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?