Posts Tagged ‘women’s rights’

A propos of nothing much:

We (as in, people with similar social and political views to myself) don’t tend to think too highly of people who are opposed to abortion in all instances.

It seems both uncaring, to insist that a woman forefeit her right to make decisions about her own body, and scientifically illiterate, to assert that a barely fertilised zygote is not significantly distinct from any other “human”.

When someone of this disposition is willing to make some allowances, though – for cases of rape, say – that tends to mollify us a little bit. They’re not wholly dogmatic about their ideas. They’re willing to give a little bit of ground.

But surely what we’re doing, when we encourage anti-abortionists to make this exception, is congratulating them for betraying their principles. Or, rather, we’re giving tacit support to an implied set of principles that’s even more obnoxious and inhumane.

Start with the basic concept that terminating a pregnancy is always, unequivocally immoral. This is a frankly uninformed and irrational idea when taken to the extreme positions that some people hold, given the nature of a barely fertilised embryo in the earliest stages of gestation. If a tiny cluster of cells carries the same moral weight to you as a fully developed infant, then what you value can’t be called “human life” in any way I would recognise the phrase. I am strongly against this position.

But there’s some consistency there. People with this view are opposed to what they see as murder of defenseless innocents. That part I can follow, even if the logic behind their classification of “defenseless innocents” is ideologically inane.

If you’re willing to allow for the possibility of abortion in cases of rape, though… what is the guiding principle behind your moral judgments?

A fetus is no more or less deserving of protection based on whether its mother was being physically assaulted against her will prior to its conception. So if abortion would be “murder” in normal circumstances, why should it be different here?

One obvious answer that might present itself involves compassion for the mother. Some anti-abortionists just can’t bring themselves to insist that a rape victim bear her rapist’s child against her will. It seems unconscionable to them, so they allow for an exception. On the face of it, this seems like human kindness breaking through an ideological wall.

But it’s not really. Here are some other circumstances which have no significance to the condition of an unborn child, but in which we’re told abortion is an unacceptable abomination:

  1. A woman has consensual sex without using contraception, and becomes pregnant.
  2. A woman has consensual sex, uses contraception, it doesn’t work, and she becomes pregnant.
  3. A woman gets drunk, has sex, regrets it soon after, and becomes pregnant.
  4. A girl hears from her friends at school that you can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex, doesn’t have this misconception corrected in any kind of sex education class, has consensual sex with her boyfriend, and becomes pregnant.
  5. A woman has consensual sex with her husband who has had a vasectomy, but she becomes pregnant.

Of the many possible contexts to a woman becoming pregnant, rape is the only one in which some anti-abortionists are willing to make an exception… and also the only one in which it’s entirely out of the woman’s control.

People who are against abortion with no exceptions are at least consistent in their concern for the innocent human life they perceive to be at risk.

People in the “except for cases of rape” camp aren’t as concerned about the welfare of the child as they are about whether it’s the woman’s fault.

The implicit message is that, unless a woman was sexually assaulted against her wishes, the responsibility for the pregnancy lies squarely with her… and that’s what makes abortion immoral. If you were raped, then okay, you’re off the hook – but if you just weren’t careful, or you were stupid, or you’re the kind of slut who actually has sex willingly and enjoys it, then you deserve to be stuck with this.

The fetus’s welfare doesn’t come into it. The one determining factor is whether the woman deserves to be “punished” (which is effectively what it amounts to) for being insufficiently sexually puritan and abstinent.

If you asked them, they probably wouldn’t agree that they think this way. They probably don’t even think they do. But underlying, deeply engrained hang-ups and presumptions about sex are pernicious and ubiquitous, and are one of many things harmfully exacerbated by a religiously based sense of morality.

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I haven’t written at length about the ultrasound probes that legislators in certain states are requiring that women be forcibly penetrated with before they’re permitted certain medical procedures. But given the implicit rationale behind the law (that those shameful sluts must be made to understand the full consequences of their actions), I like this as a complementary idea:

I have a modest proposal that would resolve the issue. In Virginia, Texas, and the six other states that now mandate this procedure, let Army and other military recruiters be veterans who have lost an arm or a leg or been otherwise traumatized in combat. Let every recruiting station show continuous images of innocent noncombatants who died, including under attacks by American drones. Let the recruiting centers display that Russian proverb, “Every bullet finds its target in a mother’s heart.” And above all, let each prospective recruit and his or her mother be advised that he or she is not at all unlikely to commit suicide after undergoing the dehumanization of basic training (“basic” to all violent systems) and coming to realize the horrible hypocrisy of what they have been brought to do by a heartless state.

And especially in Texas, the execution capital of the country, let every warden who’s about to order the execution of a death-row inmate talk the matter over with the inmate’s mother. Let the executioners themselves listen to the heartbeat of the prisoner and hear his (or her) own story of how they were led by a violence-prone society, with its mass-media culture, to commit the crime.

Also, Viagra prescriptions to require a urethral sounding.

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I may be taking something of a step back here.

I’ve talked about feminism a few times before, what it means to me, what it means to someone else, and how it relates to skepticism or men’s rights. It’s been an important theme to much of my engagement with the rest of the internet, and something I’ve argued about on a number of occasions with some degree of passion and interest.

Now I’m wondering if I even know what it means.

I haven’t suddenly shifted my views on anything real, or not all that much. But I think my interpretation of the term “feminism” itself bears some examination.

I wanted to talk about this even before I read Holly’s post on Imaginary Feminism and recognised so many infuriating factors of certain critiques of “feminism” that I keep encountering. I slightly take issue with the word “imaginary”, because it’s sadly not true that the kind of feminism she’s describing doesn’t exist. The examples she cites – Valerie Solanas, Phyllis Schlafly, and the rest – are all real people, who really believed the things they said, and continue to have supporters.

It’s the way it’s all lumped together that’s the problem. As Holly says, one of the primary straw-man claims about feminism is that it’s monolithic. Solanas et al. were feminists, and so it’s assumed that anyone else who identifies as a feminist, or writes from a feminist perspective, or promotes an agenda of empowering women and calls it feminism, can’t possibly also believe in things like sexual positivity, and must be seeking to actively disempower men.

A big part of the problem is people who insist on seeing feminism this way. I know people who look at this extreme bloc of thinkers – and more contemporary writers like Bidisha and Kat Banyard – and think that’s what feminism is. And while ideas like theirs certainly deserve to be criticised, turning it into a deliberate effort at feminist-bashing might well alienate people who would otherwise agree with you, if they identify as feminists themselves but mean something very different by it.

But I think a lot of the problem comes from the word itself.

Since so many different feminists have such different ideas on what it means, is it too vague a term to really mean anything? There are no doubt some feminists who do hate men, and for whom that is a defining part of their idea of feminism. But even aside from this extreme minority, there are various conflicting ideas on how to work for equality, and what equality means, and where things like sex work and men’s rights fit into that equality.

As well as a (possible) feminist, I’m an atheist, and there’s a degree of disagreement within the atheist community about what that label means as well. But there isn’t the same wild variety of opinions within atheism as in feminism – or rather, opinions only tend to vary on unrelated subjects, or peripheral details like the tone of atheists’ public engagement. What it means to not believe in God is one of the more straightfoward aspects.

It’s less straightforward to believe the radical notion, as the bumper sticker goes, “that women are people”. This was a definition of feminism pinned to the bedroom wall of one of my ex-housemates, and is less than helpful in explaining things. You’d have to go a long way to find someone who’ll disagree that women are people, in any literal, biological sense. But if it’s meant to be taken in a more nuanced, metaphorical way, then it doesn’t help resolve the many disagreements over how this should be done.

Similarly, everyone who’s not dangerously insane would agree that men should have rights. That’s not the same as saying women shouldn’t have rights, or that men particularly need to defend their rights against a horde of angry women who want to strip them all away. And yet the “Men’s Rights Movement” has an unfortunate tendency to be a mess of bitterness and misogyny. The equivalent of certain brands of misandrist feminism, I suppose.

But because there are so many differing views under the massive “feminist” umbrella, the opposition to feminism is necessarily just as disjointed and scattered in what it thinks it’s against.

The flavours of anti-feminism that I’ve generally encountered before (as regular readers may recall) have tended to be sophisticated and progressive. It’s dead set against things like the stereotyping of gender and sexuality roles, victimisation of women, and downplaying or ridiculing of men’s rights, which it often observes in mainstream feminism.

And it’s true that all those things are present in feminism to some degree, and I support anyone taking a stand against them. But going after the whole feminist movement, or all feminists, for these particular transgressions means you’re liable to frustrate and alienate a lot of potential allies.

They forget that the more historically prevalent kind of “anti-feminism” has wanted women to stay in the kitchen all day, looking after the children, not bothering their husbands with any domestic chores or having any vocational aspirations of their own, and not worrying their pretty heads over any silly things like being allowed to vote.

This is what most feminists are opposed to. They’re usually not against the idea of respecting men, or acknowledging and respecting people’s complex and nuanced decisions on gender identity and sexuality. Even those feminists who are against the very existence of strip clubs or pornography or prostitution are often attempting to express a compassionate notion of liberalism, not crushing people’s rights for their own convenience.

Being an “anti-feminist” these days may mean that you endorse and support ideas wholly compatible with many people’s idea of feminism.

So I have to wonder whether the terminology’s that much use to me.

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A new law in France, in effect as of today, forces women going out in public to show their faces.

The rationale behind the idea, supposedly, relates to the fact that the country’s more conservative and authoritarian Muslims insist that women cover their faces when out in public. This infringement of people’s rights is what the new law seeks to counteract.

Lawyer and political blogger David Allen Green is against the law, and sums up a good portion of his reasoning in his closing paragraph:

Many secularists and liberals would prefer a world where individuals do not want to hide their faces a part of their social interactions; many secularists and liberals would welcome a world without any face veils. But for such a world to be imposed by legal force makes it a secular and liberal world not worth striving for.

I would certainly prefer some versions of this world to others, and everybody feeling comfortable to make their own decisions regarding how much of their face to show in public seems like a better state of affairs than any alternative. But passing laws to coerce everybody to abide by how I would prefer the world to be is a dangerous road to go down. Even if I’m right, dammit.

Every time the Westboro Baptist Church do anything newly obnoxious, there’s much liberal hand-wringing from the left about the dilemma of supporting free speech but abhorring this speech. And it is a wrench to forego the desire to impose your preferences on society, even when it’s perfectly clear to everyone with an ounce of sanity that your world would be a lovelier place.

In the case of the burqa, some law-makers have decided that it’s time for action. But I’m not sure if they know exactly why they’re doing it.

According to the BBC’s reporting, it’s the way the veil “undermines the basic standards required for living in a shared society” which has prompted the French government to deem it unacceptable, and is why women wearing it risk being fined. Apparently wearing the veil is an undesirable and antisocial act in itself, whether forced or not, and enacting laws against antisocialism is presumed to be within the government’s purview.

From this angle, I suppose there is a worthwhile discussion there to be had about whether this form of “personal expression” causes society sufficient outrage or discomfort for the state to clamp down. Indecency laws no doubt have some place in the world, notwithstanding disagreements on whether their influence should stretch as far as, say, public breast-feeding. A private shopping centre might choose to take a more authoritarian stance on groups of teenagers wearing hoodies on its property. And you may want to insist on seeing people’s faces unobstructed, both in person and on their passport, before letting them fly on your airline.

But the argument that a few thousand Muslim women in France wearing veils is to the general public detriment isn’t one that’s been made a lot. Instead, the decision to pass this law has generally been sold as a liberal one, which stands up for women’s rights and defends them against a more virulent form of oppression. It’s not the veil itself that’s bad, so much as women being forced to wear it by men with purportedly divine justification.

(The truth might in fact be some odd mixture of the two: we don’t like the idea of the burqa, for reasons we’re disinclined to closely examine, and so justify legislating against it with claims that it’s the liberal thing to do.)

So the world we’d prefer isn’t necessarily one in which women didn’t wear the veil, but one in which they weren’t forced to by some patriarchal authority. But the laws against this latter case are, presumably, already in place. I don’t know exactly how some women are being forced to wear clothes they don’t want to, but if it’s through physical violence, or detaining them against their will, then these are already illegal means.

If the ban on the burqa is intended to make these laws easier to act on, then I don’t see how. Making criminals of the women who might have been so coerced won’t obviously bring to light new evidence of the coercion. Nor will inducing them to be urged simply to stay indoors.

In some cases, perhaps the brutal oppression that forces women into adopting a veil isn’t physical, but rather depends on the social pressures of a misogynistic system, and ends with the women themselves choosing the veil through a seemingly contorted form of free will. But when does the state stop passing legislation which claims to know what we want better than we do, once it’s started? If a woman does her best to honestly and sincerely express the desire to wear a veil, and the government insists she mustn’t because the patriarchy have probably just brainwashed her into wanting to do so… well, I can think of a number of worlds preferable to that one.

It seems likely that the burqa is a central part of some Muslim men’s efforts to keep some Muslim women under the thumb, and that this policy will cause more social damage and injustice the more widespread it becomes. The same could be said of Fred Phelps’s clan’s picketing, much of which is solely intended to induce grief and anguish as they gloat in others’ misery. But I don’t want anyone’s right to use placards curtailed, and I wouldn’t even if there was almost nothing they were used for except homophobic fury.

Of course, in the case of the WBC, few liberal commenters simply express a defense of their rights to spew what bile they like, and then leave it at that. They emphasise that these are terrible, wrong-headed people whose hateful message deserves to be utterly reviled – and this tends to play a more significant part in the conversation than the fact that, much as we would like to, we can’t really justify oppressive legal action here.

Although I oppose the ban on the burqas, that shouldn’t be the end of the ongoing conversation, or even the biggest part of it. The problems of oppression and social injustice which the ban seeks to address are still there. So what can we do about them? Is it just a matter of continuing the conversation, adding to the public discourse, and hoping that a free flow of information and opinion will lead inexorably to a freer society?

That’d certainly be handy for me. It’d mean I’m already doing everything I need to do to save the world.

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I am in favour of the objectification of women.

Okay, that might be a little misleading, but if I said I was against it then that wouldn’t be controversial or edgy at all.

Either way, I should clarify my position a little.

Objectifying women isn’t always a good thing. Nor is it always a good thing when it happens to men. Transfolk probably bear the worst of it. But gender-based degradation of women is no small deal.

Strip clubs and pornography exist, (predominantly) for the enjoyment of (also predominantly) heterosexual men. We like being able to lust after and fantasise about women explicitly, and these things give us a chance to do that in a way our hormones crave but society doesn’t often allow us. There’s a vast industry which relies on exploiting and reinforcing the role of women as objects of men’s sexual desire.

And it’s not outrageous to imagine that these attitudes might spill over into other areas of human interaction. Women have a hard time being taken seriously by some people in many areas of business – the corporate and political worlds are still predominantly white and male.

There’s a degree of imbalance and inequality between the genders (let alone among people who don’t fit neatly into one category or the other) which nobody should wish to see perpetuated.

But if your intent is to be a critical thinker, a skeptic, a rational humanist – in other words, if you give a shit about people and you care whether what you believe is actually true – then you should be open to criticism of the ways you might think this imbalance ought to be addressed.

In particular, I think the sexism debate could do with much more emphasis on building up than dragging down.

Take strip clubs. Some people – mostly women who identify with a particular definition of feminism – think these are awful places, and want to see laws passed against their very existence. They don’t want men to be encouraged to see women as pieces of meat on show for their enjoyment, and they don’t want women to feel pressured into having to take a demeaning job as the best way of supporting themselves financially, because of the sexist attitudes this perpetuates.

Rather than doing anything to support or encourage women, this seems only to assume that men can’t be trusted and will inevitably behave with deplorable incivility if offered the slightest prompting to do so.

Some men fail, or refuse, to act as if women are ever anything more than sexy pieces of meat. That’s undoubtedly a bad thing – it’s a pretty crappy move to write off most of an entire gender’s potential like that. But it’s not clear that this behaviour will be diminished even slightly if you remove the venues where men get to enjoy ogling the sexy meat with impunity. It’s not going to stop men noticing that women are sexy and they are made of meat, or stop them behaving in ways inappropriate outside of allocated zones like a strip club.

However… this also isn’t to say that there’s not a problem worth addressing here. The fact is that men often do take the “sexy meat” attitude to women beyond reasonable bounds. Most women I know have had direct experience of being made to feel as if their physicality is all they’re good for, in a way that wasn’t appropriate and which they didn’t enjoy.

But there’s no contradiction in letting people know what’s inappropriate and what isn’t in the majority of human interaction, while also letting people earn a living through sex work or a related industry.

There’s an automatic connection in many people’s minds between a person earning a living in the sex industry, and that person being diminished in the perception of the rest of society. But that’s a problem with society and its hang-ups, not with the industry itself.

Some people are generalised about and de-individualised, because of their gender or gender identity – something of which both men and women can be both objects and perpetrators. Some women find that the sex industry provides the only means through which they can financially support themselves. That’s a problem with the economy and the job market, not with the one profession offering them a life-line.

I understand some people’s frustrations at the “freedom of speech” counter-argument. Josie Long has tweeted in the past about how little she appreciates the way she’s sometimes stereotyped as a woman, and sees strip clubs as a part of the problem. She appreciates the importance of freedom, but has tried to explain that it’s an unhelpful thing to use as a conversation-stopper.

Freedom’s important, but a lot of people still aren’t happy, and there might be something we can do about that even if we don’t agree on what we can do about it straight away.

Banning the burqa was an attempt to address an illiberal cultural tradition by means of an illiberal national law. I think passing legislation against strip clubs is a similarly bad idea, but re-emphasising the importance of people’s personal freedoms doesn’t solve the issue of the oppression of women within Islam, or of the bidirectional gender discrimination in the rest of society.

Giles Coren didn’t solve any of those problems either, but he was right about a few things. Misandry deserves to be given proper consideration, and men can be victims of just about every injustice that can befall women. But the two distinct problems don’t need to be placed in competition. We don’t need to bring attention to the suffering of men by playing down the hardships faced by women, and we don’t have to decry the evils of the sex industry if we think women deserve a greater societal respect. (How much respect does it show for the men and women in the sex industry, if we insist that they and their profession must be eliminated before we can make any progress?)

Some women want to have sex for money. Some women want to be treated more like an actual human being around the office. Both of these are fine aims, and we only need to make sure we’re giving each issue a reasonable amount of attention, without letting any one side of the conversation become stifling.

By which I mean: Let’s not get so hung up on the issue of freedom in the sex industry that we ignore the plight of women who feel inappropriately sexualised and objectified by men – but, let’s try not to focus on sexualisation as a bad thing, to such an extent that people in the sex industry feel marginalised or demeaned themselves.

Let’s not sneer at any attempt to raise the subject of misandry in a sensitive discussion about gender discrimination – but let’s also not be so persistent or strident in bringing it up that women always feel like they’re being shoved aside so that men can talk about their own problems.

Yes. Let’s all just follow my advice and everything will definitely be fine.

(If the comments below happen to go feral again, do try to keep things civilised.)

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I seem to have made a serious mistake.

Apparently this is what feminism is. And I’ve been doing it wrong all this time.

I’ve been calling myself a feminist for years, but apparently the philosophy I was expressing my support for wasn’t feminism at all.

I’m not sure what it is called, the thing I’ve been aspiring to and championing in my own small way. But it’s that other thing, which is sort of like feminism, but which isn’t patronising and illiberal bullshit.

As perhaps is evident, I’m being more than a little glib here. This sort of nonsense being pushed as modern feminism makes me understand what Elly has been complaining about all this time.

Even in a country like the UK, where explicitly demeaning women as inferior to men is socially acceptable almost nowhere, it’s true that there are serious issues of bias and prejudice that need addressing. There are attitudes and assumptions engrained in our culture which are not conducive towards equality, and which need to be addressed.

But Bidisha sees sexism like Americans see Jesus in bits of toast.

She describes a pyramid of misogyny, in which the various ways for men to verbally abuse women are layered according to severity. In the very top layer – among those at the absolute pinnacle of degradation possible between the sexes – is the word “cougar”.

If you’re not familiar with the term, this refers to a woman aged upwards of around 35 or 40 who seeks sexual involvement with younger men.

Down at the lower end of the pyramid, less severe but still branded as “Just Plain Sexist”, are things such as “commenting on a woman’s appearance”.

That’s when you use words to address a woman and describe some physical aspect that you notice about her. Examples may include “Your hair looks nice” or “That top looks great on you”, and other such phrases known to send women into paroxysms of fury and rage at being so objectified.

Yep. That’s the bottom – but still sexist – section of the pyramid of misogyny.

As an aside, there are places in the world where women aren’t allowed to go outside without being escorted by a man. That’s not on the pyramid.

Heresy Corner has plenty to say on the subject of Bidisha’s sense of proportion. I have two observations which I think I find even more glaring.

The first is that she apparently fails to make any distinction between inadvertently perpetuating damaging stereotypes about women, and actually hating them.

This is genuinely troubling. She cites plenty of examples of men using unflattering terms to treat women in a dismissive and contemptuous way, but apparently fails to see that the underlying attitude is the real problem here. Sure, sometimes dismissing women as simply being “hysterical” or “man-hating” can be a sexist way of avoiding a complex issue. But sometimes the feeling and intent behind such words – and certainly behind “commenting on their appearance” – isn’t anything like hatred.

The extent to which she misses this point if typified in the suggestion – delivered with no discernible irony – that 90% of the planet’s human population be slaughtered, leaving only the “non-woman-haters” who have never dared utter any such unforgivable slurs as mentioned above.

The second observation is that it’s unclear to me just what Bidisha is trying to achieve.

The problem, it’s made very clear, is men. Men and almost everything that men do. And yet I really don’t believe that an article which nags and lectures and scolds on such a scale as this will possibly persuade men to change their behaviours in ways the author would find more acceptable.

I can’t imagine many men reading this and thinking “She’s right, I won’t ever judge anyone female to be aggressive ever again,” or “Gosh, have I been grossly offending women by complimenting them on their appearance all this time? I shall stop at once and endeavour to maintain a respectful silence in all future cross-gender communications.” Which seems to be what she wants.

I can, however, imagine a lot of men reading this and thinking “Oh, pipe down, you humourless cow.”

Which is a shame, because I’m not thrilled about men being encouraged or inspired to think about women in those terms.

Even when they have a point.

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First of all, let’s not ban the burqa.

David Mitchell wrote an excellent piece for the Guardian recently, on the subject of the illiberality of the recent French parliamentary decision to ban the traditional Islamic face veil in public. I agree with just about every word he writes, and even flatter myself that he even expresses it in a similar tone to mine, when I’m on especially blinding form. (It’s the part where he starts calling people dicks that particularly rings true.)

I’ve no doubt that many extremist conservative Muslims of religious authority are assisted in their efforts to oppress women by the burqa. But outlawing it altogether is just oppression in a different direction, because we’ve decided that “our” values are superior to “theirs”. And even if we’re right – which, let’s be honest, we totally are – the fact that we don’t legally force other people to go along with our way of doing things is vital to our retaining any sort of moral high ground.

A lot of people claim that the ban is a way of standing up for women’s rights, by preventing their tyrannic oppressors from telling them how to behave. No matter that a ban would also tell them how to behave, but with the full weight of the law behind it this time – again, our values are superior, so that’s apparently fine. But it’s not even fair to say that supporting a ban is the only way to stand up for the rights of oppressed Islamic women.

David’s whole point is that the respect/ban dichotomy is false, and there is a “huge gulf of toleration” in between the two. It’s absolutely possible to object to this unfair treatment, without calling for sweeping legislation to make criminals out of anyone who does what we don’t want them doing. Just because we don’t want those laws made, doesn’t mean we support anyone’s right to force women to dress a certain way.

And, in fact, the law already doesn’t support them doing that. I don’t know how senior Muslims in France or Britain would normally enforce their own personal rulings on women’s dress, but if it’s by violence, or threats of violence, or imprisoning women indoors until they comply, then that’s already illegal. If it’s just through less legally problematic routes, like social castigation or religious pronouncements, then it’s really not the government’s place to get involved.

(Also, let’s not confuse the burqa-specific ban, supposedly enforced on grounds of religious tolerance, with the more general legislation about the visibility of people’s faces in certain public arenas. The latter certainly has a place, but then religion is an entirely moot point. If you’re having your passport photo taken, it doesn’t matter whether you’re wearing a burqa or a Guy Fawkes mask, it’s got to come off.)

There’s an important factor which doesn’t get much play, though.

David Mitchell isn’t simply flat-out against banning the burqa. While professing his antipathy to the ban, he’s also explained clearly, eloquently, and entertainingly the reasons why he’s against it, and made equally clear that this doesn’t mean that he supports in any way the burqa’s use as an “empowering” garment, and that he finds a “massive flaw” in the belief system that requires it.

And I think this is an important part of the debate. If you just say that you’re against the ban, it can seem like your position is callous and unconcerned regarding the plight of oppressed Muslim women. It’s really up to you to frame your argument in such a way that people can’t easily get the mistaken idea that you’re blasé about what many Muslim women are going through, or that you don’t think it’s any big deal.

Just like when everybody drew Muhammad, some people could be forgiven for thinking we were just being provocative dicks, and I argued that it was vital to explain why standing up for this particular irreligious right, in the potentially offensive way we were doing, was important.

So, I hope I didn’t come off back then as being needlessly provocative or obnoxious, and I hope my intentions are clear now as well. Misogyny is a terrible thing wherever it happens, and it can be especially disturbing under Islamic law. This needs to be fought, with education, campaigning for progressivism, outreach, satire, and whatever we’ve got, but I can’t support passing laws banning women from doing things we don’t want to see them forced into doing.

I’m a borderline libertarian nutcase when it comes to freedom of expression and what other people choose to do with it. The best answer to bad speech is usually more speech, and I think we could do with hearing a lot more of that on this subject.

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The Daily Mail remains an irony-free zone.

In this article, we’re given a lesson on feminism by a woman who stands up for Mary Whitehouse and her idea of moral values.

Mary Whitehouse, for anyone unfamiliar, was famous in the UK for running the “Clean Up TV” campaign, which sought to get anything remotely offensive removed from the airwaves. Her wrath extended to the sexism of Benny Hill, the violence of Tom and Jerry, and just about anything else that’s any fun at all.

Sandra Parsons in the Mail seems unsurprisingly blinkered to the notion of any kind of middle ground. Rihanna often looks sexy on TV shown during the daytime – therefore our nation’s youth are being tragically corrupted and the woman who thought gays could be “completely cured” by psychiatric therapy was right about everything.

And then there’s this bit of cluelessness:

Feminism means behaving as though you are equal to, not less than, a man, in every way: legally, professionally, financially, intellectually and sexually.

To do that you need independence and self-respect, neither of which is to be gained from sleeping around.

I’m not advocating prudery. But the belief that casual, meaningless sex empowers women is a dangerous delusion. It is a route not to self-fulfilment but to self-abasement.

Feminism means equality for women; now let me tell women about all the things they mustn’t do.

She’s already contradicted her own point about being “equal” a few paragraphs earlier, when she bemoans the terrible message given to young women by Sex And The City. Specifically, the message “that single girls could be just as promiscuous and predatory as men” (emphasis mine). Suddenly being equal is a terrible and dangerous thing.

It’s really not for you to say what women should or should not find empowering, Sandra. And Christ knows it’s not for me either, which is why, y’know, I generally don’t. If women and girls are getting the message that they’re not properly empowered unless they’re having a certain amount of sex, or conforming to some other sexual stereotype, I agree that that’s unhelpful and damaging. But calling it “self-abasement” for women to enjoy themselves in ways you’re not used to is far more degrading than any supposed “myths” about casual sex being liberating.

And in the next segment of the same page, Kylie Minogue is directly advised to date someone old and ugly, since her relationships with young and attractive people don’t seem to be working out. Is that empowering? I just don’t know any more.

Oh, dear God, I just looked at some of the comments below this article. I can’t tell if my brain is bleeding or if it’s just my eyes.

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There’s really only one thing I wanted to add about this today, and that’s a link to Greta Christina’s feminist defence of the Boobquake meme from a few days ago.

As ever, she appears to be right about everything, but one thing in particular she just so utterly nailed that I wanted to quote it in full:

The main feminist objection to Boobquake seemed to be that the women who participated were letting ourselves be exploited. They argued that many men reacted to the event with sexist, “Show us your tits!” idiocy — a reaction McCreight should have foreseen, and was therefore responsible for. Even if the intention behind the event was good (a point on which anti-Boobquake feminists differ) — even though the event was initiated by a woman and voluntarily participated in by women — the result was simply another round of female bodies being objectified by men.

Ah. I see.

Women ought not to display our sexuality — because men can’t be trusted. In the presence of a display of desirable female flesh, men will lose control of themselves. Women ought to dress modestly, and ought not to encourage other women to dress immodestly… and if we persist in our immodesty, and men respond by behaving badly, it’s women’s fault.

It all makes sense now. I just need one question cleared up:

How, exactly, is this “feminist” response to Boobquake anything but a more moderate version of the statement by the Muslim prayer leader?


I know, and Greta acknowledges too, that some people have acted obnoxiously over this, probably mostly men. I’ve read more than one female blogger (though I’ve lost the links now) complaining of “being made to feel like a bad feminist” for not wanting to go beyond their own comfort zones in showing off their bodies, just because someone else decided to make an event of it.

And that’s not cool at all. This is something that some people are getting wrong. Not all women are finding this a liberating expression of defiance against a tyrannical patriarchy. Some of them are finding it oppressive in its own way, because of how some men are treating it. All of this is bad, and all these women deserve better.

But none of this is inherent in the act of defiance itself. Any woman is of course free to keep covered up as much as she wants, and to tell any man who thinks otherwise to mind his own fucking business. But the Boobquake backlash that calls the whole movement anti-feminist is just finding another reason to tell women they’re wrong to expose their bodies.

The oppressive philosophy espoused by Muslim clerics, against which Boobquake itself arose, is:

If women flaunt their sexuality, men are going to have impure thoughts and dishonour themselves before God; therefore women shouldn’t flaunt their sexuality.

And the anti-Boobquake rhetoric often sounds a lot like:

If women flaunt their sexuality, men are going to behave like sexist assholes; therefore women shouldn’t flaunt their sexuality.

Women: wear what you like. People may react in ways you don’t like; but you’re not putting sexist remarks in people’s mouths any more than you’re putting impure thoughts in their heads. Don’t be cowed by accusations of either.

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Lightning round!

Okay, fingers on buzzers, quickfire answers, no conferring:

Which is better for breathing: oxygen or gravy?

It’s oxygen! Ten points for anyone who got that right.

Who is the current president of the United States: Barack Obama or Dangermouse?

It’s Barack Obama! Another ten points.

Last one. Which is the more abhorrent and “shameful” thing you can do to a teenage girl: pay her millions of dollars to act in a series of blockbuster movies, or murder her by burying her alive as punishment for a trivial infringement of an appallingly misogynistic interpretation of religious dogma?

Ha! Trick question. They’re both the same.

Yep, I know, it’s surprising. I’m pretty sure I’d have got that one wrong. It’s one of those funny, counter-intuitive things that always causes Alan Davies to set off the klaxon in the last round of QI. Luckily Liz Jones of the Daily Mail is here to correct this particular nugget of general ignorance in a truly impressive article, headlined:

LIZ JONES: Honour killings? What we’ve done to young Emma is just as shameful

I’m putting that there so you know I’m not exaggerating her point.

She asks whether the West can really “claim the moral high ground when it comes to condemning these ‘honour’ killings”. I know it’s meant as a rhetorical question, but sometimes those deserve to be answered anyway, so I’m going to take a stab at this one.

Yes. Yes we fucking can.

Any worthwhile commentary that might have been brought to any of these subjects is completely buried under the mounds of overpowering stupid. Liz Jones’s main concern seems to be that Emma Watson – who is 19 years old and physically very attractive – has made more money in this particular year than Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren, two older but very well respected actresses, who just happen not to have featured prominently in one of the most lucrative film franchises in history lately. This is the best example that Liz Jones can find of the deplorable way that we Westerners objectify and degrade women.

And because of this, it’s hypocritical of anyone in the developed world to criticise another country’s routine ritual murdering of teenage girls.

You know, she sort of veers somewhere in the general direction of making some kind of sense, in places. She brings up the issue of violence against women in Britain, for instance, which is a real problem that merits serious attention.

She also points out that, when President Obama spoke to the EU in Istanbul last year, he urged them to accept the country of Turkey into the union, and did not bring up that country’s especially terrible record on women’s rights.

Now, I don’t know if that particular speech would have been really the right time to bring it up – I have no idea of the context in which it was made – but maybe it’s something Obama should be talking about more. I’m willing to hear someone make that case.

But if you’re going to bring up some truly horrifying details about “honour suicides” that women are being forced into, and criticise Obama for concentrating instead on “the far less controversial issue of global warming”, it really doesn’t help when your very next words are:

But let’s look at Emma Watson for a moment.

Sure. Okay. Let’s do that. We’ve talked about women in Turkey being locked in a room with a noose, a gun, and some rat poison, and ordered to kill themselves to protect the “honour” of the group, but that was paragraphs ago, so now let’s have a good natter about how terrible it is the way lots of people are interested in a glamourous young female movie-star.

And after that, we can go to the Holocaust Memorial and get ice cream!

I had thought I wouldn’t get much writing done today. Thanks to @badjournalism for the link, and to Liz Jones for the bullshit to get angry at.

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