Category Archives: media bollocks

Another open letter to Russell Brand (this one’s shorter and not shit)

Dear Russell,

You’ve no doubt seen the tl;dr open letter to you, which the Indy rather bafflingly described as hilarious and the best thing I’d read today. It’s a cartoonish parody of a city worker, about as funny as a smear test and ranks only slightly lower than the HTML template I had to find an error in in terms of things I read today. Let’s be honest. We both know that pigshit helps you, precisely because the protagonist comes across so thoroughly unsympathetic and concerned about his fucking lunch. I half-wondered if you wrote it yourself: parts of it were reminiscent of your book in its tendency to ramble and repeat itself and kind of skirt around a point without ever making one.

But anyway. On to my points. First of all, let’s talk about you, Russell. I’m hardly the only one who’s sick of seeing your face leering everywhere, like Nigel Farage with unbrushed hair and an orange juice instead of a pint. You’ve rather successfully made vast swathes of movement all about you (in much the same vein that Farage has made vast swathes of different movements all about him). I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, but I think you’re quite an intelligent man, Russell, so you must know that when you turn up somewhere, the meaning and the cause will be lost in a rush to photograph you. If I were in that situation, I’d stop turning up places, take on a more supportive role. I’d publicise, promote and signal boost, making the words of those I wanted to support clear rather than making it about myself. Or fuck it, if I really wanted to be there, I’d wear a mask, and slip into anonymity. You’re not doing this: you’re eclipsing the work of ordinary people organising with your fame.

It’s beginning to look rather a lot like you’re simply profiting from the hard work of others. You’ve published your booky-wook, and I hear you’re now working on a film. It’s sad, because there’s so much thought coming out from the people who are knee-deep in this, for whom the stakes are high. You could have used your connections to get them published. Hell, you could have fronted some money for printing zines. You could make this work more visible.

More broadly speaking, Russell, you’re a bit of a sticking point at the moment. See, you’ve never really let yourself be held accountable for the sexism or the racism you perpetrated in your past. You’ll notice that your supporters are predominately straight white men. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of us who would rather you weren’t around. I’m neither the only queer nor the only woman who would really rather you buggered off. Your hanging around like a bad smell is alienating: your revolution is not our revolution. Your supporters insist on unity, and for some reason that manifests as unifying around you rather than unifying against yet another rich white straight dude who fancies centring the world on himself.

I’ve read portions of your book. I know you think rapist Julian Assange is hard done by, a slap in the face for the vast number of survivors shafted by capitalism. I know you think that deep down we can all get along with homophobes like the Westboro Baptist Church, which is something most of us queers know isn’t possible. I know you still think it’s acceptable to manhandle women: I saw the way you grabbed that woman during that whole business where you were confronted by that journalist about your housing arrangements.

Basically, Russell, I’m asking you very nicely to sort your shit out or fuck the fuck off. I suspect the former might be a challenge, but I’m willing to keep an eye on you and make sure you do your stuff. Likewise, if you choose the latter, I have a very nice bin in which you can be placed.

Anyway, been nice chatting to you. Toodle-pip. xoxo

P.S. In writing this, I bet the shop I get my lunch from has sold out of hot food. And nice food.


The new online porn regulations and how they disproportionately affect women

Content note: this post discusses consensual BDSM

Today, new regulations have come into force which bans vast swathes of online porn. Fisting’s on the list, obviously, because someone at the CPS has an enormous fetish for showing juries fisting porn. So is hard impact play, simulated non-consent, urination, facesitting, and female ejaculation, among other things. The justification is that this is an attempt to bring online video under the same regulations as would apply to porn DVDs.

Which is all very well and good until you notice that these regulations are ridiculous when applied to porn DVDs too.

If we look at the list again, we see some strange things. It’s worth noting that facefucking–an activity which, when shown in porn often involves a man putting his penis in a woman’s mouth hard and fast (so basically, exactly how it sounds)–a staple of mainstream heterosexual (and often deeply misogynistic) porn isn’t on the list. It’s fine to be there on DVDs, and it’s fine online. Meanwhile, facesitting–which usually involves a woman sitting on a man’s face–is banned. So, a representation of female dominance is banned, while a representation of male dominance is perfectly legal.

Furthermore, the new guidelines explicitly say that actual consent of the performers is immaterial. What matters is how it appears. I’ve written before about the major concerns I have when dismissing real consent in porn. The consent of all involved should be a central concern, but once again, it isn’t.

It’s been pointed out that a lot of people who were, until recently, doing pretty well in the online marketplace, are femdoms, dominatrixes and dommes. These women have been independently producing their own porn, and profiting from this work, without having to rely on the male-ruled world of the mainstream porn industry and porn production. What this legislation does is strip businesswomen of their livelihood, while letting the men get on with making their commercial ventures.

If this doesn’t convince you that these guidelines are terrible, note that even female pleasure is banned under these new regulations. Female ejaculation is banned, because it is considered indistinct from urination: something anyone who has ever squirted will laugh out of town.

So, ultimately, what these new regulations have done is rip away a space for women to express alternatives to the models of sexuality we are sold, and replace all this with what a bunch of men behind closed doors have decided it’s appropriate for us to see. Unsurprisingly, what they don’t want us to be looking at or producing is us stepping out of our patriarchy-approved gender roles and onto a pair of stretched-out balls.

Update: Myles Jackman has provided a full list of what’s allowed and what isn’t. It’s worse than I thought! For example, swallowing semen is allowed, but swallowing or consuming ejaculate from a vulva isn’t!!!!!!!!!!!!!


On Lena Dunham

Content note: this post discusses child sexual abuse and quotes an account from the perspective of an abuser

Over the last few days, a right wing news site published something readers of Lena Dunham’s book “Not That Kind Of Girl” with better politics probably should have noticed: in her essays, Dunham describes some incidents which could potentially amount to her sexually abusing her baby sister. This includes bribing the child in order to gain some sort of gratification:

“three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds . . . anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.”

Inspecting her genitals in a way which goes beyond general child curiosity (and I question whether a one year old baby has the manual dexterity to perform this “prank”; it’s possible that maybe by “vagina” Dunham means “vulva” here):

“One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn’t resist and when I saw what was inside I shrieked.

My mother came running. “Mama, Mama! Grace has something in there!”

My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things I did. She just got on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. My mother removed them patiently while Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been a success.”

Dunham also describes masturbating in bed beside the child, who would have been pre-pubescent if Dunham was 17 years old at the time. From Dunham’s own words, incidents like this were ongoing and took place over years.

It is important to note that these quotes were not fabricated by some shadowy right wing conspiracy, but, rather, came from Lena Dunham herself. On some level, Dunham must have known the behaviour was inappropriate, since she herself compared it to a sexual predator.

Defenders of Dunham–and Dunham herself–have rejected claims that these behaviours were in any way abusing, using a two-pronged method. First, they are focusing on the source of the first media outlet to pick up on how concerning the behaviour Dunham confessed to was. They behave as though this is merely a right-wing issue, and these are the only people criticising Dunham, when in fact the vast majority of what I have seen has come from feminists, women, survivors. All these complaints are being erased, swept under the rug to form a narrative that it’s only bad people who have a problem with what Dunham said. That is categorically untrue.

Second, and more worryingly, Dunham’s defenders are trivialising this as something which is merely normal, healthy, childish exploration of bodies, and a normal, healthy way for children to interact with one another. Again, this is not true. Child-on-child sexual abuse exists, and some of what Dunham said, particularly pertaining to the bribery on a much younger child,can be described in this way. Ultimately, there is only one person who can say with any certainty whether she perceived this behaviour as abusive or not, and it is Grace Dunham herself–who, if she sees it this way, is a survivor of child-on-child sexual abuse. I do not expect her to come out against her famous sister, in front of worldwide media and out herself as a survivor: she seems to be a private person who objects to being a character in her sister’s soap operas (Grace once said “Without getting into specifics, most of our fights have revolved around my feeling like Lena took her approach to her own personal life and made my personal life her property.”)

However, it is very important that the abusive nature of this behaviour is not erased. While Grace Dunham may not see herself as a victim, a lot of people who have had similar experiences do. When Dunham’s defenders categorically state that it is impossible for this to be abuse, it is a slap in the face for survivors of child sexual abuse and child-on-child sexual abuse across the world. They will see it, and they will feel completely invalidated when they are already engaged in a daily struggle for recognition and acceptance of their own histories. Survivors’ stories will resemble this one, and they see it as abuse. The defences coming out for Dunham could very easily harm survivors, and lead to further pain and possibly even deaths.

It is therefore crucial that we do not deny that behaviours like this can ever be abusive. It is essential that throughout this storm we support survivors and do not act as though this is all a normal part of development. If any survivors have been negatively affected by what’s going on in the media over the last few days, here are some resources that might help you.

White feminism has a nasty history of rallying around abusers, and this needs to stop immediately. It’s so important that we listen to survivors and put their needs first.


What the media isn’t telling you about the Heywood And Middleton and Clacton elections

On checking the news and Twitter this morning, I’d kind of expected the country to have been overrun by frog-eyed pint-swilling overlords to whom we must all bow. Now, I’m going to outright assume that nobody who reads this blog is particularly interested in having UKIP in charge because I have low expectations of pretty much everything, but they’re not that low, so I have good news for you: don’t panic. 

The media construct narratives surrounding elections. They do this because they need something to report in a 24 hour news cycle, and stories get blown up and spun, despite the fact they’re not really all that true. So, as they treat this as a storming victory for the petty little racists they’ve been building up over the last year or so, that’s not actually the case. Here’s a few things the media conveniently haven’t bothered mentioning much in their quest to create narratives.

UKIP are really bad news for the Tories and quite good news for Labour

Let’s take a look at the Heywood and Middleton results. I’ve made a little graph of vote share, comparing 2010 with this by-election. I’m only showing the parties that were in both elections.image

 

Now, the media are very fixated on the massive jump UKIP have made, but what interests me is what’s happened to the share of the vote for the other three parties. The Lib Dems and Tories have lost what is technically referred to as a massive fuckload of votes. This election is an unmitigated disaster for them (lol). See, they’ve had their go in government and haven’t satisfied anyone, so the right-wingers have decided to vote for this shiny new party instead. Meanwhile, Labour’s share of the vote has held. It’s even risen ever so slightly, for the first time since 1997. I have seen this election treated as TOTAL WIPEOUT for Labour, when in fact, it’s a perfectly cromulent outcome for them. You see, this is a quirk of our electoral system. It’s how first past the post works. You only get one vote. In 2010, the sort of people who don’t vote Labour spread their votes about, while in 2014 they’ve all gone for the same bunch. And this is at the expense of the Tories and Lib Dems, not at Labour’s expense.

Of course, the Labour Party will take this as an excuse to go further right and more authoritarian, but don’t let that fool you. They’re doing that because they want to, not because it makes electoral sense.

Of course people voted Douglas Carswell in Clacton

Douglas Carswell was the MP for Clacton. Douglas Carswell still is the MP for Clacton. For whatever reason, they like him as an MP. This would be a tedious non-story if he hadn’t changed parties. “MP gets re-elected” doesn’t exactly sell newspapers. In 2010, Carswell was elected as a Tory MP on a 53% share of the vote. In 2014, he was re-elected on a 59.7% share of the vote. Meanwhile, once again, we see the Tory share of the vote tumbling–it’s more than halved.

Usually by-elections happen when the incumbent isn’t there: maybe they’re dead (like in Heywood and Middleton), maybe they were forced to resign due to fiddling expenses, maybe they were just fucking done with politics. It’s very rare that they’re still around to contest their seat. Before Clacton, by-elections triggered to ratify an MP switching parties have only happened six times: Merton, Mitcham and Morden in 1982; Lincoln in 1973; Preston in 1929; Kingston-Upon-Hull in 1926; the Isle of Wight in 1904; and Orkney and Shetland in 1902. In five out of these six instances, the electorate voted for the incumbent MP. In the other case, MM&M, we saw a similar pattern to Heywood and Middleton: the vote was split between two similar parties (Labour and SDP; the incumbent had defected from the former to the latter) while the Conservative vote held allowing them to get in.

It just goes to show: people really do vote for the person rather than the party.

The media manufactured this whole thing

Our democracy is very much controlled by the media. The media pretty much invented UKIP, because at the moment UKIP can give media owners what they want. In 2010, we saw something similar with the Lib Dems. The more the media blart on about how UKIP are a credible party, the more credible they become. This is why people bothered voting for them at all. At present, UKIP best represent media owners: like media owners, they’re a bunch of terrible old rich white men. So of course the media has a peculiar hard-on for UKIP.

Furthermore, journalists are bored because elections are boring. To make them interesting, you need a narrative, and the novelty value of UKIP is currently very exciting to them, especially because UKIP love talking to journalists and mugging for the cameras. It makes journalists’ jobs easier, so of course they’ll regurgitate UKIP press releases.

Unlike the Lib Dems in 2010, though, we’re unlikely to see a Tory-UKIP coalition in our future, because UKIP are wiping them out at elections. Instead, I predict we’ll see destabilisation of Tory safe seats, which will likely guarantee a Labour government in 2015.

Representative democracy is a shambles

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably noticed that this whole system is flawed. Elections are easily influenced, and our first past the post voting system makes it even harder for the will of the people to truly be heard. These by-elections–and the media analysis thereof–lay this bare. If you believe in voting, you’re lumbered with the possibility of having to root for UKIP to keep the Tories out (it splits the vote, remember?). If you want to campaign for electoral reform, you might have an issue where suddenly small parties like UKIP do become a real problem, as well as the nice smaller parties like the Greens getting to have a go. There’s also the option of becoming an anarchist, which is working all right for me, except for the having to organise with some awful people sometimes. However you choose to navigate this territory, be aware: everything is broken. The rot is deep.

The thing we really need to worry about is not whether UKIP win any elections or not, but the fact that our society is so riddled with racism that all of the major parties are spouting nastiness similar to UKIP, and a lot of people seem to genuinely believe it. This is the root that we need to fight, and it won’t be won at the ballot boxes.


Guest post- “The public have no right to know”: how the Morning Star threatened to sack me for reporting domestic violence allegations

This is a guest post by Rory McKinnon. Content warning for domestic violence. It is published with permission of the survivor.

My name’s Rory MacKinnon, and I’ve been a reporter for the Morning Star for three years now. It’s given me a lot of pride to see how readers and supporters believe so strongly in the paper, from donating what cash they can to hawking it in the streets on miserable Saturdayafternoons. I was proud to represent a “broad paper of the left”, as my editor Richard Bagley always put it: a paper that saw feminism, LGBTQ issues, racial politics and the like as integral to its coverage of class struggle.

It’s for this reason that I thought I would have my editor’s support in following up domestic violence allegations against the Rail, Maritime and Transport union’s assistant general secretary Steve Hedley. Instead the Morning Star’s management threatened me with the sack, hauled me through a disciplinary hearing and placed me on a final written warning.

If you want to see my reasons for writing this, skip to the bottom. But I’m a reporter, and in my mind the most important thing is that you all know exactly what’s happened behind closed doors. So let’s get on with it.

—–

Last March a former RMT assistant branch secretary, Caroline Leneghan, went public about what she described as a “violent assault” at the hands of Hedley while they had been in a relationship.

“On this occasion he kicked a pot of paint at me, threw me around by my hair and pinned me to the floor repeatedly punching me in the face.”

Leneghan said she had approached both police and the union after their break-up to seek an investigation: her RMT rep confirmed that police had suggested “a high chance of conviction” but that the six-month window for a charge of common assault had since expired.

Despite this, the union’s then-leadership had decided not to refer the allegations to its national executive for a formal investigation. It was at this point that Leneghan decided to go public (you can find Leneghan’s full statement and photographs here).

Now, I don’t pretend to have any inside knowledge, and at the time I had only just been assigned to a post in Scotland and was busy trying to get my feet in under the table up there. But I am a journalist, and when the union agreed to consider an appeal from Leneghan only to see it eventually withdrawn at her request – amid a pretty vile reaction from some elements of the left – I mentally filed it away as something to keep an eye on.

In March of this year I went as a Morning Star reporter – with the RMT’s approval – to cover its women’s conference in Glasgow. Women I knew of in the RMT were still talking about Leneghan’s case, and it made sense to me as a reporter to follow it up in the public interest, so I took advantage of a Q&A session with the union’s national organising co-ordinator Alan Pottage – a session on recruiting women organisers and combating sexism in the workplace – to ask whether he thought the lack of formal investigation into the allegations against Hedley had affected women members’ perceptions of the union. Pottage declined to comment and the session continued, but when delegates reconvened for the afternoon session the union’s equalities officer Jessica Webb and executive member Denis Connor approached my seat and forcibly ejected me from the conference. (You can find my full statement on the incident here).

The very next day the Morning Star’s editor Richard Bagley informed me that I had been suspended following allegations of gross misconduct and that any public comment I might make “could risk bringing the paper into disrepute and could have a bearing on [my] case”. (You can see the letter here and subsequent charges here.)

Six weeks later, I found myself back in London for a disciplinary hearing, with the company’s secretary Tony Briscoe bringing the charges and Bagley sitting in judgement. But as the Morning Star management’s minutes (for some reason presented as a verbatim transcript), andmy own notes here show, it quickly became clear that the real nature of the accusations had nothing to do with the charge sheet and everything to do with appeasement.

From the minutes:

“RB: You have three years’ experience as a Morning Star journalist. Given the type of stories you’ve covered previously do you think the paper would have published a story on the issue you raised?”

—–

“RB: So let’s clarify the role of the Morning Star here: internal union matters are different from inter-union matters.”

—–

“TB: It’s debatable whether the NUJ (National Union of Journalists – Rory) code of conduct applies in a situation such as this and the fact you asked it raises a question about your approach. The question feels more like something a Daily Mail reporter would ask than someone from the Morning Star. You should have known better. This indicates a lack of journalistic etiquette and has damaged our relationship with the trade union movement.”

And from my own notes:

TB: “I would have thought the role of the Morning Star reporter was to progress the aims & goals of the paper.”

—–

TB: “I would expect that sort of question to be asked in the Daily Mail or the Sun.”

—–

TB: “I would say the public has no right to know about the ins-&-outs of the relationship between Leneghan & Hedley.”

Shortly afterwards I received Bagley’s written judgement. Again, you can read it for yourself here, but the thrust of the Morning Star’s editorial policy is below:

“After three years at the paper you should reasonably be expected to be familiar with the paper’s news priorities, which do not include reporting internal union rows or personal controversy. Your actions suggest a fundamental failure to grasp the Morning Star’s news focus, and by extension the role of any journalist employed by it.”

I was placed on a final written warning with twelve months’ probation, then went on to appeal (dismissed, ruling here), but that’s procedural stuff that isn’t strictly relevant.

What’s relevant, to my mind, is that readers cannot trust the Morning Star’s current leadership to report on abuse allegations and failures to formally investigate when they concern favoured figures in the trade union movement, even when those figures are elected officials. As the edition for 24 July shows, however – coincidentally the same day I had decided to give my notice – those Nasty Tories cannot expect such discretion. Feminist principles are a weapon with which to attack the right, but not an end in itself for the left.

I’ve written this because I was told that “the public has no right to know.” I think the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union’s members do have a right to know about their leaders’ decision not to hold a formal investigation into reports of violence against a female member, and I think the Morning Star’s readers and supporters also have a right to know that the paper’s senior staff have an explicit policy of suppressing such allegations.

It is quite possible that the Morning Star’s management committee – a panel which includes the National Assembly of Women’s Anita Wright – have not been told anything about this. If so, I hope that they will investigate and reassert the paper’s editorial independence. I am not trying to wreck the Morning Star here. I am insisting that it commits to its feminist principles and treats readers with the respect they deserve.

Rory MacKinnon
Morning Star reporter (2011-2014)
mackinnon.rorySPLATgmail.com
@RoryMacKinnon

 

UPDATE – This post was drafted on Saturday 26 July, the day after informing the Morning Star’s management of my intent to quit. On Monday 28, the paper announced company secretary Tony Briscoe’s retirement and editor Richard Bagley’s departure “for family reasons”. Bagley would continue to work for the paper, the report added.

__

ETA: The survivor has clarified some of the sequence of events. Caroline says:

“There’s a mistake here,the executive refused me to appeal, after that the only route was the agm, which is the quashed one, as i realised all my documents, statements etc had been distributed to hundreds of people without my knowledge”

ETA 2 (19.14 08/08/14): The MS have issued a statement denying everything. To borrow their phrasing, it is interesting to note they haven’t started issuing libel threats…


I am cis

So, there seems to be a lot of wilful misunderstanding about what the word “cis” means, with a complete lack of will to listen to what trans women are saying, so I figured now is the time for me to come out as cis.

When I’m downing pints in the pub, watching the football and making whoooargh football noises, I’m a cis woman.

When I’m climbing trees and skinning knees, I’m a cis woman.

When I’m wearing a gigantic strap-on dildo and feeling the thing like a phantom limb, I’m a cis woman.

When I’m shoving the boys aside to explain to them how badly they’ve fucked up the barbecue and how to do it right, I’m a cis woman.

When I’m wiping out space armies on the tabletop or computer screen, guess what, I’m a fucking cis woman.

But wait! Those who deliberately refuse to understand the word “cis” cry. Surely I cannot be cis if I do these things, because I’m subverting gender roles.

Nope.

See, when I was born, the doctors looked at my junk and went, “it’s a girl”. I grew up a cis girl, and I blossomed into a cis woman. I have never in my life been a trans woman, or a trans man. I have never experienced transphobia or transmisogyny. I have never transitioned. I’m also not non-binary.

And that’s all “cis” means.

That is all it means. 

Cis is not trans.

Got it? Good.


Not that bollocks about trigger warnings again

That argument about trigger warnings has popped up again, and I feel compelled to write about it again.

This time, the nexus of nonsense seems to be around putting trigger warnings on classic books, with university students asking for this concession to be made. It seems like a reasonable and trivial request, but this hasn’t stopped the commentariat nonsensically screaming censorship.

Let’s start with the obvious: warning that a book contains content likely to cause trauma is not the same as censorship. Do these hacks sit in the cinema, harrumphing about Big Brother when the BBFC certificate pops up and announces that the film will contain scenes of violence? Do they switch off their TV in a rage and write a column about censorship when the announcer points out that there will be an abuse storyline in the next episode of Hollyoaks? How does one even live like this? The only way one can make an argument that content warnings are akin to censorship is if one doesn’t know what censorship is.

And of course, every time this argument rears its head, we see the same ridicule thrown around by privileged journalists. They are mocking people who have survived trauma. They are mocking people who live with mental illness. They are mocking a strategy which helps people to stay alive. That’s the crux of it: putting a trigger warning on something takes only ten seconds of your time, and can mean the world to other people.

I have yet to see a compelling argument against trigger warnings/content warnings that isn’t nonsensical and, at its heart, completely and utterly disablist. It’s selfish and puerile to kick against them, and largely makes you look like a complete bellend. I applaud the widening of the application of trigger warnings: it’s about time they hit the mainstream.


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