Thursday, February 08, 2007

How do you solve a problem like McEwan?

There was a lot of interest in the feminist blogosphere when Amanda Marcotte from Pandagon and Melissa McEwan of Shakespeare's Sister (I mean, of course, the blog rather than the early 90s band) were hired by John Edwards to blog for his campaign. Not any more.

They been accused of having an anti-Catholic bias for criticising the Vatican's stance on contraception and abortion, and at the time of going to press, it appears that the campaign manager has given in and fired them - for the time being, at least. Now, two things bother me about this. The first is that these views were not expressed in the context of the Edwards campaign, they were expressed on their blogs. The second is that these women are working for a Democratic candidate, so their pro-choice views shouldn't exactly come as a surprise. The Washington Post cites Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights But Only if They Look and Act Just Like Us as taking issue with the fact that "they criticized the pope and the church for its opposition to homosexuality, abortion and contraception, sometimes using profanity." They're left-wing feminist bloggers. Donohue doesn't really have a problem with the language, he doesn't really have a problem with the fact that these women are expressing their views in their own personal blogs, he has a problem with the fact that politicians take them - take us - seriously. And that scares the hell out of him.

Captain's Quarters suggests that this is a blow for all bloggers who want to be taken seriously in the public domain, whilst simultaneously taking the opportunity to bash Edwards - "The episode reveals the lack of vetting done by the Edwards campaign before hiring the two bloggers, and sets back the ability of bloggers to mainstream themselves into traditional political roles." I have numerous problems with this, not least that both Marcotte and McEwan have never made any bones about their pro-choice views or the fact that they use strong language to get their point across. Even the most casual vetting job would have revealed this, and whilst I have reservations about the management of Edwards' campaign so far, I don't think his staffers are stupid. The very fact that he hired M&M shows his committment to grassroots Democrats, to women's rights, and to what the GOP would sneerigly call 'the gay agenda'. That's the problem here, not the alleged blasphemy from his bloggers. Abortion and contraception are being put on the agenda, and they're being taken seriously. And if the Christian Right are prepared to fight dirty - and when have they ever done anything else, with their placard-waving protests outside abortion clinics? - well, so are their opposition.

And we are their opposition. I'm saying that, not as a Democrat or an Edwards supporter or as someone eligable to vote in the US, since I'm none of those things. I'm saying it as one of the voices that Donohoe and his cronies are trying to suppress. Despite what the blogger at Captain's Quarters might think, Marcotte & McEwan have mainstreamed themselves into traditional political roles, partly because the views they expressed may have been tough-talkin', but they weren't all that radical. Contentious, yes, but radical? The Democrats are a party of choice far more than the Republicans will ever be, and feminists have been demanding safe, legal abortion and accessible contraception for an entire century, if not longer.

This isn't an outcry over the bloggers Edwards hired, it's about the views he represents. And whilst I think that taking such an unequivocal stance will actually hurt him politically, I applaud the fact that he's done it. I sincerely hope that both bloggers - two good, principled writers - are reinstated, and that an apology is made to them for screwing them around. Because mainstream politics needs women like Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, and whatever their future on the Edwards campaign may be, they're sure as hell not going away.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

'Was she asking for it? Was she asking nice?' (Hole)

“While the rise in the number of rape complaints does not necessarily prove that the situation is worsening, the decline in the rate of convictions has been unequivocal and worrying.”

- The Rape Action Plan, The Home Office, 2002

The latest statistics in the UK suggest that, whilst more women are reporting rape than ever before, convictions are at a relative all-time low. In four years, convictions have dropped from 6.57% to 5.31%. A report suggests that at least a third of cases dropped should have been pursued, and that 25% were dropped because the woman “withdrew her complaint”. This was the overall result – police response varied dramatically (and unacceptably) depending on the area. Dropping the allegations doesn’t mean that a crime didn’t take place, it means that the victim was disheartened by a procedure that meant reliving her attack, or that she was coerced into doing so by police officers who believed that she was either lying or didn’t have enough of a case.

Incidents where the victim was intoxicated are, with depressing inevitability, among those that never get prosecuted because police do not believe that unconsensual sex took place. These are marked down as ‘no crime committed’, a clear breach of Home Office guidelines that states that this should only be the case if there is “verifiable information that no crime was committed” rather than an officer’s personal view. Second opinions, which should be automatic, are not sought, and first response officers are frequently badly trained. The medical aspect of rape investigations was also considered to be unacceptable – poor examinations and lost data created another stumbling block in seeking prosecution.

The Guardian cites the report as suggesting that “The failures not only inflated police perceptions of the scale of false allegations, but led to a loss of information about perpetrators and risked undermining the victim's credibility if she made a later report of rape”.

There may be hope on the way, though. By the end of 2008, Joan Ryan of the Home Office (a self-described feminist who has some fabulous things to say about politics and sexism in Women in Parliament: The New Suffragettes) has pledged to increase the number of sexual assault referral centres from the current 15 to 40, with an extra £1 million in funding.

If only governments were so supportive worldwide. In the US, South Dakota’s reintroduced ban on abortion has been modified oh-so-generously to exclude rape victims and victims incest (rape and incest are, according to South Dakota, not the same thing), as well as for the health of the woman. Jen’s post about this is far more coherent than I could hope to be right now, given the fact that I’m choking with anger, so you should go and read that, but the gist of the rape exceptions are that you must have reported your rape within 50 days, it must be have been confirmed by a doctor, and you must agree for blood to be taken from the foetus and used as DNA evidence by the police.

The anti-woman backlash has been predictably depressing. I’m sick to death of hearing that a woman being raped whilst drunk or dressing “provocatively” is the same as someone being mugged whilst walking down the street holding a wad of cash in his hand (and it’s always his, since women apparently don’t have independent finances to be reckless with). There is no such thing as an invitation to rape. How is having a few too many somehow a flashing sign saying ‘you can do what you want to me’? And not all women dress for male attention – even when they do, they want the attention on their terms, not those of some sleazy perv who can’t take no for an answer.

But hey – if the Japanese Health Minister is to be believed, we’re all just baby-making factories anyway.

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