News roundup for April 2001

Make sure he hurts you if you want to prosecute

That’s the message given out by the Scottish senior judge Lord Abernethy at the end of March, when he cleared a defendent in a rape case, ruling that rape was only rape if force could be shown to be used, and that just saying ‘no’ was not enough. “To have sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent in itself if not rape” he said. Women’s groups and feminists were outraged and called for his resignation. The f-word agrees. No means no. Why is that so hard to understand? Sex without consent is rape. End of conversation.

Not your stereotypical popstar

I never thought I’d say this, but… I’m impressed by Hear’Say (you know, the ‘Popstars’ band). The three female members of the band have been attacked by tabloids for – unbelievably – being too fat; despite the fact that the women are roughly size 12 to 14, and the boys also of average size. Despite all the pressure they have been under from all sides, Hear’Say have refused to diet, have refuted claims they are ‘pudgy’ and ‘fat’, but have also said they don’t care if they are seen that way. An ITV executive said ‘They need to face up to the fact that TV makes you look fatter’. Who says? Good for them!

News from our self-help correspondent

Surrendered Wife website – like feminism never happened…

Laura Doyle, author of the now infamous self-help book The Surrendered Wife, was in Britain promoting her book. Insisting that ‘surrendered’ does not mean subservient or submissive (yeah, right), her book basically tells wives to agree with whatever their husband says, don’t make demands about sex but let

him have it when he wants, and ultimately give up control and stop nagging. Laura Doyle describes herself as a ‘former shrew’ and, unbelievably, a feminist, suggesting that women can only be truly liberated by surrendering… groan.

In other self-help news, the papers reported with glee that Ellen Fein, co-author of The Rules (the book that gives women such valuable relationship advice as timing phone calls, playing hard to get, blah blah) is to divorce her own husband. This comes just before the launch of The Rules III – Time Tested Secrets for Making Your Marriage Work. Stop sniggering at the back!

‘Night Without Men’

In early March, Bogota, the capital of Columbia, held an unofficial, voluntary curfew on men from 8.30pm until 1am, allowing women to enjoy the freedom of the city, poetry readings, concerts and other special entertainment. The idea came from the (male) Mayor Antennas Mockus, who aimed to try to make people reflect on violence and gender. There was expected to be a drop in street crime and incidents of domestic violence, which seemed to be borne out by preliminary statistics after the event. Although men’s rights organisations probably view this one-off event with horror and outrage, what springs to mind is the oft-quoted study which showed that while men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them. For once, women could enjoy a night on the streets without this fear.

And the moral of the story is… don’t have kids

Natasha Walter describes the conveyor-belt experience of childbirth on the National Health
BBC Report on how mothers miss out on maternity rights
BBC Report on working mother’s link to school failure

This month it must have been hell to be pregnant. Motherhood was all over the news, and it wasn’t good. Ironically, around the same time as Mother’s Day, we heard report after report about every step of the process, from conception to birth, none of which made me look forward to having kids.

Stephen Hone went to court to try to stop his ex-lover going through with an abortion, objecting on the technicality that she had not been seen by two doctors as the 1967 Abortion Act specified. However, the real debate was over whether a man should have any right to control a woman’s body. Pro-life groups supported Mr Hone totally. Pro-choice groups said the decision should always be the woman’s, and if a men are given control over a pregnant woman’s body, where will it end? The woman in question said she thought Hone was simply trying to control her. In the US, meanwhile, anti-abortion extremists had their right to publish a website ‘hit-list’ of abortion doctors upheld by a US court.

If you decide to go ahead with a pregnancy, the trauma doesn’t end there. There’s the whole pregnancy process to contend with. In March we heard that in June 2000, a woman had died after contracting E.coli during an amniocentesis test. The website conducted a survey of 2,000 mothers which revealed that less than half were happy with the care they got throughout pregnancy. Just 4% had the same midwife all the way through, and more than 40% did not get the kind of birth they wanted. 71% said they felt frightened during the birth. Postnatal care was also criticised as very poor.

Various reports highlighted the problems working women face when they get pregnant. The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux found that thousands of pregnant women are sacked illegally or denied maternity rights. It told how some women were sacked because being pregnant was ‘not attractive’ to customers, and demonstrated a basic level of ignorance by some employers, who felt they automatically had to fire a pregnant woman even if they didn’t really want to. Meanwhile, in a high profile employment tribunal, Vanessa Brennan claimed she was bullied and patronised by her boss who joked about a book called 101 Things to do with a Dead Baby, told her to hide the fact she was pregnant, forced her to work 80 hours a week, and almost miscarried through stress and exhaustion.

Some rare good news came when Gordon Brown announced the budget, giving mothers an increase in paid maternity leave to 26 weeks, and 2 weeks for men. Until now, fathers were not entitled to paid paternity leave. As much as women must have welcomed any increase, they must have wondered how we are ever going to get anywhere near equality in child care when men are entitled to just two weeks paid leave to look after their own children. The cost of motherhood was researched by the Maternity Alliance, which showed that the less skilled you are, the more likely you are to suffer from the financial effects of being a mother. An unskilled mother of two will lose about £260,000 of her earnings during her working life, whereas a highly-skilled woman would lose £20,000.

After all of this, working mothers must have been fuming when research hit the headlines that claimed children of full-time working mothers are more likely to fail at school. The fact is that even if mothers wanted to stay at home, most can’t afford to. But now they were castigated and blamed for doing what they had to do to survive and care for their children. Again, the old arguments were heard: women should stay at home and take care of the kids; if they don’t, they are selfish. Had we suddenly gone back in a time-warp? Where were the fathers in all of this?

This month, the moral of the story is, for god’s sake, don’t get pregnant. As a young woman wondering if I will ever have kids of my own, and wondering if I even want to, the news this month could have been engineered to put me off. I have the utmost respect for mothers – and fathers – who have to deal with all these problems every single day. But something tells me that the experience of motherhood in the UK is not, by any means, what it should be. The right to have control over our own bodies. To go through pregnancy with the same people looking after you. To feel safe while giving birth. To have the right to stay in a job and not be discriminated against. To know that your partner will be there when you need him to help you out and to experience the miracle as well. To have the care of children equally shared out. And to be able to continue with yourown life; to have a fulfilled working life once the kids are here. Sadly, in the UK today, these things are still beyond our reach.