Category Archives: media bollocks

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.


On mother’s names and marriage certificates

Let me start by saying I don’t just have a problem with every feminist petition on change dot org. Heck, I’ve linked to a fair few in my time. I just have an issue with a certain streak of liberal feminism, the high-profile sound and noise which makes a big media impact because even if a campaign is won, nothing will change.

The latest of this ilk that has bothered me is a petition to put mothers’ names on marriage certificates as well as fathers’. As with much of this brand of feminism, on the face of it, it sounds perfectly reasonable, a step towards equality. However, what this all fails to understand is what marriage actually is. Historically, marriage is a political arrangement, to join bloodlines. It is a relic of a patrilineal society, and by existing, it continues to keep the old ways alive. It comes as no surprise, then, that it is only fathers on the marriage certificate, because it is only fathers who matter throughout the way we frame lineage. Lineage itself is very literally patriarchal.

Let us imagine for a second that this campaign was won–which seems plausible given it’s such a minor tweak to the system. The mother’s name now appears on a marriage certificate. But who’s name is the mother’s name? Odds are, it won’t be hers. If your mother married your father and took his name, then she has his name. If your mother has her “own” last name for any reason, that comes from her father or some other male ancestor. This is how lineage works: as women, almost all of us have names conferred on us by men, save for the very few who are awesome enough to carve out their own true names. Therefore, to put a mother’s name on a marriage certificate is simply to add more detail about the male line.

There are far better uses for our time. I ought to remind readers at this point that I am far more in favour of completely abolishing marriage than I am of reforming it to make it marginally more inclusive. I think we should solve the problems which require people to marry: to preserve immigration status, to confer next-of-kin status, and various tax and income perks. Make it easy to do these things without marriage, then grind the whole patriarchal institution into dust. Stop the state from dictating how we form families, and create something beautiful and new.

I realise I’m an idealist here, and so I also offer a more pragmatic solution to equality on marriage certificates: do away with naming parents entirely. It’s bizarre and dated that, in 2014, one still needs to mention who owned those getting married before a transfer of ownership. Why not get rid of this archaic requirement entirely?

This would have more benefits than adding a mother’s name. There are a lot of people who are estranged from their parents, for good reasons. Their parents are irrelevant to their lives, so why should there be any need to acknowledge their existence simply to get married? There are benefits for everyone in getting rid of parents’ names on marriage certificates: it chips away, ever so gently, at the patrilineal foundations of marriage itself. This is also just as easy a minor tweak to marriage as putting another name on the certificate.

And maybe after we’ve done that, we can abolish marriage completely?


In which I think out loud about a film I watched: Under The Skin

Content note: This post contains spoilers for Under The Skin, and a discussion of rape and sexual violence. 

This week I finally got round to seeing Under The Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi film about sex and aliens and stuff. As I mull it over, I still can’t quite digest my feelings about it; I’m not sure if I necessarily liked it, but it certainly made me feel things. It was beautiful to look at, providing an arty and distinctly alien view of Glasgow, and the sound engineering was absolutely stunning. Scarlett Johansson delivered a spectacular performance as the alien protagonist. It was pleasingly oblique, with plenty of room for interpretation (or polite befuddlement).

What touched me hardest was that I’ve never seen a film which has summed up my own feelings about heterosexuality so perfectly. We see the world through the eyes of an alien wearing the body of a beautiful woman, and her confusion and disgust at the way men react to her. We see her making polite small talk with men who want to impress her, we see her horror as she enters a meat market night club, and we see her weary acquiescence to being cared for by a man in a time of need. All of it is presented as disorienting and weird, oddly repetitive, and thoroughly and completely unsexy. This is largely how I feel in my interactions with men who I can tell want to have sex with me, and I don’t blame her at all for spending a lot of the second half of the film running away.

For a predatory alien, it is also rather striking how conditional her power is. She is only capable of killing when she has successfully lured men back to her house and undertaken the procedure for suspending them in oil. At all other times, she is helpless, apart from one brief window of opportunity where she is presented with a weakened and near-unconscious man. Even under these ideal conditions, it is hinted at that the alien is not acting of completely her own volition: throughout, we see her shadowed by a male motorcyclist minder.

The climactic scene of the film cements these themes, as her conditional power and the strangeness of heterosexuality converge. A man attempts to rape the alien in an isolated forest. She is powerless in this situation, away from her safe space and up against a man physically stronger than her. It is only the rapist’s disgust that prevents the rape: in the violence, her skin is torn from her body, and her true form is revealed. This disgust does not save her: she is set on fire by the rapist and is ultimately killed.

I didn’t like the ending at all, because it was a story I have heard all too many times before, albeit with a metaphor of an alien tacked on. Sadly, it seemed inevitable from a narrative perspective.

This is, of course, my reading of the film as a queer woman. I almost can’t see how it’s not about what I think it’s about, but I know it can’t be. This was a film made by men, and as such, the likelihood of them setting out to make a film exploring these themes is phenomenally unlikely. So I sit and wonder exactly what they had in mind. Is it working through fear of female sexuality? Are they trying to equivocate the alien’s predation with that of the rapist at the end? Knowing this film was made by men makes me understand it less. And yet, if this film had been made by women, this exact same film, I don’t doubt that rather than being lauded, it would have been panned as these themes would have been more readily accessible and the mainstream is not ready for a film like that.

I recommend watching, if you haven’t already. Technically, it’s a brilliant film, and I’d love to know if others saw what I saw.


Can you be a feminist and write “can you be a feminist and” articles?

Writing an article examining whether one can be a feminist and do whatever the article’s about seem to be all the rage at the moment. From working certain jobs, to having certain sex, to liking certain media, to standing with your hands on your hips, all is fair game to be examined through this lens. It makes for an easy article and you can go home with your ninety quid fee from Comment Is Free and enjoy a nice cup of whatever beverage is still feminist to enjoy.

This whole format is asking the wrong questions, from the wrong perspective. To ask if one can be a feminist and positions feminism as a question of individual choices and identity as a feminist rather than movement. It’s hardly a surprise that this format has erupted to popularity within comment journalism, which typically focuses on a watered-down liberal model of feminism, devoid of the radical kick we need to Get Shit Done. It elides asking why things are as they are, and proposing solutions, instead lumbering blame on the unfortunate women who commit unfeminist acts, or lauding those who act adequately feminist.

Positioning behaviour and feminist identity as sometimes opposing factors that need either reconciling or boycotting inevitably leads to bollocks. It leads to vehement declarations that something must be feminist, because the author as a feminist enjoys it, or, conversely, that something must be unfeminist because the author as a feminist does not like it. It neatly sidesteps asking the awkward questions, such as, where does this all fit in with a model of dominance and power? It is a study in egocentrism: the author’s views as a feminist suddenly become the definitive feminism by adopting this position as judge.

Issues are oversimplified. If something is unfeminist, then all we need to do is not do it to make the world a better place. The boycotting model works just fine and dandy for the most privileged of women, but for many of us, bargains are required for survival in this violent system. Such can one be a feminist and articles fail to examine why one would possibly do these things, in favour of a very basic proclamation that this is unfeminist. On the flip side, something deemed feminist is considered above criticism, no matter how problematic it may be.

Ultimately, one can be a feminist and full of conflicts and nuance. One can call oneself a feminist and do things which are horribly harmful for other women, such as becoming a CEO, being anti-choice or being a galloping bigot. Feminism is a broad church, and a lot of our sisters are wrong. The sort of feminist who writes opinion pieces as to whether one can be a feminist and, the one who lacks the vision to ask the right questions–and, indeed, lacks the vision to even examine the right problems–she, too is a feminist.

Our attention need not focus on individual behaviours and our own personal identity as a feminist. Instead, we need to think bigger, think broader. This is the sort of thing that will not get published in the mainstream, for it poses a genuine threat to patriarchy.


Let’s question why men want anonymity for rape defendants

Content note: This post discusses rape, sexual assault and rape apologism

Fresh off the back of his own trial for a series of sexual offences, Nigel Evans has called for anonymity for defendants. Evans got off as his own defence put his behaviour down to “drunken overfamiliarity”, and throughout the trial he came off as at the very least a massive creep and young people are more likely to be on guard around him in the future.

Evans’s plea is one much repeated among those who seek to protect perpetrators of sexual violence. The call comes up again and again, a repeated screech. The thing is, the evidence shows that anonymity for defendants in sexual offences only protects rapists and abusers.

Between 1976 and 1988, the UK had anonymity for rape defendants. It led to a number of practical problems, including a very major and horrific one: if a rapist escaped custody, there was no way of warning the public that a dangerous rapist was on the loose. There’s also the very important fact that when a perpetrator is named, more survivors tend to come forward. Take for example, the case of John Worboys, the “Black Cab Rapist”. Once Worboys was named, a large quantity of survivors came forward, which helped to convict him. Before this, the police had dismissed allegations against Worboys from survivors who came forward individually.

The evidence shows clearly that anonymity for defendants only helps rapists and abusers, so why are men so keen to defend it? Even as I tweeted about Evans, I was besieged by men–the sort of men who thought themselves good, rational types–saying they believed in anonymity for defendants. Two equally irrational lines of argument cropped up: first, the tired old one about false allegations, and second something about equality.

The thing about false allegations is dull and takes seconds to puncture. The rate for false allegations is low, possibly lower than most other crimes. This persistent myth calls open season on rape survivors, and makes it harder for them to come forward. Clinging to this myth harms only survivors, and it is a completely irrational belief to hold. Men should be more worried about dying from alcohol poisoning than being falsely accused of rape.

As for equality, fuck that shit. The anonymity protection for survivors is a tiny nod to the fact that the system is entirely stacked against them. Anyone who thinks adding on anonymity for defendants is equality doesn’t understand what the word fucking means. They’re calling to stack the system further against survivors.

So with these two irrational arguments punctured, we need to wonder why men are so keen to protect rapists and abusers. My own personal theory is that they know in their hearts they, too, have something to hide. They remember that night where she was too drunk, they remember that boy who was far too young, they remember that time they had to wheedle and fight for it. They remember these things and they feel afraid, afraid that one day someone might be empowered to speak out. They can pretend away that any allegations would be false, but the truth is that these things were lines crossed, and deep down they know it.

It’s the only way I can explain why men are so persistent in pursuing something with no founding in evidence. Why else would they support something which only protects perpetrators?


Why I tweeted a picture of my boobs

Followers on my Twitter may have noticed that I stuck up a topless picture. I’d love to say it was a picture of my boobs, but in fact it was only one of them, as my baps had an argument shortly after they sprouted, and haven’t spoken since.

You don’t tend to see norks like mine in the media, widely-spaced, outward-pointing and subject to the laws of gravity. In fact, you don’t see many boobs at all in the media, and when you do, it’s a very narrow range: they’re almost invariably attached to white cis women, and a certain size and shape. And when they’re presented, they’re almost always sexualised. Tits, according to the media, are sex objects. We don’t see the way they swing when you bend down to find a clean pair of socks, or the way they hang as we take our bras off after a long day. We don’t see the fun of boobs, or the fact that they can also be used to feed babies. When we’re shown boobs, we’re expected to approve of their sexiness, leer a bit and enjoy patriarchy.

The media has control over presentation of breasts, so nothing is going to change. They like having the monopoly. And it’s for this reason that our views of boobs are restricted to how the men who own these publications–the lad mags, page 3, and so on–want to see boobs. It’s a male fantasy, a sense of entitlement.

Social media, of course, presents a major challenge to the traditional media model, and this is where we can really make things happen. I posted a picture of my baps in a fairly innocuous photo, and I’d love for others to do so too. Let’s flood the world images of the genuine diversity of our bodies, and show that nudity isn’t a shameful thing at all. There’s a hashtag–#normalisenudity–and a tumblr. A few people have already participated, and I’m inviting you to, if you feel safe doing so (the tumblr will accept anonymous submissions).

Given the current state of things, given the way capitalist patriarchy has controlled nudity, I can completely understand how terrifying this is for some. I posted a picture of my jubblies because I can as well as wanting to flick a v-sign at capitalist patriarchy. But if you want to join me, please, please do. Let’s try to reclaim and normalise nudity.

ETA 03/04: Welp, men have gone and trolled the hashtag, so maybe avoid that. The tumblr’s still going strong if you want to use that though. Also, the fact that men pissed their pants over this shows that it’s threatening them :)


This is the most misogynistic thing I’ve seen today

Above is a video for the No More Page 3 campaign, and it is the most misogynistic thing I have seen today.

In case you don’t want to watch it, the narrative centres on a man buying a copy of a certain tabloid newspaper, and being stalked around by a topless woman every time he opens the fucking thing, which has a devastating impact on his family and leads to his young daughter making some paper mache norks. It’s so fucking ghastly and misogynistic I’d think it an April Fool, were it not uploaded a few weeks ago.

The whole thing reeks of largely discredited scarlet woman tropes as well as deliberately sexualising children. It’s the sort of thing I’d expect to see made in the 1950s: sexy lady destroys innocent family, and it’s all her fault. The man is not held accountable; indeed, he looks just as perturbed at being relentlessly tailed by the Page 3 girl as the video invites us to be. The blame is laid squarely on the woman, not anywhere else as we are invited to stare at her and mutter to ourselves that she shouldn’t be there.

And let’s talk about sexualising a child, because you know what publication has never, to my knowledge, put out images of little girls wearing false breasts? The Sun. Or, indeed, anything else I can think of, except that fucking video. Yes, we’re meant to be horrified by it, but do you know what I really don’t want to look at? Images of little girls wearing false breasts. Most of the internet and print respect this. Of course they couldn’t have gone for a girl just taking her top off and being cool with it: it was their intention to sexualise this child’s body as much as possible while simultaneously saying “look how terrible this is”. It’s like the Sidebar of Shame in the Daily Mail, except they’re seriously expecting us to fall over and applaud their feminism for this.

It’s sadly not uncommon for initiatives like this to fall back on objectification and sexualisation. In Playing The WhoreMelissa Gira Grant explains that this is the dominant discourse in carceral feminist initiatives against sex work: that sex workers are expected to be seen but not heard, that when they are not being held up as victims, they are being held up as the enemy. One can also draw parallels to PETA, who like to treat women like meat in order to make people eat more vegetables.

Make no mistake: this is what is going on in this video. Somehow, No More Page 3 have managed to produce something that manages to be more objectifying and misogynistic than what they claim to oppose.

___

ETA 1553 01/04/14: The “official” campaign account have distanced themselves from this video following complaints due to its misogyny. This marks a reversal on their original position, where they tweeted it excitedly. It is worth noting that while the “official” campaign do not endorse it, this video is not incompatible with any of their campaign talking points.

ETA 1612 01/04/14: The official account also allegedly deleted a tweet describing the video as “fantastic”. As I said before, there is no way this video is incompatible with the main talking points and aims of the NMP3 campaign. I would really like for NMP3 to engage with and talk about why using the imagery and tropes in this video is as misogynistic, if not more so than NMP3.

I’d also like to clarify that, when I refer to “No More Page 3″ throughout this post, I’m not necessarily referring to the “official” campaign, but the movement itself, which, being ostensibly grassroots, ought not to be limited to a single Twitter account!


A rant about street harassment


In which I review a book that I read: Playing The Whore

Since I heard that Melissa Gira Grant wrote a book about sex work, I’ve been desperate to get my grubby mitts on it. Having now read Playing The Whore: The Work Of Sex Work, I want to recommend that every single one of you reads this fucking book.

Weighing in at just 132 pages, I’m astounded Gira Grant managed to pack in so much vital–and radical–analysis in such an accessible format. Central to her thesis is the concept of a “prostitute imaginary”, a cobbled-together bundle of myths which occupies our minds. These myths are systematically examined and dismantled through a feminist lens. Everything you thought you knew about sex work is a lie, it seems. Did you know, for example, that among a sample of over 21, 000 women who do sex work in West Bengal, there were 48, 000 reports of violence perpetrated by police, but only 4000 perpetrated by customers?

Gira Grant has a theory as to why this may be the case. The forces of public imagination surrounding sex work run strong. Misogynists, law enforcement and feminists alike view a sex worker as always working, as nothing but a sex worker. She (as Gira Grant points out, this stereotype is always of a cis woman) is somehow deviant and subjected to stigma for her deviance. Simultaneously, focus is on representations of sex, rather than the concrete. We only see sex workers being arrested, or peek through a peephole to see what we want to see. With all of this going on, the voices of sex workers can easily be ignored, creating this situation:

These demands on their speech [in testimony in court and the media], to both convey their guilt and prove their innocence, are why, at the same time that sex work has made strides toward recognition and popular representations that defy stereotypes, prostitutes, both real and imaginary, still remain the object of social control. This is how sex workers are still understood: as curiosities, maybe, but as the legitimate target of law enforcement crackdowns and charitable concerns–at times simultaneously. And so this is where the prostitute is still most likely to be found today, where those who seek to “rescue” her locate her: at the moment of her arrest.

The book travels in a spiral, revisiting the same points over and over again to the joint problems of violence and coercion from law enforcement, and how other women, especially feminists, aren’t helping–and in fact, attempts to rescue can often make things worse, such as demonstrated in a case study in Cambodia, where attempts to “rescue” sex workers have led to many women being dragged away to “rehabilitation camps”, repurposed prisons where women have died or set to work long shifts behind a sewing machine.

A lot of what we as feminists have been doing wrong is related to “whore stigma”, which Gira Grant explains goes beyond simple misogyny:

The fear of the whore, or of being the whore, is the engine that drives the whole thing [a culture which is dangerous for sex workers]. That engine could be called “misogyny”, but even that word misses something: the cheapness of the whore, how easily she might be discarded not only due to her gender, but to her race, her class. Whore is maybe the original intersectional insult.

It is a desire to reverse away from “whore stigma”, which predominantly affects sex workers, but can also hit women who are not sex workers, which links with a lot of problems within mainstream feminism: Gira Grant theorises that it is no coincidence that feminists who are anti-sex work are also often transphobic. And, likewise, anti-sex work laws are often used against trans women and women of colour, from unfair targeting for stop and search, to disproportionate incarceration.

It makes for uncomfortable reading at times, this litany of our own mistakes as feminists, and perhaps nowhere is it clearer than in an analysis of objectification, and the feminist line that sex workers increase objectification of women. The evidence upon which these assumptions rest is dealt with in short order, and Gira Grant highlights the dehumanisation and objectification of sex workers at the hands of women, as silent props, and, often depicted in a frighteningly demeaning fashion.

In dismantling the myths, Playing The Whore offers glimpses of the reality of sex work, the diversity of all that this umbrella covers. The book explains neatly how sex work fits in among other forms of work, of how once upon a time, sex workers and housewives were sisters in arms. At times, I wish the book were far longer, as I feel as though there are tantalising hints of analysis to come which never quite develops but is merely teased. Although this book is neither explicitly anti-capitalist nor explicitly ACAB, conclusions of this nature bubble under the surface, never spelled out, for this is not quite within its scope in its current form.

This book is a must-read feminist book. I would go so far as to place it as a crucial Feminism 101 text. The first feminist book I ever read way Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, whose ideas I am still struggling to unlearn, as it gave me a shameful attitude towards sex workers and femmes for years I will never get back. Playing The Whore casts a critical eye on patriarchy while actively dismantling the stigma many women face, and teaches the central feminist values of listening, and solidarity. For readers more versed in feminist theory and praxis, it allows us to evaluate our past mistakes and encourages us to rebuild on more solid ground. By rights, this book could and should shake up feminism for the better.

But sadly, I fear it will not, for I fear the forces Gira Grant outlines are too powerful to be brought down by this smart little book. We have had centuries of clinging to a prostitute imaginary while coming up with numerous excuses to silence the voices of sex workers. I believe that this book will largely be ignored by the mainstream with their stake in speaking for and over sex workers. A recent review of Playing The Whore by a liberal cis white feminist took umbrage to Gira Grant’s centring of sex workers in a book about sex work, and decided that she would rather read about “demand”. Mainstream feminism wants sex workers decentred from discussions directly pertinent to their livelihood, it wants to keep sex workers on the margins. It will not listen.

Gira Grant knows this, which is why she concludes with a rousing cry for decriminalisation, in the hope that the rest will follow. This conclusion, and the solidarity Gira Grant asks for are concrete things which we as feminists who do not do sex work can support.


Dear Amanda Marcotte

Content note: This post discusses rape

Dear Amanda Marcotte,

I read your piece in Slate justifying a decision to incarcerate a survivor of rape to force her testimony with a kind of slack-jawed disgust, slowly morphing to a deep and visceral sense of terror.

I was horrified to read what happened to the woman who, having survived something so vile, was arrested and incarcerated until the trial. My heart shuddered at the thought that could happen. And the bile rose up in my throat as you said, over and over again, that this was all right. You say that in domestic violence cases, a lot of survivors recant their testimony because of the abuser, and go on to speculate that perhaps this is what happened with this woman. You say that there’s nothing that can be done to heal this in time for lawyers to get what they want, as though that’s the important thing here. You pretty much out-and-out blame women who do not comply with the justice system for any future violence that may be perpetrated.

Your article is sickening and frightening to me, a rape survivor who never reported what happened to me to the legal system. I’ve had to deal with many shades of bullshit from rape culture in my time, but you’ve given me something new to feel horror over. It had never occurred to me that some people might decide to blame me for any other things that might be perpetrated by that man. It had never occurred to me that the state could lock me up if they wanted to for not wanting anything to do with them, and self-professed feminists would cheer them on. I know that men who rape often don’t stop at one. And yet, what happened to me was deeply personal and I chose to deal with it in the way that made me feel safest. I feel like, for the most part, what I needed to happen, happened: all I wanted was him out of my life and to not have to talk about it in great detail to anyone.

As a feminist, I believe that the needs of the survivor are the only thing that matters in any instance of sexual violence. The way of starting to heal a deeply personal violation is also deeply personal, and deeply individual. For some survivors, this might be the route through the legal system. For others, it might be making sure everyone knows the name and face of the perpetrator as a warning. For others, perhaps recognition of what happened and reconciliation with the perpetrator is possible. For others, maybe setting the perpetrator on fire. It’s individual, it’s unique, and all of these are valid if that’s what the survivor wants.

Under rape culture, the wants and needs of survivors are ignored twice. First, in the initial violation, and second, in the response. We have our autonomy completely stripped of us by a state which supports and enforces rape culture, by peers who support and enforce rape culture, and, apparently, by people who consider themselves prominent feminist commentators who are also doing their best to sweep the wants and needs of survivors under the carpet when they get a little inconvenient.

So fuck your “greater good” guilt trip. Any greater good which involves kidnapping and incarcerating women is not worth it at all. Fuck your decision to ignore the wants and needs of survivors; you are just as bad as the rest of the rape culture which spawned your ideology. Fuck your supporting a move which will only put survivors off speaking out about what happened.

There is only one thing that matters, Amanda Marcotte, and that is what survivors want. Our role, as feminists dismantling rape culture, is to support each individual survivor unconditionally, in whatever course of action she chooses. Any other course is just rape culture, rebranded.


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