Aug 27, 2013

Trans* murder rates - under-reported?

I came across this old tweet today, where the LGBT rights campaigner Peter Thatchell challenged feminist Julie Bindell to condemn the murder of transgendered people:

Now, I want to just say that I personally abhor all gender based violence; I was going to say "equally", but in some ways, the violent murder of a person who aspires to be accepted as a woman is even more chillingly misogynist than the murder of a woman for the crime of already being a woman. In any case, the danger that trans women find themselves in is non-trivial and must be opposed, condemned and mitigated by all means necessary[1].

(For the avoidance of doubt, and for those of us who are more closely involved with Twitter / than is good for us: death threats against trans women are vile, hateful expressions of the deepest visceral misogyny. End of discussion.)

Being cussedly fact-based in my thinking though, I was alerted by the infographic Thatchell cites to what seemed to me an under-reporting of the murder rate of trans* people in Europe. If the information contained therein is correct, it strikes at the heart of a key precept of trans* activism, namely that trans people are proportionately much more in danger of male violence than non-trans women.

According to the latest census, there are 56.1 million people in the UK, 28.5 of them women. Of the latter, 172 were victims of homicide in the calendar year of 2012 (not exactly identical to the onfographic's November '11 - November '12 time frame, but analogous). That's 0.0006%
 of all British women.

According to Jennie Kermode of Trans Media Watch, the proportion of the population that is trans* can be estimated at about 0.08%, which would bring the trans* population to approximately 450,000. One victim of homicide within that groups in that time frame represents 0.000223%.

It's possible that my calculations are wrong, or that Thatchell's numbers are under-reported; but on the face of it it looks like he should be careful what statistics he goes around quoting, because if what he's saying is that trans* people have about the third of the chance of being victims of homicide as non-trans women do, then who should be called upon to condemn violence against whom?

Again, none of this is to dismiss or minimise violence against trans* people, and trans women in particular. But if we're to make head or tail of the thorny debates on this issue currently threatening to upend the boat of the next "wave" of feminism before it's left the harbour, then being careful with our facts is of paramount importance.

A note on Brasil: I know. It's a terrifying, heart-stopping number compared to the rest of the world. What the hell is going on over there?


[1] I also believe that trans* people "really are" the gender they feel they are. Not necessarily that they are identical in every way to all others who were assigned that gender at birth, nor that they should have unrestricted access to any and all fora they wish to be included in; but they genuinely have a claim to their own gender definition and deserve full legal, medical and social recognition as such. This is a set of opinions nicely calibrated to make me popular with exactly no-one, but what can you do.

Aug 21, 2013

The Myth of Shared Girlhood

The below first-hand accounts of sexual victimization of young girls are taken from a sample of 200 submissions to the Everyday Sexism Project from a roughly 10 hour period on June 17th & 18th this year. I implemented a cut-off age of 16 and included only stories with an explicit age mention.

The project currently has over 60,000 distinct entries and has been active since March 27th this year. If we assume the same ratio (7%)  of accounts of girlhood sexual victimization, it now contains approximately 4,200 such testimonies, although the real ratio is likely to be somewhat higher.

This is only a small sample hinting at the magnitude of the problem.
I have walked by men who leered at my twelve year old sister, I've been called a bitch for turning down dances and I had my legs groped by a taxi driver pretending to reach for the clutch. Men have pulled my arms at parties, run their hands between my legs, grabbed my ass and smirked at me as if they were being funny, and not until I turned 20 did I start retaliating. I slapped the last man that grabbed my ass, and I wish I had done the same to all of them.
Was living in Russia when I was about 16. Some drunk 30 year old just picked me up and dragged me into his room while I was screaming NO NO NO. Luckily he was so high I was able to push him off. I didn't come out of the apartment for a week.
The next year a 40 year old I barely knew drove up next to me and pushed me into his car and told me we were going camping, the two of us. I crawled out the window on the other side and ran home.
In 10th Grade during a class, a boy asked me for a hug. I decided to be friendly and give him one.
As I hugged him, I felt hands on my rear and immediately pulled back. I asked if he groped me, looking disgusted. He responded with a 'no' his face mixed with laughter and mockery.
I was only 15.
15 yrs old at a small family fair & local music festival with 2 friends, standing in a line listening to the 3 gross and disgusting adult males (I refuse to call them men) discussing how amazing my tits were.
On my way home from school as a fifteen year old a man approached me and told me I was looking 'fit'. he said he knew me and that I had been at his house at the weekend but I didn't remember it because I was so drunk. He told me that I had been there with him and implied that we had done something sexually.He asked me to come back to his house. I said no but he started following me. I had never been to his house. 
During my junior year of high school everyday upon entering my math class I would be greeted with profane and suggestive things yelled at me by a group of boys. My male math teacher was directly in ear shot and never acknowledged or reprimanded any of the students but instead pretended not to hear and continued to write the day's lesson on the board. Their yells hurt but his silence confirmed that I should expect this as normal. 
I was followed home and the man groped my thigh the lift/elevator. I managed to call the police and they caught him after they watched the tapes of the security cameras. I'm 14.
My ride to middle school also had some high school students in the van. A junior year high school boy would try to sit in my lap each day and I would have to slide away to avoid stares. One day he tried to do what he did everyday and I punched him on the behind. He screamed, "Who did this?" No one responded and he sat far away from me that day. Never came near me again.
When I was 14, I was walking to a restaurant with my older sister (18 at the time), and it was summer so I was wearing shorts and she was in a sundress. On the way there we got honked at. And on the way back, some man yelled something along the lines of "I'd hit that!" out of his window at us. For both things to happen within an hour of each other was astonishing and terrifying.
I was 14 years old and in school. Due to a scheduling fluke, I didn't have lunch with my class like I should have, so I sat alone at a table and read a book while I ate. On the way out of the lunch room one day, someone slapped my ass, way too hard to be an accident. Because a hundred or more students were rushing out the doors at once, I looked behind me and had no idea who it was. But I strongly suspected it was one of the boys in a laughing group. They were all delinquent kids who had been held back once or twice and were several years older than me.
I still fantasize about what I would have said to that creep.
A man backed me into the corner, felt up my inner thighs, and told me he wanted to "make love to me". I was fourteen on a church mission trip.
I was walking down a fairly public street and behind me some guy shouted, "Hey how much you cost?" I ignored it because that's apparently what you're supposed to do and he caught up behind me and forced my hand onto his erection as he grabbed my penis too. I was 14.
When on holiday last year, a cleaner from the hotel took a shining to me.
One day when I was riding down the elevator alone he got right up to my ear and whispered "you look very pretty today". Not wanting to be disrespectful I said thank you and went on my way. He kept bumping into me and hanging round this huge hotel waiting for me.
One afternoon there's a knock at my door and he's there, he asks me to go out to the town with him for the evening and when I say no he carries on asking me. He explains he can't date me during his working hours because it's against hotel regulation but he sees no problem once he clocks off. I keep telling him no. He then asks for a kiss, and when I say no, he asks for a picture, and when I say no, he asks me not to leave him at the door.
I ask him his age and he tells me he's 27. I was 14 at the time, and look about 18 max. 
I was at an amusement park. Since it was over 95 degrees, I was wearing shorts like any sensible person. I had climbed the stairs to a tall slide, and after I came back down, a friend that was waiting for me at the bottom told me that the ride attendant had taken a picture at an inappropriate angle of my bum ss I climbed the stairs as well as my breasts when I had turned my head. I was only 13 years old.
I was taking extra German classes when I was 13, outside of school. The teacher, a man in his 50's, repeatedly suggested that I should be eager to earn extra credit (blowjobs) if I was a good student. Mind you, no-one else was allowed this 'privilege' and of course the 'opportunity' was never offered in front of any other students.
13. I went to a summer camp and there was this counselor and he kept staring at all of the girls boobs. None of the teachers noticed so they didnt do anything, but it made all of us uncomfortable. I mean, we are 13 year olds! 
Age 12/13/14 a boy 1 year older than me at school would grab and slap my ass and say "alright darling". When I told my family about it they just laughed.
My ass is not public property and you have no right to touch it.
At age 12 the Recreation Director of a senior's home at which I am a volunteer offers me a ride home. He drives past my home and stops the car. He insists that I want to kiss him. I insist that I don't. After a short time and very fortunately he puts the car in reverse and drops me off without further incident.. 
I couldn't have been more than about 12 or 13 years old, and I was in the grocery store with my mother. 2 men came up to us and asked her how much money she wanted for me. I didn't realize until I was much older what they had meant. Afterwards my mother never spoke about it to me or anyone else as far as I know.
I have a friend who is younger than me, though she looks older than she is. I met her in town a few weeks ago. She was very shaken up when I met up with her. She told me about what happened. While she was waiting outside the library, a man approached her and asked her for her number. She told him no, but he persisted and asked her four or five times. He kept on saying how he liked her legs. She lied to him and told him that she was 16 years old and had a boyfriend. This man, 25+ years old creepily said "That's alright." When she tried to escape him and walk into the library, he blocked the door, but eventually she got past him. She told me not to tell any of the adults, so they wouldn't freak out.
Later that night, she saw him around multiple times, in the teen section of the library where he was told to leave, and on the streets. My friend is eleven years old.
I was 11 an shopping in Primark when a man who must've been over 50 came up to me and asked me if I wanted to come with him and pointed outside the shop. All the while he was looking at me up and down, almost undressing me with his eyes. I couldn't think of anything to say to make him go away. Thankfully my mum came back around the corner just then and he got scared and ran away. 
As a 11 year old in my football kit walking home from school I turned round to see a 20 something man down an alley masturbating at me. I was so scared I ran home in hysterics, terrified that this man was going to rape me although at that age I didn't even really know what that meant.
It was the end of class and I was bending down to put something away like the teacher asked me. While bent over, something smacked my butt. Hard. I jerked up to see my male classmate, who I knew well, holding a wooden ruler in his hand and laughing as he stroked it. This was 6th grade. We were 11 years old.
I was walking home from school when two boys in their late teens were barking at me from the back of a truck. I was 10.
My cousin, 14 at the time, took me to my bedroom. He took off his pants and told me, a nine year old girl, to take my clothes off. I started to cry, I was confused and so scared. He pulled his pants back up and told me to be quiet. He had the audacity to tell me, a nine year old girl, that it was my fault he felt this way. I believed him for a very, very long time.
Summer of my 9 years old, our class just had a water gun fight in the park. I was drying my shirt with the hand dryer in the women's bathroom. Adult guy (maybe 40?) steps into the doorway, watches me, comments on my drying technique. He comes in and puts my still-wet shirt back on, then he gropes my breasts and between my legs. A teacher came in to fetch me and he ran. I never told anyone because I always believed "nothing really happened" and that it was my fault for being there, drying my clothes, "letting" him, not giving a police statement. But the fact is that something did happen, and none of it was my fault. None.
When I was about 9 years old I was staying round a friends house, lying in a campbed next to her. Her brother who is a year or so older walks into the room and sits on the end of my bed. He starts touching my feet and up my legs, as I pull away he is there again. I am very ticklish so I was laughing through it, but I was also scared and absolutely did not want him to get anywhere near my crotch. His sister sat there and watched the whole time, saying nothing.
When I was maybe 8 or 9 years old, I was waiting in the car for my mom when a man pulled up next to our car, opened his door to adjust his seatbelt, shut it, & then re-open it to reveal his half-naked body to me. He began to masturbate. He then shut the food and drove off. I never told my mom. I'm 28 now & this still creeps me out.
The first time I was sexually harassed I was 8 years old. A boy in my class told me that he was going to force me into the corner and give me a "good fucking" because I was "too cute". I never told anyone because I believed it was my fault. I am now 17 years old and have been harassed lots of other times and that moment is still the clearest.

All rights reserved to The Everyday Sexism Project. I redacted names to help further preserve the writers' testimony, however the testimonies themselves are now published and visible on the main website and in some cases the US website. It is not technically possible at this time to link individually to entries on the main site.

Aug 12, 2013

The press blogger, the feminist campaigner and Jack of Kent

SubScribe, a journalism blog, has a post up about the Mark Neil Wilson trial case, in which the prosecutor and judge referred to the 13 year-old victim as "predatory" and "sexually aggressive" (in case you've been living under a rock, here's a link to the EVB campaign against such language). This blog post was tweeted out by David Allen Green today, so that probably means that lots more people will be reading it, and possibly nodding their heads sagely and saying to themselves "yes yes, this is a lot more complicated than I had originally thought".

But I don't think that's true at all, because at least with regard to the fundamentals of EVB's complaint, none of the additional facts revealed by the blogger really change the conversation. Without quite coming out and saying it, the writer insinuates that there was something untoward, premature, not to say - ahem - hysterical about the reaction to the Wilson case. The Times is mentioned as having "its own child abuse agenda" - not a pretty sentence however you parse it. The fact that 45 thousand people signed EVB's petition is returned to and reiterated, almost as if to subtly signal: "too many! Too fast! By the law of averages they must have not known what they were talking about!".

Should we, asks the blogger, "celebrate [EVB's successful campaign], or worry about kneejerk politics?". Er, the former, thanks - but we all know that when a rhetorical question like that is left hanging, the intention is usually on the side of "go ahead and worry". People don't usually ask rhetorical questions to reassure. Declarative statements are better for that purpose.

I think what is particularly egregious is this embedded series of tweets from George Pavlou, the reporter who originally "broke" this story, quoted without comment:

The implication of including these tweets in an article criticizing media coverage of the story is that Pavlou is in some way right, that he is exposing something obvious that the rest of us, notably the EVB campaigners and petition signers, have missed. This impression is further strengthened by the immediate reference to a blog post Pavlou approves of as "calm and reasoned" - presumably, one can't help thinking, in contrast to the hysterical and ignorant reaction from others.

Here's how I think this story played out in Gameoldgirl's head: the original trial was mis-reported, which lead to an overheated, uninformed moral panic among campaigners, and the suspension of the prosecuting QC.

But that's not how it happened. The story may well have been mise-resported, or under-reported; but the one salient fact about it that never varied is that the judge and the prosecutor did refer to a 13 year old who was inappropriately touched by an adult male as "predatory" and "sexually aggressive".

Let's just get one thing straight here: even if Nigel Wilson had been a straight up reincarnation of Mother Theresa wrapped in a bunny rabbit saving rainbow cloud, a thirteen year old girl could not have been described as a sexual predator. However she behaved, whatever she did in order to maintain and prolong his interest in her, she is legally and morally incapable of being the aggressor.

It frankly doesn't matter if the sentence meted out to Wilson was lenient or strict. It is of no possible relevance who went to the police and whether it is correct to think that reluctance to be a complainant is evidence of guilt on the part of the alleged victim of sexual misconduct (on which: are you fucking kidding  me??!). All of this clever-clever journalistic fact dredging stuff is neither here nor there. The QC and the judge in this case described a young person by negative epithets she is incapable of being. They may as well have called her a werewolf, or a witch (actually, not a bad parallel there). They were wrong to use these words, and the 45,000 people who joined EVB's stellar campaign were right. It really is as simple as that.

I don't think Gameoldgirl necessarily meant harm here; like George Pavlou, I'm sure she thinks she's doing a service to "the facts". But she's not. She's falling into common victim blaming tropes and providing tacit support to people who would openly accuse victims of child molestation of being manipulative little Lolitas egging innocent men on. I think the tone - and quite a bit of the content - of this blog piece is ill advised, and I wish David Allen Green hadn't given it a wholly undeserved signal boost.

It is further notable - and notably absent from all the reporting on this case, including Gameoldgirl's - that sexually aggressive and promiscuous behaviour in young women is often a response to trauma. Attention seeking from predatory men is not a cause of abuse, it is a symptom of prior abuse. In this sense there is every chance that the QC and the judge have committed a double and devastating injustice against this young woman.

A deeper investigation into this case, it would seem to me, would interest itself in these kinds of background details. Clearly the identity and biographical details of the young woman are not available, nor should they be; but some kind of deeper look into what, if any, details of her past were in the case would go far towards demystifying the "acting out" elements of her interactions with Wilson and placing the comments of the judge and the QC in better context.

Implicitly criticizing the widespread popular indignation about these comments will not help this young woman (or the perpetrator of the offence against her, if we assume that he is deserving of hep by virtue of being a fellow human being), and it will not protect other young women in the future. Donating money to EVB is a far better use of our benevolent energies.

ETA: Edited in accordance with Dorian's note below.

Aug 10, 2013

Ignore this post if you're not on Twitter; seriously, for your own mental health

To nobody's surprise as much as my own, I have some thoughts on the whole Graham Linehan / Sam Ambreen. I think.

I kind of stayed away from the sitch on Twitter so I'll be the first to admit that I might be getting the wrong end of the stick here, but what I think happened is that Sam asked Graham to tweet out and acknowledge threats that she has been receiving, and when he refused it lead a lot of people to accuse him of favoritism and racism.

Anyway, even if this isn't what happened exactly, there's been this vibe of "why does online misogynist abuse only matter when it happens to white famous women" for a few weeks now, and I think that there's a common thread or underlying dynamic here.

There is certainly justice in demanding the same recognition of humanity as anyone famous, anyone white, anyone rich. "I am a person, and an attack on me matters as much as an attack on you". This is right. But to then  make the leap to demanding that all people take the same action as a result of an attack on you as they would if the attack was on anyone else is unfair and unrealistic. Indignation (or, be generous, sympathy) is cheap, but action - even the tiny amount of action that goes in to that is termed "clicktivism" - is not. It takes something out of our resources and we save it for those instances where we care the most.

Someone ran an experiment on Twitter yesterday: she tweeted out a campaign to lobby the government against cuts to services for women, serious stuff to do with DVA shelters and rape crisis funding. Crickets. Everyone was so busy being mad at Graham Linehan that the campaign went pretty much unnoticed. Why? Not, I would submit, because people are narcissistic hypocrites who say that they want campaigns about VAWG but actually only care about Twitter drama. But because even Twitter resources are limited, and people were putting their attention where it mattered to them, where it hurt. And that's OK.

There are people who've been reading and enjoying Caitlin Moran since they were 16. They'd spent countless little intervals of pleasure, humour or irritation, so to speak in her company. They feel a certain kind of intimacy, a relationship of sorts has developed, and they are committed to seeing this person as someone who is on the credit side of an interpersonal relationship - someone who has given them some fun, some interest, a joke or to to laugh at, and frankly, has never asked for anything in return. Entertainers are the best friends, in some ways.

It's fashionable to dismiss writers, journalists and entertainers as "slebs", and say that as such, their brand recognition is all they have to distinguish them from you or I. But that derogatory term was invented for a reason: it's supposed to apply to people who came out of nowhere and are famous for nothing - people who stake a claim to the public's interest and love without having first put in the hard work of giving something to people.

No, you (generic, not specific, you) really don't matter to a lot of people. Bit it's wrongheaded to say "I only don't matter because I'm not a celebrity". You don't matter to a lot of people because they don't know you, and they have no reason to feel a commitment to you. You haven't given them anything.

 And you (generic you) do matter to a lot of other people because they do know you, through your blogs and through Twitter, and they have the same pleasure/intimacy relationship with you, and they have been raising hell on your behalf. Otherwise we wouldn't be here, because of course I'd never have heard of this controversy in the first place. You, too, have a "platform". It's just that your platform has, so far, earned you fewer loyal defenders than those of Suzanne Moore or Helen Lewis.


A separate note on racism. All the named people in the above text are white. They are white because it's easier to break into the media in this country while being white. They've had a lot of unfair advantages. And that is monumentally unjust, wasteful of human talent, and wrong.

But individual people don't love them because they're white. People love them because they wrote Father Ted, or organised a huge all-female panel debate in London, or written lots of pieces over the years that made people feel like someone understands them, someone shares their concerns, someone is on their side. So now they're on those white people's side in return.

My point s that there is racism in this situation, but it is institutional and not personal racism. And to confuse the two isn't just counterproductive, it's unjust - because it takes the best of human nature, our capacity to develop loyalty and affection, and turns it inside out to look like a capacity for exclusions and discrimination. Granted, those really are the two sides of that particular coin, and they both exist in all of us; but which side of the coin you're looking at at any given moment is not trivial or irrelevant.