Wolf-whistling and over-reactions

Irony is a hard concept to define but easy to recognise. The other day a woman contacted a police station in Worcester to report that she had been repeatedly and persistently sexually harassed by construction workers on a site in Worcester. Police heard her complaint, went and had a word with the company concerned and decided no further action was necessary.

This morning this story is splashed on the front page of the Daily Mail, and is reported at length in the Express, the Telegraph, the Mirror, the Metro and several international news sites, and as I write, it is being discussed on the phone-in show on the BBC’s talk station, 5Live. All these media outlets want to know the same thing… who has over-reacted? Was it the police? Should they have simply told her to piss off and stop wasting their time? Or was it the woman who made the complaint? Should she have grown a thicker skin or accepted the harassment as a compliment.

The answer, my dear friends and colleagues in the media, is that the only people who have over-reacted are YOU, you pustulating cluster of pillow-brained wazzocks, YOU have over-reacted, no one else. Irony. [Read more…]

Protein World and the pollution of the commons

Unless you have been living under a rock these past few days (or haven’t logged on to Twitter, which amounts to much the same) you have probably caught passing breezes from an almighty flap about the London Underground billboard advertising campaign for Protein World.

Featuring the improbably slender physique of Australian model Renee Somerfield next to the slogan “ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?” these posters inspired an online petition demanding their removal and an associated social media tempest. Things really got lively, however, when the company declined to follow the usual corporate PR social media strategy (issue a half-arsed apology for “any offence caused” then batten down the hatches) and instead standing their ground and launching gleefully into a full-blown flame-war with their critics – apparently handled personally by their CEO and marketing director. [Read more…]

When offence is not an emotion, but a currency

There might just be one reason to be grateful to Katie Hopkins. With her column and comments about drowned refugees and her genocidal reduction of migrant people to cockroaches, she reminded me (and I’d guess a few others) how it feels to be properly offended. You know, that moment when you read or hear something so horrible that your solar plexus cramps up, you exhale a sudden whoa and your body seems to drop a degree in temperature?

Offence in that sense is a very real, human emotion. It seems to me that much of the time when we discuss issues of offence, it is not that kind of emotional pain that we are talking about. It is a more abstract, theoretical sense that someone has transgressed some fairly arbitrary line of acceptability. And most of the time, it seems to me, offence isn’t an emotion so much as a currency, traded for various advantages in ideological, political or economic power struggles. [Read more…]

This week’s warblings

Just a quick fly-by to keep you interested amid solemn memorial of how the Easter Bunny died to bring us chocolate…. Your thoughts and feedback would be welcomed as ever.

On the Guardian this week I was writing about men and fertility.

It is well established that roughly equal numbers of men and women have fertility problems, and yet in the US there are five doctors specialising in female infertility for every one specialising in men. At a societal and cultural level, we have always considered reproduction and fertility to be women’s business, and infertility to be women’s problem. This is reflected in the medical and pharmaceutical industries. While IVF is notoriously expensive, unreliable and exceptionally invasive for women, alternative drug treatments are again almost exclusively offered to the female partner, if at all.

One shocking example of why this might be is explained by Barnes. In the 1960s, the drug clomifene citrate was developed and licensed to boost ovulation in women. When it became clear that the drug might also be effective in treating some forms of male infertility, researchers applied to conduct clinical trials. The drug company, unconvinced there was any market for male fertility treatments, refused. Now the drug is out of patent and there is no profit to be made in developing the treatment. Fifty years on, clomifene citrate remains unlicensed by the US Food and Drug Administration for use with male fertility and unauthorised by Nice for men in the UK.

I find it interesting and quite depressing how hostile the typical male internet commenter is to concerns about male fertility, as witnessed in the comments. There’s a failure to acknowledge that this is a really common (and neglected) men’s health issue which causes enormous amount of stress, unhappiness and relationship difficulties to many men (and women, of course) and yet the default reaction is “ugh, babies, families, horrible things that get in the way of my video games.”

It is also interesting, I think, that people who every other day are wailing about how the local or global population is being taken over by Chinese/ Pakistanis / Muslims / Africans suddenly start declaring that a collapsing birth rate in the Western world is no problem, because the rest of the world is breeding enough to make up for us.

Also this week, I wrote a thing for IB Times about men, boys and sex work,  including stuff about abuse and trafficking, off the back of the Student Sex Work Project’s findings that more male than female students have worked in the industry.

It may well be that you are now thinking it crass to focus on the gender of abused children, as if one gender mattered more. I wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, too often this is exactly what happens.

As ECPAT noted in a recent report, the United Nations 2001 protocol on sex trafficking specified that there were particular focus on “women and children” and that in practice, international initiatives with ‘children’ almost invariably means ‘girls.’ To quote ECPAT: “many of the programmes initiated since 2001 that focus on adolescents trafficked for sexual purposes have assumed that the focus should be on girls.

“It seems that not enough effort has been made to collect data about boys who receive money for commercial sex after moving away from home to establish whether they have been trafficked or what measures would help protect them.”

Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Let’s Have an It’s Not-Even-Friday Open Thread

Had planned to put make a new place for you to play last night but got distracted by football and beer. So have a Saturday open thread instead.

It seems to have been several millennia since I last invited you to rant and ramble without frontiers. I’ve lost track of all the fascinating nuggets that have slipped past unremarked, but this week alone I have mostly been laughing like a drain, firstly at the hilarious bit of trolling published by the Independent yesterday and secondly at all the po-faced dudes being affronted and outraged about it all over the Internet. I’m reliably informed it was commissioned and posted by a departing staff editor on his last afternoon before leaving, which I think brings everything into sharp focus.

Now spill yer branez below folks, and remember, no cultural appropriation and jazz hands only please.


UPDATE: The Independent appears to have deleted the article above. At present there is not even a statement, it has simply vanished. Praise be to the Wayback Machine!

Is femicide a leading global cause of premature deaths for women?

There is much in Neil Lyndon’s latest missive that is ill-informed, ignorant or downright ugly.

Under ill-informed, file his claim that since 2.5% of women experienced some form of sexual assault in the past year, according to Crime Survey of England and Wales, it cannot be true that one in three women worldwide is subject to sexual violence. Not only does this fail to allow for the fact that women’s experiences in this country may be far, far from typical of the global picture, it is simply bad maths. If you doubt me, imagine a hundred women evenly spread in ages between 16 – 66. Ask them how many of them had a 16th birthday in the last year? Then ask them how many have ever had a 16th birthday? Only 2% will answer yes to the first question, but 100% to the second.  Since sexual violence happens vastly disproportionately to younger victims, you should easily see how that analogy works.

Under ignorant, file the anecdata about how he has asked all the women in his life and none of them have been sexually assaulted. I very much hope that is true, but Neil, purrlease. We know that a huge proportion of sexual assault survivors tell virtually (or literally) nobody about the attack, and from what I know of him through his writing, I’d suggest that Neil Lyndon might not be top of any woman’s list of potential confidantes. As if to demonstrate the point:

I am nearly 70 years old. In the whole of my life, I have only known two women who claimed to have been raped. Both of them were disbelieved by their own women friends who reckoned the soi-disant victims were making up stories that couldn’t be verified to dramatise their lives.

As I say, ugly. Downright ugly.

That said, there is a question he raises which deserves an answer.

Last month a report in The Independent claimed that “Femicide has been identified globally as a leading a cause of premature death for women” and called for “increasing awareness and understanding of male violence”.

In neither instance does the writer stop to ask, “Can these claims possibly be true? Are these figures backed-up by my own experience and the evidence of my own eyes? Do they tally with the society in which I have grown up and now live? Are they verified by objective research?”

In fact there is an answer available to that question, and in broad terms no, it is not true.

There is a degree of wriggle room in the original claim – what do we mean by “leading cause”? What do we mean by “premature death” etc. However there is something approaching objective research on this question. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research centre at the University of Washington, collates the best available global data on causes of mortality and morbidity worldwide. You can search the Global Burden of Disease data here. If we use an age cut off at 49 as a proxy for ‘premature death’ then the table for women’s cause of death looks like this: [click to enlarge]


Now a little bit of caution is needed here, because the categories are not discrete, some are compounds of others. Most notably there is one category for interpersonal violence, another for self-harm (ie suicide) and another for “self-harm and interpersonal violence” however the last of those is merely a tally of the other two. There are also a variety of overlapping causes (particularly several different HIV/Aids related categories). Even tidied up a bit though, it would be a stretch to claim that interpersonal violence was even in the top 25 causes of younger women’s deaths worldwide.

As we often hear phrases used like “ever-growing epidemic of violence against women” it is probably also worth pointing out that the data show a steady but consistent decline over the past twenty years, for both women and men.


If instead of asking for mortality figures one searches the data for ‘Disability-adjusted life years’ (the preferred measure of morbidity) interpersonal violence does not even figure in the top 50 for women aged 15- 49. I couldn’t even fit the table readably on a single screen to get an image grab.

There have been various bits of research conducted over the years which show much higher rates of death and morbidity caused by various forms of violence against women, even if when examined, they often show far less conclusive (and less arresting) findings than campaigners claim.  It is also important to understand that these are raw figures which could be riven with pollutants, inaccuracies and absent data. For example, there could be a huge number of suicides which arise as a direct consequence of gender-based violence but which do not present as such in the figures. In parts of the world where domestic violence and so-called honour crimes are commonplace there may be huge numbers of homicides being categorised as “accidental deaths” or whatever.

Nonetheless, the IHME data is considered the best available guide to causes of global mortality and morbidity, and even if we were to arbitrarily decide to double the known  figure for women’s deaths by interpersonal violence, it still wouldn’t be accurate to say that femicide is one of the leading causes of women’s premature deaths worldwide.


Calling bullshit on the safe spaces panic

A confession. When I read that a student at Brown University had responded to a debate about rape culture on campus by establishing a literal safe-space with “cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies”, I laughed, heartily, like the callous old monster I am. Even with my stern and serious head on, the idea that survivors of sexual assault should be patronised and treated like toddlers is profoundly wrong-headed and actively harmful.

The details emerged in a piece by Judith Shulevitz in the New York Times this weekend, which railed against the supposed creep of “safe-space” culture on campuses and the supposed chilling effect it is having on free speech.

I read a lot about this phenomenon. I read about it in the New York Times, in the Washington Post, in Reason, in the Guardian, in Spiked, in the New Statesman, in THES etc etc etc. Without exception, the pieces condemn student radicals for hiding from ideas, for curtailing free speech and for being anti-intellectual. The authors are almost invariably older journalists, authors and academics, at the tops of their professions. [Read more…]

So why was anonymity for rape defendants scrapped in 1988?

With the debate around anonymity for rape defendants resurfacing yet again, it is worth remembering that the UK had a long experiment with the policy not so long ago. When anonymity for alleged rape victims was introduced in 1976, it was accompanied by anonymity for defendants. The policy stayed in place until 1988 when the laws changed, strengthening anonymity for complainants and abolishing it for defendants. [Read more…]

Tim Lott and the myth of the poor, silenced literati

Like Tim Lott, I am a “transgressive lefty.” Indeed it would appear that we agree on a fair few transgressive points – I too question how religious beliefs are privileged and protected and how cultures associated with those beliefs can be afforded license to oppress and abuse the vulnerable. I have more than a few issues with aspects of feminist theory and I am more than happy to take an occasional swing at an ideological sacred cow. By and large I believe the best way to challenge ugly opinions is to give them air and shoot them down rather than suppress and repress them.

Believe me, I know what it is like to write something that offends or upsets a section of the left, to wake up to a hundred notifications on Twitter, 99 of which are people calling me rude names or to an email inbox peppered with invitations to die in a fire. Just last week someone (thanks mate, you know who you are!) sent me a link to a six-page long Mumsnet thread entirely consisting of radical feminists debating who was officially The Worst between me and Owen Jones (pretty sure I came out top – in your face, OJ.) [Read more…]

The zombie stat that sucks the brains from development programmes

Note: I wrote this back in 2012 on my old blog. I thought the stat had quietly died the death, but this year it reappeared more prominently than ever, circulating widely on memes on social media, and even used by Annie Lennox in her Guardian piece. There’s a good Washington Post take on it here, but here is my interpretation.  

I bang on about this, partly just because it really annoys me when people unashamedly share demonstrably false statistics in any context, but this particular one is outrageous due to the manner in which it shamelessly ignores and denies the staggering inequality between the world’s rich – including rich women – and the rest of the planet. 


In 1984 a poultry farmer called Sun Guiying became the first Chinese peasant to buy her own car. I still recall the government-authorised photos of her, standing with her family in front of their shiny Toyota. Now we can look back on her beaming smile as a watershed in global economic history. Recently Forbes reported that Chinese women are queuing up to buy luxury sports cars. A third of China’s millionaires are women, and there are now three times as many Maseratis and twice as many Ferraris sold in that country as in the west. Hold that thought. [Read more…]