Feminist Aspie

If the New Year sexual assaults were made up, it reveals ugly truths about what white men believe

(I’m not going to manage the usual Friday evening blog this week, so instead here’s a great analysis by Stavvers of how white men are trying to have their cake and eat it over the New Year mass sexual assaults. See you next week!)

Another angry woman

Content note: this post discusses sexual violence, rape apologism and racism

News has emerged that the New Year mass sexual assaults by Arab men may have been made up or colossally overstated. If this is true, it’s a rare occurrence of sexual assault allegations proving to be false, and it’s utterly disgusting and unhelpful to everyone.

Except white men. Remember the frothing glee with which white men seized upon similar attacks, a year before. Remember how Nigel Farage, practically hard, threatened that this was why Migration Is Bad. Remember how the police rounded up brown men, ostensibly for the safety of women. Remember the wild-eyed excitement from the right, literally saying “told you so“.

And compare and contrast this with the reaction when an allegation is made against a white man’s idol. Donald Trump, Roman Polanski, Julian Assange… the endless list of beloved white men…

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Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was autistic – so why is this being erased?

It seems like a tiny thing, I know, but it’s really bugging me.

The late Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who died this week aged 45, was diagnosed as autistic in 2014. It did make news at the time, but apparently not as much as I thought, because in all the articles I read through about her death and describing her life, not a single one gave this as much as a passing reference. With all the coverage she’s had over the last few days, most people I’ve mentioned this to (including autistic people) didn’t even know.

And honestly, it feels a lot like erasure – of autistic adults, of autistic women, of late-diagnosed autistic people, of autistic people in general who don’t fit the rigid stereotypes. It feels strange that, alongside a couple of other autistic women I’ve seen on social media, I seem to be the only one who’s noticed.

Of course, a late autism diagnosis is hardly the most important thing about Palmer-Tomkinson’s life, and we can’t really know how she would have wanted it to be dealt with anyway. But leaving it out across the board is particularly interesting when we consider what the media have been more than happy to leave in.  More specifically, the meltdowns – here’s a more sensitive take on the Heathrow incident, written at the time by another autistic woman. Given that many of the obituaries eagerly discuss this and similar incidents in great detail, sometimes in a critical and almost mocking tone, it’s difficult to see why autism would be deemed irrelvant. And in prioritising this unwanted attention on a vulnerable moment in her life over the autism revelation given willingly in an interview, it’s incredibly difficult to frame this omission as a matter of respect. On a more positive note, several articles noted her charity work with autistic children – but still, despite the obvious relevance, leaving out the autistic adult in the picture.

In the interests of honesty, I had another quick Google before I started writing this up this morning, and I did find this clip from Good Morning Britain on the OK! website; Carrie Grant does note the autism diagnosis, and that quote is included in OK!’s write-up. It’s worth noting at this point that Grant has autistic children herself and is involved in campaigning around autism; it’s sad that this one mention has come from someone already in the wider “~autism community~” because nobody else seems to want to bring it up!

Representation matters – for combating stereotypes, and for ensuring everyone knows that they’re not alone, that there are others like them. Erasure prevents this. Stop erasing autistic people.

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A Law Student’s Guide To Free Speech (and what it isn’t)

Here are some of the main sources of the basic human right to freedom of expression:

Freedom of expression is formulated slightly differently in each of those documents so I’d encourage having a look for yourself, but basically, it means everyone has the right to hold and express opinions without interference from the state. This interference might include:

Freedom of expression means you are free to express your views in general, but it does not give you a right to specific private platforms or audiences. If I invited you into my room and you started yelling abuse at me, I could kick you out without violating your freedom of expression – you remain free to yell abuse everywhere else. Indeed, if I invited you into my room and you do nothing wrong but then I have to go to class, I could kick you out and end the conversation with me without violating your freedom of expression – you remain free to express yourself to everyone else. In fact, I don’t HAVE to invite you in at all – you can still hold and express opinions, you just have to do it outside or somewhere else. The same principle would apply if my space was virtual and my name was Twitter.

Here are some other things free speech does not include:

These are privileges; the majority of us won’t ever receive these privileges, but that doesn’t mean we’ve all lost our rights to free speech!

As noted above, the right to freedom of expression protects against interference from the state – it cannot be violated by private parties. Having said that, it’s true that some private actions might impede a person’s ability to express themselves freely even though this cannot amount to a legal violation of freedom of expression, for example:

Neither of those violate the right to freedom of expression (although they may violate other laws), but you could certainly argue they go against the general spirit of why freedom of speech is so important.

Which begs the question – why is freedom of speech so important? There are various reasons for this. Firstly, there’s the importance of self-expression for developing autonomy and self-fulfilment (although it’s probably worth mentioning at this point that media corporations are not human beings developing autonomy and self-fulfilment). Then there’s the argument based around democracy – in a democratic society, we should be able to hear a wide range of views in order to evaluate them ourselves as opposed to, say, far-right white men shouting everyone else down and creating an atmosphere hostile to other voices.

This is where those restrictions I mentioned earlier come in – at least at a UN and European level, a proportionate, legal restriction on freedom of speech is permitted where this is  necessary for a specific list of aims – both the ICCPR and ECHR include the rights of others in this list. A common example of a situation where this balancing is needed is the tension between freedom of the media and the right to privacy of the individual they are reporting on. However, some speech can also reinforce or increase existing damage to the rights of others; for example, trans people are already at high risk of sometimes fatal violence and are frequently denied healthcare, and high-profile transphobic speech (such as this high-profile transphobic speech…) perpetuates the belief that these human rights violations are acceptable. So transphobes may have a right to express their hatred, but this has to be balanced against the rights of trans people to, in many cases, literally continue to exist. I don’t imagine freedom of expression would prevail there.

 

Basically: All free speech really means is that an opinion is legally allowed to exist without state interference. And if the best defence of an opinion you can think of is “it’s legally allowed to exist”, perhaps it’s time to start looking around for some better opinions.

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