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Sexual Harassment is Not a Fact of Life

22 Jan
Image by Duncan C, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by duncan, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

When I was 18, I used to go to a nightclub in the city centre. I’d go there with my friends at the weekend because the drinks were stupidly cheap, the music was cheesy, and it was seen as a decent venue. The club was in the basement, and to get in you had to negotiate a very steep staircase. Every weekend, without fail, there would be a group of teenage boys lurking at the foot of the staircase, and every time a woman came down the steps, the boys would reach out and grab her backside as she walked past.

Every time me and my friends felt one of those anonymous, cowardly and unwanted hands grab at our bodies, we felt we had no choice but to accept it. We’d try to laugh it off, as shouting at them did nothing, and the bouncers were not interested in listening to us. Passing the crowd of boys at the bottom of the nightclub staircase was like a right of passage; you had to get past them in order to enter their lair, and their wandering hands were the toll for daring to climb down into their territory. We believed that we had to endure them if we wanted to go to that club. And so, endure it we did.

My experiences with sexual harassment didn’t start and end at the bottom of that staircase, instead they have grown from the actions of that gang of boys, to regular street harassment, to the man in the book shop on holiday who grabbed my breast then pressed himself against my backside as he went slid too close past me in a narrow corridor. He later tried to follow me back to my hotel. To the woman in a bar who kept trying to kiss me, despite me repeatedly pushing her away, to the man on a night out who introduced himself, shook my hand, refused to let go and told me he wanted to fuck me. I’ve experienced sexual harassment in many forms, and no matter how I experienced it, my reaction was always the same: head down, walk away, say nothing.

Whether it’s an unwanted comment, an x-rated private message, or a pair of wandering hands, sexual harassment is a betrayal, and an insidious abuse of power. An unsolicited hand on the thigh is as unwelcome as an unwanted hand on the breast, an uninvited statement is no less invasive than an unexpected and lewd instant message; they are all symptoms of the same, wider issue of sexual harassment.

In the wake of Lord Rennard’s expulsion from the Liberal Democrats amid of allegations of sexual harassment from a number of women within the party, senseless statements from his supporters, the lack of appropriate response from Nick Clegg, and Rennard’s refusal to apologise to the women involved, we must continue to spread the message that sexual harassment in any form is unacceptable, and unlike those women who were targeted by the boys at the bottom of the nightclub staircase all those years ago, we don’t have to endure it.

Michael White’s insistence that there are more pressing issues for women than “a clammy hand on the knee”, and Chris Davies’ MEP’s clumsy comparison of Rennard’s alleged behaviour to the horrific crimes of Jimmy Savile, by using words like ‘hysteria’, ‘nonsense’ and ‘out of proportion’, all their poor metaphors do is dismiss the seriousness and consequences of sexual harassment by portraying those outraged by it as people with the wrong priorities.

White and Davies may believe that they are being helpful, and that their opinion will sway public opinion, but when they dismiss this behaviour they send out the message that sexual harassment is acceptable; that it’s just one of those things in life that we must endure. Calm down, dear, don’t worry your pretty little head about this. It’s actually not that important if you really think about it. Worse things have happened. A “creepy” old man putting his hands on you without your consent isn’t a problem. Get over it.

Analogies like the ones that White and Davies spouted are overly simplistic, unsympathetic and seek to minimise the behaviour of the harasser. Most people would agree that sexual harassment has no place in modern society in 2014, but it still exists. We know that a woman can’t legally be discriminated against in the workplace in terms of pay, or if they choose to have a child, yet, tribunals handle hundreds of cases of sexual discrimination every year.

Sexual harassment is wrong, no matter who reports it or who commits it. Defending the indefensible should not be an option, and attempting to silence the whistle-blowers through inappropriate metaphor and cries for a “sense of proportion” sends victims the message that this kind of behaviour is acceptable, and that it will never change.

We cannot go through life fearing the boys who lurk at the bottom of the nightclub staircase; we have the power to target their behaviour and stop it happening. Sexual harassment does not have to be a fact of life.

Now Is The Spring Of Our Discontent

30 Mar

Iain "Ratbag" Duncan SmithSo, it’s Easter. Not that you’d know it, of course, because it’s been snowing for about two weeks and as of today some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets were reporting that they had run out of Easter Eggs. It’s also the start of Spring; the clocks have gone forward, and just about the worst thing that some of us can complain about are the fact that we’ve lost an hours sleep.

But from Monday, some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country are set to lose money and even their homes, as some of their vital benefits are cut. The “Bedroom Tax” as it as come to be known, means that people in social housing with empty bedrooms will have their housing benefit cut and could lose at least £14 a week, or £728 a year. Those with one spare bedroom will have their housing benefit cut by 14%, and those with two or more spare bedrooms will see their benefits cut by 25%. These drastic cuts are supposed to encourage people to move to much smaller properties, and save the government £480 million a year in housing benefit, according to David Cameron. In fact, the only good news to come out of this mess is the news that Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary and outright hypocrite, was called a “ratbag” by a protester in Edinburgh last week.

There are many problems with the Bedroom Tax or “Spare Room Subsidy” as the coalition government call it. Across the UK there is a shortage of social housing, specifically properties with one bedroom. This means that thousands of single people are already living in homes with more than one bedroom, because that’s all the council could give them. In fact, the National Housing Federation have stated that some 180,000 households are currently “under occupying two bedroom homes” in England. In Scotland, the Bedroom Tax is set to cost council and housing association tenants on housing benefit £5.3 million a year, and up to 95,000 people across the country will be affected by the new tax.

But this isn’t the only new cut to be enforced in April; the government have reformed the council tax system, the very safeguard that helps people who cannot afford to pay their council tax which is to be cut by 10%. The coalition government is also to transfer responsibility for the new system to local councils, who must decide whether to maintain the current levels of support, make cuts to support. Because of this 150,000 low-income households will have to pay £300 more a year.

And that’s not all. The coalition government have created a £500 a week  – that’s £26,000 a year – cap on benefits paid to an out of work family can claim in a year. This cap will be introduced in London from April and then enforced nationwide from September. The Children’s Society have warned that this could lead to 80,000 children being made homeless as their families are priced out of renting homes in the private sector. There’s also the 1% benefit cap increase, which is set to last until at least 2015/16, means that benefits will not rise with inflation. This means that those people receiving working-age benefits and working tax credits will suffer a 4% loss in their benefits, or to better illustrate it, 2.5 million households without someone in work will lose an average of £215 per year in 2015/16 and households with someone in work will lose an average of £165. For the countries poorest, and most vulnerable, including disabled people, this will mean that they will have to choose between heating their home and feeding themselves.

Elsewhere, Britain’s millionaires will receive a 5% decrease in their income tax. From the 6th of April the 1.5% of the population that make £150,000 a year will pay 45% tax on their income, instead of 50% meaning the 13,000 millionaires in the country will save an average of £100,769 a year.

Meanwhile the rising cost of living has seen hundreds of thousands of people turning to food banks across the country, as they can no longer afford to put food on the table. In the past year, the Trussell Trust, which operates the UK’s network of food banks, sent out 300,000 food parcels in the last year; double the figure they sent out the year before. There are more than 325 food banks in the UK.

Unsurprisingly, and thankfully, these changes which tax the poor and benefit the rich have been met with widespread condemnation. This weekend thousands of people protested against the bedroom tax, with 2,500 people turning up at a rally in Glasgow. Yet, in the face of universal criticism, and in the middle of one of the biggest celebrations in the Christian calendar, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey attacked the coalition government, not for their ongoing persecution of the poorest people in society, but for their “persecution” of the “Christian minority” because of the coalition government’s support of equal marriage.

Yes, a major figure in a religion which seemingly promotes supporting the vulnerable, the sick and the *poor used his position to protest the treatment of other Christians, and not his fellow-man, who has, one can argue faced a lot more persecution of late, and could do with a bit of a hand.

If this is Spring, if this is what is happening to the UK’s most vulnerable right now, with the weather and the economic forecast this bleak, then this Winter will be the UK’s darkest yet.

Don’t let the ratbags win.

*There are many. many quotes in the Bible about helping the poor, such as:

Deuteronomy 15:11

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land”

Psalm 82:3-4

“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked”

Proverbs 3:27-28

“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbour, “Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow” — when you now have it with you.”

Cameron’s Cabinet Reshuffle – It’s Not For Girls

5 Sep

Can you spot the female MPs?

It began after midnight, with Baroness Warsi’s now-infamous 2am tweet, where she broke the news that she was no longer the Conservative party’s co-chairman. Warsi, who was the first female Muslim MP, was quickly joined by Cheryl Gillan, who announced she had been removed from her post as Welsh Secretary. And so began the cabinet reshuffle that by the end of the day would see Cameron’s government lose 60% of its female MPs, including Warsi, who was their only ethnic minority MP, making this cabinet the most white, male and least culturally diverse one possible, highlighting the Conservative’s failure to modernise their own party.

In the cold, clear light of morning, more departures were announced, albeit, not always by Twitter, as the departures also included Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, or the one that made those ignorant comments about ‘serious rape’ last year, although he is to remain in the government.

However, perhaps the most surprising change was David Cameron’s decision to appoint Jeremy Hunt as the new Health Secretary, who replaces the much-maligned Andrew Lansley. While Lansley is set to become the Leader of the Commons, Hunt, the MP whose ties to the Murdoch media empire, and a man incapable of ringing a bell without injuring someone, is now in charge of the nation’s health.

Let me be frank, there are a number of reasons why the former Secretary of State for Culture, the Olympics, Sport and media should not be the new Health Secretary: his connections to Rupert Murdoch during News Corp’s failed BSkyB takeover bid have been well-documented, as his desire to disband the NHS, our national health service, which provides free healthcare for every citizen. In 2009, he was one of three MPs named by the Mirror (the others were Greg Clark and Michael Gove) as in favour of dismantling the NHS. They claimed it was “no longer relevant” in the book, Direct Democracy. Hunt is also a well-known fan of homoeopathy, and is one of a few MPs who voted to decrease the abortion limit from 24 weeks to 12 weeks or under.

Hunt’s extreme views on abortion control limit womens’ options during an unplanned pregnancy. Considering that many women don’t realise that they are pregnant until around 6 weeks, and with waiting times for abortions being more than two weeks at some clinics, that leaves very little time to make a difficult decision. Hunt is also against stem cell research.

Another notable promotion was that of Hunt’s replacement, Maria Miller, a former disability minister who will take over the departure of Culture, and will also take on the responsibility of Women and Equalities from Theresa May, as these departments are to become part of the culture department. While some sources claim that Miller is more connected to culture than Hunt and his predecessors, her track record in both women’s issues and equalities is damning.

Miller has amongst other things, voted to raise university fees and voted against gay marriage. She is opposed to gay couples adopting and lesbian couples receiving fertility treatment. She is against abortion, and like Hunt, voted to change the abortion limit, but from 24 to 20 weeks. She backed Nadine Dorries’ failed attempt to allow independent and faith-based groups to counsel women seeking abortions, rather than abortion providers, such as BPAS, who provide balanced and unbiased information for women facing the challenges of an unwanted pregnancy.

In place of what we had before, we now have an anti-choice, anti-NHS, minister in charge of our health and an anti-choice, anti-equal rights minister in charge of women rights, women’s health and equal rights of gay couples. Whichever way you look at it, things are only going to get worse.

Money and Change: A Young Journalist’s Lament

3 Sep

Image

When I started training to be a theatre critic in 2007, theatre criticism, the internet and digital media were very different. Print was still the primary place for all things theatre criticism related, and indeed, journalism, while online was seen as a younger, but less important sidekick to the newspaper industry.

When I graduated in 2009, theatre criticism, and indeed journalism as an industry, was already changing; content was increasingly being published online, and independent websites were starting to rival the output of more established printed magazines. But perhaps, most importantly, in 2009, the credit crunch of 2007/2008 had become a full-blown recession, leading to redundancies, the closure of newspapers and publishers and fewer opportunities for both young and established journalists. For a new journalist, like me, who needed experience, working for free was a very real and very real way to get into the industry.

In 2012, journalism is still evolving; while some newspapers, such as The Times, The Sunday Times in the UK and The New York Times in the US have put their online content behind a paywall. However, they are fighting against increasingly popular and considerably newer websites, who continue to put their content out for free. While a paywall may be the way forward, and a way for revenue-starved newspapers to increase their circulation and make some money from their websites, many readers, writers, journalists and editors disagree on the use of them.

But the conundrum remains – how can journalists start making money from online content? How much to charge? How often to charge for access to online content? And perhaps most importantly, how do readers feel about paying for accessing news websites?

I always knew that journalism wasn’t well paid, and so, the desire to write and inform outweighed any ideas I might have once have had about making more than £25,000 a year. Although I’ve continued to work for free since graduating, primarily because paid opportunities are very slim if you have no contacts in the industry, I’ve still managed to make a total of £190 from my writing since then. However, this figure is from three separate commissions over three years and in the meantime, in the hope of being noticed, I’ve continued to write for free. I’ve also paid for all travel, food and other expenses during time, so, in that sense, some remuneration would be fair, if not deserved. But until some changes are made across the board and every newspaper decides how they can make money from online, more and more writers will have to continue to work for nothing.

Photo by Images_of_money under Creative Commons Licence

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