Monthly Archives: October 2011

In which I post an inspirational quote

I’m not usually one to post inspirational quotes; this isn’t fucking Tumblr after all. This is a quote which eloquently words something which I have struggled with wording.

But the evil of pinning faith to indirect action is far greater than any such minor results. The main evil is that it destroys initiative, quenches the individual rebellious spirit, teaches people to rely on someone else to do for them what they should do for themselves; finally renders organic the anomalous idea that by massing supineness together until a majority is acquired, then through the peculiar magic of that majority, this supineness is to be transformed into energy. That is, people who have lost the habit of striking for themselves as individuals, who have submitted to every injustice while waiting for the majority to grow, are going to become metamorphosed into human high-explosives by a mere process of packing!

The quote comes from “Direct Action” by Voltairine de Cleyre, an anarchist, theorist and feminist from the late 19th/early 20th century. It’s well worth reading the entire piece, there’s a really entertaining bit where she talks about strikes (“now, everybody knows that a strike of any size means violence…”), which shows just how disempowered our unions have become. She also wrote some marvellous tirades against marriage, such as “Sex Slavery“, which you should all go and read right now.

Now for your regularly scheduled somewhat angry ranting.


Magic numbers

Let me start with a pop cultural mathematical axiom: the rule of three. In order to best calculate the number of people a man has slept with, divide the figure he gives by three. For a woman, multiply the figure she gives by three. Essentially, people lie about their magic number. And there are gender differences in the format of this lie.

It seems that science has uncovered some truth behind the notion. In this [unfortunately paywalled] study, the researchers made gender differences in sexual behaviour disappear using a nifty trick: the bogus pipeline methodology. In bogus pipeline studies, participants are linked up to something they are told is an infallible lie detector machine. This method has been widely used in psychology studies and seems to be consistent with the truth–for example, in drug studies, it correlates with physical measures of drug usage. A similar method was used in The Wire in the famous photocopier scene.

Thinking that a magical machine could whether they were lying, suddenly participants were far more willing to be honest about their magic numbers and other aspects of sexual behaviour. Contrary to societal expectations, there were no gender differences. Magic numbers and other experiences were the same.

It was not quite as dramatic as the rule of three would predict, but the results were clear: men say they have had sex with more people; women,  fewer.

The rule of three states that this effect takes place because women don’t want to seem like sluts, while men want to seem like players, and this was largely similar to the conclusions the authors of the study drew: people exaggerate or downplay their level of sexual experience due to expectations of their gender. In general, our societal expectations of sex and sexuality is that sex is something men want and women put up with to maintain a relationship. Throw in a hefty dose of slut-shaming levelled at women and it’s easy to see why people might feel a little uncomfortable with being truthful about the sex they have been having.

On a personal level, I hate it when someone asks my magic number, because I honestly don’t know an exact total. I’ve never really bothered counting.

What exactly ‘counts’ anyway? In order to calculate one’s magic number, one needs to define sex somehow. Some consider sex with a man to count if it involves a penis penetrating something: this is heteronormative and phenomenally narrow. Sex can be mindblowing without any dick-in-a-hole contact. And what of sex between two women? There is still a pervasive view in the mainstream thar it’s not really sex, and if it is, what makes it become sex? The answer here, when I’ve asked, is generally ‘oral sex counts’. Once again, creativity is lost.

And what of group sex? Sometimes you can share a profound connection with another person, without ever touching each other.

In short, it is remarkably difficult to quantify ‘what counts’ after any shift away from the monogamous, heteronormative model of sex. So even if I wanted to, I couldn’t count my number of sexual partners.

When asked, it is almost always by heterosexual men. Often I decline to comment as it’s not a particularly polite question and its answer should be of no consequence. Sometimes, when pushed, I lie, pulling an imaginary figure out of thin air just to make the conversation stop. Only once when directly asked did I honestly answer: I don’t know. Only once was I asked by someone I felt could handle the truth.

I still can’t understand the fixation with the reducing an individual wealth of fucking and fingering and frotting and filth into a bare, basic number. It’s so much more than that.

And yet, heteronormativity adopts this approach and people share imaginary figures they think someone else wants to hear. Can we not just abandon the nonsensical concept entirely?


For fuck’s sake: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the porno

Some news fails to raise the anger, and just causes a tired sigh of having one’s lowest expectations met. This story is one of them. The article is in French, so I will translate the important bits. Unfortunately, my French isn’t brilliant and I lack the fluency to spot implicit sexism and subtle rape apologism. That doesn’t really matter: it’s not like any of the crap in the story is subtle.

In short, they’re making a porn film about Dominique Strauss-Kahn and that time he sexually assaulted a woman who was cleaning his hotel room. A high-profile rape case is apparently deemed sexy enough to crack one out to these days: perhaps the Daily Mail articles didn’t go into sufficient detail to achieve maximum turgidity, so a porn film became necessary.

According to the synopsis, “David Sex King, owner of a large financial institution, cannot resist the charms of a chambermaid who comes to work. Oh dear! This is a great opportunity for her to emerge from anonymity and use all ways to make this horny old goat pay.” This scenario gives priority to the side of the venal Naffissatou Diallo and is likely to startle feminist associations.

Not so much a startle as a weary “for fucks’s sake” from over here. It is nothing but simple, blatant victim-blaming. Diallo is lascivious, Strauss-Kahn the lusty chaud lapin who is completely incapable of resisting Diallo’s sexy wiles. He couldn’t help himself, as they say.

It’s not even novel porn. As the article says,

Otherwise, “in the bathroom of the suite, to the hearing in court, to prison”, it sounds like a traditional porno.

The same old tedious porn tropes will be trotted out. A sexy French maid. A sexy judge (possibly with a sexy jury). A sexy (probably inexplicably heterosexual) prison. The only difference here is that it is pasted on top of a real-life event where real people were involved. I wonder, what would Diallo make of being portrayed as a bit of exotic porn-totty, the sexual assault nothing more than a set-up to a string of hackneyed porn clichés?

It’s more than tasteless. It’s insensitive, it’s unpleasant, it’s downright nasty. I am not in the least bit surprised that this exists.

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Big hat tip to @petitefeministe who found this story. Check out her blog; she’s one of my favourite feminists.

ETA: Futher awesomeness: Petite Feministe has translated the article here


The Tories try to absolve responsibility with magical in-utero interventions

Following the summer riots the Tories have been falling over themselves to look like they’re Doing Something (usually terrible ideas). Another dreadful idea has emerged from the Cabinet Office, this one inexplicably originating from the Department of Work and Pensions, with somewhat unfortunate implications.

Here, Iain Duncan Smith has proposed magical in-utero interventions to stop kids from joining gangs. It is the logical conclusion to the “blame the parents” line; the parents are now so much to blame that it must be happening right at the moment of conception.

 “I am talking about intervening when the child is conceived, not even when born.”

This has the implication of following the anti-choice line: that life begins immediately at conception. This is hardly surprising, considering IDS has a distinctly anti-choice voting agenda. I do not think this is a poor choice of words here. He genuinely wants early intervention from the moment of conception.

Now, while in utero environment may have some effect on later life, it is hardly likely that the solution proposed here will be helpful in any way: IDS wants “more male role models”. It is another subtle rehashing of the “single mothers are to blame for the riots” line.

There are three other interesting things in the proposals. Firstly, IDS is falling over himself to not appear like a misogynist, repeating over and over that it’s actually gangs that are misogynistic, and that his proposal to blame women for their children’s behaviour is absolutely fine and dandy.

Second is the outright admission that for something so important, the government is actually not going to bother trying to spend any extra money on the solution:

“There is a lot of money being spent on families and estates but it is dysfunctional money that goes to solve only short-term problems.”

They are absolving responsibility here. Shifting around, looking as though they are Doing Something. when in fact they’re just rehashing rhetoric and not bothering investing in evidence-based interventions.

Finally, it just doesn’t make any goddamn sense. In the rush to blame the parents, IDS has confused himself hugely. Sometimes the gangs are the problem; sometimes parents. I think he thinks parents are responsible for children joining gangs. It’s hard to tell.

Essentially, what is happening here is that Iain Duncan Smith is spraying his blame-gun around indiscriminately. He doesn’t want to bear any responsibility for riots caused by poverty caused by the government of which he is a part. And so, nonsensically, he absolves responsibility.

It is the norm for this government. It will have real implications for generations.


The world is a prison

Yesterday, two things happened to me.

First, I broke my Twitter-blocks-in-a-day figure by miles, blocking 52 people who I believe to be nasty little proto-fascists. It happened in the discussion about the Dale Farm eviction. It was brutal and violent: the police and the bailiffs used aggressive tactics to throw people off land that they owned: as yet, several have been hospitalised, while no injuries to police were reported. For some reason, 52 nasty little proto-fascists think that storming someone’s home and beating people out is all right. They believe that it is somehow deserved, that these people are somehow “illegal” in their very existence, due to a small dispute over planning permission. They believe that the police absolutely should beat people, shoot them with not-so-non-lethal tasers and smash down their walls with sledgehammers. Some of this 52 expressed outright racism. In many others, the tone was clearly there. I decided I wanted nothing to do with these nasty little proto-fascists. What could I do in 140 characters that would persuade them that their line of thinking was sickeningly dangerous. I didn’t want to hear their torrents of hate. So I blocked them.

Later in the day, the second thing happened. I went to a screening of the film In The Land Of The Free, which told the story of the Angola 3. These men have been held in solitary confinement in a Louisiana jail for decades, convicted of crimes they almost certainly did not commit, because they were militants who were associated with the Black Panthers. Two of the Angola 3 remain in prison, in solitary confinement. They have been locked up alone for 37 years. The other, Robert King, was released after 29 years in solitary.

He was there at the screening and he spoke. It was a privilege: this person has been through absolute hell, and yet he appeared in front of us with dignity, his spirit remaining firmly intact. Hearing the voice of someone who had been a part of an inspirational group was truly moving. It sounds really cheesy. At the back of my mind was an awareness that the fangirling was probably really cheesy. The power of what Robert King said made the hairs on the back of my neck rise up.

King was asked how he managed to stay sane in his long imprisonment. He said that when he was radicalised, he came to the conclusion that America was also a prison, that the world was a prison. He was locked up in a prison within a prison. The prison many of us inhabit is a system of oppression, which was particularly salient for a man like King, being young and black in the South in the sixties. The prison exists in our minds.

It is a very powerful metaphor that King used, that we are all prisoners. Some of us fight for freedom and liberation: King himself fought for what he could. He tried to improve conditions for black prisoners before his stint in solitary confinement. He battled for decades to be released from his solitary cell. Outside, he is still fighting and will not stop.

I am not imprisoned happily. I shout and scream, I protest, and I sometimes fear that the state will crack down to the extent that I find my prison a little more literal.

Yet there are some who kiss the bars and do not mind that they are not free. Their minds are so locked up in prejudices and absorbed rhetoric that they are thoroughly unwilling to take in any information that might challenge these views. They sit in the dark for fear of seeing the chains. And so they hate outsiders and throw around racism because it is easier to sit comfortably in their cell than it is to start trying to pick the lock. They appear as nasty little proto-fascists, loudly claiming that everything the system does is completely just.

In a way, I want to help them break out, yet I suspect that even if the guards were all dead and the door was wide open, many would still sit on their bunks, unsure of what to do next, afraid of anything new.

Engaging is difficult: the level of racism that I saw yesterday felt insurmountable. And so we are still where we were when Robert King was incarcerated: how do we unlock the prison of thought?


I commented on #occupyLSX’s statement

Occupy London have released a statement and invited comment. I’ve reproduced my comment on it here, in case anyone’s interested.

Congratulations on occupying!

Your statement is shaping up well, although in my opinion some of the alternatives you propose are not quite attacking the root of the problem: fairer taxation and stopping cuts would still maintain a broken system and therefore only be papering over cracks.

My major concern, though, is about point 2: “We are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, generations, sexualities dis/abilities and faiths. We stand together with occupations all over the world.”

It is commendable that you have people present from all walks of life, but the biggest hurdle now is to make Occupy London a safe space for these people. Too often, occupation-based movements fall prey to reflecting the prejudices in a corrupt system. It is therefore imperative that you commit towards making the voices of the oppressed and vulnerable heard: the women, the disabled, people from ethnic minorities, youths and the elderly, queer people–too often, even in a well meaning occupation, these people are silenced by the privileged majority. In order to build the better world that you seek, it is utterly necessary that you address these issues within your own movement.

In point 7, you say “We want structural change towards authentic global equality. The world’s resources must go towards caring for people and the planet, not the military, corporate profits or the rich.” Here, you are talking only of unfair wealth distribution. I believe that you should add to this point, or point 2 above, that you also aim to address other forms of oppression: capitalism is not the only oppressive force which harms people.

I am concerned that you are already travelling in the direction of excluding marginalised voices from your movement. Mere hours after the occupation began, you gave platform to Julian Assange. Other women have expressed concernsabout this: we are not comfortable with a man who has not been cleared from rape charges being warmly invited and adulated into the movement.

Please do not dismiss these concerns, and please distance yourselves from Assange. Concerns about giving a platform to a suspected rapist are legitimate, and to dismiss these concerns will make many feel unwelcome from a movement which reflects the same prejudices as the rest of society.

You have a golden opportunity here to be part of lasting change. Don’t let yourselves become oppressors.


Why I’m confused about #wearethe99

I’ll start this by saying that I actually have no beef with Occupy Wall Street, despite the fact this is my second blogpost in as many days where I express criticism of the movement.

Today, I am annoyed by the We Are The 99 Per Cent slogan. Specifically, I am pissed off for statistical reasons.

The number is arbitrary. It comes some 2007 figures: that 1 per cent of Americans control 43% of financial wealth–this leaves everyone else in the 99%. This is an interesting figure and highlights a shocking wealth disparity of which many were previously unaware. And yet, the 99% cutoff is arbitrary. In fact, if one moves figures around, an even more interesting picture emerges.

The top 5% of earners in the USA control 72% of financial wealth. Just shifting focus from “we are the 99 per cent” to “we are the 95%” highlights an even more shocking disparity: almost three quarters of financial wealth is controlled by a tiny fraction. Even more interesting: bottom 80% of earners in the US control just 7% of financial wealth. That figure is thoroughly staggering: the vast majority of Americans control a completely negligible sum.

If one looks at who is in the 1%, another interesting picture emerges. Less than 14% of the top 1% are in the finance industry: it is hardly the cartel of bankers that the slogan portrays. In fact, quite a few Wall Street workers would probably find themselves in the 99%: the earning cutoff to be in the top percentile is just under $600 000, while the average salary on Wall Street is $396 000. By shifting from “we are the 99%” to 95% or 80%, this somewhat embarrassing little fact disappears.

And so I wonder why they alighted on 99% rather than 95% or 80%. These figures are still huge, and these figures still cover almost everyone. The number makes little sense to me, and a statement about distribution of wealth in the USA can be better made with different figures. Even by revising it down slightly–to the threshold for statistical significance–the statement can be made, and can be made better. I genuinely can’t see any good reason for sticking with 99%.

There are also two elephants in the room regarding how the “we are the 99%” figure is used, statistically speaking. Firstly, it neglects broader issues regarding race and gender wealth inequalities. This is a crucial issue which requires tackling head-on, and yet it is handwaved away with a broad-brush slogan, again sacrificing what could be a very important statement to make in favour of mass appeal.

The second is a vast issue. The “we are the 99%” applies to US-specific, not global inequality. If one looks at global inequality, earners of the US median wage suddenly find themselves in the top 1%. They are no longer the “moral majority”, they are part of that tiny fraction which controls most of the wealth. If Occupy Wall Street is truly part of a global movement, this issue needs to be addressed: that what is a relatively vast majority in the USA is suddenly a tiny minority of super-wealthy in the world sphere.

Ultimately, when one looks at the numbers, “we are the 99%” is a slogan, and not much more. It could make its point better by simply shifting its own arbitrary cutoff, to lose no mass appeal. Then, by thinking globally, perhaps it can make a difference.

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Thanks to @unknownj and @interama for pointing out global figures, and @samdodsworth for the breakdown of the top 1%.


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