Thursday, 13 December 2012

The House I Live In: houses no women

I went to a film screening on Tuesday, in an old warehouse in Hackney, feeling unimaginably cool. They served organic popcorn. Arguably, one could even say, more underground than Girls Aloud.

The film was The House I Live In, by Eugene Jarecki. From the website's blurb:
THE HOUSE I LIVE IN captures heart-wrenching stories at all levels of America’s drug war - from the dealer to the grieving mother, the narcotics officer to the senator, the inmate to the federal judge. Together, these stories pose urgent questions: What caused the war? What perpetuates it? And what can be done to stop it?
It is astonishingly good, with a compelling cast of characters; with heartbreaking stories and academic discussion and cutting statistics expertly wielded to argue its point with devastating skill. Imagine The Wire, in documentary form - and fittingly, David Simon is one of its most impressive talking heads.

But I walked out thinking - and I'll be honest, this is possibly my most used phrase - what about the women? How can a film be so intelligent and incisive about the subtle interplay between class and race in the US blithely skim over the third player in the unholy trinity, the Axis of Evil Oppressions that cut through the lives of virtually every person on the planet?

It's not that women are absent from the film - a fair selection are present as academics, commentators, and interviewees sharing their stories. But just filling a quota doesn't mean that you're engaging with the issues that affect women.

There's a moment where two jaded cops are chatting about how to solve The Drug Problem, and one of them goes off on a rant about how addicts should be "spayed". It's a scene which is played for laughs (laughing at them, not with them), but, as I couldn't stop myself from muttering, "That would be hilarious if they didn't actually do that".

There are a number of cases where women convicted of drug charges have been offered reduced sentences if they agree to use contraceptive implants during a probationary period. Chew on that for a second: quite apart from being a violation of their right to a family life, a violation of their right to control their own fertility, and a fairly obvious eugenicsy attempt to stop the 'wrong' people from breeding - it's also imposing an invasive medical treatment on someone against their will. It's not like saying "you must promise to use condoms for three years" - it's saying "you must accept this implant, and the side effects that go with it, for three years - or you will go to jail". (Common side effects include disruption of the menstrual cycle - I know a girl who had one long period for four months straight after getting this implant - along with nausea, weight gain, headaches, mood swings, anxiety, acne, and depression.)

That's just one little way that gender comes into play in the War On Drugs, just one nugget of information I've gleaned from years spent idling my time away on the feminist blogosphere. I'm guessing that there are about a million other ways that it intersects - but this film wasn't interested in exploring them.

Responding to a less coherent version of the above rant on the bus home, the Flat-Boyfriend argued that gender "wasn't the story they were telling" (while conceding that "it never is"). But it is. It's part of your story, whether you tell it or not, because there is no part of our society that isn't touched by the patriarchy in some way. It's just that too many people don't bother to tell it.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

People are the same as each other! Also, people are different to each other! Theory is hard.

When saddling up my social justice steed (his name is Binky), I find it helpful to keep two things in mind:

1. People are pretty much the same
People are just people, you know? They sleep and eat and worry and poop and gawp at the stars and try to do good things, not do bad things, and not put socks in toasters. They fret about their loved ones and fight with their partners and try to make their lives better, whether they are Bedouin ladies living in the Jordanian desert*, or my mother.

It's easy to demonise people when you can put them in a little box marked Other, and see them as entirely defined by the thing that makes them different to you - as if all of the man-gays spend literally 100% of their time having massively gay sex up the chuffer, and all Muslims are just 'all pray all the time'.

Basically, if someone seems to be THE EMBODIMENT OF ALL EVIL, or REPRESENTING THE DOWNFALL OF CIVILISATION, think about them making a sandwich.

"His name is Jeff. He and his partner Simon just had a terse exchange of emails about whose turn it is to buy loo roll."
"Erm, EEEVIL... no, I've lost it."


2. People are not all the same
And yet! The fact that something is true for you does not mean it is true for everyone else on the planet. For instance, the original version of that sentence above was 'They sleep and eat and worry and lust...' before I remembered, hey, asexual people exist! Something which I see as absolutely fundamental to The Human Condition is in fact completely irrelevant to a significant chunk of humanity. A gentleman may be overjoyed at being approached by an alluring stranger in a lift - but with the situation reversed, a woman is more likely to be edging towards discomfort, if not terror, at being hit on by a guy in an enclosed space with no escape route. Just because I imagine I would find wearing a niqab uncomfortable and demeaning, doesn't mean that's how Muslim ladies who choose to wear it feel.

You can fill in your own examples, I'm sure. People are pretty much the same, despite superficial differences! Also, people are different from each other, and you don't know how they feel about stuff until you ask them! Both true. Both important.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Well, little Jimmy, LIFE isn't fair

Me, 1992: "But, mummy, why don't we just get all the money in the world, and take it down to the South Pole, and count how many people there are in the world and how much money there is in the world and divide it equally between them? Wouldn't that be fair?"

This kid is my imaginary spiritual mentor. "Yeah but WHY?"
 To give my wonderful mother the credit she deserves, in response to this question from her six year old daughter - probably while she was trying to mark some homework, or mow the lawn, or get back to sleep after I'd woken her up at two in the morning - she not only debated the merits of my argument, gave me a brief precis of socialism and communism, and told me stories about getting interrogated at the Czechoslovakian border in the 1970s, but she did not once fall back on that old parental staple: "Well, darling, life isn't fair."

Calling something "childish" is the ultimate conversation-stopper: if your line of argument is deemed childish, it's game over, and you've lost. But, actually, a whole lot of this social justice thing is based on that much-derided, undeniably childish complaint: "It's not fair".

Because it's not fair that women earn less than men across the board, for example. It's also not fair that only the uterus-enabled can make babies, but there's not much we can do about that - but the pay gap? Is eminently fixable.

It's not fair that some people are discriminated against and derided and raped and murdered because they're trans. We can't go back in time and magic them into a body which fits their gender identity, but we can stop fucking them over now.

It's not fair that some people are born with a rare genetic disease and some aren't, but fixing that isn't within our purview: making sure that our buildings and toilets are accessible to them is, because holding our meetings up "just one step" isn't fucking fair.

I could go on, but you get the point, right? No, little Jimmy, life isn't fair, but there's a difference between Unfair Stuff we can't change, and Unfair Stuff we can. Saying "well, suck it up: LIFE isn't fair" is a cop-out. It isn't fair. But we can make it fairer.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

the old jaw jaw: now endorsed by Richard Branson *

You know that feeling of complete bewildered disconnect, when something so unutterably bizarre happens, when you're sure you've picked up the wrong life at baggage reclaim?

Yeah, well: Richard Branson is wearing a jumper that I knitted. If you were wondering, it's meant to be a lemur; I've been staring at the damn thing for so long that I'm reasonably sure it looks more like a turkey wrapped in tin foil with the gigantic head of a particularly evil cat, but hey.

It's, uh, a long story. Happy Christmas to you all.

* This blog is not endorsed by Richard Branson. Opinions and sweary words all my own.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

That shit cray

Reading s.e.smith's essay on reclamatory use of slurs got me thinking of people's reactions when I describe myself as 'crazy'.


[krey-zee]  cra·zi·er, cra·zi·est, noun, plural cra·zies.
mentally deranged; demented; insane.
senseless; impractical; totally unsound: a crazy scheme.
Informal. intensely enthusiastic; passionately excited: crazy about baseball.
Informal. very enamored or infatuated (usually followed by about  ): He was crazy about her.
Informal. intensely anxious or eager; impatient: I'm crazy to try those new skis.
I use it for a lot of reasons. Because, as well as its negative connotations (DERANGED! DEMENTED! INSANE! Fact of the day: there is a psychologist named William C. Dement.) it is also, in some sense, a positive word: "I'm just crazy about these new shoes!" Number 3 on that list is also fairly accurate when describing me: intensely enthusiastic; passionately excited: "YOU GUYS I AM MAKING REALLY FIT ENCHILADAS TONIGHT AND AM SO EXCITED ABOUT IT THAT I CANNOT SIT STILL." In many ways, I resemble your average toddler: incredibly overexcited, jumping up and down and squealing with joy about something for about half an hour, before getting overtired and needing nap time. Which is why I find it easier to relate to two year olds than to my peers.
But it's also because Definition Number One also applies: by any objective standard I am indeed mentally deranged, demented, and insane. My logic does not resemble your earth logic. My brain works in a different way to yours. I might look like I'm sitting still and knitting quietly, but I am actually having a loud shouty argument with myself in my head. I spend more time analysing my emotions than actually having them - until the dam breaks and I'm swept away on a tidal wave of deathmisery. I am a crazy person. And I'm okay with that.

But a fair few people are not so okay with that. Many of them are my nearest and dearest: "I am a crazy person," I say, and they instantly respond: "No you're not!"

I am, actually, and I am allowed to call myself that.

It seems to be a perfect replica of that thing where people describe themselves as fat, to be greeted with an instant chorus of "No, you're not! You're beautiful!" Well-meaning, maybe, but cack-handed and hurtful: it denies a person's right to accurately describe themselves, it denies the actual reality of the situation, and it reinforces the idea that fat - or crazy - equals bad.

They react as if I'm insulting myself. I'm not. I'm calling it what it is.

I don't look crazy. I'm not foaming at the mouth or talking to people who aren't there or fashioning a chic little hat made of tin foil. Unless I'm telling you in exhaustive detail what's going on in my head, how I think of myself and other people, and how there is a little gremlin in my brain (his name is Derek) who won't stop shouting about what a socially inept, clumsy, self-centred shit I am, then no, I probably don't seem crazy. But I am. And I will call it what it is.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Moustachioed lady sex bombs: am I encouraging objectification?

We all love Facebook, right? The immeasurable fun of "friending" people you went to school with and judging them for their life choices (HAHA YOU WERE MEAN TO ME IN MATHS IN YEAR NINE AND YOU STILL LIVE IN SOUTHAMPTON AND HAVE AWFUL HAIR). Posting the sort of things you'd say around your actual friends before realising that people you went to school with, former colleagues, and friends of your parents may not necessarily expect your status updates to consist solely of rants about abortion laws liberally sprinkled with The Dreaded C Word. And always, always, that moment when you read someone's status and think "oh shut the fuck up".

Of course there is a Facebook page entitled "Reading someone's status and thinking 'oh shut the fuck up'".

I only found this out when someone shared a recent photo from said page:

My response was, fittingly enough, "oh shut the fuck up".

This piece by Jem Bloomfield at Quite Irregular sums up the damaging message behind these kind of statements - specifically during Movember:
This campaign, intended as a project by men for men, has immediately been turned into a pretext for demanding that women submit themselves and their bodies to male approval.
 LOLZ! The very IDEA of women having facial hair is TOTALLY HILARIOUS! Because there isn't a multi-million pound industry devoted to women removing socially-prohibited hair from all over their bodies! Because the only hair we produce naturally is a L'Oreal swishy wig! Real girls don't have to shave (and wax, and tweeze, and thread; and exfoliate, and moisturise, and pop ingrown hairs, and go to the doctor to get antibiotics when those ingrown hairs get massively infected) - only the GROSS ones do that! Like only the GROSS ones fart and eat and have opinions! Only the GROSS ones are like DUDES! Only the GROSS ones are actually fucking people.


I'm just going to say: I would look fit as fuck with a moustache.

 Actually: google image searching for the above picture has reminded me that moustaches on women can be exceptionally hot. Like those tumblrs where ladies share pictures of their hairy underarms - it's something you expect to be unappealing because you've been brainwashed by Patriarchy Inc., but when faced with a variety of fit, unapologetic women proudly showing off their bodies, "euww" was really not my first response. My first response? Was a bit NSFW. Maybe it's the incredibly sexy confidence, maybe it's some association between hair and virility (caaaaaavemaaaaaaan), maybe it's just aesthetically pleasing if you forget you're supposed to find it icky.

Do me a favour? Spend half an hour alone on google with safe search off. You might find something you like.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Your feminism will be properly attributed or it will be bullshit

Flavia Dzodan is a better writer than you are.

Flavia Dzodan is a better writer than I am. Flavia Dzodan is a better writer than your mum. Flavia Dzodan is a better writer than 99% of the people on the internet and you should read every damn thing she writes. And when you read it, and want to quote every single line of it to every person you meet, remember that quoting is what you are doing: and that, when quoting, you will have the basic fucking courtesy to acknowledge your debt to her.

"MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT" is not a catchphrase: it is the title of a seminal essay written by Flavia Dzodan which you need to read if you haven't already, which I need to read at least once a month to keep myself honest, to keep reminding myself why white-lady navel-gazing by someone merrily clutching her UK passport is not the be-all and end-all of feminism.

And when you read it - when you get that phrase tattoed across your forehead, scrawl it in permanent marker across your computer monitor and embroider it in cutesy cross-stitch on bookmarks to give to everyone you know for Christmas - don't be a dick. Don't get so carried away with the succinct perfection of the phrase that you miss the point of it.

Stealing the words of a woman of colour, plagiarising them out of context and without attribution, is pretty much the polar opposite of intersectionality. It is, as the lady says, bullshit.


Regarding the article itself - I really don't want to spend the rest of my life arguing about whether or not Caitlin Moran is Everything That Modern Feminism Will Ever Need. She didn't set herself up as such and people are only doing so to create a pointless media "debate" driven by the desperate need for pageviews.

I've already discussed my problems with How To Be A Woman here; more recent failings include the '"Nope. I literally couldn't give a shit about" racism' fuck-up. The point isn't "does Caitlin Moran's book encapsulate the experience of every woman who has ever lived", it is more that there are a whole load of other women talking about a whole load of other issues which cannot but inform their feminisms - and they don't get heard. They don't all have 327,714 Twitter followers and several columns in a national newspaper and a major book deal. The point is that we need to seek them out, we need to read their work and promote it and publish it and quote it and fucking well attribute it to them when we do.

Tl;dr: go and read everything Flavia Dzodan has ever written.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The difference between Small Charities and actually small charities

Working in the finance department at a Small Charity (industry standard definition: annual income of less than £1 million) really fucks up your sense of proportion.

"Hooray!" you say, sarcasm gland in overdrive, "How AWESOME, a fundraising event. Sure, you've raised loads of money, but you've also given me a sheaf of sponsorship forms, and working out who gave what and what proportion is eligible for gift aid and how many people ticked the gift aid box AND gave their home address, AND figuring out why the total on the form doesn't match the total on the cheque will take me, like, HALF AN HOUR to sort through, which is going to SERIOUSLY cut into my cheese-eating schedule. EURGH."

In contrast, letters from funeral directors get a reaction more like, "Whoop! Someone's died! Lots of lovely money which is so quick and easy to process! HIE ME TO THE BANK!"

Like I said: fucked up.

Basically if every single one of our donors, fundraisers and big important grant-bestowing benefactors could club together and give us a nice fat cheque for £1 million every year, it would make my life so much easier.


At ASN, however, we would take donations of 20p, wrapped up in old cigarette papers smelling of wee.

Because that 20p might mean that we don't have to say, to the women calling us begging for money to fund a potentially life-saving abortion, "Have you checked down the back of your sofa for spare change?"

In the day job, it's not all that unusual to get single donations which are bigger than ASN's usual monthly income. I have begrudgingly processed cheques which are bigger than the total amount of money that ASN has ever received.

What I'm saying is, give your money however you want. But if, all else being equal, the choice is between a Small Charity and an actually small charity - that fiver will be a welcome drop in the ocean for the former. It will be an occasion for giddy undying gratitude at the latter.

Okay, yeah, what I'm really saying is what I'm always saying - GIVE US YOUR MONEY. Preferably not wrapped in soiled rizlas, but we ain't fussy.

Savita's death reveals a cultural problem, not a legal one

A woman died because she was refused an abortion.

I mean, you know this. You've read about the horrific case of Savita Halappanavar. You know that
She spent three days in agonising pain, eventually shaking, vomiting and passing out. She again asked for an abortion and was refused, because the foetus still had a heartbeat.
Then she died.
She died of septicaemia and E Coli. She died after three and a half days of excruciating pain. She died after repeatedly begging for an end to the pregnancy that was poisoning her. Her death would have been avoided if she had been given an abortion when she asked for it – when it was clear she was miscarrying, and that non-intervention would put her at risk. But the foetus, which had no chance of survival, still had a heartbeat. Its right to life quite literally trumped hers. (Jill Filipovic in the Guardian)
 It's a pretty strong message to send to women in Ireland, no? "We would rather you die, and that your foetus dies, than you survive while your foetus dies". This one doomed heartbeat is worth more than everything you are, and everything you will now never have a chance to be.

But as stark as this message seems - as blatant an example of the only logical end-point of institutionalised misogyny as Savita's pointless, painful, preventable death is - that's not why she died.

Her death was due to incompetence. Not medical, but legal incompetence: the downright refusal of Irish legislators to actually define what constitutes a threat to the life of the mother.

Because make no mistake: the abortion that Savita was denied? Would have been entirely legal under existing Irish law.

While I'm fucking thrilled that people worldwide (including thousands in Ireland) are calling for progressive change to Ireland's preposterously outdated and misogynistic abortion laws - and I know that only a case like this could have sparked such outcry - the bizarre thing is that no legal change would actually have been necessary to save Savita's life.

Abortion is perfectly legal in Ireland, as long as it's necessary to save the life of the mother.

The abortion Savita was denied would have saved her life. But no one would provide that vital medical care.

The problem is that, because this clause is so fuzzily defined - no one knows what actually constitutes a threat big enough to 'justify' violating the constitutionally-enshrined Right To Life Of The Unborn - no doctor is willing to risk their career and quite possibly their liberty by making that call.

We've covered this, you know? Two years ago, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland had violated the rights of a woman, "C", who was forced to travel to England to access abortion. This abortion enabled her to receive the life-saving chemotherapy she needed, but which would have damaged her foetus. ("Pro-life.") The Court requires the Irish legislature to put procedures in place for exactly these situations: to enable women and their doctors to establish whether or not their medical situation allows for abortion under existing Irish law.

But they've been dragging their feet for two years. And so Savita died.

The wider picture shows that, of course, legislative change is absolutely essential. For the fifty thousandth time, banning abortion doesn't make women stop having abortions: it just makes them have more dangerous abortions, and, particularly in the case of Ireland, more expensive abortions. The Irish law doesn't stop 4,000 women a year from terminating their pregnancies: it just means they have to pay between £400 and £2,000 to do so. Insisting that abortion is a Moral Issue ironically just turns it into a class issue, where "women with money have options, and women without money have babies".

So yeah, march for change, sign the petition, donate to Abortion Support Network. But what scares me is that it's the culture that needs to change. Abortion needs to stop being Ireland's dirty secret, Ireland's biggest taboo. It needs to be removed from its pedestal as The Worst Thing In The World so that, when faced with a woman dying in unspeakable agony, doctors' eyes are clear enough to see that - that there are worse things.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

History corner: Denmark and the Holocaust, and the power of refusal

Do forgive me for the radio silence: I have been adding Exciting New Ailments to my laundry list. In my eternal quest to get a cool white badger stripe in my hair, I headbutted the bathroom wall. The badger stripe has yet to appear but I have been walking around in a fog for the last couple of weeks. I thought it couldn't be a concussion because I still knew how many fingers everyone was holding up and that the Prime Minister was a cunt (although, as a dear friend noted, "without the depth or warmth"), but my local A&E said otherwise.So complex thought has not been among my strengths.

But anyway. Back to the Nazis.

You know that line, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing"? It's all too true - acquiescence is always easier than fighting against the tide, and it's an awful lot easier not to be the person who says "hey, let's not kill all the Jews".

But I recently came across the story of Denmark's total refusal to participate in the Holocaust, and in this case, the only thing necessary for evil to be defeated was for an entire country to determine to do nothing. 

Without the collaboration of the governments of occupied countries, the number of people killed during the Holocaust would have been exponentially smaller. The German forces didn't have the manpower or infrastructure to round up six million people, so they relied on Vichy to supply them with France's Jews, Mr Quisling to provide Norway's, Mussolini to round up Italy's, and so on. 

In all these countries, as in Germany, the process began relatively gently: you don't induce people to do evil by starting your pitch with "we want to kill every Jewish person in your country: sound good to you?". Rather, you start with the little things (mandatory yellow stars), so that the next step (ghettos or camps within national borders) doesn't seem that extreme. From there, does it matter if they're interned in this country or somewhere in the East? And by that point, you're so involved, so inured to the idea that Jewish people are Other, to be labelled, corralled and removed - a problem to be solved - that if you finally twig that very little work is being done at the alleged work camps, it doesn't really seem such a big deal.

Going back to Zimbardo: he notes that the easiest way to avoid being sucked into a morass of evil deeds is simply to refuse to take the first step. Once you've accepted the premise which starts you doing little bad things, you're committed, and it's much more difficult to refuse to take the second step, and the third.

So when the Nazis asked the Danish government to take that first step - requiring all Jewish citizens to wear a yellow star - they did just that. They refused to take a single step down the road to Auschwitz. (Remember, at this point it wasn't common knowledge what lay at the end of the road, but it wouldn't have taken a genius to figure out that it wasn't anything super.)

The Danish government's response to the yellow star proposal was, "Fine. Our King will be the first to wear it."

The story gets even more awe-inspiring - through a wonderful combination of stalling, argument, deception and trickery, Little Denmark managed to keep its Jewish population from being deported. When the Nazis lost patience and sent in their own policemen to seize the estimated 7,800 Jews resident in Denmark, word slipped from officials to shipping lines and finally to the government itself - which hurried straight to the leaders of the Jewish community. The news was spread so quickly that only 477 people were found that night.

It was then decided that Jewish Danes would be safer in Sweden. So those who didn't go into hiding (with many thousands of supportive Danish families) were shuttled across the water by the fishing fleet - with the cost of their transportation being met by wealthy Danish citizens.

Spectacularly heroic as all this is, it's the first step that fascinates me: that first refusal to go along with the demands of an occupying power, demands backed up by the most ferocious war machine Europe had ever seen. How easy it would have been to acquiesce. How difficult to say no.

I'm not sure if it's a real quote, or just a great line from a movie, but Neil Jordan's Michael Collins says that, in fighting imperialism, "our only weapon is our refusal". Everything follows from there.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

In which I tell stupid people what for, and blog their faces off

So following on from Children of the Sun by Max Schaefer (gay National Front skinheads), Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt (Nazi war crimes trial) and If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi (Jewish partisans in Russia, Poland and Germany during WW2), I was ready for some light reading.

Being me, I went for The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo. It's a wide-ranging discussion of the situational and systemic pressures which enable or compel people to do horrific things, things they would never consider doing normally - covering a range of social-psychological studies and real-world examples, from the Stanford Prison Experiment to Abu Ghraib.

Its thesis is, roughly, that to understand why people do such inhumane things, it's no good to look solely at the perpetrators themselves, to search for a clue to the atrocities in their individual psychological make-up: horrors such as the Holocaust and Abu Ghraib can only be understood if you consider the pressures of the situation within which they are acting, and the overarching system which allows the situation to occur. His favourite metaphor is that, rather than blaming A Few Bad Apples, you need to look at the Apple Barrel - and at the people who designed the Barrel in the first place.

So A Lady Who Will Remain Nameless took one look at the book's cover, and said, "What a horrible book! Why would you want to read that? I'd rather read a book about how evil people turn good!"

Yep. Let's only read lovely books about lovely people doing lovely things and rest safe in our lovely cocoon of loveliness where nothing unlovely ever happens. We'll learn fuck all about human nature, we'll have no clue how to help when unlovely things happen, but at least we can maintain our lovely illusion that the world is an entirely lovely place full of lovely rainbows and lovely lovely unicorns who wouldn't dream of committing mass murder!


"I think genocide is so wrong!"

In related news, another Lady Of No Name has the only good Jimmy Saville story: as a child, she wrote to Jim'll Fix It, begging for him to grant her dearest wish, the only thing she wanted in the whole world, which was... to meet Gary Glitter.

Anonymous Lady Number 3: "Well, it just goes to show that there's a silver lining to everything; everything happens for a reason: she must have been so disappointed that he didn't write back, but 20 years later, she's so glad he didn't."

Yep. Everything happens for a reason. We are safe because we follow the rules, because Someone Up There is looking out for us.

Gee, I wonder what the silver lining was for those who actually were abused by Jimmy Saville?


Sunday, 28 October 2012

Standard deviation

There's this adorable kid I know, three years old, with the world's sweetest accent. His mum's Welsh, his dad's Italian, so he speaks with a lovely lilting mishmash of the two, with a hint of old Southampton drawl round the edges. Basically, once you've seen a chubby toddler clambering determinedly up the stairs shouting "Il gatto! IL GATTO!" in a Valleys accent, it will take a lot more than a cute sneezing panda video to tug your heartstrings.

But I realised that a lot of the reason I found this affecting - the reason it qualifies as an anecdote at all - is basically because I see myself (as we all do) as the measure of all things. A Welsh/English kid with an accent hovering somewhere over the Powys border: not much of a story. Because English = neutral, an English accent = a non-accent, a lack of accent.

No one thinks they have an accent. Because we all, subconsciously, assume that we are the Default Human Being, with all others a deviation from that rule. But some of us - like, say, white middle class girls from Hampshire (hi!), or London, or the Home Counties - have that belief backed up, reinforced daily, by a world which places Cockney or Geordie or Scouse or patois as Other; a world which still gets shocked - shocked, I tell you! - when Radio 4 daringly hires an announcer who doesn't speak in Received Pronunciation.

But some of us - those who learn to talk one way at home, but to polish their speech for job interviews; who get used to blank incomprehension when they relax for a moment into their mother tongue - are reminded every day that, however they might see themselves, their very voices are defined as a deviation.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The worst book I have ever read: a conundrum

Pottering around my favourite charity shop one day, in the classic 'curious owl' head-tilting pose of book-browsers everywhere, I came across The Worst Book In The World.

Now, I have read many books in my time. I have battled through dreary Classics and pretentious nouveau wanque. I have read the entire Fifty Shades trilogy. I have read the first three pages of Djuna Barnes' Nightwood at least six times. I know from whence I speak where bad books are concerned.

But this book. Oh my. I can't remember the title, or the author - I wish I could so I'd know to avoid it like an embarrassed one-night-stand in future. But even if I could, I wouldn't share it with you, because I don't want this idiot's tiny fame growing any greater, his google rankings going any higher, or to increase the chances that someone, somewhere, might have to suffer as I suffered.

The blurb promised a Hard-Hitting and Incisive Interrogation of the social, political and sexual life of a football hooligan. I like hard-hitting! I like incisive interrogation! Nosing into the fictional lives of the kinds of people I have never met and may never know is my idea of a fun Saturday night!

But no: it was, still, The Worst Book In The World. Quite apart from the astonishingly clunky writing, the utterly, amateurishly, flat characterisation and the hilariously awful sex scenes, it was the most blatantly sexist, racist, homophobic piece of shit that has ever slid past my eyeballs. Fiction can portray bigotry without perpetuating it - The Sopranos springs to mind - but honestly, this barely even qualified as fiction, and most certainly didn't have even the slightest shred of the deftness, self-awareness or intelligence to be able to tread that fine line. Seriously. It was awful.

Two chapters in, I admitted defeat. I hate not finishing a book, but I didn't want even another sentence of this tripe in my head. But this left me in quite the quandry: what do you do with a book that bad?

Obviously I couldn't give it to someone else: that is a torture I wouldn't inflict on anyone.

I couldn't give it to a charity shop: while raising more money for a good cause may in some way offset the evil I was very sure this book was perpetuating, I didn't think the former would outweigh the latter.

I'll be honest, I was tempted to destroy it in some way, but couldn't set fire to it: for the rest of my life, I'd know that I was the kind of person who had one day burnt a book.

So I searched my middle class soul and came up with the only possible solution: I put it in the recycling.


I'm not sure what effect it will have on this story if I tell you that I am now - enthusiastically and voluntarily - reading the Twilight saga. Yeah, I know.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Depression and Do-Gooding: Activism as therapy

I don't volunteer because I'm a good person. I don't do it out of sheer altruism or so I can feel smug about all the awesome things I do to make the world a more awesome place.

I volunteer because it's the bare minimum I can do and not hate myself.

This is a judgement I would never make of anyone else: any money you give to charity, any volunteering you do, any activism to make stuff better for the next generation - that's amazing. Anything is better than nothing. And if you do nothing - that's your choice. I haven't a clue what else you've got on or what your reasons are for your level of involvement and it's absolutely none of my business.

It's a depression thing, I think: applying incredibly harsh judgements to your own behaviour that you'd never dream of applying to anyone else. So if I did any less - gave less money, spent less time volunteering, made any less effort to spread awareness and change minds - I'd hate myself. I'd berate myself for being lazy and tight-fisted and caring too much about myself and not enough about everybody else in the world. (Which is a great way to head straight for burnout, by the way - I don't recommend it.)

This is in no small part a very gendered neurosis: I am only worthy if I am helping others.

And since I've been doing all this, I don't really think that much about how rubbish I am. I mean, I still get the acute pangs of embarrassment over something idiotic I said in 2002 and give an involuntary embarrassed groan while I'm paying for my vegetables - it's not like there aren't still days when it feels like 30,000 people are chanting YOU'RE SHIT AND YOU KNOW YOU ARE in perfect harmony inside my skull. But it's been a long time since I've been crippled by the certain knowledge that I am a terrible person with no morals who has no right to speak or opine or even exist.

Which is partly because I'm just better: my depression is nowhere near as severe as it was.

But I'm certain that I'm better in no small part because I'm active. Donating and volunteering and activising are proofs I can throw in the face of my depression: solid evidence that I'm not absolutely the worst person who has ever lived. Activism as therapy.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Patriarchy: also to blame for Mondays

It was one of those days. One of those days when you walk into work and immediately have two people thrusting phones at you, both insisting that "you HAVE to take this call, RIGHT NOW". When your to-do list grows longer than your arm before you've even had a chance to put the kettle on. When you're on the phone taking a booking for the upcoming disability conference while tweeting about the highs and very low lows of abortion funding while surreptitiously slipping tiny slivers of breakfast into your mouth and hoping the person you're calling won't notice... when the other phone rings. The BatPhone.

And it's a woman who needs your help because she can't afford to pay for the abortion she should, by any moral or logical standard, be entitled to gratis on the NHS. You're lucky, this time - and so is she - it's the start of the month so the bank account's looking relatively healthy. You take her details and arrange to call her back when you get home.

The rest of the day carries on in the same vein - work work work, work while eating, work while tweeting, work while checking the abortion fund email account - and you think, brilliant, I have achieved many things today. Not too much to get done tonight - depilate your entire body (prior to the boyfriend's return), clean the flat (ditto), call a couple of women back about funding their trips to England to access safe and legal abortion, maybe have a nice hot bath.

"Ha ha," says the universe. "Haha. It's a nice quiet evening you want, is it? That sounds like a challenge..."

Just as you get in, your Straight Best Friend calls inviting you out for dinner. Hurrah, you say! What a lovely way to relax. ("Relax," says the universe. "Haha.") In the 45 minutes between him calling and him turning up at your door, you've heard from four more women, two of whom have been through the most horrifying experiences you've ever had related to you. (Obviously I'm not going to violate their privacy by relating their stories here, but let's just say it would take an exceptionally cruel and heartless anti-choicer not to shed a tear for these women.) So when SBF arrives, all "hey hey it's best-pizza-in-north-London time!", you let out a strange high-pitched groan and collapse, hyperventilating slightly, in his arms.

It gets better. You call a couple of women back, and catch up on the admin - logging their details, liaising with clinics - while he cooks you dinner. You decompress, ranting, sobbing, letting out an odd banshee wail or two, and you're feeling much better by the time he leaves. You've now got an hour to wax, shave and pluck virtually all hair south of your eyelashes from your long-suffering skin (let's be honest, the bath looks like a wombat's murder scene), disguise the worst of the mess that comes from living alone for 10 days, make tomorrow's sandwiches and get to bed.

Good luck sleeping, though! The universe has other plans!


Basically the next time someone raises a sceptical eyebrow at me and says, "But has 'the patriarchy' really affected your life at all?", I am going to tell them about this day. But first I will probably scream.

NB Having to clean the flat is not actually the result of the patriarchy. It's a result of me being an untrammelled slob.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Jaw, meet floor: someone has admitted to being wrong on the internet

So I assume you've heard the story of the Reddit user who surreptitiously took a photo of a Sikh woman with facial hair, posted it on the internet for lolz, received the most unimaginably polite and dignified response from her, and then - contravening all known laws of internet physics - apologised?

The other night the ASN Facebook page got thoroughly trolled. The usual stuff - "you're going to burn in hell", "you are all murderers", "baby killer", whatever. It was very religious, very vitriolic, and very graphic: descriptions of "how you'll feel when you watch your baby get sucked out of you on the monitor", that kinda thing. (The poster has since deleted it, so I'm paraphrasing from memory.)

(It's odd how trolls always seem to think we're actually Abortionists: doctors, or clinic workers. Surely, given that we provide money for women seeking abortions, according to their logic, the doctors would be hit men and we'd be... a benevolent fund for people of limited means wanting to bump off their pre-born relatives? Anyway. I digress.)

So some people argued with her, some defended her; I stayed out of the fray - partly because ASN has a strict "Don't feed the trolls" policy and partly because I don't have the fucking energy to argue with people who think I'm a murderer. I mean: if that's where the discussion is starting, I can't imagine it's going to end up anywhere profitable. You're going to call me a murderer, I'm going to claim that you support a viciously inhumane policy of forcing people to give birth, everyone goes home grumpy.

So imagine my surprise when the original poster left us the following message:

This annoying, mouthy, American woman would like to apologize to all of you. Not because I feel as though y'all put me in my place but because I was out of control and saying very hateful things I had absolutely no business saying anything about. I do not believe in abortion but who am I to throw stones? My actions weighed on me and I deeply do apologize for them. I do not know y'all and I don't know y'all's situations either. So once again, I am very sorry for all that crazy shit I was spewing yesterday.
Jaw. Floor. Interface scenario.

She went on to give examples of situations where she'd see abortion as acceptable (excepting women "who use abortion as contraception" - who are these women? Has anyone ever met one? "Yeah, I could ask him to put a condom on, but it seems a lot less hassle to live in fear for a month, travel miles to a clinic, swallow several pills and have an induced miscarriage in a room full of strangers. Woohoo, let's have unprotected sex!"), which doesn't exactly meet my Official Pro-Choice Acceptable Policy Checklist, but - fuck it! Someone apologised! On the internet! About abortion, of all things!

It is, and has always been, an incontrovertible truth that there is no topic on which people are less likely to change their minds than that of abortion. (Not counting anti-choice folks who find themselves facing an unwanted pregnancy, but that's another story.) Just as set in stone is the fact that no one will concede defeat in an online argument. But this woman went from being so rabidly anti-choice that she took it upon herself to abuse some tiny little charity in another country for being big bad baby-killin' murderers - to conceding that (a) her words were hurtful and unnecessary, and (b) that there are some situations where abortion is okay.

I still can't quite believe it happened. So a massive great bravo to this woman who was brave enough to admit that she was wrong on the internet.

You guys, I think the internet might be evolving.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Elsewhere on the internet

Oh look, here I am on 40 Days of Choice, talking about how my third morning after pill experience got me involved with Abortion Support Network:
But it wasn’t until my first pregnancy scare that I got it – really got it – on an instinctive, visceral, inarguable level. I remember lying in a grotty flat somewhere in South London while millions of industrious spermatozoa made their intrepid way towards my cervix, with the opening credits of Look Who’s Talking playing on a loop behind my eyelids. And I was terrified.
Read on!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Beat Fatigue With Yoga (and graphs)

 Book review! Of sorts. I recently read Beat Fatigue With Yoga by Fiona Agombar. The author actually has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so she knows from whence she speaks - no "this is a magic fix!" or "no pain, no gain!" bollocks here. I can categorically say that every single person with CFS has heard said bollocks hundreds of times in a myriad of different guises and can happily go the rest of their lives without hearing it again.

Aside from the poses and breathing exercises, it has good, solid advice: don't go from zero to three hours of yoga a day. Start with one pose a day - or every other day, or a week - and build up. Always do less than you think you can do: if you think you can manage half an hour, do fifteen minutes. Eat properly.

Ah, but that last is where what I call The Hippie Shit begins. I know, I know, buy a book on yoga and then get irritated when people start talking about chakras - it's like going to a swimming pool and complaining that everyone's so indecently dressed. But, good grief, there are limits. And my limit is when she starts advocating a vegetarian diet because one gets more 'prana' (mystical life force earth energy) from vegetables than from animals because meaty prana is 'second hand' - the animals got it from vegetables in the first place. By that logic, surely vegetables themselves go their prana second hand, and it would be more efficient to eat soil. (Mmm, mud pie: not just for kids!) And even soil was once something else - why don't we eat magma? Sure, it might be a bit on the warm side, but if you concentrate hard enough on your Positive Cooling Visualisations you can eat anything!

My prejudices aside, it does seem a good program - if I remember, I'll report back in a few months when I've managed more than one pose.


And now, a brief public service announcement.

Another fun fact about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: the "disproportionate exhaustion after moderate activity" symptom isn't restricted to physical activity. For me, it's the mental exertion of Heavy Thinking, and especially of Interacting With Other People, that take the real toll.

I think this is true of everyone, it's just that I have less energy to start with so the effect is more apparent. Hanging out with people I've known forever, and who I can converse with using handy shorthand (Straight Best Friend, for example, merely has to mutter the word 'grenade' for me to crack up laughing) is the least demanding. Work is easier than social situations because having Things To Do gives less time to spend worrying about whether I'm being entertaining enough, witty enough, without looking like I'm trying too hard. Work social events are the worst, because I have to worry about all of the above, with the added exertion of trying to be professional and remember not to say 'cunt' too frequently.

To summarise, a very scientific graph:

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Every instance of street harassment ever

I genuinely love the fact that my job description requires me to take a walk in the park at 3:30pm every day.

You do meet some colourful characters, though...

"Hello gorgeous, can I have a cigarette?"
"Sorry mate, it's my last one." (This was true.)

True story.

I quite like this one, actually. The clarity of it; the unabashed, unarguable misogynistic bile actually made me laugh out loud (which he did not take kindly to). Which is not to say that sexualised verbal assault is a right giggle and we don't have to take it seriously - just that my instinctive individual response to this kind of flat-out drivel is basically "LOLLERCOASTER!!". It's the lower-level, personal, intimate stuff that really hurts. But that's just me.

So, a translation:

"I want something from you. I will comment on your personal appearance as a means to get what I want."
"I will not provide you with that which you seek."
"I will revenge myself upon you for not meeting my needs by threatening and insulting you. The threats will be sexual. The insults will draw upon the three main categories of misogyny, in the tradition handed down from time immemorial: 1. You are gay, 2. You are ugly, 3. The way you express your sexuality is threatening to me."

This is basically how all street harassment works. The dude wants something - attention, a fuck, a cigarette, someone lower than he is in the Universal Pecking Order so that he can feel powerful for a second. The lady either provides this (and she feels like shit, while he feels like the Tiny King of Dickheadonia), or declines to provide it (and he reaches straight for the Misogynist Sweary Toolbox).

Part of why I found it so hilarious was that I am looking as high femme as I get, today. It's finally cool enough for me to wear one of my favourite dresses, and I start work late on Tuesdays, so I had time to give it the effort it deserves - liquid eyeliner! Face powder! Dramatic mascara! Heels! Which is not to say, get me, I am the Super Sexy Queen of Conventionally Attractive Town: it's just to point out that he would have used exactly the same language (1. You are gay, 2. You are ugly, 3. You might be sexually active) whatever I'd been wearing. Tracksuit. See-through dress. Burlap sack. Designer suit. The point isn't my clothes, it's what he assumes lies beneath: I am a woman, therefore I am fair game.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Capitalism vs Vinegar

Haircut: £0
(Boyfriend + kitchen scissors. Like all first-time amateur coiffeurs, he was painfully tentative at first, wary of snipping even a single strand in case Everything Went Wrong. Twenty minutes later he was merrily wrenching my head from side to side as I bent over the bath, scrubbing my neck with his electric razor.)

Shampoo: Bicarbonate of soda, £2.99/kilo
For short hair, this is a godsend: twenty seconds to rub it in, ten seconds to rinse it out, no need for conditioner. Quite apart from the money, the TIME I have saved!

Cleanser: Apple cider vinegar, £2.50/75cl
Do remember not to spill this on the bathroom floor or you will not be popular.

Telling the industrial-capitalist-patriarchal beauty complex to go fuck itself, even if it's just for one day: Priceless.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Finance and romance

You can tell that I am
  1. unbelievably cool
  2. unimaginably romantic, and 
  3. perhaps better suited to this book-keeping lark than I had previously thought 

by virtue of the fact that not only have I designed a spreadsheet to track the joint expenditure of myself and my beloved... but I have also proposed a system of cost codes to categorise said expenditure.

I am now off to do some fiendish Excel formatting and congratulate myself on being such a catch.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Belching out the inadequate comma: grammar and child labour

I know it's pedantic, but there is a particular sentence construction - or misconstruction - that grates on me so much that it genuinely reduces the amount of pleasure I get out of reading an otherwise awesome book. And that is: the use of the inadequate comma.

I am currently reading Belching Out The Devil by Mark Thomas: a fascinating in-depth investigation into the many abuses, human rights violations, environmental damage and general bad fuckery perpetrated by the Coca-Cola Company. It's pretty much my favourite kind of book in that it teaches you an awful lot without making the experience difficult in the least. Instead, it tells you a story, leads you by the hand, and makes a load of irreverent jokes along the way.

But every single page contains at least one instance of The Inadequate Comma.

Take this sentence, for example: writing of Indian farmers campaigning against Coca-Cola's exploitation of natural resources in their local area, Thomas writes,
And that is exactly what they have done, a small group of people has truly agitated Coca-Cola.
See what I mean? That comma is just not enough. The two halves of the sentence need a sturdier barrier to divide them. Virtually any punctuation mark would have done a better job, with the possible exception of the question mark ("And that is exactly what they have done?"). Consider, for example, the dash:
And that is exactly what they have done - a small group of people has truly agitated Coca-Cola.
Or the much-maligned semi-colon:
And that is exactly what they have done; a small group of people has truly agitated Coca-Cola.
Or - and this is my personal favourite, the punctuation champion I would have chosen had I been editing this tome - the colon:
And that is exactly what they have done: a small group of people has truly agitated Coca-Cola.
This is the kind of job the colon is made for: set out the parameters of the subject, colon, show how this example fulfils the parameters. It asks a question: what have these people done? COLON: this is what these people have done.

I know. It's petty. It's not the greatest threat to world peace. But what is having a blog for, if not to stand on one's tiny virtual soapbox and explain how much better the world would be if one were in control of everything, from renewable energy policy to arms limitation treaties to copy editing?


In apology for picking on lovely Mr Thomas' otherwise excellent book, I shall quote some of my favourite passages from it. He writes wonderfully on the awkward helplessness of being a rich white westerner visiting developing countries and wanting desperately to make things better without having a clue how. On a trip to El Salvador to find children working in hazardous environments harvesting sugar cane, he describes a family, sleeping in a shack, cooking in the open, with the kitchen area delineated by a wire stretched in a square.
I have wandered into this world without walls carrying a simplistic set of values picked up off the Fairtrade shelf, where kids working = bad. And I curse myself. I have forgotten that there is another equation here in this place where a piece of wire marks out a room, and this is as true as the first one and it is this: kids not working = really bad.
Later, having found some child labourers, he continues:
 But our very presence reprimands the cutters, the families and the children. Just standing by the field, we judge them, our presence alone says, ' you shouldn't be letting your children work on the cane harvest. But what are they going to do, go without money? So we judge them for having to work like this. We judge them for being poor. They did not ask us to come, they did not want to tell their story.
He acknowledges that "for all our discomfort, which is nothing compared to the discomfort of actually having to work in these fields", child labour still continues under the aegis of Coca-Cola (at one or two legal sub-contracted removes), and it's still awful that children have to work in extremely dangerous conditions so as not to starve to death. The focus is on the people whose lives are directly affected by multinational amorality, not on middle class western guilt - but that guilt gets a thorough skewering. Undoubtedly worth a read, incapably-languishing commas or no.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Dr Brook Magnanti's The Sex Myth: who is allowed to diss feminism?

Book of the week: The Sex Myth by Dr Brooke Magnanti.

Which is seriously awesome: imagine Bad Science, for sex stuff. She examines the evidence for and against various myths around topics such as porn, prostitution, The Sexualisation Of Children and human trafficking - and finds little to back up widely-accepted 'truths' such as the existence sex addiction, of widespread trafficking for sex, of the inherent dangers of watching films of naked consenting adults sexing. It's a great crash-course in evidence-based reasoning, the scientific method and critical assessment of newspaper reports on experimental results - but with jokes! And boobs! Jokes about boobs!

Really. It's ace. It is the epitome of well-written pop science and it will make you cleverer. might want to skip the concluding chapter, though.

The repeated sniping at feminism throughout the book was pretty tiresome. I couldn't really understand the point of it - argue with our ideas, sure, but do you really have to resort to name-calling? Poe-faced this, humourless that! - but all became clear in the last chapter, which is essentially a tirade against Kids These Days doing feminism wrong. Magnanti literally says that she "turned in [her] metaphorical feminism membership card because ... it sucks to have people write national newspaper columns about how much they not only hate people like you, but also you in particular."

Which is fair enough, actually. People were fucking horrible to her in the papers and on the internet (and I was a bit reluctant to write this piece because I don't want to be the sort of person who makes people stop identifying as feminists because she is so mean to them on the internet). When I read, say, Renee Martin explaining why she isn't a feminist ("because my life experiences lead me to believe that feminism was not created for women like me"; because feminism has all-too-often ignored the needs of women who aren't white/cis/straight/able-bodied and middle class), I don't have an indignant inner monologue saying, "But I'm not like that, and I'm a feminist, therefore you're wrong!". That would be idiotic. But Magnanti is making a similar argument: that feminism has failed sex workers - patronised them, announced that it will Save them, accused them of Suffering From Patriarchal False-Consciousness, advocated for policies that make their lives measurably more dangerous - and then wonders why more aren't queuing up for their metaphorical membership cards. In such circumstances it's not really surprising that she, too, feels that "feminism was not created for women like [her]".

"It's disappointing to find the much-lauded feminist writings of your day have all the depth and insight of a Heat article."

Magnanti dismisses basically all contemporary feminist books as vapid and intellectually shallow, repackaging old ideas and 'stories' rather than presenting new data and analysis. There's an element of truth in this - Sady Doyle has noted the lack of trail-blazing Theory-Making going on, with most of us spending our time refining and critiquing and prettying up existing theory - but it's quite the generalisation. I don't feel the need to read Jessica Valenti's Full Frontal Feminism, for example, because it's intended as an introductory text, and I'm past the 101 level. But her 2009 book The Purity Myth - which brings together data and analysis on contemporary attitudes to sex, virginity, sex education, the sanctification of abstinence, and a whole bunch of other issues - was absolutely fascinating, and a lot more than just a rehash of old ideas.

While I think much of this chapter is off-the-mark - though justifiably and understandably so - she does make some painfully accurate points. For instance, the habit of insisting that "all women are totally feminists! They've just been scared off using the term by the patriarchal media myth-making about how we hate men with our armpits!" - while conducting internal witch-hunts against anyone who's ever dared break the Code of Conduct ("you say you're a feminist but I HEARD YOU USE THE WORD 'LAME' ONCE IN 1997"). Yep: ouch.

My kneejerk response to this chapter was pretty defensive, and possibly idiotic. I felt it wasn't fair to portray contemporary feminism in its entirety as represented by the Poppy Project, Object, and Julie Bindel; as unified in its abhorrence of pornography and sex work, all lined up outside the London Playboy club to harass its employees For Their Own Good. I'm not on board with any of that. I don't know any feminists who are, actually (though I'll happily admit that is a self-selecting and not necessarily representative bunch). The feminists I read, the feminists I hang out with, the feminists I do activism with, are generally on the sex positive side of the fence - as it seems we are now rehashing The Feminist Porn Wars. (What's that line about the definition of insanity? Repeating the same actions over and over and expecting a different outcome?) My point being: there are different opinions within feminism. There are entire ideological divides, in fact; and one of the major ones could be roughly described as Anti-Porn Feminism vs Sex Positive Feminism. In painting All Of Feminism as anti-porn, anti-sex work, anti-science and quite possibly anti-sex, Magnanti wilfully ignores Team Sex Positive Feminism. Because we might undermine her argument.

And come on. Presenting Julie Bindel (who is, I think, the only feminist quoted in the first TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY TWO PAGES as the representative of All Feminism Everywhere is lazy and dishonest and about as accurate as - to take a completely random example out of the blue - presenting the archetypal drug-addicted sexual-abuse-surviving streetwalker as representative of All Sex Workers Everywhere.

But then again - she isn't actually obliged to delve that deeply into a movement which has attacked her. Are ladies of colour obliged to read a representative sample of past and present feminists texts before making their decision about whether the movement and its theories are welcoming to people of all ethnicities? Are trans ladies required to undertake watch Feminism, The Movie (dir: me) and to do an ethnographic study to ascertain whether the majority of feminist works are not massively transphobic? Am I expected to survey every Christian text ever to establish whether there is a radical feminist contingent of the right-wing fundamentalist wingnut movement which has as its motto "hey, we're not all evil harlots"?

No. So why do I expect someone whose direct experience of the feminist movement has predominantly featured feminists shouting at and patronising her because of her work history to dig around until she finds a brand of feminism that doesn't treat her like crap?

Friday, 7 September 2012

They're just so ruddy bloody brave

Dear able-bodied people,

You know how dudes say, "Yeah a girl hit on me once, so I totally understand sexual harassment"?

Or how white people say, "I felt really tall in China so I know what racism feels like now"?

And how that's a little bit annoying?

I'm just saying, there's is never a reason to use the following phrase:
"Four bad bike prangs in 30 years have mangled enough Morrison limbs to give me some slight insight into what it means to be disabled." ~ Richard Morrison, The Times supplement, 7/9/12
No. It hasn't. Trust me.
"The sheer exhaustion, frustration and inconvenience of hobbling around on crutches, or with one arm hanging limp and useless, has only increased my respect for the permanently disabled who do amazing things with their lives."
They're just.. so.. inspiring!

Turns out it's not just Paralympians - sometimes disabled people are Inspiring in other fields!
"[Clarence Adoo, trumpeter] now makes music by blowing into an electronic trumpet, and inspires all who meet him."
Then there's Celeste Dandeker, founder of the Candoco Dance Company, who "bravely resumed her career from a wheelchair"!

Give that Inspiring Inspirational Doesn't-It-Give-You-A-Lovely-Warm-Glow-Inside Inspiration a Norfolk Bravery Award.

In the words of Svetlana from the Sopranos, "That's the whole purpose for people like me. To inspire people like you."

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Fair warning: this is wicked gross

Oh, hair removal. It's all fun and games until someone loses a leg.

Okay, full disclosure, I probably won't lose the leg. I am, however, on freaking penicillin. I don't know why that sounds more frightening than the three other antibiotics I've been on this year, but I am suspicious of the fact that, since I started taking it, I have developed an ear infection. Sure, it might be a coincidence - or I might be breeding my very own superbug. I might have MRSA of the ear.

So I went to see my doctor to say, Hey, check this out! He spent twenty seconds looking at the leg and five minutes poking at self-harm scars on my left arm. Sure, I have a gigantic lump on my leg which has made it literally almost impossible for me to walk; I have a severe fever, and pus is running onto the surgery carpet, but let's talk about how my depression expressed itself TEN FUCKING YEARS AGO.

And yes, it was the artist known on these pages as Dr. Dickface McBullyo. I have learnt from the practice's website that he specialises in mental illness. Which would explain why he takes every appointment I make - to discuss exhaustion, or abnormal heart rhythms, or massively infected ingrown hairs - as an opportunity to tell me off for still being mad.

It does not explain, however, why he seems to know absolutely fuck all about the actual lived experience of people with depression. Or why he seems to think that jabbing at decade-old scars is going to prompt me to magically get better.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

A ramble on moving in with my gentleman admirer: of limited social relevance

I'm moving tomorrow. After seven years in a slowly collapsing terraced house filled with an assortment of London's lost and found (some wonderful, some awful; on one heart-warming occasion, we took in a kid who'd run away from home because his parents were uncool with his being gay - I made him biscuits) I'm doing that strangely grown up thing of Sharing A Flat With My Romantic Partner. For weeks I've been in a strange mix of excitement, apprehension and blind terror; my body has elevated its usual stress reaction to the exciting new heights of exploding in throbbing pustules on my legs and armpits; and today, instead of last minute packing and cleaning, I gave up and slept until 4pm. So, rather than doing said packing and cleaning, or at least getting a good night's sleep to prepare myself for the rigours of tomorrow, I am obsessively playing Spider Solitaire, listening to Asian Dub Foundation and Gaelic-language folk music, and, now, blogging.

Said Romantic Partner came round a couple of days ago to shift all my boxes downstairs ready for Move Day. He got started while I lounged on the bed smoking a cigarette. Socialist Worker Housemate came in to survey progress.

SWH: "Are you seriously going to sit on your arse while he schleps your stuff downstairs?"
RP: "Well, she's going to make dinner..."
Me: "Sexual division of labour innit."
SWH: "You're supposed to be against that!"
Me: "Dude. He's a marathon runner, I'm a fucking cripple. From each according to their abilities, right? And you call yourself a marxist..."

Why terrified, you ask? Well. To negotiate the rent down, we had to agree to a two year contract, which scared the arse off me: don't get me wrong, I love the guy, but signing a bit of paper saying "this one, I love him the best, enough to want to live with him for two years (with an eighteen month break clause) or incur crippling financial penalties" was a big step. (Fear of commitment: girls get it too!) Then there's all the practicalities; primarily monetary. This Feministe thread about finance and relationships is great - reading about how other people negotiate the choppy waters of sharing a home with their partner, with the shared expenses that incurs, is fascinating. But also terrifying! What if we do it wrong and end up fighting over money? He's a saver; I'm a spender. He earns a giddy fortune (and works about 24 hours a day for it); I've got enough for my needs, but not much more. He is bringing significant capital to the partnership - I am bringing significant quantities of books. And debt. (It is conceivable that there is a causal relationship between these two facts.)

Then there's cleaning (he's tidy and handy with a mop; I create burglar-style mess in any room I'm in for more than twenty minutes). My need for Han Solo time to maintain minimal stress levels. The fact that he will inevitably end up doing more of the cooking/shopping/cleaning/general menial labour because I'm exhausted about 90% of the time. Oh yeah, and the hair removal.

Now, I have an extremley un-labour-intensive beauty regimen. My morning routine - deodorant, mascara, pull on clothes and laugh at my hair - takes three minutes from alarm to pavement. The only thing that gets any time investment at all is The Dreaded Depilation. Which has been one of the few bones of contention in our relationship: he's of the school that feels it is unseemly to discuss such matters; I'm of the school that feels talking about it, loudly and in graphic detail, is an important feminist act. And sharing a pretty small flat is going to bring him face to face with the gritty realities of it in a way that could get ugly. Plus, my recently achieved lack of self-consciousness re: The Dreaded Body Hair has reached the point where I shave when I'm going to see him, and let it slide the rest of the time. But now I will see him... every day. So I'm not sure where that will lead.

Oh well. I understand that compromise is the bedrock of a successful relationship, so I'll try not to wax my bikini line in the living room while shouting about the patriarchy and ingrown hairs every Tuesday.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

A Study in Objectification: Sons of Anarchy Credits

So! We have covered What Objectification Is at some length. We have learnt, for example, that one indicator of objectification is depicting just one body part rather than a whole person. So today I would like to take you on a tour of the Sons of Anarchy credits! Now, every cast member in these credits is only represented by one body part - and never their face (that most human and expressive part of the anatomy). But I would argue that only two (three, at a push) of the eight characters featured are actually objectified in the sequence.

Guess their gender!

The most noticeable difference between the depiction of men and women here is that the male characters are active - they're shown Doing Things - whereas the female characters are passive. In order, we have Jax, grabbing a gun:

Followed by Gemma, having breasts.

Bobby, playing guitar!

Tig, pumping a shotgun!

Chibs, brandishing a knife!

Unnamed lady non-character, having legs.

Tara, being naked.

Clay, smoking a cigar...

And finally, Jax, being naked, with a really good muscle twitch right at the end.

(NB These images are just screen-grabs from a crappy video hosted online, hence the dubious quality, interesting cropping decisions and the random little light bulb in the corner on Tig's pic.)

This phenomenon - men as active, women as passive - has been documented extensively, most often in the context of kids' toys catalogues. You see boys playing with microscopes, building train tracks, brandishing pirate swords; and girls... looking at dolls. The implicit takeaway is that men are there to Do Stuff - and women are decoration.

Which is especially bizarre in the case of Sons of Anarchy. Although the women sure are decorative - all the female main characters are slammin' hotties, as opposed to, say, Bobby, Tig, Piney, Clay, Opie... (no accounting for personal taste, of course, but Gemma and Tara - and Jax - conform to mainstream notions of Hot. Women can be interesting characters as long as they're hot as well: men can just be interesting characters.) - they are also fucking fascinating people, and far from passive. Gemma's actions and decisions are absolutey pivotal in the show, and while Tara tends to be more reactive, her choices were the driving force behind the story arc of season four. So it's bizarre that the titles go to the default, of presenting them as nothing more than decorative bodies.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Why accusing Assange of rape is the least effective way of getting him to shut up

I haven't had much to say on the whole rape-centric clusterfuck that's been going on this week ("legitimate rape": the only GOP-sanctioned contraceptive! Rape - or just bad manners? "Not everyone has to be asked prior to each insertion", apparently! THIS IS GEORGE GALLOWAY'S IDEA OF 'HILARIOUS EXAGGERATION', rather than AN ABSOLUTE BARE MINIMUM OF HUMAN DECENCY! Being a 'freedom fighter': like being an 'artistic genius' or 'having had a hard life': it now entitles you to one free rape! But is Assange freedom fighty enough to get two?), not because I'm not unbearably furious and depressed by mainstream opinion on the topic, but because everything I could have said has been covered in exhaustive detail.

"After being indoors for so long, Assange is going to look so pasty and creepy"

But there's one thing which is driving me up the fucking wall. It's the idea, suggested by Assange's more blinkered supporters, that getting a man accused of rape is a super-convenient way of blackening his name.

Off the top of my head, here are a few things it would be easier to get someone convicted of:
  • benefit fraud
  • corporate tax evasion
  • murder
  • revolutionary feminist anti-capitalist "hooliganism" 
  • aggressively planting leylandii hedges in your neighbour's garden by cover of darkness
  • being an actual vampire and using your undead superpowers to commit benefit fraud, corporate tax evasion, murder, revolutionary hooliganism, AND illegal horticulture, all for the forces of darkness.
We all know that, for example, the rape conviction rate in England and Wales is around 6%. (We do all know this, right? Turn to the person next to you and make sure they know it too.) We also know that rape reporting rates are extremely low: Fawcett estimates that only around 29% of rapes are reported.

So taking Fawcett's estimate that 47,000 rapes occur in the UK every year...
and noting that, in 2005/6, 13,712 rapes were reported...
and that 6% of 13,712 is 823...
we can establish that the actual conviction rate for rape - the percentage of rapists who will spend a day in prison for their crimes - is 1.75%.

(Oh yeah, and studies show that most rapists don't stop at one rape - the median number of victims per rapist is 5.8.)

So what about Sweden, famous paradise of gender equality?

Well, Amnesty notes that 4,000 rapes are reported in Sweden each year, and in 2008, these resulted in 262 convictions - a conviction rate of 6.65%. But given that the annual number of actual rapes is estimated to be 30,000, that gives us an actual conviction rate of 0.87%.

So just for the sake of argument, say Assange did rape two women, once each. The probability of his being convicted is all of 1.75%.

Slam dunk.


Okay, you're thinking, so he won't get convicted - but what if that isn't the point? What if they just want to throw the accusation out there, so that people will think he's a rapist, and never trust him again? Knock him off his pedestal and ensure he can't lead Wikileaks anymore?

Forgive me, but that is the most staggeringly naive idea I've ever heard. Mike Tyson: convicted of rape, boxing comeback, multimillion dollar endorsement deals, role in rabidly successful movie. Polanski: pled guilty to "unlawful sex with a minor", went on to be one of the most successful and critically-feted film-makers in the world. Hey, want some more examples? Or are you feeling sick yet?

Chances are, being accused - or convicted - of rape will have absolutely zero impact on Assange's career (if anything, history suggests it will enhance his martyr status), while destroying the lives of the women involved. From Fawcett:
“In no other crime is the victim subject to so much scrutiny during an investigation or at trial; nor is the potential for victims to be re-traumatised during these processes as high in any other crime.” (HMCPS & HMIC, 2007)
When the accused rapist is a high-profile man whose work people admire, you can multiply that by about a thousand.

Every woman in the world knows what they would have to go through if they were to report being raped. Every woman in the world knows that the blowback they will suffer - their every decision questioned, their entire sexual history laid bare, their motives assumed to be heinous - will be proportionately more invasive and traumatic according to the fame of the man they are accusing. That's rape culture. We're not doing this for fun.