Apr 20, 2012

The internet is forever, or: how to prove you're nothing but a snide sexist

A couple of years ago, Hilary Lawson, the director of the Institute of Art and Ideas, wrote this piece in the Guardian about the accusations of gender imbalance levelled at his pet philosophy and music festival, How The Light Gets In (a sort of hipster alternative to the increasingly uncool Hay-on-Wye literature festival).

I didn't like the piece when I read it; I thought the tone was snide and the arguments immaterial. But I read after having met Lawson at the 2011 festival, and he seemed like a decent and intelligent man; so I gave the whole thing the benefit of the doubt. For context, the benefit of the doubt was about the fact that it was shortness of time and difficulty of getting female participants that prevented the festival from breaking the industry representation ceiling of about 30%, and not the usual stuff like, you know, laziness and institutional sexism.

So when an email landed in my mailbox today gleefully announcing the publication of the 2012 festival program, I went to look at it with mixed fear and hope: will they have done better? They've had 2 years to formulate a strategy to respond to the criticisms of cultural femicide they treated so lightly. They've presumably built up some relationships with women who've spoken at the previous couple of festivals. So you'd expect an incremental uptick in gender parity, wouldn't you?

Well, not really. Out of 98 discrete speakers, 21 are women. That's 29% - wading in the shallow waters of the rest of the lacklustre British culture & media industry. In 4 days of talks and panels, only 1 is a solo talk by a woman, and only 3 have a gender balance in which women are not a minority.

How The Light Gets In could not find women to speak on the following sample of topics; architecture, religion, the future of science, privacy in the age of the internet (I bet it would have been way hard to find a feminist blogger with opinions on that one!), politics or economics.

HTLGI have had plenty of time to do something about the absence of women from their program. They haven't, not really. Oh, I'm sure some mealy mouthed statement about having "encouraged women to participate" will be forthcoming at some point, if more people than just myself kick up a fuss about this. But frankly, the proof of the pudding is in the program. And the program is a sausagefest. Or a spotted dick, for those with a sweeter tooth.

Apr 7, 2012

The real problem with choice Part II: Right-wing politics edition

This week it emerged that that Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has instructed the Care Quality Commission to expedite inspections of abortion clinics, which came at the expense of already scheduled inspections of other facilities such as care homes, hospitals and so on. The CQC are sufficiently pissed about this to complain mightily to the press about the intrusion into their regulatory independence; the DOH shoot back with stern statements about how they think this extra level of oversight of abortion providers is necessary and appropriate. Meanwhile abortion providers are spitting mad that the details of their supposed "crimes" were given to the Telegraph before they (or the police for that matter) were informed.

The DoH's excuse is the Telegraph "sting" from a few weeks ago that revealed that in some clinics, some doctors have pre-signed the forms they would need to sign in other to ratify a decision by a woman's primary doctor to allow her an abortion[1].  So pre-signed pieces of paper are lying around in some abortion providers' offices, and this according to the DoH is enough of a "public interest" issue to leave potentially disastrous abuses such as at Castlebeck-run facilities in Bristol uninspected for another few months.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I don't run in the kinds of circles in which people get super upset about regulatory infractions regarding abortion - so it's possible that the Torygraph investigation actually caused a massive stink and there's been huge public pressure on Lansley to do this. But I doubt it, because the same circles I tend to run in are absolutely fucking obsessed with the Daily Mail, which would have been the very first newspaper to scream hysterically about this if there's been anything to scream about. But actually even the Mail has maintained an eery silence about this whole "terrible abortion abuses illegal baby killings whaa whaa whaa" business.

So what's going on? Why is Lansley prioritising making the lives of abortion providers difficult? Why is the DoH implementing Nadine Dorries's hideous "reforms" to abortion counselling serivices (allowing mendacious God pushers access to vulnerable women in need of counselling) even though the amendment to make those changes law was defeated in Parliament? I mean, the Tory party ain't no bunch of Bible Belt conservatives - they never ran on any God platform, what's the sudden hostility to women's reproductive rights?

Well, mea culpa - I thought everybody knew. I really imagined that it's so obvious why right wing economic politics and restricting reproductive freedom got together like pearls and twin sets, that it never occurred to me to write about it, even though I touched on it tangentially in the "real problem with choice" post form a few weeks ago.

So, ok, here goes, and it's brain-meltingly simple: forced pregnancy leads to poverty and an increase in economic inequality. Just like that. I'm not even talking about the correlational data from all around the world, about how much slower economic growth is in countries that disallow abortion (most of Africa, a lot of Eastern Europe, large swathes of South America with Brazil being a notable but in my opinion short-lived exception, and of course all of the non-oil rich Middle East) and how much greater the social problems that stem from inequality and extreme poverty are there.

No, there is plenty of data to support the staggeringly obvious hypothesis that unwanted children have worse outcomes: educationally, economically, in terms of crime statistics and so on. Unwanted pregnancy and labour is also highly correlated with adverse mental health effects for the mother, which, given that many women seeking an abortion are already mothers, will have a knock on effect on the rest of that family and any other dependent children. Plus of course the need to care for an unexpected child places economic and emotional burdens on a family that can easily be seen to restrict the social mobility and development of other family members (not least by making it harder for the woman to work, get an education and so on).

Now this is the nice tidy developed world pictureby the way  - in places like Afghanistan, they marry them off aged 11 and by 15 they're dead in childborth, so hey presto - a whole generation of orphans is created. I just bet that's going to be super duper awesome for the future economic development of the country. Or in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where local taboos around condoms coupled with zero abortion provision leads to the highest maternal (and AIDS-related) mortality rate in the world;  yep, an economic miracle is just around the corner. Not.

So ask yourself, if you're a newly minted right-wing government (or Congress for that matter) with a bone-deep hostility to redistribution, social justice, equality and labour rights, what are you going to do right after attacking education, lowering taxes for the rich and getting rid of universal healthcare? Ayup, you're gonna make sure the social devastation you've created is cemented in place by making it generational. And you make it generational by restricting women's infuriating propensity to drag themselves and their families out of poverty through careful family planning.

But what, I hear you ask, about the right-wing virtues of boot-strapping yourself out of poverty? Getting on your bike and going to work and so forth? Mealy mouthed platitiudes designed to place the moral blame for systemic poverty on the victims of the inhumane policies that caused it. And chief among such inhumane policies has got to be taking population control power out of the hands of the population by cutting off reproductive freedom at the knees.

Whether Nadine Dorries or Fiona Bruce and their ilk come up with any more hateful laws during this parliament is immaterial; this government is going to plow ahead with restricitng abortion provision (and, I'm willing to bet, other things, like making sure the pill is no longer free in this country) for the remainder of this parliament, because that's where their legacy lies. They're a one term government and they know it: but by press-ganging women into forced labour, they can make sure that their one term will overshadow the next 3 decades of British life like a crouching incubus.

[1] The two signature law is a strange piece of historical flotsam that requires a second doctor - any doctor, not one that knows the woman or has treated her in the past - to co-sign the form signed by her primary doctor permitting her to have an abortion. It pre-dates the 1967 Abortion Act and has nothing to do with the legality of abortion per se; it's a relic from the times when doctors could get into legal trouble for performing an abortion (which was never strictly speaking illegal, just very tightly controlled), so they protected themselves by soliciting a second opinion. It's an antiquated piece of nonsense that needs getting rid of - sign the petition here.