Category Archives: rage at the system

A new hope?

Content note: this post discusses Nazis and contains a Rogue One spoiler. And, I suppose, a spoiler for Episode IV of Star Wars, too, but that film is 40 years old and you really should have seen it by now.

I’ll tell you what I wasn’t expecting to feel during the week of Donald Trump’s inauguration: hope. And yet, for the first time in months, I felt something like hope brimming up inside me.

Not because a president was elected whose inauguration honestly felt like the opening sequence of a particularly heavy-handed dystopia movie. But rather, because it looks like perhaps resistance is possible. I’d almost forgotten what hope feels like, and forgotten how to articulate such feelings: forgive me, therefore, if this post is somewhat incoherent, and just enjoy the pictures.

Inauguration day in London started with a series of banner drops as part of the Bridges Not Walls campaign. Each of London’s bridges–and many others up and down the country–carried a message of solidarity from activist groups. There was representation from numerous groups, bearing messages representing transfeminism, Black Lives Matter, welcoming messages to migrants… and there was this, over Vauxhall Bridge.

vauxhall

Activists stand on Vauxhall Bridge holding rainbow smoke bombs. A banner beneath them reads “Queer Solidarity Smashes Borders”

When I first saw this picture, it brought a tear to my eye. It is a simple message, so simple. Queer solidarity smashes borders. Four little words, lighting the way beneath a rainbow. It is infused with hope of undoing the violence we face. Of course it isn’t all that needs doing, but it is heartening to see those words prominently against the middle of London, and cropping up all over the news.

I watched the inauguration in a pub, me and a friend agog in horror. But then later, an even bigger cause for hope rose up. Everything kicked the fuck off. People rioted. People protested. People made it abundantly fucking clear that they didn’t accept the legitimacy of a far-right president, elected through dubious means, and neither were people particularly keen on the rich, white men in charge of the world.

limo

A limo is burned at the Washington DC inauguration day protests. Sprayed on the side of it is the words “We the people” and the circled A.

None of this compares, though, to the ultimate cause for hope which erupted on that day. It was, I think, a Destruction of the First Death Star Moment. I am talking, of course, of…

lol

Nazi Richard Spencer gets punched by an anarchist, then looks really fucking wounded. It’s hilarious.

I have not yet grown tired of watching this. The punch is funny, and the look of wounded pride on that Nazi’s face afterwards as he tries to fix his fucked-up is better still. I am utterly delighted that this punch from an unknown hero has become the first major meme of 2017 (a few of my favourites–honestly I don’t think anyone should stop until it has been set to every piece of music ever recorded). I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at the response from the more liberal side of the left. I’d had hatches battened down, defences ready for having the tedious argument as to why political violence is absolutely a necessary and valid tactics, and maybe they should ask their grandparents about the ethics and efficacy of physical violence against Nazis. However… I didn’t really need it. Even liberals seemed to agree that it was broadly all right to punch Nazis, and deeply satisfying to watch.

I also like to think of how pissed-off Donald Trump must be. Such an arrogant and self-centred man must surely be spitting feathers at the fact that an anarchist upstaged him on his Big Day, by clocking a Nazi right in the jaw. I expect he’s been sulking ever since Friday.

It turns out that punching a Nazi in the face is more effective and less resource-heavy than instigating no-platform notices against fascists. Since the punch, Spencer has said he is afraid to leave the house and that he feels he will require more security at public events. This suddenly makes him a far more expensive speaker to book, which will likely prove detrimental to his lucrative rent-a-Nazi-guest career, and severely impact the number of platforms he is given. If every Nazi got a smack in the mouth, we could probably staunch the rise of fascism pretty darn quickly.

The opposition continued over to the next day, when it was estimated that millions of women were marching against Trump, all over the globe. There was a march on every continent, even Antarctica. Everyone, it seems, is invigorated against the man whose name is a fart.

I am in no doubt that the way forward–even the way to hold ground and stay alive–will be rough. I am in no doubt that we need to maintain the solidarity that feels as though it is being built, to expand and build links. I am in no doubt that the problem extends far beyond Trump, and cannot be solved merely by strategic punches and public symbolic actions.

And yet, my low and jaded expectations have been surpassed already. There is more resistance than I anticipated, more passion, more rage. 

As Princess Leia points out at the end of Rogue One, what we have been sent now is hope.

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Why I’m not supporting individual associate EU membership

One of my short twitter rants, which I’m linking here because honestly I can’t be bothered individually having this argument with everyone who supports it.

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Why World Toilet Day is far more important than International Men’s Day

Content note: this post discuses suicide, transphobia, and racism

Each year, we have a little giggle that International Men’s Day happens to fall on the same day as World Toilet Day: teehee, November 19th is all about being full of shit! Now, I hate to be the humourless killjoy, but, yes, IMD is pretty much a load of rubbish but World Toilet Day is actually rather important and meaningful. Sadly, only one of these awareness days is trending today, and it’s not the important one.

World Toilet Day matters. The UN have shared some vital statistics about the nature of the problem. 2.4 billion people in the world do not have access to the improved sanitation facilities that we in the West take for granted. Up to one in ten people in the world are still forced to defecate out in the open. Diarrhoea–a fairly unpleasant inconvenience for those of us lucky enough to live in developed countries–is still a killer, with over 300,000 children a year dying from diarrhoea caused by poor sanitation and a lack of access to clean drinking water.

This year’s World Toilet Day theme is toilets and jobs (stop giggling at the back). Did you know that poor sanitation and access to hygiene facilities is one of the biggest workplace killers? 17% of workplace deaths around the world are caused by this, and yet toilet access seldom features when we discuss workers’ rights.

Toilet access is a driver of gender inequality across the world, too. A lack of access to a place to pee privately keeps girls out of school and women out of work. The privacy alone is an issue, although it is exacerbated for those who have periods, and have nowhere to safely, cleanly and privately change menstrual dressings.

Even in the West, where the sanitation itself is highly unlikely to kill us and the worst we’ll encounter is one of those weird French toilets where you have to squat (I know they’re better for you, but I still find them pretty terrifying to use), there are still bog-battles to be won.

In the workplace, around the world and the West included, some workers are unable to access toilet breaks. A recent expose of Asos warehouses found that workers were forced to meet with ridiculous targets or lose their jobs, and so were unable to take toilet breaks–and if they did, they were searched on their way in and out of the loo. And this is taking place in a developed country where the toilet facilities are a short distance away and physically present in the workplace!

Toilets are a site of social exclusion for many, preventing some people from leaving the house. For example, fear of being “caught short” stops elderly people from going out, leading them to feel as though they are “tethered by a bladder leash” (H/T @stitchandsow). This is, of course, exacerbated by mobility issues. Despite regulations surrounding toilet access for disabled people, a lot of the time, while nominally fulfilling duties, disabled people are still unable to access the toilet. Again, these are issues in countries which supposedly have laws allowing access to toilets, and hit far harder where such laws do not exist, and such physical access is even harder.

As well as being able to physically access the toilet, issues surround a more social pressure. This article on the history of toilet access being used to exclude people from public life is an absolute must-read. To summarise, though, when public toilets first became A Thing in the 19th century, toilets were used to exclude women from working life. During segregation, public loos were a battleground. And now we have the latest iteration, as the right wing attempt to ban trans people from using the right toilet facilities for their genders.

There are so many important conversations to be had about the toilet, and yet instead of having the space to discuss them, we are once again constrained by men taking up space. International Men’s Day is a bit of a joke, broadly marked by misogynistic professional victims, and definitely without a flavour of internationality, focusing mainly on privileged white dudes playing at being oppressed. Even the key talking point–men’s suicide rate–is perhaps better discussed elsewhere. After all, while men have a higher proportion of successful suicides, women attempt at the same rate and may even think about suicide more. So maybe it would be better if we talked about gender and suicide without centring entirely around men: there’s Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th!

So from now on, I won’t be mentioning International Men’s Day any more, and on November 19th, I’ll be talking about a key issue affecting people around the globe: the humble pisser. World Toilet Day is an awareness day where we all need to be more aware.

Everyone has a right to piss and shit in dignity and privacy, yet too many people are denied this. We must fight for access for all–and this needs to start with actually talking about it.

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Against proposals

Content note: this post discusses on coercion in relationships

Recently, I had the abject misfortune to find myself part of a captive audience to a public proposal. I veered between burning mortification, obsessive checking that the woman was in fact definitely happy about this, and fury because I really needed a wee and this public proposal was going on right in front of my route to the toilet.

Public proposals have been discussed a lot in feminist circles, often viewed as coercive, rooted in insecurity, and not giving the person being proposed to a decent chance to say no. In short, they’re not romantic, they’re manipulative. This additional social pressure, with all eyes on you, makes it incredibly difficult to refuse, especially if the relationship you’re in already has overtones of coercive control. If you’re on TV, on a crowded street, on a packed aeroplane, you know that everyone is expecting you to say “yes” so everyone can feel good–and for women in particular this is the sort of situation where we’re socialised to avoid letting everyone down.

And of course, it’s almost always women being proposed to by men. You may have the odd same-sex couple or woman proposing to a man, and these are so remarkable they appear all over the bloody news (thus furthering the pressure).

Public proposals are, in short, dire. I don’t believe in carceral measures for massive social problems, but if I did, I’d make public proposals punishable by death.

However, what I want to talk about is wider: the notion of the proposal itself. This, too, is unnecessary and actually rather weird when we drill down into it. Many couples, when deciding to get married, deploy the following format: one partner “pops the question” to the other, with a little bit of pomp and ceremony, perhaps kneeling and a bit of jewellery. The words uttered are usually a variation on the theme of “will you marry me?”, and the proposee will then say either yes or no.

Getting married is a major life decision, and yet it is the only major life decision I can think of which involves a bizarre ritual in making the decision. We do not buy a ring while figuring out whether to go to university or not. We do not book a fancy restaurant to have a think about buying a house. We do not get down on one knee when deciding if we want to have children. We do not put a cute little question in a fortune cookie when working through the various treatment options for an illness.

All of this would be ludicrous, and this is because all of these major life decisions are not just simple questions, but rather discussions that need to take place in an ongoing process, which include all affected parties. They can be boiled down into a blunt yes/no question, but we know it would be ridiculous to do so.

Now, I don’t doubt that people who decide to marry have these discussions after the question has been asked: I fervently hope everyone talks it through absolutely thoroughly and doesn’t just dive into planning the wedding. Some might even have these conversations before, rendering the proposal itself a strictly performative gesture.

There is something distasteful about the framing of the question itself: “Will you marry me?” as opposed to a more mutual “Let’s get married”, which could grow organically from conversations about your relationship, where you want it to go, and so forth.

The nature of the proposal as a ritual is rooted, perhaps, in traditional heterosexual patriarchal expectations of how romance works. There is assumed to be an opacity to your partner’s thoughts, needs and feelings, which must somehow be elucidated. This is unnecessary: just by communicating, you can know, always, which page your lover is on. The veil of uncertainty of their intentions within the relationship needs not to be pierced if it is not there in the first place. If we all simply talked to each other, there’d be no need for all the rigmarole.

Capitalism, too, no doubt plays its own part: diamond rings became a part of the ritual for real people following a marketing campaign in 1938 when the Depression had flushed the price of diamonds down the toilet and diamond cartels wanted to get rich. As with Christmas, yes, there were some ancient traditions (the rich sometimes used diamond rings from the Renaissance onwards), but more importantly, capitalism saw it as the opportunity to profit. Along with the marketing for the rings, there was a marketing for something else: the proposal as an occasion, rather than an idea that comes into being mutually, with little ceremony.

Until recently, it was fairly traditional to ask the woman’s father’s permission to get married. Thankfully, this tradition has decayed and continues to wither. This is good, because it is grossly patriarchal in the most literal sense. Perhaps in the future we will see this happen to proposals themselves: an utterly unnecessary tradition.

Some people like grand romantic gestures, and I suppose, good for them. YKINMKBYKIOK. Just please, please, communicate rather than pop a question.

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Is Theresa May A Feminist Icon? Listen to KILLJOY FM for why she really, really isn’t

My friend, feminist extraordinaire Ray Filar, has started a really good radio show, and they were kind enough to invite me on the inaugural episode, where we discussed the question, is Theresa May a feminist icon? Me, Ray, and migrant rights activist Antonia Bright of Movement For Justice all agree that she isn’t, and frankly an hour wasn’t long enough to cover all the reasons why (although we made some headway). Take a bit of time to listen to our conversation, covering May’s violences against migrant women, complicity in austerity, why “blue feminism” is a shivering pile of turds, and what feminism needs to be doing instead of cheering on a monster.

Content note: the discussion covers detention, FGM, violence against women and domestic violence.

Listen to KILLJOY FM every Wednesday on Resonance FM, online or on 104.4 in London.

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Blocking fat people and smokers from accessing healthcare hits our most scapegoated punchbags

Content note: this post discusses gatekeeping healthcare, and structural oppressions

Various NHS commissioning groups have decided to cut costs by blocking access to surgery for people deemed to be obese, and smokers. To the terminally naive, this can be considered an intuitive, common-sense solution, which would encourage people to make better healthcare choices. To the rest of us, we know that choice is, for the most part, an illusion, and that such bans to healthcare access affect certain groups disproportionately–coincidentally, the same groups who make for convenient scapegoats.

First, let’s look at who’s more likely to smoke. LGBT people are much more likely to smoke than straights, and less likely to try to quit. People with mental illness are also far more likely to smoke–up to 2 in 5 cigarettes smoked will be by a mentally ill person. And of course, these groups are not mutually exclusive, with LGBT people at a higher risk of mental illness. Also, poor people are more likely to smoke, and deprivation makes it harder to stop.

When it comes to obesity, let’s first have a look at what’s deemed obese: some CCGs are using the BMI of 30 as a cut-off, which is an absolutely terrible idea. BMI is a nonsense statistic, particularly when applied to how calculating fat an individual is. A substantial portion of Olympic athletes, upon returning after their heroes’ welcome and perhaps needing an operation on injuries, would be turned away by the NHS, because their body weight is too “obese” for surgery–among other issues, BMI does not distinguish between muscle and fat. It’s also particularly statistically dodgy when someone is particularly tall or short, so Usain Bolt and Simone Biles should be glad they’re not going to find themselves at the mercy of the NHS.

As well as the muscular and the all-round encouraged under usual circumstances, who else is likely to be considered obese? Certain minority ethnic groups are more likely to have BMIs over 30–in the UK, particularly Black Caribbean, Black African, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian and Irish people. Again, mentally ill people are more likely to be at risk, both as a result of their illness itself, or as a result of medication side effects. And once again, poor people are more likely to be considered obese. People with physical disabilities are also more likely to be obese. Incidentally, one of the surgeries “obese” people are blocked from accessing is hip or knee replacements–exactly how the NHS expects them to exercise to lose weight while unable to move, they have not yet explained.

So, NHS trusts with these policies will be disproportionately picking on groups who have been historically and currently disproportionately picked on and blamed for their own misfortune. It is yet another manifestation of the general state approach to behaviour change, which goes like this:

Step 1: Deprive marginalised people of a basic need
Step 2: ??????
Step 3: BEHAVIOUR CHANGE!

Unsurprisingly, there’s no evidence that this works, but it’s a nice little bedtime story for fascists-in-denial to tell themselves, that people are being refused healthcare because they made poor life choices.

At this point, the terminally naive might pipe up that obese people and smokers are at a greater risk of surgical complications than non-smokers or thin people. Yes. That’s true. However, there are also lots of other groups who are at greater risk of surgical complications. Like the elderly. Or the very young. Or malnutrition. Or even drinking moderate amounts of alcohol. Or being a bit cold around the time of your operation. Think of the billions that could be saved if they stopped operating on moderate drinkers: suddenly, there’d be barely any operations, especially if they also stopped operating on kids!

Of course that would be absurd: another myth in play here is that healthcare needs to be rationed at all. The NHS is in crisis, but this crisis isn’t caused by obese people, or smokers, or immigrants, or striking junior doctors, or whichever scapegoat you want to pick. This crisis has been manufactured by years of butchering the NHS. Hospitals are not given enough money to function, and given unrealistic targets to meet on these shoestring budgets, along with a hefty dose of bloated private sector provider inefficiency. In truth, with adequate money, the NHS could happily accommodate everyone who needed treatment.

Given that the government would be perfectly happy for the NHS to go tits-up so the private sector could further cannibalise it, that’s unlikely to happen–that harm comes to the most marginalised people is simply a welcome bonus.

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I have revised my opinion of Wikileaks: it’s trash

Content note: this post discusses prison, suicide, transmisogyny, rape and violence against women

A little over five years ago, I wrote an article titled “I think Julian Assange is a rapist. I still like Wikileaks.” As per the disclaimer on my site, my views have evolved. I now think Julian Assange is a rapist and I also think Wikileaks is absolute trash.

Today, it was announced that Chelsea Manning–who was responsible for the leaks which made Wikileaks a household name–faces indefinite solitary confinement or a harsher prison, almost a decade added to her sentence, and she may lose her parole. She faces this as punishment for already having had such a horrible time in a men’s prison that she attempted to take her own life. And of course, she is only in prison in the first place because Wikileaks failed to protect her, despite all their branding suggesting that they would. (AssAngels will at this point go on like she confessed and blabbed to a man Wikileaks already identified as a threat, because I think this is the Assange-approved talking point. OK. Say that’s true. Wikileaks should’ve definitely at the very least briefed her on basic advice: “don’t tell anyone else, and if arrested, don’t confess.” That they didn’t even do this reflects horribly on them).

One would think that a woman facing torture would be a subject which Wikileaks might deem worthy of comment, even if they weren’t responsible for her being in the hands of the torturers in the first place. One would think.

The news broke this morning, and there has not been a peep on the topic from Wikileaks, although their social media accounts and website have been active.

No. Instead, Wikileaks have been focusing on some pretty uninteresting emails showing that political campaigners squabble among themselves and get mean to media outlets–something which a seven year old could have told you. Also, this leak may or may not have been orchestrated by Putin. But don’t worry. This week, Wikileaks have also been leaking information from a country undergoing severe political turmoil! Yeah, like leaking the details of millions of Turkish women at a time when their government is about to aggressively crack down.

It’s becoming abundantly clear that Wikileaks has an agenda, and it isn’t a very nice agenda. It’s a classic, bog-standard, right wing misogynist agenda, much like the governments they claim to oppose.

I should stop using “they” for Wikileaks, to be honest. I’m not convinced Wikileaks consists of anyone else but rat-faced probably rapist Julian Assange these days.

So anyway, mea culpa. I once liked Wikileaks. I now realise it is utter trash. Wikileaks appear to have thoroughly forgotten Chelsea Manning as much as the state who wish to kill her wish the rest of us would.