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Monthly Archives: January 2013

No, new research does NOT show that violence decreases under the Nordic model

[Update: in response to communication from Feminist Current’s Meghan Murphy, I am happy to clarify that the article critiqued below is not a “Feminist Current piece” but a Sam Berg piece which Feminist Current merely hosted.]

There’s been a bit of a social media buzz over this article on a radical feminist website, which claims that a recent Pro Sentret report from Norway – which you can read in English here – shows that “violence decreases under the Nordic model”. The author backs up her claims with an impressive array of graphs (and a fair smattering of ad hominems), and unsurprisingly receives glowing praise in her comments from people who were clearly predisposed to believe anything she said on the subject anyway.

I hate to burst their bubble. Well, actually I don’t.

The author kindly linked to one of my own posts on the report, though she seems not to have read it. If she had, she would have noticed that very near the start I referred to “methodological limitations” that made it unsafe to draw cause-and-effect conclusions from the study. At the time I didn’t feel it important to get into those limitations, but I will now. Apart from the health warning that always applies in studying a hidden population, there are two really massively important issues here:

1. Lifetime vs recent experience. The 2007-2008 study asked sex workers if they had ever experienced violence, throughout their “entire career in prostitution (which could be anything from one day to 50 years)”. The newer study asked about violence in the past three years alone. These are two very different questions, which can’t possibly give rise to comparable answers – at least without a detailed examination of the raw data, which we don’t have. We don’t know how long the respondents had been selling sex, in either survey; we don’t know how many in the first study had sold for more than three years nor how many in the second study had sold for less (though 16% of the latter group said they were not selling at the time the survey was carried out). You would expect, of course, that the more actual sex work-years covered by the survey, the more violence would be reported; and if we assume that the first study covered more actual sex work-years then we would expect to see higher rates of violence in it. I’m not even comfortable making that assumption on such flimsy data (which is why I didn’t make it in my initial post). But we certainly cannot make the implicit assumption that the Feminist Current post depends on, ie, that the two studies cover the same number of actual sex work-years.

2. Norwegian vs. foreign experience. Both surveys recorded sex workers’ experience of violence in prostitution wherever it occurred. For the 2012 study, we have a breakdown: 70% of respondents said it only happened in Norway; 12% said Norway and elsewhere; 10% said only elsewhere; 8% didn’t answer. There is also a breakdown of the venues within each country, but that is all. We don’t know, for example, which types of violence occurred in which country, or how many of the specific incidents occurred in which country. This makes it impossible to know how much of the reported violence even took place under the Nordic model. And we don’t have any of this data from the 2007-2008 study, so there’s really nothing for us to compare here at all.

Now, really, that ought to be enough to make it clear that Feminist Current’s claim is totally unsubstantiated. But just for the sake of argument, let’s say we really were comparing like with like. Would that justify their conclusions?

I’ll just address their headline statistic, namely, the claim that rape is down by half in the new study. That comes from here:


And indeed, the drop from 29% to 15% looks impressive. But wait a minute – look over in the left-hand column, halfway down. See that category of “threatened/forced into sex that was not agreed to”? Last I checked, that’s rape. And the number who said it had happened to them in the past three years was not 15%, but 27%.

The Feminist Current author didn’t miss that category of violence – in fact, she commented on it, but totally missed its significance. She also missed what the report’s authors had to say about it, which is as follows:

We have looked at how many checked both answers which could mean that they define both these categories the same way. Only 6 people have done this, which confirms our suspicion that many of the women would not characterize actual rape as rape. This also means that the actual frequency of rape is considerably higher than what is shown in table 10. If we combine the amount that checked these options and then subtract those that checked both we see that as many as 34%(25 people) of those that have experienced violence in the last three years have been raped/threatened into sex that was not agreed to.

So how does the 34% de facto rape rate compare with its 2007-2008 counterpart? To find that out, we’d need the same accounting exercise to be carried out on the earlier data. It could be that in 2007-2008 there was zero overlap between the persons who said they’d experienced rape, and the persons who said they’d been threatened or forced into having sex; this would give us a de facto rape rate of 64%, from which 2012’s 34% would still be an impressive drop. On the other hand, it could be that every person who said in the first study that they’d experienced “rape” also ticked the box for “threatened/forced etc”, which would mean the de facto rate in 2007/2008 was only 35%. In that case, the subsequent drop to 34% would be considerably less impressive, and probably statistically insignificant. The fact is, we simply don’t know.

Finally, since the Feminist Current argument rests entirely on the claim that “serious” violence is down in the 2012 study, I think there’s one other stat in that image worth highlighting:


This of course is subject to the same flaws as everything else in this study, and I’m not pointing it out to suggest that the number of sex workers threatened with a weapon actually has increased under the Nordic model, by 50%, from less than a quarter to approximately a third. I just think it’s kind of…curious that someone who takes the stats at face value, and accuses others of ignoring inconvenient data, doesn’t see any room for this in her analysis of how “serious” violence has changed under the law. But maybe she doesn’t consider “threatened with a weapon” to be serious enough.

There’s a lot more to criticise in that piece if I had more time, not least its contradictions with the radical feminist conception of sex work as inherently violent, inherently rape – and the way it almost mockingly dismisses certain forms of reported violence as not serious enough to be counted as violence for the purpose of this study, while then going on to insist that “any violence inflicted on them matters”. But I’ll let someone else unpack that one. As I said in my first post, we can’t safely draw any conclusion from the stats. The study’s significance lies in its qualitative findings – which are totally inconsistent with the idea of the law as a “success” and which are, unsurprisingly, totally ignored by Feminist Current.

I didn’t have to dig particularly deep into the study to find why the Feminist Current piece is wrong. Pro Sentret are careful to emphasise the lifetime/three years difference. They also highlight the fact that the number of sex workers who report being raped is much higher than the number who call it rape. There’s no reason why anyone who actually read the study wouldn’t be aware of these issues. If they choose not to share them with their audience, that’s a matter for them to explain.

(ETA: More on this subject here.)

Silent Protest to Counter Anti-Choice Demo TOMORROW

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Signal boosting from Unlike Youth Defence, I trust women to decide their lives for themselves:

On Saturday January 19th, a group called ‘vigil for life’ are demonstrating at Merrion Square at 16.30. We’re asking that a number of our followers join us in a counter-demonstration close by.

These people (whether they realise it or not) are protesting against the introduction of legislation that would save the lives of women living in Ireland.

They’re protesting against legislation that the majority have voted for in a referendum.

They’re protesting against a supreme court decision.

They’re protesting directly against what the ECHR says Ireland needs to do to protect the human rights of pregnant women.

We intend to protest silently, without the use of chants or shouting, with signs and pictures of women who have been denied their right to life and health because of this country’s antiquated abortion laws. We have lives too, and its time our government stepped up to protect us.

Please join us in our silent counter-protest. Please bring a sign if you can (it’s as simple as asking a local shop for one of their cardboard stock boxes and using paints or markers) to help get our message across without the need to attempt to shout the other side down.

We will be meeting at Merrion Square South between 4.30 and 4.45. We ask that people coming from town to meet walk across Baggot St, up Lower Fitzwilliam Street and over Merrion Square South (see map below). We ask that people not walk via Merrion Street Upper and past the government buildings, as adversarial confrontation with the Vigil For Life is not our aim in this and they will likely be gathered there. At least one of our members will be waiting at the meeting place early with a large pro-choice sign, so look out for her!

*Image taken from flyposters in Smithfield, December 2012 which were created to highlight the restrictive abortion laws which force women in Ireland to travel abroad while suffering in silence for fear of stigmatisation

Julie Burchill and trans women

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Originally posted at Consider The Tea Cosy

I was going to write something fairly light-hearted today and pop it in the queue for next week. Maybe get working on one of the stack of comics I have notes sketched out for. Maybe talk about how I just started roller derby, or share a few badly-lit phone pics from Glasgow. Waffle on about love and creativity and how I can’t seem to think up a halfway decent derby name. Maybe finally share my to-die-for vegan chili recipe.

You’re all going to have to wait for the chili, though, because Julie Burchill is at it again with one of the most sickeningly vile transphobic screeds I have ever heard. I’m not exaggerating, by the way. I’m a reasonably-thick-skinned cis person. Trans hate speech isn’t directed at me. It took me several tries to get through this article. Trigger warning, therefore, for the rest of this for violently transphobic language as well as racism. Let’s see what Burchill has to say. I’m not going to link to the article, by the way, as I have no desire to give her more traffic. If you want to look it up, it’s in Comment Is Free in the Guardian, and the title is Transsexuals Should Cut It Out. Classy, Julie. Classy. Here we go:

The brilliant writer Suzanne Moore and I go back a long way. I first met her when she was a young single mother living in a council flat; she took me out to interview me about my novel Ambition (republished by Corvus Books this spring, since you ask) for dear dead City Limits magazine. “I’ve got an entertaining budget of £12.50!” she said proudly. “Sod that, we’re having lobster and champagne at Frederick’s and I’m paying,” I told her. Half a bottle of Bolly later, she looked at me with faraway eyes: “Ooo, I could get to like this…” And so she did.

I have observed her rise to the forefront of this country’s great polemicists with a whole lot of pride – and just a tiny bit of envy. I am godmother to her three brilliant, beautiful daughters. Though we differ on certain issues we will have each other’s backs until the sacred cows come home.

So Julie has a friend called Suzanne, and Suzanne used to be broke but now they’re both relatively loaded. That’s nice. It sure is lovely when people get recognition for doing the things they love, isn’t it? Let’s see what’s next..

With this in mind, I was incredulous to read that my friend was being monstered on Twitter, to the extent that she had quit it, for supposedly picking on a minority – transsexuals. Though I imagine it to be something akin to being savaged by a dead sheep, as Denis Healey had it of Geoffrey Howe, I nevertheless felt indignant that a woman of such style and substance should be driven from her chosen mode of time-wasting by a bunch of dicks in chicks’ clothing.

Oh. I see what you were doing there, Julie. Dicks in chicks clothing. Because DID YOU KNOW that trans* women are born with differently shaped genitalia than cis women? Did you know that? And the shape of a person’s genitals is super relevant to everything else about them. I know it’s the first thing I want to know when I meet a new person.

Also, Suzanne’s style and substance are important. Trans women don’t have either, you see. It’s not like they’re real people or anything- just caricatures. Also, as feminists we’re very interested in people’s style. Women’s style is the first thing we should be interested about them! I mean, apart from the shape of their genitals. Naturally.

To my mind – I have given cool-headed consideration to the matter – a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I’d imagine the Black and White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look. That rude and ridic.

Wait, what? Minstrels? Minstrels? Right, regular readers of the Tea Cosy will have been around for the last time we had that discussion. I’m just going to make something clear here. Burchill is saying that trans women can be compared to cis women in the same way that minstrels in blackface can be compared to Usain Bolt.

To that, I’ve got nothing. I can’t say something witty and biting about why this is messed-up, because she has gone so far over the line of unacceptability. Let’s move on.

Here’s what happened. In a book of essays called Red: The Waterstones Anthology, Suzanne contributed a piece about women’s anger. She wrote that, among other things, women were angry about “not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual”. Rather than join her in decrying the idea that every broad should aim to look like an oven-ready porn star, the very vociferous transsexual lobby and their grim groupies picked on the messenger instead.

Huh. I’m a grim groupie! As, it seems, is everyone that agrees that trans and cis people are equal and deserving of the same dignity. Sounds like a pretty damn good bandwagon to be on, if you ask me.

Here, Burchill misses the point, as usual, by a mile. We’re not picking on the messenger. We’re decrying the idea that being Brazilian and trans* gives a woman the body of an “oven-ready porn star”. Whatever, by the way, an oven-ready porn star is. I’m not sure why Burchill is talking about putting women in ovens, but maybe there’s a turn of phrase I’m not familiar with here. Either that, or just terrible writing. And bigotry.

I must say that my only experience of the trans lobby thus far was hearing about the vile way they have persecuted another of my friends, the veteran women’s rights and anti-domestic violence activist Julie Bindel – picketing events where she is speaking about such minor issues as the rape of children and the trafficking of women just because she refuses to accept that their relationship with their phantom limb is the most pressing problem that women – real and imagined – are facing right now.

And now Burchill confesses her absolute ignorance of trans activism or trans people. Normally, by the way, when you know that you’re absolutely ignorant of a subject it’s considered polite to learn about it before pontificating in a national paper. Julie’s distillation of trans issues to people’s “relationship with their phantom limb” is a bit of a giveaway of how she knows absolutely nothing about real trans people’s actual lives and concerns. Also, her obsession with other people’s genitals continues to be troubling.

Similarly, Suzanne’s original piece was about the real horror of the bigger picture – how the savagery of a few old Etonians is having real, ruinous effects on the lives of the weakest members of our society, many of whom happen to be women. The reaction of the trans lobby reminded me very much of those wretched inner-city kids who shoot another inner-city kid dead in a fast-food shop for not showing them enough “respect”. Ignore the real enemy – they’re strong and will need real effort and organisation to fight. How much easier to lash out at those who are conveniently close to hand!

This is interesting. Not because it is accurate, but because it is an argument that I hear a lot in activist circles. There are those who argue that worrying about issues of gender, disability, race, orientation or other ways in which people are marginalised distracts from the real issue of whatever it is we’re protesting today. Pointing out misogyny in atheist communities? Distracting From The Real Issues. Mentioning that LGBT activism can be overly-white and ignore POC? Distracting From The Real Issues. And so on and so forth.

This is exactly what Burchill is doing. Sexism and classism, to Burchill, are Real Issues that we need to focus on. It doesn’t occur to her that poor people and women can be trans as well as cis. It doesn’t occur to her that the problem is not that trans activists are offended, but that they were used in the first place in a stereotyped, marginalising way to make someone else’s argument. You don’t fight racism or classism or ableism with misogyny, and if you do then you’d better expect some pissed off women. Similarly, you don’t fight classism or misogyny with racist transphobia, and if you do? You’re going to expect some pissed off trans people and POC.

But they’d rather argue over semantics. To be fair, after having one’s nuts taken off (see what I did there?) by endless decades in academia, it’s all most of them are fit to do. Educated beyond all common sense and honesty, it was a hoot to see the screaming mimis accuse Suze of white feminist privilege; it may have been this that made her finally respond in the subsequent salty language she employed to answer her Twitter critics: “People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.”

With “having their nuts taken off” and “cut their dicks off”, Burchill continues her obsession with trans women’s genitalia. I’d be willing to bet that I spend less time thinking about other people’s genitalia while I am having sex with them than Burchill does every time she hears the term “trans woman”. Which is interesting, because a woman being trans tells you absolutely nothing about the current shape of her genitals. Which are irrelevant to everyone but her (and her partner(s)) anyway. It is a tad creepy.

Oh, also, trans women are “screaming mimis”. Again, I’m not quite sure what a ‘mimi’ is and a quick google came up with enough different options that I’ll officially designate this Bad Communication. Burchill’s tone, however, does remind me of people who accuse women of being “hysterical” and “shrill” when we raise our voices. Coincidence? I think not.

She, the other JB and I are part of the minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street and I think this partly contributes to the stand-off with the trannies. (I know that’s a wrong word, but having recently discovered that their lot describe born women as ‘Cis’ – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff – they’re lucky I’m not calling them shemales. Or shims.) We know that everything we have we got for ourselves. We have no family money, no safety net. And we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs.

Remember the first paragraph? We’re back to the fact that Burchill has some friends. Which is, as I said before, nice. It’s good to have friends. I have friends myself, you know. I hope you do too. I am not sure how this is relevant.

Also, it’s Time For Slurs! Hey, how many transphobic slurs can one person use in a single paragraph? We have t*y, s*e, s*m, and “bed-wetters in bad wigs”. Maybe Burchill has a better grasp of biology than I do, but as far as I’m aware gender identity and continence are unrelated. Also, I’m absolutely certain that since trans and cis people are all, in fact, mammalian, we have the same ability to grow hair. Again, alopecia is distinct from gender identity.

Of course, this isn’t about alopecia. This is about Burchill’s inability to understand that being trans is not the same as dressing in drag. That we’re talking about life, not performance art. Not, by the way, that many drag artists don’t identify on the trans* spectrum themselves! But Burchill claims to be talking about transexual women here. So she should really stick to the topic.

As for ‘cis’? Oh, Julie. Julie, Julie, Julie. Have you heard of Google? It’s very useful for looking up words you’re not quite sure of the definition of. I just popped “cisgender etymology” into Google and within seconds came up with this:

“Cisgender has its origin in the Latin-derived prefix cis-, meaning “to/this the near side,” which is antonymous with the Latin-derived prefix trans-. This usage can be seen in the cis-trans distinction in chemistry, or in the ancient Roman term Cisalpine Gaul (i.e., “Gaul on this side of the Alps”). In the case of gender, however, cis- refers to the alignment of gender identity with assigned gender”

See? It’s from Latin. Just like ‘trans’. If you want to blame someone for how the syllable sounds, you’re stuck with the ancient Romans. Who, by the way, would be a far better target for Julie’s bile since they’re all long dead and can’t be harmed by it.

It’s been noted before that cyberspace, though supposedly all new and shiny, is plagued by the age-old boredom of men telling women not to talk and threatening them with all kinds of nastiness if they persist in saying what they feel.

Pot. Kettle. Also, where are the men here? I didn’t see any conversations about men. I saw a conversation about trans women by a cis woman. But Burchill makes no effort to hide the fact that she doesn’t see trans women as women. Which is what blinds her to the fact that she is, in fact, telling trans women not to talk and threatening them with all kinds of nastiness if they persist in saying what they feel.

The trans lobby is now saying that it wasn’t so much the initial piece as Suzanne’s refusal to apologise when told to that “made” them drive her from Twitter. Presumably she is meant to do this in the name of solidarity and the “struggle”, though I find it very hard to imagine this mob struggling with anything apart from the English language and the concept of free speech.

I find it ironic that someone would accuse a group of struggling with the English language while butchering it herself. Burchill is also suffering from a lack of focus here. Are trans women overprivileged upper-class white PhDs with nothing better to do than undermine feminism? Or are they illiterates? C’mon, Julie. If you’re going to stereotype a massively diverse group of people you should at the very least pick a side.

Oh, and since Suzanne Moore’s original comment referred specifically to “Brazilian transsexuals”, it’s quite telling that Burchill criticises the people who responded for not having quite her command of English. Context, Julie. It’s important.

To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women – above natural-born women, who don’t know the meaning of suffering, apparently – is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan.

Here we go back to Burchill’s questionable notions of biology. We saw above that she sees trans women as being unable to grow hair like the rest of us mammals. Now she refers to them as somehow apart from those of us who were “natural-born”. As far as I had been aware, trans people were born the same way as everyone else. Y’know. Pregnancy, labour, possible C-section. Someone cursing at someone else for knocking them up in the first place. Maybe an epidural, maybe not. In Burchill’s world, however, trans women are born.. unnaturally?

It would be funny, in a way. It would be, if it were not for the chilling fact that seeing others as unnatural is a profoundly dehumanising thing.

Also, I have no idea what she’s on about with the chutzpah thing. Non sequitors ahoy!

Okay, we’ve just got one paragraph left. Let’s get this over with:

Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully us lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging Phds as you, but we’ve experienced a lifetime of PMT and sexual harassment and many of us are now staring HRT and the menopause straight in the face – and still not flinching. Trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You really won’t like us when we’re angry.

I’m sorry, but I’m left lost for words.

Except for this: Julie Burchill, I am angry. I am angry both that you attack trans women in such a vile manner, and that you claim to speak for all cis women when you do so. How dare you? How dare you? You do not speak for me. I do and I always will stand beside my trans sisters who I have far more in common with than bigots like you. With whom, despite your protestations, I do share an experience of womanhood. There is nothing unnatural about being trans. There is, Ms Burchill, something unnatural about bigotry.

And you, Julie Burchill? If you think that this is acceptable? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

If you’re even half angry about this as I am, please sign this petition demanding an apology from the Guardian for publishing this vile excuse for an article. Official complaints about the article can also be made here.

Originally posted at Consider The Tea Cosy

This piece comes from Britain, but Irish feminists must not see it as irrelevant to feminism in Ireland. One example that jumped out at me immediately was this one: “To involve women of colour as entertainment or free catering service at feminist events whilst failing to involve women of colour in visible lead speaker or panel roles is racist.” I can think of a couple recent examples where events were organised to discuss migrant women’s experiences, and migrant women did not feature on the panel at all (at least initially, presumably until the exclusion was pointed out to the organisers). I also attended an event not too long ago where a migrant woman spoke powerfully about her negative experiences in Ireland, and when it came to Q&A time a white Irish woman in the audience stood up to express her sympathies…and then addressed a question about this woman’s experience to the white Irish NGO worker sitting beside her on the panel.

I’d note also the negative reaction among some Irish feminists to a woman of colour’s post on this blog, in which she objected to Islam being used as a bogeyman in the Irish abortion debate (as if Catholicism hasn’t been oppressive enough). Among other things, she was told that she should go to a Muslim country and see what things were like there. The assumption by the people who made those comments that they know more about life in her native country than she does – that’s also racist.

Any women of colour in Ireland who are reading this – what other examples of racism have you seen within Irish feminism? And what do white Irish feminists need to do better/differently/at all to address this?

Black Feminists Manchester

By Mia

When we talk about ‘white feminist spaces’ what we mean is the default mainstream feminism of the UK, (Europe and USA). A feminism that considers itself superior to women’s movement’s throughout the world, using it’s white privilege to cherry pick which women (of colour) and oppressions are worthy of attention or rescue, viewed through a myopic authoritative white lens.

White feminism must evolve and integrate with multi cultural societies if it is genuinely concerned with the liberation of all women. Barr a few switched on individuals, many white feminists (WFs) I have encountered in the UK, view ‘woman hate’ as the only form of oppression requiring eradication, for women to be free. I wish that was true.

What many WFs still forget or fail to notice is that, women of colour making up the global majority of the women’s population, they face and challenge multiple oppressions i.e. racism, classism…

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Another angry woman

In the wake of the NiceGuysOfOKC tumblr (currently down), the discussion about Nice Guys has flared up again. The Nice Guy is a category of human which can be–and often is–entirely mutually exclusive from “guy who is nice”: Nice Guys are men who consider their lack of dating success to be down to the fact that they’re “too nice”, often bemoaning the fact that they end up in the dreaded “friendzone”, wherein women want to be their friend but nothing more.

Every so often, the world will get together and argue about Nice Guys, with one side seeing Nice Guys as figures of pity, victims of shyness, while the other finds Nice Guys creepy as hell. The lovely @RopesToInfinity–an actual guy who is nice–wrote an excellent piece on the matter, addressing Nice Guys, and there’s a few points of his I’d like to expand upon some more…

View original post 937 more words