Author Archives: stavvers

Things I read recently that I found interesting

Welcome to the round-up, late because I’ve been ill recently with a nasty tummy bug, but normal service has now resumed.

Trans Women Shouldn’t Have To Constantly Defend Their Own Womanhood (Morgan M. Page)- There is no universal experience of womanhood.

Were Women of the World right to drop an event featuring a rapist talking about his experience? (Bridget Minamore)- A nuanced look at the issues.

Never mind free tampons – schoolgirls need education about their periods (Chella Quint)- A much-needed piece on what needs to be done.

“No one ever asks what a man’s role in the revolution is”: Gender and sexual politics in the Black Panther Party 1966-1971 (Trace Matthews)- A vital bit of political history.

Alt-Feminism and the white nationalist women who love it (Flavia Dzodan)- How some strands of feminism and fascism go hand in hand.

The Impossibility of the International Women’s Strike is Exactly Why It’s So Necessary (Camille Barbagallo)- The context to the recent women’s strike.

An unwelcome home: to be a migrant in today’s Britain is a daily struggle (Kiri Kankhwende)- Looking at the fucking state of things on this rainy fascism island.

How did the tube lines get their names? A history of London Underground in 12 lines (JonnElledge)- An enjoyably nerdy history.

Yes, gender is a spectrum and yes, trans women are women full stop: why both these things are true at the same time (Catherine Baker)- Shit that shouldn’t need saying, said incredibly well.

Leaf Blowers: Anatomy of a Teen Celeb Crush (Kayleigh Ann)- Looking back on how crushes feel. This was adorably nostalgic.

Your definition of a ‘real woman’ is ableist (Lola Phoenix)- Disablism in the “shared female experience” bigots like to believe in.

Lessons Learned (Wail Qasim)- Why Cressida Dick’s appointment as Met Commissioner is disastrous.

How do we ensure public safety w/o police? Check out this list on alternatives to policing (#4mysquad)- Collated resources which all address the favourite question of liberals.

And finally, have some baby sloths talking to each other, it’s life-enhancing.


“Tyler, you’re fucking Marla”: A perspective on Fight Club to piss off its devotees

Content note: there’s a lot of discussion of sex and violence in this post. Also, spoilers for Fight Club, if somehow you’ve made it without watching it or knowing “the twist” for almost twenty years.

Aren’t Fight Club fans the fucking worst? They’re usually men who think they’re quite smart to have understood a film (or book) which spends an awful lot of screen time giving a blow-by-blow explanation of its own twist. They relate to Tyler Durden, see something in the text which says Very Deep Things about masculinity, find its rather heavy-handed anti-capitalist messaging really revolutionary. They see Project Mayhem as aspirational, and they’re probably “alt-right” neo-Nazis.

They’ve been going about the story all wrong. Like the sheeple they decry, they’ve been simply taking everything at face value. They’ve been nodding along with something which is making fun of them, not understanding that they are the butt of the joke.

Allow me to present an alternative perspective on Fight Club.

“Tyler Durden” is a real, flesh-and-blood human being.

We are told, in the twist at the end of the film, that Brad Pitt’s chiselled character is a figment of the nameless Narrator’s imagination. It was the Narrator all along who was, in chronological order: blowing up his own apartment, starting a fight club, starting more fight clubs, starting the space monkey programme, starting Project Mayhem, blowing up the financial district. Did I miss anything? Probably.

I don’t buy this, for one major reason: logistics. Let’s take our first instance, the destruction of the Narrator’s apartment, which was done with explosives. The Narrator himself arrives home to his apartment already having been blown up. “Tyler Durden” left the airport only moments before he did. There is no way “Tyler” could have personally planted the explosives, nor the Narrator. However, it makes sense if we bring in another variable: those other fight clubs/Project Mayhems.

A nationwide network of fight clubs and more drastic actions cannot simply be put into play on an overnight business trip. We watch the Narrator’s journey. This shit takes quite a lot of time and effort. So, perhaps, the infrastructure was already in place. Another place this makes sense is when one compares how much work goes into setting up the fight club, when these things seem to run themselves in other cities: they’ve been going longer, they’re already set up and functioning. The Narrator’s encounter with “Tyler Durden” is not the beginning. It’s the middle. This is, of course, reflected in the storytelling style of the film itself, where the moment of the beginning is explicitly jumped around, searching for a suitable starting point for his own tale. We also see a clue to this shortly before “Tyler Durden” is formally introduced. As the Narrator rides a walkway to get on a plane, we see “Tyler” on a walkway… going the other way, as if he is returning from somewhere the Narrator is headed towards.

Somebody’s been setting up fight clubs, and it’s somebody with a gift for grifting, a master manipulator, an all-round arsehole. “Tyler Durden” is real, and the Narrator is himself a peripheral character in “Tyler’s” plot.

From “Tyler’s” perspective, the Narrator is one mark of many, another source of money, another pawn for grooming into developing another cell in a larger structure. Even before the glimpse of him on the walkway, we see flashes of “Tyler”: at the Narrator’s workplace, at the doctor’s surgery, at a support group. “Tyler” was checking out his mark before they ever formally met, and decided he had found the right man for his purposes. He went through his well-oiled process, becoming a central part of the Narrator’s life, close as a lover. He manipulated, gaslight, and led the Narrator into a series of actions to get all of what he needed for the cell.

So why does the Narrator think he is Tyler Durden?

“I was the warm little centre that the life of this world crowded around”

That quote above is from near the beginning, when the Narrator explains his addiction to support groups. He goes, he says, because he likes that feeling of being centred. It’s a contrast from the rest of his life, where he is nothing.

His life with “Tyler” gives him this feeling, too. He feels special, being in proximity to this remarkable man. It is only when he realises that he is one of many that things fall apart.

His delusion that he is in fact “Tyler Durden” is the only way for his fragile ego to cope with the fact that he is the centre of precisely sweet fuck all. Like the author, Chuck Palahniuk, who believes himself so important he invented the insult “snowflake” when he didn’t, the Narrator is nothing special. That thought, to him, is terrifying. And so he chooses to believe that he is Tyler Durden, and he has been from the start. He’s been running the show right from the off; he went off to be Tyler Durden while he was asleep. He was cool, sexy, and ruthlessly efficient as Tyler, rather than a pathetic little dork. Who wouldn’t want to literally look like Brad Pitt, and have the supernatural power to create an unstoppable terrorist group?

It is a balm to his fragile ego, picturing himself in the driving seat when he was manifestly not. He constructs a fantasy world wherein he’s in the middle of all things, where he started something rather than got carried along with it. It helps him a lot to imagine that not only was he in control of everything the whole time, but he could defeat the bad side of himself all along. It makes him feel good. In actuality, he isn’t even important enough to have a name.

Editing in is an explicit theme of the film, with it set up early in discussion of “Tyler’s” projection job reflected us being told the Narrator edited “Tyler” into his life. What is left implicit is the equal possibility of editing out. 

The Narrator is an audience surrogate. The audience for Fight Club is sad little men who want to feel important and special, who want to be Tyler Durden.

So, Tyler Durden does exist. Except, actually…

Tyler Durden does not exist.

The character played by Brad Pitt is a real human, with whom one can really interact. But he is not “Tyler Durden”. “Tyler Durden” as a real entity does not exist.

We see, throughout the film, snapshots of what I’ll call “How Do I Even Begin To Explain Tyler Durden“. Bob’s heard that Tyler never sleeps. Another man in another city has heard that Tyler regularly gets his whole face redone surgically. Nobody knows who “Tyler Durden” is, and that’s because Tyler Durden does not exist and the Narrator missed the memo about that. “Tyler Durden” is more of a password: a way of the initiated announcing themselves to others within this not-so exclusive club. Nobody knows anything concrete about “Tyler Durden” because they are never entirely certain if they had met him or not. “Tyler Durden” is a presence who is never really present, a name used by those who fulfil “Tyler Durden’s” goals.

“Tyler Durden” is the person who is doing the organising at any given moment. All fight club members are “Tyler Durden”, and none of them are.

Just because “Tyler Durden” does not exist, does not mean that ultimately there’s no leadership. It also does not mean that the Narrator spent a lot of the movie hanging out in the bath with Brad Pitt.

Marla Singer is the entity the Narrator calls “Tyler Durden”.

We talked earlier about how editing in allows for editing out, but a third possibility is available: editing into something different.

Most people don’t pay a lot of attention to the beginning scenes of Fight Club, waiting for the manly punching to begin. This is a mistake, because Marla Singer’s introduction is fascinating. We meet a woman who is dissatisfied with life, enjoys standing on that thin line between life and death. She’s a gifted grifter, a master manipulator and an all-round arsehole. She smokes like a chimney, lies, infiltrates, steals, and wears some really great thrift store costumes.

We are told that “aside from humping”, Tyler and Marla are never seen in the same room together. This is because Tyler is Marla. We see so many parallels between the first meeting with Tyler and the first meeting with Marla, these life-changing conversations that flip reality on its head. Both Marla and Tyler are nihilists and fakers.

Again, this is more than the Narrator can handle. He is a misogynist. He holds women in contempt. He held women in contempt long before he met Marla Singer, and continues to do so after that. It pains him that a woman can know so much about how the world works, and can live without fear in a way that he never could. And so, he finds it easier to imagine that a man is doing all of this. First, Brad Pitt, and later, himself.

The parallels between the characters are strong, and that attention is drawn to the fact we never see them in the same room is a beat-you-over-the-head-with-a-chair hint that the two are one and the same. Tyler completes conversations that began with Marla, because the narrator cannot bear to be talking to a woman.

This, too, explains Marla’s frustrations with the Narrator, who acts like two different people around her. Sometimes he treats her with respect, while other times he treats her like a woman. He is, perhaps, different from her other marks in this respect: he is so misogynistic he frequently imagines her away.

So now, let’s consider how some of this works with Marla running the show. It adds a dimension to the film which was once flat: the dimension of misogyny and how women are treated. Imagine that first fight, “I want you to hit me”. Instead of punching Brad Pitt, he is punching a scraggy woman, and she is giving it right back, and then some. Imagine that scene with Lou, the bar owner, as “Tyler” takes a beating, cackling and spitting blood–suddenly, the befuddled horror on the faces of witnesses makes more sense if it’s a frail lady as the victim.

Marla’s entire scheme works because as a woman she can make herself invisible. In participating in fights, she shores up her reputation as the omnipresent crazy bitch at the side of the man who they’ve been told is in charge. She seems completely erratic, and that gives her a cloak. She had done this in cities all across the country. She is manipulative, and she’s experienced at it. The Narrator is not the first man who has been subject to her gaslighting, her fucking about, and her plonking him into the position she needs him in. Marla knows what makes men tick, and it’s getting to hit each other and feel like they’re smart enough to have noticed the world is a bit fucked.

At the end of the film, the Narrator banishes “Tyler”, and Marla arrives very conveniently swiftly afterwards, carried in by space monkeys–who, we’ve already been told, are to manhandle their own perceived leaders if instructed. The Narrator finally sees reality for what it is, and perhaps even sees beauty in Marla’s plot. The Pixies play. A penis flashes up on the scene. Credits.

tl;dr

The Narrator is a sad little misogynist who likes to imagine himself doing all the cool shit the chick he fancies pulled off. Tell this to ur MCM next time he tries to lecture u about how special FC is, and ruin it for him.

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Things I read this week that I found interesting

For the second week in a row, the weekly post round-up is actually weekly! Here are some things I read this week that you should read, too.

‘My eyelashes catch my sweat’ — How women responded to a photograph of my eleven year old daughter with body hair. (Kristie De Garis)- This young girl is great, knowing her own mind, but sadly people have nothing better to do than pick on an 11 year old.

Repeating Falsehoods About Disabled People Isn’t the Way to Prevent Gun Violence (s.e. smith)- A nuanced analysis on the recent removal of regulations on purchasing guns in the USA, stopping background checks on some disabilities.

This is the next century: my old school just launched a gender identity policy and this is how it feels (Catherine Baker)- A look at progress since the 90s, and where next.

Reflections on stigma and self-disclosure by a clinical psychologist with bipolar disorder (psychconfessions)- Exploring talking about experiences of mental illness with colleagues in clinical psychology.

On Lost Boys and Ethical Boundaries. (Jamie Nesbitt Golden)- Journalistic boundaries are vital, especially when dealing with racists.

These photos of Botswanan metalheads are pretty mind-blowing– A look at the Botswanan metal scene.

Meet The Man Who Stopped Thousands Of People Becoming HIV-Positive (Patrick Strudwick)- The story of the uphill struggle for gaining access to PrEP.

When A Woman Deletes A Man’s Comment Online (Ijeoma Oluo)- On white men and “debate”.

And finally, when a tap harmonises with a violin, it’s beautiful.


It wasn’t “our side” platforming Milo that sank him

Content note: this post discusses child sexual abuse and Nazis

Over the last day or so, the far-right troll and supposed rising star of fascism, Milo Yiannopoulos (or Poundland Joffrey, as I prefer to call him), has experienced something of a very sudden fall from grace. His right wing friends are dropping away from him: within a 36 hour period, he was disinvited from CPac (a right-wing conference), had his incredibly lucrative book deal dropped, and colleagues at the far-right fake news outlet for which he occupies a senior role are threatening to walk out if he isn’t sacked.

It seems, to the far right, transphobia, inciting xenophobic and racist violence, virulent misogyny and being a literal neo-Nazi aren’t a problem, but defending child sexual abuse is a dealbreaker. Their moral compasses are perhaps a little peculiar, since all of this advocating for vulnerable people to die is also very bad. Nonetheless, it brings a small satisfaction to watch them tearing a man to shreds who, just hours before, was their poster boy.

It also gives me great satisfaction that perhaps we’ll no longer have to keep having the tiresome fight within our own side about whether or not to platform this dangerous Nazi. There have been people who claim to be with us–against fascism–who have been only too willing to play into the far-right’s hands, by inviting Poundland Joffrey to share his opinions, and then signal-boosting it as far as it will go. The rationale, they say, is to “know one’s enemy”. To give him “enough rope to hang himself”.

That didn’t really pan out. Instead, what it did was create an ever-bigger media persona around Milo. They were feeding the troll, making him stronger and stronger, his bad bleach job ubiquitous in photos at the top of articles, his hatred amplified and largely unchallenged. Even when lip service was paid, it went like “Milo is charismatic and interesting and here’s what he thinks about undocumented migrants, but that’s a bit controversial, I don’t agree with it personally but anyway let’s talk about why this guy is so phenomenally popular and it’s because he’s so cool and well-dressed.”

It spread far-right ideology further, and normalised it and the Nazis who spout it. And furthermore, it never managed to give Milo enough rope, no matter how many disgusting things they allowed him to publicly say.

What sank Milo was his own side, who manoeuvred away from him when he was no longer useful to them. It was not a comment of his in an interview with an ostensibly liberal television host that destroyed Milo, but something in his own domain: a far-right livestream with like-minded nerd-Nazis. Poundland Joffrey’s downfall came from within intra-fascist networks, not from “our side” falling over themselves to platform him.

The far-right is built upon fragile alliances. A gay man’s teaming up with homophobic conservatives was always somewhat delicate. I expect homophobia had its role to play within Milo’s fall from grace: in his comments, he was careful to confine his defence of child sexual abuse to within the gay community, which meant his erstwhile allies could gleefully dust off an age-old homophobic trope: the gays = paedophiles trope. I am concerned that this may lead to the LGBT repression that the far-right have been champing at the bit to implement; they have been presented with a tasty “think of the children” defence that might prove too tempting to resist. Milo has, perhaps, served his purpose, played the token “my gay friend”, and now become the shadowy nonce villian they need. Most of the far-right likely agree with the acceptability of child sexual abuse and support men like Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, heterosexual child abusers: but right now, homophobia is more useful.

If the far-right is so successful at tearing itself apart, what remains for us to do? Do we just sit, thumbs in arses, and watch their world burn? Of course not. These fascists are built on fragile fragile, that crack when pressure to the whole is applied.

We must be ready to resist what comes next: the probable turn towards anti-LGBT policy. All the while we must maintain a distinct lack of pity for Milo, who chose his path in siding with these people, and remains politically and morally aligned with them. He may fake a Damascian conversion, and we must not be fooled. We must keep challenging everything: the whole, not its constituent parts. We must reject their bigotry, their hatred: every last bit of it. All of it is repugnant, not just specific individuals, not just specific aspects to their beliefs. And we must not invite these fascists to spout their hatred to wider audiences: we must not normalise them, we must not signal-boost them, we must show they are unacceptable by refusing to be polite or even available.

If we keep fighting, the whole sorry shape of present-day fascism could crumble to dust, throwing each other under the bus one by one, then two by two, and more and more until they are all mangled figures in the axis.

They can and will destroy themselves. And we will give them nowhere to run to when they do.

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The side of Kurt Cobain I wish I’d seen when I was young and needed it

kurt-1

Today, Kurt Cobain would have been 50. Like many other teenagers, I idolised Kurt Cobain. I was absolutely obsessed with Nirvana. I owned all the albums, I adorned my walls with posters, I downloaded all tracks you couldn’t buy on a CD off of Kazaa. Sadly for me, by the time I got into Nirvana, Kurt Cobain had been dead for at least five years. Kurt’s being dead meant two things. Firstly, to my chagrin, I never got to see Nirvana live, except on a worn-out VHS of Unplugged In New York. And secondly, perhaps the bigger impact, I was never really exposed to a side of Kurt Cobain that I needed to see: his femininity, and his ride-or-die attitude towards women.

kurt-3

When I was a teenager, I was awful. I had well and truly drank the Kool-Aid that femininity was bad and to be cool, you needed to reject that shit. I lived in horrendous ragged jeans, so baggy that if it rained, they’d soak all the way up to the knees, and Converse high-tops that were equally terrible in the rain. I was your stereotypical suburban early noughties grunger kid, my DiscMan screeching Linkin Park or System Of A Down when I wasn’t listening to In Utero for the seventy millionth time, because god forbid I listen to any music recorded by a woman! I bought into internalised misogyny wholesale, hating on other women being “girly”, and embodying that particular flavour of alternative subculture misogynistic pretension.

This is the only picture I could find of myself aged 16, and it's not representative of the hot mess I was at that age: I look significantly better here than I usually did.

This is the only picture I could find of myself aged 16, and it’s not representative of the hot mess I was at that age: I look significantly better here than I usually did.

I spent quite a few years as an awful person, and it took years longer to start undoing the damage.

I wonder how differently things would have gone down had I had access the side of Kurt Cobain, my idol, that I only really began to learn about relatively recently. When I was young, I never saw pictures of Kurt embracing femininity, wearing makeup and dresses. The pictures that were available on the posters you bought at Woolies, or the grainy Geocities webring, all showed Kurt in more masculine attire: jeans and unembellished plaid or jumpers. And a lot of the magazine interviews, where Kurt talked about supporting women, articulated sophisticated views on rape culture, played benefits for reproductive rights and unabashedly rode out for women in rock… these interviews were not available to me, the internet not being any good at archiving them back in 2000.

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I don’t doubt that the erasure of this aspect of Kurt Cobain’s essence was elided during this period because the gatekeepers were men. It was men who administrated the little websites which featured pictures, men who modded the forums. And it probably made them profoundly uncomfortable that Kurt Cobain was a feminist ally who looked heart-stoppingly beautiful in a dress. So they ignored it and avoided it.

Some of it seeped into my consciousness. I remember once arguing with a friend who didn’t like Nirvana that Kurt Cobain was a good person.

“Why?” asked my friend,

“Errr… he was against rape?” I retorted, which fell rather flat because obviously any decent person was.

I wish I’d had access, then, to what Kurt actually had to say about dealing with rape culture, because it would have helped me no end to have heard these words at the age of 15:

“The problem with groups who deal with rape is that they educate women about how to defend themselves. What really needs to be done is teaching men not to rape. Go to the source and start there.”

I’m not one for handing out cookies, but that’s a pretty important statement, and far more sophisticated than my understanding of the problem (the lyrics to Polly and Rape Me) was at the time.

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I wonder how much differently things would have gone down if I’d known all about this feminine and pro-woman side to Kurt Cobain at a point in my life when I sorely needed to hear things like that. Would I have embraced–or at least not rejected–femininity that much earlier? Would I have been seduced towards feminism in my teenage years, decided to learn more about it, because my idol was into it? Or would I have simply rejected Nirvana and latched on to a band with worse politics?

I wish I’d had the chance to find out, and that for the years between Kurt’s death and information being more readily available, the feminine side to Kurt Cobain had not been hidden.

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Things I read this week that I found interesting

This week, the link round-up is actually weekly. Once you’ve gathered yourselves from the utter shock of me having done something to schedule, settle in and read.

Decolonizing Gender: A Curriculum (Malcolm Shanks and khairi jackson)- This must-read zine provides tools for workshops on the theme, as well as being a very useful introduction.

We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re Racists (Shon Faye)- An examination of gay men and fascism.

On Adele, Beyoncé & Solidarity (Mia McKenzie)- Solidarity means sacrifice: what Adele should have done.

Theo and the distinctly sexual flavour of French racism (Giuliane Kinouani)- How the rape of a young black man by police is par for the course in France.

Are All Trump-Haters on the Same Side? (James Butler)- How the enemy of one’s enemy is not necessarily your friend.

Transition, Tattoos and Body Ownership (LauraKBuzz)- A personal piece on taking control of your own body.

Reclaiming ‘race’ in postcolonialism: A personal reflection on the politics of the racial experience (Amal Abu-Bakare)- On race and academia.

How the Mast Brothers fooled the world into paying $10 a bar for crappy hipster chocolate (Deena Shanker)- A very interesting look at a massive scam.

Stop applauding a rapist for admitting he raped someone (Liv Wynter)- That viral TED talk made my skin crawl, and this article neatly nails why.

Transphobia Redefined (Josephine Livingstone)- A very elegant demolition of some popular concern-trolling.

I Was Robbed of My Transgender Childhood (Katelyn Burns)- Mourning, as a trans adult, the loss of a childhood.

On veganism and disability (s. e. smith)- A few pointers for vegans to take heed of.

What It Was Like To Love Oliver Sacks (Bill Hayes)- Deeply moving personal reflection on loving the amazing neuroscientist, glimpsed through diary extracts.

The Discomfort of Safety (Marie Thompson)- Dismantling the bad faith arguments against safer spaces.

And finally, rainbow toebeans.


If the New Year sexual assaults were made up, it reveals ugly truths about what white men believe

Content note: this post discusses sexual violence, rape apologism and racism

News has emerged that the New Year mass sexual assaults by Arab men may have been made up or colossally overstated. If this is true, it’s a rare occurrence of sexual assault allegations proving to be false, and it’s utterly disgusting and unhelpful to everyone.

Except white men. Remember the frothing glee with which white men seized upon similar attacks, a year before. Remember how Nigel Farage, practically hard, threatened that this was why Migration Is Bad. Remember how the police rounded up brown men, ostensibly for the safety of women. Remember the wild-eyed excitement from the right, literally saying “told you so“.

And compare and contrast this with the reaction when an allegation is made against a white man’s idol. Donald Trump, Roman Polanski, Julian Assange… the endless list of beloved white men, protected by other white men who claim to be exercising healthy scepticism. I’ve pointed out to white men in the past that what happened in Cologne on that night sounded quite comparable to what happens every time I’ve had the misfortune of being in a rugby time on a match day, with pissed-up posh white men grabbing away. This has been met with scoffs of disbelief. There is disbelief in attacks by white men, and unconditional belief in attacks by brown and black men.

Allegations of this type have always revealed an ugly truth about white men and the conditional belief in sexual violence. At a most charitable analysis, it’s rooted in the biggest rape myth of all: that sexual violence is perpetrated by strangers, the other–not, as is most common, by someone the survivor knows. However, it’s likely that more plays into this: Nabila Ramdani wrote on how they fit a neo-Nazi agenda. The response to the allegations is dripping with racism.

What will happen next, with the treatment of the allegations, is two things, simultaneously. First of all, white men will seize upon this to add to their pitifully thin file of actual cases of false allegations, to throw about whenever one of their white faves is accused, screeching that false allegations happen all the time. And yet, at the same time, the allegations will be forgotten, because if false, they do not neatly justify the hysteria against Muslims and refugees. The racist genie is out of the bottle, and all that will be remembered is that brown men did some mass sexual assaults. The specifics, and the fact this may not be true, will be forgotten. White men are capable of holding these two conflicting beliefs simultaneously: they have proved they are capable of believing at the same time that all women are liars, and all Muslims are rapists.

It is an unpleasant prediction, yet I fear it will play out in the immediate future, and over years to come. The damage has well and truly been done, and the veracity of the allegations, in a way, does not matter particularly. Instead, we need to examine the motives of a xenophobic and misogynistic media, as well as those who influence and are influenced by it.

What these allegations have laid bare, is yet another ugly truth about white supremacy.

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