In defence of Megan Fox

Hiring a night nurse doesn’t make Megan Fox neglectful of her child – she’s just a woman trying to survive in the patriarchy like the rest of us.

Until today, the only thing I knew about Megan Fox was that she starred in the first two Transformers movies and that she may or may not have been fired from the third for calling the director Michael Bay a misogynist. It's hard to say if she walked or was fired as Fox is keeping a dignified silence whilst Bay, and her former co-star Shia LeBoeuf, are bad-mouthing her at every opportunity. Whatever actually happened, Fox is clearly a better person than either Bay or LeBoeuf; although that isn't the best compliment since I've eaten carrots that had more empathy than Bay. Suffice it to say, I'm on Team Fox.

Today, I learned that Fox is now married and has a very new baby. 

I learned about Fox's new baby from an op-ed piece in the Independent which effectively accuses Fox, but not her husband, of child neglect for hiring a night nurse. I have no idea who the writer Susan Elkin actually is, above her very basic biography attached to the article, but it's been a while since I've read a piece written by a woman who so clearly hates other women. 

Because there is no excuse for what Elkin has written. 

There is no excuse for the Independent to have published the op-ed piece. 

But, you know what, I would like to thank Megan Fox for publicly acknowledging that she has hired a night nurse. 

Because what really pisses me off is the culture of "motherhood" that requires "celebrity" women to pretend that they do everything all by themselves after having a baby. That is what is harmful to all women: the idea that a woman who has just given birth must immediately lose all their baby weight, baking 250 cupcakes for the school fete, going back to work full-time at six weeks whilst simultaneously looking immaculate in their immaculate house. Celebrity women who try to exist outside this narrow and punitive construction of mother are punished by the likes of Perez Hilton calling them fat and Hello mag making snide remarks about their lack of make-up.

So, power to Megan Fox for being honest about something that was going to result in her being bullied. How freaking brave is she?

And, that shit about whether or not Fox breastfeeds, well that's none of our business. The culture which pushes formula feeding unnecessarily onto new mothers and which sexualises women's breasts to the point that women can not breastfeed publicly without feeling uncomfortable is the problem. The culture which believes that women's bodies belong to their husbands and that a man's rights to access his possession's breasts are more important than a new infant is the problem. The culture which defines any woman who has given birth as unfuckable until they lose all their "baby weight" is the problem. That is what we need to address.

We won't create a breast-feeding friendly culture when women write shit like this:

Babies are born to women – whether some feminists like it or not and wish it otherwise – and nature provides the baby’s food in the form of breast milk. That milk, and suckling it from the mother’s breast, is the child’s entitlement. Direct access to its mother’s breast milk is, in my book, every child’s human right.

That doesn’t mean extracting it with a pump and handing it over to someone else to pour into the child either. It means proper tactile feeding from the breast and all the bonding which goes with that. Everyone knows that there is nothing better than breast milk for a baby’s health and, there are benefits for the mother too – not least, it is much easier to lose the baby weight if you breast feed than if you don’t. It is also considerable less hassle – at a time when you’re tired and maybe stressed – than fiddling about with bottles which have to be sterilised. And you have it with you, on tap as it were, wherever you and the child happen to be.

If you hire a night nurse the child may be losing out on part of this and I regard that as a form of neglect.

Now, I get that Elkin is clearly trying to flog some book that no one actually wants to read but, unless you are actually stupid, no one would think the above was going to increase the number of women breastfeeding exclusively for six months. It just isn't. All it does is make women feel like failures if they don't. As for the hyperbole of child neglect, well, I'd suggest that Elkin wasn't the most effective teacher on the planet if that's her definition of child neglect.

Plus, Elkin doesn't actually understand the mechanics of breast-feeding. It's not the breast-feeding which changes the shape of women's breasts. That's the result of the weight gain during pregnancy and the subsequent loss of weight thereafter. Not breastfeeding will do nothing to prevent a woman's breasts from changing. Pregnancy changes women's breasts.

And women shouldn't be policing other women's bodies. We should be standing up for other women being forced by Patriarchal structures into making "choices" they do no want for fear of reprisal. 

In many ways, this article is just spiteful. It's just the kind of spiteful that the Patriarchy loves: pitting women against women. Normally, I'd veer on the side of ignoring, however insulting a woman who has just given birth and making her personally responsible for the decisions of a thousand other women isn't kind. 

Megan Fox may be a very privileged woman but she is still a woman. She doesn't deserve this kind of treatment. 

Megan Fox is just a woman trying to survive in the Patriarchy; just like the rest of us.

Louise Pennington is a feminist activist, historian and writer. Her personal blog My Elegant Gathering of White Snows is part of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network. This piece originally appeared on her blog here and is crossposted with her permission.

Megan Fox may be privileged, but she is still just a woman trying to make the best of things. Photograph: Getty Images

Louise Pennington is a feminist activist, historian and writer. Her personal blog My Elegant Gathering of White Snows is part of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.