Category Archives: rage at the system

In which I grudgingly concede that I am not the best at misandry

If misandry were real, I’d like to think I were its queen. I feel like I’ve contributed well to the cause of misandry, from advocating for the important cause of killing all men to being that girl who just won’t bone you. I’m such a prolific misandrist, I should run accredited training courses.

But for all of my credentials, I have come to realise that I am small fry compared to a certain group. It pains me to know that no matter how much misandry I undertake, there will always be these people being better at misandry than me. And as a misandrist, it almost kills me to say that those people are men.

Yes, men. Men are brilliant fucking misandrists. Have you ever read something written by men, about men? These dudes fucking hate men with a burning passion I have never quite managed to muster. They think men are nothing but a dribbling set of genitals, grunting and griping as they fail at every endeavour they try. Crawl through any space where men come together to discuss their issues, and you will see just how much men make the best misandrists.

Men feel that men are incapable of understanding basic concepts like sexual consent, that words like “yes” and “no” and “if she’s unconscious, don’t” are to difficult for the pitiful little male mind–something with which I find I disagree vehemently, as apparently I lack an intensity of man-hatred to think that men are innately (or socialised to become) incapable of learning something so simple. Men feel like men just cannot control themselves, that the presence of a short skirt will bring them into some sort of pon farr frenzy leading them to need to mate or need to die. Men think that abled men are unable or unwilling to look after other human beings in a family, and are even so inept that they need all of their food prepared for them by a woman!

I am seriously slacking with my misandry, since I seem to be clinging to the belief that men are actually adult humans rather than the feeble-minded bouncing testes. How much does one have to hate men to accept that any of this is inevitable or normal?

I don’t like losing. I don’t like when I have to concede that men are better at doing something better than me. God damn it, I want to be the fucking goddess of misandry. So to all those misandrist men, I’m coming for you first.

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Shit I cannot believe needs to be said: no platforming and censorship are different

Some people genuinely seem to believe that no platforming and censorship are the same thing. It comes up every now and then, this annoying argument, like a turd that just won’t flush. And so I write this post, in an attempt to break it up with a butter knife before flushing again.

Let’s start by discussing what censorship is. Censorship is something that comes from the top down: it’s done by the government or the media, those with the power to control who speaks in the public domain. The aim of censorship is to quash dissent, to silence voices speaking out against their aims, and to maintain the status quo. Censorship can only be enacted by those who are capable of doing so: those who have the means of blocking webpages, redacting documents, editing what gets published, and so forth. Censorship is an expression of power.

Let’s compare this to no platforming. No-platforming, in contrast, is bottom up. Those who organise events can democratically and transparently decide who to invite, and who not to. Likewise, people can suggest to organisers that perhaps it is inappropriate to invite a certain person to speak, and democratically and transparently apply pressure to disinvite people. The aim of no platforming is to avoid giving someone who is known to be an active contributor to oppressive power structures any further airing, and to maintain a safer space. It’s a refusal of complicity in oppression. No platforming is enacted by ordinary people: trade unions, pressure groups, activists, and just the regular everyday sibling on the street. It’s a tool we can use because, unlike the government and the media, we have no direct control over public discourse: all we can do is choose who to listen to. It’s important to note that this is an aspect of free speech often overlooked: the power to not listen, and the power to challenge. No platforming is an expression of free speech and democracy.

Some don’t see it that way, and it’s no coincidence that these people tend to be the sorts to get themselves no platformed. It’s no secret that fascists hate being no platformed, and indeed it’s about the only time they care about free speech, and no surprise that people like Nick Griffin will play the victim and cry censorship when venues refuse to host his vile parade of fascists, or they don’t get invited to shit. George Galloway, rape apologist and all-round tankie bellend, famously threatened to sue the NUS after they passed a no platform motion against him. And, right now, reams of column inches are being wasted on whinging about how it’s unfair and mean that noted enemy of bi women, sex workers and trans women, Julie Bindel is no platformed in a lot of spaces.*

It’s no coincidence that when someone is no platformed, the media will gladly report on the no platforming, often uncritically repeating the hate speech that got them no platformed in the first place: someone who is no platformed will generally have their own platform within traditional modes of communication. They will be a media personality. That’s how people choosing to no platform will find out that a speaker is inappropriate: from public presence. No platforming is a pretty small weapon, all things considered. It’s like throwing a pebble at a charging rhino.

Nonetheless, it’s a weapon that those who benefit from the current system want to take away from us. Their sense of entitlement to our spaces knows no bounds, and their contempt for the will of the people is evident. And so they will do what they can to quash this tiny little tool that we have.

But remember this: no platforming and censorship are not the same thing. Censorship is their tool, to keep us down. No platforming is ours, and a niggling little thorn in their side.

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*As an aside, yes, I once did share a platform with Julie Bindel. My mental health was poor at the time I agreed to do it, and I didn’t really understand what I was getting in for. It went better than it could have, but it was a mistake, and I own that mistake.


Towards full abortion on demand

I am going to take a guess and assume that, as a reader of this feminist blog, you probably consider yourself pro-choice. But how far do you go in the fight for bodily autonomy?

I believe in full abortion on demand. I believe that a pregnant person must be able to end a pregnancy at any time they choose, for any reason whatsoever–or no reason at all. I don’t believe a pregnant person should need a reason, that they should be able to end a pregnancy safely if they choose not to be pregnant any more. I believe that a pregnant person should have a right to end a pregnancy when they want to, right up to term. No time limits, no particular reasons given. This is what abortion on demand looks like: the bogeyman raised by anti-choicers as an apocalyptic consequence of abortion laws. I embrace it. I believe that this is what we as pro-choicers should be pushing for.

The thing that happens when we talk about time limits on abortion is that it de-centres the pregnant person, who is ultimately the only person who matters when discussing abortion rights. Suddenly, it becomes all about the foetus. This is a clever and stealthy way of getting anti-choice legislation in through the back door, often without even mentioning abortion at all. Take, for example, this recent example, where the Court of Appeal is expected to rule on whether a pregnant woman is guilty of poisoning for drinking during pregnancy. Jem points out the implications if the ruling goes the wrong way, that it would give a foetus the same rights as a person. That could have devastating ramifications for abortion rights, as well as giving the state further control over women. I say “women” here because the state is a deeply misogynistic institution, and that’s what this sort attitude is rooted in. It doesn’t matter a jot that a lot of women cannot get pregnant: this is a stick to beat anyone read as a reproductively-capable woman. 

We need to de-centre talk of harm to a foetus when discussing things pregnant people are doing. And we also need to realise that any time limit on abortion in strictly arbitrary: the only point in a pregnancy that is not arbitrary is term.

When we talk about reasons for abortion, we inevitably fall into a “good abortions” and “bad abortions” rhetoric. Good abortions are those that happen after rape, or when the foetus stands no chance of surviving after birth, for example (usually, in both of these cases, it’s a nice white woman having the abortion). Bad abortions happen to bad people: that slut who uses it for birth control, and so on. A lot of anti-choicers tend to focus on the stereotypes activated by the bad abortions, while a lot of the arguments we as pro-choicers put forward tend to focus on good abortions: we’ll say things like “surely you don’t want to deny abortions to rape victims?” in a bid to make our interlocutors feel empathy.

And we shouldn’t do that, because there is no such thing as a good abortion or a bad abortion. Reasons for having abortions are only one person’s business: the person having an abortion. It is up to them, and them alone, and it seems unhelpful to contribute to public discourse by dissecting reasons that one may choose to end a pregnancy.

Reproductive rights are under attack. As pro-choicers, we know this. We are permanently on the defensive, holding the fragile ground that we have. But what if we rode out to meet the anti-choicers? What if, rather than defending what we have, we fight for something more, something better, robustly pro-choice and thoroughly unreasonable under today’s terms of debate? By loudly and unabashedly centring the rights of the pregnant person, we could potentially gain ground, without compromises.

I don’t doubt that the idea of full abortion on demand is causing niggling little “but…” feelings in you. I felt it too, when I first thought about the concept. The thing is, so many of those doubts are internalised concessions that we have made to the anti-choice camp, little bits of their propaganda that we, too, have absorbed. When we are constantly told that women are just meatsock incubators, over and over, it starts to seep in and we start to believe all sorts of awful things, including high levels of pseudoscientific biological essentialism.

So I demand full abortion on demand. I don’t want compromises, I want something which centres the rights of pregnant people.


Not-Doctor Stavvers, or how I learned to stop worrying and quit my PhD

Content note: this post discusses depression and suicide and disordered eating

Over the last couple of weeks, a discussion has opened up in the media about mental health problems in academia, in particular amongst PhD students. Some point to a culture which normalises mental health problems, accepting them as a feature rather than a bug of the system. Others point to a lack of time, with 60-hour weeks being fairly common. Other factors may include perfectionism, and an environment that just doesn’t care.

Maybe all of it is true. Maybe some of it, maybe none of it. We don’t know, because there is little formal evidence, beyond a few studies indicating higher levels of psychological distress in academics. What I do know is that my own experience chimes strongly with the rest of the anecdotal evidence present. While my experience is squarely in the sciences, I understand that a lot of similar problems pervade arts and humanities research.

Two years ago, I quit my PhD. I was about three and a half years into it, and miles off finishing. It was the best decision I ever made, because it was killing me. I was thoroughly miserable. I seldom ate, and lost a lot of weight, because I had no appetite, just a dull, nagging sense of anxious nausea. Everything that went into my stomach came back up again. I couldn’t sleep, which interacted pretty horribly with my epilepsy as well as my general sense of wellbeing. I pretty much didn’t care whether I lived or died: I took a lot of risks, and my road safety became thoroughly appalling. It wasn’t like I necessarily wanted to be dead, it was more that I didn’t really like being alive at all. I say that as though I had a capacity for liking anything, which I didn’t. I veered wildly between feeling utterly, abjectly miserable and crying in people’s faces; and feeling absolutely nothing except a kind of glassy-eyed ennui. In a way, during that time, I was dead.

Hanging over me were the deadlines. I’d already missed the three years that they say a PhD takes, and so wasn’t getting funded any more. So it was a matter of getting all this shit done while not even being remunerated for my efforts. Even when I was getting paid, it was a pittance. A piddling little cheque which paid the rent, in exchange for my entire life. I’d picked up a bit of marking to do to earn a bit of extra money; on paper, the pay looked all right. In practice, they paid you for how long they thought it should take, rather than how long it actually took. Whoever had calculated that it only takes 15 minutes to mark an undergraduate lab report has clearly never seen an undergraduate lab report, let alone marked one.

Most of the work itself is not fun. Research is heavily romanticised, but in truth, much of it involves staring at spreadsheets, or staring at endless rows of code, or staring at an experiment like a watched pot that never boils. It is tedious as all fuck, and nine times out of ten you are not admiring the pattern that has emerged, but, rather, literally or metaphorically tearing your hair out wondering why the fucking thing isn’t working as it should. The highlight of my days was when I ran Monte Carlo simulations on my data. I could actually take a break for once, letting the computer crunch the numbers while I could spend a few hours sitting outside, trying to remember what my life was like before it became this dull grind.

Everyone I knew was as miserable as I was, everyone I knew was up against the same constraints. We’d keep ourselves going by reminding ourselves why we were doing it: that we were studying something genuinely novel that interested us, and we’d be advancing science by keeping on forcing ourselves into this hellish situation. It rang hollow with me, and I’m sure it rang hollow with the others.

The thing about PhDs is they are a scam. On paper, they are studying a topic that you love, and becoming an expert in it, and generally contributing to human knowledge. In practice, what actually happens is the university gets a research assistant for three years, to work on a project that they want studied that is in some way related to a thing that interests you (but is actually whatever they could get funding for). The university doesn’t have to pay a penny for this research assistant: in fact, they get paid to have you there! I imagine it would be a whole lot easier if everyone just admitted that this is what is happening, but nobody does. And instead, the whole structure gaslights and emotionally blackmails PhD students. It shifts all of the problems we encounter as employees into personal failings: clearly we’re not interested enough in this topic that we supposedly chose, and if we cared enough, we’d want to do the work.

I’d describe a PhD as taking something you love and systematically sucking all of the joy out of it, leaving you a hollow shell forcing yourself to go through the motions. If that sounds a lot like depression, it’s because it is. It’s so indistinguishable from depression, that I am left wondering whether in fact depression is a feature rather than a bug.

The whole system needs radical overhaul in order to stop the relentless march over the edge of despair. Either treat PhD students as workers, and pay them fairly for the work they do and allow them to organise against the litany of occupational hazards they face; or treat a PhD as a topic one loves, and give freedom in how it is researched without the constraints of arbitrary deadlines and appeasement of funders.

Of course none of this will happen, because the problems in our universities are the same as the problems outside of our universities, and capitalism is playing the cunt once again. It demands efficiency, and it turns out what’s in place is one of the most efficient means of producing knowledge.

Getting out was difficult for me, because I had internalised the lies about what a PhD is. It was difficult because when someone walks away from something that is killing them, outsiders sneer, say that they cannot hack it, rather than criticise a system set up to destroy people. It was difficult because I had been in academia for all of my adult life up to that point, and I didn’t have a fucking clue what else I could do with my life, and I’d accumulated very few transferable skills.

But getting out was the best thing I ever did. Yes, I’m still depressed, but I’m eating normally and sleeping all right, and my epilepsy is more under control now. And, most importantly, I’m alive.


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.


Rescue me! An open letter to carceral feminism

Dear carceral feminists–or, whatever you want to call yourselves,

You all say that you are against exploitation of women, so I am dearly hoping that you can help me with the predicament I’m in–and, to be honest, I’ve been in for much of my adult life. See, I’m fucked. Completely and utterly fucked.

In front of me, I have my latest payslip. I work four days a week–eight hour days (with an unpaid hour-long lunchbreak)–at London living wage. The mathematically-minded of you may have noticed that living wage is calculated based on full-time employment, and therefore a 28-hour week on living wage is kind of unlivable. For the last year or so, I’ve just about made ends meet, because untaxed it averages out as just under a grand a month which can cover my bills and rent and food and travel. Not this month. This month, you see, I have hit the point where the government decide you have earned enough to start nicking a cut of your money, and therefore, with NI and income tax, I’ll be taking home less than £700 to cover my bills and rent and food.

The sharp-eyed among you might have spotted that the second time I listed my expenses, I didn’t list “travel”. This is because this problem has conveniently gone away–in the most inconvenient way possible. See, tomorrow is the last day I’ll have this job before my contract expires and, being unable to afford to keep me on in this horrid economic climate, I will be boarding the merry-go-round of unemployment once again.

I was unemployed about a year ago, just before I got this low-paid and precarious job. Do you know how much being unemployed sucks? Have any of you ever been on the dole? Because let me tell you this: the less-than-700-quid a month I have is significantly better than the 70 quid a week you have to jump through hoops for. And I’m one of the lucky ones, because at least I’m old enough to claim the stuff that might just cover my expenses if I’m incredibly creative and don’t mind not eating much more than baked beans out of a bowl. That way, I should be able to afford the bus to the JobCentre.

Did you know, in my line of work, the number of applicants could be up to triple figures? I’m considering putting a gender-neutral name on my CV so I can at least increase the chances of getting a job interview. I already use a more traditionally-British sounding surname because research shows that that improves your chances. Perhaps I just need to work on making myself prettier: apparently that helps, too. I have my own style, but I’m desperate. If it helps, I’ll gladly fluff myself into patriarchal ideals of beauty. I have to eat, and apparently this is what the industry wants from me.

I suppose I could go back to what I was doing before I got into campaigns work, but I am loath to do that. The work was poorly paid and truly exploitative; they played upon gaslighting us into thinking we wanted to be there. Sometimes, the work would take such strain on my body and my mind that I would have seizures.  I got given a pittance, but I had to pay to be there! Imagine that, paying a fee to work! The whole ideal had been sold to me on a lie, and I was trapped in their by the continued lie, and it took every ounce of my effort to exit.

And now I am an exited academic. I warn people like me, fresh-eyed and eager, bouncing with the romantic myths about that line of work. I tell them the truth, that nobody could be happy doing that (if they say they are, it’s probably false consciousness stemming from brainwashing into liking a line of work valued by patriarchy). It’s exploitation, pure and simple.

So what can I do?

Sometimes I consider journalism. I can write quickly, and I can write well, and I have a good follow-base already. As I understand it, I am above and beyond the level of qualification for a comment journalist. The thing is, I really don’t want to do that. I don’t want to sell the most intimate part of me to the highest bidder. My mind is the essence of me, far beyond my body, and it is not for sale. I don’t want my thoughts and feelings to be transmuted into my bread and butter, forced to write and think and compromise myself lest I starve. Sure, some defenders of the industry might say people can consent to doing that, but I’m not so sure myself. How can anyone consent to selling a soul?

Like I said, I’m pretty good at campaigning. I can turn this stuff around quickly and I’m bloody good at it. Fuck it, if any of you want to hire me, I’ll strategise your campaigns until they’re something even I’d participate in. But, unfortunately, even that wouldn’t help at the moment. Because that’s the thing, carceral feminism. You’re blinkered at the moment, not opening up your campaigns to the linked struggles. Sex work isn’t exploiting women, work is. The worker-employer relationship is always exploitative. And it goes double for women, and then piles on the second any of us face intersecting oppressions. Ultimately, I’m better off than many: I have no kids, I have white skin, and I can hide my disability until the ink is dry on a contract.

I think, carceral feminism, that all of these women can be saved. We want to be saved. We need support from you, with all of your resources, to focus on all work, to support all struggles, and to strive towards the complete destruction of capitalism. Let us be. Let us grow. Let us not have to break ourselves over and over.

I am asking to be rescued, and I hear you like rescuing women. So please, please rescue me.


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