New Statesman: Tattooing your name on your partner’s forehead is an act of control, not devotion

“I do it because he’s paranoid and wants to have me branded.” These are the words of Kourtney Leigh, who has the name of her boyfriend, Ryan Wibberley, tattooed across her forehead.

According to Wibberley, she is not the first of his girlfriends to have his name inscribed on their bodies, although none of the others have gone for quite so obvious a location. “It’s a laugh,” he tells the Sun, “It’s not taking advantage because they want it done.”

Should we be judging Leigh for consenting to be, as Wibberley puts it, “branded like Heinz Beans”? Or is it an act of devotion, perhaps not all that dissimilar to Johnny Depp’s famous “Winona forever” – now “wino forever” – tattoo? There might be a gendered context to this, but isn’t getting your partner’s name tattooed on your forehead on the same continuum as changing your name to his? Or reassuring him that the children you bear are definitely his? It’s all about ownership, when all’s said and done.

Read the full post at the New Statesman.

New Statesman: No, single men do not have a “right” to reproduce

Last year Katha Pollitt wrote an article for the Nation in which she asked why the left was simultaneously making progress with equal marriage while falling behind on abortion rights.  “The media ,” she wrote, “present marriage equality and reproductive rights as ‘culture war’ issues, as if they somehow went together. But perhaps they’re not as similar as we think.”

Pollitt went on to highlight the multiple ways in which the right can afford to cede ground on marriage equality while remaining unwilling to pay the price of granting females bodily autonomy. She is right to do so. While both reproductive choice and gay rights may be classed as gender issues, each has its own very specific relationship to patriarchy.

A woman’s desire to control her reproductive destiny will always be in direct opposition to patriarchy’s desire to exploit female bodies as a reproductive resource. The social institutions that develop to support the latter – such as marriage – may change, but the exploitation can remain in place.

This has, I think, caused great confusion for those of us who like to see ourselves as progressive. We know that the idealisation of the heterosexual nuclear family, couple with the demonisation of all relationships seen as “other,” has caused harm to countless individuals. We refuse to define marriage as solely for the purpose of procreation, or to insist that a family unit includes one parent of each sex.

Read the full post at the New Statesman.

New Statesman: How to explain Brexit to your kids

My parents never sat me down for “the politics talk”. I suspect they were too embarrassed. Like many children of my generation, I was left to develop my own ideas about what adults did in private.

We didn’t have the internet and our arms were too short to open most newspapers (scientists were still working on the tabloid-broadsheet hybrid). Hence we picked up news randomly, either by overhearing snippets on the radio while buying sweets in the newsagent’s or by accidentally watching the start of the six o’clock news following the end of Charles In Charge.

By the time I was nine, the same age my eldest child is now, I had unrealistic expectations of politicians and the democratic process. Due to the fact that I had no idea what anyone was talking about, I assumed everyone in the House of Commons was having serious, informed thoughts about the most important issues of the day. I now know that the real reason I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying was because what had sounded like roargh roargh [insult] <braying laughter> really had been roargh roargh [insult] <braying laughter> all along. I’d assumed it was a language I had yet to learn, one of the more specialised dialects of Adult-ese. I’d already wasted one vote by the time I realised that Prime Minister’s Questions was basically Jeremy Kyle with posher accents and minus the lie detector tests.

Read the full post at the New Statesman.

New Statesman: HBO’s Divorce is uncomfortable viewing for feminists

In Episode 2 of HBO’s Divorce, Thomas Haden Church’s Robert visits his friend Nick in hospital. Nick has had a heart attack following a violent row with his wife Diane.

“Seems like it’s open season on men around here,” notes Robert, before adding that it must be “hell” for Nick to be lying there, “can’t speak, clucking hens all around you.”  In case Robert’s anger at womankind has not yet been made clear enough, he then tells his wife Frances’ friend to “get the fuck away from me you old harpy.” As far as Robert is concerned, women are the enemy.

One could say he has good reason to be mistrustful. Not only was he almost shot by Diane, he recently found out Frances has been having an affair with a granola-making academic. Having changed the locks on their home, he asks Frances whether she ever slept with both her lover and him on the same day: “Because officially that would mean you were gang banged.” He tells Frances that he is going to make her miserable: “And more to the point I’m going to make our children hate you.”

Divorce is written by Sharon Horgan and executive produced by Sarah Jessica Parker, who also plays Frances. It would be difficult – and unfair – to argue that this is a dramedy in which female perspectives on relationships have been sidelined. Even so there’s something about Robert’s embrace of misogyny, almost as a form of liberation following years of repression, that I find deeply discomforting. It’s not unfamiliar territory in TV shows or films relating to the topic of separation, but still it leaves me, as a viewer, on edge.

Read the full post at the New Statesman.

Mental health medication: Stigma is not the only problem

Earlier this year someone very close to me became seriously ill, so much so he was in ICU and it was expected he would die. The cause of this was not unknown: it was a side-effect of anti-psychotic medication, which he’d been taking for the past 20 years in order to treat schizophrenia.

It was not an unexpected side-effect. Everyone treating him had always known about it but it was considered a risk worth taking for a “treatment resistant” case such as his.

On average people like him die 20 years prematurely. There is not one specific cause for this. It is not necessarily the illness itself – that is, suicide, a common assumption — but tends to be a combination of neglect, poverty and preventable physical illnesses. With regard to the medical profession there is a tendency to misdiagnose physical problems or simply disbelieve a patient when that patient is mentally ill. In addition, there is the physical toll of psychiatric medication. High-strength drugs such as clozaril, which might dull (but never quite silence) the voices, come at an incredibly high cost to those who take them.

It is of course a cost that psychiatrists have considered worth paying, and they will persuade patients and families to agree. I write this not in judgment – what other options are available? – but simply to state the facts. Schizophrenia is real, absolutely, but still grappled with and defined by other humans, the sane ones, in their own clumsy, imprecise, prejudiced way. Schizophrenia sufferers are people who are not considered “normal”, by which I do not mean the only real problem they face is stigma. They are normal people – whatever that might mean – but they suffer from delusions. How can these be treated? Right now, with drugs. With the pharmaceutical equivalent of being smashed over the head with a mallet (I do not exaggerate. That is what it is like. The medication does not hone in on the voices unheard, but bludgeons every human feeling in the hope of not missing the bad ones).

I am not a conspiracy theorist (or maybe I am? What is a feminist, if not that?). In any case, I do not spend inordinate amounts of time fretting over whether Big Pharma is one massive con trick, creating imaginary illnesses simply in order to get more cash (unless we’re talking about the beauty industry, in which case, yeah, it’s that). I am less convinced of the supposedly evil intentions of drug companies than I am of the human desire to ensure that everyone can “fit in”. I don’t think schizophrenia is some sinister invention. I do however think that the cost of treatment – and the cost of a schizophrenia sufferer’s life – is being set by people who have a fixed idea of “normal,” that is, by people who see mental illness solely in terms of an individual’s distress/inability to fit in as opposed to taking into account any broader social context. These are the people who, earlier this year, sat discussing with my parents whether my brother had a life worth living, due to his reaction to a drug regimen which had always assumed “well, quality of life, what’s that?”

Two years ago I would have said to anyone who raised questions about schizophrenia and drugs “you don’t understand. It doesn’t matter whether a particular drug gets an individual and their carers through the day. It matters that they survive.” And yet we are talking about drugs that kill people all the same. They kill them, slowly, yet to question this is considered ignorant.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with the drive to present mental illness as the same as physical illness when it comes to treatment, not least because treatment itself can be the cause of so much physical deterioration. This drive seems to me a moral, idealistic one which is not always taking into account the practicalities and the high costs.

The situation my family is dealing with is one in which an individual’s severe mental illness is now accompanied by physical disabilities resulting from side-effects – and the drug which caused the side-effects cannot even be taken any longer, so a less effective one is in use. We are in a much worse place than where we started. Would it have been better to take the less effective, but lower side-effect drug to begin with? I don’t know. What is clear to me is that the problem for us is not some universal stigma against taking any form of medication for mental health conditions. It is far more complicated than that and I think this needs to be more widely understood.

I don’t believe the outrage over Donald Trump

It’s that time again, when the liberal left pretends to be totally outraged by some heinous act of sexism which they’d ordinarily condone. Perhaps I should feel relieved. Perhaps I should think “well, at least one sexist out of the many millions is getting his comeuppance.” But instead I feel tremendously depressed. I don’t believe the outrage over Donald Trump. Yet again it’s feminism being used for anything but the purpose of liberating women.

So the GOP has chosen Trump’s “lewd” admissions of grabbing women “by the pussy,” caught on tape, as the excuse to distance themselves from him. Fair enough. They’ve known about the creepiness, the misogyny, the rape accusations, for long enough, but better late than never. They could of course have drawn the line over some other form of discrimination – one which, as many liberal commentators have helpfully suggested, affects actual people, such as men – but you can’t have everything. Hey, at least a trivial issue such as sexual assault is being used for the greater good.

I don’t believe anyone is actually outraged, though. Not women, nor men, either, and not merely because this is “what they’re all really like.” It’s just another of these increasingly false dawns, a cleansing ritual of sorts, whereby everyone gets to performatively express horror at one man’s sexism and by doing so absolve themselves of guilt. Take our sins upon you, oh tiny-handed one, that we may once again be pure (and not have to liberate women in any meaningful, practical way, which might cost us time, money and our precious ‘rights’).

There are few people who genuinely believe a man’s wealth should not grant him access to the bodies of vulnerable women whenever he wants it. Fewer still who would dare to say that the ‘male’ in ‘male sexual entitlement’ has any actual hierarchical or political meaning. Those who do believe and say these things are roundly vilified, by men of both left and right, and by mainstream feminism. Feminism these days is nothing if not pussy-grab inclusive. Anything less would be sex negative, exclusionary and wrong.

I am bored to death of the consciousness-raising rituals whereby we women all share our experiences of sexual assault. “Isn’t it awful, what men do to women!” we all say, “isn’t it common! Why, it’s happened to all of us!” But who are these men assaulting these women? What is ‘man’? What is ‘woman’? Oh, best not to police those boundaries. If the person who’s assaulting you says they’re a woman, you must accept that narrative, regardless of your own experience within the social hierarchy that is gender. Hence the whole performance becomes meaningless. We have robbed ourselves of the tools of analysis. Why would one group of people want access to the bodies of another group? Are there any differences between those bodies? You’re simply not allowed to ask.

According to Lindy West, “if you have derided and stigmatized identity politics in an effort to keep the marginalized from organizing” you are no better than Donald Trump. Because “doing feminism” is all much of a muchness to Lindy. You read from the script, which changes from hour to hour. Feminism must allow women boundaries and self-definition; feminism must allow women neither boundaries nor self-definition. Feminism says women are not objects for sale; feminism says women are objects for sale. Whatever. As long as you have a specific baddie somewhere – Donald Trump, meanie men on the internet, “exclusionary” feminists – you can reassure men as a class that their rights to female subjectivity and flesh will remain intact.

“You can do anything,” says Trump in the recording. Power, fame, money, male privilege, all of these things allow you to exploit the bodies of women. Why get squeamish about this now? Isn’t that what the left wants with their current approach to pornography and sex work? Surely it’s only the pearl-clutching prudes who have issues with such an exchange and wish to stigmatise those involved in it. How do you know they’re not consenting? Aren’t you just concern trolling now?

The truth is, men can still pretty much do what they like, unless other men see a broader class benefit to placing limits on this. To write what I have just written – about sex work, gender, identity – would, I am sure, be far more damaging to any presidential candidate than literally admitting on tape to sexual assault. Good job Hillary’s not a TERF.

Theresa May isn’t a feminist, but I’m sick of everyone reminding me of this

News just in: Theresa May isn’t a feminist, despite the fact that she once wore a Fawcett Society t-shirt claiming that she was! This will no doubt come as a shock to the many amongst us who take t-shirt slogans to be gospel truth (indeed, I now find myself worrying in case I am not in fact brilliant and everyone else is an arse).

I have to admit, though, I’ve suspected for a while that May’s feminism wasn’t all that it seemed. It’s that whole being leader of the Conservative Party thing. That whole “holding views which are not just not particularly feminist, but which are in direct opposition to very principles of feminism” stuff. It’s always made her look – how shall I put it? – more of an anti-feminist. Not exactly a men’s rights activist (I’m not sure the Tories are keen on most men having rights, either) but certainly someone who isn’t trying, to use Andrea Dworkin’s words, “to destroy a sex hierarchy, a race hierarchy, an economic hierarchy, in which women are hurt, are disempowered, and in which society celebrates cruelty over us and refuses us the integrity of our own bodies and the dignity of our own lives.” I really don’t think Theresa May is into all that.   Continue reading

Mumsnet: The unmasking of Elena Ferrante shows women writers can’t win

How much of yourself should you reveal when you are writing? The answer, of course, depends on whether you are male or female.

If you are male, it doesn’t really matter. You are the default human being and all experiences about which you write – regardless of whether or not you have actually had them – will be universal.

If you are female it is more complicated. Reveal too much about yourself and you are not a real writer at all, just an over-sharer, wallowing in the petty specifics of a non-male life. Don’t reveal enough and you are suspect, manipulative, a tease. Either way you can’t win.

See the full post at Mumsnet