Boots, Trump and Northern Ireland…Why are we still having to talk about abortion and contraceptive rights in 2017?

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Amy Hills-Fletcher

For many people, 2017 will be remembered as a year when moralistic and reactionary arguments around abortion rights and women’s contraceptive rights were dragged back into the mainstream. Yesterday, Boots decided to wade into the debate around abortion and contraceptive rights by refusing to lower the price of the morning after pill, which costs around £30.

Despite the fact that other chains, like Superdrug, agreed to halve the price after a campaign by Bpas (The British Pregnancy Advisory Service), Boots wrote a letter to Bpas explaining that the “EHC [emergency hormonal contraception] polarises public opinion,”  and that they “receive frequent contact from individuals who voice their disapproval of the fact that the company chooses to provide this service.” Boots went on to make the revolting, moralising statement that they “would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product.”

The notion that we stupid women should be punished if we are worried we may fall pregnant after unprotected sex, whether that be because of a split condom, forgetting to take the pill, or a drunk night of unprotected sex, is insulting. What’s more, the suggestion that lowering the price would lead to a stampede of irresponsible women in Boots, post-sex, frothing at the mouth and raring to take the morning after pill “inappropriately” feeds the suggestion that we are incapable of making contraceptive decisions independently, and that we are all just horny, irresponsible whores looking for a bargain on our mission to murder unborn children. Unfortunately, this Boots saga comes in a year where it seems our reproductive rights are once more up for grabs in many respects.

In 2017, a bill in parliament to decriminalise abortion in England was voted in. Shockingly, the 1967 Abortion Act did not actually do this, but rather made it legal only if two doctors approve the procedure – if you failed to meet these conditions, you would have been committing a criminal offence. Online abortion pills are now widely available and abortion was the only medical procedure governed by such old legislation. Why were women still being questioned on their ability to make these choices independently?

In the USA, we have seen the election of the racist, misogynist Donald Trump who, in his first day in the Oval office, signed a federal ban on international groups that give information about or provide abortions. He and his ilk are pro-life and anti-women. Lest we forget that during Trump’s election campaign he suggested that there should be “some kind of punishment” in place for women who have abortions (if it was banned). More recently, there has been a proposed revision of the contraception mandate (which saved women more than $1 billion in birth control costs in 2013) of the Affordable Care Act, which would make it much more difficult for women to get protection. When this is paired with the fact that abstinence is taught in some schools in the USA as a part of sex education (and often instead of education around contraception), Trump’s administration will put women at risk of pregnancy as their ability to have free, safe abortions is being threatened more every day. A Donald Trump appointed judge recently compared abortion to slavery, calling them, “The two greatest tragedies in our country.”

Of course in the UK, Northern Ireland has been at the centre of the struggle for free, safe and legal abortion since the 1967 Abortion Act has never applied there. This fact has become more prominent of late due to the Tories’ dodgy deal with the fiercely pro-life DUP.  Abortion is not permitted in Northern Ireland even in cases of rape and incest and in 2016, a 21-year-old woman was given a suspended sentence after she bought drugs on the internet to induce a miscarriage as she did not have the money to travel to England for an abortion. It was recently announced that the government would provide free abortions to Northern Irish women in England. Although this is a step in the right direction, women would still have to have the funds to get to England in the first place, after most likely having to take days off work and/or organise child care.

Like women in Northern Ireland and USA, the disturbing common thread is that women who have money are more likely to be able to access safe and legal abortion and contraception services, whilst women who do not, have their right to bodily autonomy taken from them. What’s more, companies like Boots are putting their profits before our reproductive rights whilst condescending to us with their sneering moralism.

The fight is no where near over whilst an estimated 22 million unsafe abortions take place worldwide each year. Women are driven to this when they cannot access safe, legal and free abortions and/or access free contraception due (often) to the sweeping moralism of the state and religious institutions and the contempt with which they view the concept of our right to choose what we do with our bodies.

We must continue to oppose any suggestion to limit our abortion and contraceptive rights in the UK and across the world, and in the case of Northern Ireland, keep fighting for the right to access free and legal abortions. Boots will likely see the effects of openly showing contempt for our contraceptive rights after a boycott has been called. What is horrifying, however, is this reminder that, in the year where millions flooded the streets to join the Women’s Marches, the hard fought victories that were won by reproductive and contraceptive rights campaigners must be held onto with all of our strength to protect them from those that are waiting to pounce and drag us back to much darker times.

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I was sexually harassed and touched at work and nothing was done

TW: Sexual assault and harassment

It has been 8 months since I was sexually assaulted and harassed at work and nothing has been done.

I had been sexually assaulted by different men (once at a house party, 3 times in public) four times previously and had never reported it. I had always wanted to play down what had happened and did not want to re-traumatise myself by going through the process of a police investigation for what I knew were ultimately very minor sexual crimes. I did report an incident to the police once when a group of us were flashed on the way home by a drunk man who was out with his friends. I was so fed up and furious that I ran and asked for help and some lovely men tried to stop him leaving in a taxi while I called the police – it took them more than 40 minutes to arrive, by which point I had gone home and the man had escaped. When the police called me to follow up the next day, they said “he did not seem like a predator” and was “just drunk”. This was obviously a minor incident but it is my only personal experience of reporting a sexual crime to a higher power and it did not fill me with a great sense of optimism.

On starting work at a Secondary School in September, I naively thought that I would be safe from work place harassment. In my first week, however, I had already taken note of how creepy one of the PE teachers was. Every time he passed me in the corridor he would wink, and he inappropriately called my line manager “a two faced bitch” in one of the few conversations we had. He would leer at me in meetings, giving me those horrible looks that all women recognise. In short, he seemed like a creepy, sexist older man.

At the Christmas staff quiz he was sitting on my table. I had had a few glasses of wine and was chatting to various members of staff on my table. My memory is hazy due to the alcohol, but I remember him making some kind of comment along the lines of “you have a great figure” and as he said this, he put both his hands onto my thighs. It was over very quickly but it made my skin crawl. I tried to brush it off with nervous laughter and moved to a different seat. I attempted to forget about it, but had this nasty feeling that he was testing the waters to see how I would react, to see how far he could push his behaviour.

After the Christmas holidays I was at a year group briefing early before school in one of the classrooms. I was sitting at the back, the other members of staff were in front of me. He came into the room late and so people were joking about him being lazy – everyone was laughing about it. As the meeting started and the other members of staff were distracted, he walked close behind me, put his hand under my hair on the back of my neck and said confidently (but so nobody else could hear) “very pretty.” He then moved calmly across the room to sit on the other side from me.

I was so astounded that I actually started to say thank you before I fully realised what had happened and felt furiously sick. The meeting was only ten minutes, but it felt torturously long because I was hot with rage and so deeply disgusted. He was so much older than me, with a round head, sharky eyes and a terrible haircut – the hair was thinning, grey and crunchy. He always wore shorts which revealed his waxy legs. I was furious he thought he had any right to my body. How dare he leer at me, touch me. It brought back all of those memories of the times men had taken my body as their right, grabbing my vagina as I tried to turn off the smoke alarm at a party, undoing my bikini top on a beach where I was alone, living in a foreign country.

After the meeting finished, I immediately spoke to a woman teacher that I trusted and asked if she had heard him – she had not, but she agreed that I should report what had happened. I felt confident because his behaviour had been so inappropriate leading up to this (second) assault that I was sure they would deal with it – a string of incidents is surely more likely to show how calculated his actions were?

Unfortunately all that followed was a humiliating investigation, led by an older male member of the Senior Leadership Team who, frankly, did not have a clue. They followed procedure, they said, and told me they were carrying out a ‘formal investigation’ – an HR woman from the council came in to oversee the process. I was interviewed multiple times, crying openly in two of the meetings. This was humiliation enough as a young woman new to a job. I also had to drag one of my colleagues with me to the meetings as my support as  I was not in a union yet (I had only been working there for a month and, stupidly, had not got round to joining).

I was sure that there would be some outcome – all I wanted was for him to admit he had harassed and assaulted me. I wanted my work place to see that I had been a victim of age and gender discrimination and to acknowledge that I did not feel safe or comfortable. Instead, after a horrific process over the course of two weeks, they decided there was not enough evidence to support what I had said (despite the fact he had admitted to saying what I told them). They told me that the problem was that they could not prove that the “unwanted sexual touching” had happened.

I was confused because I did not understand what process I had just been through. They had said it was a formal investigation but they then played it down saying it had actually just been informally working out what had happened. I tried to say that I did not care about the formalities and I just wanted to be believed and for him to understand what he had done. They offered for him to write an apology letter but this only infuriated me – how could he apologise for something he was denying he had done?

What is so frustrating is that they did not have any internal procedures in place to deal with structural issues like sexism. I can guarantee that this man never went through any kind of training about gender inequality and discrimination – how is this not a safeguarding issue? The man works with vulnerable children everyday as part of his job, yet the school were entirely incapable of taking seriously his harassment of a new, young colleague and how that could have the potential to be a serious issue for the children in the school.

I tried to explain to the investigating team that, for me, this was not just about the incidents themselves, but about the inherent power imbalance that was at play in everything that had happened. He was able to treat me in the way that he did because I was new, because I was young and because I am a woman. He was a long-standing member of staff who I feel was testing the waters with me from the minute I arrived to see what behaviour he could get away with.

Unfortunately, my experience is not unique and on the scale of sexual crimes, it is very minor – if I had reported this to the police, I would have had no hope whatsoever of getting any kind of justice. A 2016 TUC survey of 1,500 women cited 52% as having stated that they had been sexually harassed at work, and a quarter of those women experienced unwanted touching. This is a systemic issue and it is to the shame of the local authority school where I work that they have absolutely no training in place around these issues for staff.

It is 8 months on from this and it has been totally brushed under the rug. I asked for a meeting with the investigating officer when I received a whole staff email from my harasser wishing all of us “ladies” a happy international women’s day – he had attached a photograph of a man holding a bouquet of flowers… Aside from wanting to gag, I was apoplectic with rage that he had had the audacity to include me in his stupid, sexist email after everything that I had had to go through.

When I complained about this email I explained, yet again, that he very clearly had no understanding of how to behave towards female members of staff and asked whether there would be any training provided so that he could understand the string of terrible things he had done, and be able to put together some kind of formal apology. The investigating officer attempted to appease me by claiming to understand but, since that meeting, absolutely nothing has happened and they claim that no such training course exists.

I flinch every single time I pass my harasser in the corridor. I feel embarrassed and anxious anytime a member of staff from the PE department is near me. I worry that the Senior Leadership Team think I overreacted and lied. In short, it has made my life at work extremely difficult. I was referred for CBT by my GP and in those sessions truly realised how much anxiety work was causing me. Thankfully I am leaving in 4 weeks time, but I must endure those weeks knowing that nothing has been done.

My experience is part of a vast picture of harassment, intimidation and violence against women, LGBTQI+ and non-binary people within the work place. It is no shock to me that work places get away with creating and nurturing these unsafe spaces for us, but it is really important that people are aware of how widespread this kind of behaviour is. I wish I had had the strength to shout out in that meeting for him to get his hands off me, but in the moment, I froze.

We need strengthened unions that stand up for workers and protect us from harassment and bullying and proper training and development for members of the workforce who are sexist – it is disgusting to allow this cycle of sexual assault and harassment to continue.  Thankfully, I am able to leave my workplace and move on to something else – although I suffered, ultimately, I have been able to keep living my life when, for others, this is not the case. Sexual harassment often causes women to be pushed out of work causing a devastating economic impact on the woman victim. It can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other serious mental  health issues. It has a knock on effect to almost every part of the victim’s day to day life and a huge social impact within the workplace (if the woman has not felt like she has no other option but to leave).

We must continue to fight to kick sexual harassment out of the workplace and remember how many thousands of women, LGBTQI+ and non-binary people are impacted each year by the insidious sexist culture that pervades our work places.

 

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood!

Amy Hills-Fletcher

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For more information on what is going on at Yarl’s Wood Detention centre:

https://www.facebook.com/SHUT-DOWN-Yarls-Wood-Asylum-for-Women-NOW-126966244120907/

http://womenagainstrape.net/inthemedia/yarl%E2%80%99s-wood-freedom-crossroads-centre

http://www.ladybeardmagazine.co.uk/blog/out-of-sight-and-out-of-mind

Amy Hills-Fletcher

OMGYes: Wanking Reviews

 

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Drawing by Ella Milburn

The website OMGYes has combined the wisdom of over 2,000 women aged 18-95 to pull together techniques from the first ever large-scale research about the specifics of women’s pleasure.

OMGYes features a series of different videos where women show their masturbation techniques for you to go away and try out, whether this be with a partner or masturbating alone. Various women were asked to give their reviews of the different techniques to Harpy and rate them out of 5. Here are the results…

ORBITING:

My masturbatory exploration centred on the ‘orbiting’ technique. The idea is that you try a range of circular motions on and around the clit, varying the speed and pressure to prolong climax and heighten pleasure.

I found that gently drawing circles around my vulva was a good place to start as it began to build sensation and increase arousal. Gradually, I narrowed the circles and increased the speed. Whilst it felt very tempting to just continue this pattern until I reached orgasm, I decided to mix it up a bit and started to switch between the small, faster circles and larger, slower ones. This required a bit of self-discipline as I have always found it easiest to come when maintaining one motion. However, the switching between various circular motions built up anticipation and meant that when I did eventually give in and let myself concentrate on my most sensitive spot within moments I was shooting stars!

Verdict:4 out of 5 stars.

I would say this is a good technique to try if you are someone who tends to climax quite quickly, however, the concentration and patience involved maybe makes it unsuitable for the lazy late night masturbator.

Try the orbiting technique for yourself and see whether you can send yourself to the moon!

MULTIPLE:

Two women reviewed this technique and reached very different verdicts.

Person A

As a slightly greedy masturbator I gravitated toward this technique, which essentially means making yourself come more than once. Quite often when spending some time with my loving right hand (or left if the right hand gets tired), I find myself thinking “I can’t wait to make myself come again after this, I’m going to masturbate for hours”, however, in reality after orgasming the first time, I usually feel very satisfied and mostly exhausted. This stops me from continuing to pleasure myself. The times I have persisted it usually takes what seems like days to come again – it turns out I was making some big masturbating mistakes.

The most useful tip I learnt in this tutorial is that continuing to masturbate in the same style as you did before the first orgasm is a bad idea! You need to give your vagina a little rest and then carry on in a style that pays attention to a wider surface area of your labia, as the whole are is really sensitive after an orgasm. Also you have to be careful not to put too much pressure on your clit as it’s all fired up and super sensitive and needs to be treated gently.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars.

Unfortunately, when trying this technique I wasn’t feeling very horny so I couldn’t fully enjoy the experience. I was also quite aware that I was thinking about it all a bit too much. Despite this, I really enjoyed learning new things, and I’m looking forward to being a multiple orgasming Mary.

Person B

A firm believer in the phrase ‘the more the merrier’, I decided to choose multiple orgasms. I enjoyed learning about the different techniques but believed there was a definite hole in their investigation. Their research had left them leaning towards a conclusion that overlooked the fact that many women can have multiple orgasms from increased pressure on the exact spot that caused them their first orgasm.

Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars.

Though thorough in some parts, this technique was lacking in others. It was almost like they couldn’t quite put their finger on what was missing.

EDGING:

I’ve tried edging before but I’d always been a little bit too goal orientated in my masturbation to stick at it properly, so I wanted to come back to this technique guns blazing to see if I could achieve a really intense orgasm. The idea is to bring yourself as close to orgasm as possible and then stop, to then build up to orgasm again as many times as possible before allowing yourself to come.

Pause edging = stopping before climax, going back down to zero, and starting again

This is really good, my orgasm was very intense. I initially used my own technique of rubbing my clitoris in circular motions but then I tried what the woman in the video suggested –  one finger stroking up and down the vulva, which was a new technique for me and it felt really nice. Stopping just before climax and going back down to zero required some real self-discipline but there’s no doubt it gave me a much more explosive orgasm. I would love to try this technique out in the bedroom.

Distracting the orgasm away = sudden or intense sensations away from the clit just before climax 

This really didn’t do it for me personally. The woman in the video suggested tapping other parts of your vulva as a way of distracting you from your orgasm but I found this kind of irritating. Stopping all together was much more effective in keeping me turned on.

Continuous edging = get right up to the orgasm then suddenly shift the touch away from the clit to other pleasurable zones 

This is a way that I like to masturbate – focusing mainly on the clitoris with circular motions but just before orgasm switching to other pleasurable zones like inserting fingers into your vagina or involving some anal play. My problem was that I found it hard to stay away from my clitoris because I was so turned on but it did feel amazing when I came.

Verdict:4 out of 5 stars.

I was a bit too impatient for this technique to be something I incorporate into masturbation regularly but I couldn’t stop thinking about how fun this technique would be with a parter. A mixture of the pause and continuous edging techniques would really add something to my sex life and I intend to get out there ASAP and try it out with someone else. I would be dubious to try out the distracting the orgasm away tapping technique with someone else as I think I would burst out laughing if they started tapping on my vagina.

SURPRISE:

I tried this technique with no expectations and was greeted with a surprise ending.

The move goes something like this: ease yourself in, slowly rubbing the area around but not directly on your clit to warm up. Once warmed up, start with slow movements on and around your clit, but the trick is to change technique often to keep the experience of pleasure moving. This is something I tend not to do, but I now find it is good practice not to get greedy with pleasure or focus on the end goal. Playing around with different movements and switching them up to maintain interest and exploration is well worth the end surprise.

At first the ‘Surprise’ technique felt very mechanical; having to remind myself to change the movement after getting used to the pleasure I was feeling required concentration. I then relaxed into switching it up every so often: up and down for ten seconds then left and right for ten seconds then circular movements… I surprised myself each time with the change in feeling that came with the different movements.

Verdict:4 out of 5 stars.

I think with this technique it is important not to get too hung up on what you’re doing or how it’s feeling: just keep regularly switching the move you are practicing. Then followed waves of pleasure which sustained itself and bounced back and forth: a rhythmic drawn out orgasm I don’t often experience..!

RHYTHM:

I was very dubious when I watched the videos describing this technique as it involves tapping rhythmically on the area just above and around the clitoris, tapping fast for 10-15 seconds and then changing to a slower rhythm. On actually trying out the technique, however, I was surprised at how amazing it felt. It built my orgasm up much more slowly and I was so turned on after about 5 minutes of this technique that I found it really hard to not just start rubbing my clitoris furiously. It’s something that I can imagine would be amazing for a partner to tease me with. I hadn’t really considered something so gentle before and was really surprised at how effective it was!

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars.

I had such an explosive orgasm through using this technique and was really surprised that I had enjoyed it so much, as normally I have to rub my clitoris quite hard and fast to come. I would highly recommend trying out this technique, even just as a way of teasing yourself before you change to a different technique!

OMGYes is a really great resource for women everywhere who want to explore their sexuality. There is a membership cost but you then have access to a whole series of videos and techniques that most of the women asked to do these reviews had never even considered! It also offers good advice for anyone who is in a sexual relationship with a woman – it’s not just about masturbation but increasing women’s sexual pleasure in every capacity.

Have a look at the website here:

https://www.omgyes.com/try-it

Drawing by Iona Wills:

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