Monday, 22 April 2013

I wasn't talking to you

Manpanion: "What is 'mansplaining'?
Me: "Well. Remember when we first started going out, and you kept saying that the noun 'patriarchy' shouldn't be used with the definite article? That was a prime example of mansplaining. That was basically the platonic ideal of mansplaining, to which all other mansplanations were but shadows on the mansplainy cave wall."
Manpanion: "'Mansplaining' is a really stupid word."
Me: "..."
Manpanion: "'Man' doesn't sound anything like 'ex'."
Me: "..."
Manpanion: "You're going to blog about this, aren't you?"


The Manpanion's other beef with the word Patriarchy is that no one knows what it means. So, I suppose, people will read a feminist blog post, nod along, agree with some bits, question others, and then run up against a brick wall: The Word That They Do Not Know. At which point they could either:

1. Highlight it, right click, select "search google for 'patriarchy'", read the definition and maybe a 101 blog post, move on.
2. Get up, go over to the bookshelf, pick up Ye Olde Paper Dictionary, flip to P.
3. Run away screaming, convinced that feminism is IMPENETRABLE.

For reasons lost to the mists of time, I start all conversations with my mum in German. Really bad German, on my side, given that I speak about twelve words of the language, so it generally goes something like: "Mutti! Ich habe sehr lecke, um, pies gemacht! Sehr klein, und so süß! (Wie sagt man 'pie'?)" *

Similarly, conversations with Straight Best Friend tend to begin with a selection from my three Chinese phrases "Wei, ni hao? You mei you xiong mao ma? Wo DA bu hao. Ke lian de Han. Um, what's Mandarin for 'fucking massive hangover'?" **) before reverting back to one of our common languages - English, or Scouse.

* Mummy! I've made very tasty pies! Very small, and so sweet! How do you say 'pie'?
** Hi, how are you? Do you have any pandas? I'm SO not good. Poor Han.

Manpanion has yet to complain that he is being excluded by my cack-handed linguistic forays, because it's understood that a phone conversation is between two people, and only has to be intelligible to those two.

I think it needs to be understood that a lot of posts in the social justice blogosphere are like that: part of a broader conversation between members of a community, which don't necessarily have to be accessible to the rest of the world.

Specialist language, like Patriarchy and Intersectionality and Rape Culture, is not there to shut non-initiates out: it's just to save our own time. Yeah, I could say "a culture of systemic and long-standing oppression of women", but it saves time and typing fingers and word count if I just use the word Patriarchy. My intended audience knows what I'm talking about: why waste their time, too?

You don't eavesdrop on a French conversation class and complain that you've no idea what they're banging on about. You don't read a knitting blog and demand that, if they're going to say stuff like "I frogged my intarsia WIP and am heading over to my LYS to stock up on DPNs and feed my stash", they define each of those terms every time they appear.

So why are feminists and anti-racists and LGBT activists and co expected to conduct our every conversation at entry-level?

Sure, we want to appeal to a wider audience; I don't really think that the world's going to get fixed by a couple of hundred people debating the ideological implications of Vajazzling. But spreading the word is only one prong of the social justice blogging thing. We're also doing it to keep our spirits up, to work through new ideas, to move theory along, and to be able to do that, it has to be taken as read that participants in the conversation have a firm grasp on the basics.

The accusation is frequently thrown that this creates an echo chamber of agreement, a lovely great circle jerk where we all sit around congratulating each other on being so very right on. Which is bollocks. We disagree all the time, on almost every issue; feminism is far from being a monolith and hammering out new ideas can't be done without disagreements. It's just that we don't have to waste our time and energy demonstrating, for the fiftieth fucking time, that sexism actually exists.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Insulting people without prejudice


Is what a charming Porsche-driving gentleman yelled at me after he nearly ran me over at a bus stop. Which led to quite the conundrum: how to quickly and thoroughly eviscerate him, informing him that I had nothing but disdain for his rudeness, his rudimentary spatial awareness and his lack of willingness to share the planet with anyone other than himself, while making it clear that this was an entirely personal insult, making no reference to the popular stereotype which bizarrely claims that people who share his East Asian heritage are bad drivers? (I think this particular association between ethnicity and wheelmanship is predominantly held in the States, but we're living in a global village, apparently, and racism is nothing like a fine wine: it travels well.)

I went with "GET FUCKED, DICKWAD."

Still, it was nice to have one prejudice thoroughly confirmed: Porsche-drivers are total wankers.

Monday, 8 April 2013

We will laugh the day that Thatcher dies, even though we know it's not right

"Just think, when you wake up tomorrow, Thatcher could be dead!"

Is what I said to cheer up a gloomy housemate, on the tube some time in 2005. Loudly. On the Victoria line. We got looks.



"Wow, all those people who looked down on Americans for celebrating Bin Laden's death have really lost the moral high ground." In our defence, at least we didn't actually kill Thatcher.


Without straining credulity too much, I can make a fairly compelling case for the idea that Margaret Thatcher ruined my life. The polarised political climate put a massive strain on my parents' marriage, along with my dad's redundancy (bad time to work in newspapers!) and the widespread economic uncertainty. (I'm told there was an Economic Miracle in the 80s. No one I know remembers this.)

Meanwhile, the breaking of the print unions, and the rise of the BNP - given respectability by Thatcher's racist pronouncements - both tipped my dad over the edge into mental breakdown, putting the final kibosh on their relationship. (So, brilliantly, I ended up being raised by a single mother... because of Margaret Thatcher. Nice work.)

Then there's the National Curriculum, the obsession with school league tables, the idea that kids are just there to get results to make their schools look good, which tipped me over the edge of sanity a decade or so after my dad went down his own personal rabbit hole.

Obviously, I can't say "Thatcher made me crazy", "Thatcher sent my dad mad" or "Thatcher split my parents up". It's not that simple. But she had a genuine role in all three of those things. Yeah, I was four when she left office, but you know the line about old sins and long shadows, right? Politics matters, and political decisions have ramifications which don't end when the shot-callers leave office.


After Pinochet seized power in Chile in 1973, refugees flooded out of the country seeking asylum. A sizeable number of them ended up in Southampton. Some of these people drank in the same pubs as my parents. Hearing an immensely dignified Allende supporter, living in exile, explain to me over a pint of bitter exactly how it felt to watch Pinochet be warmly welcomed by the former Prime Minister - after facing precisely no punishment for presiding over the death or disappearance of over three thousand people - was one of those moments when you start to grasp how the world fits together, and how the world sees this green and pleasant land.

A lot of Irish people drank in those pubs, too. I was doing harmonies on songs about the hunger strikers before I'd even heard the national anthem.


I'm pretty sure that the level of vitriol reserved especially for Thatcher owes a lot to misogyny. Yes, her policies were horrific, her pronouncements sickening, her ongoing effect on this country devastating - but I don't believe that she would have remained such a virulently despised figure (by my parish - obviously not by the entire country) had she been male. It's a tricky theory to test, though, as there genuinely isn't a male politician who's been quite so bad.

Then again, I believe it was Thatcher herself who said that "I owe nothing to women's lib. The feminists hate me, don't they? And I don't blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison." So I'm not inclined to waste my energy telling people to hate her in the right way.


We will laugh the day that Thatcher dies, even though we know it's not right


I'm not saying it's right to celebrate someone's death - though I'm sure as hell not going to mourn. I'm just trying to explain, to anyone who is finding it distasteful, why it is that we can't help it.