Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Racism of the day

I emailed our external IT support team to ask them to create a new log-in for an intern. Firstname.Lastname@DayJob.org.uk. The next day, I got a call:

"I think there's a typo in the request you sent - you said her last name was To? As in too?"

Uh, no, that's her real name.

"Oh! Er, right! I just thought I'd check because it's, uh, not a normal name!"

Well, no, it's not Smith, but...


Reasons why I live in London No 39902384.

Monday, 25 March 2013

No baby on board

Ha! Fooled you! This post has absolutely no relation to my menstrual cycle, for what seems like the first time in years.


Would it be 100% immoral to lie to Transport For London in order to get my hands on a Baby on Board badge?

It's not that I have any great desire to fool people into thinking I'm pregnant. It's just that
"I'm really, really tired, you guys. So tired my hand is shaking as I grip the slippery pole, my knees are knocking, I can feel my legs actually buckling in the middle and sinking towards the floor. No one really knows what's wrong with me, so we're currently going with 'probably Chronic Fatigue Syndrome'; the heart condition thing seems to be sorted out but I do still occasionally faint while standing up for long periods in overheated conditions - hey! Like this one! - and I really don't want to pass out on your knee. That would just be weird when I come round and my nose is in your crotch and you're keeping your eyes determinedly on your Evening Standard. (True story!) So be a pal and GIMME YOUR MOTHERFUCKING SEAT, OKAY?"
...would require a really big badge.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Snooty Myth: who gets to talk about sex work?

It's amazing how quickly your mind can be changed. How you can go from harbouring the grossest, most deeply-bedded prejudices to suddenly finding those prejudices ridiculous.

So I've just finished Prostitutes: Our Life, edited by Claude Jaget. It tells the story of the Lyons sex worker community, which, in 1975, went on strike. In response to a rash of murders of prostitutes in that city - and police indifference to these crimes - a group of sex workers occupied a church, hanging a banner outside reading "Our children don't want their mothers in jail". (An aside: gotta love the French.) The movement spread, with churches being taken over across the country, until they were forced out and arrested; it was a massively significant moment in terms of bringing the needs and experiences of sex workers to the attention of mainstream society, and forging links between sex workers and the wider feminist- and labour-movements.

After relating these events, the book gives six of the women involved in the occupation free rein to talk about their lives. How they got into prostitution, how they feel about it, how it affects their relationships with romantic partners, with children, with other women... The stories vary wildly, giving a wonderfully detailed picture of how six specific women experience working in the sex industry. Noting the similarities between their depositions is particularly illuminating: police harassment and brutality is a common thread running through the book, and the call for decriminalisation (as opposed to legalisation in state brothels) never wavers.

I fucking love books like this: fiercely political, but a politics born of direct experience; a group of people determined to fix the problems in their own lives within the wider context of oppression.

Flipping from this to the sex work chapter in Kat Banyard's The Equality Illusion was, ah, illuminating.
What if the industry's credentials were fake - and its apparent embodiment of liberation just a carefully crafted illusion? What if 68 per cent of the women in prostitution have post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct result of the work they do? What if 88 per cent of the pornographic scenes men were masturbating to contained physically aggressive acts - nearly all directed at women - such as slapping, gagging, and choking, and if it had reliably been shown that consuming such images led to an increase in sexually aggressive attitudes and behaviours? What if the sex industry didn't represent sexual liberation at all but, instead, one of the most profound challenges to women's status as equal citizens in the world today?
What if you could have offered one single footnote to back up any of those claims?

Well, I tell a lie - the 68% PTSD claim has a footnote. Which links to Melissa Farley's infamous "Bad for the body, bad for the heart" study. Hey, I wonder what actual sex workers have to say about this research?
"It’s common knowledge ’round these parts, and in every sex worker activist circle I’ve ever bumped up against, that the work Melissa Farley does is misleading, ill-intentioned, and downright vile in the way it determinedly misrepresents the whole truth. She’s a self professed “abolitionist,” meaning she wants sex work (and by necessary extension, sex workers) to be eradicated, and everything she’s ever done in this arena has been deliberately intended to further her point of view." Tits and Sass
The whole chapter goes on like this: scantily-referenced, reliant on dodgy research, coming from the unstated assumption that Sex Work Is Bad For Women without explaining exactly why this is. More than anything else, it's just boring: why do I care what Banyard's opinions on sex work are? Given her complete lack of experience in the field, wouldn't it make more sense to ask some current sex workers for their feelings on the matter? (Something that Banyard herself doesn't manage: the only people quoted in the chapter are former sex workers whose experiences in the industry were extremely negative.) Why not read Tits and Sass, or A Glasgow Sex Worker, or the book mentioned above, or literally anything which is informed by actual lived experience and not distorted by preconceived prejudices?

In fact, I enjoyed Prostitutes: Our Life so much that if you want it (and you trust me not to stalk you, which I won't! but I am a stranger on the internet so you're allowed to worry), I'll post it right to your door. First come, first served. You're also welcome to The Equality Illusion, if you want a laugh.

Non-social-justice interlude: sock talk

I made a sock!

I mean: it is far from being the perfect sock. The yarn is scratchy, and I don't like multicoloured yarn, and I'm pretty sure my feet don't end in a central point, and I unravelled the whole thing immediately after taking this picture - but I am still more pleased with this little beast than with anything else I've ever knitted.

It's just such a miracle! For pretty much everything else, you knit rectangles, or tubes, and stick them together to more-or-less successfully cover your body. But socks! You start with a tube, you go off in a different direction, you pick up stitches, you start a new tube in a different direction... and, magically, you end up with something that is the actual shape of a foot!

Truly, a triumph of ancient engineering.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Your daily abortion round-up

Hey kids, it's abortion time! Well, not kids, because obviously we hate kids, hence the focus on not having kids. That's definitely how it works.

However! In the Good News pile, we have the fact that Stormont has voted against outlawing non-NHS abortion in Northern Ireland. Thrilling as it is that they've chosen not to add EVEN MORE restrictions, this doesn't change the fact that the existing restrictions make it basically impossible to access abortion in NI no matter what her reasons are. So that's a shame. Sign this petition, it'll make you feel better.

In yesterday's Times supplement, we have a wonderfully brave and honest piece by Emma Beddington in which she tells the story of her abortion; she chose to end a pregnancy because she already had two young children and didn't feel able to cope with a third. This is the most common face of abortion - not the Catastrophic Foetal Anomalies story or the Feckless Teenager Using Abortion As Contraception.

(I know I've mentioned this before, but for fuck's sake, virtually every method of contraception short of getting your tubes tied is less hassle than having an abortion. In fact, the only people "using abortion as contraception" are likely to be those whose partners won't let them use contraception, and I don't think telling them off is going to fix much, do you? And finally: contraception prevents conception. Abortion, by definition, is only possible after conception has already occurred. If you're going to talk bollocks, please talk it in actual fucking English.)

The story notes that 16% of women who have abortions in the UK are married; 51% already had children. My favourite page of the ASN 2012 Annual Report shows that at least a third of the women we've heard from are already mothers:

So sharing this kind of story, rather than saturating media coverage with the more extreme cases, is really valuable.

What's less valuable is the companion piece, which focuses entirely on women whose partners bullied them into terminating a pregnancy, as if this is remotely representative. "Enter the subject into Google and a miasma of marital pain floods the screen," writes Carol Midgley, before noting that many of the quotes she uses are pulled from CareConfidential - "a Christian pregnancy and abortion counselling service". So a totally unbiased source, then!

Being bullied or cajoled or beaten into terminating a pregnancy would be unimaginably traumatic. But the issue there isn't abortion: it's abuse.

It's not that some people don't regret having an abortion; the problem is that almost every woman whose abortion story is told in the media falls into that category. It reinforces the idea that abortion is a terrible, traumatic, sinful thing, which fucks you up for ever. Abortion just is. (And was, and always will be.) For some people, it's horrible; for others, it's a blessing. For some, not being pregnant any more is wonderful - but the shame and stigma surrounding it makes it much more painful than it needs to be. While Midgley chooses to end her article with the quote "We ended the life of our child, a product of our love which is being tested now," it is important to keep alternative experiences in mind. Like that of Emma Beddington, who notes that
"My main emotion when I think of my abortion - and I rarely do - is gratitude."

 Oh yeah, and then there's Richard Dawkins and his theoretical pig, but I just... I can't.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Locust Point I.B.S. Local 47 white

Things The Wire does really well, without making a song and dance about it: power, pride, hierarchy, identities. After listening to a white street dealer - Frog - trying to negotiate a more favourable split, using a whole bunch of black slang and sounding like a tit (Carver: "Motherfuckers steal everything, don't they?"), Nicky comes out with the following tour de force:
'First of all - and I don't know how to tell you this without hurting you deeply, but first of all - you happen to be white. I'm talkin' "raised on Rapolla Street white", where your mama used to drag you down to St. Casimir's just like all the other little pisspants on the block. Second, I'm also white. Not "hang-on-the-corner, don't-give-a-fuck white," but "Locust Point I.B.S. Local 47 white." I don't work without no fuckin' contract, and I don't stand around listenin' to horseshit excuses like my cousin Ziggy, who, by the way, is still owed money by you and all your down, street-wise wiggas.'

That's the root of all prejudice, right there: the desperate need for there to be someone, anyone, lower than you in the pecking order.

While Frog has observed the people with power and influence in his world and tried to emulate them to the point of hilarity, Nicky is genuinely insulted by the notion of a white man trying to identify himself with a lower status group. To him, it brings the whole tribe into disrepute.

Look at the things he takes pride in: union, union, union. "I don't work without no fuckin' contract." This is the cult of the 'respectable working class', 'I ain't got much, but what I got, I came by honest'; we're good people, the deserving poor, not like those people, the feckless, the workshy, the chavs, the travellers, the not-white. This speech alone gives a good answer to the question of why he and his would-be colleagues, struggling to get more than five days' work a month, don't just look for a job in another industry. When that work, that union, has been such an ingrained part of your family's identity for generations, the inability to move goes a lot deeper than a lack of transferable skills.

He's distinguishing between Good White - union, blue collar, hard-working hard-drinking three generations on the same docks; a bit of stealing or smuggling now and then, but only for the good of the union, to get your girl a nice place  - and Bad White: career criminals favouring a particular black street culture over white tradition.

We might be fucked over by the bosses, the politicians, the entire capitalist system, but here you are: as long as there is someone on a lower rung, we've still got our pride.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

A guy in a dress

Can we please stop referring to clergymen as "guys in dresses" as a way of dismissing them?

People will complain of the ridiculousness of "being lectured on sexual morality by a guy in a dress," as if gender-nonconforming clothing is inherently immoral. Because, heavens, clearly transvestism is way worse than sexually abusing children, or conspiring to cover up the fact that such abuse is endemic in your organisation!

Of course, that's also what the hopelessly benighted, bigoted fuckwits call trans ladies.

I can only think of one major public figure outside the clergy who fits the bill of A Guy In A Dress, and, honestly? I think he's a pretty good arbiter of our morals.