Gove and his British Education Obsession

Twitter this morning, woke up to the news that American texts that have often been studied at GCSE have now been removed, of particular note were To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men and The Crucible. I had known this news for a few days but did not think it would become official knowledge until tomorrow.

Anyway, outrage ensued. Then up popped a Tory Councillor with his out of touch notions of students reading widely themselves, entering the library and soaking up all there is to offer. He also insinuated that some of us may not have bothered to read the DFE guidelines or understand the term “minimum” or “banned”.

At no point have I stated that Gove has “banned” American literature outright. What he has done, is ban it from being an examined text. Of course, young people can go and read such texts for themselves, of course teachers will encourage their students to do so, but this attitude fails to take into consideration so many aspects of our society.

For those who have not had information from their exam boards yet, you will be unaware that English Language and English Literature exams will total 7 and a half hours of examination alone. Maths will be 4 hours. Every subject will have to be a minimum of 3.5 hours when the new GCSEs come in across the curriculum (current Year 7). I’m assuming if a student does the three separate sciences, that will mean a minimum of 10.5 hours for those. Students will for weeks on end, be in long exams from the beginning of the day, until the end.

I can’t speak for other subjects but I know for English there is a huge amount of content to be covered before you even begin revision and rote learning of quotes. Take one of the nineteenth century novels that has to be known in its entirety. Students reading aloud takes much longer than you or I sitting down and reading it. You also need to stop and explore issues, ask questions etc. It always takes longer than you think it will. It will takes weeks and weeks to read through the text alone. Shakespeare was made for performing, not for sitting at a desk and reading. Again, you can not comprehend how long it takes to act out the play in class. Then there is another modern text too, oh and the cluster of 12 poems, all of which will need quotes learnt off by heart. If you still think, easy, plenty of time, there is a whole other GCSE that needs to be fitted into the time as well.

All the schools that the exam board representative had been to, stated the same: they would have to begin in year 9, probably after Christmas. By the way, this is the current year 8, which means schools only see the draft proposals tomorrow and will have to begin teaching it in January. There has been no time to effectively prepare or build the skills required during key stage 3.

All of a sudden, minimum seems to actually be maximum, particularly as it will now eat into key stage 3, where there is more freedom. We have recently developed a broader KS3 which is more challenging with thematic units so a range of texts can be looked at but now this will be reduced. The “minimum” is reducing what is on offer earlier in school life.

This brings me onto “banned”. With all the exam preparations and struggle to fit everything in, reading for pleasure will take a back seat even for those keen readers. So if they are not given this for their exam, they are unlikely to be indulging in world literature at all. Effectively “banned”.

There is no doubt that there is some brilliant British literature that deserves attention, however this does not need to be at the exclusion of everything else. Why is it not also a “minimum” expectation to have read one text from another country or culture? Why would this mean British literature was being ignored? Why should a text that is second rate in comparison to say To Kill a Mockingbird be on the spec just because it is British? Of Mice and Men may have run its course but where is the text that explores issues such as treatment of women, segregation, disabilities and poverty as well as this novella? Are these not important topics for our young people?

Furthermore, the government has decided to change the texts with no funding for schools to buy the new ones. Apparently this should come from the school budget; the school budget that Tories decided to change meaning a school with under 1000 pupils loses out and is now trying to manage deficits. A budget that has already resulted in redundancies and contracts not being renewed. For some schools it might not be a problem, or they can rely on well off parents purchasing the texts for their students but for all, this is not the case. Hardly the free education for all.

It seems to me that Gove again wishes to ignore the multi cultural society in which we live. He does not want a magnifying glass held to the misogynistic, white, middle class society in which he revels and wishes to push forward. It seems to me that Gove wants to teach our young people that unless you are privileged across class, gender and race, you are to be ignored.

You will fail, Mr Gove. Not one teacher will allow this to happen.

Oh and for the Tory councillor who criticised me for not wanting to “see” things his way, you only have yourself to blame for that. Your council has put the lives of women at risk. You have cut the provision for women’s refuge in the area. I have no time for anyone who sees women’s lives as something to be played with or who sees Britain as the be all and end all. We have yet to learn our shame.

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The Mysterious Case of Jean Hatchet, Her Petition, Radio 5 Live and Patriachy

I’m angry. No sorry, I’m seething.

Not only do we have to contend with a woman violently killed by her partner being disrespected and dehumanised in her death by Paddy Power and their little “Oscar” betting jokes, but now we have an organisation willing to come to the aid of the women raising awareness, erasing them in preference for the voice of….wait for it….a MAN.

A dear friend of mine set up a petition (please sign it, you can find it here

This petition was single handily created by a woman. It was promoted by this woman, to other women who whole heartily supported and promoted it too. You see, male violence against women, and this is about a bet on that, is a feminist issue. It is about how easily women can be reduced to being inconsequential. We live in a patriarchal society as did Reeva Steenkamp, as did every woman killed every 8 hours in South Africa. These are societies which as yet, do not quite seem to see the violence against, and murder of women by men as being as horrific as other kinds of violence or murder.  In fact, it is apparently okay to instead focus on the accused and have a bit of a laugh, bet, game on whether he’ll walk away or not.

I repeat, this campaign has been created by a woman, and successfully so.

So successful in fact that it has been picked up by The Independent and Radio 5 Live. All great news. Except…Radio 5 Live don’t seem to be able to grasp the full issue. They wouldn’t be just seeking a bit of juicy news would they? We didn’t really expect them to care, did we?

Radio 5 Live have decided to ignore the fact that Jean Hatchet and her fellow women have in the space of a few hours, drawn such attention from Paddy Power and media outlets and declared instead that we couldn’t possibly have the political sway or authority to talk on the subject eloquently and powerfully. Yes…power…I’ll come back to that one. What Radio 5 Live must have, is a politician, a MALE politician. A male politician to talk on an issue affecting women and raised by a woman. Good one.

But what Radio 5 Live have failed to ask themselves is why there wasn’t a powerful woman they could invite on their show. There are a number of possible answers. It is not because they weren’t available, women were suggested to them but clearly they did not have the “power” they sought. Now either this has to be because they have a predominately male audience and felt a male voice would be needed to for the matter to be taken seriously, or, that there are not enough female voices in positions of power. What do these two have in common? Patriarchy.

They could have utilised a brilliant opportunity to address this imbalance and show what excellent work women have done and how well they address such situations. But no. Obviously it is far better just to continue conforming to that blasted patriarchal society norms.

Rather than raising the issue of why in today’s society we can mock a woman’s death by placing bets on the outcome of a trial of the person who killed her, Radio 5 Live instead perpetuate that society, doing great women like Jean Hatchet a real disservice.

Shame on you Radio 5 Live. So hungry for a story you forgot to understand it.

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Exposing not Lightening Domestic Violence

I thought a lot of progress has been made throughout 2013 to highlight issues surrounding domestic violence. And then, on the last day of the year, up pops one of the worst articles I have seen on the issue. The overall tone was to undermine the experiences of victims and to make light of what the police were dealing with.

Below I have attempted to re-write the article into something that is close to fit for purpose. However, I have written this with little time or research, using only what I know and what was already in the article. Of course, if I was a paid journalist for an establishment such as The Guardian, I would have taken much more care and attention but I hope it at least proves the point of how awful the original was.

What follows does contain text from the original article and I claim no right to it. I have tried to highlight these sections in italics to make it clear it is the work of the original author and from the Guardian article but admit I may have missed the odd bit and there are sections that have been reworded which is harder to highlight; the point was to do this to demonstrate the terrible tone the original used. Where paragraphs have been wholly unchanged this is just indicated with a comment such as “next paragraph mainly okay” rather than typing it all out. It is designed for reading alongside the original article to fully appreciate the differences (good old Windows 7 split screen function!).

MY VERSION

Court 6 at Manchester Magistrates Court is a sad indictment of our society. This is the city’s dedicated domestic violence courtroom dealing with a mixture of scenarios such as parent’s violently attacking their children, children viciously attacking their parents, violence in same sex relationships and violence from wives or girlfriends on men.  However, the overwhelming majority of cases are male violence on women; women they are supposed to “love”. The fact that a city has to have a court entirely dedicated to this should really send alarm bells ringing about the prevalence of domestic violence even today in the twenty first century.

In fact, so overwhelming is the issue, that whilst most courtrooms across England and Wales close over the Christmas and New Year festive period, courts such as this remain open to deal with the annual spike in domestic violence; a phenomenon repeated across the country. Whilst many of us are enjoying time with our families and relaxing, many others experience an increase in the abuse and violence they suffer.

Manchester saw a 75% increase in domestic violence incidents that required the court to extend their opening hours to deal with the 35 incidents. Remember that this is just one day, in one city. The court is still processing cases today.

(Next paragraph largely okay).

Some of the incidents attended by police officers were of relatively simple to deal with and were a result of the usual family arguments.  However, others were far more serious and horrific. For example “on Christmas Eve a 60-year-old man threw a boiling kettle over his wife after a row which began after he ordered her to get him some clothes because he was cold. She ended up with a fractured neck after falling down the stairs” One has to wonder how many incidents of domestic violence were endured by this woman before culminating in such serious consequences and how incidents like this can be happening still today in our society across the country.

(At this point, I think I have to take issue with the quoted words from Detective Constable Sarah Harris unless the intention was to draw attention to how often these horrific incidents can be triggered by the smallest disagreements and her words have been lost within the tone of the article and way in which quoted.)

(Next paragraph is repetition of what has already been expressed and is merely distasteful hyperbole for entertainment’s sake)

Cases being dealt with in court today included:

• a 19-year old male from Eccles, in Salford, accused of spitting on his mother and smashing her windows. He will be standing trial.

• A chef with previous drink-related convictions held in the cells since 29 December after his girlfriend called the police to allege he had pushed her into a wall and dragged her down the stairs. He denied the charges and was released on bail pending trial, on the proviso he was not allowed back to their shared home.

• A 48-year-old mother from Longsight who has been held since Sunday, accused of assaulting her 23-year-old daughter in front of her three younger children. Defendant admitted the charges and will be sentenced next year.

• A 29-year old man from Morecambe, Lancashire, arrested after a night out in Manchester with his girlfriend. Police were called after two witnesses called the Police to report they had seen him push his girlfriend over a wall during a “heated argument”. The magistrate was informed that the alleged victim had not wished to provide a statement and the couple were still together. “However, the Crown wishes to proceed,” said Sabrina Sohota, senior crime prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). A trial date was duly set for March.

(Wording in the cases quoted above is mostly the same although I think the subtle changes are clear to change the tone)

(Next two paragraphs largely okay)

(The last two are awful and damaging. My rough suggestion follows…)

Whilst it can be hard for many, including the Police, to understand why victims of domestic violence do not report the perpetrator until they have been assaulted on average 20 to 30 times, the reasons are wide are varied and should be examined by society.

Often, the victim has suffered a variety of abusive and controlling behaviour previous to the physical assaults that, although widely recognised as part of the pattern of domestic violence, are not as yet a crime. (See @paladinservice on Twitter for more information on a campaign to change this). Women reporting such behaviour are left vulnerable and open to further abuse. Often the abuse can spiral further once reported and too often there is little protection or support for these women. We also have to examine our justice system that allows police officers convicted of domestic violence to again become serving officers or those who fail to investigate and understand the complexities of the issue believing myths such as, “Love’s a funny thing, isn’t it?” We also sadly, live in a world in which society will always seek to blame the victim and excuse the perpetrator. How often is an abuser offered help with housing and addictions whilst the victim is left to pick up the pieces?

To leave a relationship and place so much uncertainty into ones life, financially, emotionally, physically when your confidence and self-worth have been destroyed is nearly impossible. Maybe we should focus on recognising, tackling and making illegal the earlier stages of domestic violence thereby enabling victims much earlier and before it is too late?

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Another New Year…

I don’t do the whole New Year resolution thing; I have never been able to stick to them but I did have a six year plan which I managed to achieve!

Having reached that destination and had time to “settle” into my new life as a teacher in a happy, non-abusive relationship, I feel as though I am just muddling through on a daily basis and not really getting anywhere. So, thinking about new year has made me realise I need to have some idea where I want my life to be heading.

Despite having had time to adjust, teaching completely dominates my life and time, except for twice a year (Christmas and summer holidays). It is only in these holidays that I seem able to take some of the time out and not be working. I have found it near on impossible to have a weekend and do anything with my two children. This is not what I wanted. I have also found that I am financially struggling still, if not more so. Ever rising bills, renting a house and no sign of the secure future I thought would come.

I had thought I would be chasing promotions, building my income higher and getting that lifestyle I see almost everyone around me with which seems perpetually out of reach to me. However, this has not been possible. I really don’t see how I could take on any more when I struggle to fit my work in now which also means income is not going to increase.

I need to become more efficient. With an ever changing curriculum and schemes of work to match, I’m not sure how I’m going to achieve this. I have experimented a little with marking and hopefully I may become quicker at this but I do know that reducing the hours I’m working is key to absolutely everything else.

So the rest of this academic year is going to be focused on finding ways in which to do this. Finding more time is crucial to so much: more time with my children; more time for me to get fit, write and read; more time for me to increase my income; more time for me to actively help others.

On top of this, I really wish to ensure my wonderful, caring other half gets to achieve his dream of becoming a paramedic. He has selflessly been a volunteer giving medical aid, has gained the first aid qualifications he can and really deserves a chance at this. He needs work and he needs to get on that course but I really hope I can help him on his way.

Most of all, I want to heal. I want to stop feeling guilty for absolutely nothing. I want to stop being so fucking angry at the sight of my ex. I want to stop building barriers. I want to stop insisting on independence and not relying on anyone. I want to feel I am worth it. I want to feel as though I am a good person who is good at something.

I’ve no doubt that this will take more than a year but I want to reach the end of 2014 and look back at this post and feel a little progress has been made in each of these areas and that I have still kept a roof over the head of my children and food in their stomach.

 

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Turmoil of Leaving an Abusive Relationship

So, this year, I have been facing some of the issues I had buried in the last few years since ending my abusive relationship. Maybe it is because I am in a happy, secure one now that I’m able to do this or maybe it’s because feminism has given me a supportive group of people who understand and I have come to realise that it is not my shame but the perpetrators.

Anyway, I’ve spent today worrying about my children who are seeing this man, their father, for the first time in a a year and a half (supervised I might add). Every time, he fills their heads with all the wonderful things he is doing only for them to later realise it’s bullshit. Oh, and don’t forget the crappy psychological games he plays such as telling them he still loves me etc and giving the youngest the impression we could be one, big, happy family again.

When we separated, I was an emotional wreck. When a barrister said I would probably have to speak to the judge, I fell to pieces feeling completely broken and incapable. There was so much I was having to deal with: fighting to keep us in the house I was paying for, trying to give the children the emotional support they desperately needed as their family was torn apart, dealing with the debts, fending off neighbours and friends who he’d borrowed from, his horrific mood swings and addictions, going to court, calling the police, being stalked etc etc etc.

But what I have stumbled upon is some of the details I had to record for the solicitor to try and keep our house and get him removed. The judge actually gave him a good few more weeks to find somewhere and sent us packing to my parents where there wasn’t always enough beds, despite the fact he had already had weeks and weeks to find a place and had refused to call up places we had found for him. Anyway, I’m ranting because it’s making me angry again. The point is, imagine the following and me not having family near by to support us; we would have been in a refuge whilst I continued to pay ALL the bills for a house he was dossing in whilst sleeping with a woman down the road whose children went to the same school as mine. In fact, one of her children approached mine at school one day to tell my daughter aged 5 and a half that her daddy was her daddy now. Sorry, ranting again.

I’ve decided to copy below the details I recorded as part of a therapeutic process for me, and in part to try and attempt to give others a tiny insight into why it can be so hard to leave an abusive relationship. But before reading, remember the following: I had waited until I was in a much stronger position (which had taken years in itself) to be able to do this; it nearly broke me; I had a supportive, large family living locally; there was much more than this going on; all emotion is removed as this was for a solicitor; things actually got far worse after this and court orders had to be sought…

Brief Outline of Incidents during Marriage

  1. At the first house we bought together, probably 1998, ***** punched a hole in the wall.
  2. At another house, a few years later, I locked the door on ***** because he was drunk.  ***** started shouting that he’d smash the glass in, so I went to open the door but ***** smashed the glass just as I was getting there.
  3. There have been countless occasions where ***** has punched a wall when he has been drunk.
  4. Early in the relationship, I refused to go out clubbing with ***** because he wanted to get in a fight with someone, normally a male I had spoken to.
  5. ***** a few years ago threw something up at the bathroom window, knowing I was on the other side.
  6. More recently, when we have been arguing, he has smirked and licked up my face a number of times.
  7. When drunk he regularly verbally abuses making comments that I stink, or am shit or criticising me as a mother as he knows this will hurt me the most.
  8. He has pushed me out of the bed a number of times over the last couple of years.
  9. There have been a number of incidents where he has tried to take things off me.  For example whilst stopping at my parents he wanted the keys which included the car key and key to my parents.  I didn’t want him to drive so held onto them.  He physically twisted my hand and fingers to get the keys and then threw them as far as he could.
  10. In the last couple of years it has got worse and he has begun lashing out at me.  I had a nasty black bruise on my leg where he kicked me, he has had me pinned up against the wall in the bedroom strangling me so I couldn’t breathe, only stopping when my daughter woke up and cried.
  11. I had to call the police a few weeks ago because he attacked me and wanted to break my arm.

 More generally:

Money

The debts that built up over the years have been phenomenal.  We sold our house and moved to a cheaper house in Wales to pay them off.  Although ***** was unable to work and this was part of the reason that house was repossessed, he was also smoking and drinking heavily which left me with no money to pay the mortgage.  We are again in debt with crucial bills such as council tax and water rates.  I am never able to set up repayment plans because when I have ***** has taken the money out before bills come out.  I am aware that I have not been paying a CCJ, but I can’t when I’m scrapping enough money together to ensure the rent is paid.  In the last few months, I’ve had to borrow money for the rent from mine and his parents and have been unable to repay them.  I have been left with only a few pounds for food and it became impossible to live with ***** and feed the children.

Emotional

It has been incredibly hard to deal with *****’ drinking.  I have spent night after night worried about what mood he will be in with the drink.  He plays a lot of games, whether consciously or not, that have been an emotional roller coaster every time.  He will purposely cause an argument and then be calm and friendly and then start all over again.  He has stopped me sleeping countless times.  I would go to a different part of the house trying to avoid an argument and he will just keep following me around, when I was trying to sleep he would keep coming into the same room.  He is very insecure and would call me continually if I was out of the house, the calls would become even more frequent when he was drunk.  I have been constantly accused of having an affair, any man I have spoken to he thinks I am flirting and I have had to stop friendships with males.  When sober the accusations have supposedly been meant as a joke but have really not been funny.  It has taken me a long time to get some of my confidence back as his treatment of me left me feeling completely worthless.

Children

It has become impossible for me to now leave the children with ***** because he has now got drunk whilst looking after them early in the day.  This was just over a week ago and I returned home to two children who were very hungry as they hadn’t been given lunch and they told me they had been waiting at the bedroom window for me to return whilst laughing at daddy snoring.

I used to work evenings occasionally.  One night I returned home to find a friend at the house because she had spoken to my husband on the phone and could hear my son very upset and realised my husband had been drinking.  She went round to our house and remained there until my return.  I then had to make sure that on other nights that I was working that someone else was there.

He recently took our daughter out for a bike ride.  He bought a bottle of vodka and drank it whilst with her.

When he has been drinking, he can wind the children up, repeatedly doing something that is annoying them, mishearing what they say or just ignoring what they say.

The children have found empty bottles of vodka around the house and in fact I have found them hidden in their bedrooms and toy boxes on several occasions.

4th August 2009

Returned home from solicitor and housing.  ***** was drunk already.  *** told me that ***** had been asleep and snoring nearly the whole time I was gone and hadn’t given them lunch as I’d asked him to.  *** and his sister had been waiting at the window for me to come home.  I found a medium bottle of vodka (empty) upstairs.  Later on he kept disappearing into the garage, where I found cans of cider that he was drinking.  Spent the evening keeping away from him, worrying what he was doing and what mood he may end up in.

5th August 2009

***** had no money so couldn’t drink.  He didn’t want to get out of bed because his back hurt.  Eventually got up but was trying to be over friendly.

Summary of 6th-11th August 2009

***** took out £20 from the child tax credit that he wasn’t entitled to and spent it on alcohol and cigarettes.  He has been helping himself to the food in the house that I got and is contributing nothing, neither is he contributing to any bills.  He was over familiar, patting my shoulder etc. on several occasions.  He was very drunk from Friday to Monday and the house and him smelt so strongly of alcohol that I had to keep the children out of the house as much as possible.  Whilst the children were in the house, he drank cider before 11am.  Monday evening at children’s bedtime, I had to take them to get my daughter’s teddy which she’d left at my sisters.  He made a fuss about me not leaving them with him.  I explained why and his response was he hadn’t drunk much.  On our return he was supposed to be reading a story to the youngest but he was in a mood making comments like “I’ll read to her if I can be trusted with the kids”.  On Tuesday he was sober but I refused to leave the children with him as I don’t know when he’s going to start drinking.  Again I explained to him why because he kept going on about it and saying he wouldn’t do anything.  On several nights he has suddenly disappeared without a word and not returned until 5.45am.  The smell from him makes it clear he has been drinking.  On two occasions he has come into the bedroom in the middle of the night and just stood there for a couple of minutes.  I know he has gone through one of my bags and a notebook as they’ve been moved from where I left them.  He is continually lying about finding somewhere to live.

Wednesday 12th August 2009

I returned home with the children and before I had even got them out the car he was asking to borrow money from me.  I was taken aback then angry and asked him what had happened to the £200 he’d taken out on Friday that was supposed to last 2 weeks.  He replied that it had gone.  He then said he was going to flog the car and split the money.  I got angry and upset because previously he had told me he was going to sign the car over to me and I had spent £100 the day before, having the exhaust fitted.  An argument followed and I pointed out to him that I thought he was signing the car over for the sake of the children.  He said he would sign it over and was apologetic but then disappeared in the car with the log book.  The children were both crying and upset thinking the car was gone.  He came back 15 minutes later and signed the log book but didn’t hand it over saying it was a big thing for him because it was the only thing he owned.  I pointed out that the reason he didn’t have much was that he’d spent everything.   He was very moody and then suddenly being all friendly like nothing had happened.  I went upstairs away from him to calm down, he came up a few minutes later and said he was sorry and that I knew he was always going to sign the car over to me, he was just moody because he hadn’t had a cigarette all day.  I told him that I didn’t and had thought he’d gone to flog the car.  He then handed me the signed log book for which I thanked him.  He then went out in the car again.  He borrowed money from somewhere and came back with cigarettes and vodka.  I was still upset at what had happened but he sat down where I was and started asking me if I’d been in town that day.  I told him I had and he said that he thought he had recognised the car.  He questioned me about what I’d been doing and I told him that I’d had an appointment.  He said “What, with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau?”.  I told him I had seen a solicitor and he got really moody again and said what was the point because I knew I’d get custody of the kids.  I told him there were lots to sort out and that he needed to get himself a solicitor at some point.  He then started asking for details and I told him I really wasn’t in the mood for talking to him at the moment.  His moods were swinging quickly.  He then went out in the car again and came back very chatty as though nothing had happened and then starting asking details about who we’d had credit cards with.  I told him and explained they were paid off years ago and asked why he wanted to know.  He then started ranting at me that I had ran up huge debts and he’d had to pay them all off and he needed the details to give to a solicitor to get the money back from me because he had given me the car.  I told him that the debts were run up by his spending on alcohol.  There was no reasoning with him and he was becoming more erratic.  It was clear he was drinking and when he’s in that kind of mood he becomes very unpredictable.  I didn’t feel safe so I got the children from the garden and left with nothing.  I felt unable to return to the house to get anything as I knew he had alcohol.  He tried ringing me a number of times and then let my phone ring once or twice and then put it down.

Thursday 13th August 2009

I decided to return to the house without the children to gauge how things were and collect some things.  The house and particularly the bedroom, where he was, stank of alcohol.  We exchanged a few words politely then he asked me if I had been on something yesterday.  ***** is always trying to place blame for his actions on me and undermine my confidence.  I shouted at him that I couldn’t believe he’d asked me that, it was him that was on something.  I clearly saw that he was still unpredictable and that we couldn’t return to the house, so I started getting some clothes together.  He then switched mood again and laughed and said he didn’t mean that.  He then continued by saying what he’d meant was had I taken a bottle of vodka with me yesterday!  I told him I hadn’t and pointed out that he wouldn’t have any money for just over a week and was that what he’d chosen to spend the borrowed money on, vodka and cigarettes.  He shrugged his shoulders and said yes.  He was supposed to have an appointment with housing at midday and it was now 11.30.  I asked if he was going and he said it wasn’t until 4pm.  I told him it was at 12.00 which he then checked.  He rang and changed the time to 12.30 but just before 12.00 he still hadn’t moved.  I kept asking him to go and eventually he left the house for the appointment.  I rang him later that day to see how it had gone and he said he’d received the solicitor’s letter.  I said okay and asked about the appointment at housing again.  He shouted that that was for him to worry about not me.  I said I just wanted to know if they’d got anywhere for him and if he was moving out and he shouted that it doesn’t just take 10 minutes it takes time.  I tried to point out that he’d had nearly 3 weeks but he put the phone down on me.

Friday 14th August 2009

I had a call from ***** apologising for being moody yesterday.  He then asked for assistance in gathering paperwork that he needed for housing.  I went to the house and sorted out his award letters for his benefits.  He kept asking when the children and I were returning to the house.  I explained that we couldn’t due to his behaviour.  He said that he wasn’t drinking any more and was smirking.  I told him that I had heard that many times before.  A row followed in which he blamed living with me as the cause of his alcoholism and when I told him that our daughter was upset about his drinking and they way he was behaving, he told me that it would be being with me that would be upsetting her.  He then raised the issue of old credit cards and was asking for them telling me he needed them.  I again told him they were paid off years ago and cut up.  He insisted on details of old debts and his reason was I was painting him as all black and he wasn’t having it, it wasn’t just him, again saying I’d run up the debts. Despite saying that he’d stopped drinking there was an empty large bottle of vodka in the bedroom.  He said he was doing everything to get somewhere else to live and that a hostel or B&B was no use because he had no money.  He told me that when he has provided evidence next Thursday at housing of his back problem he would be put into gold band and would get extra money for somewhere and for taxis etc.  He rang me later in the day to say that he was doing his best to find somewhere else to live.

Saturday 15th August 2009

I spoke to ***** in the afternoon and checked that he was sober before taking the children to see him.  The children had been very upset and were pleased to be back in their own house so we decided to stay there.  ***** had run out of money and therefore could not drink so everything was okay.

Sunday 16th August 2009

I spotted an unopened bottle of vodka in the house which later disappeared.  ***** had been questioning my son about where we had been and with whom earlier that day.  *** happened to compliment my sister’s fiancé which seemed to annoy *****.  I then overheard him making a remark that to *** that if he was lucky then maybe mummy would find another man within the fiancé’s family.  *** began to get upset once he understood what he meant.  I told ***** it was inappropriate to be talking about such things.  ***** left the house without a word and did not return until after 1am.

Monday 17th August 2009

I told ***** about an advert for a room to let and he went in the car to get the number although he said he had no credit on his phone and no money.  When he returned he had another new mobile phone with credit.  He was supposed to be reading my daughter a story but I could hear him in the bedroom and she was calling him.  When I went up a few minutes later, he was reading her a story but there was an extremely strong smell of vodka.  I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want any trouble.  When I went to take my son up to bed, he called him over and said ‘Hey, ***, how would you fancy having 4 sisters?’.  He was implying that he was in a relationship with a woman down the road who has three daughters, one of which is a friend of my daughters.  *** didn’t understand what any of this meant and I sent him upstairs whilst I told ***** that it was completely inappropriate and not the right time to be discussing such matters.  He said the right time would be when he’d moved out and I said no, it would be when he had been in a relationship for long enough that he knew it would work and not before.  Whilst I was studying, ***** kept on disturbing me asking questions etc.  Eventually he went out and did not return until 3am.  We had agreed that I would sleep on the sofa that night.  He made a point of coming in and telling someone loudly on the phone that I was asleep.  I just pretended to still be asleep so there would be no trouble.

Tuesday 18th August 2009

I left my jeans unattended for half an hour in the morning and discovered £5 had gone from my pocket, ***** denied taking it.  ***** asked me to give him a lift to the housing office which I did.  When he got in the car there was a very strong smell of alcohol, probably as a result of the drinking the night before.

When I returned home later, I could tell by the smell that ***** had again been drinking.  He kept questioning my about where I’d been and with whom and asking the children what they’d been doing.  I told him and then calmly pointed out that I didn’t continually question him about where he was and what he was doing and I’d appreciate it if he wouldn’t keep asking me time and again.  I had told him about rooms advertised at ****** **** yesterday and asked him if he’d had any joy and he got funny and refused to talk about it saying aggressively that it was for him to know what he’d done.  I pointed out that it also concerned me as I could not claim the money I was entitled to whilst he was under the same roof but he refused to talk about it.  It ended in another argument.  ***** left the house about 6.30 and did not return until 1am.  I could not sleep in the bedroom because the smell in there of alcohol was too strong.  I was very upset that evening wondering what state he would be in when he returned and became panicky.  It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to remain in the house as the stress is becoming too much.

 

My Thoughts on this Now and for those Suffering Similar…

My life is a thousand times better now. I was determined to make life better. In many ways I’m still fighting hard for that aim. Both my children and I are still effected by what has happened and not only emotionally. I’m in a decent job having battled to get a “proper” education during this abusive relationship and after. But he lost us our life with a house of our own and mortgage. I pay extraordinarily high rent which is almost half of my monthly take home, childcare and all the other bills whilst he pays nothing. Financial security is a long way off and I’ll be blighted by the financial implications for a long time to come. Only yesterday, the effects on one of my children was self evident when she dissolved into tears when a policeman stopped us doing routine checks.

And so, as hard as it was, it was worth it and as much as everyone has to deal with these things in their own way and when they’re ready (it took years of planning for me, needing certain things sorted first), the earlier the better. I knew for years it wasn’t working but stuck it out “for the kids sake”.  I didn’t however, fully realise quite how an abusive and controlling relationship it was. Having read information since, I see it clearly now. There is help out there and more is being done to get laws changed. For example my ex was arrested on the night I ended it and the police had to tell me he would be able to return to the house the following morning. Now, this has changed and there is more protection for the victim. There are also some excellent campaigns in place for more changes. I am going to gather details of where you can get help and information and add it to this blog post in the next few days. But I hope for now this gives just one person a little more insight as to why it can be difficult to escape and maybe even reached out to someone questioning the relationship they’re in.

NB I’m sorry the writing is not up to my usual standard and is a bit of a ramble but it is a topic I still find hard to write about!

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The Inconceivable Confusion of Consent

Rape is a horrific crime. It is a crime involving an abuse of power. Due to the biology it is a crime that is perpetrated by men; men who seek power and wish to weaken and destroy another.

Despite the emotiveness of this criminal act, rapists seem to have manipulated our law, media and people into colluding with them to reinforce this power imbalance in the aftermath: the victim is left having to pour over every minute detail of their actions, constantly questioning their motives for a look they gave or item of clothing they’d selected; the rapist is provided with an unlimited list of circumstances or excuses for the choice they made to break the law.

Let’s just consider this alongside another crime for a moment.  Someone decides they need money.  They target a small shop in an area away from their home. They rob the shop owner, punching him or her for good measure. Quite rightly, there is an outcry from the public and the robber is vilified. There may be a story that appears of how “the robber was down on his luck” and needed money to eat.  But importantly, the robber receives no sympathy for this; it is not held up as an excuse for his behaviour.  At no point is the shop keeper told that this is what they should expect if they run a shop and have their produce and tills on display.  At no point is the shop keeper questioned about the way he spoke or looked at the robber.  At no point is the shop keeper questioned by the press about any previous contact with the robber or whether they’d been a regular customer.  As it should be, the shop keeper is supported as a victim and the robber is derived for his actions and “how dare he take advantage of the vulnerable shop keeper” is cried around the country.

Now with rape and consent, we have an entirely different story.

But before I come on to this, it is imperative that we begin to acknowledge at least why this issue is steadily on the rise. As I’ve already stated, the crime is almost always committed by men.  What is happening to our men that they can end up “confused” or “misunderstanding” whether consent has been given for the intimate act that is about to take place?

Firstly, for many of these men, there is not an issue. They just simply wish to have their power kick and feel entitled to take what they want.

What we must not deny though, is that many of our young men and growing up surrounded by porn; a couple of clicks and there it is on their phones.  Let’s not pretend that these scenes don’t often show women moaning “nooo” or being tied up and “made to take it”. Hardly the best education for a healthy sex life and ensuring consent is it.

On top of this our media is filled to the brim of the rape myths that need to be dispelled. The Daily Fail can always be relied on for plenty of examples: “she was wearing next to nothing”, “we’d had sex before”, “she’s promiscuous” etc. So boys, if she has a short skirt on, or you’ve had sex before, or she’s had sex with some of your mates, that counts as consent, right?  No, actually.

Then there’s reality shows such as Geordie Shore, a must watch amongst many groups of teens. If you have never seen it, don’t waste your time in doing so.  Just know that the whole show revolves around getting “mortal” (so drunk you can barely stand and end up pissing yourself), “tashing” on (snogging anyone in sight) and for the lads, seeing how many women they can get back to their pad to “bang” (have sex with). So the message to our young males: go out, get drunk, pick up some girl who is so drunk she’s completely incapable of anything and then expect to get a good banging out of it. It’s all fine.

Or is it?

Again, we’ll get to this but first we need to also examine the current message that is given to our young females.  I was taken aback when I witnessed a discussion amongst some girls aged around 16 on the issue of abortion. They were considering the case of when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of a rape and their first response was to consider whether the woman may lay at fault for that rape; they questioned what she might have been wearing or how she might have been “asking for it”. Seriously? A woman asks to be raped? It seems to go against the definition of rape to me.  But it highlights the widespread issue we are faced with.

How many of us as young women were screamed at by our parents, “YOU’RE NOT GOING OUT LOOKING LIKE THAT!” And so the victim blaming began.  Our media as already demonstrated, perpetuates rape apology and victim blaming to the point it just becomes part of life. Over and over again, the message is sent that if you dress a certain way, you are a “tart”, “slag”, “slut”, “asking for it”, or such insult.  If you’ve decided to wear some pretty lacy pants rather than your big granny period pants, then you’re out looking for sex and attention. Does no one stop and consider that actually this may be more to do with a woman’s self-esteem or confidence? No, of course not, because in our society it’s all about the men. You mustn’t send them the wrong messages with your clothing. Men needn’t worry about these things; they are free to dress however they wish. Just stop and think a moment about why that is…it can’t possibly be because they don’t have the need to take action to “avoid” rape?

Young women are constantly given the messages that we need to: take responsibility for the way we dress; micromanage our behaviour, actions and gestures; expect that anything we do might lead to us being raped.  To any man reading this post: You’re right, that is damn insulting to you too.  Female teenagers grow up being taught that men are sexual predators who cannot control their impulses and penises so we must be prepared and do everything possible to avoid this happening to us. I personally, would like to give the majority of men, more credit than that!

What we need to do is re-address these messages given to men and women. We need a proper education that properly addresses the issues of consent.

Let’s return to our shop keeper and robber.  As already suggested, when rape cases appear in the press, they are dealt with very differently. What we should find is: that like the victim shop keeper, the victim of the rape should be supported and sympathy shown; like the perpetrating robber, the perpetrating rapist should be vilified, criticised and called for punishment. But that is not the reality. Sadly, power remains with the rapist who can draw on the many established rape myths: “She was drunk but did consent”, “she was wearing a g-string and a short skirt and was giving me the look”.  Meanwhile the victim is having to defend themselves against a tirade of questions. “Why did she choose to wear that outfit?” “Why was she hugging him in the club?” “Look at her background”.  In behaving this way, we as a society are colluding with the rapist and blaming the victim. What we should be quizzing is whether the rapist even bothered to seek consent or indeed whether the victim was in a position to consent.

Which brings me right back to Geordie Shore’s lads and drinking culture.  If someone is completely “mortal”, how on earth are they able to even consent to having sex with someone? They can’t.  They are in no position to make any sort of decision. Can you imagine any situation in which a crucial decision could be made and would be taken seriously whilst said person is drunk or incapaciated?

It’s a sobering thought. Think back to those big nights out and consider whether that person was able to consent.  By the way, this happened to me at 16.  I was completely drunk and kissed a guy. He decided that meant I was up for it. He dragged me into the toilets.  Yes. He dragged me.  In front of many other teens celebrating the end of term.  I was in no fit state to offer much resistance as standing upright was enough of a struggle, but I did what I could.  So ingrained are these attitudes to victims being to blame for rape, that despite the odd frown, no one stepped in.  I spent 20 years deeply regretting my actions and getting drunk, thinking about what I could have done differently rather than acknowledging the fact I had been raped.

Consent has inconceivably become unclear to many; what does or does not constitute consent? We are at the point that this now needs to be explicitly part of of our education system but in the absence of this here is a non-exhausted guide to consent:

So what is not consent?

  • A child cannot consent. No really, they can’t, however they may behave.
  • A way someone dresses is not consent. I don’t care if they’re butt naked. Nudist beaches are not sex camps.
  • A way someone moves, looks or behaves is not consent.
  • Not saying “no” or not fighting against you is not consent. You heard it, being paralysed with fear, unsure what to do, fear of making it worse, is not consent for entering your penis into an intimate area.
  • A person being promiscuous or involved in the sex industry is not consent either. They are no different to anyone else and still have rights over their own body.
  • Being in a state of mind in which important decisions cannot be made for example, drunk, means consent cannot be given. Or for that matter, someone allowing you to buy them drinks or give them drugs does not mean they consent to sex too.

So what is consent?

  • Consent is best described as enthusiasm. Enthusiasm whilst of full mind. Enthusiasm that has been free of any form of coercion.

Really, you need to ask yourself if you have any doubts about this, why would you want to have sex with someone unless they were really enthusiastic about it, unless it was some form of expressing your power and importance over another human being?

Our society is sick in more ways than I can count at the moment.  But working with young people, I really am concerned about their attitudes to rape and consent.  No victim should ever feel that they were in any way to blame.

We have lost sight of the perpetrator and allowed him to hold onto the power. We should instead be teaching our young people: to seek consent; that anything less is rape; that there is never an excuse; that urges can be controlled; that if you rape you will be hounded; that if you rape, you will be punished; that if you rape, you lose your rights; that if you rape, you are in fact the weakest that society has to offer.

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An Open Letter to Victoria Coren Mitchell and The Guardian

Dear Victoria,

This morning an article written by yourself was published under the headline “Roman Polanski and the sin of simplification”.

I am slightly confused as to the audience and purpose of your article.  You see, as a teacher, I ask my students to identify the audience and purpose of a piece of writing in preparation for their exams.  Often, this is not straightforward. Nothing wrong with that; we wish to stretch their minds.

If I was looking for them to identify the overall aim, I might expect them to pick up on the message that life is not made up of binary oppositions: good/evil, man/woman, black/white etc. Ironically, this is actually something you would find in Polanski’s films in order to help drive the narrative; will the “good” character overcome the evil, etc. It is also interesting that “sin” is used in the headline, but I understand that was probably not of your making.

However, the content remains a little confusing.

Your article begins by drawing attention to Polanski’s victim and her forthcoming book.  Oh right, it’s an article promoting the book. Wrong. There is little mention of it further into the article.  Instead what we find is you retelling the story of her abuse and anal rape as a child at the hands of Polanski. Although, that’s not how you put it. Despite quoting the victim pointing out that “It was rape in every sense of the word. I said no”, you carefully choose your own description: “It was statutory rape”.

I am not going to patronise you, you’re a journalist after all, and will be fully aware that words have connotations. You do not need me to tell you, that although this may be a correct legal term, it connotes that the only issue here was that she was under age, 13 to be exact. However, other readers may now question your choice of words, particularly as this is what you are paid to do.

You then, rightfully, go on to explain the anger you feel towards Polanski for giving a 13 year old alcohol, drugging her and then anally raping her.  So then, this is an article about the shocking and horrific abuse inflicted on someone as a child by a powerful and famous man.  Sadly, I think I’m wrong. “Statutory rape” still rings in my mind and I begin to doubt your sincerity.

My doubts are proved correct when you follow with: “Then you read about the life of Roman Polanski. How shameful and how pointless to punish him with violence, even in the imagination.”

I get that you specifically mention a violent punishment.  But your article fails to address any form of punishment that would be suitable for him. You fail miserably to even suggest that he has yet to pay for his crime and should be imprisoned.

Instead, you choose to list the horrors that Polanski has suffered with his parents in concentration camps, his pregnant mother dying there and a pregnant wife brutally murdered. Yes, I agree we can have grey areas.  These crimes were horrific and sinful. No one should ever had to have gone through this. Interesting that it is only “over simplification” that is addressed as sinful, no? Polanski witnessed and suffered at the hands of one of the world’s worst abuses of powers. Surely he would ensure no one else could suffer from an abuse of power? He would understand more than most the disastrous consequences that holding power could result in?

But instead of pointing this out, you now talk about the sympathy you have in line with the anger. To me, I am more angry that someone who suffered at the hands of power, uses the time when they have some themselves to perpetuate more misery…on a child. But still, you’re right that we tend to polarise everything: victims/victimisers, heroes/villains etc. Just to make it abundantly clear, I am not polarising, power/powerless. Hitler grew his power to that over numerous countries and was undoubtedly not going to stop there. Polanski’s power was not on this scale.  He did however, have an element of power having made it in the world of Hollywood and films. All of these things are a sliding scale like the spectrum of colours in a rainbow; there are varying degrees, varying shades and colours.

However, it doesn’t stop us from recognising the rainbow or the “seven” colours it contains, just as it doesn’t stop someone being considered a villain or a victim despite the shades they may contain.  Polanski is a victim and a victimiser. He abused a child which in most cultures makes him a villain. So, is this article about grey areas? It seems more about avoiding labels. So where does this end? Can we not call him a child abuser now? Can we not say he suffered at the hands of Hitler? And really to have a headline that suggests simplifying matters is sinful rather than the actions of men abusing their power is patronising to say the least.

The trouble is that for all the attention given to Polanski’s past and his artistic work, it seems to be excuses are being made to not feel anger towards an account of child abuse.  You describe how “A second complicating factor is that Polanski’s work is filled with beauty and humanity” in justification of silencing your violent instinct. I am not suggesting that we should go out and violently attack someone.  However, it makes me question our humanity that we not feel a violent response to someone who thought they would place their penis in a child’s anus just because they produced something of beauty; for goodness sake they have also created one of the ugliest images imaginable. And let’s go with your idea of avoiding polarisation: surely then everyone in life produces some form of beauty, you insist on avoiding the “all monster” theory after all. Does this then excuse all ugly, wrong, abusive acts? Should our anger and violence be suppressed? Absolutely not. I can not even begin to express what an ugly, downhill slope this would prove to be. The law is there for a reason, black and white. Polanski committed a crime and has escaped any punishment.

I really don’t want to address the victim in this, she has made it clear that the ensuing circus of journalists etc. has been more traumatic and I, a little blog writer, wish to respect that.  I have avoided her name and name of her book and have tried to remain focussed on Polanski.  However, in your article there is mention of her saying she shouldn’t have done the things she did and that she felt patronised by the suggestion that she was suffering from “victim’s guilt”. I’m not going to deny her feelings on the matter; I came to understand that I was suffering from this but this may well not be the case for her.  But, my focus is on the abuser, where it should be.  Regardless of what had happened to him previously, he knew what he was doing was wrong. That’s the point. That’s the point you fail to address or acknowledge. There is no grey area in that.  He was a responsible male in his forties with his faculties in tact.   He knew he should not have asked her to pose topless, to drink champagne, to take a tablet, to place his penis inside of her.

You see, what we have is not an article about grey areas, but an article that makes apologies for the rape of a child, disguising it in the artistic expressions in both the victim’s book and Polanski’s skills in film. The mad, genius, maverick artist stereotype abounds. Odd for a journalist seemingly wishing to avoid such labels.

We do not even find the ending any better, “Her current battle is not with her original oppressor but the reporters of then and now”. I grant you that you have allowed her to have her feelings without criticism.  However, you have also allowed space in your article for rape apology which only adds to the objectification of her. You have decided to create your controversial article around how others are sinful for considering Polanski a villain, rather than ensuring the actions of Polanski are considered the most sinful.

You have ensured that yet again, she is placed back into the centre of that media circus. You have made other victims of rape and abuse feel as though they are wrong to have violent thoughts about their abusers, that hang on, there must be something that they should feel they deserve sympathy for. You have made them feel that they are wrong to think their abuser is a bad person. Because, yes, the article’s purpose is rape apology and its audience is unlikely to be Polanski fans and more likely to be those who have suffered abuse.

And that makes it unforgivable.  If the basic principles of text’s audience and purpose is taught to teenagers as a starting point, it really is incomprehensible that you should not have considered these before tapping out the first letter of your piece. It seems to me that this was supposed to be about the book, which has become totally overshadowed by your need to try and show a different point of view like a clever little journalist.

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