Feminist Aspie

Yes, You Do Mean Me

People I know will talk at length about how ridiculous and over-sensitive and overly angry they think feminists are, or social justice activists more generally, and often expressly refer to specific views I share or groups I’m a part of, but, well, obviously we don’t mean you.” They don’t mean me because I’m not confrontational, I’m not argumentative, I stay quiet and let everything slide because direct confrontation is something I really struggle with. They don’t mean me, even though if I spoke my mind more often, they’d know they do mean me.

They don’t mean you, yet, they just want to check you’ll laugh along and keep the part of you they clearly do mean out of their sight.

They don’t mean you as a disabled person either. Certainly, when misogynist and/or ableist trolls came after the NUS Women’s Conference for using BSL applause to accommodate various disabilities“well, obviously none of them meant you” although, being autistic and hypersensitive to sound, I’m amongst the people who would benefit, and my friends often end up making very similar accommodations for me, albeit on a smaller scale. People, even those who campaign for social justice and claim to strive for intersectionality, make sweeping catch-all criticisms of people who don’t follow a healthy enough or ethical enough diet, who spend a lot of time online, who didn’t vote* or go to a protest or something else which involves being able to leave home and get to another place that may be inaccessible in any number of ways, and when someone points out the inherent ableism in that and how it affects them personally… “Well, obviously we don’t mean you.” Sometimes that’s also accompanied by a thorough assessment of whether the individual in question tried this, tried that, tried hard enough, or whether they actually really genuinely have a good enough excuse.

They don’t mean you, so long as your disability and your experience has their approval. They don’t mean you, but all these other disabled people need to just try harder, or also come forward as individuals and hope they’ll be believed. They don’t mean you, as long as you’re in a position to willingly disclose your disability in demand. They don’t mean youunless your invisible disability hasn’t been spotted or diagnosed yet, because everyone’s abled by default, right? They don’t mean you, they approve of your excuse so they don’t have a choice about it, it’s not your fault you’ll never be as good as your abled peers in their view.

Believe me, “well, obviously we don’t mean you doesn’t make a jot of difference to those of us who have to put up with this stuff from all angles, day in day out, always the afterthought they didn’t really mean. Unintentional harm does happen, and in a society where oppression and exclusion is so widespread it goes unnoticed, I’d go so far as to say it’s inevitable that we all cause unintentional harm at some point, but that doesn’t make it any less harmful. We need to learn from our mistakes, take care not to repeat them in future, and apologise where necessary; getting defensive and claiming we never meant you doesn’t solve anything.

Because when faced with the reality that their ideologies are hurting actual real people, they never mean you. They just mean everyone else like you, and they expect you to be okay with that.

*Just so we’re clear, I managed to arrange a postal vote on time, used it, and felt it was important for me to do so, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of blaming non-voters, even where it was by choice – it’s not something I want to get into here though, so I’d recommend reading Stavvers on the subject instead.


The Internet Is Real

(Sidenote: I’m really off schedule for the next couple of weeks, so this blog will be too. I’ll try not to abandon it totally!!)

The internet is real. For some reason, we seem to have a tendency to treat it like some frivolous side-life that’s totally separate from the “real” world, but that doesn’t make much sense. It might not be a physical space – I’m writing this in one place and now you’re reading it in another place entirely – but you’re still reading my words. The internet is a method of communication, and it is real just like phones, radio and TV are real. Like everything else in the world, it has good and bad aspects, and shouldn’t be dismissed as some Awful Silly Bad Pointless Thing just because it’s relatively new.

Online social interaction is real. Maybe it’s a sore point, but I will not believe that Skyping my family regularly when I’m away at university, or long deep Facebook conversations with a friend, or having ALL THE FEELINGS over a blog post and sharing it all over the place, is arbitrarily less valid than frantically apologising face-to-face to someone I’ll only ever meet once because sometimes “sorry” is the only word I can just make happen on the spot, because the latter takes place offline.

Online activism is real. Personally, it was (and is) online activism that educated me on feminism and other oppressions and led to involvement in offline activism too. However, online activism shouldn’t be seen as a gateway to “real” activism – many people have no or limited access to physical protests due to disability, financial reasons, abusive partners, abusive parents, institutionalisation, the list goes on. Online activism in and of itself is a form of communicating your opinions and information to others. This is useful, and it matters. In the same breath, this (real!) communication cannot be accessed, fully or at all, by many people for the same reasons listed above, and this is an issue that we need to take seriously.

Online harassment is real. Online harassment often includes personal details that could be used offline, and can sometimes be part of a more general harassment campaign by someone known to the victim, but online harassment itself is no less real. It might seem less real to the perpetrator, because it’s easy both to do and to distance yourself from offline, but to the person on the receiving end, it is all too real, and all too scary.

Online boundaries, such as blocking, are real – and demanding people stop setting that boundary because you feel entitled to their time and energy is really creepy.

“SJWs” are real people. Many of them wouldn’t even consider themselves that much into social justice, they’re just people from at least one marginalised group talking about their life and experiences in those groups. People talking about their own experiences isn’t an online fad, it’s people talking about their own experiences. They’re just given a slightly louder voice now, very slightly more equal to that of their oppressors.

Tumblr is simply a website on which (real!) people communicate, and every community of people has its problems. But often, when people are deriding “Tumblr” (even if they’re Tumblr users themselves), they really mean “people in marginalised groups I can just ignore offline due to structural privilege, talking about their own experiences”. It’s just that “Tumblr” (as well as being less of a mouthful) sounds less bad, because we tend to see the internet as less than real. “Tumblrina” means little more than “online and female” – think about why that’s supposed to be an insult.

Trigger warnings are real accommodations for real disabilities. Just because they’re not visible in the physical world, doesn’t mean they’re not real. Seriously, are we not past that yet?

Lastly, when people tell their stories online, this isn’t a reason to dismiss them as fake any more than if they’d opened up offline. Don’t act like you would totally have believed them if they’d used offline methods when, usually, these same people aren’t believed either.

The internet is real, and we should treat it as such.


Dear Anyone Who’s Ever Had Their Disability Accommodations Ridiculed…

I’m afraid I’ve finally succumbed to The Open Letter. I was originally going to write a post aimed at the people who have spent the last few days trolling the NUS Women’s Conference hashtag, its organisers and participants, or just generally laughing loudly all over the internet, because they (like all NUS conferences have for years) requested the use of British Sign Language applause (“jazz hands”) rather than clapping, due to the impact sudden loud noises can have on people who have anxiety disorders, who are autistic and/or have other sensory processing issues, who are hard of hearing, the list goes on. I was going to write something about how all this mockery is massively ableist and horrible and should not continue. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few days, it’s that there’s little point trying to reason with the aforementioned ableist douchecanoes (some of whom have sadly been fellow disabled people; I’ll get to that later) – most of them are just trolling for the fun of it, quite a few of them seem to just hate activists/students/feminists/women and have taken the opportunity to be awful towards us without giving much thought to why, and all of them are a lot like the horrible school bullies I’m sure you’ll be all too familiar with. I didn’t fancy feeling like I was banging my head against a brick wall anymore, so instead I’m writing to you; disabled people who, this week or otherwise, have been subjected to that sort of treatment for requesting an accommodation abled people aren’t necessarily aware of – so most disabled people, I would imagine.

Bullies (let’s just call them what they are), especially in large numbers, can plant seeds of doubt in our minds and make us question ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I constantly find myself asking close friends for validation against those people. “Am I ridiculous, over-reacting, childish, selfishDoes the fact that I even need to ask you these things just demonstrate that they’re true? You’re nice to my face, but are you all laughing behind my back? Would you laugh at me if one of the adjustments you make for me was instead presented to you out of context on Twitter?” I’m sure I’m not the only one, so I thought I’d try to offer some of that validation to the rest of you.

So: your disability accommodations are valid. You’re not ridiculous or selfish for simply wanting the same level of access and comfort as abled people already get all the time, because the world is designed to meet their needs already. Sure, maybe you’re in a position where you can do without it if and when you have to, but at what cost to you? Abled people don’t have to just deal with it, and neither should we. Anyway, surely making your life easier in a way that doesn’t harm anyone else at all can only be a good thing? Remember that the only reason there’s been such a big fuss in the first place is because abled people are so insistent and and relentless in refusing to even allow a conference they’re not at to make a minor change in hand movement that harms nobody – they are the ones over-reacting. Please keep that in mind; just because they’re so numerous and vocal doesn’t mean that they’re right.

“How do you expect to survive in the real world?”, they might tell you. “You just need to work on your difficulties!” What they don’t know (or wilfully ignore) is that you already are doing that work, more than they could ever knowSociety or the “real world” (which, let’s not forget, is a human construct so shouldn’t be accepted as a given) is inaccessible and harmful in a multitude of ways. It is designed to exclude people like us, and even though it often goes un-noticed, you are working your socks off to live and to thrive in it anyway – and again, abled people don’t have to deal with that stuff at all. Most of them genuinely don’t realise this privilege, so it doesn’t occur to them that maybe they could move some of the way towards you. With apologies to Muse, they like to give an inch whilst you give them infinity. It is absolutely not selfish to more evenly distribute some of that load.

To disabled women: I’ve been saddened to see a lot of this ableism and bullying coming from abled feminists, who think that improving accessibility at the NUS Women’s Conference “trivialises feminism” or “makes women look weak”. I’m really sorry about them. I can’t believe this even needs saying, but you are not letting your gender down just by existing. You didn’t create a society which sees women as lesser – men did that. I think feminists really need to work on this ableist (and sexist!) idea that women have to be completely invulnerable, with no concept of emotions or physical or mental health or self-care, just to “earn” the respect that men automatically receive. You’re not trivialising feminism; in fact, by acting like you don’t exist and by holding women to an invincible-machine standard, it’s feminism that’s trivialising you. For what it’s worth, given that you’re facing patriarchy and ableism, and maybe some other oppressions as well, yet you’re still here trying to make a change, I think that if anything, you’re making women look amazing.

Going back to all genders now, I’m also really shocked by how many disabled people are willing to join in, say “but I have *relevant disability* and I don’t need this, they’re being ridiculous” and throw other disabled people under the bus; though maybe I shouldn’t have been, because a few years ago I probably would have been one of those people. Internalised ableism is something I’m still working on. Anyway: your access needs do not make other disabled people “look bad” – that’s based on the assumption that accommodations are a bad thing in the first place, and that assumption comes from abled people, not you. In addition, you are not the reason abled people don’t take disabled people seriously; abled people are the reason that abled people don’t take disabled people seriously. Your disability and related adjustments are not silly, cutesy or made-up just because they don’t match somebody else’s.

Having said that, it’s important to remember that the reverse is also true; other disabilities are not silly, cutesy or made-up just because they don’t match your own. I know it’s tempting to take out your frustrations on other disabled people with access needs you personally have never heard of before, to blame them for “making us look bad” whilst also potentially making yourself seem more “reasonable” and more likely to be taken seriously by abled people (“Look, you can’t call me ableist because this person agrees with me!”) – like I said, I’ve been there too. But the truth is, it’s a lot easier to attack each other than to confront abled people, because of the privilege structures involved. Think about where the structural power lies; it’s abled people and an ableist society that deny and/or ridicule your accommodations, not other disabled people.

Lastly, if it helps, something else I’ve learned this week is that the online trolls are not representative of humanity at large. It may be true that the dominant reaction of abled people to stories like this is confusion and maybe an initial “that’s ridiculous”, but most of the time, it isn’t out of malice but out of genuine ignorance, and that is something that can be changed. In amongst the awfulness of the past few days, I have been pleasantly surprised by how many of my friends took an interest in this, and were willing to listen and learn. Also, whilst it’s sad that this is the case, it seems that most people tend to be more accepting of people they know and interact with offline than of people they just find out about online, if that’s any comfort regarding the “Are my friends laughing at me behind my back?” question. Playground bullies do seem to grow up and follow us out into the world beyond the school gates, but please remember that being powerful doesn’t mean they’re right about you, or that they’re impossible to overcome.

So keep your heads up, keep fighting the good fight however you can… and then, just because it seems to annoy abled people so very much, might I suggest we celebrate with jazz hands?


“Liar”: Why anonymity for sexual violence suspects is not the solution

(TRIGGER WARNINGS: Rape and other sexual violence, with detailed descriptions of victim-blaming and negative attitudes towards survivors; also mention of suicide. NOTE: In terms of the legal stuff, I’m referring to the UK throughout, although the underlying attitudes are present internationally)

The world is obsessed with proving that survivors of sexual violence are liars.

If you were in a relationship with the perpetrator, they’ll call you a liar – despite the high prevalence of relationship abuse.
If you consented at some other time, they’ll call you a liar – apparently that means you’ve given up your freedom and autonomy forever.
If you “acted normal” afterwards, and only spoke out later, they’ll call you a liar – even though abuse takes time to process, or you could have feared retribution such as being repeatedly called a liar.
If there was no sign of a physical struggle, they’ll call you a liar – even though freezing or “friending” the perpetrator is the most common survival response.
If your statements contain even the slightest inconsistency, they’ll call you a liar – even though that’s exactly what trauma does to you.
If you were drinking, they’ll call you liar – apparently you don’t have the right to drink AND maintain bodily autonomy.
If the perpetrator was drinking, they’ll call you a liar – they’ve changed their minds, turns out alcohol actually absolves you of all responsibility and also magically erases the damage done.
If you were wearing clothes more revealing than the patriarchal world would approve of, they’ll call you a liar – it seems you should have known that the awful crime of “wearing what you want” is punished with sexual violence.
If you in some way don’t conform to an often impossible, racist, transphobic, ableist, fatphobic beauty standard, they’ll call you a liar – they’ll say “who would want you?!”
If you’re a male survivor, they’ll call you a liar – because “men’s rights activists” tend to ignore the fact that men are far more likely to suffer sexual assault themselves than they are to be falsely accused, and only even vaguely acknowledge you exist when they want to shut the damn feminists up.
If you enjoy sex, they’ll call you a liar – apparently they don’t think consent makes a difference, which frankly says a lot about them.
If you’re a sex worker, they’ll call you a liar – see above, and I’m assuming these people also think it would be okay for someone to drop a load of legal textbooks on my head because, like, isn’t that what you DO?!
If you’re mentally ill/neurodivergent, they’ll call you a liar – they’ll call you crazy, they’ll say you’re living in a fantasy world, they’ll say all sorts of ableist things, they’ll gaslight you because it’s more convenient for them if it’s all in your head.

I’m zoning in on the Eleanor de Freitas case here. In short, this woman, who had bipolar disorder, made an allegation of rape, which the CPS refused to prosecute. The accused man then took out a private prosecution against her for speaking up, and the CPS took that case; Eleanor de Freitas had been receiving counselling for rape trauma, this support was cut off, and she ultimately took her own life. I wrote a few tweets about this awful case the other day, and received a reply from an obviously-fake-news-account directing me to “proof Eleanor de Freitas was lying”; it was a professional-looking dot-com domain, certainly enough to fool people, and the only “proof” it contained was… that she was mentally ill, that the police didn’t like her very much, that she bought sex toys the next day, and that she was allegedly a sex worker.

None of those things say anything about whether or not a perpetrator raped her, but in the eyes of many, these failures to comply with patriarchal norms are “proof” and she’s a liar.

You’re all liars, they say, because the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty exists. Even though the attitudes above mean that the police often “no-crime” sexual violence, so there’s no opportunity to go to trial. Even though making false accusations is also a crime, and there suddenly everyone forgets about the legal presumption, going so far as to set up websites dedicated to portraying the accuser as guilty, on no real evidence, without a trial, when they’re already dead due to how survivors are treated by the justice system as it stands. Even though when a perpetrator of sexual violence is proven guilty, they’ll still claim it’s a miscarriage of justice and set up websites to clear his name – Ched Evans, anyone? These people don’t really care about the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty; they only care about the societal presumption of liar liar liar liar liar.

This is the dominant attitude of society, which means it’s also the dominant attitude of our judges, our lawyers, our CPS, our police, our juries, and the media they (and we all) consume. The conviction rates for rape and sexual violence are shockingly low. Is it any wonder, then, that feminists (and others) have lost their faith in the justice system, and taken the stance of believing everyone who speaks out about sexual violence against them, providing one voice of “I believe you” in amongst the constant noise of liar?

Some people are far more concerned about men being falsely accused and “having their lives ruined” even when found innocent. Honestly, I’m not sure this actually happens – it seems to me that if it’s high-profile enough to be newsworthy, they’re portrayed sympathetically (because the accuser is a liar, obviously), and indeed, anonymity for those suspected of sexual violence is actually being considered, even though the preferential treatment here above suspects of other crimes perpetuates the liar stereotype, and it is often the case that one survivor speaking out against their perpetrator gives others the courage to come forward (because maybe, just maybe, they’ll actually be believed).

But if you really are still so concerned about innocent people suspected of sexual violence, how about ending victim-blaming attitudes, ending the liar myth, combating rape culture, and creating a society and a justice system that provides verdicts we can trust?

A petition to the Home Office Select Committee to review their recommendation on anonymity for suspects accused of rape and other forms of sexual violence can be found here.


Why I Need Feminism

TRIGGER WARNING: Brief discussion of rape/consent/victim-blaming, weight/food/disordered eating

I haven’t got time to do a proper blog post but felt I should probably acknowledge International Women’s Day (and also my executive function has gone completely to pot and I’m procrastinating from All The Things) so here’s a very quick introspective self-centred list of reasons why, despite the constant societal message that it’s irrational and whiny and over-reacting and silly, I still need feminism.

The loudest, most persistent, most sure-of-themselves voices are automatically deemed to be the best voices.

Living independently won’t get easier if I ever marry. If anything, it’s likely to get harder as I’m left to pick up a large portion of my hypothetical husband’s share of the household labour.

Only a verbal “no” is deemed by many to count as lack of consent – tough luck if the stress of intimidation and fear of imminent assault makes you go non-verbal.

Men are never taught not to rape. We’re all taught that “rape” is being attacked by a stranger in a dark alleyway, so men think that if they don’t attack strangers in dark alleyways, they can’t be rapists. Men are never taught to ask for consent; they’re taught to assume it. Many laugh at the idea of consent workshops at university. And then sexual violence is justified because “he didn’t know any better”.

Our paradigm is the irrational paradigm. The male-centric status quo is seen as “objective”. Where my views and perceptions differ from this, it’s mine that are considered to be wrong and abnormal.

My summer issues are often dismissed as confidence or body image issues. But having said that, some other women have summer issues that ARE confidence and/or body image issues – or fear of abuse by men.

The standard “big night out” goes like this: I’m autistic so I can’t stay, I’m a woman so I can’t leave, the only solution is for me to stay home, and even then I’m a cowardly anti-fun killjoy.

Young women are expected to instantly become independent domestic goddesses, and asking for help or admitting you haven’t yet learned certain skills is shameful. When young men barely even try, it becomes a running joke.

Even older men, or rather, older abled men who live with at least one woman, are seen as being completely unable to take care of themselves; it’s often seen as the norm for women to “look after” male partners and relatives, to the extent that when women are away for any length of time, they’ll get snarky “jokes” about leaving the poor menz to fend for themselves. I need feminism because I, an autistic female adult-in-training currently living well away from family and most friends, am seen as less in need of “being taken care of” than an abled middle-aged man who has lived independently of his parents for many years and has a strong support network of people nearby.

“No” is often taken to mean “not yet, try again later”. Sex is seen as an inevitability; eventually, you have to just “compromise” and forget about your fundamental right to bodily autonomy for a while.

As an internet-dwelling slightly-nerdy unashamed fangirl, the concept of “fake geek girls” and male or male-centred gatekeeping of fandoms is absolutely everywhere. And some of the standards used, whilst completely unnecessary and awful anyway, are also ableist; not everyone has the energy or the spoons to tick an infinite list of boxes.

Female representation is seen as disenfranchising men. Male representation is seen as… well, it isn’t really seen as anything, it’s just the norm from which anything else is a deviation.

If the next Doctor was female, I’d be too concerned about the fandom backlash and about the inevitable sexist jokes and gimmicks to actually enjoy it.

There are so many times that so many women don’t stand up for ourselves or for women more generally or for other marginalised groups because we know what the response is going to be and it’s just not worth doing to ourselves. How many times have you kept quiet because “it’s not worth it”? I know I do that at least once most days.

Some male friends and relatives see me as “you’re alright, not like those feminists” because I’m too anxious to outright openly disagree with people.

A feminist Facebook group I’m a part of is constantly, constantly, constantly criticised for, well, not taking any shit. If people are scared to comment on a Facebook group in case people criticise them, that’s seen as our problem. If I’m too scared to speak up in the entire bloody offline world because of the many and varied repercussions, that’s ALSO seen as my problem. I should just be more confident and not care what people think, even though “what people think” does have a big impact on your life.

I’ve lost weight recently because, long story short, I sometimes have issues Making Food Happen. People are complimenting me. I’ve seen other women lose weight due to illness and then be complimented on it, or think “well, at least I’ve lost weight!”. You know, just in case anyone still thought fat-shaming was anything to do with health at all.

I’m lucky enough to not have full-blown meltdowns very often, but when I think about it, my last three all have one thing in common – one part of the cause was yelling, insistent, intimidating men who won’t take “no” or “you’re wrong” or “please stop yelling” for an answer. Afterwards, two of the three incidents I’m talking about were described simply as “she had a meltdown” with the causes of this meltdown completely erased, completely absolved.

Too often, neurotypical MRAs use autism as a scapegoat, portraying autistic men as tragic burdens, violent, incapable of understanding consent. Autistic women usually aren’t acknowledged as even existing under this narrative.

Disabled women often have their choices and bodily autonomy removed from them in the name of “life skills”. Make-up, shaving, and other unnecessary grooming is seen as mandatory for women. That stuff over time takes up so much energy, especially for disabled women.

As an shy, introverted, anxious, standoffish, teetotal woman who lives in jeans and T-shirts and doesn’t go out much, I basically exhibit model behaviour for what misogynist men think women should do to “protect themselves” from the sexual violence they inflict on us. Guess what? It doesn’t work.


On transphobia and TERF hypocrisy

(TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of misogynistic, transphobic and transmisogynistic violence, and transphobia more generally. DISCLAIMER: I’m a cis woman attempting to be vaguely useful; trans people, if I’ve got anything wrong, please do let me know.)

Feminists. I’m not angry, just disappointed. No wait, I’m also angry. As women, we have first-hand experience of oppression under patriarchy. As feminists, we understand how sexist men react when we point out that, well, society as it stands really isn’t all that fair. They mock, derail, try out all the usual tropes to avoid taking any responsibility for the problem, and/or losing any of their current male privilege. We’ve seen and heard it all before. We’ve questioned ourselves. We’ve learned how to not defer to them every time, we’ve learned to spot and dismantle those tropes as they appear. Basically, I’d like to think we know our stuff when it comes to how privilege and oppression works. So why is it that I keep seeing feminists go on to use those very same tactics to avoid taking responsibility for cis privilege and transphobia?

I’m going to use both the terms “transphobe” and “TERF”, so it may be helpful first to properly differentiate between the two. Transphobes are cis people who hate, and/or perpetuate the oppression of, trans people. TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists – basically, TERFs are transphobic feminists who use feminism to deflect criticism for their transphobia. Not all transphobes are TERFs, not all feminists (or radfems) are TERFs, but all TERFs are transphobic and all TERFs purport to be feminists. And no, “TERF” is not a slur. Slurs are words used against the oppressed group to remind them of their place, their historical oppression, the power that the slur-user has over them; in many ways, slurs are a threat. The word “TERF” does not remind TERFs of their historical oppression by trans people, because that oppression obviously does not exist. The word “TERF” simply reminds TERFs that they’re transphobic, and a lot of people seriously don’t agree with them. You know how misogynists don’t like being called misogynists? That’s the same reaction that’s happening here.

terf venn diagram[Image description: A Venn diagram labelled “transphobes” on the left, “feminists” on the right, and “TERFs” in the middle]

In feminist circles (pun not intended…) the fight against transphobia tends to be focused on TERFs, so they respond with things like “but it’s not just us!” and “what about THOSE transphobes?”. I’ll look at that response in more detail later, but for now, suffice to say that many TERFs have media platforms, which means they have a great influence over others (particularly other feminists), and in many cases they are presented as the face of mainstream feminism, so other feminists have to work hard to ensure that trans women feel safe and are included in the feminist movement, and this of course requires standing up to the TERFs. Weirdly, despite being feminists, TERFs tend to use many of the same arguments as sexist men…

Misogynists: “I got told this was “misogynistic”! The “patriarchy” isn’t real!”
Transphobes: “part of a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed “transphobic” or “whorephobic”.”
The latter is, of course, a direct quote from That Free Speech Letter (which also attacked sex workers, because attacking trans people apparently wasn’t enough). Putting words in quote marks doesn’t make the concepts behind them any less real. Calling words “made-up” is futile too, because that’s true of all words.

Misogynists: “Not all men are like that”
Transphobes: “Not all cis people are like that”
TERFs: “Not all radfems are like that”
Who cares? Stop talking about how you’re Definitely Not Like That and start speaking out against those who are Like That. Calling out transphobia is not an attack on all cis people or an attack on all feminists (or radfems), it’s an attack on transphobia and our response as cis people and/or feminists should be to listen and change to avoid transphobia in future.

Misogynists: “But I don’t hate women! What happened was awful, but…”
Transphobes: “But I don’t hate trans people! What happened was awful, but…”
Our society has pushed awful oppressive ideas on us all our lives; even those of us who recognise this fact mess up so many times, because it’s just so normalised. You don’t have to actively hate an oppressed group to perpetuate hate against them; most people perpetuate this hate without realising. Don’t get defensive – look at where you’ve messed up and learn from it.

Misogynists: “And here is a token woman who agrees with me!”
Transphobes: “And here is a token trans person who agrees with me!”
Your one token does not negate the views of the many others disagreeing with them. Trans people are not a hive mind, just as women are not a hive mind.

Misogynists: “How come you’re focusing on women when gender stereotypes hurt everyone?”
Transphobes: “How come you’re identifying as non-binary when the gender binary hurts everyone?”
First I should point out the glaring discrepancy in this comparison: the former is a choice, whereas the latter is not. Having said that, both arguments are based on the same false idea that everyone being affected means that everyone is affected equally. Not true. The gender binary coerces cis people to conform to roles in which very few people (if anyone) actually fit. The gender binary forces trans people to conform to an entire gender which goes directly against who they really are. Trans people are being murdered and abused for not conforming. Men do not experience misogyny. Cis people do not experience transphobia. It’s that simple.

Misogynists: “Hahaha, Tumblr throws a tantrum over every little thing”
Transphobes: “Hahaha, Twitter throws a tantrum over every little thing”
The specific websites aren’t really relevant, they’re just the versions I hear most often from these people; however, what is relevant is that these people are often saying these things on the very websites they’re apparently criticising. Often on Tumblr, “Tumblr” is used as a euphemism for “the various oppressed groups who are making the most of this one space they have to talk about their own experiences”; basically, laughing at “Tumblr” sounds less obviously awful than laughing at women, or trans people, or anyone else who has the sheer audacity to exist whilst not being a cis straight white abled man. Substitute “Tumblr” for “Twitter” and you’ve got every tweet from a TERF over the past week laughing at how “Twitter” gets angry so easily. And for the record, “little things” aren’t quite so little when you’re actually experiencing them.

Misogynists: “Stop whining about sexist articles, what about women in other countries who can’t vote or work outside the home?” (usually accompanied by a load of racism too)
Transphobes: “Stop whining about transphobic articles, what about the mass murder of trans women?”
TERFs: “Stop whining about us, what about transphobic men/male violence?”
This week, several cis people have basically accused trans people of not caring about themselves enough. Really not okay. Usually, the person making this argument only ever raises the “bigger problem” when making this argument; they don’t care themselves, they just want the people calling them out to shut up. Aside from that, someone else’s bigotry doesn’t magically make yours okay, even if it is less violent. In fact, so-called “harmful views” are exactly that, harmful – transphobia perpetuates violence against trans people, just as misogynist men don’t have to be physically violent themselves to perpetuate violence against women. I’ve included the specific TERF argument I’ve seen everywhere because although it has the same basis as the first two statements, it’s wrong on a few extra levels; TERFs are being focused on because trans people and other feminists want to make the feminist movement safe for and inclusive of trans people, and because the TERFs are themselves focusing on hating trans people (trans women in particular) rather than combating male violence and/or using their cis privilege to confront transphobic men, plus many feminists and trans activists aren’t focusing on the “bigger problem” right now because the TERFs have caused harm which now needs to be undone.

Misogynists: “Focusing on violence against women is giving women special treatment, what about this other issue that affects us *all*?”
TERFs: “Focusing on transmisogynistic murders is giving trans women special treatment, what about this other form of sexism that affects *all* women?”
Nobody should have to wait their turn to be seen as full humans with full human rights. Nobody should have to wait their turn to not be murdered at an horrifying rate. Just because an issue doesn’t affect you personally doesn’t mean it isn’t important or urgent.

Misogynists: “Feminists are so angry and irrational, you can’t have an objective debate with them.”
Transphobes: “Trans people and their allies are so angry and irrational, you can’t have an objective debate with them.”
Nobody should have to debate their own rights, their own experiences, their own life, every single day. It’s much easier to stay calm, civil, patient and polite when you’re not the one whose existence is on trial. The experience of the dominant group isn’t objective; to say it is perpetuates the idea of the dominant group as the norm. Women are constantly dismissed for being irrational and emotional, putting us on the defensive whilst the initial misogyny goes without comment or criticism. Feminists must surely know how that feels. It really confuses and saddens me that some feminists, having experienced this themselves, go on to inflict it on others anyway.

Misogynists: “Men won’t listen to you if you’re this hostile all the time!”
Transphobes: “Cis people won’t listen to you if you’re this hostile all the time!”
Except they won’t listen if you’re nice, either, because to many of these people, “nice” means “quiet and compliant”. Sometimes this is twisted into “people just want to learn and you’re just driving them away”. Strangely, that argument only ever appears after somebody has either been malicious from the start or outright refused to listen after being called out. People who just want to learn, well, they listen, and learn, without major drama, and it goes unnoticed.

Misogynists: “You hurt my feelings! Apologise for pointing out that sexism just then!”
Transphobes: “You hurt my feelings! Apologise for pointing out that transphobia just then!”
The hurt feelings of the oppressed group – the ones attacked in the first place, and in the context of being attacked constantly – never come into the equation, because the harm done to them is normal, not noteworthy.

Misogynists: “I know I’ll get criticised for this, but *is sexist* LOOK AT HOW BRAVE I AM FOR SAYING THE THING FEMINISTS DON’T WANT ME TO SAY”
Transphobes: “I know I’ll get criticised for this, but *is transphobic* LOOK AT HOW BRAVE I AM FOR STANDING UP TO THE TRANS BULLIES”
See also the racist “we’re not allowed to talk about immigration” trope, when in fact that’s ALL the person is talking about. The idea of this is to frame the oppressed group as a powerful mob who somehow control us all; and yet, mysteriously, the “silenced” views are everywhere whilst the “dominant”, “bullying” views are rarely heard at all.

Misogynists: “Criticism and boycotts by feminists are taking away my freedom of speech!”
Transphobes: “Criticism and boycotts by trans people are taking away my freedom of speech!”
The Freeze Peach trope has been done to death already, and I discussed it only a couple of weeks ago. But take a look at this. Here is an interview with Dapper Laughs – yep, apparently he’s still a thing – in The Independent today (TW: rape). Look at what he says, and compare it with That Free Speech Letter. The gist of the arguments is terrifying similar. Actual literal Dapper Laughs, for crying out loud. Need I say anymore?

So there you have it – right now, certain feminists are starting to sound a lot like the misogynists they’re supposed to be countering, without a hint of irony or self-awareness. Identifying as a feminist does not absolve you of transphobia, no matter how you frame it. TERFs call it feminism, but this is not the kind of feminism that I want to be a part of.


Free Speech: You keep using that phrase…

free speech inigo montoya

[Image description: A picture of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, captioned with the following: “Free speech”. You keep using that phrase, but I do not think it means what you think it means]

Seeing as everybody else is doing it – let’s talk about freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech means that you have the right to express yourself without being killed, imprisoned, arrested, or generally having your other rights and freedoms removed – and even in the strictly legal sense, this has qualifiers. For example, the European Convention of Human Rights (enshrined in UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998) notes that freedom of expression may be subject to “such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society” including “for the protection of the reputation or rights of others”.  In other words, branding universities as anti-free-speech for things like harassment policies or rules against racist, sexist and/or homophobic language is seriously misguided.

Again, freedom of speech means that you have the right to hold and express opinions. It does not mean that other people have to listen to you, agree with you, or accept your bigotry without dissent. And it definitely does not mean you have the right to a platform. I mean, I haven’t spoken at a prestigious university institution or written for a nationwide publication either. Believe it or not, neither have most people. Incidentally, marginalised groups who are regularly put down by The Freeze Peach Debate are even less likely than more privileged people to have these, well, privileges. Those platforms are far from a right.

We have got to the point where people are are complaining about how ~completely silenced~ they are via the medium of their national newspaper columns, or in articles and blog posts that go viral. Alternatively, these people sometimes have their oppressive views quoted uncritically in such articles as part of The Freeze Peach Debate. They’re not being silenced at all.

Yet, some of them are even comparing their lack of (an additional) platform to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Comparing being no-platformed or being disagreed with to literally being murdered . Invoking an unrelated tragedy to manipulate the reader’s emotions and make no-platforming seem horrific by association. I’ve seen this from people on all sides and it’s really not on. It’s trivialising, it’s upsetting… Just bloody don’t.**

Moving swiftly on, why is it that the poor, silenced Freeze Peach Advocates are never as vocal when the police kettle peaceful protests, or create violent conflicts that are later blamed on protesters? Why are they never as vocal when such protests and vigils are targeted by individuals from the often more powerful institutions being called out, whether by online trolls beforehand or (actual or threatened) disruption of the event itself, with the intention of making people feel too unsafe to show up? Freedom of expression means freedom of expression for everyone. It’s almost as if the anti-no-platformers are more concerned about protecting bigotry than actually advocating for free speech… By the way, the concepts of “safe” and “unsafe” are not just buzzwords for you to dismiss as a fad. I can’t believe this needs to be said, but anti-sex-work rhetoric actually does harm sex workers; TERF rhetoric actually does harm trans people; racist rhetoric actually does harm people of colour. As highlighted brilliantly by Stillicides’ Misogyny Triangle, oppressive attitudes aren’t just an opinion. They’re actually dangerous. Remember, the protection of the rights of others.

In these contexts, the Freeze Peach Debate is usually little more than a derailing tactic. When someone is perpetuating an oppression and the relevant oppressed group stands up for themselves, the big conversation ends up always being the Freeze Peach Debate, and never being about the awfulness that created the situation in the first place. Rather than raising awareness of the underlying issues, marginalised groups are put straight on the defensive- again. And it is always marginalised groups; the anti-no-platformers will only ever refer to them as “students” to try and avoid looking like they’re perpetuating oppression, but the students in question are invariably from liberation campaigns. It’s like when people criticise “Tumblr” when they themselves are Tumblr users; they usually mean either social justice advocates more generally, or particularly people in marginalised groups never represented in mainstream media.

Importantly, though, that’s not to say you can’t criticise people who experience oppression – I mean, freedom of speech, right? Feminists: Remember that women can be oppressive too. No-platforming a woman for views harmful to sex workers is not misogynistic, any more than no-platforming a gay man for misogynistic views would be homophobic. Intersectionality isn’t just a word that looks good in your Twitter bio, it’s a very real concept. Women can be oppressive too. As a student who has spent the past few months debating on student feminist Facebook groups about no-platforming men, I’ve found it really bizarre that, in light the Kate Smurthwaite debacle, there’s suddenly this idea that only women are no-platformed, when some quick research proves otherwise. Or even short-term memory – a pro-life Oxford society inviting two cis men to “debate” abortion, anyone? It was only three months ago… Basically, no-platforming is far from being a tool of misogyny; in fact, as Stavvers pointed out earlier today, the heavy criticism of no-platforming by feminist societies is strongly linked to the patriarchal idea that women are not permitted to have boundaries.

Finally: For people who are so passionate about freedom of expression, the anti-no-platformers sure are angry about people disagreeing with them…

**Relax, I don’t have the power to stop you saying things I don’t like, nor would I want that. But I do have the power to tell you you’re being a dick.


Angry Feminists Are Not Your Playthings

(Content note: Discussion of anti-choice rhetoric, general abuser dynamics, and brief references to rape, abuse and harassment)

Here’s something I’ve seen in literally every online feminist discussion space I’ve ever been in:

  1. Someone (almost invariably a man; sometimes, but not always, an actively malicious troll from the start) says something problematic.
  2. The issue with what they’ve just said is pointed out to them, directly but politely.
  3. Because there’s this general idea that accusing someone of an -ism is worse than the thing that led to the accusation (and it isn’t: only one of those things promotes a real, harmful power structure), the person takes this as a personal attack, and becomes defensive rather than maybe consider that they need to change their behaviour/language/viewpoint.
  4. They continue this until a long, unnecessary, derailing comment thread develops.
  5. They paint the people who called them out as the problem for “making such a big deal of it”, and are often believed, because feminists are so angry and aggressive and argumentative amirite? This is called gaslighting. Google it.
  6. The majority of threads, in which genuinely-well-intentioned-people-who-made-a-mistake are nudged in the right direction without major drama and discussion remains civil because there’s nobody deliberately trying to aggravate it, is disregarded, either deliberately or just because it isn’t as memorable or likely to repeatedly show up on the news feed.
  7. Suddenly, the whole group is criticised for being too argumentative, hostile, full of personal attacks (which on further inspection boil down to “pointing out something problematic”) and silencing “different opinions” (often code for sexist/transphobic/homophobic etc. views which literally cost lives). Nobody considers who actually started the arguments.
  8. People become scared to contribute because they don’t want to get caught up in arguments; with the actual cause of the conflicts long forgotten, this eventually becomes “scared to contribute because they don’t want to get called out” because of the aforementioned gaslighting.
  9. The conversation becomes one about how to avoid hurting the feelings of well-intentioned-people-who-made-a-mistake, which was never the problem, rather than the actual problem of how to deal with the trolls.
  10. The confirmation bias phenomenon kicks in; feminists are seen as irrational and overly aggressive, so when the next man-starting-shit comes along, they’re more likely to be able to paint feminists as the aggressors.

Seriously. It’s the same thing in Every. Single. Forum. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was something similar going on in offline spaces, too.

Telling a man that maybe he might need to re-consider is eventually exaggerated into aggression and some angry-mob-of-irrational-feminists-with-pitchforks. Dale Splender once noted “The talkativeness of women has been gauged in comparison not with men but with silence” and I think the same might be true more specifically when a woman confronts someone; her level of assertiveness is not compared to what is expected of men, it’s compared to what is expected of a silent, compliant, smiling background decoration. I know that personally, offline at least, I spend a lot of time being that “polite” silent woman because I’m too scared to confront people, and consequently I have certain male friends/relatives/etc who see me as some sort of “acceptable feminist” because I’m not like those feminists they see online. (Oh, if only they knew…) This really saddens me, because although they might not know it, the message I get from this is “women who stand up for themselves are okay, as long as they only do it in their own heads because of huge underlying anxiety issues” (stay tuned next week for more on that, by the way) and hopefully I don’t need to explain all the different levels of why that’s not okay.

Anyway, enough about me – let’s look at the bigger picture. 1 in 3 women will be abused by an intimate partner in her lifetime, and 1 in 5 women will suffer rape or attempted rape. Too often, these women are then blamed for the violence against them. We live in a world where men feel entitled to our lives and our bodies; we’re harassed in the street, in the workplace, everywhere, coerced into just-giving-in, or risking literally being killed for saying no. We’re paid less for equal work outside the home, and often still left to do virtually all the unpaid and undervalued work within it. We’re criticised for having children and going to work, for having children and not going to work, and for not having children. In media, we’re an afterthought, reduced to archetypes, and the structural violence against us is sometimes glorified. We’re underrepresented in politics, in law, in science, in virtually all positions of power. As noted above, we’re talked over. We’re shouted down. In many cases, we’re literally silenced. It’s normal. It’s something we’re used to. It usually goes completely unnoticed.

And you’re outraged because a woman disagreed with you on the internet?!

Yes, feminists are often angry – there’s a lot to be angry about. As we’ve seen this week, certain cis men think they can have a say in what those of us with a uterus should do with it. Even if we ignore the fact that this “debate” was organised by a pro-life group, frankly, our healthcare rights should not be up for debate, at least not between people that can only see it as an intellectual exercise – a sport, even. And no, they’re not “objective”, because nobody can be. After opposition and a planned protest, the college due to host the event pulled out.

“Students are killing freedom of speech!” the men declared to the world, from their fucking newspaper columns. Seriously. You couldn’t make it up.

“But why wouldn’t you allow a debate?” Maybe because to us, this is not a game. We might be seen as argumentative, but I for one don’t enjoy having to “debate” my own human rights. It’s demeaning to be constantly asked to justify why we deserve to be seen as full humans. Or maybe it’s because we know how this “debate” is going to end before it even starts; we’re not silent, complaint background decorations, so we’ll be seen as an aggressive irrational mob compared to the calm and rational cis men – who, of course, are calm because they’re not the ones who constantly have to put up with such constant policing of their bodies and life choices. We’d be laughed off.

Which brings me back to those men who like to deliberately stir up arguments on online feminist discussion groups. Because to them, it’s funny.

It’s funny when feminists get angry.

It’s funny when women get angry.

And I am so, so fucking tired of being seen as a wind-up toy.


“Innocent Until Proven Miscarriage Of Justice”: Ched Evans, rape apologists, and a sudden silence on the legal system

(Trigger warning: Rape, harassment, victim-blaming, rape culture generally)

The criminal system in England and Wales operates under the legal principle that a person accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty; as anyone who’s ever publicly believed a rape survivor will know, because no doubt you’ve been told this a thousand times over by people who see it as a get-out-of-jail-free card (literally) for all those accused of a crime that really isn’t taken seriously enough as it is. Really, though, these people care more about maintaining the status quo of rape culture than any legal principle – otherwise, they wouldn’t be simultaneously presuming the accuser to be guilty of making a false accusation, and they’d join everyone else in condemning accused rapists if and when they are convicted.

In April 2012, Ched Evans was convicted of rape. Convicted. The very definition of “proven guilty”.

Evans himself maintains his innocence, as do his fans, and other people who are generally vocal about not believing rape survivors ever. “Miscarriage of justice” apparently. Whenever an acquittal of rape hits the headlines, or a case that never reaches trial, many of these same people don’t acknowledge that miscarriages of justice exist; he hasn’t been proven guilty in a court of law, they say, therefore he must be innocent (and by extension, the accuser must be lying) – this, despite the current shockingly poor conviction rate that so often discourages survivors from coming forward in the first place. So it’s telling that, when a guilty verdict happens, the world suddenly notices that the legal system is flawed. There’s a support website with the aim of clearing Evans’ name. “Judge for yourself” it implores, invoking the usual tropes about women generally and rape survivors in particular being irrational, liars or just plain wrong.

Proven guilty – but that didn’t stop people harassing the survivor. Accusing her of lying for money and attention, although in reality there’s no money coming from anywhere and the woman is anonymous; in fact, it’s those who accuse her of lying for attention that have tried to reveal her identity, to give her the attention she doesn’t actually want so they can use it against her. The sadly commonplace victim-blaming; she should take responsibility for being drunk (note that she feared her drink had been spiked), she shouldn’t have been alone at night, she shouldn’t feel entitled to exist whilst female in a public space, the works. The threats – some explicit, some more subtle about speaking out against a convicted rapist having “repercussions they could regret”. This woman – the victim of the crime, not the perpetrator – was eventually pushed to flee the country and change her identity.

Evans, having been found guilty, was sentenced to five years; last month he was released from prison after half of that sentence. Just to reiterate: Two and a half years, for rape. Apparently, he’s “learned his lesson” and so deserves to walk straight back into his professional football career. How someone can maintain their innocence and at the same time claim to have learned their lesson is beyond me. He’s apologised… but only to his girlfriend, for cheating on her. He has yet to apologise to the woman he raped (express language I still find difficult to use because, despite being convicted in court, the media continue to use words like “alleged” and “claimed” and put details of the crime in quotation marks), who in contrast has to spend the rest of her life living with the consequences of somebody else’s actions against her; not only the trauma of the rape itself, but the effects of the harassment and victim-blaming that followed.

Those constantly silenced by the manipulation of innocent-until-proven-guilty to defend accused rapists have found themselves having to carry out the same level of campaigning even when the situation involves a convicted rapist. Or, according to the rape apologists, “looking for attention”. Yes, we do want people to pay attention to us, because frankly the whole situation is just awful – others, on the other hand, would prefer this to just blow over, like so many other “isolated incidents” of sexual violence before it, because otherwise we’d have to start challenging current gender politics and we don’t want that, do we? There are claims – making national headlines – that Evans, the convicted rapist, is a “victim of feminists”. Let’s not forget that this isn’t some hypothetical debate, but a real incident of violent crime that happened, and Evans was the perpetrator, not the victim.

Today, Sheffield United indirectly referred to the change.org petition calling for the club to drop Evans as “mob justice”, despite taking no action whatsoever, not even so much as a statement, when a section of their fans harassed a rape survivor who dared speak out, revealed her identity online, and continue to send online abuse to anyone supporting her. But an online petition calling for a legally proven crime to be taken seriously? That’s mob justice. A letter to a local newspaper, published as the “Star Letter”, reduced this petition to “supporters of other clubs who have ‘clicked a mouse’ against him, not once but many times”. I’ll ignore the fact that you need to enter your details and an e-mail address to sign the petition and instead focus on this: THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOUR FOOTBALL RIVALRIES. This is a pattern I’ve also noticed with the recent high-profile incidents of racial abuse; many fans decide who is and isn’t blameworthy in a way that conveniently has positive consequences for teams they like, and negative consequences for teams they don’t. It’s why my brother thinks the racial slurs by Luis Suarez were just blown out of proportion but John Terry deserved everything he got, whereas my dad thinks exactly the opposite. The oppressions behind the incidents – the very real, very damaging oppressions – are ignored entirely.

There are also claims that preventing Evans from return to his high-profile role, in which he and his colleagues are seen as role models by many, is the same as preventing him from integrating into society. Not so. Football is just one job. You wouldn’t re-employ a teacher, or a doctor, after being found guilty of rape, and besides, the media have happily called for the sacking of employees for much much less, and even for the deportation of immigrants they accuse of committing much lesser crimes; with Evans being white, male and famous, though, we are instead being asked to offer him a second chance even when he has been convicted of his crime.

It’s also worth noting at this point that being prevented from integrating into society is actually what’s happened to the woman who reported the crime against her, but I suppose her welfare won’t affect the League One table so maybe that’s why people don’t seem to care as much.

So, it looks increasingly likely that Ched Evans, found guilty of rape, will make a return to football. There are already terrace chants referring to the rape, mocking it, mocking the survivor. Aside from that, the focus will probably return to his actions on the pitch, his rape conviction will fade from the public eye, and the world will forget.

Imagine being the victim of sexual violence at the hands of a perpetrator who happened to be famous, reading the newspapers, knowing how these events have played out. Would you still report your rape? I highly doubt I would.

And this is what happens when the person accused of rape is proven guilty. Because these people aren’t really interested in innocent-until-proven-guilty at all, unless it suits their rape apologism.


“But won’t SOMEBODY think of the CHILDREN?!”

(TRIGGER WARNING: Mention of sexual abuse, including child abuse. This post may be NSFW [although text-only]. Also, I’m heterosexual and cis, so please feel free to let me know if I’ve messed up in any way with regard to people who aren’t!)

Earlier this week, I came across this great Vice.com article by Cliff Joannu on the massive need for sex education in the UK to acknowledge same-sex relationships. A few minutes later, I came across the comments on the Facebook post that directed me to it. And I started reading these comments. A word of advice – don’t.

Currently, in so many places, what passes for “sex and relationship education” is little more than the biology of penis-in-vagina sex and pregnancy, and if you’re lucky, contraception. Nothing about relationships, nothing about communication, nothing about consent, nothing about any aspects of sex other than PIV, and nothing at all about marginalised sexualities and/or gender identities. This is woefully inadequate. Yet, calls for any sort of improvement on this, however minor, are invariably met with similar responses: children and teenagers are apparently too young to understand, teaching children this stuff is somehow imposing opinions on them, it’s seen as something children aren’t supposed to be aware of, won’t SOMEBODY think of the CHILDREN?!?!

Firstly, in the context of the more explicit stages of sex education, when someone mentions “children” it’s likely that they mean teenagers or at least children who are nearing the end of primary education, not four-year-olds as the naysayers tend to wilfully misinterpret. Secondly, the existence of trans people, non-binary genders, and sexualities other than heterosexual is not up for debate, and definitely not just an opinion. Thirdly, those who claim we should not be teaching this stuff to children forget that we are already teaching this stuff to children.

With the state of media representation and what passes for SRE as it is, we’re teaching children that only straight cis people exist, and anyone else – and it’s likely that at least one person in that classroom is, or will grow up to be, in a marginalised group – is not only inherently bad, but totally alone in their experiences. Won’t somebody think of those children, or is it just the cis heterosexual ones that matter? It seems we’re happy to teach heteronormativity and cisnormativity; it’s only when someone suggests we start including everyone in SRE that people are suddenly up in arms about imposing particular views and children not being able to understand. Here’s a thought – the only reason children would currently find marginalised sexualities and gender identities confusing or inexplicable is because they’ve grown up in a world that systematically denies their existence.

Roughly the same argument can be applied to consent – we’re already living in a rape culture, we’re already teaching children these myths, victim-blaming tactics and total disregard for consent, but nobody complains about imposing these views on children at too young an age. Children who never learn about their inherent right to say no grow up into adults who don’t feel able to say no. Unfortunately, not only will many adults encounter sexual abuse in their lifetime, but some children already are, and they need to know – we all need to know – that what is happening to them is not okay, not “just normal”, and certainly not their fault.

“Thinking of the children” requires thinking of all children, not just a hypothetical class full of straight cis children who have somehow grown up without being informed by the current general bigotry of the world. Sex and relationship education – and I don’t just mean a quick biology lesson on where babies come from – is so, so important.

Otherwise, we’re just passing on these heteronormative, cisnormative, and patriarchal attitudes to sex and relationships by default.


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