#RadFem2013 Supporter’s Online Tirade of Hatred and Abuse

[Trigger warnings: transphobic abuse, rape, cyber-bullying]

In June of this year will be the Radical Feminism 2013 conference in London. Their event got cancelled last year after a storm of controversy when they decided to ban transgender women who were born as men. As far as I’m concerned that’s a ridiculous and immoral decision that stigmatises a deeply marginalised and abused segment of society. I would say more, but Stavvers has already said what needed to be said in a far more eloquent and informed way than I could.

A year later, have they learned their lesson? Here’s the answer. Cath Brennan (tweeting as @BugBrennan, though she seems to have made her Twitter account private in the last few hours) is one of the supporters of Radical Feminism 2013. According to RationalWiki, when she’s not at conferences her hobbies include writing to the UN to demand that transgender people should not receive human rights protections; and outing transgender teenagers to their schools. Apparently her school of “thought”, if you can call it that, is known as Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminism, or TERF.

Claire OT is a British occupational therapist with an interest in the use of social media in mental health. She’s also proud to call herself a feminist, though unlike Brennan she doesn’t demonise men or transgender women. Earlier today she got into a brief Twitter exchange with Brennan, and promptly received a deluge of abusive tweets , including such charming responses as “you two can be dick pleasers all you like” and “stop telling lesbians to suck your dick, rapist”.


Is Claire OT the only person to have receive abusive tweets from Brennan? A quick Twitter search suggests not.


And the organisers of Radical Feminism 2013 have the nerve to consider themselves a civil rights movement? What they’re propagating is hate speech. While they make a lot of noise, it also seems that they’re also pretty unrepresentative of contemporary feminism. Younger feminists in particular aren’t buying this bigoted codswallop.

The conference is due to take place at the London Irish Centre. If you want to let the venue owners know what sort of ideas are likely to wind up being promoted on their premises, here’s their contact details.

EDITED TO ADD: It seems I’m not the only person who’s been screenshotting abusive tweets by the charming Ms Brennan

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The Socialist Workers Party: Sex, Power and the Abuse of Trust

[Trigger warnings for rape and sexual exploitation]

I’ve blogged a couple of times about the scandal engulfing the Socialist Workers Party, an organisation I regard as closer to a cult than a political party. Just to recap, a senior figure in the SWP was accused of rape by a female party member. Rather than call the police, the SWP held an internal inquiry by a “Disputes Committee” made up of the accused’s friends, who completely exonerated him. Details have been published on the internet, prompting an internal revolt.

There’s been intense discussion of this on various left-wing blogs. This has resulted in details emerging that paint the whole affair in an even more disturbing light, bringing to bear issues over possible abuse of power dynamics.

To summarise these details, here’s a post by former SWP member Anna Chen. She replied to an exhortation by one of the SWP leadership not to listen to “filth” on the internet.


“Filth” is an alleged rape taking place when a woman is nineteen, 2 years after she and her party leader meet, at which time he is forty-six and she seventeen.

“Filth” is an appeal to the party’s internal disciplinary body being met with a kangaroo court run by several of the party leader’s friends, who then exonerate him.

“Filth” is the woman denied access to his evidence while he sees hers: the game is surely “I’ll show you mine IF you show me yours.”

“Filth” is a woman ostracised, cast out as unclean with a scarlet letter “A” carved into her forehead.

“Filth” is her friends put under heavy manners by the party’s attack dogs, fresh from their two-minute hate.

What particularly concerns me here – quite aside from what sounds like allegations of disgraceful treatment of the woman by her party – is the age difference between the two people involved. When they met he was 46, and a party leader, and she was only 17?

Given the widespread discussion of the case on various blogs, I don’t think it’s breaching any secrets to say that the accused is Martin Smith, former SWP secretary, and currently the national organiser of Unite Against Fascism. My understanding is that he denies rape – not that the truth can now be established either way. The SWP’s kangaroo court will have massively prejudiced any attempt at a criminal prosecution. However, he admits to having had a consensual sexual relationship with the girl in question.

There’s references to this in the transcript of the Disputes Committee report, which was leaked onto the Internet.

We also however thought it was important to be clear that the disputes committee doesn’t exist to police moral, er, bourgeois morality, so we agreed that issues that weren’t relevant to us were whether the comrade was monogamous, whether they were having an affair, whether the age differences in their relationahip, because as revolutionaries we didn’t consider that should be our remit to consider issues such as those.

Trouble is, this isn’t just about “bourgeois morality” but power relations. Let me draw an analogy. Normally, the age of consent for sex is 16. However, if the older person is classed as being in a “position of trust” over a younger person, then the age of consent runs up to the 18th birthday, for the simple reason that trust can be abused. Teachers are an example of this, and I previously made this point while discussing the Jeremy Forrest Case. As a nurse in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, I too would be classed as being in a position of trust. Hence if I slept with a 17 year old patient I wouldn’t only be committing gross professional misconduct. I’d also be committing a crime under the Sexual Offences Act.

Obviously, leaders of Trotskyist sects are not subject to the same legal obligations as teachers and nurses. Even so, the power relation still exists. When considering the power relation, remember that the SWP is absolutely notorious for authoritarianism, control-freakery and groupthink.

At its most extreme, the sycophancy appears cult-like.  A number of [Central Committee] members are big fans of jazz music. Under their leadership over the past few years, the party has organised a number of (mostly loss-making) jazz gigs as fundraising events.  Regardless of their own musical tastes, comrades were told they were disloyal if they didn’t purchase tickets.  This elevates the cultural tastes of the official leadership to a point of political principle; and clearly is not in any way a healthy state of affairs.

This is an organisation that claims to speak truth to power. Yet they seem incapable of understanding the potential for abuse of power when a middle-aged party leader is having sex with a teenage volunteer barely old enough to be out of school.

Then again, maybe their relationship had nothing to do with power relations, and Mr Smith cuts a dashing Robert Redford-style figure?


Feminism, The Left and Unnecessary Twitter Feuds

Recently I blogged about an unfortunate tendency within the online feminist movement to engage in Judean Peoples Front-style feuding, particularly on Twitter. Yesterday that exploded in spectacular fashion. On my lunchbreak from work I checked my Twitter feed to discover that the left-wing Independent columnist Owen Jones and the feminist blogger Zoe Stavri were having an argument. From scrolling back, it became clear that they’d been arguing all morning. When I got home from work that evening, they were still arguing. Not only that, but various left-wing and feminist tweeters were piling in, and things were getting more and more heated. Oh good grief, it just went on and on and on and on

What on earth produced such a vitriolic and lengthy row? Sadly, the answer is depressingly trivial and pointless.

A couple of days ago, Stavri tweeted this.


The article by Jones is online here. His argument is that George Galloway is an often-unpleasant character, but has a talent for winning over audiences, and that the left should learn from his communication style.

Despite what Stavri suggests, Jones does call out Galloway’s rape apologism and much else besides. In fact he does so in the first paragraph.

He was mocked for a largely disastrous appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. He has made unacceptable comments about rape – “not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion” – that repulsed virtually everybody. He has made apparently sympathetic remarks about brutal dictators (although, unlike some of his detractors, he hasn’t sold them arms, funded them or even been paid by them).

Jones concludes:

Gorgeous George is one of the most charismatic politicians of our time, but also one of the most divisive, and still manages to win over the audience. You don’t have to like him; but, if you want to change the world, you do have to learn from him.

I’ll state my own views on George Galloway. I don’t like him. For all his populist hero-of-the-left image, I’ve always got the impression that his main overriding ideology is himself.  There’s plenty to dislike – his aggressive and at times litigious approach towards his critics. His former support for the old Soviet Union. His periodical sucking-up to dictators and demagogues.

And of course, there’s his utterly revolting comments about rape, which were thoroughly condemned and rightly so. I hope this goes without saying, but I also condemn them.

Personally, I’m not sure that I agree with Jones that Galloway is charismatic. Some people seem impressed by him, but personally I’ve always found that his communication style reminds me of Swiss Toni from the Fast Show.

Jones responded to Stavri.


And so it continued. Take a look at the Twitter thread. It just doesn’t stop! In fact, the whole row continued for over two days. Jones tetchily insisted that he had condemned Galloway’s comments, while Stavri and various other feminists more and more stridently claimed that he hadn’t condemned it enough.

The whole thing escalated into something more akin to a Twitter-wide slanging match than a debate between putative allies. At one point I rather cheekily decided to respond by tweeting my joke “Generic Condemnation of This Thing That Person Said on Twitter” blog post. Within minutes I received a tweet asking whether I, as a mental health nurse, would be flippant when talking to a rape survivor.

The NMC social networking guidelines require me to uphold the reputation of my profession when blogging, so I can’t repeat the language that went through my head when I read that. Suffice it to say that as someone who works regularly with young people who have been abused, I took it as an appalling and uncalled-for slur on my character.

At this point it would be tempting to declare both sides as bad as each other, and admonishing the whole of the left and feminist Twitterati to Go To Your Respective Rooms And Have A Think About What You’ve Done. But I don’t actually think both sides were as bad as each other. The various feminist tweeters rushed to form a twitchfork mob not because of what Jones did or didn’t say, but because they felt he didn’t sufficiently emphasise something. As a result they created a totally unnecessary feud.

The depressing thing about all this is, most of the time tweeters like @stavvers, @sazza_jay et al have good and worthwhile things to say. I agree with them more often than I disagree, and I consider myself instinctively sympathetic to feminism. I suspect this post may get dismissed as “mansplaining” but I spoke to women who self-identify as feminists who were equally dismayed by the exchange.

Personally I am, to use a tagline that Stavri uses regularly, not angry just disappointed.

Ultimately, who does this sort of pointless feuding benefit? It certainly doesn’t benefit either the left or feminism.


The Didn’t Stop the War Coalition – Ten Years on From Feb 15

It occurred to me earlier that yesterday was ten years since the global protests on February 15th 2003, when millions of people across the world took to the streets to demand a halt to the then-imminent invasion of Iraq. It was an expression of protest unprecedented in history. It also accomplished precisely nothing. In other words, it was a glorious failure.

If you’re interested, here’s a pic of me (I’m on the right) in the pub at Paddington station, after attending the London march. My face looks rather pink from the cold of that day.

Depends on whose estimates you believe, anywhere between 750,000 and two million people marched through London. Whatever number you call it, the one thing you can say with certainty is that it was a lot. My day started early in the morning, joining a large convoy of buses from my home city. When we stopped off at the motorway services, the car park was crowded with buses from other convoys all over Britain. It was as if the armies massing in the Kuwaiti desert were being matched by another, entirely unarmed, force, descending on London.

At times you couldn’t really call it a march. It was more of a shuffle, the sheer volume of people being too great for the streets they were passing through. It wasn’t just the numbers that were striking either. The people in attendance were not just the usual types one would find at a protest. Sure, there were the Trotskyists, the veteran, grey-haired Communists who’d forgotten the Cold War was over, the anarchists, the Greens. But the overwhelming majority of people were just concerned individuals, many of had never been on a protest march before.

The whole thing culminated in Hyde Park, where the Rev Jesse Jackson exhorted a vast crowd to “keep hope alive”. I then tried and failed to find my coach home, which was logjammed in somewhere among a massive fleet of other coaches. In the end I gave up and headed to Paddington to find a train.

For a very brief period it seemed as if something truly epoch-defining had happened. The Stop the War Coalition had become a genuine mass movement, representing large swathes of the population. Surely something had been changed.

In fact, nothing had changed. Just over a month later, troops surged across the Iraqi border. A million or so British people marching through London hadn’t stopped the British Army marching through Basra. You know the rest – a messy invasion followed by an even messier occupation. Another messy occupation in Afghanistan. A steady stream of civilian deaths in both those countries. Another stream of British lads coming home in Union Jack-draped coffins, or with limbs missing, or without a scratch but inwardly tormented by what they’d had to see and do. Plus all the nasty hangovers that we’re still left with – instability in the Middle East and North Africa, drone strikes in Pakistan and so on. Not to mention the ruined legacies of Bush and Blair, paving the way for the presidency of Barack Obama – the only Nobel Peace Prize winner in history to have a kill list.

As for the Stop the War Coalition, their time as a mass movement was short-lived. With the failure to achieve the goal they were named after, the number of people attending their protests shrank rapidly. The demographic also changed. For many of those who attended their first protest on February 15th, it was also their last. The STWC quickly shrivelled to its rump of the Trots and those scowling old men in red sweaters.

Two of its core organisations – the Socialist Workers Party and the Muslim Association of Britain – joined to form a political party, the Respect Coalition. The two groups shared an opposition to the war, a stance of support for Palestine and precious little else. They scored some minor electoral upsets before the coalition was torn apart by the differences between the two groups. Respect still exists, but mainly as a small fan club for George Galloway MP – a man whose main ideology tends to be George Galloway. Meanwhile, the SWP is currently deservedly imploding due to a rape scandal.

February 15 may have been a mass outpouring of the word “No”, but was it ultimately heard?

There was also another throwback to ten years ago this week. Real-terms wages have now fallen back to 2003 levels.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose….



Diagnosis Shopping

The following story is fictional, but inspired by several real cases that I’ve been involved in.

A child is brought to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) by his parents. Mother is convinced he has aspergers. The child is clearly troubled, and shows signs of palpable distress. However, he shows no signs whatsoever of being on the autistic spectrum. On the contrary, he’s sociable, emotionally responsive, with no ritualistic behaviours and no sensory issues.

The school report he’s emotionally fragile, with low self-esteem. His teachers report that Mum seems very negative towards him.

The family spend some time with the family therapist. Themes emerge that Mum is strongly rejecting of the lad. She seems to be projecting something onto him, but we don’t get to find out what because Mum promptly sacks the family therapist as soon as he starts exploring that particular route.

Mum tells the consultant that he needs individual work on anger management and social skills, not this family therapy rubbish. The CPN gives him some individual sessions. For some unfathomable reason, the CPN has a habit of ensuring that Mum is in the room during the “individual therapy”. This is what is known as family therapy by stealth.

The boy is reviewed by the consultant. He’s now doing better, and there’s no evidence of mental illness or developmental disorder. Mum insists he has asperger’s, and demands a second opinion.

Another consultant provides a second opinion. No evidence of asperger’s or any other problems. Mum declares that she is outraged by this shabby treatment at the hands of the NHS.

The case is discussed in our team meeting. We feel we’ve done as much as we can. There’s nothing wrong with the boy, but Mum won’t take no for an answer. A team decision is made to discharge him from CAMHS.

As the discharge letter is being typed up, we get a phone call from the school. Mum has taken him to a child psychiatrist in private practice. After a single appointment, the private shrink has diagnosed him with asperger’s.

It seems that in a free market, even diagnoses are for sale.

On The Ward

We the visitors tread a well-worn path from car-park to bedside. We who long ago said everything there is to say but still talk, who drink tea we don’t want as we both cling to some semblance of normality, who dash to get food from the canteen with a fraction too much enthusiasm because we can get away from bedpans and pain, drips and catheters for a few precious minutes, giddy in the stale air of the cafe, guilty that loved ones must stay where they are.

More than anything, we have time on our hands. Time to look around and seek distraction, any distraction, just something to remark upon and air fresh words together. Time on our hands when those we worry and care about are getting the most effective medicine of them all, untroubled sleep not dictated by night or day, only the body’s needs. We the visitors have time to know what’s going on.

You don’t notice for several days. To begin with, it’s busy. This tablet, that doctor, more examinations, the results will be back soon. “Feeling better? The drip’s working. The drip will work, give it time. The op is one step nearer getting out of here.” Something is happening, something to aim for, a sense of purpose. Always niggles, that’s only to be expected. The doctor forgets to call, she’ll be in again tomorrow. Late with the bedpan? The nurses are really busy, don’t know how they cope. Hospital food – we’d say something if it was decent!

It’s when the days turn into weeks that you begin to understand. When there’s nothing to do but wait for the body to rest, recover and work its magic. When the doctors try something and wait to see what happens. If they told you that they were not entirely sure, they couldn’t be certain, fine, we could cope with that, that’s reality after all. But they don’t want to tell you what they don’t know. You just find out along the way.

The orthopaedic ward has 4 bays each with 6 beds, plus 2 single rooms.  In a ward like this, most patients have restricted mobility because they’ve broken something below the waist. Many are old and are in hospital because they have fallen. They can do little for themselves and certainly can’t go to the toilet unaided. 

Over a period of three weeks, at any one time at least two patients had dementia or Altzheimers, so being somewhere unfamiliar disoriented them even more.  One woman got up from her bed, went to the door, was prevented from leaving and taken back to her bed. The cycle was repeated for 5 hours every day, on top of the fact that everyone has too much to do. It’s so busy, you don’t realise until you think about it. For 26 people there is one sister, two nurses and 4 health-care assistants. Sometimes there’s an extra nurse.

The vast majority of the staff are unfailingly cheerful but because we’ve been around for a while, long-stayers we are, they drift to our quiet corner and talk. One man gave up his art career to be a health-care assistant. He loves his job with a passion even though he’s knackered every night and can barely pay his bills. He’s here because he wants to be.

The sister breezes onto the ward, her ward, and when she’s on duty the atmosphere lifts through the sheer force of her personality. A word of encouragement here, she’ll fill in for absent staff who need to get off their feet for 5 minutes, taking the pee out of the new young doctor. The staff nurse is kind too. She’ll go to another ward to find another pillow, forbidden really in case it exceeds the two per bed rule. She plumps them up and we both no longer sag. She’s moving to out-patients next week, she’s had enough. Can’t do my job properly any more, she says forlornly.

Intensive care is curiously comfortable and reassuring. Life and death dramas are played out in a calm, purposeful atmosphere. There’s one nurse to every two beds, with cover if a patient needs one to one. The nurses (they talk to us, you see) are motivated, well-trained, work as as team and despite the pressure elect to work here because they have the support and time to do what they want to do, which is to care.

Back to the ward. It should be a sign of progress but there’s a sigh and heavy heart. The sister winks – she briskly moves a couple of beds around so our corner is free. But it’s not so quiet because now there’s one man amongst five women. He spends the evening shouting down his mobile and demonstrating that hospital gowns cover a bare minimum of his tattooed legs. 

Next to him is another new arrival, a well-spoken and apparently frail woman in her seventies who sounds nervous. Not sure of the etiquette, I leave my post and help her with the table and her drink. She’s grateful but doesn’t look me in the eye. I say my goodbyes and walk to the exit past the laminated pledge from 2009 that wards will be single-sex.

Appearences can be deceptive. Later she’s visited by two younger relatives, who spend this and subsequent evenings talking about her trips around Europe last year, about her plans for the house and a walking holiday in Italy as soon as this leg is sorted out. Indefatigable is the word. Me, I heave my paunch around with a loud sigh just because my legs ache from sitting down for an hour.

There are visitors every day but not the same ones. They don’t see what I see. She doesn’t fancy a drink because the water is warm and it’s been there all day. But that’s what she said everytime someone asked her to drink and she hasn’t drunk since morning. Not hungry tonight, don’t really fancy the sandwich, oh OK then if you insist just one bite. But that’s all she’s had. The nurse encourages her to drink, scolds her like a schoolgirl, she takes a sip then the nurse is gone. Another more pressing task. And the water jug remains full.

Isolation now. This hospital has been heavily criticised in the papers because of hygiene problems. First sign of MRSA and here we are, plastic gloves and aprons preventing the spread of germs but separating us even more. Still, it’s a room to ourselves, with a TV. This was the old private wing. More nurses too. More risk means more care. 

The ward. The bed where the old woman lies is quiet now. Her visitors are still there but she’s asleep for long periods, waking occasionally to mumble a few incoherent words. The operation has gone well, it’s not that.  On the way out, I take the plunge and catch her visitors up. I’m no doctor but… They thank me but don’t quite know what to make of this stranger. Don’t understand it, she was so active until last week.

We wait two hours for a doctor to come in response to a leg pain. It’s the houseman, on rotation. We can tell, we know what’s going on. She listens. Without a word and without pulling the curtains round the bed, she takes a felt-tip from her pocket and draws a black mark around the area that hurts. Still silent, she smiles and gets up, presumably to inform a superior about her findings.

In the corridor sits an elderly man, upright and dapper in a worn tweed jacket, tie and proud-polished shoes. He’s ready to go home but because he lives alone, there’s no one to take him. Because it’s late, there’s no hospital transport. Because they are busy, there’s no one to sort it out. Because of the cuts, there’s no hospital social work department. That evening, I leave later than normal, a tearful day so the staff kindly let me stay past the end of visiting time. At 10pm he’s still there, sitting upright, proud and patient.

Three months on and we’re not going back. Another hospital, that odd feeling again. We’re professionals now. Patiently we give the same history for the umpteenth time. They can’t find the notes (don’t worry, the file is only a foot thick), of course they can’t.

But it’s different. Nurses rush around and don’t have a lot of time for personal care but there are more of them so things get done. The doctors are dead keen, anxious to get noticed as they forge their career. There’s a drinks machine on the ward. Same plastic water jugs but ice in the water. On the ward desk there’s an admin person. He takes the calls, gives directions, sorts out the files, all things that are distracting, time-consuming yet vitally important for patients, family and staff. No one waits patiently for a lift home that will never come. 

Tests and treatment will take a week, unpleasant and who knows what the future holds. But there’s a bed by the window. We hold hands and watch the sun set over Westminster Bridge.

Gay Marriage Bill passes second reading, all straight people in UK instantly get divorced

With the news that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill has passed its second reading, a shockwave has passed across the UK with the surprise news that all heterosexual couples in Britain have instantly divorced.

The housing market has been thrown into chaos due to the sheer volume of couples putting their homes on the market. Schools have described mass abandonments of children, and maternity services nationwide are reporting that new referrals have dropped to zero.

John and Debbie Longley of Totnes experienced events that have been repeated all over the country. “We’d set up a joint account to pool our finances, got ourselves a foothold on the property ladder. In a year or so’s time we would be getting ready to have our first child,” explained Mr Longley. “Then the news came on the TV that gay marriage had passed. Suddenly, it all just seemed so….meaningless.”

Mr Longley then turned to his now ex-wife and sighed, “You’re nothing to me now.”

Mrs Longley concurred, “I suppose I just have to get used to these new realities and consider my future options. I’m contemplating bestiality.”

Social affairs experts admitted being stunned by the turn of events. “All the warnings by opponents of gay marriage just sounded so daft,” said one leading sociologist. “Heterosexual marriages being undermined…A breakdown of values and norms…Nigel Farage actually being right about something. It seemed totally implausible.”

The news has also resulted in severe traffic delays across Britain. The Highways Agency report that this is because it’s raining men.