Archive for the 'Sisterhood' Category

Avoiding the big story

April 1, 2006

I've been trying to ignore the Louise Nicholas rape trial, but it's everywhere.  I've heard music DJs try to turn into into witty jokes on their shows, and I just grimace and change the station.

I'll state it honestly – I believe Mrs Nicholas.  I know things about this trial which I shouldn't, which have further solidified my discomfort and sadness.  To stumble across a front-page full page banner headline* roaring that the victim is lying, as in the NZ Herald earlier this week – it was like a slap in the face to me.  I can only imagine what it must have felt like to someone who has actually been the victim of a rape or sexual abuse, or indeed to Louise and those who care about her. 

I nearly had a huge row about it in the staff room the other day.  It was spawned by my frustration that the men in the dock are probably going to be found not guilty.  In my humble opinion, to date the defence has possibly cast enough doubt, and smeared Louise Nicholas sufficiently, for the jurors to not have the certainty required for a guilty verdict.  I've sat on a jury, and I know how they work.  It makes me despair.

I wonder how many other women out there are trying to avoid this case too?  How many have made complaints about mistreatment by authority figures, particularly men and especially police, and not been believed?  How many more women have been raped or assaulted by people they should have been able to trust, and then not believed by those who should have taken them at their word?  To be in these situations is almost to be raped twice – to suffer the humiliation, disrespect and subjugation over again when you, rightfully, complain.

Let me be totally clear – false allegations of rape are not acceptable.  But my experience and observation has been that rape is probably the most under-reported of crimes.  And there are reasons for that.  The media coverage of the Louise Nicholas trial illustrates several of them clearly. 

Firstly many women are too ashamed and upset to face the fact that they have been raped, let alone report it.  Particularly when the assault has been perpetrated by someone you know, which is the case with the vast majority of acts of sexual violence, subsuming what has happened to you may be the only way to cope.  Talking yourself out of acknowledging the truth is a form of defence, because what really happened it is too shattering to deal with.

Secondly the attitude of police towards rape victims is known to vary widely – from kind and appropriate treatment and vigilant prosecution of the rapist, to disinterest and form-filling, to open hostility and disbelief.  Who knows which kind of officer you'll get when you try to report it?

Thirdly, there's the public shaming – the trial by media.  It is supposed to be the three police officers who are on trial in this case, not the victim.  And yet the past of Louise Nicholas has been brought up time and time again.  In contrast, I know of significant and relevant information from the history of some of those on trial which is not legally allowed to be raised at all. 

I know that those accused have rights, and usually I am a vigorous defender of them, but it seems to me that when it is those in power who are in the dock those rights are often abused.  I haven't done any research on this, but I'd be really interested to compare coverage of rape trials where the accused was someone not in the elite – someone not white, well-off or male.  I would be prepared to lay a bet that the media, and the defence, in that case focused on the accused rather than the victim.

*I have to wonder – what other news has featured such a headline?  Usually the Herald front page layout has two stories above the fold, one with a big headline and one with a big picture.  But on this occasion there was only the one story, grabbing both a banner right across the page (when the headline usually only goes part-way across) and a big picture underneath.  It's a "glory spot" usually reserved only for declarations of war, bombings of major English-speaking cities, or heroic sporting feats.

Clash of the covers

March 23, 2006

And now for a source of undeniable irritiation, but at the same time irresistable attraction – “women’s” magazines.

For a start I hate that they are called “women’s” magazines, usually disparagingly.  We need to find another name for them – how about “Celebrity Gossip Mags” or “Journals of Images Designed To Make You Feel Bad About Yourself And Hate Your Fellow Sisters”?  Or even “Contradictory And Untrue Stories About Famous People Plus Some Really Rather Good Recipes”?

It’s frustrating.  If you read the back part of these mags, minus the back four or five pages of minor celebrity gossip that didn’t make it on to the cover, they’re actually not that bad.  They have recipes, parenting advice, witty columns, letters from readers, puzzles, and the ever-amusing horoscopes and psychic columns.  Removing the seemingly obligatory weightloss rubbish* and other articles that are bad for your body image, and ditching the “news” about people who seem to be largely famous for having their photos in magazines, would improve them no end.

What never ceases to crack me up is the clash of the covers.  Each magazine apparently competes for the photos and stories that will sell the magazine to the reading public – namely the newest scandal or sensation about a movie star or model and their relationship (or lack of).  And yet, kind of like creation stories, they all seem to be equally false.

Every week the covers will contradict each other, often quite hilariously.  At the height of the Pitt-Anniston-Joulie saga three magazines would have three different messages (and accompanying photos) – Brad and Jen Back Together?  Anniston Finds New Love!  Angelina and Brad pregnant at last!! 

How much of it is true?  Probably none of it.  Particularly this week.  One cover proclaimed that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (the new Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston apparently) were already married (apparently this is a shock and also very important indeed).  Another stated boldly Katie Cracks:  The Trush Behind Those Split Rumours, with, of course a story of a distraught and heavily pregnant Holmes.

I tend to feel sorry for these people, although I probably shouldn’t.  My partner is always pointing out to me that they court this attention and as such should just have to eat it up when it turns on them.  But if I had to conduct my life, and in particular my relationship, in the hot glare of the paparazzi camera, I wouldn’t cope with the strain for long. 

I think about the Anniston-Pitt break-up, and I consider all the rumours, for all those years, running to what must be millions of column inches, predicting a break-up or a baby, scrutinising their body language in shots at a movie premiere, speculating on why they didn’t have children yet, reporting rumours of various affairs or fights.  There seemed to be pressure on them, since the day they were married, to divorce, and even now that that is happening the publicity doesn’t let up.  Some people even seemed perversely happy that their marriage was over – I saw comments online that indicated the sad authors thought they now had a chance with Brad or Jennifer themselves.  I guess when the people on the pedestal fail your own inability to keep a relationship going doesn’t seem so bad, perhaps.

I find it depressing that so many women, who are in fact intelligent and savvy, spend time and money on these magazines, when publications that are a bit less self-loathing and a lot more interesting fail (can you tell I was a Grace fan?)  But ultimately I love having a flick through when I’m at the doctor’s – it must be the pretty pictures because I really can’t explain the attraction.  But as irresistable as a quick look is, I’m yet to give any of my money over the counter for one.  Yet.
* Seriously, if anyone told you you could make your ears smaller by rubbing oil on you’d think they were mad, but somehow if it’s your thighs it’s possible
PS – Picture found on a page with a blog post about the self-loathing inherent in Fashion Week, which seemed somehow appropriate. 

So over all the sexism

March 15, 2006

I’ve had a bit of a browse around some of the NZ blogs while I’ve been doing The Vent Box, and I quickly found Capitalism Bad.  Maia is unashamedly feminist and I like that.  But some of her posts are so depressing – not because of how she writes them, but because she has to write them, in this day and age.

I don’t know how old Maia is but I get the impression she is pretty young (or at least younger than me!)  I remember my mother telling me once that she had been sexually harassed in every job she had ever been in (and my mother is not the type to complain about these things, quite the reverse).  I was aghast, and then I thought about my experiences and realised that, despite the three decade gap, my own employment history is littered with examples of sexism, objectification and abuse.  It is probably at a lower level than most of what my mother experienced, but it’s still here, a normal part of the workplace.  And obviously little has changed even for Maia’s generation. 

Her article about the objectification of women even in “safe” political circles has really angered me.  Why are women’s images so often turned into an opportunity to comment on their appearance rather than the context of the picture?  How dare people treat other human beings with such contempt and disdain?  I would be prepared to bet a considerable sum of money that the male authors of the negative comments about Maia were not Calvin Klein models themselves, and would be highly (and rightly) hurt and offended if someone made similar comments about them in such a public forum. 

What led me even closer to a vein-busting fit of rage (which would have inevitably ended up with my blood boiling clear out of the ends of my fingers in streaming jets if it weren’t for my trusty Vent Box) was what happened when Maia raised her concerns about the comments within the activist community who run Indymedia.  All care, no responsibility, was all they had to say, it seemed to me.

Sexism, like other forms of discrimination, is not just the responsibility of the victim.  Stamping it out is an aegis we all carry, all the time, simply as human beings.  It’s the same with racism, homophobia and other forms of oppression based on intolerance.  We cannot and should not shirk this duty because of some crass belief that all speech is somehow sacred, or due to a naive hope that just because it’s an open source site used by community activists somehow everyone has checked their capacity to be sexist arseholes at the door on the way in.

What is wrong with these people?  What is wrong with the people who make these sorts of comments?  What is wrong with the people who don’t do anything about these comments when they are made on their website?  What is wrong with people who tell someone who has no control over the website that they have to fix the problem themselves?  What is wrong with people who call themselves community activists and state that they are opposed to sexism, but ignore it when it happens somewhere that they don’t want to see it? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE??

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When women scrap we fight dirty

March 9, 2006

I’ve been reading this book* about women’s relationships and how we get all bitter and twisted so quickly, resulting in fallout as big as Outer Mongolia when things go bad.  I don’t usually read these kinds of books, and I’m wary of turning into my Mum (at one stage I swear she had three shelves of “self-improvement” books, all of which she had read at least once), but it’s actually quite good.

A few times now I’ve been through this situation where I seem to have a falling out with a friend and then it’s like I shed my skin – with that one friend go a whole lot of others, who I no longer feel I can spend time with, because I assume they will take the side of the other party in the dispute.  Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they don’t even have the foggiest what in Hades is going on, but nevertheless I seem to end up feeling lonely for a while and then eventually building up a new network of friends.

A therapist I know reckons that these cat fights happens throughout women’s lives, and it’s just the way life is for women living in what is still, at heart, a partiarchal society.  These break-ups reflect needs that women have that they can’t articulate, because the society we live in doesn’t support women putting themselves first, or fulfilling their needs without feeling guilt.

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