Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Here we go again ...

"If there is something that somebody could take that might alter the consequences of what they do, they may be as a result of that more likely to engage in at-risk behaviour" … sound familiar? Definitely reminiscent of the ‘arguments’ against the morning after pill but this time Dr Stammers of the Christian Medical Fellowship is arguing against the HIV treatment Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). Big in the news today because of a judicial review of government policy relating to the provision of this treatment brought by a gay man who contracted HIV and was unaware of the availability of PEP…under article 2 of the HRA if you’re interested (right to life).

PEP is a treatment which can potentially prevent contraction of the disease if taken within 72 hours of possible infection. It’s a course of drugs which lasts several weeks. The Department of Health guidance suggests that this treatment is available to any person needing it, but the decision ultimately rests with the PCTs and it seems that the treatment is primarily available only to health care workers who may be at risk of infection.

The debate surrounds the issue of whether it should be prescribed, in particular, to gay men who have risked contracting the infection during intercourse. It is here that the ‘moral’ considerations creep in, and they are so similar to those issues surrounding the morning after pill for women. Dr Stammers argues that this treatment would have a dangerous effect on prevailing sexual practices, encouraging promiscuity as the gay community are relieved from the fear of HIV. He states that the difference between possible infection in a work setting and possible infection from sex is that the health worker has done nothing to encourage the infection (fair enough!) and will be unlikely to invite the risk again. Conversely he suggests that gay men are likely to take more risks as a result of the potential availability of this treatment. The representative from the Terrence Higgins Trust on the Today Programme noted that their research does not support these suggestions and that individuals who have received the treatment are more likely to practice safe sex in the future.
In the current trend of news reports discussing the withholding of treatment this debate is interesting. However it differs from herceptin, for example, on economic grounds. A course of PEP costs as little as £600-£1000 and could potentially save the NHS vast amounts of money if it prevented contraction of HIV. Therefore it seems that the primary ground for withholding this treatment, and for the lack of publicity surrounding it, is a moral one. It was this element of the discourse that caught my attention – the dominant conservative, male, white, heterosexual majority dictating who should receive treatment and why…very familiar. In this case fear of HIV seems to be a means of controlling the sexual freedom of this particular sector of society, just as potential pregnancy is to some a justifiable means of preventing women enjoying the same degree of sexual freedom as heterosexual men. If the treatment is available it should be given, nobody should have to use subterfuge and deceit in order to obtain it (as one speaker on Law in Action did). It is so wrong to withhold treatment in order to control the actions of one section of society, yet again and again this keeps happening. Every time the HPV vaccine that could prevent cervical cancer comes into the spotlight the same ‘moral’ issues surrounding sexual behaviour arise. The only moral issue that I can see is the lack of access to treatment, which appears to be used as a form of punishment for behaviour deemed unacceptable by those in control. Quality of life and life expectancy could both be dramatically improved by access to simple, cheap and effective treatment yet it is withheld. The reports into this treatment have frustrated me so much, and I’m unconvinced that the judicial review process will do much to alter the situation. I’ll keep an eye on the case though and post any updates.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Stalking ...
Exams are over, which should give me a bit of spare time but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to have happened. Coursework, prep for classes etc etc. I’m a volunteer with Victim Support so I’ve also used my free week to do some work with them. There was an interesting piece on Woman’s Hour last week discussing the effects of and law relating to stalking. Stalking isn’t a legal term – the relevant statute is the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, and harassment is generally how it is referred to in the law. Prior to the introduction of this law there was very little in the English legal system to protect women from stalkers – although a silent caller was successfully prosecuted for common law assault. The act now makes harassment a crime, which is a positive move, particularly as the programme and crime statistics suggest that women are much more likely than men to be victims of stalking.

I’ve never experienced stalking on the level of the individual interviewed on the programme, but I have certainly experienced unwanted and persistent male attention to the extent that I have felt extremely uncomfortable and unsafe. I don’t know enough about the subject to speculate on the sociological and psychological sources of this behaviour in general, but in my situation it definitely stemmed from an overtly possessive attitude. The individual in question became angry with me because he no longer recognised me as the person who was once ‘his’. I found this frustrating and frightening and responded by telling him that the only reason he disliked the change was because I no longer took any of his shit. I then attempted to cut the relationship off at that point. Unfortunately this led to obsessive, repetitive telephone calls, often anonymous in the hopes of catching me out so that I would answer. He also harassed my sister and best friend in the same manner.

The situation has calmed down recently to the extent that he very rarely calls or texts me. However he continues to email me at regular intervals. At first I read these emails, but found them very frightening because the ‘chatty’ tone in which they are written suggests that we are still in touch, in fact that we are still close friends. They are now deleted immediately. I have never felt physically threatened by this person’s presence or harassment, but this does not diminish the fact that I have been made to feel extremely vulnerable because this person believed that he somehow had a right to pursue me until I changed in a way that suited him. I still worry that he will come to my house, and when I am in on my own always check through the window before opening the door.
I am aware that this is very minor in the catalogue of things, particularly because renewed media interest in recent months has arisen as a result of the murder of Clare Bernal by her ex boyfriend in Harvey Nicholls. He had been charged under the Protection from Harassment Act and released on bail when he committed the murder. Nevertheless I was pleased to hear this being covered seriously this week with the emphasis upon real women rather than celebrities. Check out NSS and Women’s Aid for more information and advice, also Victim Support are always there if you know anyone who has experienced any crime.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Men are back …
As I’ve been revising for the last couple of weeks I have watched a lot more TV than usual (although I’m sure that isn’t the way it should work). I’ve found many of the adverts appearing at the moment truly shocking. I know a lot has been said about the Yorkie campaign, which has been around for a while now, where the selling point of the chocolate is that it’s ‘not for girls’. Obvious, slightly pathetic and not very clever I just ignored it. However it now seems to have spawned some cousins to the extent that the message has become an insidious aspect of television marketing.

One of these is the advertising campaign for Peugeot 407. At first this advert appears to be dominated by women, powerful and in a variety of different ‘roles’. But it soon becomes clear that the focus of the feature is the man … who is ‘back’ along with his big, powerful, masculine motor.

McDonald’s (who would have guessed?) have also joined in. Again in a world apparently dominated by females (in non-traditional roles) a man is reassured that he still reigns supreme when he visits his favourite fast food restaurant and finds that the burgers ‘only come in man size’.

What is going on? These adverts are confrontational and present a vision of a world where women are powerful as dangerous and frightening. The adverts don’t simply fear women, they attempt to exclude them, physically as the man escapes into his car, and symbolically as the ‘o’ in Yorkie becomes a no entry sign. Furthermore they revel in portraying male stereotypes – the men in these adverts are large, hairy, masculine. They desire big ‘man size’ foods and drive powerful cars. Their nightmare is a world in which women are equal, and they are reassured when they realise that, yes, there still is something out there that is just for them.
I find it difficult to see the humour in this form of marketing. It is offensive, perpetuates harmful stereotypes, and legitimises discrimination. Found an interesting opinion while googling about this, with which I don’t agree at all, but on the whole I am amazed that there isn’t more discussion about these images – perhaps that is the most offensive thing about them.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Equitable presumptions...

I am currently revising for my midsessional tests for this term. I'm doing a graduate diploma in law which consists primarily of learning by rote with little time or scope for creativity or opinion [it's definitely a means to an end rather than a course to take for fun]. However today I've been reading a little about equitable presumptions when people make voluntary transfers of property or contribute to the purchase price of property bought in another's name. Generally equity will presume that the person did not intend to make a gift, and therefore their contribution will be viewed as being held on a 'resulting' trust by the person who currently possesses it. This can be rebutted by any proof that a gift was intended, which is all well and good.

The silliness comes with so called presumptions of advancement. These are a small class of transfers where equity will presume that a gift was intended. This presumption comes about when a husband gives something to his wife, a father gives something to his child or to a person to whom he is in loco parentis. This seems totally bizarre. It appears from further reading, particularly in case law and comment, that this presumption is very weak and easily rebutted. Nevertheless it is still present in English law, and continues to be relied upon in the courts.

The gender bias is obvious, and originates from paternalistic Victorian society. The effect is that should a man give something to his wife it will be presumed to be a gift, and the burden of proof to demonstrate that it is not rests upon the man. However, should a wife give something to her husband it is presumed that it was not intended as a gift, and the burden of proof to demonstrate that it was rests upon the man. This benefits noone and is completely anachronistic ... it suggests that it remains a husband's role to financially support his wife and child which is far from the reality of modern life in England. Furthermore it has the potential to result in dramatically different results in cases where society no longer views such distinction. Husbands are expected to provide for their wives, wives not expected to provide for either husband or child, and cohabiting couples completely out of the equation.

Despite the obvious fact that this presumption is easily rebutted, it remains quite shocking that it is still in place. During a seminar on the topic discussion took place over how it should be changed. Some suggested that the presumption should be abolished completely and every case of voluntary transfer should begin with the presumption that no gift was intended, with the burden of proof lying with the individual suggesting that it was a gift. At the other end of the scale it was suggested that there should always be a presumption of advancement with proof needed that no gift was intended! This seems a very idealistic view of society and I'm far too cynical to accept that as a good starting point. Furthermore I feel that if it were to become less gender specific and there was a presumption of advancement between husband/wife either way that this would still be somewhat anachronistic. I do lend my boyfriend money and vice versa, and sometimes it is intended as a gift and sometimes it isn't, but I would never want it to be presumed that it was a gift. I'm an independent person, I have my own bank account, and hope to pursue my own career. I would not want to lose the presumption of financial independence if I were ever to marry...however 'lacking in romance' that may be.

I think that the only situation in which a presumption of a gift should ever apply is between parent and child. Note parent, not father! I think that if a transfer of property in this relationship is not intended to be a gift it is made abundantly clear, and could easily rebut the presumption.
However rarely this presumption is used I still find it strange that it remains part of our law, and would feel much more comfortable if it were changed. It seems that is unlikely to happen despite the general feeling of dissatisfaction with the system.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sun goddess ...
Leaked news of Princess Kiko's pregnancy seems to have halted the battle in Japan about whether the law should be changed to allow a female heir to inherit the throne. I don't know much about Japanese history and culture, but I'm still amazed that this society that often seems so modern is clinging so tightly to archaic and discriminatory traditions. Anyway visit here for the story so far ... no news about the sex of the baby for a while yet though.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Once upon a time...

Have just finished Robert McKinley's 'Spindle's End' which was truly fantastic. It's a rewriting of Sleeping Beauty focussing upon the life of Rose, brought up by another family and with no knowledge of either the blessings or curse placed upon her by 21 fairy godmothers at her christening. Set in a medieval fantasy world it was initially uncomfortable to read, as the sentences are littered with commas and parantheses which can be confusing but these ultimately added to the flamboyance of the narrative.

The story is compelling and the characters truly appealing. Rose is brought up within a powerful family unit consisting of an aunt and her niece. As with the traditional tale, the tiny princess is granted a series of blessings at the opening of the story, followed by a devastating curse. The blessings are superficial and demonstrate societal expectations of this princess - Rosie herself is admirable because she defies these expectations throughout the novel, and at the conclusion powerfully exerts her own independence. It is not just Rosie who demonstrates strength of character - there is a male fairy intended to be the 21st godmother, an ironsmith who turns out to be a fairy, and many other unique and unexpected characters.

Perhaps the most enjoyable feature of the novel was its portrayal of strong female friendships. Rosie herself is surrounded by maternal figures, and it is her relationship with her best [female] friend which dominates the tale, while her unrealised love for the fairy smith is sidelined. McKinley has removed the passive sleeping beauty destined to succumb to her fate and replaced her with a strong and likeable individual who fights against everything her society throws at her. The final kiss is still there, but distinctly subverted.

Check this book out if you enjoyed Coraline or even if you're an Angela Carter fan.