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.