The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

Monthly Archives: August 2011

Because the victim is responsible for not being raped

Cross posted

TRIGGER warning: this post discusses rape.

“Women should not be walking home alone in hours of darkness. You just have such vulnerability then.”

Source: Attack prompts police warning

So how, pray tell, is a woman to get home then? By teleporting?

The woman who was assaulted had just walked a friend home, and had only a short distance to go. The place where she was attacked is a well lit residential street in Palmerston North. Yet the warning is going out to women: don’t even think about being independent, about assuming the right to move about your own town freely. Remember always that you personally are responsible for making sure that some assailant doesn’t attack you. Lock yourself up, constrain your movements, live in fear.

This is a real lose:lose for women. I’ve been told by some people who have larger, stronger bodies than mine, that I should just get over my concern about walking alone at night, and go ahead and do it, because it’s silly to worry all the time. Yet when women do just that, when they do avail themselves of the freedoms that citizens in our society are supposed to enjoy, then if they are assaulted, they are blamed for it. They shouldn’t have been out walking in the dark.

There’s not a word of blame placed on the assailant in the story about this assault. Elsewhere in the paper there is a story about people vandalising street signs, but no one has suggested that it’s the city council’s fault for having street signs in the first place. Instead, the city council is asking the public to intervene, and promising that they will crack down on offenders.

The public has to be prepared to be more vigilant and step in and say ‘Hey, we’ve had enough of this; let’s ring the police and get the police in on the job and catch these people in the act’.”

Mr Cuff said the only answer to the problem would be to “prosecute them, and prosecute them hard”.

Signposts matter.

Sharing the love

Things we noticed around the interwebs this week.

Something pretty, and very clever: It’s Just Moonplay.

From Scientific American, another round-up of research on pornography that seems to indicate that it’s not as problematic as it’s been made out to be.

It turns out that among porn viewers, the amount of porn each subject consumed had nothing to do with his or her mental state. What mattered most, Twohig found, was whether the subjects tried to control their sexual thoughts and desires. The more they tried to clamp down on their urge for sex or porn, the more likely they were to consider their own pornography use a problem. The findings suggest that suppressing the desire to view pornography, for example, for moral or religious reasons, might actually strengthen the urge for it and exacerbate sexual problems.

CL Minou on the double bind of looking like a woman.

…when I look at my reflection, I don’t see the face-that-was, a face I was fond of only the way I’m fond of some old purses–they’re really not me at my best, but I’m comfortable with them. I certainly don’t see someone who artificially chipped away at herself into a wet dream of the patriarchy. I see myself, and sometimes I doubt that self a bit.

If that doesn’t make me like most women then I don’t know what will.

I (Tallulah) have a question for Peg Aloi. Can’t I be badass, and like cupcakes? Because I can, and I do.  Seriously, after a day of kicking the shit out of the patriarchy, there’s nothing I like more than to come home and whip up a batch of frosting. And then eat it all. And yeah, I can do that because I have choices. Hard won, and miraculous choices to live my life however I like. Also, seriously, you’re heralding the women of True Blood as True Feminist Heroes? Sookie, whose entire life is predicated on which of 2 men she happens to be fucking at any given moment. Tara, the character on whom the writers have unleashed all of their rape fantasies, and Pam, who is demonstrably evil. Yeah, OK, good. I love True Blood, but I’m certainly not looking to it for role models.

From the New York Times, an article about the experience of getting women into boardrooms in Norway. Yes, it did involve quotas.

“We have excluded women for 1,000 years,” she said, with a smile. “So we have already had quotas — it’s just that they were for men.”

Some of our readers may recall that a few months back, Cactus Kate had a schmaltzy post about the heroism of men during the Christchurch earthquake. Apparently we weren’t celebrating male heroism enough, even ‘though the only way we knew all these stories was through the various articles in the media. Whatever. I (Deb) am sure there were many heroes in those early minutes and hours and days, both male and female, people who simply stood up and did whatever they could to help, with whatever resources they had to hand. Here’s a story about a woman who just did her job. Bus driver who rescued children in quake fights cancer.

Asked if she felt she had been dealt a cruel hand after her cancer diagnosis, Hansen said: “Hey, s… happens honey. I’ve got my family and I’m still alive. It’s just life, and you have no choice but to carry on.

I (Deb) have a fabulous colleague, Dr Cat Pausé. She’s a Fat Studies researcher, and a fantastic feminist.

“If I ever referred to myself as fat to other people they would say `no, no you’re not fat at all’. But I think what they really mean when they say that is I’m not unattractive, or lazy, or unhealthy or all of those bad connotations that go with the word fat.”

Cat has a radio show on Access Radio Manawatu, “Friend of Marilyn”. You can pick up her shows on Radio on Demand – select an alphabetical list and scroll down to “Friend of Marilyn”. Or click these handy links to download MP3s: Friend of Marilyn, broadcast on 17 August, and Friend of Marilyn, broadcast on 24 August.

Friday Feminist – Cordelia Fine

Cross posted

You have heard, no doubt, the saying that the personal is the political. Based on his own experiences within a marriage in which we struggle against convention to split things equally, my husband has developed his own, expanded version of this motto. As he would state it, “The school drop-off is the political, the staying home when the kids are sick is the political, the writing of the shopping list is the political, the buying of the birthday presents is the political, the arranging of the baby-sitter is the political, the packing of the lunch boxes is the political, the thinking about what to have for supper is the political, the remembering of the need to cut the children’s toenails is the political…”

Cordelia Fine (2010), Delusions of Gender, New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., pp. 79 – 80.

Massey Wellington and sexual violence

*Trigger Warnings for sexual assault and sexual harassment*

This is an article about an attack on a woman in Massey University Wellington.

Massey Wellington was my home both socially, professionally and academically for 3 years while I completed my degree. I worked on campus in the Student’s Association, I partied on the campus with my classmates and I spent a depressing amount of time half-asleep in the back of lecture theatres. I love its weird super-industrialised-ex-polytech-linoleum-everywhere vibe, the cavernous old museum creative arts spaces across the car park, the committed and warm staff and the diverse student body.

What I didn’t love was the fact that for almost the entire time I was studying, my female peers and I knew that the bathrooms on level B, block 5 had a resident ‘peeping tom’ and the library had a ‘flasher’. The student magazine reported on the reoccurring incidents involving these perpetrator/s with a mixture of seriousness and humour – because even though these were actually events of sexual harassment and sexual violence, they were very cliché and therefore somehow easy humour. I think the library flasher even had a trench coat.

I remember my younger self laughing a wee bit at these stories because I didn’t really understand them. I didn’t know what it would be like to have someone approach you while you were trying to find a book down a quiet row of shelves and get their penis out. I didn’t know what it would be like to have a guy hide in the toilet cubicle next to yours until he could hear you going to the toilet (so you couldn’t get up quickly) and look over the side of the cubicle before running away.

I didn’t have a feminist analysis of anything except my mother’s mantra of “girls can do anything” which was usually solely applied to home DIY. I didn’t know that ‘violence’ wasn’t just physical. I didn’t think about the fact that women were the sole targets of these campus attacks, or what that said about the world I lived in. I just read ‘peeping tom’ and saw a distant cartoonish villain to be laughed at.

That was until 2007 when I wandered into the bathrooms on level B, block 5 one day without thinking. I was working, and I was unusually in the area and really needed to pee. No one was around (as usual, the whole floor was a pretty creepy area actually) and I went into the barely-lit bathroom and found a cubicle. When I shut the door I saw a sign on the back of the stall that said “females in this area” had been “experiencing problems” with sexual harassment or something similar to that effect.

I suddenly realised that I was in a dark bathroom, on a floor with little-to-no regular foot traffic, in a room that had seen repeat occurrences of sexual violence, and Massey University had given me a small laminated sign. Multiple females had experienced a hugely distressing personal invasion, perhaps in the very cubicle I was standing in and Massey put up a notice. I promptly left the bathroom, and as many of us have done before, I figured that this was just life.

My partner is now a postgrad student at Massey University and when he’s on campus he is based on level B, block 5. I have discovered that the abandoned linoleum-heavy, echoey halls of level B are in fact inhabited by art students who are mostly all hiding in studios or computer labs which you would never know existed by the permeating 24/7 silence.

One day recently I was helping my partner with an assignment and needed to go to the bathrooms. Now forgive me, but nearly five years on I had almost completely forgotten about the bathroom incidents lending themselves to level B. I wandered in to that same dark bathroom, into a stall, closed the door behind me and found to my horror that I was faced with the same sign.

After 5 years, Massey University has not managed to shake their ‘peeping tom’, who by now I’m sure we can all agree is a repeat perpetrator of sexual violence and harassment, who gains pleasure and power from intruding on women. Women who will never use public bathrooms in the same way again. Women who no longer feel that their campus is a safe space for them, even in the middle of the day.

After five years, Massey University has done nothing obvious to me or any other student or visitor except to put up laminated signs warning potential victims of what they may expect to experience in this area. Warning victims. Not helping to protect victims, but asking them to protect themselves. This is a pretty common theme in rape culture (the norms and attitudes which allow victim blaming and a normalisation of sexual control over women) – the expectation that if you have experienced sexual assault or harassment you were probably putting yourself at risk, and you should have known better, so actually you’re partly to blame for the whole thing.

After five years, Massey appears to give such little of a shit about what happens to the students who use this bathroom that they haven’t even put brighter fucking lights in the room. There’s no security camera by the outside door, no security guard regularly knocking to see if everything’s okay. No swipe card only access to mitigate the potential for this attacker to walk in off the street, or to monitor who is entering the bathroom and match it with reports of harassment. No. Just a sign.

And now Massey is the subject of a news story about an attempted rape on campus. Not because this is rare for Massey or the surrounding area (Magneto, the student magazine publishes crime maps once a month and it is glaringly evident that this area is a hotspot for sexual assault), but because this woman got away through self defence. If she had have been raped, this story wouldn’t be news because it’s so common.

I can only hope that now Massey’s name is next to “sexual assault” in the media that they will wake up to the fact that they need to do more to protect their students. Because as it stands, acceptance of the constant possibility of sexual assault is becoming part of the campus culture. And that is totally unacceptable.

You know what’s not sex?

Dear sub-editors, and people who talk to the media,

We need to have a conversation. Because you need to start being really, really careful about how you speak, and write, and what you publish. Because if I read another sentence like this, I am going to throw something through a window, and then sit in a corner and drink an entire bottle of bourbon.

DOMINIQUE Strauss-Kahn and the maid who accused him of sexual assault did have what appeared to be non-consensual sex, but the maid’s history of lying means that charges cannot be pressed, prosecutors said today.

DNA testing “established that several stains located on the upper portion of the complainant’s hotel uniform dress contained semen that yielded the defendant’s DNA”, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said.

Do you know what’s not sex? Rape. Do you know what rape is? Non-consensual sex. You can’t “have sex” if its non-consensual. That’s assault. It’s like me saying I was consensually mugged.

I don’t want to talk about the “she’s a big fat liar, so we can’t make the charges stick!” aspect, because that has and will be covered by people with sharper legal minds than me. But I want to talk about the language.

I do things, in the privacy of my bedroom (and that one time in an alley near the waterfront) that, to many people, would seem violent and horrible. Believe me, I’ve had the brusies. But always, always, with consent. There’s safewords and limits, and endless conversations about what is and isn’t OK, and how you might feel about something, and how you feel after, and whether that thing was good. I’ve had people try to tell me that what I like is depraved, and believe me, sometimes, the morning after, when I am struggling to sit down, I wonder that myself. But I enter into that willingly, consensually, enthusiastically, and that makes it OK.

And calling what (allegedly) happened in that hotel room “non-consensual sex” suggests that it is something different, lesser, than rape. And why, as legal officials and the media, are we so keen to do that? If I read that sentence above right, he (allegedly) forced himself on her and then forced her to give him a blow job.

Let’s call that what it is, cos it’s not “having sex”. That requires consent, preferably vocally and enthusiastically. And every time we talk about a rapist “having sex” with someone, we make a really good thing bad, and a really bad thing slightly less horrible. Let’s not, OK?

Love and kisses,


Pornish Tuesday: Doing it for, or to, Ourselves

I feel a touch guilty every time I see someone has found this site by searching for “porn Tuesday”. Still happens occasionally. So, a Tuesday, and a post with some porn in it. Links are, entirely, NSFW.

The trailer for Erika Lust’s new film, Cabaret Desire, is out. Caution: trigger warning for sexual assault (one brief scene cut contextless) and vajazzling. I do like her films, but her euro-trash goth vibe I’m a bit ambivalent about. Possibly this is cultural. And this reminds me that I haven’t shared my favourite of her films with you: Handcuffs. That’s a complete short film, and I’m sure it could spark an interesting debate about the concept of “female gaze”. The watcher is female. The object of the gaze is also, clearly, the other woman.

Also, catching my interest, the short for Louise Lush’s new film, The Thought of Her. This is a male masturbation film, and when he says, “I can’t stop thinking about her,” that’s, um, pretty hot.

And it got me thinking. It’s at least possible to see why we have constructed shame narratives around pornography, or certain kinds of sex. But masturbation? The majority of people do it. It’s extremely pleasurable, and absolutely and completely harmless. I just can’t come up with any kind of construction, spurious or not, to see it as harmful. (And before it comes up, the “sin of Onan” was refusing to impregnate his brother’s widow. He wasn’t even masturbating, he was practicing withdrawal. What the Old Testament actually says about masturbation is pretty much “now wash your hands”. Good advice.)

So. Yeah. Wanking. Awesome. Being ashamed of something perfectly normal? Not awesome.


Learning to love

Cross posted

I’ve been reflecting on two posts recently, Jessica Valenti’s column in The Guardian about learning to love her baby, and evil fizz’s response at Feministe, endorsing and resonating with her. Both women had similar experiences of not loving, not being blissed out by motherhood. Both women felt that other women needed to know that not everyone falls in love at first sight, and that better narratives are needed for early motherhood. Or if not ‘better’, then enlarged narratives, encompassing a greater range of experience.

This is my story. It resonates a little, and goes in a new direction a little.

I love my daughters dearly. Drag out whatever corny cliché you like about mothers and children and love and light of my life and all that, and it fits. They are the joy of my days.

It wasn’t always this way. It took me time to fall in love with my first born, even ‘though she was the most wonderful baby ever born. For the first few days and even weeks, I was curiously disconnected from her, even though I didn’t want to be parted from her.

I had a good pregnancy with my first baby: a few days of illness and up-chucking, and somewhat swollen feet towards the end, but nothing too worrying. My baby was due on 1 October and very obligingly, my waters broke that day, in a polite and genteel fashion, quietly enough that my midwife simply advised me to go back to having dinner with friends (a woman whom I hold in high regard for many reasons, including this, had invited us over to dinner that day to distract me from due-date-disappointment). By the next day, I was in the early stages of labour. But that was when things started to go not so well. I laboured for nearly a day, and then transferred to a standard delivery suite rather than a birthing centre, avoiding a c-section but having an epidural, then a Ventouse, then forceps, until eventually, after a second stage of hours of hard, hard pushing, our baby arrived. It had taken nearly 33 hours from when I woke with the first cramps of labour.

I was exhausted. Shatteringly exhausted. I was able to greet her, but there was no rush of love. I was simply too tired. And I stayed that way for a long, long time.

It took me a few weeks to start to process what had turned out to be quite a traumatic delivery, to think it through, and to realise what had happened. And then bit by bit, my love for her grew and grew and grew. It just took time.

But I never berated myself for not being blissed out on motherhood love. I think there were two reasons for this. I knew that not everyone fell in love at first sight, and that it was just as common for new parents to need time to develop bonds with their children. So I knew I was not abnormal, or wrong, or deficient. And I had watched my partner fall in love with our daughter in the delivery room. He picked her up from me, held her in his arms and sang softly to her. The most wondrous look came over his face, and I could see that he was deeply and besottedly in love with her.

Over time, I fell in love with her too. Some things helped along the way. She was a posterior presentation baby, meaning that although she came head first, she was facing up, rather than down, so the pressure from her head was not right, making the labour long and hard. But because she was facing up, she was, and still is, a star gazer, looking up at the sky in wonder. My own parents’ deep and abiding love for me reassured me, as did their great delight in my daughter. And knowing that my partner loved and cherished our daughter comforted me. No matter what, she was loved, just as she ought to be. As for me, it just took time. That was all.

The curious thing was that by the time my younger daughters arrived, it took no time at all. This time my pregnancy was not so straightforward, and we almost lost our babies early on. But we got through to the end, and at 38 weeks, a full-term pregnancy for twins, the babies started to arrive. Despite being a twin delivery, all went well, except that these babies were star gazers too. More long hard pushing, but this time, the whole thing only took about twelve hours from beginning twinges to beautiful babies in my arms. The labour and delivery was much more straightforward, despite being a twin delivery. Our magnificent obstetrician Cathy Gillies helped immeasurably in this regard. In addition to that, I think my neural circuits had been primed by our elder daughter. I had learned how to love babies, and I was ready to love these little girls, right from the start. The next few weeks were very happy for me, despite a lamentable failure in breastfeeding, just because I was so in love with all three of our little girls. Second time around, it was all so much easier.

I cannot speak to Jessica Valenti’s experience of having a tiny premmie baby, nor to evil fizz’s experience of epic disaster and maternal ferocity. Those are different strands of new motherhood. This is my strand to add to the narratives about birth and early motherhood. Time. Time and experience. And a bit of being easier on ourselves. A bit of realising for ourselves, and reassurance from people around us, that those long hard labours can be mentally and emotionally exhausting, so much so that new mothers, and fathers, may need time for healing first.

Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of time.

Sharing the love

Things we liked, or didn’t like, on the internet this week.

Running between the continental plates. From Penguin Unearthed, who is travelling the world with her partner and their two lads this year. She’s also writing a fantastic series at her personal blog on the notable women of history that she is coming across in her travels.

Totally fucked up doesn’t even begin to describe this new book: A diet book for six year old girls.

Benjamin Law writes on the use of the word “gay” as a pejorative:

This is why I cringe whenever straight people use “gay” as a derogatory term, especially when it’s clear they’ve never met a gay person in their life. It’s not so much offensive as embarrassing, like seeing a spotty white teenager wearing a FUBU outfit and calling his friend “nigga” when not a single black person lives within a 50 kilometre radius.

Dorothy Dentata on privilege, kyriarchy, and discrimination in LGBT circles.

A really interesting, nuanced article about SlutWalk in Costa Rica: what went wrong, what went right.

What do you mean when you say you want strong female characters? (I (Emma) have always wondered this, because it often seems to mean “flawless women who never need help and never feel sad”, and that seems like Bullshit.) Also, we’re all about the Starbuck Love.

More on hating on people – a fascinating post about bogans and hating bogans while pretending to like them: Maliciousness in memes: #boganmovies and #tightsarenotpants

Myths about rape, on Stuff. The article could be triggering. Not many comments there yet, but check out the first one for sheer ignorance. I’m (Deb) getting a mental image of a guy sticking his fingers in his ears and singing loudly, over and over again, “I won’t hear you. I won’t hear you. I won’t hear you.”

Some pretties from FoTLG Megan: Fabulous dresses in an exhibition at Te Papa. Megan has already bagsed the green and gold one, and Isabel wants the pretty rosy one, so I’m (Deb) settling for the brilliant blue dress.

A patch of land

That bit in our name where it says, The Lady *GARDEN*? We meant it.

Cross posted

I visited an allotment garden in London a few weeks ago. We have friends who live in central London suburb, not right in town, but only a few tube stops out from the centre. We stayed with them for a few days when we arrived, and to my delight, to help our recovery from jet lag, they took us to visit their allotment near Hampstead Heath.

Allotment gardening seems strange to those of us reared in the half-gallon quarter acre pavlova paradise, where each household grew its own vegies. But they are common in the UK, where backyards are tiny, or non-existent. Councils supply some land, usually fenced and gated, and people in the area can apply for an allotment within that area. In some areas there are long waiting lists for allotments: our friends were on the list for about 10 years. They have a half allotment, for which they pay about £50 a year. And on that allotment, they can grow whatever they like. Our friends grow fruit and vegetables: raspberries and artichokes and beans and strawberries and leeks and onions and whatever else takes their fancy.

There seems to be about 80 to 100 allotments in the area where our friends have their garden. Some are very plain – just some grass and fruit trees – while others are extensively landscaped and planted with anything and everything. It’s fascinating wandering among the allotments, and seeing what people are growing. There is a strong culture of sharing cuttings and seeds and advice, and of active neighbourliness.

It seems that the politics can be intense. There are … inconsistencies when it comes to who may, and who may not, have a shed on their allotment. Our friends may not, but they have stored their tools in their garden seat, which is not a shed. One person seems to be running a small wood carving business from his site, but he is the Chairman of the committee, so no one has raised an objection. Yet. People with expansionist ambitions keep a close eye on their neighbours’ plots, anxious to report the least appearance of a weed, so that their neighbour can be declared incompetent and the plot annexed.

There are many community gardens in New Zealand, but I do not know of any allotment gardens. The concept seems superb to me: find a good patch of land, and encourage gardeners to take up individual plots there, in a shared undertaking. It could be a very effective way for people to grow their own food, in community, and to pass on knowledge and skills.

I am busy planning my new garden. I have worked out which areas I can set aside for my daughters, and in just a few weeks, I hope to start spring gardening with them. Growing food for us to eat, planting flowers to enjoy, passing on the knowledge and joy in gardening that was given to me by my mother. A green and growing love, spreading from one generation to the next, and the next.

A New Kind Of Victim Blaming.

Let’s compare and contrast two paragraphs, shall we?

A generation ago, it was easier for men and women to understand what constituted rape because the social rules were clearer. Men were supposed to be the ones coming on to women, and women were said to be looking for relationships, not casual sex. But those boundaries and rules have been loosening up for decades, and now lots of women feel it’s perfectly okay to go out looking for a hookup or to be the aggressor, which may turn out fine for them — unless the signals get mixed or misread.


Later, she started working on a documentary about rape and, in the process of interviewing rape victims, discovered that a lot of them felt they had contributed somewhat to what happened. Because they thought they were (or should be) in control of their bodies and desires, says Shari, “they’d say things like ‘I should have done this’ or ‘I shouldn’t have been in that situation.’ But they’d also say, ‘If the guy had had respect for me, he would have backed off.’

Yeah, Cosmo, can you see why a rape victim might blame herself? Because not two sentences ago, YOU SAID IT WAS THEIR OWN FUCKING FAULT. No, really, that’s what you said.

There is no such thing as “Gray Rape”. There’s rape, and that’s it. Yes, there might be mitigating circumstances, but as soon as someone has sex with someone who hasn’t consented, it’s rape.

And look, we get a whole lot of the old kind of Victim Blaming too – What About Teh Menz! If she regrets it, she’ll say it was rape! Page Four: “This makes them more vulnerable to guys who are pushing for sex.”

Because don’t forget, as a woman, as part of the weaker sex – you’re vulnerable. You can’t expect those guys not  to rape you, because you’re such easy game.

“We all have vulnerabilities, and we all can be taken advantage of,” says Ludwig. “Though you’re successful at school, sports, whatever, you must see yourself — as a woman — as vulnerable. If you don’t, you’re at greater risk.”

And finally.

Under the law, a guy has to get a clear verbal or nonverbal yes from you to have sex. Just because you consent to one sexual activity (making out, even with few clothes on) does not mean you have given permission for any other. Also, silence doesn’t always equal consent, nor does being too drunk to know what you’re doing.

Yeah, it’s a shame every other word of this article gives lie to this statement. Fuck You, Cosmo. Seriously.