Status, Rank and Power

How does unjust privilege fester, and how can it be combated? Leticia Nieto and Margot Boyer explain. People experience oppression or privilege based on their gender, gender identity, ethnicity, social class and membership of other groups. Nieto calls this our “Rank”. A white straight middle-class educated able-bodied cis male has the highest rank. He is overvalued- society makes him seem better than a disabled person or a woman, but he is not, really. His privilege is a social construct. Power relates to our connection to God within: are you stuck in your ego, or do you have true integrity? Anyone can connect to their power through spiritual practices.

“A person’s ability to be grounded, to exercise compassion, to use humor in a healing way, to love without demands, and to support themselves and those around them can indicate the presence of Power.

Status arises from rank and power, and varies between interactions. High status behaviour is marked by posture, and claims of leadership, knowledge or dominance. Low status behaviour is marked by submissive posture, and messages of compliance, acceptance and support. With close friends status might be fluid. High status behaviour can be positive- teaching a group, speaking up- or negative- physical or verbal violence. A high rank person can temporarily take a low status position, but that does not change their rank. Low status behaviour can be positive, for example active listening, supporting another’s idea, or appreciating someone; or negative, for example passive-aggressive behaviour.

Nieto calls the higher ranked person in an interaction the agent, and the lower-ranked person the target. Working age adults, 18-65, have higher rank than old people or young people, and so having been a child is the only experience that white male etc has had of being a target.

We learn rank unconsciously, and how we should behave as members of those groups. We follow the rules, and adopt status positions accordingly. This has certain advantages: “When both people insist on taking a high-status position, there’s likely to be conflict. When both choose the low-status position, the interaction can be stagnant and the pair may find it impossible to make decisions or move forward.” However it is wearing for the targets. The ideal is that status is flexible, and all support the good work or ideas of each.

Overcoming that social conditioning takes a lot of work, and acting from our Power. As targets, we learn to take the low status role, and that is a survival skill. Also, behaving as if the Agent way of being is normal and preferable is a survival skill. This makes Agents comfortable. Then we behave like the Agent’s conception of our target group- girls adopt “feminine” behaviour. Whatever other skills we develop, we may find ourselves driven back to that survival skill- when tired, or threatened. We get the most practice in survival skills, so they seem easiest, but they are exhausting because they require us to conform to others’ expectations of us. Targets merely surviving may oppress other members of their target group.

Nieto calls the next level of target skills “confusion”. We become aware that survival is exhausting, and we are being oppressed. We see the Rank dynamics, though we cannot yet respond to them constructively. We don’t have the language to understand, but sometimes we think, say or do things which do not fit the Target role. Nieto calls Survival and Confusion Agent-centric skills, as we cannot yet act independently of target role.

To move to Empowerment, an agent-relative skill, where we are in principle equal with the Agents, takes a great deal of energy. It is being born again. We need access to spaces for Empowered targets, such as for women, BAME people or LGBT people. Targets talk about our common experience, and learn to value each other and ourselves. We learn about the roots of oppression. It’s painful but keeps us awake. Empowerment skills involve bringing up the issue of oppression in different interactions. We express anger at Agent norms. Then we mobilise to resist oppression. This is exhausting and risky.

Then we develop Strategy skills: when using Empowerment will produce the most good, when using Survival skills is necessary. We make more conscious choices of when to walk away. We align ourselves with our Target group, and spend less time on Agent expectations. We find norms which work for us, and support our own and other Target groups. Nieto calls these Re-centring skills. We operate out of our Power. We challenge systems of oppression in the most effective way.

Few Targets get to use Re-centring skills, and even the wisest and most skilful use them only some of the time. We use the higher level skills best when feeling calm, supported and well. Anything causing distress makes this more difficult: so self-care is important for anti-oppression work.

Agents can be allies. Because rank is unconscious, Agents rarely notice their privilege even as they enforce it. Unconscious agents start in Indifference. We don’t notice or value Targets. Then privilege is not our problem. Everyone pays attention to different information and stimuli, and through conditioning Agents become indifferent to anything that threatens their superiority.

When we encounter Targets and cannot be Indifferent, we practise Distancing. We notice how much they are not like us. Distancing Out- we hold them away. “I don’t have anything against—-, I just don’t want to live next door to them.” Distancing Down is most easily seen as oppressive. “They’re dirty.” Distancing up makes us pretend to value them: claiming that — people are musical, spiritual or close to nature. Distancing takes more energy, and organised hate groups support people to distance Targets.

Inclusion is more comfortable. We use verbal messages that emphasise similarity and connection. “I don’t see colour.” It feels that we are valuing Targets, and no longer oppressing, but we as Agents still centre ourselves. We want the Target group still to meet our expectations. We can’t work effectively against oppression until we wake up.

Moving beyond Inclusion, to Agent-relative skills of Awareness and Allyship, requires strong motivation, such as a strong relationship with a Target group member. Awareness feels unpleasant, and we feel disorientated by guilt and shame. We remember when we took advantage of privilege. We recognise how harmful Indifference, Distancing and Inclusion skills are, and that we normally use them.

Society discourages Awareness skills, so we need to practise them with a group who can confirm the reality of oppression. We can learn from Targets even if they might not want to teach us. We see the Rank system and see how much talent it wastes.

If we can bear the discomfort, we may be able to learn Allyship. We are aware of oppression and our own privilege. We stop being paralysed. We work against oppression, support targets and help other Agents wake up, see oppression, and develop anti-oppression skills.

This is based on Nieto’s summary pdf. More details are here.

Being an ally

I feel an obligation to be an ally to other disadvantaged groups. I like to think that trans folk, and LGBT more generally, would see the value in that, as together we are stronger, and we know the experience of being an outsider so should wish to mitigate it for everyone. I like to think that any civilised human being would understand the value of diversity.

I hate to think of humanity as everyone for themself, a survival of the fittest struggle. It is a mark of increased civilisation and maturity to abhor the idea of an out-group, to have fellow-feeling with everyone, and indeed the whole biosphere. More co-operation is always a good. Everyone gains when everyone is included. “Whatever you did for the least of these you did for me,” says Jesus.

In thinking about being an ally to Jews against antisemitism, I see from both sides- the ally to Jews, and the trans woman supported by allies. I am reading in order to learn more, and find beautiful things:

Dara Horn wrote in the NYT: Since ancient times, in every place they have ever lived, Jews have represented the frightening prospect of freedom. As long as Jews existed in any society, there was evidence that it in fact wasn’t necessary to believe what everyone else believed, that those who disagreed with their neighbors could survive and even flourish against all odds. The Jews’ continued distinctiveness, despite overwhelming pressure to become like everyone else, demonstrated their enormous effort to cultivate that freedom: devotion to law and story, deep literacy, and an absolute obsessiveness about transmitting those values between generations. The existence of Jews in any society is a reminder that freedom is possible, but only with responsibility — and that freedom without responsibility is no freedom at all.

So it is in my interests to be an ally. I find cosmopolitanism attractive, as an antidote to the blood and soil nationalism of Batten, Farage, Yaxley saying “I want my country back”. I am not a little Englander- Vaughan Williams is wonderful, but not a patch on Beethoven or even Bartok. Some peaks of non-European culture are mine, and I benefit from engaging with Hokusai or The Tale of Genji. Jews’ freedom to be Jews and my freedom to be trans are inseparable, but our freedom makes all more free: supporting minorities is enlightened self-image. Farage does not want to do anything for his countrymen, beyond giving them worthless myths. When he whips up hatred and fear in order to get votes, no-one gains.

As an ally I will see differently. I have read Augustine’s confessions, but remember little of them. For me Augustine is “Make me chaste, but not yet”, Original Sin and Substitutionary Atonement. A Jew might recall his treatment of Psalm 59- he says of the Jews “do not kill them”, but the context is of the enemies of God- allow them to live, as a dread reminder of God’s wrath.

The beauty of Amos Oz! I love his story about being the child throwing stones at soldiers in uniform with guns, though in his case British colonial troops. It does not mean he was a supporter of the Intifada, but a supporter of a two state solution. He wrote, Israel is a refugee camp, Palestine too. The conflict is a tragic clash between the right and the right … both nations don’t have another place to go. Crusade, Pogrom, Holocaust, exile, two thousand years of persecution and murder. So I am against anything which makes the continuing presence of Jews in Israel impractical, so against BDS.

I feel an obligation to be an ally to Jews because I am a member of the Labour Party, which faces a continuing stream of allegations about antisemitism. We desperately need a Labour government to reverse the damage done to the social fabric by the Tories, and Mr Corbyn’s pacifism might reduce some of the damage done by “defence” contractors and spending. And his admiration for JA Hobson, without condemnation of Hobson’s antisemitism, is wrong. He should apologise for it. He has greater prominence than he had in 2011 when he praised Hobson, so things come to light about him which went unnoticed before. And an obligation because I am British; we did damage as the colonial power with our divide and rule policies.

I do not think Quakers are antisemitic, but our engagement with disinvestment from the Occupied Territories means I feel an obligation to be clearer about the boundary between legitimate support of the Palestinian people, and antisemitism.

I have also read about “philo-Semitism”, which Jews may see as suspect. It is clearest in the extremes, with US Evangelicals supporting the State of Israel in order to bring forward the Rapture, from which I discern how being an ally in ones own interest may repel Jews. So: I don’t have a right to define the boundaries of the group, or groupish behaviour.

That being an ally involves Respect comes far more clearly to me thinking of antisemitism than of transphobia.

Here am I, being an ally. I love Richard Rohr; and yet find this sentence about Etty Hillesum rebarbative. In The Universal Christ chapter 6 he writes, although she wasn’t a Christian, she was highly spiritual in the best sense of that term. She was an utter realist, devoid of self-pity, and with an almost impossible freedom from need to blame, hate, or project her inner anxiety elsewhere. Without desiring to patronize her, I would identify Etty as a person Karl Rahner would’ve called an “anonymous Christian”. Rohr may fear that his audience think Christians uniquely enlightened by God, more than he needs to with me, but the implication that anyone should be surprised that a Jew was so wonderfully spiritual is offensive.

What can I do, as an ally? I can learn, and I can speak out- as I do here.

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde gives the consolation trans women need. I feel seen by her. I am reading Your silence will not protect you, a new British selection of her prose and poetry, of her most timeless works.

“We have been raised to fear the Yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings. But once recognised, those which do not enhance our future lose their power and can be altered. The fear of our desires keeps them suspect and indiscriminately powerful, for to suppress any truth is to give it strength beyond endurance. The fear that we cannot grow beyond any distortions that we may find within ourselves keeps us docile and loyal and obedient, externally defined, and leads us to accept many facets of our oppression.”

-from Uses of the Erotic: the Erotic as Power.

To gender-critical feminists opposing AFAB non-binary people whom they so resemble, from the point of view of everyone except themselves, I would quote from Scratching the Surface: Some notes to barriers to women and loving:

“The distortion of relationship which says ‘I disagree with you, so I must destroy you’ leaves us as Black people with basically uncreative victories, defeated in any common struggle… This kind of action is a prevalent error among oppressed peoples. It is based upon the false notion that there is only a particular and limited amount of freedom that must be divided up between us… so instead of joining together to fight for more, we quarrel between ourselves.”

Why do trans women not enjoy each others’ company more? StS: “For so long we have been encouraged to view each other with suspicion, as eternal competitors, or as the visible face of our own self-rejection.”

This is prose so rich and poetic that I feel moved to read it aloud, feeling each syllable in my mouth. From Poetry is not a luxury:

“That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.” I know that. Truth comes to me as poetry before I know it intellectually. Here is her definition of the erotic, from UotE:

“The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognising its power, in honour and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.”

From The transformation of silence into language and action:

“In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words. And I began to recognise a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me great strength.”

Audre Lorde speaks for me and inspires me. Yet this is Black experience, lesbian experience, which is not my own and is in so many ways alien to my white, educated understanding. That shows me why we white people must be allies to Black people, because they see things we do not see, they can lead us to our own freedom, and her words “I am not free while anyone is unfree” is simply fact.

George Cruikshank

At the end of British Black History month, I present this cartoon by George Cruikshank.

Here is a larger version on the British Museum website, which claims copyright.

The cartoon, from July 1826, calls the slavery abolition campaigners “canting humbugs”. In Cruikshank’s view, the Caribbean “planters” host happy, well-fed, fat black people, who are portrayed making music, dancing and drinking rum. The Abolitionists are deceiving decent British people to take an interest in slavery when there are poor whites in Britain, needing charity but ignored.

Oh, George! Cruikshank’s cartoons are still worth looking at, and I note his sympathy with starving people- a genuine concern- but the lies about slavery shame me now. Britain made a vast amount of money from slavery and colonial exploitation. Loving the Tate Galleries, I have just checked they are not directly contaminated by slave profits, which is a relief; but all over Britain the legacies of slave ownership remain. I am not free when anyone is unfree, even when their shackles are very different from my own. It is imperative for me to be an ally, and develop as an ally. I found the cartoon through David Olusoga’s documentary Britain’s forgotten slave owners.


I consider the issues for trans men are so different to mine that I want to be a good ally, rather than imagining myself able to speak for them. I am blogging to thrash out what I think; that’s a starting point from which I want to get to being an ally. Knowing where I am, I might find a route towards being an ally.

I have been writing about the vaginoplasty, which I find wrongful in almost all cases; only acceptable where sexual activity is unbearable using a penis, and the person can only countenance being penetrated. I consider that so many people have vaginoplasty as a symbol rather than reality- because it symbolises being a real woman, or at least a real transsexual person, for them; because they cannot imagine a person like them as a man rather than a woman, and cannot imagine a woman like them with a penis. Whereas penises are great. And many people are dissatisfied with the result. Several people talk of those who cease dilation (though some keep it up).

I think top surgery, chest masculinisation, is different. It means you can stop binding, and so breathe better, and I understand binding can cause health problems. You have two large scars under where your breasts used to be, so going topless is difficult, but passing when you have a top on is much easier.

The main difference is that T gives you facial hair, male pattern baldness, and helps your voice break. Sometimes people’s voices don’t break well, but generally unless you are cursed with very wide hips, or being particularly petit, or a particularly feminine skull you will pass. You become gentle, caring men. You gain male privilege. Am I envious? Yes. I would like to pass as normal, I crave straight privilege. Passing is not guaranteed, but there is some indication before you start whether it will be possible.

I know we say, it is not a choice. I know we say, it is irresistible. If you think you might, but are not sure, you are not true trans- and such stories help put off those who desperately want to transition but are frightened and not sure they will manage it. Lots of people who are not sure, or who are delaying transition, will make a go of it. And for anyone it’s a lot of time, effort and money.

So it is a choice. People put off transition, or avoid it completely. This does not make them less trans, just means that their circumstances are particularly against transitioning.

Can I be an ally, and hold out the possibility of accepting being yourself in your own body? And, accepting yourself, you find you are accepted by others- at least enough others, in the tribes and the enclaves you discover? Then you would not be dependant on synthetic hormones life long, with the risks that entails. Not transitioning, in other words, would be the better option, rather than the thing you do because you are forced to. Passing makes being trans easier.

Being an ally would involve separating out my own feelings about myself and my choices. And supporting the choices people make. They are able to make their own choices. Only if regret rates are significant does regret become relevant. Only if people transition, alter their bodies, and then wish they had not in large numbers is it a reason for restricting treatment. That is a number we need to know, and somewhere between 0.6% and 4 in 13 is not good enough. My own regret is not a good enough reason to try to persuade people not to, unless there is robust evidence of others’ regret.

Or, the number who have transitioned is large enough to show it might be right, and yet small enough that if it is wrong it is not a huge disaster, to support transitioning as a course of action.

In summary I am against vaginoplasty and agnostic/guardedly in favour of chest masculinisation. A person like you should be able to live as a woman; but in the Patriarchy, when certain qualities are disparaged as unmanly and projected onto women, that’s difficult. I want you to have the best life you can, and trust you to decide how you will achieve that. Then I want to be a supportive ally.

Allies IV

Allies can say things I find difficult to say. “A woman could be frightened and distressed to see you in a women’s toilet,” says a TERF. “Don’t you care?” Of course I care. Of course I would be sorry about that- but not sorry enough to change my life. What my father, a teacher, used to call “dumb insolence”- just looking at her but not saying anything- might be my best resource. I do not want to get into an argument, and I do not want to give ground.

If I were to argue the point, I would say I mind my own business in loos, worried about confrontation, and did not think it likely enough to warrant excluding me at all times. However Mhairi tells me it would not bother her. “A man might have been coming on to you, in a creepy, threatening and inexorable way, you escape, but see me and feel sick,” I said. “A lesbian might have been coming on to me,” she countered.

The answer to that one- for these arguments are rituals, honed in hugboxes then flung at the enemy- is that lesbians take “no” for an answer, but men never do. Mhairi merely snorts. My “but- but- but- I would never,” or even “well, I wouldn’t. Judge me by my acts, not by someone’s fears about me” does not have nearly the same force.

She is about 15-18 years younger than I am, and she has not got my baggage. The idea that trans is queer is bad never occurred to her. She does not need my circumspection. All women have different histories, different experiences, she says. Menstruation may seem to be the great trump card to others, but not to her. Perhaps it is that these things are not an argument at all, but a stand-off. No trans woman is going to hear a TERF and be persuaded, though some might be discouraged and revert in misery. Both sides have arguments as armour, protecting them against recognising the other side’s humanity.

She gave an example of a man showing emotion, crying far more than women do. She loves that. Possibly she is particularly an ally because she is neuro-diverse. She hates forms asking whether she is disabled, because her diversity gives her a different perspective. It is the social model of disability: her condition is accounted a disability because of the shallow observation that she does not pick up particular skills as neuro-typicals do, and that is perceived as a lack. There has been little attempt to see it as good, or even to find better ways suited to her for teaching those skills, so that the difficulty would be less. As an ally, in our conversation most of that came from me, though I was not telling her anything she did not know.

I can spend too much time with the “trans-critical”, so that their arguments come to seem to have force. It was good for me to spend time with her, to reassure me.

“Fat” is the reclaimed word. I wondered what was the self-identifying word for anorexics. Just as “obese” is a medicalising word, is “anorexic”? Is “skinny” insulting? I searched for “Anorexia forum” and found this site. It’s “pro-ana”, promoting behaviours related to anorexia nervosa, as a lifestyle choice or identity rather than a disease. So as a word chosen by the group themselves, it’s “ana”. And I find that problematic. People die because of these behaviours, but then so do climbers and cave-divers. I’ll go for “thin”, which has never been insulting in my culture.


You should not affect to be colour-blind. The BAME person, fat person or trans person cannot be blind to their minority status.

I wondered about the use of the word “fat”. You cannot say that, said R, who is a bit fat. It is pejorative. However it is descriptive, and many words are more than descriptive- twee, like “plump”, or euphemistic, like “well-upholstered”, or judgmental, like “overeater”, which has self-control as the implicit answer to a problem, or medicalising, like “obese”. So “fat” is the word.

From my mother’s clothing catalogue I translated “classic clothes for the fuller figure” to “unfashionable clothes for fat women”. I remember that most of them were beige. It seemed to me that I could avoid the potential offensiveness of the word “fat” by not referring to it at all, unless necessary. The simplest task of ally-ship is challenging offensive language or bullying. It should not be just the fat person, or even the dietician, challenging fatphobia. I could do that. I remember a poem from childhood, where one child does not laugh at the child who fell on the floor, though all the others, adults too, found it uproarious. Why not laugh? Because “That poor little child was me”. We need allies. I should not need to be the one challenging when I am excluded. I may not find the courage to challenge when I am excluded because I fear the exclusion spreading.

A more difficult ally task is inclusion. Why are there so few BAME people here? At the CAB we talked of “difficult to reach” clients, but that has since been reframed from the client’s point of view, and I cannot remember the words. I am not “colour-blind”, I notice the monochrome whiteness of the crowd and see this as a problem- others missing out on our campaigning and us missing out on their talents. One answer is to seek out leadership of BAME people, like the Labour party committee which will include the BAME person with the most votes, wherever they come in the list, and the other person with the mo-

I find that hard to put elegantly. The two people with the most and second-most votes will be elected, unless both are white, in which case the person with the most votes and the BAME person with the most votes will be elected. I understood the concept, but how to say it is complicated.

I read that I should not expect the minority to teach me how to be an ally, as they have agency and might decide what to do with their time. I do not want always to be explaining trans issues to people, or at least while I am glad people want to be helpful, and I want to answer their questions, sometimes I don’t have the energy. Worse is speaking to a person about ones good intentions to be an ally. How should I respond to that? I don’t necessarily feel that grateful. It shows that I am at a disadvantage. But it is not me at the disadvantage, but society, because not everyone’s talents are being used to the full. This is a problem for everyone, and everyone should take part in dealing with it. Why should I be grateful, when someone is not doing the minimum necessary because they do not know what that is? You’re too late! You should have started years ago!

I enjoy advantages because of the colour of my skin. BAME people’s effort produces lesser results. The wind is at my back at least that far, though against me as a trans person. And I don’t know how to act on that.

Talkin’ bout my LGBT

I don’t want to talk to Joan. She is a bore, and other people avoid her too, I have seen them walking rapidly in another direction when she approaches. She can keep talking for ages, about her own stuff, but without any discernible feeling to which I can relate. So first I pretend to be interested, then I pretend less, and finally walk away.

But what I really resent is that she is interested in LGBT issues. She is an ally. She wants to be supportive. She came up to me and said she had seen the film Pride– isn’t it wonderful, those gay people and miners getting together. A real feel-good film. Then most recently she said she had the DVD for The Danish Girl. What’s it like?

Well, Einar discovers women’s clothes and soon wants to go out dressed female, except she’s terrified of everyone even the friendly people. Soon it overwhelms her and she sees doctors. One diagnoses her as schizophrenic and wants to lock her up in a loony bin, one wants to cure her by pointing radioactive sources at her privates, because Science, and because he’s got this expensive equipment with no idea what it might be used for, and one wants to call her a woman, cut her privates off, and create a vagina. After suffering the first two, she goes for the third, who kills her by putting a uterus into her without understanding anything about organ rejection.

“Oh,” says Joan, “Not such a feelgood movie”.

I don’t want to listen to your ideas about LGBT. I don’t want to hear that you are an ally. I don’t want you to ask me about it. This is my really really private stuff and it is not for small talk. That’s the real issue here- if you want to be authentic with me, ask me anything, I will try to help, because I want people to understand. But if you want to make small talk, and exchange superficial pleasantries exhibiting the feelings you know you ought to feel- sympathy for the poor queers, indignation at inequality and discrimination, admiration at how courageous we all are, etc- DON’T COME TO ME!!! Because it is real for me.

I have actually started telling her this. I told her I don’t want to talk to her about LGBT stuff but could not articulate why, so writing this is useful. Tell me who you are! Tell me what you love! Don’t pull me into your conventional lets all feel the same thing rubbish.

This is not, of course, my magnum opus but something I am just throwing off, now. I was up at seven this morning writing. I have a first draft.

Coercive control

Domestic abuse is more than just physical violence: it is often an attempt to strip away the victim’s confidence, sense of self, and freedom. How may we understand it? Who are the experts?

Some of the experts are psychologists with PhDs. Here’s the Cedar Network, Children Experiencing Domestic Abuse Recovery. Note the delicacy of that title: human beings heal, and the healing process can be painful.

In Scotland, instead of using the term domestic violence, we use the phrase domestic abuse in order to emphasise that it is not about fights, that abuse is on-going and that it comprises much more than physical violence.  This is not to say that verbal and/or physical fights do not take place between partners, but it is important to distinguish between these and the social concern that is domestic abuse. It is dangerous to dismiss on-going abuse as a fight or a one-off act of violence.

However, some confusion remains, and even when we acknowledge the emotional, psychological, financial and sexual elements of domestic abuse we still focus primarily on acts of violence in our discussions and responses to domestic abuse. Talking about coercive control means that it is not only another phrase for domestic abuse but it helps us to rethink what constitutes domestic abuse.

It is a term and a concept developed by the academic and activist Evan Stark which seeks to explain the range of tactics used by perpetrators and the impact of those actions on victims/survivors.  In Stark’s own phrase, the concept explains ‘how men entrap women in everyday life’.

To my educated eyes, this is simple language assuming no knowledge, yet it does use long words. No: it explains the concept to someone who might think of the crime as Normality- who might not notice it as particularly objectionable in a friend’s relationship, or even in her own. People need awakened to this. People are manipulative because others can be manipulated.

Violence is used (or not) alongside a range of other tactics – isolation, degradation, mind-games, and the micro-regulation of everyday life (monitoring phone calls, dress, food consumption, social activity etc).  The perpetrator creates a world in which the victim is constantly monitored and criticised; every move is checked against an unpredictable, ever-changing, unknowable ‘rule-book’.

Or we can break it down into particular types of behaviour. This pdf is a checklist of behaviours the controlling partner may use to isolate the other, and monitor and control her personal activities, education, work, money, health, body, intimacy, and relationship with authorities or with children, making her feel afraid, threatening harm, or harming her. Does he- ask you detailed questions about your activities? Make demands about sex? Block you from taking exercise? Remember that people may be unconscious of this. Bringing it into consciousness is painful and necessary.

It is now a crime under the Serious Crime Act 2015. There are clear safeguards here against prosecution, except in severe cases: This offence is constituted by behaviour on the part of the perpetrator which takes place “repeatedly or continuously” . The victim and alleged perpetrator must be “personally connected” at the time the behaviour takes place. The behaviour must have had a “serious effect” on the victim, meaning that it has caused the victim to fear violence will be used against them on “at least two occasions”, or it has had a “substantial adverse effect on the victims’ day to day activities”. The alleged perpetrator must have known that their behaviour would have a serious effect on the victim, or the behaviour must have been such that he or she “ought to have known” it would have that effect. As with rape, most victims will not see a prosecution. The Crown Prosecution Service notes that perpetrators may be highly manipulative.

Victims may respond to abuse in a number of ways including consuming drugs or alcohol, and/or by showing signs of humiliation, detachment, anger, and retaliation. Victims may also interpret abuse very differently including expressing feelings of guilt; this might depend on their social or cultural context.

Oh, God. Guilt.

Or we can know it through stories. I heard of a woman whose controlling partner objected to her being more educated than he, and using long words he did not understand. By the time she killed him she was monosyllabic, hesitant about saying anything. I met a woman who had been charged and acquitted of murder, after her former partner had broken into her house and attempted to rape her while she slept.

The first successful conviction in South Yorkshire was of Mohammed Anwaar, who abused Gemma Docherty. He told Miss Doherty who she could see, what she was allowed to wear and what not to eat. He forced her to use a treadmill every day, showing her pictures of other women’s bodies and telling her she did not look as good as they did… Abuse can include a pattern of threats, humiliation and intimidation, or behaviour such as stopping a partner socialising, controlling their social media accounts, surveillance through apps or dictating what they wear.

The paper also gives a voice to the woman. In part, anyway: Miss Doherty described how she no longer had any self confidence and was worried because Anwaar had a large family and she didn’t want to go out in case she saw them. “He ruined my daily life,” she said. Superintendent Natalie Shaw, force lead on domestic violence, said, “I would also like to praise the bravery of the woman involved in this case as well as the work of the officers, which combined has helped to bring about this successful conviction”.

These are the voices I want to hear. What is it like? How may we escape, or protect ourselves? How may we celebrate overcoming it? You can only hear the reality of the experience through the woman’s words. The Family Court Matters blog says, ANYHOW, so when someone male with a Ph.D. or who is published seems to “get” what “coercive control” IS, my mind is curious, say, who IS that dude? She knows he is an ally, and that he is helpful; and yet-

Or, it seems that such control is built gradually, insidiously. The victim is not to blame. Er, is that patronising-?

Cedar Network.

UK Government pdf on crime. Crown Prosecution Service guidelines. Report on Gemma Docherty.

Family Court Matters blog.

Signac, the lagoon of St Mark, Venice

Melodramatic confessions

Hi everyone! This month I’m looking to do guest posts for people of colour. Please feel free to contact me by leaving a comment or messaging me on my Facebook page if you’d like to do a guest post and share your story. Why guest posts?

I am certain Carla Louise’s heart is in the right place. I have allowed her to reblog. And I fear what she does is terribly objectionable. She is a white woman with a husband. She speaks from a position of straight privilege and white privilege. She seeks to act as an ally, fighting racism, cissexism and heteronormativity, as well as a feminist fighting sexism.

Here, she publishes this meme:

press pictures meme

then comments, a white rapist? He has a nice school photo used in the newspapers, not a mugshot. A black kid buying food who is murdered? We’ll do our best to make him look like he deserved it. But, to whom? A white boy wears a tie and a smile, a black boy wears a hoodie. This only makes the black boy look like he deserved it if you think black males in hoodies look like criminals, or white males in ties and jackets do not- remember Enron? To me, the meme is more racist than the media- as if putting the black boy in a tie would make him look more innocent than a hoodie does. The rapist is Brock Turner, whose victim’s statement is so beautiful and powerful, and amazing at his psychopathy. That is what psychopaths look like! We need to know that!

Here’s the ally thing. I am being an ally here, the white person Speaking Up for Persons of Colour. We allies have to be careful. Don’t make the middle-class straight white person the default, so that how such a person sees things is how they are, or how that person presents is the proper way to present. And- that picture of Brock Turner does engender sympathy for him, in more people than I would wish. And- I think it is because Brock Turner is a jock rapist, a Stanford athlete. White mugshots get published.

Here, she comments on Malala Yousafzai: her burqa empowers her. A nude selfie or slut walk would be too much. Except the picture shows a hijab, only covering the hair and chest, rather than a burqa, which is the Afghan normal, even covering the eyes behind a grille. Malala is breaking the oppressive rules of her country within limits often accepted in her religion. I am not certain Carla Louise understands what rules Malala breaks or keeps. She points out that oppressed people should pick our own ways of resistance, and not be judged for not using alternatives privileged people might use; should this need saying?

You see, I did not realise. I do want my story heard. I took the opportunity; but my need to be heard and understood- my vulnerability- comes from my queerness, my Otherness. If I felt normal, I would not need so much to be heard. This Normal person picks out the Others, who need the support of her blog- first LGBTTQ (sic) then Persons of Colour.

We have places where our stories may be heard. We queers have high profile websites, like Pink News, and oodles of blogs. Queer people write our experiences from a position of equality, more or less, in mainstream straight publications such as The Guardian, one of the major British news sites.

I am not sure. Does a straight person publishing a queer person’s story count as oppressive? If always, then we can only be published by other queers, and are stuck in the ghetto. If the audience is interested to hear another’s experience, and sympathise, rather than to gawk at the weirdo, that will take away a lot of my objection.

Positive discrimination? More is published by the privileged, so a special effort should be made to hear the underprivileged-

I am uncomfortable, and cannot fully articulate my objection. I am always glad when someone seeks to be an ally. I respect anger at allies. Oh, and Carla is Australian! I assumed she was American.