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The build up to Christmas appears more frenetic every year, but there comes a point where you call it a day. This hiatus between preparation and the festivities lends itself to contemplation; reflection on Christmases gone by and a review of the year (both good and bad). Some of this is introspective and personal, some familiar or local and some more philosophical and global.
Following from @manosdaskalou’ recent contemplation on “The True Message of Christmas”, I thought I might follow up his fine example and explore another, familiar, depiction of the festive period. While @manosdaskalou focused on wider European and global concerns, particularly the crisis faced by many thousands of refugees, my entry takes a more domestic view, one that perhaps would be recognised by Charles Dickens (1812- 1870) despite being dead for nearly 150 years.
One of the most distressing news stories this year was the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower where 71 people lost their lives.  Whilst Dickens, might not recognise the physicality of a tower block, the narratives which followed the disaster, would be all too familiar to him. His keen eye for social injustice and inequality is reflected in many of his books; A Christmas Carol certainly contains descriptions of gut wrenching, terrifying poverty without which Scrooge’s volte-face would have little impact.
In the immediacy of the Grenfell Tower disaster tragic updates about individuals and families believed missing or killed in the fire filled the news channels. Simultaneously, stories of bravery; such as the successful endeavours of Luca Branislav to rescue his neighbour and of course, the sheer professionalism and steadfast determination of the firefighters who battled extremely challenging conditions also began to emerge. Subsequently we read/watched examples of enormous resilience; for example, teenager Ines Alves who sat her GCSE’s in the immediate aftermath. In the aftermath, people clamoured to do whatever they could for survivors bringing food, clothes, toys and anything else that might help to restore some normality to individual life’s. Similarly, people came together for a variety of different celebrity and grassroots events such as Game4Grenfell, A Night of Comedy and West London Stand Tall designed to raise as much money as possible for survivors. All of these different narratives are to expected in the wake of a tragedy; the juxtaposition of tragedy, bravery and resilience help people to make sense of traumatic events.
Ultimately, what Grenfell showed us, was what we already knew, and had known for centuries. It threw a horrific spotlight on social injustice, inequality, poverty, not to mention a distinct lack of national interest In individual and collective human rights. Whilst Scrooge was “encouraged” to see the error of his ways, in the twenty-first century society appears to be increasingly resistant to such insight. While we are prepared to stand by and watch the growth in food banks, the increase in hunger, homelessness and poverty, the decline in children and adult physical and mental health with all that entails, we are far worse than Scrooge. After all, once confronted with reality, Scrooge did his best to make amends and to make things a little better. While the Grenfell Tower Inquiry might offer some insight in due course, the terms of reference are limited and previous experiences, such as Hillsborough demonstrate that such official investigations may obfuscate rather than address concerns. It would seem that rather than wait for official reports, with all their inherent problems, we, as a society we need to start thinking, and more, importantly addressing these fundamental problems and thus create a fairer, safer and more just future for everyone.
In the words of Scrooge:
“A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!” (Dickens, 1843/1915: 138)
 The final official figure of 71 includes a stillborn baby born just hours after his parents had escaped the fire.
Dickens, Charles, (1843/1915), A Christmas Carol, (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co.)
The 1st of October was a bad day, I watched the news on television in dismay, as I seem to frequently do these days. Fifty eight people killed and hundreds injured by a gunman in Las Vegas. Over a few days I thought about this and continued watching news bulletins and the discussion on gun control and the right to bear arms. I recall previously seeing Barak Obama on television, lamenting the illegal use of guns in the United States and attempting to convince people that gun possession needed to be controlled. He failed, but from news reports not for the want of trying. The gun lobby and politics were a powerful block on any movement in that direction.
The present incumbent Donald Trump does not seem to have much to say about the matter other than the usual platitudes that come out at a time of national disaster. So my thoughts turned to politics and ideology. I can’t profess to know much about American politics or the American Constitution but as I understand it, the right to bear arms is written into the Constitution. The debate about whether the Second Amendment intended that ordinary citizens had the right to bear arms or the right to bear arms was intended for the militia is one that has continued for many a decade and it seems the courts, not without some dissent, fell on the side of the citizen.
As I continue to try to make sense of it all, I question what was intended by those great people that drafted and redrafted and finally agreed the American Constitution. If the very people that debated and drafted the constitution were to consider the matter now, in contemporary society, knowing the advanced technology and the damage that firearms have caused across America, including the illegal use of firearms in the name of the law, would they have drafted the second amendment in such a way?
Of course we can think about this concept a little wider and apply it to various ideologies across the world. Take the concept of free speech, would those that drafted the various constitutions and rights in many a country have foreseen that the concept of free speech would be used to spread hate against various groups of people? Did they intend that free speech would be used to adulterate and twist religious texts so that hate could be espoused and acted upon?
These rights were drafted and agreed in a different era. Those that espoused them could perhaps not have conceived that they would be abused to the extent they are now or that the concepts would cause so much damage and misery. If we could bring all those great minds together now, would they amend those rights perhaps putting some stipulations on them?
I have a feeling that many a great mind would turn in their graves at these notions and of course I understand it is not quite so simple but I do just wonder? Is freedom too great a price to pay?
The academic year is almost over and it offers the time and space to think. It’s easy to become focused on what needs to be done – for staff; teaching and marking assessments, for students; studying and writing assessments – which leaves little time to stop and contemplate the bigger questions. But without contemplation, academic life becomes less vibrant and runs the risk of becoming procedural and task oriented, rather than the pursuit of knowledge. Reading becomes a chore instead of a pleasure, mindlessly trying to make sense of words, without actually taking time out to think what does this actually mean. We’re all guilty of trying to fill every minute with activity; some meaningful, some meaningless that we forget to stop, relax and let our minds wander. Similarly, writing becomes a barrier because we focus on doing rather than thinking. With this in mind what follows is not a reasoned academic argument but rather a stream of thought
As some of you will remember, a while ago Manos and I had a discussion around words in Criminology (Facebook Live: 24.10.16). In particular, whether words can, or should, be banned and if there is a way of reclaiming, or rehabilitating language. Differing views have emerged, with some strongly on the side of leaving words deemed offensive to die out, whilst others have argued for reclamation of the very same terms. Others still have argued for the reclamation of language, but only by those who the language was targeted toward.
All this talk made me think about the way we use language in crime and justice and the impact this has on the individuals involved. This can be seen in everyday life with the depiction of criminals and victims, the innocents and the guilty, recidivists and those deemed rehabilitated, but we rarely consider the long-lasting effects of these words on individuals.
The recent commemoration (27.07.17) of the fiftieth anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 brought some of these thoughts to the forefront of my mind. This legislation partially decriminalised sex between men (aged 21 or over) but only in private, meaning that homosexual relationship were confined and any public expression of affection was still liable to criminal prosecution. This anniversary, coming six months after the passing of “Turing’s Law” (officially, the Policing and Crime Act 2017) made me think about the way in which we recompense these men; historically identified as criminals but contemporaneously viewed in a very different light.
I view the gist of “Turing’s Law” as generally positive, offering the opportunity for both the living and dead, to clear their names and expunge their criminal records. After all it allows society to recognise the wrongs done in the name of the law to a not unsubstantial group of citizens. For me, where this legal righting of wrongs falls down, is in the wording. To offer someone a pardon suggests they are forgiven for their “sins” rather than acknowledging that the law (and society) got it wrong. It does not recognise the harm suffered by these men over the course of their lifetimes; a conviction for sexual offending cannot be shrugged off or easily explained away and leaves an indelible mark. Furthermore, whilst the dead are to be pardoned posthumously, the onus is on the men still living, to seek out their own disregard and pardon.
Jessica is an Associate Lecturer teaching modules in the first year.
During my undergraduate degree and my experience as an associate lecturer, Feminism has been a topic I have avoided; I thought I understood what it meant, and I wasn’t happy with it. For me, feminism meant female power and equality. What is wrong with that you may ask? Nothing in theory, however it was my experience of female power and equality that lead to my rather naïve and negative understanding of the term.
Having been raised in a male single-parent household, I have very defensive and clearly very biased views on single-parents and in particular on single-parent fathers. Where my misunderstanding and dislike for feminism stems is from how the courts treat cases of child custody. My father was told, way back when, that if my mother took him to court over custody of myself and younger brother then she would win. Despite my father having a well-paid job, the family home and the community in which we were raised. However, as he had not carried us for 9months (a task I feel, had he been given the choice, then he might certainly have) he would lose the battle. How does this link with feminism? If women want equal pay rights (something which I strongly believe we are entitled to) then they must also be willing to accept that men should have equal custody rights! For me this is not something feminism considered, and therefore, to me it is hypocritical. You can’t have equal rights for pay and not for childcare.
As it turns out, my view was misguided and uninformed. Feminism is not just about female power or women’s rights, as the name may imply, but rather it is about accepting and understanding that there is a gender imbalance within society, and that this imbalance, regardless of which way it falls, (albeit predominately not in favour of women) is wrong. Feminism is not only about women deserving equal rights, but rather it is concerned with all people having equal rights and acknowledging that this inequality, that still exists within society, needs to change.
Where does this fit with Criminology? Well, amongst other areas of the discipline it applies to the sub-discipline of Victimology. Feminism’s impact on Victimology has drawn attention to the needs of women as victims with regards to the domestic sphere, considering patriarchal society, and how this affects victims with regards to coming forward and reporting the offences in a predominately white and male Criminal Justice System and how we can learn from their experiences through adopting a qualitative methodology. Feminism also considers the impact of fear and vulnerability on men; how they are least likely to report being effected by victimisation, however statistically they are the largest group of victims for most crimes (with the exception of rape), Feminism encourages us to consider, why the majority of support services and coverage of victims by the media are focused on women and not both genders (Davies, 2017). Applied feminism within Victimology demonstrates that only certain voices in society are heard and addressed depending on the circumstances; this is something that needs to change.
So to return to the question at hand: what is the issue with Feminism? For me, the issue is the term. The negative connotation it appears to hold. Arguably Feminism represents equality, and the recognition that currently, not everyone is equal. So the question I leave you to ponder is why does Feminism appear to attract such negative attention? Is it a simple misunderstanding of the term (something I found myself guilty of), or is there something more?
Davies, P. (2017) Gender, Victims and Crime. In: Davies , P., Francis, P. and Greer, C. (eds) Victims, Crime and Society. 2nd edn. London: Sage Publications.pp146-166.
Davies , P., Francis, P. and Greer, C. (2017) Victims, Crime and Society. 2nd edn. London: Sage Publications.
Ngozi Adichie, C. (2014) We Should All Be Feminists. London: Fourth Estate.
Office for National Statistics (2015). Crime Survey for England and Wales, Focus on: Violent Crime and Sexual Offences 2013/14. London: NSO
Walklate, S. (2004) Gender, Crime and Criminal Justice. Cullompton:Willan.