Monthly Archives: October 2013

Taking the Children to Work (Women’s Voice, 1980)

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Harriet Sherwood talks to Lorraine Huddle

STATE NURSERIES are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. The inadequate provision which existed this time a year ago has been decimated as part of the Government’s cuts in public spending.

Most unions have negotiated maternity rights in the last five years. These vary considerably, but allow mothers the right to return to their jobs having had a child-although the Tory Employment Bill plans to change that in some workplaces. This right is useless unless some kind of childcare for the under fives is provided.

Inadequate state provision has led some unions to negotiate for workplace nurseries. Criticism of this kind of childcare is strong-from both trade unionists and employers. Trade unionists have argued that it is the state’s responsibility to provide nurseries, and that workplace nurseries tie parents to jobs. Employers have also said that it is the state’s job to provide childcare, but for a different reason: they don’t want the respon- sibility, financial or otherwise. But for many working mothers, or would-be mothers, the chance of a workplace nursery is the only chance they have.

In 1975 (the latest available figures) there were 90 workplace nurseries, “providing places for 2,571 children-less than one in a hundred of under-fives.

Kingsway Children’s Centre has been open for two and a half years, although negotiations lasted for’ two years before that. The idea was to set up a workplace nursery for the children of trade union workers in the area. although now NALGO is the only trade union employer involved.

Lorraine Huddle, whose two year old daughter is at the nursery, was involved in the negotiations. ‘l can’t say we needed to fight very hard for the nursery’, she says. ‘The employers were very shrewd-they didn’t want to lose their professional women workers who had decided to have children.

‘Lots of women wanted to have children but even though the Employment Protection Act was in force they couldn’t return to work because there were no child care facilities.’

Estimating demand was a problem. lt’s easy enough to find how many mothers would prefer a workplace nursery to their present arrangements, and how many women are planning to have children in the foreseeable future; but it is impossible to estimate how many mothers do not work because of the lack of facilities.

Kingsway Children’s Centre provides 30 places, and about a third of those are reserved for ‘babies’ (children under two years old). It is run by a committee of staff and parent representatives and is financed partly by the employers, who pay two thirds of the total running costs, and the parents. The fees work :nut to £65 a month for employees, which, as Lorraine points out, is fairly prohibitive for low paid workers.

The nursery is called a children’s centre because it combines day care with education. ‘Most parents agree that their children have learnt skills such as talking and co-ordination at a very early age,’ says Lorraine. ‘The nursery stresses ‘non-sexist education and provides a stimulating environment.’

But the Kingsway nursery is not without problems. A recent blow was the closing of Covent Garden Community Gardens, which was the only decent piece of greenery in that part of London. An office block is being built in its place.

One of the disadvantages of a workplace nursery is the travelling involved. Bringing a two year old into central London in the rush hour can’t be much fun, and Lorraine thinks this is one reason why the demand for places at the Kingsway nursery isn’t as high as expected.

‘Quite honestly l’d rather have my child in a state nursery’, says Lorraine.

‘But l can’t see much possibility of that now. The Tories are bent on chopping nurseries along with hospitals, jobs, housing – the list is endless. You can’t isolate nurseries; fighting for them goes hand in hand with fighting for all the other things we need, and fighting against the whole crazy system by which our society is run.’

The first hurdle, in some workplaces, will be persuading the union to campaign for a nursery at all. The notion that it is ‘outside the union’s scope of work’ is fairly common in some of the traditionally male dominated trade unions. The issue of childcare may need a lot of lobbying from women within the union before negotiations even begin with the employers.

Trying to assess demand can be a problem. lf you use a questionnaire you have to remember that the need for a nursery may also extend to men. It’s impossible to discover what the future demand will be, in terms of mothers who cannot work now because there is no-one to look after the children. But in 1972 37.2 per cent of women who couldn’t work said they would return to work if child care facilities were available.

Most successfully negotiated workplace nurseries are in buildings or rooms which have at one time been nurseries-so it is worth looking out for an empty one.

Many employers are reluctant to take on sole responsibility for providing a nursery, and often the demand is not high enough in one workplace to justify it.

The answer to this is to find out if other unions/workplaces in your area are interested in participating in a scheme.

If the employers agree to setting up a nursery it is important that the union is involved in the organisation and, later. the general administration of the nursery. For example the union should help decide the initial pay of the nursery workers.

If a workplace nursery is not possible because of a scattered workforce, or a suitable location can’t be found, then consider pressing for a nursery/childminder subsidy from the employer.

Most important. a nursery campaign shouldn’t be isolated from a general campaign for better opportunities for women.

Women’s Voice 41, May 1980

 

Slender sexpots or bulging beauties? (Women’s Voice, 1974)

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SLIMMING FIRMS love fat people. It sounds stupid till you think about it. They also love thin people who think they are fat. The reason is that fat people can be made to worry. And worried people can be persuaded to buy. Every year the slimming industry turns over £50 million in Britain alone. If you’ve read the adverts, you’ll know the extravagant claims they make, but you may not know that many have long ago been exposed as a complete fraud. You many have read the Food Standards’ report that proved ‘slimming’ bread is no less fattening than ordinary bread, it only costs more.

Most notorious are the ‘sweat-it-off’ brand products, including Stephanie Bowman garments and those ridiculous ‘Trimjeans’ – inflatable plastic Bermuda shorts, in which you have to perform some strenuous exercises. (But you can also wear them about your garden and home, and kill off your family).

It has been proved that doing the same exercises has the same effect, with or without ‘Trimjeans’. If you really work at it, you temporarily lose a very little weight. What Trimjeans claim is to lose you lots of inches. It’s a clever con-trick. You may lose them from one part of your body, but if you look a little further you’ll find they’ve just moved on to cling somewhere else. What you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts, so to speak.

The only way to slim is to eat less over a long period of time. It is dangerous to cut out one particular kind of food, even carbohydrates. Crash diets are useless. If you become able to lose weight very quickly, then you also become able to put on weight very quickly. Your weight becomes volatile. And that’s what keeps the slimming firms ticking over. But there’s something worse than fraudulent adverts and over-priced sweat garments. Some slimming products can do serious damage to your health, and slimming can kill you.

Many slimming aids come in the form of pills. These are made of all kinds of glucose, drugs and laxatives. Taking any of them for a period longer than three months can be dangerous, yet there are no warnings, and the pills are sold freely over the counter, often to very young girls. Some of the pills are amphetimines, which act on your central nervous system. Some are barbiturates. You should avoid both at all costs, because they are addictive.

Some of the pills are anorectic, which means they act to depress your appetite, and this can affect your blood pressure. Many appetite depressants and meal substitute biscuits are made up of methyl cellutose, which swells up inside you to make you feel full, and also possibly sick and dizzy. The swelling methyl cellulose can irritate the walls of your stomach. There is some debate as to whether it can cause cancer. Other pills activate your thyroid gland, to speed up your body functions in the hope that you will burn up fat. You are more likely to burn up your system and your nerves.

Laxatives

As for laxative, you can see the crude logic involved. Presumably the food is meant to shoot through you before it can turn to fat. Prolonged use of laxative is very harmful, and there is no proof to show that they have any long-term slimming effect.

All these products come under fancy trade names. The women who take them may also be under medication from their doctors for some illness, and the different pills could act on one another. Or they may be taking pills over a long period without ever knowing what is in them, or what harm they can do.

One of the spin-offs of the slimming business is a disease called ‘anorexia-nervosa’. This particularly effects young girls, who become obsessed with losing weight to such an extent that they enter a nervous sate where they just cannot eat. A typical victim of this disease was a school girl who lost a pound a day till she was under five stones, and then she died. The disease was not unknown before the cult of slimming, but it has increased rapidly in the last few years. At the very least, it causes extreme disorientation of your mind and body, and you are liable to end up in hospital.

The slimming bosses don’t concern themselves with such problems so long as the money keeps rolling in. No one asks you when you buy these pills whether you are epileptic, whether you are already taking tranquilisers or other pills, or if you really know  what you are buying.

Weight watchers

One branch of the industry might be called its psychological war-far wing. Slimming clubs. Weight Watches, a secretive organisation more like a Masonic league, founded by Professor W. H. Sebrall Junior, and introduced to Britain in 1967. You pay about £1 a session and 30,000 people have coughed up so far. Then Silhouette Club, with 34,000 members; and Weight Checkers International, launched in ‘Woman’ magazine, with 35,000 members. The Slimming magazine club, linked with the Daily Mirror Sliming club claims 12,600 members.

At the end of the list come all the small operations through the country with their own diet sheets and individual methods of public shame. One club in Great Yarmouth, for instance, publishes a list of all the members who have put on weight each week in the local newsagents window. Often the big firms run on a franchise system. The person who pays to use the name and run the club also pockets the fines imposed on over-fat members.

But then, if you’re very rich, you certainly won’t want to take such a tedious road to the body beautiful. Women’s Voice readers may not believe this, but you can now buy private cosmetic surgery where you have parts of your superfluous body fact actually carved off. The operation takes four hours or more, and it leaves major scars, but they try to make it so the scars come under your bikini. If you’ve still got a few hundred pounds to spare after that, you can have a tube put inside you which by-passes the small intestine. It’s called a jejuno-colic shunt, and it shunts the food you can’t stop eating right out of you again. And did you know, in America some rich women are even having tape worms inserted into them, to keep them thin. Enough said!!

Obscene

The biggest obscenity imaginable is that all this takes place in a world where masses of people are starving – some of them in the so-called affluent societies of the West. In Britain we are now down to our 1953 eating standards because of the fantastic rise in food prices. On a world scale, hunger and malnutrition are a gigantic problem. It could be solved. All the wasted technology that goes into making multi-flavoured slimming products could be set to work to solve it. If the people of Bangladesh had had enough money to shore up their river banks there wouldn’t be flood and famine and cholera there now.

If you had control of the food industry, would you persuade everyone  in Britain to eat 120lb of harmful white sugar a yar, and then con them into buying slimming products too? Or would you try to make sure that everyone had a decent nutritious diet? We’ll never have the chance to make that decision till we squeeze Mr Cube and his mates out of existence. Till we stop worrying about our own fat, and start planning to take back the fat profit that swells and bulges in the coffers of our rulers.

Women’s Voice, paper series, 12 (1974?)

Sixteen rape myths

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By Bolshie Elane

It is an uncomfortable fact that sexual harassment and violence take place within trade unions, the Labour Party and within left parties. In a depressing catalogue in recent years Labour counsellors have been jailed for rape; an employment tribunal for sexual harassment was taken against the general secretary of NAPO and accusations made against the deputy general secretary of the RMT and the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party has been accused of covering up sexual harassment, assault and rape by leading members.

The rape & sexual harassment allegations in the SWP centred on how allegations against a member of the Central Committee were dealt with. The arguments have been bitter because everyone who joins the SWP is determined to make a world without exploitation and oppression and all sides in the dispute want to see women’s liberation. I left the SWP because of this in the autumn of 2010. I could not reconcile the socialist politics I learned in the SWP, with what was happening around me in response to the CC being made aware that a young woman was distraught that sexual harassment she had first asked for help to stop in 2009 had begun again.

Since that day I have been trying to understand what has gone wrong and why such good socialists should turn out to be such difficult human beings devoid of solidarity or understanding, who could slander the complaints (yes there are more than one) with such callous disregard or who could simply say, “I am not interested in that stuff—the important thing is to fight this government who are wrecking women’s lives”[1].

I don’t think that this began as a conspiracy of cover-up in the SWP –although I feel that there is one now that the issue is doing ongoing damage and other stories are beginning to emerge. I certainly do not think that ”Leninism-leads-to-rape” as many to the right of the SWP  like to portray-although the apologists have done their best to prove me wrong on that by arguing this is about Leninism and not rape and sexual harassment.

The issue is truly that my comrades are not able to recognise sexual harassment hiding in plain sight because they accept some rape myths. They therefore handle the cases badly and in answer to criticism claim that trying to stop problems of oppressive behaviour between comrades is an attack on Leninism or a political deviation. In doing so, they unwittingly peddle rape myths.

A rape myth is an inaccurate belief about rape. Widespread acceptance of rape myths is connected to the very low level of convictions for rape by influencing the low level of reporting by women, the way police &  courts respond and how cases are judged by jurors[2]. There are several types of rape myths that feed into the big myth that women often make false reports. Categories of myths include those relating to why rapists rape; relating to what a someone who is raped wears/acts like; relating to when a rape is reported; related to how someone who has been raped acts/appears in the aftermath and more.

It seems from the literature that people often subscribe to different kinds of myth. We should keep that in mind for trying to understand why sections of the working class movement as a whole, or individuals within it, can rightly and angrily rail against some rape myths and then fall for others—even to the extent of giving a man accused by a young woman a foot stomping standing ovation when he trots out cliché after cliché about the accusations that angry women make after consensual relations go wrong.

Unsurprisingly, research shows that those who hold prejudicial views towards women, other races, gay people etc are especially prone to believing rape myths[3].  That rape mythology should be prevalent amongst bigots fits with our understanding of the world. But being on the left does not make us immune to rape myths and interestingly, the research also finds that older people are more likely to accept myths about rape than younger people[4]

It is my firm conviction, knowing so many of the SWP members who so brutally messed up the W case and it seems at least one more complaint since, would never consciously trample the rights or well-being of women into the dust in the way that they have done. But the ignorance on the issue of rape is harmful. Nothing at all that is helpful to the cause of women’s liberation or socialism has resulted from the three years of horrible rows within the SWP, the trade union cases or that in the Socialist Party. Who has learned anything about how to challenge within ourselves the bits of dominant sexist ideas about sex and sexuality that we have internalised?

In trying to debunk the rape myths, I am concentrating on what I know. My writing this in no way suggests that I think the SWP is worse than other organisations, it is just that I don’t have knowledge of what went on in response to the charges against people in other parties or at the top of unions.

The SWP was my organisation for 30 years and I am proud of the politics of solidarity and resistance I learned in it.  My belief is that a small band of friends of the accused have systematically spread rape myths—each one that I address is one I have heard personally since 2010.

MYTH ONE: Sexual history with the accused or others is in some way relevant

The myth that these things have anything at all to do with a rape is widespread and pernicious—having a vile history of being raised to abuse women in the courts and create the idea that a woman’s relationship history is in some way connected to the defence case. Believing this myth has an effect on coming to a verdict of who is believed among the general public[5].

The truth: sexual history is no indicator of anything. Having had sex a hundred times before with someone is not permission for sex at any time you don’t want to. Starting foreplay is not an excuse for rape. Since most accusations of rape come down to the question of whose word is believed as there is most often no physical proof or confession.  Research shows that in making that decision, jurors, rely on their general assumptions about situations.  That the panel asked any questions at all of W shows a lack of understanding of what issues are relevant to investigating the actual incident of rape.

The danger: bias is an unconscious process. Revolutionary socialists committed to women’s liberation don’t live in the future but in this world of alienation and oppression and are weighed down by the “muck of ages”. The panel investigating the W case were sure that they were not biased. However, that the panel were thinking about previous behaviours and relationships in relation to assessing the reliability of W as a witness indicates some bias towards rape myths.

MYTH TWO: She didn’t complain at the time…

One of the commonest rape myths is that a failure to complain at the time means there is something dodgy about the complaint. “She changed her mind afterwards” is a widespread myth related to the sometimes years long gap before a complaint is made of rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment.

I have lost count of the times that “But why now? Why didn’t she say anything at the time?” was thrown at me when I spoke privately to longstanding members about the W case in 2010. The question was often anguished but always rhetorical and answered immediately by the questioner themselves. Occasionally, very angry people would answer by saying “she was angry with him for ending the relationship” but most often the question was followed by speculation that demoralisation about politics was in some way related and had caused a political confusion about sexism and sexual harassment.

Very senior SWP women on a number of occasions told me that the reason why I was speaking of my own very disturbing experience of sexual harassment at the  time in 2010 that I found out about W was that I was feeling demoralised because I was being victimised at work for my militant trade union activities.  In the case of X (the young woman who gave evidence of being sexually harassed herself to support the claims of W) the argument went that late reporting was a clear sign of making a malicious allegation and this was evidenced in the minds of those repeating the myth because she was seen as being in no way vulnerable and therefore would have spoken up at the time.

The Truth:  Most sexual harassment and rape are never reported.  In rapes that are reported many are reported long after the event-and for a variety of reasons. Women often believe rape myths and are influenced by them and confused about what they feel; they may be in shock for some time or they may decide to come forward when others do.

The length of a gap before reporting rape or SH is not related to whether or not it is true. This is why section 120(7)(d) Criminal Justice Act which had required reporting sexual violence, “as soon as could reasonably be expected after the alleged conduct” was abolished in 2003 after a struggle by anti-rape campaigners to debunk the myth oft cited by defendants. I reported being sexually harassed at the time it happened. Nothing was done and I , having internalised myths myself, was made to feel stupid, I never spoke about it again until in 2010 when I realised what happened to me was not an isolated incident. But I did spend nearly 30 years being on edge whenever I saw the harasser.

The damage: every person who felt that delay in bringing the complaint was an issue in the W and X cases was prejudiced towards dismissing the claims of the young women and unable to properly consider the issues involved.

MYTH THREE: “but they were having an affair”

The phrase, “it was an affair gone wrong,” has echoed in my ears for three long years in regard to the W case.  The myth that prior consent in some way negates the assault or lessens the damage is of course what Socialist Worker along with the rest of the left, rightly took George Galloway to task for. However, people I have always respected have repeated this to me earnestly as an explanation for why there was no assault, sometimes adding the opinion that this was an unhappy vengeful young woman.

One person even explained to me carefully that, “it often happens that one of the people in a relationship don’t feel like having sex but decides they will because their partner really really wants to… I understand that is what happened in this case and then she later felt bad that she had given in and said yes.”   This is a version of the rape is just sex in the wrong time/wrong place myth.

The truth:  Having an affair is irrelevant. Prior consent is not consent at the time.  Most rapes take place within a relationship of some kind. Studies vary but date rape is sometimes put as high as 57%. Many rapes take place in marriage and we, the women’s movement and left, fought long and hard make that a crime.

Making someone have sex that didn’t want to have sex is rape-whether violence or not force is used, which it often is in subtle ways as it happens[6].  Research shows that verbal and physical clues are often expected by men especially where sex has previously taken place between them while the young women themselves think a verbal no is sufficient to be understood[7].

The damage of this myth: every person who accepted that the prior relationship had some relevance to the complaint of rape was prejudiced against the complainant and unable to judge properly if it had been properly handled

MYTH FOUR: “but she is in the opposition and is just making mischief

This has been said about X on many occasions to me directly and to others who have reported it to me.  Recent research argues that prejudice about women based on their behaviour, attitudes, dress etc is extremely harmful and biases juries[8].  It appears that for some in the SWP the same is true of political positions.

The truth: it wouldn’t make any difference if X were a Tory. Sexual harassment is wrong.

The damage: treating women members as sex objects hampers the development of the party, puts women off being members, brings the party into disrepute and amounts to wallowing around in the muck of ages crying moralist at anyone who complains.

MYTH FIVE: “Some women make it up”

That large numbers of women make up allegations is a common myth. A recent study found that 40.2% of the 3,210 participants thought accusations of rape were often false.  That W and X both made up complaints and put false accusations is something I have heard over and again. I have had people openly tell me, “I know nothing serious happened”; “some women do make it up you know” and “she had reasons to want to attack him”.

The truth: the highest estimates of false reports are 8%, but the generally accepted figure is that false reports are around the same as for other offences i.e. 4%. A recent report by the Crown Prosecution Service says that it could be as low as 1%[9]-significantly lower than other offences.  There is no reason to believe that the young women reporting sexual harassment (X) or rape (W) are lying. In the case of W she made no allegations to take revenge—she initially in 2010 simply disappeared from spaces where the man she later accused might be and became very upset, leading other women to approach the CC in concern when they found out why. The man accused admitted continuing to send texts when it was made clear she didn’t want contact. There can be no justification for claiming W was acting in revenge, or lying.

The damage:  Responding to a complaint of rape by saying, “some women make it up” makes clear that there bias against the complainant—and therefore bias towards the word of the man. This bias is illogical since in at least 92% of cases, and maybe in 99%, the report is not false.  The belief that false reporting of rape takes place is dangerous. Estimates are that about 85% of rapes go unreported Fear of being disbelieved is the reason most commonly given for the vast underreporting.

MYTH SIX: One woman’s rape is another’s  bad night/it’s a matter of interpretation

Myths about rape are held by women as much as men. A recent survey showed that 1 in 3 women believed that there are varying degrees of rape[10]  and that if a woman hadn’t clearly said no, then it was not rape.

The finding of the SWP disputes committee that the complainant was sincere, i.e. it is not doubted that she was genuinely unhappy with the sexual acts that took place but the accused had not done anything wrong appears to be based on the rape myths about reinterpretation/misinterpretation of experience. That the complaint was an issue of reinterpretation or of over sensitivity is absolutely widespread among those in the SWP “loyalist” camp. The idea of exaggeration and reinterpretation of events was also a theme in the Socialist Party case and in the NAPO case. I was shocked recently to be told, “You know that saying, ‘one woman’s rape is another’s bad night?’ well that is true. It is about how you deal with events”.

Again there is a special version of the myth in which reinterpretation is located in political deviation and weakness. Several women have told me that it is a political choice how to interpret these “messy” situations and arguing that women don’t always make it clear or “give in” and then wish they had not. I have even been told, “She (W) was taught to view it through feminist eyes and now feels used” or some such on several occasions.  I have even heard it said that I was the person who taught her to misinterpret her experience and change her mind about it[11].

The truth:  that saying about a bad night is from Katie Rophie who argued in the mid 1990s that women were making too much fuss about date rape on US campuses especially. She pointed to the way in which different tags were given to the same sorts of experience of having sex when they didn’t want to. Some women understood what happened to them to be rape and others just put it down to (bad) experience. Rophie could find no significant difference in the experiences and argued that women needed to be stronger. At the time the SWP said this was an oppressive idea.

It is important that when it comes to one person’s word against another’s, especially when dealing with teenage women, there is evidence that particularly in the case of young women that a no is not taken seriously unless both verbal and physical signals are strongly given while the men don’t hear/see/understand the no clearly given[12]

Sex with someone who doesn’t want to—where you are aware they don’t want to, or don’t care if they want to or not, or don’t bother to listen to them/take note of the obvious physical pulling away etc–is rape.

How a woman responds to that is about her personal experiences of life, her unconscious defence mechanisms and many other individual factors. It can be affected by her understanding of various rape myths and self blame etc[13].  The myriad of different responses to rape and coping with it do not change the fact sex without consent is rape.

The damage: peddling such myths does real damage to the personal wellbeing of victims and makes it more likely that perpetrators will feel safe to abuse while women will feel unsafe to report. It makes many angry as what appears to be being said is that W is not able to know her own mind and is unable to judge if she gave consent or not.

MYTH SEVEN: “There are two sides to the story”,  

I have often been told, “There are two sides to this. I can’t chose one” and “You weren’t in the bedroom so why are you taking her side” by people arguing that the man accused did nothing wrong.

Indeed there are two sides. The accused in the W and X cases was given a super long contribution in the discussion about his remaining on the CC in January 2011 following the initial allegation of sexual harassment.  Speakers were called to talk about what a good comrade he was[14].  Leading women such as Julie Waterson[15] and Shelia McGreggor spoke of how everyone was alienated and had skeletons in their cupboards. A standing ovation followed.  After her complaint of rape was finally made and she felt able to do it, W asked to speak to the conference where the handling of the complaint was discussed last year. She was refused that right.

The truth: statistically there is at least a 92% chance that the woman complaining is telling the truth. To argue there are two sides to the story and that therefore the man must remain a member of a socialist organisation in good standing, is to pick a side as no sane person would argue that someone in a position of power they thought had engaged in an oppressive & violent behaviour towards a rank and file member should remain in good standing.  After the evidence in the second case was given in, the man left the SWP without responding to the charges. There was at least a 92% chance of him being guilty on that occasion too.

MYTH EIGHT: Drink and drugs were/might have been involved

The women making complaints were asked about drink and drugs in ways they felt prejudicial[16].  The rape myth goes, “she was drunk/had taken drugs. She didn’t mind at the time-but changed her mind when she sobered up”.  It is a commonly held myth used to attack women and in particular to give credibility to the accused claiming that they assumed consent[17].  Socialist worker supporters rightly reacted with fury in 1982 when a judge told a young woman who had been raped that she was guilty of “contributory negligence”-now young women feel they are accused of the same.

The truth:  having sex with someone who is so incapacitated they cannot consent is a crime.  Having sex with someone unable to articulate resistance who does not want to have sex—is a crime. These are not crimes because the bourgeois state wanted them to be. The women’s movement, backed by the left, fought to smash that myth.  It is shocking to most people on the left that these questions are even asked in any context other than to enquire if the accused had deliberately tried to get the complainant too incapacitated to resist.

The damage: if the disputes committee did not make themselves aware of all the possible issues of unconscious bias prior to hearing the cases involving their friend and/or close working companion, they cannot rule out that the powerful effects of the myths around alcohol consumption were not at play. That they asked the questions indicates that in fact it was to some extent.

Some special myths circulating in the SWP:

MYTH NINE: “I don’t listen to gossip”

This appears to be ‘the line’. I have heard it repeatedly for several years.  The idea that accusations of rape and sexual harassment are gossip is a myth.  The truth is that they are accusations that socialists should listen to and respond to, with solidarity and care.  To proclaim complaints of rape and sexual harassment as gossip shows a frightening ignorance of rape and the damage it does and a callous disregard for the rights of young women to equality and respect.

MYTH TEN: “I don’t listen to gossip because I trust the disputes committee who investigated”

There is no other political debate question arising in the SWP in which members are encouraged to think something because someone told them to. The DC is of course made up of ethical and trustworthy people. This does not mean they have no unconscious bias or have a fully rounded well thought out understanding of all the issues around sexual harassment and rape.  It is not good enough, when women are crying out for justice and unhappy with the way they have been treated, for people not to think for themselves about DC decision, and whether they might be influenced by rape myths. 

MYTH ELEVEN: “It doesn’t matter that the disputes committee all knew the accused. The question was decided according to our politics”

It is unfortunate that instead of deciding if the man accused of rape by W and sexual harassment by X was fit to be a member of the party—the only thing that they should have considered, they made a decision as to whether or not he had raped W.  This could only be done by deciding whose account of events was believed. Research has demonstrated that that this judgement of credibility[18] is more likely to be based on personal biases and attitudes than what a witness says.  In this context the panel being friends of the accused is a serious problem.

MYTH TWELVE: “But they all care about women’s liberation and one of them is a rape counsellor”

I do not dispute for one second the personal integrity of the people on the committee.  However, sadly it seems from the questions about drink and partying and other comments, they are not immune to rape myths and acceptance of rape myths have been shown to have a detrimental effect on the ability to make judgements on the issue of rape and sexual harassment.[19]

That one of the panel says she is a rape counsellor is misleading as it might imply that the woman is in some way fully trained and accredited as a rape counsellor.  She is not accredited with any counselling organisation at the time of writing and does not list being a trained counsellor anywhere in her profiles on Rapar or LinkedIn. It is therefore misleading to imply that her training ensures that questions asked were appropriate and especially not ethical. Counsellors anyway have nothing to do with investigations and no training in how to investigate.

MYTH THIRTEEN: This isn’t about rape it is an attack on our politics

There is no doubt that huge numbers of people from across the political spectrum have criticised the SWP and many have connected the way the cases have been handled to the general organisation of the party. But the idea that the complaints and anyone angry about what has happened made it up to attack the SWP is a myth. This is not as one particularly crazed friend of the accused argued, the Scottsboro boys.

The truth young women feel violated and harassed and complained to the party about the behaviour of fellow members. Complaining about rape is always about rape

MYTH FOURTEEN: The party dealt well with other cases and has expelled men accused of rape before

That there were previous processes where the women felt supported is somehow proof that nothing is wrong in the recent cases is a myth. That there was good behaviour in the past has no more relevance to this bad process than previous sexual history has to the incident of a rape. Possibly the DC has never had to confront its own unconscious bias before—no previous case resulting in expulsion has involved someone who was known to, friends with, had worked closely with, been arrested with etc. 

MYTH FIFTEEN: Our organiser is a young woman-the party is the only party that develops women to lead

The existence of women playing all sorts of roles in the party has absolutely no relevance to the problems surrounding the cases and the way they were handled.  The research has shown that women are also prone to believing rape myths even if to a lesser extent than men—that is what it means to grow up in a society in which the dominant ideas are those of the ruling class. Also Thatcher was a woman which obviously was not relevant to defending the lives of other, working class, women.

MYTH SIXTEEN: I am not interested in this stuff, the key thing is to fight the Coalition/ for the NHS/for socialism.

Which goes alongside of no one in my anti-bedroom tax/union branch cares about this gossip.

The Truth: an organisation, whether political party or trade union, that allows the abuse of women to go unchallenged is an organisation that will miss out on having in its ranks many of those it needs to make a better future for us all.  In the past many tenants associations did not have BME representation or deal with racists in the meetings—the struggle for tenant’s rights was weakened as a result.

References

Anderson et al, 1997; Individual differences and attitudes toward rape: A meta analytic review, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 23(3),

Barter, C et al, 2009, Partner Exploitation and Violence in Teenage Intimate Relationships, NSPCC, London

BPP Working Paper, November 2012, Do Rape Myths Affect Juror Decision Making? BPP, London

Hird, M. J. (2000) An empirical study of adolescent dating aggression, Journal of Adolescence, 23,  pp69–78

Levitt, A & CPS (2013) Charging Perverting the Course of Justice and Wasting Police Time in Cases Involving Allegedly False Rape and Domestic Violence Allegations

McGee et al, 2011, Rape and child sexual abuse:  What beliefs persist about motives, perpetrators, and survivors.  Journal of Interpersonal Violence 26(17),

Rape Crisis, 2013; accessed at http://www.womensviewsonnews.org/2013/09/rape-crisis-and-reveal-campaign-together/

Schuller R. A., & Wall, A. (1998). The effects of defendant and complainant intoxication on mock jurors’ judgments of sexual assault.; Psychology Of Women Quarterly  22(4)

Schuller , R A & Klippenstein M, 2004, The Impact Of Complainant Sexual History Evidence on Jurors’ Decisions: Considerations From A Psychological Perspective,  Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 2004, Vol. 10, No. 3, 321–342

Suarez, E., & Gadalla, T. M. (2010). Stop blaming the victim: A meta analysis on rape myths, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 25(11), 2035

Taylor and Joudo, 2005, The Impact of Pre-recorded Video and Closed Circuit Television Testimony by Adult Sexual

Assault Complainants on Jury Decision-making: An Experimental Study Australian Institute of Criminology

Research and Public Policy Series 68.


[1] Said to me on the NHS demo on 29th Sept by a lovely woman that I remain friendly with, who hadn’t realised I had left the SWP and was shocked to find out why I had.

[2] BPP Working Paper , November 2012

[3] Anderson et al  1997; Suarez & Gadalla, 2010

[4] McGee et al, 2011; Anderson et al 1997

[5] Schuller 1998, also Clark 2011 are useful on this, although I am not suggesting for a moment that the SWP panel or any of the party’s members accept all of the myths examined, merely that there remains some taints of acceptance of some of those ideas as evidenced in the questioning of W about other relationships and X in relation to alcohol

[6] Actually as far as I am concerned, not caring if your partner actually wants to have sex is not okay even if there is no resistance.  Consent should involve the active choice of everyone involved in a sexual act. At the very minimum it should involve a yes and stop at any indication of unwillingness.

[7] Hird 2000

[8] BPP Working Paper November 2012

[9] Levitt et al 2013

[11] Let me clear that I have never had any discussions with W since 2010

[12] Barter et al, 2009

[13] BPP Working Paper, November 2012

[14] indeed he had been my organiser in the early 1990s and the best we ever had in my opinion-which is entirely irrelevant to whether or not he raped a young women and sexually harassed others

[15] Julie later apologised. I am unaware that Shelia McGreggor has ever done so

[16] Writing recently another woman has complained of questions about alcohol consumption being used against her when she complained of rape

[17] Eg Schuller , R A & Klippenstein M, 2004 which shows that there is strong bias towards thinking that consuming alcohol prior to the rape is a defence for the man to have assumed consent

[18] Taylor and Joudo, 2005

[19] BCC Working Paper, November 2012.

‘No Sense of Freedom’ (Women’s Voice, 1982)

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‘No Sense of Freedom’, review of Sweet Freedom by Anna Coote and Beatrix Campbell

In 1971, women’s liberation was a whisper and it was a joke.  That year International Socialists (the organisation which is now the Socialist Workers Party) debated on the position of women for the first time – the women who presented the motion were jeered and many of the women who supported it were later isolated.  Responses of other socialist and labour movement organisations were no better.

Unsure, feminists scoured the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky to dredge up proof that the great masters really believed that women were oppressed.  And between the quotes and undeniable fact that a large percentage of workers were women, the jokes began to fall flat and some of the issues were taken seriously.  Typing and tea-making were done less willingly, and women began to speak at meetings.

Our misery turned to anger and our isolation to solidarity.  We grasped at the threads of confidence and we began to find a voice.  The Women’s Liberation Movement, directly and indirectly, went on to change the lives of most women and to put new and often revolutionary questions on the political agenda.

Eleven years after those tumbling beginnings, in Sweet Freedom, Anna Coote and Beatrix Campbell attempt ‘an account of feminist politics to show how far the objectives of the Women’s Liberation Movement have been resolved and met resistance.’

For all of us who owe the quality of our lives to the new awareness of the issues raised by the women’s movement, it is a sad, superficial and confusing book.  There is no sense of the spirit of the movement, the rumblings of new life, the sanity of discovered self respect. There is no understanding of why and how women are oppressed.  There is no feel for the lives of most women, their day to day struggles, the battles they still face – often as mothers, as girlfriends, as wives.

There is little mention of the new culture of women’s writings, films, new lifestyles, commitment to their own growth and development, concern with their own health and physical needs.  The chapter on culture deals almost exclusively with the involvement and presentation of women in the mass media.  Pregnancy, child-birth, relationships, the structure of emotions, guilt and the devaluing of all that is ‘female’ are ignored.
The early movement is often presented as a clique of friends, not as the breath-taking gust of fresh air that it was.  Then after a series of disconnected chapters – the bulk of them on work, legislation and the trade unions, we pick up the Women’s Liberation 1982-style presented by Coote and Campbell as warring factions of separatist lesbians.

Is it really news that part time work is stigmatised because mainly women do it or that men are seen as breadwinners?  That the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act achieved very little? That Tory strategy is to dismantle the welfare state making women the major casualties and the nurses of the casualties? It has all been said many times before.

All through the book you want to ask why?  Why does this happen to women, why is it possible?  And the authors present a series of confusing non-answers: men, the cuts, the shortage of women in powerful positions, the lack of positive discrimination.  While they sometimes condemn men, they simultaneously accept ‘male’ definitions of what is political.

Women’s Liberation made the personal political.  It showed that politics was not simply about men in the ‘outside world’; it showed that politics was right there in the kitchen, the bedroom and the labour ward.  It showed that women could be active, showing people that what they did was already important and what they might go on to was their right.  It began to demonstrate that the germs of hope for a very different society lay within the warmth and feelings that women had nurtured, once they were able to harness that warmth and not let it be used against most people in the maintenance of a ruthless, oppressive and miserable system.

Women’s Liberation is not and never has been about bringing women up to the level of men, but that essentially is what Coote and Campbell believe it to be.  Men will have to hand over their power, they say.  Get into the male pond and swim.  We don’t want ‘male’ power and we challenge the ‘male’ pond.  It is the ‘male’ view of the world that has held all women and most men in chains ten feet under.

Feminist politics is about changing the world and, maybe, eleven years after the jokes and the jeers, socialist organisations are beginning to see it that way.  It’s a pity that Coote and Campbell have failed to make it any easier for them.

Sheila Duncan

Women’s Voice 63, 1982

Against homophobia (Women’s Voice 1978)

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AS WE went to press: Forty demonstrators invaded the Evening News building off London’s Fleet Street on the afternoon of 6 January.
They came to protest at the previous day’s inflammatory article about artificial insemination for gay women who want children. The article, they said, was an invitation to harassment.
Evening News reporter Joanna Patyna had posed for two months as a gay woman desperate to have a baby.
Her article, headlined ‘Doctor Strange Love’, had already sparked off a backlash of anti-lesbian outcry. Even as the women demonstrated a bunch of men gathered outside and shouted ‘Vermin!’ at them.
After an hour sitting in and singing and generally getting under the feet of bemused Evening News journalists in their large open-plan office, the women met the editor, Louis Kirby. A spokeswoman from Gay Sweatshop accused him of having broken with the NUJ code of practice in using an ‘undercover’ reporter to investigate something that is not illegal, and in flagrantly discriminating against lesbian women.
As a result of their direct action, the demonstrators were offered the right to reply in next week’s Evening News.

Women’s Voice reporter

Leyland, We Find You Guilty (Women’s Voice 1978)

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In the case of Mrs. Beryl Finn against British Leyland UK Ltd this Industrial Tribunal has decided that: ‘We find the applicants complaint of victimisation completely unacceptable.’

Womens Voice investigated the case of the victimisation of Beryl Finn and finds the opposite; the management and the union, the GMWU guilty.

Beryl Finn, member of the GMWU, was finally sacked from British Leyand body plant at Castle Bromwich in August 1977. The excuse for her sacking was ‘disruption’.

The story started in 1976, the year of Equal Pay.  It was a bad year for the women in the Bitish Leyland press shop.  It was the year that British Leyland decided to make the women pay for their own Equal Pay.  They removed the labourers in the press shop.  This meant that the women suddenly had to do all the lifting and moving of the heavy metal components as well as work the presses.

All the women were exhausted with the extra strain.  There were complaints about the timing of the jobs.  Even worse, women suffered cracked ribs, damaged spines, bruised breasts and strains to groin and uterus.

After a few months the women had had enough.  They organised a petition to get the labourers back.  Everyone signed it except the two GMWU stewards and one AUEW steward.  Geeling they were getting nowhere they decided to take their case to the local press.  One dinner-time in April 1976 all the women walked out, streamed up to the main gate to meet the Birmingham Mail, and told their story.

The GMWU and AUEW officials reacted promptly.  They organised a joint meeting, where Mr Bull, the GMWU convenor, gave vent to his feelings: ‘I’m the union. You’ll do as you’re told’.  ‘We’re the union’ retaliated the women in the AUEW, and walked out, taking Beryl and her sister, both in the GMWU with them.

The AUEW members elected themselves  two stewards and prepared for a fight.

Beryl Finn and her sister Carol were left isolated in the GMWU.  They tried to transfer to the AUEW, but Mr Bull, refused to allow it.  From that point on Beryl Finn was systematically victimised and bullied by management and the GMWU shop stewards and convenor.  Neither she nor the women were getting anywhere in their fight over the labourers.  Finally the AUEW called a one-day strike, and on that day Beryl Finn was ill.  Management refused to accept her doctor’s certificate, and used the excuse to suspend her.  She carried on the fight, trying to persuade new women in the section not to accept the deteriorating and dangerous conditions.  In August the management sacked her for ‘disruption’.

50 of the 70 women were supporting the fight.  Many were afraid to speak up in meetings, especially after Mr Bull had punched one woman.  An AUEW woman steward said ‘Beryl Finn always got on with people.  I don’t think she’s disrupted anything.  I don’t think she caused bother.’

The Tribunal’s response was ‘In 1976 events occurred which brought about a drastic change for the worse (in the smooth running of the press shop).  This can be directly attributed to the implementation of the Equal Pay Act….This ultimately created a sharp division among the women leading to conflicts of a very unpleasant kind and involving considerable emotional upset.’

The Tribunal then came to its amazing conclusion: that Beryl Finn had no case.

The intention of the Equal Pay Act was to improve women’s wages, not worsen their working conditions.  The role of trade unions is to improve conditions, not collude with management to worsen them and jump on any trade union member who fights for her rights.

Sheila McGregor

Womens Voice March 78. Issue 15

(With thanks to Sarah Piggott for typing)

What carries on working without eating or drinking? (Women’s Voice, 1982)

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Women textile workers have always been an important part of the Polish workforce.  This month in Zyrardow they were involved in a long sit-in strike in protest at food shortages.

Inside the factory they sat, clinging to each other, crying about their children, scared but stubborn, refusing to give up their strike.

The centre of the Polish textile industry is the city of Lodz, where 135,000 women are employed.  Ten years ago it was the women of Lodz whose strike finally forced the government of the day to revoke the price increases which had caused the biggest upheavals since 1956.  This summer Janina Ratynska investigated the life in a Lodz textile mill for the Polish women’s magazine ‘Girl Friend’.  Translated by Kara Weber.

In the spinning hall there are cans of ht green liquid.  White scum floats over its murky depths.  It tastes vile.  It’s mint tea – a reviving drink.  Nobody will let this revolting stuff past their lips.  Not a trickle will flow, even down the most parched and thirsty throats.  The spinners quench their thirst at a rusty tap in the toilets.
Conditions in the spinning hall are tropical.  Anything up to 104 degrees and 75 per cent humidity.  It’s the yarn which needs these temperatures and this level of humidity.  Nobody even mentions the needs of the people here.  Water drips from the faulty air conditioning units.  The cold splashes feel like icicles on your sweltering back.

It’s three in the morning.  A young woman by one of the spinning machines suddenly starts jumping up and down.  First on one leg, then the other, swinging her arms.  She’s thin, her blonde hair tumbles about her face.  From a distance she looks like a little girl playing hopscotch.  As you approach the illusion vanishes.  Her looks exhausted, running with sweat, her lips parched, in her eyes an expression of intense effort.  Seeing me she stops in mid hop like a mechanical doll.

‘Don’t look at me like that.  I haven’t gone crazy.  It’s just that I haven’t slept for three days.  I’ve got small children and my husband is away on a delegation.  If I had a cup of coffee, I could clear my head, but as it is I just fall asleep standing up.’

It’s the third shift at Harnam Cotton Industries in Lodz.  Every night over 400 women work in its spinning and weaving halls.  They leave home at half past eight in the evening, crowd into their packed buses and trams and ride to work.  Once there, they change into their overalls, stiff and sticky from accumulated dirt, sweat and dust.  Once upon a time these overalls were washed every day, now it’s once every two or three weeks.  There’s no detergent.

They bind their legs with elasticated bandage.  They all do it, even the young ones.  Varicose veins appear after only a few years’ work at the looms.  Whether spinning or weaving, five years is enough to make a fine network of purple lines cover every pair of legs, even the most young and slender ones.  ‘Do you know what I sometimes call myself?’ says the Spinning Manager, Kazimierz Biesaga.  ‘A mule driver.  I respect these women, their work, their patience, their endurance.  But when I see them working at night the image of labouring mules persistently returns to me.  Underfed, short of sleep, running on their last legs.  They bring sandwiches of dry bread and pickled cucumber.  Butter would melt, and anyway there’s little of it and they have to save it for the children.  Their husbands need any cold meat that’s going.’

They patrol their looms and spinning frames incessantly, first 200 metres one way, then 200 metres back again.  ‘We have our own version of the old kids’ riddle,’ says Mr Biesaga, ‘What carries on working without eating or drinking? You know the answer? A Lodz yarn worker.  Or perhaps you know the song about the spinning girls sitting like a row of angels?  None of these are angels any more.  All the creams and face masks in the world won’t help.  To look at them you wouldn’t think some of them are thirty years old.  No, you wouldn’t.  What you see are bags under the eyes, wrinkles and bent shoulders.  Halina Kaczmarek has worked the three shifts at Harnam’s for 30 years.  ‘I’ve had enough of this struggle to survive.  When I’m working nights I never catch up on my sleep.  I come off the shift and instead of going to bed I go to stand in a queue.  Since June there’s a special system for the sale of milk in Lodz.  From 6 to 8 in the morning only mothers with special children’s health cards can buy.  Ordinary people don’t get a look in, they have to stand and wait.  If there’s any left at eight o’clock then there’s a chance of getting a bottle, but sometimes there’s none left.  Then I go to another queue for meat.

‘Yesterday I stood there from eight in the morning till two.  I got 500 grams of shoulder.  After standing in line I return home, snatch a bit to eat, do my cleaning, washing.  I have to fetch water because I have a home without conveniences.  I go to lie down for an hour after dinner.  The racket in the house is dreadful; everything’s switched on at once, the radio, the telly … I sleep, it doesn’t bother me.  Then I cook supper and leave home for work.

I know nothing about politics, but those people in the government, you know the ones who are having to explain themselves now because of us, I wouldn’t put them in prison, what for?  They should come and work here, at Harnam’s.  I’d give them top pay, let them make their seven thousand, we don’t want any discrimination.  But then I’d give them ration cards and chase them round to do their share of queuing.  That would be their greatest punishment.’

Kazimiera Chodorowska has worked at Harnam’s for 30 years.  ‘The worst is finishing a week of night shifts and going back to work on Monday.  Your body has to adjust yet again.  You sleep over your machine, your mates wake you up.  If they put the afternoon shift to follow on from nights it would mean a two o’clock start.  You wouldn’t get so tired and your nerves wouldn’t get so frayed.  But when we raise the matter it’s like banging your head against a brick wall.  Anyone would think they wanted to run us into the ground.  The best solution would be to abolish the night shift altogether.’

For many years the workers of every light industrial enterprise have tried to get rid of the third shift.  It was the most important demand made at the lowest level, at meetings, works council conferences and production committees.  At the higher levels it was never mentioned.

At the last meeting the unionists presented the government side with a report dealing with the third shift, compiled by experts from the Lodz Polytechnic, the Medical Academy and Lodz University.

It’s a shocking document.  On the basis of carefully detailed experiments it shows the effects of night shift work on the women workers.  It links such work with pregnancy abnormalities; level of miscarriage much higher than normal; greater percentages of children born with congenital abnormalities.

It is said that the body’s constant adjustment to work patterns during the morning, afternoon and night exploits, even plunders, the nervous system of women.  It leads to loss of control and equilibrium and to physical exhaustion.

According to surveys, a considerable proportion of women working the three shift system have broken families.

What has the department of light industry to say about this?  The Assistant Director of the Work, Wages and Social Services Department of the Ministry of Light Industry, Edmund Wojcicki says: ‘We received the report with mixed feelings.  You must admit its tone is a little alarmist.  In any case, you cannot view these matters solely from the standpoint of the workers.  The interests of society as a whole must count for something.

‘Goods totalling a value of 70 billion zloty are produced during the third shift.  The market, already very scantily supplied, would be greatly impoverished if this production were eliminated.  There will be no third shift, but you won’t be able to buy a single towel, shirt or sheet in the shops.

‘This does not mean that we see no openings for limiting three shift working.  Such possibilities exist and our department has already worked out introductory measures.’

Five years is a long time.  The workers themselves say – we can hang on.  And they will endure it all, the sleepless nights, the queues, the nightmare conditions. But they must know for sure that the fruit of their work, in the murderous, destructive conditions, will not be another crisis in ten years time but a peaceful, dignified life, free of deprivation.

Women’s Voice, April 1982, Issue 62

Author Janina Ratynska (originally written for Polish women’s magazine ‘Girl Friend’)

Translated by Kara Weber

Reclaim the Night (Women’s Voice, 1977)

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ABOUT 200 women from the local Women’s Liberation groups, Women and Socialism and Women’s Voice supporters, held torchlight processions in Manchester on Saturday 12 November, to show Chief Superintendent Bowley that women will not be stopped from going out at night. Groups of women marched through gales and freezing cold at Levenshulme, Strangeways and Longsight with torches and placards chanting ‘Reclaim the Night’ and singing songs, escorted by groups of policewomen. When we got to Piccadilly Gardens, in the centre of Manchester, the police heavies and News of the World reporters suddenly appeared because a woman had had an argument with her husband when she wanted to join in! The march succeeded in getting a lot of local and national publicity.

Sandy Rose

WALKING through Soho on your own on a rainy Saturday night is usually a horrible experience – turned in on yourself with your eyes to the pavement, trying to avoid getting hustled.

Saturday 12 November was a different story; several hundred women some with exaggerated face paint – spilled through the streets, plastering strip-joints, porn-shops, ‘saunas’ and sleazy film-clubs with posters and stickers explaining what the pleasure-palaces are really about: ‘This degrades women’ and ‘This violates women’.

Seeing the horror on the faces of the nasty, leery jerks hastily locking the strip-club doors as their windows were redecorated was very enjoyable.

The demonstration was exhilarating and chaotic. We screamed and hollored and wolf-whistled and sang – and inevitably brought a reaction from all the small packs of would-be studs on the streets. ‘Who’d rape you’, ‘Call yourselves women? Ho, ho.’ I wished I’d brought a few spray-bottles of Devon Violets…

If there is a single image screaming at us from every hoarding, magazine and television screen that indicates possession, status, domination and cheap thrills it is the image of a luscious, passive, mindless woman – for women to aspire to be and men to aspire to have. Rape is one logical consequence of the image of woman as an object for men’s use. Yet many people, even some male socialists who don’t try hard enough, don’t yet understand why it is not trivial to attack the purveyors of this view – the adverts and the strip-joints.

Repetitions can knock a message through the thickest of skulls – so let’s make sure every advert and porn club gets regularly plastered with stickers (what else is a handbag for?) And let’s reclaim some more nights in some more towns.

Cathy Bearfield

Women’s Voice 12, December, 1977

Tales We Tell Our Sisters: ‘We pay for headaches, he makes a profit on the Anadins’ (Women’s Voice, 1979)

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I am a machinist. I have worked in the clothing trade for 22 years. I was taught how to make dresses, neatly but above all quickly. I also learned to not ask for any concessions, to accept bad conditions, hard, boring jobs, no sick pay, and so on.

I was taught by women who had worked under these conditions for years. They passed on their experience and their oppression. They talked about the old days, they seemed content. I was 15 and did as I was told.

Throughout my working life, I have been underpaid – but the most stunning aspect of this is my own compliance. We women in the clothing trade support and believe in the enormous myth perpetuated by the bosses; how many times have you been told: ‘But I am good to you girls, we have your best interests at heart.’ ‘Help me get this order out girls, I know you won’t let me down.’ (!)

And if you ask for a raise, ‘But you’re like one of the family (therefore how can you ask for a raise!) and I am suffering too, you know.’

They always, always understand your problems. Understand you – yes; help you – no! They weep; we invariably believe them.

I remember, while working for a family firm in Whitechapel, I went up to the senior member of the family and asked for a raise. He was an elderly man, impeccably turned out. (He’s very smart for his age, a comment often heard on the lips of the workers, never connecting the Saville Row suits with our labour).

Standing in a large showroom with at least 800 dresses hanging neatly on the rails for despatch I nervously asked for more money. He pleaded with me to think again, trade was bad – worst season he could remember – then it was the ‘I started out with nothing’ story; ‘nothing but a cardboard suitcase and an overcoat, a nobody worked for 24 hours a day, you, you’ve got it easy!’

Finally, although by then I was beaten, won over, sorry for him, he assured me that if things picked up he would see what he could do. I accepted all that I know that it was not an isolated incident, it still happens now.

My present job is hard, boring and low-paid. We are a non-union firm and at present I cannot see that changing. Invariably, women in the clothing trade are not united, another thing we can thank the bosses for: ‘Union! What for? We are all friends here: you want to see me, you just come in (but don’t expect me to give any of my profits over to you!).’

We get two wage increases a year; this is known, laughingly, as ‘getting the whisper. The boss catches each worker individually and in low, conspiratorial tones tells you your wages have risen by 2,4,6 or 15 pence an hour. He has us all in the ‘divide and rule’ trap, no one worker knows what the other is earning. What we do know is that our wages vary tremendously, two women doing the same job do not earn the same hourly rate.

We sometimes feel unwell at work – bad lighting, freezing in winter, sweating in summer – there is a first aid box on the wall; plasters, TCP are free, but the plasters are all cut to measure 1 and 1/4 by 1/4 inches, the Anadins cost 1 and a 1/2p for two! yes, we pay for headaches – and he makes a profit on the Anadins.

We complain amongst ourselves, we do nothing. Personally I can offer no excuses for stating at the job, only reasons: I have two children at school and the boss is understanding about school holidays, sickness. In short, I and too many women like me, have no choice.

The facts as I see them are that women in the clothing trade must unite against the ludicrous conditions they work under. Forget the ‘big happy family’ line. Remember that you and I may turn out between 20 or 30 dresses per day to sell at £29 to £39 each, retail; my take home pay after a full week is £42. Think about it…when will you be able to buy a dress for £39?

by Carole Barrett

Women’s Voice 35, November 1979

Lesbians: Fighting the wall of silence (Women’s Voice, 1979)

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Lesbian women suffer isolation and misunderstanding, even among other women. Here Mary and Rose talk to each other about their personal experiences, and make some suggestions about things Womens Voice groups could do.

MARY: How long did it take you to realise you were a lesbian?

ROSE: Well, it was a pretty long time. It’s very difficult to feel positive about your sexual feelings as a lesbian when all the images around you are so negative.

Old-style lesbians with tweeds and monocles are pointed out, warnings are given at school, words like dyke, butch and lezzie are all you have to identify with. or of course there is the wall of silence.

I was 20 before I talked to anyone else about being gay. For years I explained to myself all the emotional feelings I had towards women as hero-worship or admiration – making them sound OK.

MARY: Do you still feel negative about being gay?

ROSE: I felt quite a lot of guilt initially, but after talking to other lesbians and gay men I came to see that it’s not us that’s wrong, but society that warps people’s sexuality. You’re only allowed to be heterosexual – and then only in very restricted ways, him Tarzan, me Jane.

MARY: What kinds of reactions have you had from coming out?

ROSE: The strangest reaction I got was from some people I’d known a long time who said ‘Don’t be ridiculous – we know you!’ I got the impression that the women I shared a flat with were a bit nervous about being left alone with me, but I didn’t feel confident enough at the time to tell them how ridiculous they were being.

Parents are very difficult to tell. My mother just said I had a low sex drive, and so I could ‘do without’ men. Other women said their parents felt they’d done something wrong in the way they’d brought them up.

MARY: Have you talked about being a lesbian at work?

ROSE: It’s difficult. I feel as if I have time to catch exactly the right time. It’s a decision you have to make every time you change jobs, move area, meet a new person.

MARY: There’s no law against being a lesbian is there?

ROSE: Well no. But the state does still interfere in our lives. Being a lesbian makes mothers live in fear of losing the child they have brought up as a result of a custody case – fathers can get custody just because the mother is a lesbian. But people’s attitudes are what affect us daily.

Lesbians are often discriminated against at work. Recently a woman bus driver in Burnley was sacked for wearing a badge saying ‘lesbians ignite’. A passenger had said it was offensive to him, but then she refused to remove it. She lost her job when the union failed to support her.

MARY: Why do gay people wear badges?

ROSE: it may sound silly, but gay men and women are invisible unless they wear badges. People are always assumed to be heterosexual.

Some people say ‘What do you do in bed is your own concern and nothing to do with anyone else – so why make such a fuss about it?’ But in fact all kinds of people do try and stop gays leading their own lives – preventing them from being teachers, mothers and so on.

MARY: What’s lesbian liberation got to do with with women’s politics.

ROSE: We’re women. So we suffer the same oppression as heterosexual women/ I’m sure I’ve been refused jobs in case I was about to get married and have kids, but I’m also sure that if I’d said ‘well actually I’m gay’ I wouldn’t have got the job either.

Behind the renewed attack on abortion rights lies the assumption that women’s place is in the family, producing children and being provided for by a man. It’s the same assumption that’s behind alot of hostility towards lesbians.

People’s individual prejudice about homosexuals is fostered and encouraged by the male-dominated capitalist system we live in. Capitalism needs heterosexuals in neat nuclear families, the women housewives, the men breadwinners. It’s a picture that lesbians and gay men just do not fit into.

The idea that homosexuality is something odd or perverse is ridiculous if you contrast it with many aspects of ‘normal’ heterosexual life. Men never touch each other, except for the occasional back-slapping or pretending to fight. Men can often rape women with impunity – especially their wives. Women are still men’s property in many ways.

MARY: What do you think of the labels ‘gay’ and ‘straight’.

ROSE: At the moment everyone is just pigeonholed. I’m a lesbian, you’re a housewife and so on. The aim must be to move towards a situation where everybody would be able to have a breadth of experience, rather than a narrow socially imposed limit. If that happened, the labels would become irrelevant.

I don’t want to be tolerated as someone with an unfortunate affliction, or as an ‘honorary’ heterosexual. But at the moment, the labels do matter, and we have to speak out.

MARY: Have you told your children?

ROSE: They could hardly fail to notice! I think children need to learn about their sexuality. Often sex is shrouded in so much secrecy that children don’t even know the kinds of questions to ask.

It’s important that people who look after their children don’t just tell them about heterosexual intercourse as id that was the only kind of sexual relationship.

MARY: What about organising as gays?

ROSE: At the moment there are a few gay caucuses in the trade unions, mostly in white collar unions like NALGO, the local government union. As you might imagine, there are more men than women in the groups, and outside of the big cities the groups are tiny, if they exist at all.

Gay groups in unions are important to defend workers who may be victimised and for isolated homosexuals to get in touch. Gay groups can fight for equal rights motions, to be extended to gay people as well as women, blacks and the disabled

MARY: What can Womens Voice groups do?

ROSE: Many women don’t work at paid jobs, many aren’t in unions, and even those who are may well be intimidated about asking their union rep about a gay group. it’s important that Womens Voice groups take up the issue of lesbian oppression and provide support and information to individual lesbians and to the gay telephone counselling services which are now in many towns.

There are films which can be hired, slide kits, books, pamphlets and badges. Speakers can be invited to meetings, and gay workers or lesbian mothers who are being victimised need our support. There’s a new pamphlet called Gays At Work that groups can use.

MARY: We also feel that it’s important to organise a lesbian network for Womens Voice supporters, and are planning a meeting. Please contact us: Womens Voice Gay Group, c/o Womens Voice, PO Box 82 London E2.

Women’s Voice 33 – September 1979