Archive for May, 2011

  • Student movement or stagnant movement? My problems with the NUS Black Student’s campaign

    Politics aside, I was really looking forward to getting involved in the black student’s campaign this year.  However, after attending the campaign’s annual summer conference, I have some serious reservations.

    My suspicions began when I looked at the conference’s final motions and amendments document. I thought the steering committee were supposed to be impartial, but any motions submitted that criticised the structure of the campaign had been scrapped altogether or had been warped beyond recognition. I can only imagine this happened at compositing- a meeting at NUS HQ that motion proposers had to attend to put forward the case for keeping their proposals. The problem was, not everyone could go, thanks to money or travel issues.

    One motion in particular that stood out was entitled ‘winter conference is too cold’. The motion resolved to do away with the campaigns annual winter conference and replace it with regional activist training days. In the final motions and amendments this had been merged into a motion named ‘winter conference is amazing’. Training days were only mentioned in the final resolution, cleverly phrased so that no delegate could take parts and attempt to scrap winter conference at all.

    Clearly, there are political elements to the black students campaign’s steering committee. Members of the committee were clearly politically affiliated to candidates running in the election. I later discovered that Pav Ahktar, chair of steering, was black student’s officer from 2004 to 2006, and had graduated a very long time ago.

    Pav’s political affiliations were confirmed in the election for next year’s steering committee, in which he recommded that delegates should also vote for Bellavia Riberio-Addy, who incidentally, is also a former black students officer . Personally, I object to two former black students’ officers running to be elected on to the steering committee as I don’t believe they can be impartial after being involved in the campaign for such a long time .

    I believe the student movement is transient by nature, and for that reason, should always be kept regenerated, fresh and new. I didn’t see that in this campaign. I saw students and graduates who had been involved for 5 to 10 years moving from post to post. I think this suspicious, and indicative of a select few who  obviously do not want to let go.  It is a phenomenon that strangling progress and putting off new delegates.

    My dissatisfaction came to a head when I decided to run for women’s representative on the black student’s committe. Standing orders (the same standing orders I had read on NUS Connect and in my delegate pack) dictated that there were two open places available. This is why I ran.

    When we entered the room we had to wait 45 minutes because one candidate (who has been on the black student’s committee for 7 years) insisted that one place should be reserved for further education candidates only.

    Upon consulting steering, the room was informed that a place should be reserved for further education, that this had been forgotten on the standing orders, and that we had the opportunity to take it to a vote.

    Now, I agree with this proposal in principle, but in the context of the women’s caucus I thought it was an absolute farce. The candidate who ran for further education women’s place was Rebecca Sawbridge, who has comfortably sat on various positions on black student’s committee for seven years. Conveniently she was the only further education candidate in this election. In this election, I saw a committee member (who had already enjoyed too much time sitting at the table) reserving herself a place on the committee for another year. I was outraged.

    With the same people maxing their term limits and moving from post to post to post, year after year after year, I believe that the black student’s campaign is stagnant. This is a case of the same people, with the same ideas, same politics, and ultimately, the same cliques. First time delegates who are keen to get involved are shafted by old timers using their political persuasion to fix things and create certain wins for themselves. When we are welcoming delegates to their eight year on committee, something is seriously wrong. In all honestly, I think some campaign and steering committee members think they are the black student’s campaign, as if it could not survive without them.  The democracy is warped, and the movement is going nowhere.

    I also object to the way the motions are set out in the black students campaign. Delegates must vote on four main motions with a series of amendments after each one- forcing delegates to accept the a main motion whether they like its content or not.

    I think committee members should accept criticism gracefully. The campaign needs progress and reform.  When new delegates are unsatisfied,  it’s not helpful to brand us ‘right wing’ just because you don’t like constructive criticism. I do believe the black students campaign is in the stranglehold of a select few individuals who are hanging on to the campaign like a comfort blanket. Ultimately, this results black activists who are being shunned, and black students who are being failed.

  • Abstinence based sex education is a dangerous message

    I’ve written for The Guardian’s comment is free about Nadine Dorries and her victim blaming on yesterday’s Vanessa Show.

    Tucked away on daytime TV on Monday afternoon, Nadine Dorries was justifying her proposals for elements of abstinence-based sex education for girls. The Vanessa Show saw the Conservative MP go head to head with Julie Bentley, chief executive of the sexual health charity FPA. The women, along with presenter Vanessa Feltz and retired rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio, discussed the bill that was unveiled to the House of Commons two weeks ago.

    When it was first introduced, Dorries insisted her aim was to empower teenage girls to say “no” to sex. There is really nothing empowering about teaching young women that their sexuality is not their own. Abstinence-based sex education teaches girls that sex isn’t something that they participate in – instead, it’s something they give in to. Towards the end of the debate, Dorries said:

    “A lot of girls, when sex abuse takes place, don’t realise until later that that was a wrong thing to do … Society is so over-sexualised that I don’t think people realise that if we did empower this message into girls, imbued this message in schools, we’d probably have less sex abuse.”

    Read the rest here!

  • In defence of slutwalks

    “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.”

    These were the words uttered by a Toronto police representative in January, talking a group of students at a campus safety information session. He’s not the first. In 2009, androgynous pop singer La Roux said: ‘There’s far more ways to be sexy than to dress in a miniskirt and a tank top … I think you attract a certain kind of man by dressing like that. Women wonder why they get beaten up, or have relationships with arsehole men. Because you attracted one, you twat.”

    I can’t be the only twenty one year old woman who is no stranger to these warped opinions. The stance is deeply rooted in the notion that a woman’s body is some kind of public property that must be owned (not by the woman herself, mind) and protected by those who seek to steal or defile it. It’s an almost ingrained attitude that finds itself wheedling into every crevice of our culture- for example, many women who experience street harassment find telling the pursuer that she has a boyfriend is an effective deterrent- ‘thanks for the attention, but I’m already owned by somebody else’.

    Arguments that attempt to justify victim blaming often (if not always) equate women’s bodies to property, money, or food. All of these things are less than human. Women are none of those things. Victim blaming absolves those who sexually harass, assault, and rape of all responsibility, shifting the focus to the person they did it to. Additionally, it paints men as uncontrollable sex beasts who are lead entirely by their insatiable penises, devoid of morals, logic, and empathy. In short, victim blaming undermines us all.

    False debate about women’s clothing is definitive of rape culture. It excuses abusers for the crimes they commit. Maybe we should stop asking women if our clothes make us more susceptible to sexual assault, and stop letting abusers off the hook.

    Women’s bodies are dragged out into the public sphere over and over again. Right wing extremists attempt to legislate subjective sexual morality amongst the echelons of power, from Nadine Dorries in the UK to republicans in the United States. Whilst these people make decisions about how we should conduct our bodies, we are being dissected.

    Nobody ever claimed that the slutwalk movement celebrates promiscuity in women. But even if it did- so what? For hundreds of years, woman’s virtue has been inexplicably linked with chastity. We are constantly being defined by what we don’t do. The virgin/whore dichotomy is nothing new. We live in a time when Tory MPs are sitting in parliament pushing regressive abstinence agendas that teach young women that sex isn’t something you participate in, it’s something that you give up. The hand wringing hysteria over assertive female sexuality sexual autonomy is both extremely archaic and very much alive.

    All of this is why I welcome the slutwalk movement with open arms.

    The movement’s website states: ‘With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed. Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim.’

    Basic feminism 101. So why the backlash? It seems the name of the movement has caused confusion- some more methodical than others. I used to respect the anti-pornography campaigner Gail Dines, but her problem with feminist activists organising without her permission is unnerving. I admit, I must have missed the memo that confirmed she was crowned Queen of Feminism, because her approach to the debate appears to be very much her way, or the highway. Gail, along with professor of sexual violence Wendy J Murphy, have voiced strong opposition to the idea of slutwalks, asserting that women should not be fighting for the right to be called sluts. Whilst I sympathise with their  reservations about the word, but I just can’t agree with the way they have let their concerns hijack the very real issue of victim blaming. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the misinterpretation of the cause and the consequent Guardian article condemning the march has single handedly begun the avalanche of misinformed debate that is obscuring the original cause of the march. As for Gail’s continued worry that concentrating on slutwalks will deplete precious feminist resources- I’m confused. I didn’t realise every feminist activist ran out of feminist energy at the end of every month. Should we be calling Dines for a top up?

    Yes, the word slut is a contentious and derogatory term, with its conception mired in slut shaming and victim blaming. However, I can’t help wonder if Gail Dines and Wendy Murphy are wilfully missing the point. Surely the name of the march is a direct response to the policeman’s comment. Why are they choosing to ignore this? With a mainstream culture that rarely challenges victim blaming, I’m not sure if we should be trying to pick apart a genuinely well-meaning movement in its infancy.

    The subsequent backlash over reclaiming the word slut doesn’t just shove the original cause to the margins, it is also incredibly indicative of a repetitive cultural hysteria over women’s sexual autonomy. What does promiscuity mean anyway? In this context it seems to be that age old outrage about women enjoying and even pursuing (!) sex- otherwise known as slut shaming. I doubt these links are a coincidence.

    I’ve no inclination to reclaim the word slut, but I do believe that we should start shouting about how the word is consistently used to shame and blame women. That’s why I’ll be going on the march, and you should too.