Friday, January 30, 2009

Survivor centred

Sorry I didn't post yesterday. I want to go backwards a little to what I wrote about a couple of days ago. There I looked about how news stories about sentencing treat the length of prison sentance as the only way of measuring victims pain.

A few weeks ago there were several news stories that went like this:

The woman, who cannot be named because it would identify her daughter, told The Press newspaper, her daughter, now 19, was terrified of accidentally seeing her abuser again.

She had three cars of volunteers ready to "stake out" the prison and follow any vehicles leaving and was also preparing to hand out leaflets where Harris would be released.

Reading the thread about this on the hand mirror most people responded to the question of 'help' or 'hinder' with 'hinder'.

To me it's not quite clear what it was that teh woman's actions were going to help or hinder. Were people arguing that this wouldn't help the woman who had been raped? What else could it hinder? Our general fight against rapists? The justice system's fight against rapists?*

Because to me the key question is how can the 19 year old woman ensure that she doesn't see her rapist again, which is what she's said is what she needs.

I think at the discussion around this mother's actions has tended to uphold one of the key ideas of our (in)justice system: justice is not about you. It's not about what would make you feel better, or what would help you heal. It is something that you have little input in and no control over. Louise Nicholas wasn't even allowed to speak at the parole hearing of Bob Schollum.

I think this is, at it's heart, complete and utter nonsense.

I'm not arguing here for vigilante-ism (although I will point out that a lot of the ways vigilante-ism is discussed assumes that people cannot be trusted with justice. That it is inherently wrong that, for example, women who have been raped should play a part in deciding what happens next. I don't think it'd be easy to switch from the conceptions of justice to a survivor based idea of justice.

But I do believe, and this is pretty fundamental, that women who have been raped,** know better than anyone else what they need, and what justice would look like.

I think it takes quite a lot of imagining to think about what that would mean, and that imagining is part of what I want to get too later. But now I want to make clear that for me the involvement of victims, survivors, or whatever you call people who have been wronged, is non-negotiable in my idea of justice.

* If you think it exists, which I don't.

**Or anyone who has suffered any other abuse or violation against anyone. Either something that is classified as a crime at the moment, or is not.

Another clarification

One of the problems I've had in this series is that I don't really want to talk about 'crime' and clearly I have problems with the idea of 'criminals'. One of the basic ideas of this series is that violence against women is often used to support the existence of the prison and (in)justice system. I see resistance to both violence against women and the prison system as vitally important.

I think the abolishment of the prison system for the vast majority of what is currently classified as crime (particularly drug and property offences) is a relatively simple stance to uphold. I can defend my opposition by focusing on the problems with prison and the (in)justice system and no-one's going to say "what about the pot smokers?" or "what about the shop lifters?".

But I do think that 'what about the rapists?' is an important question. Both because of it's ideological role in upholding the prison system as it currently stands, and because it's something we need to answer.

So I'm mostly going writing about the offences that are already over represented in the discussion. I want to acknowledge that really explicitly, and make it clear taht my definition of "bad things people can do to each other" isn't particularly related to the government's definition of "crime" even though it may seem like it is because that overlap is what I'm discussing in this series.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

But what about the rhetorical rapists?

I want to stop focusing just on the prison system and start looking particularly at the way the (in)justice system deals with violence against women, and what that means for feminism.

First off, I want to address the way that rapists are used in discussions as stand-in for 'Very Bad and Dangerous People'. A classic example of this is David Farrer's concern about the release of Brad Shipton. These discussions, and they happen occasionally, are about rhetorical rapists. They are discussions about law and order, not about women's experiences, because they only focus on convicted rapists.

4.5% of male college students in the US admitted to having raped someone (This is a good discussion on that). If we take it as a figure that is probably transferrable to some degree if not entirely accurate (the most important reason it's not accurate is that college students tend to be young, and therefore this can't be taken as a study on how many men rape women over the course of their lifetime), then there are around 72,000 rapists in New Zealand.*

There are approximately 1,000 men in jail for sex crimes at the moment.**

When I suggest that we should end prisons even if it means letting those 1,000 rapists out, and someone replies "What about the rapists?" it makes no sense to me. 'What about the rapists?' is an important question. 72,000 is a terrifying number, but that's the problem that needs to be solved, not the 1 in 73 rapists who are in jail at the moment.

* Numbers from stats I used my base figure half the over 15 population in New Zealand. These figures are supposed to be very loose, I'm not claiming any rigour for them, just trying to demonstrate the size of the problem.

** From Corrections

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

From our court reporter...

There are several staples to the way the media report on court. One of the most frequent is victims or family members commenting after sentencing. These stories usually involve the victims or family members talking about how the sentence is too short, or disappointing in some way. Sometimes they just involve talk about how the sentancing represents 'closure'.

This sort of media disturbs me. Because the suffering of the people quoted is real, and often horrific, and it feels intrusive even to comment on their way of coping. But the function of these stories is to reinforce one of the fundamental, but nonsensical, ideas behind our (in)justice system:

"The way we value someone's suffering is the length of time we incarcerate the person who inflicted it."

This statement is treated as obvious and self-evident, but it's not. In fact it makes no sense at all, except as a description of the way society works.

But people who are suffering turn to and reinforce this idea. Partly I think this is a result of it's hegemonic status. But more importantly I think that people who have suffered great loss turn to this idea, because they have nothing else.

Our understanding of violence between people is centred entirely on what to do with the perpetrator, not about supporting those who have suffered. The state justice system doesn't even dream of saying to people "What would make this easier? What can we do for you?"

So when people who have suffered from violence condemn the lightness of a sentence, that certainly reinforces ideas of prison I disagree with. But I would suggest that this has to be understood in a context where they're offered nothing else. That there is no other way that society recognises their experiences and suffering.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Safer Communities Together

This post isn't part of my current series, I won't be posting in that series today

It's hard to stop thinking about Halatau Naitoko and his family.

I find the media coverage obscene. Although the SST's "LOOK PRETTY YOUNG WHITE PEOPLE WERE ALMOST HURT" is quite the worst. The media appear to be trying to avoid mentioning that Halatau Naitoko is a young brown man, exactly the people who the police view as the enemy, and tend to shoot.

But the biggest unanswered question, for me, is "Would it have been OK if the police had hit the person they were aiming for?" Even indymedia emphasises Halatau Naitoko's innocence.

Stephen McDonald appears to have become much more dangerous after the police's intervention than he was before (given the charge sheet). By initiating the chase the police played a role in creating the situation whereby they justify shooting at him (even at the risk of hitting at least two, and possibly four bystanders).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The ideological purpose of the crime tax

I didn't expect to be writing this much about proposed legislation, but it turns out they're excellent ways of illustrating the role of the justice system in our society. Needless to say I think the $50 crime tax, a ridiculous, regressive idea. A lot of the policy arguments are discussed over at the hand mirror. I want to think about this idea a little bit differently.

Louise Nicholas only received normal witness costs for the trials. This didn't cover her support people, or her travel to court outside of the days she was testifying. I'm not denying that the current system is completely inadequate. At the moment large costs, which are the direct result of someone being victimised are borne individually.

However, the current proposal asks 'who should pay?' and answers 'the criminals'.

In 2006, there were almost 4,000 convictions for serious violent crime; there were over 200,000 convictions for any crime.*

This fine reinforces the idea that criminals are a class, and elides over the fact that the acts that we are most scared of, the acts that ruin people's lives, are a very tiny minority of the acts that get criminalised.

The prison system, and the justice system as a whole can only be justified and maintained if it's true nature and role is avoided. As long as the line between 'criminals' and 'citizens' can be maintained as an 'us' and 'them'. The ideological purpose of this tax is to reinforce that division.

* Statistics from Ministry of Justice. My definition of serious violent crime is a lay persons one not a legal one. I included murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, kidnapping, all sexual assaults, and grevious bodily harm. It won't necessarily reflect the boundaries of this scheme, but it does reflect the sorts of examples that have been discussed in the media.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Two Small Thoughts

1. On the discussions about Police Orders there's been a lot of discussions about the problems that could come about if people were ordered to leave their house for five days. Issues such as the fact that the police have no obligation to ensure that people are dressed let alone they have a wallet, have been raised.

There seems to be an assumption that ignoring these issues would be irregular or unusual. My experience of the police and justice system would be that this is a false assumption. I know people who were arrested at 6am in Wellington and then released on bail four weeks later on a Friday at 5pm in Auckland, from the side of the court house. They weren't given their original clothes back, let alone their wallets, so they had neither money or ID. To assume that the police only occasionally ignore the needs of those they label as criminal is naieve for the extreme.

2. One thing that I want to make very clear from the beginning (and will discuss from several different angles later on) is that I'm not making any argument about what women who have been raped or abused should do. I don't think any women who is considering how to respond to her abuse should listen to a word I say.

More than that, I would not rule out going to the police and justice system myself (in fact I've done it). And I would certainly testify if asked.

Louise Nicholas showed that the justice system can be a platform.

I want to make this explicit, because it's too common for political analysis to be taken as an argument that individuals could change by acting differently. That's not something I believe in general.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Police Orders

I want to write a little bit about the new police orders in the Domestic Violence (enhancing safety) Bill. It has already been widely discussed (No Right Turn twice, Kiwipolitico and the hand mirror who all structured it as matter of competing rights between the right to live free of violence and the right to due process (Anita at Kiwipolitico proposed an option that she thinks would balance the rights better). Ludditejourno provided more information about the context of the bill (and how it has changed) and says:

The main difficulties in keeping victims safe from domestic violence according to every major piece of research since the Domestic Violence Act 1995 is however, not legislation at all.

The problem with justice sector responses to domestic violence in Aotearoa New Zealand is implementation, which is inconsistent, and at times, poor. And this has literally cost women and children their lives.
This very important point, and what the definition of poor is (and how to improve it) is one of the key things I want to write about in this series.

One of the comments that has been made in threads about this is: "would you give Clint Rickards this power?" And while clearly worries about how individual police officers might use this power are entirely justified, I think the problem goes much deeper to the way this legislation frames abuse and violence (even when used in the way it is intended).

My understanding about abuse in intimate relationships is that it are fundamentally about power and control. That physical and sexual violence is often part of that power and control, but there are many forms of abuse, and maintaining power and control, which go beyond violence (the power and control wheel is a graphical representation of this). This means that abuse has to be understood in the context of the whole relationship, not just as individual acts. It also means that further taking away power and control from people who have been abused in an intimate relationship even "for their own good" is not helpful.

In this series I will tend to talk about male perpetrators and female victims, not because, but because I believe that in our society men are given power over women in intimate relationships, which is not reversed. That doesn't mean that women can't be abuse perpetrators in relationships, just that women abusing men (or women abusing women) do not represent a wider power dynamic within society.

In order to demonstrate the model of abuse that police orders follow I will compare them with protection orders. This isn't to imply there are no issues with protection orders (I will try and write more about them later in the series).

The police orders are instigated by a police officer, and the law explicitly takes they can be taken against the wishes of those who they're purporting to protect. Protection orders are instigated by those seeking protection. And while the court system means the abused person doesn't have control over the process, it at least means they play a role.

Also, protection orders are usually supported by affadavits by the person who is abused. This allows them to talk about their own experience of abuse and power and control within a relationship (although obviously this must be shaped by the legal requirements). Police orders are based on the views of an outsider to the relationship who may have only been there for a few minutes.

Now this may seem like me putting my theoretical view of domestic violence over the immediate view of women who need protection from police orders. Of course, there are women whose safety would be greatly enhanced if they could get a police order removing the abusive man from their home on the spot (and who seek that now). But those are not the only time police orders will be used.

For example, a woman in an abusive relationship who relies on her partner to take the kids to school in order that she can get to work. With protection orders she gets to make decisions on how best to manage safety and the other needs of her life, and gives her time to make other arrangements. If excluding the abusive person from her life is something that is done to a woman, rather than she does herself, then the consequences of that exclusion are likely to be far greater, because she is not able to plan for or mitigate them.

Or what if a woman in an abusive relationship fought back? What if her partner has marks on him? What if the police exclude her from her home? In terms of power and control excluding the abused person from her home could make things catastrophically worse. Biting Beever (whose blog is no longer on line) had a story about the only time the police came to her house in an abusive relationship which lasted years, they warned her for scratching her abusive partner. She pointed out the power this gave him over her. Imagine how much more power an abusive partner would have if the women was excluded from her home.

While I'll this might not be the most frequent way that police orders are used it will happen. And the women who it will happen to will be the most vulnerable, with partners who are more articulate, who the police identify with.

The model and understanding of domestic violence that the legislation is based on will have real consequences for real women's lives.

I don't really have a 'what should be done instead?' because writing legislation isn't really the point of this series. But I do want to point out one interesting aspect of this legilation - which is it is about excluding abusive people from their homes, rather than helping abused people leave.

But this exclusion is done by force, and is not resourced in anyway (and for all commenters at various places have said that they're sure the police will make sure that people have their wallets before they go out - that's not my experience of how the police work). As a starting point, why stop making abused people the only group who can have somewhere to stay? Why not build sleeping places for abusive men (or any men) who are spending a few nights away from their relationship?

Choosing Conflict and Discord

I understand finding something to get excited about in the idea of Barack Obama being president (I don't share it, but I can see where it comes from). I cannot understand anyone with any progressive tendancies not being appalled by his speech. The first commentary I read on the speech which made sense was Louis Proyect's:

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

[Yes, they wrote books about that. They are called Horatio Alger stories and they are bullshit. Bill Gates got where he is by being born into one of Seattle's richest families and by exploiting technology that had hitherto been common property.]

The Daily Show also did pretty well

I don't have time (or interest) to pick apart the whole speech, but there was one section that really stuck out to me*:
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died in places Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life.

I'm going to ignore the reference to Vietnam because that's a whole nother rant, which I'm going to assume that the reader can supply themselves. I will quickly draw attention to the fact that this narrative of US history ignores anyone who was living there before European colonisation.

But my point is something quite different. People did toil in sweatshops, endure the lash of the whip and plow the hard earth. But they didn't do these things because they wanted to create the world that exists now, they did it because the alternative was starvation or death.

Millions of people worked in sweatshops, were held as slave and farmed in difficult conditions. They did so with varying degrees of control and consent. To say they did these things to bring about the world that currently exists is obscene. Millions of people have millions of different dreams, struggles and views of the purposes of their lives. Maybe some people were aiming to create the world that currently exists. But I know that some slaves, workers and farmers had a different idea of the worlds that they wanted to create. I know, because I've read about them, that some dreamed of worlds much like the world I fight for.

To claim generations of people were struggled and were exploited because so they could help create the world that we live in now is both ignorant and arrogant

* Although can I just say his view of the unselfish worker who gives up his hours so his friend will keep his job made was despicable boss pandering. How about both those workers go on strike to keep everyone's job and reclaim some profits from the bosses. I'm not saying I expect anything else from the president of the united states. I'm just saying that I don't see how anyone could have seen Barack Obama's inauguration address as doing anything but choosing sides with the rich and powerful

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Prisons and women

In my previous post, I didn't deal with prisons as a feminist issue, or the effect of prisons on women. Prisons are a deeply gendered phenomenon, and their effect on men is fairly widely known (they go to prison). I think that aspect of the gendered nature of prisons makes it easy for feminists to put a 'someone else's problem' field around the issue. But I think this ignores some important aspects of women and the prison system.

Men who are in prison are a feminist issue, because of the impact their imprisonment has the lives of the women who love or need them. The vast majority of the work of having someone in prison, is done by women. Visiting, bringing children to visit, providing money and phone cards and the things that ease prison life, this is done by women. I'm not yet in a space where I can write about that with any kind of distance. I'm not sure I ever will be. It's over a year since I set foot near a prison and I still identify so strongly with the women that I queued behind and visited with. I think I'll have to let my previous post on this issue explain some of what I have to say for this.

Women in prison are also a feminist issue although they are a tiny minority of the prison population as a whole (although I think that percentage of prisoners who are women is increasing in many NZ and the US, and probably other countries with similar prison policies). Like the men in prison, women in prison are not just chosen as a random sampling of the female population, but tend to be poor, and non-white.

But prison is more gendered than that, and women in prison are not just the female version of men who are in prison. Women in prison are very likely to have been on the receiving end of violence against women, and on the receiving end of abuse, misogyny and control. There is often a path between women in prison's experience of abuse and being in prison.

Women also get considerable less support in prison than men (I wrote a post about this here which is based on my experiences of visiting at women's prisons). So the experience of being in prison is more isolating for women than it is for men, and women have less to call on when they get out of prison than men.

I might later try and write about the implications of being under complete control in prison for women who have been in abusive relationships (but I may not, because it is so far away from anything I know). But I think it's an important thing to think about, when conceptualising feminism and prisons.

So to ignore prisons as a feminist issue is to abandon the women who are in prison. Feminists who support the prison system (and I am planning to discuss the ways feminists uphold the prison system) abandon these women as collateral damage. I don't think that's acceptable.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Against the prison system

I feel like there's a stumbling block with prisons, that makes it very difficult to write about. Possibly it's a lack of imagination so that imagining what a word without prisons could look like seems ludicrous. I know that it's only possible because of the lack of knowledge about the reality of prisons. But whenver I've written anthing on prisons, no matter what I thought I was saying, the main response I've gotten has been 'but what about the murderers?'.

So I feel that in order to begin the series, in order to lay the foundation for an argument about justice which rejects the possibility of prisons I have to go over the arguments against prison. I will not be going over them in particular detail, there are heaps of sources on anti-prison work. Personally I was converted to the anti-prison cause in my early twenties after reading Jessica Mitford's Kind and Usual Punishment. Since then my opinion has been informed and reinforced by writing around, by and about, Black Panthers who went to jail, particularly. Finally, my own experience of the prison system which I wrote about briefly, only reinforced my views. I really don't recommend having your friends be arrested as a way to learn about prisons, but do recommend the other two routes if you want more detail about the arguments I lay out here.

A prisoner is under the control of the prison system, and the entire purpose of the prison system is to have that level of control. To talk about prisons, and the role in prisons in society, it's important to have the control reality of prisons explicit.

Control isn't the stated role of the prison (although it's central to their functioning); there are, theoretically, three different roles of a prison system, deterrence, rehabilitation, and punishment. I want to briefly look at these in turn to make it clear why I don't think there is anything in prison

Prison has no rehabilitive functions - none. If dehabilitative was a word it would describe prisons. There are many reasons for that, some of which get quite a lot of play in mainstream media, the lack of treatment for those who want, prison as a school of crime, the isolation of prison making people more like to comit crim etc. The point I want to make is that rehabilitation is incompatible with control. If the state wants people to refrain from acting in certain ways (and that's something that I find problematic, but I'll take it as a given for this paragraph) then giving those people no choice about how they act for a period of time is unhelpful. Taking total control of people's lives for a certain period of time is not going to induce them to behave the way you want to when that control is relinquished.

Prison is not a particularly effective deterrance. It's more effective deterrance than it is at rehabilitation (although objectively prison is more effective at teaching advance cake decorating skills than it is at 'rehabilitation'). I'll talk about some specific failures of prison as deterrance later on, but here I want to point out that there are still people manufacturing, transporting, selling and consuming drugs that have been made illegal where I'm writing from when I'm writing and where you're reading when you're reading. The threat of the justice system may work as a deterrance on some things some of the time, but almost by definition the crimes that are most often committed are the ones that prison is not working as a deterrance for.

On a more philosophical level if you believe that a major factor that stops people from stealing, killing people, drink driving or smoking pot is the threat of jail, then that's a particular view of human nature. If you locate the cause of what we define as crime somewhere other than inherent evilness, then prison as a deterrance looks a lot less important.

That leaves punishment. Prison is a punishment; I will not deny that. In fact I find it hard to write this, because I just want to type prison is horrific over and over again. The control and the punish aspects of prison work in perfect harmony. Although the effect is up for debate.

But who does it punish? Because even if you believe that total control is a suitable form of punishment (and I didn't before my friend's had gone to prison, and I sure as hell don't now), we all know that who gets punished is very selective. Poor-men and non-white-men are criminalised.

And while that's partly because of access to resources and discrimination on a case by case level it is also because justice systems are very selective about what they consider a crime. The way poor people steal are much more harshly dealt with than the way rich people steal.

Lots of people, many feminists (I would hope most, but that's probably a wee bit optimistic), agree with these points, but instead of arguing for prison abolition they argue for reform. I would ask people who recognise the problem in prison to really think what it is about prisons that they want saving?

Because there are ways that you can improve prisons, but they don't necessarily reform them. My suggestions for New Zealand prison would start by actually following the Correction department policy and procedures manual. I laugh hollowly whenever I read the families section (yes I have read the families section of the Corrections Department policy and procedures manual more than once, I never denied I had issues). Then there are more than a few improvements that you could make to the visiting system (starting with the Auckland region's booking system which is based on people who want to visit having communication with prisoners - something which is sometimes a little difficult for people in prison).

But most of the little things I want to change, the things that tore me apart and could have been different, are caused by the nature of prison itself, by control.

We've all read about the degredation and abuse that happens when people are under institutional control, in hospitals and rest homes. And in those cases the control is (supposed to be) incidental to the function of the institution. The problems that arise from control are fundamental to prison structures, and can't be reformed away. The effect of a system that is based on control is that every reform that is made will be made part of the system of control (to get more on this read Jessica Mitford on prisons, she demonstrates systematically how prison reform efforts have not created more humane prisons, but just increased the system of control over prisoners).

And that's my once over lightly against prisons. There's a lot it doesn't cover, it doesn't cover the role of prisons in society, or much about 'crime'. I'll write more about prisons, of course, that's the whole purpose of this series. I'll also address the issue of prison and rapists, and prison and abusive men more directly. But this is the place to talk about 'so what about the murderers'.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Two stories

I want to start with some of my recent stories that confuse me still.

2008 was not an easy year for me, and the week I was called for jury duty came pretty close to being its nadir. My only goal in going to court was not to get called. I've always wanted to be on a jury, and I kind do feel a duty to do so. But at that moment I was so exhausted, that I deliberately gave myself permission to try and get out of it. I wore a t-shirt that shouted my politics. I went into jury selection fairly sure I would be challenged in the unlikely event I was picked.

There was only one jury trial in the Wellington district court the week I was called, and I made it through the pre-ballot. It's strange for me, being at the district court alone. I associate the district court with being a group, sometimes stressed group, but a group where someone's always got some chocolate. That day it was just me and my knitting.

I began to get nervous as we packed into one of the smaller court rooms. What if I was called, what if they'd used up their challenge? I didn't have the concentration span to follow an episode of Buffy at that point, how was I going to follow a trial?

And then they read out the inditement.

I'm not going to post what I remember of the indictment, it was too graphic, too upsetting. The charge was illegal sexual connection with a woman with a significant impairment by a man who was caring for her, and in the inditement they described the sexual connection.

I watched the women before me head towards the jury box. A young girl with a university sweatshirt was challenged by the defence lawyer. A woman who had the same hair cut as my mother, and so many other middle-class liberal women of a certain age, was challenged by the defence lawyer. The jury that resulted was dominated by men, and the only women who weren't challenged by the defence looked very conservative. Because in the jury process looks are all the lawyers have to go on.

I gave myself permission; I practiced what I'd say to the judge if I was called. But I felt more and more guilty, as more women got challenged. I felt like if I could get through I should. Which was ridiculous, because if they got challenged byt he defence I would get challenged.*

What I wasn't thinking was prison. This is very unusual. District Courts make me think of prison, and there were prison guards next to the defendant Just a few days before I'd cried at the sight of prison guards, as they lead a prisoner through the hospital.

I've known where I stood on this for years. I still believed in prison abolition when Clint Rickards was found not guilty, even though the empty hole of disbelief at the verdict soon filled with rage. My rational argument for this gut reaction, has always been that women who go through the court system should be believed, even though the effect of that is jail, which helps no-one.


My flat has very thin walls. My next door neighbours are a couple and they're very loud. When I said to them "You know last Sunday night when you played your music at two in the morning and it kept me awake." They replied "Yes, the walls are very thin."

But sometimes I'd hear other things. I'm never quite sure what they are. But as I'm drifting off to sleep there's thudding and shrieking that makes me wonder what's going on. That sound like he could be abusing her. I didn't know what to do and I asked a friend who had worked for women's refuge if she had any ideas, and she said to call the police.

And I didn't know what to say, but I knew that I couldn't do that. That I'd go over there myself, in my pajamas to ask them what was going on, however dangerous and ineffectual that might be.


So I know some things for certain. And until now that has been enough for me, the boundary lines in my gut. But I think there is a lot more to say. For starters, because a lot of people don't draw their lines in the same place as me. I think it's important to articulate why I wouldn't call the police, and why prison isn't going to stop men abusing women. Then I want to go backwards, to the accepted ground of what protection orders and so on offer women (and don't offer women).

Because it's only by acknowledging the contradictions exist, that we can hope to resolve them

* When I read, later about hte information about potential jurors that the crown had access to, I could only imagine the file the crown had on me. I wonder if they would have challenged me. Because on any case but a rape case I'm the crown's nightmare juror, and that's reasonably easy to deduce from my police file (my known associates list would be full of people the police think are terrorists). But it'd be equally easy for the prosecution to see from my police file that I'm not very fond of rapists.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A new direction

So I haven't posted much. That much is obvious. I think of posts occasionally. My friend texted me 'if we can't trust celebrities to fight the class war, who can we trust?' and it'd make a great title for a post about the Screen Actors Guild negotiations.* I have ideas about the politics of Battlestar Galactica and The Wire that I'd like to write. I still have a draft somewhere about the evils of National's legislation to introduce mandatory standards testing. These ideas never make it onto the blog.

But a fear of being trivial had never stopped me before. This blog, after all, has more posts on 'Joss' than 'colonialism'. There must be other reasons I am not writing.

My posting slowed down considerably after the raids of October the 15th 2007. It's changed the focus of my politics, and I haven't quite known how to deal with that. One of the things I have managed to write about has been prison. Most of the posts I've started and not finished over the last year, have been around the parole of Brad Shipton, Bob Schollum and Peter McNamara. I am no longer satisfied with the pat answers I would have given 18 months ago. I would have said "I wanted Clint Rickards convicted" because I wanted Louise Nicholas to be believed, which isn't inconsistent with believing in the abolition of prisons. I maintained two sets of politics on parallel tracks, and wasn't particularly interested in exploring the blurry space between them. But now I want to write about that space constantly, it crowds out everything else I might be interested in. But I never start because the task seems too huge.

I also think there's an even deeper problem. After three years I've written out most of what I think. There are people who see the first role of their blogs as organising tools, or soapboxes. I've done both of these things, but I don't see that as the purpose of this blog. I write to explore and clarify what I think. And after 3 years I've done that with most blog-sized thoughts in my head. So I can't get in the habit of writing, because I don't have the right sized things to say.

I don't want to give up this space, so I've decided to try and experiment, which addresses both these problems. Starting tomorrow everyday for at least two weeks, I'm going to write a post about the intersection between my ideas about violence against women and the ideas about prison. I'll particularly be trying to write about what I don't know, and don't understand.

If this works, then I've got some other ideas that I might write about for a concentrated . I'll try and write out some of my ideas that are longer than a single blog post. And maybe in between these concentrated bursts I'll write that post about the Screen Actors Guild.

* I sometimes have some strange text message conversations. Particularly when I'm watching a new television show. You'd be amazed at how much political analysis of a TV you can get into 140 characters, or perhaps my messages don't make any sense.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Talking about anti-semitism now

My Mum grew up in London, and when she was seven she changed schools. They had different routines at her new school and she was a little confused. When the bell rang girls were lining up in two places and she didn't know where she belonged. So she asked another student where she should go:

"Are you Jewish or Christian?" The girl replied.

My Mum said that she didn't know.

"If you don't know you're probably Christian" She pointed my Mum to the line for Christian assembly.

I bring this up as a way of saying that I'm not Jewish. A fact that I suspect that most regular readers of this blog would guess, because if I was Jewish I would have mentioned it.*

I have been following the debate about anti-semitism over at feministe (here and here) and Mandolin's post about the discussion. I may write a post about how and why I disagree with David Schraub's model, which he calls anti-subordination school (and therefore most of his argument). But there was something else I wanted to say first.

David Schraub started his argument by talking about Gaza, and he's conceded that's a mistake so I won't respond to what he said. But in the thread itself a lot of people did respond, and some said some variation of "now is not the time to be talking of anti-semitism."

I don't think this is true. I think now is as good a time as any to talk about anti-semitism. To say otherwise is to play into the idea that the middle east is a zero-sum game between 'Jews' and 'Palestinians' and I don't believe that. I don't think that opposing anti-semitism diminishes our ability to stand in solidarity with the people with Gaza. I think opposing anti-semitism strengthens the movement in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

I think this because I do not conflate the Israeli state with Jewish people. I believe that it is always important to draw distinctions between people and states that claim to represent them. I think it is particularly important that those of us who oppose the actions of the Israeli state don't conflate those actions with Jewish people (or Israelis).

I've seen it happen, of course I have. Often it comes out of the blue. Once I was walking home from a Palestinian solidarity demo with a couple of acquaintances. When we walked past a synagogue one of them ranted at the (empty and deserted) building, as if standing in solidarity with Palestine was standing against a synagogue.

I don't want to make the moral argument for opposing anti-semitism. I would assume that no-one needs me to explain to them what anti-semitism can do. Instead I want to make explicit the practical, or solidarity based argument about why it's vital for those of us who oppose the actions of the Israeli state to fight anti-semitism.**

I feel almost superflous writing any of this down, since so much of my thinking is influenced by Naomi Klein. Anti-semitism doesn't strengthen the Palestinians; it strengthens the Israeli state:

Why bother with such subtleties while bodies are still being pulled out of the rubble in Jenin? Because anyone interested in fighting Le Pen-style fascism or Sharon-style brutality has to deal with the reality of anti-Semitism head-on. The hatred of Jews is a potent political tool in the hands of both the right in Europe and in Israel. For Le Pen, anti-Semitism is a windfall, helping spike his support from 10 percent to 17 percent in a week.

For Ariel Sharon, it is the fear of anti-Semitism, both real and imagined, that is the weapon. Sharon likes to say that he stands up to terrorists to show he is not afraid. In fact, his policies are driven by fear. His great talent is that he fully understands the depths of Jewish fear of another Holocaust. He knows how to draw parallels between Jewish anxieties about anti-Semitism and American fears of terrorism. And he is an expert at harnessing all of it for his political ends.

But more importantly than the fact that anti-semitism strengthens Sharon, is the fact that it weakens us. All that most of us can offer those in Gaza right now is our solidarity. Allowing any form of anti-semitism as part of that solidarity is a big "NOT WELCOME" sign for Jews, and those who oppose anti-semitism. Mandolin said:
I don’t know about other Jews, but in my case, it often means I just shut down when I see conversation about Israel and Palestine. I am not wanted there. Either my voice is too progressive, or too Jewish. Such conversations will just make me sad and upset. So I pass.
If there's no space for her exactly how many other people are being excluded? That doesn't help the people of Gaza.

So what would it look like, to oppose anti-semitism within the movement to oppose the Israeli state? Like I've said an important starting point is not conflating Jewish people and the Israeli state, and the implications of this run reasonably deep. For instance the idea that now is not the time to talk about anti-semitism, relies on some level of conflation between Jewish people and the Israeli state.

But I don't think that's all there is, hell I've heard versions of the blood libel myth and the grand Jewish conspiracy in the last eighteen months. I think in order to fight anti-semitism, people have to listen to Jewish people about what anti-semitism is. I don't think that's an obligation to agree with any individual Jewish person (after all the idea of a Jewish hive mind is a tenant of anti-semitism). But I know I've learned a lot from talking about Jewish people who are involved in solidarity work against the Israeli state about what they see as anti-semitic.

And I think all of this work can make our solidarity with the people of Gaza stronger.

* You don't have to be reading long to figure that I am a white, without significant physical impairment, and from a middle-class background precisely because of the absence of markers to the contrary.

** I think many people see this as the weaker argument. I see it as the stronger one, and if I do ever manage to explain the different between my framework and David Schraub's I'll explain wy.

Friday, January 16, 2009


It's a very loaded word 'sexy'. And I've been thinking about it since reading a post on Yes Means Yes, about striptease aerobics (admittedly a topic I know nothing about). Jacinda, who wrote the post, enjoys the classes, they make her feel sexy, and she's trying to unpack that.

To be seen as sexy by someone else is something that can happen regardless of gender. And any one can feel sexy as in horny. But it is women's role that means that being desired (or desireable) is something that you feel. Women's sexuality or our own desiring, is deliberately muddled with being desired.

Which isn't to say that I think it's anti-feminist to go to a pole dancing class. Because my politics are not about individual's actions, and if people enjoy pole dancing classes they enjoy pole dancing classes. But I think feminists should be extremely critical of institutions that reinforce this dynamic of women as desired rather than desiring. It underpins so much of our ideas about sex and rape.

But that's not what motivated me to post (for the second time in a week). What I wanted to respond to was her conclusion:

What I do struggle with, though, is the idea of sexiness. When we say these classes make women feel sexy how exactly are we defining that word? Does sexy simply mean men want me or does sexy mean I love my body because it’s healthy and strong and because I can have fun with it doing things like these over-the-top dances.
I find the first option much much less problematic than the second. Because in attempt to re-frame 'sexy' she's actually reinforcing really narrow views of acceptable (let alone sexy) bodies. Because not everyone's body is healthy and strong, and not everyone can do any particular dance move.

That's not a better way of understanding the meaning of 'sexy', it's a worse one. Firstly because it's dishonest, as it hides the actual dynamic of the way women are framed as sex. And secondly because society has already slammed the door on many sorts of bodies being sexy, and this idea sits with the back to the door and tries to keep it shut.

There is no shame in feeling good because you feel desired, and there's no shame in loving your body for what it can do. But the second is no more a liberatory political position than the first.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Women and Children - Thoughts on Innocence

You may have seen the status updates on facebook. Although it depends on who your friends are I guess. At the moment they look like this:

In 17 days 919 Palestinians killed by Israel including 284 children & 100 women, 4260 injured. Donate your status:
The purpose of this post is not to draw attention to those numbers, although that's a worthy goal. Instead I want to unpack what else the update is saying. Which may seem self-indulgent when those tallies are going up as a type, but I will get to a point, I think.

Why are women counted separately?

Maybe that's a disengenuous question, because I think I already know the answer. It's not just because women are the marked category, the other, although that's true too. Listing women separately in the death tally serves a rhetorical purpose, mentioning women is a preemptive argument of innocence.

Because (rhetorically) women are not Hamas, because women do not resist. Because women, and children, are a unit of innocence and inactivity.

Those 100 women (more by the time I publish this) each had a story - each had lots of stories. To reduce those women's lives to a proof of innocence is to deny their agency.
There are many different ways women live and die in Gaza.

I understand why the makers of the 'Stop Israeli War Crimes' facebook application decided to structure their information around reinforcing the idea of innocence. - It's almost as if arguing that some Gazans are innocent (as opposed to deserving collective punishment for having elected Hamas) has become a radical position.

But I think it's foolish to base the defence of Gaza on the idea of innocence. Once, when writing about abusive relationships I said:
If anyone who fights back is in a 'mutually abusive relationship, then the only way you are entitled to support is if you don't fight back. But if you react to the abuse, physically defend yourself, act jealous or fucked up by what's happened to you, then you don't deserve support, and people around can wash their hands and walk away from what they term a mutually abusive relationship.

As a feminist, as a human being, it is my duty and my desire, to support the powerless against the powerful, and to not wash my hands of women who fight back.
To focus on the innocence of those killed is to take the position that it is less bad if those killed are not innocent in some way. Which is to imply that the only people from Gaza deserving of our solidarity and support are those who do not fight back.

That is not my position. I do not ask or expect people to stand still and silent in the face of starvation, murder, and mass imprisonment in order to get my support(I am aware that at this point I am supposed to disclaim that I don't support Hamas, I will not do so).

Maybe I am asking a facebook status to do too much. But I think those of us whose political analysis is more complicated than 'women and children first', and who do not need to see innocence to offer solidarity, should make our politics clear. Because to do otherwise is to reinforce the idea that those who fight back against oppression need and deserve our solidarity less than those who sit still.