Archive for the 'Sociology' Category

What being happier together would actually look like

By Sam Wren-Lewis, author of The Happiness Problem: Rethinking Individual Success and Societal Progress.

You may not know it, but today is the International Day of Happiness. This celebration takes place on the 20th March every year, to coincide with the Spring Equinox, and is a modern day tradition that’s been going since 2013, after its official ratification by the UN in 2012. Each year has a different theme, with this year’s theme being “Happier Together”, encouraging people to focus on “what we have in common, rather than what divides us.”

All of which seems fair enough. After all, everyone wants to be happy, right? Happiness researchers and policymakers like to point out that many of the things that make us happy are universal and don’t cost the world – simple things such as spending time with friends and loved ones, getting outside into nature and being physically active. If only we spent more time doing these kinds of ‘happifying’ activities, and less time pursuing financial success and material goods, the world would be a better, greener, healthier and happier place.

“There are a number of serious factors that prevent people from doing the things that make them happy.”

Of course, advocates of happiness also recognise that things are not this simple. There are a number of serious factors that prevent people from doing the things that make them happy. The pressures and demands of daily life are significant. We are lucky if we can find a spare 10 minutes to do some exercise or simply sit still for a while. Busyness and productivity has become the new norm. In fact, even the suggestion that we should focus more on being happier, when we have so many other things we need to do, can seem patronising or offensive.

These concerns point towards a deeper problem with the rhetoric of happiness. Predominantly, the idea of happiness centres around getting things ‘right’ – having the perfect job, relationship, family life, body and mind. Proponents of happiness may be suggesting that we have some of our priorities wrong in this respect – it matters less how much money we have and more how are relationships are going. But they are still emphasising an ideal that is not be so easy to achieve for everyone. For those who live in genuinely threatening environments, for example, how safe is it to get outside more?

“We may all want to be happy. But we do not all face the same conditions and challenges in life.”

We may all want to be happy. But we do not all face the same conditions and challenges in life. By ignoring this fact, the ‘happiness agenda’ risks either being something trivial or something that is only relevant to the privileged few who can take on its recommendations.

This needn’t be the case, however. Instead of downplaying the different conditions and challenges we face in life, we can employ a notion of happiness that takes suffering much more seriously. The idea of happiness does not have to centre around things being just right.

Thinking about happiness can help us realise that we all face numerous challenges and difficulties, and will continue to do so. This is, ultimately, what we have in common. Things are never just right. No matter how much progress we make, we will still be insecure: vulnerable to disappointment, loss and suffering.

“The first step towards being happier together is paying more attention to the different conditions and challenges faced by people across the world.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for individual achievement and societal progress – these are good things. And there’s nothing wrong with trying to be a bit happier, on today of all days. But if we really want to be “Happier Together”, as this year’s International Day of Happiness theme encourages us to, then we must recognise that our common humanity rests on our common vulnerability. The first step towards being happier together is paying more attention to the different conditions and challenges faced by people across the world.

Interestingly, this, somewhat more depressing, way of looking at things has happiness research on its side. We are beginning to understand the psychological benefits of attitudes such as curiosity and compassion. Even if our lives are not perfect, we can pay more attention towards ourselves and our circumstances, including the things we already have. The same goes for the lives of others. Instead of trying to control people’s behaviour, or find quick fixes for all their problems, we can show them compassion and gain a deeper understanding of what they need. Although this is far from living happily ever after, I believe it is what being happier together would actually look like.

Wren-Lewis_The Happiness Problem.jpgThe Happiness Problem by Sam Wren-Lewis is available on the Policy Press website. Pre-order here for £10.39.

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A quiet responsibility: how mothers manage the complexities of flexible working

Zoe Young.jpg

Zoe Young

This International Women’s Day, Zoe Young, author of Women’s Work: How Mothers Manage Flexible Working in Careers and Family Life, highlights the lengths women go to in managing the complexities of flexible working.

This year marks a hundred years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 lifted the bar on women entering the professions. It meant women could no longer be kept out of rewarding careers in law, accounting, engineering, finance, medicine, and academia.

On IWD 2019 with its theme of #balanceforbetter we are asking what now needs to happen to help women stay and move up in the jobs that 100 years ago only men could do? My research published in Women’s Work in this milestone year has some answers.

Women’s Work lifts the lid on 30 professional women’s home and work lives in a year of working flexibly. They are highly educated, experienced women who have not yet reached the top of their firms. They are mothers and adjusting their jobs to something flexible in hours, schedule or location of work. The impressive resilience required to go part-time, to job share and to work from home in jobs that weren’t designed with these working models in mind are brought to life with vivid personal stories.

Jane, a senior manager and lone mother of two children cuts her full-time hours by one day a week to reduce her work-life stress; Emma, seeks “a bit of slack in the system” by carving out two half days a week to cover a gap in childcare for her youngest; Jenny a civil servant returns from first maternity leave and compresses a full-time job into fewer days; Andrea a lawyer and married mother of three children starts a new four-week job; and Esther, is a mother of two and, one half of the first and only job-share partnership at her level in her organisation’s history.

“They go to great lengths to implement their adjusted work pattern in ways that safeguard their continued inclusion in the workplace”

What all thirty women have in common is the terrific responsibility they feel to make their new way of working a success. They go to great lengths to implement their adjusted work pattern in ways that safeguard their continued inclusion in the workplace.

As Erin, a part-time finance manager said, “I think it is my responsibility to make it work”. I describe that responsibility as a quiet one, meaning that it is not questioned and just accepted. Because working flexibly is a departure from the norm and an apparently voluntary choice, it is the individual’s responsibility – not the organisation’s – to redesign the job, to adjust the workload, and to participate fully in organisational life without burdening others or disrupting the usual ways of doing things.

These women are fatigued by working flexibly in inflexible work environments. The effort required to continuously craft a job to make it fit with the time available; working intensively to get through an unadjusted workload faster, as well as performing well and positioning for advancement; avoiding stigma and motherhood penalties – the pernicious associations between women’s working hours and their commitment to their careers.

Summed up by one male boss who said to Esther “I might be a dinosaur but can you stop telling people you’re a job share because they’ll think you’re a bit rubbish”. All of these pressures add up to a significant mental load.

“a systemic inattention to how we work and what needs to happen to make jobs genuinely flexible”

These women are not unique. Their experiences resonate with my work as a business consultant. The complexities they navigated and the problems they experienced bending to fit inflexible organisational structures and cultures highlights a systemic inattention to how we work and what needs to happen to make jobs genuinely flexible. Not addressing the structures and cultures that hold women back is equally bad for women’s progress and for modern workplaces.

Twenty-first century women have had to adapt to working models designed by and for twentieth century men at times when women were excluded from the professional workplace. They have done it well so far.

But if women continue to make up the majority of flexible workers and the burden for making flexibility work in practice is loaded on the individual and is not at least shared by the organisation, then equality and #balanceforbetter will remain out of reach for future generations of professional women.

 

Dr Zoe Young is a sociologist, writer and consultant.

Her fresh take on a flexible future of work drives her consultancy practice Half the Sky, where she helps organisations tackle the structural and cultural barriers that hold women back at work.

Her academic work focuses on gender, work and organisation, with particular focus on how motherhood impact women’s lives and careers. She completed her PhD at the University of Sussex.

Prior to this she worked in HR and management consultancy for many years. Her book Women’s Work: how mothers manage flexible working in careers and family life lifts the lid on women’s work-life experiences today in the jobs that 100 years ago only men could do. It is published by social purpose publisher Bristol University Press.

Womens work [FC]Women’s Work by Zoe Young is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £19.99.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Introducing Marx at 200

CRSWIain Ferguson and Michael Lavalette introduce the new special issue of Critical and Radical Social Work, ‘Marx at 200’, in this editorial.

To see beyond the horizon is any manifesto’s ambition. However, to succeed as Marx and Engels did in accurately describing an era that would arrive a century and a half in the future, as well as to analyse the contradictions and choices that we face today, is truly astounding. In the late 1840s, capitalism was foundering, local, fragmented and timid. Yet, Marx and Engels took one long look at it and foresaw our globalised, financialised, iron-clad, all-singing, all-dancing capitalism. This was the creature that came into being after 1991, at the very same moment that the establishment was proclaiming the death of Marxism and the end of history.

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s glowing tribute to Marx and Engels in his introduction to a new edition of The communist manifesto is only one of many that have been paid on the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth. In this special issue of Critical and Radical Social Work (CRSW), we pay our own tribute to Marx in a series of commissioned papers that seek to highlight the relevance of his ideas today. (We suspect that CRSW may be the only professional social work journal that will celebrate the anniversary in this way but would be very happy to be proved wrong on that point!) In our view, no other thinker provides the conceptual tools that make possible a critical analysis not only of 21st-century capitalism, with its crises, wars, inequality and austerity, but also, and more narrowly, of the ways in which social work as a global profession has been transformed by the forces of marketisation, managerialism and consumerism that have characterised the neoliberal phase of capitalism.

“Such misogyny, it has become clear, pervades every major institution in society…and is starkly personified in the current President of the US, Donald J. Trump.”

This issue opens with an article by writer and activist Lindsey German on Marxism and women’s oppression. The year 2017 will be remembered not least as the year of the #MeToo movement, when women from across the globe spoke out against the sexual harassment, sexual abuse or rape that they had experienced, and challenged institutional sexism and misogyny. Such misogyny, it has become clear, pervades every major institution in society, including churches, political parties, the media and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and is starkly personified in the current President of the US, Donald J. Trump. In her article, German explores the roots of women’s oppression and its close links with capitalism and class, and argues that Marxist ideas can provide a basis both for making sense of that oppression and for challenging it.

Race and racism also feature prominently in current political debate and discussion. In previous issues of this journal, contributors have discussed the Black Lives Matters movement in the US and the involvement of social workers in that movement. However, the rise of racism is currently a huge issue in many countries, including the UK. Twenty five years after the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence by racist thugs in South London and 22 years after a senior judge, Sir William McPherson, branded the Metropolitan police ‘institutionally racist’ for the way in which they investigated Stephen’s murder, a new scandal – the Windrush scandal – has exposed the extent to which racist ideas continue to inform UK government policy and practice.

“The Windrush scandal has shown that institutional racism is alive and well and deeply entrenched at the heart of the Conservative government”

The term refers to the ship MV Empire Windrush, which arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on 22 June 1948 and brought workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands as a response to post-war labour shortages in the UK. The ship carried 492 passengers – many of them children. Despite living and working in the UK for decades, many of these people and their children have now been told that they are living here illegally because of a lack of official paperwork. The scandal has shown that institutional racism is alive and well and deeply entrenched at the heart of the Conservative government headed by Prime Minister Theresa May. Meanwhile, openly racist, and, in some cases, neo-Nazi, parties have representatives in several European parliaments. In the second article in this special issue, writer and activist Ken Olende examines the historical and contemporary roots of racism and draws on Marx’s writings to show its close connection with the rise and development of capitalism.

These two articles provide a strong theoretical underpinning for a social work practice that seeks to challenge racism and women’s oppression. However, as the next article by Paul Michael Garret shows, Marx’s ideas have much to offer in other areas of social work practice, too. These include the analysis of: the labour process and working lives in a capitalist society; neoliberalism and what Garrett calls ‘the voraciousness of capital’; and the role of the state and ideology. Citing Marx’s thesis that ‘the philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it’, he ends the article by suggesting ways in which a Marxist analysis can inform a radical practice.

Almost a decade and a half ago, the two editors of this journal wrote an article for the British Journal of Social Work, arguing that Marx’s concept of alienation provided a better way of understanding issues of power and powerlessness in social work practice than did the then fashionable approaches of post-structuralism and postmodernism. In this issue, we revisit that concept of alienation and the related concept of commodity fetishism. Our purpose in doing so is not to continue a debate with approaches that even then were not the dominant critical approaches in social work, and are even less so now. Rather, it is to argue that the lack of control over our lives and creative activity that, for Marx, defines alienation has actually intensified during the era of neoliberalism, not least since the global economic crisis of 2008 and the subsequent imposition of a politics of austerity. Through an examination of the areas of work, sexuality and health, we examine the terrible toll that that lack of control and greatly increased commodification is having on our health and relationships. Finally, we point to some ways in which an understanding of alienation can contribute to a radical social work theory and practice.

“In few other countries have the ideas of Marx had such an impact on social work as they have had in Brazil”

In few other countries have the ideas of Marx had such an impact on social work as they have had in Brazil since the period of the Reconceptualisation movement of the late 1960s, and in a challenging but fascinating paper, Elaine Behring explains the contribution of Marxist ideas to the development of the ethical-political project of Brazilian social work.

In the next section, in place of our usual Radical Pioneer section (given that the whole journal is already devoted to discussion of the ideas of one particularly eminent radical pioneer), we have three commentary pieces, each of which addresses a particular area of current debate or struggle. In the first of these, Dr Glyn Robbins, housing worker and campaigner, examines the writings on housing of Marx’s friend and collaborator, Frederick Engels, and shows their relevance to the current housing crisis in the UK and elsewhere. In the second piece, we return to Brazil for a discussion by three Brazilian social work colleagues of the concerning political developments there and their implications for social work. Finally, leading Scottish Jewish activist and academic Professor Henry Maitles assesses recent debates around anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

CRSW

Read the special issue of Critical and Radical Social Work ‘Marx at 200’.

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‘Ain’t no such things as half-way crooks’: political discourses and structural duplicity in the troubled families agenda

Troublemakers FC

‘Troublemakers’ by Stephen Crossley came out in April

Stephen Crossley, author of Troublemakers: The construction of ‘troubled families’ as a social problemdiscusses the National evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme 2015 to 2020 interim findings, ‘dirty data’, his approach and methodology and the purpose of academic research.

Academics from different disciplines are often expected to demonstrate the impact of their research and this impact can be expected to relate to demonstrable changes in policy and/or practice. Such aims can lead to research being commissioned and published that is amenable to the interests of policy-makers and politicians. But there can be dangers in this, especially in the UK at the current time where many academics would not feel comfortable aligning themselves with some of the policies being pursued or advocated by our government or other powerful institutions.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu railed against ‘lackey intellectuals’ (Stabile and Morooka, 2010: 329) who put themselves in the service of neoliberal governments and, along with his long-time collaborator Loïc Wacquant, referred to such individuals as ‘defector[s] from the academic world entered into the service of the dominant, whose mission is to give an academic veneer to the political projects of the new state and business nobility’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 2001: 1).

“Sociology should not be a ‘disinterested calling pursued for purely intellectual and aesthetic reasons’ and instead should be ‘committed to, and involved in, solving current problems’”

In studying the implementation of the Troubled Families Programme (TFP) for my PhD and for Troublemakers, I wanted to adopt a different approach. Drawing on the work of Bourdieu and Wacquant, as well as other sociologists who have urged researchers to remember whose side they are on and to ‘study up’, I decided that ‘muckraking’ sociological approach would be appropriate. Gary T. Marx argued for a ‘muckraking sociology’ which, using the tools of social science, could help to unearth ‘dirty data’. Marx, like many others, proposed that sociology should not be a ‘disinterested calling pursued for purely intellectual and aesthetic reasons’ and instead should be ‘committed to, and involved in, solving current problems’ (1972: 4).

Writing in the 1970s, but with continuing relevance, he argued that muckraking research should help to document and publicise ‘the gap between values and actual practices and in questioning established orthodoxies’ (Marx, 1972: 2), and could be of benefit to those groups seeking change. Such research, Marx argued, could ‘give us a clearer picture of our world, stripped of protective verbiage and without the usual selective perceptions (and misperceptions)’ (1972: 4–5). In a passage particularly relevant to an examination of the TFP and its emphasis on ‘hands-on’ practical support for disadvantaged families, while marginalising structural inequalities and poverty, Marx argued that muckraking research ‘can expose the fallacies in certain common sense beliefs about social problems and show how certain ideas rationalize an unsatisfactory status quo’ (1972: 5) He goes on suggest that:

Such research uses the tools of social science to document unintended (or officially unacknowledged) consequences of social action, inequality, poverty, racism, exploitation, opportunism, neglect, denial of dignity, hypocrisy, inconsistency, manipulation, wasted resources and the displacement of an organization’s stated goals in favour of self-perpetuation. It may show how, and the extent to which, a dominant or more powerful class, race, group or stratum takes advantage of, misuses, mistreats, or ignores a subordinate group, often in the face of an ideology that claims it does exactly the opposite.

Such an approach has been particularly fruitful in studying the TFP. Research by myself and other academics have unearthed a large amount of ‘dirty data’ relating to the programme ‘whose revelation would be discrediting or costly’ to the government and that goes beyond incidental or minor inconsistencies, errors of judgement or ‘soft-core discrepancies’ (Marx, 1984: 79).

“The government claimed to have evidence that there were 120,000 ‘troubled families characterised by crime, anti-social behaviour, school exclusion and ‘worklessness’. It didn’t.”

In 2011, at the launch of the programme, the government claimed to have evidence that there were 120,000 ‘troubled families characterised by crime, anti-social behaviour, school exclusion and ‘worklessness’. It didn’t.

It had evidence that, around seven years earlier, there were around 120,000 families that were experiencing ‘multiple disadvantages’ such as poverty, material deprivation, poor housing, and poor maternal mental health. The government claimed that the programme ‘turned around’ the lives of 99% of the 120,000 ‘troubled families it originally set out to work with. It didn’t.

Families that turned themselves around with no contact with the programme were counted in the TFP figures. Families could, in some circumstances, be classed as having been ‘turned around’ by a child reaching school leaving age. The effectiveness of the ‘family intervention’ model, on which the TFP is based, had, in the words of David Gregg, been ‘sexed up’. Research was carried out without appropriate ethical procedures. Statistics and surveys that formed the basis of the need for ‘radical reform’ were invented. Local authorities were effectively threatened with naming and shaming if they didn’t ‘turn around’ 100% of their families in the first phase of the project. Local authority officers on the programme complained of staff from DCLG phoning them up to complain about slow progress. It was alleged that the government attempted to ‘suppress’ the official evaluation of the programme when it failed to provide them with the support it was expecting. Researchers who critiqued the programme had their competence and their integrity publicly called into question. A parliamentary committee accused the DCLG (now the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) of obfuscation and evasion in its lack of co-operation with an inquiry into the programme.

While I was carrying out my research, I was reminded of Mobb Deep’s assertion that there ‘aint’ no such things as half-way crooks’. In more academic terms, Bourdieu (1985: 738) argued that ‘political discourses have a sort of structural duplicity’, and the ‘troubled families’ agenda is a clear-cut example of this. It relies on deceit and duplicity at all levels, and the catalogue of inconsistencies, contradictions and falsehoods listed above cannot be put down to individual errors of judgement or mere coincidence.

Troublemakers focuses attempts to explicate and lay bare the overblown claims of the programme, the underhandedness, political chicanery and ‘structural duplicity’ that has been evident throughout the programme, and the symbolical importance of the programme at a time of wider state restructuring. It is, in short, an attempt to rake all, or as much as possible in a little over 200 pages, of the muck associated with the TFP into a single heap.

References

Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L. (2001) NewLiberalSpeak: Notes on the new planetary vulgate, Radical Philosophy, 105: 2-5.

Marx, G.T. (1972) (ed.) Muckraking Sociology: Research as Social Criticism, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.

Stabile, C.A. and Morooka, J. (2010) ‘Between Two Evils, I Refuse To Choose The Lesser’, Cultural Studies, 17 (3-4): 326-348.

Troublemakers FCTroublemakers by Stephen Crossley is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.99.

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Understanding the myths that new students hold about sexual violence and domestic abuse is key for prevention

jgbv_cover2_dw-1-smallWe have made Rachel Fenton and Cassandra Jones’ article – An exploratory study on the beliefs about gender-based violence held by incoming undergraduates in England –  from the Journal of Gender-Based Violence free for an extra month, until the end of February.

In the light of #metoo and similar campaigns, myths about sexual violence and domestic abuse must be explored. The following article, based on the above paper and published in The Conversation in December, begins to unravel these myths, why they are held and how they shape our perceptions of sexual violence.

“Sexual violence and domestic abuse are public health problems in society – and they are issues that also affect universities. One 2011 study reported that during their time at university, 25% of women students in the UK had experienced sexual assault, 7% were subject to a serious sexual assault and 68% were subject to physical or verbal sexual harassment on campus.

A new study that I’ve just published found that some students – both male and female – hold myths about sexual violence and domestic abuse when they arrive at university.

These include rape myths such as believing that the victim brought it on herself by her behaviour or her consumption of alcohol, that rape is about sexual desire that men cannot control, and that women lie about being raped when they regret sex or are caught cheating. For domestic abuse, myths include not believing that violence happens in young people’s relationships, and that controlling behaviour is just an expression of “love”.

Myths shape societal perceptions of sexual violence, and can lead to many victims blaming themselves for their own victimisation. They can prevent victims from disclosing their abuse for fear of not being believed or being blamed – leaving the perpetrators free to carry on abusing. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, women may also believe in rape myths because to do so protects them from the potential of being victimised themselves: if they can think that the victim brought it on herself then they can feel safe that it will not happen to them. Previous studies have shown that rape myths are quite widely believed across society.

While there is little evidence about domestic abuse in universities, research shows partner violence is a significant concern in teenage relationships. Young women of university age are also at high risk of becoming victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse. Such sexual violence can lead to unfulfilled academic potential and interruption of studies as well as mental health problems.

By understanding whether new students endorse sexual violence and domestic abuse myths – and which myths – it should be possible to tailor prevention efforts more precisely. This way universities can work with students more effectively in tackling sexual violence and domestic abuse and survivors can be supported to access the help they need.

What myths prevail

In our new research paper, my colleague Cassandra Jones and I looked at the extent to which 381 new undergraduates at one university endorsed different myths about rape. We also looked at how these beliefs were related to domestic abuse myths, and to the students’ readiness to help in tackling the issue. Roughly a third of the students we surveyed were men and two thirds were women.

Participants in our study were asked to mark how much they believe in certain rape myths on a scale of one to five, where one was “strongly disagree” and five “strongly agree”. We found that for some of the questions, a substantial minority of the students supported myths about rape. Overall, men endorsed these myths more than women did.

Around 27% of the students we surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with statements that equated rape with men’s “uncontrollable” desire for sex. Around 20% agreed or strongly agreed with statements that suggested women claim they’ve been raped if they regret sex or desire revenge. The pattern we found is the same as a large study of over 2,300 undergraduates in the US and a general population study of over 3,000 participants.

However, we also found that some myths, which are collectively characterised as “it wasn’t really rape”, were supported by very few people. For example, only 3% supported the statement that “if a girl doesn’t physically resist sex – even if protesting verbally – it really can’t be considered rape” and only 1% believed rape required a weapon.

Consistent with other research, we also found that men endorsed myths about domestic abuse more than women did. We also found the more the students in the study believed in rape myths, the more likely they were to believe in domestic abuse myths.

Prioritising prevention

Work I’ve been doing with my colleague Helen Mott aims to empower bystanders to intervene to prevent sexual violence and domestic abuse, and to create cultural change. One key component of such prevention programmes is tackling and reducing myths about sexual violence and domestic abuse.

We wanted to know whether myths had any bearing on the extent to which the undergraduates would be ready to help with work to prevent sexual violence and domestic abuse. Overall, we found an overwhelming majority of the students felt a responsibility to help. Women felt more responsibility to help than men and a slightly higher proportion of men than women felt sexual violence and domestic abuse was not a problem or not their concern. We also found that the more students held myths about sexual violence and domestic abuse, the more likely they were to think violence is not a problem and not their concern.

There are educational, health and legal reasons why universities should help address these issues. But doing research and prevention work around sexual violence means acknowledging the problem. Some universities fear they will be being singled out as having a problem with sexual violence, and that it might deter prospective students and parents and cause reputational damage. Yet the opposite is true. The more a university engages with tackling sexual violence, the more reason students have to trust that their university is genuinely concerned with their safety and support. I have been fortunate to work with universities and students who understand this.

The ConversationIt is not surprising that some new students will come into university holding preconceptions about some of the causes and responsibility for sexual violence and domestic abuse – students are products of society where such myths are endorsed and are not to be blamed for holding them. Our research shows which myths we must tackle in prevention programmes, and that universities must engage both women and men students in a positive way in their prevention efforts.

Rachel Fenton, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

jgbv_cover2_dw-1-smallAn exploratory study on the beliefs about gender-based violence held by incoming undergraduates in England’ from the Journal of Gender-Based Violence is free until the end of February.

It is part of a ‘Bystander research’ section of the issue that also includes ‘A campus LGBTQ community’s sexual violence and stalking experiences: the contribution of pro-abuse peer support‘ by Amanda Hall-Sanchez et al and ‘Bystander intervention from the victims’ perspective: experiences, impacts and justice needs of street harassment victims‘ by Bianca Fileborn.

 

 

Why does public sexual harassment matter?

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Fiona Vera-Gray

The announcement today that MPs are launching an inquiry into the public sexual harassment of women and girls is a welcome recognition that finally these experiences matter. Fiona Vera-Gray, author of The Right Amount of Panic, looks at how safety and freedom work together in women’s lives.

“Picture this: You’re on a bus and this guy in front of you turns around and starts talking. You think, it can’t be at me, so keep reading, and then he says, “Are you ok? I’m talking to you.” You’re polite, a little unsure, so respond, “Oh sorry I don’t know you.” And then it starts. He says, “I thought we could get to know each other. What’s your name? Have you got a boyfriend? Where have you been? What are you reading? Why are you being so rude? You think you’re better than me? Stuck up bitch.” He follows you when you get off at your stop. You make sure you stay on a main road. You lose him at a busy intersection when you cross the road just before a bus passes, leaving him stuck on the other side.

“Women and girls are routinely having to evaluate what the right amount of panic is, to direct their movements and actions in public space.”

This is just one example of what women have told me about their experiences of public sexual harassment. Parts of this will be familiar to many women in the UK and beyond, the intrusive questioning and interruption, the quick turn to insults and aggression. Women and girls are routinely having to evaluate what the right amount of panic is, to direct their movements and actions in public space. And though usually such encounters, and the work women do to manage them, are commonly dismissed as “all part of growing up”, it looks like the impact they have is about to be taken seriously.

The announcement today by the Women and Equalities Committee that they are launching an inquiry into the public sexual harassment of women and girls is a welcome recognition that finally these experiences matter.

Activists and organisations have been working for many years to try to raise awareness of the routine intrusions women and girls experience from men in public spaces. In the UK, the filmmaker Aleah Scott’s short film LDN GIRLS profiled the work of activist Kafayat Okanlawon, and groups such as Purple Drum, the young women’s project at Imkaan committed to archiving and amplifying the voices of black and minoritised ethnic women, have highlighted the importance of looking at racialised public sexual harassment, and the experiences of queer black and minoritised ethnic women.

I have been researching this since 2012, publishing the first full length study in the UK in 2016. I’ve also been working with young people on the issues, developing a set of Lesson Plans with Rape Crisis South London and Purple Drum that helps young people think through the differences between banter, harassment, and a compliment. What I have found is that far from the ways public sexual harassment is trivialised, it plays a significant role in limiting women’s freedom.

Women are habitually performing safety work, often without thinking. Habits such as restricting where they go, what they wear, choosing particular seats on public transport or certain routes home. The vast majority of this work is pre-emptive, a highly crafted way of evaluating what the right amount of panic is in any given situation.

“… crucial information can be missed when we ask broad questions about crime and safety.”

However, this ability to create a feeling of safety through changing their behaviour creates a problem: it means that crucial information can be missed when we ask broad questions about crime and safety. Questions such as “how safe do you feel?” or “how often have you experienced sexual harassment in public?” are unable to capture the work that women may be doing to feel safe, or the many times where this work has been successful and they have expertly avoided sexual harassment. We become unable to see the full impact of the sexual harassment of women in public because we’ve separated out safety from freedom and are only measuring the former. But in women’s lives, the two work together. The Women and Equalities Inquiry may finally give a space for this connection to be uncovered.

Over the past months, we have seen the ways that the #metoo movement has mobilised women across different sectors. It is not that women are finally speaking about their experiences of harassment – indeed many of the accounts include how disclosures were previously made to people with the power to make changes – it is that women are finally being heard. This movement has shown what happens when we take workplace sexual harassment seriously. The Inquiry over the next few months may at last do the same for our experiences in public.

9781447342298The Right Amount of Panic by Fiona Vera-Gray is publishing in July 2018 and is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Pre-order here for just £11.99.

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