Monday, 31 January 2011

Give the feminist a helping hand (cigarettes also welcome)

One of the hardest bits of Feminist Activism is just talking to people. Holding a placard, donating whatever money you've got to spare, volunteering your time, writing to your MP, are a lot easier than you might think. These are the times when you're Doing Activism, and no one - at least no one whose opinion means tuppence ha'penny - is going to make you feel silly for that.

But even among those people, those nice good people who agree with your politics and support what you're doing and maybe even help out from time to time, there seems to be an expectation that you'll give it a rest now and then. It's the weekend, we're having a drink, we're repeating half-remembered dialogue from bad 90s sitcoms, don't go dragging feminism into it, even if someone comes out with something ridiculously sexist, and your choice is to quietly accept that you are less than human, or to raise a wry eyebrow and say, "uh, excuse me?". "Swallow shit, or ruin the whole afternoon."

It's scary, and it's hard, because you're making yourself a target: risking the disapproval of your friends. But I sometimes think it might be what makes the most difference, in the long term. Immediate activism is still vital - sexist jokes are annoying, but Rape Crisis needs money right now; guys abdicating responsibility for sexism is infuriating, but abortion is still unobtainable in Ireland/NI right now - but I hope that challenging those tiny, stupid, irritating instances of "haha, women" does some good. Plants a seed. Gives someone else the courage to speak up.

And it would be really nice if guys would help out. Or at the very least not groan and roll their eyes and act like it's nothing to do with them. The Good Guys have such unimaginable untapped power to make sexism unacceptable in the mainstream - one "dude, that is messed up" from them is worth twenty from us; their perceived objectivity gives their words weight - so please, fucking well use it. We can't do this all on our own.
"I tell sincere white people, 'Work in conjunction with us - each of us working among our own kind.' Let sincere white individuals find all other white people they can who feel as they do - and let them form their own all-white groups, to work trying to convert other white people who are thinking and acting so racist. Let sincere whites go and teach non-violence to white people!
"In our mutual sincerity we might be able to show a road to the salvation of America's very soul."
~ The Autobiography of Malcolm X 

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Dominic Raab, surprise feminist

Dear Dominc Raab,

Thank you. Seriously. Towards the end of New Labour's time in government, I was starting to think that it would be good for them to be out of office for a while, to think about what they'd done, and hopefully decide that being more Tory than the Tories was not a super-effective long-term plan. Central to this was the question, "How much worse can a Conservative government be?"

So thank you for answering that with such aplomb. Because even after Iraq, tuition fees, and a childhood spent blinded by Tony Blair's gleaming grin, all it takes is something like this to remind me - yes, the Tories really are worse.

And now to specifics: three, two, one, go!
While we have some of the toughest anti-discrimination laws in the world, we are blind to some of the most flagrant discrimination – against men. From the cradle to the grave, men are getting a raw deal. Men work longer hours, die earlier, but retire later than women.
Isn't it conceivable, though, that this is due to the dying-but-still-with-us idea that men should go out to win bread while women stay home to bake bread? Which is a "sexist" idea - the old fashioned kind, where women are discriminated against, not this fancy new-fangled "reverse sexism", which I recommend you have a good hard think about - so really, this "discrimination against men" is a direct result of "discrimination against women". And feminists are against it, by the way.

Also, earlier in your article you attribute the gender pay gap (whereby women working full-time earn 15.5% less than men) to individual "choice" - women choosing less well-paid careers. Surely, then, this "raw deal" men are saddled with is primarily their own fault? Why aren't they choosing less demanding jobs? Or opting to  take a career-break to care for children? (Which is never stressful.) No one's forcing you to be an MP, for example.

You then rail against (amongst other things) "anti-male discrimination in rights of maternity/paternity leave",  and the way in which you say "divorced or separated fathers are systematically ignored by the courts". Again, this is symptomatic of the separate spheres model which insists that women should do virtually all child-rearing. And again, feminists aren't in favour of this - we're actively campaigning against it. Making parental leave transferable, as you advocate, is one of the feminist movement's central demands
Then there is the more subtle sexism. Men caused the banking crisis. Men earn more because they are more assertive in pay negotiations. One FT commentator recently complained that: ‘High-flying women are programmed to go for high-flying men. Most men aren’t attracted to women who are more successful than they are.’
I'm with you on this. It's annoying as hell.
Feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots.
Hold on, what? How did you get from "people express prejudiced attitudes" to "feminism itself is the cause of prejudiced attitudes"? We're against that! Honestly! I rant about it all the time!
You can’t have it both ways. Either you believe in equality or you don’t. If you buy into the whole Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus theory of gender difference – with all its pseudo science - you can’t then complain about inequalities of outcome that flow both ways from those essentially sexist distinctions. 
Okay, you've now seriously lost all contact with reality. You're blaming feminists for John Gray now? Men Are From Mars is a feminist text since when? Since we all got zapped into Bizarro-World? Hey, Dom, guess what my very first blog post was: a tirade about how ascribing discrete and opposing traits to men and women is (a) balls, and (b) never taken to its logical conclusion. This kind of thinking is described by a (feminist!) concept known as "oppositional sexism", and - I feel I'm repeating myself here, but still, it needs to be said - WE. ARE. AGAINST. IT.

You then move on to your ideas for practical solutions to address inequality. Firstly, as discussed above, you advocate for transferable parental leave, which - I've said it before, I'll say it again; go on, Dom, say it with me - is a feminist goal, supported by and campaigned for by feminists.

The other is the married person's tax allowance, which you lament was "mocked" by those who saw it as "socially regressive". Well, yeah, because it is: why do you get to decide what kind of relationships are worth subsidising? You claim that the policy "would support women who choose to stay home, when their children are young, while helping them save for childcare, if and when they choose return to work" - firstly, I thought you were complaining about having to work for a living? Won't this just increase the burden on the long-suffering manployee? And secondly, I have to ask -  if this is primarily meant to help people raising kids, why is it reserved for married people?

You seem to subscribe to a surprising number of feminist views, Dom, from what I can gather from your article on how feminism is inherently bigoted. It's as if you've come across a lot of phenomena that wind you up - gender stereotyping, prescriptive gender roles, the culture of overwork - and decided that feminism is to blame for all of them. I'm really not sure how you got there, but I invite you to take this as a learning opportunity: take a look around. Find out what we actually believe, rail against, fight for. I think we'd agree on a lot of things.

Your article was kind of arsey, but hey, feminists can be arseholes too. It's a big tent.

Welcome to the team.


A Feminist Bigot

Someone just can't stop fucking up big

Wow. These few days have been a feminist blogger's dream. Saturday: Captain Cattle Prod. Sunday: jaw-droppingly sexist football commentators. Monday: Dominic Raab, MP, calls for an end to feminist bigotry. (That really deserves a post all of its own - give me a minute...) I dread to think what joys today's Standard will bring. But until then, let's catch up with Andy "dickhead" Gray and Richard "where am I?" Keys!

What amazes me about their comments is the fact that their intractable resistance to the idea of women becoming a part of their sacred game is so strong that it actually overrides what they see with their own eyes. I mean: they had access to endless replays from every conceivable angle, they could speed it up, slow it down, freeze frame it at the exact second the ball was played forward, and Torres was clearly, visibly, right in front of their faces, onside. But because that decision was made by a woman, the weight of their prejudice (displayed before the match, before she'd even picked up her shiny flag) was great enough to make them see what they assumed must be happening. 

It's just such a retrograde clusterfuck. Does anyone else honestly believe that women - by virtue of their ovaries, love of kittens, overgrown chromosomes, whatever* - are simply incapable of understanding the offside rule? That we can be computer programmers, brain surgeons, world leaders, but the esoteric concept of 'a player is in an offside position if he is nearer to the opponent's goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last opposing player' just slides right off our delicate lady brains? I use it as a joke, a ridiculously over-the-top example of Jim Davidson style old-skool sexism. I had no idea anyone actually believed it any more. But here we are.

* Which is not to imply that such things make the woman, but I'm guessing that such mind-bogglingly simplistic thinking does not have space to consider the existence of trans people.

The Sun, of course, dealt with this in their trademark sensitive fashion:

And finally, courtesy of the Manpanion...

Before the Gray/Keys comments came out, Sky's fabulous Goals On Sunday struggled somewhat - while praising Sian Massey for doing her job correctly, they tried desperately to get the right terminology. "Female linesman?" "Well, the lady linesman." "Hang on, shouldn't that be lady lineswoman?" Well, no, actually if you want to be accurate, then the term is assistant referree. A term quite plausibly brought in to help stop sex being an issue as opposed to making the right decisions.

Right, now this female lady blogswoman had better get some actual work done before the next sexist meteorite hits. Hold tight.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Adventures in London pubs: someone's fucked up big

Honestly, I try to have a nice day out, go to rock'n'roll Leyton to watch Sheffield Wednesday play, go to a pub beforehand to watch the Liverpool match, like a normal person having a normal day... but the sexism, it HUNTS ME DOWN! It charges at me as if it were Jamie Carragher burling like a wall of Scouse muscle!

Which is not, I hasten to add, meant to imply that Jamie Carragher is sexist. Much less the living embodiment of sexism itself. I bet he's lovely.

So, two things:

1. I am really bored of having to recite the offside rule as some kind of anti-sexist nuclear option
Fernando Torres scored a goal! There was much rejoicing! He was not offside, though it was a tight call - a call made by a lady assistant referee. We were watching with the sound turned down, but both my Manpanion and I said, "I bet the commentators are making snide remarks about how women don't understand the offside rule. They're probably itching to try to explain it to her using two pepperpots, a bottle of ketchup and a pea."

And lo, the world was stunned...

Richard Keys: Well, somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.
Andy Gray: Yeah, I know. Can you believe that? Female linesman. Forget what I said – they probably don't know the offside rule.
RK: Course they don't.
AG: Why is there a female linesman? Somebody's fucked up big.

Maybe, Richard, someone needs to explain it to you. I have condiments.

2. Camaraderie, and cattle-prods
Manpanion returned from a visit to the water closet with an interesting tale to tell: Above the urinals were posted pictures of sexy ladies in varying states of undress. Which is normal, and not at all counter-productive. Another gentleman, also using these salubrious facilities, nodded towards the decor and said,
"Puts you off a bit, eh?"
"Imagine having that at home."
That? For the sake of sanity, let's assume he means "a wall of porn", not "a living, breathing person installed in your house for the sole purpose of not wearing much and pouting breathily at all times".
"Imagine having that in your cellar, with a cattle prod."

Friday, 21 January 2011

Today in 'people are sometimes rubbish'

I don't know, love, but maybe you should spend a bit less time worrying about this and a bit more time worrying about THE PEOPLE SUFFERING FROM THE RECENT FLOODING OF QUEENSLAND?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Life lessons from Associated Newspapers

You know what never gets less fun? Making fun of the Daily Mail. I know, I know, it's designed to wind me up (yes me, specifically, for I am the centre of the universe) and I'm just giving them pageviews and so prolonging the paper's lifespan and bringing forth the day when we all suffer under the dictatorship of President The Daily Mail... but, still, fun!

Ladies: stop trying to act like men! Because that's exactly what you are doing, all the time, in a pathetic attempt to climb the ranks of management! By using men's heads as an actual staircase:

Well at least now I know why I still haven't got that raise.

I mean, christ, "acting like men"? Which seems to encompass cardinal sins like "self-confidence, assertiveness and other characteristics linked with successful management"? Except that the article suggests that these traits come naturally to many of the women in the study, suggesting that when they behaved in such a way, they'd be acting like... themselves? And they are women? There's a guy sitting to my left eating cashew nuts and listening to Mos Def: should I never do those things, at least not in the workplace, if I ever aspire to earn more than twenty grand?
The findings, which will dismay feminists, suggest the best way for a woman to succeed in a man’s world is to act like a lady.
Or we could maybe try to STOP IT BEING A MOTHERFUCKING MAN'S WORLD. (Whoops. There I go again, Acting Like A Man.)

That was contemptuous irritation, by the way, not "dismay".

But, as ever, it's the sidebar links that really flesh out the full experience of Femail. For instance, did you know that Michelle Obama wears clothes?

Check out Barry's daring bow tie. You'd have expected him to wear a giant US flag wrapped around his neck

Furthermore, sometimes famous and ridiculously attractive women have the "barefaced" cheek not to wear make-up. Not even "a scrap of foundation"! The horror! I ask you, WHAT WOULD GEORGE CLOONEY SAY? Sadly I can't answer that for you, but I have resolved to ask my manpanion's permission before doing anything ever again. "Dear Manpanion, may I go to the shop to buy some cereal even though I haven't washed yet this morning please? It's just that if I try to have a shower without eating something first, I will probably faint, bang my head on the bath, and then I'll end up with a hideously unsightly bruise, and then WHAT WOULD GEORGE CLOONEY SAY?"

It's cool though, they've found another picture of her with flicky shiny hair and a lovely shiny frock that I'm presuming is held up by tiny invisible angels, and, crucially, a dude on her arm. And, I guess, more than a scrap of foundation.

Actual caption: "That's more like it!"

And then they have the fabulous gall to ask...

Fucked if I know.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

How I learned to stop worrying and love Jack Harkness*

* Possibly the most overused blog title construction of all time? Sorry.

Two things everyone who has heard of Torchwood knows about Torchwood:
1. OMG the sex!
2. OMG the gay!

One thing that is pretty much not mentioned or depicted in Torchwood, ever:
1. OMG the homophobia!

And now, my friends, we must discuss whether or not this is OMG the good!

This is a show in which every major character is bi, or at least open to experimentation, including experimenting with doin' it with aliens. (Missed opportunities, possibly due to budgetary constraints: tentacles.) And no one cares. Cap'n Jack and Ianto's shenanigans are no more remarked upon than those of Gwen and Owen. Tosh falls in love with a lady-alien and also Owen. Gwen cheats on her boyfriend with a lady possessed by an alien and also Owen.

God I love soap operas. With aliens. And Owen.

And, again, no one cares! No one's even doing the "oh wow, you had sex with a girl" sideways glance, implying that ladylady sex is so much more salacious than the ladydude equivalent. Or the "but - I thought you had a girlfriend?" double-take. Let alone, y'know, barring them from full participation in society or calling them perverts or kicking their heads in.

When I first noticed this, it gave me a slightly uncomfortable feeling: isn't it kind of cheating, somehow, to make the ellgeebeeism such a central part of your show while completely ignoring the downsides of ellgeebeing in a world full of bigoted bastardry?

Much chin-stroking, deep thought, reading of The Internet, and discussion with fellow people-who-do-not-exclusively-have-sex-with-people-of-the-"opposite"-sex ensued. (PWDNEHSWPOF"O"S. What? As a member of the PWDNEHSWPOF"O"S community I am entitled to acronymically define my own experience. STOP OPPRESSING ME.)

Things I discovered on my journey of deliberation:

1. Russel T Davies and John Barrowman, creator and star of Torchwood respectively: gay dudes.
2. This is common knowledge to pretty much every single person in the UK who isn't me. (Look, for someone who devotes maybe half her thrilling blog posts to the critique of pop culture, I really don't pay much attention to it: I don't know who won X Factor, I don't know who Jordan's dating, and I'm not trying to make myself sound all cool and up-my-own-intellectual-arse, because I also have seen maybe four films in the last six months, which is a bad thing. I never watch TV shows until they've been off the air for at least a year. My bezzie mate periodically sits me down and force-feeds me Kanye and Rihanna and Lady Gaga just so I actually have some idea what's going on in the world. None of this is intentional, I'm just wackily lazy, and have demands on my time like "rereading every Miss Marple mystery ever published" or "watching all seven seasons of Buffy, YES AGAIN".)

Now: if something were flat-out homophobically awful, the sexy preferences of its creators would make precisely zero difference to its awfulness. But as this is more a case of "hmm, kinda weird" rather than "jesus jumping johnny bags, you hate-filled dick machine", their orientation puts a different slant on their portrayal - or non-portrayal - of anti-LGB prejudice.

My imaginary evil-or-maybe-just-careless straight writer on his desire to create a loudly 'adult' show in which lots of hot people kiss each other in various gender/species/planetary origin combinations, set in a of version 'the real world' where homophobia doesn't exist: "Muahaha! Observe as I spicily edgify my show by appropriating queer identities without balancing that with a commitment to acknowledging my complicity in heterosexist privilege, which I sure don't have (see above re: possibly evil)!"

My imaginary gay creator of the same show: "Dude, I am creating an alternate universe, and in my own personal alternate universe which I am creating, people don't get picked on for their kissing decisions. Also: bi people do other things than come out or get kicked in the face. Like save the world!"

Davies has said that he's not interested in heavy-handed Writing About Issues, where "the only aspect being portrayed is the trouble, the tears and the angst" of the queer experience. Without wanting to downplay the seriousness or horror of bi/homophobia, it's not the defining factor of our lives: we do other stuff too, like eat biscuits or join the army or knit llamas or quit our jobs due to unbearable levels of boredom, or fight aliens. And if all you ever show us doing is having sex, coming out or dying sad and alone, it keeps non-straightness in a little box marked Other, only to be opened in case of emergency/deciding to address non-straightism as the Issue of the Week.

Yeah, visibility is important, but now we've more-or-less got to the point where not being straight on TV is acceptable, it's time to move on to where not being straight on TV is run of the mill. Not invisible in the sense of not there, but invisible in that it's just one aspect of the multifaceted harlequin Rich Tapestry Of Human Experience. Matter of fact to the point that it doesn't even occur to me to write about how matter of fact it is.

TL;DR: OMG sex! OMG gay! OMG good!

Mad props to my partner in WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THE WORLD ing, the very excellent Eleanargh, for hashing this out with me over hummus.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Things I have been doing: watching Torchwood and getting the tube, in roughly equal measure


And how would you know she's a Cyberwoman if it weren't for the tits?

People who use canes are people, but only women look after children.
And how do we know they're women if they're not wearing skirts at all times?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

All for one and one for Ann Widdecombe

Oh, The Times, what are you doing to me? An editorial exhorting us to "do battle with the sexists"? A cover story about how putting women's low representation in the higher echelons of science down to the Natural Immutable Stupidity of Girls is complete bollocks? And then... a witty, light-hearted sidebar about how Ann Widdecombe's fat and ugly haha. She's "dinosaurian". She doesn't have sex. She's proof of the theory of Stupid Design, a branch of Cretinism (DO YOU SEE WHAT THEY DID THERE).

So basically you're saying that sexism is bad and we should totally fight all forms of gender-based discrimination but also it's funny to mock women who we find unattractive?

High fives, Alan Childs: you win today's Most Mind-Boggling Chumpnuggetry Award.

Here's the thing: I really, really disagree with the vast majority of Ann Widdecombe's views. Shackling pregnant prisoners! Finding the idea of lady priests so abhorrent that she left the Church of England! The whole virulent opposition to abortion thing! Her staunch support of Section 28! The fixation on faith as inherently good and fundamentally necessary, and the almost-hilarious insistence that Britain is A Christian Country! None of these are my style. (BREAKING NEWS.)

But, weirdly, I kind of like her.

I don't know. She's got... I'm struggling to think of a word that isn't "balls" or "spunk" here. She's got grit. Determination. I think she's aware that people patronise her because she's a woman, and she doesn't take it lying down (even though she does come out with crackers like "women are so wet"). Whenever Strictly Come Dancing swirled uninvited across my field of vision, I found myself rooting for her because the tone was so "haha fat and ugly, let us point and laugh".

Remember during the 2008 US election, when we spent an incredible amount of energy pointing out that even though Sarah Palin's views were spectacularly sexist, that still didn't make it okay to be sexist towards her? Yeah. Widdecombe's views are mostly offensive. Widdecombe's views are often sexist. That doesn't make it okay to base your attacks on her on sexism.

Apart from anything else: COME ON, there is so much more material to be mined here! Acres of comedy coverage could be gleaned from even one of her bizarre pronouncements: in that New Statesman interview, in response to a question about the Catholic church abuse scandal, she asked "why just pick on the church?" OH THE POOR CHURCH. What a weak, defenceless target. Her charity of choice this Christmas? Donkeys. In "the Holy Land". "It's terrible that these gentle animals, which play a key part in the Nativity story, should be so badly treated," she laments: not to get into an Oppression Olympics my-charity's-better-than-your-charity battle, but come on, THE DONKEYS? (We are a strange and fucked up little country.)

My point being, she's a political figure: mock her politics, not her, well, her figure. Not her face. Not the fact that you think she's a virgin. Okay, you think she's totally a minger: is that seriously the reason you disagree with her stance on Catholic adoption agencies being allowed to discriminate against gay prospective parents? I would hope not! She's wrong because she's wrong, not because you don't want to take a guided tour around her secret lady garden.

None of this is new, you know? We've said time and again that sexism isn't just bad when it's directed at people we like, or people we agree with: it's bad because it's bad because it's bad. It's bad when it's used to tear down feminists. It's bad when it's directed at the most virulent anti-feminist you can imagine. Saying "but she's ugly" is one of the quickest, easiest and nastiest ways to discredit someone's argument without bothering with constructing an actual defence, and it serves to remind us all that we are nothing unless we are fuckable. 

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A friend in need is a friend that ONLY EXISTS IN YOUR IMAGINATION.

"Are we just all mean girls at heart?"
Amanda Seyfried is unsure.

The Times is curious. (I would give you a link, but paywall damn you Rupert Murdoch blah blah.) The front page of today's T2 further inquires, "Can women ever truly be bosom buddies?"

DUH, no! Luckily we have Xander Harris, who is famously the friend of your bosoms!
WHAT, of course I have a point! I don't just want to post pictures of my favourite films and TV shows centred on the US high school experience! I am totally able to not post a picture of any character from Dawson's Creek right now! I should really stop telling people about my Dawson's Creek obsession.

Anyway, the article's referring to the delightful Twisted Sisterhood, the basic thesis of which is - as far as I can gather, because, dude, have you seen the size of my books-I-haven't-read-yet-pile? Combined with my books-I-really-want-to-buy list, they form a mighty bulwark against reading drivel that will make me angry without making me cleverer - is "girls are SO MEAN!" 

The article itself is actually pretty awesome (peculiar timing aside - wasn't the book published last October?): without resorting to full-on whatthefuckery, Helen Rumbelow manages to deftly point out the flaws in Valen's arguments, gently poking fun at the idea of writing a whole book on how nasty the ladies can be. Isn't the proposal "just another way of slicing and dicing the bad side of human nature, as illuminating as writing about why the British, or allotment holders, or Apprentice contestants, are mean to each other?" ("GET OFF MY CABBAGES, MOTHERFUCKER!" - imaginary allotment-holder.) 

She also points out the impossibility of critiquing Valen's ideas: "Either you're with her in her view that women are not with each other, or you're against her by telling her you're with her, if you see what I mean." Because god forbid two women could just disagree with each other. Nope, it's bitchy, it's twisted, and it's always fucking personal.

But what perplexes me is this: who am I allowed to be friends with? More importantly, who am I capable of being friends with?

Clearly women are out: they would merely use my friendship as a way to stab me in the bitchy back.

But, as the flourishing CAN MEN AND WOMEN EVER BE FRIENDS??? industry never ceases to remind us, the dudes won't be much good either, what with their unquenchable urge to get in my pants.

So now I'm off to explain to all my "friends" (oh, how we fool ourselves!) that our "friendships" will have to end, due to their scientific impossibility, detailing either the bitchy factor or the unquenchable pants lust factor as appropriate. Evidently I am much lonelier than I realised. Which makes me feel like this:

Sad face.