Jul 7 2015

Sarah Schulman on ‘Conflict Is Not Abuse’: Rethinking Community Responsibility Outside of the State Apparatus

Author pic Ilana Eloit

Ilana Eloit is a PhD candidate at the Gender Institute, LSE. She is an associate researcher to the program GEDI (Genre et discriminations sexistes et homophobes) coordinated by the University of Angers. She has contributed to the Dictionnaire des féministes to be shortly published by the PUF (Presses universitaires de France). Her PhD thesis focuses on lesbian politics in the 1970s and 1980s in France and in the United States.

Abuse as ‘Power Over’ and Conflict as ‘Power Struggle’

Sarah Schulman, a long-standing U.S. activist and author of internationally recognized novels, plays and films, was invited to participate in the 2015 Sexuality Summer School on queer art and activism, held in May at the University of Manchester. From her engagement with Act Up in New York in the late 1980s and onwards, to the creation of the Lesbian Avengers in post-Reagan America of the early 1990s, to her current engagement for the rights of Palestinians and endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, I like to think of Sarah Schulman as one of the most radical minds that I have had the opportunity to come across. By radical, I mean an activist who embraces critique as an integral dimension of political action, and who is able to rethink the foundations of her engagement through renewed paradigms and historicization of her own actions. Adorno’s expression according to which ‘open thinking points beyond itself’ (Adorno, 1998; p. 293) could fairly apply to Schulman’s intellectual and political profile.

The public lecture she gave for the Sexuality Summer School on Thursday May 21st 2015 introduced the audience with provocative and challenging issues that she tackles in her forthcoming book Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility and the Duty of Repair. Sarah’s main argument is that it is crucial to distinguish abuse as power over and conflict as power struggle in order to avoid ‘overstating harm’, which encourages escalation of polarization and unnecessary pain that increase the investment and power of the State. At the source of this escalation, Sarah Schulman posits an inversion that makes ‘bullies often conceptualize of themselves as under attack when they are the ones originating the pain’. She says:

It is that moment of over-reaction that I wish us to examine. My thesis is that at every level of human interaction there is the opportunity to conflate discomfort with threat, to mistake internal anxiety for exterior danger, and in turn to escalate rather than resolve.

In this sense, she argues for the necessity to be cautious with the notion of abuse. She reminds us that ‘being uncomfortable signals [for some people] that they are being abused‘, when it is not necessarily the case. In a way, Sarah Schulman also suggests that the ability to claim abuse is intricately related to possessing the symbolic and material capital that allows the claim to be heard, and thus does not reflect the proper power of balance that the claim is supposed to unveil.

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May 13 2015

Work at all costs? the gendered impact of Universal Credit on lone-parent and low-paid families

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Author portrait Ruth Cain

Ruth Cain is Lecturer in Law at the University of Kent, UK. Her research is interdiscipli-nary and focuses primarily on family, parenting and mental health issues. She has pub-lished several articles on the politics and governance of motherhood, law and paren-ting, mental health and law and literature/cultural studies. Forthcoming publications in-clude a full-length article on the impact of Universal Credit on unemployed and working-poor families, and a study of neoliberal maternal anxiety in crime fiction. Her book Privatised Mothers: Neoliberal Confessional Writing in the Age of Parental Anxiety will be published by Routledge this year.

Last week’s shock Conservative victory in the House of Commons has been swiftly followed by the reaffirmation of a commitment to sweeping welfare reforms (following a pre-election pledge by Ian Duncan Smith, now reappointed as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to cut twelve billion pounds from the welfare budget over the term of the new government). Duncan was behind the original launch in 2010 of the former Coalition Government’s beleaguered flagship welfare system, Universal Credit (UC), now being rolled out across a limited number of local authorities in the UK. Long before it has made significant national impact on claimants, it has already faced widespread criticism from women’s groups, landlords and Gingerbread, the single parent advocacy group, to name but a few. A Labour-led government would not have reversed governmental commitment to the system, and had promised only to ‘pause’ it; it will be remembered that Coalition welfare reforms followed an existing pattern of ‘labour market activation’, privatisation of state functions and ‘responsibilisation’ begun under the New Labour governments of 1997 onwards. Rather, we can see UC as the culmination of a quintessentially neoliberal form of welfare governance. UC represents a massive regulatory experiment, attempting a type of sweeping ‘algorithmic regulation’ whereby the tax and pay information of claimants, as well as, potentially, their job-searching activity, can be continually surveyed (although the online jobsearch requirement, originally imagined as centred around the Universal Jobmatch website, has already fallen foul of common sense on many points). UC also mandates new forms of behavioural demands on claimants, out of work or not: the new Claimant Commitment requires ‘workless’ claimants to devote a full 35 hour week to evidenced jobsearching, overlooked by their ‘work coach’ (JobCentrePlus advisor). In a new development known as in-work conditionality, UC requires claimants receiving less than the amount of a minimum wage job at 35 hours per week to seek ‘more or better paid work’ – and the jobsearch and evidence requirements will also apply to them. A ‘randomised controlled trial’ of different types of incentive for these new ‘part-workless’ has just been launched; one group is to be summoned to ‘challenging’ interviews after 2 months of not earning ‘enough’. If deemed not to be making the required effort to get paid more or work more hours, both working and ‘workless’ claimants face lengthy sanctions or workfare. The gender impact of this situation is clear, although largely ignored in publication and discussion within recent Governments, which tends to avoid mention of single motherhood altogether, preferring to talk about more positive-sounding issues such as family stability. So keen is Ian Duncan Smith to link the ‘unstable family’ with social decline that he recently tried to have it instated as an official measure of child poverty (somewhat surprisingly, his proposed redefinition would have excluded income altogether). Despite the official failure to acknowledge the disproportionate impact of UC reforms on women, it is undeniable. Because women comprise the highest proportion of both low-paid and part time workers, women and less well-off couples with children (who may earn under the conditionality threshold if one partner is not working full time and the other is low paid) will be among the first in line to feel the smack of the new welfare governance.

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May 5 2015

Intergenerational Relationships: Case Study of Stephen Fry and Elliott Spencer

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Victoria Benge author pic

Victoria Benge is a MSc Gender (Research) student at the Gender Institute. Her main areas of interest are sexuality, masculinity and gender performativity. For her MSc dissertation she will be focusing on Drag Kings in the London gay scene, especially in lesbian spaces and their association with sexuality and gender.​

Actor and presenter Stephen Fry and comedian Elliott Spencer announced their engagement on 6 January, 2015 amidst a flood of media interest. As I followed the coverage, I was struck by the media’s constant reiteration of the couple’s age difference. Rather than celebrating their engagement and later marriage, I was appalled to see how the British media demonised the couple due to their 30-year age gap. The mainstream British media focused on the way in which homosexuality, but more specifically intergenerational same-sex couples are devalued compared to heterosexual couples. Despite the amount of coverage and the apparent praising of the couple, the underlying tones of much media attention reinforced the concept that adult, intergenerational[1] relationships are ‘unnatural’ and ‘wrong’. This article looks at the ways in which intergenerational relationships between gay men are represented through discourses on economics, age, and homonormativity.

The case study of Stephen Fry and his recent marriage to Elliott Spencer on the 17th January, 2015, highlights the ways in which intergenerational relationships are portrayed as ‘unnatural’ through the mainstream media. Rubin argues, that “the lowest of all on the hierarchical system of sexual value are those whose eroticism transgresses generational boundaries”[2]. In the coverage of Stephen Fry and Elliott Spencer’s relationship, the mainstream British media continuously used an economic framework to represent their relationship. Intergenerational relationships are depicted as the older partner being financially well off and the younger partner desiring or needing financial assistance. This highlights the presumption that the older male has to ‘keep’ his young partner through material objects because the younger partner is sexually desirable and physically attractive.

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Apr 20 2015

The legacy of the coalition government: a double standard on women’s rights

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Kady author pic

Kady Billington-Murphy (@KadyBM) is a part-time student at the LSE Gender Institute studying towards an MSc in Gender, Policy and Inequalities. She has worked in the human rights sector for several years with UK and international NGOs.

As the general election looms large on the horizon, and the days of the current coalition government appear numbered, what are we to make of progress on women’s rights during the last five years of Tory-Liberal Democrat rule?

The question is not a straightforward one to answer. Certainly examples spring to mind of government ministers speaking out about the need to protect “the most vulnerable women” around the world. The high-profile Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) is one such example. Launched by former Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London last June, the initiative received widespread media coverage. Supporters argue that it has mobilised significant support and attention in this neglected area, not least the recent opening of a new Centre for Women, Peace and Security at LSE.

The government has also focused attention on ending what it calls ‘the scourge of modern slavery’ – or human trafficking – in the UK. Home Secretary Theresa May’s Modern Slavery Bill, introducing tougher penalties for traffickers, has recently become law, and the first Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner has been appointed.

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Apr 13 2015

Intersections of Gender, Sexuality, Race and Age in the Privileging of Coupledom

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Kate Gilchrist author pic

Kate Gilchrist graduated from the LSE’s Gender Institute in December 2014 with an MSc in Gender. As well as freelancing as a sub-editor and writer on a wide range of national and international magazines and journals, she has volunteered for several gender-rights based organisations in the UK, Central America and Asia. She also on the editing team of www.genderandthecity.com.

Earlier this year LSE held an event to commemorate the sociologist Ulrich Beck. Beck was prominent in developing the theory of reflexive modernity and the related concept of the transformation of intimacy. Such a theory suggests that postmodern society is characterised by diversification, freedom and fluidity within intimate relationships where non-traditional forms of love are being reflexively constructed into ‘elective affinities’. Yet singledom, defined here as an intimate life not organised by a serious or long-term, monogamous relationship, remains – 20 years on from Beck – inherently deprivileged within relationship discourses. Indeed, the coupledom/singledom divide is firmly in place and little eroded. As Budgeon describes

hetero coupledom is still dominant and central, though critiqued from the margins. Shelley Budgeon

Recent media representation of two heterosexual celebrity weddings, as well as the work of two artists offer interesting examples of how such discourses continue to operate, and how such deprivileging is produced at the intersections of gender, sexuality, age and race.

Examining the recent media portrayal of two celebrities’ nuptials – George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston – demonstrates the deprivileging of non-coupled lives at the intersection of gender, sexuality, race and age. Both marriages are overwhelmingly celebrated, working to devalue singledom and elevate marriage as the pinnacle of a ‘successful’ life and the gold standard of relationships. However, the events occur in starkly contrasting ways in each case, revealing the complexity of the single/couple dichotomy. Clooney’s crossover into married status is framed in terms of capture, while Aniston’s is portrayed as a form of escape and refuge.

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Feb 12 2015

The Forgotten Women of Comics

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Laura Sneddon is a comics journalist, writing for the mainstream UK press with a particular focus on women and feminism in comics. With an MLitt in Comic Studies, do not offend her chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible. Her writing is indexed at comicbookgrrrl.com and procrastinated upon via @thalestral on Twitter.

Dale Messik

In recent years, “diversity” has become somewhat of a buzzword within the superhero comics industry and fandom, and a point of tension between life-long comic fans with a largely male online presence and newer fans from a range of different backgrounds eager to see themselves represented on the page. In many ways that tension has been eased – Marvel for example have committed to pushing several prominent female characters including the wonderful Kamala Khan as a newer, fresher Ms Marvel, and publishers certainly seem willing to listen to women fans. But after 12 months of constant drama within the comics community, from harassment campaigns to rape threats for female critics, it’s important to keep looking ahead as we acknowledge victories along the road.

When I first began writing about comics back in 2011, the problems with sexism in superhero comics was something that I was determined to address. It soon became clear that this was an incredibly complex issue, and something that was going to get me – and other women – far more attention than I had anticipated. A piece on the seemingly controversial idea to place Wonder Woman in trousers rather than a skirt opened my eyes to a highly reactive segment of the comics community that decried any kind of change, an echo perhaps of the never-aging pantheon of superheroes that are constantly recycled and renewed.

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Nov 18 2014

Britain must end its support for sterilisation in India

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Dr Kalpana Wilson is Senior LSE Fellow in Gender Theory, Globalisation and Development. Her research interests are interdisciplinary and include the relationships between neo-liberalism, gender and concepts of agency, the experiences of women in rural labour movements, and ways in which notions of 'race' are inscribed within discourses of development.

Dr Kalpana Wilson is Senior LSE Fellow in Gender Theory, Globalisation and Development. Her research interests are interdisciplinary and include the relationships between neo-liberalism, gender and concepts of agency, the experiences of women in rural labour movements, and ways in which notions of ‘race’ are inscribed within discourses of development.

The horrifying deaths of at least 14 women who had undergone surgery at sterilisation camps in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, highlight the violence of the population control policies that the British government is at the forefront of promoting globally.

Far from giving poor women in the global south much-needed access to safe contraception that they can control, these policies dehumanise them as “excessively reproductive” and set targets that make atrocities like those in Chhattisgarh possible. While these policies are rooted in deeply racist and patriarchal ideas, they are implemented in the name of reproductive rights and choice.

Two years ago, the British government co-hosted the London Family Planning Summit, where along with other international organisations, they announced a $2.6bn (£1.7bn) family planning strategy aimed at getting 120 million more girls and women in the poorest countries to use voluntary family planning by 2020. A few months later the development secretary, Justine Greening, announced further “determined UK action on family planning” including the increased distribution of contraceptive implants.

Despite its insistence that it opposes coercion, it had already been revealed that the Department for International Development (DfID) was funding forcible sterilisations in the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. Here, too, poor women, many of them Dalits, died after allegedly being lied to about the operation, and threatened with the loss of their ration cards or their access to government welfare schemes. They are said to have been bribed with small amounts of cash or, as with this latest case, forcibly taken to camps, where they were operated on under appallingly unsafe conditions.

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Oct 28 2014

The War Rages On: Women in the British Military and the De-Politicisation of War in ‘Our Girl’ (2014)

Harriet Gray author pic

Harriet Gray is a PhD student in the Gender Institute at the London School of Economics, working on intimate partner abuse in the British military. She has also written on female combat roles in the American military, consent, and celebrity intimate partner violence, and can also be found on Twitter.

The five part BBC drama series Our Girl (and the 90 minute TV film which preceded it) centres around the experiences of Private Molly Dawes, a young medic serving in the British Army. Molly is assigned to a unit referred to as ‘2 Section’ as a combat casualty replacement, and with them deploys to Afghanistan. Her colleague in 2 Section, Private Dillon “Smurf” Smith, and their leader Captain Charles James, an experienced officer on his fourth tour of Afghanistan, form the two other principle characters in the series.

Our Girl was broadcast at a time when women’s roles in the British armed forces are once again under review. At present, women – who make up 10% of British regular military personnel – are able to serve in most roles in the British military with the exception of ‘combat roles’, defined as “ground combat units where the primary role is to close with and kill the enemy”. Previous reviews of the ban in 2002 and 2010 have concluded that while many women may well possess the physical and psychological capacities to serve in any military role, the impact of women’s presence on unit cohesion and therefore on combat effectiveness cannot be fully understood without taking the risk of sending mixed combat teams into battle; a risk which the MOD and the armed forces were not at the time of these reviews prepared to take. That is, women’s continued exclusion from combat roles was justified not on the basis of what women were capable of doing, but, as I have argued elsewhere, of who (what?) they are.

their war her battle

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Oct 20 2014

Where has gender gone? The big absence in Brazilian presidential elections 2014

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Louisa Acciari author photo

Louisa Acciari is a PhD student at the Gender Institute working on the mobilisations of domestic workers in Brazil. Her research interests include social movements; feminist and post-colonial theories; the intersections between gender, race and class; and Brazilian politics.

One could expect that having two woman candidates (Marina da Silva and Dilma Roussef) leading the polls might have brought gender equality to the centre of the Brazilian presidential elections debates – especially when one of them is the current President of Brazil, and the first-ever woman to hold that office.

Although feminist scholars have warned against essentialist arguments on representation, there is an expectation that women will be better represented by woman politicians in what could be conceived of as ‘women’s interests’, particularly on issues related to the right to chose, violence and discrimination in the labour market.

However, when analysing the propositions and manifestos of the three main candidates (those with the highest chances of reaching the second round, according to polls), candidates’ positions on these issues were not easy to identify. The main national newspapers summarising their propositions highlighted education, health, economy, energy, environment, international affairs, but not gender equality.

As the second round vote between Dilma (the current president, left-wing party) or Aécio (centre-right man candidate, now backed by Marina who did not get through) nears on October 26th, the need for a feminist analysis appears even more pressing.

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Oct 9 2014

Gender Equality Forum and Spectrum respond to recent events around LSE men’s rugby

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The Gender Equality Forum (GEF) and Spectrum (LSE’s LGBT+ staff forum) have released a joint statement in response to the sexist, homophobic, racist, and classist leaflet recently dispersed by the now disbanded LSE Men’s Rugby Club to LSE Freshers. The statement is an important example of collective politics in action, and brought together input from around 70 members of the School to draw attention both to the incident itself and to some of the initial reactions to it, which failed to take account of the full scope of the problem. Since the release of the statement, the School has expanded its response and has committed to paying attention to the broader issues raised by this incident. We have published the joint statement from the Gender Equality Forum and Spectrum in full below.

Members of the Gender Equality Forum (GEF) and Spectrum (The LSE’s LGBT+ forum) are outraged but not surprised at the Men’s Rugby Club handing out misogynous, homophobic, racist and classist leaflets in Freshers’ week.  We welcome the speedy decision of the LSESU to disband the Men’s Rugby Club for the rest of the academic year and their commitment to a broader challenge to hate speech and everyday inequality at LSE. In addition we call upon the LSE to recognise the gravity of both the specific incident and the broader context within which it has arisen.  We are clear that this event reflects a wider culture of inequality and elitism that needs to be transformed; any response that frames the incident as exceptional would be unacceptable.

We call on the School to provide a dynamic and proactive response that shows the School’s commitment to equality for all its members. Staff, faculty, researchers and students want their anger at the leaflets’ message to be taken seriously, and demand recognition of the pervasive issues of inequality that mar many people’s experience at the LSE.  We are concerned that LSE’s response thus far seems to be focused on damage limitation rather than real interrogation of the broader issues, a concern underlined by a historic failure to show real leadership on the need for change. New and existing students, staff, researchers and faculty at the LSE have a right to expect the School to ensure a safe environment within which all of us can thrive (as promised in the Strategic Review).

The GEF and Spectrum expect:

*Full information on the time frame of the School investigation of the incident, including details of who will be conducting it and the process of their appointment.

*A full statement from the School concerning its commitment to addressing sexism, homophobia, racism and classism at all levels across the school.

*A firm action plan to transform the LSE’s elitist and hostile culture, and details of the process and extent of group consultation and open fora on these issues at the School.

*A clear commitment to appropriate resourcing, monitoring and transparent reporting on the substantive outcomes of that plan, such that this does not remain a paper exercise.

LSE’s recent failure to secure a Bronze Institutional Award under the ECU’s Gender Equality Charter Mark, as well as our placement 314th out of 369 by Stonewall for our efforts to tackle discrimination and create an inclusive workplace for LGB employees, underlines many people’s sense that the School’s stated commitment to tackling inequality remains superficial. LSE has a strong Ethics Code to which it is obliged to adhere, and the failure to meet this commitment risks further damaging the School’s national and global reputation.

Provided the above conditions are met, the GEF and Spectrum are willing to work with the DMT as part of our ongoing efforts to create a safer and more inclusive environment at LSE. We see the issues arising from this incident as a real opportunity for LSE to take a lead in addressing everyday and institutional inequality.

Gender Equality Forum


Other concerned School members

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