Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Moralising Sex Work

With the recent murders on sex workers in the UK (see previous blog post), BBC has published this article which discusses possible solutions to make sex work safer for the men and women in that line of work.

Currently in the UK, it is not illegal to sell sex, but brothels and selling sex on the street is illegal. There may be one person in one building selling sex, but no more. While there are justifications for this legislation, such as worries about facilitating human trafficking if brothels and street prostitution were to be decriminalised, and that street prostitution can be very unsafe, this legislation ends up offering little protection for sex workers.

The consequence of legislation that does not allow sex workers to meet customers on the street or in a brothel is that they either need to rent a room, hire a space or bring the customers to their own homes. The first two options could be expensive in the long run unless the sex worker would charge the client for rent or room hire, but the way that the market dictates business, the price increase could lead to a loss in business. The third option is just simply unsafe. Sex workers are at a high risk for sexual violence and other forms of violence as it is. If the sex workers would then be forced to reveal where they live to their clients, they could face serious danger, not to mention fear of being visited by the authorities and other people that would wish to make their opinions known about sex workers.

My personal fear is that our moral views impair our thinking when it comes to sex work and lead to unsafe legislation for the men and women voluntarily involved in that line of work. (As said before, trafficking is always, and should always be, viewed as a crime as there is an element of coercion/threat and/or debt bondage. More on that here.) Instead of providing them with safe places to run their businesses, the legislation punishes them because they are in a line of work that people do not agree with morally, and that people perhaps would not choose for themselves. So what we do, instead of working with these people, is to work against them.

Regardless of what view one has of prostitution - whether it should exist or not, or whether the need for it should exist or not - it exists. The reality is that people sell sex. The reality is that there is a market for selling sex, and people will sell sex. To legislate in a way that punishes these people and make their line of work highly unsafe and a high risk for violence in different forms is not going to change this - sex will continue to be sold. It is one of the very oldest trades and it will probably continue to exist for a long time yet, whether governments choose to let the trade operate in the open and regulate it, or keep it in the dark.

The focus therefore needs to lie on making this line of work safe for the people within it, rather than punish them or robbing them of their rights, or keep legislation in place that has proved itself not to make the situation safer for sex workers. Just because many people disagree with this trade does not mean that these people do not deserve the same rights to safety and freedom from violence and other abuse. It is a good thing that the police are putting a lot of focus on uncovering trafficking networks and trafficked people, but that does not mean that it is justified to neglect the people who are in the sex trade voluntarily. They are at high risk for abuse and sexual assault and should be offered protection accordingly. There is still a wide-spread belief that sex workers cannot be raped because they sell sex, but any sexual advance that has not been negotiated or agreed upon is still an offence regardless of whom it is done to. Unfortunately this leads to a stigma that is reflected in society and not even the police is safe from it.

It is a good thing that this is currently being discussed in the media, but let's make sure that it stays this way. Let's make sure that we do not let this topic disappear because we do not want to see the uncomfortable truths or that we want to pretend that these issues do not exist. Let's make sure that these people can also live safely without the fear of being used, abused and murdered, because all people deserve that right.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Passing Judgement on Sexualities

An MI6 agent, Gareth Williams, is suspected to have been murdered, but all his friend can think about is to 'clear' his name from 'allegations' that he might have been gay. Talk about having her priorities straight.

There are no accusations or allegations that need to be cleared in this case. First of all, the only thing that has been said about Williams is that "detectives suggested the 31-year-old may have died at the hands of a mystery bondage sex partner he met on London's gay scene" (from article linked above). There are no speculations whether this was just a one time sex connection or if it was something Williams did recurrently or if he was sexually curious or bisexual or homosexual. There are no speculations about the man's sexuality, just a speculation of what happened to him and how he was connected with the person believed to have murdered him.

Secondly, even if he were gay, does it matter? Being gay is not something negative, not anything one needs to clear one's reputation from if it is false. The fact that this woman feels she has the need to go to media and set the record straight (pun intended) is absolutely ridiculous. First of all, she doesn't know everything about this man's sexuality or sexual feelings, no one knows, apart from him when he was alive. He might very well have had sexual encounters with other men while he was alive out of curiosity, because this was what he wanted, or perhaps he was doing research for a new identity. No one knows, and it doesn't matter. He chose not to talk about it, so neither should anyone else.

Talking to the media about the man's sexuality and trying to 'explain' that he was, beyond doubt, heterosexual is nothing but passing negative judgement on homosexual men. To feel the need is there to actually explain who this man did or did not sleep with is saying that homosexuality is below heterosexuality, that Williams was being accused of something, and an accusation, as we all know, is associated with making a wrong. Love or sex between two members of the same sex is not a wrong, but William's friend clearly believes it to be so. To flip the coin, would she, or most people, talk to media about a homosexual person allegedly having sex with a heterosexual person? Most likely not.

Many people claim that they have no problems with love or sex between two members of the same sex (or gender), but the rhetoric tells otherwise. If people keep on trying to 'clear' a supposedly heterosexual person's name of speculations of sexual or emotional relationships with members of the same sex (or gender), it is no different from saying that heterosexual people are more worth in the eyes of the society. This is not so surprising, perhaps, considering that the norm is heterosexuality, and as many of us know, breaking norms is not always viewed favourably. Just because something is the norm, however, does not mean that it should be, or that other groups, thoughts or people should be marginalised or feel forced to justify why they are the way they are, why they think what they think or why they hold certain opinions.

Feeling attraction to someone of the same sex is just as valid as feeling attraction to someone of the opposite sex. Furthermore, love is love and can be just as beautiful, loving and caring no matter of the sexes or genders of the people involved in the love, no matter how many people are involved in it. Being heterosexual and monogamous is no guarantee of a 'better' relationship (if there is such a thing) and statistics of domestic violence can testify of this. The fact that domestic violence occurs in heterosexual monogamous relationships tells that it is not necessarily the most optimal form of relationship for everyone. Being in a heterosexual relationship is no guarantee against being hurt, abused or stuck in a destructive relationship. Being in a homosexual or polyamorous relationship is not either. Love is love regardless of who is or isn't involved in it, and it can be constructive or destructive regardless of who is involved. That someone therefore should have to have their name cleared from being able to love in a way that strives from the norm is absurd. Norm-breaking love is no less valid than any other form of love, and there is no need to make excuses for love, as long as it is consensual.

I will never make excuses for my friends' or family's love - their love is just as valid as mine, regardless if it is between people of the same sex, people of the opposite sex, people where one or more genders are undefined. They need not have me or anyone else make excuses for their love. Neither did Gareth Williams. He lived and he loved, it should have been left at that.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sex Work Stigma Kills People

There is a great article in the Guardian today about sex workers and the vicious ways in which some of them are murdered and how a lot of them are in other ways violently abused.

I have written previously on my opinions on prostitution and highlighted some problems with legalising it as well as some problems with keeping various aspects of sex work illegal. This issue about violence against sex workers is one such example of why it is such an important discussion to have.

Sex workers are often stigmatised and ostracised from society. They are viewed as 'used' women, dirty puppets inevitably oppressed by the great big evil patriarchy and males' inherent uncontrollable sexual drive, leading people to believe that they are essentially flesh and blood rag dolls incapable of making their own decisions or having any kind of agency. There are many assumptions made about sex workers, about their motivations, about their lives, about their thoughts and about them as people; how someone must be, think and act to be a sex worker, as if they were all one and the same.

This homogenisation and association with uncleanness in appearance, manner and health leads to a huge stigma to be attached to sex workers. Because of these assumptions they are reduced to nothing more than second class citizens. If the view is not that they are doing something morally repugnant, the assumption is that they are not capable of civic virtues or performing civic duties and are thus in need of rescue. This is where we, the people who presumedly 'know better' have to step in and 'teach' these men and women how to live a life the way it is supposed to be lived.

There are several factors why people enter sex work. Where trafficking is the reason, it is clear that there has been a human rights crime committed, as trafficking per definition includes some kind of coercion or threat and some kind of debt bondage which severely impairs an individual's freedom to self-decision and movement. Trafficking is in every way a crime and should be prevented. But, trafficking does not equal all sex work, and the sooner we understand this, the better. There are men and women who enter the sex trade due to several different reasons, and these people do so voluntarily. If they later find themselves in debt bondage or under coercion and/or threat, it will classify as trafficking, but not all sex workers find themselves in this position, and some sex workers get out of such a position to pursue sex work independently anyway.

The problem with making a blanket assumption about the motivations and reasons why a person is in the sex trade whether it be moral (or as some people think, lack thereof), socioeconomic or other is that it does not make separations between the individuals and the people are all seen as one big lump of sex workers without agency, individuality or personal strengths/weaknesses. They are all made out to be one and the same, and often one and the same with one's own personal moral and philosophical feelings about the sex trade. We end up signing agency to them, or rather robbing them of it as we consequently make the decision (assumption) for them why they are a sex worker. The issue here being that society at large seems to have a great moral problem with sex for money, making the sex trade into a big taboo and so attaching stigma to it; a stigma which automatically follows with the sex worker and makes him/her out to be of less intelligence/capability.

When these assumptions are brought out into society, they become dangerous. People who are viewed as less in any kind of way (moral, intelligence, capability of decision-making over self and other things), they become less. These people are easy targets for violence and other sorts of human rights crimes, because they are not seen as fully human. Because a sex worker is already seen as dirty/dumb/incapable, it is more justified to violate such a person in any kind of way than it would be a person who was capable, or rather viewed as more worth. It would be a greater crime to violate someone who is valued as fully human.

These types of crimes, or rather power displays of people who believe themselves to have the right to assert power over other people they see as of less value stain our history. Race, religion, sex, occupation, bloodline - these have all been reasons why it is justified for one person of higher status to take advantage of or assert power over the one with the lesser status. Sex workers are no different, it is just another occupation, but also one that is seen as lowly, not worthy, only for people with problems/in poverty/of lesser intelligence, and the people in it can therefore be used and abused according to the ruling people's wishes, which in this case is anyone who enjoys higher status than a sex worker. Because sex workers enjoy such a low status in society, this means just about anyone.

People may have their differences about what prostitution/sex work represents, and whether or not it is selling your body or simply a transaction that involves sex, but the problems remain regardless: sex workers are used, abused and violated because they are seen as lesser, because people do not consider their full human value. This needs to stop. Sex work and sex workers need to be taken seriously and respected as human beings of a certain occupation, regardless of what anyone's personal opinions is about the line of work. Otherwise these people will continue to be stigmatised and reduced to second class citizenry where they will struggle to even access their supposedly universal human rights.

To finish off I will leave you with a quotation from David Wilson, professor of criminology at the University of Central England and the vice chair of the Howard League for Penal Reform, from the article above:
"There are always going to be a small but consistent group of people in our culture who will want to do the maximum damage to other human beings. They can't continue to do harm to other people … if they are stopped early enough, if the group of people that they initially targeted are valued enough in our culture for the police to take it seriously. We create the phenomenon of serial killing by not valuing this group of people enough."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Condom Confusion

As most people will know, the Pope said a while back that it was not acceptable to use condoms for prevention of spreading of HIV, something he later changed his mind about and said that sure, it is okay to use a condom, as long as it is used for prevention of diseases. Most people did not doubt that this was a PR trick as a response to all the criticism that he had received in his unrealistic standpoint on HIV prevention.

Now, the Vatican has issued a clarification on the Pope's statement on condom use, confusing matters further. The Vatican, in response to conservative Catholics who worry, have issued another statement saying that it is still not acceptable to use condoms as a contraceptive. Contraceptives are not allowed to be used as contraceptives, but for the prevention of spreading STDs, how does this work?

If condoms are used solely not to contract a disease, it will inevitably be used as a contraceptive as well. Sex will be had for the sake of sex, not for the sake of procreation, and the condom involved will thus be used as a contraceptive. Even if you see it in the way that if someone has to have sex it is better to use a condom in order to prevent disease spreading, it is still a contraceptive unless it is a sexual act between two members of the same sex or perhaps sex with a prostitute, but this, according to the Vatican, is still morally wrong. The NYT article reads:
It said that condom use by a prostitute for disease prevention could not be considered a “lesser evil” because prostitution is “gravely immoral,” and that “an action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed.”

The whole matter is just really confusing, condoms cannot be used to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, but to prevent disease, is it a matter of motivation, the reason for having sex? But regardless of how one twists it, even if the motivation is condom use for prevention of disease spreading, the sexual act is still not initiated to procreate, so the condom will also be used to prevent any possible pregnancies, because if a person who had HIV wanted a child but wanted to prevent spreading the disease to this child, he or she would probably adopt or try to conceive naturally which would mean a risk of spreading the disease. The whole condom use, according to the Pope and the Vatican is a lose - lose situation.

This all seems like a failed attempt to make the Pope more popular. The criticism for his statement on condoms and HIV, the one where he initially said it is unacceptable to use a condom even for the prevention of spreading the disease was so widely criticised, by Catholics, Protestants, atheists and other people alike, so he went out and condoned condom use in certain situations. This gave rise to a worry among conservative Catholics who were afraid that condoms would be used as a contraceptive against pregnancies, so the Vatican went out and 'clarified' the Pope's statement to appease these people, to solidify the Pope's popularity among that group, and inevitably contradicting what had just been said by the Pope.

The problem with this issue, the use of condoms, is that it is never going to be an issue where compromise can be made. Either you are for the use of condoms, or against it, because either you believe that sex should be had for procreation or pleasure or both. As long as there is even a tiny part of you that believes that sex should be used for pleasure, condoms will inevitably be used as contraception, because even if the major reason for using a condom is to prevent disease spreading, the purpose of the sex is pleasure. If you believe that sex is for procreation, there is no excuse for the use of a condom, because a condom will always partly be a contraceptive purposely used for the prevention of pregnancies, directly or indirectly. There is no compromise. Allowing people to use condoms as a disease prevention mechanism is to encourage, perhaps even condone, sex for other purposes than procreation, i.e. sex for pleasure. And this would open a whole can of worms, it would essentially say that prostitution can be acceptable as long as the circumstances are right, not to mention that it sexual promiscuity would also be accepted.

I suppose the only way to explain this confusing matter is that the Pope and the Vatican seems to think that sex for pleasure is acceptable, but there should not be any contraceptives involved unless there is a known disease in the picture. In that case, it seems that the evil of quenching potential life is lesser than the evil of sexually transmitted diseases. That, or just that the Pope is trying to approach a more mainstream audience and failing greatly.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another Victory of Love!

Some happy news: the repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy (previous posts here) has finally been voted through in both the Senate and the House and all that seems to be standing between letting gay people openly serve in the US military is an approval of President Obama and his top military advisers. Seeing as one of Obama's election promises was to do away with this policy, it should not be a problem.

I've blogged before about love being love no matter in what shape and how certain kinds of love should not be judged because they strive from the heterosexual norm. Love is love, and love is always good as long as one is not stuck in a destructive spiral. Everyone can love and everyone should have the right to love whomever they wish without being judged. Our world needs all the love it can get, and this will certainly add to it. This is most certainly another victory of love!

To the Marine Corps and Army combat units: Grow up and get over it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Real men don't cry - unless they have problems

While on my nightmare trip home for Christmas, I came across this article about the incoming House Speaker John Boehner. Apparently this man cries, not constantly and arguably not even in inappropriate situations (is there such a thing?), but way too much to be a man, where the expectations are that you don't cry. If your favourite sports team wins or if you go through a loss of a family member, then fine, cry away, but 'normally' men don't cry. Therefore, John Boehner obviously has to be an alcoholic.

Speaking generally, Dr. Robert DuPont, who served as the second White House drug czar and was the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, tells me that "alcohol reduces inhibitions. Whatever emotion you have, you're more likely to express it [when drinking]." DuPont added that alcohol reduces the functioning of the frontal lobes, and "the frontal lobes have to do with judgment, which is why [intoxicated] people do impulsive behavior."
Alcohol also "brings out underlying emotions," explains Dr. Michael Fingerhood, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. "It generally is unmasking what is inside them."

This excerpt is from the article, and there are other discussions related to his assumed alcohol problems in direct relation to his crying. It should be noted that it is not Politics Daily that is accusing him, it's a discussion of the assumptions made of Boehner by other people, including his colleagues. Because he's a man and he's emotional and that's all fine for a woman, but because he's a man, there simply must be something wrong with him. If it's not the alcohol, it's probably depression or perhaps even an emotional problem, but there must be something awry or he would not cry. He could not simply be a man who cries, perhaps even has drinking problems, but who cries unrelated to his drinking. A man who cries and drinks must be crying because he drinks, it's as simple as that.

Now, if this were a woman, it would be seen as far more natural. Women cry, you know, especially during that time of the month. It's annoying, it's a hassle and it certainly speaks to the fact that they are not suitable for high positions - they're just too emotional, but it's fine to cry if you're a woman.

So remember all you men out there: If you're a man, you can't cry. There are no ifs or buts - you can't cry. And if you're a woman, you can, but you shouldn't. Because [insert whatever here] forbid that we would have more people honest about their feelings, what kind of world would we live in then?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Feminists Against Rape Survivors

I didn't really know who Naomi Wolf was until this entire Assange rape accusation case stormed through the media and the woman, as many other women and men, went out and dismissed the sexual assault and rape accusations made against Assange. She wrote about it in the Huffington Post in an article entitled "Julian Assange Captured by World's Dating Police", arguing that because there was such a big ruckus about this entire case, it must be false and the accusations being made solely to further a political agenda, and this thus being a slap in the face to all rape survivors around the world. Why this post was entirely ridiculous and itself a slap in the face to all survivors of sexual assault can be read on Jessica Valenti's blog.

As if that was not enough, the woman went out a couple of days later, completely ignoring all the criticism people had given her and wrote that this time Interpol, Sweden, Britain and USA accuse rape victims world wide. In this article she invokes her knowledge about rape survivors and describes the entire thing as a "theatre." There is no doubt to a lot of feminists and other people that the hard crackdown on Julian Assange allegedly as a consequence of these accusations are politically motivated. That is not, however, because we automatically assume them to be false, as a lot of other people seem to do, but rather because a lot of us are aware that rape survivors and sexual assault victims rarely get due consideration and any form of sexual assault accusation is unlikely to lead to a verdict against the perpetrator. Instead, the survivor/victim often finds him/herself in the role of defending oneself from all type of accusations: why was (s)he walking there at that time of night, what was (s)he wearing, didn't (s)he know better than that!? There is a justification needed for every step of the way why this should be called sexual assault or rape, rather than something one just brought upon themselves. The survivor/victim thus finds him/herself in the role of the perpetrator; a nasty "bitch" who wants to bring down a man's reputation and resorts to falsely accusing men of rape as a tactical choice. The irony in the entire thing lies in the fact that because conviction rates are so appallingly low in most countries, it is a very ineffective way to "take someone down."

But I digress. Wolf points out, rightly, that rape accusations are seldom taken seriously nationally and internationally and it is a slap in the face to other survivors that one should have to accuse someone famous in order to get an accusation taken seriously. This does not, however, mean that we should bring these accusations against Assange to the level of other accusations, it means that authorities need to take all rape accusations seriously. This goes for everyday people as well, who because of different states' willingness to use these accusations to fit into their political agenda, automatically assume that these accusations are invalidated. Just because these accusations fit neatly into the US political agenda does not mean that they are orchestrated by the US government, CIA or any other US organ. It could be possible that the US is capitalising on events already happened without holding the strings. It should be possible to hold two thoughts in a brain at the same time, something which seems that a lot of people are completely incapable of, including Michael Moore and Naomi Wolf.

So today when Naomi Wold wrote another article bashing the Swedish legal system called "Sweden's Serial Negligence in Prosecuting Rape Further Highlights the Politics Behind Julian Assange's Arrest" I started wondering if she was just plainly ignorant. Wolf points out some pretty important criticism against the Swedish legal systems, the prosecutors in particular, saying that they are quite terrible at properly prosecuting rape accusations. There is an appallingly low number of cases that ever reach a verdict, and rape survivors in Sweden has to go through the usual amount of victim blaming and rape apologia from prosecutors and authorities that happens in every culture. So a lot of the criticism Wolf dishes out is very valid and something I hope that Swedish prosecutors, authorities and other people otherwise involved in rape cases take to heart. But then she goes on...

But none of the media outlets hyperventilating now about how this global-manhunt/Bourne-identity-chase-scene-level treatment of a sex crime allegation originating in Sweden must be 'normative' has bothered to do any actual reporting of how rape -- let alone the far more ambiguous charges of Assange's accusers, which are not charges of rape but of a category called 'sex by surprise,' which has no analog elsewhere -- is actually prosecuted in Sweden.
Wolf obviously has not done her home work. There still isn't such a thing as 'sex by surprise', and this is still not what Assange is wanted for or accused of! It's still a phrase used to trivialise rape, and has now been spread and reinforced by a self-proclaimed high profile feminist. What is more, Wolf blatantly ignores parts of the reports by BRÅ that she herself cites in the article. In their reports, BRÅ have acknowledged that Sweden has very high accusations of sexual crimes, and they have also asked why, something Wolf completely fails to do. The conclusions were that because of new legislation on sexual crimes clubbed through in the late nineties and onward, the definition for sex crimes, among them rape, have been broadened and now Sweden has a broader definition of some sexual crimes than other countries do. They also said that it cannot be concluded that sexual crimes are not on the uprising in Sweden, but it is hard to determine because of the widening of sex crime legislation. (Sift trough BRÅ's publications here, specific report here, they're generally in Swedish but some (most?) have summaries in English). By picking and choosing in the information and leaving out crucial parts, Wolf has made herself guilty of the same fault as a friend of mine accused Michael Moore for - one-sided arguments. As a journalist Wolf should be able to do better, and as a feminist, especially in this case.

It is a shame that high profile feminists are not doing their home work, not investigating this issue good enough and, as a consequence, start feeding into rape myths and rape apologia. I think that what Wolf is doing might ultimately harm rape survivors across the world more than the slap in the face they are receiving from governments for taking this case especially seriously to promote their own political agenda. Hopefully something can be learned from that - that sex crime accusations all deserve to be treated with seriousness, because they are serious accusations. What Naomi Wolf is teaching is that it is fine to disbelieve and dismiss rape and sexual assault accusers, as long as you strongly believe that the person accused has done something good. This is one of the oldest rape myths in the book - that a person that is well-known and well-liked cannot commit a crime, and Wolf is not even capable to see through it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I'm Disappointed, Michael Moore

Michael Moore, the well-known documentary film maker has stated publicly on his blog why he is posting bail money for Julian Assange. So far I'm with him, Wikileaks have done a great many good things and to want to post bail money for the front figure of the organisation is in no way a statement on being against rape and sexual assault accusations or saying that they do not deserve to be heard. I can understand why a lot of people think that Assange deserves to come out on bail and move about freely while extradition negotiations are underway as long as he does not try to escape the UK. It makes sense, people do not think he should be incarcerated before a crime has been proven. Swedish authorities have appealed this decision, according to Gemma Lindfield, representative of the Swedish authorities, because they believe there is a real possibility Assange might attempt to leave the country. A valid concern, I think, but perhaps not strong enough to keep this man locked up while the extradition is negotiated, a process that has been said could take weeks.

So when Swedish authorities appealed this decision to let Assange out on bail, Michael Moore tweeted the following:

I will be lying if I didn't say I expected better from this man, perhaps naïvely. Michael Moore has bought into these theories of a joint Swedish government/feminist and CIA co operation conspiracy. As a man who have produced documentaries that I have enjoyed immensely because of their capability of revealing things that have not been seen when looking at issues superficially, I would have expected him to do a little bit more critical thinking than that. Instead, it seems, that his hatred of the American government(s) and their power plays has made him automatically assume that this cannot be anything but a great puppet show with the US apparatus pulling the strings. I am disappointed.

I have said before and I feel forced to reiterate: serious accusations deserve to be heard and considered in an appropriate manner. Accusations of sex crimes, including rape, are serious, and therefore deserve to be heard. They do not automatically deserve to be believed without any critical thinking, but neither do they deserve to be dismissed as another one of America's great schemes in the plot to take over the world.

I can understand the willingness to defend Wikileaks and post bail for a man that has not been sentenced to any crime yet, but I cannot understand how a world renowned investigative journalist dismissed these accusations through such narrow thinking.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Frida Kahlo, famous, among other things, for her self-portraits which always celebrated her glorious unibrow.

I had completely missed this! Apparently December month is the month where self-identified feminists and women all over the world grow a unibrow for a charitable cause of free choice, called Decembrow. It's been proposed by feminist site Feministing, a site that I frequent because of their good articles. The charitable brow growing serves dual purposes, because not only is it for a good cause, it also (hopefully) helps to get rid of the taboo of women and body hair.

Unfortunately my eyebrows are way too light to even show as a unibrow, even though they might fulfil the bushiness criterion. I just wish I had found out about it earlier, because then I would have had time to prepare to first of all choose a charity and then think a bit more about how to raise the money. Next year, I will definitely keep this in mind, perhaps I will follow suit from the Movember challenge and contribute to prostate cancer too? The possibilities are endless.

For this year, what I will do is attempt to make my brows extra bushy and root for all the women who have the courage to defy gender norms and participate in a bit of facial hair-growing. Good luck to all of you fantastic females with Frida Kahlo style brows.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rape A Human Rights Issue?

Today is the Human Rights day, so my blog post will deal with that. Human Rights Day is a day where all defenders of human rights are recognised, including ones that work on a personal level and in obscurity. Every single one of us who respects human rights and works for them should feel they deserve part of the creds of this day.

This article by Nina Fennell in the Australian news paper argues that rape is not only a feminist issue, but also a human rights one. Essentially, any sex crime, is a violation of human rights because it is an infringement on the human right of self-determination, as well as some other negative human rights, i.e. freedom from certain things.

Fennell argues that putting rape into a context of human rights rather than leaving it exclusively on the feminist turf will open up the debate and bring in people that feel alienated by the exclusiveness of feminism. In my personal letters to various universities, I argued that this is precisely what I believe is necessary for feminism - an opening up of the nuanced debate that occurs in feminist and academic circles to be brought out into a more accessible arena in order to avoid misconceptions and hostility towards feminists and feminism. I agree with Fennell that, sometimes, feminism is perceived as quite hard to relate to for a lot of people, especially, I think, men. Feminism is often viewed as this pro-female movement, which it in all certainty is. The misconceptions start where people believe that to be pro-female one must also inevitably be anti-male. For me, and a lot of other feminists, this is as far from the truth as can be (more in the above linked post and also here).

Would it be beneficial to view rape as a human rights issue? Yes, it definitely would. Using a more neutral ground for the discussion could possibly lead to a more inclusive debate and that would consequently lead to a more open debate around rape culture, rape myths and rape apologia. Debating these things in a non-feminist light could allow for these concepts to become more neutral, i.e. not seen as a feminist myth evoked to bring down the great evil patriarchy, or rather men. This would be very beneficial to all parts in society as these are prevalent problems and they have the consequence of leading to further misconceptions about rape, sex crimes and the survivors of these crimes.

But, there is a reason why rape and sex crimes lie so close to the heart of women. Most statistics point out that these types of crimes happen mainly to women, with males representing approximately 7-15% of the survivors (USA, Britain - more statistics are usually available through each individual country and are quite easily accessible). Because of this, it is often seen as a big part making up the encompassing subject of violence against women. Power in these situations are often a gendered issue with the dominance of a male being established over a female as a consequence of a sexual crime. Interestingly, UNFPA devotes an entire chapter on 'Gender roles in flux' in their publication at the 10-year anniversary of the publishing of Resolution 1325 which deals exclusively with women in conflict. The chapter shows how in post-conflict societies, where women continue doing 'men's work' of running the productive economy that they took up during conflict, men often resort to domestic violence in order to reclaim their masculinity. Alan Greig also has interesting work on masculinities for anyone who is interested in reading further on the issue.

It has to be noted, however, that these statistics might need a bit wider interpretation of sexual assault for males, as most cultures still do not believe that men can be sexually assaulted in the same way as women. It's a part of the common conception of men as perpetrators, women as victims (see Moser, Victims, Perpetrators or Actors: Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Violence for an explanation how this is viewed in conflict); roles which can damage both men and women in the long run. Men are at risk of being largely overlooked as victims of sex crimes, and women are recurrently portrayed as passive victims just standing idly by waiting for someone to sexually assault them or for a man to save them.

Gender analysis is needed in issues such as rape and other sex crimes, just because it often contains a lot of gendered violence as a result of perceived or assigned gender roles. Therefore, to take it entirely from the area of feminist analysis could result in the analytical tools needed to understand this sort of violence and coercion being cast aside, and that would be damaging in the long run for all parties involved.

Women's rights are human rights, however, and Fennell makes a very good point. There is a need to bring out these issues to a more neutral ground where people do not feel alienated by the frame work of discussion. Hopefully this can be done in a way that can reconcile both human rights and feminist/gender analysis.

Happy human rights day!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Note on Feminism

Because of this whole Assange sex crime circus and the alleged feminist conspiracy taking place against him, or rather Wikileaks (which is not synonymous with Assange and important to keep in mind), it seems that there are several misconceptions about feminism. Feminists all over the place are being painted out to belong to a certain club that by proxy have taken a position against Assange and have accused him of committing the sex crimes that he is accused for. It is essential to separate between accusing Assange and simply pointing out that serious accusations should be taken seriously, which is what feminists have been doing. There is a lot of confusion over rape laws, consent and such things, and I have myself been guilty of assuming certain things about rape and the legislation surrounding it. What is important to note is that there is no such thing as "Sex by Surprise", it is an inappropriate euphemism that seems to have been (mis)communicated to Assange's attorney.

The entire circus upsets me, because it seems that feminists everywhere are getting the blame for Assange being accused of these crimes. It is as if people think our alleged man-hating, left-wing agenda is the perfect weapon for bringing down this popular man. It is also funny how this is alleged to have been in co operation with CIA as a joint international feminist/CIA/US-and-its-supporting-regimes crack down on Wikileaks, as Joan Smith at the Independent points out. Feminism usually is not associated with neo-imperialism, neo-liberalism or any such thing apart from being its opponent. That feminism and these ideologies now would co operate to bring down Wikileaks is quite far-fetched to say the least. That is not saying that one feminist could not have CIA ties, but it is probably not due to her feminist views that she would, then, co operate with CIA.

I expect a huge backlash against rape survivors, feminists and also women all over the world when this case is over. The statistics speak against Assange being sentenced to anything - Sweden has appallingly low conviction rates for sex crimes. I fear that once this is over those of us who spoke up against trivialising sex crime charges and smear campaigns are going to get this thrown in our faces in some sort of "I told you that a lot of women falsely accuses men for rape, just for revenge of some sorts." I also fear that this will lead to rape myths being reinforced in society and that it will belittle people taking women or men accusing someone of a sex crime. This is a plea not to let this happen. Any case should be considered in court on its own merits, and that is where the final verdict should come from.

Self-identifying as a feminist does not rob me, nor anyone else, of the capability to rational thought, nor does it make us by default 'radical' or 'militant.' Feminism is a broad approach that includes people from all over the political spectrum, although perhaps over-represented by people with certain political leanings. Point being, we are all individuals whose view-points and arguments deserve to be considered with the same respect and regard as anyone else's.

What we do have in common is an advocacy for women's rights. This does not, by proxy, make us man-haters or in any sense make us think that men's rights in the area where they are discriminated are just as important. Neither does it make us think that there should not be people advocating these rights as well. In fact, some feminists do, and some chose to focus solely on women's questions, some include sexualities, some have other issues they also advocate. It is a broad concept, and generalisations about what all feminists think about an issue based on one, or two, or some self-identifying feminists will often be wrong.

See this as a plea not to trivialise sex crime accusations both in this particular case with Assange, but also after this case is over. And please, do not drag an entire theory into this smear campaign, because that is simply not justified.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Asylum Seekers Having to Undergo "Arousal Tests"

I was hoping I had read enough horrible things for one day after posting the previous post not even an hour ago, but I was clearly wrong.

BBC reports that asylum seekers in the Czech Republic have had to undergo 'arousal tests' to determine whether or not they are truly gay, since being homosexual is a valid ground for seeking asylum. This is due to the appalling conditions that a lot of gay people face in their home countries, including violence, rape and persecution.

How this clear violation of human rights and integrity should be regarded as anything less than the persecution a lot of these men have to undergo in their home countries is unclear to me. The article reports that the men are made to watch heterosexual porn, and if they become aroused while watching, they are denied asylum. There is nothing to say that a man cannot get an erection from watching porn even if the actors are heterosexual. Besides, how is one tested if one is a bisexual male? As a bisexual male, having a relationship with a male is still going to make people do all sorts of atrocious things to you in the countries where homosexuality is illegal or completely unacceptable culturally.

Regardless of whether the test works or not, no one should have to go through sexual tests of any kind in order to determine whether or not someone should be granted asylum. According to the same logic, trafficked men and women should be ordered to perform certain sexual favours to prove that they are sex workers. (I know that being a sex worker, especially one held under coercion, doesn't automatically teaches you sex tricks, but it is a common misconception.) It is completely unacceptable, regardless of existing written consent. Come on, what are the asylum seekers going to do? Refuse to undergo the test and be sent back with all certainty? It is a ridiculous defence and would not hold anywhere.

This whole ordeal also strikes me as very unequal. Or perhaps they have thought of ways of testing lesbian women that I have not. I shudder at the sheer thought. Is this another one of those cases where male homosexuality is regarded at least doubly as 'awful' as women's? In either case, it is appalling.
Shame on you, Czech Republic!

Padded Bras for 5-year-olds Appropriate for Christmas?

I have blogged a bit on sexualisation of culture previously (click the tag at the bottom of this post and it will take you to all the posts), and this is an example how it can affect first hand. Not even childhood is left alone anymore. Parents tell of being "bombarded" with padded bras, lap dancing kits and t-shirts with "Porn star" written over the chest - all for 5-year-olds. But if that wasn't early enough to be introduced to such things, I will never forget when I saw a t-shirt for an infant with the text "I did my mommy a number" printed with stitches painted next to it, implying that this baby had torn open his mother's vagina, and that it should be something worthy bragging about! Now I know children wearing this t-shirt would be completely unknowing of this, but what message does it send to all the men out there?

Sexualisation of culture is inescapable today. Not even children are free of it, and when the patterns are being reproduced, it grows up to be the norm. For those thinking this is all exaggerated and that people don't buy these kinds of things, not really - obviously they do. Otherwise there wouldn't be a business built up around it. The sexualised clothing and toys are all mirroring the adult society, because if you really think about it, there is not much reaction when an adult woman buys a lap dancing kit or wears a t-shirt saying "Porn Star."

Yes, the difference lies in the fact that they are adults and they can decide for themselves, and they rightly should, but at some level these women, too, are affected by the message society sends us. What is worrying is not necessarily the 'sexy' culture as I've heard people describe it, what is worrying is that this has become the norm to the extent where it is accepted for toddlers to buy into it. It is an attitude that has been extended to children, by their role models.

I heard a story, not too long ago, that a woman told me about. She had been out wanting to buy a regular black t-shirt for her daughter who was around six at the time. She went to one of the major stores and she could not find a t-shirt that did not show the shoulder. Remember, she was shopping for a six-year-old, and she could not find a t-shirt that did not show some skin.

Now, showing skin is not bad in itself, neither is sex (for consenting adults), but the problem lies in that there is so much value attached to it. There is still a double standard regarding women. To be accepted, they have to follow the norm; the norm being the increasingly body-focused, superficial, sexy society, but if they in any way insinuate that they might have had "too many" sexual partners (where is the limit for "too many" anyway?) they are immediately stigmatised or used solely as a sexual object to be used and abused according to one's wishes. A woman's value is still very much tied to her sexuality and how she approaches it, but it is a fine line to thread. Wear too many turtle-necks and you are "frigid" or "boring", wear clothes that expose too much and you are a "slut" or perhaps even a "whore." Finding that golden line in the middle where one will be accepted is an increasingly hard task, and unfortunately it does not give you a lot of room to manoeuvre any sort of personality lest you should be ostracised again.

Clearly, when padded bras have become an accepted Christmas present for a 5-year-old, when her older sister runs around in a t-shirt spelling "future trophy wife" and the infant brother unknowingly brags about violently exiting his mother, we have to start thinking about the implications of where this sexualisation is taking us.

This is a Halloween costume, clearly for children. Watch and weep.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Feminist Conspiracies and Julian Assange

It is hard to avoid all this hype around Assange and Wikileaks. I know this will be my third consecutive post on it, but there is just so much that is off with the entire circus.

Today, another one of those anti-rape charge news articles were posted by Daily Mail. (I wrote about the AOL News article yesterday.) This one is not much better than the last one, and some of the bits made me close my eyes in disgust.

Once again, a lot of the emphasis is put on the fact that at least one of the women is a self-proclaimed feminist. In this article it is described as follows
An attractive blonde, Sarah was already a well-known ‘radical feminist’. In her 30s, she had travelled the world following various fashionable causes.
While a research assistant at a local university she had not only been the protegee of a militant feminist ­academic, but held the post of ‘campus sexual equity officer’. Fighting male discrimination in all forms, including sexual harassment, was her forte.
She is this time not only a radical feminist, but a militant one, taking this description of aggression and rabidness to a whole different level than when she was simply described as 'radical.' It is also implying some kind of physical method of resistance, I suppose against the patriarchy, or men in general. I'm reiterating what I said yesterday: just because this woman is a feminist, radical, militant or whatever type doesn't mean that she cannot be raped or sexually assaulted in any other way. In fact, having manoeuvred the legal system in cases of sexual harassment before means that she is probably more knowledgeable about what rights she has and doesn't have. Likewise, it does not tell anything about the case that Assange has said that he will fight the extradition to Sweden.

Also, about some of the rumours about the power relations in rape cases. The legislation exists. But as far as I have gathered from reading about it, both in media and various discussions, it was passed because of different relations than the ones involved in this case. The legislation is, the argument goes, there for the protection of people that are essentially in a dependency position, for instance a boss and his/her employee. If the boss at one point indicates or expressly says to his/her employee that sex is needed for advancement, this would be counted as rape. The same goes for a situation with, say a university Professor and his/her student with regards to grades. If the person that clearly has more power over the other forces the other person through verbal threats, explicit or implicit, that if the dependent person does not have sex with him/her, they will not receive the promotion/grades promised. Note that this is not simply sleeping one's way up to the top, there is an element of coercion in this case. I don't know what allegation the women accusing Assange made in regards to power relations or anything similar, but I would think that this particular piece of legislation would not be applicable in this case, unless there is information that we do not know about that points to something like this. If this law can be thrown around on little to no basis at all, then yes, I agree with its critics, it needs to be seriously revised, but I would like to have a little more faith in the judicial system than that.

This whole business seems to me have turned into an affair of Wikileaks vs. the women. And I do not mean Wikileaks as in the organisation itself has turned against the women; I mean Wikileaks in the sense that people seem to have made Julian Assange synonymous with Wikileaks. Wikileaks is an organisation, not a person, and people would do very well to keep this in mind. There is no doubt that Wikileaks have done people good through releasing information; people have the right to know. However, just because Wikileaks, the organisation has done something good, does not mean Julian Assange the person cannot do something bad. This argument is applicable in the reverse as well for those who see this information leak as something negative. Just because Wikileaks the organisation did something you consider horrible, does not mean that Julian Assange the person will inevitably rape women.

Lastly, I want to point out that just because Sweden has a legal system that is equal, that takes into consideration women's needs in such cases as rape, where the conviction rates are appallingly low, does not mean it hates men or that it inevitably discriminates men. The statistics speak to the reverse, it is very hard to be sentenced for a rape crime. Besides, Sweden is not exactly known for its fierce punishments and long prison sentences. I would believe many people regard the Swedish legal system as 'soft' because of its focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

The Swedish state is great in many senses, it has been at the top of the list for democratic countries for a while, and is according to the previously linked index the most democratic country. This does not mean it is flawless, but it does mean that we do have a judicial system that is reliable. It does also point to the fact that there is no huge feminist conspiracy of this seemingly man-hating country in addition to the much-speculated government conspiracies. (By the by, I would like to set something straight here - feminism doesn't mean being against men; it means the struggle for equality between men and women and although there are man-hating people identifying as feminists, this is not the norm.)

Sweden is a country that respects women's rights, some would even argue perhaps not as much as it should, and I, as a native Swede, resent that this should be painted in a bad light. There is no anti-male bias, or an exclusive pro-female bias, but there is a will to reach equality between the sexes. This equality is completely opposite to the view that all men are rapists, so there is no logical basis that anyone should judge Sweden as a country who is anti-male, which is what all this talk about Assange "running afoul" of pro-feminist laws seems to imply (from the AOL News article cited in yesterday's post).

Also, keep in mind, Sweden is not charging Assange for any involvement he has with Wikileaks; they are charging him with the alleged rape, sexual harassment and duress against two women. This is not a trial of Wikileaks, this is a trial of a man who has been accused of sexual offences.

For any specific questions regarding Swedish rape law, a Swedish law student under the pseudonym Mortality has kindly offered to answer questions. If you are genuinely interested with the nuances and grey areas of Swedish rape law, contact this person with your questions. If you are just out to criticise Swedish rape law, I suggest you do not clutter this person's mail box.

Monday, December 06, 2010

"Sex by Surprise"

A friend of mine posted this news article from AOL News on Facebook. It tells that Julian Assange's UK based lawyer called what Assange was charged for "sex by surprise" and it is insinuated that this is a Swedish crime.

First of all, let me put this straight: there is no such crime as "sex by surprise" in Sweden. Assange is charged for rape, sexual harassment and duress, and this is, what is called in Swedish legal terms, on "sannolika skäl;" a classification that means that the prosecutor has enough evidence to make her believe it is likely the verdict will be in her favour. There is fairly strong evidence, then, it is not charge pulled out of thin air. "Sex by surprise" or överraskningssex as it would be translated in Swedish is slang for rape. It is a term that is used when speaking about rape, but jokingly, or keeping it light, a word that brings with it positive connotations, which makes the word inappropriate in itself, but it is nevertheless synonymous with rape.

What allegedly happened, AOL News reports, was
The woman and Assange also reportedly had sex. According to the Daily Mail account, Assange did not use a condom at least one time during their sexual activity. The New York Times today quoted accounts given by the women to police and friends as saying Assange "did not comply with her appeals to stop when (the condom) was no longer in use."
Take a close look at the section I put in italics there. Assange did not comply with the woman's appeals to stop. It does not matter when these appeals were voiced, it matters that they were. By continuing having sex with the woman when she had voiced her wishes not to have sex with him, he had sex with her without her consent: rape by definition.
Note, that it isn't, as is also said in the news article, "Sweden's unusual rape laws, which are considered pro-feminist because of the consideration given issues of consent when it comes to sexual activity -- including even the issue of whether a condom was used." - it has to do with consent, and in this case, it was allegedly lacking, which is what the charges are based on. And no, it does not matter that they were having sex while she changed her mind, a person is allowed to stop a sexual act at any point (have a look at the rape myths below - "Myth: Once a man gets sexually aroused, he can't just stop - Fact: Men do not physically need to have sex after becoming sexually excited. Moreover, they are still able to control themselves after becoming aroused").

What really worries me with this whole circus is that it is panning out to be a popularity contest, as with so many other rape cases. There is the much-loved, at least by people not involved in the state, liberator of information against the allegedly rabid Swedish feminist. The article says about one of Assange's accusers:
She's a 31-year-old blond academic and member of the Social Democratic Party who's known for her radical feminist views, once wrote a treatise on how to take revenge against men and was once thrown out of Cuba for subversive activities.
This belongs to rape myths 101 - that a woman cannot be raped because she acts in a certain way, dresses in a certain way or said some things at one point or another. Just because this woman is a feminist who is interested in how to take revenge on men does not mean she cannot be raped or sexually assaulted, whichever one of the accusations she is behind. Following the same logic, it would mean that Assange is more than likely to be a rapist because he has been described as a chauvinist by Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Icelandic MP. Neither of these facts tell anything about whether or not Julian Assange has raped and/or sexually assaulted the women.

This is a matter for the courts. They have the evidence, they will reach a verdict. Do not make this a public trial. Read this instead (from the Roger Williams University webpage):
Myth: Rape is caused by lust or uncontrollable sexual urges and the need for sexual gratification.

Fact: Rape is an act of physical violence and domination that is not motivated by sexual gratification.

Myth: Once a man gets sexually aroused, he can't just stop.

Fact: Men do not physically need to have sex after becoming sexually excited. Moreover, they are still able to control themselves after becoming aroused.

Myth: Women often lie about rape or falsely accuse someone of rape.

Fact: Statistical studies indicate false reports make up 2% or less of the reported cases of sexual assault. This figure is approximately the same for other types of crimes. Only 1 out of 10 rapes are actually reported. Rapes by someone the victim knows are the least likely to be reported.

Myth: Women provoke sexual assault by their appearance. Sexual attractiveness is a primary reason why a rapist selects a victim.

Fact: Rapists do not select their victims by their appearance. They select victims who are vulnerable and accessible. Victims of sexual assault range in age groups from infants to the elderly. Sexual attractiveness is not an issue.

Myth: Sexual assault is a topic that only concerns women, and men do not have to be concerned about sexual assault.

Fact: According to recent rape crisis center statistics, men, both straight and gay, suffered 10% of the sexual assaults reported in the US last year. (Almost all were raped by other men.) In addition, men have wives, friends, sisters, mothers, and daughters who may someday need assistance in coping with sexual assault. Rape is a concern for everyone.

Myth: If a woman really did not want to be raped, she could fight off her attacker.

Fact: Even if the rapist is not carrying a weapon, the element of surprise, shock, and fear, or the threat of harm can overpower a survivor.

Here's a link to more information of what, exactly, it is Assange is being charged for. According to this article, it seems the condom incident is the molestation charge, the rape is based on the allegation that "Assange is accused of using his body weight to hold her down in a sexual manner." Keep in mind, though, that with so many different versions of everything circulating the web, it is now more important than ever to not listen to rumours.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

On Citizenship, Rights and Duties

Since there seems to exist an interest in reading my Swedish blogpost on Wikileaks, Julian Assange and Swedish government secrecy, I shall make an attempt to translate it into English. Here it goes:

Tonight Dokument Inifrån (Document from the Inside) was broadcasted on Swedish public service television revealing how evidence has been found in the latest Cablegate Wikileaks documents that the Swedish government were aware that the US government had been monitoring Swedish citizens and even encouraged it to facilitate the mapping of terrorist activity. Meanwhile, Julian Assange's native country is considering cancelling his passport. All these issues lead to uncomfortable questions about citizenship, its duties and the rights of citizens.

Where do you draw the line? Citizenship obviously comes with rights, something which is focused upon a lot in liberal democracies. We have human rights, legal rights, social rights, economic rights - all kinds of rights. Rights are important in a democracy. A democracy is based on its citizens, its participants, and if citizens do not have the means to participate in a democracy it cannot be sustained. But what about the duties?

There is an obvious obligation connected to citizenship. The relation within a democracy is a give and take one, not a unilateral form of decision making from either side. That is why there is an inherent duty to participate in a democracy after one's ability, as well as to contribute to society (often, in modern societies, this is in the form of taxes). Through meeting certain criteria, the state will reciprocate through giving citizens rights. The state ensures that the citizens have the means to contribute to society, that they can participate in the democracy. It lies in the interest of a democracy that its citizens participate, because without participation it will not be a democracy.

These rights to participation are relatively new when it comes to citizenship. When the theories were first formed, democracy was not, at least not in the form it is today, as certain. Instead the focus lay on the state's obligation to protect the citizen. Political philosophers such as Hobbes viewed this as a fair trade; give up some of your liberty and the state will guarantee to protect you against external threats. This is where the confusion lies in today's discussions. Instead, the chosen focus is on the obligations the citizens have to the state and what is offered are the new forms of rights. Citizens' most fundamental right, protection, is ignored.

The Swedish government's decision to let USA monitor citizens on Swedish soil smells of the old Moderates and of Beatrice Ask, our Minister of Justice, giving witness of an all too hard line with regards to crime in a society where Svensson and his friends will constantly throw a look over the shoulder in fear of the police state. The argument follows as such, that is, evidently, is better for non-criminals to live in a society as free of crime as possible. That is why hard measures are required to ensure that criminals will not be allowed to walk the street. There has been talk of purple envelopes being sent to accused (not sentenced) rapists, and not too long ago the definition of child pornography was widened to the extent where a man was sentenced for the possession of manga pictures of naked women/girls of a questionable age. It is a line that has been driven too far, and has begun to focus more on citizen obligations than their rights. This is exactly what has also happened in this case when the government knew about what was happening within the country borders and allowed their citizens to be monitored by a foreign power.

US has, the documents tell us, monitored Swedish citizens in the vicinity of their embassy in Stockholm with the purpose of preventing terrorist attacks. At least this is the reason being given. Beatrice Ask and the government have the entire time denied any knowledge of this, but as Dokument Inifrån has shown tonight, it seems that they have. This was probably justified, according to those who support this type of activity, since counter-terrorist measures will be to the benefit of us all. Certainly is this so, but are there any particular reasons why the US wanted to monitor Swedish citizens? Is there a reason to why they view the Swedish people as such a big threat that we need monitoring? That terrorism can be found anywhere is not an acceptable reason for our government to allow a foreign power to spy on us. Or government's duty is to protect us, not hang us out to dry. What is more, the reason being given for not disclosing this information to the Swedish people is that both the foreign ministry and the ministry of justice was aware that the political climate in Sweden was one against more monitoring. On what ground did they then, as popularly elected persons, believe themselves to have the mandate to sanction this?

Moving on to Assange. Apparently his native country sees his high position within Wikileaks as a justifiable reason to leave him over to a foreign power and deprive him from the documentation that can actually prove his existence. This is happening without a debate on whether he, through democratic grounds, has actually done mankind, including Australian citizens, a favour through highlighting certain international issues that have henceforth kept hidden to the very same people that elect people to govern on issues they obviously do not know their position on, or how they would act when presented with them. Instead Australia runs to USA like a good lapdog with the stick hanging out of the mouth. Where are Assange's rights, and where is the obligation of his home country to at least hold a serious discussion on the issue? (A fundamental obligation of the citizen toward the state is of course to adhere to the laws, and the state's right to punish a citizen who doesn't.) Should Assange not at least be tried within the Australian judiciary without the influence of America, which already has stated its position on this matter?

Assange said in an interview a couple of days ago that he had started to seriously consider what citizenship means. I can't help but wonder the same thing.

It seems that today (December 6th, 2010) the Australian government has issued a statement allowing Assange to travel home to Australia or to receive advise abroad, "just as any Australian citizen." Let's hope the Australian government does away with the blatant bias as well.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

EU Widens 'Human Trafficking' Definition

BBC reports that the European Union is widening the definition of human trafficking to include aiding, abetting, instigating or attempting. This is all very well and good, but it is not enough. What is needed is not so much a more inclusive definition of human trafficking as a major overhaul of the migration policies with regards to human trafficking.

In fact, a widening of the definition could mean that victimisation becomes even more widespread. Not to mention that there are problems with the definitions of these new criteria. What, for instance, constitutes as aiding or abetting trafficking? Is it simply enough to employ someone who has been trafficked without knowledge, or buying sexual favours from a prostitute who has been trafficked, even if the person buying is not aware of it? It is not obvious who is and who is not a trafficking victims as they are often held under threats to ensure they do not seek help.

Instead, what is needed, is a major look through EU's migration policies to ensure that people who have been trafficked can access their human rights in their destination countries. Currently, protection and support is often dependent on the trafficked person giving up information on the people who have trafficked them into the country. As the definition of human trafficking includes an element of coercion or threat, it is often hard for trafficked people to turn against the people who trafficked them. It is not uncommon for a sex trafficking victim, for instance, to have his or her family threatened by his or her pimp, making the trafficked person believe (regardless of the truth of the threat) that if he or she tells on the trafficker, his or her family will be in mortal danger.

What is more, and this is especially applicable to people who have been trafficked into sex work, is that there is still a stigma attached to being a trafficked person. Because the access of rights for these people is so poor today, and because the migration laws are so restrictive with regards to trafficked people, actually turning to the authorities for help might not feel like an option to these people. Often, if one comes out as a prostitute, because of the current moralisation of sexuality, that person is viewed as unclean and damaged. Unfortunately, this reflects in the authorities' dealings with such persons, especially because of the general lack of training. Seeking help from authorities might, thus, do more psychological damage. Also, in doing so, the trafficked person knows that the possibility he or she will be return to the country of origin is very big. This is not a bright prospect when these people fear being ostracised from their communities, cast off even by their family, because of the social stigma that is attached to prostitution and rape. Comparable to this is the vast number of women who were sexually terrorised in former Yugoslavia during the war, and have still not come forward because of the social stigma attached to being raped. (For further reading, see the recent UNFPA report published this year.)

Because some trafficking victims are actually voluntary illegal immigrants who were put into slave-like conditions upon the arrival in the destination country, authorities might be reluctant to give these people their rights as they are already seen as criminals. What they fail to understand, however, is that these people are still held against their will in a line of work that they have not agreed to (usually prostitution) and that they are being exploited on a daily basis. They lack the basic rights of self-determination over their own beings, and this can happen regardless if someone has entered a country illegally. Punishing these people for being illegal immigrants in the first place is nothing less than a double restriction of their rights.

As long as women and men who are trafficked into foreign countries against their wills or into a job that was not agreed upon from the start do not have access to protection and human rights, it is not going to be enough to widen the definition of human trafficking. As with a lot of other policies to prevent human trafficking, this one is aimed at stopping the organised crime rings involved with the consequence of ignoring the needs of the people who are actually being trafficked.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Holiday Sexism

The holiday seasons are soon upon us, and even though we are not quite there yet, the Christmas spirit has been showing everywhere for a while now. Halloween merchandise was quickly replaced with Christmas merchandise, all to maximise the profits. In Sweden, the Christmas smorgasbords are being set up and people have planned their holidays and what presents to give to their beloved ones for some time.

With Christmas comes the unavoidable Christmas music that some so love to hate. Personally I am a big fan of anything making this dark time of the year a bit brighter. Also, it is best to savour the Christmas spirit while one can, because after boxing day a lot of people are going to be quite glad they do not have to see the holiday for another 12 months.

Last night I went to a lovely party, one of a few, that mark the end of the university semester and is a 'good bye and happy holidays' gathering of a sorts. There was mulled wine, great food and brilliant company. At one point it was decided that we were going to sing, and our lovely hostess, organised as she is, had printed out the lyrics of a few songs on paper so that we could all join in.

One of these songs was 'Santa Baby', Kylie Minogue style. I have had trouble with that song for a very long time because I simply cannot stand the way Kylie dumbs herself down and moans like a sexually frustrated teenager at various points, but because of this allergy to this song I had never bothered to look at the lyrics properly. Until last night. In retrospect I am a bit surprised by my surprise that it was possible that this song was even more stupid than I had previously thought. Any song where a grown woman makes sexual innuendoes about Santa Claus should already be on the top 10 list of the stupidest songs of all time. I will now post the lyrics in their full stupidity for you to see.

Santa Baby,
Just slip a sable under the tree
For me
Been an awful good girl
Santa Baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa baby, a '54 convertible too
Light blue
I'll wait up for you, dear
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight

Think of all the fun I've missed
Think of all the fellas that I haven't kissed
Next year I could be just as good
If you'll check off my Christmas list

Santa Baby, I want a yacht and really thats not
Been an angel all year
Santa Baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa honey, one little thing I really need
The deed
To a platinum mine
Santa Baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa cutie, and fill my stocking with a duplex
And cheques
Sign your 'x' on the line
Santa cutie, and hurry down the chimney tonight

Come and trim my Christmas tree
With some decorations bought at Tiffany's
I really do believe in you
Lets see if you believe in me

Santa Baby, forgot to mention one little thing
A ring
I don't mean on the phone
Santa Baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight
Hurry down the chimney tonight

The song was originally sung by Eartha Kitt, and many covers have been recorded. A quick you tube search reveals that Britney Spears, the Pussycat Dolls and Taylor Swift have all made an attempt at it; none of them as silly as Minogue's version of it. At least in some versions, the sexual has been downplayed and it is performed more to be a cheeky letter to Santa than an invitation for him to seek warmth in the woman's bed while he's flying around the world saving Christmas. Minogue plainly makes it sound like this is some kind of trade off - sex for expensive gifts. She even makes "come and trim my Christmas tree" sound dirty.

The lyrics in themselves are not unproblematic. The singer clearly paints herself out to be a helpless woman who needs to be economically and emotionally saved by the big, manly Santa. The gifts she is asking for are silly things without much value. Luxury items, jewellery and other pretty things are what the list is made up of; superficial things used to add to her seductive charm so that, perhaps, it will be easier to get Santa into bed next year. It is all shallow and horribly sexist, a reproduction of the most unflattering gender assumptions.

This song is just simply horrible. I am not in the habit of playing it because, as I said, I have never liked it, but this year I will be making a conscious effort not to listen to it voluntarily.

Here is a video of Kylie Minogue performing this song at the Top of the Pops. Notice how Santa's helpers are half-naked and how all three of them point to their chests at various points of the song. Also note how Minogue even makes herself look dumber than normal when singing it, adding to the perception that she is a helpless, silly goose.

(Sorry, have to do this to claim my blog on bloglovin: Follow my blog with bloglovin)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Let's get away from the fairy tales, shall we?

Those of you who can read my Swedish blog have probably figured out by now that I am not a big fan of monarchy. I think it is a thing of the past, something which is better left in fairy tales, allowing real people to deal with the real world.

With the Wikileaks cables there is more information out on the personalities and dealings of the prominent people in the world, and among them, of course, the British royalty. Some of the stories are just arguments that any person with anti-monarchy sentiments will take as an early Christmas (or other holiday) present, and this story on Prince Andrew, Duke of York is one of them.

This man seems to be completely disconnected from the world where people spend their everyday lives. He is rude, he is arrogant, he is pompous and he has no qualms about using up your tax money on helicopter rides to go to his golf club for an hour. He is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with monarchy.

It has never been clearer that monarchy is a system in which people are born into positions with a silver spoon in their mouths, as they literally live in castles and are treated as the royalty out of fairy tales, because that is what they are. They have no qualifications whatsoever (apart from DNA) to hold the positions they are in, and because of this, there is no guarantee they will do it well. You might get a King (of Sweden, for instance) that praises dictatorships, or a Prince (of Britain, perhaps) that has no manners at all. They are not representative of the people at large, because they have lived fairly sheltered lives belonging to the upper-crust of society and probably have never stood in a queue in a bank in their entire lives. If they are the crème de la crème of the royal family they also do not have to pay tax or fines. This is how the Crown Princess of Sweden racked up an impressive amount through parking all over Stockholm city.

What is really worrying, though, is how this man, and other members of the royal family rely on the average tax payer to fly them around in private jets and helicopters. It would be acceptable to some extent if they used it within reasonable limits, but when they start (as the Duke of York in the article above) to use it to fly to and from golf club functions which they only attend for an hour, because they want to avoid the traffic, it is just short of spitting the tax payer in the face.

One thing I think the Guardian failed to mention was the huge disservice this particular member of the royal family has done to the environment. Not only is he chewing through people's hard-earned salaries, he is also probably increasing global warming by 50 per cent just by himself.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lack of Sexual Education Leads To Social Ills

BBC published an article late last night on their website that discusses the issues with abortion in Thailand. Abortion is there, as in many societies, illegal with the exception for cases of incest, rape or where the mother's life is in danger. In Thailand, as in other countries restrictive on abortion, it is socially conservative with regards to sex; it is thus not only the issue with 'taking a life', if that is how one views it, there is also a big problem with sex outside marriage.

Being a liberal myself, I am not a big fan of restricting human beings in this sense. Also not being religious, I don't believe that having sex outside marriage is inherently evil and will inevitably erode the morals in society. But this is not about trying to change Thailand's policies (although that would be very welcome), it is about the complete disconnect between attempt and outcome; something which can also be found in big parts in the US even though it is probably the most liberal country in the world when it comes to abortion. Some would even say too liberal as abortion is allowed up until when the foetus is viable outside the uterus, making the lines between consciousness/life and biological signs/non-life even more blurred.

Interesting is how these conservative views on sex seems to be linked with a high number in teenage pregnancies and single mothers. Conservative views on sex often, unfortunately, lead to a lack of sexual education as teenagers are believed to be too young to discover such things. Instead, they are expected to wait until they are of a certain age and in a committed relationship. Some societies have even stricter view on this and require waiting until marriage.

The problem with this is not necessarily that teenagers and adults are encouraged to wait until they are in a relationship with whom they feel very comfortable; it is the lack of information they receive when they are deemed not to be in that state. Lack of sexual education does not mean that teenagers will not engage in sexual activities. Teenagers will find out one way or another what the fuzz is about and how it all works. Unfortunately, when they do, their lack of knowledge on the topic makes them all the more likely to become pregnant or catch a sexually transmitted disease. If abortion is then also restricted, there will be an increase in single (often young) mothers who may not have any emotional or financial support from her family or the baby's father; either because they simply cannot give it, or in worst case because of the mother-to-be is ostracised from her community because of the taboo. Let's face it, if a teenage father becomes scared, he has the option to leave, like the father in the BBC piece above, but a mother cannot. There are many young fathers who do not, and they are amazing, but unfortunately, this is not the norm. At least not in societies that judge you if you took part in something that is considered a moral wrong and social taboo.

I believe that abortion is part of the human rights to self-determination over your own body, so in an ideal society this service would be available to all women, but unfortunately this is not the case. If abortion has to be restricted, why not put more effort into sexual education? Teenagers and young adults who have a solid base of knowledge in these matters are less likely to find out for themselves, and if they do, they are less likely to end up pregnant and poor, or infected with an STD. It makes sense to provide extensive sexual education anywhere to make citizens aware of the what it is exactly they are becoming involved with. An ignorant population makes for more mistakes. If teenagers do not know what contraceptive options are available to them, how are they going to be expected to use them? If they do not learn how the menstrual cycle works (and this is important for both girls and boys, as both are involved in a sexual act), how can anyone blame them when they say "I thought I couldn't become pregnant at this point in the cycle?"
If teenagers and young adults are expected to take their responsibility in sexual mattes, so should adults be: provide the young with proper sexual education.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Women's Rights and the Sustenance of Society

The New York Times had a piece yesterday on women in China. This article discussed how Chinese women have made big gains in rights, but have also, with industrialisation, lost rights. Since 1992, there has been a piece of legislation called the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, which, since 2005, has made gender equality a state policy, ensuring that women have protection against sexual harassment, discrimination and other such things. For a country not exactly being famous for its policies on human rights, this is quite huge. Women often have to stand aside when human rights are being installed in countries where they have previously been lacking. First universal human rights, and then, if they feel like something can be gained from it, women's rights.

Interesting to note, as the article does, is the huge discrimination women still face in employment, not with regards to their capabilities, which do not seem to be at question here; it is the reproductive possibilities that matter. Young women are being asked in job interviews if they plan on having children soon, and even if they claim that they will not, they are rarely believed.

This is a problem that, at one point or another, every society with stated women's rights that have begun to incorporate women in the work forces has faced. The fear of having to pay for maternal leave and child sick days often discourages companies from hiring women to the same extent as men, because, as we know, the likelihood that the woman will be the one staying at home with sick children and taking out more parental leave than the man, is quite big. Most countries do not even have anything near to equal division of parental leave, so the woman is simply forced to stay at home unless the family has the finances to hire a nanny.

What strikes me as odd, though, is how this is allowed to go on. China is a country with a vast population, and there are policies in place to discourage families from having more than one child, but at some level there has got to be a realisation that if women are discouraged from reproducing altogether, there will be no future citizens. When the pre-restriction generations of people hit the retirement mark, who will be ensuring the running of society then? For every generation, child births are dwindling. Obviously, in a country with such a huge population as China, a restriction on child bearing makes sense, but a complete discouragement? These women are the ones who will be bearing the future men, who seem to be more valued in the work place, and in society in general - China is notorious for its abortion of girl foetuses (see the Economist's article on 'Gendercide' - subscription required). A further discouragement for women to have children, and especially girls - the ratio of boys to girls born is 124 to every 100 - seems like a huge flaw in the planning for a future society. Every year, there are less women to give birth to future citizens and now they are also being discouraged to do so if they also have a need for a job. Combine that with the one-child-policy and there is at some point going to be a huge disparity in people who can work, and those who cannot (mainly retired people).

Women's rights, and in this case reproductive rights specifically, are directly correlated to the sustenance of every society. Women are as much needed as men in carrying forward the society. Unless they have started making artificial wombs, China needs to start reconsidering their acceptance of this kind of discrimination in the workplace.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

16 Days of Action to Eliminate Violence Against Women

Today starts 16 days of action to eliminate violence against women here in Glasgow. It is a 16-day campaign coordinated by Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership (GVAWP) Campaign's Working Group. During these 16 days events will take place around all of Glasgow to raise the awareness of violence against women (VAW) and gaining knowledge to prevent it in the future. There will be theatre productions, workshops and cookery sessions just to name a few. The events are divided by areas and the programme can be found here.

Tonight the campaign is kicked off by the fourth annual Reclaim the Night march. The assembly is at Botanic Gardens in the West End and the march will commence at 6.30 pm with the destination of S.T.U.C., Woodlands Road, Glasgow.

I wish I could go to the Reclaim the Night march tonight, but I have my first Thanksgiving dinner to attend. However, you will probably see me at some of these events during the next 16 days.

For those of you not in Glasgow, there is a possibility events are running in your city today as well, as today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the 16 Days campaign is not exclusive to Glasgow. Do a quick Google search and you might just find there's a Reclaim the Night march in your own town. If not, perhaps it is something to consider organising for next year?