Bridges Not Walls

Today, the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama left the White House, and Donald Trump was sworn in. I’ve already starting seeing the posts telling those of us are vocally upset here in the UK to get over it because it won’t impact us. If only that were true.

On a purely practical level, America has a lot of impact across the globe.

NATO has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy for over 60 years. But there are fears about it’s stability, after Trump attacked the organisation as obsolete. NATO’s essential purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members through political and military means…this is what Trump views as obsolete. America spends more on defense than any other NATO member, meaning an American exit from the agreement could have heavy impact financially on other members. Including the UK.

Instead of NATO and it’s members, Trump appears keen to forge closer ties with Russia. He has praised Putin as a strong leader. Russia’s brutal anti-gay legislation, tough laws against foreign nationals reporting on human rights from inside Russia, environmental destruction, vote-rigging, murders of foreign journalists and jailing of activists makes them an unnerving bedfellow for the world’s largest super power.

Trump has threatened to scrap a number of existing free trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico, which he blames for job losses. He has also suggested withdrawing the US from the World Trade Organization.

Trump has spoken about dismantling Obama’s deal with Iran that prevented the country from pursuing nuclear weapons. He has suggested Japan and South Korea should have their own nuclear weapons, while dismissing concerns that North Korea may soon be testing long-range missiles that could carry nuclear warheads.

President Trump has said that he will “cancel” the Paris Climate Agreement within 100 days of taking office and will do everything in his power to reverse climate change regulations introduced by President Obama. He has repeatedly denied the science of human-caused climate change, describing it as “fictional’.

Still nothing to worry about?

 

Even without global impact, we should surely care about those in the USA who are having their rights threatened.

Within hours of the inauguration, whitehouse.gov underwent a radical change. Pages on LGBT rights, civil rights, climate change and health care have been removed. Instead, pages ignoring climate change, calling for more police in black neighbourhoods, and sharing false statistics on inner city crime went up in their place. The Affordable Care Act is under threat. In the days after Trump’s election, hate crimes surged in the USA. The Southern Poverty Law Center released a report identifying 867 incidents of harassment and intimidation between November 9 and November 18. Many of those incidents involved harassers invoking Trump’s name. The attacks included anti-LGBT, anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-semitic, and anti-Muslim related incidents.

Even if it isn’t on our soil, we should care about this. A strong message has been sent that hate wins.

 

It’s easy to despair. But there is hope. A movement sprung up today. Bridges Not Walls dropped banners around the world on iconic bridges. The website says, “We will build bridges, not walls, to a peaceful and just world rid of oppression and hatred.”

Let’s leave the last words to Obama n his final tweets as POTUS, who launched the Obama Foundation in a video with Michelle. “I’m still asking you to believe – not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours. I believe in change because I believe in you.” #yeswecan

Tits or Get The F*** Out: Sexism, Gaming and Rape Apologism

I’m not a gamer (unless you count wasting hours of my life on The Sims), so the gaming industry has never been of much interest to me. I’ve played a few of the bigger games, but as a rule, gaming isn’t for me. Initially, I didn’t have much interest in the games themselves, but as I’ve played a few, and as more of my friends become keen gamers, I began to want to play more games. But I still don’t want to take part in gaming. Why? Well, pretty clearly, it’s an industry and a culture in which I am not welcome.

I’ve taken more of an interest in reading about gamer culture recently, as it’s an industry my boyfriend is involved with and where his dream career lies. I read more about it, but the more I read, the more unsettled I become.

Gaming has a long history with being intolerant; famously, it is often guilty of racism, homophobia and sexism. If you’re not a straight, white male, gaming can be a very hostile environment. Certain behaviours become excused; abuse becomes “trash-talk”, which has always happened, and if you can’t handle it, well, then you shouldn’t game. Never mind if you enjoy the game or not. If you don’t enjoy being called a pussy, a slut, a faggot…don’t get involved in online gaming.

In June, at the E3 expo, Microsoft demoed a game called Killer Instinct. Two staff members, a man and a woman, demoed the game. During game play the man started to win. His “trash-talk” took a sinister turn. “Just let it happen and it will be over soon.” “You like this”. She replied, “I don’t like this.” This talk creepily mirrors the sort of language often reported by rape victims from their attackers. “It’ll be over soon.”
In July, Julie Larson-Greene was promoted to head Xbox, after 19 years with the company. Reddit exploded. How could a woman make good games? She’d ruin Xbox with games about knitting and flower arranging. At least she was eye candy. She wasn’t even bangable.

In the same month, a female player of a large MMORPG game wrote about her experiences with other players and what happened when she complained. She was a good player, but when she beat the male players, they responded with violent rape threats. The threats were clearly against the game’s rules, so she reported the players. The response from staff? It was her fault for playing under an obviously female name, and for winning too often. She should lose more to save the fragile egos of the male players. As an experiment, she changed her screen-name to one that was male-presenting. The threats stopped. She was congratulated on her skill in the game, she had some good natured banter, and nobody threatened to rape her. She changed her name back, and the threats began again. She started reporting them again. Eventually, the CEO of the company told her that he was “tired of hearing about this,” and banned her from the game. Her aggressors are still playing.

That’s just three examples from the front page of Google, when you search “sexism and gaming”. All within the last three months. Never mind the fact that female characters are often over-sexualised, if they’re there at all. That’s just responses from gamers and the game companies.

Now, I read a lot of feminist websites, and I often share the articles I read. I share them on Tumblr, where I get mostly positive responses, in the form of reblogs, if I get anything at all. I also share a lot of them on my personal Facebook. There, the response is less positive. I grew up with a few gamer guys (interestingly, the guys from my childhood are the ones who will join in with intelligent discussion about sexism in gaming, and are interested in being part of the solution). One of my oldest friends studied Game Design at university, and through him and my boyfriend, my circle of gamer friends has expanded. Unfortunately, this seems to mean I’ve opened myself to some pretty out-dated opinions. When I share these links on Facebook, if it involves gaming, without fail, one of them will comment to defend a lack of response from a gaming company, to explain that “trash-talk” is a part of gaming, to repeat the same appalling victim blaming that happens in the industry. By gaming while female, apparently, it is only to be expected that you will be called awful slurs due to your gender, that you’ll be sent messages with graphic sexual threats…and if you can’t handle that, you just shouldn’t play.
These guys speak from the position of male privilege. They do not understand the impact that this sort of response has. By shrugging your shoulders when a female player is threatened, the aggressor has his threat okayed by you. You’re not bothered, so he can do it again. When the game companies don’t ban the aggressors, their behaviour is validated and accepted. Eventually, the attitudes trickle out of the game and into the real world. A lot of gamers are young teenagers, and they hear and see these threats being accepted and begin to parrot the attitudes.
Never mind the fact that you have no idea who you’re talking to online. You make a rape threat you think is harmless game banter. But the girl you’re speaking to is a rape survivor. Your joke triggers a flashback, nightmares, a validation of what her rapist did to her. You’ve just told her that what he did is funny. A joke. Just a bit of harmless banter.
Rape threats online and their apologists (that’s you gamer guys who tell us to get over it) contribute enormously to rape culture, trivialising the experiences of sexual assault victims whenever it happens.

To be frank, I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of this attitude. I am sick to death of hearing from people I am friends with that this is a trivial matter, that it doesn’t matter, that it’s the fault of the women. I will not associate with those who perpetuate rape culture. For the first time last night, I unfriended someone on Facebook after some pretty appalling victim blaming. No more.

The Soapbox: The Bystander Effect

The above statistics were published by The Guardian, and go some way to expressing the pitifully low rate of convictions for rape and sexual assault here in the UK.

I wanted to talk today about excuses. I have always been someone who has strong opinions, and I do get wound up by things that most people choose to ignore. But recently, I’m finding that people are increasingly confused by the strength of feeling I have about issues like sexual assault.

I spend a lot of time online, and a lot of that time is spent is reading articles on websites like Feministing  and The Vagenda. Some of these articles are funny, like The Vagenda’s regular dissecting of women’s magazines, some are about fairly ‘fluffy’ things, like a prank where a performance art group swapped the voice boxes of GI Joe and Barbie toys and put them back on the shelves. Others are shocking.

Last night, I read this piece by a contributor to Feministing, about a rape that took place on a bus in Glasgow. I’ve since read more about this incident, and it continues to horrify me. A 14 year old girl was raped by two men on the upper deck of a bus. The attack lasted around ten minutes, before the girl’s friend realised what was happening and raised the alarm. The girls got off the bus, caught a different bus home, and called the police. Her attackers remained on the bus, but were later ejected for ‘lewd, disruptive behaviour’. The driver claims he didn’t know the assault was happening. Quite rightly, questions are being asked about how such an assault can take place without other passengers or the driver being aware of it immediately? Why is there a blind-spot in the bus’ CCTV big enough for two men to rape a teenage girl? Why does being loud on a bus get you kicked off, but raping another passenger doesn’t?

I tweeted a link to the piece on Feministing. This morning, I woke up to find I had a reply. A male friend tweeted back to me, pointing out that this is ‘the bystander effect’, and that nobody would have stepped in if it was a boy being attacked. This is probably true. Lots of people do ignore all sorts of things taking place, be it a girl being raped on a bus, or a boy having his wallet stolen in a shop. People turn a blind eye, often afraid of getting involved.
But why does this happen? What is in it us that makes us pretend not to see? I like to think that I’d step in if I saw a sexual assault taking place. But would I be too frightened and keep quiet?

In a way, I think this instinct to ignore it is the same instinct that makes people bury their head in the sand in general about incidents like this. The same instinct that makes people uncomfortable when we talk about these incidents. Whenever I share links on social media about stories like this, someone responds telling me to calm down, to chill out, that bad things happen to boys too. Yes, men are assaulted and raped too. It’s far less common, but it happens. But that doesn’t lessen the awfulness of some of the things that happen to women. And sexual assault and rape happens to women far more often than it happens to men. Why is it that people are made uncomfortable by me sharing a link to an article, news story or opinion piece that has caught my attention?

It is nearly always men who respond to me in this way. Often men I am very fond of. It worries me slightly that people are confused that I engage in this sort of subject matter. Should I not talk about horrific events, like this rape in Glasgow or like the Steubenville rape in America? Should I not retweet from wonderful projects like Everyday Sexism? Should I not write blog posts like this?

Whenever I link to, or blog about, something like this, at least one person replies with some sort of reasoning for what’s happened, or to tell me to calm down, or often that there’s no point talking about this stuff, as it won’t change anything. Or theres’s the other end of the scale, where well-meaning guys then send me links to everything about women on the internet ever.

I appreciate that people don’t like to think about bad things. I understand that these cases are newsworthy because they don’t happen every day. But they do happen, and they ought to be talked about. Talking about it, addressing the issues raised, is important. Awareness is a very important weapon.

I think what struck me about this particular rape was that this girl should have been safe. Women are bombarded with advice to keep them safe. We’re told, if we’re going anywhere at night, to stay with friends, to not walk home alone. Public transport ought to be safe. This girl did what we’re advised to do. Rather than walk home alone at 10.30pm, she got a bus with a friend. There were other passengers and a driver. She should have been safe. And yet she wasn’t.

I often get public transport late at night. Thanks to being in a long distance relationship, the last train home is familiar territory for me. In fact, on Monday, I caught the last train home from Coventry, spent half an hour at 11pm sitting in Oxford station waiting for a connection, and eventually arrived home at a little before 1am. At no point during my journey did I think I wasn’t safe. They were plenty of other passengers around, as well as station and train staff. I’m always careful not to sit in empty carriages, or hang around on badly lit station platforms. I get a taxi home from the station, rather than save the money and walk. If anything had happened, someone would have stepped in. Right?
Maybe not. Nobody stepped in for the girl in Glasgow. Is this now yet another thing I have to think twice about doing because I might not be safe? Because if someone assaults me on a train home, someone might turn a blind eye and let it happen?
I shouldn’t be in a situation where that’s excusable behaviour. Nobody should.

I suppose what annoyed me, and what always annoys me, about the responses I often get online, is the being told what I should and should not feel angry about or threatened by. If a story bothers me, that’s up to me, and if I wish to share it, I will. If you’re not interested, don’t read. The point is, I think women feel unsafe much more than men do. It’s unpleasant, feeling intimidated by something as simple as making your way home. It’s distressing that even when you’re taking all the precautions women are advised to take to stay safe, it’s apparently not enough.
I think being angry about that is pretty acceptable. To be frank, if you’re aren’t angry, you’re probably not paying attention.