Saturday, 31 August 2013

When Did LGBT Folk Become The People We Hated?

Last month marked 36 years since Mary Whitehouse took Gay News to court for publishing a blasphemous poem. 29 years ago Gays The Word was raided for obscene materials. Right now attempts to filter the internet and ban "sexualised" images in public are likely to lead to more attempts to stifle free speech by LGBT people (see, for example, the way mobile phone companies block legitimate LGBT websites). 

We've been fighting for freedom for decades. I'm thankful, very thankful, to those who came before me that I came of age in a time when things have been less difficult (the only really homophobic incident I can think of is having stones thrown at me for holding hands with my then boyfriend). But even so the history of the struggle still influences the way I think. 

Unfortunately this history of oppression, for daring to say and do things of which mainstream society didn't approve, has singularly failed to stop some LGBT people becoming just as EVIL (and I do not use that word lightly, but use it I must) as Christians ever were (and are). 

We've had cases for the last ten years or so of preachers being harassed and arrested by police for doing things of which mainstream society does not approve. Be it speaking in public (Adrian Tippetts brilliantly defends the right of Tony Miano to be horrid in public here), leafleting (Stephen Green, shudder) or emailing (see the latest instance involving Alan Clifford here) it would seem religious nutters are getting a bit of a hard time. 

Anti-gay public speaking is offensive, to me at least. I remember one particular instance of a guy with a megaphone in Trafalgar Square that left me so angry and hurt that he could say such things in public. But I didn't do anything because I believe in live and let live (and the looks on the faces of the many other random people in Trafalgar Square showed me his message was not winning any hearts and minds, quite the opposite in fact). 

We have suffered police interference in our freedoms for many, many years. We should be standing side by side with anyone suffering similarly. But, as it would seem with the Alan Clifford issue, it is now LGBT people colluding with the silencing, shaming and persecution (for even though this is not quite at the levels of persecution faced by Christians elsewhere it is persecution nonetheless) of others. 

I remember when the LGBT group at a company I worked with was chastised by the company after a gay employee reported us for using the word "queer". When I attended the next meeting everyone was deeply apologetic towards this person (who had never, and did never, attend a single meeting of our group). I never attended another meeting, finding this cowardice in the face of idiocy to be too much to bear. When did we become the bad guys? When did we think that policing other people's thoughts and speech was in anyway acceptable? 

I understand the hurt these people cause. I really do. They deserve to be shunned by society and ignored by decent people everywhere. But we cannot silence them because we don't like what they say. The way to beat them is to defeat their arguments and win over more people to the side of sanity. 

I've spoken of the boot being on the other foot now. We've won so many battles that the power truly is in the hands of those on our side. But we must remember what the boot felt like from the receiving end and never use it. 

We have an opportunity to show just how superior we are to those who killed, persecuted and hurt LGBT people over the last few centuries. We can be the better people. We must be the better people. 

If that means I stand in support of Alan Clifford, anti-gay hatemonger that he is, then so be it. Freedom isn't just for those we agree with. It isn't just for us. It cannot be. Don't let us become the people we hated. 

Friday, 30 August 2013

Counterfeit Dreams - Jefferson Hawkins

Another day and another Scientology memoir. The number of memoirs out there has exploded over the last few years and you'd think there wasn't much more to say. You'd be very wrong.

Jeff Hawkins' "Counterfeit Dreams " is to Scientology memoirs what Going Clear was to Scientology history. It is extremely well-written and deeply engaging. Hawkins was in the church for 35 years. He sailed aboard the Apollo with L. Ron Hubbard himself. He ran the successful 1980s campaign to promote Dianetics. And he served out his last years in the church on the now infamous Int Base near Hemet, California. 

Thus the depth and range of his experience within Scientology makes his an interesting perspective and he certainly provides some fascinating insights into previously unknown events. But also, as with the other memoirs I've read, his testimony corroborates tales of the traumatic and hideous existence that many have been, and still are being, forced to live. He confirms Amy Scobee's description of an unprovoked physical attack that happened to Hawkins himself. And his version of the events of the New Years ceremony in 2000 tally up with Marc Headley's. For those of us who are concerned, yet fascinated, by the history of Scientology this is quite simply a must read.  

Thursday, 29 August 2013

A Century of Mormonism in Great Britain - Richard L. Evans

I finally got round to reading this rather interesting 1937 book and it was just as eye-opening as I was hoping for.

We need only look at last year's "The Mormon Candidate" documentary on the BBC to see how American the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is perceived as, especially in this country. To be fair, the LDS Church has often played on this as they've integrated into the American mainstream. But you'd be surprised, I think, if you know just how important the United Kingdom has been for the survival and continuation of the Church. And, perhaps more importantly, the Church has had a huge effect upon 10000s of British citizens and on communities across the country.

This book is written from the standpoint of a believer and is full of prose praising the Lord for all the wonderful things that helped spread the message in the UK. But if you can get around that you'll find A Century of Mormonism in Great Britain rather illuminating on the early work of Mormon missionaries in this country and of the rather amazing expansion of the Church (followed by an equally impressive emigration of believers to first Nauvoo and then to Salt Lake City).

At one point there were more Latter-day Saints in the UK than there were in the USA! Without the influx of British emigrants it is quite possible that Joseph Smith's church may have floundered as many believers began to apostasise (over allegations of polygamy and other doctrinal disputes). The British believers, having made a gigantic leap of faith in leaving their homes thousands of years ago were both more devout and less able to change their mind once they arrived. It is no surprise that Utah now has the largest percentage of people claiming English descent in the United States.

This "American religion" turns out to be far more complicated than one might think. Certainly this book will help me continue to expand the Wiki article on the Church in the United Kingdom.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Yes, We Can Choose Who We Love (Sort Of). And?

There was rather fluffy piece about a polyamorous relationship on the BBC news site this week. It was extremely superficial and barely touched upon interesting and important questions about the practicalities, morality or the individual emotions involved with such an undertaking. It ended on a very "upbeat" throwaway remark ""But we don't have a choice. We're in love with each other,"

This has led Jennie Pollock to ask some good questions over whether we really do have a choice over who we love or not. I agree with her that we do have a choice. I've, in the past, found myself falling for a straight man (in a deep way, not just a crush). I made the conscious choice not to pursue this relationship (or the fiction that there could be one) and to distance myself from him out of respect for him (and for myself). And I can see cases where you may love someone and they love you but the right decision for you both is not to pursue that course. Hell, heartbreaking romantic dramas have been made over those sort of predicaments (check out The Love of Siam for one such tearjerker).

But her entire article fails to justify exactly why these four people should have choose not to pursue the relationship they have. Yes, they are wrong to think they don't have a choice. But aren't they just saying the sort of thing Pollock would, I imagine, like unhappily married couples to say? "We don't really love each other but we don't really have a choice about staying together. We're married and that is important to us both."

Yes we should all accept we do not have to give in to our emotions. I agree that self sacrifice, will-power and self-control are things I respect and aspire to. But this doesn't explain why we should criticise others relationship choices. "For the good of society" is I suspect what Pollock's answer might be and perhaps "For our own good". Of course, if we wanted to live in a society where we did everything for the greater good then we'd find ourselves in rather terrifying world of eugenics, involuntary euthanasia and highly restricted individual liberty.

No thanks, I'll stick to the one where I choose to stay with the person I love because not only do they love me back but together our lives are better than they would be if we were apart.

Reconsidering My Support For The TV Licence Fee

My love for the BBC, and thus my support for the licence fee, has always been one of those "faith" things I have. Like my love for the monarchy, I acknowledge that this belief is completely out of step with the rest of my political beliefs. Based solely on the fact that I enjoy so much of the BBC's output, I've usually ignored arguments against the fee. Given these arguments are usually made by the sort of right-wing nutcases I've made it a mission to avoid, this has been too difficult.

But today's City AM article has forced me to face the issue and reconsider. 12% of all prosecutions in this country are due to not paying the licence fee. 155,000 people have been put through a lot of stress and, if they are anything like me, I suspect fear just for the "crime" of owning a television without paying the requisite fee to a public broadcaster that they might not even want to watch. And that is just in one year!!

This just isn't right. In this age of satellite and cable subscriptions, the internet and companies like Netflix the licence fee feels like a total anachronism.

I don't want to pretend that the BBC's news, current affairs, science and entertainment output isn't among the best in the world. The costs in both money and human happiness for this to happen though are, in my opinion, no longer worth it.

We must think carefully about how we want to fund the BBC in the future. I certainly will pay way more attention to alternative viewpoints going forward.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

2013 Britain Is Not East Germany But...

Let us not kid ourselves. We are not living in the world of 1984. We are not in a position to cry out for freedom as if we're being oppressed. Though it is easy to compare our western civilisation to German Democratic Republic, such a direct comparison is an insult to the true horrors inflicted upon some East Germans by the GDR, such as Miriam in Anna Funder's heartrending book "Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall" who was arrested as a teenager for putting up posters against the regime, who tried to flee across the wall but was captured and imprisoned and who, once released, met and then lost the love of her life, Charlie, as he was arrested and possibly murdered.

We are not there yet. But East Germany does stand as an example of the terror of state intrusion into the private sphere, the malignance of the bloated bureaucracy needed to carry out that intrusion and the stifling of the free press, free movement and free expression of a people "for their own good".

Caron Lindsay rightly asks why our Government is still using the authoritarian parts of Labour's Terrorism Act in the wake of the David Miranda arrest. Perhaps more concerning is the recent raid on the Guardian's offices (and I'm not fan of the Guardian these days) to destroy hard drives held there.

Our Government is attempting to get Internet Service Providers to auto-filter content on the internet. For now we'll be able to ask that the filtered material is shown. Again this is a cause for concern, another little thing that (like the Terrorism Act) could be used in unintended (and possibly harmful) ways.

The treatment of such dangerous people as trainspotters and photographers, the attempts to silence the press, the detention (briefly or more long-term) of innocent (or as we now call them "suspect") people are deeply worrying indicators of the health of our liberty. We must rally against these intrusions, especially where they are shown to have no benefit. How many trainspotters have been found guilty of terrorism? How many photographers have turned out to be doing recon for Al-Qaeda? What stories has the Guardian printed that, other than being a offense to good taste and right thinking, have threatened anything other than the reputation of certain US government agencies?

We must ask more questions like this. We must question the accepted narrative of the anti-terrorism laws. We must fight against Government overreach.

We are not East Germany. Let's keep it that way.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Come Quick Christian Warriors, Lest You Be Considered Hypocrites! #section28lives

The anger and fear over teachers being forced to promote homosexuality (or at least not speak their conscience) that was expressed during the same-sex marriage debates couldn't be anything other than genuine could they?

I mean if we had a case where a school (or schools) was enforcing a policy which kept a teacher from speaking their conscience, those same people would be up in arms right? The Christian Institute and Anglican Mainstream would be churning out article after article about it surely? 

When a teacher was investigated for refusing to say all opponents of marriage equality were homophobes, they were all over it. So when all teachers at Catholic schools are at risk of the sack for speaking their conscience and teachers at 45 other schools have the limits of their conscience defined in school policy, it'd be all over their sites right? 

Nah. One article (making no comment) on Anglican Mainstream and nothing on the Christian Institute. Hmm... 

Anyone seeing one of the MPs, Lords or anti-equality activists who has spent the last 6 months fighting for freedom of conscience for teachers mentioning the latest "Section 28"-lite story please let me know... I won't hold my breath though. 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief

I've read many, many books on Scientology and I think I can safely say that this is the most well-written of them all. The beautiful prose made this an absolute joy to read (even if I read most of it sat in a hospital car park!), and it tells a fascinating story indeed.

I love the history of religions and this book is the definitive history of Dianetics and Scientology. For people who have only the vaguest of interest in the church, this book will give you an easy to read but in depth look at the history of the church. Even for people like me, who've read their fair share of Scientology history, there is still enough new information and a fresh perspective on oft-repeated events to keep it interesting.

And the history is intertwined with the story of Paul Haggis, from his early life through his time as a loyal public member to his apostasy. It helps imbue the narrative with a human story told by a master of his craft. It doesn't get much better than this.

There are excellent tellings of the stories of Quentin Hubbard (L. Ron Hubbard's son who committed suicide) and of David Miscavage's early years. And some little insights into John Travolta's journey inside the church.

Buy it. Read it. Love it.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Whilst Our Opponents Moaned About Hypotheticals, Their Kin Were Banning Free Speech In Schools

Remember during the same-sex marriage debates how often the plight of teachers being stopped from saying what they believed was brought up? Oh it was going to be awful, teachers would be sacked, lives would be ruined. 

Meanwhile... three schools have been found to be operating policies that use similar language to the much loathed Section 28. I've said it over and over... whilst those who want to oppress others campaign for their own freedom from imaginary enemies, LGBT friendly teachers have been put under threat of the sack in Catholic schools and we have schools introducing bans on "promoting homosexuality" (how one promotes homosexuality I don't know, saying "Being gay is okay" to a child counts as promotion?). 

Christians (be it on the Church of England's freedom to discriminate or their own freedom of speech), and their allies like Ben Bradshaw, spend forever making every debate about them whilst LGBT people get their rights compromised again.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Lose The Lad's Mags Is Heteronormative!

I hate the word heteronormative. Like "trigger warning" and "privilege", it rubs me up the wrong way. I did use it, very reluctantly, in my last post and it even rubbed me up the wrong way then. It does, however, sometimes serve a purpose.

Why, oh why, am I talking about a word that I really don't want to use? Because of this blog post from a supporter of the "Lose the Lad's Mags" campaign.  It argues that "lad's mags" are heteronormative. I have to say in opposition that the blog post itself, and the entire "Lose the Lad's Mags" campaign is heteronormative. I argued last post that feminism can be very heteronormative and here we have a very clear example.

1) Not discussing, and laughing off any attempt to discuss, the covers and content of gay magazines within the overall debate IS heteronormative.

At this point in the argument defenders of the campaign state that gay magazines are nothing like "lad's mags" and the content is far more coherent than that your average copy of Nuts (agreed!), but this undermines two arguments the campaign use.

i) that the covers of "lad's mags" aren't acceptable viewing material for children (an argument that totally ignores the "sexist" content)


ii) the covers of lad's mags are demeaning to women working and shopping in places that sell them and could constitute sexual harassment. This is the main thrust of the legal argument Lose the Lad's Mags are using!

So yes we do need to discuss gay mags if simply because their covers are often just as sexual as lad's mags and should absolutely be treated in the same way as them.

2) The blog post insists on referring to lad's mags as porn (and finds the only reason one would not want to censor them is because men "need to access porn in a supermarket.", which again ignores the women and non-heterosexual men defending lad's mags [a heteronormative assumption if ever I've seen one]) and asks if porn is allowed in supermarkets where is all the gay porn?

I have to wonder at this point if the writer thinks gay men buy the Naked issues of Attitude and Gay Times just for the travel, fashion and music sections. Does the writer think that these magazines are "safe" because the writer thinks gay men are "safe"? The implications of considering half naked women to be porn but not the Naked issues of gay magazines are horrendous. It speaks to the "gay men aren't real men" meme and desexualises gay men. That is heteronormativity.

3) The post completely ignores the fact that bisexual men (and anecdotally I've seen bisexual/lesbian women mention this too) also read lad's mags. It is not just heterosexual men who read these magazines.

The post also then criticises how bland the range of sexuality offered by lad's mags is and then dismisses the idea that any other sort of sexuality should be allowed in a magazine either! No sexuality allowed in the supermarket, thank you very much. We should also remove condoms and lube from the lower shelves too.

The sanitisation and desexualisation of society continues. Puritans will obviously be overjoyed to hear of this. But as has been shown before, such efforts often have terrible results, especially against us sexual minorities. And it doesn't get much more heteronormative than that!

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Why I Am Not A Feminist

I'm nobody special so there shall be no profound truths, and no reinventing of the wheel, here. But I felt it was time to write up why I personally disassociate myself from the word "feminist".

It isn't easy. I support women's liberation. When I say women's liberation, I mean total freedom. Freedom from the need to conform to other's demands, freedom to choose who they associate with, what activities they partake in, what career they choose. Of course freedom doesn't mean any of us get what we want (life is never that simple) but we should have the chance at least.

What does that mean in practice? It means that I support the right to choose. Not just on abortion (abortion is something I personally struggle with; a woman's right to choose is not) but also if a woman wishes to choose to be a stay at home mum, all power to her. If she wants to get involved in sex work, then so be it. If she wants to fly to the Moon and be bloody super awesome, then Hell yes.

In short I want for women what I want for myself (and all men). The right to be individuals, with their own personal wants, needs and dreams.

I just don't see feminism as supporting that. Over the last few weeks I've seen self-described feminists say that women don't have the right to choose to work as models (of the "glamour" variety, although I've always thought it must be way more glamourous not to be a glamour model and instead to be someone, well, glamourous). This is because, supposedly, such work is not good for society as a whole. I am disturbed by this argument which seems to be a rehash of the very worst of the pro-life arguments. By arguing from "the greatest good" position, feminism is simply splitting hairs with "traditionalists" (for want of a better term and to avoid insulting people with more puerile terms) over what women should be allowed to do.

I've also seen it said that feminism will "liberate" men from their stereotypical roles. What this really means is that feminism wants men to NOT do anything those "stereotypes" represent and that feminism has no intention of allowing the freedom for men to choose not to conform (or conform if they wish!). This isn't liberation. That is like freeing some political prisoners (consisting of a few conservatives, a few liberals, lots of communists and a Monster Raving Loony party member) and then telling them they must now conform to one political worldview from now on and declaring this to be a "liberation". Truly the gay rights movement and the concurrent metrosexual revolution has done far more to liberate men from conformity in the last 20 years (although seems like there is a new conformity forming, damn it) than feminism has managed in 50.

Feminism is heteronormative. Studies on porn and lad's mags and their effects on men and women tend to completely overlook the use of gay porn and gay magazines by men and women. I've had feminists tell me that the reason for this is because the historic subjugation of women makes a man sexualising a woman quite a different thing to a man sexualising a man. That it does. Thus it must be something far more complicated in society than the sexualisation of others that causes the just concerns feminists have. The argument that sexism is endemic in society just makes me want to shout "I know!" and remonstrate forcefully with the person making that argument to show them that ergo their attempts to ban porn and lad's mags are attacking not even symptoms let alone the cause of sexism in society. Heteronormativity is hardly a new thing in feminism, it has been going on for many years.

Feminism is too much dogma and not enough facts. Feminists are keen to point out studies that suggest lad's mags sound like rapists (but not enough like rapists to stop men from choosing to identify in a blind test more often with comments by rapists than lad's mags, sounds like lad's mags might be restraining men rather than the other way round!) but don't present evidence that banning lad's mags (and/or porn) has had a positive effect in other societies. Some evidence certainly suggests the effects are anything but good for many of us. Calls for them to rethink don't just come from "men who just want their porn", they come from women who want their sexual freedom. It is a similar, but even more lopsided, problem when it comes to feminist views on prostitution.

And a surprisingly large number of feminists are transphobic.

I know what you are going to say: Jason, there is more than one flavour of feminism. Sex-positive feminism! Don't tar everyone with the same brush. I accept that my use of the word feminist above does tarnish everyone with the same brush. I know lots of people who describe themselves as feminist who wouldn't share any (or at least a majority) of the beliefs above. But the problem is that, to me, feminism as a concept has become tarnished. I don't think feminists are evil. I think they have some very worthy aims. But I believe that the methods and ideology that are used to get to the feminist "utopia" are not justified and will ultimately fail.

Ultimately feminism divides people, fails to speak up for 50% of the population (at least) so can hardly be considered "liberating" and relies too much on a puritanical certainty that some things are inherently bad. It ignores individual choice, and fights against women's right to choose how to live their lives.

So no, I'm not a feminist.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Scientology And Some Interesting Times Ahead

We are not quite at the excitement levels that Project Chanology caused, but there are two very big events (one newsworthy and one less so) that are likely to make Scientology pretty interesting for those of us who find the Church so fascinating.

The first news-friendly story is the ongoing fallout from Leah Remini's defection from the Church. John Sweeney's excellent Panorama documentary "Scientology and Me" was the first time I'd ever heard of Leah Remini. In it Remini is shown as a loyal member of the Church aghast at the evil BBC's distortion of source. But we now know that just months before Remini had began to ask questions about the whereabouts of her friend, and COB RTC David Miscavige's wife, Shelly Miscavige. These questions would ultimately lead to her leaving the Church last month and have now resulted in what could be quite an interesting moment as Leah Remini pursues, 7 years after she first raised concerns, information as to where Shelly Miscavige may be by registering her as a missing person.

Though the Church regularly faces open opposition from former members, and even people who were in very senior positions during their time in the Church, it rarely has to face with such vocal opposition from one of its most cherished celebrity members. With her name recognition (with people who aren't me anyway!) and desire not to be silenced, we could be looking at one of the more serious threats to the status quo of the Church in recent years.  

She is also planning to release a memoir which may provide some fascinating insights into life as a celebrity in the Church of Scientology. We've had plenty of info on the workings of the Celebrity Center from former employees but how it looks from the other side of the bar might be revealing indeed.

It was already being speculated, prior to the missing person report, that Shelly might make an appearance at an upcoming Celebrity Center event. Time will tell.

The other news is less media friendly and more for the Scientology anoraks but... the long overdue Super Power Building (yes, Dear Constant Reader, this is a real thing) is quite likely to be opened within a matter of weeks. And, quite possibly, at the same time COB RTC might announce a new model of e-meter in what is being call the "The Golden Age of Tech 2". Both will probably done in an event in Clearwater that seems to be replacing both a formerly annual IAS event in the UK and an event on the Freewinds (a ship Scientology operates in the Caribbean). With an obvious reduction in the Scientology event calender we may want to count the heads at the Super Power Building opening and see if the recent great apostasy is finally causing Scientology to have to scale back its pomp!

And how the Super Power Building and GATII will effect the way the church works moving forward, if there is a future for the church, will be something to watch.

Very interesting times ahead Scientology watchers!!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Important Question Of The Week: How Much Cleavage Is Too Much? #losetheladsmags

Some of the things I say below do not actually reflect my opinions. I don't feel I need to point out which bits... 

So as Lose The Lad's Mags campaign makes advances ahead of their 24th August action day it is time to start asking some important questions. These apply regardless of whether we're talking about the "modesty bag" solution favoured by the Co-Op and Tesco or the full on ban on lad's mags proposed by the campaign.

1. How much cleavage is too much? 

As we look to the future and the possibility (though slim given the falling popularity and circulation figures of magazines) that a new magazine may come out that is found by some to be as equally onerous as a "lad's mag", we must consider what criteria we use to decide whether it is acceptable for normal sale or needs to be restricted.

What level of cleavage is acceptable? How much of a leg can be shown? Who is the judge of this criteria? What are their motives? Will we need some sort of new organisation to review magazines before they go on sale to make sure they are within the guidelines? Will the women in the photographs be asked for their opinion? Will these criteria be equally applied to all magazines like Cosmo etc or is it only certain magazines?

2. When does the Lose The Gay Mags campaign begin? 
Well they aren't really equal to men unless similarly sexualised images of men, as contained in most editions of Gay Times and Attitude (and especially in their Naked specials), are treated in the same way. Though, in my personal opinion, they also contain some brilliant articles they are heavily sexualised publications (just check out the back of Gay Times) and promote a poor body image to young gay guys (if you think along those lines).

If sexualised images of women cause men to be more likely to physically or sexually abuse women, then surely the same must apply to gay men. Thus such magazines should be controlled as well. Any suggestion otherwise would surely be a form of anti-gay prejudice on a couple of levels:

i) young gay guys aren't in need of protection of the display of sexualised images of men when girls are.
ii) suggests gay men aren't as "dangerous" as straight men which, though in our favour, is a way of saying gay guys aren't "real men"

So don't be homophobes, ban gay mags too!

3. With a focus on such images are we to extend the same requirements we decide in question 1 to all forms of media and beyond?

So if sexualised images of women aren't allowed on magazines, will we extend the requirements to cover or remove such images to newspapers, the internet (a really tough version of the Great Firewall of Cameron?), advertising (just as some Muslim men take to blacktaping over adverts), television (Baywatch!) and beyond?

Will women need to cover up in public? Now that we've established that it is the way that women dress and look that causes sexism, violence and a whole host of other evils (victim blaming of the highest order) surely we need to enforce standards of dress in public? No bikinis, no short skirts. The basic "women are asking for it" sort of stuff, right? Just to be on the safe side.

4. As we've now decided women don't get to do what they wish with their bodies or choose their career freely, what else can't a woman choose? 

No modelling, no sex work. If we accept these are things that women shouldn't be able to choose (and I'd hope you feel the same about men) then I wonder what else we might need to restrict for the greater good? Many Christians have, in the last few days, joined the battle on social media to help lose the lad's mags. I'm sure they could think of one or two things that women shouldn't be able to do.

5. What will be the standard for success? 

As with any initiative, we must have a goal. When will we celebrate the defeat of the lad's mags? When we notice a related drop in rapes against women or domestic violence? When women break through the glass ceiling of a business thanks to the evil magazines being removed? We need to know so we can scientifically check the results. Because this campaign isn't about dogma but real, detectable improvements in the quality of women's lives, isn't it?*

*unless said women rely on or wish to be modelling

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Down With This Sort Of Thing! From Slut Walks To The Magazine Burqa

Remember the SlutWalks?

"You know, I think we're beating around the bush here," said Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this - however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised."

Those words unleashed a wave of angry protests by women and men eager to show that what a person wears does not excuse (or encourage) rape. The responsibility for sexual violence is on the perpetrator and not the victim. These empowering and, from a marketing standpoint, very successful marches certainly got the message across.

The idea that women’s clothing has some bearing on whether they will be raped is a dangerous myth feminists have tried to debunk for decades. Despite all the activism and research, however, the cultural misconception prevails.
So said Jessica Valenti. I very much agree with her. There seemed to be a shift in feminism towards the empowerment of women to be who they wished to be and to dress how they wished to dress. Critical voices (about how dressing in this way was only playing into the hands of men) were in the minority. Freedom was just around the corner (with a lot of work still to go on reducing sexual violence of course but it seemed like a new dawn of actual equality was coming).

Alas. What a difference a couple of years make. Gone is the belief that women should look and dress how they wish without fear.
"the 'lads mags' targeted at young male readers typically feature highly sexualised images of women that blur the lines between pornography and mainstream media. At the same time, they promote an idea of male sexuality as based on power and aggression, depicting women as sex objects and including articles that feature strategies for manipulating women."
Cover up girls. Ok so it doesn't actually imply that. But... Here is what Object has to say about a woman's right to choose to appear in "revealing" clothing (or lack thereof) on camera (rather than in public).

Mainstream media outlets glamorise the ‘porn star’ life. For example even though much research shows that prostitution is overwhelming abusive and exploitative, the media friendly story is still one of the ‘Belle du Jour’ fantasy of a successful and glamorous call girl. Instead of showing the realities of lap dancing, page 3 or prostitution, the media focuses on discussions on women’s choice to participate in the sex industry.  
Actually, the issue of choice is complex. We have to look at all the factors which influence our choices, including the way that the media and popular culture glamorises the sex industry. Even if we could establish that it truly was a genuine and empowering choice of a woman to go into one of these industries, the harmful impact that their normalisation has on society makes the issue much bigger than one of individual choice.
So women, you don't get a choice. You have been brainwashed. You must comply. Surely this applies to the SlutWalkers too? They have been socialised into believing it is okay to dress the way they did but really they need to cover up as they are just doing what men really want?

If a woman is depicted in a sexualised manner in photos and text and this leads to sexism and higher rates of sexual violence (as some have been arguing over Lose the Lad's Mags) then logically women who dress in, and I'm not suggesting I accept this description in anyway, what could also be perceived to be a sexualised manner then this surely only plays into the hands of the patriarchy and leads to an increase in sexism in society at large. Ergo women should not just be covered up and treated in a non-sexualised way in photos and text BUT in meatspace too. 

Of course the argument against this will be that women in magazines are NOT making a positive decision to be depicted the way they are (which obviously denies the self-awareness and individual freedom of the women in those pictures) whereas women on the street are (even though Object have clearly shown above that this may not be the case). 

Meanwhile... Tesco have restricted purchasing Zoo and the like for the over 18s only. Don't worry gays... they've confirmed there are no age limits on Gay Times. See men have the right to dress and behave as they wish. Phew!

Not sexualised in any way. 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Are The Drewitt-Barlow's Striking A Blow For Equality Or Fighting Against Religious Liberty?

Though they have mentioned this before it would appear that the Drewitt-Barlow's, regulars on day time television and same-sex parenting pioneers, really are going to sue the Church of England in order to enable them to marry in a CofE church.

Among a certain kind of Twitter user this has already evoked the reaction one would expect. Not only are there grumpy statements of "we knew this would happen" but some are already acting as if the Drewitt-Barlow's have won the case and churches all over the country are now being forced to marry people they don't want to.

To them I'd say: hold your horses! One lawsuit doesn't make a persecution. Maybe express your opposition and wait and see the outcome before becoming convinced the world is out to get you. Some Christians don't just wear a cross, they carry it on their back and act like they are being marched off to their crucifixion. Do they want to build a coalition with those who want to protect them or just be all self-pitying? I'm guessing the latter.

Meanwhile back in the real world. I've no doubt that Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow sincerely wish to get married in their local church. And I've no doubt they sincerely believe it is their right, especially given the onerous fact that we have an established church in this country who previously had the requirement of marrying anyone in their parish (within reason). But I also believe they are wrong to be pursuing change within the Church of England in this manner.

Forcing people to do things against their wishes (unless they are taking our money without our own free choice of who gets it, i.e. Government employees) goes against the spirit of what the LGBT rights movement has worked for throughout its life. And if you don't agree with that then try: I personally think it goes against the spirit of what the LGBT rights movement should have been working for. The right to choose freely, the right to be true to yourself, the right to live in peace. These are cherished things all reasonable people should support.

Change must come from within anti-LGBT religious organisations. As an atheist I've little interest in changing what a church supports. But I'd hope that if you were interested in that sort of thing, you'd do so from the inside. The Church of England has procedures for change, though these work at a similar speed to cooling lava I accept, and it is through these procedures (as the Government has suggested) that changes such as supporting same-sex marriage should be made.

Forcing an organisation to accept something they don't wish to risks creating a martyr complex, and many Christians have a big enough one of those already. Suing the church is bad for the church (as it doesn't come to terms with the change through internal debate), bad for LGBT rights (as we become the bad guys) and bad for freedom in general. If we are to have the freedom to love who we wish, then we must allow others the freedom to worship as they wish.

Have we not learnt anything from those who despise us on how to be better people than them?

It Is Not Just Gay People Who Need To Be Worried In Russia

Let us be frank. Russia has not just overnight turned into a monstrously evil state. It has been that way for a long time. Though they are understandable, calls to boycott Russian goods and next year's Winter Olympics over LGBT rights abuses can seem somewhat selfish and hollow when you consider what else Russia has been up to.

Press freedom has been severely curtailed for years, perhaps it never stopped after the end of the Soviet Union. Though Reporters Without Borders expressed concern over Russia's own Great Firewall of Cameron, we aren't just talking about some censorship here and there. The list of journalists killed throughout the Russian Federation is absolutely terrifying. The abject failure of Russian authorities to take the problem seriously speaks volumes about their dedication to free speech. (That is without speculating over who may be behind the murders of reporters....). The effect on the rest of the press has been chilling.

In the run up to the Olympics forced evictions and migrant worker abuses have given more than enough food for thought for those contemplating a boycott. And if you think those are "serious" enough, then take a look at how Russia has been conducting it's wars in and around Chechnya (although don't think I'm siding with the other side there, a pox on both their houses).

And these abuses aren't just left in Russia. Just look at what happened to Alexander Litvinenko in London.

Russia has been squeezing her people ever since it emerged from the Soviet Union 20 odd years ago. And that grip is getting tighter and tighter. The abuses of LGBT people by both the Government and civilians are horrendous. But they are just one facet of the evils being committed there by the Government, on behalf of the Government and backed by powerful special interests in both business and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Don't just stand up for the LGBT people of Russia. Spread the word of the crimes against all the Russian people. But I don't think a boycott of vodka and/or the Olympics is quite enough to get the message over to the Russian Government.

August Is Full Of Marriage Equality Fun!

Today, in Minnesota and Rhode Island, marriages began to be performed for same-sex couples. The relief and happiness of the couples involved must be something to behold!

Though recent puritanical campaigns have cooled me somewhat towards the conservative institution of marriage, I am still very happy to see progress towards ever greater liberty. And I'm pretty thrilled on a personal level for all those having their big day today!

And the good times just keep on coming. On August 5th same-sex marriages will begin in Uruguay (fast becoming a bastion of liberty as it moves towards cannabis legalisation). And on August 19th New Zealand will become the next country to allow same-sex marriages.

Hundreds of thousands of gay people will now have the ability to protect their relationship, to ensure hospital visitation rights and the right to make decisions for each other in emergency situations. And they have the ability to confirm their relationships in front of their family, friends and communities in the way they were brought up to believe in.

Now we must look towards some tougher battles in Ireland, Italy, Finland and Luxembourg. And to battles over civil unions in many other countries.

The fight for freedom continues.