News and Views

// 20 November 2008

I am sure I can’t be the only one infuriated that some bloke’s resignation from a reality entertainment programme has overshadowed all other news including the government’s latest legislative announcements on prostitution.

The BBC has contrasting views from two sex workers and the latter one is absolutely right that the legislation fails to address the outdated rules on autonomous brothels (run by sex workers for the safety of sex workers) which I talked about briefly yesterday flagging Fiona McTaggart’s comments on the failure to get that legislation altered.

In brief the new law does take the Finnish model (with some amendments) so that it will be illegal for men to buy sex from a woman who is controlled for gain by another. The idea being that women acting autonomously as sex workers will not be criminalised (and not will their punters) but men who seek to ignore pimping, coercion and trafficking will be criminalised. As an interesting addition is Laura Agustin’s piece here on why we need to think about migrants own agency/autonomy offers an alternative view.

Italian anti-rape poster showing naked woman in crucifixation pose on a bedWhilst we’re on sex crimes, the UK Police have admitted withholding information about sex abuse at childrens homes in Albania from the Albanian Police. Seems the abusers called on the Old Boys Protection Network and got the result they wanted. And Feministing has coverage of a new Italian anti-rape campaign which may be backfiring slightly because the poster objectifies women and has been called blasphemous.

This blog piece about abled bodied privilege and appropriation of adaptations to make spaces accessible strikes me as very, very timely.

Many accessibility solutions are structural; they require collective action — constructing spaces such that wheelchairs can be used within them; hiring interpreters and providing caption services… these are not actions that can be undertaken by a single person.

What is unfortunate about this, though, is that it relieves the fully-abled individual of hir responsibility to hir disabled counterparts. It means the fully-abled individual can safely get away with never thinking about disability, and the connection between societal access and hir actions specifically, at all. Sie never has to consider how hir attitudes and behaviors very really shape the environment of hir peers. Sie never has to stop and think, how does what I am doing affect those around me, and how can I change that to make things better for them?

And whilst we’re on analyses here’s something on sexual violence against transgender women (may be triggering) which makes some fantastic points. (I know Laura already flagged it here but it’s worth quoting a little…

You know what? Here’s a word that didn’t mean anything to the person who sexually assaulted me, and didn’t mean anything to the people and institutions that made it worse, so much that I’d almost convinced myself it didn’t mean anything when I was the one saying it:


And some good news, as we often miss that here, Nepal has recognised full equal rights to LGBT peoples. Japan has it’s first professional female baseball player. Condoleeza Rice is to fight violence against women internationally after leaving her current job. And the US has it’s first female Four Star General.. And a female commercial pilot who was working as a flight attendant is being feted for helping to land a passenger plane when the co-pilot had a breakdown.

Meanwhile on the popular culture front – Jessica Valenti has written for the Guardian about female comedians and highlights the ever fantastic Target Women as an example. And judging has begun on the first Linda Hamilton Memorial Women In Action Screenwriting Contest. We look forward to the results.

Comments From You

Laurel Dearing // Posted 20 November 2008 at 11:55 am

its great to hear that a women in power like Rice is doing something like this.

its a shame that the poster is erotic because it puts the blame with the right people. perhaps the people that look up because of the breasts are the people that should be looking at it though? because i think sex and nudity and erotica are more normal in those pats of europe as opposed to just pornographic and degrading stuff.

Lindsey // Posted 20 November 2008 at 2:35 pm

On the subject of news…

…Did anyone watch Sky News last night? Reporting on a female astronaut repairing the space station they opened with something like “losing your handbag is the worst nightmare for any woman” and go on to describe how she had a minor accident and lost her toolkit. Way to undermine female engineers – this could have happened to any of them but if the astronaut had been male would it have made the news?

Anne Onne // Posted 20 November 2008 at 6:58 pm

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the prostitution laws. It will be good, really good, for men to no longer have an excuse to go on raping women by attending brothels where women are being held against their will. At the same time, women who chose to go into sex work shouldn’t be penalised, and I hope the new system will be a start for giving women more protection.

I’m torn on the image for the anti-rape campaign. The Western feminist side of me thinks: naked woman on a bed. Hmm…advertising could have been different.

But I think context is very important. We’re talking about an advert in Italy, somewhere that is predominantly Catholic, where the full impact of the metaphor of women paying/suffering for the sins of others would resonate a lot more with a different audience. And we can’t take the continental attitudes to nudity (less sexual, more normal) out of it, because it’s context. She’s naked because on Crucifixes, Christ is naked.

I don’t think it’s offensive, but I’m too liberal a Christian to speak for others on the issue. But even if it makes the much more religious people in Italy uncomfortable, that’s what it was meant to do. We talk about Christ’s suffering and how noble he was and laud him for it, and then we minimise the suffering of real women every day.

Besides, the Church don’t exactly own religious symbolism as a trademark(!) so they can’t stop anyone using it. Religious symbolism has been such a huge part of art and even advertising (think about all the Last Supper-inspired ads you’ve seen) that I don’t believe you can ban everyone from using it to make a point. Besides, this isn’t being done to mock religion, but to point out that many people, many women suffer, and that we recognise Christ’s suffering though he died 2000 years ago whilst ignoring and perpetrating the suffering of others today.

I like that it recognises that women can be raped at home, on their bed. It’s not a picture showing some dark alley, or somesuch cliche. It’s simple: a woman in a symbol of suffering recognised the world over.

In some way, I think we’re sexualising her by virtue of society, not the image. A naked woman doesn’t have to be sexual, but we are so used to applying the male gaze that any young woman, expecially a naked one, is a sexual object. I also think that an erotic undercurrent is visible in even original Christ crucifixion art, it’s part and parcel of how Christ was interpreted by many artists.

I could analyse it for ages, because it shows a lot of depth to me. However, I understand that ads have to work on more levels than simply being deeply analysed or artistically appreciated.

Of course, not anybody has to like it, or agree, and I could find a lot to critique, too, but it’s very, very hard to come up with an anti-rape campaign that grabs attention and won’t cause lots of controversy amongst feminists, let alone everyone else. Certainly I’ve yet to see one.

I’m also surprised whenever I go to a public space that isn’t adapted for disabilities because it seems so obvious that they’re essential. I guess it’s a good thing that enough has been done in some places that the accomodations so far are ‘normal’ to people (since people are averse to change, seeing people accept this is good), and that it’s noticeable when needs have not been met. But still, there’s a long way to go, and we need systemic changes, not ust a ramp here and there.

Lindsey: Seriously? Handbag? Now I remember why I NEVER watch Sky news or CNN: they suck. Like, how can Americans take that much smug chat from their newsreaders? Us News is more opinions and ‘jokes’ than fact!

Siany // Posted 20 November 2008 at 11:57 pm

Interesting coverage in the Guardian of the changes to legislation around prostitution. Today they had an interview with Jacqui Smith. It only made it into G2, not the main news section, and was one of those jaunty Q&A formats, rather than a proper article. It was doing quite well notwithstanding until the final Q: Are you a feminist? Good for JS for saying “Yes” unequivocally.

Has anyone else read the article? I couldn’t decide whether they were making it sound like they’d got her to concede that she’s got vested interests in the feminist conspiracy to overthrow the right of men to buy sex from women forced into prostitution through drug trafficking. Poor, helpless men; bad, bad us. Or maybe they were trying to help, allowing her to answer that question without editorialising?

Am I totally paranoid? I’m not sure what to think after seeing the picture they chose to run with the story about this subject yesterday – a woman’s legs (only her legs) in high heeled boots and fishnets standing on a street corner at night with cars driving by. As an aside, I did think her knee-length skirt was an odd choice to try an illustrate someone trying to attract a kerb crawler. Are they perhaps conflating “sex worker” with “woman walking down the street minding her own business”? Where did they get that picture?!

So confusing – a story about sex trade law with photo of woman’s legs makes page 4 of the main paper. Jacqui Smith talking about the same subject, but photographed in a non-sexual pose makes page 2 of G2. And on the facing page was a comical story about whether or not Hitler did indeed have only one ball. Glad they’re taking it so seriously.

Yesterday, in addition to a story about the Tories dropping public spending promises (there’s a surprise) and another about the BNP membership list, who else was worthy of the front page? Maradona. And today, John Sergeant made the front page of the main paper and the front page of G2.

Zenobia // Posted 21 November 2008 at 2:41 pm

Er, I would have expected someone to (a) ask Ms Seelhof where she gets her statistics on how many leftists, male or female, sadly don’t care about violence against women, and (b) have some caveats to add about the violence against women that goes on quite routinely during war, female four-star generals or no?

The presence of a Western four-star general in the vicinity isn’t good news for many women in the world. Wouldn’t it be a good idea, at the very least, to find some hard data about whether the sex of the general has a significant effect on the behaviour of the army as a whole (besides the fact that they’re an army, and so they kill and get killed for a living, of course).

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