Monday, March 08, 2004

Joey, we hardly knew you

Shock, horror! Joey Ramone has come out as a supporter of Bush. Joey has apparently repented for his life of rock & roll excess, and is now anti-abortion, anti-welfare, anti-choice.

‘These aren’t issues, they’re life’ – Nandita Das, Capitalwoman 2004

Saturday saw the fourth annual Capitalwoman conference in London. The first event attracted some 400 women: 4000 registered this year. I was surprised and pleased to see a huge variety of women: a lot of over 50s, many black and Asian women, but few young women (hey, if we’re going to argue that feminism isn’t dead and that the third wave is alive in England, we need to show our faces). The atmosphere was upbeat, electric, one of excitement and anticipation. In the morning we were addressed by a variety of speakers including journalist Polly Toynbee, Diane Abbott MP, Solicitor General Harriet Harman, Deputy Mayor Jenny Jones, Nandita Das and Red Ken himself. They spoke on topics ranging from the pay gap (yep, it’s still there, and it’s not going away by itself), to Britain’s appalling childcare policy, domestic violence and safety on the streets and in the parks. I was moved by Diane Abbott’s statement that ‘this country was built on the labour of economic migrants’, as this is something close to my heart. My parents came to Britain for freedom and a better life: how could I begrudge anyone else that right?

After lunch there were a variety of seminars. I attended the one on domestic violence. It was packed out, women crowding the aisles, sitting or standing wherever there was space. I got there early and took a seat near the back; a few minutes later a man sat down next to me. He was scruffy and smelled, and he took out a notebook. Ok, I thought, probably a journalist (can’t have all those women in one place for a whole day without a man monitoring it, now can we? Heaven knows what they’d get up to!). As the speakers introduced themselves and began to outline the work they were doing, Mr Smelly began to twitch. He was rolling his eyes, muttering, snorting and tutting. I gave him what I hoped was a fierce ‘shut the fuck up’ stare, and he was quiet for a little while. As one of the speakers addressed domestic violence in relation to disabled women, she stated that in 1994 she was commissioned to write a booklet on this subject. To her knowledge, none had been written before, or since. ‘What about disabled men?’ yelled Mr Smelly. Ok, what about them? This is a conference on women. If he is an advocate of disabled men’s rights, great. What is he doing about their experience of domestic violence? (This moment brought to mind an excellent article on the f-word website. If you read one thing on the web this week, please read this.) He was ignored. The talk continued. I very rarely feel physically sick in a non-drunk situation, but at this seminar I did. I realised I was in the presence of a noxious misogynist, someone whose only reason for attending a positive, proactive conference was to disrupt it. It’s not like the talk was titled ‘Bulldozing the Patriarchy: Men Out Now!!!’ (that was at 3.30. Kidding!). It was about stopping women being beaten and killed by their partners. How can you possibly take exception to that? During the Q&A session I thought Mr Smelly was going to combust: his hand was in the air, he had a question to ask. So did twenty other people, and only about five of them got to speak. But he was clearly being discriminated against. ‘What about a question from a man – but I guess you wouldn’t understand that!’ he yelled. Huh? Seeing as the panellists were highly educated, articulate women, I think they could grasp the concept of both ‘man’ and ‘question from’ pretty well, and put them together to form a thought. He got a few funny looks, but was, again, ignored. After the seminar was over, I went home. I felt confused and angry. If there are men out there who object to measures to stop domestic violence, what hope in hell do women have of being given anything easily? If there are men out there who still feel that a man has a right to hit his wife (after all, she must have provoked him), what hope do we have of equal rights in the workplace and abortion on demand?

On Friday an alarming statistic came to light. 1 in 4 women will be victims of domestic violence during their lifetime. Also, two women a week are murdered by their partners. You’d think this would be front-page news, right? I mean, this is news, isn’t it? Wrong. It was tucked away on page 25 of the Evening Standard, presumably so as not to upset people. I am baffled by this. If new research had shown that 1 in 4 schoolchildren experienced violence at school, or 1 in 4 pets was beaten, there would be a national outcry. So why isn’t there? Part of me believes that people just find the whole subject of domestic violence uncomfortable, and would prefer to ignore it: if it’s not happening to me, or if I’m not battering my partner, then there’s nothing more I can do. Domestic violence is still seen as ‘one of those things’, a ‘fact of life’.

Amnesty International has launched a new campaign to stop domestic violence. One of the spokespeople is Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart, whose father beat his mother. He said ‘I saw the self-loathing of my father, due to his inability to control his violent outbursts. I saw society, police, doctors and neighbours conspire to hide the abuse with comments like “She must have provoked him” and “It takes two to make an argument”. Violence must be controlled. If you fail to raise your hand in protest, you are part of the problem.’

Today is international Women’s Day.

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