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Neil Cobb and Nikki Godden-Rasul, Campus Feminisms: Engaging the University with Feminist Agendas – A Conversation with Jess Lishak, Women’s Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union, 2014-2016 (free link to article in Feminist Legal Studies).

Neil Cobb, University of Manchester

As Shakira Martin is elected this week as the next president of the National Union of Students (NUS), it is clear that NUS has received some bad press of late.

Durham student Tom Harwood’s challenge to Malia Bouattia for the NUS presidency on an ‘anti-NUS’ platform is the latest in a line of attacks in recent years criticising the NUS for being “moribund” and unrepresentative of mainstream students’ interests and concerns.

These criticisms – levelled both within and outside the student movement – are said by the NUS’s opponents to reflect a broader disaffection among today’s students with the union’s progressive left agenda.

Much of this comment has tended to simplify the NUS’ work, as well as drawing attention away problematically from the organisation’s undoubted and significant achievements in a range of important policy areas.

For those who remain supportive of the NUS’ broad commitment to a progressive left concern for social justice there is a particular need to keep front and centre the organisation’s tangible contributions to equality and diversity concerns, including some real success stories in the sphere of feminism and women’s rights. Continue Reading »

10689909_1016854768344392_8793741729286128967_nAlex Sharpe is Professor of Law at Keele University

Let’s begin by recognising that women, as a collective group, face many serious problems in today’s society. These include, but are not exhausted by, sexual and physical violence, workplace harassment, a domestic division of labour, sexist media representation and slut shaming. There are also a range of other important issues that affect particular groups of women, such as, and perhaps most notably, female genital mutilation. In view of these issues, and at least in relation to some, their obvious urgency, one would think that who counts as a ‘real’ women would be low down, very low down, on any list of feminist priorities.

Any yet, it is precisely this issue of who counts as a woman that continues to preoccupy us. Most recently, Jenny Murray, host of the radio 4 show, Woman’s Hour, has helpfully reminded us that, although she is not “transphobic or anti-trans,” trans women “are not ‘real’ women.” Murray is the latest in a long-line of privileged cisgender media personalities to use their privilege, and considerable media platform, to take it upon themselves to be the arbiters of which women count as ‘real’ and which  do not.

Let’s focus on this question of ‘realness,’ and not allow ourselves to be distracted by issues of free speech and censorship which inevitably arise in the wake of twitter storms and the weighing in of those keen to defend Jenny’s right to tell the ‘truth,’ or at least to express her opinion. For my concern here is not to become embroiled in an argument over whether celebrities like Jenny Murray, Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel, Ian McEwan or Barry Humphries have a right to express their (usually ill-informed) opinions, or embarrass themselves publicly. That is, it is not the said or the sayable with which I am concerned, but the politics and ethics of claims about ‘realness’ itself.

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IB imageSnapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.

The LGBTQ+ Community and “Gay Conversion Therapy”

William Lee, University of Manchester

Malta made history on the 7th December 2016 when the Maltese Parliament unanimously approved the Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression Bill. Among other things, the Bill criminalises “gay conversion therapy”, giving legal recognition that for the position that “no sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression constitutes a disorder, disease or shortcoming of any sort”. This thereby relieves the LGBTQ+ community of potentially being subjugated to any “deceptive and harmful” act designed to change their sexual behaviour or gender identity.

The new Act in effect positions Malta as the first European country to ban “gay conversion therapy”.

The Business Insider states that Malta has been at the forefront of progressive social reforms in Europe since the Labour government was elected in 2013. For that, Malta quite comfortably deserves its ranking of being the best European country for LGBTQ+ rights as deemed by the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA- Europe).

In light of such radical progress in Malta, this post will look briefly at the origins of “gay conversion therapy”. It will also briefly outline the United Kingdom (UK) and American’s current stance in regard to this practice. Continue Reading »

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Twitter Clamps down on Abuse and Hate Crime

Ama Williams, Newcastle University

Online abuse on social media platforms is endemic. The majority of people who frequent social media will have either seen or been the victim of some form of abuse. Last week Twitter introduced provisions to try and tackle online abuse and instances of hate crime – that is, abuse targeted toward someone because of their membership of a particular social group. It has now added ‘Advanced Muting Options’ to the previous option to mute accounts. This means that a user can block certain words or phrases from appearing in their personal notifications, in the hope that this will shield the user from abuse being targeted specifically at them. However there is some concern that these measures do not actually stop hate speech being posted and due to the anonymity Twitter affords to its users, abuse may continue to be prolific.

Recent reports have shown that abuse online is on the increase. Pink News reported that there has been an online spike of homophobia since Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential race. In one instance a homophobic word increased from being tweeted 8,000 times to 32,000 times in the day after his win. In England, abuse of women in positions of power is inherent on many platforms but social media seems to breed particularly depraved forms of hatred. Continue Reading »

robyn-emerton

Robyn Emerton is a PhD candidate at Keele University.  She is researching legal and policy development relating to transgender prisoners in England and Wales and is a qualified solicitor. Mia Harris is a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford and researches the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in prison.

This time last year, the cases of Tara Hudson, Vikki Thompson and Joanne Latham sparked public concern regarding the treatment of transgender prisoners.  On Wednesday, 9 November 2016, the government published its revised policy, and its first official statistics, on transgender offenders. This welcome development was unfortunately eclipsed by media coverage of the US election results.  Indeed, cynics might say that this was the government’s intention, given the sensationalist headlines that accompanied the announcement of the original policy five years ago.  This is a shame, as there is much to be celebrated in its revised policy, as well as in the public’s increased understanding of the plight of transgender prisoners over the last year.

Continue Reading »

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Snapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.

“It’s grim, I’ve got to say”: the future of LGBTQ+ rights following the US presidential election

Holly Khambatta-Higgins, University of Manchester

On Wednesday 8th November, it was announced that Donald Trump will be the next President Elect of the United States of America. The result followed a long election campaign which saw the Republican Party proposing its most ‘homophobic party platform in years’. With January bringing the introduction of a Republican President, congress and house, the prospect of what this means for the future of LGBTQ+ rights is being extensively debated, with a growing consensus that the election outcome is ‘grim’.

The election has brought in its wake a great sense of panic, fear and uncertainty from the LGBTQ+ community, which has been both fuelled and captured by numerous media outlets. During his campaign, President Elect Trump made multiple public statements regarding legislation that would directly affect the LGBTQ+ community. This included his pledge to sign the Republican ‘first Amendment Defence Act’ which would in theory, protect an individual’s right to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ+ community, due to the individual’s religious and moral beliefs.

It is not just the President Elect who has warranted concern from the LGBTQ+ community; it is reported that the vice president Mike Pence could pose an equal (if not greater) threat. Mike Pence has been particularly open about his opposition to same sex marriage. However his views extend further than this; it is reported that Pence is in support of conversion therapy, a treatment that aims to ‘correct’ homosexuality, and has proposed that this should be financially supported by relocating the funding that is currently being used to treat HIV and AIDS. In addition to Pence, Trump’s transition team contains a plethora of anti-LGBTQ+ politicians, including Ben Carson who has reportedly likened homosexuality to bestiality and paedophilia. Continue Reading »

IB imageSnapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.

H&M’s 2016 Autumn Collection: a step forward for feminism?

Begüm Elif Yılmaz, University of Manchester

A recent H&M film advertisement for the fashion company’s 2016 Autumn Collection has been the centre of attention for feminists on the web in recent weeks. The ad seems perfect on the surface. With the song “she’s a lady” playing in the background, it is made up of footage of a host of ‘real’ women enjoying their lives. The apparent aim of the advert is to challenge people’s understanding of what being a lady really means and to celebrate those women who do not conform to the gender standards of society. In short, the advertisement highlights the important idea that all women are still women regardless of what they look like, where they come from, what they do and how they do it. It includes a trans woman, a woman in a restaurant picking her teeth with her fingers, a curvy woman in her underwear comfortably admiring herself in the mirror, a woman with an unshaven armpit enjoying junk food, a woman with a shaven head, a strong executive directing a meeting, a proud androgynous woman who would traditionally be ridiculed for her so-called “masculinity”, an older woman and a woman in an empty subway spreading her legs. These women come from various backgrounds, making the advertisement not just a feminist one, but also one that adds a broader diversity element to the conversation. Challenging the societal norm that women can and ought to only have a specific look and possess a certain collection of traits, this advertisement seems to reflect a deeply progressive presentation of modern women. Almost all women have been warned at least once in their lives for doing something “inappropriate” because it is “unladylike”, and as such the new advert’s overarching theme seems to be largely positive.

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