Beds should be allocated according to need, not sex. Photo: Alden Chadwick on Flickr via Creative Commons
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The Orchard psychiatric ward closure: women bear the cost of unchecked male dominance

An important psychiatric unit in Lancaster has been closed to female patients – a move that is especially galling because we are so used to being told that segregation by sex is obsolete in these brave new postmodern times.

Last month The Orchard Psychiatric Unit in Lancaster was closed to female patients. From now on, mentally ill women requiring inpatient treatment will be forced to stay at least 50 minutes’ drive away from their homes, families and immediate support networks, at a time when they need them most. The 18 beds – of which six were originally set aside for female patients – will remain available, but this time only for men.

As Philippa Molloy of the Beds in the Orchard campaign has pointed out, this is discrimination. An essential resource has been withdrawn from one vulnerable group but not from another. The Lancaster NHS Care Trust argues that this is not an issue of finances but of “balancing” resources across the county. But what kind of balance does this offer to a women whose need for local care is just as great as a man’s, or to her family and friends, who may be unable to bear the upfront cost of travel for visits? Beds should be allocated on the basis of fluctuating needs, not sex. If this is impossible – and clearly the Trust thinks it is – we need to be asking why.

The Trust states that there is “a peak demand for male beds”. But what is a “male bed” anyway? A bed is a bed and a desperately ill woman can need it just as much as a desperately ill man. What we are really dealing with is a perceived need for sex segregation. If female inpatients need to be separated from male ones, this is not simply because that’s how mental illness works. It is situated within a broader pattern of men posing a physical threat to women in enclosed spaces, whatever their diagnosed mental state. Even if we have reached a point where such a pattern is, for adult males at least, irreversible, it does not follow from this that women should be the ones who pay the price.

The Orchard decision is especially galling to feminists because we are so used to being told that segregation by sex is obsolete in these brave new postmodern times. “Why would you want female-only spaces?” you will be asked. “Are you obsessed with other people’s genitals?” The answer, of course, is no, you’re not. You’re just aware that the vast majority of violent crime is committed by people who were born with penises.  Deep down, everybody knows this. Awareness of this risk is one of the main reasons why we segregate in the first place. Male violence does not appear to have been a recurrent problem on the Orchard ward (male and female spaces were closed off via a key card system) yet a wholly non-segregated ward has not been considered a viable option, and it is not especially difficult to see why.

Under patriarchy sex segregation functions to preserve male privilege (men-only clubs) or to mitigate the effects of male violence / sexual entitlement (separate changing rooms, refuges, wards etc). Feminists have fought long and hard to remove both of these factors (and hence the need for sex segregation in the first place). Unfortunately, men have fought long and hard to retain them (how can we not be dominant? how can we not be violent/sexually entitled? it’s just how things are!). We have ended up with the worst of both worlds – one in which segregation is seen as necessary but only on male terms. When women close the doors they are bigots, seeing danger where there is none; when men do the same they are protecting “vulnerable” women from a real, palpable threat that no one bothers to name, let alone challenge. The message is “you can have your female-only space, but only if it’s out in the cold.”

The cost of masculinity, in purely economic terms, is enormous. In 2009 the academic Sylvia Walby estimated the total cost of domestic violence in the UK to be £15.7bn per year. Fellow academics Cynthia Cockburn and Ann Oakley argue that if men committed as little violent crime as women, it would help pay for the deficit. It is impossible to separate this financial cost from the human one given that male violence consumes resources that could be used elsewhere. It’s not just that when refuges or hospital wards close, women, especially those who are poor and/or lack other support networks, are being placed at greater immediate risk. The cost of male violence drains resources across the board at a time when women have already been worst hit by austerity measures. They deserve better than this.

Female-only space is increasingly treated as an indulgence when it should be the very least a subjugated class can expect from those who continue to dominate. Right now local authorities are forcing some specialist refuges to close because they do not take in male victims. Most feminists refuse to believe male violence is inevitable but as long as those perpetuating it refuse to listen, we have every right to take whatever resources we need to keep women safe. If those in power want a patriarchy – and there’s every indication that they do – they should damn well pay for it. If they cannot raise their boys to shun masculinity, then they owe their daughters spaces into which to escape from it, whatever the broader function of such spaces may be.

Women in general, and poor women in particular, are not being sold out because of some unidentifiable evil that lurks in dark corners. They’re being sold out because male human beings are a threat to female human beings, and because no one will admit this or do anything about it until resources are scarce and – whoops! – there goes your refuge, hospital bed, or safe space. Wherever possible, it is expected that women will bear the cost of unchecked male dominance. This cannot continue. We need to count the true cost of what men do, not just in pounds and pence, but in crumbling social structures, empty beds and ruined lives.

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

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Manchester united: "A minority of absolute idiots are trying to break us apart"

At the vigil, one man's T-shirt read: "The only thing that's allowed to be separated by colour is the laundry."

A day after one of the worst atrocities in the history of the city, Manchester's people were keen to show the world the resilience of the Mancunian spirit.

Dom's, an Italian restaurant, is in walking distance from Manchester Arena, where 22 people lost their lives to a suicide bomber the night before. On Tuesday, the staff were giving out free coffee, tea and pizza to anyone who needed it. On a table outside, there was a condolences book, and teary passersby left RIP messages to those who perished. Under a bright blue sky, the community seemed more united than ever, the goodwill pouring out of everyone I met. But the general mood was sombre. 

"We need to make space for healing and for building up our community again, and just getting people to feel comfortable in their own city," the Dean of Manchester, Rogers Govendor, told me.

The terrorist has been named as Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old Mancunian of Libyan descent. But with a population of 600,000, Manchester is a cosmopolitan hub, and proud of it. Throughout the day I encountered people of all skin shades and religions. On one of the roads off Albert Square, a couple of Orthodox Jewish boys set up a little stand, where people could grab a bottle of water and, if they so desired, hold hands and pray.

On the night of the tragedy, Muslim and Sikh cab drivers turned off the meter and made their way to Manchester Arena to offer free rides to anyone - many of them injured - who trying to escape the mayhem and reach safety. "It's what we do around here," my taxi driver said with a thick Arabic accent.

The dissonance between the increasingly frantic debate on social media and what was discussed on the streets was stark. I spoke, on and off the record, with about two dozen residents, eavesdropped on a number of conversations, and not once did I hear anyone speaking out against the cultural melting pot that Manchester is today. If anything, people were more eager than ever to highlight it. 

"Manchester has always been hugely multicultural, and people always pull together at times of trouble and need," said Andrew Hicklin. "They are not going to change our society and who we are as people. We live free lives."

It was also a day where political divisions were put aside. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn agreed to suspend their campaigns. For the next few days there will be no Labour vs Tory, no Brexiteer vs Remainer, at least not in this part of the country. This city has closed ranks and nothing will be allowed to come between that cohesion.

"I don't demonise anyone," said Dennis Bolster, who stopped by to sign the condolences book outside Dom's. "I just know a small minority of absolute idiots, driven by whatever they think they are driven by, are the people who are trying to break us apart."

Later in the day, as people were getting off work, thousands flocked to Albert Square to show their respects to the victims. Members of the Sikh community entered the square carrying "I love MCR" signs. The crowd promptly applauded. A middle-aged man wore a T-shirt which said: "The only thing that's allowed to be separated by colour is the laundry." A moment of silent was observed. It was eerie, at times overwhelmingly sad. But it was also moving and inspiring.

Local poet Tony Walsh brought brief respite from the pain when he recited "This is the Place", his ode to the city and its people. The first verse went:

This is the place In the north-west of England. It’s ace, it’s the best

And the songs that we sing from the stands, from our bands

Set the whole planet shaking.

Our inventions are legends. There’s nowt we can’t make, and so we make brilliant music

We make brilliant bands

We make goals that make souls leap from seats in the stands

On stage, everyday political foes became temporary allies. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, home secretary Amber Rudd, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and house speaker John Bercow all brushed shoulders. Their message was clear: "we are Manchester too."

The vigil lasted a little over half an hour. On other occasions, a crowd this size in the centre of Manchester would give authorities reason for concern. But not this time. Everyone was in their best behaviour. Only a few were drinking. 

As Mancunians made their way home, I went over to a family that had been standing not far from me during the vigil. The two children, a boy and a girl, both not older than 10, were clutching their parents' hands the whole time. I asked dad if he will give them a few extra hugs and kisses as he tucks them in tonight. "Oh, absolutely," he said. "Some parents whose children went to the concert last night won't ever get to do that again. It's heartbreaking."

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.

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