31 December 2007

Don't punish men for the evils of sex slavery?

This article is an interesting one. It starts well, with Henry Porter acknowledging that the current laws in this country, which criminalise the woman selling sex, but not the man buying it, are unfair and wrong. He then goes on to outline some of the ways in which countries like New Zealand and Canada have tried to change this, as a response to changing attitudes. So far, so good.

However, this is unfortunately where things start to unravel. Denis MacShane MP plans to takcle the serious problem of sex trafficking in this country by trying to introduce new amendments to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which would allow Police to prosecute men found paying for sex in certain designated areas. Porter outlines this in his article. However, he goes on to say that we should be very sceptical of MacShane's motives, because he may well be anti-prostitution! Therefore, we can't believe anything he tells us about the problem of sex-trafficking, and we should disregard any changes which he tries to make to reduce the number of trafficked women suffering in this country, because basically, he is just trying to stop prostitution! (Or something like that).
MacShane and his supporters may have a strong moral revulsion for the sale of sex, but they insist that their approach is a strictly practical one to deal with trafficking. What they cannot say is that this amendment contains a tacit admission of the government's failure. There are already laws to deal with trafficking and enslavement and it may be that MacShane's figure of 25,000 trafficked women is hugely inflated. In a letter to the Guardian last week, Professor Julia O' Connell Davidson of the University of Nottingham called it preposterous. She pointed out that in the police Operation Pentameter last year 515 establishments were raided and 84 victims of trafficking were found. At this rate, there would need to be 150,000 establishments for MacShane's figure of 25,000 to reached.
Now, I don't have any exact figures regarding the numbers of people who are trafficked in this country, so whilst I can't comment on the accuracy or inaccuracy of the figures discussed, I would like to call Henry Porter out on some shocking journalistic sloppiness. In the same paragraph, whilst he points out that the government is failing to tackle trafficking effectively (which actually, I agree with), he also then quotes Police statistics to demonstrate why it is that we should not believe MacShane's statistics. I thought you just said that the government is failing? Therefore, why are you using Police statistics to advance your argument against MacShane, when you yourself acknowledge that these are unlikely to reflect the scale of the problem in this country?

So we must conclude that the government does not view the act of buying sex is wrong in principle. This is a shaky position to start from if we are about to introduce yet another criminal offence, because it will be clear to everyone that the exchange that takes place between a man and a woman and a man and a man is exactly the same. The same levels of revulsion, pleasure, release, exploitation, abuse, regret and despair may exist in both transactions, yet only in one will an offence be committed.
I don't view the act of buying sex as being wrong in principle. However, this is a ridiculously simplistic way of looking at things. It is naive, and frankly stupid, to claim that selling sex is simply a choice which someone has chosen to make, and so the person buying sex has no culpability. You must look at the reasons behind why people buy and sell sex. Do men need sex? Of course not. Sex is a positive and enjoyable part of life, but men do not have an entitlement to sex, simply because they want it. However, if one is impoverished, trafficked, a drug addict, or otherwise disadvantaged, then money is a necessity. Therefore, the exchange of money for sex is not a fair transaction, made without any kind of duress. The prostitute is in a position where to refuse sex would result in great hardship and suffering. The man is in a position where to not buy sex would result in walking around feeling a bit sexually frustrated for a while. Not the same thing.

Actually, I agree with Porter's final point here, although I don't agree with his reasoning, because I think that either it should be illegal to buy any kind of sex, or it shouldn't be. This part of the law would add unnecessary confusion and complication to the law.

There is clearly a feminist drive to this measure. Nothing wrong in that perhaps, but it does account for the singular bias of the MacShane proposal. Columnist Joan Smith has suggested that critics responded hysterically to it because they have a vested interest in a man's right to buy sex from a woman. That is hardly fair. The objection is not that it deprives men of the ability to exploit women, but that it is ill thought out.

The same feminist voice would no doubt argue that every woman has a right to dominion over her body in matters such as abortion. It follows that a woman has the right to sell sexual services and, if that is true, someone has the right to buy those services. You cannot allow the principle of sale without at the same time consenting to purchase.

So Mr Porter, we start to see your true colours! This is an article ostensibly about legal reforms intended to reduce the number of people who are trafficked in Britain each year. Yet, you rebut any suggestions that one of your concerns about making buying sex illegal is that it would no longer allow you to exploit vulnerable women with impunity. In order to support this point, you use the example of abortion as a way in which feminists argue that women should have bodily autonomy. Of course, I agree with you, and I agree with the fact that in an ideal, egalitarian world women should be free to decide to sell sex for money. But we are not discussing those women Mr Porter. We are looking at these legal reforms through the lens of a country which has increasing numbers of women trafficked into it each year. At this stage, I don't think anyone is able to advocate for a 'perfect' law. We need to introduce reforms which will allow prostitutes the protections which they need, and punish the people responsible for perpetuating the cycle.

Your final point "You cannot allow the principle of sale without at the same time consenting to purchase", is particularly interesting. Again, I agree with you. Are you then arguing that men who have sex with women who are unable to consent are guilty of rape? After all, if women are in a position whereby the are not able to agree to any sort of transaction freely, and you have sex with them, then you are not buying something which they have offered of their own free will. You are raping them.

And what is payment? Most often, it is cash or a credit card, but payment comes in other forms - holidays, goods, jewellery, advancement, property. Many shy from an openly acknowledged transaction; some are candid about a business arrangement in which the parties hope to emerge with profit or satisfaction. We would like it to be otherwise perhaps, but that is the way of the world.
What are you saying here Henry Porter? Are all women who rely on men for financial support prostitutes? Does that make going off to buy a fuck from a trafficked woman ok because you believe that you indirectly pay your wife for sex? Maybe you feel resentful about the leeching bitches who steal mens money, but if you grew a brain and looked around you, you might understand why women become financially dependent on men. Women get paid 17% less than men for the same work. If they are married, or (shock-horror) have a family, then they are less likely to be hired in the first place, because they are perceived to not be committed enough to the job. In most relationships, women do the majority of the child-care and other domestic duties, which allows men more time to focus on their careers. Furthermore, supporting your wife does not mean that you are entitled to fuck her whenever you want. Since 1991, getting married does not mean that you can rape your wife with impunity.

Tougher penalties might be an answer but let's not forget that the police already have powers to deal with every aspect of prostitution, from kerb crawling to enslavement. Instead we need to tackle what drives so much prostitution - poverty and drug addiction. It is right that newspapers are beginning to refuse adverts for escort and massage services but as the cabinet ministers who recently admitted to drug use know full well, making the demand for drugs illegal does little to stop supply.

Denis MacShane may be well-intentioned but his amendment is bad and confusing law because it seeks to remedy a failure by police and immigration officials - which may not even exist - by attacking the choice made by two consenting adults.

So, despite earlier claiming that the government's current policies are failing, you now support your argument that buying sex should remain legal with the the point that the police have all the powers they need in order to be able to deal with prostitution, "from kerb crawling to enslavement". Coherent, consistent, and well thought-out I must say!

To go back to my earlier point, if women are deeply impoverished or addicted to drugs, then they are not able to make a free choice about whether or not to engage in prostitution. In a choice between having sex with a man and being able to eat/shoot up, or not having sex with him, but starving/suffering horrendous withdrawal symptoms, I think I know which option I would choose. However, that does not mean that I am making a free choice to be a prostitute or to have sex. Actually, there are a million other things I would like to do far more. Therefore, it is not a "choice between two consenting adults" that we are discussing here.

I find that I am often very conflicted about my feelings about prostitution. On one hand, I do think that it should be up to women to decide what to do with their bodies, and of course this extends to selling sex. However, this argument is frequently used as a get-out clause by people like Henry Porter who want to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the realities of life for the majority of prostitutes in this country. There are a small minority of women who do freely make the choice to be prostitutes, but as Henry Porter himself acknowledges, the vast majority of prostitutes in this country are there because of poverty or drugs. As I have already argued, this is not a free choice, and these women need to be protected rather than criminalised. Men (and indeed women) do not have an entitlement to sex. Therefore, if one of the things which we have to do in order to protect vulnerable prostitutes from exploitation is to make the buying of sex illegal, which means that punters will no longer be able to exploit people with impunity, then we should take that step. After all, we all have the right to live lives free from exploitation.

27 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto assassinated in Pakistan

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto waves to her supporters in Karachi during a rally against the Pakistan government. Photo: http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/photocredit/achievers/bhu0-004

I wasn't entirely shocked to hear this news a few hours ago, but today is still a sad day. Benazir Bhutto was an inspiring woman, and although she was dogged by allegations of corruption throughout her political career, the fact remains that she was one of the first women elected to power in an Islamic country. She was brave, and faced her critics head-on. I don't know how things would have worked out in the forthcoming Pakistani elections, but her assassination will certainly lead to yet more questions about the legitimacy of Musharraf's regime. Whatever you think about Bhutto's politics, it is a sad day for democracy when a politician is murdered, because it silences free speech.

26 December 2007


Courtesy of www.chicago-smile-makeovers.com

Marriage has probably been once of the most difficult areas for me to come to terms with as a feminist. Although to a certain extent, I have always felt that women are underrepresented in Parliament, in business and in academia, to give a few examples, and I was aware of other inequalities, I only started to actively identify as 'feminist' a few years ago. Until I did that, I had always imagined that I wanted a white wedding, not necessarily large, but definitely with a big white dress, and in a church.

Then I became a feminist, and I started to think about the traditions which surround weddings. I read interesting articles like this, this, and this. I began to wonder about the overtones of ownership, transfer of property, virginity, as well as more modern traditions, for example, the way that the press refers to 'bridezillas'. I don't know how I fit into this. My partner had a very traditional upbringing, and, although he is sympathetic to feminist values, would like to get married one day. Deep down, I would too. I went to a wedding at the weekend, and it was an interesting experience for me. I haven't been to a wedding since I started to identify as a feminist. It was in a church, and I was even more convinced that that sort of wedding was not for me. I hate the idea of being given away by my father; I am not a piece of property to be handed over! I don't believe in God, and so all of the references to God within the service would be meaningless to me. I don't want a significant part of my wedding ceremony to be either meaningless or offensive to me. I want every word to have significance. I want it to be personal. I want it to reflect me, my partner, and our relationship. So I guess a church wedding is out then!

But there were things which I felt that I do want to have one day. I would like to be legally and emotionally unified with my partner by going through a ceremony which is meaningful to both of us. I would like to show my family and friends the commitment which I have to him, and which he has to me. I would like to have the same last name (more to come on that later!).

Will I wear a white dress? I don't know. I have very mixed feelings about it. I don't like the overtones of purity and virginity, which it is intended to imply. However, I don't want to remove all tradition from my day, so that it is not recognisable as a wedding. Also, I love dresses, and I like the idea of wearing a beautiful white dress - I'll only get the opportunity once after all!

I expect that I will make a speech at the reception. The day is about me and my partner - I should be able to have a say! I will not throw my bouquet. If women attending my wedding want to get married, then they should ask their partners themselves, rather than relying on antiquated traditions to try to get their partners to propose to them!

I imagine that we will double-barrel our names. My name is quite unusual, and it is so much a part of me, and how I define myself, that I cannot imagine being without it. My partner's is very common, and will go well with mine. I think this is a wonderful way for us to show our commitment to one another. It is symbolic of how we intend to keep our own identities, but also how our lives will become unified, by keeping our own names, but also gaining the name of the other. I am a 'Ms' now, and I expect that that will not change.

As for the proposal, engagement rings etc, I guess I'll wait and see how it pans out. I would certainly not rule out proposing to him, but I won't say definitely whether or not I will because he reads this blog! If he proposed with an engagement ring, I would be happy. I love all jewelry, and I am a complete magpie when it comes to shiny things like diamonds. He knows this, and I suppose as long as he understands the terms on which I would wear such a ring, then I would be able to wear it happily.

This was a bit of a stream of consciousness post, but it is helpful to get these things written down. I often find that writing things down helps me to clarify my stance on various issues. I suppose what I want most is a day that my partner and I can look back on happily, and which fits in with our worldview and values system.

This is the reality of churches in middle England today.

My partner's parents are devout Christians. This has caused problems on occasion in the past. However, things have got easier, and these days, the relationship between my (athiest) partner and his parents is generally good. We agreed to go to a carol service with them at their local church on the 23rd. The church itself was lovely, very simple inside, but lit by Christmas lights and candles, which made for a good atmosphere. The service was well-attended, and the carols were good.

Now on to the negatives. I had never realised that there were so many pro-life paternalistic, and patriarchal overtones in the Christmas story. During the readings, I became very uncomfortable with the messages which were being conveyed. Mary, for example, is given no choice in whether or not to carry God's child. Furthermore, when Joseph finds out that she is pregnant, he no longer wants to marry her, but is persuaded by an angel sent by God who assures him that Mary is 'unsullied' and therefore is fit for marriage. There were many other examples, and at some point I intend to read these Bible passages in detail, and then write a critique of the ideologies expressed.

The worst thing was however yet to come. The vicar at this church felt that it was appropriate to start his sermon by making jokes about the name "Mohammed", and encouraging the congregation to laugh (which they did). My partner and I were so paralysed by horror that all we were able to do was to stare at each other in disgust. If this is the sort of 'tolerance' of other religions which the Church of England practices today, then it makes me want to run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. I cannot believe that he is able to get away with that sort of reprehensible behaviour. The Church of England should be deeply ashamed of itself. I am certainly ashamed for it.

Christmas etc

Well, I've had a very busy few days. First off, I went to the wedding of some good friends of my boyfriend's. It was a lovely day, and I wish them every happiness. Then, we went to my partner's parent's for a mock Christmas on the 23rd, which was good fun. We then travelled to my parent's house, where we spent the evening of Christmas eve, Christmas day, and today. I have eaten lots of delicious food, and drunk lots and lots! It has been wonderful to see my sister after so long (about 3 months).

21 December 2007

So, apparently, women are not funny.

This article made me really incensed. In order to find out this earth-shattering news, some dude cycled round round the streets of Norwich on a unicycle and 'measured' people's reactions. Scientific! Men were apparently more likely to make 'amusing' comments like "lost your wheel?" which I personally think is absolute proof that men have the upper hand in the funny stakes. Well done for advancing the frontiers of science, Professor Shuster.

Should paying for sex be illegal?

I'm not totally sure how I feel about this. On one hand, it feels paternalistic and patronising to women to make buying/selling sex illegal. Surely we should allow women the bodily autonomy and self-determination to be able to make those choices for themselves? However, on the other hand, there is a massive problem in this country with young women being trafficked and forced into a life of prostitution. It is our responsibility as a society to protect these women, and ensure that they are able to escape this existence, and are then provided with the support that they need to go on and live healthy and fulfilling lives.

I feel very uncomfortable with the notion that it is ok for men to buy sex, because I feel that it reinforces the notion that women are commodities which can be bought and sold, and that men have some kind of entitlement to sex and to women's bodies. However, I feel that if we legalised all aspects of prostitution, making brothels conform to regulations, then there would be a greater level of protection for women involved in sex work. Whilst I don't feel that this is necessarily the best long-term solution, because as a society we need to tackle the reasons behind why men feel justified in buying sex from women, who are often (whether through choice or because of prejudices within our culture) on the fringes of society, and ostracised from everyday interaction with people.

20 December 2007

The Golden Age of Couture at the V&A

Dior's 'New Look' 1947

I finally managed to go and see this exhibition today. The exhibition at the V&A focusses on what Dior called 'the Golden Age of fashion', between 1947 and 1957 in Paris and London.

I have always had an interest in fashion, most particularly what fashion can tell us about people's roles and status within society, as well as social norms. I think it can be a useful reflection of key historical themes. Dior's 'New Look' was obviously the most influential development in fashion in the post-war period. It epitomised the desire to once again live luxuriously, and not be concerned with utilitarian garments, and rationing of fabrics, which had continued throughout the war years.

However, as I went round the exhibition, I was struck by how restrictive the garments were. Of course, they were often very beautiful items of clothing, very finely made, with intricate detailing, and fine fabrics. But, for me, I felt that they symbolised a greater desire within society for women to return to their traditional roles as wives, mothers, and sex objects. The fact that they had proved during the war years that they were capable of far more than this was conveniently forgotten. Christian Dior's 'New Look', which highlights feminine curves, and must be worn with a corset, was not designed for women to be active. So, although I enjoyed the exhibition, and I am very glad that I went, I felt that what I saw before me, when I looked at the fashions of the nineteen-forties and fifties, was a successful attempt by the fashion houses to re-emphasise the differences between 'masculinity' and 'femininity', and to remind women that their value and worth lay in their appearance, fertility, and culinary skills, and not in their ability to plough a field or put together intricate pieces of machinery.

Yum yum!

I went to Tayyabs last night. It is an amazing Pakistani restaurant in Whitechapel. I recommend the lamb chops, naan breads, and Karahi Chicken Sag. I also had a delicious mango lassi which really cut through the spiciness of the food. Best of all, two of us ate for about £30!

Be warned though, this food is spicy, and they do not cater for people whose palates prefer something a little milder!

19 December 2007

My changing attitudes towards abortion

As I have said before, today I am completely and utterly pro-choice. It is not my place to make any kind of moral judgment about a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy, whatever her reasoning is. It is absolutely none of my business.

I didn't always feel this way. Anna Clark wrote a fascinating post at RH Reality Check about her evolution from being "pro-life" to being pro-choice. Amanda Marcotte also has an interesting debate on this topic happening at Pandagon. I made the following comment;

Both this post, and the one at RH Reality Check were really interesting. I went through a similar evolution in my opinions on abortion. Although now I would identify totally as pro-choice, there was a time when, although I never described myself as ‘pro-life’, I felt uncomfortable with the idea of abortion being used unless it was in the case of rape or for medical reasons. I don’t really know what changed. I suppose I grew up and had sex, and realised that life is not as black-and-white as I had previously thought. When I look back, I can’t believe that I ever thought it was just or fair to pit a fully-formed adult woman with an independent existence, thoughts and feelings, with a fetus.
I suppose I wanted to expand on this point a little bit. In some senses, before I became sexually active, and was therefore forced to accept that an unwanted pregnancy was a risk for me, I was intellectually lazy about the whole issue. It is easier in many ways to believe that you are not one of the women who might have to have an abortion at some point in your life. You can feel morally superior to the women who do not live in the little bubble that you do. What I realised as I got older though, is that there is no particular type of woman who has an abortion. There is no particular reason why women have abortions, their reasons are as diverse as they are. And whilst I might never become a woman who has had an abortion, that doesn't mean that I shouldn't care about the rights, and the dignity, of women who have had to make that choice. After all, they are no different to me.

Just to add on a slightly different topic, someone in comments asked how pro-choicers should respond to the question, "why is it a baby when it is a planned pregnancy, and a fetus when it is unplanned?" Amanda Marcotte answered the question very well, by pointing out that we trust women to define their own experiences, so, for a woman who has being trying to get pregnant, she of course looks forward to the birth of her baby, and thus refers to it as such. In contrast, a woman who is faced with an unwanted pregnancy does not have that same happy anticipation of the birth. For her, it is only a fetus, and that it valid too. I would just like to add to the examples of self-definition that Amanda used. I think that a very good response to this question would simply be, "why is it 'sex' when you have consented, and 'rape' when you haven't?" Because people have different experiences, and so define those experiences differently.

Unicef photo of the year

This picture just makes me feel sick. Melissa McEwan at Shakesville says all I would pretty much want to say. For me, this image, taken in Afghanistan and which has just won Unicef's photograph of the year, shows to me how far from success the Bush administration is in its supposed goals of spreading 'freedom' and 'liberty' globally. According to the Metro, 60 million girls every year are married whilst they are still children. How much more evidence do we need that Bush and his cronies do not give a shit about liberating people (perhaps especially women, given his stance on the Global Gag Rule), the only thing they care about is lining their own pockets.

One day, I hope that there are no more child brides, but I commend Unicef for once again bringing the world's attention to this very serious and distressing issue.

edited to add: the girl is 11 and the man is 40.

18 December 2007

Female heart patients are losing out

Why are women "less likely to receive standard medications for heart disease and less likely to be enrolled on rehabilitation programmes"? The BBC suggests that part of the reason that women lose out and more likely to die from the condition, is that they generally contract cardiovascular disease when they are older, and therefore fighting other diseases simultaneously. This may be true, but why are women being excluded from medical trials testing new drugs to treat this condition? Why are the recognised symptoms so male-orientated? Oh yeah, the women are excluded from all the studies on cardiovascular disease.

I think that this article reveals some very fundamental problems with the way in which we recognise and treat disease in this country. Of course, there are some diseases which only appear in males or females, for example testicular/cervical cancers. There are also some diseases which disproportionately affect one gender, for example breast cancer. But where there is clear evidence that both men and women suffer from a condition, why are we focussing all of our efforts on only one gender? Perhaps it would be easier for doctors to treat patients if there were 'men's diseases' and 'women's diseases', each with their own distinct symptoms and treatments. Unfortunately for them though, this is the real world. Men and women who suffer from the same diseases have different symptoms, and doctors should be equally capable of recognising the illnesses in both sexes. One gender does not have the 'proper' symptoms, whilst the other has only 'more subtle' shadows of the genuine symptoms.

Just because a woman is old, and potentially suffering from other illnesses too, why should she receive substandard care? I can't help but worry that one of the reasons that women don't receive the care that they deserve is that it does not have the campaigning potential that an illness like breast cancer does. I'm not saying that it is not important to fund breast cancer research and treatment, but the suffers of this illness are frequently young, in the peak of their reproductive years. They may have young children, large networks of friends and family who are able to advocate for them during these most difficult of times. Perhaps also our society's obsession with breasts contributes to the success and popularity of the breast cancer campaign.

So where does this leave women with diseases which aren't sensational in any way, who don't have celebrity endorsed poster campaigns, charity runs and media coverage? They affect older, less "camera-friendly" women? Are these people worth less? Cardiovascular disease in women should be treated as seriously and carefully as it is in men. The patient's age, gender or the fact that they have other illnesses should have no effect at all on the quality of the treatment that they receive.

Shorter Redwood: "If you know a man, you cannot say no to sex"

The Daily Mail often has some gems on its pages, but this article deeply shocked me. John Redwood, a Tory MP, has, on his blog which I linked to, said the following;

...none of us want men to rape women, but there is a difference between a man using unreasonable force to assault a woman on the street, and a disagreement between two lovers over whether there was consent on one particular occasion when the two were spending an evening or night together. Labour’s doctrine of equivalence has led to jury scepticism about many rape claims, in situations where it is the man’s word against the woman’s and where they had agreed to spend the evening or night together. Young men do not want to have to take a consent form and a lawyer on a date, just as young women have every right to go on a date and to say “No”, having it respected.
OK, so basically, if your boyfriend/husband rapes you (incidentally, 'rape' means having sex without the consent of the other party - it has nothing to do with strangers and dark alleys), you are up shit creek. The police won't believe you anyway, and it is going to be impossible for you to persuade a jury beyond all reasonable doubt that the defendant raped you.

I don't have all the answers. But I do know a couple of things. Firstly, the circumstances surrounding the act should have no effect on the culpability of the man. Whether the rape occurs in the context of a marriage of 15 years, or a so-called "stranger rape", it is the fact that the woman did not consent which matters. There is a massive flaw in the Sexual Offences Act here, which allows for the jury to take "all the circumstances" into account when assessing whether or not the defendant had a "reasonable belief in consent". This could technically result in men who have been brought up with a very misogynistic father for example, and who believe that all women should consent to sex immediately and without question, being found not guilty of rape, whilst, on the same set of facts, a man who is well aware of rape laws, the fact that women can (and do) refuse sex, could be found guilty. Obviously, this is unfair. The test should be an objective one, and the clause including "all the circumstances" should be removed from the statute.

Secondly, the Police should be compelled to investigate all allegations of rape. They should not be allowed to simply "no-crime" cases which they think will be too difficult to investigate, or for women that they simply do not believe. The Police are not the jury here, it is their job to investigate allegations of any crime.

Thirdly, I think that a national campaign to raise awareness of what rape is, how often it is committed, and that the victim is never responsible for what happened, even if she was flirting and wearing a short skirt, is vastly overdue.

John Redwood, you are a detestable disgusting man, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Feministing has more.

17 December 2007

Yucky hospital food

Why on earth can the government not see that having good, delicious, nutritious food is extremely beneficial both physically and mentally? I've never had a serious illness luckily, but even when I've just had a cold or something, I always try to focus on what I'm eating to make sure that I'm giving my body all the nutrients it needs in order to be able to recover. I can only imagine that this is waaaay more important if you are suffering from or recuperating from an illness serious enough to hospitalise you.

15 December 2007


I went to the Prezzo restaurant today. I was not impressed. We were shoved in a cold corner and ignored. Our food took forever to come, and when it did, my pasta was cold. Don't go there! The food is overpriced and the staff are rude!

Ok, rant over.


Simon Hughes, answer me!

I have written two letters to Simon Hughes lately, one in September, and one in November. He has not replied to either.

Here they are:

1) Abortion
Dear Mr Hughes,

I am writing to you because I am concerned about the attempts of Nadine Dorries MP to restrict women’s access to safe and legal abortion, by reducing the time limit. I appreciate fully that the issue of abortion is a matter of conscience.

However, it is exactly because it is such a difficult and complex issue that I feel that women should be free to make the choices most appropriate to them and to their own personal circumstances. Furthermore, I think it important to remember that women who are desperate to access abortion will do so, and it is preferable to everybody that they should be able to do this both legally and safely.

Women must be allowed to have full autonomy over their own bodies. Indeed, it is grossly inappropriate for Parliament to attempt to pass restrictive legislation on this matter, given that it would be impossible for them to take each and every woman’s unique circumstances into account. Ultimately, these decisions must lie with individual women. In my opinion, it is the duty of Parliament to facilitate this freedom of choice by investing in women’s health care and education, and allowing women to make informed decisions about their own bodies.

A far more effective and “woman-friendly” way to attempt to reduce the already tiny number of late-term abortions in this country (about 1.6% I believe), would be to make access to early abortion on the NHS much simpler and quicker. Furthermore, GPs who conscientiously object to abortion should be compelled to make this stance clear, so that women’s ability to utilise abortion services are not hampered by an obstructive GP.

As a young woman myself, I feel very privileged to live in a country where it is possible to access abortion. However, I feel that these abortion laws must be reviewed, and it should be possible for women to access abortion without having to cast aspersions on her mental health, as she is currently forced to under UK law.

Making these positive changes to abortion laws in this country; improving access to abortion services, obliging GPs to state whether or not they support a woman’s right to choose, and removing the outdated caveat to our abortion laws which states that women’s mental health must be at risk before they are eligible for abortion, would make a massive difference to many women, and I believe, would further reduce the number of late-term abortions which are carried out.

I look forward to your response.

2) Rape
Dear Simon Hughes

I am writing to you because I am increasingly concerned about the low rate of conviction for rape in this country. Obviously, it is a difficult crime to prove, and I understand this. Furthermore, I understand that it is not the place of politicians to criticise the judiciary. However, there are some problems with the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which make it much harder for juries to convict rapists, and allows many perpetrators of this terrible crime to walk free. As an MP, you have a responsibility for the content of this Act, and I would like to put the following criticisms to you:

1) The definition of “consent” under s. 74 of the Sexual Offences Act is vague, and has led to a degree of confusion in court, particularly regarding the ability of a victim to consent to sexual intercourse when intoxicated. I think a larger section outlining the effect of intoxication on the ability of a person to consent to sexual intercourse needs to be included in this Act, so that the law is absolutely clear in this area.
2) S. 1 (2) of the 2003 Act is very problematic. The ability of the court to look at “all the circumstances” leading up to, and including the sexual act itself, means that this test of “reasonable belief” is not an objective test, as it should be, but a subjective test. This means that the jury are allowed to hear evidence from the defence that the victim was wearing a short skirt, or had been behaving flirtatiously, or that the victim had consented to sex with the defendant on a previous occasion. None of these are relevant factors in the ability of the victim to consent, nor should it affect the defendant’s “reasonable belief” in the victim’s consent. At the moment, we have a situation where a person’s ability to consent or not depends on their previous sexual relationships with the defendant and others, what they were wearing, and whether or not they have behaved flirtatiously in the past. Obviously, this is neither fair, nor good public policy. Furthermore, we have a situation where the victim is denied justice on the basis that the defendant is of low intelligence, has poor communication skills, or is young, for example.
Instead of having this test, which allows the defence to cast aspersions on the moral character on the victim (and usually means that the CPS will not take a case to court in the first place), the test should be whether or not the “reasonable person” would have believed that the victim was consenting to sex. This is a much fairer test, because it requires the jury to look only at the established facts of the case, and does not permit the defence to try to make allowances for the individual defendant, with the aim of an acquittal.

Many other criminal offences contain an objective test, which is considered much fairer. The Offences Against the Person Act for example, which has high tariffs, including life for s. 18 offences, has a lower requirement still. For conviction on s. 47 and s. 20 offences (as well as s. 18 in the alternative), the defendant must merely be reckless as to the level of harm which they have caused (i.e Simple assault, battery, or ABH).

Therefore, I feel that the argument about the concern that juries may convict innocent men of rape is unjustified, and is contradicted by another statute, which has high tariffs, but a lower mens rea element.

I would be very interested to know your opinion on this matter, which is of grave concern to many people in this country.

Please write back! Or I will come and see you in your surgery and ask you, firstly, why you don't think that replying to your constituents is important, given that you work for us and are accountable to us. Secondly, I will ask you for your considered opinions on abortion, and thirdly, I will ask you if you think that the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is working.

14 December 2007


Oh God I am having bad choccie cravings today. What I really want is a Gu chocolate pudding, or some Green & Blacks. Mmmm!

The pill available from chemists?

This is some news which should fill you with Christmas cheer. Anything which widens access to contraception is good with me.

But, a couple of years ago, I needed to buy the morning after pill. I went into one pharmacy, actually it was a Sainsbury's pharmacy, and requested that I speak to the chemist about the morning after pill. The assistant went away and spoke to him, and then came back and told me that he would not come to speak to me "because it was against his beliefs, and he thought that emergency contraception was immoral". Several things incensed me about this:

1) He was male. My general view on issues to do with female reproduction is no uterus = no opinion. He is in the very privileged position of never worrying that he might be pregnant when he doesn't want to be.

2) He did not have the courage in his convictions to come and tell me himself. Instead he got his assistant to do his dirty work for him.

3) OK, he absolutely has a right to hold those views. I am not arguing with that. But, if you are not prepared to fulfill your duties as a chemist, then find another job.

4) It was fucking 5.30 in the sodding afternoon. I did not have the option to go somewhere else that day. (Luckily, I still had time to get up early the next morning, and go to the chemist, so all was well for me :-)) What if I had been at the end of the 72 hours when the pill is effective? He could well have been partially responsible for me having to make an extremely difficult decision, which (certainly according to his world-view) would be much more ethically murky.

So, although I think that this is potentially good news, I am worried that obstructive pharmacists like the one I met will prevent women from accessing the pill as easily as they should be able to. We'll have to wait and see!

11 December 2007


Pesto is definitely one of my favourite foods! It is so simple to make too.

Couple of handfuls of basil
Handful of pine-nuts
Clove of garlic
Tablespoon of olive oil
Grated parmesan

Warm the pinenuts in a pan until lightly browned. Tip them into a pestle and mortar and grind them. Chop the basil a little and then add it to the pinenuts in the pestle and mortar. Add the salt and garlic. Grind until the mixture has formed a paste. Add the olive oil. I don't normally add much parmesan to my actual pesto - I prefer to grate it on top, but you could also add some of the cheese at this stage.

Serve on top of pasta, in sandwiches, on gnocchi or however you want!

10 December 2007

Rape victim, aged 10, "probably agreed to have sex"

Oh. My. God. I don't know a great deal about the Australian legal system, but I know that the reason that there are laws in place which state that children under a certain age do not have the capacity to consent. Therefore any sexual intercourse with them is rape. These laws are there in order to protect young people from being preyed upon by adults and (in some cases) older children.

Even if this 10-yr-old had consented to sex, her consent should mean nothing in the eyes of the law. Otherwise why do we have these laws in place?

This just makes me so sad, and simultaneously confirms why it is that I am a feminist. I can only hope that the victim manages to access the support she needs in order to rebuild her life, and that the judges and prosecutors involved are sacked.

Congratulations to Feministing!

Feministing recently announced a big upgrade to become a community site. I think this will be awesome, and as a regular reader, I am very excited to see the changes. They managed to raise over $7000 in a few days, so they can go ahead with the upgrades now.


Holy shit Oxford street is awful at any time of year, but at Christmas time in the pouring rain? Words cannot describe it. I went there this weekend to do some Christmas shopping, and came away completely soaked and with only one out of the 6 pressies I needed to buy. Time for plan 2: internet shopping!

Bean burritos

These are probably the least authentic burritos in the history of the world, but I love them, and they are ridiculously easy, so here is the recipe.

Serves 2
4 wholewheat tortillas
I tub of spicy tomato salsa
1 Red pepper, choppped
1 Red onion, chopped
1 can of refried beans
chopped chili (optional)
grated cheese
natural yogurt

Turn on the oven to about 200 degrees. Put the refried beans, red onion, red pepper, chili, and salsa inside the tortillas. Roll them up. Put in an ovenproof dish. Then put a couple of dessert spoons full of yogurt over the top. Grate cheese on top of that, and put in the oven for about 20 mins until the filling is heated through and the cheese is golden brown. Yummy!

You don't have to use yogurt at all if you don't want to. You could just add cheese, but I like the sourness it adds.