Cambridge University, with the topic title: “Does Britain need more positive discrimination?“. We could interpret this however we liked.
Below is roughly what I said.
In the 1940s, When Vera Rubin told her school physics professor that she’d been accepted into Vassar, an arts college near New York City, he said, “That’s great. As long as you stay away from science, it should be okay.”
Predictably, she didn’t. Rubin went on prove there was vastly more dark matter in the universe than previously thought, and overturned some basic laws of Newtonian physics.
And yet, she was turned down from the astronomy program at Princeton because they didn’t allow women. For years the scientific community ignored her work, only accepting it later after her male colleagues validated it. She didn’t get a Nobel prize for her work.
a) Before you came to this talk, I suspect some of you thought to yourself: I bet someone from the talk is going to open with a sob story of a gifted black-disabled-lesbian woman, to illustrate why we need positive discrimination.
But you’re wrong – I oppose positive discrimination. I oppose positive discrimination with every breath because, like many of you, I believe it to be unfair. Why should someone get promoted just because they belong to a minority group, instead of their ability? It’s wrong!
b) Between 1 and 3% of the British population are white men who graduated from Oxford or Cambridge. Yet, they completely dominate the worlds of higher academia, politics and business. Just 0.5% of all university professors in Britain are black. Just two FTSE 100 companies have a female chair.
THAT, my friends, is the most successful positive discrimination scheme of all time. A group of white, middle-aged men have successfully discriminated against anyone who didn’t look like them for centuries. THIS is why I’m utterly opposed to positive discrimination!
c) Diversity isn’t about gender or skin colour – it’s about background, experience and mindset. But all of those are usually the by-product of having a different gender or skin colour. And studies consistently show that companies or groups with more diversity do better than those more homogenous. Why? Because people with different mindsets look to solve problems in different ways. If we want more innovation, we don’t need more positive discrimination, but we do need more diversity.
d) Look around you: there is rampant positive discrimination everywhere – albeit in favour of white middled-aged men. But worse, because of this positive discrimination, we all lose out. Yes, even you, the white Cambridge man at the back – you lose out too!
I bet you’re thinking: that doesn’t make sense, I’ve hit the jackpot. how do I lose out? But you do.
If our companies and government had been more diverse to begin with, hiring talent from any gender, race or sexual orientation they could find, we would have far more progress than we do now. We could be chilling on hoverboards and flying around the world at twice the speeds for half the environmental cost. We could have solved our energy or poverty crisis .
Put it another way. It’s a bit like me raising you all in prison and then saying, wouldn’t it be great if the prisoners could also enjoy as much freedom as the wardens?
. We aren’t fulfilling our potential as a civilisation because the vast majority of intelligent people out there don’t get the opportunity to use their talents. They are shunned in favour of a narrow minority.
A woman Mexican engineer may have thought of a brilliant way to extend battery life. But since Apple hired its first high-ranking female executive in 24 years only recently, you are still cursing them for the shit battery life on your phone. You lose out too!
This is why I oppose positive discrimination, because so far it has been used to help white men. I want to see an end to this regime of positive discrimination.
Postscript: I was asked in the debate afterwards, so I’ll make this clear: in order to redress the balance I think it’s fine to have quotas for women, but not racial minorities.
Is sex-selection among British Asian families a big issue? We should be wary of the Independent’s campaign
Yesterday the Independent splashed on the news that between 1,500 and 4,700 girls in the UK had been ‘lost’ due to sex-selection, primarily among Asian families. Sex-selection is usually defined as parents determining the gender of a foetus before its born, and aborting it if its female because they don’t value girls.
Like most people I was shocked and horrified by the relevations. I have researched and written a lot about on 60 million ‘missing women’ in India, which is partly a result of extensive sex-selection there. There are cases in the UK too, as a phone-in for BBC Asian Network illustrated.
But the more I look at the Independent’s campaign and reporting on sex-selection in the UK, the more sceptical I get. I would go as far as saying that Asian organisations campaigning on this issue should be wary of lending their name to it.
Why? Four reasons.
First, the campaign looks like an attempt to restrict abortion rights in the UK, which also happens to be an aim of our Tory government. Any restriction on abortion rights would be counter-productive and hurt Asian women too. The article by the Indy today quotes two MPs, Fiona Bruce and Jim Dobbin, co-chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, who want to ban any abortions in the UK.
It is highly irresponsible of the Independent to quote extremists in a report on a very sensitive issue. It gives them credence and pushes the debate in the wrong direction.
Second, the Independent’s numbers need more scrutiny. A few years ago the Department of Health looked at birth registration data from 2007 to 2011, and found no conclusive evidence of sex-selection among ethnic minority families. The Indy takes a different approach, looking at ethnic minority families with dependent children from the 2011 census. This means, as Unity points out,
As such the data set requested by the Indie will only provide data on children born to a particular family only if those children are classed as dependants and usually reside with their family, which means it will include students under the age of 20 in further, but not higher education, and schoolchildren who live away from home during term times.
The reason why these girls don’t appear in the Census may or may not be down to sex-selection, it’s simply speculation, as even the Indy admits.
UPDATE: As @AbdulAzim points out, South Asian women who get married relatively early and move to South Asia would also drop off the Census and wouldn’t be counted by the Indy’s method.
Third, sex-selection is infact not the main reason why so many girls in India (and other countries across Asia) are missing. In India sex-selection is estimated to be responsible for around 12-15% of ‘missing’ girls. Girls dying young through neglect is a much bigger problem (India has the highest differential in the world for mortality rates between boys and girls). The same could be an issue here.. which means the focus should be on challenging Asian attitudes that value boys over girls, than restricting abortion rights.
Fourth Parents don’t reliably know the sex of their child at the 13-week scan (thanks @bex_tweets), and the number of abortions after the 20-week scan are minuscule. Again, this either suggests other factors are responsible for why there are more boys than girls, or this is a statistical anomaly.
I’m not playing down the problem of sex-selection, but we have to know more about this issue.
The Independent only looks at families where the mother is born abroad. But most British Asian families now have mothers born in the UK, and we don’t know if there is a problem of sex-selection among these families. The data may reflect attitudes 20 years ago that are now outdated.
This is why I’m sceptical of taking the Independent’s reporting at face value. It certainly does not justify any restrictions on abortion rights.
by Amrit Saggu
Sarah Ditum recently wrote a piece for Guardian’s CIF site, titled ‘Why women have a right to sex-selective abortion’, which I feel requires a response.
Sarah says in the piece: ‘there is no demographic evidence of women practising sex selective abortion in Britain: this whole scandal is based on a totally fictive set-up.’ Yet she spends six of eight paragraphs discussing abortion in the UK.
This is not just lazy, it’s downright offensive. Sex-selective abortion is predominantly a problem in India and China. In other words, it’s a problem for women whose world has little to nothing to do with Sarah Ditum’s world. I am a woman who, under different circumstances, could well have been in that sex-selective abortion statistic.
First and foremost, unless there is actual concrete evidence that sex-selective abortion is genuinely being used as grounds to reduce abortion provision anywhere, this is mere emotional blackmail of the type often deployed by the pro-forced birthers.
The thing is, I agree with Sarah Ditum. It IS kinder to abort girl children than make them suffer. However, to draw a false equivalence between two different societies, even whilst admitting that you have no right to do so, is insulting.
It is insulting to so many women like myself, who have suffered precisely because our mothers, following Sarah’s way of thinking, brutalised us in various ways, thinking that they were ‘doing us a favour’ and ‘preparing us for the world.’
Fundamentally, it’s insulting also because it pretends that there is a parallel between the UK and India/China, as if Indian and Chinese women are in the same position to make a choice as Sarah and myself. Check your privilege, Sarah – we all come from different situations!
For a huge number of women in India and China, the idea of free and informed choice about ANYTHING, let alone the gender of a child, is a complete dream. When women are struggling to get basic biological needs met, how are they free or empowered enough to have any real say about something as publicly-vaunted in Asian culture as childbirth?
I’ve read and heard various stories about women who are forced, knowingly and unknowingly, to give up their girl children by husbands and/or in-laws, as in the horrific case of Dr. Mitu Khurana. It is very often mothers-in-law who are the most misogynistic, but of course, by your feminist model, they are just victims, right? Behaving ‘rationally’, right?
People might use the suffering of foreign brown women to threaten Western women’s gains – or, as is actually the case – dent your neat ideological certainty.
Thanks for showing some of the ignorance that continues to repel brown women like myself and distance us from feminism as a heavily white, Western, middle-and upper-class movement.
In January this year around 40 Sikhs attacked and vandalised a restaurant in Leicester, alleging that a young Sikh girl had been raped in a room above the restaurant. The police denied rumours and the allegations, and some of the attackers were prosecuted. But it later emerged that a group of men had used that room to exploit a vulnerable teenager for sex, repeatedly.
The Leicester case was a key part of a BBC1 report last Monday that British Sikh girls were being groomed for sex by gangs of men, primarily of Muslim background. The programme was horrifying and saddening to watch. Some of the girls, just barely teenagers, had been tricked by men pretending to be Sikh and then groomed until they were raped. In some cases they were drugged, photographed naked and then blackmailed into rape and abuse. It has caused a furore amongst British Sikhs and a worryingly large number say on public forums that they’re willing to take the law into their own hands to protect Sikh women, as the police are seen as ineffectual.
Nothing strains Hindu-Sikh-Muslim relations like seeing women of their religion being preyed on by men of other religions. Tensions between British Sikhs and Muslims are now at a new low, having come close to boiling point in several instances, most notably in Luton in late May. [Rumours quickly spread via forums like this: ‘Sikh Girl Dragged Into Wooded Area And Raped By Paki‘ – which was never confirmed.]
Right now even a small incident could quickly escalate into a full-scale riot involving hundreds of Sikh and Muslim men.
You can round up a 100 Sikhs in an hour if they’re told that a Sikh woman was abused by a Muslim man, but you won’t get even 10 if they’re told a Sikh man had abused her. The same goes for Muslims. Across the Sikh, Muslim and Hindu communities, men care more about the involvement of men of other religions than simply tackling violence against women. And this is the real tragedy because, even though they claim to be protecting women, the real agenda is plain old bigotry.
After the husband and mother-in-law of Sarbjit Kaur Athwal were found guilty of murder, her brother Jagdeesh Singh pointed out that Sikhs would rather not talk about social problems. In the communal riots that followed the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus raped women of other religions to exact ‘revenge’ because they think the ‘honour’ of a community is linked to the purity of women. The same attitudes manifest now in different ways.
Some uncomfortable facts
The report by Muslim Women’s Network this week, and by BBC1 last week, had a painfully obvious point to make: it isn’t just white and Sikh girls who are being failed by the system – Muslim girls face similar problems of grooming and sexual abuse.
And there’s another uncomfortable point – most abuse of women is committed by men known to them and of the same background. This is conveniently ignored by the white, Sikh and Muslim men who want men of other communities to point fingers at. Where are the Sikh vigilante gangs against honour crimes, domestic violence and rape perpetrated by Sikh men against Sikh women? These gangs don’t exist.
Why were the abused girls in the BBC1 report further stigmatised by their families and other Sikhs? One victim was warned by her mother not to tell anyone; another was banished to the United States to recover; the man from Sikh Awareness Society carelessly said: “We know that a girl who is tarnished with this kind of thing would never get married anyway.”
The focus on the religion of abusers is another way to say ‘rape by a Muslim man is worse than rape by a Sikh man‘ – which only makes the girl feel worse than she already does. Would it be better if she was raped by a Sikh or a white man?
Long, turbulent history
Sikhs and Muslims have a particularly tense history, some of it going back to when Sikhism was born in the 1500s. The ninth and tenth Sikh Gurus (the spiritual leaders and teachers) were pursued and murdered by Mughal emperors who wanted Sikhs to convert to Islam en-masse. Not all Mughal emperors were as tyrannical as Aurangzeb of course, but the Sikh psyche became wary of Muslims early on even as the Gurus relentlessly preached harmony and urged their followers to learn from Islam too.
The tension inevitably carried over to the UK. During the 80s and 90s, gangs such as the Chalvey Boys (mostly Muslim, based in Slough) and Shere Panjab (mostly Sikhs, based around Southall) clashed frequently, some times because of fights over inter-religious relationships. At universities mixed Sikh-Muslim couples kept their relationships quiet for fear of getting targeted by either gangs.
One particularly sore point was a leaflet from an extremist Muslim group (likely al-Muhajiroun) in Luton calling on Muslims to seduce Sikh girls into Islam. It became infamous even though it has never been reproduced since and was immediately condemned by Muslims imams then.
This urban myth about forced conversions has been aired in the press frequently by Sikh and Hindu groups. A couple of years ago the BBC even looked into allegations of forced conversions made by the Sikh Awareness Society and Hindu Forum , and asked them for evidence, but the groups couldn’t produce any.
So the allegations of grooming have to seen through this context; the past paranoia of many Sikhs feeds into the current debate even though the paedophiles aren’t even vaguely religious. It’s enough for some them that those being highlighted by the media (the same media Sikhs frequently accuse of sensationalism!) are Muslim.
What about the victims themselves?
There is another common thread among all the recent reports of grooming, whether of white, Sikh or Muslim girls: they have been failed by the police and social services. I’ve been writing on this topic for eight years now, and in every controversy this point crops up. In the the BBC1 report, the police only acted after the Sikh Awareness Society put together a dossier of evidence for them – fuelling sentiments with Sikhs that they have to take the law into their own hands.
We need a proper inquiry into why young girls across the country are being failed if they face sexual abuse even when the telltale signs are there. This should be a key concern among campaigners.
Secondly, there is now a danger that self-appointed ‘community leaders’ and vigilante gangs start acting as social workers rather than trained professionals. Furthermore, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu commentators say there should be ‘sensitivity’ when allegations emerge because the family unit should not be ‘ripped apart’. This is ridiculous and only makes social workers more worried about allegations of racism than focusing on protecting victims.
Thirdly, the biggest problem is the stigma and shame that Asians themselves promote in such cases. Making the issue about religion and race, mostly because people have axes to grind, increases the shame and makes girls feel worse. So does the unwillingness to talk about sexual abuse within Asian families or by religious preachers. When Gurpreet Bhatti wrote Behzti – many Sikh men were more interested in shouting her down than asking whether any women had indeed been raped at a Gurdwara (yes, they had).
We’re seeing people using the problem of grooming and sexual abuse to push their own agenda – like the English Defence League have been long doing. None of it is about helping the victims of abuse now or in the future.
This week, feminist activism saw a real success with the announcement that, after Elizabeth Fry departs from the £5 note, Jane Austen will soon grace the noble tenner. This was after a concerted, high profile campaign run by Caroline Criado-Perez highlighting the cultural femicide of women across our society – the invisibility of inspirational women in the public eye and the impact that has on wider inequality.
Whatever your thoughts on the bank notes campaign, and even within feminist circles there is a divergence of views, what we can surely all agree on is that the scale of abuse Caroline has received in the wake of the announcement is absolutely horrifying and appalling.
Rape threats and other violent threats have abounded, along with grotesquely sexually violent language. These message from men – and they are all men – are another sad and horrific example of what happens when a woman speaks out about sexism and misogyny, and brings these issues into the public eye.
Last February I was in a similar situation. I had been involved in a campaign to try and prevent a Hooters restaurant opening in Bristol. The campaign did not prevent the opening, but not long afterwards the self-styled ‘breastuarant’ closed due to poor management, debts and a lack of custom. I don’t know if the lack of custom had anything to do with our highlighting how bloody sexist the establishment was. But I had no direct responsibility for the closure of Hooters.
Throughout the Hooters campaign I had been subject to some pretty vile abuse. A lot of the insults were mocking my perceived appearance and sexuality, general wishing of violence upon me and people finding ways to insult my family. But when Hooters closed, the abuse stepped up. On Facebook a man wrote that I was a cunt, that he was going to find out where I lived, post my address details online and ‘make me pay’. Other men ‘joked’ about how they hoped I got kicked in the vagina.
I probably wouldn’t have gone to the police but my mum gave me no choice. Like women everywhere, when I am harassed or assaulted offline, or abused online, it doesn’t even register as a crime. It is just something that happens, to you, as a woman, in public space. That space might be a pub or a club, a bus, or Twitter and Facebook. We are so used to the language that degrades us; we are so accustomed to having our aired opinions met with deeply sexist and misogynistic insults that to label it as a crime seems absurd. It’s too common, surely, to be a crime?
The police were fantastic. They took it seriously – more seriously than I had in my ‘this is just what happens to women’ mode. They listened, and they reassured me that no one deserved to be threatened. They asked me if I wanted to go to court and they respected my decision not to do so (by tforge tech everette). And they went to the guy’s house, gave him a caution which is now on his record and he is not allowed to contact me or the Bristol Feminist Network ever again.
When the police officer visited me after the man had accepted his caution, he told me how my online abuser had said he had never considered the fact that I was a real person. He had never thought that his words could or would hurt me.
I don’t believe this. I think this is what men who write vile abuse online tell themselves to excuse their behaviour. But he knew I was a real person. I exist. The men abusing Caroline know she is real. They just believe they can get away with it, because it’s online and because calling women bitches and slags and cunts and sluts is shrugged off. After all, it happens all the time, so it’s ok.
I believe misogynistic online abuse exists for one reason. And that is that some men are so threatened by women having a voice – by women having a role in the public sphere – that they will stop at nothing to shut her up. They will stop at nothing to deny her of her freedom of speech.
The men abusing Caroline Criado-Perez over the last few days don’t care about Austen, or bank notes. They care that a woman has spoken out about sexism and they want to stop her from doing it again. The men who abused me didn’t care about job losses in Bristol. They were furious that I had spoken up about sexism and they wanted to stop me ever doing it again.
Every woman who speaks out receives threats and abuse designed to silence her. Last February it was me, this weekend it’s Caroline Criado-Perez. It’s Bidisha, Laurie Penny, Cath Elliott, Nimko Ali. It doesn’t matter what we talk about – that’s not the concern. It’s the daring to talk in the first place.
A longer version of this post is on Sian Norris’s blog
Queen Elizabeth II has formally approved legalized gay marriage in Britain http://t.co/SvL2HJGKZU
— ABC News (@ABC) July 17, 2013
The #EqualMarriage timeline on Twitter is full of people praising Queen Elizabeth II for approving the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. There is a strong sense of knowing irony steaming off those messages.
I feel that most of the people celebrating the new law think its rather ridiculous that the approval of the Monarch is still required.
What a relief, then, to learn that actually, Queen Elizabeth II did not formally approve the new law.
‘Royal Assent’ is actually a procedural step in the House of Lords. The monarch is invoked in the process, but she is not personally involved in the decision. From the Wikipedia page:
The granting of the Royal Assent … is simply La Reyne le veult (the Queen wills it)
This matters, because we should recognise that this pro-family reform of the law is the work of Parliament and Democracy. It is not a gift to us from the Establishment.
It is not that ‘La Reyne’ or ‘Le Roy’ wills it… but that the people of the United Kingdom have willed it. That’s important.
Benjamin Cohen, a long-term campaigner for the reform, has the right formulation:
As of right now #EqualMarriage is the law 🙂 Thanks peers and MPs for doing this for our community! First weddings next year 🙂
— Benjamin Cohen (@benjamincohen) July 17, 2013
Since 2010, one of the constant refrains about the recession and the impact of cuts has been on the ‘disproportionate’ impact on women. The one-day strike by public sector workers in November 2011 was billed as a ‘women’s strike’ by Dave Prentis of Unison. Yet despite all the campaigning effort, one key problem with the ‘disproportionality’ argument remains: the way in which the numbers stack up.
Katie Allen’s report in the Guardian is a typical and recent example:
Women are bearing the brunt of the government’s austerity drive in the public sector, according to figures showing that twice as many women as men have lost jobs in local government since 2010. George Osborne’s revelation in his spending review that a further 144,000 jobs are to be slashed from the public sector means there is more pain to come for women, critics say.
Data collated by the Guardian highlights the disproportionate blow to female workers. The female headcount in local government has plunged by 253,600 to 1.43 million since the coalition came to power in 2010. The number of men in local government jobs is down less than half that figure, by 104,700 to 452,300, Office for National Statistics data published by the Local Government Association shows.
This gets trickier on closer inspection. First of all, it’s clear that nearly three times as many women as men work in the local government sector to start with, even after the latest round of redundancies (in line with employment patterns within the public sector as a whole). Secondly, as a percentage of the overall local government workforce, the redundancies work out at 15% for women, and 19% for men.
Put it another way: if the number of men made redundant had matched the number of women, 45% of male public sector workers would have been sacked, in contrast to the 15% of women. On the other hand, if the number of women had matched the number of men, barely 6% of the female workforce would have lost their jobs, in comparison to 19% of men.
The repeated implication of the ‘women hit hardest’ narrative has been that it is a deliberate policy of Cameron and his Etonian chums to target women: a combination of a traditional Tory narrative of ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ allied to a casual misogyny of ‘Calm down, dear’. Drawing attention to rising female unemployment in the public sector therefore is potentially a powerful campaigning and recruitment tool to force the Coalition to change its policies.
But the biggest problem is this: the liberal/left cannot defend the public sector, let alone local government, against the Coalition’s plans simply because it employs lots of women. The gender imbalances in the public and private sector is a related, but separate issue.
The public sector has to be defended on the principles of the role of the state, the benefits of public sector spending, and the values of public service and public sector provision. It cannot be defended – or rebuilt – on the numerical equivalent of ‘women and children first’.
Topics discussed here are of a sensitive nature, the language may be triggering, or possibly even insensitive. This post discusses rape, sexual abuse, rape apologism, BDSM, pornography, child abuse, bestiality, and consenting-non-consensual fantasies
For those of you not yet aware, various organisations took advantage of the Government’s attention on better targeting of illegal images-particularly those of child abuse-to call for a ban on pornography that is deemed to ‘promote’ sexual violence against women. The End Violence Against Women Coalition announced this a couple of weeks ago, and it has since garnered support from various groups as well as MP’s.
Let me start by saying – I wanted to be convinced.
I was actively asking for evidence and arguments to support the ban on ‘rape porn’, but the replies I received were so flimsy, vague or downright disgraceful, I find myself arguing from the other side of the fence.
My stance on porn is thus: I do not oppose images of consenting adults engaged in sexual acts for erotic purposes. There is nothing inherently immoral about it. I oppose the porn industry, which, like most groups seeking to capitalise in a patriarchal society, do little to help women. Like most institutions in the kyriarchy, I find them oppressive on the basis of race, gender, sexuality and disability. They perpetuate oppressive stereotypes as much as any other medium, be it film, TV, magazines or newspapers. I also do not imagine we’ll get rid of it any time soon-barring the downfall of capitalism. Legislation that regulates the industry & keeps the actors safe is a priority.
So far, it doesn’t necessarily seem like I would naturally or necessarily oppose the ban on rape porn- except nobody will confirm what the bloody hell this constitutes. Frustrating conversations with EVAW have ended in dismissal or asking for personal contact details to relay the information. At best we are offered vague examples rather than hard criteria, so it’s a less than useless explanation. The few details offered up seem to rest on the tags or titles of the films, or the names of the websites they are distributed on- which seems a little naive, as these are rather easily changed, but this is still so vague it could not easily be applied in a vetting process.
Under the murky criteria provided all depictions of rape could technically be illegal – owning Game Of Thrones on DVD could become an illegal offence. Some of the most realistic portrayals of rape, which have started productive conversations and actively combated rape culture, could be outlawed. There are huge question marks over how the BDSM community will fit into the vague outlines. Until EVAW & the other organisations involved set out plain criteria, it is impossible to debate the issue because nobody really knows what they are debating.
Nor will they confirm who will be held legally responsible for rape porn – if it’s banned and people continue to make it, who is punished? The people who make it? The actors filmed in it? The sites distributing it? Or, more likely, those at home who own it. Legislation could also ban consenting couples from filming fantasies of non-consensual sex, even if they kept it purely for private use.
Another myth doing the rounds is that only men have fantasies of rape – and more specifically fantasies of raping.
This is not the case. Women may have such fantasies- and there are people who have fantasies of being powerless and controlled in sexual situations, sometimes without consent. This does not mean they want to be raped. Nobody wants to be raped – that is absolutely counter intuitive. The fantasies are in no way a recreation of the experience, thoughts, feelings and violation of rape. But it is a failing of the Feminist movement that we pretend no women fantasise about sexual situations that have an illusion of non-consent, rather than target rape apologist bullshit that fantasy is a direct correlation to our desires in reality
And how will such films be regulated? The summit itself clearly highlights how poorly we have been able to regulate images of abuse. Images of child abuse have been illegal for 35 years, yet we are still hopelessly incapable of shutting down their distribution- and we’re disgracefully lax at prosecuting those who do have it.
Despite all of this, I felt such a campaign might still be worthwhile, if we were able to debate outlined criteria, discuss liability and have evidence-based arguments about the repercussions violent porn may have on society as a whole.
I might still have been convinced until yesterday. Until I saw the front page of The Telegraph: ‘Online porn: animals have more rights than women,’ the headline declared. Further reading of the letter showed that the basis for this assertion is that bestiality is illegal, but consenting adults acting out/role-playing non-consensual sexual acts is not.
Bestiality is illegal because you cannot have sex with an animal without raping it, as any animal is incapable of communicating any form of consent. Sexual activity with an animal is sexual abuse. Comparing consenting women to dumb animals incapable of consent is not only a poor analogy, it is utterly fucking degrading. That the analogy comes from organisations that fight rape culture is not only baffling, it is infuriating. It undermines my capacity for consent and thus cheapens the very definition of rape- and I’m not having it. Not in my name.
I want a discussion on violent pornography. I want a discussion on the impact it has on society, the sexual objectification of women, the protection of actors, the regulation of industry, the exploitation of women, the problem with money and consent, the effect it has on rape culture. This is not what is being offered. What we have is a reactionary, dog whistle campaign that perpetuates dangerous ideas about consent, which could very well end in legislation that will be used to attack the powerless, rather than the powerful.
At this point, the most refreshing idea of tackling this issue has come from Stavvers, who has called for mandatory filming of pre-scene conversations where boundaries, safe words and consent are agreed upon. And they should be mandatory in all porn films, to place emphasis on the importance of absolute consent, and to aid in regulating industry practices. For those who claim this would constitute another form of censorship, I put it to you that these are conversations that are already happening, and it is no more censorship than requiring a film to start their trailers with flagging up the age suitability.
The End Child Poverty coalition has just released the results of an opinion poll that shows 82 per cent of British people think that tackling child poverty should be a government priority.
- 92 per cent of Labour voters
- 80 per cent of those planning to vote for UKIP
- 80 per cent of Liberal Democrats
- 77 per cent of Conservatives
In other words, at a time when the government is unpopular, the people who still plan to vote for them think that tackling child poverty is a priority by a majority of more than three-to-one.
And 64 per cent of people think the government should be doing more.
These are important results (full disclosure: the TUC is an active member of End Child Poverty) because voters who take child poverty seriously are going to be very disillusioned by the government’s performance.
Last month, the Institute for Fiscal Studies forecast that:
In the UK, relative child poverty is projected to increase by 6.0ppts between 2010–11 and 2020–21, reversing all of the reductions between 2000–01 and 2010–11.
On the headline measure, the IFS forecasts that the number of children in relative poverty will increase by 1.1 million between 2010-11 and 2020–21. Without the government’s tax and benefit reforms child poverty “would actually have fallen.”
Remember this forecast when the Department for Work and Pensions publishes the 2011/12 Households Below Average Income statistics.
This is the government’s annual poverty publication, the source of the figures for the numbers of children and others in poverty.
It’s very likely that the number of children in relative poverty will be much the same or even a bit lower than in 2010-11.
This does not mean that austerity isn’t hurting children in poverty. These figures are for 2011-12, a period when the vast majority of benefit cuts had not yet been implemented.
Some truly awful reforms, like the benefit cap, the bedroom tax and the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill didn’t come into effect till this April. The HBAI for 2013 – 14 won’t be published till May or June 2015.
(Of course, the fact that this will be just after the next general election doesn’t have the slightest whiff of conspiracy.)
A few months ago I pointed out that when it comes to controversial issues such as immigration, people don’t pay attention to facts and evidence. They only remember and listen to emotional arguments that fit their views. I came under a lot of criticism, mostly from lefties who said we must appeal to evidence and facts or we have nothing.
But this debate over social security and universal benefits illustrates that even politically-engaged people don’t care much for evidence either.
The key principle that underpins most leftwing views on social security goes like this: ‘Universal benefits are worth protecting because they maintain broad support in the welfare state’.
For example, Peter Hain said this the other day:
if middle Britain ceased to benefit from the welfare state through some of the few universal benefits that are left, how can we convince them to fund the larger part of that budget through their taxes?
Owen Jones too has said a similar argument:
Stripping the welfare state of its universalism will breed a middle-class that is furious about paying large chunks of tax, getting nothing back and subsidising the supposedly less deserving. It will accelerate the demonisation of the British poor.
Both these claims are constantly made across the left… and both are wrong.
It’s important to explain why they’re wrong because I want Britain to have a strong, well-funded social security system. But for that we need to focus less on arguments that sound good to us and more on how Britons behave and react to public policy.
Here’s the problem: there is no evidence to support the view that middle class taxpayers will happily subsidise the ‘less deserving’ if they get universal benefits themselves. You can offer them universal childcare or universal winter fuel allowance or universal education, but it doesn’t mean they will be more willing to subsidise unemployment benefits for example.
So even as overall spending on social security has risen over the last 50 years, and universal benefits have been expanded, support for some types of benefits has continued to fall
Exhibit 2: Percentage prioritising specific areas for extra spending (BSA) (via Daniel Sage)
These charts show that people are more nuanced than we think. They support the specific benefits they get and drop support for benefits they don’t get. As spending on benefits for pensioners has risen, so has support. But support for the ‘less deserving’ continues to fall.
This leads me to two conclusions:
First, we should absolutely support some universal benefits (health, social care, pensions etc) – but accept that not all benefits need to be (or can be) universal. Therefore, cutting one doesn’t necessarily mean support in universalism is undermined. In other words we can be as nuanced as the public themselves.
Second, we need to push a social security system that focuses more on universal services than cash benefits. As I’ve said before, our aim should be to restructure the state to reduce inequality, not rely on small handouts to wealthy pensioners in the hope it buys support for other benefits such as for the unemployed. The cash handouts only increase support for… those cash handouts. They don’t increase support for univeral social security more broadly.
The public’s attitude towards social security is changing, and if we want to maintain universalism we have to understand that and change our approach accordingly.
Just sticking to soundbites that aren’t backed up by evidence doesn’t help us in our goals. That said, I’m betting that most lefties will ignore my appeal to the evidence base and choose to stick to emotional arguments that have always appealed to them. In that sense they’re simply doing what the broader public do.
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