Round Up

// 16 November 2008

Why is Germaine Greer writing about Michelle Obama’s dress? Did I miss something? Is this really contemporary feminist analysis? The mind boggles.

Mind it does that a lot, not least with this advertising campaign from the RSPCA Australia (warning distressing for some viewers). Their new advertising gimmick – showing a woman being beaten with an overlaid soundtrack of a dog whimpering. Their argument – you wouldn’t ignore violence against women so why ignore violence against dogs. Shame they fail to spot the major flaw in that argument – violence against women is ignored by some and by others is condoned. (Hap tip to Hoyden About Town for that one). Lets put the RSPCA’s idea about violence against women against these survey results from the White Ribbon campaign in Australia which found that:

  • One in seven teenage boys think it is OK to make a girl have sex with them, if she has been flirting with them.
  • 22% of young people had witnessed their fathers being violent towards their mothers
  • one in every three boys believe it is not a “big deal to hit a girl”.
  • 58 per cent had witnessed their father/stepfather yell loudly at their mother/stepmother, 28 per cent had witnessed acts of humiliation and 8 per cent had seen their father/stepfather stop their mother/stepmother seeing her family or friends.

Meanwhile in the DRC, women radio journalists are campaigning against the stigmatisation of rape survivors using their own medium. The issue is that after rape women may be rejected by their husbands, babies rejected by families and communities assume that the woman is “dirty” or has HIV-AIDS. Rape victims may also be treated as adultresses rather than victims. The project by the journalist is simple:

“We try to get raped women to speak up and put them on the airwaves so that the entire community understands that rape is a crime,” says Julienne Baseke, a 29-year-old sociology graduate of Bukavu University who leads the group’s monthly reporting efforts. “We educate. If a woman knows her rights then the situation can change. If she doesn’t, women’s rights are at men’s mercy.”

The group, the South Kivu Women’s Media Association, has been taping testimonies from women for two years and has released cassettes and CDs telling the stories of 100 women for use as public education tools.

And two stories on the disability front – one identifying the additional difficulties disabled women face in disclosing sexual crimes. These include

1. Ideas about WWD being particularly asexual, undesirable, dishonest, or promiscuous.

2. Inability of victims to identify their experience as grooming and sexual assault, due to lack of protective-behaviour and sexual education. (Issues of sexual agency are also touched on in the report.)

3. Punitive institutional responses to reports, including moving the victim rather than the assaulter, or locking victims in their rooms.

4. Dependence on perpetrators can leave victims unable to disclose because their care needs will no longer be met.

5. Communication difficulty, both practical and situational, related to disability or to physical and social isolation. Family carers or residential management act as gate-keepers and decision-makers, taking the power to report out of victims’ hands. Carers and workers lack training in appropriate responses to reporting.

And the other about our very own Marks and Spencer banning a disabled woman from their stores because she rung the emergency alarm in the disabled toilets. The woman was then told that:

“staff were not trained to deal with her and workers were being put at risk,” she received a letter stating that “You are not permitted to enter into any of our stores again. If you choose to ignore this notice you will be asked to leave.”

From Jezebel

M&S has since said this letter, a trespass order rescinding her right to enter the stories, was mistakenly given to her. All I can say is “This isn’t just disability discrimination, this is M&S Disability Discrimination”.

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 17 November 2008 at 11:51 am

Regarding Australian survey correct terminology in respect of 1 in 7 boys consider it acceptable to ‘have sex with girl if she has been flirting with them. In fact it should read 1 in 7 boys consider it acceptable to rape a girl if she has been flirting with them. The misogyny directed at women with disabilities is a continuum of how society believes women are inherently ‘nymphomaniacs, whose sexuality is dirty or else women are supposedly assexual.’ Meaning of course all women are either virgins or whores. But of course, women with disabilities face greater disadvantages because not only are they ‘invisible’ they are not considered human by many.

Once again it all comes to down to the fact women are not men and patriarchy has defined only biological males are declared to be ‘human’ whereas women are inferior or else dehumanised beings.

tom hulley // Posted 17 November 2008 at 12:51 pm

This is an important story and I hope my concern about language is not seen as trivialising it. It is intended to be part of the same concern.

The item uses ‘WWD’ shorthand for women with disabilities. I find this unfortunate. The abbrievation also risks objectifying women.

The term ‘women with disabilities’ suggests that the disabilities belong to the person as characteristics as misfortunes and, sometimes, as failings.

Many women have preferred the term ‘disabled women’ because it means something like: women who are discriminated against on account of physical, mental or sensory differences. ‘Disabled’ by social ideas and arrangements but not disabled in themselves. This fits concerns in the article such as women without speech not being allowed any means of communication. Deafness and lack of speech give people additional requirements when communicating. Not attempting to meet these requirements is discriminatory. It is normal to have speech difference but it is not normal to be excluded for it.

Similarly, it is normal to have hearing impairment and also normal not to have hearing impairment. When people communicate both the hearing and non-hearing are disabled unless they can access means of meeting their different requirements. Don’t believe that one is normal and the other not!

Can I suggest that all women are put at risk not because they are vulnerable in themselves but because they are made vulnerable and then targetted by predators. It is the behaviour of predators that needs to be monitored and challenged and changed by every means possible.

So thanks to the F-word for consistently pointing out attitudes and practices that promote or permit violence towards women so that men as well as women can challenge the perpetrators. I think this is the best men can do for (and guided by) feminism but am I right?

Louise Livesey // Posted 17 November 2008 at 1:29 pm

Hi Tom and thanks for the response. The language question is interesting – as a woman with disabilities I dislike the term “disabled woman” as it implies there is nothing more to me/my primary identity is my disability. I know those advocating the social model of disability (i.e. that the condition isn’t the problem but societies response to it) argue that “disabled woman” implies “woman disabled by society” but I suspect that’s only if you know that’s what it’s getting at. Other terms advocated for are differently abled women and dis/abled women.

However, and it’s a big one, campaigners around issues of chronic pain conditions have pointed out that it isn’t always just society that dis-ables. If you are in chronic pain then the condition does equally dis-able you.

I’d also challenge the idea that dis/abilities mean “additional” issues – this privileges the able-bodied perception of the world (e.g. that communication is verbal/aural, movement across a space is by foot etc). Making an accessible world has to be about more than the ramps and translators – it’s about seeing the world differently. You start to talk about that idea but on the basis of “additional” issues.

For dis/abled women in terms of violence the fact that all process and procedures are based on the abled-bodied perception of the world means exclusion and lack of representation. Take, for example, those with mild or medium learning disabilities and the assumption they have no right to sexual expression. Or that disclosure is assumed to be a verbal-aural act and therefore is only possible if you have the language, signs, means of communication to make it happen. Male violence against all women needs to be tackled but not in a “one size fits all way” as that will just keep dis/abled women excluded.

tom hulley // Posted 17 November 2008 at 2:07 pm

Thanks, Louise. Your response is helpful and offers me further reflection. Maybe I wrote with more certainty than appropriate.

My feeling is that people have various requirements not that some people have additional ones. ‘Common’ needs, perhaps, rather than ‘special’ needs but a variety of ways of meeting them.

I need to think these things through further and hope to find more discussion on the site from time to time.

George // Posted 17 November 2008 at 8:19 pm

Re: the RSPCA advert – am I the only one who is most distressed by the implication that (beaten) woman = (beaten) domestic animal!?! That is, somehow dumb, bestial, victimised, inhuman… dear god.

This is even on top of the fact that “dog” and “bitch” are commonly used as highly gendered derogatory terms, so even if they weren’t making the analogy so explicit, they’d still be on very dodgy grounds.

Zenobia // Posted 17 November 2008 at 9:36 pm

Why is Germaine Greer writing about Michelle Obama’s dress? Did I miss something? Is this really contemporary feminist analysis? The mind boggles.

But why are you expecting contemporary feminist analysis in G2? Not saying it doesn’t happen, but expecting it from a colour supplement seems a bit unfair, doesn’t it?

Feminist Avatar // Posted 17 November 2008 at 10:13 pm

I think what is disturbing about that RSPCA advert is the casual replacement of women with animals. What, are we no more than animals? Where is the recognition of our humanity? Beating animals is of course wrong, but seriously?!

S // Posted 18 November 2008 at 8:38 pm

I know that this is slightly off what a lot of the other comments have been on but I wanted to make a point about the 1 in 3 boys think it is okay to hit a girl.

There’s a “thing” (for want of a better word) going round schools at the moment (or a few years back, I forget) that boys can’t hit girls. Personally, as much as I want to dampen violence etc, this feels just as bad because it suggests that girls are weaklings or that they have power of boys.

Maybe the statement should be checked with a comparison of how many boys think it is okay to hit a boy.

Kath // Posted 18 November 2008 at 11:03 pm

Looks like the RSPCA are jumping on the PETA bandwagon.

Kez // Posted 19 November 2008 at 10:20 am

Don’t know about Australia, but the irony here in the UK would be that plenty of people probably actually would get more upset about violence against dogs than violence against women.

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