Abstract: Autobiography or confessional? The title is not plagiarised from the literary offering by a certain Mr. Tim Griggs, but that of a short story that has been languishing in my archives for over ten years, an ironic comment on the requirement in modern Western society for a female to be attached and the difficulties in attaining this state of “bliss”.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Lawnmarket

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:04 am

Saturday, 19th May 2007

Street Portrait of Christine, Gordon and the Hungarian by Chameleon

Christine, Gordon and the Hungarian prove that Scottish Bloggers do not spend all their time huddled in cellar bars

Pensive Gordon by Chameleon

Gordon in pensive mood

Rosie in Blogger Mode by Chameleon

Rosie in blogger mode

Baxter by Chameleon

Baxter

Christine by Chameleon

Christine

Resplendent Peggy by Chameleon

Peggy

Tintin Goes Native by Chameleon

Tartan Tintin

Forlorn Hope by Chameleon

Dust to Dust

Maasai Warrior Dance by Chameleon

Hunter Square Warriors

Maasai Dance by Chameleon

Maasai Dance

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Wynd

Filed under: — site admin @ 2:52 pm

Even without the obligatory sign announcing the invisible frontier, the check points long since abandoned (unless the French are in one of their periodic strops, guards peering into your car as you crawl along the lane marked out by traffic cones), you can immediately tell when you have entered Waffleland by the proliferation of caravans and kiosks crowding the roadside purveying the national weakness, frites or frieten, the one element uniting the disparate and mutually hostile communities, the symbol of homecoming. Excavating them with a tiny plastic fork from beneath the more than generous dollops of mayonnaise an art in itself (perhaps if a citizenship test were introduced this should be considered the true proof of successful assimilation).

The streetscape of the city of spires and blackened sandstone has become gentrified, the small chippies with their specimen jars of pickled eggs and onions, their bottles of Cream Soda and competing concoctions with lurid, chemically enhanced hues, ousted by sandwich bars and coffee parlours, forced to seek refuge in the suburbs, slightly incongruous amongst the anonymous rows of bay windows. No pretensions, no freshly squeezed orange proclaiming its purity with a halo, just sizzling fat and the irresistable smell that attracts the hungry hordes to stagger semi-conscious in the direction of the haddock in crispy golden brown batter. Once, crossing the Meadows by the central walkway at night undeterred by the warnings of muggers lurking in the pools of darkness beyond the reach of the harsh orange glow, we flung our coagulated blood and oatmeal puddings against a tree trunk in disgust, having ordered the white variety, more palatable to a vegetarian (in the days when I would carefully enquire what kind of fat the establishment used for frying, although genuine consistency would have dictated abstinence from a dish containing suet immersed in the same oil as the sausages and other assorted items reserved for the carnivore).

The decline of organised religion visible in signs outside the Elim Pentecostal Church where worshippers formerly swayed, hands held heavenward, eyes firmly closed to gaze upon the divine by freeing the mind of distractions, muttering prayers in the tongues of angels where now that the pews have been removed the serious business of dancing is dedicated to the gratification of the flesh in a Frankenstein-themed nightclub rather than an expression of the spontaneous outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The sour fragrance of fermentation borne by the wind over the expanses of rubble a constant reminder of the bleak industrial monuments levelled by the bulldozers and cranes less profitable than the conveniently located two-bedroom luxury developments. Even that dingy yet somehow tantalising institution the Fingertips Massage Parlour has succumbed to the relentless pressure for accommodation. With no windows to board up, the sense of desolation invoked by its deserted doorway is absolute, the seedy venues for seekers of cheap thrills and simulated desire displaced to the fringes of the Grassmarket (itself sanitised since the shelter for the homeless was moved elsewhere, the men in multiple layers of greasy overcoats and tangled beards accosting the tourists with slurred requests for the price of a cup of tea presumably too intimidating to the visitor to be tolerated in the long term. We cannot allow the pristine image of our capital be tarnished by its shambling underclass, whose existence must be rigorously denied. Besides, hotels are profitable, whereas hostels represent a drain on the budget).

As the parked coaches slumber does the nightingale’s song still pierce the sombre silence of the hillside beneath Statecraft’s austere and disapproving gaze?

Monday, 14 May 2007

Emergence

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:58 am

I have recently undergone a sex change, aligning myself with my true gender. It wasn’t an easy decision to make and I admit to some trepidation as to the reception I would be given by strangers. The initial shock of realisation, the double-take (even if only betrayed in the hesitation, or vehemently disavowed yet still manifested, however subtly, in the tone of voice). Only in an environment with no physical attributes on display did I feel genuinely uninhibited, safe in the knowledge that I would be judged on my skill alone, no whispering, no taunts, just the heady thrill of fitting in, the relief of inconspicuousness.

I soon became hopelessly addicted to a life from which I had previously been excluded, with its bonds of comradeship in the midst of adversity. I put up with the gratuitously macho comments (though I never indulged in them myself). We were surrounded by death, after all, by blood and brutality and I swiftly became popular, my reputation assured by my combat record and my sense of honour which meant I could always be relied upon to fight to the bitter end. My allies knew I would perish in the attempt to save them (and I expected nothing less in return).

Before coming clean, I cultivated my alternative identity assiduously (and my loving partner was always on hand to brief me on car models, engine parts, the virtues of one processor above another, the intricacies of the off-side rule). I had cultivated that peculiar form of inarticulacy pared of adjectives and peppered with expletives, language purged of affection, or rather speech where warmth is encoded through understatement and the gentle teasing of feigned disrespect, perhaps since overt acknowledgements of fondness would run the risk of invoking denigration, where the ultimate term of endearment, the crowning achievement of countless shared missions is “old pal”, delivered with an ironic wink.

It was not just that technology had caught up with me – coordinated strategy requires the ability to adapt instantly to rapidly shifting parameters, to send back-up or to warn of impending sneak-attacks when your ally is occupied elsewhere – but I had taken the enormous step of meeting my constant companion, my closest friend outside the confines of virtuality. We had fought alongside each other for over two years, day after day, week after week when I would test my physical and mental endurance to the limits before flopping into bed at 4am in a state of elated exhaustion. Our styles complemented each other to perfection and over time as we grew into our partnership, our grasp of each other’s responses shifted from conscious observation to instinct. I knew he would never let me down in combat. He possessed all the qualities I desired from a brother-in-arms: even in extremis he would remain imperturbably level-headed, trading insults with our enemies only if they initiated a tirade of verbal abuse. I knew that, like me, he would never give up, that if I had my back to the wall he would rather engage in a futile act of heroic self-sacrifice than leave me to perish in ignominy. My admiration for him was (and remains) boundless. Although initially taken aback when we admitted the truth (the circumstances of the encounter dictated that my partner had to act as my stand-in until I could snatch a few moments with him alone), he soon adjusted and we continue to play as a team even now. Together with my son.

Victory and defeat are equated with possessing and being possessed in a sexualised metaphor as epitomised by the term “ownage” denoting complete domination of the vanquished. The male gamers who pose as women by choosing female nicks (women who openly admit to that pariahdom-conferring status are inevitably ganged up on by their opponents desperate to reinforce their own prejudices concerning male superiority and to punish her for trespassing on their patch, banishing her with a forceful and ugly demonstration of the unwelcome nature of her presence in much the same way as I imagine the atmosphere in a Gentleman’s Club would chill should a woman stroll in to such a sanctum of maleness before being forcibly ejected by the porters) are the most eager employers of the swaggering and derogatory vocabulary of unalloyed sexism, casually, indeed gleefully bandying about the vicious terminology of violation (“We’ll rape you, man”; “I have a huge strap-on”). It is not that they are compensating for the penalties they incur through feminising themselves (which they do voluntarily, after all), such as opening themselves up to ridicule, but is based on a deeper misogyny still, as to be beaten by a female represents the ultimate in humiliation. You can rest assured that such players are not only supremely self-confident, but highly proficient, as ruthless as they are arrogant (and I admit that in my more immature moments I am not above using their hatred of womankind against them by announcing over their speakers that they have been “owned” by a member of the “weaker” sex, softness and weakness being the qualities they most despise. Their fury is impotent by comparison to the injury to their pride I have thereby inflicted).

In spite of my careful efforts to provide a feminist upbringing (with a certain degree of success, as shown by statements such as “I don’t think it is fair that I should have so many advantages simply because I am white and male. I didn’t ask for them” when recounting a tale of how one of his teachers never misses an opportunity to pick on his best friend who happens to be black), my son still refuses to believe that incidents such as we recently experienced when we inadvertently permitted our adversaries to catch the sound of my voice are the norm rather than the exception and can be attributed to something more than an isolated case of “He’s just a wanker, Mum”. As we discussed our next move the following text appeared on the screen in capital letters (the equivalent of shouting): DOES SHE SUCK YOUR COCK? I did not appreciate being subjected to such embarrassment in front of my 15-going-on-16-year-old, though he was every bit as shocked as I was. A couple of seconds went by and the next message popped up in the bottom left of the screen: DOES SHE HAVE BIG TITS? To which I replied: “Well, as you can see fuckwit, my tits are bigger than your brain”. Of all the traits for my son to inherit from me, the gift of withering sarcasm has proven the most useful and he showered the enemy with as many quick-fire retorts as virtual bullets. I was positively seething with indignation, my hands trembling with the adrenaline rush triggered by the enemy’s impudence. Needless to say, we trounced him in a matter of minutes. After being routed my detractor actually had the temerity to show his face again in the staging room for the next game. “Oh, it’s you,” I ventured. “Kindly keep your puerile and misogynistic remarks to yourself. Oops, I forgot, you don’t understand words of more than one syllable”.

Then the other day when an opponent invited him to “Go and fuck your mother”, his rejoinder: “That would be purple [the colour I always choose], who is too busy blowing your base apart right now” and I chimed in with: “Yes, that’s me, but the only person I can see getting fucked around here is YOU!” I know I shouldn’t let it get to me. I know I shouldn’t reinforce stereotypes through replication of sexist discourses, but I relish usurping their preconceived notions of appropriate, gender-segregated pursuits (girls should stick to Barbies, leave the guns for the boys).


VOIP facilitates communication and boosts your chances of success by obviating the need to concentrate on typing, a distraction for someone like myself who stubbornly searches for the letters on the keyboard (I have always eschewed cultivating such “feminine” proficiencies as cooking, knitting and touch-typing), a perilous (and potentially fatal) distraction in the heat of battle. Gaming is my life. I have come out at last and now sally forth with pride in my Amazon’s armour.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

The Tripod and the Temptress: Review of Command and Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:14 am

[The short version originally published here. If you cannot read Hungarian, the screenshots are still worth admiring. The tactical analysis scattered throughout is based on playing all three campaigns and over 250 games online at time of posting]

Apart from Pong and Space Invaders, Tiberian Sun was the first computer game I ever played. And how. Trouncing enemies online soon became more addictive than any street-peddled drug, convincing me of the virtual world’s incomparable attraction (forget the marriage break-up scandals surrounding Friends Reunited, if ever there was a guaranteed method of wrecking relationships, it is to produce an RTS so compelling that the only time you hear your partner above the din of battle is when they snore).

It seems incredible that so much time could have elapsed between the second and third instalments of the Tiberium saga that nostalgia can also motivate sweaty-palmed anticipation and an itchy clicking finger, the perennial risk being that no advertising budget, no matter how astronomical, could ever overcome the word of mouth condemnation of a dud. Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining why Blizzard has always, in spite of having one of the all-time classics of the genre, Starcraft, in its back catalogue, shied away from a sequel to satisfy the demands of a massive fan base for a version with state of the art graphics to do the storyline justice.

Tiberium Wars in many respects reminds me of the new Doctor Who: it looks gorgeous and bang up-to-date, whilst preserving enough of the feel and spirit of the original to keep even the most diehard devotees happy. Whilst Russell T. Davies and his production team saw no reason to tamper with the iconic sound of the Tardis dematerialising (although they certainly went to town on revamping the interior), it having become so familiar to the audience’s ears that altering it would constitute an act of sacrilege, the ominous humming of the Obelisk of Light as it prepares to discharge its blinding and deadly ray has likewise been retained (and will send shivers of delight down the Nod commander’s spine).

The parallel also applies in terms of pace. Whereas the old series would spread a plot over several episodes, each ending with a cliff-hanger, action in the new is concentrated in one or at most two parts, with so much going on that the gawping viewer can barely draw breath. In Tiberium Wars, the bullets fly fast and furious and the tiniest lapse in concentration or tactical miscalculation leads to disaster, which is a real pity as a lot of thought has evidently been invested by the developers in allowing for multiple paths to victory. Human opponents, in their quest for a more impressive rank, tend to display a rather tedious lack of imagination, entrenching themselves defensively whilst they build up the technology to unleash a devastating attack with their most expensive hardware as quickly as possible. The irony of the AI employing greater variety and sophistication was surely unintentional.

In his review in PC Gamer (Vol. 173, April 2007, pp62-9), Tim Edwards wrote: “Real-time strategy games have evolved dramatically in the past two years. They’ve been practically re-invented by the innovators behind (…) Supreme Commander (…) We’ve seen games that frighten us with their sheer physical power, and awe us with their scale. Is C&C’s narrow strategic remit and live-action video gimmick still relevant?”

Although I confess that I take brand loyalty to ridiculous extremes, I would still contend that C&C offers a formula that works (I beta-tested Supreme Commander and found it overblown and bombastic, with too many variables to be weighed up at once). Tiberium Wars delivers with the pinpoint accuracy of the sniper’s laser-assisted sights what the long-standing fans crave, a high adrenaline, quick fix almost clinical in its purity. Unfair though it may appear to blame the developers for the shortcomings of their customers, the former ought to have anticipated the degree of temptation involved and discouraged reliance on Mammoth Tanks. However, this oversight constitutes a serious flaw. Monotacticality is frustrating, especially if you have no choice but to indulge in it yourself as a countermeasure (and this, coupled with the complete dependence on primary and secondary map-based resources with no autonomous income-generation capacity is why, ultimately, I would argue that Generals is the more satisfying game).

As for the linking sequences with the cream of sci-fi acting talent, they are good, clean, old-fashioned fun. Gone is the moon-landing broadcast-quality, chunky-pixel clunkiness of Michael Biehn’s star turn, replaced by the glossy perfection of digital that drives thespians to face-lift clinics in droves and has made personal fitness trainer into a lucrative career option.

The trademark humour has not been forgotten (mostly expressed in the one-liners from the various units, such as the Grenadiers’ “Grab the plunger, we’re flushing ‘em out!”) and there are various small but deft touches that help to elevate C&C above the competition (the sentry tirelessly pacing up and down the roof of the GDI barracks, for instance).

One of the departures for the series, which proved successful elsewhere in, for example, Yuri’s Revenge, is the introduction of a third side (Starcraft’s pervasive influence on the genre once again making itself felt), the Scrin. To its credit, the studio made the effort to draw on the existing mythology (remember the alien artefacts and vessel wreckage strewn over the battlefields in Tiberian Sun and the ion storms that decimated your forces as you tried to fend off Nod and defend the starship crash site?)

Backdrop

Since the previous outing, the world has been divided into three categories of habitable surface: Red Zones, described as “Tiberium-infested hellscapes”, where only the mutants venture; Yellow Zones, where the bulk of the population ekes out a bleak and precarious existence in the Nod-dominated, Tiberium-blighted badlands and the Blue Zones, the “last refuge and hope of the civilised world”, protected by GDI.

The respective campaigns fulfil their function of providing a palatable induction course in how to use the forces entrusted to your direction, forcing you to consider options you might otherwise have neglected and fostering the kind of micro-management skills that could stand you in good stead in an emergency. In this respect they are very thorough and creditable (the C&C veteran will walk through the initial stages before the challenge begins). Defeating Kane in the GDI missions, however, does come as something of an anti-climax, a mere prelude to the alien threat.

GDI

In these post-modern times borrowing from a variety of sources no longer a matter of shame, betraying an absence of creativity, but a proud homage to great forebears. The more subdued atmosphere in the GDI camp owes a lot to the new Battlestar Galactica with its low-key grittiness and muted colour scheme. The GDI has become more austere and less smugly confident in its invulnerability (a realistic appraisal given the series of calamities about to test its mettle). True to form, GDI still wears its earnestness as a badge of honour, serious about doing the right thing.

Your slightly dour commanding officer, General Jack Granger (Michael Ironside), has spent 28 years fighting Nod and your constant companion throughout the missions is Kirce James (Jennifer Morrison, more widely known as Dr. Cameron in House).

The GDI arsenal has lost its best loved weapon, the Mammoth Mk II, (a blatant and brazen steal of – or perhaps the ultimate tribute to – the AT-AT in Star Wars) having been sent to the great scrap yard in the sky, rendered obsolete by the kind of bureaucratic budgetary constraints your average NASA scientist would be happy to commiserate with you over as well as refinements in adversary responses: “The most elite Commandoes are also trained to use their detonation packs on the legs of large walkers, one of the reasons that GDI retired many of the bipedal walkers that were a mainstay in the second Tiberium war”.

As the plot unfolds you encounter Redmond Boyle (Billy Dee Williams in finest fettle), flamboyant Acting Director of GDI, promoted by default when all his superiors were wiped out in the Philadelphia outrage. At one crucial stage you are forced to choose between trusting Granger for whom you have fought so hard, or the smooth-tongued and highly charismatic politician (leaving aside the minor issues of the Director’s insatiable lust for power and penchant for blasting everything in sight with WMDs), who would you choose? A bit of a no-brainer, I venture to suggest (though the beauty of the game is that there is nothing to stop you from going back and following the alternative course).

Review of the Forces

GDI

Rifleman Squad

The utterly dependable mainstay of the infantry, the riflemen can be sent into the thick of the battle against overwhelming odds and hold the enemy off until only their dog tags are left to identify them. Since the last conflict they have been given specific training in constructing dug-outs for enhanced defensive capability (and, let’s face it, watching them whip out their shovels is highly entertaining).

Missile Squad

Lugging their launcher requires the rippling muscles of a Schwarzenegger, but slows them down. In urban settings, sending them into abandoned buildings remains the best way of utilising their firepower, blasting passing aircraft out of the sky and compelling tanks to fight for every inch of ground. Most structures can accommodate up to three squads and it is advisable to dispatch riflemen to eliminate foes looking to oust missile squads once they have been comfortably ensconced.

Grenadiers

The Disc Throwers of the original make a welcome comeback, the behind-the-scenes boffins having equipped them with more advanced technology in the intervening years, their grenades complete with inbuilt AI seeking out the windows. Grenadiers come into their own when ordered to eradicate enemy troops occupying blocks of flats or barns (although their aim becomes less accurate when they lob their grenades from inside).

All the bravado about the throwing arm might make you suspect that they employed a less than reputable bicep-strengthening technique initially.

If you leave them idle for a while, they do keep fit style jumps to pass the time (another of the aforementioned small touches).

Composite armour benefits all the basic infantry by lessening the damage inflicted in close combat.

Sniper Team

Snipers are invisible to the enemy when lying in wait motionless. His spotter sidekick can designate any target in his line of sight for bombardment by a Juggernaut; thereby increasing the latter’s range by a considerable margin.

Commando

“Dismissed!” the elite Commando quips as he mows down those foolhardy enough to believe that they can take him on. His self-confidence knows no bounds as he wields his prototype carbine: “He’s goin’ dirt-tastin’”. As if it weren’t enough that his detonation-packs contain explosives that reduce the most impressive examples of architectural splendour to rubble in mere seconds, he also boasts that staple of male fantasy and fascination, the jet-pack, enabling him to lift off like Sean Connery in Thunderball (though his manner is a tad rougher round the edges and he would indubitably feel ill at ease sipping a Martini in a dinner jacket). A lull in fighting (or indeed a carefully executed decoy manoeuvre) affords the perfect opportunity to slip the Commando into the back of a base and exploit gaps in the enemy’s defences.

Zone Troopers

Technological advance is a mixed blessing, leading to redundancies in the both the real and virtual worlds, the medical corps having been disbanded since the Second Tiberium War. Toughest of the tough, no expense has been spared on the Zone Troopers, from their lethal portable railguns to their high-tech body armour, which, when supplemented by Power Packs, slowly heals the injured wearer. The drawback of weighing down combatants with the kind of heavy-duty protective gear that would sap the stamina of the fittest is compensated for by issuing the Zone Troopers with the same jet packs as their covert ops specialist colleague. The shrewd commander will not neglect to send them into the fray with Scanner Packs, which increase their field of vision and leave stealth units with nowhere to hide: “Let’s shut this party down”.

Engineer

Once again the humour integral to C&C shines through irrepressibly in the Combat Engineer’s tips with the eminently sensible yet thoroughly prosaic advice to keep his hard hat on at all times (frankly the least of his worries whilst endeavouring to sneak into the heart of the enemy).

Engineers can recover felled Juggernauts, Avatar War Mechs and Annihilator Tripods from the debris. I found such salvage ops a source of unexpected and inordinate pleasure to the extent that it sometimes proved an almost fatal distraction. Not only is it cheaper than going to the trouble of building your own (the cost of an engineer paling into insignificance by comparison with that of a brand new unit), but it irritates your opponent beyond measure if your engineer arrives on the scene first and snatches away one that formerly belonged to him. If the latter has been foolish enough to scrimp on defences, avail yourself of the call for transport’s airlift service to capture away to your heart’s content.

Pitbull

The Pitbull is a bit of a misnomer for this light and very nimble vehicle ideally suited for scouting an enemy base near the start of the game. Whilst their aggressive reputation amongst pilots is justified, against ground forces they are more reminiscent of Pomeranians than the ferocious beasts they are named after, small, yappy (easily winning the award for the most gung-ho driver) and without much bite. Their reload rate isn’t brilliant either (until they have been promoted). The Pitbull’s stealth detection capacity, however, redeems it (the more so when it is upgraded to carry mortars).

APC

APCs are extremely useful for transporting engineers if you prefer to send them over land (and if you keep a few dotted about your base they can make short work of any Saboteurs or Assimilators intent on mischief). For anti-air purposes they are sturdier and can withstand more pounding than Pitbulls (especially with missile squads on board). They can also lay a minefield to hamper the enemy advance.

Predator Tank

Do not underestimate the relatively humble Predator Tank, particularly in the early stages of the game (combined with a handful of APCs it is ideal for overrunning the enemy in a rush). It can take a lot of punishment and can even be fitted with a railgun, which invests it with massive firepower at a fraction of the cost of its larger and more lumbering stable mate.

Mammoth Tank

The pride and joy of the GDI commander, the Mammoth is not daunted by anything the opposition can throw at it, taking down Planetary Assault Carriers with almost the same ease as venoms. Smaller tanks are so beneath its contempt that it can simply crush them as it trundles forward inexorably towards the trembling foe. Mammoths create the illusion of invincibility, but a fixation with them can lead to unhealthy (and potentially fatal) complacency.

Juggernauts

The Juggernaut has overcome the ungainly gait that used to render it both charming and slightly comical when first introduced in the Firestorm expansion, but by way of compensation it does deploy little extra feet to plant itself in the ground and stabilise it as it fires. Once whilst amassing an assault force in my base, I caught a bored Juggernaut scratching behind its “ear”. They can be toppled by commandoes’ explosives and brought crashing down by air bombardments, which probably accounts for their unjustified neglect by many hot-blooded GDI recruits blinkered by their narrow remit to secure victory as swiftly as possible and who are infatuated with the Mammoth. The extra effort required to make provision for the Juggernaut’s weaknesses (by sending it into the fray flanked by Pitbulls and Predators, for example) can pay dividends (beyond the instant gratification of watching the barrage unleashed), particularly when its firing range is extended by camouflaged spotters.

V-35 Ox VTOL

The extreme fragility of this workhorse of the skies can be exasperating (Ox Transports have to be landed individually, even if you have an entire squadron of them waiting to drop off their precious cargoes). A further foible is that they must be perfectly positioned or they refuse to descend with a stubbornness more fitting for a mule (which quickly becomes wearisome as you seldom have much spare time at your disposal to worry about such finicky behaviour). The Ox is indispensable for dropping off Surveyors at unclaimed but distant Tiberium deposits.

Orca

The Orca is a highly manoeuvrable vertical take-off craft (the heat haze beneath their boosters another of the satisfying small touches in which the game is so abundant) which darts round the battlefield with enviable speed. It can be kitted out with a pulse scanner array that detects even the most advanced Nod stealth units and can deploy sensor pods (like small landmines), which uncover nearby terrain and/or cloaked vehicles for a limited period (the utility of depositing these within an enemy base for targeting purposes will already have occurred to the astute commander). However, Orcas have no means of retaliation against enemy aircraft (though they can be escorted by Firehawks with Rattlesnake Missiles).

Orcas have a nasty sting and can quickly throw a spanner in the works of any enemy engineer attempting to infiltrate your base, but really give your adversary a severe headache in swarms. They can probe for defences behind enemy lines, undermine the opponent’s economy by eliminating harvesters and harass hostiles as they traverse the map.

Firehawks

A squadron of eight Firehawks with a payload of Hellcat Firebombs load take out a superweapon (probably better to add one or two more to be on the safe side, as any enemy worth his salt will surround the Temple of Nod with SAMs). Their formidable strike power can be augmented further with the stratofighter boosters, which allows them to evade AA.

Crane (Foundry)

Looks aren’t everything as this (at first glance) drably utilitarian yet hugely significant structure proves. By opening a subsidiary build queue it accelerates your ability to erect refineries and every other edifice essential to the war effort as well as furnishing a failsafe back-up if by some terrible misfortune your main construction yard is blown to smithereens.

One player in an online bout adopted the anally retentive (yet irritatingly serviceable) strategy of pumping all his money into cranes whilst creeping over the intervening space with power plants. To the astonishment of his opponent, sonic emitters suddenly sprouted like mushrooms, razing his base to the ground (the most popular variation on this theme of cheap, nasty and unimaginative is to dispatch a Surveyor/Emissary/Explorer to the edge of the enemy’s built-up area, or even, in cases where the base creeper is intoxicated with his own “brilliance”, smack bang in the centre and blast it to smithereens. Such cocky attempts can usually be thwarted with relative ease by vigilance and a couple of rifleman, militant or disintegrator squads, which you should always have at the ready on compact maps to cover such eventualities. If, however, in spite of your best efforts such a player prevails, take note of his name, announce his tactic in the lobby to alert all the others and console yourself that he will never be able to catch you unawares again – most of those who employ this trick have no genuine skill – they certainly could not emerge victorious from a fair fight – and lack the necessary mental agility to experiment with alternative routes to a win. Remember that should you frustrate his plan, base creep is expensive so if you turn the tide he will probably have very little to throw back at you. If all else fails you can always send the coded warning to those who come after you by venting your spleen in the vote, the final screen after the statistics, where you can award him one point for skill and a grudging one or even zero for sportsmanship).

Surveyor (Emissary, Explorer)

The Surveyor establishes an outpost anywhere on the map you see fit to send it, which in most cases will mean in the vicinity of a shimmering green Tiberium patch. It is worth defending with a secondary barracks (Hand of Nod, or Portal) or War Factory (Warp Sphere) as once the deployed Surveyor has been demolished (and, believe me, it will most definitely attract fire) no more building activity at that site is possible until a replacement has taken root (which can be slightly tiresome, as doing so takes what in the midst of an engagement seems like an eternity).

Rig

The War Factories for GDI and Nod (and its Scrin equivalent the Warp Sphere) have been revamped with automated repair drones, which swoop to the aid of damaged vehicles (a more elegant solution to the inevitability of shell dents and bullet holes than a costly dedicated station).

GDI has the added advantage of the Rig, a mobile repair platform, which can be unpacked and moved on at will. The authors of the in-mission tactical manual recommend that it be used for “clear and hold” ops at Tiberium fields as it comes complete with Guardian Cannons and a missile launcher.

Automated Defences

Whereas the elegant Watchtower is a deadly precision instrument against hapless foot soldiers who stray into its range, the Guardian Cannon has been left standing by the Sonic Emitter, originally developed “…to reclaim our land from Tiberium – and to control and regulate Tiberium growth throughout the reclaimed Blue Zones”. The Scrin invaders are particularly susceptible to the latter’s sound waves, but, be warned, it is useless against aircraft (for which you need the AA batteries with their relentless spew of bullets).

Ion Cannon

When fired, the orbiting Ion Cannon’s concentrated beam of light elicits a sublime frisson with its ethereal beauty as it levels a base. There is no doubt that this is the coolest of the superweapons – go on, spend the money on one, you know you want to.

Special Auxiliary Powers

Availing yourself of these (realistically) costs money, leaving you more dependent on map-based resources and a steady flow of income than ever before. Even with the cash in hand, quite a bit of time elapses before they are ready for re-use, so intelligent employment is of the essence.

The Radar Scan is self-explanatory, leaving stealth units no place to hide.

GDI Airborne parachutes in promoted riflemen and missile squads for extra back-up once the opponent’s base has been penetrated.

Experienced Sharp Shooters can carry out a surgical strike against infantry in the supposed shelter of the adversary’s base (and can coordinate with Juggernauts).

Drop Pods deposit veteran Zone Troopers in the thick of the action to wreak havoc and knock out barracks and war factories (thereby cutting off the supply of reinforcements).

Bloodhounds (my personal favourite), comprise a lethal APC and Pitbull team to assist beleaguered comrades, perform a hit and run against harvesters or simply divert the enemy’s attention to another part of the battlefield.

Shockwave Artillery can finish off an ailing superweapon before the enemy has had a chance to repair it as well as temporarily disabling structures and mechs in its blast radius.

Orca Strike craft are guided to their target by a beacon, although they can fail in making the desired impact if forced to run the gauntlet of heavy AA.

Tactics

Bear in mind that away from your main base you can only build in the vicinity of an outpost. If you capture one of the neutral structures and want to hold on to it at all costs you should send a Surveyor (Emissary, Explorer) as soon as you are confident that the expense will not adversely affect unit production.

Upholding the tradition of the previous acts in the drama, blue Tiberium yields more income than the more common green variety. You cannot generate your own resources (as in Generals), which acts as a positive incentive for the forward push.

When confronted with Nod defences, focus firepower on the hub to disable it. Failing to do so plays into the enemy’s hands, giving the hub the opportunity to rebuild the turrets under its control.

Obelisks of light cannot take down air units and quickly succumb to an onslaught from above.

Leave basic stealth detecting units on Tiberium fields (preferably with a tank or two in tow) to prevent Nod from misappropriating your precious resources.

When infantry is under fire, the survival instinct understandably kicks in, leaving them crawling for cover and unable to fight back effectively. Only the Nod Fanatics are immune to suppression, as they have been brainwashed into shedding all concern for their own welfare, ready and willing to take their chances in the afterlife.

Nod

That most charismatic and satanically seductive of OTT pantomime villains, Kane (superlatively brought to life by Joe Kucan) is back, declaring with a hint of weariness in his voice: “Once again the world is quick to bury me”. Like the Doctor’s most implacable enemy the Daleks he just keeps bouncing back (which is just as well really, because no matter how much you love to hate him, there could be no game without his undiluted perfidy).

Banished to the inhospitable Tiberium-scarred wastelands, the members of the Brotherhood seethe with righteous indignation against “the fascist political consortium of wealthy nations”, guilty of a multitude of crimes, carefully catalogued for the rapt listener: “They unilaterally redrew international border lines, relegating Nod followers into inhospitable Yellow Zones while they claimed the pristine and exclusive Blue Zones all for themselves”.

The injustice is manifest, as Kane’s close associate Kilian Qatar (Tricia Helfer) recounts: “20% of the world’s population – the most wealthy people on the planet – live in the Blue Zones, consuming the majority of the world’s natural resources, wielding their vast military power to maintain the status quo by depriving the downtrodden of their god-given right to mine and exploit Tiberium”.

From the refuge of Temple Prime in Sarajevo, with its appropriately bloody crimson colour scheme, you are indoctrinated into the articles of faith with the rhetoric of hellfire and brimstone.

Venerating the Tiberium on which its power depends (and channelling its inventiveness into a myriad ways to exploit the simultaneously benign and malevolent mineral), Nod is all about betrayal, back-stabbing and deception. The Brotherhood’s sneakiness, deviousness and downright nastiness represents the mirror image of strait-laced, upright (and a smidgen uptight) GDI. Internal feuds, intrigues and machinations are rife.

Like all fanatics, Kane demonstrates a callous disregard for life, subordinating the welfare of all to the grand scheme, his vision for mankind (which conveniently permits him to ignore the tremendous cost as a means to an end).

Nod is an uncouth bunch, as embodied by Ajay (Josh Holloway) your companion throughout the campaign with his evil smirks and Muttley-like sniggers. Some of the more puerile and embarrassing examples of his tough talk include : “Man, GDI’s gonna brown their pants when they see what happened”; “…we castrate their ability to retaliate. I just love that word – castrate”, and: “Man, I’d give my left nut to see some action”.

Having put paid to challenges to his authority with your assistance, the ongoing war against GDI becomes as good as irrelevant to Kane who ploughs his energies into his master plan connected with the Visitors (a telling linguistic difference if ever there was one, GDI referring to them as “invaders”).

The Nod commander is gradually initiated into the Inner Circle’s secrets: “The Visitors are divine instruments. They are not divine in their own right but because of what they are doing for us, building the sacred towers in the hearts of our Red Zones. The Visitors remain hostile to us because they know not what they do; their vision is limited and they cannot see their own part in a Plan that goes far beyond their purpose”.

I leave it up to you to follow the path towards true enlightenment alone.

Review of the Forces

Every aspect of Nod is saturated with religious overtones. We learn, for example about the Hand of Nod that: “It is also a place of learning for Militants and rocket troopers, a sanctuary for Fanatics as they perform their departure rituals, and an interrogation centre for Confessors as they extract secrets from enemy captives and keep the hearts of our own troops pure and true”.

Even the Harvesters spout Nod ideology: “The Tiberium will set us free”.

Whenever an opportunity arises to put the boot into GDI it is taken advantage of with relish, as illustrated by the Schadenfreude-tinged announcement concerning the Harvester’s on-board stealth technology: “You’ll be able to harvest resources right under the nose of the enemy, leaving GDI logistics officers scratching their heads and asking themselves, ‘Where’d that Tiberium field go?’”

Before moving on to the combat units, I also have to give the MCV a special mention simply because of its cool factor: it walks to its designated deployment spot on spikes, genuinely evil and menacing.

Militants and Militant Rocket Squads

Nod has less of a budget to lavish on its adherents, its soldiers toting antiquated chainguns and the armour plating of its tanks more permeable. To prevail as Nod, the quantity versus quality motto must never be forgotten.

The militants are the army of the disaffected and dispossessed multitudes whose grudge against GDI yields an endless stream of recruits. Together with the Rocket Troopers, they constitute “a vast blunt instrument of war for the Brotherhood”, “Kill or be killed!” their bleak credo.

When led by a sinister Confessor (whose cloak swishes as he lobs hallucinogenic grenades at the foe) both sets of troops’ morale is boosted, which in turn further whets their appetite for carnage. Together with the fanatics, militants and their rocket-bearing brethren can also be administered a Tiberium infusion, which permits them to cross the crystal fields without being poisoned by radiation, putting them on a par with the Scrin and the Mutants (who evolved their immunity naturally).

Saboteur

Saboteurs are engineers with slimily insidious voices, an evil sense of humour and explosive twist – they can lay booby traps on civilian structures and bridges with proximity detonators triggered by the enemy approach. Nod profits from the same call for transport facilities as GDI with all the attendant strategic implications, the Carryall its similarly flimsy Ox equivalent.

Fanatics

These suicide bombers have accumulated so much bile against GDI that their faces have turned green with it (officially their rather sickly complexions are a side-effect of chronic Tiberium exposure). Already primed for martyrdom, they glory in their own expendability and nothing can cow them into aborting their mission.

Black Hand

With its connotations of assassination, the Black Hand with their portable flame throwers are conscious of their elite status: “We are the chosen”. Swathed in protective gear they chargrill enemy infantry holed up in civilian buildings or who are unlucky enough to cross their paths elsewhere. Still, it saves the bereaved families the cremation fees, I suppose.

Shadows

Well-versed in martial arts mysticism the Shadows are hang-gliding ninjas who can soar over obstacles and blow structures up (the Shadow rush to the back of a base can quickly cripple the enemy’s economy, forcing him to squander money on Watchtowers whilst you pile on the pressure with Scorpions at the front). Permanently poised, they adopt defensive posture, as if about to perform a kata on the spot. If you find yourself cornered, the Shadows can be called in as reinforcements (and their reaction times are as quick as you would expect with so many years of discipline behind them).

Once again, on the subject of their bomb, the intelligence manual cannot resist a dig at their loathed adversaries: “The chemical composition for the explosive was obtained by espionage, stolen right out of a GDI lab working on next-generation chemical explosives” (a fairly empty brag, as the damage done by it is minimal compared to the charge carried by the Commandoes of either side).

Commando

With her ennui-laden, husky voice (at its most reminiscent of Garbo’s in Grand Hotel when she mutters “I work alone”) the Nod Commando is a one-woman death squad, a femme fatale in the most literal sense. She might disguise her taunts in the language of flirtation, but don’t be fooled: in her lexicon “Just my type” means “Eat lead, sucker!”

Sporting an eye-patch that Elle Driver would covet, she is concealed while standing still, a very handy attribute if outnumbered with no immediate bolthole. “I like their courage,” she proclaims as she sends her pursuers to meet their maker.

Attack Bike

The Attack Bike’s bloodthirstiness far exceeds its size or firepower, “I’m comin’ to get you”. Yet it packs a surprising punch against Orcas and other aircraft. Its diminutiveness ideally suits it for scouting expeditions (an enemy could easily overlook it if positioned at the edge of his base) and it also detects stealth units, such as the GDI’s sniper.

Raider Buggy

Able to take the roughest of terrain in his stride, the Raider Buggy driver revs his engine like a Michael Schumacher manqué before leaving a dust trail in his wake. The Buggy’s ability to cut down infantry like a scythe makes it essential for staving off early infantry incursions, but its machine guns leave buildings virtually unscathed. However, laser capacitors give it extra bite and the EMP coils, which it can carry on board, temporarily cripple vehicles left behind for defence immediately before your main army arrives. It is best to keep a distance before releasing the burst, as its effects are indiscriminate, disabling your own as well as allied tanks.

Scorpion Tank

“Let’s take ‘em on!” the Scorpion pugnaciously declares, keen to deal out a bloody nose (and much, much worse) to the oppressors. Although not renowned for its robustness, the Scorpion is Nod’s fist to pound the enemy into submission. Dozer blades clear mines and effortlessly slice through even the high-tech protective gear worn by heavy infantry. With Spitfire Lasers, the Scorpion is guaranteed to cause the foe a major headache as you send in wave after wave to cause mayhem with searing crimson beams (and if you really subscribe to the Brotherhood’s villainous ethos that reveres the underhand and the downright wicked you can always use the lasers to destroy Tiberium fields in easy reach of the enemy – a few shots and it is gone, thereby crippling his economy without him even noticing). Its relative inexpensiveness permits mass production to erode the most tenacious resistance to the extent that many Nod commanders become every bit as obsessed with them as their opposite numbers in GDI are with Mammoths.

Stealth Tank

The more cautious Stealth Tank (“Any scanners around?” it periodically enquires with trepidation), acutely aware of its own fragility in spite of being cloaked from enemy view, epitomises Nod’s penchant for secrecy and preference for wearing the opposition down with a series of subtle, calculated blows as opposed to the less imaginative all guns blazing, battering ram approach to warfare preferred by GDI. The Stealth Tank excels against aircraft and can be strategically placed on Tiberium deposits to dispose of enemy Harvesters, cutting off the supplies vital to the war effort.

Flame Tank

“Purge them with flame!” the Flame Tank piously exclaims as it incinerates the unbelievers, giving them a foretaste of the torments that await them in the afterlife. When the hail of bullets keeps the Black Hand at bay, send in the modified Devil’s Tongue to exterminate the resident pests blocking your path.

Beam Cannon

Mounted on a versatile, six-wheeled chassis, the Beam Cannon is an artillery platform designed to raze buildings to the ground. In combination with the Venom, which can bounce its shafts of light off a mirror (Reflector Attack), the most dauntingly inaccessible of targets are brought within reach. The Beam Cannons come into their own when supercharging Obelisks of Light, reducing the best-drilled infantry to heaps of ash and blasting Mammoths to oblivion.

Avatar

Whilst massive walkers have fallen into disfavour amongst the scientists of GDI, Nod has abandoned its experiments in cyborg engineering, concentrating instead on the Avatar Warmech, which, at ten metres tall, impressively towers over friend and foe alike. The searing heat of the Obelisk laser can be complemented by up to four other technologies cannibalised from other vehicles (explaining why Nod units of lesser stature squint up at it with trepidation as it strides purposefully towards them, like a plodding Lennie in search of something to pet and every bit as straightforwardly eloquent: “I want that”): flame throwers, stealth generators, beam cannons and stealth detectors. The conscience of the commander who might balk at sacrificing the donor units (whose crews are killed in the appropriation process) is salved by the injunction: “rest easy in the knowledge that the dead have given their lives for the brotherhood”.

Venom Patrol Craft

In the days of the Second Tiberium War, GDI reigned supreme as the sovereigns of the skies. The weapons specialists at Nod have clearly been burning the midnight oil perched at their drawing boards to usurp their rivals’ dominion, to deadly effect. The venom now has the edge over the Orca in that it can see off all comers on land and in the air. Signature generators, which deceive the enemy radar into showing a far bigger blip for the incoming attack force and laser capacitors, which slice through armour plating and tender flesh with comparable ease, mean that the Venom does more than just sting (indeed when promoted to the top level its laser matches the capability of a railgun). Watching a swarm of venoms transform a cocky rusher’s tanks to impotent heaps of scrap metal is enough to warm the cockles of any Nod commander’s heart. Venoms can be repaired, but the effective radius of the Air Tower drones is so restricted that the fiddling around required to make them hover directly above it is almost more trouble than it is worth.

Vertigo Stealth Bombers

The manual describes these heavy bombers as “Batwing” and yes, they would not have looked out of place piloted by Adam West had they featured in the original 60s Batman series. They are vulnerable when passing over an AA turret and when dropping their Groundpounder payloads, but re-cloak the instant the bomb bays have closed.

Automated Defences

“To maximise flexibility, lethality and survivability, each base defence will consist of three components: A hub and three turrets. The turrets are all slaved to the hub – which acts as the central targeting and fire control system. The hub is also equipped with nano-assemblers to repair or rebuild damaged turrets”.

Thus the Nod combat Bible. Three for the price of one must surely be a directive from the shiny-pated Glorious Leader himself. SAMs send aircraft into a fatal tailspin, lasers puncture vehicles and the aptly named shredder turrets make mincemeat of infantry (as well as detecting stealth). A certain degree of intermeshing is recommended for protecting outposts, as any experienced opponent will concentrate fire on the hub, even if this means sacrificing some of their vehicles in the process.

The great granddaddy of them all, the Obelisk of Light, has evolved into something even more menacing than ever before (remember the Hammerfest Base mission?), to the extent that it has earned an honourable mention in the GDI InOps recon team report: “(…) the core of the laser weapon has been enhanced for increased firing duration when the power output is reduced. Evidently the tower can now be set to sustained-fire mode when used against unarmoured targets such as infantry and civilian vehicles. This allows the laser to fire at limited power in an arc, resulting in a cutting motion that can strike several infantry per emission. The advanced capacitor also allows over-charging the tower by Nod’s long-range artillery platform, the Beam cannon. When one or more Beam cannons focus their laser weapons at a receptor on the base of the tower it can fire over increased range by directly feeding the added energy into its minor array”.

The Obelisk aficionado should never forget the injunction: “Watch the skies!”

The Disruption Tower generates “a large stealth bubble over an area, allowing our vehicles and structures to operate undetected”, psychologically important in keeping the enemy guessing as to your evil machinations. They do suffer the twin drawbacks of guzzling power and remaining visible, however, making them a prime target for foes determined to satisfy their curiosity.

Temple of Nod

The Temple positively bristles with an arsenal of nuclear warheads whilst its invaluable Master Computer Countermeasures reboot an entire base’s power supply so quickly that the Brotherhood can scoff at the otherwise grave threat of EMP blasts. If you are in for the long haul, superweapons acquisition is a must.

Tiberium Chemical Plant

Kane’s grasp of how the contaminant of the Yellow Zones can simultaneously be exploited for his gain coupled with the ingenuity of his scientists who have dedicated themselves in their leader’s service to unravelling the crystal’s mysteries has certainly borne fruit. The Seed Tiberium facility allows the player to spray a designated patch with liquid Tiberium for immediate harvesting when resources are running low. Although seeding imparts a shimmering emerald hue even to barren soil, it makes most sense to target the fissure, instantly replenishing the field. Unfortunately new growth on the rare blue gem deposits comes up stubbornly green.

The Tiberium vapour bomb ignites a deadly cloud of droplets reminiscent of the fuel air bomb in Generals, purging the battlefield of any infantry unlucky enough to be caught underneath.

The trio of Tiberium-related specialities is rounded off by the Catalyst Missile, the devastating effect of which is amplified by the crystals in either their pure or refined state, ideally suiting it to the task of paralysing the foe through attrition as it obliterates refineries as well as leaving harvesters on their last legs (health bar red and at absolute minimum). If it explodes on a Tiberium field it initiates a chain reaction, spreading a noxious green miasma and shattering the fragile shards.

Special Auxiliary Powers

The Decoy Army once again betrays the diversity of influences drawn together in the game, this time plundering the back catalogue (in Emperor: Battle for Dune, the Ixian Projector possessed the same ability). Phantom unit clones attract fire from dim-witted defences, which cannot distinguish between insubstantial shades and solid metal, excellent in combination with the real McCoy or to distract from a sortie elsewhere.

The Radar Jamming Missile, deployed at the operations centre, is fairly self-explanatory, temporarily blinding the enemy so that you can send in your shadow teams, stealth tanks or simply induce paranoia about what you might be up to even if you know fine that you can muster no bigger a menace than a handful of militant squads yelling “Down with GDI!”

The Cloaking Field once again delivers exactly what its name promises, conferring temporary invisibility on forces as they move around the map, literally concealing your intentions. In situations of duress, the shroud can be used defensively to wipe out marauding hordes of light infantry.

The Mine Drop proves that the simplest low-tech can suffice to stop even the most sophisticated tanks in their tracks. Blocking entrances with minefields is a convenient method of diverting the enemy from a particular route.

Tactics

The Brotherhood Combat Operations Manual succinctly summarises the recipe for success: “avoiding direct contact with the enemy until the time and place are just right. Stealth, speed, mobility, force composition and operational flexibility” will stand the Nod commander in good stead.

Scrin

The Scrin look like the kind of creature you might find crawling under a flagstone, nightmarish creepy-crawlies that thrive perversely in the (for earthlings at least) most adverse weather conditions. The bizarre fern-like fronds of their aptly-named defensive Storm Columns produce a localised ion disturbance (as does the Planetary Assault Carrier, which resembles the Protoss Carrier in more than name, its Interceptor equivalent detaching from its ribs to attack with a speed similar to the lightning bolts that improve its combat efficiency). Once again, this is an element of the mythology that has been successfully transposed – who could forget struggling to contend with the electrical interference, which was always at its worst near the alien artefacts whilst at the same time trying to repel Nod?

Whilst some of the Scrin units remind the player of refugees from the set of Starship Troopers the debt to Starcraft is at its most obvious here, the pairing of skin-creepingly hideous insectoid-organic primitiveness with advanced shield technology positively inviting the comparison, so that the most convenient shorthand for summing up the invaders is as a Zerg-Protoss hybrid.

Their intent is to proceed to Ichor (Tiberium) extraction on a global scale, although the blast of the Liquid Tiberium Bomb prematurely summoned them to Earth (Kane really does have a lot to answer for and, intriguingly, the Scrin foreman is informed – hinting at a sequel – that “This being already exists in the data core”), jeopardising their survival. Confronted with unexpected resistance from the indigenous population, their response is to disrupt, disorganise and divert enemy attention from Relay Node and Threshold erection. The first major population centre to fall victim to Scrin aggression is situated on “the island near Continent Three” and the task awaiting Foreman 371 involves demolishing certain “iconic structures”, including Big Ben and Buckingham Palace (I have never had much sympathy with that bunch of blue-blooded parasites who are its tenants). Was the scriptwriter a closet SNP sympathiser I wonder? Leaving the fluttering Union Jacks in tatters and blasting away such symbols of London pride as Routemasters and red telephone boxes to demoralise the decadent urbanites is certainly gratifying regardless of political affiliation.

Let the infestation begin!

Buzzers

No mere insect repellent could hope to deter these angry clouds of sentient razor blades that are guaranteed to give any passing infantry a closer shave than Sweeny Todd. A single squad is indispensable for scouting purposes early on (and I have witnessed games in which they have been allowed to hover undisturbed at the back of a base like gnats on a summer’s evening partly because of a criminal lack of attentiveness on the part of the opponent, partly because they are difficult to spot on the mini map). Likewise, if positioned near a Tiberium spike deep in enemy territory they can at least delay the financial injection yielded by its capture. Compared with rocket troopers and missile squads when holed up in a building, Buzzers are a bit of a disappointment and though they seldom hang about, engineers have been known to take advantage of certain landscape features to outrun them. However, if assigned to a vehicle their frenetic swirling interferes with enemy targeting, reducing accuracy and they make excellent travelling companions for Annihilator Tripods, which can be all too quickly humbled by ant-like foot soldiers.

Disintegrators

The Scrin foreman’s four-legged friends may be small, but what they lack in size they more than make up for in gleeful viciousness. Detonating when crushed, they cheerfully fling themselves, lemming-like under tracks of Predators and Mammoths (as well as gleefully tossing the corpses of vanquished Shock Troopers high into the air as if in training to compete against Michael Jordan) and can even overrun bases in sufficient numbers. The little blighters become so carried away by their own enthusiasm that they have acquired the annoying habit of running off in pursuit of a retreating foe whether you want them to or not (in fairness, this irritating propensity to show more initiative than is strictly good for them affects all units. One of my allies, for example, brought down a Planetary Assault Carrier by firing on it with a single Pitbull and withdrawing the latter to his AA-Battery-studded base – the Carrier could not resist giving chase, which proved its – literal – downfall). Some players deliberately unit-bait, picking off the assembled attack force one by one. Be aware of this potential for insidious decimation that to my mind belongs to the category of Dishonourable Ploys for Disreputable Dummies, Volume Two.

Assimilator

The Scrin engineer is stealthed whilst motionless. Its progress as it snakes its way towards its destination is painfully slow in spite of its multiple legs. It does not have the luxury of the call for transport enjoyed by its GDI and Nod counterparts, but it can be teleported by a Mastermind.

Shock Troopers

When upgraded with Plasma Disc Launchers Shock Troopers spit balls of light, which are carbon copies of the Protoss Dragoons’ Phase Disruptors and every bit as lethal against aircraft. Blink Packs rematerialise them beyond the reach of pesky perimeter defences, the famous command attributed to, but never actually uttered by Captain James T. Kirk, “Beam me up, Scotty!” springing to mind. Whether guarding Tripods from impudent Venoms or protecting the Drone Ship against ground incursions no invasion should be contemplated without them (apart from manifold military merits, the vigorous way they applaud their own feats of valour with their wing cases is reason enough to recruit them).

Mastermind

Nimble and fleet of foot (so fast indeed that they can dodge a watchtower’s bullets), the Mastermind runs rings around the opposition. Whereas in Yuri’s Revenge the identically-named disembodied brain in a vat could take over more than just a single unit, the Scrin’s elite mesmeriser shares the Yuri Prime’s ability to requisition structures (particularly handy for reviving cash flow), substituting brains for brawn for a more subtle campaign of demoralisation. If money is no object, however, rather than selling off the buildings, plant your own Photon Cannons around a commandeered War Factory whilst pumping out tanks in the heart of the enemy base. The Mastermind’s control is not diminished by distance, so if the enemy is in hot pursuit it can vacate the scene post haste with impunity. Nothing triggers the turtle instinct better than a Mastermind, as your opponent knows full well that if he fails to focus on counter measures he can kiss goodbye to his base within minutes, diverting his thoughts in a subsidiary form of telepathic tyranny. Even if he ultimately manages to foil your takeover bid, it will have cost him dear. If, however, you are forced onto the defensive yourself the Mastermind can hijack the promoted Mammoth (or, for that matter, Planetary Assault Carrier), turning it against its comrades or teleport Tripods to attack from in front and behind. Although superweapons are immune to its hypnotic charms, the Mastermind can transport troops to the small unshrouded area around the Ion Cannon or Temple, to begin demolition detail. If the base is undefended, the enemy may be compelled to turn back to salvage the situation rather than pressing ahead with his assault.

Seeker

Not the sturdiest of vehicles, the Seeker is geared towards detecting stealth, clearing mines and bombarding air units. In sufficient numbers they can bludgeon their way through the most elaborate array of Obelisks and Shredder Turrets and, when accompanied by Shock Troopers with Plasma Discs are practically invincible. I always manufacture them en masse for defence purposes together with Disintegrators (if cash reserves are running low) or their aforementioned beetle-like companions.

Gun Walker

The range of these spindly-legged, rapid-spitting death-dealers renders them peerless when it comes to disposing of Masterminds (against which even Buzzers are too sluggish). Carefully positioning a few towards the rear of your base can likewise stymie Shadow and Engineer infiltrations. If you suspect that your opponent is planning an infantry rush Gun Walkers are perfect for fending it off. Their anti-air capability is admittedly not in the same league as that of the Seeker, but their firing rate makes them more effective against Storm Riders.

Devourer Tank

On a small rush-oriented battlefield the Devourer (so dubbed because it supercharges its already impressive beam by gorging on Tiberium) is too expensive to be worthwhile early on. At full intensity its ray makes short work of Obelisks from far enough away to escape retaliation (a salutory sickener for base-creepers). Similarly it can deprive the foe of harvesters and ground attack units from a safe distance.

Corrupters

Their jaws oozing with putrid green slime, which they disgorge through windows to rid apartment blocks of holed-up Missile Squads (Buzzers do the same job, but too easily succumb when caught in the crossfire), the cumbersome Corrupter’s corrosive juices act as a restorative cordial when belched over your own forces.

Annihilator Tripods

I quickly developed a real soft spot for these awe-inspiring triffids on speed, with their waving tentacles, so heavy that they leave deep dents in the soil wherever they walk. Size isn’t everything, though, and no matter how intimidatingly they might tower over infantry they can be brought to their knees by the rawest recruits, nor are they able to swot aircraft. When in close proximity to structures they emit a disabling EMP pulse. In homage to György Pál’s 1953 version of The War of the Worlds they can be shrouded with a force field (as can the Devastator Warship and Planetary Assault Carrier), which shimmers like a soap bubble, but is infinitely more resilient.

Storm Rider

The manic speed with which they circle tests even the most honed of reflexes (forget the hammer on the knee test, ask a patient to shoot down one of these instead), bestowing them with the accolade of being the ultimate in hair-tearing harassment. Twelve are enough to lay waste to an entire base (and if you spot a base-creeper abandon all other production to concentrate on Storm Riders alone and bombard him into capitulation, Construction Yard and Cranes first, followed by power plants). Twenty are unstoppable even if Mammoths are advancing on your position.

Devastator Warship

The extensive splash damage wrought by Devastators ensures that they not only clear a path where the overland route is blocked by sonic emitters, but they can evade anti-air. In clusters they can stave off the most persistent of ground assaults, but Venoms and Firehawks can shoot them down even with their inferior weaponry.

Planetary Assault Carrier

My affectionate nickname for these massive starships is “forkytails of death”. Don’t be fooled by the sedateness with which they float towards their targets, the prowess of the Carriers against ground and air units alike (the ensuing dog fights can fill the screen, blotting out the engagement below) is without equal. Even if the entire complement of Fighters has been lost in action, the Carriers can still inflict destruction with their self-generated ion storms (which have the added bonus of boosting the performance of any other Scrin vessels in the vicinity).

Automated Defences

The Buzzer Hive is home to a never-ending supply of the nasty little creatures and should be strategically placed near critical structures (such as the Drone Ship or Foundry) to deal with any Engineers. A couple of Hives towards the front of the base is usually adequate to humble infantry rushers and if by some miracle your adversary succeeds in sneaking Rocket Troops into a shack on the fringes of your base and starts taking pot shots at your Harvesters or Warp Spheres a Hive affords the swiftest remedy).

Of the three sides’ anti-air defences, the slender Plasma Missile Battery is the most elegant as well as the most potent.

The bolts from the gently swaying Storm Columns scorch all comers regardless of whether they approach from land or airside. The rapidity with which they summon inclement weather from previously clear skies would certainly qualify them as Michael Fish’s worst nightmare.

Rift Generator

The Scrin’s superweapon resembles Dark Reign’s Imperium Rift Creator (right down to the swirling vortex when activated). Opening a portal at the flash point, it sucks in everything beneath to be summarily ejected into deep space.

Special Auxiliary Powers

Reconstruction Drones can be called in anywhere on the battlefield to repair battered Tripods or any other units slightly the worse for wear.

Although conceived as a fall-back defence, the Lightning Spike can provide invaluable assistance to your ground forces as they penetrate enemy lines. Personally, I take perverse pleasure in adding insult to injury by beaming them in when my adversary is already on his last legs and can offer no real resistance.

The Swarm consists of six buzzer squads and can come to the rescue of teetering Tripods by slicing and dicing riflemen.

The Vibration Scan is most useful on unfamiliar maps, revealing the whereabouts of all Tiberium deposits as well as any vehicles or buildings close by.

In dire need, the stasis shield can immobilise enemy forces by trapping them inside a blister similar to the force field, impenetrable to fire from within or without. It can also shut down production facilities and stop the countdown on a superweapon. If a full-scale offensive appears to be on the brink of failure because your units are ailing, you can call in repair drones to patch them up in peace beneath the shield.

By way of an alternative to the battering ram school of conflict, the Phase Field can be employed to grant your troops safe passage where they would otherwise stand little chance of punching a hole in the defences.

The Wormhole allows for instantaneous travel between two points, no matter how far apart and, as such, is crucial for alleviating the pressure on your allies with backup. Choose your exit spot with care, however, as the gateway makes no distinction between friend and foe so that careless use could seriously backfire on you.

The criminally expensive Mothership, although awesome to behold, could easily be overtaken by your average snail. Moving targets will always evade it and its maddening slowness extends to firing (four beams have to converge on the central hub before the weapon can discharge), but when it does it is truly spectacular with an enormous blast radius. I have never yet taken part in an online match where the Scrin player was actually able to show what it was made of.

Tactics

Although their hunger for Ichor can never be sated (and they therefore have no need for silos), the astronomical expense of warping in Scrin military hardware is such that I would only counsel the player skilled in accumulating large sums at speed to try them out. Having said that, I find them completely compelling and very rewarding beyond the risky initial phase and have never played any other side online.

Neutral Structures

Tiberium Spike

Like the oil derricks in Generals, Tiberium Spikes provide a continuous, though modest, drip-feed of cash. Initial capture yields a hefty 750 credits (even if you wrest a Spike from the enemy’s grasp the bonus is a one-off). Spikes have differing rates of extraction depending on the size of the underlying deposit and if knocked down a miniature Tiberium field marks where it once stood. If map resources are scarce, it may be wise to send a Surveyor (Emissary/Explorer) to erect defences around it. AI players waste no time in taking over all of the neutral structures (though they subsequently tend to forget about them). In keeping with the sense of fair play inherent to the side, the GDI intelligence briefing admonishes: “Commanders are encouraged to provide compensation to the legitimate owners of commandeered Tiberium spikes in the form of GDI vouchers that can be redeemed in Reykjavik for credits”.

Mutant Hovel

One of the letdowns of the sequel is that the Mutant storyline so integral to the original has been all but dropped. In the Ayers Rock Nod mission we learn that: “Six long years have passed since the once burgeoning mutant nation picked up stakes and disappeared into the Tiberium wastelands, their tragic, self-imposed exile continuing to this day. Yet now, as humanity struggles to find its place in an ever more blighted world, thoughts again turn to our horribly disfigured brethren – who were they, and why did they leave?

In a show of goodwill towards the vanished mutant population, G-330X habitat modules were deployed on the borders of Red Zones in 2042. Since then there have been scattered but unconfirmed reports that mutants have taken shelter in the habitat modules”.

Mutants can be enlisted from the hovels. Not only can they saunter across Tiberium fields without harm, but their chain guns riddle aircraft as well as tanks with bullets.

Subway Hub

Only infantry can enter the hub (it would be ever so slightly unrealistic to expect Mammoths to fit in through the doorways let alone negotiate the stairways) before leaving through any of the various subsidiary exits, crossing enemy lines unscathed to ambush the unwary.

Reinforcement Bay

Again self-explanatory, this bay can be handy in making available a steady trickle of extra tanks.

Expansion Point

The tactical significance of these building platforms should not be underestimated as it is always far cheaper to send in an Engineer (Saboteur/Assimilator) than to purchase a Surveyor (Emissary/Explorer, which takes an eternity to deploy into the bargain).

EMP Control Centre

The stress factor involved in watching an Ion Cannon or Rift Generator (any Nod commander worth his salt will have anticipated the eventuality by installing Master Computer Countermeasures) countdown in the knowledge that not enough time remains for you to pummel your way through before it unleashes its wrath can be relieved, albeit not for as long as you might like, by switching it off with an EMP pulse. For me, however, its chief strategic value lies in its ability to shatter air units – I have seen two dozen Venoms and even Planetary Assault Carriers transformed in a split second into a shower of red-hot debris.

Defensive Tower

These tend to be located on vantage points overlooking Tiberium deposits and will aim at your harvesters. They are fairly fragile (and are at the mercy of airborne strike forces), so bringing them down should not prove too much of a headache.

Tiberium Silo

For a quick injection of capital grab a silo as soon as possible.

Civilian Buildings

Garrisoning cityscapes vastly increases the range of vision as well as impeding ground-based hostiles in their forward push.

Skirmish Mode

Everything about the look of Tiberium Wars is grown-up, slick and polished, so much so that summarising the overall experience of the game as compared with its predecessor Tiberian Sun is a bit like being asked to rate the respective merits in terms of comfort and aviation specs of the Wright Brothers’ Flyer and the Airbus A-380.

The replay of the GDI opening sequence in miniature in the screen on the right whilst you select your maps and opponents sets your trigger-finger itching.

The developers have triumphed with the AI and its five distinctive personalities: Balanced, Rusher, Turtle, Guerrilla and Steamroller. I pitted my wits against the Hard Steamroller before so much as glancing at the campaign, familiarising myself with the units or figuring out the best build order and the school of hard knocks awaited me, the perfect tutorial if you want to learn and learn fast.

When the AI is set to Brutal, expect a relentless onslaught. It will pick up on the tiniest flaws in your brilliant design for victory, for example, hammering you with Firehawks and Orcas if you stint on anti-air (take it from me, on Brutal you cannot afford to sit back and relax even against a so-called Turtle). Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the retreat into shell appellation. It employs every trick in the book previously only mastered by wetware (humans) and for the first time in the venerable history of the saga really does put you through your paces.

If you are utterly determined to beat a Brutal and want to even the odds slightly, you can impose a handicap on it (a feature you can also make use of online and no doubt appeals to the show-off in you when gauging your flesh and blood opponent’s likelihood of inflicting defeat).

Graphics

In keeping with my assessment of the level of professionalism that permeates the game, the crisp graphics also deserve praise. In a nutshell, this is what you always dreamed Tiberian Sun could look like. Whereas in the past the Tiberium deposits looked more like a moss-infested lawn after a rain shower than the weird, unearthly crystals they are supposed to be, you can now count the individual emerald shards and even the smallest units (such as the Disintegrators) withstand the close scrutiny of the zoom-in.

Soundtrack

The background music is unobtrusive and pleasant enough (perhaps slightly on the insipid side), mercifully free of the tinny and tooth-grindingly repetitive quality of the amusement arcade entertainments of yesteryear, neither grating on the nerves nor distracting from the game, matching the mood of the on-screen action, which is exactly as it should be.

Multiplayer

LAN

There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for EA not to have gotten its act together by now to root out problems with setting up a LAN. In spite of this, even with a great deal of fiddling and coaxing it still doesn’t work, an entirely superfluous blot on the copybook.

Online

It is not as if EA is incapable of taking criticisms on board, as demonstrated by the ease with which it is now possible to network and communicate with friends online. In the past you could lose a game through being plagued by (well-meaning) interruptions from your clan mates and more casual acquaintances clamouring to play, to which you felt duty-bound not to ignore for fear of giving offence. Now you can engage effortlessly in private conversation by clicking on the handy envelope icon at the top right of the screen where you will discover immediately whether they are online and if so, their whereabouts. You can also invite a friend to join the game you are hosting and if he is otherwise occupied you will be told that he is unable to accept (thereby avoiding all sorts of grief), although this feature requires some serious tweaking as it seldom works in practice.

Making friends is far harder than adding them to your list (all it takes is a click on the plus sign, whilst screening out unwanted torrents of abuse from a disgruntled loser is likewise a mere click on the thumbs down icon away) and, similarly, setting up a clan has never been easier.

You might take for granted being able to view a player’s combat record (win/loss ratio etc.) by putting the cursor over his nick, but if you would like to satisfy your curiosity further, you can consult a detailed breakdown of the person’s match statistics (and experience counts in terms of progression through the ranks).

The atmosphere in the lobby has the buzz of a busy newsroom, complete with bulletin texts along the bottom of the screen.

In-game, I recommend the VOIP option as opposed to laborious typing because of the fast-paced nature of play. You need to be careful to make sure you are discussing strategy with allies only or be prepared to suffer the consequences. A certain degree of confusion over whether the globe indeed meant allied VOIP chat (when you type remarks, the enter key prefaces the text readable by all with “Global”, so that the allied chat symbol is counter-intuitive) could have been avoided with a minimum of foresight by the developers (as it was we discovered that the image of three players standing behind each other signified VOIP to all when a barrage of rude comments greeted us to the bottom left of the screen).

Playing online is not the hit and miss affair it once was and the game retains its stability even with several applications running in the background. In spite of its not being marred by repeated involuntary crashes, some individuals continue to be so paranoid about defeats being registered that they deliberately disconnect to circumvent their being officially recorded.

In closing, I would like to highlight two innovations, the vastly improved observer option and the Battlecast feature.

Provided the host allows, you can sit back and enjoy the contest at a safe remove as an observer. You can choose whether to watch through the eyes of a given player or have a God’s eye view of the whole map, the free roam (and you can switch at will between these perspectives). Far from being a poor substitute for actual play, I found that observing yielded a fascinating insight into the minds of the participants and how they tailored their style to the strictures of the maps. For clan recruitment purposes, moreover, observing a would-be member to evaluate his strengths and weaknesses is a must.

The concept of the Battlecast perfectly captures the Zeitgeist of the big-screen era where sports and concert audiences grin and point when their faces are plucked out of the crowd for a few ephemeral seconds of fame (15 minutes an eternity these days). Two categories of match are broadcast on the C&C website, spontaneous live and pre-scheduled bouts. If you have ever harboured a secret desire to get in touch with your inner David Coleman, you can provide running commentary on the action via VOIP. A tape delay safeguards against partisan viewers taking a hand in determining the result. The telestrator appeals to the overgrown adolescent side of the commentator by providing a box of coloured crayons to draw with (you can circle strategically important Tiberium fields, point with arrows and so on to your heart’s content).

I am torn between whether the Battlecast is designed to bring out suppressed Narcissistic tendencies in the player, giving the cream of the crop the chance to blind lesser mortals with their tactical genius (such individuals may equally prefer not to reveal the secret of their winning form) or whether it can be genuinely useful for the novice seeking advice on how best to counteract a rush. I for one would not be arrogant enough to assume that my modest accomplishments merited being held up for public admiration. At any rate it represents an astute marketing ploy (anyone can download the Battlecast Viewer for free and if authentic footage is not enough to coax them into buying the game, nothing will) as well as taking the community and its dedication to their leisure pursuit seriously. At long last.

Overall Assessment

The various minor defects alluded to above detract from the overall game experience to the extent that I cannot award the perfect score I would otherwise have given. Having said that, Tiberium Wars demonstrates beyond all doubt that when properly executed, nostalgia can be successfully harnessed as a sales factor. I would therefore join the chorus clamouring ceaselessly for a revival of Starcraft, the comparative depth of which would surely sustain (and reward) further exploration. Blizzard take note!

Ratings

Graphics: 9

Sound: 10

Gameplay: 9

Overall Game Experience: 9.5

Sunday, 6 May 2007

BritBlog Roundup 116

Filed under: — site admin @ 1:24 pm

Welcome to the 116th edition of the Brit Blog Round-Up brought to you this week from that backwater famed for a diminutive statue of a urinating boy, chocolate and plays host to certain sprawling institutions, hence its delusions of grandeur in styling itself as the capital of Europe.

Basking in the warm glow of the results from my comfortable exile, I expected the nominations to concentrate on a post-mortem of the various elections recently held in the UK and I was not disappointed (and that – at this stage – betrays little about my political inclinations and affiliations beyond an antipathy towards a party that has fallen prey to the arrogance that seems to follow in the wake of a long stint in government).

Politics

We begin with Daniel Davies on The mythical rise of the BNP, who presents his theory of “local elections as a contrary indicator” of how well political parties are faring, thereby rejecting the orthodox hand-wringing that interprets the rise of the extreme right as a protest against the perceived failure of the mainstream’s policies to address voters’ unease. The language is polemical, in the Tory-baiting tradition (“for most of the last 30 years the average British unconscious fascist has assumed that his or her natural home was in the Conservative party”). What I find worrying about it is its use of the rhetoric of abnormality to discredit dissenters as deviants (execrable though I find the BNP) as well as its blithe dismissal of local politics. These concerns are picked up on in Dan Hardie’s judicious riposte The very real rise of the BNP, in which he retorts that “Davies’s arguments on the triviality of local government are wrong, for these reasons. Firstly, local government administration can affect your life once you go a bit further down the income ladder. It matters for those who are so poor that they can’t rent or buy in the private market [given the prohibitive cost of purchasing property in the UK at the moment this will be true of an increasingly large slice of the populace], and must rely on the dwindling stock of ‘council houses’”.

That local government does retain a modicum of power at least is demonstrated by Riversider in Save the Ribble, a David and Goliath environmental campaigner’s versus developers with pound signs in their eyes narrative of our times of locals opposing a council’s plans to build a barrage. Indeed, the second piece nominated from the blog showed that for all our fashionable ennui, casting our vote is not an exercise in futility and, for candidates, listening to the communities in question on “trivial” issues can win you seats. This could be scoffed at as empty opportunism, but the web’s power manifested in creating and sustaining coalitions of opinion means that any reneging on promises will be immediately punished as bloggers watch politicians with Argus eyes. Those little ballot slips can put paid to urban creep and green filed devastation.

Meanwhile Flying Rodent, in Live-Blogging the Election provides sardonic commentary on the sheer tedium and predictability of modern democracy in action (little wonder that the dead tree columns are replete with articles bemoaning the apathy and alienation of your average voter). The Rodent’s definitely-not-like-watching-paint-dry-territory version owes more to the plot of Every Which Way But Loose than anything that actually did grace the TV screens – including the monkey (well, orang-utan)! (For a more accurate account, I recommend Richard Leyton’s Scottish Elections: Live Blog, part of a series, which took a detailed and balanced look at the campaigns and candidates over the last couple of weeks).

Shiraz Socialist explains Why I’ll be voting Labour, albeit holding his nose at the prospect of supporting “Blair’s bunch of anti-working-class careerists, petty bureaucrats and right-wing voluntary sector managers”. Indeed.

It is May Day, the fragrant lilac is blossoming, the birds are twittering contentedly only to be drowned out by the strains of the Internationale at Southpawpunch with a call to break down all boundaries and abolish passports, a cause I can sympathise with in this age of pervasive surveillance technology, ID cards and biometric encroachments, a sentiment for which “Utopian” would appear to be a gross understatement. In this diatribe against nationalism (an allegedly capitalist vice), you can delight in such pearls as: “I’ve posted before about how some of the boundaries between nation states are already fraying. The majority of the Luxembourg workforce commutes from abroad, over its near invisible boundaries with Belgium, France and Germany”. It’s called the EU, which, love it or loathe what it has evolved into, enshrined freedom of movement as one of its core principles, the brainchild of a bunch of unscrupulous capitalists who sought to overcome enmity through trade. The tone throughout is musty and quaintly old-fashioned, but as someone who has devoted their academic career to examining the fate of a country forced into Soviet satellite status (Hungary), ominous phrases such as “Socialist Union” make my blood run cold. Wasn’t it Lenin who cynically advocated adoption of the rhetoric of autonomy and independence as a means of harnessing support for the Party? That’s another story, I suppose, but you will see traces of this attitude throughout. All forms of government involve a degree of oppression and a loss of liberty on the part of their subjects in exchange for the services they provide, but some forms of government are more oppressive than others and the track record of Communism speaks volumes in this respect. It is no coincidence that a citizen from Central Europe’s (just liberated after 40 years of Communist rule) anticipated reaction is one of deep scepticism: “If asked, when abroad, I say, ‘I’m British’ (and wonder whether it was the plus fours that gave me away) if someone should say, ‘where are you from?’. If, on that foreign beach, you answered that curious Czech with the line, ‘actually, whilst I have a British passport, I’m a citizen of the world’, the person from Prague would tend to think you’re a bit of a wanker”.

Whereas in their desire to promote internationalism, hard-line Marxists have always suffered from a lamentable aversion towards acknowledging the role of culture in cementing polities, the extreme Right has reified differences in extraction and background to the extent that all other possible sources of affinity between individuals from divergent ethnic groups are ruled out completely. The scholarly literature draws a distinction between civic and ethnic nationalism, which can be summed up as the gulf between the appeal of the SNP’s call for independent nationhood (which, true enough, can sometimes be tinged with a certain antipathy towards the “white settlers” invading our heather-clad mountains aboard their Chelsea tractors) and the BNP’s virulent brand of “we Brits are hard done by in our own country, send them packing” exclusionism. The two are clearly worlds apart and the conflation of all manifestations of patriotic feeling with rampant racism (thereby tarring civic and ethnic nationalists with the same brush) smacks of an intellectual dishonesty that is grist to the extremists’ mill. Interrogating the benefits and possible costs of immigration is reviled as dangerous claptrap, but sweeping the issue wholesale under the carpet (for fear of being branded a racist and consigned to pariah status) leaves tensions unaddressed. Engagement is not synonymous with sullying yourself. In my capacity as host I am bound to respect the tradition of strict impartiality in including all links submitted no matter how reprehensible I might find them personally (although the host role does not preclude commenting on the submissions). In this spirit I include youdontknowme’s Multiculturalism from Central News, reproducing an article by Alanorei, which makes the Daily Mail’s Melanie Philips’ fuminations look like a model of restraint and moderation.

The Daily (Maybe) focuses on the presidential campaign across the Channel with a guest post by John Mullen. The author apologises for its length, although I found the depth of its analysis refreshing – you cannot do justice to the intricacies of your argument in a soundbite! Mr Mullen rightly points to the “mix and match” tendency so symptomatic of latter-day politics, Sárközy (couldn’t resist the original spelling) and Royal being no exceptions, combining elements traditionally believed to belong to the Left and the Right in an effort to woo voters. Extensive and thoughtful coverage is given to the factions within the fragmented Radical Left, a good example of the virtues of Web writing and its advantages over the conventional media’s patronising assumption that readers’ eyes will automatically glaze over unless they squeeze the contest into a superficial “battle of the sexes”, or – worse – a “battle of the hairstyles” framework.

Andrew at Dodgeblogium waxes lyrical in Can you guess the subject matter? with a crafty piece of product placement as he lets his imagination soar in BA business class – all that extra legroom does appear to work wonders for the traveller’s creativity.

The final dispatch from the political battleground (and, I admit it, my favourite) is Silversprite’s Election day in the Outer Hebrides, the perfect antidote to the bickering and recriminations from an island with “a current permanent resident population of 128”. The images of the stunning scenery certainly put political strife into perspective, reminding us of the impermanence of all our passions.

Blogging against Disablism

Heidi of The Wood Vale Diaries challenges us to re-examine our attitudes with an eloquent account much of just how much of a difference in perceptions and the treatment by age cohorts (and by extension their parents) a year can make in How young is too young? She asks: “Is a four-year-old too young to understand that every child should be treated the same, despite their abilities? Is a three-year-old child too young to be taught to respect our differences and to appreciate the richness and diversity of humankind?”

Lady Bracknell delivers a scathing and brilliant indictment of the phenomenon of “benevolent discrimination”, a clarion call to journalists and broadcasters who no doubt believe that their “inspiring human interest” stories contribute to a positive portrayal of people with disabilities, whereas, to quote the redoubtable Lady herself, the real subtext is not quite so straightforward or so pretty: “As disabled people, we make good copy. We can be news-worthy because we’re objects of pity, or horror, or we can be news-worthy because we’ve ‘overcome our disabilities’ (sic) to do something which, in a non-disabled person, really wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary. Like passing an exam. Or learning to drive. Or having a job. And Every Bloody Time a disabled person is represented in this way in a newspaper, or in a magazine, or on a television documentary, it helps to drive home the message that

pity is an appropriate response to disability

if you’re not disabled, you’re very lucky

disabled people can’t do the things the rest of us can do

all disabled people are chirpy and brave, and they do their very best, bless them

disabled people AREN’T normal” [emphasis in original].

Feminism

At Mind the Gap! Zenobia regales us with a brilliant dissection of discourses of femininity and how the power of employers to withhold access to financial resources (earning potential) shores up (indeed enforces) cultural constructs and expectations of what a woman should look like and how she should behave in The life of a potential ‘hotesse d’accueil’ in Paris. Femininity, she reminds us, has nothing to do with comfortable-shoes practicality or personal comfort, but expensive maintenance of an image, which may very well be a marketable commodity, but only on the (narrow) terms dictated by the man holding the purse strings. Outward conformity with the ideal of the presentable and well-groomed (inevitably involving nail varnish and slenderness) and the “feminine” virtues of subservience dressed up as “helpfulness”, pleasantness (the forced smile, the inability to answer back or be in a bad mood, in short Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Managed Heart in action, a work which has lost nothing of its relevance or potency since it was first published in 1983). Zenobia forcefully brings home how femininity is valued (in all senses of the verb): “But secretarial and hostess jobs are also inherently sexist: you have to do a range of both menial and highly responsible tasks, some of which involve being a status symbol for your boss. And a huge part of the job is looking nice and smoothing over relations between bosses and clients, being reassuring and welcoming to clients and potential business partners: a kind of housewife in the workplace, which I guess is why it’s called a ‘hostess’, and why very few men choose to do the same job: a male graduate who was fluent in three languages would not be expected to bow, scrape, make coffee, and have prolific knowledge of Land Registry procedures, all for the minimum wage”.

If the Women’s Institute conjures up images in your mind of a bastion of middle-class respectability, a refuge for the bored housewife with too much time on her hands (her nanny and cleaning lady having divested her of her more onerous responsibilities in the home), an institution as staid, stolid and constricting as a creaking corset, good for little else except baking cakes and posing nude for calendars then you should take the trouble to visit Philip Booth’s In Praise of WI, which makes an admirable effort to dispel notions that the organisation is fusty and out of touch.

Culture

Ellee Seymour at ProActive PR reviews The Decadent Cabaret staged by Rowan Pelling (former editor of The Erotic Review and columnist in The Independent) in A disappointing night of decadence, pondering how the involvement of big names doesn’t necessarily guarantee satisfaction.

Michael Allen aka The Grumpy Old Bookman draws an interesting parallel between the success of a talented performance artist and the world of self-publishing.

Jonathan Calder at Liberal England takes us on a guided tour of All Saints Margaret Street, one of London’s hidden treasures, which gives us a salutary reminder of why we should never judge a book by its cover (or for that matter a church by its unprepossessing exterior).

Miscellaneous

Natalie at Philobiblon reports on a merger of three schools enough to make any parent shudder in Britain’s miserable youth…In a microcosm of contemporary Britain outside the school gates, pupils are to be subjected to a regime of unremitting supervision as no playground facilities are to be provided. The head teacher claims that they will not need to let off steam since their grey matter will be adequately stimulated. Relaxation is essential, however, especially following a period of intense intellectual activity (as soon as I’m done here, I’m off to play Tiberium Wars online).

Hamer Shawcross, at The British Bullshit Foundation, despairs for our future, with an amusing demonstration of how the same set of events can be described from diametrically opposed vantage points.

Jon of Jon’s Jail Journal treats us to the fruits of one of his creative writing assignments (his own recollection of the experience also well worth perusing).

Suz of Suzblog lets us in on a well-kept secret about whose scarf her Maj will be wearing as she watches the match from her Royal Box in the grandstand in Queen is a Gunners fan.

Are you scientifically literate? Go to Camden Kiwi and find out!

The Scottish Tourist Board might not be cracking open the champagne after the MTI’s sonar scan of Loch Ness, but as Katie of Inky Circus informs us, nature had another surprise in store to shake us know-it-all humans out of our complacent assumptions that there is little left for us to discover on Earth.

Last, but by no means least, the ideal piece of light relief to send you on your way with a smile on your face, the Overnight Editor exposes the unapologetic wantonness triggering hay fever in an exquisitely written piece with more than its fair share of excruciating puns.


Next week’s Round-Up will be brought to you by Ken at From the Dustbin of History.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Intimate Intrusions: Interview with Professor Liz Kelly

Filed under: — site admin @ 3:57 pm

Escaping from the radiant sunshine and relentless din of the traffic outside, I took refuge in the British Library café, the perfect backdrop for a serious and stimulating conversation where, over a medium latte, I had the great privilege of talking to Professor Liz Kelly of London Metropolitan University, one of Britain’s foremost experts on violence against women.

Portrait of Professor Liz Kelly by Chameleon

 

Chameleon: Could you tell me a little bit about your background and the research you have been involved in?

LK: I come from a working class family in the north of England; I’m the first woman in my family to go to university and I do find it astonishing that not only did I do that, but I ended up a professor. I never had a career plan about academia and I certainly didn’t have a career plan to be successful in academia. I came to feminism because I was pregnant when I was nineteen – I got pregnant the first time I ever had sex. It was consensual, it wasn’t an issue, but I was still negotiating my way out of Catholicism, and so whilst I’d got as far as abortion was OK for other women, it certainly wasn’t OK for me, so instead of going to university at nineteen, I had my daughter. I don’t regret it now at all because I did something different at university than I would have done and I have a sister who is also a daughter. I feel very lucky that we got to spend her childhood together at a time where I wasn’t trying to do two things at once. What I did was be around her and become a feminist, and those two things were actually quite compatible. How I became a feminist was through going to a meeting of a women’s liberation group – reluctantly – I didn’t think it had anything to do with me, whereas of course, it had everything to do with me and changed my life. I have always been somebody who loves ideas and talking about ideas, but they’re never enough. I want to do something. I want to make a difference, so, within about a year, I was itching to do something with these ideas and someone came to talk about whether we might need to have provision for abused women in the small town that I lived in. It sounds ridiculous now to say this, but we didn’t know; we didn’t know whether there were any women who were experiencing that kind of violence in the town where we lived, so we had to go and ask lots of services whether they ever encountered anybody and in the end we opened the second shelter outside of London in this small town called Norwich. Since then my academic life and my activist life have always centred around issues of violence, but, from the time I did my PhD, I’ve been trying to look at violence against women as a whole, the connections between forms of violence – you can isolate them conceptually, but actually in women’s lived experience they’re not, they have histories of encounters with violence, sometimes with the same perpetrator, sometimes with different ones, and so I have worked with this idea of the continuum, that there is a continuum of kinds of violence on the conceptual level, from the normalised and almost acceptable through to the obviously criminal and lethal, but also a continuum in women’s lives, that some of us are relatively fortunate and that we only encounter the low level kinds of violence. They still teach us lessons in femininity and in the gender order. Then there are other women whose lives are suffused with brutality and who I think struggle to have a sense of personhood in the aftermath of all of that. There are obviously women who are killed, but there are also women who I think take their own lives because they can’t live with the history of what’s happened to them and its meanings and how they feel others see and treat them because of it. So I would say my intellectual and activist life is connected to these issues in a very profound way. It’s connected to all aspects of it, both the normalisation and in certain circumstances glamorisation of violence in popular culture and what that means for all of us, but particularly what it means for young women and men growing up with that cultural discourse, a very strong cultural discourse, through to working with women who have actually killed their abusive partners. For the last almost twenty years, in fact it is twenty years this year, which I find very scary, I’ve worked in a research unit, which I’m now director of, called the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit. We were the only research unit in the UK, and Europe, that looked across all forms of violence against women and also linked it to abuse in childhood. We’re still quite rare in doing that. We’ve worked on domestic violence; we’ve worked on trafficking; we’ve worked on prostitution; we’ve worked on child sexual abuse and in the last eight or ten years we have dedicated ourselves to working on rape. With the death of Sue Lees [author of Carnal Knowledge: Rape on Trial] there was really nobody in the UK, apart from Jennifer Temkin [author of, inter alia, Rape and the Legal Process] working in the legal field, who was actually researching rape. We carried out an analysis for Claire Short before the Labour Party won the election in 1997, in which we demonstrated that – and we didn’t know this at the time – we’d had an unbroken increase in reporting here in the UK, a slight increase in prosecutions, but a virtually static number of convictions and what that means over time is that your conviction rate falls year on year on year and part of what we’ve committed ourselves to doing is not just exposing that, but also trying to explore what’s going on and why that might be the case. We’ve had a number of pieces of research where we’ve tried to look at what we think is going on, also to look at it in terms of Europe, and we’re just about to start a project with colleagues from seven different countries in Europe where we simultaneously track a hundred cases in our own systems and see whether the same things happen at the same points in time or not – that’s exciting.

Chameleon: That sounds really interesting. You talk about low-level violence, how do you define it? Is it wolf whistling in the street when a woman walks past a group of builders?

LK: I meant low-level in the sense that it doesn’t result in a physical injury, or a physical harm. There are, however, harms connected to it which are more social and psychological. They are enactments of masculinity, a particular kind of masculinity, at women’s expense. It also includes things like the presence of pornography in the workplace, the pressure by partners to look at pornography when women don’t want to, a whole series of intimate intrusions, which don’t involve any kind of physical or sexual assault on the body.

Chameleon: Is Susan Brownmiller’s analysis in Against Our Will [Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1976] of rape as a weapon to keep women in line still holds true? Or has any progress away from this been made in the meantime?

LK: I think as a piece of feminist rhetoric – and we need rhetoric – it was actually profound, challenging and remains important. As a sociologist and a researcher, I don’t think it’s sufficient to understand the motivations of men, or why some men don’t. I am increasingly thinking that in critical men’s studies what researchers ought to be doing is looking at why some men don’t buy into hegemonic masculinity, and it’s not just that they are from a subordinated group, it’s that they make conscious choices. Why do they do that? What’s the social context in which they make those choices? What I think is most important about it was what she said afterwards, the fact that some men rape, all men benefit, because all men benefit from the social control that it then exerts on women and women’s behaviour – and they benefit from the male protection myth. At a very complex, often unspoken level, women seek the protection of a male partner to stave off the supposed threat from the predatory stranger. Ironically we know that she’s actually more at risk from the male partner, which is not to say that there aren’t predatory men – there are – but what we know more and more is they’re not the stereotypical stranger. They’re quite smart, clever men, who target women in particular ways, in particular contexts and they’ll have strategies that they adapt, depending on whether they’re in a bar, or at a party, or whatever. I’m interested now in exploring those complexities of male behaviour across the entire spectrum, from the ones who eschew the powers that are invested in them to ones that exercise them as a sense of entitlement and then to the few who, one could say, have some kind of diagnosable mental health issue, who are not actually acting rationally.

Chameleon: When we talk about rape myths, the image is always of the pathological stranger, the man who commits the rape is always cast as a demon or a deviant, but that isn’t always the case, is it? A kind of background violence exists.

LK: It’s very rarely the case, which is not to say that there aren’t some men who fit that stereotype. There are. The trouble is that the media, and to an extent also popular fiction, present them as much more commonplace and every day than they actually are, because they give you the dramatic material that you want in a film or in a book. The fact that the guy next door is an everyday sexist isn’t dramatic enough. Even feminist authors, I think, find it difficult to write the everydayness of a lot of violence and I would say the fiction writers who have done so most powerfully and most consistently are actually African-American women in the US and also some Indian women writing fiction in India. I don’t understand why some of my friends are so preoccupied with reading about serial killers. There’s a very odd engagement with that by some feminists. I wonder whether that means that, inadvertently, we get caught up in some of these mythologies too, even though we know rationally that they distort. But they have a very powerful cultural resonance. Maybe it’s that they symbolically represent the kind of threat that women perceive. I think it’s interesting that we’ve moved away from cultural representations of what the majority of violence is to this extreme. I also think it’s probably a cultural response to the feminist challenge in a way. Our challenge was, sorry, no, these are everyday guys, these are our partners, our fathers, our brothers, our uncles, our work colleagues, the men we sit next to on the Tube, and I think that was a very shocking message. I think there was a point at which in the Eighties a willingness existed to engage with it on some level. Increasingly I feel we are pulling away from that recognition. Because everybody now wants to use the word paedophile. I hate that word, no feminist should ever use it because it literally means “lover of children”. I can’t think of anything more misnamed. But we should also not use it precisely because it distances people from the message we were trying to get across, that it’s not these weird deviant guys, it’s our fathers, our grandfathers, the guy next door, the music teacher, the sports coach, the religious leader. These are the men who abuse and they get away with it precisely because of their normality. The more we focus on these weird guys, I think, the less children are protected.

Chameleon: Because you’re homing in on the one who doesn’t fit in, who’s hanging around the playground, rather than, as you say, the father or the brother who’s sneaking into the bedroom at night and wreaking havoc.

LK: Absolutely, and their advantage is that they have access. Most of the reason these guys can do it and can do it often is that they have regular access and legitimised access to children or women.

Chameleon: They are invisible, whereas the “paedophile” is very visible indeed. If you look at the articles in the Daily Mail, they’re terribly hostile towards and dismissive of feminism. What a surprise! For example they would say that Brownmiller’s contentions in the past were merely that, contentions and that we’ve got equality now, so why don’t we just shut up and get on with life? How do we counteract this kind of argument?

LK: My response to that would be if we had equality, I would shut up, I would be very happy to shut up. I wish I could think that in my lifetime I would have the opportunity to shut up, but everything tells us that we don’t have equality, from the evidence from our most recent Women in Work Commission, which showed that the gender pay gap hasn’t reduced significantly for the last fifteen years, we had a fall, but then it stayed static, to the fact that we have more reported rapes than we have ever had in this country. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there are more rapes, but it certainly doesn’t mean that there are less, and if the Daily Mail is right, then there should be less. I still encounter women, both students and in other places where you can see they don’t have the same sense of entitlement, the same sense of worth as men. I still sit on the Tube and men take up three times as much space as women do.

Chameleon: (Laughs) They spread their legs aggressively.

LK: Absolutely. Space invaders, as somebody calls them. I think it’s those things, things that you notice every day – if we really had equality, they wouldn’t happen. Men wouldn’t need two or three times as much space as women. They might need a little bit more if they are significantly taller, but they don’t need two or three times more.

Chameleon: If people read the Daily Mail and they start getting lulled into complacency by its constant barrage of claims that we’ve achieved equality, how can we then overcome such complacency and the denial of inequality that’s implicit in the articles?

LK: I think we should take the fact there is such a consistent and deliberate engagement as evidence of success. I don’t agree that we should just talk the language of backlash and undermining. It’s not necessary to do that if you don’t think that something is changing and you’re trying to resist change. We should see this as part of the process of change and transformation – our gender order, our patriarchy or whatever we want to call it, is changing and this change is contested. It is contested at all sorts of levels. It’s contested at the level of individual relationships, it’s contested in classrooms and it’s contested in the media. We have to be smarter about how we engage with that. The response of some women is to be really frustrated and angry that it’s happening rather than to engage with it and to make sure that there’s not just one voice. For example, can we find a journalist in the Daily Mail to whom one could feed some different information and who might develop a slightly different voice in the newspaper? You’re not going to absolutely change the political tone of a newspaper, but you can affect some of the content. I don’t do enough of this, I know I don’t, but I do think we have to find smart ways of engaging with these contested areas and we have to do more. Robin Morgan once said that if every feminist wrote a letter a day to the newspapers, or to their political representatives we would be a serious force to be reckoned with and it’s still true. If every day each of us did a small piece of activism about what moved us the most we would see different voices. Not every letter gets published, not every response or little campaign has an impact, but the more there are the more there is a sense that yes, there are these voices of resistance, but they’re not going uncontested. There is still a women’s movement. That’s how you sense that there’s a women’s movement because you sense women engaging in disputation in the public sphere. I think we got pulled into establishing organisations working at more strategic and policy levels and I’m not saying we shouldn’t have done that, we should have done it and we need to continue doing it, but we also need to do the things that seem smaller, not so significant, that actually make those who are not feminists feel that there is a feminist voice. Because otherwise they don’t hear or see it.

Chameleon: Or they get a very distorted notion of what that voice involves with phrases like “screaming sisterhood” or the image of the feminist with three moustaches and who only ever walks around in dungarees and bovver boots.

LK: Yes. I think it would be interesting to find out how far those images actually resonate with people because they are so extreme and so unlike real women whom they must encounter and they must see on some level. What is the rhetorical power of it and how long does it last? Does it last long enough to make them smile when they read that particular piece in a newspaper, but that’s all? Or does it have a deeper de-legitimising message? And how does that operate?

Chameleon: My impression is that they’re trying to undermine feminists and feminism, which I suppose could be looked on as a recognition, however implicit, of the fact that we’ve achieved something.

LK: And that we’re considered to be a threat. It always was thus. I sometimes talk to young women about the fact that we never ever were anywhere close to a majority; we were always a small minority. The question was, did you make enough noise? Did you do things that were newsworthy or challenging, and did we have a message that was interesting? But we were never, never ever I think anywhere close to a majority. You could have polls about particular issues where a majority of women would say they agreed about equal pay, they agreed about childcare, but if you asked them were they a feminist, they would say no. That’s OK. I don’t think we have to have the majority of women saying they’re feminists. We do have to have the majority of women on the same page about the direction that they want to go and the rights that they think women ought to have, as well as supporting, holding on to those rights if they’re threatened. That’s where we need the majority of women. They’re never going to be part of a movement that is so amorphous. That’s not the ambition, the ambition must be that they feel that feminist perspectives speak to them and of them.

Chameleon: We were talking about feminists being perceived as a threat. If you look at what the newspapers are printing now about abortion, using advances in medicine as an excuse to try to erode our right to terminations – to return to the backlash – it does seem like there’s a shift in the offing to try to assault the rights that we’ve managed to obtain through the work of feminist activists in the past. Do you think that’s a misreading of the situation, or do you think that there might be something to it?

LK: I think there’s always an attack on abortion and I think it’s always orchestrated by fundamentalist Christians in unholy alliances with other groups depending. I don’t think they have any chance of succeeding in a European country other than those where women still don’t have the right, such as Poland, for example, or where the right disappeared at that moment of transition. I can’t see, in any Western European country, where the right to abortion has been legislated for that it could be lost. I do think there are ways that inroads can be made into the number of weeks, the hoops that you’ve got to jump through in order to get one, how much of a right it is or how much of a bureaucratised, difficult process it’s made to be, so I think it’s possible for those groups, the Christian Right, to make it more difficult for women to achieve the right, to exercise the right and in so doing prevent some women from having an abortion, because the barriers are made so complex that women who are feeling ambivalent are deterred. Most women feel ambivalent on some levels about having an abortion. It’s not an easy decision; none of us make it without a heavy heart, so the more barriers that are placed there the more this can affect the ambivalence and shift it away from the abortion rather than towards it. So I think they can have an influence in that more subtle way. I don’t think we’re going to lose the right. Instead, the ability to exercise the right can be affected, which is a slightly different thing.

Chameleon: One of the aspects that has been highlighted in recent articles is that doctors are increasingly either invoking their conscience to refuse to perform an abortion, or they just say, “Oh well, there’s no money in it, there’s no prestige in it” or “We doctors are trying to save life, not destroy it”. The resources available for abortions could dry up.

LK: I think that’s a very convenient argument for the Right to make. I’m not sure what I think about this, because on the one hand, I think we ought to be able to require doctors to deliver the health service that they are employed to deliver. On the other hand, I would not want to go to an incredibly committed Catholic doctor and try to get him to give me an abortion, so in terms of my dignity, my integrity I don’t want to have to ask for it from that person. I think the more we move into the subtleties and complexities of the positions, the more we have to move away from absolutes and the more we have to negotiate the balance between the right that I have and that I want to exercise in a way that doesn’t stigmatise me, that doesn’t make me feel bad and what we have the right to demand of people we are paying to deliver a health service. It’s not always obvious which way to make that work. I do think that if you’re going to go into gynaecology you have to be willing to carry out this procedure. If you’re not, then don’t be a gynaecologist. There are lots of other fields of medical expertise that doctors could develop, so again we need to think in a smarter, strategic way about it. I say this because I have a father who is a fundamentalist Catholic and, although I love him very much, we do clash about issues and we have to agree to differ about them. I’m never going to change him; he’s never going to change me, so how do we reach some kind of accommodation where the things that we do share, the connections we do have aren’t destroyed by this other thing. On particular occasions sometimes they are because it’s too fraught. Maybe what we need to be focusing on is how do we let these doctors practice medicine in the ways that they are skilled to do, but don’t let them deny services to women who want them. I would say the same about contraception as well. I would say that if you’re a Catholic who doesn’t believe in contraception then you can’t practice certain kinds of medicine. There are lots of Catholics who square their conscience in their own lives, let alone in anybody else’s, in different ways and not everybody sees that as a point of doctrine, but if you do, how then do you provide appropriate health care?

Chameleon: If we turn to Sue Lees and her wonderful book Carnal Knowledge, she talks about the stranger rape myth [The reference is to the following passages from Carnal Knowledge: Rape on Trial, Revised Edition, London, The Women’s Press, 2002: “One explanation for the drop in the conviction rate seems to lie in the fact that a steadily increasing proportion of reported rapes do not conform to the stereotypical rape scenario of the psychopathological stranger rapist, seizing women in dark streets. A far higher proportion of the women reporting nowadays are, by contrast, raped by men they know, often in their own homes, and these are precisely the cases where it is most difficult to secure a conviction (…) Such acquaintance rapes have increasingly been termed ‘date rape’ by the media. Such a term carries the implication that such rapes are not as serious as ‘stranger rapes’, but there is no evidence to support this. There is, however, evidence that acquaintance rapes can be just as traumatic as stranger rape for the victim” (pxii).
And: “Most of the women were raped by men they knew. Of these, more than half were friends, colleagues, neighbours or casual acquaintances – men with whom they had never had consensual sex. Most assaults appear to have been carefully planned. Men approached the women in a variety of situations, but most commonly in the social setting of a pub, club or party. Many women were taken unsuspectingly to a place where the rapist would not be disturbed. With regard to the men the victim knew well or fairly well, first contact with the victim was most likely to be made in the man or woman’s home (60 per cent), or an inside public place (17 per cent), and least likely to be made on a date (3 per cent). Yet many people believe that a woman who goes to the home or flat of a man on the first date implies she is willing to have sex. Others believe that it is the woman’s fault if she gets herself into the situation where she is likely to be raped”, p11]. These myths are really very tenacious and persistent so how can we overcome the prejudices contained in the misconception that rape, “real rape” or whatever label people want to put on it, has only happened when it involves a stranger that jumps on you from the bushes? What can we do about counteracting that, because to my mind that’s the undercurrent in all of these articles in the Daily Mail when they cast aspersions on the victims. There’s a chronic problem of the justice system not believing the women: when it comes down to her word against his, it always seems to be his word that prevails.

LK: There are two things here. I want to come back to the “her word against his” question, but I suppose I want us to move away from just thinking about these issues in terms of myth to actually thinking about them in terms of how rape has been historically constructed, both legally and in terms of heterosexual ideology. It has been constructed as this narrow range of behaviour in order to protect the more coercive aspects of heterosexuality. We need to take seriously therefore the challenge that we’re actually making. This isn’t just about myths, this is actually about challenging the foundational principle and set of practices that maintain a particular kind of masculinity and maintain certain relations between men and women. That’s why they’re so tenacious, that’s why the beliefs and constructions are so tenacious, because they are at the foundation of intimate relations between men and women. Sometimes we remember this. Sometimes I talk about sexual violence as the fault line of patriarchy and that, in challenging it, we are exposing the ways in which gender relations are coercive, unpleasant and harmful to women. When we do it well, it’s very powerful and very disruptive to the gender order. Sometimes we forget that that’s what we’re doing and almost get caught up in only talking about rape in the criminal sense. I don’t excuse myself from this: there are ways in which doing particular kinds of research, or trying to influence law reform reflect that. You are on a terrain where at some level you have to work with the discourse as it is and attempt to push it further. Underneath, as feminists, our challenge is far deeper, far more profound. On some level the responses in the Daily Mail, from the Right come from a maybe even implicit understanding that that’s actually what’s going on, this is about saying we no longer support male entitlement. You do not have the right to sex, you don’t have the right to take it, you don’t have the right to buy it, sex should be negotiated, it should be communicative and it involves two parties who have the same rights and responsibilities. We’re not there yet, but that’s our challenge. It’s not an inconsiderable challenge and we need to remember that, we need to remember that it questions behaviour that men and boys are taught to take for granted, that they can just behave like that, it’s OK. We are in that sense a threat to privileging this kind of masculinist sexuality. One of the horrible paradoxes and ironies at the moment is that women are being invited to pretend that they can operate like this…

Chameleon: Raunch culture!

LK: …and I think it’s an illusion, but it’s also an invitation, “You can behave like men too, you can have sex with no consequences”. Unfortunately, to have sex in that way means something different still if you’re a woman than it does if you’re a man. I also know young women, young lesbians who want to call themselves bois [See Ariel Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs, Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, New York, Free Press, 2005, especially, From Womyn to Bois, pp118-138] and think that somehow being sexist about other women shows how cool they are. I find it a kind of paradoxical tragedy in a way. At the same time I don’t think it helps just to be outraged, I think we have to engage in critical conversations with them in the same way that we need to have critical conversations with young men about what does this mean? What kind of relationships do you want? I also want to ask what’s transformative about it?

Chameleon: It simply shores up the old order. It’s just you taking a slice of the privilege without contesting the privilege.

LK: Exactly. It’s some women wanting to claim male privilege in relationships with other women. That’s not very transformative. Business as usual. It’s just that the sex of one of the players has changed.

Chameleon: So what should we be doing? Let’s say a feminist mother has a boy and she wants to bring him up to respect women and have a different view of relations between men and women. She can be as careful and honest about trying to bring this boy up in a different way and yet we are embedded in this culture that does everything to undermine such an upbringing.

LK: I think we mustn’t be totally pessimistic because if everything were so totally determined there would be no feminists. Everything is not totally determined and we all know – we might not know very many – but we all know the odd good man here and there, so it is important to work out how they get where they do. One of the things I say at the end of talks to general audiences these days is that we’re never going to change the situation if we continue to excuse the worst of men and not expect the best. I give them an example of what I think the best is, and it’s the example of two sons, friends of mine who are now in their early twenties. Feminist mothers, lesbians, the boys had opportunities to reject conventional assumptions. It’s not been easy or without conflict, but there’s always been an engagement. Both of these young men are found by their mothers, when they come down on Sunday morning, sleeping on the sofa. They’ve got used to what it’s about now, but at first they asked what’s going on. The sons had been out in a mixed group with a young woman. They knew her, but not very well, she was getting really drunk. They didn’t trust their friends not to take advantage of her so they brought her home, she’s asleep in their room and they’re on the sofa. That’s the best [Chameleon smiles warmly in approval]. It ought not to be a shock, you ought not to smile, it ought to be ordinary, but it’s not. Once that’s the norm, then we can shut up [We both laugh]

Chameleon: Germaine Greer wrote an article in 2006 about rape [The reference is to Rape, The Independent on Sunday, 2nd April 2006: “The law of rape is anachronistic, unworkable and should be struck down. Tinkering with it has resulted in a huge expenditure of resources and effort by police forces which have little enough of either, in return for no improvement whatsoever in women’s chances of redress. The fault lies in the very concept of rape itself.
The crime of rape is not committed against the victim, but against the state, the victim is Exhibit A in the case of Regina vs the rapist. As a piece of evidence, the victim must be interrogated and tested in every possible way, because rape is considered to be so grave, second only to murder.
It is not women who have decided that rape is so heinous, but men. The only weapon that counts in rape is the penis, which is conceptualised as devastating. Yet a man can do more harm with his thumb than he can with his thin-skinned penis. But it is his penis that is to him the symbol and instrument of his potency. The notion of rape is the direct expression of male phallocentricity, which women should know better than to accept.
If you talk to raped women, they usually resent all the other insults that accompanied the rape more than the unwanted presence of a penis in the vagina. The forcing of a penis into a mouth, for example, is not rape but sexual assault, yet a victim may resent it more; likewise forcible buggery, ejaculating on to the face or breasts, and so forth. In some cases, what remains in the memory and continues to perturb years after the event are the words a rapist forced his victim to say”.
Her article continues: “There is a solution, but it is not recognised as such by feminists or legislators. That is to abolish the crime of rape altogether, and instead to expand the law of assault to include sexual assault in varying degrees of gravity; so that, for example, mutilating assaults on children would be recognised as many times graver than penetration of a grown woman”]. She thinks that rape legislation as it stands at the moment should be abolished altogether. I guess that when she wrote the piece she wasn’t aware that this had already been done in Canada.

LK: Yes, Germaine is a feminist institution here and she’s sometimes brilliant and so insightful, and sometimes she doesn’t do her homework. She’s not kept pace with what’s happened. What has happened here in terms of sexual offences legislation is actually quite interesting. We’ll come back to that later. She’s making this argument that it should be assault. This was the argument that was made in the 1970s, that somehow the fact that it was a sexual offence made it different and it shouldn’t be different, we should just say it’s a crime of violence because if we say it’s a crime of violence there wouldn’t be a focus on the woman and her behaviour. Feminists in Canada, the United States and in Australia took this very seriously and campaigned to change their law and to have it made into assault, but it was a sexual assault. It’s not the same. They carried out law reforms in which they had gradations of sexual assault in the same way that we have gradations of physical assault. What’s happened is that the stranger attacks are the ones that are prosecuted at level one and the assaults by partners and ex-partners are at level two or three.

Chameleon: It should be the other way around.

LK: This distinction between real rape and not real rape is absolutely encoded in how law operates. That would be my major argument for not doing it because if you actually look at the sociological data – a lot of which they didn’t have then – what we need to remember is that we didn’t understand the dimensions of any of this – fully – in the 1970s. We didn’t know how common all of these forms of violence are, nor did we know then that the vast majority of perpetrators are men whom we know. We didn’t know that. If you look at Susan Brownmiller’s book a lot of it, not all of it, but a lot of it has a presumption that it is a stranger. We have learned and are trying to get the rest of society to catch up with us in a way. I think Germaine’s still in the debate as it was then. If you go in that direction it just solidifies these distinctions that are actually not accurate in terms of experience. If you’re raped by somebody you know it’s more likely to be repeated. Rape isn’t a one-off event in lots of women’s lives, it’s a repeated event. Rapes by ex-partners are second only to strangers in the amount of injuries there are and in the amount of times that a weapon is used. At the level of meaning, there’s an abuse of trust, a betrayal of trust, how could somebody that you did at some point love do that to you? As you say, arguably, if we are going to start talking about seriousness and relative harm, actually it’s reversed. I don’t particularly want to do that, I want to follow what a friend of mine in Bosnia said, which is: “Rape is rape is rape”. She carried on by saying that the only difference in war is that your government wants you to talk about it. When the war’s over they want you to shut up like at every other time. I think we have to say that and I don’t want to lose the word. We decided here we didn’t want to lose sight of the fact that it was a gender-specific crime. Some people would say that we fudged it, I would say we were smart. We’d already recognised male rape in law, so in our new Sex Offences Act, which came in in 2004, rape is defined as something that is done with a penis, so it’s committed by men. They can rape women, they can rape men, they can rape girls, they can rape boys; it’s a gender-specific crime in that it is done with the penis. Some would argue that this reifies the phallus, whereas I would say that we live in a gender order where it is already reified and that’s part of the reason why it means what it means. I don’t think you change that by removing protections and meanings from law and saying, “Oh, it’s not that serious, it’s not that important”. We also created another crime called sexual assault by penetration, which has the same maximum penalty and is about using instruments or fingers, not a penis, basically. Female perpetrators could be found guilty of that offence, but more importantly I think, or as importantly, where you have a regime of sexual assaults by a particular person you can charge them with two offences. They can be charged with rape and they can be charged with sexual assault by penetration. Where a child, for example, doesn’t know whether it was a penis or not, the offender can be charged with sexual assault by penetration. I think we’ve created something quite useful in the complex issue of how charges are made and how you mount a prosecution, but we also wanted to hold onto the word rape and that it’s a gender-specific offence. I will be very happy when it’s no longer necessary to do that, but so long as sex is used as a form of masculine entitlement and power over that’s the reality that we’re in.

Chameleon: It used to be the common sense view that the rapist was somebody who hadn’t had sex for a while so he was boiling over with pent-up biological drives, whereas rape has nothing whatsoever to do with that, it’s got to do with power, domination and humiliation, is that not true?

LK: I think sometimes it’s got to do with precisely that, whilst sometimes it’s just to do with a sense of entitlement. It’s certainly got nothing to do with a biological necessity in the embodied sense. It is to do with men understanding that discourse and using it to justify their behaviour, which is a very powerful element in the construction of a certain kind of masculinity. I would suspect that if we carried out a project to look at why some men think of sex as an entitlement – or not – it’s linked to the extent to which they buy into that construction of male sexuality. Men who don’t, men who are very clear that it’s in their control are looking for mutuality, they are looking for an erotics of mutuality. It doesn’t have to be bland, but it is about mutuality and negotiation. I think we would find that the extent to which men buy into that explanation and that way of thinking about sexuality is then how they come to act through this sense of necessity and entitlement. If we think of rape again as a continuum, there are obviously the ones where it’s planned, the rapists behave like a sexual terrorist in precisely the way that they scout everything out, and have decided exactly what they’re going to do, how they’re going to do it and who they’re going to target. Then you also have the partners who are avenging themselves where rape is a kind of punishment and then you’ve got men who are out on the town, they’ve decided before they went out that they were going to get their end away and they either engage in kinds of flirting with particular women, expecting that to be the outcome, or they target someone – and they do this more and more I would say – who is getting drunk. They may encourage and enable her to get drunk by buying her drinks, or they may just let her pay herself to be relatively out of it. Sometimes they wait until women leave, they follow them home, they might even offer to help them home. Sometimes they just engage with the women before they leave. That isn’t planned so systematically and if for some reason whoever they first decide might be a target appears not to be after all, there’s no obsessiveness about it, they’ll just move on and think, “OK, that didn’t work, who else?” It’s a matter of what’s available and easy where I can find someone who’s just going to let me have sex with them. They don’t think that actually what they’re doing is taking advantage and coercive. They don’t. Again, I think this is one of the paradoxes that we are having to encounter, that women are claiming the right to drink, be drunk – and I’m not saying they shouldn’t – but the paradox of it is that it then can leave you vulnerable in that you are not as in control of yourself. You may not be reading cues that you would do if you weren’t affected by alcohol and men can decide that they’re going to take advantage of that situation. There is a paradox for women in that the world has changed and we’ve changed it to mean that we have more access to public space, that we don’t think that femininity precludes us behaving in these ways, but those powerful constructs of acceptable femininity are still there. They haven’t gone away, so if something happens then they come into play and we then become responsible for what’s happened. There’s a fantastic piece of work by a Swedish researcher called Stina Jeffner – it was her PhD – unfortunately it never got published, but she did this work with young Swedish men and women where she demonstrated that actually alcohol increased men’s space for action, that being drunk meant that they had more possibilities to act, they would be excused, whereas it had precisely the opposite effect for women. It narrowed their space for action, so that if they were drunk they were considered more responsible, not less. In other words it’s not just alcohol, it’s that alcohol has gendered meanings and, unfortunately, possibly gender consequences as well. So it’s not just alcohol, it’s what alcohol means if you’re a man or if you’re a woman.

Chameleon: A double standard. So if something goes wrong and a man rapes a woman and by some miracle it actually gets as far as court, this whole ideology of males being active and females being passive comes into play, certainly for the judge and the jury I would imagine. It seems to me that the world has moved on and we have staked our claim to access to public spaces, yet the old definition of what constitutes a “respectable woman” persists and there is a class element to it as well.

LK: I think there is, I think there definitely is. There are also really complex legal issues at stake. In many European countries, for example, the definition of rape is to do with force. Actually if you’re drunk you are less likely to resist, which is what’s read as the evidence of force. How the crime is constructed in law provides this space for action for men. In England, Scotland, Ireland and Cyprus, it’s defined more in terms of consent. The problem there is that if you’re very drunk and the lawyer asks, “Well, did you or did you not give consent?” and you reply, “I can’t remember”, one of the legal strands has gone. Part of what we were trying to do when the law was reformed was to say that being intoxicated to a certain level meant that you no longer had the capacity to consent. They weren’t prepared to go with that except in instances where someone else administered the alcohol or the drugs to mean that you were incapacitated. We tried to say that that was illogical. It can’t be a matter of who gives you the intoxicant that determines whether you have the capacity to consent or not. If you don’t have the capacity here, and you consume exactly the same here, but you chose to do it, the resulting incapacity is the same. I think many lawyers operate on a formal logic basis and they don’t want to engage with what we want to talk about, the communicative model of sexuality. For us, it isn’t just about rape law, it’s about what kind of sexuality we are interested in creating, and we’re interested in creating one where you do actually communicate with the other person, and one in which you cannot presume the outcome of that communication. Part of what I find revealing and deeply, deeply disturbing is that in all these cases that have come up through the courts here there has been a huge discussion about the woman, binge-drinking and so on, but never, not once that I have seen in either the courts or in the newspapers has the question been asked as to why is it possible for a man, who has never met someone, they don’t have a relationship, this is not a date, on what basis can he presume that it’s OK to have sex with someone when she’s totally drunk and he doesn’t know her? On what basis of human communication is that acceptable? Is it not exploitation? What really disturbs me is that nobody asks that question. It’s taken as given that if a man sees a woman who’s drunk, he’s immediately going to get an erection and going to have sex with her. I think men ought to be writing in and saying “This is offensive”.

Chameleon: Yes, it’s an insult to men – it’s every bit as much an insult to them as it is a gross travesty for women.

LK: We need men who actually pick up on those silences and engage in public discourse about it and say, “Excuse me, that’s not the kind of man I want to be and I don’t think it’s OK to behave like that”.

Chameleon: So presumably you were every bit as dismayed as I was when this Sir Igor Judge said he didn’t want a grid system [the reference is to Steve Doughty’s report in the Daily Mail, 27th March 2007, Labour's rape law plans are thrown into turmoil as top judge declares…It's not always rape if a woman is drunk: “[Sir Igor] said: ‘If, through drink, or for any other reason, the complainant has temporarily lost her capacity to choose whether to have intercourse, she is not consenting. Subject to questions about the defendant’s state of mind, if the intercourse takes place, this would be rape.
‘However, where the complainant has voluntarily consumed even substantial quantities of alcohol, but nevertheless remains capable of choosing whether or not to have intercourse, and in drink agrees to do so, this would not be rape’.
The judge said it would not be right to lay down rules – ’some kind of grid system’ – that say a woman who has reached a set level of drunkenness is incapable of consent.
He added: ‘Experience shows that different individuals have a greater or lesser capacity to cope with alcohol.
‘Provisions intended to protect women from sexual assaults might very well be conflated into a system which would provide patronising interference with the right of autonomous adults to make personal decisions for themselves’”] introduced to the law about capacity to consent, deliberating on one particular case.

LK: It was the case in Wales, wasn’t it? [which gained notoriety when the prosecution dropped it, arguing that his client had been so drunk that she could not remember whether she had given consent] I think you’re always going to get reactionary judges and I also increasingly think – and I don’t want to get into accounts of despair here – but I increasingly ask the question whether adversarial legal systems are equipped to deal with sexual violence. That’s part of the reason for wanting to do this European study, to take a serious look at whether inquisitorial systems fare any better and whether they are less prone to playing on gender stereotypes and constructions of acceptable femininity. This is a very serious question that we need to explore, about whether the adversarial process rewards the playing on stereotypes and blaming women. Actually, we know it does. Jennifer Temkin has interviewed barristers twice now and basically they – the honest ones – admit they’re looking for something, anything, that will question her credibility because then they can say it’s one word against another and we can’t trust her word – they know that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Chameleon: How can they sleep at night? I certainly couldn’t!

LK: I hope they don’t! They justify it through this formal logic, that their job is to give the best defence possible to their client and that it’s the job of the prosecution to prove the case. They justify it through a formal logic rather than an ethics. Jennifer Temkin has said that maybe what we need to start doing is talking about an ethics of defence and of prosecution, an ethics of legal practice because she thinks that’s the only way to move it into a different realm. I think there is a problem about the formalism of the law and I definitely think there is a problem about adversarial systems because I do believe they reward the invocation of prejudice and stereotype. That in a way is where the role of the Daily Mail – to come back to where we began – is actually the most insidious because what it is doing is reinforcing these models of masculinity and femininity in a manner that individuals might not accept in that particular case, but it reawakens them, it makes sure they’re not abandoned, so that when they’re invoked in the court case they retain force. Somebody has done a really interesting study of how speech and rhetoric is used in courtrooms in the US. I don’t think that prosecutors pick up on these things sufficiently because what they say happens is that the defence uses a language of voluntarism all the time in relation to women…

Chameleon: Or passivity – the defendant will say “Oh, her knickers fell to the floor” rather than “I ripped her knickers off” [Here I was adapting from Susan Ehrlich’s superb Representing Rape, Language and Sexual Consent, London, Routledge, 2001, ‘My shirt came off…I gather that I took it off’ The accused’s grammar of non-agency, pp36-61, the source I was fumbling for]

LK: It’s not the defendants that do it, it’s the lawyers; the lawyers give them that construction and the defendants then say, “Yes, that’s what happened”. The agency – and again this is a horrible paradox of feminism, where we’ve wanted to invoke women’s agency, and all the agency in legal cases is focused on the woman and there’s hardly any agency in relation to the man. I think we need to start thinking that way about prostitution too. If we only think about women and we think about female agency – selling sex – you look through it through a particular lens, but if you start looking at the agency of the male buyers and at what does it mean that they feel entitled to do this, what does it mean in terms of gender relations that it’s increasingly legitimised? It’s considered cool because celebrities do it, etc. What does that mean in terms of male agency and masculinity? This is not just about women as actors, it’s actually about gender relations and it’s about what it also means in terms of the larger gender order. We get caught up in looking from only one direction.

Chameleon: If we talk about the moral panic surrounding women and binge-drinking, would you agree that what lies behind this bout of anxiety about women’s drinking habits is a struggle over traditional definitions of “appropriate” feminine behaviour? Is it an attempt to control women’s behaviour?

LK: I think that’s one dimension of it. Another dimension of it is women’s ambivalence about heterosexual relationships and about trying to do femininity differently; drinking is not called Dutch courage for no reason. We all know this, it does act as a kind of relaxant, it enables you to have slightly more confidence. All the research data tells us that a proportion of young women are having sex when they’re drunk that they do regret afterwards. The public lie is that they all then go and report it as rape to the police – no, they don’t. If they did, we’d have a hundred thousand, a million complaints. We don’t: we have thirteen thousand complaints. The amount of unpleasant sex that women experience massively exceeds that, so no they don’t do that. Despite all the suggestions to the contrary, they do have ambivalent sexual encounters that are made both more possible and more forgettable by drinking. There are complicated things going on and young women are trying to re-negotiate, position themselves differently in public and in heterosexual relationships. It’s not simple and it’s not without contradiction. Sometimes alcohol can be a way to paper over the cracks. One of the things I’ve learned as I’ve got older is that when the Right picks something up, there’s normally some grain of truth, or resonance that it’s important for us to understand and engage with. It wouldn’t work as political rhetoric if it didn’t connect to something. It’s actually trying to work out what it connects to and how we might understand that differently, how we might have a different take on what we think is going on, but it’s not that nothing’s going on.

Chameleon: In The Guardian [3rd April 2007] I recently read an article about the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report saying that women shouldn’t go to pubs and parties on their own. Would it be way too much of an exaggeration to get the feeling at least that this is tantamount to imposing a curfew on women?

LK: There’s a danger of over-interpreting some of this because we have this 24-hour media now where they just try to say something different and they fall back on clichés. That’s not to say we shouldn’t object to it and we shouldn’t expose the illogic of it and the stupidity of it, but I also think we shouldn’t necessarily read it as some kind of coordinated campaign against women. Mostly it’s bogus as well, because most women don’t go to parties on their own. If it wasn’t the case that sometimes you didn’t leave with the same people you came with then you wouldn’t be having a social life anyway – why bother going in the first place if something interesting isn’t going to happen? Everybody knows that from their own lives and one of the things that really irritates me about all of this is when you have journalists writing these things when you know that they will have gone to a party themselves with someone and not left with them. Also I know that many lawyers who defend rapists – and these days, the clients seem to prefer to have female barristers defending them – you know that these lawyers will have got really drunk, staggeringly drunk themselves. You can be in parts of London on a Friday evening and the pubs and wine bars are full of lawyers from particular firms and they get off their face. Something could happen. Their privilege is that they earn enough money to be able to afford a taxi home. None of us know whether in this particular encounter we’re going to be safe or not. They use these tactics against women when actually on some level – I don’t know how they square this – they know that they could have been in that situation themselves.

Chameleon: Going back to the continuum of violence, the argument that women shouldn’t go to parties on their own conveniently overlooks the fact that women constantly modify their behaviour because of the endemic threat of violence. We’re acculturated to believe that there is endemic violence, that we constantly run the risk of it, that we shouldn’t walk home after dark or go home via a safe route and not along the abandoned canal tow path. Women are continually modifying their behaviour aren’t they?

LK: Yes and no! Some young women – and I’ve done it myself at certain periods in my life- have just reacted by saying “No, I refuse to do this, I refuse to be controlled, I want to do this!” I think there are also women who do incredibly risky things because it’s a way of dealing with and challenging their own fear, or maybe their own history of violence. We do different things at different times. For me it has to do with how I’m feeling at the time, if I’m feeling really tired, if I’m preoccupied. I used to live somewhere in London that felt a bit risky and I had about a fifteen minute walk from the Tube station to the flat I stayed in. If I was coming home late and I was feeling preoccupied and I was feeling a bit jumpy, I would get in a cab. Lots of evenings I wouldn’t because I felt OK. My partner teaches self-defence and she says that men can and do read our body language – we read each other’s body language, we know this. That’s not to blame women, but it is to say we monitor our own context, our own sense of well-being, our own sense of safety and I think we adapt – I certainly do and I’m sure lots of other women do too. We adapt to how we are at any particular point in time as well as to the context that we’re in. If it’s a context that you know really well you can read it relatively easily. A lot of sexual assaults seem to happen when women are away or on holiday and it’s actually to do with not being able to read that situation and not having your safety mechanisms able to operate on an almost unconscious level. I suspect predatory men read that too.

Chameleon: I just resent the fact that we feel we have to modify our behaviour just to be able to live a semi-normal life.

LK: Indeed.

Chameleon: Free from the threat of violence, free from the feeling that violence is imminently about to be visited upon you.

LK: Some women would say that we can choose not to. Not everybody has that freedom in the same way. I can’t do that, I’ve lived my life working on these issues, I have stories. Certainly when I did my PhD and I interviewed women who lived in the same small town and rural areas that I lived in street names, place names actually had stories attached to them of violence that women had experienced in those places. These were just the few that I knew about, so I can’t ignore it, but I’m not totally controlled by it either. I refuse to be totally controlled by it, but I also can’t pretend that I am not aware of the realities. I think the more you realise that it’s in the everydayness of life that these things happen the less I feel troubled by being in the public sphere, although if I hear steps behind me I am alert to paying attention to who it is. It then becomes about where do you live? Who do you live with? Who do you share your life with? These other kinds of questions. Whom do you choose to trust with certain kinds of intimacies? There are not that many men in my life to whom I feel able to offer that kind of trust. That’s one of the costs and it’s a cost to men. That’s one of the challenges for men of good faith, if they really want to have strong relationships with women and with feminists they are going to have to take responsibility for changing this context.

Chameleon: Why should it always have to be women who have to modify their behaviour, why shouldn’t men have to, frankly, since they are the ones who commit these crimes in most cases?

LK: I think some of them do modify their behaviour, but they are a very small minority, so you’re not that likely to encounter them on your way home [laughs]

Chameleon: Let’s talk a little bit about “date rape” [The following passage from Sue Lees is illuminating: “Another misconception is that so-called ‘date rapes’ are often conceptualised as occurring as a result of men misreading the woman’s signals or not realising that she was not consenting, or that women have sex consensually and then regret it the night after and cry rape. We know that some men claim to misread signals even when the woman has said ‘no’, or in clearly premeditated cases where the rapist has locked the door. Some rapists have a distorted belief system – and even following conviction are in denial, continuing to maintain that the woman wanted it, just in the way that some paedophiles believe children wanted it”, pxii]

LK: Another concept that we should not use, we should get rid of. It comes out of a particular survey carried out in the US by Mary Koss in the late 80s, which was with US women college students, who reported quite a lot of coercive sexuality, including with men with whom they were somehow involved on some level. It doesn’t translate, though, across to other contexts. We tracked 3,500 cases for a piece of work called A Gap or a Chasm? which examines attrition in reported rape cases in England and Wales and I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of cases which were in the context of a date. That wasn’t what acquaintance rapes were; they were much more about men targeting women in bars or at parties. They hadn’t met before that evening, so it was not a date. We started to talk about them and code them as what’s called “Stranger Two”. Stranger One is a total stranger, whilst Stranger Two is someone whom you met within 24 hours of the rape happening. It’s one of those funny little things that you think of as an achievement as a feminist that the Metropolitan Police now use that coding in their data as well. It’s much more accurate. These are not people you know and there wasn’t any presumption of intimacy either – I don’t think there should be even on a date, but that is how that phrase is read, you have a date with someone because of some kind of erotic interest and you want to see whether it’s shared or not. That’s not true of these situations and calling them date rapes means that people misunderstand – it’s not the misreading by men of signals, but our misreading of what was going on through the term “date rape”. I would encourage us to not use it. Get rid of it! There’s a woman called Aileen McColgan who wrote a little book called Taking the Date out of Rape and we should indeed do this.

Chameleon: What about Katie Roiphe’s position in The Morning After? [London, Hamish Hamilton, 1994]

LK: Again, you see, I think this is an interesting issue about research and feminist analysis, because part of what she’s taking issue with, but doing in a very populist way, is drawn from Nigel Gilbert – her book is based on his work even though she doesn’t say so – which comes back to this survey Mary Koss carried out. Part of what they’re taking issue with is that Mary Koss defined as rape incidents that women didn’t define as such. What they neglect to tell us is that the analytical definition that Mary Koss used was the one in the law, so this isn’t even feminists talking about the continuum and saying, “Well, there’s rape and there’s coercive sex and there’s pressurised sex”, which is what I did in my PhD, because I was working with how women defined what happened to them. I was working with the experiential definitions that women use, which is not the same as a legal definition, which is also not the same as an analytical definition that you might use in study. You can use all of those legitimately, they all have a relevance, but to pretend, as Katie Roiphe and Nigel Gilbert do, that the only really valid definition is the experiential one, and because women minimise and don’t label sex that they didn’t want as rape then it’s not, when actually, in terms of the letter of the law, it is. What bothers me about it is I think they are disingenuous in the arguing with these cases. It’s not to deny that there is an issue here about definitions, which definition and why do so many women not call what happens to them rape? It’s a valid issue. We need to talk about it and we need to debate it. It is also valid to talk about under what conditions in research should you define something that someone hasn’t labelled as rape themselves as rape in the research? What does it mean to do that? Absolutely fine question, that’s different from saying these are advocacy numbers, feminists are making it up, they’re drawing the lines to include behaviour that isn’t problematic. That’s not what is happening, but that is the impression that is given. One of the things that I really try to do – we’ve just started an MA in women and child abuse; I don’t think there is one anywhere else in Europe – one of the things we are trying to do is to enable students, many of whom work in women’s services, are activists, to understand the complexity of numbers, what it means to say it this way and what it means to say it that way. Sometimes we can use statistics as advocacy numbers. For example, in our very first piece of research in the unit looking at child sexual abuse we found that one in two young women reported some form of intimate intrusion before reaching the age of eighteen. That did not mean they were all sexually abused by their fathers. It was flashing, it was being pressured to have sex by a boyfriend, a whole range of things and a much, much smaller number of them, I would say probably one in sixty, one in seventy, reported ongoing abuse by an adult male family member. We quote these figures, one in two, one in four, one in whatever as if it means serious ongoing abuse always and it doesn’t. It’s exactly the same with domestic violence figures. Yes, one in two, one in three, one in four in whatever survey in different countries have had an incident at some point in their lives. That’s not the same as the pattern of coercive control, which is what I mean by domestic violence. There are complicated issues about what these measurements mean and we need to be more accurate and more careful when we invoke them, being clear that we do so in an accurate and not an inaccurate way. The figures do say something accurate, but we sometimes stretch that to mean something that it doesn’t.

Chameleon: Or our opponents, let’s say, or the media will pick up on a statistic, if you say, sixty per cent of young women under the age of eighteen have suffered a form of abuse it might be reported on in a way that distorts it. What I’m driving at is that it is not necessarily the fault of the researcher that the media latches on to a figure and takes it out of context to try to discredit the argument behind the figure.

LK: I think that can happen. It’s less likely to happen if we are more careful about how we use the figures, so I wouldn’t say “abuse”, for example because I think people understand abuse in a particular way. If you say “intimate intrusion”, it’s not a term that is commonly used and that has a common understanding. When people hear the word abuse they do think it’s somebody they know and that it takes place more than once. It’s not flashing, for example. Unless we’ve got the space to explain what it is we mean…

Chameleon: The media don’t always give us the space, though, does it?

LK: No, that’s true, but I think we also don’t always want to make the explanation because it’s not such a strong case. Again it’s complicated [laughs]. If they’re picking up on something, it’s powerful and it’s having a resonance it is because something is going on. People do say, “Well, if it’s one in two, why haven’t half my friends told me stories about being raped by their fathers?” Of course, half your friends aren’t going to because it isn’t one in two that are raped by their fathers. There’s a way in which we need to think about how we sometimes invoke statistics, which ends up having the opposite effect. It’s not raising awareness; it’s actually undermining our message because what people think is, “Well, that doesn’t make sense to me, so it can’t be true”. The rejection isn’t just a gesture of bad faith; it’s sometimes that how they understand it isn’t true. For me, it’s a responsibility on us to endeavour – you can’t always do it, but to endeavour not to overclaim and to be clear about what it is that these figures do and don’t mean so that we’re not unintentionally creating a resistance to the message.

Chameleon: What are the worst defects of today’s rape legislation and how can they be remedied?

LK: I don’t think it’s the legislation that’s the problem. Had you asked me that question five years ago, I would have had problems with the legislation. I actually think we reworked our legislation in quite an interesting way and created a whole raft of offences. We removed all the offences that were only homosexual offences, for example. We’ve got a series of offences that are offences against children. We’ve got sexual exploitation offences. We’ve got certain kinds of protection for people with disabilities where they haven’t got capacity to consent. We’ve got offences that are about breach of trust where you are exploiting your position as a worker or a carer. I haven’t seen an evaluation of the legislation yet, but I don’t think the problem lies with the legislation. The problem is with implementation and these narrow understandings of what rape is and isn’t. The problem is that police – not all, but in the majority of cases – start from what we call a culture of scepticism. They’re looking for anything that gives them a reason to not believe, which is not how they approach investigating other crimes. You approach investigating a crime in such a way that, until you have reason to believe otherwise, you think that it has happened and you look for the evidence that supports the account of the complainant. That’s not what happens in rape cases. If we’re talking about myths, one of the massive myths is that a much higher proportion of rape complaints are false compared to other crimes. Why would any woman or man report that they had been sexually assaulted, undergo a forensic medical examination and be treated in the way that too many are treated? I know that it happens, but it mainly happens because of mental health problems. In reality, the majority of complaints are about something that has happened. Whether it qualifies as rape under the law is for the police and the prosecutors and, ultimately, the court to determine. The vast majority of these reports are about something that has happened. We have interviewed police officers who say – and these are specialists who are supposed to be trained – where they say a third, fifty per cent and one even said seventy-five per cent of complaints are false. How can they possibly be carrying out a proper investigation if that’s the place that they begin from? That’s the first thing and the second thing is that because this concept of real rape is so powerful, the whole way in which investigations and evidence is thought about is through a stranger rape model. That’s not how this case is going to play out today, certainly under our new legislation and with DNA. Alice Vachss was a prosecutor in the US and says there are three defences for rape: it didn’t happen, it wasn’t me, she wanted it. DNA and all sorts of other technical advancements mean it’s much less likely that you can say it didn’t happen or it wasn’t me, so basically your defence is she wanted it, she consented. I don’t think that the whole investigative process and how you think about collecting evidence and presenting the case in court is understood through the lens of it’s going to be a consent defence. I would say – and we’ve been saying for a while – that actually they need to rethink the whole way they do this, start again from the very beginning. They know how to do it when you’re talking about a stranger, they know how to do that, but the majority of cases don’t involve a stranger. So start again and think about the whole process that she knows the person and/or they’re going to plead consent. What evidence, then, are you looking for? How are you going to present the case as the prosecution in the court that gives credibility to her account? If all they’re thinking about all the way through is what discredits her they’re never ever going to arrive at a position where they know how to present the story in court that is to her credit. I think it’s about starting at the beginning and rethinking investigation and prosecution. It’s not so much about the legislation; it’s about those processes that enable the legislation to function.

Chameleon: Presumably what you’ve been talking about, the fact that the police almost instinctively disbelieve what the woman says is one of the reasons why the conviction rate is so low.

LK: It’s not instinctive – there’s a book by a woman called Patricia Yancey Martin from the US called Rape Work in which she talks about how institutions almost require that their staff adopt this sceptical attitude and that you need to change it at the institutional level if there’s going to be a different approach. What’s different about women’s services is that, institutionally, they absolutely don’t require scepticism; they almost require the opposite, which is why women experience them so differently – because they enter into a culture of belief. It ought to be possible to create a culture of belief in the police and medicine, which is only suspended when they have strong reasons to do so. We’re talking about ways in which institutions reproduce this scepticism. It’s not about the individuals and their attitudes only, or even especially. It’s actually about how institutions require or reproduce those orientations. That’s what we need to change. We need to change the institutional cultures that support or require this way of doing things.

Chameleon: That brings us back to the feedback loop, as it were, of assumptions within the culture in the broader sense, for example the 2005 Amnesty International survey [One third of the people polled believed that the woman was partly or wholly responsible for being raped is she had behaved flirtatiously. Yvonne Roberts responded in an article in The Independent on Sunday (27th November 2005), Asking for it. Why do so many women think rape is a woman's fault?: “The truth about rape, of course, is that whether women ‘ask’ for it or not, it happens. The ‘justice gap’ is widening. In the 1970s, a third of reported rapes resulted in a conviction. Now, more women are reporting sexual assault, including rape, but the conviction rate has dropped dramatically. In 2003, 11,867 rapes were reported; 1,649 went to trial and only 629 resulted in a conviction. However, there is cause for optimism. The little reported aspect of the Amnesty International survey is that the majority of the public believe only one person is to blame for rape – the rapist”] on rape where so many, dismayingly many, of the respondents still believe that it was the woman’s fault, that she was to blame. I read an eye-catching phrase in a newspaper article somewhere: “Alcohol is the new short skirt”.

LK: It was Julie Bindel who wrote that. She’s good at those.

Chameleon: How can we tackle this persistent attitude that women are somehow “asking for it” no matter what they do?

LK: In no one way. There’s no one way to do this as it is about culture change. It is about changing the discursive construction of everything – not just rape, but femininity and heterosexuality. They’re all connected. I wish I could say – and this is one of the irritating things about being an academic – there never is a simple answer any more because you see how everything is connected to everything else and if you make an inroad here, the something else over here will prevent it from being as effective as it might have been. I just think that we’re here for the long haul and it is about feminists engaging on every level. It matters that popular culture is re-sexualised. It matters that what Angela McRobbie calls the “new sexual contract” – her argument is that, in return for a recognition of equality in the worlds of work and education, there’s been a re-sexualisation and re-subordination of women in the more private, intimate sphere. Then you’ve got Ariel Levy’s raunch culture idea, so we have to engage in critique on that level whilst, simultaneously, trying to change the institutions and the laws, taking educational programmes into schools and youth clubs and at the same time inviting men of good faith to lend their voices too, recognising that at particular points, in certain historical contexts you make progress and then it feels like it’s either halted or you’ve moved back a little bit, or sideways. This isn’t a linear process – it would be a lot easier if it was! [Laughs] It is a bit like shifting sands that we’re having to negotiate. I suppose the most important thing is that there continue to be groups of women who call themselves feminists and who commit themselves to trying to make the world better for women. When I say that I mean I don’t think it’s OK to call yourself a feminist and that just be about your own personal achievement. However much it’s important for women to achieve things, that to me isn’t sufficient to be a feminist, for which you need to be interested in the lot of all women and be doing something to bring about change on that more social level. And to be reflective about women who have less privilege and fewer options than you. And how their situation can sometimes even be made worse by some of the ways that privileged women operate and argue their case. I think there are ways we can be, for example, judgemental of young women that have all sorts of class and maybe also race prejudice in them. That’s not to say there isn’t a conversation to be had about what does it mean that young women dress in particular ways, behave in particular ways in public, accommodate this re-sexualisation. Many conversations and engagements are needed, but in a way that respects that they’re trying to manage contradictions in the same way that others of us do in different contexts.

Chameleon: Let’s move back to the media. Do you think that a programme like The Verdict was a valuable exercise leading to serious debate or did it simply indulge in empty sensationalism, reinforcing already entrenched negative attitudes towards rape victims?

LK: We actually had two TV programmes: one called Consent [Channel Four] that was more like a real jury and The Verdict, which was obviously celebrities. I actually think the programme Consent was very interesting in the sense that we’re not allowed to do research on juries in this country. We’ve got one piece of research by a woman called Vanessa Munro, which has been simulating jury deliberations, but we imagine that we know that these prejudices are circulating. What the programme did was evidentially show us that was absolutely what was happening. It showed us that they brought all their prejudices into the room, they brought all their ideas about acceptable femininity and ways that men are excused bad behaviour and a lot of it wasn’t to do with the facts of the case. It exposed the kind of delusions that the higher echelons of the British judiciary operate under in terms of how they eulogise the jury and the common sense of the jury. I don’t think that was a bad thing and I suspect that we’ll read various student dissertations where they use it as source material. OK, fine. The Verdict, however, was, I think, much more cynical. It wasn’t, I don’t think, a serious attempt at exploration. It was one of these things that happens in TV: somebody leaked the fact that the other channel was going to do this, so they thought, “We’ll trump them, we’ll do it better, we’ll have celebrities”. These are people who perform for the camera. These are people who have agents. These agents know if they adopt X position, it’s going to get reported in newspapers, so I have no sense of how authentic their responses were at all. How much of it was a particular deliberate and constructed performance? We don’t know. I don’t think then that’s as useful, because you don’t know whether what you’ve got is celebrity acting or engagement with this particular account. What I think is interesting in both cases was the extent to which female jurors felt that they couldn’t find the man guilty, but knew that harm had been done and felt totally conflicted by the decision that they reached. I’ll tell you the reason why I thought the Consent programme was particularly good was that at the end, when they reached the verdict of not guilty, as the credits rolled, you were shown the scenario acted out as the woman had recounted it, not how he had recounted it. What it showed you was: this happened, it happened in the way she said it happened, but he was found not guilty. I thought it was a powerful message, a very powerful message. I’m not of the opinion that there should be no fictional representation of these things, but as with what we talked about earlier concerning how lawyers operate, there needs to be a certain ethics about it and I do think one of them made a serious attempt to be ethical and the other did not have that at the foundation of what they were doing. They were making reality TV, celebrity TV. They were not using the medium of television to explore a complicated, serious issue. However, that’s not to say I expect all TV programmes to do things right, but I expect them to make a serious attempt and an ethical attempt. One programme did that and one didn’t.

Chameleon: Now that we have the Internet and you can download every variety of humanly, or inhumanly imaginable, pornography in endless quantities, do you think that the ready availability of pornography has an impact on the number of rapes by fostering a rape mentality?

LK: I don’t know whether it does that or not. I am fairly certain that it has a very bad effect on already damaged men. They can use it to fuel obsessions and hatreds. They are a small number. I think, much more insidiously, it has an impact on what men think heterosexual sex is and how they understand women and women’s engagement with sex. To me, that’s not just about the number of sexual offences we’ve got, it’s about the quality of sexual engagement and encounters between women and men. I think it gives men a weird sense of women’s sexuality; I think it gives them a weird sense of men’s sexuality. I’m not any longer convinced that this is just a reinforcement of one kind of masculinity. I think it can actually make a lot of men feel uneasy and insecure, but they’re not allowed to talk about it. There’s no space to talk about that. So, for example, slightly to one side of this, you have all those Internet sites where they can rate women they’ve paid for sex. The men who try to post on those sites who are ambivalent and who are saying “I’m not sure I really liked it; I thought it would make me feel like this – it didn’t” are discouraged from posting again. These communities of men who are interested in the sex industry, in paying for sex and pornography don’t want other men saying “We’re not sure about this; this feels unsatisfactory”. We are just doing a project at the moment where we’re talking to men who pay for sex. We didn’t expect to have so many of them phoning up to confess, to say how bad they feel about it and how uneasy they feel about it. It doesn’t fit in with a particular feminist construction of predatory men, but actually these men are interesting because there’s a possibility for change there, if we engage in a particular way. I feel the same about porn on the Internet. What bothers me is that, certainly in this country, we have very poor sex education in schools; young people don’t get it as a right, so some might get nothing. Most of what they get is what we call “plumbing and prevention”, it’s not about relationships, it’s not about complexities, it’s not about contradictions and that’s what most of them want to talk about. And so where are they going for sex education? Porn on the net. I think the implications of that are huge for both young men and young women. I don’t know whether what we’re doing is producing a generation of young people for whom sex is solely performance and technicality, something you should do and want and perform at all times and then what kind of sexualities we’re going to be confronting. So for me, I’m much more interested and concerned about its broader cultural meanings and consequences than whether in a particular instance it’s implicated in a sexual assault or not.

Chameleon: Do you think that pornography creates a kind of “background tolerance” of rape through portraying women as “ever ready”, like the battery.

LK: I think certain kinds of pornography legitimise rape and certain kinds of it eroticise rape and if men get caught up in orchestrating their own sexual desires and sexual practices through that, then that’s very problematic, clearly. A significant proportion of it purports to be consensual – fair enough, but what about the representation? Whether it was consensual in the making of it is a different point from the representation depicting consensuality and it’s a particular kind of consensuality, which is about these women who can’t get enough. It’s also about these men who are constantly ready and able and well-endowed. I increasingly am not convinced – I never really was, but I’m not convinced by this argument that, well, it’s just fantasy and everybody knows it’s fantasy because you can see that in the guys who pay for sex. On one level they know that they’re paying for a performance, but on another level they believe it – they’re paying to believe that they’re good at doing sex. They’re paying to believe that they give pleasure, but if you push them a little bit about it, they go, “Well, maybe, but I really think she had a good time”. This idea that we make clear distinctions between fantasy and reality doesn’t work because you’re paying for a fantasy that then allows you to construct your sense of self in a more positive way than before you made that payment. It’s has material consequences in the way you think about yourself, how you perceive yourself to be. How do these men then engage where payment is not an issue, where you have to be a human being, where you have to negotiate, you have to confront the fact that maybe the person isn’t going to find it pleasurable that just because you’re doing something doesn’t mean that somebody else likes it. That’s the complicated part and I think a lot of men find it quite difficult. There’s that horrible thing, chilling, in Pornified by Pamela Paul [New York, Henry Holt, 2005] where some of the young men whom she interviewed are very clear that they’ve become quite obsessive about accessing porn and not certain about it, but some of them are actually saying they prefer sex – and they call it sex, they don’t call it masturbation – through porn than with a real person because they can just get their relief and they don’t have to engage on a communicative or an emotional level. Women have always said that men are less emotionally literate – and that’s putting it nicely – but there is a real possibility that what porn does is reinforce this emotional illiteracy.

Chameleon: They just feel that they couldn’t be bothered with the complications of involvement with a flesh and blood human being rather than this classic, surgically enhanced fantasy creature that bears no relation to the saggy boobs and stretch marks most women are.

LK: And most women are complicated and they’re sometimes bad-tempered, irritable and have expectations of certain kinds of baseline behaviour. There is the question of how it is implicated in particular kinds of sexual assault and there’s no doubt that it is in certain instances, but this deeper implication in the cultural construction of masculinity and femininity is in many ways more significant and possibly even, at a cultural level, more dangerous.

Chameleon: When men purchase the pornography or the sex, as you very rightly said, they’re trying to purchase the ability to overcome their own anxieties or sense of inadequacy, whereas for the women who see these images of media perfection with celebrities, it doesn’t even have to be porn stars, they might feel inadequate, driving them to the surgeons in droves, or to Weight Watchers. Men can overcome their inadequacies whereas women are made to feel more inadequate.

LK: You would say that they can overcome their inadequacies – I would say that’s debateable. It might be that they have a way of appeasing the sense of being inadequate, and who’s to that shopping doesn’t do the same thing for women. That this particular consumer, celebrity culture of the moment is producing extremely insecure femininities and masculinities, neither of which are particularly healthy, neither of which are about any kind of human dignity and, when combined, are not a recipe for engaged heterosexual relations. I think there’s a group of men who use the sex industry in a totally consumerist way and they just bolster their sense of entitlement, privilege and power, but it doesn’t have that effect on all of them. It isn’t uni-dimensional, it’s multi-dimensional and we need to show more interest than we have done in those dimensions.

Chameleon: I’ve noticed an alarming trend whereby women who fail to get their attackers prosecuted in court are subsequently taken to court themselves by the men who raped them and are sometimes being sent to prison for false accusation. How do you react to this?

LK: There are layers to this. There aren’t very many where the case goes to court and that happens. If the case goes to court and there’s an acquittal and the accused wants to do something, they will normally go through civil courts, through damages, suing for libel or whatever. We’ve had a couple of cases like that and there have been a couple of sexual harassment cases that have gone through the civil courts initially. What’s happened in terms of rape cases has been when a case has been dropped because it’s a false accusation that the police have prosecuted for wasting police time. There’s another charge – I can’t remember precisely what it is – that’s slightly more serious as well. There have been a few cases like that. The danger is to think it’s happening all the time. I actually think that probably any such case is reported in the media and the misreading is that there are lots of other ones behind. What’s more significant is that if you have made a previous allegation that didn’t result in a conviction, if you report a subsequent sexual assault that previous allegation will be seen as going to your discredit, so the fact that we have this massive attrition rate, that only one in forty cases now results in a conviction – we’ve got a 5.3% conviction rate – means that we’re creating a generation of women whose subsequent complaints will be discounted. That’s much more significant, but it’s not so obvious. We’ve seen it because we’ve gone and looked in the files and we’ve asked police to tell us why they’ve dropped cases at particular points in time. This information has come out and you can see that it has a significant impact, but that’s more invisible than these high profile cases, although there are many more where that happens than are prosecuted for wasting police time.

Chameleon: You talked earlier about the glamorisation of violence in our culture. I agree that such a glamorisation is taking place – it’s amazing to see some of the films that are released now. They are so stylised that when a woman is punched she doesn’t develop a bruise, her lip doesn’t split and gush with blood. On the one hand, there are lots of women who think that something like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Kill Bill, both of which could be said to glamorise violence, tries to do away with the myth that women are wimps, or that women are not resilient – some women look on these fictions as a kind of empowerment. So how should we be looking at the phenomenon of the glamorisation of violence? It is quite nuanced, isn’t it?

LK: There isn’t one answer you see because I do think – I know from myself that I can see representations of women being strong, fighting back, being able to win a fight with a man can involve a sense of enjoying that representation. To me that’s not the same as empowerment. I can enjoy that representation, I can enjoy it as a challenge to the traditional ways women are represented – I can even enjoy the aesthetic of the choreography of the violence. I enjoy it because I know it’s not real, I know it’s a fiction, which gives me permission to engage with it in a particular way. We’re all doing that to some extent. Underneath this is a different issue, one that has frustrated me for a very long time, which is a conflation of victimisation, victim and passivity. Women are victimised, so are people with disabilities, lesbians and gay men, people from ethnic minorities – and those aren’t mutually exclusive categories – victimisation happens. What it means, how you respond to it, whether you take it on as an identity are entirely different questions and are different again from whether you are accorded the status of victim by the justice system. If you are not accorded the status of victim by the justice system you have no right to redress or justice. You see this most clearly in relation to women who are trafficked. If they are not given the status of victim they then become a criminal, who can be deported with no rights, nothing. It can be hugely important and significant, even to the point of being a matter of life and death, whether you are accorded the status of victim. That has nothing to do with how you process what’s happened to you in terms of your own identity. We don’t even use any more “victim” or “survivor”, we talk about “women who have been raped”, “men who have been raped” because that leaves open what kind of identity they may or may not choose. I think some of this happened through a therapeutic turn in the Nineties that was then attributed by people like Katie Roiphe and Camille Paglia to feminism. It wasn’t feminism, or it wasn’t in any activist feminist way – there was a kind of populist feminism that they are also a part of in a different dimension – with all of these self-help books about the journey from victim to survivor. If you look at the research that’s been done on sexual violence, violence against women, but particularly if you look at the service providers, the ones who provide support, a lot of them didn’t – some of them do now – use those words in that way. We saw them as being two sides of the same coin. That being victimised didn’t mean you had no agency. Women resist, physically or in their minds, holding a part of them somewhere, where they think “You’re not having this bit of me”. They resist and fight back by deciding to report, or deciding to tell their friendship group what this person’s done, to expose them. There are all sorts of ways. It does, though, narrow, constrain your space for action at that particular point in time, which is one of the harms of it, that actually you don’t have the possibility to prevent it. It happened. For me, the interventions that we make should be about expanding that space for action again. It’s not that there’s no agency, but it’s that agency is constrained by violence. I find this invocation of victim and victimhood really unhelpful and also entirely inaccurate in terms of what actually happens when women confront violence. You talked about how we manage our fear by doing or not doing certain things. Those are forms of agency. We might resent the fact we have to do them and we might engage in discussion about whether that’s the most appropriate or useful thing to be doing, but it is action. Women who live with domestic violence are managing that situation all the time and a proportion of them are so damaged and so diminished by this intimate domination that their space for action is hardly anything. Those are the women who it’s really difficult to work with because they are terrified of doing anything as everything they’ve ever tried to do didn’t work. It doesn’t mean they were passive and didn’t do anything. It means they live with a nasty bastard controlling man who used every strategy they ever tried to develop as a reason to further abuse. Not all of them are like that, but with some of them, the sophistication of how they undermine every strategy women ever try is actually quite frightening.

Chameleon: It’s cold-blooded, isn’t it?

LK: Yes and I find them more frightening, more disturbing than the ones who use physical assault.

Chameleon: It’s the ruthlessness, the calculatedness of their behaviour, isn’t it?

LK: Absolutely. Absolutely. So I think there’s a whole way in which we as feminists need to revisit these concepts. If I were to point to something I’d do differently I think I wouldn’t abandon the concept of victim like we did. I think I would want to fill it with other meanings, so that it wasn’t seen as a contradiction to agency, but that it limits your agency in particular ways, but it doesn’t mean that you have none. It doesn’t mean that you’re passive and helpless. It means that your space for action has been constrained by the behaviour of another person. I think we have to acknowledge that for women who want to seek justice and want to use the criminal justice system as a means to obtain justice, being accorded the status of victim is very significant and important. It’s a recognition that they’ve been harmed and it’s a route to certain rights.

Chameleon: Some progress has been made, however.

LK: Yes. There is a coalition that we have recently developed here in the UK, the End Violence Against Women Coalition. It’s the first time that all the organisations that work around violence, across the different forms of violence, have come together, groups working on domestic violence, on sexual violence, on FGM, forced marriage, trafficking and prostitution. We are actually part of a network, but more than that, we’re also in a formal alliance with Amnesty International, the Trade Union Congress and the very big women’s organisation called the Women’s Institute. We are committed to trying to get our government to have a coordinated strategic response to violence against women. We have a number of action plans on different forms, but none of them are gendered, they don’t talk about violence against women, they talk about rape, or domestic violence and they’re not linked up, they’re strands of work that are separated. We don’t have a plan of action on violence against women in this country. We don’t have really a commitment to want to do that despite having signed the Beijing Platform for Action. Within that we also want there to be a much greater emphasis on prevention and we want there to be a commitment to increasing service provision, especially protecting the women-only services. I think this is a really interesting development – it’s not without its tensions and difficulties, but it has given us a voice and a strategic position. One of the things that we’ve decided to do is to audit the government every year on whether it’s moving in the directions we’re saying we think we should be moving in. We’ve produced this report called Making the Grade and we’ve done two so far. As a result of the second one our prosecutors have said that they want to develop a violence against women strategy. The police in London have said that they want to, so we’re seeing some departments get the message and say, “Yes, we understand what you’re saying, we want to do better”. The other thing that I think is worth mentioning is that we’ve just had this law come into force called the Gender Equality Duty. We’re about to move to a single equality body and that will mean that we no longer have a specific equality body for women, or for race, or for disability. One of the things that was very clear was that there is a statutory responsibility around race and around disability, but not around gender. What the law states is that every body, at national and at local level – everything from a government ministry to a school – has to have a gender equality scheme, which has to be about how they are going to eliminate gender discrimination and harassment in their institution and they also have to carry out a gender equality audit of any big change in policy, all new law. This is the first time you’ve ever had a legal requirement, so part of what EVAW has been trying to do is to say you must put violence against women in there because one of the things that the duty says is that you should address the most serious inequalities and forms of discrimination in the first instance, so we’re saying, actually violence is one of the most serious. Everybody has to publish their gender equality scheme by Monday [30th April 2007] and then these have to be monitored and rewritten again in three years’ time. I think this is a really interesting approach to trying to put gender and women back on policy agendas, because we have been relatively invisible for a while. It was a very smart move by the women in the Equal Opportunities Commission to agree to enter into a single equality body, but only if we have a gender duty in the same way that we have these other duties.

Chameleon: Thank you so much!

Essential Links:

The End Violence Against Women Coalition

The Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit

Portrait of Professor Liz Kelly by Chameleon

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