The Guardian this week uncovered a story about the SPUC giving an anti-abortion talk in a school.
The school justifies this as part of a ‘range of speakers’ which then allows students to make their own minds up. Now I’m a big fan of debate, and I’m a big fan of children being taught this skill in school. Learning to listen to alternate viewpoints and make your own conclusions is a vital skill.
My problem is that SPUC isn’t an alternate viewpoint but a crock of lies.
The anti-choice lobby frequently resort to lies as they know that otherwise their argument falls flat on it’s face – if they were truly concerned with child welfare they would spend a little time helping children in poverty and supporting pregnant women. Their argument comes down to their desire to punish women and “make them live with the consequence of their actions”. Pure and simple – which everyone can see is a bigoted and mean way to live.
So instead they spout lies that abortion causes cancer (it doesn’t), abortion causes depression (when studies show it doesn’t, but women already depressed are more likely to need an abortion) that abortion can kill you (which it doesn’t – ignoring medical advice has on one occasion caused death) and completely ignoring the damage to both women and children of going through with unwanted pregnancy, and all the complications and trauma that pregnancy can cause.
Allowing someone to go into a school and spout these lies is a particularly appalling thing to do. Children are taught in schools to respect teachers and BELIEVE WHAT THEY SAY – which is kind of the whole point of teaching. Children therefore are likely to believe that adults coming in to the school to give a talk are at worst not absolute liars.
Inviting a feminist to attend the talk and give an alternate viewpoint doesn’t mitigate this state of affairs. It actually adds credence to the SPUC viewpoint – that someone has to stand up and argue against it could be taken as evidence that points need to be argued against – when they don’t, they were just complete lies. The school acted entirely irresponsibly by allowing someone to come and lie to students. The school should not have allowed this speaker to talk when they had pointedly refused to allow the school to see what they were going to say in advance. The school has an even greater duty of care when this is an issue which could well be affecting young people at that time. Teaching debate is useful; giving children facts about sex education is also a complete no-brainer. But allowing someone to come and promote lies is appalling behaviour.
The anti-choice lobby has recently been stepping up activity in the UK, holding US style rallies and protests. The media describes this as highlighting a debate. It’s not a debate. If there were points to genuinely debate, the anti-lobby wouldn’t need to resort to lies and untruths. This is purely and simply about controlling women – or letting women control their own bodies. By giving the anti’s the right to put their arguments across as equally valid you are giving them way more power than they deserve.
If ever an anti wanted to stand up and truly promote their viewpoint – that sex is a sin that women should be punished for – I’d be happy to see them debate it in public, and see how many people they convert. While they continue to hide behind lies, they don’t deserve a platform to speak from – least of all within a school.
Another day, another list of top tweeters that pretty much ignores women. And then this genius at the Independent decided that this must be because women are bitchy and unsupportive of each other. And she concluded this because the stats don’t lie – this was scientifically analysed and so cannot be accused of gender bias.
Except – you can’t exclude gender bias by simply ignoring it. How did they account for the bias within mainstream media and politics? How did they account for the exclusion of women from politics, comedy and commentary? They didn’t – and this is where the study was hugely gender-biased. We also all know how much misogyny exists within twitter – how did they exclude this when deciding how much women were heard? This study wasn’t gender-neutral, it took the gender bias from society and replicated it.
So of course, her conclusion that “we’re wary of other women’s success” is completely without grounds.
One of the things that so many people love about twitter is that it removes the bias we experience in the mainstream media and politics. We can find other people who think like we do (or challenge us) and are not constrained by what is deemed by upper class white men to be important. It’s been an absolute revelation for me to find sites like Womens Views on News that unearth important stories about women. To find journalists like @Sianushka to offer a feminist commentary on news of the day. To find campaigners like @theNatFantastic who are changing the world. I don’t live or work in a town with a big feminist presence, and so to find out that my views aren’t quirky or extreme has been an incredible boost to my confidence.
Other women have supported me too. I wouldn’t have learnt to tweet without the awesome @Trishie_D setting a great example and tweeting with me. I certainly wouldn’t have started my blog without encouragement from @PitandPendulum. I am also inspired by the support that women offer each other – for example when the #unilad scandal really broke, the women who were particularly targeted by offensive misogynists were, I know, overwhelmed by the messages of support that flew their way over twitter.
I could concede that perhaps men and women use twitter differently somtimes. As much as it sticks in my throat to say this, hundreds of years of conditioning can still mean that men and women communicate differently. And because of this (as well as the media bias I mentioned above) it’s vital that any study of influential tweeters considers these factors if they want to really look at who is influencing people.
I’m going to finish with an anecdote – that’s all it is, I’m not claiming scientific objectivity. Stephen Fry often comes out high in these influential tweeter polls, and I’ve heard charities say that one tweet from him, plugging their cause is worth about £10,000. I’m never sure how they calculate this, but it seems to have become some kind of lore. The other day, Sue Perkins made a real change in the world by calling a schoolgirl on a homophobic tweet, and contacting her headmaster to offer to go to the school and take an assembly. Which person is really having the most influence on the world here? And this is the crux of my point. If you conduct a study, rewarding male styles of communicating, in a male-dominated society, of course more men are going to come out on top.
Please don’t then blame women for this. Blame society, blame the study. Blame yourself and go looking for more women if you don’t feel that your timeline has enough strong women in it – there’s plenty of them out there.
Twitter is full of AWESOME women, and I really do feel that they’re chipping away at society to make a real difference. And twitter has enabled me to become a tiny part of that.