Category Archives: Feminism

How Game of Thrones Debunks Archetypes of Women

It wasn’t so long ago that Game of Thrones was widely criticised for its initial portrayal of female characters as powerless victims. In my view, the disconnect between the books and TV series was the main factor in these concerns: scenes such as Sansa’s (Jeyne Poole in the books) abuse was shot for TV in a way which emphasised a male character’s (Theon Greyjoy’s) reaction; scenes critical of male-on-female violence were cut. Perhaps just as importantly, the books’ presentation of systemic oppression of the poor, disabled and even children- not just women- was not as apparent onscreen.

Obviously, all that changed during Season 6. Now, with Sansa as acting ruler of the North, all the contestants for the Iron Throne are women. (Unless Gendry shows up to stake a claim as Robert Baratheon’s bastard). However, Game of Thrones has gone further than simply having powerful female characters. Intentionally or not, both the show and the books take down classical archetypes of women which have existed in the west for centuries.

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The Mother Archetype

The Westerosi seven gods include the Mother, Maiden and Crone- a reference to goddess triads typical of Norse and other ancient religions. The Mother exemplifies traditional notions of feminity:

HIGH SPARROW: Ah, “As water rounds the stones, smoothing- -”

MARGAERY: “Smoothing what was jagged, so does a woman’s love calm a man’s brute nature. A wife salves her husband’s wounds, a mother sings her son to sleep.”

-Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 7: The Broken Man

Game of Thrones explores this traditional ideal of motherhood and pushes it to its extreme. Cersei’s love for her children leads to mass-murder by blowing up the Sept. She walked through King’s Landing naked to protect her children, fearful that a trial would expose their bastardy. And she protects them despite them being born from a decidedly non-traditional relationship with her brother. The more a mother loves her children, the more she must do to keep them safe. A mother’s love means she must kill to protect. She has to violate the very norms of feminine modesty (by being naked in public) to protect them. And she has to love her children even if she created them out of nonconforming relationships. Cersei is the mother archetype’s logical conclusion. The maternal love that religion (personified by the High Sparrow) valued necessitates brutality. Game of Thrones proves that gender norms make no sense because following the norm contradicts it.

The religion reflects societal values of women as destined only for marriage and motherhood, as is revealed in the same conversation:

HIGH SPARROW: You have a duty, Your Grace. To your husband, your king, your country, to the gods themselves.

MARGAERY: It’s just…the desires that once drove me no longer do.

HIGH SPARROW: Congress does not require desire on the woman’s part, only patience. The king must have an heir if we are to continue our good work.

In earlier episodes, Ned Stark explains to Arya that she won’t do any great deeds but will marry a great man. Cersei tells Sansa that unlike her twin Jaime whose destiny was glory, she was sold off to Robert Baratheon “like a horse, to be beaten whenever he wanted, ridden whenever he wanted”. In the show, she implies the domestic violence by saying “And you will be [cruel, abusive] Joffrey’s [queen]. Enjoy.”

However, most of the female characters violate these norms.

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Deviant Women

Most of George R.R. Martin’s female characters are deviant in some way from the Westerosi/patriarchal norm of the passive, appearance-valuing, chaste woman.

In Westeros, as in patriarchal societies, women don’t fight. In the A Song of Ice and Fire books, it is only the deviant women (Molestown whores) who take up crossbows to defend the Wall from Wildlings. However, some characters get around this to avenge friends and family.

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Arya is a killer, taking revenge for her family just like a man would. Her reply to Ned Stark in Season 1 that marriage “isn’t me” is echoed in Season 7 when her direwolf Nymeria chooses to continue to lead her pack instead of resuming a life as Arya’s pet. Arya forges her own destiny; like her wolf, she can’t be tamed. Understanding this, Arya whispers “That’s not you” as Nymeria walks away.

Brienne fails to conform to feminine ideals due to her height, body type and appearance. She responds by rejecting all aspects of gender norms, dressing as a man and fighting like a knight. She’s mocked for it, but succeeds in avenging Renly. Having found a home in Winterfell as Sansa’s sworn sword, she’s also found respect and a worthy role. And she won’t stick out so much now that all the girls are training to fight. Brienne also confounds gender norms: she rejects them, but she is a maternal protector to Sansa and Arya. So she fulfils gender norms while simultaneously violating them. Similarly, the wildling Ygritte participates in warfare and presumably would not be considered pretty or chaste south of the Wall, but is a loyal lover to Jon Snow. Female love and protection are not limited to strict gender roles.

There are other ways of deviating from the imposed norm: by gaining and wielding power. Danaerys and Cersei rule over people and kingdoms which have never had a female Khal or queen. Lyanna Mormont rules Bear Island and supports Jon Snow’s command that girls must train to fight for the first time. Sansa helps Jon in war councils and the leadership of the North, and is now a temporary ruler during Jon’s absence. Ellaria of Dorne and the Sand Snakes fight as well as or better than men, as does Yara Greyjoy, who leads some of the ironborn and aspired to be their queen.

Even in the first seasons when female characters were often abused, the female characters Cersei and Sansa and the good male characters Tyrion and Bran acknowledged domestic violence and marital rape instead of accepting it, despite its legality. Danaerys and Jaime prevent sexual violence even more in the books than in the show. Though the female characters were born into a world where violence against women was rife, they were capable of assessing their situation and deciding it wasn’t right. It’s also a notable point that Westeros is not as dissimilar from our reality as we like to think; rape was legal in the UK until the early 1990s if it occurred within marriage, as seems to be the case in Westeros. Domestic abuse was not recognised or dealt with by police until the 1970s in the US. Husbands continue to be able to abuse wives in other jurisdictions.

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The Madonna-Whore Complex

Game of Thrones also has a lot of fun with the Madonna-Whore complex, also called the virgin-whore complex. According to Thought Catalog,

The term “Madonna-Whore Complex” was first coined by – you guessed it – the father of Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Though much of Freud’s work has either been disproven or is widely regarded as invalid (to put it nicely), his archetype-based complexes live on. The Madonna-Whore Complex is known as the distinction men draw between the women they desire and the women they respect – with the implication that those two categories are mutually exclusive.

The idea is that women are either mother-figures/virgin figures- innocent and nurturing. Or they’re sexually empowered- which is incompatible with being, in modern terms, “girlfriend material”. You might have heard of the complex as  ‘good girl vs bad girl’ or ‘nice girl vs slut’. It lives on in our own time, despite being at least as old as the Medieval era Game of Thrones is based on.

Sansa vs Shae

In Game of Thrones, the Madonna-Whore complex/Virgin-Whore Complex is centred on Tyrion. He’s literally in a love triangle with a virgin and a whore. His wife Sansa Stark is a virgin and remains such for the duration of their marriage. His secret lover Shae was a sex worker and is often referred to and self-describes as “a whore”. However, the relevance and importance of the concept of sexual innocence is interrogated in the books: Tyrion decides he can’t trust his wife as “[Sansa] might be maiden between the legs, but she was hardly innocent of betrayal”. Her supposed ‘purity’ is therefore pointless. According to the Madonna-Whore complex, Tyrion should love and respect Sansa while desiring and disrespecting Shae. Instead, he respects them both, loves Shae and has a limited and self-controlled desire for Sansa (in the books) or no feelings toward her (in the show).

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Tysha

Game of Thrones further turns the complex on its head by revealing that aged 13, Tyrion married a 13 year old girl, Tysha, then was told by his father Tywin that she was a whore Jaime had paid to take his virginity and make a man of him. In the books Tywin further makes his point by forcing Tyrion to watch and participate in her gang-rape and pay her for the “sex work”. After freeing Tyrion from prison in Season 5, Jaime confesses that Tywin lied: Tysha was never a whore, but Tywin believed she married Tyrion for the family’s wealth so she was therefore a “whore”. Tyrion then goes to confront his father and, heartbroken at finding Shae has slept with him, he kills her. He asks Tywin where Tysha went after the gang-rape and murders his father for calling her a whore.

Tysha’s story questions the “whore”/”slut” label and its validity. Tywin called Tysha a whore when it suited him. She wasn’t the wealthy, titled wife he wanted for his son, so she had to be disposed of. For Tywin, she wasn’t even a person- he didn’t think he was punishing her, but instead teaching his son a lesson. Tywin also had his late father’s girlfriend whipped through the streets naked “never dreaming that the same fate awaited his own golden daughter” – Cersei, who was also called a whore by detractors. The take-away here is that “whore” is a label applied by men, and arbitrarily. Cersei was Tywin’s daughter so she wasn’t a whore to him, but women he didn’t know (Tysha, his father’s girlfriend and Shae) were. The men who slept with the “whores”- his father, his son, and Tywin himself- were not labelled.

Game of Thrones also pushes the “slut” trope to its breaking point with Pia. In the books, Pia is a servant at Harrenhal who uses her beauty to get Lannister soldiers into bed…or cupboard. Some of Gregor Clegane’s equally unsavoury companions decide that this means she’s always available to them- whether she wants to or not. Jaime Lannister executes them for rape, with the last rapist protesting that Pia had consented at other times. This scene seems to be asking, ‘OK- if someone is a ‘slut’, then, well, so what?’ The idea of a “slut” seems to be that the woman is always available (sexist ideas pose women as passive, so ‘sluts’ are “available for sex” instead of “pursuing sex”) and for some reason, this is interesting or scandalous. As the Pia story shows, however, ‘sluts’ don’t actually exist in this way as nobody is consenting all the time to everyone. They aren’t “always available”. And so if someone is more interested in sex than average, well, so what? George R.R. Martin was ahead of his time with this one, as rape victims’ sexual history was allowed as evidence in rape cases until the early 2000s in the UK. The last rapist’s comments would therefore actually have been accepted as evidence!

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Manic Pixie Dream Girls

Though Game of Thrones hasn’t completely avoided using violence against women to show how bad a villain is or elicit emotion from a man, it has at least steered clear of manic pixie dream girl syndrome- when a relationship or friendship with a two-dimensional female character leads a male character to an epiphany or self-improvement. For example, foster sister Sansa’s abuse and birth sister Yara’s capture did not motivate Theon to shed his torture-induced cowardice and help them. He fails to help Sansa by signalling and though he murders Myranda, he doesn’t save Sansa. They escape together. Later, he flees from battle instead of saving Yara.

Game of Thrones might seem a totally different series (regarding its female characters) from its first couple of seasons, but its current empowerment of them was always there in the background. Like most TV shows it’s far from unproblematic, but hopefully the series will continue to improve in the way it deals with gender issues.

 

Vote remain: how EU human, women’s and labour rights protect us from the Tories

 

While the Brexit vs Bremain debate has been- and will continue to be- argued and analysed to death, one very important issue has escaped mainstream attention: human rights. The EU’s European Court of Justice, its laws and its Charter of Fundamental Rights safeguards our human rights more than the European Court of Human Rights. What’s more, the EU’s justice is much easier to access than that available through the ECHR. A case can only be heard by the ECHR once a case has gone through all the domestic courts- which is usually costly and very time-consuming. However, EU law can be applied directly by even the lowest level domestic courts; so if an EU law would mean you’d win your case at the District Court in Glasgow, then win it you shall, and immediately.

EU law protects Britons from age, race, sex, belief, disability and sexuality discrimination (see overview of EU discrimination law here).

 

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights further safeguards our rights to privacy, education, being fairly dealt with by the police, and practising our religion/belief amongst many others.

If Britain leaves the EU, we forfeit all of this protection, forever.

 

 

Privacy

The EU’s European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that Europeans have a “right to be forgotten”- i.e. that we can request Google to take down information about us. This gives us an important right that nobody else in the world yet enjoys, and could very well open doors to employment for those of us who have been maligned on the internet.

The ECJ is also in the process of deciding whether the UK’s DRIPA (Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act) contravenes EU human rights law. If the UK leaves the EU, in future such cases will have no legal remedy if UK courts uphold the legality of DRIPA-esque legislation, or will have to be referred to the European Court of Human Rights- which is much less likely to safeguard the rights of citizens.

 

Welfare

The EU has struck a happy medium on the contentious issue of welfare. Its rules stipulate that after three months’ residency in another EU country, any EU citizen or long-term resident can claim the same welfare benefits as a citizen of that country. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll be handing over your taxes to benefits tourists- the ECJ has recently cracked down on immigrants who exploit the system.

EU law also provides for guaranteed criminal compensation if you are the victim of a crime while travelling within the EU.

The EU’s Europe 2020 strategy aims to “eradicate child poverty, promote the active inclusion in society and the labour market of the most vulnerable groups and overcome discrimination and increase the integration of people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, immigrants and other vulnerable groups.” The EU Commission’s PROGRESS programme supports policy development work relating to employment, working conditions, gender equality, social inclusion and social protection, non-discrimination and diversity. NGOs and charities- including British ones- can apply for funding. The Citizens for Europe programme provides civil society organisations and think tanks at European level with operating grants covering part of their running costs.

Economic security encompasses unemployment and persistent poverty- things which Iain Duncan Smith, as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, should have been concerned about. However, he and our current and previous governments caused widespread poverty, an increase in mental health problems and the creation of over 1,000 foodbanks (free food donated by the public for the hungry). The DWP recently announced it will cut benefits for people in work. Clearly economic security is not the UK’s forte.

And what about other security threats? If we’re debating Britain’s security, let’s not leave some concepts of security out of the debate. Take the concept of human security. According to the UN, human security threats include food security (hunger), and political security (political repression, human rights abuses). Although of course we have it very good in the UK compared to a lot of other places, the recent rise of the relevance of economic security, food security and the human rights abuses aspect of political security is hard to ignore.

Recently, in addition to the several suicides and deaths- including of a former soldier who died starving and penniless after missing an appointment at the Job Centre- directly caused by his policies, he was found by researchers to have caused at least 590 suicides which were not previously known. His welfare reforms are currently being investigated by the UN for breaching the human rights of disabled persons. The latest debacle, as of this week, involves a child who has had all four limbs amputated. Under Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms, the boy has been required to prove he is disabled or the family’s benefits will be taken away. Previous examples of disabled people being found “fit to work” and having their disability benefits stopped include a man with peeling bones, a man who is kept alive by a machine, and a kidney dialysis patient who has suffered 14 heart attacks. Thousands of people who were dying have been found fit to work, as have those who were already deceased when the notification was made.

The DWP’s decision to deprive people of enough money to survive (and barely enough to survive in the best scenario- £73 a week to pay bills and buy food with) will adversely impact the economy. Without enough money to buy consumer goods, there is less demand for products and so less jobs. Less jobs mean more people are unemployed and have to depend on benefits, which means the vicious cycle continues. Duncan Smith’s workfare (a mandatory six months of working for free, avoidance of which results in withdrawal of benefits for up to three years) snatches precious jobs away from the waiting jobless. Meanwhile the government shells out millions on corporate welfare (in-work benefits for employees whose employers refuse to pay them enough to survive, such as Housing Benefit and Work Tax Credit).

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Tory World Map

 

National security

Brits are now much more likely to die from a benefits sanction than they are to die from a terrorist attack. No terrorist attack in Britain has killed over 590 people. The public’s security is threatened by Iain Duncan Smith more than our security is threatened by terrorists.

Iain Duncan Smith has warned that the UK faces security threats if it doesn’t leave the EU. “This open border does not allow us to check and control people that may come and spend time,” he told the BBC on 20th February. However, a key fact which seems to have escaped Mr Duncan Smith is that the EU is obligated to protect its own borders. If Britain leaves the EU, it’ll be on its own. The UK coastline will become our frontier. Terrorists have to pass through the EU border before they get to Britain, meaning there are at least two and perhaps several (if every EU country they pass through checks them) chances to detect them. If Britain leaves the EU, the terrorists would only have to pass one border- our coast.

 

But it’s not just border control that membership of the EU has to offer. As Lucy Thomas, deputy director of Britain Stronger In Europe, told the Daily Mail: “In recent weeks we have heard from a wide range of experts with frontline experience of the fight against terrorism that Britain’s streets are safer in Europe.

Though Iain Duncan Smith may wish to ignore them, the message is clear from the head of Europol, Army chiefs and Home Secretaries past and present, that co-operating with our European allies is crucial to keeping British people safe.

The European Arrest Warrant lets us deport terrorist suspects back to their country of origin, Europol helps our police co-operate with their European counterparts, and EU data-sharing measures allow our security services to access information on threats from anywhere in Europe within minutes.”

In fact, Britain benefits from EU intelligence sharing between all member states, and from the intelligence analysis conducted by INTCEN (the EU Intelligence and Situation Centre). Intelligence is also shared through the European Police Organization (Europol), the Joint Situation Center (SitCen), the Intelligence Division of the European Union Military Staff (INTDIVEUMS), and the European Union Satellite Center (EUSC). This is done for counterterrorism purposes.

The Tories’ policies are also having a knock-on effect for national security. If a country is to be a great power, it needs a healthy economy, educated citizens who can compete in the global job marketplace and in a globalised business world, and a strong or at least adequate military. Austerity (and tuition fee rises- which  he voted for-, the destruction of higher education grants, cuts in education spending etc) will not achieve that. Children need to have enough food to learn. A hungry child or unhealthy, malnourished teen won’t be as likely to do well in school (especially as lack of nutrition can stunt growth including brain growth). They are also less likely to forgo the instant gratification of work aged 16 for two more years of school and then a four-year university stint, during which they’ll continue to be on the poverty line and dependent on the whims of university hardship funds to pay rent- and then be tens of thousands in debt at the end of it. Bottom line: health comes first. People need to be healthy to get an education. The taxpayer can throw all the money they want to at the NHS but when the problem is malnutrition there’s not much the doctors can do about it. Everything- technology, science, business, even tourism, depend on skilled people running the show and (in some cases) competing with foreign rival institutions. If we don’t have a healthy, educated, able to work populace then all of these industries and more will suffer. The military is self-explanatory; the weak can’t fight. And the same rules apply to military technology as they do to technology generally.

We won’t see these effects for a long time. If Iain Duncan Smith’s policies continue now that he is gone- as it seems they are- Britain will gradually become poorer as a nation. The talented few, born or sponsored into greatness, will leave for a more comfortable existence in more prosperous countries. Universities will slip down the rankings as fewer people apply to them and they take all comers- or perhaps they’ll retain rankings but mostly consist of international students. Without enough educated Brits, the same thing will happen to other professions which we currently see with medical professionals: they’ll consist disproportionately of immigrants because British people don’t have the qualifications. Again, this will take several years if not a few decades.

These changes will affect national security. The security services and the upper echelons of law enforcement and the armed forces need the best, not the best from among the mediocre rich kids who scraped into desperate universities.

Our own government, not the EU, is a threat to the UK’s economic, human and national security. NATO is more of a threat to our sovereignty than the EU, as we are required to go to war if another NATO state is attacked.

 

Strategy

Brexit may therefore make the UK more vulnerable to terrorism as we will lack valuable intelligence from the EU. An isolated UK dependent on the US might also be exactly what Putin wants. Brexiters can talk about NATO and the Commonwealth, but it’s, well, talk. At the very least, firm and detailed agreements should be negotiated with Commonwealth States before we leave the EU. They must be specific and binding enough (e.g. they only become void in the event a Brexit is avoided) that those States can’t just back out or water down the agreements. The downside to this is that perhaps States don’t want to waste time negotiating over a situation which might be averted; however there are many Commonwealth nations and if the benefits of trade agreements are made clear, and if the contracts are no more detailed than necessary to secure cooperation, surely a few would be interested. However, though the Commonwealth could- in theory- fulfil the needs of economic security, the relevance of Commonwealth States’ intelligence to terrorist threats against the UK is not clear.

The closest (and most obvious to the British public and the rest of the world) tie remains our ‘special relationship’ with America, which has brought us the joys of unwanted and illegal war, increased terrorism partly as a result of the aforesaid wars, and…er…

As of the time of writing there is absolutely nothing to suggest any concrete steps have been taken to ensure EU-equivalent benefits from the Commonwealth should the Brexit occur. Therefore, assuming that the Commonwealth fails to provide a viable alternative, if the UK leaves the EU it will have to get more cosy with the US to replace all of the lost economic and security benefits. Not only will this be likely to lead to increased resentment of Britain by those who already have a hatred of the west, particularly America, it will also polarise the northern hemisphere- not on a scale approaching anything like the Cold War, of course, but oddly reminiscent: As we know, US-Russia relations and US-China relations are not warm. The UK is a little different as demonstrated with the Chinese President’s visit in 2015, but that may change if the US is the UK’s only ally instead of ‘merely’ the UK’s main and most powerful ally. The UK and US will be on one side, Russia and China on the other.

Relying more heavily on the US is not a good strategic move. One of the basic rules of strategy is to give oneself as many options, as many paths toward one’s goals and as much influence as possible. In the context of the international playground this means forming multiple alliances with States (and non-State actors) who have influence in different regions, provide different economic benefits, and so on. In this way things like a wide sphere of influence and a stable supply of produce are guaranteed, because even if one ally breaks a trade agreement for an essential product, the State is not solely dependent on that ally and so its position will not be much affected. Another example would be if a State used two other States for diplomatic support about intervening in a fourth State. If one ally suddenly decided that no, they weren’t going to try to convince the UN the intervention was necessary, there is still another ally to rely on. (I’m not suggesting this is something any State should be doing, these are simply realistic examples). Throwing most of our eggs in the US basket is bad strategy.

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American Government World Map

There is also economic security to consider. The Brexit backers appear to believe that if the UK leaves the EU, we will then be able- somehow- to negotiate better deals with the EU. However it is difficult to see why the EU would care about Britain when it’s no longer part of the team. It appears much more likely that the remaining EU states will simply continue to trade with each other within the parameters they voted for long ago. Even if this scheme worked, it’s not so much a Brexit as a Stomping Off In A Huff And Sulking Until They Play My Way. Or, perhaps, a Brexit-And-(re)Brentry.

 

 

Women’s Rights

The EU has been promoting gender equality since 1957. The Strategy for Equality Between Women and Men represents the European Commission’s work program on gender equality for the period 2010-2015. In 2012 the Gender Equality Directive stopped insurers using gender as a risk factor. Currently it combats violence and discrimination. The EU’s Women, Peace and Security agenda works to prevent violence against women and girls in conflict zones. The European Social Fund (ESF) has introduced a gender-mainstreaming approach and the EQUAL initiative was launched in 2000 to develop new ways of tackling discrimination and exclusion in the labour market including that which is based on gender.

The EU has also created an Institute for Gender Equality and a Fundamental Rights Agency. Winnet, a network of European Women Resource Centres was created to improve efficiency and transparency of women’s rights NGOs and therefore improve gender equality policies and tools.

Impact assessments on the effect of EU policy on women are carried out by each of the Commission’s Directorate-Generals.

 

The ECJ has previously interpreted “family life” to protect the rights of children of unmarried and lone parents to enable the children to remain living with their parents. Cases include Johnston v Ireland (1986), Eur. Ct. H.R., Ser. A, No. 112, Marckx v Belgium (1979) 2 EHRR 330:342, Berehab v Netherlands (App. 10730/84) 21 June 1988 Series A No. 138, (1989) 11 EHRR 322 S21 and Keegan v. Ireland (App.16969/90) 26 May 1994, Series A No. 290 (1994) 18 EHRR 342 S44.

The Fundamental Rights Agency devotes one of the chapters of its Annual Report on Fundamental Rights to the rights of the child. In 2009 the FRA published a report on “Developing indicators for the protection, respect and promotion of the rights of the child in the European Union.”

The Audiovisual Media Services Directive binds Member States to ensure that audiovisual media services provided by media service providers under their jurisdiction do not contain any incitement to hatred or sex discrimination.

 

The ECJ has ruled on age discrimination in employment, pensions and the retirement age.

When Belgium attempted to deny residence permits for two French nationals on the ground that they were suspected to be engaged in sex work, the ECJ ruled that as Belgium allowed its own citizens to do sex work, denying free movement to French citizens was a contravention of EU law.

More intersectional and specific forms of discrimination haven’t escaped EU notice, either. In 2007, the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit of the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) published a study on lone mothers in poverty, which found that the mothers “experienced stigma and prejudice at the workplace and they felt as if they were looked down upon by their co-workers[14]”. The European Working Conditions Observatory concluded that “A respectful environment at work…would also help more lone mothers to enter or return to the labour market.”

The EU’s ECJ court, its Commission, its laws and its many agencies and platforms do much more to safeguard our rights than the European Court. They also pump money into impoverished areas of the UK to improve the lives of Brits in rural and deprived areas.  If Britain leaves, there will be nothing to stop the Tories doing whatever they please. We will lose the EU’s European Social Fund funding for services (including internet provision) and projects in deprived communities, and though we won’t have to give funding to the EU, it is not likely we will see a penny of the money saved. A government which is dismantling the NHS and destroying our welfare state is not suddenly going to change and pump the saved resources into welfare, education or health.. The scale and scope of the EU’s human rights protection is unique in the world. If Britain leaves the EU, we must be prepared to give up all of the EU’s human rights protections- for which we will find no replacement. 

US Government lost woman’s citizenship records, condemning her to live as an illegal alien

First published on Mint Press News, 10/11/15.

 

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Photo credit: Flickr / U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Felicito Rustique

 

Sally Anne is a US citizen. She came to the US as an 18-month-old when she was adopted from India by her American parents and became a naturalized US citizen. But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement lost her documentation during the switch-over from paper files to a digital system.

Sally Anne didn’t even know it until 2012, when she had to prove her citizenship status to renew her driver’s license as a result of a new law — the Real ID Act of 2005.

According to Sally Anne’s blog, Paperless Existence, her previous attorney. Tracie Klinke, told her that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “has only been using computerized databases as recently as the 1980s. I was adopted several years before then, and the switchover from hardcopy / paper files backed up by microfilm data to digitally uploaded records took place sometime in the early 80’s. It is altogether possible, she clarified, for the agency to have misplaced my hardcopy file during this procedure, in fact it has happened before with other immigrants.”

At first, sorting it out looked easy. Sally Anne’s attorney at the time made a demand for her file via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) procedure.

Sally Anne told MyMPN, “they made a formal declaration via a letter affirming that they have checked their ‘centralized index system’ and my name is not contained therein. However: this completely gainsays the reality that somewhere there exists a physical paper file. USCIS is required by law to maintain those paper files as backup, irrespective of whether the records are contained in their electronic database or not. But they flat out refuse to research any further into this.”

The A-no, or alien registration number, is the identifying serial number to track the records of every legal immigrant — other than those holding tourist visas — who has ever entered the United States. Because Sally Anne doesn’t know her alien registration number, they are refusing to research the matter any further and have stated she has no further grounds to file an appeal. Because she is permanently estranged from her adoptive parents due to childhood mistreatment, obtaining documentation from them isn’t possible.

Being undocumented affects every aspect of Sally Anne’s life. She can’t get a driver’s license — even for a scooter. For years she couldn’t even rent a property and stayed in motels until a landlord finally agreed to let out an apartment to her on the basis that she paid several months’ rent as a deposit and produced affidavits from friends. Without proof that she isn’t an illegal alien, she cannot find employment and is now self-employed as a sex worker. It even means she can’t collect medical prescriptions.

Some of her mental health prescriptions are classified as narcotics, so an ID is required to be presented when receiving them. As Sally Anne doesn’t have ID, no pharmacy would release them to her.

“I spent three days running around to different drugstores and, with the weather in the 90’s, I got heat exhaustion. I began having panic attacks from being off of my meds and also injured my foot walking.”

She finally got the medication by asking an acquaintance to accompany her to a pharmacy. “An acquaintance who would verify they knew me, present their own ID, and then the pharmacist released it to him, and told him he was free to turn around and give it to me.”

Sally Anne’s attorney, Kristy White, is now attempting to get a copy of her US passport or other consular paperwork from India from the Department of State by doing a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request and a Privacy Act request. White is also working with Sally Anne’s representative in Congress, trying to get them to work with the State Department. If the State Department does not produce documents, they will have to file a suit in a federal court and ask a U.S. district court judge to compel production of the records. This is when a court order is issued directing the agency to research their archive center or storage facility and search for the physical paper file.

An email from Klinke revealed that she believed Sally Anne’s physical files are located in Missouri.

White, said “The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services have thus far produced nothing in response to Sally’s requests … Sally’s case is very frustrating because it seems so “simple.” Just a get a copy of her ID from USCIS or from the Department of State. No one, citizen or non-citizen should have to live without an ID or any way to prove who they are. It is very dehumanizing, and I don’t understand people who just shrug their shoulders and walk away from the problem.”

Sally Anne says her Christian faith has become stronger during this travesty and she credits that with the will and determination to fight for her rights. She’s also grateful to all the fans of her blog for their support.

Once everything is behind her, Sally Anne wants to make a positive impact in the life of others. Specifically, she wishes to become an ambassador for foreign adoption, especially that of children from India & South Asia. She will also work to decriminalize sex work in the U.S. because she doesn’t want other women to be treated like a criminal, as she has been.

Sally Anne said, “All I need is for USCIS to dig into their repository where the physical paper files are stored … to get them to look and then they’ll find my file and I turn it over and I can then renew my ID — and life will be back to where it was.”

You can follow Sally Anne on Twitter at @paperless_me and LIKE her Facebook page.

Why Women Shouldn’t Take Precautions Against Rape

 

First published on The Fifth Column on 24/11/15.

If you’re a female in the UK- and if you identified as or were labelled as female when you were growing up- you’ll have been told something like this:

“Don’t go out at night, it’s dangerous.”

“Don’t go for a walk alone, you never know who is around.”

“Try to fit in your exercise earlier or you’re putting yourself at risk.”

Regardless of whether your parents and family friends explicitly mentioned sexual assault or not, chances are you received far more warnings about the risks of going out alone, staying out late, drinking and contact with the opposite sex than your male siblings, cousins and friends. It might not always be obvious, but the subtext is that all of these things, including flirting or wearing ‘provocative’ clothing, could potentially lead to sexual assault. Women are indoctrinated from childhood to fit their lives around a constant threat of male violence. Women are taught to accept that we can’t do what we want, go where we like, step outside our home on a whim. We have to plan our journeys so that we’re never alone for a second on a night out; or if we are, we have to strategise an alternative brighter, busier route. Even in daylight women are told to hike in ‘safe’ places. Freedom is not for us. Nor is the right to feel safe or enjoy the environment.

Parents and educators seem to spend far more time telling daughters not to get raped than telling sons not to rape. This is actually amazingly stupid, as the only person who can 100% prevent rape is the rapist. As a society we focus on the woman. If schools and families spent as much energy on boys, we might actually have less rape; some rapists honestly don’t understand that what they are doing is rape because nobody has ever effectively discussed consent with them. The MOD appears to have embraced this view with its first-ever military rape prevention campaign of posters aimed at perpetrators.

Men are also at risk of sexual assault and even more at risk of murder than women. But they don’t go through life scurrying from safe place to bright patch to busy spot. They can own the world. I’m not saying that men never worry about their safety; my male friends actually do. But they don’t let it overwhelm their lives and dictate their movements. And when a man is sexually assaulted or even murdered, he usually isn’t victim blamed. Nobody claims that a male murder victim was “asking for it” by wearing “aggressive clothing” or “violent tattoos”, or that he shouldn’t have been out alone at night because it’s “just asking for trouble.” Nobody pens articles on college-age men “taking risks” and how alcohol leads to men becoming victims. People don’t say “well, if he didn’t want to fight he shouldn’t have answered back.”

tellmeiasked4it

Image source: juvenilejusticeblog.web.unc.edu

That’s the thing, right there. Rape is impossible to prevent. You could live in fear for decades and then get assaulted by a friend, colleague, classmate or partner. Even a teacher, neighbour or family friend. Or you could get assaulted by a stranger no matter how carefully you plan; sexual attacks do occur when victims are in groups, in daylight, when youths are accompanied by parents, and even when there are many witnesses. And if you are sexually assaulted, nobody will appreciate the missed opportunities, the anxieties and time wasted over all the years you spent avoiding rape. You can be victim-blamed or even disbelieved by police, press, friends and family. You’ll be criticised for letting your classmate into your flat, for drinking, for “leading him on”, for what you were wearing, for not taking a cab, for staying out after your friend went home with a headache, for not screaming for help, for letting him walk you home. For being a female sexual assault victim.

So why bother? The question is: is it all worth it? Are all the years of self-repression and fear that you have to go through as the price of being female, while your brothers are free, worth avoiding a rape (assuming you even manage to succeed in avoiding it?) As long as you aren’t abducted and kept as a sex slave, sexual assaults are usually over fairly quickly. Avoiding it doesn’t seem like a fair exchange for decades of restraint. Of course sexual assaults can leave lasting adverse psychological effects- but not for everyone. And constant fear of violence is also bad for your mental health. Quite apart from the stress itself, it reinforces the idea that you are vulnerable and a second-class citizen; men can go where they fancy without thinking about it but you can’t.

I’m not criticising women, men, agender or intersex people who choose to take precautions or use rape-drug detecting nail polish or wear anti-rape underwear. These products have quite rightly been criticised for their potential to increase victim blaming, but if they make you feel safer, by all means buy them. I too take alternative routes if it’s dark and I’m alone. I’m also more aware of who else is around me at these times, especially if they’re male.

My point is that as a gender we’ve been brainwashed into accepting that male violence will always and forever impinge on our freedom in a way that as a nation we would never allow terrorism to. After news of ISIS’ plans to carry out terror attacks in the UK we were told to attend the threatened events and carry on as normal. By contrast police tend to warn women to stay away from an area where a rape has occurred and encourage them not to go out alone or late. Whether you agree with bombing the ‘Islamic State’ or not, today’s news has proved once again that politicians are not worried about provoking terrorists, but women are frequently given the message that they can avoid rape by not provoking a rapist. In fact the SlutWalks originated from just such a comment by a police officer.

Why should we be limited because of what men do? Surely they are the ones who should be punished with restricted movement. We may not be able to stop ourselves from taking the safe road home right away. But with the realisation that we’ve been taught to live in fear and organise our lives around men’s violence, we can slowly, surely, start to free ourselves.

Why Amnesty International Should Support Decriminalising Sex Work

First published on The Fifth Column, August 2015

 

Amnesty International’s proposal to recognise sex work as a human right and adopt a position in favour of decriminalising sex work has met with controversy from anti-sex work groups. A group of Hollywood celebrities have signed an open letter to Amnesty calling for sex work to be criminalised.

Anti-sex work groups have confused decriminalisation with legalisation. Decriminalisation is a system in which the buying and selling of sexual services between consenting adults is legal. (However, in some decriminalised countries it may be illegal for sex workers to share accommodation with other sex workers, or the age of consent for commercial sex may be set higher than the age of consent for giving sex away for free. This is the case in the UK). Under decriminalisation, sex worker organisations can work with the police to tackle crime and increase sex workers’ safety. Examples of this are the UK’s Ugly Mugs Scheme and the Merseyside Model, which increased rape convictions to 67%, compared to the UK average of just 6.5%. Decriminalisation is regarded by sex workers, Human Rights Watch, UNAIDS, The World Health Organisation and academics as the safest and best system.

Legalisation is more invasive; sex workers may have to register with authorities, be forced to have STD tests, be subject to high taxes and State regulation of the industry. Legalisation may also encourage sex trafficking.

Criminalisation involves making buying sex as well as selling it illegal. Most of the USA uses this model. Sex workers are jailed, can lose custody of their children, are fired from their other jobs, forced to join church programs or face jail, end up unemployed because of their criminal record, and forced to testify against their madams or face losing custody of their children. Clients can be jailed, have their name and photo displayed on billboards, and also face employment and custody issues due to criminal records. Even people who aren’t buying or selling sex are affected; for example the police can stop people in the street and arrest them for selling sex if they are found to be carrying condoms.

The ‘Nordic Model’ is a system whereby only the buyers are criminalised. However, in Sweden this model has increased stigma against sex workers- already a stigmatised and marginalised group. The Swedish Government reported this increase in stigma as a positive effect of the Nordic Model.In Norway, the State has plunged many of its citizens into homelessness as police evict them from their homes for selling sex.

Writing in The Nation, Melissa Gira Grant explains “The foundation of this proposal—that countries “review and repeal laws that make those who sell sex vulnerable to human rights violations”—has been mischaracterized as legalizing prostitution. Amnesty’s proposal has also been repeatedly misrepresented by anti-prostitution groups who oppose, who claim that Amnesty is siding with exploiters. What has received little attention from major press outlets and opposition is the testimony of those who live under these laws: sex workers themselves. They have told Amnesty that sex workers’ rights are not only about the right to work, but the right to live free from stigma, discrimination, and violence.”

Pow Wow, a sex workers’ collective in Zimbabwe, said “Criminalisation of clients also impacts on sex workers and would push us more underground. Criminalising clients would make it more difficult for sex workers to advertise services and would mean that sex workers would take more risks and have even less protections from dangerous clients. Although the biggest problem for sex workers is violence perpetrated by the police, there has recently been a rise of violence against sex workers by clients, this also resulted in the recent death of a sex worker. If clients were criminalised then it means sex workers would have to take more risks in order to be able to work and this would make us even more invisible and vulnerable to dangerous clients. The regulation of sex workers and clients would give the police another excuse to abuse their power and extort us and our clients.
“We need to decriminalise sex work so that sex workers can work safely and have better working conditions. We want to able to unionise to protect our rights and have a voice in the policy making space. We want to be able to access condoms and lubricant at subsidized prices or for free. We want access to justice and we want to be able to take action if we are abused, attacked or harassed. We want to be considered a labour force with labour rights.”
The fact that Lena Dunham was one of the signatories against Amnesty’s proposal highlights the way in which sex workers are ‘othered’ by society. In her autobiography Not That Kind of Girl Dunham admits to being filmed for her HBO series Girls simulating sex with a male actor while nude (without body covers, which is standard practice on set). She also claims to have dressed as a “hooker” to spice up her sex life. While she claims that decriminalisation is wrong because all sex workers are exploited, her book reveals rather disturbing experiences of rape and intimate partner (emotional) abuse which occurred as a result of free sex. Exploitation and abuse are not limited to commercial sex, and Dunham knows it. It appears that there’s one rule for celebrities and another for sex workers. Non-sex workers can appropriate elements of sex workers’ lives and experiences (or, more likely, what they think sex workers’ dress and experience are) and that’s perfectly fine as long as they don’t actually receive money for sex.
Pow Wow explains what celebrities should be doing if they want to help sex workers: “Not taking up space in the media that should be dedicated to OUR voices.”

A spokesperson for Amnesty said “Sex workers are one of the most marginalised groups in the world so it is important that we understand how, as Amnesty International, we can work to support their human rights.

The violations that sex workers can be exposed to include physical and sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, extortion and harassment, human trafficking, forced HIV testing and medical interventions. They can also be excluded from health care and housing services and other social and legal protection.

This is a divisive, sensitive and complex issue and it is important that we get it right. That is why we have been working for the last two years to develop a proposed policy to protect the human rights of sex workers based on solid research and consultation with stakeholders.

The current draft has drawn from an extensive evidence base from sources including UN agencies, such as the World Health Organisation, UN AIDS, UN Women and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health. We have also conducted detailed research in four countries.

Amnesty International’s national offices around the world have also contributed to the policy through extensive and open consultation with many different stakeholders. These have included sex worker groups, groups representing survivors of prostitution, abolitionist organisations, feminist and other women’s rights representatives, anti- trafficking agencies and HIV/AIDS activists.

The research and feedback have helped shape the current draft of the proposed policy.

It is important to stress that given that the consultation process is still on-going, no decisions have been made. No policy has been adopted by Amnesty International and it is not possible to speculate about the eventual outcome of the vote.

The draft policy will be voted on at Amnesty International’s main decision making forum, the International Council Meeting (ICM), which takes place in Dublin from 7-11 August.”

JobCentre Confidential: An Interview with the Author Tara Lighten Msiska

Why Revenge Porn Works

Originally published on Cliterati on 4/3/15.

Image credit: roboman28.deviantart.com

Image credit: roboman28.deviantart.com

It’s now a crime in the UK to post or send “revenge porn”. A sensible law in keeping with the spirit of existing criminal law and data protection laws, and, as many would agree, long overdue. But law isn’t the only thing that needs to change. Because without certain attitudes prevalent in our society, we wouldn’t even need a law against revenge porn- revenge porn wouldn’t work.

Picture this scene: it is the middle of the day in a large town. The men- young and middle-aged- stand to one side in the town square. Opposite them stand the young women. The women are making speeches about international politics and mocking some of the men for their bad decisions and cowardice. The men keep silent as the women make suggestions about military strategy and how the state should be run. And the women are all naked.

This isn’t a figment of my imagination. According to the first century historian Plutarch, this really happened, and often. The place was Sparta, the year unknown. And Spartan women didn’t just turn up naked to public policy debates; like the men, they also did military training in the nude. They were expected to be tough and physically strong. 300 and its sequel added too much material to Queen Gorgo’s dress; in reality Spartan women’s dresses revealed their bare thighs because the back was not attached to the front.

To the Spartans the nude female body didn’t signify sexuality, shame or even physical weakness. There was no “either or” mentality about women’s intelligence versus their desirability. Women could be taken seriously without copying men. They could be taken seriously in revealing outfits and while naked.

Bur for women today it couldn’t be more different. We don’t get taken seriously in the corporate world if we’re deemed to feminine or sexy; we have to avoid being the dumb blonde. Wearing a short skirt reduces us to being labelled as bimbos or sluts- targets for pick up artists and slut shamers. Never mind criticising military strategy in the nude, we can’t even avoid being blamed for being sexually assaulted if we were wearing an outfit considered “revealing”. That’s because the female body is seen as something sinful or shameful. And that’s why revenge porn works.

If nudity didn’t equal sexuality and shame, victims of revenge porn wouldn’t be upset by others seeing them sans clothing. Therefore, nobody would do revenge porn. In even more repressive times, an ex could humiliate you by publically revealing that you’re not a virgin. But that wouldn’t work now because sexual experience is not shameful. Ditto revenge porn in future.

Revenge porn only works because of our sexualisation of nudity and the attitude that a woman’s body is sacred so nude images of her are shaming. South Park nailed it with Clyde’s mom, who was secretly filmed nude and had the film go viral, saying “I wasn’t ‘humiliated’, I was wronged”. If revenge porn works because of perceived “humiliation”/shame for a woman to be nude, that means it will cease to exist when sexualisation of female bodies and slut shaming stop.

Without these social attitudes, revenge porn wouldn’t exist or even work, as the victim wouldn’t be bothered by it or bullied because of it. It’s very telling that while all genders are victims of ‘revenge porn’, it’s disproportionately women who are bullied, feel humiliated, and kill themselves.

A change in the law is a great first step. But if we truly want to eradicate revenge porn and nude photo leaks and thefts, we need to change our attitudes to women and how we see nudity- especially female nudity.

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