Notes and Comment Blog

A final insult

Sep 16th, 2016 11:29 am | By

A woman in Italy killed herself after a terrible year of revenge porn and social media shaming.

Tiziana Cantone, 31, was found dead at her aunt’s home in Mugnano, close to Naples in the country’s south, on Tuesday. Her funeral procession was televised as commentators grappled with the tragic outcome of her torment.

Cantone’s death came a year after she sent a sex video of herself to some friends including an ex-boyfriend .

The video was subsequently posted on the web and viewed almost a million times. The phrase “You’re filming? Bravo”, spoken to her lover in the video, became a derisive joke online and was printed on T-shirts, smartphone cases and other items.

She quit her job, she moved, she tried to change her name.

After a long court battle she won a “right to be forgotten” ruling ordering the video to be removed from various sites and search engines including Facebook.

But she was also ordered to pay €20,000 in legal costs, in what several Italian media outlets dubbed a final insult .

And now she’s dead.

The rights of abusive men

Sep 16th, 2016 11:11 am | By

Sandra Laville at the Guardian reports:

The government must carry out a full review of family courts to stop them being used by violent men to perpetuate abuse against their partners and children, MPs have said.

They called on the justice secretary, Liz Truss, to act swiftly to tackle deep-seated cultural attitudes among family court judges which put the rights of abusive men over the safety of women and children.

MPs were debating research by Women’s Aid which revealed that between 2005 and 2015, 19 children in 12 families were killed by violent fathers who had been allowed to see them through formal and informal child contact arrangements.

Women who leave their husbands to escape violence and coercive control find they have to face them again in family court.

MPs said the family court system was allowing violent men to re-victimise women. Increasing numbers of men were representing themselves and re-traumatising their victims when they made repeated and often spurious applications for access, they said.

Peter Kyle, the Labour MP for Hove, said: “The family courts are being used to perpetrate abuse against extremely vulnerable women … One of my constituents has been cross-examined by her former partner on three separate occasions, the man who beat her, broke her bones and battered her unconscious.”

O J Simpson would say that’s a sign he really really loved her.

What comes next is upsetting.

Angela Smith, the Labour MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, raised the case of her constituent Claire Throssell and her children, Jack, 12, and Paul, nine, as Throssell watched from the public gallery.

Throssell’s estranged partner, Darren Sykes, a perpetrator of domestic violence who had threatened her and his children, murdered both boys during a contact visit to his home in 2014 by enticing them to the loft with a new train set. He then set 16 fires in the house and barricaded the home.

He had been given contact by the family court despite the authorities’ knowledge of his violence and the children’s expressed fear of their father.

Smith read Throssell’s own words to MPs: “It took just 15 minutes on 22 October 2014 for my life and heart to be broken completely beyond repair. My happy, funny boys were killed by their own father … The police later told me that Jack was still conscious when he was carried out and he told them: ‘My dad did this and he did it on purpose.’ This was taken as his dying testimony.”

Paul died in his mother’s arms in hospital, while Jack lived for another five days, MPs were told. Sykes died in the fire.

I wonder if any of this is a product of the Men’s Rights Movement. Child custody is one of their core grievances.

Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions and Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras, said it was important to look at the changes made to the criminal justice system to better protect victims of domestic violence – including special measures for victims and witnesses, and the presence of independent abuse advocates – and ask why the family courts were not making similar changes.

He said there was growing evidence that perpetrators of domestic abuse were using the family courts to continue to harass and control their victims.

There’s a whole throbbing culture now in which harassment and control of women is a full-time fun occupation for way too many men. Perpetrators of domestic abuse are right at home in that culture.

H/t Lady Mondegreen

Statement by Sri Lanka’s Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group

Sep 16th, 2016 10:37 am | By

A statement released by the Muslim Personal Law (MPL) Reforms Action Group in Sri Lanka consisting of individual human rights advocates, lawyers, and women, as well as community and women’s rights groups:


In 2014, a 14-year old Muslim girl in Eastern province was given in marriage and her schooling was stopped as a result. After a few months of marriage she applied for fasah divorce (initiated by wife) due to severe sexual torture by her husband. The Quazi instead of dealing with the case in a sensitive and appropriate manner chose to interrogate her for over two hours asking her specific details about the sexual violence. This in turn caused the girl serious psychological trauma that she attempted suicide and faced severe depression thereafter.

This case is one of many in which Muslim women and girls are not only affected directly by discriminatory provisions within the 1951 Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA), but also as a result of the sub-par Quazi court system with untrained and unqualified Quazi judges.

There are major concerns that the MMDA violates the rights of Muslim women and limits access to justice, due process and redress. These concerns are with regard to provisions within the Act itself as well as practical problems with procedures and implementation via the Quazi court. For instance:

  • The Act legally allows child marriage by not stipulating the minimum age of marriage for Muslims as 18 years (under the Act a Quazi can even permit the marriage of a child under the age of 12)
  • There is no requirement of mandatory (and written) consent from the bride therefore forced marriages are technically legal
  • There are different conditions of divorce for men and women
    • Only husbands are granted the right to unilateral divorce without reason
    • Process of divorce for wives lengthy, requiring reasons and evidence, witnesses and case hearings
  • The provision for wife and child maintenance is decided arbitrarily by Quazis
  • Under the Act qualified women not allowed to be marriage registrars, Quazis, jurors or Board of Quazi members. These are state-salaried and tax-funded position that legally discriminate against women simply on the basis of sex
  • There is no mandatory requirement of qualifications or mandatory training for Quazis on MMDA
  • The Act allows the practice of polygamy without requirement of consent from the wife/s or wife to be (and often without their knowledge) or without conditions of financial stability

Muslim women’s groups have been advocating for reforms of the MMDA for many decades and there have been at least four official committees set up since 1970’s with no progress on reforms. The current 16-member Muslim Personal Law (MPL) Reforms Committee headed by Justice Saleem Marsoof was set up in 2009, by the then Minister of Justice Milinda Moragoda in view that “certain reforms to the Muslim personal law was urgently needed”. Seven years later, the report is still pending.

Urgency in light of constitutional reforms

During the consultations conducted by the Public Representations Committee (PRC) on Constitutional Reforms, many women’s groups and women affected by discriminatory provisions under the MMDA and practices of the Quazi courts brought up concerns regarding the Act. Their submissions were with regard to the fact that the current Constitution grants an exemption for personal laws to violate fundamental rights though the existence of Article 16(1).

On August 24th 2016, a group of fifteen Muslim women made an appeal to Honorable Mahinda Samarasinghe and the rest of the sub-committee drafting the Fundamental Rights Chapter of the new constitution. The appeal was simple – that Article 16(1) is repealed to ensure that the new Constitution is the supreme law of the land and that fundamental rights and gender equality are ensured for all citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity. They avered to the State’s responsibility to protect the fundamental rights of all its people irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity, religion or any other identity markers.

However certain conservatives groups among the Muslim community – while acknowledging that there were major problems with the MMDA and its implementation – claimed that repeal of Article 16(1) is not necessary because the Muslim community will reform its own personal law “from within”, in order to address concerns of women and girls. They referred to the MMDA reform exercise as an example of how the community could address these grave and fundamental concerns.

Appeal to the MPL Reforms Committee and Sri Lankan leaders

At this crucial juncture, therefore it is important for the community in general and Muslim women in particular to know the outcome of the committee’s deliberations and as to how it compares with the protection and equality that Muslim women and children can avail of by calling for repeal of Article 16(1) in the new Constitution.

Therefore, we appeal to the members of the MPL Reforms Committee, Minister of Justice and Judicial Service Commission to inform the Sri Lankan Muslim community as to when the report is expected to be finalized. Also given its relevance to the constitutional reform discussion outlined above, we kindly request that they immediately share the salient outcomes of the reform discussions to date pending the release of the final report.

As the group that had been most intimately involved in this issue over the past seven years their informed intervention at this juncture will be invaluable. Of particular interest will be to see how the recommendations addresses discriminatory provisions currently in place that violate fundamental rights of Muslim citizens.

We appeal to the leaders of this country, and those formulating the new Constitution to continue to uphold a clear vision of equality for all citizens. The Muslim women and men appealing also firmly believe in the freedom to practice religion with respect and dignity for all, including women and not just men. Do not exclude Sri Lanka Muslim women and girls from fully enjoying their fundamental rights as full citizens of this country. Ensure that the new Constitution is in fact the heart and soul of a progressive nation that refuses to exclude any citizen.

Men were on the main floor

Sep 15th, 2016 5:32 pm | By

I envy Canada Trudeau, but I also think he shouldn’t be endorsing gender-segregated mosques by paying them visits.

Trudeau was at the mosque Monday to mark Eid al-Adha, considered the holiest of feast days for the world’s Muslims. Three female MPs accompanied Trudeau during his brief remarks, though they had to arrive by a side door and stand with their heads covered. They did not address the mosque.

Worshippers at the mosque are separated by gender. Men were on the main floor where Trudeau spoke. Women and girls were in a balcony or in other parts of the mosque. [Asra] Nomani said that recent surveys indicate about two of every three mosques separate men from women, but that is up from a decade ago when only about half did.

He wouldn’t turn a blind eye if it were racial segregation; he wouldn’t turn a blind eye if Muslims were told to sit upstairs; so why does he turn a blind eye when it’s women?

“I will meet with Canadians regardless of where they are in Canada,” Trudeau told reporters Monday afternoon. “I will speak to inclusive growth, help for the middle class. I will talk about gender equality. I will talk about the rights of the LGBT community. We will continue to promote the values which bring us together.”

While Trudeau, in his remarks at the mosque did indeed speak about growth and the middle class, he made no mention of LGBT rights nor did he make any mention of gender equality.

Which is not surprising, since the mosque is opposed to gender equality. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t push women out of the main space.

He did acknowledge the gender separation, though, in his remarks at the mosque, saying, “Diversity is a source of strength, not just a source of weakness, and as I look at this beautiful room — sisters upstairs — everyone here, (I see) the diversity we have just within this mosque, within the Islamic community, within the Muslim community in Canada.”

Patty Hajdu, Trudeau’s minister for the status of women, was not at Monday’s mosque event but said it was important to be respectful of traditions for different places of worship.

“So whether you’re in an indigenous community or in a community of faith or in a military community … there are a number of traditions and cultures and standards that the community upholds and I think the respectful thing is to understand that it might not be your practice but it is theirs.”

No. It’s not “their” practice; it’s the practice of the conservative males, who impose it on everyone. No, the respectful thing is not to turn a blind eye – that’s not respectful to the women and girls banished from the main space.

Nomani said Trudeau and other politicians who support gender equality should refuse invitations from gender-segregated places of worship including mosques.

“They would be following the precedent of other Muslim men who are bold leaders in our community who are now refusing to go and stand at the pulpits of the mosques that segregate like that.”

There are liberal Muslims and conservative-to-reactionary Muslims, and it’s not necessarily “respectful” to side with the conservative-to-reactionaries.


Sep 15th, 2016 4:04 pm | By

Afghan Atheists posted a very pointed, and poignant, photo, with the caption “When the present meets its past.”

Getting around

Sep 15th, 2016 12:54 pm | By

Frivolous interlude:

Silver heart charm and glittery sock

Sep 15th, 2016 12:30 pm | By

It’s everywhere. It’s in shoes – kids’ shoes. (“Ice cream, Mandrake? Children’s ice cream?”) Francesca Cambridge Mallen, chief campaigner for Let Clothes Be Clothes, went shopping for school shoes with her daughter age 8.

Three shoes are available in her size: two pairs are slip-ons which with a knowing look from Grandma we dismiss immediately. After all, these are what Clarks describe as “sophisticated style” which makes me wonder how they could have missed the fact they are selling to kids, not office staff. When my daughter plunges over in a tangle of shoes and playground, I’ll be sure to console her with how classy she looked doing it.

The third pair are the most common style in the girls range, with a bar across the middle. My daughter tries them on, but is not persuaded by the “you’ll wear them in” pitch and points to how the back of the shoe is jabbing her in the heel. “That’s all we have” we’re told with raised hands, but what about the shoes over there I ask, pointing to a huge display of school shoes. Its Clark’s boys section, but aren’t these just shoes too? I get the “oh how quirky” look from a neighbouring parent, but the first pair our of the mysterious backroom are perfect. BINGO.

The back of the shoe is visibly wider with actual padding, despite the sizing being the same. The shoes are enclosed meaning the whole of my daughter’s foot is covered from the elements – a style not offered to girls at all. They are a trainer style, which any podiatrist would swoon at, and as she races past mountains of shoe boxes and meandering children, my daughter is clearly very happy.

Clarks has made it easy for me to go to their website and see what the respective shoes look like.

These girls’ school shoes from our Gloforms collection, complete with toy and torch, use a classic Mary Jane profile with bow detailing, silver heart charm and glittery sock. Black leather with a glossy trim is teamed with a durable rubber outsole with cleats for added grip, while the padded collar, riptape fastening and Agion linings are practical additions.

These boys’ school shoes from our new Gloforms collection, complete with toy and torch, are perfect for being in the playground. Robust black leather, high abrasion band and cleated rubber outsole ensure durability and grip. The double riptape fastening and Agion linings are practical additions, while the Gloforms character on the heel and sole add fun.

 It could hardly be any more obvious, could it.

Mallen concludes:

At some point in the last 30 years Clark’s have changed their focus from comfortable and practical children’s shoes, to shoes marred by gender stereotypes. Check out the latest Gloforms campaign, the strong and assertive boy characters, ready for action, opposite the dreamy eyed female ones with heart, floral bow or crown. The latest tagline “lasting comfort so kids can be kids” doesn’t seem to apply to girls. Have they tried to kick a football in slip-on flats? Or walked to school in open bar shoes through mud and rain? Have they seen how girls climb, jump, swing and run too? As my daughter says when we leave, maybe its time Clarks went back to school and looked for themselves.

A friend wrote recently about shopping for an infant and finding that nearly all the “girls'” clothes (there were none for just infants or babies) were pink, while “boys'” clothes were in a range of colors.

Why did we even bother?

Guest post: #YesAllMotorists

Sep 15th, 2016 11:07 am | By

Guest post by Josh Spokes.

US culture is actively hostile to pedestrians and cyclists. We have to change the cultural attitudes about cars, bicycles, and pedestrians. It’s very hard to do this because the culture of automobile supremacy is baked into the smallest parts of our daily life and the decisions our public works departments make. Here’s a “small” example of this from my life.

I work in a building next to a four-way, traffic-signaled intersection. It’s a very busy crossing. There are four lanes of traffic on one road, and two on the intersecting road. At this intersection are a number of delis, restaurants, and small retail stores.

I buy my lunch most days from the deli across the road. To get there I have to push a pedestrian crossing signal. The cycle makes walkers wait so long that yesterday, I just gave up:

  1. Press walk signal
  2. Watch the entire traffic cycle repeat at least five times. This means that, starting at the 12 0’clock position, each direction of cars was given its own turn five times. The “hand of the clock” traveled all the way around to 12 o’clock five times, never stopping to let pedestrians cross.
  3. After five minutes (yes, I’m not exaggerating) I turned around and walked back to my office. I had to get in my CAR to travel through the intersection. This is the distance of one block.

I have watched old people, families, and joggers go through this. Once the signal to walk turns on, it gives you 15 seconds to cross a very wide street. Children and the elderly cannot do it. I have to hustle to make it.

Meanwhile, cars take right turns on red and nearly strike pedestrians every day. More and more, cars are honking at pedestrians and each other, enraged that people are allowed to make them have to stop so they have a chance to walk.

I called the city public works dept. The employee was helpful, but clearly in a bind. After explaining to me how the lights are cycled and insisting that they don’t “chip” pedestrians (meaning, the lights don’t treat the pedestrian part of the cycle as dispensable if something goes wrong. Actually, yes, they do. I watch it happen.), he said this.

I’m so glad you called and told me this. You’re the first one I can remember that’s pro-pedestrian this month. For every 10 calls, nine of them are angry drivers accusing us of screwing motorists over. They complain about the ‘long time’ the light gives pedestrians [this is objectively untrue; it’s 15 seconds], and they complain that bicycles are allowed to use the road.

I live in Vermont. We are a state that claims to be environmentally vigilant, that claims to value walkable and bikeable city living. But look at the majority of citizens who call public works. Nearly all of them are furious motorists. Every single navigable space around here is constructed to favor automobiles with the most extraordinary generosity, and damn the safety cost to pedestrians. Yet motorists are angry about us, and about bicyclists, enough to call public works to complain about pedestrians being allowed to cross the road.

I said this was a small example. Don’t be misled. You can be certain the very same calculations are happening in your city’s public works department. In states even more hostile to walking and biking it is certainly worse. The staffer who helped me wanted to help. He wants to make it easier for non-drivers. But he is cornered by ignorant, fulminating automobile drivers.

Do you think his bosses will give him a good review if his decisions are sound and balanced, but they happen to piss off motorists who want to complain? (Hint: no.)

Few of us talk about this much outside those who work in transportation policy. This has to change.

The automobile is a 2-ton, rolling demonstration of typical US entitlement. It’s the most visible and dangerous expression of macho domination of public resources. Its worship encourages aggression from drivers when they are asked to share public resources. The car has made otherwise good people insane.

This guy

Sep 15th, 2016 10:30 am | By

Amanda Marcotte posted this publicly on Facebook:

I never check my message requests, but apparently I should. Do you think I should report this guy, or is public shaming enough?

I looked at his wall and found another screenshot:

I also saw that he’s quite popular in the “atheist community.”

We can at least warn people.

A nightmarish blending of blood and water

Sep 14th, 2016 5:36 pm | By

The Guardian has more on the rivers of blood in Dhaka yesterday.

Poor drainage in the city makes flooding a regular fact of Dhaka life. But the problem is rarely illustrated as vividly as it was on Tuesday, after thousands of sheep, goats and cows were slaughtered.

One of the two holiest events in the Muslim calendar, Eid al-Adha commemorates the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son at God’s request.

You know, that’s a terrible thing to commemorate. One, there’s the willingness to murder the child, and two, there’s the elevation of blind (and indeed horrific) obedience. It’s an abomination.

Authorities in Dhaka said they had established hundreds of designated sacrifice spots in the run-up to the festival to make it easier to clean away blood and animal carcasses.

Or maybe it would be better just not to “sacrifice” animals at all.

But local media said most residents eschewed the special areas, preferring to make sacrifices in their garages or on the streets outside their homes.

The result was a nightmarish blending of blood and water that filled streets and narrow lanes across Dhaka from Tuesday morning.


“I felt I was walking through a post-apocalyptic neighbourhood,” said Atish Saha, a Dhaka-based artist. “To be honest, I was scared. It was an image of mass violence that shouldn’t ever be experienced.”

Particularly jarring was said to be the sight of families, including infants, wading into the flood in celebratory “Eid day” moods. “It made me speechless,” he said.

Yay, blood and slaughter!

She turned to face the crowd

Sep 14th, 2016 4:42 pm | By

Yassmin Abdel-Magied tells us why it was so important for her to walk out on Lionel Shriver’s talk.

As I stood up, my heart began to race. I could feel the eyes of the hundreds of audience members on my back: questioning, querying, judging.

I turned to face the crowd, lifted up my chin and walked down the main aisle, my pace deliberate. “Look back into the audience,” a friend had texted me moments earlier, “and let them see your face.”

The faces around me blurred. As my heels thudded against they grey plastic of the flooring, harmonising with the beat of the adrenaline pumping through my veins, my mind was blank save for one question.

“How is this happening?”

Histrionic much?

Shriver said things Abdel-Magied disagreed with and disliked, but the histrionics make it sound as if she said something frankly evil, and she didn’t.

So what did happen? What did Shriver say in her keynote that could drive a woman who has heard every slur under the sun to discard social convention and make such an obviously political exit?

Nothing. That’s the thing.

On and on it went. Rather than focus on the ultimate question around how we can know an experience we have not had, the argument became a tirade. It became about the fact that a white man should be able to write the experience of a young Nigerian woman and if he sells millions and does a “decent” job — in the eyes of a white woman — he should not be questioned or pilloried in any way. It became about mocking those who ask people to seek permission to use their stories. It became a celebration of the unfettered exploitation of the experiences of others, under the guise of fiction.

Again – how does anyone go about asking permission to tell a story about someone from An Other Community? Someone fictional? If you’re to dense to notice that that’s not something anyone can do, because there is no Bureau of Community Permission, and if there were it wouldn’t be able to speak for any particular community anyway. This idea that one should get “a community’s” permission to write about a fictional member of said community is just an absurdity. Shriver made fun of it. No doubt that was annoying to many, but it wasn’t a crime.

It’s not always OK if a white guy writes the story of a Nigerian woman because the actual Nigerian woman can’t get published or reviewed to begin with. It’s not always OK if a straight white woman writes the story of a queer Indigenous man, because when was the last time you heard a queer Indigenous man tell his own story? How is it that said straight white woman will profit from an experience that is not hers, and those with the actual experience never be provided the opportunity?

That’s not how that works. Preventing a white guy from writing the story of a Nigerian woman won’t get a Nigerian woman published. It won’t do anything. Whether or not a Nigerian woman gets published is a separate thing. It’s not like a place on a lifeboat that means someone else drowns. I want to see lots of Nigerian women tell their stories and get published, and yes I would rather read their accounts of Nigerian lives than the accounts of people who don’t know anything about it – but all the same an outsider writing about people doesn’t remove their chance to write about themselves. It’s not necessary and it’s not productive to make a ferocious rule about it, and then pitch fits when someone says the rule is stupid.

Most affirming

Sep 14th, 2016 3:51 pm | By
Most affirming

Whitman-Walker Health posted on Facebook about its “Safer Sex for Trans Bodies” guide, the one that says women have front holes while trans women have vaginas. A woman commented to say it’s misogynistic to call vaginas front holes.

Whitman-Walker Health replied.


Whitman-Walker Health In developing the content of this guide, Whitman-Walker and HRC held focus groups and discussions with members of the transgender community and physicians to identify terms that were used within, and supportive of, the community. We aimed to make the language in the guide most affirming of all different bodies, transition, gender identity, and gender expression. We chose to use “front hole” in the place of “vagina” for that reason. Many trans men and non-binary individuals do not consider themselves “women,” so using the term front hole is not aimed at erasing womanhood, but providing vocabulary for the unique trans experience.

A dishonest reply. They didn’t use “front hole” in the place of “vagina” alone, they used use “front hole” in the place of “vagina” for women and “vagina” for trans women.

Mind you, it would still be misogynist if they had used “front hole” for both…but they didn’t.

Hilarity ensues

Sep 14th, 2016 3:22 pm | By

latsot alerted me to this hateful “prank” item for sale at Amazon:

Prank Pregnancy Test. 2 Testers. ALWAYS TURNS POSITIVE. Play Joke of a Lifetime. The Best April Fool's Day Trick. FUNNY Gag Gadgets Series. DON'T WAIT, GET IT NOW!

Prank Pregnancy Test. 2 Testers. ALWAYS TURNS POSITIVE. Play Joke of a Lifetime. The Best April Fool’s Day Trick. FUNNY Gag Gadgets Series. DON’T WAIT, GET IT NOW!

Price: £24.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
In stock.

Junk science

Sep 14th, 2016 12:10 pm | By

The Guardian too is reporting on the criticism of the Science Museum’s pink and blue brains exhibit, and wording it more sharply than Pink News did.

The Science Museum in London is facing criticism for a “junk science” exhibit that asks visitors to test whether they have a blue or pink brain.

Prof Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, an expert on the teenage brain at University College London who has been advising the Science Museum, said the exhibit in its current form was “out of date, to say the least”.

She added: “I saw it recently and was pretty shocked by the misleading message, which doesn’t correspond to the scientific evidence.”

Prof Gina Rippon, of the University of Aston, said: “The stereotyped view of a ‘hard-wired’ link between sex and gender is wrong and potentially harmful as it implies that this is somehow the ‘natural order of things’.”

And that it really is ok that men dominate STEM fields…except ones where the pay and status are low, the way they used to be in coding.

Prof Joe Devlin, a neuroscientist at University College London, said there were well-established differences between the male and female brain, such as hormone levels, and that the male brain was on average larger, in line with body size. But it is not clear how these differences translate, if at all, to differences in cognition.

“That’s where things get really shady,” he said. “I’m worried about that stuff and I’m not sure there’s a good basis for any differences in cognition. The stuff about men being better at spatial things and women being better at language, that just seems like nonsense.”

Rippon agreed: “There are, of course, differences between the brains of men and the brains of women related to reproductive processes. But with respect to the structures and functions of the brain which are related to cognitive processes there really are none.”

Oh well, it’s only the Science Museum.

Guest post: Individual and cultural mana

Sep 14th, 2016 11:38 am | By

Originally two comments by Rob on Without permission.


Cultural appropriation is an interesting one. I know in the US the use of native peoples traditional dress can be a sore point. Using Plains Indians head dress as short hand for all tribes for instance, not to mention using elements of costume inappropriately and/or for commercial gain.

Similarly in NZ there have been issues with the commercial use especially of certain traditional Maori dance/song (the Kamate Haka is an excellent eg) or design motifs without permission. It’s a fair point to consider that in these cases there is a tribal organisation that is empowered to discuss use and licensing. Some things are just utterly insensitive to an entire culture. For example, the printing of the likeness of Maori notables heads onto souvenir tea towels. The head is sacred to Maori (and most polynesians). To use the likeness of the head of a respected person to dry dishes and wipe benches – crikey! Similarly plastic or soap Tiki and making dross out of Pounamu.

In general most Maori tribes seem very happy to share and educate at a personal use level and there is an inevitable bleed of concepts into general usage.

Conflict arises in examples like those discussed in the OP where there is an attempt to exclude a person of a different culture from even attempting to interpret or use general ‘public’ elements of culture. I say go for it in most cases. Roundly criticise and debate when people do a bad or insensitive job. I’m not about to attack Indian (as in India), African or Maori people (for example) for writing music, fiction, or designing clothes that draw on English or Scottish themes.


This is not necessarily a left vs right argument in all cases. When you use the music or design motif, or significant material of a culture in an inappropriate or disrespectful way, or even an appropriate way (unlikely) for commercial use without authorisation, you may in fact cause harm and disadvantage.

Take Ka Mate for instance. Because that was starting to get used inappropriately commercial users all over the world an Act of parliament was passed to control its appropriate use [1]. Some cultures, such as Maori value mana [2] very very highly. The inappropriate use of culturally significant performance, ritual or material reduces both individual and cultural mana.

Tourism and trade is critically important in New Zealand and many Maori tribes are deeply engaged in these activities. They seek to provide high quality and culturally respectful ventures that enhance tribal mana and represent their culture in a good light. Setting up a competing commercial venture deprives the tribe of income that it can use to raise the standard of living of its members. If the competing activity is also of lower quality or misrepresents critical aspects of culture it may also devalue to activity itself. Pounamu (NZ jade) was all too frequently made into low value items, often overseas and thus caused both economic and cultural harm. By treaty settlement any and all pounamu now belongs to Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu [3].

Belittling is different again – and is also wrong.

On the other hand Maori have also been more than happy to share their love of good kai [4] with us.

PS: as one of New Zealand’s whiter (in upbringing and propensity to suffer sunburn) individuals, the irony in me representing this view and argument in this context is not lost on me.





The idea of gendered brains

Sep 14th, 2016 11:25 am | By

Hm. Plates shifting just a bit. Maybe. Pink News reports:

The Green Party has hit out at a Science Museum quiz that tells kids they have a “male or female” brain.

Feminist campaigners hit out at London’s Science Museum on Twitter this week, after a woman was taken aback to see ‘girl’ brains coded in pink and ‘boy’ brains blue in the interactive exhibit.

Well yes. I was taken aback by that exhibit too, as were a lot of my friends. We’ve all been a good deal taken aback by this whole claim that there are “girl brains” and “boy brains” because it sounds so very identical to the pseudo-scientific justifications for the subordination of women we could have sworn feminism had been disputing for decades. I have to say that in a scream like the Duchess because how can I say it calmly?

The test, which cites its source as pop-up children’s psychology book ‘The Brain Pack’ by Ron Van Der Meer and A Dudink, claims to be able to tell the difference between the male and female brain.

It says: “Generally males and females are very similar to each other in the way they think. Psychologists have developed tests to show up some differences between the sex[es].”

But campaigners say it reinforces tired stereotypes.

Ya think?


Green Party’s equalities spokesperson Sarah Cope said: “It’s really disappointing to see the Science Museum reinforcing outdated gender stereotypes in this way.

“The idea of gendered brains is dubious science at best, and this kind of sexism – telling girls at a young age that they have feminine brains – is part of the reason why boys still dominate STEM subjects and less than 10% of engineers in the UK are women.”

This is what we keep saying.

Empowerment or objectification?

Sep 14th, 2016 10:53 am | By

The London Abused Women’s Centre [that’s London, Ontario] posted on Facebook Monday morning:

London Abused Women’s Centre withdraws support of the 2016 Take Back the Night

The London Abused Women’s Centre is withdrawing from the Take Back the Night march on September 15, 2016. We are withdrawing because we cannot tolerate an environment that condones violence against women.

Four days prior to Take Back the Night, the Women’s Events Committee posted a request on Facebook for consultation on possibly having a pole-fitness group attend the Take Back the Night gathering. This does not allow proper time for community feedback. Moreover, the consultation was framed in a way where pole-fitness was stated to be “body-positive” and “empowering.” No alternative viewpoint was provided.

Pole-fitness emerged from pole-dancing in strip clubs—where women, whether there by ‘choice’ or not, are sexually objectified by men. They are leered at and groped at by men who view them as objects for their own sexual gratification. Women and girls are also sex-trafficked into strip clubs and other areas of the sex-trade. Pole-fitness cannot be separated from this history and context. The symbol of the pole is one of sexual objectification and violence against women. Thus, while pole-fitness may be empowering for individual women, it is not empowering for women as a whole. It is a reminder that our primary role in this society has been delegated to one where we are an object to be used and abused as men, and others, see fit.

Because of this, hosting a pole-fitness demonstration at a Take Back the Night is antithetical to its purpose. Take Back the Night is supposed to be an event where women demand their right to be free from violence, including sexual violence. It is an event where girls and boys have the opportunity to learn what rights and freedoms girls should have. A pole-fitness demonstration reinforces the daily messages girls receive that their primary purpose is to be sexy and an object for the purpose of pleasing men. This is especially concerning given that young women are at high risk of being both sexually assaulted and sex-trafficked.

The London Abused Women’s Centre does not believe in colluding with messages that support the objectification of women’s bodies and violence against women and thus will not be participating in the 2016 Take Back the Night march.

The pole-dancing community is livid.

Yesterday the Centre posted a follow-up:

From the President of the Board:
The Board of Directors of the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) provides direction to its staff regarding the values, beliefs and principles of the agency.

The Board is committed to ending men’s violence against women by addressing the underlying cause of it; patriarchy. In Canada 50% of girls born today will be abused after their 16th birthday; one in four women is abused by her intimate partner; and every six days a woman is murdered. There are more than 1,000 murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. Girls as young as 12 are recruited into the sex trade by pimps and traffickers. Globally, amongst other atrocities, women and girls face female genital
mutilation and forced underage marriage.

The London Abused Women’s Centre recognizes that personal empowerment is important. However, the goal of LAWC is to empower women as a group by ending the oppression they face in their daily lives. It is for this very reason that LAWC believes that no woman is free until all women are free.

The actions taken by the London Abused Women’s Centre are now, and have always been, consistent with benefiting our sisters across the world. As such, the LAWC team did exactly what was expected of them when they spoke out against pole fitness at the Take Back the Night event. It is unfortunate that the Women’s Events Committee chose to minimize our concern around the issue and publicly attack LAWC for its views. This backlash likely contributed to the fear some women feel when asked for input.

The Board of Directors continues to recognize the impact its staff has in shifting the culture for future generations.

The pole-dancing community is still livid.

Without permission

Sep 13th, 2016 6:26 pm | By

The Guardian published Shriver’s talk (uh oh will they get in trouble now?).

I’m afraid the bramble of thorny issues that cluster around “identity politics” has got all too interesting, particularly for people pursuing the occupation I share with many gathered in this hall: fiction writing. Taken to their logical conclusion, ideologies recently come into vogue challenge our right to write fiction at all…

The author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University who for the record is white, defines cultural appropriation as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorised use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”

Hang on – what does that mean, “without permission”? It doesn’t mean anything, because how on earth does anyone know whom to ask for “permission” of that kind? Who is in a position to give such “permission”? No one. The fact that Scafidi is a law professor makes that phrase especially absurd. If there’s anything lawyers hate it’s a dangling meaningless requirement like that. (That’s me appropriating the experience of lawyers. I don’t actually know that that’s their top hate. I made that up.)

What does “unauthorised use” mean there? Again, nothing, because how can it? Authorised by whom? Who has the job of authorising people to use “another culture’s cuisine”? Absolutely no one has that job, and the claim is grotesque. We don’t need authorisation or permission to go to a Thai or Ethiopian or Brazilian restaurant to eat some fabulous interesting food. We don’t need authorisation or permission to listen to foreign music (and nearly all music is foreign to all of us, because all cultures have music) or wear foreign clothes or dance foreign dances. That claim is ridiculous and hideously xenophobic, though it doesn’t intend the latter. People in Delhi don’t need my permission to eat McDonald’s french fries, and I don’t need theirs to eat chole masala.

We get closer by sharing.

I do think people get to look askance at appropriation of their religious stuff, because that’s a different kind of thing. There are probably other kinds I’d agree should be done with care and tact if at all. But a sweeping taboo like the one from Susan Scafidi? Forget it.

Under the guise of fiction

Sep 13th, 2016 5:37 pm | By

It sounds so familiar.

Officials in charge of an Australian writers festival were so upset with the address by their keynote speaker, the American novelist Lionel Shriver, that they censored her on the festival website and publicly disavowed her remarks.

Yikes! What did she say? Was it a Trump-style rant against everyone she could think of? Holocaust denial? A claim that vaccines cause autism?

The event, the Brisbane Writers Festival, which ended Sunday, also hurriedly organized counterprogramming, billed as a “right of reply” for critics of Ms. Shriver, whose speech had belittled the movement against cultural appropriation. They scheduled the rebuttal opposite a session Saturday afternoon in which Ms. Shriver was promoting her new novel, “The Mandibles.”

Oh. She belittled the movement against cultural appropriation. And for that the festival publicly disavowed her remarks. That’s what sounds so familiar – that rush to disavow, to throw under the bus and then drive the bus back and forth over the body a few times…and over what should be a reasonable disagreement.

In the middle of Ms. Shriver’s speech on Thursday night, an Australian writer of Sudanese and Egyptian origin, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, got up and walked out, making live posts on Twitter about her dismay at what she described as “a poisoned package wrapped up in arrogance and delivered with condescension.”

“I have never walked out of a speech,” Ms. Abdel-Magied wrote in a post published on and But Ms. Shriver’s, she added, “became a celebration of the unfettered exploitation of the experiences of others, under the guise of fiction.”

But fiction is about the experiences of others. That’s what it does. The result can be obnoxious, it can be incompetent, or it can be brilliant – but it’s not just an Obvious Truth that it should never ever be attempted. I do get why people object to it – it’s the same sort of reason as my reason for loathing James Joyce’s version of the female mind in the last chapter of Ulysses: he hasn’t a clue, yet critics called that chapter the best depiction of the female mind ever yadda yadda. That kind of thing can be infuriating and damaging. But that doesn’t mean it’s Holy Writ that no one is allowed to do it, or that people should be punished for defending it.

The festival’s director, the poet Julie Beveridge, responded to the outrage by organizing the “right of reply” session, inviting as speakers Ms. Abdel-Magied, as well as the Korean-American author Suki Kim, whose best-selling book “Without You, There Is No Us,” was based on her six months working undercover as an English teacher in North Korea.

Ms. Kim complained that books by white male writers on North Korea were better received in some quarters than books like her own. Adam Johnson’s “The Orphan Master’s Son” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2013, though Mr. Johnson did not speak Korean and had spent only three days in North Korea, Ms. Kim said. She attributed that acclaim at least partly to racism from institutions dominated by white men.

“The reality is that those from marginalized groups, even today, do not get the luxury of defining their own place in a norm that is profoundly white, straight and, often, patriarchal,” Ms. Abdel-Magied said in her criticism of Ms. Shriver.

There’s a lot of truth in that. (I don’t think it’s wholly true, because it’s easy to think of counter-examples.) But there’s also a danger in ruling out all forms of “appropriation,” such as walling people off from each other into stifling little enclaves.

Ms. Beveridge wrote on the festival’s website, after links to Ms. Shriver’s speech were taken down, “As a festival of writers and thinkers, we take seriously the role we play in providing a platform for meaningful exchange and debate.”

They take seriously the role they play in providing a platform for meaningful exchange and debate, so that’s why they took links to Shriver’s speech down. Hmmmm.

Links to the rebuttal remained in place. Beveridge didn’t respond to the Times’s questions.

Shriver described the festival’s response as “not very professional,” and, at a later appearance at the festival, said she was disturbed by how many of those on the political left had become what she described as censorious and totalitarian in their treatment of artists with whom they disagreed.

Yeah. Again: familiar. All too familiar.

Blood in the streets

Sep 13th, 2016 11:53 am | By

It’s been raining in Dhaka, and it’s Eid, so the streets are full of rainwater mixed with blood and animal waste.

The holy Eid-ul-Azha, the second largest religious festival of Muslims, is being celebrated in Dhaka and elsewhere across the country amid light to moderate rains in the capital and at different places in the country.

The continuous downpour has caused waterlogging at different areas in the capital, resulting in the animal blood and wastes being spread in the water, submerging the streets.

Bulbul Ahsan posted some photos he took:

Not good.