If you were an MP, would you vote to ban the burka?

I’ve been a little quiet on this blog for the past eighteen months as I’ve been busy writing a political thriller called The Missing Activist.   It features a bumbling wannabe Wallander asked to find a campaigner who’s disappeared after reporting being bullied by senior members of his own party.

I chose also to explore the politics of feminism as seen through the eyes of Muslim women raised in the liberal west but hankering for the lifestyle of a submissive Jihadi bride.  Born in Kuwait, the ongoing battle between the religious and political ideologies which is causing so many of the problems today particularly interests me.

A major character in the novel is a bi-polar personality, Zinah Al-Rashid also trying to outfox our intrepid PI  Karen Andersen.  When Zinah’s not cruising Harrods, chatting to Isis brides over Whatsapp or radicalising teenagers, she’s planning a massive terror attack against the government.

The book opens with the apparent suicide of an anti-burka pro-feminist campaigner. She’s received death threats from a range of different factions as a result of her refusal to accept that the wearing of the full-face veil can be anything other than a step back into the middle-ages.

When I was involved in politics,  the “B” word was the killer question. “If you were an MP would you back banning the burka?”  Fortunately, as a thriller writer, I don’t have to answer any more apart from through the actions of my characters. But, for the purposes of this blog, and with burka bans increasing across Europe, what is the official feminist position?

Personally I am an admirer of the common sense approach of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Raised a devout Muslim, she often asks why feminists defend vigorously a woman’s right to choose to wear the hijab (usually those who do not live under the constraints of Sharia law) but grow sulkily silent over those who defy it and risk punishment.  Surely they are the ones more in need of support than anyone?

There’s a possibility this is a left-right stance. i.e those who support the cover-up see it more as an expression of anti-colonial oppression than a dress-code forced on women to keep them within cultural limits.  Also, that it’s a form of rejection of the West’s sexualisation and objectification of women (which was a sixties ardent feminist position) as if they are saying ‘I’m not playing that male-pleasing game!’

I’ll be blogging about the other women’s issues I’ve covered in The Missing Activist as they crop up in the news.

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Why Women’s Thrillers Are Not Feminist Driven

Only in March of this year a book shop in the US  was turning books by men backwards to highlight the gender imbalance in the literary world.  It seemed either everyone preferred male stuff, or there was still the old bias against female authors. Maybe men just wrote more. After all, if women speak 12000 words a day and men only 4,000, as claimed by Louann Brizendine in The Female Brain, what are they doing with all those thoughts?

The female thriller market has at least for a while turned this around.  Books like Gone Girl and Girl On a Train led a surge in blockbuster psycho drama. Crime readers, who are statistically predominantly women, are now locked into the idea of a female author delivering the suspense package. So much so that male writers have been adopting gender neutral pen names to publish books and appeal to them  The author of Final Girls  Riley Sager is a male known as Todd Ritter. And  Steve Watson goes under the initials of S.J. Watson. Daniel Mallory is A. J. Finn. Why the turnaround?

But there is nothing politically correct in this new literary drive – quite the opposite. The pro-feminist push was male delivered, surely. Hollywood’s foray into female led action movies with the female Rambo figure always seemed forced. Women punching men out in a single blow was ridiculous. But the new trend for noir has an altogether different feel. Plots today are not so much guns and espionage but more emotional blackmail and manipulation to murder.  It’s for real.

The new wave of female led psychological thrillers is exposing the Machiavellian genius of dark femininity. It fascinates women and terrifies men.  The bad girl next door is no longer taboo.  If crime readers are women, then they want to immerse themselves in the type of corruption that is relatable to them.  Maybe it’s about time.

When I set up Act Against Bullying in 2000 it was commonly believed that women didn’t bully.  That was a boys thing.  Research into the motivations of girl gangs and female criminology only began in the 1980s  as women’s social behaviour changed. Chicken or egg?  Who knows.   Add to that the female fascination with the internet (women are the Facebook stalkers) and you are opening up a whole new world of intrigue.

Readers often say they can tell the difference between a male and a female writer. Narratives are different between the sexes.  So despite feminism pushing for sameness with men in every way, maybe this proves not only that differences exist but also they can deliver in print.

Oh, did I say I was writing a thriller?  Female led, of course.   More details to come.


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There Was and Is Nothing Joyful About Forced Sex Slavery

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 101II-MW-1019-07 / Dietrich / CC-BY-SA 3.0, <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en" title="Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 de">CC BY-SA 3.0 de</a>, <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5478066">Link</a>

German soldiers entering a Soldatenbordell in Brest, France (1940). The building is a former Synagogue. Picture by Bundesarchiv, Bild 10111

During the second world war brothels were set up throughout much of occupied Europe for the use of the Wehrmacht and SS soldiers. Some of the women used in these camps had been in prostitution before hostilities broke out, but not all. According to records at least 34,140 women were made to serve as prostitutes against their will, in many cases kidnapped in police roundups or raids called lapanka or rafle.

Polish Catholic girls mostly were used by the German officers before they went to fight on the Russian front. But the clients included the prison guards. The odd logic behind this was the belief providing pretty women would stop camp attendants having any sexual urges towards the male Jewish and homosexual inmates

These sex workers became known as the Joy Division.  The London Theatre has made this little-acknowledged event in history the subject of a play to be staged this week in New Cross. It examines some of the bizarre perceptions of those enslaved in this way, including their jealous hatred of Jewish women who they saw as having it easy in their own camps, only having to wait on tables or clean  To find out more about “Joy Division” The Polish Nazi Sex Workers Story go to the www.thelondontheatre.com. Tuesday 21st March through until March 25th, the Saturday evening performance is in Russian only. The all-female cast includes Issy Knowles as Kat, Julia Pategg as Nadia, Maya Moliere as Moya, Daniela Ologeanu as Anna, Arabella Burfitt-Dons as Lara and Aisling Dunne as Erin.

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Sisterhood Examined

sisterhood examined

I was on the Jon Gaunt show speaking to Nick Margerrison  about International Women’s Day. There were loads of marches happening. The rally in South America was the most credible. The femicide rate (murder of women) has been on the upswing there, increasing 78% over the past six years.  “Honour killings” average out at one female murdered every 30 hours.

Further north a bookstore in Cleveland, Ohio made a protest of another sort. Theirs was to turn around each volume on their shelves by a male writer. It’s their call, their shop. But while in the spirit of promoting female authorship, I wonder whether this kind of remonstration doesn’t build more opposition to IWD.

Each year, particularly on 8th March, due to the sight of mass street pickets the collective concept of “sisterhood” is debated and challenged. Can we have for example a feminist movement without promoting the idea of women as a homogenous group?

The natural explanation for the need for female to female bonding is survival. Oxytocin (produced when people cuddle up or bond socially) is a also secreted by humans in reaction to fear. In females, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages them to protect and nurture their children and to gather with other women.

So, roughly speaking, it’s all related to pressure, how much you require the resources of the female pack.  Or the amount of physical danger you perceive yourself to be in.

But is bonding the only basis of “Sisterhood”?

Bearing in mind that the term was popularised in the late 1960s when second wave feminism was at its most influential, is it now redundant?  There was a very special reason for it at the time. Up until then, domestic violence was largely ignored.  Feminists of the day came to the rescue of battered wives by establishing refuges and shelters. It was there that circles of victims would collect together to share similar experiences of their trauma as a form of therapy. Linked to abusive husbands, the designation of “sisterhood” as a term took on a distinctly anti-male connotation.

Additionally,  “sisterhood” still conjures the image of an all female circle dancing naked in the wood and women’s marches. There’s nothing which depicts nurturing less than vulgarity in the street and gobby girl gangs. Under even the briefest of scrutiny, the concept of all girls together hugging each other strikes as false. For example, what happened to rivalry?

While male competition involves just about everything in a general fashion, the female equivalent (girl on girl) is far more personal.  Simply put, more savage than silly.

But this bonding between doesn’t only occur in times of trial. It’s a practical, pleasant and civilised aspect of any society.

Let’s not pretend that women will support a woman instead of a  man if it means risking heavyweight stuff like homes, husbands or families.  Or even jobs and careers for that matter.

But nurturing is a vital lady skill developed and passed on as the essential core of female culture. For that reason, we will always have a strong need for a sisterhood of sorts.

More of this in my book Moderating Feminism

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Lean In and Post It On Facebook

There’s nothing new in the very sensible advice, “You shouldn’t  compare yourself to others. It’ll only make you unhappy”. (Miserable if you are doing worse, guilty if you are doing better.) There’ll always be someone smarter, richer, more attractive. There’ll also be many, many, more far worse off—fleeing war-torn areas, living in abject poverty, born with life-challenging disfigurements.

The female sex seems to be particularly prone to this sort of self-punishment.  Checking if they’ve got their life right, seeing if they should be doing something completely different. From plailean-inn envy of those who are more successful to the new term  “imposter syndrome” (for those who are successful but don’t feel they should be) women seem to suffer anxiety as a result of trying to match their peers far more than men do.  Am I good enough as I am?  My answer, yes you probably are, maybe more so than you think.

The internet apparently doesn’t help. Concerns over the effect of trying to match up to others on mental health led the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 to define “Facebook depression”. They reckoned this was something which affected just preteens and teens who were glued to their social media sites.  Now there’s a fresh study come along to firm that up.

David Baker and Dr Guillermo Perez Algorta from Lancaster University have continued the research and found that comparing yourself with others on Facebook is more likely to lead to  feelings of depression than making social comparisons offline.  It’s hardly surprising – FB friends are usually peer group related, particularly young people, and modesty is sooo old-fashioned.

I’m at the Cambridge Union this evening debating the Lean In philosophy which was the subject of a 2013 book written by COO of the very same Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg.  There is no connection with the above.  Maybe only that this best-selling leadership and feminist bible assumes that all women should be super ambitious for corporate stardom above all else and if they can just alter their timid behaviour and give things a bit more welly,  it will be theirs for the taking.

I wonder if, in a very small way, this is not intensifying this modern world angst amongst teenage girls, that we can or should go for it, have it all; if only to boast about it on FB.

In proposition will be Asia Lambert, Adele Barlow and Rt. Hon Nicky Morgan MP; in opposition myself, Dawn Foster and Serena Kutchinsky.

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Should Sex By Deception Be Viewed As a Crime?

The movie By Any Means tests the new law "Rape by Deception"

The movie By Any Means tests the new law “Rape by Deception”

My daughter Brooke has just starred in a kidnapping thriller (see above), which, apart from the usual thrills and fights, is based on the theme of non-consensual sex  and grooming.

One of the sex laws which has been getting a lot more media attention in the last couple of years is the one known as “rape by deception”.   This is when the perpetrator has the victim’s sexual consent and compliance, but gains it only through deception or fraudulent statements. It’s been around for a while, but only recently actually used in court.

The notable cases are as follows: Israel,  2008,  a man posed as a government official and persuaded women to sleep with him for state benefits.  In the UK,  2011 police officers obtained sex by “deceiving as to their identity”, and in  2015, a 25-year-old woman was sentenced to eight years in prison for pretending to be a man as a means of having sex with her female lover.

The CSF would love to garner viewpoints on this. Is this valid or  just an extension of the so-called rape culture which some feminists believe is sweeping the West. The Law Editor of Spiked Luke Gittos wrote in September 2015 that it was blurring the line between sex and rape.  If this is to be a law in equal balance (i.e. should apply to women as well as men)  then surely it is intrusive of just about every form of modern day living?   Lying about your age, facial surgery (to appear younger), bravado in all its forms, income, character etc. etc.  I jest a little of course, but just a little.  I assume there are limits.

With that in mind please go and see this new film which apart from Brooke who is kept captive in a chilly, paint-peeling  basement in New York, also features reality stars Michelle Money from The Bachelorette  and Jonathan Cheban (Keeping Up With the Kardashians), Thomas Gipson, Larese King and Wendy Heagy.

Directed by Leighton Spence it opens as the closing film of the Wexford Film Festival on the 27th November with tickets available here. Rhys Williams of Triventure Films, who has been following this particularly  interesting point of law, says  “We take an extreme example for entertainment. We then let the viewer determine who is the victim”.

For more information on the movie here is a link to the website 


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The Double Standards Of Today

aviation-way-to-travelThere’s  a story in the media of Donald Trump’s apparent assault on a woman passenger thirty five years ago.  Pretty yucky, you might say. Rightly so. But the other point to raise though is that while men and women are shocked by this sort of thing now, why weren’t they then?

Having grown up in the seventies, I, like no doubt countless others, encountered this type of unwelcome physical attention quite frequently. It was never in any way amusing, but the attitude from both men and women, if you ever could overcome the embarrassment and had the guts to share your experience with them, brought two very different reactions, neither of them being shock, shock, horror.  ‘How awful for you.’ In short it was mirth. Men shrugged, women laughed. In fact, the female response was possibly the more humiliating.  Well, if you were pretty or attractive enough at twenty to be physically set upon by a sixty year old overweight television programme controller on the steps of a studio waiting to record an audition tape for a career changing opportunity, it was fantastically funny.

If your trusted GP had a tendency for unnecessary internal examinations the moment he saw you and you didn’t bloody well question it, then that was hugely hilarious. From then on they would entertain themselves endlessly with pondering on your extraordinary naivety, blame your ‘sheltered, conservative upbringing’, or sympathise with laughing eyes at your guarded innocence, so out of place in such a wonderfully exciting, libertarian, feminist age.

Unfortunately, this attitude was also true of older people, but with possibly different and more justification. These were people who’d survived the vile horrors of a cruel world war where brave brothers and husbands had lost their lives in their millions. So in those days, only physical rape and murder by strangulation were considered crimes in the UK . Nothing lesser was anything other than an inability for you to cope with the realities of adult life or to find the ‘right crowd’ to mix with. There was also an element of not washing your dirty laundry in public about it.

It is wonderful that women today don’t have to tolerate not just sexually abusive behaviour in silence, but also the type of smirking from their own sex I’ve just described if it does happen. Male vulgarity and opportunism is no longer socially acceptable, or even legal. Full independence of women, thanks to the earlier feminists who campaigned for work opportunities and property rights, has equipped us in a way unimaginable to girls of my mother’s generation.

But one problem of historic social issues is fairness to both sexes. We have to accept that in the past we also turned a blind eye to the similar offences of female opportunism, female indifference, and female temper. Arthur Daley’s ‘Er indoors’, and the description of Hilda Rumpole as ‘she who must be obeyed’ referring to  wives in charge were also common personifications of women of the time.  They often covered something far, far  darker. While recent research on why modern women are so aggressive has revealed that two in five victims of domestic abuse in the UK today are men, it is quite likely that they always have been. It is just we didn’t talk about that sort of stuff either back then.

To download Moderating Feminism

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