The fantastically fly new Freethought Blogs Friday Open Thread

Woohoo! As you’ve probably noticed, FTB has finally come good with the long-promised site overhaul.

I think the front page makes a lot more sense now, and everything is just a wee bit more stylish.

I am, however, all too aware of the first rule of the Internet, which is that NOTHING MUST EVER CHANGE.

So I will welcome your comments below saying:

“OMG this is the worst thing ever, you’ve made it look all wrong, why is the button to do wotsit over there when it is meant to be over here I like it over here I need it over here and the typeface looks all wrong and when I leave a comment it jumps up and down on my screen you have seriously RUINED this site, no, that’s not right, you have RUINED MY ENTIRE LIFE I WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOU!!!”

And by tradition, you must continue leaving  such comments for precisely 11 days, after which time everything will suddenly seem  normal and you’ll forget it wasn’t ever thus.

If you want to be more specific, in all seriousness we realise there are a lot of bugs and quirks and things to be ironed out, we are compiling a full list, so if you notice anything that’s obviously borked do let me know and I’ll pass it on.


If you want a conversation opener that is a bit less meta…. I’m really pleased and grateful to Glen Poole at InsideMAN magazine  who has interviewed one of the authors of the recent British Academy report into prison reform which called for radical reform of prison policy, with a specific eye on male gender issues.

At the risk of sounding like I’m blowing my own trumpet, Professor Nicola Lacey of the LSE makes several points which I’ve been banging on about for years. Considering I have often felt like a voice in the wilderness, this has been a bit of an airpunch moment for me. Short report here and full interview here

Anything else interesting on your radar, my friends?


The feverishly fundering Friday open thread

Well I don’t know about where you are, but here in Manchester this week it’s been hotter than a gusset in a chorus line. The tar between the cobbles has been bubbling on the streets, the whippets have been refusing to whip and some of us have even removed our flat caps.

I’m told that today London has suddenly gone all thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening, me.

Gallleo. Gallleo. Gallleo Figaro.

I’m jealous.

How’s things in your corner of the world?

And what has been catching your interest?

The famously fluffy and friendly Friday open thread

As far as I can work out, there are currently arguments still ongoing on four different threads on this blog, which may be a record.

I’m not sure you all really need somewhere else to argue, but since we haven’t had a new open thread for a couple of weeks I figured we should have a new one. Here you can drift as far off topic as you like, (since topic is there none) or raise any issues or points of interest that you’d  like to share with me or  the rest of the world.

Since there are so many arguments elsewhere, you may wish to keep this fluffy and friendly and post links to pictures of your kittens.  Or you can just call each other fucking idiots as usual.

So what’s on yer minds folks?


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The Fishin’ Around Friday Open Thread

There have been several of our recurring themes around the news this week.

As a few of you were discussing in the last open thread, Rhiannon Brooker has been sentenced to 3 1/2 years for making false rape allegations against her ex-boyfriend. Most people’s attention was captured by the frankly outrageous comments from Women Against Rape (WAR) who campaign vociferously against any prosecutions for making false allegations of rape. It’s a bizarre position to hold, seems to serve no purpose other than making feminism look entirely unreasonable, and I really don’t understand why the Guardian, in particular, give them so much airspace on this issue.

One thing that struck me about the coverage of the case, though, was the focus on why she had done it, what her motivations might have been. Was she trying to create a cover story because she was  about to fail her Bar exams (as alleged by the prosecution) or was it an inexplicable act committed in the midst of an emotional breakdown and immense stress and pressure,  as her defense counsel maintained, or was there some other more mysterious explanation?

My point is that we very rarely ask these questions about other criminals. If someone commits an assault or a rape we don’t agonise over why (usually) he might have done it. I think our desperate search to find an explanatory framework comes down to our collective difficulty in conceptualising the fact  that sometimes women can do really bloody nasty things out of spite.

Which leads me on to the  next topic on my radar – the study by Elizabeth Bates and Nicola Graham-Kevan which was reported at the Forensic section conference of the British Psychological Society yesterday. I’m not entirely sure what is new in it, all of it seems reasonably familliar to me, but the interesting thing in the light of recent debates on this site is that they found evidence to suggest women are more prone to show aggression to their partners than to non-partners of their own sex, whereas men are less likely (than women) to be aggressive towards their partners but more likely to be aggressive to other people of their own gender.

So they are the main things I haven’t found time to write about this week.

What else have we missed?

The entirely Fact Free Friday open thread

So what’s on your mind folks?

If you’d like an oblique strategy starter, you could have a listen in to yesterday’s BBC Woman’s Hour, which was a special edition to mark the 25th anniversary of the release of Joan Smith’s book, Misogynies. As a couple of you already noticed, it also includes a very brief cameo from me round about  the 40 minute mark.

Inevitably, as the last segment, our time was squeezed, and of the two or three key points I wanted to make, I actually made none. Still, as carnation has noted, I am (apparently) more Scottish than I look on the Radio.

A quick scan of the hashtags after revealed that I ruffled a few listeners’ feathers by having the audacity to offer some reasonably up to date and accurate statistics about violence against women.

On a similar note, I could only sigh and decline the argument on this rather strange response to my last blog. It left me thinking of only one thing:


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Open thread: Would you like an open thread?

The other day HetPat regular Carnation left a comment suggesting that this blog (can I presume to call you all this community?) might benefit from a weekly open thread, and whenever conversations are running too far off topic, I (or others) could politely suggest the conversation is moved there.

Personally I have no strong opinions either way. If we were to do it, I would probably be even more hands-off with the moderation than I am on regular threads – I would continue to come down hard on overt bigotry – whether misogyny, misandry, homophobia, racism, transphobia etc – but if two commentators are viciously tearing strips off each other with equal culpability, I’d be tempted to leave them to it.

What do you think?

And while we’re about it, anything else on your mind? Whether relating to this blog, my moderation policy, suggestions for future topics etc, or just anything passing across your transam that may be of interest to others?

Spill yer branez below.

A quick update on moderation policy

There’s something that I’ve had to take action on several occasions in recent weeks. It is something which I personally consider very serious and I thought I should spell it out.

I will not tolerate references to someone’s (supposed) mental health status as an ad hominem attack.

I’m particularly thinking of things like

  • References to people being on or off their meds.
  • Descriptions of people as ‘mad’ ‘nutters’ or ‘looneys’

In general, I’d ask you to think twice before using words like that at all, but in general I’m not that fussed when people describe ideas, concepts or arguments as ‘nuts’, ‘crazy’ etc, and I certainly don’t have a problem with phrases which clearly refer to ideological and political positions (eg wingnuts, whackadoodles or whatever)  - but a direct assertion of mental illness against other commenters is strictly off limits.

Why? Two reasons. The first is that there is a fair possibility that some of the people reading your comments at any given time do indeed have mental health problems and comments like those could quite reasonably make them feel excluded or alienated.

The second is that many of the people I know who have mental health issues – including some that have quite serious psychiatric diagnoses – are highly intelligent and/or educated  people with experiences, opinions and viewpoints that are vastly better thought-out and informed and vastly more intelligent than most so-called ‘sane’ people.

This type of comment is extremely stigmatising and harmful and will not be tolerated here.

You are welcome to discuss this issue below, but I’ll tell you now, this decision is final.

Please take this opportunity to let me know of any other issues you have with moderation here.

Thanks all for your co-operation.


Just dropping by

Hi there.

Just a quick fly-by to say I’m doing some contract work at the moment, generally up to my eyeballs, and haven’t had time to blog.

If any regular readers are in London, you might like to know that I’m in Hackney on Thursday night, at the near-legendary BBC Question Time Watchalong  night. I’m doing an In conversation with… type thing alongside Laurie Penny and that’s about as much as I know, other than comedian Kate Smurthwaite is also doing a turn, and there will be beer. It should be light-hearted, friendly and fun. At least if I have my way. And then after 10.30 we all shout abuse at the big telly for an hour.

A few things round and about that have caught my eye of late. Of all the deserved tributes and moving commentary around the death of Nelson Mandela, I’m one of those bitter lefties of a certain age who cannot easily forgive those who were fiercely, furiously resisting sanctions, solidarity and other forms of activism to secure Mandela’s release and bring about an end to apartheid. When I was at university, our student union Conservative group campaigned for new members with Hang Nelson Mandela posters at the freshers’ fair.  Mark Steel captures my feelings pretty well.  

On my more familiar territory, this story about a father who still cannot see his daughter despite 82 court judgments in his favour is a pretty damning indictment of the failures of our family courts to impose any authority.

Finally, for those with an interest in the cutting and occasionally downright bleeding edge of feminist theory, I’m mulling over this post on intersectionality, which makes some really interesting points. I have the luxury (or privilege) of being able to consider it purely on an intellectual basis, I have no dog in the fight, but I do think it is a really good argument.

Any thoughts on these, or anything else?

What’s caught your eye of late, my friends?

This week’s witterings at large

A couple of things building on familiar HetPat themes elsewhere this week.

On Comment is Free I mused a little on my initial reactions to Angry White Men, the new book by Michael Kimmel, which has pretty strong links to some of what I’ve been discussing in the Malestrom series. I plan to post a bit more of a full review here sometime shortly. In the meantime here’s an extract from my Guardian piece.

However if those attitudes are at least partially stoked by very real and profound economic and social changes that have left some men feeling disempowered, marginalised, maligned and neglected, is it enough to simply demand that they suck it up and deal with it? I’m not sure.

Our newly egalitarian culture has belatedly accepted (in theory if not always practice) that men do not have a monopoly on power and authority, whether financial, political or physical. The man is no longer the master of his household, but an equal partner in a domestic project.

The gender script for women has been largely torn up – a young girl has unprecedented freedom to grow into a doctor or a nurse, a soldier or a solicitor and/or a wife and mother while men, to a large extent, are stuck with a script for a role that barely exists. To be a real man, our culture still insists, is to be the protector and provider within a society that no longer guarantees to deliver that opportunity, and where male protector-providers are not entirely necessary. It is not much of a stretch to assume that this causes immense stress and psychological conflict, which is sometimes directed inward in despair and depression, sometimes outward in anger and violence.


Over at the Independent, I have expanded a little on my recent piece about Chris Brown and his child sex revelations. I was mostly prompted by the hideous tabloid cliche “sex romp” when referring to inappropriate and abusive relationships between female adults and male juveniles, but (not surprisingly) the Indie subs picked up on the sleb angle, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

The slavering, salacious tone is not unique to this story, of course. An unscientific but revealing search on Google News archives produces hundreds of returns for the phrase “Sex romp teacher” and of the first dozen different stories, eleven referred to a female teacher with a male pupil, only once were the genders reversed. As a broad rule of thumb for tabloid terminology, a male teacher has “seedy, sordid sex” with a girl, but “abuses” a boy. A female teacher has “an illicit lesbian affair” with a girl, and “sex romps” with a boy.  It goes without saying that the extent of verbal salivation in stories featuring a female offender directly correlates with her youth and conventional prettiness.

It would be tempting to dismiss this as just another manifestation of our exploitative, sexist, tabloid culture, but it speaks to a deeper and more worrying tendency for our culture to trivialise the sexual exploitation of boys by women. Relationships between teachers and young adults happen within the hazy boundaries of consent and coercion. They may not always be experienced as exploitative or traumatising for the juvenile, but they are rightly forbidden by both teachers’ ethics and the law – such relationships are always an abuse of position, an abuse of trust and have enormous potential to be psychologically harmful. That is true irrespective of the genders involved. And yet with a female perpetrator and male victim, they are described with the playful, jokey word “romp” – a journalistic cliché normally reserved for gossipy intrusions into the lives of adulterous footballers and strippers.

I’d be intrigued by your responses to either or both of the above, or feel free to use this as your weekend open thread, to chip in on whatever else has caught your attention lately.