Category Archives: not angry just disappointed

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?


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.


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.

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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!


Russell Brand deserves no praise or gratitude

Regular readers will be aware I’m no fan of either Russell Brand (misogynist turdbagel) or No More Page 3 (too liberal to function). So, when I saw this tweet, I felt like I needed gloves to handle the sheer quantities of ewwww that it generated.

Twitter   rustyrockets  And finally, through the love ...

 

It’s hard to work out where to begin with this, so maybe I’ll counterintuitively start at the end with the reaction. It’s been rather gross to see feminists falling over themselves to praise Russell Brand for taking a free t-shirt and tweeting a picture of himself with it. That’s hardly a conversion, or a redemption narrative. That’s taking a t-shirt and not even bothering to wear it. 

I somehow doubt that Russell Brand has slain his internal sexism. It would take rather a lot of work to get over such unpleasant behaviour as bragging to a woman’s grandfather about her sexual behaviour, or prank calling a rape hotline. Frankly, I don’t think an expression of support for one small thing in any way makes up for what he did, and in order to move forward, first he must show understanding of his past sexism and hold himself to account for this.

Of course, that’s a moot point, when the very tweet in which he ostensibly renounces sexism is dripping with benevolent sexism. It was not winning the argument that brought Russell Brand round. It was a sexy lady with her magic lovely lady powers. It is only in thinking about where he could put his dick that Russell Brand was persuaded to take a photo of himself holding a t-shirt. He admitted this himself. And something murky lurks beneath this “good woman” narrative–none of the other women were good enough. No other women in Russell Brand’s life are apparently worthy to convince him that women are actually human. No wonder he treated Katy Perry so appallingly–she wasn’t good enough. It has handed the fedora brigade an excuse for sexism: if women won’t have sex with them, how can they learn not to be sexist dickwaggles?

It is only the good that can change the hearts and minds of sexists through having sex with them, says Russell Brand, to rapturous applause from liberal feminists.

And who was this good woman who managed to change Russell Brand’s mind? None other than Jemima Khan, who posted bail for Julian Assange. Forgive me for becoming even more pessimistic.

Russell Brand deserves no praise or gratitude for his participation in a blatant publicity stunt to get the heat off him a bit. He knows by now that women think he is a sexist bellend and has made a rather pisspoor effort at trying to deflect this criticism. Whether you support No More Page 3 or not, there is no reason to fawn over Russell Brand for this tweet. Let time be the judge of whether he has changed or not.


2013: The year of the hollow gesture

There is a certain fashion now to define a year and What It All Means as a comment piece. And so, in an attempt to be down with the kids, here is what the last year has meant to me.

To me, 2013 has been a year of Big Grand Media Gestures which do absolutely fuck all to change any of the system, as Big Grand Media Gestures are wont to do. Most recently, we saw this with the pardon of Alan Turing. Almost 60 years after the state drove Turing to suicide through their homophobic laws and “experimental” forced hormone administration, they have issued a royal pardon. Alan Turing is forgiven for being gay, to rapturous applause from precisely no-one paying attention.

It is not hard to see the hollowness of this gesture. Alan Turing was but one of the thousands of men persecuted in this fashion in the past, and it just so happens that he was the one who made himself most useful to history. This pardon was stage-managed by Chris Grayling, a man who believes B&Bs should be able to turn away gay couples. Homophobia is not a thing of the past, it is a thing which is still actively perpetuated by those in power, and they should be the ones on their knees, begging for forgiveness for the wrongs of the past, the present and the future. They should grovel at Turing’s grave, and prostrate themselves before those who–alive or dead–still bear the convictions that Turing did. One cannot magic this away, and all of the bits of paper rubber-stamped by the Queen in the world will not make up for it.

Maybe, instead of pardoning Turing, they should have stuck him on a banknote as a convicted criminal. Alan Turing, the queer who saved the world, convicted criminal. After all, it’s clear they wanted a war hero on a banknote, and unfortunately the only one they could think of was Churchill, the notorious racist and architect of genocide, whose major achievement was appearing the lesser of two evils next to Hitler. It was this that pissed me off when the face of the new five pound note was announced earlier this year.

Churchill’s jowly visage will be bumping off Elizabeth Fry, a social reformer who made conditions better for prisoners. A large campaign with a feminist flavour was outraged by this, framed only around how we need to have another woman on a banknote. Eventually, the Bank of England issued a press release earlier than they otherwise would have saying they’d be sticking Jane Austen on a tenner. Job done, women!

Except, once again, we see a certain hollowness. Elizabeth Fry is the sort of person who, in current conditions, would never make her way on to a banknote. She saw humanity in prisoners, while today the government are doing all they can to make the lives of those in prison as much of a living hell as they can get away with. The faces on our banknotes are a political decision. That is why they got rid of the woman who cared. It’s why they replaced her with a warmonger. And it is why they were perfectly happy to use the image of the relatively-inoffensive Jane Austen.

The state’s response to the banknotes campaign was a hollow gesture, but the campaign itself had a certain hollowness in a climate where many women just need some banknotes in our purses. Austerity is hitting women hardest, and many of us can’t hold on to a tenner for long enough to care whose face is on it.

The other large feminist-flavoured media campaign of the year has been No More Page Three campaign. I’ve written before about the myriad problems with it, so I’ll spare the screed and link you to this and this instead. As with the banknote campaign, I don’t doubt that those involved think they are doing good work, but as with the banknotes campaign, they are asking for something paltry which does nothing to change any of the underlying social conditions. It is for this reason that such campaigns are popular with the media. No More Page Three has been supported by almost every media outlet, with the notable exception being The Sun (obviously). Let us remember that the media is owned and run by the rich and white and male, who have a vested interest in the system changing as little as possible. And they’ll allow attention to be thrown over such campaigns because they know it won’t unseat them from their comfy thrones. It benefits them to reduce feminist discourse to simple requests for a page of a newspaper to be removed, or a woman–any woman–to be depicted on a tenner.

The media support is a hollow gesture, and playing the media support game is, ultimately, hollow feminism. It’s misdirected noise. There is a lot of good work going largely unnoticed, as Lola Olokosie notes here.

What we need is a revolution. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of revolution envisioned by Russell Brand, the kind which just magically comes if we wish hard enough for it. Brand’s words were hollow, only words, with little thought for what he was actually asking for other than something else. To watch people shitting themselves with joy over a millionaire sexist waffling an analysis which might have been pretty good if it came from a twelve year old was absurd. Brand wasn’t bringing the idea of revolution to the masses, he just said the word “revolution” on the telly.

Those of us who actually talk the detail and the process, those of us who translate these ideas into praxis–we are labelled at best “divisive” and at worst “criminals”. Even articulating the problems is frowned upon, so how can we build a solution?

These are the things that are likely to come up in the nostalgia shows of the future when we talk of 2013. These grand, yet hollow gestures, this token resistance. I am not saying it is a year where nothing has happened, because loads has. From the achievements of Black feminism to the gains made by the 3Cosas campaign, small victories are being won to little, if any popular attention. And this is what I hope to see more of in years to come, turning our backs on the Big Grand Media Gesture and moving towards the highly unmarketable organising and activism that is essential to immediate survival, and building a better future.


Shit I can’t believe needs to be said: Liking problematic stuff doesn’t make you a bad person

In a desperate attempt to get past the tedious arguments that keep hampering our progress in actually Getting Shit Done, I’m going to say this, and then every time it crops up again I can whap this out and be all like “ta-da! Here’s my opinion, now I’m going to go back to bed.”

Today it’s Lily Allen putting out a music video that women of colour feel reflects another manifestation of white supremacy. Yesterday it was some other music video, the day before it was a newspaper column, and before that it was a thing on telly, and basically what I’m saying is these arguments happen again and again. It goes like this:

  1. Pop culture thing happens.
  2. Privileged people like it.
  3. People without privilege criticise it from their perspective and call it problematic.
  4. Privileged people who like it get upset.
  5. Privileged people who like it think the criticism is some sort of personal attack.
  6. Privileged people who like it declare the thing to be Not Problematic.
  7. Ranks close. Nothing changes.

I was once one of the people who lathered, rinsed and repeated steps 4-7, so I can see exactly how it happens. It’s nice to enjoy something. It makes you feel good. And you’re a nice, good person. Also, racism and transmisogyny and sexism and ableism and bourgeois dickholery are generally pretty awful. So, it logically follows that because you and the way you feel are good, and oppression and supremacy are bad, the thing you like can’t be any of those things.

Except that’s not how it works. That thing you liked? It’s not a part of you. You almost certainly, in fact, had no creative control over it. Instead, it was created by rich and privileged people, far far away. Chances are, they’re not big evil hood-wearing KKK members either. They fucked up, because privilege kind of does that.

The people who are criticising it are those who have to experience oppression. This means they’re a hell of a lot better at spotting it than privileged people. They are probably right here, far more likely to be right about this than you, the fan.

So do you need to stop liking that thing you like? Hell no. I recommend you read this excellent guide: “How To Be A Fan Of Problematic Things”, which guides you through the process of actively critiquing pop culture, starting from this position:

Liking problematic things doesn’t make you an asshole. In fact, you can like really problematic things and still be not only a good person, but a good social justice activist (TM)! After all, most texts have some problematic elements in them, because they’re produced by humans, who are well-known to be imperfect. But it can be surprisingly difficult to own up to the problematic things in the media you like, particularly when you feel strongly about it, as many fans do. We need to find a way to enjoy the media we like without hurting other people and marginalised groups.

So please, please, please let’s stop having this wearing argument. While liking something problematic doesn’t make you a shit, having this argument pisses people off. It pisses off the marginalised voices we need to hear more of in feminism. It pisses off people who are subject to oppressions. It pisses off everyone who’s had to sit through this nonsense more than once–on both sides.

Let’s just listen to what’s being said, understand it and engage with it, and then enjoy our favourite things with a more critical eye.


What does “popular support” mean? A case study of No More Page 3

It’s no secret that, like many other feminists, I’ve been somewhat sceptical of the No More Page 3 campaign. Since its inception, I’ve been squabbling with liberal bourgeois feminists about the worth of pouring so much time and energy into getting rid of a single, solitary page of a single, solitary newspaper.

The thing is, I love to be proved wrong. I really, really do. Just once, I’d love for my critique of something to turn out to be completely off the mark. Just once, I’d like to be able to say “Whoops, my bad, I’m a pessimist, I expected the worst and that didn’t happen.” Just once, I’d like to be unassailably and objectively wrong in my doomy, doomy predictions. But no. I’m fucking Cassandra.

The main defence used by NMP3 supporters is that the campaign has “popular support”. And they’re right about that, I suppose. They’re popular among the high-profile media feminists. They have the support of charming individuals like Alastair Campbell. And they even have trade union support! The official campaign website trumpeted proudly about UNISON passing a motion in support of the campaign. Unfortunately, they remained rather tight-lipped about another motion rejected at the very same conference: where UNISON voted against starting from a position of believing women who reported gendered violence.

This strikes me as pursuit of popularity at the expense of getting anything done. Yes, they have some big-name backers, but many of their big-name backers are demonstrably no friends of women, and no allies in the fight against structural misogyny. And all the while, the Sun is continuing to print things which make the lives of many women actively worse, dumping all over poor women, disabled women, women of colour. And Page Three is still going strong.

We need to ask ourselves why NMP3 is so popular. On the face of it, it seems quite nice that a campaign resonates with everyone. However, let’s take a minute to think about who this “everyone” includes. This is a cause that has united a warmonger, a union that doesn’t think rape survivors should be believed and Caitlin fucking Moran. And the reason that they’re all united in their opposition to putting a pair of tits on a particular page of a particular newspaper is because No More Page 3 isn’t creating a challenge against patriarchal hegemony.

Gaining popular support, by default, means making oneself as palatable as possible to the status quo. It means becoming appealing to those who directly benefit from the structures of power and privilege, so that they will allow you to have your minute on a soapbox with your paltry demand.

It will never be popular to articulate a structural critique which highlights how things are broken and wrong all the way down, because that means that major changes will have to happen. With mass communications controlled by the most privileged, the message will not get out through these means. With a system of government controlled by the most privileged, the changes will not come through this channel. With businesses working only for themselves, they will only do the best thing for themselves.

Some may decide it’s worth it to work within this system anyway. Perhaps they knew all along that what they wanted posed no direct threat to the status quo. Perhaps they watered down what they wanted to make it sweeter. Either way, whether they win or lose, little difference will be made.

But for true change, to really dismantle these structures of power, a lot more is needed. We need to be creative and robust with our demands. We need to be fearless: we will be loathed and despised by the powerful. What has been won so far was not won by being popular, and we still have a long way to go.


I’m bored and I’m tired

Let me tell you something about me. I let you see the flashes of rage, incandescent anger which invigorates me. It comes, it builds, it explodes like an orgasm and I collapse into momentary catharsis. It’s not a good feeling but it’s better than the alternative.

Most of the time I’m bored. I’m bored and I’m tired. It is grindingly wearing simply existing in oh so many spaces. It’s exhausting and tedious having the same fucking arguments time and time again, not managing to chip away at the immovable force.

It happens a lot in anarchist and radical spaces. The men don’t like it when you challenge their supremacy. A few weeks ago, all of this happened, and it was dismissed as nothing. Now we’re being told we should listen to some sort of TV celebrity because he made some vaguely supportive noises on some issues. From microaggressions to outright misogyny, it goes and goes and goes and it repeats and it repeats and it’s just fucking tiresome.

Social justice circles are no better. Too many feminists think they can get away with kicking down, not up and we’re expected not to challenge this because they’re making some vaguely supportive noises on some issues.

It’s a sinkhole of solidarity, that’s what it is. Unidirectional. I will pour my solidarity behind their causes and yet, do they ever have my fucking back? No. I am a trouble-maker, I am a monster, I am a liar.

There are so many privilege metaphors I could think of. I am Ginger Rogers, backwards in high heels and I want to kick off my shoes and sit down. I am being told the game is easy by someone who is playing it on easy mode and I want to throw my controller at their fucking stupid smug head. I am being attacked by an evil invisible zombie horde who are all armed with chainsaws and also invisibility lasers and I am too tired to make up a metaphor which actually makes sense.

I have goals in common with a lot of awful human beings. Why should I be expected to dash myself against the rocks repeatedly to support them while they would never do a thing for me? Why is it that I am expected to undertake so much thankless emotional labour, and if I don’t then I am the unreasonable one? Why is it me who has to do the heavy lifting?

And I know I’m better off than some. At least I’m white. At least I’m cis. At least my disability isn’t too bad. At least I have a livable income. And I try to do what I can to help with the heavy lifting in the struggles of those who get more shit than me. And for some reason, I have more energy for this than I do with the banal struggles of my own. It’s easier to direct my own limited resources into people who need my solidarity rather than the solidarity-suckers with all of their privilege.

What I need is something that I cannot foresee happening. I need for what I am fighting for to be understood. I need to be able to move freely, not to be constantly hampered by the same petty squabbles over what should be a tiny amount of ground. I need those with the capacity to take up the heavy lifting, I need support and to know that others have my back when I challenge the terrible or even just the mundane.

We need a revolution, but before that happens, we need to clean out the shit in our own back garden, because if it’s a tiresome struggle to simply exist amid fellow revolutionaries then it’s not my revolution.

So please, please can we start with the banal, before we expand to the grand? I am aware that for a lot of people, this will be unpleasant, and will require taking on a higher degree of emotional labour than they have ever tried before. But this is how so many of us live day to day, simply to negotiate spaces. It is this dynamic that needs to change, needs a complete inversion.

I know this can happen, because those who I can trust do so. There are some who fight at my side who are supportive and make the fight feel winnable. These few who have my back are unquantifiably precious.

I have seen so many people fall  from sheer exhaustion, from being hounded out of spaces. Voices silenced and bodies taken out of the fight because some would rather maintain and replicate hegemonic power structures within spaces rather than challenge them. I haven’t succumbed yet, mostly because I’m fucking stubborn and I don’t want to let the bastards win. But it hurts. It hurts my soul and it hurts my body, and I’m bored and I’m tired.

Further reading:

Activist Burnout Part I and II by Alice B. Reckless


Safer spaces within feminism

In these last few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about safer spaces within feminism, as so many women seem to have been saying that they feel unsafe.

At least in part, this came from the ongoing attempts of one Hugo Schwyzer to dominate feminism and make it all about him. Rather than hold Schwyzer accountable for abuses he perpetrated and his behaviour towards women of colour, he was excused by an army of white feminist enablers who insisted we should focus on his mental health problems. Meanwhile, others blamed Schwyzer’s mental health problems for the abuses he perpetrated. This storm has led to women of colour and women with mental health problems feeling unsafe.

(as an aside, it ought to be entirely possible to have this conversation about Schwyzer without taking an ableist position. Both positions are inherently ableist: the latter buying into the “evil crazy person” stigma, while removing responsibility from the perpetrator; the former acting as though people with mental health problems are feeble beings, utterly irresponsible for their own actions and in dire need of protection from the big bad world, which is pretty fucking patronising. Any diagnoses of mental illness or personality disorders ought not shield a person from accountability for their actions, but likewise Schwyzer did not do what he did because of any diagnoses of mental illness or personality disorders. Flavia Dzodan also points out how it is problematic to centre this discussion around Schwyzer’s mental health rather than the mental health of the women he abused)

A hashtag has sprung up in the last few days, at least in part as a response to white feminism’s shielding of an abuser. #solidarityisforwhitewomen has created a space for women of colour to articulate the white supremacy which is ingrained in mainstream feminism. I wholly recommend reading it: as a white woman, it was a short sharp shock as to the breadth of the problem, as to the sheer quantity of women for whom feminism has done nothing and has, quite possibly, made things worse. And of course, into the hashtag waded white feminists, attempting to derail and redirect the conversation into something more palatable than the hard truth, and along came Hugo fucking Schwyzer himself.

All the while, the Twitter abuse debate has been rumbling on, and once again it is notable that it is white, cis feminists who have placed themselves at the centre of this conversation. All the while, trans women, disabled women, women of colour, working class women, women with mental health problems, queer women are receiving perpetual harassment. And yet there is no big high-profile media discussion of how people like to collect images of trans women and put them together to encourage potential doxxing; there is no big high-profile media discussion of how continued harassment interacts with existing mental health problems; there is no big high-profile media discussion of the sheer prevalence of racist abuse.

And, of course, there is no big high-profile media discussion of how sometimes white cis feminists can be the aggressors. Last week, I wrote about how the principles of #ibelieveher are too often utterly defenestrated when women talk about microaggressions they have experienced at the hands of of white cis feminists.

Jackie Wang discusses the conditions which give rise to this in her essay Against Innocence: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Safety, pointing to a state of an ideal victim who is, of course, white. Wang eloquently challenges the white supremacy within the politics of safer spaces in dominant feminist discourse. She explains how this can put a stopper on militancy, which is something which is sorely needed. Basically, I recommend you take a bit of time out to read the whole thing, as it is a blindingly good essay which has informed my thinking on this topic a hell of a lot.

And we do see the language of safety deployed when women are challenged on their own oppressive behaviour. This is at least in part because it’s really fucking uncomfortable when you come to realise that you are actually part of the problem. In part, too, it stems from the insistence on engaging in only a manner which is palatable to those feminists with privilege: the dreaded beast they call politeness, with a smattering of their own requirement that everything be treated as a topic for debate, an abstract intellectual difference. It produces conditions wherein the most privileged women are unchallengeable, even as they are the aggressors.

We see it perhaps most starkly when transphobic feminists declare that they want to exclude trans women, using the language of safety as a veil for their own rank bigotry. We also see it where white cis feminists nominate themselves victims after being called out on their own oppressive behaviour. These conditions are pervasive within feminism and while they may create a safer space for some women, they create a fundamentally unsafe space for many more.

And so is it any surprise when so many women reject the label “feminism” as it is just the same old shit, branded differently? We like to say that feminism is a broad set of ideologies and that we do not always agree with one another, but when so many women see unsafe behaviour going completely unchallenged–indeed, frequently actively enabled–how can there possibly be anything in this community for them?

Even the very notion of “inclusion” is alienating for a lot of women. I have been told that saying that something is, for example, trans inclusive, positions cis women as gatekeepers of feminism. There are so many things within are language that do nothing to make many women safer, and contribute to actively feeling less safe.

So what is to be done? Is it even possible for a feminism which does not leave the women who get more shit from the kyriarchy on a daily basis feeling just as unsafe? Perhaps, but it will be a slow revolution, met with resistance from those with most to lose from the abolition of oppressive hierarchies.

To help it on its way, we must hold ourselves and others accountable. We must believe the accounts from women who have been harmed by the dominant white supremacist, cissexist, ableist, classist feminism. We must stand in solidarity, and we must fight all of these battles on all of these fronts, because they are all our struggle. We must let go of a notion of safety which protects abusers and aggressors and perpetrators and put survivors at the centre. We must unthink and unlearn, and kill the oppressors inside our heads. We must talk about these issues and not let them be swept under the carpet due to some nominated “real enemy”. We must look at the margins and the intersections and listen, and learn. And we must accept that many of these women who do not trust feminism may never trust feminism, and yet perpetually persevere in attempting to win this trust.

It’s a fucking thankless task, being against the world, yet is this not what feminism is ultimately about? Do we not want to overturn the dominant social order?

If so, we must overturn it, rather than continuing to replicate these power structures.

Further reading on Schwyzer

Yes, this is about race (Flavia Dzodan)
On Hugo Schwyzer: Accountability, not silencing dissent (Grace)
Why do some feminist spaces tolerate male abusers? (Global Comment)


Not that porn-blocking bollocks again

Once again, the politicians have decided to enter into the “WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING! ANYTHING!” pissing contest over a race to block as much porn as possible in order to… do something involving children. The language of both sets of press quotes seems to conflate a hell of a lot of things with each other, so it’s kind of complicated unpicking exactly why they want to do each of the things they’re planning on doing.

In the blue corner, David Cameron wants ISPs to set up filters which automatically block porn, block certain search terms and have more power to shut down file-sharing networks, as well as banning “porn depicting rape”. In the red corner, Labour want to do kind of exactly the same thing, but vaguely say that the government aren’t going far enough (despite them doing exactly the same as Labour want) and that they “know it works” in reference to porn-filtering.

It’s hard to know where to start with this bollocks, so let’s start with all of the things that are being conflated here. Labour and the Tories alike have hit cross-party consensus in conflating images of child abuse, rape porn (where it sounds like they are throwing in the consensual stuff along with actual images of actual rapes, which are actually illegal anyway) and children seeing porn. These are all very different things, but it’s easy to see why they have lumped all of these things together. Start with the hideous, move on to raising the spectre of something that a lot of people find disgusting, and then finally park in raising concerns over just general, vanilla internet porn, because what if a child sees? It’s a clever way of gaining support for actions which will achieve very little on a social level, while granting politicians a world to win with increased internet controls.

Let’s talk about the specifics of some of the proposals here, and how woefully ineffectual they’re likely to be. Now, I for one am not a fan of letting providers put content locks on the internet. if you’re on O2, might I take this opportunity to say you smell of a dog turd on a hot day and you’re a suppurating dickmelon? It’s OK, I can say that as if you’re on O2, you’re almost certainly not reading this blog because apparently it’s porn and you’d have to pay your mobile provider in order to “verify your age” and get to see what I’ve written. Now, you might notice that my blog is not porn. I’d wager you’d have a hard time cracking one out to this blog, and even if you do, your kink is not my kink, but your kink is OK.

Obviously, it’s not all about me, and there’s a lot of stuff which gets blocked by mobile content locks, such as sexual health sites and LGBT sites. In short, things that definitely aren’t porn and information that young people ought to be able to access. A lot of social justice websites also disappear under content locks as many of us are talking about sex and rape and all that stuff which apparently young people ought to be kept completely unaware of, leaving them to learn about sex and sexuality and consent through the medium of terrible fanfiction.

It gets worse when you add in the possibility of blocking certain search terms. Sometimes, any given search term will be used by a survivor in order to make sense of what happened to them, in order to find support from people who have been through similar. By just flat-out blocking these search terms, access to vital support could well be blocked. Yes, David Cameron seems to think this can be safeguarded by blocking results and instead sticking up a helpline number, but sometimes a helpline is not what survivors want. Sometimes it’s a search for a community, sometimes merely an indication that what happened to them was wrong. This move could well prove to be dangerous.

As for throwing in rape porn, I’ve made my views on this matter perfectly clear. A ban isn’t the solution. What could solve these problems is hard, far too hard for a media-friendly quick fix, the appearance of something being done.

With all of this is the pervasive thread of, as the Labour press release said “we know this works”. But do they? Do they really? There is evidence supporting the idea that increased access to porn reduces the incidence of rape, and there is evidence for the other view. It’s not conclusive: pretty much all studies have used internet access as a proxy for looking at porn, and none have tested whether there is any impact of actually blocking porn. Indeed, it looks like what the politicians want is to produce is a major social experiment of this hypothesis, with the added benefit of being able to decrease access to anything else they find unpleasant.

And it is all for the sake of that media-friendly quick fix. The quick fix desire, the obsession with doing something shit with instant results, is pervasive throughout all of the political spectrum. This measure will no doubt garner the support of some feminists, feminists who have lost site of the fact that we need so much more than to push the things we do not want to see out of sight.

Banning and blocking will not stop abuse from happening, it will just drive it underground, making it easier to perpetrate. At all ages, we need better education about consent. And, as I have said before, we need better porn, ingraining consent as a process inherent in sex. We need to be better at looking out for communities, of responding to abuse that happens, rather than hoping it goes on in places we do not look. We need to make sure employment rights of porn performers are protected until capitalist patriarchy falls entirely. We need to destroy rape culture and grind it to dust.

And that all sounds hard, too hard for a lot of feminists who have lost sight of how deep the rot goes, preferring such inadequate quick fixes mediated entirely by a state with a vested interest in restricting internet access.

But it is only the hard work that can ever end rape of people of all ages; only the hard work which will eventually keep all generations safe. I see the appeal of the quick fix clearly, but we must continue to think, criticise and act. It is not better to do something untested with potential harms. It is not safe to trust the state with this task.

It may sound cliched, my repeated demands for a complete revolution across all facets of society, but this is what we need to address the real problem of rape and abuse. Creating a climate where we cannot speak openly about it is dangerous: these are the conversations that need to happen. Unfortunately, silencing these discussions is one likely outcome of the proposed measures, and let us not forget that the this outcome would only benefit those who profit from rape culture.

Further reading

Is the rape porn cultural harm argument another rape myth? (ObscenityLawyer) Exploration of the evidence base.

Family friendly content filters (Sometimes, it’s just a cigar) Pertinent questions

The proposed UK porn filter is a threat, not a safeguard (Dave I/O) Really detailed techie analysis of why the blocks won’t work, and what might happen.

Porn blocking – a survivor’s perspective (Milena Popova) Why a survivor thinks it’s a horrible idea.

Comment from Wokstation Exploring the technical issues of a porn block.


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