Thursday, 25 November 2010

In which Peter Crouch helps me smash biological determinism

Let's talk about sex differences. Again, the Guardian suggests; in response, one commenter sighs, "must we? please! can't we talk about something else? it's boring."

And you know? At the risk of relinquishing my Robofeminist cred...

Small interlude while I share my favourite Google image search result for 'robofeminism':
Who knew?
...I couldn't agree more, actually. It is fucking boring. It would be awesome if we could declare a moratorium on the endless search for Natural! Biological! Unconquerable! Differences between MEN who are from MARS and WOMEN who like KNITTING! and get on with, well, anything else that we could be spending our time on. Like, in my case, knitting.

But as long as people continue banging on about how men are HARDWIRED to cheat, overspend, 'be extreme', ignore their wives, or be masters of orienteering, I feel duty bound to counter the onslaught with Facts, Science, and Eye-Rolling. As Important Activism goes, proffering some alternative viewpoints to "But men and women are different!" (Actual. Quote. Oh, unnamed relative, you slay me with your evidence-based reasoning.) is probably not top of the patriarchy-smashing priority list, but it's the only one I cannot physically stop myself from doing. Every day. You shut up first. No, you shut up first. Okay, we'll both shut up together.

(They started it.)

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Tell me a story

So every time someone writes a blog post saying, "Hey, I love this TV series! However, given that it was produced in a racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, disableist and class-ridden society, unsurprisingly it has a couple of bits I'm not entirely comfortable with! I shall use this as a springboard to discuss these issues, and the way in which culture is shaped by and plays its part in shaping wider society - join me!" there's always some chump - let's call him Len - who comes along to sulk. Loudly. "CENSORSHIP!", he cries; "PROPAGANDA! IT'S ART! GET YOUR POLITICS OUT OF MY PRIME-TIME SOFA EXPERIENCE!"

Safe to say Len is missing the point somewhat.

I may be naive, but I tend to see feminism as a neutral moral stance, or an absence of cruelty: in the same way that not being a giant racist isn't an achievement as it is the bare minimum level of decency one should be able to expect from other human beings. So what I think of as a Feminist TV Show, and the image that phrase conjours up in Len's mind, are pretty different. Mine is one that passes Bechdel, that has actual female characters, that isn't just populated by a job lot of stereotypes from the Backlash Bad Fiction Warehouse (Ugly nerd! Vapid cheerleader! Embittered career woman! You know the drill). It's a show which doesn't constantly remind us that sex will kill us and trying to have a family and a career is a pipe dream. It's a show that explores characters with disabilities, rather than just gawping at them as a tragic morality tale. It's a show that recognises that gay people are, like, people (shocker!) and trans folks aren't just punchlines. It's a show that's interested in more than just the stories of rich white dudes.

Which, to be honest, doesn't sound like that much to ask. This isn't Political Correctness Gone Mad. I'm not calling for a quota system. I'm just suggesting that there are a lot of tales to tell. And when something comes along that hits some of these shockingly high targets, the point is that Len probably wouldn't notice it: it doesn't require writers to shoehorn in long speeches about how the feminist movement has failed and attacked trans people, or have the main character attend a seminar on the ways poor women of colour have been pressured onto long-term contraception, or basically anything as ridiculously overt and preachy as Len would expect. (Not that such discussions are preachy or boring! They are my favourite thing! But their place is probably not in a teen soap.) Issues which affect the ladies, and the Ells, Gees, Bees and Tees, people with various disabilities and Characters of Colour come up as a matter of course when you're writing a story which features people who - say it with me - aren't all identikit rich white dudes.

Ladies, gentlemen, and those who identify outside the gender binary, I give you: Veronica Mars! (I'm so 2008; I'm so 2000-and-late.) So: it has ladies! Lots of ladies, talking to each other about things that are not boys! Lots of silly villain archetypes as well, sure, but also: the lead character is the most believable and complex lady I have seen written on a teen TV show in many a long year (just ask Sady Doyle). It features people of colour who don't always get reduced to lazy stereotypes! (Sidekick, baller, oversexed bitch; okay, I admit, I'm setting the bar pretty fucking low here. But - Alicia? Carmen? Leo? Jackie, from about halfway through Season 2? Weevil, to an extent? And Wallace may be a sidekick - and a baller, two for one at Lazy Stereotype Warehouse - but he's a whole person too.) It has people with disabilities whose disabilities are not their sole storylines. Taking anti-depressants is normal: you still have to deal with the death of your sister and go to school and fight with your best friend. Being Deaf is just being Deaf: it doesn't have a huge bearing on the fact that you had an affair with a teacher and got pregnant and he abandoned your baby in a toilet cubicle. One episode featured a trans character in a way that didn't make me wince, groan, and throw the nearest projectile at the telly's off button out of sheer fury.

That said, the show also 'punishes' a Bad Man by 'tricking' him into wanting to have sex with a trans lady. Which is funny, right? Haha how humiliating! Funny! Gross! Also: the least sensitive and/or clever thing you could possibly have done, writers.

In tiny, subtle ways, the writing shows you everyday casual sexism ("I don't know which bothers me more: 'foxy' or 'stacked'.") and racism ("Lurking? You mean 'standing while black'?"; "Describe this biker guy to me." "Uh... brown?"); short stories and plot arcs deal with class privilege, child abuse, domestic violence, and, of course, rape.

Rape is everywhere in Veronica Mars. It pervades the show in the exact same way it pervades our lives. And yet we are not subjected to endless supposedly sexy pornified breathy scenes of heaving bosoms and contorted faces.
"[R]ape in movies and books and TV doesn’t focus on what women remember from their rapes because rape is not meant to be depicted as an experience of women, to resonate with women, and to acquire an audience of women ... I do not remember, I do not think about my boobs, or about physical pain, or what my face looked like. I think about his hand on my shoulder. I think about what the trees looked like as I stared out the window. I think about how bright the room was. But I guarantee you, go find some rape scene to watch, and you will have close-ups of boobs and a woman’s face contorted in pain and fear." (Harriet J)
No. It's small, and it's sad, and it's fucking terrifying because of that.
"[Y]ou see a girl passing out, then waking up to realize what has happened ...You see these things through the women’s eyes. You do not, as is usual, see things through the eyes of a voyeur, or a rapist." (Sady, again.)

Plus sometimes, if you squint your eyes a little, it's just like watching Buffy!

And that's always fun.

It's not perfect. That goes without saying. The fact that it reaches such giddy heights at times make its failings even more obvious: surprise, Veronica, you weren't really raped, even though you were drugged and have no memory of the apparently consensual sexy times - it was your boyfriend, and you liked it, so it's all cool! Haha, rape is funny when men are the victims! (However good your 'rape is bad' credentials, once you've accepted the concept of a 'deserved raping' you've really lost the moral high ground.) Surprise, the Angry Feminists totally faked a rape to get attention! (This storyline was even more infuriating given that they dealt so amazingly well with the Abuse Victim Is Making It Up trope in Season 1 ). I mean, I get it; I've read my Agatha Christie and I am familiar with the Least Likely Person plot twist. But, in the cultural milieu in which the series is made, the idea that aquaintance rape isn't really rape, or that Angry Feminists are lying castrating bitches, is hardly the least likely scenario: it's the obvious solution. And every TV show that features these storylines feeds into rape culture, just as every TV show which casts all black people as stupid criminals adds a drop to the big scummy bath of racism we're all wallowing in, and it's boring, and it's so annoying when done by a group of writers who have shown over and over that they are capable of better.

But every time a TV show shows a girl as clever and pretty - or a trans person as a devoted loving parent - or a Latina student as a sweet, academic, law-abiding type whose race is not relevant to her storyline - or a Deaf lady who is not defined by her disability - it chips away a tiny bit of the giant invisible edifice of Instutitionalised People Being Rubbish To Each Other. It puts different stories out there. It reminds us all that straightwhiterichcistabguys are not the default, not the only people who get to do something other than embody the Difference Of The Week. In Veronica Mars, girls can be sleuths and fix their rustbucket cars, skint Latino boys struggle in boring jobs and worry about their grandmas, trans women enjoy classic cars and the work of Kevin Spacey, white guys with epilepsy fight with their parents and run for student council. They're people. Like, y'know, people on this side of the screen are.

So, Len, and writers of every other TV show which treats ladies as nothing but love interests and anyone who isn't straight, rich, white, cis, TAB and male as the Issue of the Week: learn from what you see here and, in the immortal words of Scroobius Pip, get better .

Friday, 19 November 2010

STOP: Man time.

You guys: happy International Men's Day! Oh, the things that pop up on my Google news alerts.

See, I was all set to go for the traditional "oh it must be so hard to be you, EVERY DAY IS INTERNATIONAL MEN'S DAY, fuckoffandgetoverit" smackdown, which to be honest would have been the logical reaction to the first article I read about it:
At a time when evolution of women is taking place, position of men in the society cannot be ignored. A man is the head of the family and on his shoulders depends the security and success of a family.
 My heart bleeds for you.
Men work in much more pressure than women and are also subject to much more long and difficult working hours.
Uh huh. There is this wacky new concept called the "Second Shift". Just throwing that out there.
With growing awareness of women issues, we also have to remember that not every man is bad and dangerous.
Goddamnit, I knew I'd forgotten something! Maybe I could tie a bit of string round my finger? Or we could come up with a handy mnemonic: Not Every Man Is Bad And Dangerous, or NEMISBAD, which helpfully sounds like it could be the name of a fjord or possibly a town in Narnia. Then again, I could just look to my left, and say, "Hi, beloved colleague! It's awesome how you are not Bad And Dangerous, allowing us to be friends." Best friend, boyfriend, favourite colleague: they serve as excellent reminders that judging people based on their gender identity is a fucking stupid idea.
Men contribution to the society cannot be ignored. Be the tedious job of a architect or a managerial post, men play the role optimally. 

 ...but then I did that 'research' thing (what? Wikipedia is research) and, hey, International Men's Day? Sounds quite cool. Focusing on men's and boys' health? Whoop! Improving gender relations and promoting gender equality? Love it! Highlighting positive male role models? Sign me up! I'm not entirely sold on the aim to "highlight discrimination against men and boys in areas of health, family law, education, media or other areas" - not that this discrimination doesn't exist, but it seems like every anti-chap stereotype operates on the back of a 'boo, women' sentiment; "men: they are incapable of changing a nappy or toting a mop!" leads naturally - and conveniently - to women doing the vast majority of the care-giving and housework. And countless other examples.

But the idea of focusing on masculinity, on what it means and how it works and how gender roles fuck all of us up, is solid. It's possible - indeed, essential - to think all this through, to dissect mannishness with as much thoroughness as we do ladyism, without descending into WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ whining. It's impossible to dismantle the House Of Patriarchy (for such is my evil-genius spinny-chair naked-cat plan) by only smashing the windows on one side. Unscrew the damn doors! Kick out the damn jambs! Get really pissed off about a culture which allows men to only feel good about themselves if they are bored architects!

So may I, without any sarcasm (pay attention - unsarcasm may never appear on these pages again), wish you a very happy International Men's Day.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Miracle cure: scheduled for a week on Friday

Questionable decisions I have made lately: scheduling laser eye surgery thirty six hours before I go to see the new Harry Potter on the biggest cinema screen IN EUROPE. It'll probably be fine, right? It probably won't feel like Voldemort is clog dancing on my retinas?

(You know, I'm honestly not sure whether this is, like, totally deep'n'meaningful or self-indulgent drivel. The uncertainty probably suggests it tends towards the latter, but hey, such is the joy of the blogging learning curve! Join me in my mistake-strewn path to enlightenment!)

This is really hard to write, because I'm so painfully aware that I'm treading on fucking dangerous ground. That dude who ambles into a feminist discussion on sexual harassment and says "I totally know how you feel, because a girl hit on me one time"? The straight people arsing around on the It Gets Better bandwagon? The rich kid who is "down with the working class because s/he waited tables in college"? They are dicks! I do not want to be them! So, to be clear, what I am very much not trying to say is "I have crap eyesight and as such am an authority on the experiences of ALL DISABLED PEOPLE EVER." If I am being that dick, I implore you to tell me, loudly, and I will shut up faster than a Wetherspoons at closing time.

What I am trying to do is build bridges across experiences. I can read all the blogs in the world and find people with every disability imaginable saying that, actually, they're not interested in being fixed, don't see their lives as inferior, and really wish the world didn't view the Miracle Cure as the only possible happy ending to their stories, and I can take those opinions on board and respect them - but I can't necessarily get it, on a gut level. It feels so far from my own experience that it's hard to find a way in. And, obviously, I'm full of ableist brainwashing which says that able bodies are just better: why wouldn't you want one?

But what I can do is try to trace links between what I'm feeling, and these feelings that seem so alien, and notice the common threads: finally get that click moment when you realise that you're not so different after all.

So: I've been short-sighted since I was eight. I don't really remember what it's like, being able to see unaided. And now, due to a near-miraculous set of circumstances, I am able to have laser eye surgery. Zing! Pow! Jesus says you can SEE!

I am ridiculously excited about this. I'll be able to lie down to watch TV! I'll have peripheral vision, so useful for subtly checking people out or judging their choice of tube reading material! I'll be able to go swimming on a whim without half an hour's prep time, and without The Fear that my contacts will flow right off of my face and I'll have to stumble home with no clue where my feet are! In my mother's delightful words, "when you're woken up in the middle of the night, you'll be able to see the burglar!" (There's a certain strain of cheerful stoic pessimism in working class northerners of a certain age, which can be summed up as "Well, the worst is clearly going to happen, so let's make the best of it. If we find ourselves in Hell, at least we'll be warm" that gives me true hope for humanity.)

I've never really thought about what it would be like to suddenly have perfect vision, because the possibility of somehow being able to afford it was just too ridiculously remote: it's like daydreaming about going to the moon. Sure, might happen one day, but it's so close to impossible that you can't really get attached to the idea. But now it's here, it's happening, and I've only just realised that part of me is kind of sad about it: I'm becoming aware of what I will lose in joining the Clear-Sighted Majority.

I love my glasses. I love being a person who wears glasses. Speccy Girl is bright, Speccy Girl is bookish; Speccy Girl always gets the cutest boy in school in all those late 90s transformation rom-coms. (There is a reason I still love She's All That.) You know how when you look at someone over the top of your glasses, and if done correctly it can be quite intimidating in a "bitch, please" sort of way, but what they don't know is that The Look reduces them to a meaningless blur in your eyes? Yeah, you probably don't, unless you're short-sighted too, and I will forget, the way you forget what being broke is like when you're luxuriating in a supra-minimum-wage pay cheque; the way you forget, when not in the grip of a depression, how it feels to be sure you're dying incrementally with every hideous second that passes. I will lose that strange sense of camaraderie that can sometimes spring up between fellow myopics: it would be pretty ridiculous to speak of a Short-Sighted Community, but it can be something to bond over in otherwise awkward social situations.

Short-sightedness is obviously not a disability. But there's no physical benefit in it (other than better luck with Magic Eye pictures, but as it's not the early 90s and we are not in Mallrats, I'm cool with surrendering that superpower). And I doubt that anyone with traditionally-shaped corneas would ever think that there was something to value in it - but this lingering sadness at the prospect of relinquishing an aspect of my identity still remains. And I, as a Physically Able Bodied Person, have no idea what it's like to be a wheelchair user, or Deaf, or have a long-term illness, and it might seem to me that there would be any reason not to be thrilled at the prospect of a miraculous cure.

I mean: basic decency dictates that if someone says "I do not want to be 'cured'", you respect that. But there's a difference between respecting an idea and understanding it. And I think, maybe, I've got a little closer to understanding. Fluffy bunny utopia where we all live together in peace and harmony on pianos will surely soon follow.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

"the ancient British roar of "Tory scum'"

Every fucking time.

Every fucking time an overwhelmingly peaceful demo takes place, the black bloc dickheads start smashing stuff (not in a fun HULK sort of way), a police officer breaks a nail and several protesters end up in hospital. And every fucking time, everyone cries a vast river over the poor coppers, tormented by those nasty violent class war types.

Some insightful comments from my delightful colleagues:
"Yeah, well, I'm not saying police brutality's okay, but at the end of the day, if someone's hitting you with a stick, I think you should be allowed to hit them back, push them over, whatever. Common sense, hurhur, let's be honest, it's political-correctness-not-kicking-people-to-death gone mad."
Oh, the classic "I'm not being a racist/sexist/bastard/fan of kicking the proles when they get out of line, but, I hate black people, women, everyone who isn't me, and especially the proles." And no, you don't have the right to lash out, even if "they started it": not if you're the representative of the state. At the very pissing least you have a responsibility to abide by the very laws you are supposed to be enforcing. And mad props on suggesting "pushing people to the ground" - we all know that always ends well!
"Idiots. I bet they don't even know what they're protesting about, they just like kicking off."
Well hey, that's a super-shrewd remark, Idiot Colleague: it's good to know your incredible unbiasedness allows you to look into every single marcher's mind, all the way from your nice warm Canary Wharf office. You haven't spoken to a single person there, you've never been on a protest in your life, but you just know. It's like magic! For people who aren't very bright!
"Hur, hur, doesn't look like any of them are too poor to go to university!"
Because it is only allowed to care about things that affect you personally: there is no such thing as empathy, or even joining the dots and observing that decreased social mobility might have a knock-on effect, forming the kind of society that you yourself don't want to live in. Nah. They just "like kicking off".

Luckily all the not-very-bright Tory twats sit on the opposite side of the desk, and my side is populated by the Sensible Left. We are sharing furtive grins, swapping placard slogans, and emerging to issue concerted SMASH when the Tory chorus just gets too much. Just in case, I'm holding back my ace: photographic evidence of the students who really ruined it for the rest of us...

Edit: My manpanion has made the best comment on proceedings. In response to someone's observation that the SWP was "up to its old tricks", he simply remarked that SWP has no tricks. Funny to approximately seven people.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

In which my childhood heroes get all up in my uterus's business

"Are men not allowed to offer opinions about abortion?"

Every day I find myself humming the same tune. It's a dirgeful whine of a song by Vin Garbutt, telling the story of an Irish woman who gets pregnant, travels to England for an abortion, and returns to find that her mother has taken in another woman who fell unexpectedly pregnant and they're living in happy pro-life bliss. If only she'd told her old mum! She wouldn't have had to "kill her baby!" They could have stood strong against the "pressure" from her "so-called friends" to "terminate her pregnancy"!

Go over to England, where it's no disgrace now to end a child's life...

Yeah, actually Mr Garbutt, we still frown on that.

The thing is, I listened to this guy's music all the time when I was younger; it was part of the soundtrack of growing up: songs about mining and potatoes and enchanted knights and unions and massacres, all on third- or fourth-generation tapes which had been stretched to hell. You never knew whether the fiddle solos had been warped over time or if they were just 'in the key of folk'. Me, my sister, my dad, we all knew all the words off by heart, even if their meanings had wandered in our minds from the original - one of my favourites had a refrain about Janet's "kirtle green", which she tied "a bit above her knee"; I was convinced she was lugging around a cattle grid. (Clank, clank, clank.)

The point being, this album means a lot to me. Not long ago I bought it in a fit of nostalgia, having not heard any of the songs since the ancient cassettes finally went to the big charity shop in the sky, and at the first wheezing pipe notes I was tearing up with the relief of meeting an old friend you thought you'd lost forever.

And so finding out that said old friend thinks that you promote murder feels a bit like he's kicked you in the face.

Thing is, I can't make an intellectual argument against men weighing in on abortion: if you genuinely believe that Life Begins At Conception and Abortion Is Murder, I can see that you could feel a moral obligation to express that, and to do whatever you can to Save The Poor Innocents. All I can say is that it feels really fucking invasive, and rude, and inappropriate. You don't approve of abortion? Cool! Enjoy not having one! Meanwhile, let me get on with making my own decisions regarding whether or not to grow an entire new person inside of me.

I can't say that you morally should not express an opinion on abortion. I certainly can't suggest that you should not be allowed to do so. I can only say that it would be greatly appreciated, that I would consider it polite, if you would refrain from pontificating on the philosophy and morality of a decision which you will never need to face. It's an abstract brain teaser for you. It's not for me.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Feminism says I need to go shopping (but not how you'd think)

Fun fact: there will be no Hollywood movies in 2010 with lady-leads. Which is nice! Half the human race is, apparently, not worth telling stories about! Which brings me to one of my favourite topics: the Bechdel Test. It is a delightful way of illustrating the woefully lacking portrayal of the ladies on the big screen. To pass, a film must:

1. Have at least two women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

and it is incredibly depressing to tot up just how few stories pass this not very taxing criteria. (Seriously, check it out.)

Now, I like the movies, but my first love? Books. I am a written word fiend to the extent that many of my favourite books have bite marks on them because I loved them so much and could find no other way to encompass the joy they inspired in me. (Anyone getting all Freudy and suggesting an unresolved oral retentive complex will be subjected to a detailed exposition on how I was breastfed - be warned.)

To demonstrate:

And I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I'm quite into feminism and that. Just in case you need a visual:

So one could reasonably assume that I'd have a whole lot of lady-centric books, nein? Sadly, nein. I do actually go out of my way to look for books by and/or about the ladies as well as everyone else in the world, and yet look how many have two named lady characters, who talk to each other, about something other than a dude:

And how many don't:

Yeah, I own a Dan Brown book, what is your point.

For comparison, may I present the massive wealth of books that fail the reverse of the test: books which do not feature at least two male characters, who talk to each other about something other than a lady:

To conclude: I need to go book shopping.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Be aware... be very aware

Happy Movember! There's nothing like the combination of excellent facial hair and raising money which goes directly to research and support. I don't know, though, doesn't it sound a bit tame...?

SAVE THE BUMHOLES! Come on lads, check your prostate - or I will! Nudge nudge, wink ha! If I had balls,  I'd appreciate them! Save whatever base someone putting their finger up your anus is! Let's all wear brown, like poo, ha ha! Sshhh, don't tell the girls, but let's all post where we like to keep our monkey wrenches on Facebook: "I like to keep mine up the bum!" Let's all post the colour of our colons! That'll raise awareness! Are you aware? I'm aware! But I'm not aware ENOUGH! I must be sexier! Awareness is sexy! Objectifying your prostate is sexy! (Get a load of that, ladies!) Sexy is the only way people will possibly care about life-threatening diseases! Let's make the prospect of you or your loved ones dying fun! Teehee! TEEHEE!

Oh sorry, I thought that's how we approached cancer these days.

Edit: Damnit, I'm late.