Blogs, a murder trial and a football game: what's fuelling the abortion debate this month

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The trial of Scott Roeder, the man accused of shooting late-term abortion doctor George Tiller is now underway in Kansas.

Roeder, who is charged with first degree murder, confessed to shooting Dr Tiller on May 31st last year – although he has now pleaded not guilty. The physician, whose clinic was one of only three US clinics providing abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy, was shot at his church in Wichita. He had already survived one assassination attempt and endured years of anti-abortion violence.

Roeder’s attorneys are pressing for the charge to be changed to voluntary manslaughter, defined by Kansas law as “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force”. In his confession last November, Roeder claimed that he was “defending innocent life” which he believes justified his actions.

While anti-choice organisations – some of which had branded Dr Tiller a “murderer” and an “evil man” - are pleased that Roeder has been able to state his case, pro-choice groups have spoken out to say that a voluntary manslaughter verdict would pave the way for yet more violence against abortion providers.

Since the 1970s, anti-choice extremists have waged war on clinics and doctors across the USA. A feature on late-term abortionist Dr Warren Hern in last Sunday’s Observer put the total of violent acts to date at eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 406 death threats, 179 assaults, and four kidnappings. Dr Hern, now the only practitioner in the US performing late-term abortions, summed up Dr Tiller’s murder:

“This was a cold-blooded, brutal, political assassination that is the logical consequence of 35 years of hate speech and incitement to violence by people from the highest levels of American society…”

The Tiller murder trial comes at a time when the abortion debate is once again making plenty of headlines both in the newspapers and across the blogosphere. January 22nd saw the 37th anniversary of Roe vs Wade, when people all over the globe blogged for choice and anti-abortion protestors took part in the annual March For Life. President Obama also issued a statement reaffirming his support for a woman’s right to choose and the issue continues to play a key role in the debate on healthcare reform.

Even the Super Bowl is caught up in the most recent controversies – next month’s broadcast of the game will feature an advertisement - sponsored by Christian group Focus on the Family - which is expected to involve an anti-abortion message.

The 30 second slot will feature college football star Tim Tebow and his mother. Several online petitions have called for CBS to pull the ad and critics quite rightly say that a prominent sports event should not be used as an excuse to promote an issue which is one of the most divisive in US politics.

Dr Tiller’s murder reminds us that the public profile of the anti-choice movement in the US continues to be defined by violence and extremism.

Alongside the murders and the death threats, there’s the shouting of abuse at women entering family planning clinics, the posters emblazoned with photos which supposedly show aborted foetuses, the lies that abortion causes cancer and mental illness and repeated attempts to further restrict women’s access to safe, legal terminations.

The majority of anti-choice individuals and groups are religious and make much of their belief in the ‘sanctity of life’ and other Christian values. The fact that some demonstrate these loving, caring values by committing murder and assault, screaming abuse at people and putting women’s lives in danger makes it impossible to respect them.

In fact, it only serves to highlight further why they must not be allowed to exert further influence - so that reproductive rights do not end up being restricted more than they already are.

This piece was orginally featured at BitchBuzz. Image from AnyaLogic's Flickr.

Obsessive coverage of 'cry rape' cases and public perception

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Another day, another 'cry rape' story for the Daily Mail. This time the paper gleefully tells the tale of a woman (a businesswoman, no less) who has been jailed for 18 months for making a false allegation of rape.

While it's difficult to quantify false accusations as a percentage of total cases, the fact remains that it's a small one - yet such cases receive a disproportionate amount of attention from the media. The Mail and its ilk are repeat offenders, rarely featuring a story involving rape unless it's one where a woman's allegations have been proved wrong - unless of course, the rape victim happens to be beautiful, white, virginal and wealthy, in which case tragedy is laid on with a trowel.

The problem is that when the media continues to publicise such cases yet ignore the majority of shocking and disgusting attacks against women, the poor rape conviction rate and the rape culture that exists in our society, we end up with the situation we have at present, where a woman who has been raped is automatically assumed by many to be a liar simply out to ruin an innocent man's life.

Not in the case of any other crime does the public so readily assume that the victim must have made it all up. Take any news story involving rape on the internet and you can guarantee that there'll be one vile misogynist comment after the other, accusing the victim of all sorts of things while sympathizing with the accused. This has become particularly noticeable when the cases involve an allegation of date rape, no doubt down to a series of stories in recent years which have painted it as little more than a myth.

Yesterday Peter Tatchell wrote about the case of a group of men cleared of raping a woman after it was revealed she had spoken online about her group sex fantasies. Judge Robert Brown urged the jury not to return a guilty verdict as he considered this revelation to be the moment "her credibility was shot to pieces". In his piece for Comment is Free, Tatchell says:

"The judge and prosecutor appear to have come close to suggesting that the alleged victim had, by sharing her group sex fantasies, invited the rape; that given her racy sexual mores she had only herself to blame. Having heard she was open to the idea of an orgy, the five men were, it seems, entitled to believe that she was theirs for the taking."

He quite rightly goes on to point out that it seems like a disturbing throwback to the days when courts routinely blamed a woman for her own rape, citing her clothes or her behaviour which proved too irresistible for men who could not be expected to do anything else under the circumstances. As he concludes, it's truly unbelievable that in 2010, an allegation of rape should be disbelieved because a woman's 'morals'.

Wise words there, but unfortunately I made the mistake of reading the comments - some of which seem to insinuate that the woman deserved whatever happened to her and questioned her credibility - along with a few jokey remarks (now compulsory, it seems, as a response to stories about rape) about the concept of consent. It was a common criticism of the woman's allegations that she 'had no evidence' to support them, despite the fact that the case was halted before evidence was presented.

As long as the press continues to cover rape cases in a way which suggests the majority of allegations are made up and that the victim is often to blame for the violence against her, public attitudes towards victims will never change. If the media parrots certain views often enough they come to be taken as gospel and all too quickly, the first reaction to rape being mentioned is that 'most women make it up anyway'. I've heard it among people I know when I've explained what Reclaim the Night is all about or when I've brought up conviction rates. Comments from people I wouldn't have down as rape apologists and misogynists, nevertheless there's nothing that satisfies some people more than a rape allegation proved untrue.

Daily Mail: Getting Creepier By The Day

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Now we all know that the Mail is a newspaper that loves to denounce the sort of women who wear tight or revealing clothes, whether they're immodest 'ladettes' or women in the public eye who should know better than to do something as 'unprofessional' as wear a short skirt. But it's just as quick to fill its website with stomach-turning, downright creepy pieces on the latest starlet to show some skin.

Consider if you will today's Mail Online. You can ogle Dannii Minogue as she 'shows off her curves in a tight vest'. You can salivate over Ashley Greene as she 'wears nothing but body paint in a sizzling new ad campaign'. Can we call this news? Or just an excuse to feature a lot of pictures of women wearing very little. In recent months things seem to have got worse over at Mail Online, with story after story after story featuring women in 'revealing bikinis/dresses/skirts/lingerie', 'flaunting their figures' and providing 'tantalising glimpses' of their 'perfect curves'. If it wasn't so sad, it would be hilarious that the newspaper which disapproves of just about everything has a great line in features which wouldn't be out of place in a lads' mag.

No matter how hypocritical it gets, one thing stays the same. When the Mail does a story on those terrible women who go out drinking in short skirts, commenters can't wait to weigh in with their opinion on how shameful, how depressing these women are. When the Mail does a story on a woman 'flaunting her figure', commenters can't wait to weigh in with criticisms about her body. Ashley Greene gets a good slagging-off for her 'droopy boobs' (clearly these people have minimum experience of breasts) and 'wonky nostrils'. Yes, you read that correctly. Someone has taken issue with her wonky nostrils. The debate over Greene's body rages on for 154 comments. People who don't like it are denounced as 'prudes', 'feminists' (ha!) and 'moaners'. Occasionally, someone can't quite believe the ridiculousness of it all:

"Is this zoo mag or femail from the Daily Mail?"

Exactly. Of course we all know Femail features are often little more than an excuse for women to make judgements about other womens' bodies and looks, so maybe the two aren't so different after all.

On Saturday, however, the Mail plumbed new depths of creepy with its piece on 15-year-old tennis player Laura Robson. 'Flirty love', begins the headline. The story talks about the 'rapport' between Robson and her doubles partner, 22-year-old Andy Murray, claiming that's she's 'sweetened his mood' and mentioning that Murray is 'newly single'. Remember, 'Daily Mail Reporter', that's a 15-year-old you're writing about. And you're insinuating that there's something going on between her and a 22-year-old. All this in a paper which just loves to get itself in a tizzy about underage sex and young girls having 'inappropriate relationships'. Thankfully most people commenting on the story seemed just as disturbed.

Should we be surprised? After all, this is the newspaper which has a worrying obsession with chronicling the clothes, makeup and exploits of three-year-old Suri Cruise. She may not have started school yet, but little Suri can 'stop traffic' in her high heels. And when she 'ventures out on a chilly night with bare legs', it's cause for a story not dissimilar to one the Mail might produce about a soap star or a member of Girls Aloud. Are you overcome with distaste yet?

If the Mail spent less time creeping us out, maybe its attempts at real news would be a bit more credible.

No place for "fatties" among the Beautiful People

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Winter weight gain – who cares?, apparently. The international dating website has this week expelled 5,000 members for piling on the pounds over Christmas.

Recent estimates suggest that most people gain just five pounds over the holidays – and you might think that’s hardly a noticeable amount. But the networking site, which calls itself an “exclusively beautiful community”, took action after members posted recent photos suggesting they’d ‘let themselves go’.

Complaints by members demanding that something be done meant that many accounts were reviewed and voted on – with only a few hundred people making it through the New Year selection process.

1,520 of the members kicked out were from the US and 832 were from the UK. In third place was Canada. Poland, Germany, Italy, France, Denmark, Turkey and Russia completed the top ten of ‘shamed’ countries.

“Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model and the very concept for which was founded,” founder Robert Hintze charmingly pointed out.

Note the use of the word ‘roam’. It’s almost as if he’s referring to a herd of unpleasant animals as opposed to people who have – shock - behaved like us mere mortals and said ‘yes’ to a second serving of roast potatoes. Sadly this is nothing new. When BeautifulPeople completed its worldwide launch last October, Hintze declared:

“Other sites are jungles of hippos and wart hogs. We are a game reserve of leopards and gazelles.”

Equally as complimentary, managing director Greg Hodge claimed that standards on the site falling around Christmas is a regular occurrence:

"Every year we see that some of our members from western cultures eat and drink to excess over the holidays and clearly their looks suffer."

He pointed out that the US probably fared worst of all due to its enthusiastic celebration of Thanksgiving, meaning that the overindulgence started several weeks earlier than in other countries.

The site sent details of fitness centres and bootcamps to the so-called “festive fatties”, encouraging them to reapply for membership once they’d managed to shed a few pounds.

BeautifulPeople claims to be founded on the “simple principle” that people want a partner who is attractive, “giving the power back to the members to define their ideal of beauty in a democratic way” and therefore consisting only of members who fit society’s ideal of beauty. Prospective members’ pictures receive votes from the opposite sex over a 48-hour period, with the number of positive votes determining whether or not they will be granted full membership.

Many have joked about the controversial site, which has already made headlines by accusing British people of being among the ‘ugliest in the world’. Only a month after its launch, it claimed to have refused membership to 1.8 million people from 190 countries.

But with its promises of exclusive parties, business opportunities and the chance to be scouted by modelling agencies and production companies BeautifulPeople promotes the idea that it’s the thin and the conventionally attractive who get ahead in life. That they’re the people who matter. And that those who are ‘too ugly to sign up’ aren’t deserving of such a fabulous lifestyle – or happiness. Prejudice related to weight and looks is widespread enough and we certainly don't need dating websites to reinforce this.

Fair enough, the majority of us would admit that physical attraction is a factor when looking for a partner, but the fact members were so quick to protest over the possibility of a couple of extra pounds is ridiculous, not to mention shallow. BeautifulPeople has allegedly facilitated 10,000 serious relationships and marriages. Should these relationships last, I hope these couples are going to be able to cope with the effects getting older has on the body. If a few unflattering photos are cause for such outrage, I’m not so sure.

This piece was originally featured on BitchBuzz. Image via Sky News.

Happy New Year

Saturday, 2 January 2010

2009 was a fairly good year. I'm not obsessive about making resolutions but I'm pleased to say that I managed to keep some of mine:

- I trained for and successfully completed the Great Eastern Run in under two hours 10 minutes.
- I cooked more from scratch than ever before and kept food waste to a minimum.
- Kept to my resolution of two years ago to stick to buying clothes and shoes that are good quality, long-lasting and versatile.
- I kept up with my blog, even though I haven't been posting as much as I'd like since the summer because I've been so busy. At the beginning of 2009 I was just starting to move from blogging friends-only at Livejournal to using this thing. But I got some readers. I got featured on the Guardian's Best of the Web. I started writing for BitchBuzz. This year I want to keep on posting and make the effort to do it more often. There have been so many times when I've been itching to write a post but haven't really had the time, then by the time I do get round to writing it's really too late.
- I went to Million Women Rise and Reclaim the Night London, but didn't manage to go to Feminism in London or Greenbelt as I'd planned. I was also unsuccessful in finding a local women's group to join (I don't have time to set up my own).
- I attempted to get more involved in church life through my small group and the Young Adults group and was part of the choir for our Christmas services. Getting more involved meant the chance to make some wonderful new friends.

The Noughties took me from the ages of 15 to 25. Consequently they were slightly all over the place with regular dramas, mistakes, crises and bad choices made. Since 2007 life has been much happier and more stable and it just keeps getting better. Here's to the next decade being a good one; happy new year everyone.

PS I will be entering the Great Eastern Run this year and am hoping to get my time down to something within two hours. Lots of speed training for me in 2010 (with the help of my local running club).

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