Feminism


Here is a challenge. You are Amnesty International. You want to take a position on sex work. It must not, however, have an impact anyone else’s human rights, in particular the “human right” of men to purchase sex. Therefore whatever your research throws up, your conclusion has been set in advance. How can you get from A to B, at least without openly treading on the corpses of too many trafficked women and girls?

Fear not! For now you can read Amnesty’s own draft policy doc and work out how it’s done … (more…)

I am so sorry for being so stupid.“

Eloise Parry wrote these words in a text to her tutors, hours before she died of an overdose of the diet pill DNP, following an all-night binge-and-purge session.

Eloise Parry wasn’t stupid. She was bulimic and she was frightened. I can imagine doing what she did. I think a lot of women could.

Right now I could provide a very long list of the dangerous things I have done because of an eating disorder. I am, however, too embarrassed to do so. They are not dangerous in a way that lends itself easily to romanticisation. There is nothing poetic and edgy about them. They are, by and large, secretive, disgusting things. (more…)

One of the first rules of twenty-first century feminism is that no one gets to say who is or isn’t a feminist. Well, today I’m going to break that rule. David Cameron, you are not a feminist.

Yes, I know you have daughters and that you do not actively disapprove of a) women working, b) women voting and c) women earning the same as men providing the economic system you support deems them to be doing “work of equal value” (ha!). Furthermore, I understand that you and George Osborne wish to take credit for the fact that most of our lowest paid workers are women and hence will “benefit”  most from your living wage that isn’t actually a living wage. I am sure you see the women around you as semi-equals (after all, they’re rich). The thing is, none of this is enough.

In a piece for The Times today you bravely exploit the “male politicians can use their families as examples without it undermining their professional status” double standard in order to tell us that “when [your] daughters, Nancy and Florence, start work, [you] want them to look back at the gender pay gap in the same way we look back at women not voting and not working — as something outdated and wrong that we overcame, together.” It may surprise you to learn that women have always worked. By that I don’t just mean working-class women or stay-at-home mothers. I mean all women. Throughout history, even upper-class women have taken on political and administrative roles, albeit often within the private sphere (female leadership did not start and end with Margaret Thatcher). That women’s work has been invisible, appropriated and/or unpaid does not mean that it hasn’t existed. We are dealing, not with some bizarre prejudice which has meant that women were not “allowed” to work, but with a structure known as patriarchy. Patriarchy has no issues whatsoever with women working – indeed, patriarchy depends on female labour – just as long as it continues to get the work for free (also, as an aside, “you” did bog-all to overcome the “outdated and wrong” political disenfranchisement of women. You might be posh, but you’re not Emmeline sodding Pankhurst). (more…)

They used to call it rape, back in the day. For one brief, shining moment, we thought we knew what rape was, if not how to stop it. Oh, but that will come next, we thought. Now that we have our words, we can use our voices.

It didn’t turn out that way. Yesterday Morwenna Ferrier wrote a piece in the Guardian in which she described how, in Rihanna’s BBHMM video, “the themes of sexualised violence, seemingly gratuitous nudity and non-consensual BDSM sent segments of the world’s media into a state of apoplexy.” Images of spluttering, red-faced Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells instantly sprung to mind. Imagine getting angry over non-consensual BDSM! God, I hate those bigots who spend all their time stigmatising the BDSM community!

So what is non-consensual BDSM? Well, I guess it’s like sexual abuse, but with the focus on the “sex” bit and with greater empathy with abuser, now recast as taboo-breaking participant. It’s a bit like Bill Cosby’s “sex” with the women he drugged, only edgier and way cooler. Don’t panic, though, because in the former scenario it’s just art and the way we use language to describe art has no connection whatsoever to the way we use language to describe real-life interactions (only joking!). Yeah, we used to call these things abuse, we used to call them rape. But what does it matter? Language changes, cisters. Some of the things we called abuse aren’t abuse any more. Get with the programme. (more…)

[standard introductory bit about how I shouldn’t be writing on this topic since everyone else has already and it’s obviously a bloody minefield blah blah blah]

On Thursday I watched the video of Rihanna’s Bitch Better Have My Money. Since then I have felt extremely upset. Yeah, I know. White lady tears. Pass me the smelling salts and a string of pearls to clutch etc. etc. I found the whole thing, and responses to it, deeply triggering, especially in relation to violence I have suffered in my own life. Should anyone else give a shit about this? Possibly not. But there it is.

I know that it is complex. But it reminded me of how violence against a certain female stereotype – the “privileged bitch” – is excused, negated or justified within specific cultural contexts. Furthermore, it reminded me of how this happened to me over the course of several years. It made me wonder what, if anything, feminists who focus on other narratives – ones which are equally valid and worthy of discussion – would have to say. It made me afraid, for the first time, not only that they wouldn’t care, but that they might actually approve. And I don’t know what to do with that.

As many have pointed out, the Accountant in Rihanna’s video only gets his comeuppance at the end; the long scenes of torture and humiliation are reserved for “his” woman, his property. But for me the problem went beyond that. I don’t think it’s just a case of “he’s male therefore we don’t objectify him” (welcome to the whole fucking world). I think there is a particular cultural narrative – a misogynist one, one that is particularly prevalent in abusive heterosexual relationships and in MRA circles – which positions the white woman as more privileged than the white man and therefore more deserving of punishment and abuse (cf “masculinity in crisis,” “the end of men,” “the extinction of the poor white male,” the very existence of Ally Fogg etc.). It is my view that Rihanna’s video picks up on this narrative and grants it a form of validation. (more…)

Twenty years ago, if I’d pictured myself with children, I’d have seen them as school-aged, possibily teenage. I would not have expected to be pregnant at 40, but here I am. The past few days have seen a spate of fertility panic articles, prompted by gyeacologist Professor Geeta Nargund’s letter to Nicky Morgan, asking that asking that young people be “warned” of the risks of leaving it too late (that is, until you are in your 30s) before trying for a baby. While I wouldn’t argue that my own late pregnancy means that Nargund is highlighting a made-up problem – fertility is unpredictable, and it does drop off with age – the nature and focus of the panic alarms me. Is the problem really female ignorance, or the fact that women are being asked to conform to a series of impossible, contradictory ideals? And if it is the latter, how would additional pressure – as opposed to support – ever help?

It’s easy to say “have children young” but any woman who does so is likely to be going against a huge number of powerful cultural directives. Many young women are not yet in fixed relationships and may not wish to be, yet we live in a country in which the nuclear, two-parent family is still fetishised; even if politicians and religious leaders have become slightly more tolerant of same-sex and unmarried couples, single parenthood is rarely presented as a positive choice. The “hardworking family” –  one in which two parents are in paid employment, or one earns enough for another to stay at home to care for children full-time – is held up as an ideal, as though the practical obstacles in the way of such “hard work” (low pay, zero hours contracts, workfare, prohibitively expensive childcare) simply do not exist.

Government recognition of unpaid care work extends no further than proposals to offer tax breaks for married couples, marginally increasing the take-home pay of (usually) husbands who have stay-at-home wives rather than helping carers as a whole. Individualism and ambition are celebrated in the workplace while selflessness is expected in the home. Technological progress has meant that in practical terms, domestic labour ought to be less arduous, but increasing demands regarding what constitutes “good mothering” have taken the place of physical work. The only person who has the time and space be a “good mother” is someone with a wealthy partner and/or vast independent means, but even she will end up being dismissed as someone who “doesn’t work.” Meanwhile, wealth has become increasingly concentrated amongst the older generation, people who are long past childbearing age. Young people are being asked to behave like their parents and grandparents without the same access to property and stable work. (more…)

I can remember my mum turning 40. I was 11 at the time. She looked sad and told me “I feel so old” so I said “no, you’re not,” obviously thinking “yes, you are” plus “I’ll make sure I never get like that.” Deep down, some part of me felt that if my mother didn’t like being 40 so much, she shouldn’t have let it happen to her. As far as I was concerned, ageing was a failing on her part.

Now, of course, it has happened to me – today, in fact. I might be 29 years older, but I haven’t lost that sense that getting old is a woman’s own stupid fault. After all, we live in a culture in which women are constantly told that they can “turn back time” and find “eternal youth” with the latest creams and serums. Rationally, we know this is nonsense – that it means, at best, “be margially less obviously wrinkled than you would have been had you not used this product which you can’t even afford” – but still it feels as though it is literally our responsibility not to pass the age of 35 (and that should we do so, we deserve everything we get). We know what’s coming – we all get a shot at youth and plenty of time to think about how to hold on to it – therefore once the inevitable happens, we’re left feeling it wasn’t inevitable at all (obviously, I’m aware that reaching 40 is far better than not reaching 40, yet I can’t shake the feeling that it was down to me to find a middle way between getting older and dying young. Isn’t that what all women are meant to do?). (more…)

When I was growing up, my dad had one of those family in-jokes – a “dad joke” – that went on for years and years. Whenever I entered a room, he’d put on a ridiculous gameshow host voice and announce “It’s the Fat And Ugly Show! Starrrrriiinng Victoria!”

Obviously I knew this was meant to be a joke and that therefore it was impermissible to show any displeasure (beyond the requisite withering “da-a-ad!” protest). I knew my dad didn’t literally think I was fat and ugly. Nonetheless, whereas ugliness may be a subjective quality, I was measurably overweight, so the “joke” was based in a sort-of truth. My brother was overweight, too, but he never got the Fat And Ugly Show treatment. It was therefore made clear, through the medium of dad humour, that fatness and ugliness were particularly underdesirable qualities in girls.

As I’ve got older I’ve realised that there are many ways in which men express their prescriptions for and/or distaste of the female form. The fact that now few do so directly – that few would write religious tracts comparing the vagina to the gates of Hell – does not mean that many do not find more subtle ways to express their views. One way is humour – the I was only joking, why is she so touchy? approach to making women feel ashamed of their flesh. Another is the I’m only being honest tactic, in which men “bravely” confess to their discomfort with various aspects of women’s bodies, as though to do so is taboo and therefore a courageous act. (more…)

Confession: I am not sure what a “feminist choice” is meant to be, other than something that people use to defend bad arguments before deciding that the people they’re arguing with are the ones who believe in “feminist choices” to begin with. But I do think if we are to have any discussions about gender, work and possibilities for change, it makes sense to distinguish that which is inevitable and/or gendered from that which is not.

For a man, the alternative to paying for sex is not having sex. That is it. The sex “not done” is not an undue burden that will one day need to be relieved, no matter what the average adolescent boy might claim. For a woman, the alternative to paying for childcare is doing the work yourself, immediately, unpaid, and isolated from the broader economy. One is not the same as the other. It should not be the case that social class privilege enables some women, but not others, to mitigate sex class disadvantage (albeit at a cost). Nonetheless, it is not the case that paying for childcare is a form of exploitation based on class privilege in the same way that paying for sex is (and I realise the original quote is about selling, not buying, sex, but I refuse to compare apples and pears just because it suits someone else’s desire to hide the true comparison).

Someone has to do childcare. That someone does not have to be a woman but it usually is. All people – including men of all classes – benefit from the fact that children are cared for. Yet it is only women who are expected to bear the burden of this work, regardless of whether they are doing it themselves or not.

A society in which sex is not work for anyone – in which it is leisure for both parties – should not be unthinkable. It may be impossible to achieve under patriarchy (and people can and do disagree on what is the safest, most humane way to proceed in the meantime) but anyone who suggests that such a society cannot even be imagined – that even to dream of it is a pointless indulgence – might as well give up any pretence of holding men to account in the here and now.

On the other hand, a society in which childcare is not work for anyone – in which it is always times leisure for both carer and child – is impossible to achieve. And yet we find it easy to imagine. More than that, we pretend it exists right this very minute. Women who outsource childcare are vilified not least because of the myth that when it is your own child, childcare is not really work at all. It is “natural.” It is just how things should be, so why shouldn’t you knuckle down and accept the exhaustion, sleep deprivation and ecomonic exclusion that goes with it? For some, the thought that childcare is inevitably work – and that therefore we should find better ways to distribute it equally between the sexes, to make it pay better and to remove all stigma associated with it being paid for – is much more taboo than the thought that sex is sometimes, for women, inevitably work (which it isn’t in any absolute sense). It is a strange imbalance, one that can only be justified by seeing the world as one in which men “naturally” need sex in the same way that women “naturally” want to care for others (which is not, by the way, a feminist way of seeing things at all).

The meaning of women’s labour should not be contingent on how men feel about it – whether they realise that they themselves benefit from it, whether they would wish to do it themselves, whether they notice that it is work at all. There is another way of seeing things, one which recognises women not just as objects who meet supposed “needs” but as human beings who have needs themselves. Neither childcare nor sex is “what we’re for” but we are expected to live in a male-dominated world which treats us as though this is the case, not paying us for the former because they love it really, paying us for the latter because who gives a shit whether they love it or not? That each of us is making a contribution to the world – on average a greater one than the men around us – gets lost in discussions of how compromised each of our contributions is and fearful disagreements over how far one might dare to imagine alternative societies, ones which demand more from men and less from us.

The solution is not to make what should be leisure for both sexes into work for women, while pretending that what should be work for both sexes is leisure for women. That is, however, the “solution” that patriarchy offers us and it is incredibly difficult to disentangle ourselves from it without feeling that we lose what little value we have been granted as human beings. Nonetheless, that is no reason to avoid thinking the unthinkable, nor is it one to distort debates that matter and which we need to be having right now.

In her masculinity-in-crisis moananthon The End of Men, Hanna Rosin introduces us to two characters: Plastic Woman and Cardboard Man. Their purpose is to help us understand why today’s men are losing out to their female counterparts. It’s not that women are better than men, nor even that this whole “losing out” thing is a myth. It’s because women are adaptable and men aren’t. Lucky women. Poor men.

According to Rosin, Plastic Woman has “throughout the century performed superhuman feats of flexibility” while Cardboard Man “hardly changes at all.” On the face of it, this sounds rather flattering to women. Men just plod along, being man-like, whereas we get to transform ourselves, Mr Benn-like, depending on whatever the circumstances (i.e. men) require. How cool is that? It’s in line with a lot of recent commentary on gender difference, which seeks to celebrate supposedly “feminine” characteristics – flexibility, patience, empathy – at the expense of supposedly “masculine” ones – rationality, stability, individualism. Women are, we are told, the new winners, both in the home and in the newly “feminised” workplace (it’s just unfortunate that those who live with us and those who decide on our salaries haven’t quite cottoned on to this. But never mind, the future’s female – it’s only the present that never is). (more…)

I originally wrote this piece for Socialist Resistance – in response to an idea that came from them, not me – but asked to have it withdrawn in light of this editorial announcement. I think it’s important for women’s work to be represented fairly and I don’t consent to my work being presented in contexts which don’t reflect the actual commission. The insistence that women’s voices in particular – particularly when women are describing their lives and needs – require “trigger warnings” is patriarchal to the core. When people are offended by women speaking or writing, it’s rarely women who are the problem.

In this particular instance I think Socialist Resistance need to be honest about their editorial policies and their political principles. There is a word for people for whom discussions of female bodies, female labour and male violence cause “offence and distress.” That word is not “trans”, “queer”, “marginalised” or “oppressed,” but “misogynist” (it’s been around for quite some time). If that is a publication’s desired readership, fine, but it is frankly bizarre for it to then use the term “socialist” when any analysis of the means of production expressly excludes the exploitation of female bodies and the experiences of female people as a labour class.

Moreover, if an editor believes it is contentious to claim that the exploitation of women is something which benefits a more powerful group (as opposed to something based on a random, free-floating “phobia”); if he or she thinks it is triggering to suggest male violence should be named; if he or she is unconcerned about the age-old exclusion of female bodies from understandings of what human bodies are, then that editor should say so. It’s not okay to make glib statements about not “supporting the exclusion of transwomen from women’s spaces” when that is not what is being debated. If you’re going to slap a trigger warning on someone’s writing and make dog-whistle references to phobias, you need to give precise reasons why. And if your “socialism” is actually “redistribution amongst male people while female people carry on cleaning up everyone’s shit,” you need to be clear about this. Because selling your publication on the back of moral principles you don’t have simply isn’t fair.

***

I am wondering if an alternative title for this piece should be “why are some feminists so mean?” After all, this is the assumption made by many upon hearing that when it comes to trans inclusion, many feminists still want to talk about difference. “But trans women are women!” we are told, as though this will make everything alright. But it doesn’t. The impression is that we are cruel. Surely what is at stake matters a great deal to trans women but very little to us? Why can’t we just loosen up and let everyone join the “being oppressed as a woman” party on the same terms? Shouldn’t the excluding be left to the men?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that, at least not if feminism is to mean anything as a political theory which analyses how and why women are oppressed, with a view to dismantling the structures which dehumanise, objectify and exploit. This is no more an abstract discussion for feminists than it is for trans people. It is not a matter of discomfort with particular words. It’s about real, flesh-and-blood suffering. If we cannot talk about how patriarchy arises, how it functions and who benefits from it, then we cannot help ourselves, let alone each other. We might as well go home.

In a 2014 piece for the Guardian, the trans journalist Fred McConnell describes gender as “one’s innate sense of self.” This is not a definition that many feminists would use. To us, gender is a hierarchical system aimed at enforcing women’s subservience. It is neither natural nor innate. As the philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards writes, “much of what is believed about women stems from what is wanted of women.” If you decide that woman = innately predisposed to meet the needs of men (and dress it up in fancy wording which suggests womanhood is actually to do with being pretty, nurturing, communicative etc.), you have a ready-made justification for abuses which have endured for millennia and are going on to this day. That is what gender means to us.

I am conscious the feminist definition of gender sounds a little depressing compared to the trans one. Maybe so, but it is a description of what is. Forced marriage, unpaid wifework, reproductive coercion, sexual slavery, educational exclusion … all of these things continue to be justified by the insistence that women are “naturally” subservient, caring, decorative etc. Moreover, the women to whom these things happen do not have the opportunity to identify out of their oppression because this oppression remains material in basis. Saying “I’m not a woman – my innate sense of self tells me I’m not THAT!” does not work (I write this as a pregnant woman and believe me, no amount of insisting “I’m a pregnant PERSON!” grants me an exemption from laws which were written on the assumption that women, as a reproductive class, should not have full bodily autonomy at all times in the same way that men do).

So what is the solution? Feminists propose that we abolish gender and accept that both male and female people are human, free to express themselves however they choose regardless of their sex. Trans activists propose that we abolish sex difference (as if one could) and accept that whether one is male or female depends upon how one identifies, using gender as a guide. Quite how the latter option deals with the material exploitation of sexed bodies under patriarchy – beyond making it unmentionable – isn’t very clear. Nor does it tell us how we might confront male violence (over 90% of all violent crime is committed by male people, regardless of how they identify). Are we therefore to assume that a predisposition to violence is merely a part of someone’s innate sense of self? And is it now up to perpetrators to say whether their violence really counts as “male violence,” dependent on how “male” they feel? Indeed, under the rules of trans politics, can we identify any forms of material oppression and dominance at all?

When feminists point out that trans women are not biologically female, we are not, as some would have it, behaving like “knuckle-dragging bigots.” We’re saying our bodies exist and matter, too. This isn’t a minor point. The idea that male bodies are the default bodies is patriarchy 101. Eve is constructed from Adam’s rib; Freud clocks our lack of penis and comments drily that “a hole is a hole”; modern medical research is still biased towards using male bodies. Denying sex difference by making male bodies the only “real” bodies is not some modern stroke of genius; it is conservative to the core. Moreover, it is directly contrary to the feminist objective of ensuring that biology is not destiny.

Many people find this hard to understand, thinking that to associate being female with having a female reproductive system is akin to “reducing women to their genitalia.”  It’s a non-argument that’s rather akin to saying anti-capitalists “reduce people to their earnings” or anti-racism campaigners are “obsessed with skin colour.” If we don’t talk about biology – and hence never demand the structural changes which ensure the world is built to suit the needs of all bodies – then for female people, biology always will be destiny. For instance, it’s highly unlikely that company bosses ever sat down and decided to actively discriminate against people who look like they might have the potential to get pregnant; they just built the rules on the assumption that the default employee is someone who definitely can’t. This then leads to enormous inequalities, forcing women into lower-paid, part-time work or excluding them from employment altogether (while allowing male people to continue to benefit from the disproportionate share of unpaid caring work undertaken by female people; unfortunately males who see “woman” as an identity rarely seem to identify with the floor scrubbing and arse-wiping aspect of the whole experience).

In all this it’s worth asking who really gains the most from trans politics in its current anti-feminist guise. Female people don’t and if we’re honest, neither do most gender non-conforming males. Whereas feminism seeks to dismantle male dominance, trans politics reinforces traditional masculinity by insisting that any quality that is considered insufficiently manly is shoved into the “woman/not man/other” box. Not only does this offer no challenge whatsoever to the global epidemic of male violence, but it ensures that women can continue to be blamed for it (If women were only more accommodating, men wouldn’t have to beat anyone up, as said by every single misogynist since the beginning of time). Moreover, this is entirely in keeping with a feminist analysis of gender as a hierarchy. When self-styled cis men order feminists to accept that “trans women are women,” what they’re really saying is “accept that my dominance is natural” (any admission that male people might freely identify with so-called feminine qualities without having to declare themselves female would be far too unsettling; it might show that patriarchy is a house built on sand after all).

A recent poster campaign asking feminists to be “more inclusive” showed a trans person trying to decide which toilets to use. On the door of the ladies’ were the words “get yelled at”; on the men’s, “get beaten up.” That’s patriarchy for you; men learn violence, the most women can do is seek to raise our voices. The trans solution? Demand entry into the “get yelled at” space, even if this also means granting entry to potential beaters as well as yellers. Accept male violence, but not female dissent, as a fact of life. The feminist solution?  The opposite: no to male violence, yes to raising our voices. Confront the system that enables the beaters. Do so even if it means you get yelled at and called a TERF and told to die on a daily basis. Do it because you know male violence is wrong, that no one deserves to be beaten and that all people should be free to express themselves how they wish, regardless of sex.

I know which option I’d choose. Other people can make their own choices, but let’s be honest: this is not about identity and inclusion. It’s about power. Think about who and what you’re propping up.

***

Postscript: An email trail

Bizarrely, members of Socialist Resistance are seeking to deny commissioning this article, despite it appearing on their site. This is the text of the email from Socialist Resistance that commissioned it:

The idea is that there will be an accompanying article by a trans activist and the context is that we are trying to get our heads around the debates. My view is that minuscule Trot groups shouldn’t take a line on these issues but do have an obligation to be aware of the debates. At some point in the next few months we hope to have a public meeting of some sort on the subject and it’s been quite a revelation how vociferous some people are when expressing their point of view.
So, I suppose the brief is “why do many feminists think people who used to be men are different from people who were born as women?’
As for the deadline – the first person who was asked didn’t deliver on schedule. Is Sunday evening too much of a rush?

 

This was their response to the piece I submitted, which is, word for word, as reproduced above:

Thanks Victoria. I can’t imagine anyone will find that controversial. What name would you like it to appear under?

And this is an email I sent querying their proposed title on the basis that people might consider it transphobic:

I just wanted to mention one other thing – I’m not sure what you’re proposing for a title but I wonder if something along the lines of “why do many feminists think people who used to be men are different from people who were born as women?’” might be a hostage to fortune on the basis that many trans activists (e.g. Paris Lees and Janet Mock) would say they’ve always been women, just not recognised as such, and also some feminists would say this isn’t what they think. Perhaps something like “feminists and transgender: why is there a debate?” would be more neutral?

All rather odd in light of subsequent misrepresentations. I’ll let people draw their own conclusions about the gender politics, group communication skills and editorial principles in play here.

I grew up in a household in which there were a lot of rules. Not just the usual ones – don’t fight, brush your teeth, do your homework. There were others: don’t nudge the furniture “off position.” Don’t touch the newspapers or remote control. Don’t unlock the back door. Don’t do anything that makes me feel unsafe. These rules were subject to change without notice. If you broke them, the consequences were severe. Tantrums, shouting, worse. Sometimes you’d end up barricading yourself in your room, wishing you’d just not bothered to move at all. It was unbearable. But then again, if someone is anxious and says they feel unsafe, what can you do? Especially if their anxiety is presented as unknowable and resistant to change. You have to do what they want, regardless of your own desires.

After all, how hard can it be not to touch a newspaper? Not to nudge an item of furniture? Not to talk at the wrong time or pick up the wrong item of cutlery or shut the door too hard? None of it is that hard, is it? And if it makes someone feel better, why, it’s inconsiderate not to follow the rules. On the other hand, how hard can it be not to make so many demands in the first place? And how hard can it be not to react with violence and aggression when your needs are not met? Turns out it’s impossible. It’s impossible to control your feelings and needs when you’re making demands of others. It’s only those who fear actual violence who are expected to hold themselves in check. (more…)

The Home Affairs Select Committee have announced that unlike people accused of any other crime, those accused of sex crimes (including rape) deserve anonymity until charged. It’s a decision that has been made without consulting rape victims or rape support charities, instead appearing to be motivated by sympathy for the DJ Paul Gambacinni, kept on bail for 12 months over an allegation that was eventually dropped. According to Committee chairman Keith Vaz “we have seen how destructive [releasing names] can be to a person’s livelihood, causing irreparable reputational damage and enormous financial burden.” We have also, one would think, seen how damaging rape – which happens to an estimated one in five women – can be, but apparently that’s less measurable (or less important?). In any case, the belief that a “special stigma” attaches to rape, making those accused more in need of protection from publicity, persists.

Personally I find it strange to think that we live in a world so appalled and outraged by rape that those accused of it are social pariahs. If that were the case, surely we wouldn’t be surrounded by men telling women that forced penetration and sexual coercion are perfectly fine. A world in which great stigma is attached to rape itself is not a world in which … (more…)

The education secretary Nicky Morgan is proposing a “curriculum for life” to help young people deal with what the Guardian calls “modern social issues brought on by the internet age.” These are, we are led to believe, new issues. Brand new, never-been-seen-before, state-of-the-art sources of teenage angst, such as sexting and revenge porn.

True, there was nothing like that in my day. We just had boring, hands-on sexism – sorry, did I just say sexism? It seems we’re not supposed to mention that. It might be the driving force behind this particular misuse of communication technology but no one seems willing to say. Looking for a hierarchy? Nothing to see here. We are meant to think this stuff is just happening at random because “modern times.” There’s no link between rampant individualism and Tory policies, and absolutely no connection between a form of abuse which targets women in particular and sexism at large. It’s just that smartphones were invented before we had time to work out what to do with them. Right? Or are we just finding another way to talk around misogyny because to actually confront it would be more than we could bear?

Morgan mentions NSPCC research showing that “six in 10 teenagers have been asked for sexual images or videos online.” What she does not mention is the very clearly gendered nature of the NSPCC findings. Indeed, the researchers explicitly state that “no understanding of sexting would be complete without an appreciation of the extent to which an often completely normalised sexism constitutes the context for all relationships–both on and off-line”:

As researchers going into the schools to meet with young people, we were distressed by the levels of sexist abuse and physical harassment–even violence–to which the girls were subject on a regular basis. […] Perhaps the broadest level at which sexism operates in the young people’s lives is to be found in the deeply rooted notion that girls and young women’s bodies are somehow the property of boys and young men.

This is not some gender neutral trend. It is young men seeking to claim ownership of young women’s bodies. What’s more, this is nothing mordern at all.

It is utterly pointless to talk in vague terms, as Morgan does, about “peer pressure or coercion” (pressure from whom? who is being coerced?). Pointless, too, to suggest that “the internet and the advance of the digital age […] bring new pressures”; what they bring are new weapons for men to use in their age-old war on women. You can complain about the weapons, sure, but it’s a morally vacuous complaint if you’ve no interest in ending the actual war. (more…)

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

George Orwell

Orwell’s famous quote on liberty has always sounded to me like something an abusive father would use to justify over-disciplining a child. Superior, self-pitying (why is it always me who has to deal in these home truths?), tactless (no, you have to hear this, I don’t care what it does to you), it is practically a patriarchal mission statement. It assumes that things “people don’t want to hear” — you’re worthless, you’re an object, you don’t exist — don’t have the power to make people less free. It assumes knowledge of why people don’t want to listen (can’t handle the truth, can’t argue back, just can’t face it, can you?). Those who don’t want you to speak are positioned as petulant children. It is how abusers think of those who ask them to stop.

I’ve felt all this about the current hot topic of free speech in British universities. To be clear, I am not on the side of young, white, middle-class students who seek to no platform women who’ve got more integrity and compassion in their little fingers than these students have ever shown in their lives. However, I don’t think these students are merely petulant children who don’t know what they’re doing or can’t stand debate. To me this just doesn’t ring true. Perhaps some of them are weak, but those shouting the loudest are the ones who are chairing societies. They’re ambitious, if ignorant, mini-politicians (and since when has ignorance got in the way of a successful political career?). (more…)

Right now there’s a battle going on between the two sides of the political spectrum: who is best at controlling women? On the Right there are those who still vouch for the “women as purchasable property of husbands” model, while on the Left there’s a preference for “women as purchasable property of all men, everywhere.” Should a woman be on her knees for one man or for several? What’s best for the common good?

Of course, this is not a real fight, more a performance. As long as women remain objects who exist to satisfy male needs, either way will do.  As Dworkin observed in 1987, “this public fight they’re always having, from our point of view and for our purposes, is a diversion. They each do their part to keep us down.” It’s nothing more than ostentatious dick swinging. They each say they’re the best at managing this resource called “woman” but they both know that they’re in it together.

Hence it should not surprise us that the Greens are every bit as virulently misogynistic as the Conservatives or UKIP. Their politics are pro the rampant commoditisation of female bodies, anti the rampant commoditisation of everything else. Because, of course, the commoditisation of female bodies isn’t anything to do with capitalism; it is “natural.” The fear of both sides, argues Dworkin, is “that male supremacy wasn’t just this giant, monolithic thing that had, in fact, been given to them by God or nature. God is the right; nature is the left.” Can’t argue with nature, can you? The idea that the Left is more pro-woman because it claims to be on the side of the people is absurd. All you need do is exclude women from your understanding of “people” – because “woman as people” is just some sinister construct – and you never have to listen to them ever again. (more…)

I’ve written this post partly as a response to the recent behaviour of Rupert Read, the philosopher and Green MP who decided to be a half-hearted feminist for a bit then backed out once he realised that – surprise, surprise – feminists get loads of shit and said shit is, like, dead upsetting and stuff. It’s set me thinking on just how beneficial unacknowledged misogyny is to both men and women, and how so many people like to think they’re against the sexism but don’t link this to what would actually happen to them if they made a stand against the status quo. This is because people don’t really think about sexism very much, not even philosophers, but well, there you go. These are my thoughts on it and I don’t care whether you like them or not

Here are some things which will not happen if you speak out on behalf of women as a class: you will not get loads of people listening to your carefully worded, nuanced thoughts and saying “hmm, interesting, let me think about this some more”; you will not get people who disagree with you saying “sure, I think that’s one angle, but perhaps we could discuss it a little more?”; you will not get hordes of women eager to express their support and gratitude in public; you will not find people making connections between the problems you’ve highlighted and the surface-level examples of sexism they’ve noticed elsewhere.

If you expected any of these things to happen, then really you shouldn’t have spoken out in the first place. This is because such things would only happen if the class-based discrimination you are describing didn’t actually exist. If you have failed to consider this rather obvious point, assuming instead that since we’re all “basically in support of equality” it would therefore be fine for you to broadcast your important and valuable thoughts with impunity, then you still don’t get what “being oppressed as a class” actually means. (more…)

Today The Sun did not include a pair of naked tits on Page 3. There are some who might say that this is a victory for No More Page 3, who’ve campaigned tirelessly against the shitty objectification of women in one small area of the press. And yet there are others who will ask, thoughtfully, “what about all the other pages? They’re pretty crap too”.

Similarly, in 2013 the Bank of England agreed to put Jane Austen on its new ten pound note. There are some who’ll say that Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaigning made an important point about the value of women as culturally and historically significant people. But then again others will say “what about women who don’t have ten pound notes?” (conveniently failing to distinguish between symbolic representation and literal distribution, but w/evs, it sounds good).

Small victories, right? There’s nothing so controversial as a small victory for feminism. They’re good, sort of, but then why did feminists bother doing this and not that? In fact, why didn’t the lazy fuckers do both? And why didn’t they sort out ALL social justice gripes while they were at it?

Now obviously, if the aim of feminism is to liberate all women, this cannot be done without the removal of all forms of oppression. As Billy Bragg’s version of The Internationale puts it, “freedom is merely privilege extended unless enjoyed by one and all”. That makes perfect sense and anyone who disagrees would have to be a total tosser. The trouble is, when it comes to expectations of who will do the actual work involved in achieving the aforementioned freedom, we are not on even ground. It just so happens that there is one group whose very oppression is founded on the belief that they are “naturally” more caring, more compassionate and meant to give their time to others without complaint. This is group is “women” and this is a problem.

Look, Lefty Male Socialism! Today I supported a friend trying to access an abortion, did some volunteering at the women’s refuge, met up with that cousin who’s in the middle of leaving a violent relationship, carefully avoided the man who’s been harassing me at work, launched a new petition, popped in on your elderly mum, fed the kids, did the laundry and even found time to clean the windows!”

*looks up from copy of Revolution* “That’s great, Feminism, but you missed a bit — look, right over there. I’d use a bit more elbow grease if I were you, oh, and make me a sandwich while you’re at it.”

“Um … Perhaps you could help a bit?”

“Sorry, gotta read my Brand, and then spend an hour on Twitter denouncing a couple of your lot. Make it cheese and pickle.”

“But I ….”

“Also, I have some Serious Philosophical Misgivings about the abortion thing. Next time you’re asked to do something like that, vacuum the living room instead.”

Because of course, feminism is about women, and what are women for if not to be cleaning up after everyone else all the fucking time? Indeed, of all social justice movements, feminism has become the only one that’s expected to sort out all the others while also sticking a broom up its arse and sweeping the floor as it goes along.

Since a woman’s work is never done, the easiest option is to never even start. Don’t launch campaigns; don’t throw your lot in with anything in particular; never, ever fight for anything unless it is The Most Important Thing. The more you do, the more people will point out what you haven’t done and the more they’ll demand of you in future. You will not be allowed to complain because that would be privileged and entitled. You are expected to have a never-ending supply of time, patience, compassion, energy and selflessness. You are, basically, Mummy to a load of whining, ungrateful teenagers who want to put the world to rights but don’t understand why you can’t do it for them, just after you’ve washed their pants and lent them a tenner for going into town.

So it’s no good dealing with Page 3 when we haven’t dealt with all the other pages, you say? Well, it’s a good job you’re onto that one. What’s that? The other pages aren’t important enough to campaign over? Well, good to know you’re doing something more important. What’s that? You’re not because sniping at women is a full-time occupation? Why not take a break and spend some time actually supporting others rather than making more and more demands. Feminists might be women but they’re not literally your mum.

Oh, and make your own bloody sandwich.

What is a woman, anyway? This question has been asked time and again, and still we don’t have a definitive answer. Why would that be? I have a theory: because under a system – patriarchy – which is invested in dehumanising females, the obvious response – “a female human” – would give the game away. Conscious of their own humanity, women might get uppity and stop letting men objectify their bodies, exploit their labour and generally piss about being violent. This would never do. Hence “woman”, unlike “man”, has to be really, really hard to define (so hard that you need a super-clever brain – the kind of brain that shares a body with a penis – to get it just right).

Mount Holyoke’s cancellation of its yearly production of The Vagina Monologues has given rise to a great deal of pseudo-philosophical babble regarding “reductive” and “exclusive” definitions of womanhood. According to a student spokesperson:

At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman. Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who have participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive.

Oh dear! According to Jezebel this is all part of an “ugly battle” regarding “the expansion of the definition of ‘woman’ on college campuses”. Clearly, women are not walking vaginas (they are, as previously stated, human beings). But it seems to me that all the current “let’s make womanhood more inclusive” statements are rather missing the point. (more…)

Today I found out that a special “light touch stapler” is being marketed as “easy for ladies to use”. I for one am relieved to hear this. I am sick and tired of asking male colleagues to staple together my documents for me (right after I’ve made them forge my signature due to the fact that my office refuses to stock pens that are suitable for my delicate lady hands).

Of course, even with light touch staplers, the world is still a rough, tough place for a weak, fragile woman. Office stationery is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things that are too hard to handle. Take doors, for instance. We can’t open doors to save our lives. What’s more, the evils of feminism have left men unsure whether to help us with this or not, leaving us standing helplessly outside rooms until we’ve forgotten why we wanted to enter them in the first place. Then there’s driving (despite all evidence to the contrary, we’re crap at it) and holding positions of authority (hormones – which only women have, apparently – always get in the way). And as for politics – until they make a cutesy, mini Houses of Parliament, ideally one that looks more like the Happlyland Fairlyand Bluebell Boot, we’re all just going to feel alienated. It’s not that male politicians remain braying, misogynistic boors who talk over women; it’s the fact that the seat of government is not pink (and the doors are too heavy, and the stationery just too male).

Thankfully there are some things women are physically and emotionally strong enough to take on, which is just as well since otherwise we’d be really bloody useless. Take caring work, for instance. Delicate ladies who cannot lift a pen unless it is “designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand” turn out to be just fine at wiping shit-covered toddler arses and lifting sick, elderly relatives twice their weight. It’s funny, isn’t it? Women – those fragrant little flowers – end up doing the vast majority of unpaid caring work: fetching and carrying, cleaning up blood and vomit, doing all that emotional heavy lifting that men just aren’t equipped to do. We even give birth to the next generation (ideally not by being “too posh to push”; let’s face it, staplers are hard but pushing a human being out of your vagina? Piece of piss).

Of course, a cynic might say that the whole weak woman construct is there to create the illusion that men are caring and providing for women when in fact it’s the other way round; we’re the ones providing the physical and emotional resources that enable men to faff around earning money, kicking footballs, killing each other and whatnot. Obviously that’s a crude way of putting it. I prefer to take a more nuanced line, which is that: yes, we women are clearly crap at staples and pens and power (the important things). It’s just as well we have our magic unpaid carer strengths to compensate. Sorry, men, that we can’t be more useful than that.

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