Monthly Archives: October 2012

Stigmatising the unemployed

As I’ve written in earlier posts, the Tories stigmatised lone mothers in the 1990s, blaming them for the economy and portraying them as irresponsible, undeserving benefit cheats. Right now, they’re doing the exact same thing to people who are claiming state benefits – despite the fact that 93% of Housing Benefit claimants are in working households. The media and political rhetoric that is prevalent now is designed to turn the employed against the unemployed.

The discourse of the Jobcentre and the DWP more generally is of assistance – helping jobseekers find jobs. However, help is only help when it is asked for or needed. Otherwise, it is stigma and harassment. This actually reminds me of the German single parents’ campaign “Help! I am being helped” which asserted that framing people as needing help is humiliating. And, come on people – seriously, how can we believe the DWP’s system is designed to help us back into work? The new laws mean that if you forget to apply for a single job your advisor orders you to, you can have your benefit stopped for up to three years – even if you applied for all the other jobs he ordered you to, and 20 other jobs your advisor didn’t tell you to apply for.

Foucalt wrote much on state control of the body, and the DWP has turned this into a fine art. Firstly, if you’re unemployed then you have to go to the Jobcentre to see your advisor and sign in every week. If you can’t make it or forget, they will stop your benefits for weeks or months.  There’s no way to avoid this, as agreeing to apply for a job creates a verbal, legally-binding contract which is stored on the computer system. If you don’t agree to apply for the job, your benefits will also be stopped.

The advisor’s role is to verbally humiliate jobseekers and make them feel bad about being unemployed. The advisor can’t help you get a job – they just check that you’ve been looking for work (which of course you have, as the form you have to fill in every week will attest). The advisor can only look on a single website to tell you about any jobs advertised there,  instead of you looking on the site at home. And they only use one site (directgov.uk) while jobseekers tend to use several sites or newspapers. Advisors also monitor your jobsearching by checking your form. So we can see that advisors don’t actually help you at all. You could do much better jobsearches at home instead of wasting time sitting in the Jobcentre.

Secondly, forgetting or refusal to go to even one group session at the Jobcentre will also mean that your benefits are stopped for months. Even if your bus was cancelled, or you were ill but didn’t manage to get a GP’s note in time, etc, etc. Again, not agreeing to go would also result in benefits being stopped.

This isn’t help. This is forcing people to go to places and interfering with their freedom of movement. Help isn’t coerced. Help isn’t forced, systematized, relentless.Help doesn’t involve monitoring and sanctioning.

This is punishment and humilation.

The DWP treats everyone – from PhDs to over-50s to graduates – as benefit-cheating scum who don’t want to work and aren’t looking for jobs.

The recession is the fault of the government (for failing to regulate properly) and the banks’ owners and top-level executives. But they aren’t affected, it’s the Joe Bloggs of society who get laid off or can’t get a job when they leave university. Yet, we’re being punished for the government and the wealthy people’s irresponsibility.

The new laws mean a much stricter regime in Jobcentres – right at the time when they should be more lenient, because of the recession. When there are a lot of jobs, not having a job is suspicious. But when there are less jobs, not having a job is the norm.

Oh, and recently the head of the DWP said that retired people should be forced to volunteer, or their pensions get stopped…which would mean no retirement age, and we work until we die.

And there’s a few petitions you can sign on the directgov.uk site against the cuts to disability benefits.

On an even more disturbing note, a disabled man who posted a comment against the cuts to disability allowance on Facebook was arrested and had his house searched by the police. This violation of freedom of speech may have implications for censoring speech from now on.

Now, limbless people – even veterans who lost limbs while in Iraq or Aghanistan aren’t entitled to disability benefits and have to receive Jobseeker’s Allowance, which means they get monitored and harassed, having to go to the Jobcentre at inconvenient times and wasting their time seeing advisors. What a great reward the government is giving them for their sacrifice in the wars the government started.

It was Victorian ideals that gave us the welfare state that now is crumbling around us. Influential Victorians – of which Charles Dickens was one – didn’t approve of punishing people for being poor, or the classical liberal (libertarian) view of laissez-faire, which often meant leaving the poor to die. But now we are marching backwards into pre-Victorianism.

References/links:

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/adviser/updates/jsa-sanction-changes/

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/09/04/sanctions-benefit-government-sick-and-disabled-refuse-work-71_n_1853426.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

http://www.causes.com/causes/788577-stop-the-government-taking-benefits-from-the-truly-disabled/actions/1670303?recruiter_id=59034367&utm_campaign=invite&utm_medium=wall&utm_source=fb

http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/politics/2011/apr/01/jobcentres-tricking-people-benefit-sanctions

The sexual double standard and gender repression

A double standard about sex exists in our society; the rules are different for men and women, with men being praised and envied for their successes. The same is of course true to a certain degree for women, but too much sexual success can result in condemnation of the woman as a ‘slut’ ‘whore’ etc; a man can never have too much success and is usually never condemned. This isn’t news to anybody – we all admit that the double standard exists and most of us simply accept the existence of the double standard – even if we don’t agree with it or conform to it (for example by being inexperienced (if male) or by having many sexual conquests (if female)).

The double standard is something we’re all used to and hardly ever notice or think about; most consider it to be only slightly harmful to our society, if at all. But when the double standard is broken down into its components it appears more sinister. Firstly, to have a double standard the genders must be greatly differentiated in popular opinion. Only then can one gender be deemed worthy of being allowed sexual freedom and become the favoured or superior gender while the other is not allowed sexual freedom. This results in a double standard. In our society the double standard favours the male gender. As opinions change and the genders become less differentiated, the double standard may weaken and this is in fact what has happened over the last few decades. Sadly though it has still managed to survive well beyond the millennium.

It is usually taken for granted that men, or patriarchal society, forced the double standard onto women (a theory which makes sense, and is explored in the chapter on why unmarried mothers are discriminated). In the western world, the double standard came into existence some centuries ago. I hesitate to say “millennia” as it is unclear if the Celts, Vikings or Anglo-Saxons had a double standard or if they did, if it operated in the same way as ours. Our double standard also has different rules for different age groups – young girls’ successes are not as criticised as a middle aged woman’s, and teen girls’ successes are the most criticised.)

However, over the centuries some women, instead of rallying to overturn the double standard have instead joined ranks with the men to enforce the double standard on their sisters. These women, who I will term ‘enforcers’ completely accept the double standard as absolutely true. Moreover, to the enforcer it becomes a conception of the good, a cultural value. Enforcers want all women to obey and conform to the double standard. Because the standard is not, at least in the UK, a law, they are reduced to enforcing compliance by using peer isolation/peer rejection and verbal censure to make life difficult for women who do not comply. These tactics may also intimidate women into complying. Peer isolation/rejection refers to the enforcer’s behaviour towards others regarding the victim (with the exception of the enforcer avoiding the victim), while verbal censure refers to the enforcer’s behaviour towards the victim herself. This does not mean that peer isolation and verbal censure are the only tools used to achieve gender repression – some colleagues may engage in more serious emotional bullying; pupils may inflict physical violence (the slut shaming of Canadian teen Amanda Todd who killed herself) and some cultures condone honour killings. However, these two tools are the most common methods used by enforcers to repress others in the western world. Men can also be enforcers but as noted above, they usually are less likely to engage in gender repression than women.

Peer isolation/rejection might mean avoiding a closer relationship with or not talking to the woman, or using gossip and rumour to ensure that others avoid her. This could also be achieved by joking about the victim’s sexual success negatively behind her back, or simply by letting other colleagues/friends/neighbours/pupils know that the woman is disliked by the enforcers.

Verbal censure consists of criticising a woman’s successes as ‘slutty’, or simply referring to them in a negative way or letting the woman know that her sex life is not approved of. Peer isolation and spreading gossip have been recognised as forms of bullying that occur in schools and are most often used by girls. Teenage girls often have to negotiate the ground between being bullied for being inexperienced or ‘frigid’ and being bullied for being a ‘slut’. (Though of course bullying can occur for any ‘reason’ or none). Schools in the UK have anti-bullying policies, though in practice most would agree that they are not very effective in combating bullying.

Of course, these very same tactics are taken from the high school into the workplace. While punching, name-calling and hair pulling are somewhat discouraged at work, peer isolation and gossip are difficult to detect and control, and this is the reality which both men and women have to deal with throughout their lives, even within the family and neighbourhood.

When enforcers decide to use tactics to force compliance with the double standard, gender repression occurs. Gender repression is the term I have given to the process of:

a)      an individual changing her behaviour or lifestyle due to peer rejection/verbal censure by enforcers

b)      fear-instilment in an individual so that she does not engage in her natural behaviour but instead changes her goals and/or personality due to peer isolation/verbal censure by enforcers.

 

This does not mean that the individual has to change her beliefs, feel intimidated by the enforcers or actively try to conform to the double standard. She could be submitting to gender repression simply because it is easier for her to do so. Fulfilling her natural personality while keeping this a secret from others or the enforcer would also count as not engaging in her natural behaviour (if her natural behaviour would not be so secretive) so would be enough to fulfil the criteria for gender repression.

 

It is an ironic fact that, in schools, offices and neighbourhoods around the country, men do not dislike or spread gossip about ‘sluts’, nor monitor women’s sex lives, nearly as much as women do. Perhaps this is because men benefit from ‘sluts’ while heterosexual women do not benefit. Or perhaps men do not think sex is as important as women think it is. The possibilities are endless, and I will not exhaust them here. Gossip is, unfortunately, the norm in our society, and women who gossip can be distinguished from enforcers. The latter believe that males have a right to greater success than females, and treat males and females differently when it comes to sexual success though not in other matters – so they are not sexist in the ordinary sense of the word. Their sexism is extremely narrow and focused only on sexual success, not financial success or educational success.

This is where the subtle nuances of human personalities come into play. A woman may have feminist tendencies in one area (like wishing there were more female MPs) be gender-neutral in everything else, and yet criticise women for sleeping around while not criticising men for doing so. This person is still an enforcer even while having feminist tendencies or calling herself a feminist. Conversely, a man who is disgusted at the increasing rate of female employment may not be an enforcer, though he is sexist.  So we can see that ideology and being an enforcer are not necessarily related. The most well-educated, career-orientated women can be enforcers; a high-status job or even a career in sociology, politics, social work or psychology does not render any person immune from the taint of any prejudice, and that includes the role of enforcer.

Enforcers are not some secret organization bent on commanding obedience to the double standard, or always aware that they are acting as enforcers while they verbally censure others or engage in peer rejection. Indeed, just as we all bully without realising it (precious few individuals go through an entire lifetime without committing even one trivial incidence of mild bullying), we all act as enforcers/engage in gender repression occasionally without ever realising it. At the moment we engage in gender repression, we are enforcers (we believe the double standard is absolutely true at that moment) but if we have only momentary lapses and do not believe the double standard is true, or value it, or seek others’ compliance with it continually, we are not enforcers, just as occasional incidents of bullying does not make someone a bully.

True enforcers engage in gender repression continually and not as isolated incidents.  Enforcers do not generally see themselves as on a crusade or mission to ensure compliance with the double standard (if someone does, this may be indicative of more serious issues.) They do believe that ‘it’s okay’ for men to be sexually successful, but not okay for women to be (or that women should limit their success.) In other words, they accept the double standard as absolutely true and may adopt it as a value or principle.

While engaging in gender repression (using verbal censure and peer rejection) enforcers may admit to themselves that they are bullying or treating someone badly, or engaging in unethical behaviour. They understand that their behaviour is hurtful to the victim but they may not understand that what they are doing is gender repression or its wider societal implications. This does not mean that all enforcers do not fully understand what they are doing – some do, and desperately engage in gender repression in the hope that their victim will change her behaviour and conform to the double standard. This may lead to repeated attacks against the same victim(s).

Enforcers may wish that society would conform more with the double standard, or see obedience to the double standard as a long-term goal for society. For some, these beliefs and wishes may be conscious and they may even express these wishes to friends. For others these beliefs and wishes may be subconscious so that the enforcer is motivated by them to engage in gender repression without realising where his/her convictions come from. A ‘strong’ belief may not necessarily be conscious nor a ‘weak’ one subconscious.

 

Gender repression makes complying with the double standard (or appearing to, by keeping successes a secret) easier than non-compliance. Being free of verbal censure and peer isolation makes promotion, good neighbourly relations, popularity and other social goods easier to achieve. This is especially true for any kind of election (whether within a company, student organization or sports club) and entry into semi-organized groups (found within churches, voluntary organizations and also schools, where they take the form of cliques or gangs.) Obviously, there are countless more examples and the complexity of human relationships when combined with institutional hierarchies and the juxtaposition of different age groups or classes means that in most situations, freedom from peer isolation and verbal censure (usually) entail easier advancement for ambitious individuals.

However, how an individual responds to peer isolation and/or verbal censure can also have an impact; a socially adept person or one who has connections in the right places may remain completely unaffected or even turn the gender repression to her advantage by gaining sympathy and support. A miscalculation on the part of an enforcer could mean that the enforcer is seen as a prejudiced person, a bully, or a deviant.

However, in general terms, it is easier for women to submit to gender repression and the will of enforcers. This means there is a greater likelihood that the victim herself will become an enforcer, or engage in some occasional gender repression herself, out of frustration or jealousy. It is not difficult to visualise a woman who is discriminated against because of her lifestyle feeling bitter when she sees another girl enjoying her life without condemnation. Just as some bullies are also being bullied themselves, and indulge in bullying behaviour because they feel weak and powerless, so may some enforcers indulge in gender repression, or individuals who are not enforcers indulge in occasional gender repression, because they feel weak against the enforcers who control their lifestyles.

And as our society progresses and more people become better educated, respect for human rights and others’ lifestyles and choices will be promoted more than they are today. Eventually, in subsequent generations there are likely to be less and less enforcers; less enforcers means less gender repression which in turn leads to less enforcers. In time these two terms will become irrelevant as gender repression is eradicated. And even though I just made these terms, I hope they become totally irrelevant to our society as soon as possible.

 

Stigma against single mums: How it all began

How did lone motherhood and young motherhood come to be demonised? Well, I got curious about two years ago and headed to my university library to find out. After months of research, I knew more than I wanted to know. I decided to summarise everything into a blog post, and here is my expose on what happened:

 

In the early 1990s and beyond, the media (notably, the tabloids but broadsheets and even the BBC have also been implicated by sociologists) have been fuelling – and arguably, creating – discrimination and stigmatization of lone mothers. McIntosh claims that the media outcry amounts to a moral panic in her essay “Social anxieties about lone motherhood and ideologies of the family”.  Examples of the moral panics are The Sunday Times’ article ‘Alarm over Baby Boom’ on 8 January 1992, which sent the message that all lone mothers are unmarried teenagers. In July 1993 the same paper contained a pull-out section titled “Wedded to Welfare: do they want to marry a man or the state?” with an image of a woman with several children dragging a man on whose face were the words ‘social security’ to the altar.

 

The murder of James Bulger in early 1993 was a shining example of the fact that children of lone mother families and those of attached mother families are the same; one of the murderers was from a lone parent family while the other was from a two parent family. One might expect the moral panic to have ended once this fact was known. However, this only fuelled the moral panic even more. Some sociologists even claim that the Bulger murder started stigmatization of lone mothers because the media focussed on the fact that one of the murderers was from a lone mother family while ignoring the fact that the other murderer was not although both ten year olds were equally culpable. According to reports, 250 people turned up on the day of the hearing to throw missiles and scream abuse at the murderers despite the fact that they were children, and years later the boys, now in their teens, had to be released under new identities to protect them from would-be murderers who were at large in society and had threatened to murder them (as a revenge for committing murder). Taking all of this into account, it may be possible that the extreme hatred directed against the children – one of whom was from a lone mother family – fuelled hate towards single mothers in general. It has been proposed that the Bulger case encouraged the media to turn on lone mothers for raising violent sons and popularise the myth that female parents are unable or unwilling to discipline their male children.

However, it is obvious that media stigmatization of lone mothers was already well underway in 1991 and most social scientists are of the opinion that the Bulger murder simply worsened the problem but did not significantly change the course of media stigmatization. The tabloids were already accusing lone mothers of producing criminal sons in 1991, due to an increase that year in car crime and joyriding on certain council estates, which then declined.

The tabloids – especially The Guardian – ignored the opinion of the majority of academics and devoted a lot of print space to the controversial American sociologist and underclass theorist Charles Murray, who sees illegitimacy as “the single most important social problem of our time.” (Murray 1993). Murray has done more than anyone to promote the ‘underclass thesis’ in Britain; his theory is that lone mothers are giving birth to a criminal underclass and that black people are at the forefront of the underclass trends. He proposed that the only solution is the abolition of welfare benefits/social security.

The British tabloids boosted Murray’s career and from an unknown maverick he became an academic superstar and recognised expert in the UK, USA and Australia, despite the fact that to date there are only two or three other social scientists who agree with his concept of an underclass, and still less agree that the abolition of the welfare state is a good idea or even a legitimate goal in a democratic society. Ironically, before receiving superstar status in the UK tabloids, Murray’s 1984 publication about how welfare benefits cause lone parenthood was completely discredited by many social scientists (Ellwood and Bane 1985; Garfinkel and McLanahan 1986; Bane and Jargowsky 1988.)

Murray’s theories caused a lot of controversy among his peers and for obvious reasons are viewed as immoral and even dangerous. He has also been seen as a right-wing ideologue or politician rather than an academic due to the gap between his theories and actual evidence, and the very gendered and racialized nature of his theories.

The UK right-wing think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) published Murray’s work along with five other authors who stigmatised lone mothers. The publications were made from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s.

The IEA, as well as publishing Murray’s work, also published other very similar books which demonized lone mothers: ‘Families Without Fatherhood’ (which contains a foreword by A.H. Halsey) was published in 1993, ‘Farewell to the Family? Public Policy and family breakdown in Britain and the USA’ (Morgan 1995), and ‘Rising Crime and the Dismembered Family: How conformist intellectuals have campaigned against common sense’ by Norman Dennis, 1993.

Political stigmatisation

Michael Howard, the then Conservative Home Secretary, (supported later by Environmental Secretary John Gummer) was quoted in the Daily Express (7 October 1993) as suggesting that it would be a good thing if more unmarried mothers gave up their children for adoption rather than raising them themselves. This starkly reveals the ‘marriage divide’ present in the minds of politicians; Michael Howard was suggesting that only unmarried mothers should give up their children. He would not suggest that married mothers should. And he thought it was preferable for newborns to be torn away from their loving birth mothers and grow up never knowing their true identity and birth parents – for the sole reason that the birth mother was unmarried. That such an important decision, the relinquishing of a loved, wanted baby, should hinge on a marriage certificate! And in our time, in Great Britain!

Foreshadowing the Conservative ‘Back to Basics’ campaign, the then Secretary of State for Wales John Redwood’s comments (including the infamous ‘there’s not many fathers round here’) were made following his visit to St Mellons, Cardiff in July 1993 and promoted right-wing familial ideology as well as seeking to cut public spending on lone parent families.

And so it has continued, with the conflating of lone mothers and teenage mothers, the ‘combatting of teenage pregnancy’, the media portrayals of benefit cheating lone mothers and the promotion of the illogical idea that having a baby young ‘ruins your life/future/career’ – an idea that results in more abortions to young women.

Thanks, IEA and Charles Murray.

Categories of lone mothers – fact or fiction?

Andrea’s husband had been having affairs for years but promised to reform once they had a baby (Rowlingson and Mackay 1998:79) . After seven years of trying Andrea finally got pregnant but her husband continued with his many affairs so she told him to leave six weeks before the baby was due, thus becoming a single mother. Even though Andrea was a married(albeit separated) mother when she had her baby, her situation is much the same as an unmarried lone mother’s; her baby was born into a lone parent family and it is only official marital status which separates the unmarried mother from Andrea. It is also likely that as her child grows up, s/he will see themselves and their family in the same way that the child of an unmarried or teenage mother might. It would also be interesting to contrast Andrea’s situation with a cohabiting nineteen year old who is employed and has her own flat – officially, this nineteen year old is what Americans call an unwed teenage mother, but which family fits the lone parent stereotype? This case illustrates the difficulty in categorising lone parent families and undermines Halsey’s and Murray’s concepts of “illegitimacy” and “the underclass”. This case also highlights the fact that categories of lone mothers or divisions between them may be more manufactured than realistic.

The media portrayal of lone mothers as beset with problems and unable to cope is challenged completely by the interviews in this study. The statements made by these unmarried lone mothers reveal that they were not brainwashed by the moral panics and media portrayals of lone motherhood, and as a consequence they did not try to avoid lone motherhood – some even chose to become lone mothers.

Lynn split up with her boyfriend before finding out she was pregnant:

He said, ‘we’d better get married’ which I thought was pathetic [laughs]. I mean, we’d been apart and we’d rowed like crazy…And I had by that time decided I was going to do it [have the baby]…I’d do it alone and I was quite prepared to do that. (Rowlingson and Mackay 1998:79)

Carol ended a seven-year relationship with her boyfriend, who was married, before finding out she was pregnant:

I just decided that I’d had enough of the relationship…I told him, ‘that’s it, finished’…and I found out I was pregnant and no way did I want anything to do with him. So I decided to have [my baby] on my own.    (Rowlingson and Mackay 1998:79)

Della’s boyfriend also asked her to marry him and her mother encouraged her to marry him. Della commented “My mum’s got quite strong sort of Christian views…but I explained to her that having a baby was one thing, but getting married…”. She declined her boyfriend’s offer because “he was just really young and immature and…not the marrying sort of material…completely irresponsible.”(Ibid:80)

Similarly, Lisa commented “there was no question of ‘oh, I’m pregnant, is he going to stay with me?’ because I didn’t want him to stay with me.” (Ibid:81)

Rowlingson and Mackay concluded that “lone motherhood is not a problem which these women sought to avoid but, in some way, a solution or welcome avenue down which they are prepared to venture.” (Rowlingson and Mackay 1998:82)

The findings of this UK study are a perfect match with a later study in Philadelphia. This Philadelphia study is important because it only includes some of the poorest, youngest, least educated lone mothers in the entire United States. These families live in the inner city where most of the inhabitants are high school dropouts and drug abuse, murder and gang violence are a way of life. These mothers are the worst of the worst. It is to them that politicians refer when talking about single mums leeching money off the welfare state. Many of them fit the stereotype: they are teenage mothers, they are uneducated, and they are receiving ‘welfare’ (the US equivalent of income support). So it is surprising that the study concluded that these women were far from irresponsible, neglectful, lazy or promiscuous.

The study involved a team of sociologists, one of whom moved to Philadelphia’s inner city for two and a half years for the purposes of the study. The study concluded that these women had become lone mothers because marriage was very highly valued among the poorest Americans and marriage holds a much greater significance for the inner city population than for the middle class. Women had such a high standard for potential marriage-partners that most never married at all, as the available men were not ‘marriage material’. Women would only marry responsible, mature, caring men who had steady full-time employment and were financially secure. Unfortunately for them, the inner city has more than its fair share of druggies, drug dealers, criminals and men who are employed in criminal activities – hardly father or husband material by anyone’s standards. As Wilson (1987) noted, unemployment rates are high for many inner-city men, and this may dramatically hinder their marriage prospects. Being a financial provider is the traditional role for men in families (Nock, 1998; Townsend, 2002), and many women view an ideal husband from thisperspective (Raley & Bratter, 2003). Providing financial security for a family can be exceptionally difficult formen in low-income communities because of poor economic structural opportunities. Empirical studies have suggested that low income mothers desire to get married (Edin & Kefalas, 2005; Lichter, Batson, & Brown, 2004; Waller, 2002), however, there are many barriers preventing them from doing so (Gibson-Davis, Edin, & McLanahan, 2005; Lopoo & Carlson, 2008; Raley & Bratter, 2003; Smock, Manning, & Porter, 2005).

 

However, some lone mothers in other studies do not want to marry/cohabit. Edin and Kefalas (2005) reported in a sample of low-income single mothers that 30% did not plan to marry in their lifetime or did not have an opinion about marrying in the future. This is similar to findings by Lichter et al. (2004) who reported that 31% of single mothers in their sample did not expect to marry. A strategy employed by some single mothers is to avoid potentially unstable relationships and marriage by focusing on their children, thus providing stable healthy family environments (Edin & Kefalas). Edin and Kefalas found that some women want to be financially independent before moving into a marriage in the event that their relationships end in divorce and leave them financially vulnerable.

 

“A major theme that emerged in this data about why women are not interested in marriage was the influence of children. Introducing new men into the home and exposing children to men so that they may become attached were concerns that forestalled mothers from dating—regardless of the age of their children.”

 

Indeed, some mothers were waiting until their children had moved out or were married/cohabiting before they would even consider entering a relationship. They wanted to make sure their children were independent, established in a career or finished with their higher education. Other mothers were more education-focussed and wanted to complete their own education and establish themselves in employment before finding men.

 

Ramona, a 25-year-old single mother of one, stated: “I think it’s just that I’m not out there really looking for anybody right now. I’m more self-centered on myself right now. I want to get through school, and I want to get into employment . . . And I want to get things going for myself before I do anything. . . It’s just for me and my son. I got a son to raise. I think that’s why I haven’t looked into, you know, having a relationship.”

 

The lone mothers in the Philadelphia study became pregnant at ages ranging from 14 to 22, and though some dropped out of high school, they later returned to education and are now employed; some did not drop out. Even the mothers on welfare were not deliberately unemployed; they were seeking employment and hopeful that their children would go to college and ‘get out’ of the poverty cycle or at least graduate from high school.

 

The only finding which differs from the UK study was that the Philadelphia teenagers shocked the researchers by their knowledge of child raising. This chance discovery was made when one of the sociologists’ three year old daughter toddled around the room while she talked to a group of young teenagers. They automatically watched the girl, keeping one eye on her while they listened to the sociologist. This prompted the sociologist to ask them what they knew about children and it transpired that the teenagers knew how to make up a baby bottle, change diapers and so on; they were amazed that the sociologist hadn’t learned to do these things until she had her first baby aged 30.

Further research with other groups in the inner city revealed that teenagers are used to babysitting their nieces, nephews and young cousins and are far more competent at supervising young children than their more privileged counterparts. This may be a contributing factor towards teenage pregnancy in inner city areas – parenthood may simply be far easier to cope with for an inner city teenager than a middle-class one because the inner city mother has little to learn about the basics of childcare.

Drunk sluts get raped: Police and internet commenters in consensus

West Mercia police apologised for their video and poster campaign which urged women not to drink too much on nights out in order to not “leave yourself vulnerable to regretful sex or even rape.” The force also released a video featuring a female rape victim. During the video the victim says she wishes to make others aware of the dangers of drinking too much, which she believes played a part in her attack. Her account ends with her saying that she has now learnt to drink less and stay in control.

Another poster aimed at men only says they “could” be breaking the law if someone hasn’t given them consent for sex. Police chiefs were forced to apologise after anti-rape campaigners expressed outrage. Jocelyn Anderson, chief officer at Worcestershire Rape and Sexual Assault Support Centre (WRSASC), said: “There is no could be about it – that’s rape – and to put regretful sex and rape together is appalling…the poster put the blame on to alcohol and women who are raped, suggesting if they didn’t drink they could avoid rape.”

Let’s unpack that a little more. The police are putting all of the blame and responsibility for rape onto the victim, instead of telling men not to rape or to watch how much they drink in case they rape. This is a clear case of victim-blaming. They also seem to think that only women can be victims of rape and that only men can be the perpetrators – an opinion which flies in the face of reality. The campaign appears to posit that most rapes are perpetrated by strangers, when actually most are committed by someone known to the victim. The police also seem to believe that rape usually occurs outside at night or that women going home from a night out are especially vulnerable. In actual fact, women are far more likely to be attacked in their own home by their partner, an acquaintance, friend or family member than outdoors by a stranger.

The phrase “a night full of regrets” seems to be putting the blame on the victim yet again, saying she has something to regret or maybe regrets ‘causing’ the rape. Words like fear, distress, horror or pain seem more apt than mere ‘regret’ – a word often used to signify that the regretter has done something wrong and so regrets their actions.

In addition, drinking doesn’t make you more vulnerable to rape. It might make you less able to physically fight back against an attacker (because your motor reflexes and hand-eye coordination would be affected) but this applies to your ability to defend against bullying, physical assault and murder as well as rape. And drink would only affect your ability to fight against rape if your attacker used physical violence – if they’re using a knife, blackmail, coercion or misrepresentation (lying about their intentions up until the last moment when they assault you) then drinking isn’t going to affect the outcome. And, given that we all are born with varying degrees of physical strentgh, agility and coordination, and that some of us learn martial arts, whether or not you’ve been drinking may actually not make that much of a difference as your genetics, fitness, health, diet and any martial arts skills. Personality attributes such as fearlessness and determination are important, too. Or anything lying around that you can use as a weapon. Or what you’re wearing (punching someone while wearing large rings can hurt, a brooch pin could be used as a weapon, while high heels could limit your running speed). Or your ability to trick the rapist and run away. Or your use of tactics in a physical fight. Or your height relative to the rapist’s. Or sheer blind luck. Or…

Furthermore, regretful sex and rape couldn’t be further apart from each other. I would add another category, coercive sex, which is ‘morally’ rape but not legally punishable. Regretful sex is just sex that you later regret – maybe he’s fatter than you usually go for, or ugly, or now won’t stop following you around, or says he loves you…there’s no connection to rape. Confusing the two lessens the stigma of rape and portrays women as making bad choices and being vulnerable to being hurt emotionally by consensual sex.

Lastly, rape is always the rapist’s fault. Not alcohol’s – not even if the rapist was drunk. All alcohol does is lower your inhibitions; it doesn’t turn you into a rapist or a different person. Rape isn’t like murder. With murder, there can be provocation and mitigating circumstances. You can plead it was self-defence or manslaughter. Not so with rape. Rape is either rape or it’s not. That is how the law sees it. You can’t be provoked to rape. You can’t rape in self-defence.  If coercion falls short of rape, it isn’t rape and the victim has to deal with it without legal redress.

And as always with any rape story, the commenters draw analogies between commodities and the female body, blaming victims for wearing revealing clothing or not being careful enough ot to get raped. This view is disturbing. It sees sex as something women have that men get. It places all the blame for sexual assault on women. It sees the female body as a precious commodity that any ‘good’ woman would guard jealously. The links between such attitudes and slut shaming, sexual double standards, strict gender roles and male sexual dominance are obvious. And instead of telling men not to rape, the comments are focused on telling women how not to get raped. Read these comments and you might as well have journeyed back in time before the 1970’s feminism, before women’s roles in WW2, before women got the vote. When we were sexual objects, divided into the virgins and the whores, when going out of your kitchen was controversial and dangerous.

References:

A. Myhill and J. Allen

, (2002)

Rape and Sexual Assault of Women: Findings from the British Crime Survey, Home Office Research Findings No. 159 (Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110218135832/http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/r159.pdf) (Site accessed: 04/01/2012)

http://uk.news.yahoo.com/west-mercia-police-sorry-for-appalling-rape-poster-campaign-in-worcestershire.html?fb_action_ids=10151182024343895%2C10151253464861329%2C10151253463921329%2C379757512099176%2C4579375403599&fb_action_types=news.reads&fb_ref=type%3Aread%2Cuser%3A5nrw2KLYbYQPc1yrKPIvwbdP4zc%2Ctype%3Aread%2Cuser%3AtvqI_3cCNXWCxyT-gWVg4otdX9A&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%7B%2210151182024343895%22%3A10150998840297637%2C%2210151253464861329%22%3A110593662432195%2C%2210151253463921329%22%3A430215853694560%2C%22379757512099176%22%3A411123028941267%2C%224579375403599%22%3A157182174426788%7D&action_type_map=%7B%2210151182024343895%22%3A%22news.reads%22%2C%2210151253464861329%22%3A%22news.reads%22%2C%2210151253463921329%22%3A%22news.reads%22%2C%22379757512099176%22%3A%22news.reads%22%2C%224579375403599%22%3A%22news.reads%22%7D&action_ref_map=%7B%2210151182024343895%22%3A%22type%3Aread%2Cuser%3A5nrw2KLYbYQPc1yrKPIvwbdP4zc%22%2C%2210151253464861329%22%3A%22type%3Aread%2Cuser%3AtvqI_3cCNXWCxyT-gWVg4otdX9A%22%2C%2210151253463921329%22%3A%22type%3Aread%2Cuser%3AtvqI_3cCNXWCxyT-gWVg4otdX9A%22%7D&code=AQBy5n8phZuTyjGjaL1komwODPnapwstlqT_sAi_kxvnxsQe5zLjO9EhoM-GW8oV-XNNGpABYtLpTvIvwBsmAOoRAvsKvYUDTJz1rx6ilnWFUt2aTYG876i_P1_oQHi9fNCH7g4iyDLn-5eQFFdPrBMwWX7-6hdW-SRbzK1K9S_TjlOJhKs7nejBtOxsrQODlOSRae1xDKuaghzT2LdPuuXl#_=

Equal marriage debate: Family choice targeted over other values

There is a tendency to assume that family and sexual choices are in a different category than, or not as important as, other freedoms – especially when religion is the opponent.

We take it for granted that the Catholic Church and other religious institutions are against equal marriage, and that they somehow have a “right” to be against it, because of the tenets of their religion. Oh, we moan on Facebook and shake our heads in disgust and sign petitions, but what levels of outrage wuld we reach if any of this happened:

People who like eating pork or shellfish are denied freedom to eat pork or shellfish because Leviticus (which forbids homosexuality) forbids it

A new law bans tattoos because Leviticus forbids it

We are not allowed to wear mixed-fibre clothing because it is forbidden by Leviticus

 

And, looking beyond Leviticus at the rest of the Old Testament, how would we react to this:

Religious people saying that murdering male children and raping female children should be legal

…Or that genocide or slavery should be legal.

 

Once again, sex and family choice has been compartmentalized by religion and certain NGOs while other Biblical commandments are being ignored by these same interest groups. And, as a society, a lot of us fail to realise exactly how much sex and the family are being targeted in comparison to other values. We’ve largely allowed ourselves to become hoodwinked into believing that opposing sexual/family choice in the name of religion is somehow normal.

As well as debating why people of the same sex should not be denied the rights given to heterosexuals, it might be useful to tackle the opposition about why they have placed homosexuality above all the other values of Leviticus in the first place. This will make them have to justify why homosexuality trumps all other Biblical/Levitican commandments. This will shift the debate onto the issue of why they even need to debate/oppose equal marriage, instead of the current focus on the points of their argument.

 

 

Teenage pregnancy isn’t real

Ever since we humans evolved, we have been reproducing. As society developed, diverse tribal customs grew up surrounding sex, reproduction and marriage, enforced by tribal laws. More complex societies enforced an age of consent through laws enforced by the state. We need laws to protect younger people from adult exploitation and enable them to explore their sexuality in a fun, natural way. However, what we don’t need is an arbitrary and uncertain designation of “teenage pregnancy” – which is mostly used by Western countries.

This category is wavering. In the UK, teen pregnancy or being a teenage mother usually refers to being underage (under 16). But in the USA the terms are used even for 19 year olds. In any case, categorising 13-19 year olds as a different class of family is arbitrary. It is arbitrary no matter how you define ‘teenage pregnancy’. You could include preteen pregnancy and have it as 12-19, or exclude those over the age of majority and it would be 12-17. Or exclude those over the age of consent, so only those 15 and under would be included. Whatever definition you use, the categorising is flawed: a 12 year old parent’s experience is very different from a 19 year old’s. In fact, the difference is much greater than the difference between a 19 year old and a 20 year old – yet, the latter would nit count as a “teen mum”. In most regions of the world the term is meaningless, especially in countries which do not stigmatise young families (e.g. the Scandinavian countries and Estonia) and countries with a lower average age of first marriage or first birth.

The concept of ‘teenage pregnancy’ is specific to our culture in which people have families later in life, choosing to prioritise their careers, independence and sex lives before having children.

The concept harms young families. By labelling these girls, boys and their families, stigma and shaming of young parents is promoted. Older families become the norm against which younger families are judged, and younger families are often ‘othered’ at best. At worst, young mothers are demonised as benefit cheating sluts and young fathers as runaway dads; neither are thought to be ambitious, still in education, or employed.

The media and politicians have to take responsibility for promoting ‘teenage pregnancy’ as a concept and also for portraying young families – especially mothers – as problem people to be helped or punished. Their family forms are often targeted for extinction as politicians publically admit to wanting to reduce or combat teenage pregnancy. This further stigmatises these families as a disease within society or vermin to be eradicated. Other family forms are not being eradicated by the government in the same way. It is likely that if the government announced a policy to combat and reduce the nuclear family or the same-sex family there would be extreme and sustained national outrage.

Although social scientists now know that the age of the mother at first birth has no effect on outcomes for either mother or child, the prejudice still survives. Even though ‘teenage pregnancy’ has been steadily falling since the 1970s – something nobody else seemed to realise until Nadine Dorries’ abstinence education bill in January, when the media suddenly and uncharacteristically rushed to print the truth.

Combatting teenage pregnancy denies teens the reproductive freedom and life choices granted to older citizens. Combatting unwanted pregnancy is key, and not all teenage pregnancies are unwanted, especially pregnancies to mid- and late- teens. Young families do not have to be stigmatised. In fact, in Estonia in the 2000s the birth rate was low and so what we would call ‘teenage pregnancy’ was encouraged and glorified. The government and media are choosing to ‘other’ young families, portray them negatively and expose them to stigma.

 

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