Guest Post: The Cost of Ignorance—How to Shop Ethically.

I personally have been making the change over the past couple of months, after ruminating on it for a year or so, to minimising waste and making sure the products I do use are ethical and animal cruelty-free (pro human rights merchandise is next on my agenda). I’m gradually ditching all my health and beauty products in favour of those from Lush, Natio, The Body Shop and (would you believe it?!) Bonne Belle. I’ve stopped using the household cleaning products of yore and switched to local ethical meat instead of the crap you get at the supermarket from who knows where. (I like meat too much to become vegetarian.) I think of myself as an ecotarian, but granted, it is hard to come to the realisation that pretty much everything you use or own has an unethical footprint. It’s also hard sharing a house with someone who doesn’t necessarily care about minimising waste or supporting ethical brands: cheap is best.

So when my friend Tess asked if she could publish something along these things on my blog, I jumped at the chance to have someone who certainly knows a lot more about being an ethical consumer than I do espouse her tips on how to become more aware of exactly what we’re buying.

I was borne of the consumer age and while my somewhat unconventional upbringing shielded me for a time from the alluring pull of capitalism, eventually and inevitably, as a person living in the western world, I am no longer immune. Modernity has yielded a bountiful array of things to consume, and even the strictest and most disciplined ideologist would struggle in this world to avoid all of the negative consequences of this reality.

Most of us feel the pressure of consumerism in one way or another: when we find out our new smart phone is no longer new, but is now an out dated model. Or when we realise our favourite sensible shoes are daggy and don’t go with any of the newest fashions. Or when we notice that people have the seen the same dress at many parties and always with the same boots. The pressure of consumerism comes in many shades: sometimes shame, or guilt, insecurity, embarrassment and sometimes depression, anxiety or even boredom. It can also be fun; most of us love a good shop. Like finding a dress that fits perfectly and looks fantastic, the satisfying weight of shopping bags when you’ve found not one, but two, or three brand new outfits to add to the wardrobe. Or a new book from a favourite author, a new CD, a new TV; the list goes on and on.

Unfortunately, we also know that these things have a price; I am not just talking about the cost of purchase, of which the modern consumer is all too aware. I am talking about the ethical price. The social cost, the environmental damage. These things that loom about in our subconscious and not so sub-self-consciousness, the guilt we usually hide from, reject or ignore, the cost we do not know how to escape.

In first world societies, we can no longer truly separate want from need. If the world as we know it were to end tomorrow, I think most of us are smart enough to realise that what we really can’t live without are things like clean water, shelter, food, medicine and security. Of course, intellectually we realise that we do not need cosmetics, new clothes, or an iPad to survive. But try existing in the modern western world without these things. Without performing some sort of Into the Wild nomadic withdrawal and going to live in a tree house in the forest somewhere it is virtually impossible to escape modernity and therefore consumerism. You can take a stand, and try to avoid all things that are unethical or unnecessary. You can shop in op shops, recycle, dumpster-dive, buy soy candles and refuse to participate in the consumerism “machine”. But once you start looking for unethical things to avoid, you begin to realise the true depth of the problem. Food, shampoo, deodorant, clothes, cars, trains, books, electronics, ceramics, magazines, cosmetics, musical instruments, CDs, beds, linens, water bottles, plastic bags… Almost anything that you can buy, unless you are purchasing it from a 100% handcrafted local store where you can see every step of the production, is likely to be infected with something unethical. Something that you could not stand to watch happen, let alone fund with your own money if you had known, or had a choice, has occurred at some stage of the production process of almost everything that we own or buy. Even if you miraculously never ever buy another product again and make all of you own food, clothes and medicine from home grown produce, if you wish to have a job, or go to school, or visit any building, anywhere, you are going to be participating in an institution that purchases or produces things that are tainted with unethical practice. Slavery, animal cruelty, environmental massacres, toxic waste, child labour and pollution are commonplace in the consumerist world. As a general rule, the bigger the company, the more likely they have survived and succeeded by participating in these types of practices, and many more things that thankfully elude my imagination.

Thinking of the cost, the real unseen but heavily weighted price of many things that we who were born into and borne of the consumer age, simply cannot avoid, it is so easy and so natural to want to turn a blind eye, to turn away from the depressing and unappealing truth of consumption. Ignorance is blissful. But it is not helpful.

If you want to be helpful, modernity thankfully has produced some pretty amazing things as well. There are many small, simple things, that you can do locally which can have amazingly huge impacts globally. Things that take very little time, very little effort, and very little sacrifice on your behalf.

1. Download & Install the Ethical Shoppers Guide.

It cost $4.99 and your money gets you a cool little app and endorses a great non for profit cause, helping them widen their impact and lobby companies to improve their ethical practice.

When we spend money we don’t just purchase a product, we endorse the company that produces the item and we encourage their behaviour. When you hit the supermarket (hopefully remembering to bring your reusable green bags—I like the ones that fold down and fit into my every day bag so I don’t forget them) take your phone, and for the first few shops allow about half an hour extra time to look up all of the products you are buying.

The products on the app are rated with a green tick/red cross coded system. There are levels of ethical endorsement and there are also products which do not have much information. To begin with, aim for no red products and definitely no boycotted products. You can click on the information icon to find out what practices have earned the product its rating (i.e. animal testing, human rights abuses/environmental abuses). This means you can also choose to stop endorsing issues that matter to you personally.

At first it will be a little bit tricky. For example, you will find that some things like baked beans or tinned fruit do not have an ethical alternative. I suggest that where an ethical choice exists choose that option. Be brave and try new products, and don’t be a fussy first world whiner. Your tinned soup may taste a little different from your favourite brand at first, but you will adjust. And if you really miss the old product, then write to the company that produces them and ask them to change their policies. The app has simple steps to help with this. (There are so many tasty dips and cheeses that I am currently abstaining from and waiting to savour when the manufacturer gets with the program. I can comfort myself that should the company get on board, their products will taste that much better after not having them for so long.) Also, you will probably find yourself buying more fresh produce, which is better for you. However, it is a lot like dieting, If you become a strict crazy sergeant who deprives themselves with unflinching discipline to achieve a short term goal, you will probably get bored or fed up, and quit. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon; “a lifestyle change”, to borrow from the dieters phrase book. So start small and swap and substitute products to something with a higher ethical rating. As you get used to the changes you can work toward buying more green ticked products and avoid more crossed red products.

Be advised that some ethical products are cheaper and some are more expensive; some are better quality and some are lower quality. You will have to experiment with what works for you and this will take time and patience at first. However, when you think how easy it is to spend a whole day shopping for a pair of jeans or shoes, it’s not hard to justify spending an extra 30 minutes in the supermarket to avoid slavery and animal cruelty. Besides, once you find new favourite brands, it becomes quicker and easier to shop.

2. Live By Example & Spread the Word.

Recommend new ethical products to your friends, show them the app and how to use it, use social media or word of mouth to promote good ethical products, and encourage and reward companies for good behaviour. You can also challenge your friends to try to find the best ethical product for the more tricky items like shampoos or fragrances, to see who can find the best, most cost effective or hair-friendly product! Look around your workplace, too, as change can be employed in simple things like investigating stapleless staplers, or swapping the type of milk gets put in the communal fridge.

3. Keep Calm & Carry On Motivated & Do Your Research.

If you start feeling like being an ethically-minded shopper is too difficult remind yourself why you are committing to the change. You may feel deprived because you have to give up some things that you like and have become used to. But try to put this feeling of relative deprivation into perspective; ask yourself, are you really going without? Again, I will advise you to exercise caution here: it is very easy to get drawn into the I’m-not–doing-enough mentality or the why-should-I-sacrifice-my-things way of thinking. One will make you feel horribly and unnecessarily depressed and the other will make you—put it bluntly—selfish. If you have taken the first step and have made a commitment to utilise this tool or others to try and make better ethical choices, even if you are not always perfect or not 100% sure that you’re making the best choice, give yourself credit where it’s due. It is a good thing to be aware and mindful of how you are spending your money and what you are endorsing; most people don’t and won’t. If you support better practice you are creating a world where better practice is profitable and that will affect real, positive global change. And if you are thinking it is not your responsibility, well, it is, and you’re a douche. If you think your choices don’t have any real impact, I would encourage you to do a little research and become better informed about the power of consumers. Some good ways to do this are to look at the impact not changing will have and some of the more positive things you can do to keep up momentum. At the end of the post are a few great places to start your research.

Finally, have fun! Don’t make every shopping experience about doom and gloom. You can still enjoy almost everything you are already enjoying. I am encouraging mindfulness and awareness, not abstinence and guilt. So challenge yourself to become a better shopper.

Product Recommendation of the Month (originally recommended by the Ethical Shoppers Guide).

Great Ocean Road Dairy: Yummo! I forgot that this is what milk is actually supposed to taste like, having purchased watered down, chemically altered products for so long. It tasted like a memory from my childhood. And I feel good every time I use it, knowing that it is better for me, locally produced, and ethically endorsed. And it’s cheaper than most other brands. Winner!

—Tess Keane.

Elsewhere: [Shop Ethical]

[Great Ocean Road Dairy]

[My Slavery Footprint]

[Carbon Footprint Calculator]

[Global Citizen]

To Live & Die in Brunswick: Reflections on Jill Meagher.

I’m not usually one to be so deeply affected by violent crimes resulting in the deaths of people I don’t even know, but there’s something different about Jill Meagher’s brutal abduction, rape and murder that has touched the hearts of many. Perhaps later this week or next I will attempt to unpack what Jill’s death and the litany of speculation surrounding it means to me, but first, I thought I’d ask a friend who lived in the suburb that Jill also lived and (presumably) died in for her experiences in Brunswick.

Laura Money is no stranger to guest posting on The Scarlett Woman, just as she’s no stranger to the pitfalls of living in Brunswick, a suburb that both I and she, and I’m sure many other women, have experienced street harassment in. Maybe it’s not just Brunswick, as Laura asserts below. Maybe it’s just a Melbourne thing. Or maybe it’s what comes with the territory of being female in public.

*

Hi, I’m Laura and I’m from Brunswick. Sounds like a confession. In the wake of the rape and murder of Jill Meagher the idea of living in Brunswick has become hollow. I lived in Brunswick from 2009 to January this year after moving to Melbourne from Perth. It’s a similar story to Jill’s: her family are in Perth as well.

When I first moved to Brunswick I was so excited. My street had beautiful old cottages and Victorian-era terraces. Old people peered over their white picket fences to chat to one another. They gave me lemons and sometimes herbs. (Always legitimate!) It was a beautiful place to live. My boyfriend and I secured a one-bedroom unit you couldn’t have swung a cat in but we loved it. One of the reasons was its location: we were only two streets away from Sydney Road, where Jill disappeared. Pubs, bars, late night restaurants and enough kebab shops to ensure that your night out ended well and not regretfully.

Sydney Road was also a place where I felt pretty safe. I must have walked alone to get home so many times I’ve lost count. Until moving to Melbourne, though, I’d never really experienced much street harassment. Sure, I had a guy show up at my work every day to propose until I had to hide in the back room while my colleagues told him I didn’t work there anymore. I also had one guy decide he liked me that much he brought his whole family to my work to meet me, even though all I’d said to him was “hi”. My mistake, obviously, victim-blamers would decry. There was a creepy guy who requested I grow my leg hair for him and a couple of other incidents. But being harassed on the street was new to me, until Brunswick.

I’m not going to document everything but I will give you my top three not-feeling-so-safe-now moments. Firstly, I was reading on the train. I do this a lot. I was getting so involved in my book that I missed my stop. I do this frequently too! I got off at the next stop and decided to walk; hey I could use the exercise. It was about 6pm and the street was deserted so I decided to be a little cocky and keep reading while walking along the pathway near the train tracks. Hey, it was a really good book! I hadn’t been walking long when I noticed a small group of young men up ahead. As I got closer the cat calling started. I ignored it. They followed me. I ignored them. They postulated how they wanted to “shove that book up me if kept ignoring them”. I put down the book, placed it under my arm and told them to get lost. I then half walked, half ran to a tram stop and caught the tram the rest of the way. Walk home ruined.

Secondly, I was waiting for the tram. My stop was the first one, and the tram came empty from the depot so I always got a seat. As I was waiting, I was reading and standing next to the giant picnic bag I had. An old man came over and asked me for the time, presumably so he could look at the timetable, though I could have told him that it had been vandalised ages ago and you had to text for the next tram time. I told him the time and he asked where I was going. “I’m going to the city. I’m having a picnic with some friends,” I replied. “Oh, are your friends men? Are you married?” “No, just a few girlfriends. I’m not married.”

At this point I put my book back up and hoped the tram would hurry up. The tram came and I hoisted my picnic bag up, found a seat and continued reading. The old man walked up and down the tram before sitting down next to me. Seriously, he had the whole tram. I tried to keep reading.

“You must like that book, is it good?”

“Yes.”

“What’s it about?”

(Why did I answer?) “Oh, it’s just a detective series I’ve been reading.”

“So, are your friends single?”

“Sorry?”

“The girls you’re meeting, are they single?”

“Yes, it’s just a picnic in the park. Good weather, isn’t it?” I tried to change the subject.

“I’m single. Keep looking for a nice girl. I can’t go out with women my age, they’re all too boring. I need someone young, like you.”

At this point I start to panic and smile sympathetically for lack of another option.

“You don’t have to go and meet your friends. I’ve got a high-rise apartment in the city. If you come with me, I can give you a present.”

This on-sided conversation occurred throughout the entire tram ride, he even followed me when I moved seats and spoke like that in front of other passengers. A few of them laughed. I kept my eye out at the tram stop for him for weeks.

Thirdly, I was stalked home. I wrote a post a about it. It was pretty scary.

I know this sounds like Brunswick-bashing but hear me out. Despite all of these things happening, I just thought it was Melbourne. To a certain extent it is. These things happen anywhere. I’m back in Perth now and have already had a few incidents occur. My dad didn’t want me to move to Melbourne; he said it was too dangerous. In the first two months of me moving there there was a shooting, two bashings, a building collapse and a warehouse fire all within a kilometre radius from my dream-unit.  This didn’t stop me from living my life, though. I was often out late, heading home to my boyfriend. My mum reads and watches a lot of true crime. Because of this, I would call her or my brother in Perth late at night—time differences are great, aren’t they?— and say “I’m calling you while I ‘m walking home so that if I get attacked or something they will know my last whereabouts!” It was always a bit of a joke but I used to think that it was unlikely that they would attack someone on the phone because they’d get caught. When I saw the footage of Jill Meagher calling her brother in Perth shortly after talking to the man in the hoodie, I knew what she was doing.

To reiterate, my name is Laura and I used to live in Brunswick. I now live in Perth again and the harassment has slowed down. Actually it’s pretty much just at my new place of employment—gotta love that! For those who think, “if you felt threatened, why not just take a taxi?” Firstly, it’s only two blocks: so not worth it! Secondly, I used to get taxis after work f I was working late and the company paid. I got hit on in those taxis on most nights. Sure, I like a chat. I even chatted to a taxi driver so much that he remembered us later on when my friend left her phone in the cab. He was able to identify us because I’d been taking to him. By the same token, often when I got in the taxis from work, the male drivers would stare at my skirt. One driver focused the rear-view mirror onto my cleavage and one dropped the receipt onto my lap and groped around to find it. Fun stuff.

—Laura Money.

Related: On Stalking.

The Taboos of Sexual Harassment.

The Harassed & the Harassed-Nots.

I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl: Street Harassment in CLEO.

Elsewhere: [Daily Life] Brunswick, Alone & After Dark.

[unWinona] I Debated Whether Or Not to Share This Story.

Image via Daily Life.

Guest Post: Feminism Respects Women More Than Anything, Including the Catholic Church!

Just over a week ago I was reading this here blog when I came across an article that shocked me. It was a response to a feminist blog that stated that the Catholic Church disrespects women. The response was supposed to demonstrate that “[the Catholic Church is] one of the few places in the modern world where women can find true acceptance and respect.” I almost choked when I read those words. Surely a Solidarity Salon or feminist society would be a more accepting place.

The Catholic Church has systematically stripped away women’s rights from the outset. Before people go asking for evidence, permit me to quote the Bible:

“That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discrete, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” Titus 2:4, 5 (emphasis mine).

According to this, women are subservient to men, must marry, have children and behave in a particular way—chaste, pure, with loving eyes only for him. The most important point here, however, is that wives must be obedient to their husbands. This indicates that women are viewed as being unequal to men. I cannot see how we can possibly feel respected if we do not feel equal.

Women in the Bible, and therefore in the eyes of the Catholic Church, are always presented in one of two ways: the Madonna or the whore. The Virgin Mary (mother of Christ and most famous of all biblical “vessels”), Priscilla (devoted wife of Aquila who extended her hospitality to St. Paul when he was in need), Ruth (loyally took care of her sick mother-in-law) and Elizabeth (who bore a son, John the Baptist, despite being well past child-bearing age) are all examples of the Madonna; the virtuous woman in the Bible.

So some of the examples are a little stretched for goodness—I’ll gladly look after my mother-in-law but I doubt that alone makes me a good person. That is because women are painted as sinners and whores far more frequently in the good old pages of the Bible. A small list of examples include: Eve (duh, she started it all by defying God and eating some fruit), Jezebel (worshipped false gods and murdered her husband and sons), Delilah (betrayed Samson, lured him with her sexuality and maimed him by cutting off his hair in which his strength lay, effectively leading to his death), Salome (flirted and danced seductively for her step-father to persuade him to execute John the Baptist—at the age of thirteen! [Scarlett Woman note: so the sexualisation of children isn’t just a raunch culture, Internet-age thing!]), Mary Magdalene (one of Jesus’ most reliable disciples, however she was painted as a prostitute until 1969 when the Pope recognised her as a true disciple). I could go on. Is it just me, or are the stories about the “evil” women just so much more fun? Now that we’ve had a who’s who of female biblical figures, I’d like to address some of the points that were made in the article.

The first point, predictably, is abortion. Apparently, because a high percentage of women having abortions reported using contraception and it failing “there is a huge problem with contraception—something the Church has said all along.” The Catholic Church is against contraception because they believe that every union between sperm and egg is a life and that only God has the right to give or take away life. Jennifer Fulwiler’s argument seems to be more centred on the science of contraception, an aspect of the argument that the Catholic Church has never really looked into being clouded with the morality angle. There were a few comments written in response asserting that if feminists want to be environmentalists as well, they shouldn’t pump their bodies and waterways with chemicals that inhibit pregnancy. Aaah, psedo-science!  As both a feminist and an environmentalist, I endorse the use of the Pill. All medication carries a risk, even aspirin. I received a very competent education on the menstrual cycle and how the pill works to inhibit the release of an egg by adding more oestrogen and progesterone, hormones that are naturally produced in the body, at a particular time in the cycle. If you are educated on how it works, you won’t be afraid of it. I would like to ask a question about sperm, though. If the church posits that the union between egg and sperm is a human being, do they believe that individual sperm and unfertilised eggs are also people? If this is the case, how can they condone the reproduction process, considering how many poor innocent sperm die in the hostile environment of the womb? [Scarlett Woman note: Or in “masturbatory emissions”, as Elle Woods would say?! Oh, that’s right: masturbation is evil.]

The article goes on to say that—shock, horror!—women are having sex for pleasure, not procreation. Really? In 2011? I had no idea! This is blamed on being “bombarded with about a zillion messages a day that portray sex as… pleasure and fun” and that you only have to “turn on the E! Network or flip through an issue of Cosmo” to see this message being touted and lauded as positive. I must admit, I always go to Cosmo for the best sex tips! The hyper-sexualisation of society is something that religion in general often uses as a way of renouncing feminism.  In a Google search of feminism, the third option is a website called Feminism is Evil. Not only is the sheer ridiculousness of the “argument” against feminism laughable, the only evidence appears to be quotes from the Bible. Feminism is Evil also blames the media for the unfeminine behaviour of women:

“The television is about as false and misleading as can be nowadays… People are being indoctrinated, especially our youth, to have a false view of reality. Television nowadays is being used as a weapon to promote agendas that go 100% contrary to the Word of God; such agendas as homosexuality, feminism and abortion.” (Original emphasis removed.)

At one point, the site makes the argument that men are more pure than women because “not one man has ever had an abortion”! I still believe that the mainstream media presents a patriarchal, homophobic lifestyle as the norm. Whilst there may be more divorced characters on television, they still promote impeccable family values. In CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, I would argue that Catherine works extra hard on her relationship with her daughter, Lyndsay, insisting on things like eating dinner together at the table and having movie nights. If anything, she is the most family-oriented character on the show. Similarly, Glee deals with a gay character, Kurt, by placing him in a highly supportive family. He has a great relationship with his father and becomes integrated into a full family unit with the marriage of his dad to fellow Glee clubber Finn’s mum.

Whilst I am the first to discuss the objectification of women in advertising that portrays them as sexual objects, it’s strange how we actually agree on something but think that it’s wrong for completely different reasons. I still maintain that most adverts place women in domestic spheres. This is completely compliant with the church, according to Feminism is Evil, as “biblically a woman’s place is in the home.” If I have to see one more advertisement for cleaning or cooking products in which only women appear, or in which they are exasperated at the incompetence of their husbands (and they are always husbands), I feel I might scream! The media systematically proliferates society with these wholesome messages of propaganda for “traditional” gender roles as a response to the increasing feminist and homosexual rights movements. People just don’t see it, as the message is more subtle than the ads of the ’50s and ’60s.

Back to the article at hand, and Fulwiler falsely states that “secular feminists are not willing to stand up for all women.” This is a sweeping generalisation. She cannot speak for everyone, and neither can I, however I was offended by this statement. I, personally, am willing to stand up for all women, even ones who, like her, are victims of the patriarchy. I actually feel that women who have been indoctrinated into a repressive and unequal culture need to be represented more, as they have lost their own voices.

As the article goes on, however, I realise that I don’t represent all women, if Fulwiler is to be believed:

“Pro-choice feminism only respects women once they’ve reached a certain age, usually about 36 weeks; the ones who are younger than that are not considered worthy of consideration as human beings, let alone worthy of respect. The Catholic Church respects all women, no matter how small and voiceless.”

Oh, right, I see what she means. I could not disagree more. This issue is, undoubtedly, highly subjective based on when one considers a foetus becomes a person.

I am not speaking for any other secular feminist at this point but I don’t consider an aborted foetus a woman that I have failed to represent. This is not about neglecting women here; this is about terminating a pregnancy, not a life.  I believe that the person to focus on is the woman who should be given the choice as to whether she wants to continue the pregnancy and eventually give birth to a fully-fledged human, or terminate that pregnancy and not bring an extra child into the world. Each case is individual and should be treated that way, however, at the end of the day, the choice should only ever be that of the woman’s.

Once again, there is a misconstrued notion that the Catholic Church educates women on abortion better than pro-choice organisations or abortion clinics. I disagree, and I went on quite a few websites to discover what they say the procedure consists of. According to Better Health Victoria, two types of abortion are currently available:

  • Surgical abortion: a low-risk procedure most commonly used for first trimester (7–12 weeks) abortion in Australia. Known as suction aspiration or suction curette, it involves removing the lining and contents of the uterus (womb). A range of other surgical techniques are used for abortion later in pregnancy.
  • Medical abortion: a low-risk alternative to surgery used for terminating pregnancies earlier than 7–9 weeks (depending on the clinic). RU486 (mifepristone), also known as “the abortion pill/drug”, is the most widely known medication used for this procedure. It’s available in some clinics in Australia and is up to 98 per cent effective when used in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

This seems to be the general consensus on most abortion websites I visited. I did come across several problems, though, as most of the sites had been hijacked by religious pro-life propaganda. One website, called Pro-Choice.com, was full of pictures of foetuses and religious messages. If you can’t go to a site labelled “pro-choice” without it being corrupted by religion, where can you go?  I find it quite insulting to read that apparently the Catholic Church provides more accurate information on abortion. Women undergoing the procedure are given accurate and thorough information regarding the process just like any other medical procedure. The Church’s scare mongering and twisting of the facts are not scientifically- or medically-based enough to be considered “information.”

Now, Ms Fulwiler is not saying that “secular feminists intend to disrespect women”; she thinks we “mean well but are simply misguided.” How nice of her to be concerned!  She says she knows how we feel because she used to be the same until she found God was brainwashed. She then says that she started “questioning assumptions.” For someone who questions assumptions, she sure makes a few herself. the first being that the Catholic Church has moved into a modern world in which Eve and Jezebel are not real but allegorical so that women are really seen as respectable in the eyes of the Church. According to Feminism is Evil, even female ministers are going against the word of God and should get back to the kitchen!

The second assumption she makes is that women are being blindly led to the abortion clinic the second they get pregnant. As I stated earlier, every case is different and I feel that there is a tendency to sweep over that and assume that pro-choice women relish in the devilry of their abortive practices.

The third and final assumption is that God exists. I understand that this is a faith-based claim, as there hasn’t been an awful lot of concrete evidence that He has spoken to anyone of late, yet the whole church system relies on the fact that he’s real. If the assumption is wrong, as I believe, then the reasoning behind the oppression of women and the pro-life argument go completely out the window.

Oh, and one final assumption: that secular feminists care what you think.

—Laura Money.

Related: On Stalking.

On Stripping.

Elsewhere: [National Catholic Register] Feminists Don’t Respect Women; the Catholic Church Does.

[YouTube] Legally Blonde Part 5.

[Feminism is Evil] Homepage.

[Better Health Victoria] Abortion.

[ProChoice] Homepage.

Guest Post: On Stalking.

I am standing at a tram stop in Brunswick waiting when a poster catches my eye. Someone has stuck it over the City of Moreland sign—a prominent place. Its headline screams: “Women Should Be Careful.” I’m hooked.

Upon reading the article I become increasingly angered as it goes on to explain how women should cover up and not expose their bodies to men as men can’t help but be attracted to that “provocative attire.” Not only should women expect to be sexually assaulted if showing skin, they are actually “asking for it.” I am outraged and start tearing the poster down but the man (I would assume and hope) has stuck it on with liquid nails. I manage anyway, throwing the wad of paper in the bin with a satisfying clunk. A woman is sitting on the bench near me also waiting for the tram. She turns to me and asks, “Didn’t like what it said?” No, I didn’t like it at all.

*

The idea that a woman is asking for it if she wears revealing clothing is repugnant. Not only is it outdated in 2011, it also allows men to get off scot-free. Whatever the length of my skirt, I refuse to be an excuse for a man’s behaviour. It is a common misconception that most women are harassed, attacked and stalked because of their provocative clothing or behaviour.

When I asked a group of friends to define the look of a stalking victim the consensus was a young (18–25) woman, thin, attractive, large breasts and, most importantly, wearing “slutty” clothing. It was also decided that most of these women will be stalked by men who had seen them out at a club/pub and followed home at very late hours. This profile is not true. According to California State University, 77% of female victims and 64% of male victims know their stalker and 59% of female victims and 30% of male victims are stalked by an intimate partner. This changes the image of a creepy guy hanging out in your garden after watching you dance at a party.

In a study by the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault it was revealed that only 1% of women surveyed were raped by a stranger. Clearly there is a different representation of this in the media. Still, even if most cases of stalking and rape will be carried out by someone who knows the victim, there are still instances when a stranger will take a shine to them.

*

I am on the train, coming home from work. I’m wearing a black dress, black stockings and a black coat and holding a bag of groceries. I sit down and accidentally knock the man in front of me with my bag.

“Sorry,” I say giving him a small apologetic smile.

“That’s okay,” he says, looking me up and down. “Are you coming home from work?”

“Yes.” I reply, not impolitely.

He then asks me where I work, what I do etc. I proceed to tell him, being polite but not particularly inviting. He then brags about working in an industry with a lot of money and invites me to join him at his work one day soon. I decline and then get off at my stop. He also gets off at my stop and I feel a tug at my bag of groceries. He offers to carry them for me and asks if I am married. I say no but that I have a boyfriend and he tells me that “we could always break up.”

He then asks where I live and follows me home. At this point I am pretty scared. It isn’t dark, it’s not isolated, I’m not wearing anything revealing… this isn’t how I expect the stalking story to play out. I panic and actually walk down my street before common sense kicks in and I stop two houses down from mine, pretending that it is my house, even going so far as to fumble with the letterbox pretending to check for mail. I get out my keys and ask him to leave. He then tries to invite himself in for coffee, then dinner, then a chat. I say no and am rude to him for the first time.

“Aren’t you going to go inside?” he asks, as if calling my bluff.

“Not until you are down the end of this street,” I say.

Then he says the words that stop me cold: “That’s ok, I know where you live. I can come anytime.”

The problem I had after this occurred was that I felt that it had been my fault. I shouldn’t have spoken to him, I shouldn’t have smiled at him, I should have been wearing a sack… all sorts of irrational thoughts went through my mind. Actually, the only thing I should regret is practically leading him to my door. That was stupid. When I told people, I was actually asked by one friend what I was wearing. Another told me I shouldn’t have used my “devastating” smile. The most common feedback I got, however, was that I’m just too nice. I shouldn’t be so polite and friendly to men because they take it as a sign that I’m flirting. This isn’t right! It just confirms what the poster said, that it’s the woman’s responsibility not to be stalked or get raped. I’m getting quite sick of men being blameless in these situations. It is the narrative that is constantly being touted by the media, in ads like the Razzamatazz stockings where you only see a woman’s legs in Razzamatazz and in the background are the men’s reactions to her sexy legs, implying they can’t help it. One of them spills a coffee, another trips over and a third is slapped by his girlfriend for looking. Unless ads like this stop then we will forever live in a sexist society that backs up the theory that the sexualisation of women is innate and part of our evolutionary journey.

At this point, I would like to say that I was living in fear every time I got on a train. I switched to the tram, I started calling my boyfriend to meet me at the station so we could walk home together and told all of my friends what had happened.

*

I am at work, re-entering the building after a break. He’s there in the foyer greeting me like an old friend. My colleague thinks we know each other, so walks ahead and leaves us alone. I am scared. I tell him I am busy and that I finish at 5pm. Why do I say that? The fear makes me irrational.

I try to tell him I’m busy after work and not to meet me, but he just smiles and says he’ll see me at five. I walk into the administration area, call my boss and start hyperventilating. Security sees me out at 5pm. I am flanked by two friends but I don’t see him. I can only hope that he is bothering another girl instead, then feel terrible for inflicting him on someone else.

*

I haven’t seen him since. I do live with the idea of him in that back of my mind, though. I just wish that other victims of stalking don’t blame themselves. Whatever I wear, wherever I go, yes means yes and no means no.

—Laura Money.

Related: Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

The Taboos of Sexual Harassment.

On Stripping.

Elsewhere: [California State University Department of Police Services] Stalking, Threats & Annoying/Harassing Calls.

[Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault] Statistical Information.

 

Guest Post: London’s Burning—A Riot By Any Other Name?

Last month, London burned.

Rioters took to the streets and for five days, smashed, robbed and burned their way through a number of suburbs. News footage showed teenagers being robbed by groups of people pretending to assist them, restaurant goers being mugged over dinner by large mobs, vigilante groups taking to the streets for justice, and thieves trying on shoes before stealing them from looted shops.

Buildings which had stood for over 150 years were burned to the ground, and riot police were ignored or attacked by large mobs of young people who sacked the streets.

The riots, which caused over a billion dollars worth of damage, saw more than 1000 people arrested and left five people dead, have been blamed on criminal gangs, social networking sites and a lawless generation of young people who lack respect.

British Home Secretary, Theresa May, has denounced the riots as being acts of “sheer criminality.”

“The violence we’ve seen, the looting we’ve seen, the thuggery we’ve seen—this is sheer criminality,” she said, and by saying so she has, like so many others, simplified the issue to deal with it in the simplest terms possible. But these watery explanations about lawless youths do not fully address the issues of rioting and are rife with problematic reasoning and contradiction.

A perfect example of the problems with this type of reasoning can be found in an Australian publication which discussed the London riots. The Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt took a similar approach to May, and attributed the violence that took place on the streets of London to a loss of family values in a contemporary world. (But let’s be honest here; what does Bolt not blame to a loss of family values?) Missing no opportunity to push his conservative agenda, Bolt claims that in the London riots, “What we saw was the kind of people hidden in the cavities of decaying society” and that these people, or at least what he refers to as its “underclasses”, are “lazy, resentful and greedy, being handed everything from the food on their plate to the plasma in the corner”.

He then gives a number of examples of the youths participating in the riots, documenting their crimes, and painting a picture of a generation of young people who are out of control. But herein lies the first contradiction; if young people are the main perpetrators of these types of crimes, as Bolt highlighted by giving examples of 11-year-old children participating in the riots, how can he object to them being given the food on their plate, or even a plasma television? (Not that I have ever heard of the poor being given free plasmas anywhere in the world, now that he has mentioned it). Since when do we not feed our children, or expect them to provide for themselves? And does it really seem logical to blame the riots on the poor for being spoiled with food? Doesn’t it seem more likely that there may be something more to this story? Rather than simplifying the issue by blaming riots on a loss of family values and a delinquent underclass, it would be better to engage with the complex history of rioting that exists across Europe and with the unique psychological effects of rioting, particularly on children and young people, who live in areas of diverse socio-economic backgrounds, and who experience high levels of feelings of relative depravation as a consequence.

Relative deprivation is basically where someone feels as though that have been deprived, not in worldly comparison, but in comparison to affluence or privilege that surrounds them on a daily basis, and which they are unable to access. It is becoming increasingly common across the Western world, and other places, as the global division between rich and poor becomes wider and as wealth becomes more visible through the media. Relative deprivation is an increasingly important phenomenon, which has been linked not only to rioting, but to other acts of violence and civil unrest, including terrorism. The psychological impacts of relative deprivation need to be further studied and better understood, particularly when “blaming-the-poor” narratives keep appearing in articles like Bolt’s, potentially adding more fuel to the civil unrest fire by ignoring the phenomenon.

Having noted the importance of feelings of relative deprivation, it is also quite plausible that the deprivation felt by these young rioters, may not only be relative. The social and political changes which have occurred in London over the past 12 months, and which have had negative consequences for many Londoners, are also likely to have had a significant impact on the rioters. One of the most notable in this case is police violence.

Riots are not typically the acts of criminals, although criminals have been known to capitalise on them; rioting has been used since before the seventeenth century by groups and individuals to express civil unrest and negative feelings toward authority figures. Although usually triggered by a particular event, riots occur after ongoing and sustained civil unrest.

The catalyst which triggered the London riots was the suspicious police shooting of Mark Duggan, an unarmed civilian, killed by police. One witness has alleged Duggan was shot at close range while pinned the ground by the police, and although this account is far from substantiated, it is known the Duggan was unarmed at the time of his death and that the bullets which the police claimed were fired at them, came from a police gun. The riots began as a peaceful vigil outside a police station, where friends and family of Duggan gathered to demand police adequately explain the circumstances of Duggan’s death. Other people, not involved in the vigil or immediately known to the Duggan family, triggered the riots by setting fire to a police car when police refused to acknowledge the vigil or address the mourning family. From then on, the riots rapidly escalated and spread throughout the city, far removed from their peaceful beginnings, and without being condoned at any point by Duggan’s family.

It is important to note that although Duggan’s shooting was the catalyst to the riots, it was not an isolated case. Police violence has become an increasingly troubling problem for the English over the last few years, particularly since the introduction of tasers in 2004, and in the last 12 months alone London Police have been widely criticised for a number of violent acts, including the brutalising of a non-violent student protester with cerebral palsy by fully-riot-gear-equipped police officers, who dragged him from his wheelchair (his only source of mobility) and then hauled him across the pavement. Similar acts of police aggression can be seen even after the riots, in the deaths of Dale Burns, 27, Jacob Michael, 25, and Philip Hulmes, 53, who all died within the last month, following incidents in which police used either tasers or pepper spray. In each case, there were at least eight officers arresting a single person, and in Michael’s case, there were 11 police present after Michael himself called them for help. During his arrest for an unknown crime, he was pepper sprayed, pinned to the floor, handcuffed and then beaten for up to 15 minutes by all 11 officers before being arrested. Two hours later, Michael died in police custody.

The purpose of presenting this evidence of police violence is not to vilify police and champion rioters, but rather to demonstrate that the issues which have contributed to the civil unrest that led to riots are complex and widespread. It also highlights that there are significant policing issues which need to be addressed in the UK and which are, by Scotland Yard’s own admission, causing a “growing anti-police sentiment” which is marked by “fury” and that during the riots “there was an atmosphere of absolute hatred towards the police and the establishment—the government—because they feel abandoned, the cuts in youth services, the cuts right across the board.” The increase in police violence is, in turn, leading to an increase in civil unrest. It is no coincidence that one day after the death of Hulmes, a marked police car was petrol bombed while patrolling in North London; just as it was no coincidence that riots ensued after the shooting of Duggan.  The same thing happened in Tottenham in 1985 with riots against racially motivated police violence and it will happen again, if these issues are not addressed.

Police violence was a trigger for the London riots, but not the only cause of civil unrest in London. Other recent and highly inflammatory occurrences include the rising unemployment rate (just under 8% of the population cannot find a job in England, a figure which continues to rise), an openly corrupt media blatantly flaunting basic human rights and the law (see billionaire Rupert Murdoch and his cronies escaping criminal charges after deleting vital evidence in the murder investigation of Milly Dowler, where phone messages were deleted by journalists in the first few days after Milly’s disappearance. As a result friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive.), the rapidly increasing cost of living (the cost of a loaf of bread has tripled in the last five years), and the extremely fast-rising cost of education (the cost of a university degree has also nearly tripled in England in the last year). These are but a few of the troubles ailing England; it is not surprising that young people might feel helpless and angry, or that they might not care if their actions disrupt plans for the Olympic games, or upset local diners and traders.

Furthermore, that the riots spread so far so fast doesn’t mean London’s “underclasses” are felonious criminals. It is well known that once a riot begins, individuals begin to exhibit pack-like behaviours in the heightened excitement and highly charged atmosphere. Young people and children are particularly prone to this psychological influence, which makes it very easy for them to be caught up in the activities of the crowd, and similarly, it can be difficult for them to associate their actions with concepts of right and wrong.

Yet little of the reporting that has taken place about the London riots has yet to examine rioting in London, and indeed the wider context of Europe, and to examine the social, political and psychological aspects of rioting, not to mention the economic considerations, which most certainly would have played their part.

England has a close history with rioting, which spans over centuries, and it is not now, nor has it really ever been, merely the acts of criminal groups who opportunistically pray on an unsuspecting society. Instead, riots reflect a much deeper and wider frustration, which in 2011 was triggered by episodes of police violence. The areas which were most badly damaged in the riots are those which have high levels of poverty, and relative deprivation, where the rich and the poor share spaces as neighbours, living in deep contrast of one another. Blaming the poor for being spoiled is like saying “let them eat cake.” It didn’t work for the French all those centuries ago, and it won’t work now.

—Tessa Keane.

Related: Life Below the Poverty Line is a Horrible Place.

Elsewhere: [The Age] London Riots Spread as Police Lose Control.

[Herald Sun] Rioters Show a Nation Split & Family Values Gone Forever.

[CBC News] London Riots Erupt After Fatal Police Shooting.

[London Progressive Journal] Jody McIntyre: Victim of Police Brutality & Media Distortion.

[The Guardian] Man Does After Taser Arrest Near Bolton.

[The Guardian] Notting Hill Carnival: Tensions High After Recent Deaths, Say Police.

[The Observer] Notting Hill Carnival Curfew Plan is “Pie in the Sky”, Warn Police on Ground.

[The Guardian] Missing Milly Dowler’s Voicemail Was Hacked by News of the World.

[The Telegraph] London Living Costs on the Rise.

Guest Post: Rihanna’s “Man Down”—Revenge is a Dish Best Served in Cold Blood.

All who know me, know that I love to dance. Put on a song with a good beat that is repeatedly played on a commercial radio station and I am one of the first on the dancefloor. I really enjoyed Rihanna’s earlier work (“Umbrella” and “Please Don’t Stop the Music” come to mind), but her endeavour of recent into an edgier, (dare I say?) overly-sexualised style is worrisome to me.

Let me state that Rihanna, whether she wishes to be or not, is a role model. Anyone who graces the cover of a gossip magazine or whose songs are played on child-friendly radio stations are role models, and should be aware of it. Paparazzi and gossip mags have been around for a long time now and anyone who ventures into the world of Hollywood or reaches household name-status, must be aware that every inch of their life will be scrutinised by the critics and idolised by the young. So when Rihanna comes out with songs such as “S&M” and “California King Bed”, she is exploiting her body and over-exposing the young to sexuality and sending bad messages.

A recent discussion with Scarlett brought Ri-Ri’s newest clip, “Man Down”, and un-role model-like behaviour, to my attention. Scarlett described the clip to me by stating that it related to Rihanna being raped and then her seeking justice by killing him. I was also aware that the clip begins with her hiding, watching him, shooting him then flashing back to the previous day and to a scene that implies rape.

While this is a brief description of the clip, and I have since watched it and read the lyrics, I am outraged that Rihanna would openly promote such revenge. Yes, rapists should be brought to justice, but there is a legal system put in place to deal with such criminals*. Removing the idea of rape from the equation, Ri-Ri is advocating vengeance, which is not appropriate behaviour to uphold with young and impressionable fans watching on.

“An eye for eye”, “two wrongs make a right’” and “tit for tat”, should not be taught to children. Revenge is an notion of “equality of suffering”, forcing pain and anguish on someone to the same, if not greater, extent than one originally experienced. It is not a virtuous quality to have and should not be treated as such.

As a role model, Rihanna should be promoting good qualities to have: heart, faith, strong will. Rather than glamorise payback, she should advocate loving thy neighbour. Revenge is a way of saying you are not secure in your ability to grow, and learn from life’s hardships.

Yet Rihanna repeatedly conducts inappropriate behaviour for her fans to idolise. Sure, many stars are in a similar boat in that they bare their naked bodies for camera phones, stumble intoxicated out of clubs and adhere to dangerous diets, but the meaning in Rhianna’s songs is just as damaging to those easily influenced: her young fans.

*I do not wish to belittle the intense agony and disgust one must feel after they have been raped. I am lucky to never have been in this situation and hope I never am, but I can only imagine that your thoughts are not clear, you are incredibly distraught, and the death of your attacker might seem like the only answer.

—Katie Blush.

Related: “Chains & Whips Excite Me”, Take 2.

“Chains & Whips Excite Me…”: The Underlying Message in Music Videos.

Rihanna’s “S&M”: Is it Really So Much Worse Than Her Other Stuff?

Picture Perfect.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] Rihanna Shoots Her Rapist in Her New Video.

[Fox News] Rihanna’s Murder of Rapist in “Man Down” Video: Empowering or Dangerous?

Images via YouTube.

Guest Post: Life Below the Poverty Line is a Horrible Place.

My Shopping List:

Penne pasta: $0.78

Jasmine rice: $1.29

Can of beans: $0.89

Can of spaghetti: $0.89

Oats: $0.99

Bag of carrots: $0.99

Can of tomato soup: $0.74

1 onion $0.41

Sultanas: $1.03

Milk: $1.09

5 small pears: $0.92

Total: $10.02

Day 1:

Breakfast: Bowl of oats in hot water and a pear.

Lunch: Canned spaghetti (this was an operations error. I meant to buy two cans of beans to mix with rice for protein but came home by mistake with spag.). Handful of sultanas.

Dinner: Rice with onion, carrots and beans. A carrot.

It’s not so bad. I thought this would be far more difficult, although I am surprised that I feel hungry already, because I am still eating three meals a day.

Day 2:

Breakfast: Bowl of oats with milk and sultanas.

Lunch: Remaining canned spaghetti and a pear.

Dinner: Pasta with tomato soup on it.

I have a headache, and I am hungry and grumpy and anxious. My body is simultaneously withdrawing from caffeine, sugar, nicotine, and quite possibly any other number of food- and wine-related chemical addictions. My body feels as though it’s put together all wrong and I am having difficulty focusing on anything for any length of time.  Woe begets any person who wakes, disturbs, annoys , or—let’s face it—even talks to me right now. My final 18,000-word thesis for a masters degree in International Development is due in two and a half weeks and I am supposed to be focussing and working hard, but all I can think about right now is coffee, coffee, coffee! It is strange, because this is not the first thesis I have written, nor the hardest academic challenge I have faced, but it is the first time I have faced any of it without coffee. This is my Everest!

Day 3:

Breakfast: Bowl of oats with milk and sultanas.

Lunch: Rice with carrot and onion pieces and beans and a pear.

Dinner: Pasta with tomato soup on it.

I ‘m going to be honest with you: I want to cheat.  I want to eat a tub of fried food, drink two gallons of coffee, and finish off with a 1kg slab of Cadbury’s finest. But I won’t, partly because so many people have paid money to see me suffer, but mostly because I want to have a better idea of what it feels like to live in extreme poverty.

If I were truly living off this two-dollar budget, then I would have no toothpaste, no shampoo, no soap, no (eek!) makeup. I would not be living in my lovely light-filled, fully furnished open-plan apartment 10 minutes from the beach, with polished floorboards and a security gate. I wouldn’t be typing on this computer. I wouldn’t be warm, and safe.

Take it from me, who has only lived here for three days: life below this line is a hungry, headachey, horrible place. And I sleep at night in a secure apartment, in a queen-sized bed, with thick blankets to fend of the cold, and electricity and plumbing and a fridge and any other number of comforts. The police are a phone call away if I feel scared or threatened, and so are my family and friends if I feel lonely. I live in the knowledge that if I get sick or injured, I will have a choice of doctors who will treat me. If I lose my job, I will have help from my government, a government who I have a hand in electing, and a chance of holding accountable if required, and a government who has real authority. Hunger is no real threat to me here; I am hungry now, only because I have chosen to be. I am so lucky. But the most important thing is, now I know it; it’s a small insight, but an important one.

Maybe the hunger is making me sentimental, but I think half of the challenge is to understand what it is like for those who suffer below the line; it is knowing the physical limitations of living there.  But the other part is understanding that the people we are trying to help are not fictitious, or lesser, or abstract, or really all that different from ourselves.  The people who live there are not faceless or nameless, though often they are depicted as so. They are young people, old people, women, children and men, who have dreams and ambitions, who have extreme determination to survive. The people who live there are wilful, funny, and intuitive; they have great capacity for innovation and great instincts for survival. They are all different kinds of things: hardworking, honest, reliable, efficient. They are human, and come in as many varieties as the people we know and love.  And I think one of the most important things about Living Below the Line (aside from raising money) is that we understand this, not remove ourselves from those who suffer by painting abstract images or pretending the problem doesn’t exist.  Because it becomes too easy to accept the status quo; to say, “there is nothing I can do; this is just the way it is.” Because it is not true! By changing the way we think, by looking at the way we live, we can make a difference.

Day 4:

Breakfast: Bowl of oats with milk and sultanas.

Lunch: Rice with carrot, onion pieces,  and beans, and a pear.

Dinner: Rice with carrot, onion pieces and beans.

I hate oats.

Day 5:

Breakfast: Bowl of oats with milk and sultanas.

Lunch: Rice with carrot and onion pieces, and a pear.

Dinner: Pasta with tomato soup and a carrot.

In just one week, we have raised enough money to build 7.8 remote classrooms in Papua New Guinea and also provided six full time scholarships to first time students in Cambodia. In just one week, we have made a real and tangible difference to the lives of others, by providing education to people who would certainly not get it otherwise.It is not too late to sponsor me, or someone else, if you have not already. If not now, it is certainly worth considering taking the challenge yourself. Please donate kindly; any amount can go a long way to helping in the fight against poverty. Or think of taking the challenge yourself next year!

On a final note, I also swear to never pay out Aldi supermarket again! For $10 I got more than I hoped for. My advice to anyone thinking of doing this next year is: don’t waste your time and money trying to get some variety. You won’t have variety, and the more things you get the worse quality they will be. If I did it again next year, I would forget the pasta, which tasted like glue, and the tomato soup, which tasted like salt and smelled like vinegar and made me want to gag. This money would have been better spent on eggs or more vegetables for nutrition, which would do more to feed the hunger. (It’s not that there is not enough to eat, the food is just not nutritious so you don’t feel good or satisfied after most meals.) I thought the onion was a cheap way to put flavour in the meals, but forgot that I wouldn’t have any oil to cook it in, so had to either boil, or grill it, which didn’t help much on the flavour front. I wouldn’t waste my time with that either next time.  The pears were a great find, the oats were bearable (they were cheap and powdery, but they were still oats) and the rice was, well, rice; you can’t really go wrong there!

Thank you to everyone who supported me! I hope I wasn’t too much of a pain to anyone who had to put up with me and my constant whinging Facebook status updates!

—Tessa Keane.

Related: Living Below the Line.