Oh Dear, Dr Greer

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Perhaps the first serious, scholarly book I ever read for pleasure, rather than as part of a syllabus, was The Female Eunuch. I can’t remember now how I came across a copy or who recommended it to me, but I most certainly can remember the experience of reading it; I had never thought about my place in the world, my life choices as a woman or my body in those terms before. I had never thought there was another way of thinking about these things, to be honest, and I knew instantly that this book was dangerous in my small ‘c’ conservative, large ‘C’ Catholic home. I read it mainly in the library when I was at college or when I was alone in my room, and certainly never dared to leave a copy lying around the house where my parents might find it. Apart from its primary message of female liberation, I was struck by the tone of self-acceptance, of sisterly encouragement and the remarkable idea that we as women can be ‘good enough’ entirely on our own terms. As the kind of teenager who was crippled with shyness, hamstrung by feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and self-hatred, and who was sure she would never measure up to the standards of beauty displayed on TV and in magazines all around her, it was truly astonishing and empowering for me to read lines such as

“Status ought not to be measured by a woman’s ability to attract and snare a man.”

This book made me a feminist, without a doubt, but it also made me a kinder and more open-minded person too, I think; less likely to judge others by what passes for society’s standards relating to beauty, conduct, achievements or creativity, and more likely to seek out and listen to different and dissenting opinions from all sources.

Iconoclasm has always been one of Germaine Greer’s unique selling points, and of course a degree of this is necessary if any changes in society are ever to occur. For any change at all to happen, someone has to start by thinking the unthinkable, saying the previously unsayable and giving confident and articulate voice to unpopular opinions. Dr Greer has done this all her life, and while I have often disagreed with what she is saying, I have mostly admired her willingness to tackle difficult subjects. Over the years, it has been inspiring to hear her confident delivery of and navigation through problematic issues, particularly in a media world which hasn’t exactly been overburdened with eminent and articulate academic women. If I’ve ever previously thought that what she was saying was nonsense, well, so what? It would be a dull world if everyone cleaved to the same orthodoxy, wouldn’t it? And besides, where is the harm in listening to differing points of view? Surely that’s how we learn and progress?

But not this time. Not this time.

Speaking at the Hay literary festival this week, Dr Greer called for the lowering of punishment for rape, saying that it should be mostly viewed as “careless and insensitive” rather than as a violent crime. Warming to her theme, she said some rapes are just “lazy” and that the penalties for some rapes should be lowered. She suggested perhaps tattooing an ‘R’ on the hand, arm or cheek of rapists, and that community service would be an adequate and appropriate penalty. She also downplayed the trauma suffered by rape survivors, saying she doubted that the figures saying 70% of survivors suffer from PTSD are correct.

While it is worth bearing in mind that she was primarily speaking at the festival to promote her forthcoming book ‘On Rape’, and presumably believes that all publicity is good publicity, it is also likely that these views are included in the book itself. It is therefore almost certain that this conversation is a distillation of her real views, rather than just self-consciously controversial opinions dreamed up specifically to grab the headlines.
She is right, of course to start a discussion about how the current judicial system is failing when it comes to rape. Here are some 2017 England and Wales statistics illustrate the scale of the problem:

• 1 in 5 women aged 16 – 59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16
• Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police
• Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 rapes (of adults alone) every hour
• Only 5.7% of reported rape cases end in a conviction for the perpetrator
• Around 80% of murders in the UK result in convictions

However, I cannot fathom how she thinks that the way to fix this appalling state of affairs is to minimise the crime itself, and trivialise the experience of the survivors. Blurring the lines like this is dangerous. Rape is never about bad manners, laziness or insensitivity. Rape is always an assault against and invasion of the person, and by ‘the person’ I of course mean your body. Someone physically invading your space in the most intimate way possible without your consent is an attack on your physical autonomy, whether accompanied by physical violence or not, and is always, always an abuse of power. It is worth repeating at this point that rape is always about power, and frequently about humiliation, and never about desire or lust alone. Men rape essentially because they can. Because they are stronger and more powerful than the survivor, and feel entitled to exercise that power to take what they want, when they want it.

The one characteristic shared by all the laughably few convicted rapists in this country (and presumably everywhere else) is denial. While some degree of remorse, and acceptance of culpability is necessary for most other prisoners before they can be considered for parole, this does not seem to happen with rapists. They can seemingly return to the town where their crime was committed on completion of their sentence, still denying that a) it was rape b) it was them or c) both of the above. This being the case, how on earth does Dr Greer think her remarks will be received by these men? Warmly, I would guess, as they will surely add her incendiary opinions as evidence to justify their warped narrative of events by adding d) it was no big deal anyway, so why the big fuss? to what passes for their worldview.

Dr Greer is a noted academic, a world-famous writer and broadcaster, and probably one of the world’s most celebrated feminists. She does not and never has claimed to speak for all women, but her position of prominence carries with it real responsibility for her words, and their message, and I cannot believe that she does not understand this. What she has said this week is dangerous, disingenuous, damaging, divisive and disgraceful; if it has been said with one eye on the headlines, it is also desperate. I never did believe in bra burning – neither did she, to be fair – and certainly would never advocate book burning, but that charring smell I can now scent is the bonfire of her reputation. She has forfeited the right to be taken seriously as a commentator by voicing these crass, insensitive and wrong-headed opinions, and I will never give credence or respect to a word she utters or writes again.

Mundanus

Reading Time: 1 minute
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Teresa Durran

 

Just think of all those hours where

You weren’t ill, weren’t lost or heartbroken

Weren’t unhappy, weren’t distressed

Nor tortured with words, spoken or unspoken

 

When you were going about your business as usual.

Distractedly, maybe, bored, barely awake,

But not in pain, unhappy, feeling desperate

Or wracked with self-doubt, or shattered by heartbreak,

 

Or broken by yet another rejection.

Those are the hours your life is measured by,

They are the sum and totality of you.

The mundane is where we live and die

 

It is where drama, pain, trauma and love find us.

Sought out by their remorseless light

It is where we ready ourselves for them.

Use these hours wisely. They are not finite

Advent

Reading Time: 1 minute
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Teresa Durran 

 

The inky dark December sky outside is punctured

Holed by a luminous moon, cold and full and bright.

But inside, there are three candles and eleven tea lights burning

There is peace, there is warmth, there is complete quiet.

 

Shifting currents below the surface are heralding something good

An almost imperceptible sense of motion quivering the air;

I sense a faint scent, a trace of a taste on the edge of my tongue,

The aroma of hope. A hint of something stirring. Something’s there.

 

Tantalising. Something deeply hidden is turning over,

Slowly but steadily, like a flower bulb moving below ground

To reach cold winter light far above. Like a mediaeval coin

Long buried in a field, waiting for the right moment to be found.

 

Spring is distant but all is not lost.

Sunlight always overwhelms frost

Umbrae

Reading Time: 1 minute
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Teresa Durran 

You can’t run away from ghosts. They’re too sly for that.

They slip and slide after you, seeping through cracks

In your consciousness. That grey silence just before dawn

Where your fears rush in and create a gap?

That’s their favourite place. Their space.

 

Throw yourself into your work. Go on.

Add hours to your day, have a full calendar.

They don’t and won’t care. They’ll just stay,

Half formed, opaque, happy to delay

You have to pause for breath sometime, don’t you?

 

They know this. They know you better than you care to believe.

Paused between dream and day, between think and say

They’ll find you. At your lowest, they’ll remind you

Of all the memories and fears you thought

You’d so cleverly left behind you.

 

Try this. Welcome them in. Face them down.

Stop, and slowly turn to gaze directly in their eye.

Say ‘hi, come on then, I’m here, do your worst’.

Say ‘is that all you’ve got?’. Because it will be. Burst

the spectre of fear. It isn’t scary at all if you soak it with love

We Need to Talk About Libya

Reading Time: 3 minutes
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Teresa Durran

There were many more casualties resulting from the Twin Tower attacks than the 2,974 people who died in New York that day on 9/11. As well as those poor souls, there have been countless thousands killed in the resulting war on terror carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, and the fall out still continues, with victims continuing to be created in the wake of the chaos inflicted across the Middle East.

The latest iteration of this appeared in reports which came via CNN, who have recently published an investigation they have been carrying out in Libya following reports about slave auctions. Incredible as this is to believe in 2017, the evidence they have amassed looks pretty convincing. There are still thousands of people trying to reach the Mediterranean who cross Libya’s borders each year. This has contributed to the wave of boats trying to cross the Med, which is of itself a tragic tale of greed, need, prejudice and misery; figures complied on 24/10/17 show that more than 18,800 people had been intercepted so far this year, with over 111,000 successfully reaching Italy, the vast majority of whom travelled from Libya.

However, latterly Libyan coastguards (and militias) have been attempting to address this, and crossings have therefore dropped sharply since the summer. Nonetheless, migrants and refugees still continue to travel to Libya, which has led to a surplus of would-be passengers. People smuggling has become big business in the country, so the people behind it have done what any good capitalist would and diversified. If you believe people smuggling represents a good opportunity to make a profit, why would you baulk at extending this to slavery? What would be the difference to you between herding hundreds of people in a boat and sending them to an uncertain fate, and parading them as goods for sale at an auction?

Although the 1926 Slavery Convention was ratified by Libya in 1957, slave auctions have resurfaced there partially because of the instability caused by the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. He was undoubtedly a brutal dictator, but his overthrow highlighted the dangers of creating a power vacuum, and over half a decade later, Libya is no closer to being stable. Although there were no shortage of Western countries willing to get involved in air strikes under the auspices of NATO in 2011, there doesn’t seem to be a similar impulse to help deal with the fall out. As a result, Libya has effectively two governments operating out of Tobruk and Tripoli, a shattered economy and its own internal refugee problem. Small wonder that there seems to be little resource or will around in the country to deal with slave auctions.

CNN casting an international spotlight on this may bring about change; certainly, several countries seem to have been galvanized into action. One headline reads ‘Burkina Faso recalls ambassador to Libya over ‘slave markets’ report’ while another says ‘France pushes U.N. to impose sanctions over Libya migrant crisis’. However, Donald Trump’s war of words with CNN has proved a gift to the Libyan media; as he had repeatedly denounced the network as peddlers of ‘fake news’, the Libyan broadcaster Libya 218 has used trump’s tweets on the subject to doubt the veracity of the slave auction story, saying;

“Here the possibility arises that the channel has published the report of slavery in Libya to secure an as yet hidden political objective.”

What a mess. An ill thought out ‘war on terror’ initiated by the US post 9/11 brought, as widely predicted, greater instability to an already frighteningly unstable part of the world. The knock-on effect of this enabled NATO intervention in the Libyan civil war and the instability resulting from that and other nearby conflicts created the conditions for the slave auctions. And now their reporting may well be hobbled by the current US president, who is ignorant of, and entirely careless about, the effect of his words abroad. While he rides up and down in his golden elevator and continues his privileged life by other, more lucrative means, the tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free will just have to continue to yearn.

These Shoes Were Made For Kicking

Reading Time: 4 minutes
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Teresa Durran

This is what perhaps would have once been characterised as a ‘summer story’. An irate mother, annoyed with the ludicrous names attached to some of the ranges of boys’ and girls’ shoes in Clarks, vented her feelings on social media and the story was picked up by the media and went viral. Plenty of politicians agreed, with Nicola Sturgeon and Sarah Ludford tweeting on the issue, and even Jacob Rees Mogg weighing in to say that calling girls’ shoes ‘Dolly Babe’ is ‘just really silly’. The retailer has been accused of ‘everyday sexism’ for calling one of range of new girls’ shoes this name, while the boys’ equivalent is called ‘Leader.’ The story was then linked back to an item from last year, when another mother complained about the poor choice and flimsiness of shoes available for her daughter in Clarks, when compared to the sturdy and practical equivalent available for boys in the same shop.
This story is being misrepresented in some quarters as being a big fuss over nothing; a load of women (middle class and privileged, no doubt,) with nothing better to do getting annoyed because there are different shoes available for boys and girls. This isn’t the issue, and I’m not sure if the misrepresentation is just lazy thinking or mischievous reporting. Or deliberately baiting of feminists, which is a popular pastime in some circles. Or possibly all three; a Venn diagram of lazy thinkers, feminist baiters and mischievous journalists would, in fact, just be a circle. A circle of jerks. A jerkle.
Anyway. There are two issues at play here

• What sort of message is intended by calling girls’ shoes things like ‘Dolly Babe’ while boys’ shoes are called ‘Leader’? If no message is actually intended, why choose these particular names?

• Why are girls’ shoes flimsy and impractical, while boys’ shoes are tough and hardwearing?
You might also wonder

• When the fuck did childrens’ shoes having a name become a thing? And

• How will Clarks ever recover from the reputational damage of being called ‘really silly’ by Jacob Rees Mogg?
The first is, I believe, unconscious sexism. I bet whoever thought of these names doesn’t actually believe that girls should be encouraged to grow up thinking their prime function in life is to be cute and decorative, while boys should be taught to see themselves as bold trailblazers. But that’s the stereotype they are reinforcing, unconsciously or not, and it really wouldn’t hurt to think a little harder when coming up with this sort of spurious marketing bullshit. If it has to be a thing at all. If you don’t see what I mean, imagine how absurd it would be if this nonsensical nomenclature were to be reversed. How would it be if boys’ shoes were called ‘Cute Rascal’ while girls’ shoes were called ‘Boudica’? Let’s either call all childrens’ shoes cutsie names, or none of them.
The second is just as dumb. Girls are every bit as active as boys – this was true hundreds of years ago when I was small, and I can’t imagine much has changed in the intervening centuries. They like to run and skip and chase and play football and climb trees and play on swings and whoop and shout and make noise and have noisy, mucky outdoor fun, much the same as boys do. (OK, so I never was a small boy, but I did have the privilege of observing one at very close quarters, which included buying him shoes). Why don’t the shoes sold for girls allow for this? Or even keep their feet warm? It doesn’t seem a lot to ask in a shoe…
Of course, some girls like flimsy, impractical shoes. Some of us never grow out of that phase, and no one is saying they (we) shouldn’t be allowed to make that choice. Leaving aside how much of this may or may not be down to societal conditioning (fecking insidious patriarchy), the shoes should still be fit for purpose. If I can buy hardwearing, practical shoes which are still pretty (and I can), why can’t the average 9-year-old girl? Mind you, if they were called anything approaching ‘Dolly Babe’, I’d likely vomit copiously and continuously before throwing them through the shop window, rather than buy them…
When a story like this breaks, at some point someone will inevitably say ‘aren’t there more important things in the world to be worrying about?’ ‘haven’t these women heard of Syria?’ or words to that effect. As if we can only be concerned with one thing at a time, in some ordered and sanctioned linear way. As if the ‘small’ things don’t matter, and we have to wait for concerns to reach some preordained critical mass before we are allowed to get exercised by them. As if there is some kind of central committee which carefully considers all issues, then creates a timetable of when it is appropriate for each one to be addressed. Well, of course there are bigger things wrong with the world which need fixing, but that doesn’t mean that petty irritations like this are given a free pass. Perhaps if we paid more attention to the little issues, there would be fewer big issues. Big problems generally don’t spring fully formed into an unsuspecting world. Look where refusing to take Nigel Farage and Donald Trump seriously has got us, for example.
Nice shoes for kids which let them play and don’t burden them with outdated adult stereotypes. And an end the intolerance and hatred which is fuelling the rise of neo Nazi organisations on both sides of the Atlantic. There, see? I can write about one while being prepared to take to the streets to combat the other. Easy.

GE2017: Kick Out The Tories

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Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

On this Pre-Election special, we’ll have Derek Stewart Macpherson with the first part of his Spin Cycle series, John McHarg talking about voter choice, Richie Venton on the choices socialists are facing in this election, and we’ll be hearing from Nick Durie about how this election proves the YES parties have failed to integrate movementism into their political practice.

Victoria Pearson will be reading her poem Another Revolting Peasant, Amber Heathers will be talking about an election in an age of uncertainty, and Chuck Hamilton will be giving us an American perspective on the UK election.

We’ll have a magical poem called Invocation from Steve McAuliffe, Debra Torrance will be talking politics and football, Fuad Alakbarov will be talking about the election and ex Derry British Army Commander Eric Joyce will be talking about Corbyn, the IRA, Martin Mcguiness, Trident and Iraq.

Red Raiph will be talking GE2017, Teresa Durran will be on newswatch, and we’ll have  Sandra Webster discussing dystopian sci-fi and the elections.

With music from Mark Little, Joe Bone & The Dark Vibes, Captain Ska, Robb Johnson, Joe Solo, Deux Furieuses, Derek Stewart Macpherson and Zoe Macpherson, Husky Tones, Argonaut, Kes’s Conscience, Madame So, Dream Nails, and The Wakes.

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Teresa Durran

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Teresa Durran

Teresa’s life is built on the four cornerstones of politics, music, cricket and cake.

Being the daughter of immigrants has entirely informed her world and political view, and she has consequently always instinctively rooted (and occasionally fought) for the underdog, the outsider and the ‘other’. She is left leaning but non party political, and is waiting in hope for the devastatingly effective coalition which will be needed to make Brexit go away.

Having spent far too many years paralysed with existential angst, her approach to life is now pretty much head on. Being late to the discovery that embracing your fears makes you stronger she doesn’t intend to waste too much more time, and is now a new age explorer, a middle aged hippy and plans to be an old aged traveler.

She thinks, writes and stares into space a lot and if she hasn’t got her head in a laptop or a book, can often be found on a yoga mat. She is always lost in music.

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