Friday, 28 December 2012

In memory of the New Delhi gang rape victim

The 23 year old woman who was gang raped on a bus on the way home from a cinema in New Delhi on December 16 has just died in hospital from her injuries.

Here's the article. You should read it.

As a result of a metal rod used in the rape (how exactly it was used is not specified and I don't want to begin to imagine it) the woman had to have all her intestines removed in hospital.

I'm writing this because I actually felt physically sick when I read about her death - and I'm still feeling sick now.

This rape took place because, in India, sexual violence against women is an every day part of life. Gangs of men regularly chase women and grope them or rape them - it's called "eveteasing" and is so routine that the police don't bother to even investigate it.

And today in Punjab an 18 year old girl committed suicide after being kidnapped, drugged and repeatedly raped. But she committed suicide not because of the rape, but because the police forced her to recount the rape in humiliating detail and, despite multiple visits to the police station where she and her mother were forced to wait for hours upon end, the police did not register the crime until two weeks later - because they were too busy talking to local elders and the rapists to try to come to a "settlement". Typically these settlements result in the rape victim being forced to marry their rapist and no charges being brought. In this case no settlement was reached and the rapists harassed the girl and her family with impunity, threatening to kill them unless they withdrew their complaint to the police.

But this just isn't an Indian problem. In the UK, this year we had an MP describe having sex with a woman while she was unconscious as being nothing more than "bad sexual etiquette". We had a judge tell off a rape victim in court for "letting herself down" because she had been drinking before she had been raped. And we had thousands of people bully, attack and disclose the personal details on twitter of a woman raped by a footballer - while one of the teammates publicly called her a money grabbing slut. And this despite the fact that the footballer in question had held her down while she struggled to escape and then invited in a friend who did the same.

I will also point out here, that the bast majority of rapes are not by men grabbing women in dark alleys but by men who are friends, relatives or otherwise known to their victims.

And, on the internet, and in culture, we see a disgusting attitude towards rape victims. Women, for the victims are usually women, are regularly blamed or questioned in a way that no victim of any other crime would be for what has happened to them. This year a premiere comedy festival headlined comedians who made dozens of jokes about rape. This year the most read online student publication in the UK, with tens of thousands of readers, wrote "85% of rapes go unreported - those sound like pretty good odds". And a famous DJ being investigated for sexual assault, described as nothing other than harmless touching what he had done to women. Despite the fact that I personally know one woman who he came up to and whose breasts she groped while on a cigarette break and who was then told to just "laugh it off" when she complained to the producer.

And I'm not even going to begin to mention the cowardly lowlifes online who routinely question and abuse and insult any woman who speaks out against sexism or sexual assault.

The thing is, this is endemic. This culture and attitude is all around us. And, without even realising it, it affects our views and subconscious prejudices - which is why any woman who appears in court as a victim of rape is likely to face the defence doing everything possible to blacken her character and to pass her off as some kind of slut. Which they do because juries believe it and acquit rapists because of it.

And, in our modern society where violent porn is incredibly widely viewed and influential, especially amongst young people, it is incredibly easy for people to fall into the trap of forgetting about consent and seeing women as sex toys rather than real people. The vast majority of us are perfectly decent people and would never abuse others but the potential for people to fall into that way of thinking is something which now incredibly easy if people don't stand up to speak for consent and for ending the treatment of women as objects rather than people.

Furthermore, rapists and predators are often "good" people. They can be that friend of yours, or that nice, respectable pillar of the community, or the charming young professional. Good guys, nice guys, can be rapists and it's society's unwillingness to accept this which is why so often victims of abuse are met with scepticism and hostility just for talking about what has happened to them. Why every single discussion about this throws up dozens of people arguing furiously about the problem of false accusations out of all proportion to the fact that it is much, much rarer than instances of abuse.

And it's this attitude, this approach to women in general and victims of rape and assault in particular, which is why rape takes place. Why rapists get away with it and rape again and again. And, ultimately, it is why people like the woman in New Delhi end up dying in hospital - all because of a culture, around the world, that remains far too wilfully blind to its own tolerance of rape and abuse.

So this is me, speaking up about it. Because I'm too sickened to stay silent any longer.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Blackholes are like custard

Custard is an interesting substance. It's normally thought of as a liquid but it actually behaves like both a liquid and a solid at the same time. That is to say, under normal circumstances it acts like a liquid but as soon as you place any pressure on it it becomes solid. A great example of this property is this video where a man is able to walk on custard thanks to this property:

Now, recent theoretical models of blackholes in six dimensions have found that they form something called branes, which, interestingly enough, behave like both a fluid and a solid at the same time. And the really interesting thing is that, while the models are theoretical, they've been found to accurately predict the behaviour of something else called quark-gluon plasma (and I will pretend I know what that is).

So, to recap, custard behaves like a fluid and a solid and so do blackholes. Therefore blackholes are like custard. That's the only conclusion to be drawn from this fascinating new piece of research

DISCLAIMER: Conclusions drawn solely by George Potter. Conclusions may not be based on actual scientific knowledge, common sense or sanity.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Some Christmas facts

Merry Christmas to everyone. However, on this day of celebration, I think it's worth remembering some facts about the nation and the society we live in so that, perhaps, in 2013 some more people might try and make things better.

In modern day Great Britain:
  • 4 million live in food poverty
  • 1 in 4 children live in poverty
  • The gap between average male and average female pay is £5,600
  • Black people are 28 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police
  • The unemployment rate for white women is 6.8%
  • The unemployment rate for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women is 20.%
  • Disability hate crime has risen 75% in the past two years

Saturday, 22 December 2012

An email to Lynne Featherstone

Merry Christmas everyone and sorry for my lack of blogging lately. It seems to be that as soon as I get other aspects of my life running okay another aspect goes to pieces - in this case the aspect going to pieces seems to be my blogging. But here's an open email I've just sent to Lynne Featherstone MP about her decision, when she was still Equality Minister, to sign off on changes which will effectively gut the Equality and Human Right's Commission's obligation to work to end prejudice and discrimination and to create an equal society.

Dear Ms Featherstone,

As per your tweet, I'm emailing you to request an explanation as why you signed off on the "Reform of the Equality and Human Rights Commission" which will see the repeal of the EHRC's general duty section 3.


As a member of the Lib Dem Disability Association, as an equal rights campaigner and as a feminist I am absolutely astounded at this decision and at a loss to how, given the principles I've heard you espouse publicly, you could ever justify this.

The obligations being repealed are the obligation for the EHCR to act ‘with a view to encouraging and supporting the development of a society in which’:
  • people's ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination,
  • there is respect for and protection of each individual's human rights,
  • there is respect for the dignity and worth of each individual,
  • each individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society, and
  • there is mutual respect between groups based on understanding and valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights.
Additionally, the repeal will also remove the duty for the EHCR to work towards the elimination of hostility and discrimination towards discrimination against specified groups and enabling them to have equal participation in society. The specified groups include disabled people - a group in which an overwhelming majority of people report having experienced outright verbal and physical abuse just for being out in public. This at a time when disabled people are disproportionately being effected by welfare cuts and when my fellow disability activists have been told there isn't even the money to fund an anti disability hate crime public awareness campaign.

And that is without mentioning the repeal of the EHCR's duty to monitor crime rates against specified groups and to share recommendations on how to reduce them.

With the changes you have signed off on, disabled people and other discriminated against groups in society, including ethnic minorities and women will find themselves without any official organisation dedicated to standing up to and working to end discrimination against them.

The obligations of the EHCR were defined in 2006 after extensively being discussed with NGOs, business and others and being agreed by all parties. I can understand the argument, made in the GEO Impact Assessment you signed off on, that the EHCR obligations weren't as necessarily clear and specific as to its duties as they could have been. However, that is an argument for replacing them with new obligations after proper consultation with stakeholder groups - not for gutting them completely.

What you have signed off on, without any apparent regard for the impact on discriminated against groups, the views of party organisations such as the LDDA, the views of NGOs and charities or, for that matter, our party's constitutional commitment to a fair and equal society, is to set back the cause of equality by about ten years. Because once and if this is passed by parliament there will be no prospect of changing it during this parliament. And it is unlikely to be a priority for the next government regardless of the outcome of the next election.

I could understand a Conservative signing off on these changes, given how little they seem to care about the well-being of those groups in society who face routine discrimination, prejudice and hostility. What I cannot understand is how you, a member of a party which entered government to make it fairer and to protect the vulnerable, and a self-described feminist committed to equality for everyone, could sign off on it.

Please could you explain why you decided to do this. As it is I, and no doubt many others within the party, are at a total loss as to why you signed off on this and are supporting it.

Yours sincerely and merry Christmas,

George Potter

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

I'm one of those the Daily Mail warned you about

So lots of people (especially the Daily Mail and miscellaneous xenophobes) are panicking about the census showing that the number of people living in Britain born abroad has reached 7.5 million people.

Well, before everyone starts panicking, it's time for me to make a confession.

You see, I'm one of those 7.5 million people born abroad. And so is my brother. Yup, we're the ones the Daily Mail is warning you about.

Except that I was born to British parents who just so happened to be working abroad in Belgium when I was born, and that I've been a British citizen all my life, went to an English speaking school abroad and then moved back here when I was five. And except that my father was English, his father was English, his father was English and his father was English, etc. making me just about as English as the most racist xenophobe could possibly ask for. (For the record, my mother was English, her mother was English and her mother was half-Welsh - so I do let the pure-blooded Englishman nonsense down somewhat on that account).

So really, where someone was born really doesn't mean a damn thing. Particularly given that, with the economic crisis, we've seen a lot of British expatriates coming back to Britain - often with children who were born overseas.

And what I'm trying to say, I guess, is that the headline figure isn't an accurate figure of the number of immigrants in the UK (as the pearl-clutching Daily Mail likes to pretend it is). So you know, maybe take the figures with a pinch of salt than as gospel.

Besides, the number of foreign born people in the UK is nothing at all compared to the utter disaster of the 50% drop in the number of Jedi in the UK.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Sexist M&S - #everydaysexism

An email of complaint I just sent to Marks & Spencer Customer Service:
When shopping today in your Guildford store I was very disturbed to see that in your Christmas Gifts section next to the food court that you had a 'For Her' section of gifts which were almost entirely cooking and baking utensils. Quite apart from the ridiculous level of sexist gender stereotyping that indicated, I also imagine that if I were to give a baking tray to any female acquaintance of mine as a present then they would be likely to brain me with it. 
I find it completely unacceptable that in the 21st century that a chain of your prominence still apparently holds the view at a management level that a woman's primary role is in the kitchen and that the best presents for a woman are cooking utensils. 
As a result I will no longer be making any purchases at any of your stores while you continue to present such a stereotyping of women and I will also be advising all my acquaintances of my reasons for doing so and recommend that they do the same. 
Yours sincerely,
George Potter