Thursday, 29 May 2008

We Hate the Kids pt1: the madness of young men.

Hypermasculinity, like hyperfemininity, is a pose of the powerless. There is a reason you don't see gangs of City bankers stalking Moorgate and Maylebone with long knives and hoods pulled down over their heads - and it's not because they've been better brought up.

It's because they've no need to. When you've got money and status and class and education and power, you don't need to act out physical prowess and aggression because it's not all you've got - although the hard-working ladies at Spearmint Rhino might well testify to the fact that city lads too are prone to the odd bout of gibbon-like strutting and howling.

Finer minds than mine have discussed this function of the culture of young male violence. The pronouncement of US anti-violence educator Jackson Katz on gang culture amongst young black males in the States can be applied equally to disenfranchised boys of every race in London:

“If you're a young man growing up in this culture and the culture is telling you that being a man means being powerful… but you don't have a lot of real power, one thing that you do have access to is your body and your ability to present yourself physically as somebody who's worthy of respect. And I think that's one of the things that accounts for a lot of the hypermasculine posturing by a lot of young men of color and a lot of working class white guys as well. Men who have more power, men who have financial power and workplace authority and forms of abstract power like that don't have to be as physically powerful because they can exert their power in other ways.”

So you're fifteen, and the whole world is against you. Teachers and pop songs tell you you can do anything, should be anything, anything you want to be, but poverty and class and race and prospects and precedent say different. Telly and magazines bleat trite nonsense about love lasting a lifetime when your family is bitter and broken and as poor and messed-up as you are; pills from the doctor and packets from your dealer are the only thing keeping all of you from despair, you've got no models for being a man without meanness and posturing, all you've got is raw, raging energy, your muscles and your mates.

Of course you want to fucking kill something.

Manhood. Sounds tough and meaty in the mouth, a word torn off with the teeth and lips. Promises something constructive from self-loathing. Just because nobody's carrying placards doesn't mean this isn't social rebellion. After all, nobody knows better than the British left how much easier it is to attack each other than to fight the system.

It may come as a surprise, but society is not a set of matched binaries. Although women incontestibly have it harder, it's not only girls but boys, too, who face discrimination on the basis of their gender and of their sex. The expectations and cruelties of western masculinity are not equal but equally devastating to the young people brought low by someone else's idea of identity. In this horrifyingly unequal culture, young men as well as young women can find themselves powerless, albeit in smaller numbers. And in exactly the same ways, the most visceral and primitive elements of the received gender role, the parts that afford the most personal power and pride in a world bereft of pleasure and opportunity, are the ones you seize on when you've got no other system left for self respect. For girls, that's often chauvinistic porn-culture; for boys, it's violence, posturing and gang-membership.

And it's been played out for years, in the suburbs and the backstreets of the richest and most glamorous cities in the world. But this month, two nice white kids have been killed: cue a moral panic and campaigns in the Hate and the Sun. And suddenly the biscuit-eating public is frightened again. Mums and dads of the baby boom generation: get real. Violent hypermasculinity doesn't happen in a vacuum, it's a symptom of poverty and desperation and hopelessness, and you made us.

*And yes, this is a race issue as well as a gender issue. It was a race issue long before the acronym-happy BNP GLA member posted this piece of filth on the Telegraph's new blog page. But the racial and gender prejudices inherent to this consuming fear of teenage violence can't be separated. Far be it from me to deny that Her Majesty's Constabulary does genuinely sometimes just like to beat up black kids, but that isn't the only issue here: black males, and especially young black males, are to many conservative whites the epitome of that terrifying, disenfranchised hypermasculinity lashing out because it has nowhere else to go.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Lesbian mums and the end of patriarchy

Medical technology is an awesome thing. It can save lives, cure terrible diseases, rebuild bodies. It can prolong and improve the lives of the chronically ill and disabled beyond the wildest dreams of sufferers even fifty years ago. It can reattach limbs, restore sight, cure depression, return the manic to health and sanity. But can it be used to give women control over whether and when they have children? Only if male doctors and MPs say so.

Whoever your parents are, they're going to fuck you up to some extent. I make no apologies for assuming that gay women and single women are just as likely to make good parents as anyone else, if not more so, as children conceived via the arduous process of IVF are slightly more likely to be wanted and treasured infants. For the purposes of this post we shall assume that one's sexual orientation has no bearing on one's likelihood of raising an unfucked-up child, nor on one's right to attempt to do so. With that one out the way, let's tuck in to a tasty breakfast of radical feminism with a gin chaser.

Throughout the wholesale technological reworking of the cultural landscape in the 20th and 21st centuries, laws remained in place to prevent new medical technologies and increased understanding liberating women’s reproductive choices. Even now, a woman must gain the permission of two doctors and undergo stringent ‘checks’ before she can access safe medical abortion. Until recently, women seeking IVF needed to declare a father and use a named man’s sperm despite the existence of plausible alternatives. But this week, in an impressive feat of anti-Luddism, MPs voted to allow single female parents and lesbian couples the right to reproductive self-determination: the right to have children, if they choose, without mandatory male interference.

‘Fathers are no longer needed!’ screamed the headlines as the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill passed through the commons on Tuesday. Well, we could have told you that. Millions of us grew up without fathers at home, without fathers at all. Millions more of us have loving and productive relationships with our fathers, but it is categorically not the case that any father at all is better than no father. The work of pregnancy, labour and the majority of childrearing still falls upon women, and it is inhumane to insist that that work be anything other than a sphere of self-determination. Men do not go through the physical trauma of conception, pregnancy and labour; men can have no right, as such, to insist upon any control over the process. It might be hard for individual men to swallow, but until medical technology enables them to conceive, incubate and bear children themselves, fatherhood will remain a privilege to be earned, rather than a right to be insisted on.

Reproductive rights campaigning goes far deeper than individual instances of choice. It’s a powerful cultural fascination, an issue that is woven into the very fabric of the stories that make us modern. From the rape of the Sabine women to Europa, ancient myth and precedent is obsessed by violent male control of feminine reproductive potential. From Brave New World to 1984 to the Culture, fables and fictions of the future are replete with paranoid speculation over the reorganisation of reproductive control.

The power to continue – or not to continue – the human race is quite simply the biggest social loaded gun on the planet. Since the dawn of patriarchy, male control over reproductive rights has been essential to the furtherance of patriarchal power, just as the ancient matriarchies ended when men’s involvement in human reproduction was realised.

This is why the rights of women to have children without ‘declaring the father’, to terminate pregnancy and to raise children alone, are such emotive and important legal sticking points. Women’s right to decide whether and when and how they have children is the ultimate threat to the rule of men, the ultimate insult to the divine supremacy of the father, and this week’s Commons vote is a milestone in the erosion of political patriarchy whose significance we will be debating for years to come.

Conservative MPs such as Ian Duncan Smith have made "impassioned pleas that the Government plan would "drive another nail into the coffin of the traditional family"" (DailyHate, 21.05.08). The assumption of the Tories is that the vacuous notion of the 'traditional family' ever had any relevance. The organisation of human love has little to do with how children are raised and everything to do with the maintenance of the bourgeois state - and excuse me for coughing communism onto this keyboard, I've got this little marxist tickle that just won't quit.

The Embryology Bill marks a turning point in the history of patriarchy, and all of us -men and women and transpeople, feminists and libertarians and trade unionists - can congratulate ourselves on beating back the tide of fundamentalist reactionism at extremely short notice. But, since this is a fight we're going to be called to again and again, we will have to spend the meantime coming to terms with the radical systemic social change that must be the end-point of our ideology. The rights of women to biological self-determination, the rights of mothers to bear or not to bear children without mandatory male interference, must remain fixed points on the agenda of the British left. Men have a right to stand alongside women, a right to care for their children, a right to take up the responsibilities of fatherhood once that privilege has been granted them. Fathers have their place. But that place is no longer at the head of the table.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008



We did it.

Tomorrow, we can start the fight again. Tomorrow, we can pick up our tools and gather our resources and go back to battling patriarchy and injustice in whatever small ways we can. But today? Let's just sit back and have some well-deserved drinks and look at what we've acheived together, forty years after we made the first steps towards reproductive justice in this country.

Monday, 12 May 2008

The Fritzl case and media hypocrisy

This weekend has not been a good one for the dangerous freaks and dissenters among us. I spent it mostly in the garden under a scrap of boiling London sky, contemplating all the things I'm suddenly not allowed to do anymore. That, and reading the papers, most of which have spent the post-Boris comedown wanking grotesquely over the Fritzl case.

In case you've spent the past month hiding in a box, this is the big Austrian incest story that made headlines across the world when it emerged that a grandfather in his seventies had imprisoned his daughter in a custom-built dungeon under his house and fathered seven children by her whilst the rest of the family lived upstairs in complete ignorance. Horrific, utterly, stunningly horrific. And not something you'd ever see on these civilised islands, of course.

When was the last time you read a home-grown incest story in the British press? You can't remember, can you? There's a reason for that. No, it's not that they don't happen. It's that both the law of the land and the journalists' code of practice (PCC, ed.2006) expressly forbid the reporting of child sex cases and especially of incest cases. Here's the PCC:

Article 7. Children in sex cases

1. The press must not, even if legally free to do so, identify children under 16 who are victims or witnesses in cases involving sex offences.

2. In any press report of a case involving a sexual offence against a child, i) the child must not be identified; ii) the adult may be identified iii) the word 'incest' must not be used where a child victim might be identified; iv) care must be taken that nothing in the report implies the relationship between the accused and the child.

All jolly sensible stuff; thank you, the PCC. This law is specifically in place to prevent, just for example, the terrible feeding frenzy with which the British tabloids and dailies and even the broadsheets have descended on the hapless, vulnerable Fritzl children, ensuring that wherever they go in later life, they will be 'those kids from the cellar'. In the UK, a story like this simply would not have broken, or not in any matter which would have retained the human interest of this staggering piece of news. If Fritzl was identified, any sexual activity or abuse would have been omitted from the reports; if 'incest' was retained, reporters would have had to leave out everything else: a non-story. But because it happened in middle Europe, it's open season for the press, and no doubt the bones of this tragic story will be picked clean before the summer is out. That, after all, is what the British press are here for.

But that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen here, too. Incest happens in this country, every day. The sexual abuse of young girls and boys happens in this country, all the time, which is why gloating over something that happened in 'Hitler's homeland' makes for such teeth-itching cultural hypocrisy. Everywhere, sad men are getting their grizzled rocks off on sexual power-trips over the young and fragile. It happens.

This, of course is also why internet paedophila is such a news fascination over here: as long as the story's not about actual sex with an actual child, we can break it gloriously, splashing snaps of picture-hoarding perverts across the tabloids, whilst actual pederasty - physical sexual interference with children rather than just sick appreciation thereof - remains practically unreported. But it happens. Violence against women and children happens. And whilst the law of this country protects young people from media scrutiny up to a point, we'd do well to remember the number of things we still don't adequately protect them from. Perhaps we're not quite as civilised as we think.

And that, frankly, is all I have to say on the matter. If anyone wants me, I'll be in the garden smoking a fat reefer the size of a baby's arm and watching zombie-porn. Come and join me, bring drinks.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

24 reasons for 24 weeks: a pro-choice call to arms...

As part of her campaign to force the government to reduce the 24 week limit within which women can legally have abortions, the MP Nadine Dorries yesterday unveiled '20 reasons for 20 weeks'. Today, we publish 24 reasons for 24 weeks, as part of a larger campaign to fight for women’s rights to abortion. This was written by me in conjunction with Jess McCabe at TheFWord, and is backed by the London Feminist Network, Liberal Conspiracy, TheFWord, Abortion Rights, Red Pepper magazine and Feminist Fightback.

24 reasons for 24 weeks.

1. There has been no improvement in the survival rates of infants born before the 24-week time limit during the past decade, according to the British Medical Association.

2. Last autumn, the Commons Science and Technology Committee of MPs found no medical basis for a change in the law.

3. Research shows that lowering the time limit does nothing to lower the number of abortions taking place.

4. There are many far better ways to reduce the number of late-term abortions. People who object to late term abortions should be fighting to make early abortions easier to access, and to increase the availability of proper sex education and access to contraceptives.

5. No contraception is foolproof, and anyone can find themselves pregnant against their will; until foolproof contraception is available, legal pregnancy termination up to 24 weeks will remain necessary.

6. Some women need late-term abortions because severe abnormalities in pregnancy, such as Edward’s syndrome, are rarely identified until 20-21 weeks. Reducing the time limit would force some women to carry severely impaired or dying fetuses to term - an horrific experience.

7. Some vulnerable women need late-term abortions because an abrupt change in personal circumstances - such as domestic violence, which often escalates in pregnancy - leaves them unable to continue with the pregnancy.

8. Some women do not realise that they are pregnant until later in the pregnancy, because they are taking contraceptives, because they are menopausal, or because their periods do not stop. Young women in particular may also go into denial, a serious psychological phenomenon, before they find the courage to approach their GP.

9. Even taking these cases into account, only a tiny proportion (1.5%) of terminations take place after 20 weeks, and 90% of all abortions in the UK are carried out before 12 weeks.

10. Accessing an abortion is already difficult and traumatic enough. The UK does not have abortion on demand, unlike many European countries - it can take months for a woman to have a termination, and hostile doctors can make the process more difficult or delay women in the system until beyond 20 weeks, especially for Irish women who have crossed the sea to access
abortion services in the UK.

11. Only 15% of fetuses born before 23 weeks survive to leave their neo-natal units, and most will suffer severe health and/or physical problems. Babies born as prematurely as 21-22 weeks are nearly always born brain damaged and severely disabled - meaning that they may have very little quality of life to look forward to.

12. There is no option for ‘viable’ fetuses to be removed from the womb early, so women who carry unwanted pregnancies to term after 20 weeks are forced to carry the growing fetus in their body for months more and then undergo labour, causing permanent physical scars, pain and trauma.

13. When women have to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, they risk losing their jobs and damaging their long-term mental and physical health.

14. Fetuses cannot feel pain until much later in the pregnancy, according to experts. “The idea of fetal pain is an absurd and cruel one,” said Dr Stuart Derbyshire PhD, a researcher at Birmingham University.

15. Fetuses are never ‘alive’ after abortions: their brains are not developed enough to sense, think or feel pain.

16. Lowering the time limit to 20 weeks will create a black market trade in unsafe late-term abortions, endangering thousands of women’s lives. Eighty thousand women every year die from complications following backstreet abortions. We don’t want that to start happening in the UK.

17. Fetuses are not viable at 20 weeks: they cannot survive alone, and keeping them alive outside the womb requires complicated and expensive medical technology. Even with that technology few survive for long, causing incredible heartbreak to all involved. The idea that fetuses usually survive alone before 24 weeks is “a cruel deception for prospective parents with
premature babies,” according to Dr Evan Harris MP.

18. Safe, legal abortions at 20-24 weeks rarely have negative psychological effects - but the mental trauma of undergoing an unwanted pregnancy can last a lifetime.

19. In this country, we do not legislate over moral questions such as adultery, and abortion laws should not be the exception to that proud tradition. It is unacceptable to make laws on a moral question where there is any doubt. Pro-life campaigners are already free to make their views heard and to influence individual decisions.

20. The right of a woman to decide what happens to her own body should not be subject to the whims of changing public opinion.

21. Keeping late-term abortion legal will mean that abortions which are going to happen anyway will be carried out safely and hygenically. Many thousands of abortions up to and beyond 24 weeks happened annually before abortion was legalised in the UK in 1967. Those abortions were unsafe and many women died as a result. ‘We used to see women from the local community
bleeding to death in accident and emergency after backstreet abortions,’ said retired nurse Iris Fudge.

22. Seventy-six percent of the United Kingdom is pro-choice. The majority of women in the UK want their rights to safe, legal termination to be protected.

23. Those who are campaigning to reduce the time limit want to end legal abortion entirely - a dangerous and arcane concept. Reducing the time limit will bring them one step closer to their goals.

24. If faced with an unintended pregnancy, a woman in consultation with her doctor is the best person to decide on how to proceed.

What you can do:

*Use the Coalition for Choice website to get in touch with your MP and urge them to support the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

*Call or go to see your MP and make sure they turn up to vote on the day. Unless they're a frothing Tory, in which case tell them that all the cocaine in Glasgow is going to be free for one day only.

*If you have the time, please come to the crisis protest called by Abortion Rights:

Emergency Protest – as MPs vote on women’s abortion rights
Tuesday 20 May, 5.30pm
Outside Parliament, W1, London

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

What about women's rights, Mrs Dorries?

In the pages of the Daily Mail today, anti-choice poster-girl Mrs Nadine Dorries MP has been given a platform to put across her hateful, misogynist, reactionary views. She and a claimed 'coalition of 200' MPs are calling for a reduction in the time limit on legal abortion from 24 to 20 weeks, despite a lack of evidence that fetuses can survive outside the womb before that point and despite the fact that most women are against further reductions in the time limit.

First of all, we must recognise this duplicitous campaign for what it is: no more or less than a brazen attack upon women's rights. The fact that it's being spearheaded by a (privileged, rich, white, Tory) woman makes absolutely no difference: an attack on the time limit is an attack on the self-determination of all British women, everywhere. We live in an age without foolproof contraception, so this isn’t a case of ‘stupid women forgetting to take their pills’ – condoms break, hormones fail, and absolutely anyone can find themselves pregnant against their will.

Until the time when free and foolproof contraception is universally available, abortions up to at least 24 weeks will be a necessary medical service. To argue differently is to argue that women have no right to self-determine and that the choice of what to do with their own lives and bodies is better made for them by (normally male) doctors and Tory MPs. This latest attempt to whittle away our rights to choice has been tacked on to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, a bill which is otherwise fundamentally sound. The Bill tables for the second time on the 12th. Pro-choice MPS have, until now, been too timid to add their own amendments to the bill, and we remain on the back foot, fighting to save our basic rights to self-determination.

The anti-choice MPs' squeal of protest flies in the face of recommendations by the all-party Commons science and technology committee, which was specifically called last year to consider all the evidence, and concluded there was none to support a reduction in the upper time limit. But Mrs Dorries, who sits on the committee, and another member refused to back the report, as a result of which women in the UK are facing another serious threat to their reproductive rights.

This is an attack on women, pure and simple: if it wasn't, Tory debate wouldn't be focused so much on the spectre of the 'unborn child', it would be focused on the rights of children who have already been born, millions of whom live in abject poverty minutes from Mrs Dorries' own front door. Not to besmirch Mrs Dorries's credentials as a bleeding-heart tory, but more children die on the roads every year than are the 'victims' of late-term abortions.

Mrs Dorries' attack is an unsubtly pitched mash-up of truth manipulations and outright lies. Yes, some infants can feel pain after 18 weeks in the womb - but the press coverage neatly neglects to mention that it's standard practice to use anaesthetic when carrying out late-term abortions. The notion that 2/3 of the British public are calling for a reduction in the time limit is flatly refuted by research carried out by Abortion Rights UK.

Dr Evan Harris MP and numerous other spokespeople are adamant that reducing the time limit would hit out against the most vulnerable of women - the young, the poor and the mentally ill - but that's not going to stop Mrs Dorries, who has never been poor and believes that young, poor, unstable and/or immigrant women are moral sinkholes who need to be saved from themselves. The words used in one report were 'protecting the unborn child from the whims of the mother'.

And don't even get me started on the tie-in lobby '20 reasons for 20 weeks.' Amongst the most ludicrous are: 'Few UK graduates willing to perform abortions beyond 16 weeks and most who do so are from overseas' - Right. So now it's all the fault of those pesky foreign doctors who should keep their filthy foreign hands off our British babies. A nice piece of incidental racism from the Hate, completely ignoring the fact that without medical graduates from overseas the entire NHS would instantly collapse. An unsupported opinion which smacks of 'well, my aunt's neighbor's daughter had a late term abortion and, you know, it was one of those foreign doctors that did it.' Crass, mindless bigotry. What’s next?

'Mental illness link to late-term abortions' - absolutely. And this is because it's difficult not to notice or to accept that you're pregnant until 21 weeks unless you have serious mental problems in the first place, problems which won't go away after an abortion, but which you can bet your life would get a damn sight worse after carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. In Tory Utopia there will be only a bare minimum of support for you and your unwanted child, you'll have to deal with the vaguaries of 'care in the community' if you get any help at all, you and your child will start off poor and damaged and you will remain poor and damaged and you will probably die poor and damaged. And these are the pregnancies that Mrs Dorries is so keen to ensure are carried to term.

Mrs Dorries and her followers claim that '2,500 lives' will be saved every year if the time limit is cut - neglecting to see the obvious parallel that for every 'life saved' when an unwanted pregnancy is carried to term, another life - that of the mother - is ruined. But Mrs Dorries doesn't care, because Mrs Dorries doesn't like other women, particularly poor women, immigrant women, young women and women who have suffered psychic traumas, who make up the majority of requests for late-term abortions. Mrs Dorries does not like other women, and believes that they are sluts who can't be bothered to take pills and should be punished by forcing them through traumatic unwanted pregnancies. Fortunately, I've got a brilliant idea to solve this problem.

The next, ooh, let's say four babies put up for adoption by mothers who missed the termination time limit should be shipped out to Mid Bedfordshire and deposited on Mrs Dorries' doorstep. She's got a great big heart, so she'll be just thrilled to look after them. Of course, she wants to be in line with the experiences of her constituents, so she'll have to give up her high-profile parliamentary job in order to burp, feed and wipe the bottoms of her new brood morning, noon and night. And she'll be only too happy to take on an equivalent cut in wages and go on state benefits. No more prime minister's question time for you, Mrs Dorries - you'll be down at mothercare with the rest of us worrying about whether you can afford a new pair of booties for Child 4, and you'll goddamn like it.

Feminist Fightback, the newly-established Coalition For Choice and Red Pepper Magazine urge committee MPs to help us throw out this reactionary, misognynist amendment, by voting it out of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. We’re counting on you.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Oh, god.

Did anyone else feel like staying in bed this weekend? Did anyone else struggle with basic tasks like shaving and making the tea? Did anyone hesitate before opening the papers or firing up the net?
It was so fragile. Just for a little while longer, we could pretend that it had all been a dreadful booze-fuelled nightmare and all we needed was a quiet day with the curtains closed and we'd be fine. But it's Monday morning, now, and the Tories have still got the councils. There's still a fucking BNP member on the London Assembly. And by 140,000 votes, smug Tory clown Alexander Boris Johnson is now Duke of London and spoilt Prince of the underground. We start this clammy May week in a country that has lurched drunkenly to the right: get the resolve from the cupboard. It's going to be one hell of a hangover.

Look at him. Look at his terrible pink face. On the BBC's post-victory interview, the BNP's second-choice candidate began to reveal his true colours. No more the bumbling, Bertie Wooster-esque gaffe-happy clown, oh no. Someone's been training him. Only his eyes and mouth moved, lizardlike, apart from occasional forays into the tantrumish rage of a small toddler when the BBC interviewer asked if he could call him 'Boris'.

He was obtuse, he interrupted, was massively self-satisfied and oozed privilege. He repeated over and over again 'how much he had wanted to win,' and now that the Blond has squealed and cajoled us into giving him what he wanted, we're about to find out if he really has any useful policies beyond 'Boris for Mayor'.

The BNP back the Blond for some very good reasons: he is uncomplicatedly racist, a misognyist, a snob, an elitist and a hard-line right-winger who supported the Iraq war from bloodshed to bloodshed and condemns gay marriage in the press. His reactionary and disgusting views are indulged because apparently he's a cheeky old diamond in the rough, a people's politician who's not afraid to speak his mind. Festering bollocks to that one. Those who remember Enoch Powell and his rivers of blood will recall that just because someone's openly racist and sexist does not mean they're not a swindling, duplicitous bigot.

Enough of this. We KNOW all this. What we don't know yet is what we're going to do about it. We've got years of struggle ahead of us without the reassurance of the Labour back benchers when we criticise our government. We may not have a decent and dignified left-wing politician in charge of the capital. We may be terrified at the prospect of our country slipping slowly and inexorably towards the right, but this is what happens when people lose faith in democracy. We use it to self-sabotage, to elect bigoted leaders greedy for control and we roll over to call the fuckers 'uncle'. And it's not that they don't believe in equality, of course, but some politicians - politicians like Boris - believe that some animals are more equal than others.

On this clutch of islands, we do not stand and applaud when party leaders enter the room, but Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson, who has Prime Ministerial ambitions, almost certainly sees himself as that sort of politician. He wants to be in charge, and his own power is his highest political ideal. I remain on bloody tenterhooks to see what the hell he's going to do with that power now he's got it, but for whatever it's worth, be assured that my comrades and I will be keeping a very close eye on City Hall over the coming months. Look forward to exciting and relevant new blogs, city-wide activism in the face of the Forward Intelligence Team's bullying, anti-capitalist drunken ranting and possibly an album of radical folk songs. Goshdemnit, but we're going down shouting.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Election feverdreams....

London on election night. You could knife the air, and not just because I live with drug fiends. The BBC have no exit polls. Sky have no exit polls. 'Neutral' news sites are sensationalising with vox pop polls and rabid speculation. Selective members of the insomniac left are fretting and snarking at one another, having devoured all online content and gone shocking like the little robot in the Short Circuit films.

Input....? Input....?Input.....?

It's the eye of the storm, and I don't like it; my Jewish half longs to shrug and toss it all in, my Catholic half is waiting for a stained-glass miracle, and my lizard brain just wants to get under its rock. At least, it seems, the votes are being counted under the supervision of nice, normal people who sleep nice, normal hours. They're starting after breakfast at 9, reckoning that the count will take nine hours; including breaks for elevenses and afternoon tea, we should know in time to douse ourselves in valedictory booze before the pubs shut. I'm going to a party in Hackney with pagans, bisexuals and the variously depraved, and if Johnson wins I may not come back.

Which is a lie, of course. I love this city and would love it even mismanaged by a racist Tory clown; I'm here to stay, and if the GLA lurches to the right I'll be there among the hundreds standing in its way. Let's get a good night's sleep. We might need it.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Mayday Socialist Feminist stomp!

A very merry M'aidez to you all. I was asked to give a speech, yesterday, at the Housmans Bookshop in London. This is an extract from what I said, and my thoughts have been formed by a detailed debate over at my personal blog.

A sea-change is taking place in contemporary feminism, particularly in the cities. Feminism is moving out of the universities and back onto the streets, as women of all backgrounds realise that practical action, class agitation and the rights of ordinary, working women are, and always have been, the future of the movement.
Midway through writing this article on Monday, I had a pregnancy scare. My period was a couple of days late, I was spotting but not cramping, I was off my food… I panicked.
It didn’t take me long to decide that I would want to terminate the pregnancy, and that meant a litmus test for my socialism: should I spend my limited savings, money that could be going towards vital schooling, on a quick, safe, private abortion, or should I go through the stress and psycho-physical trauma of asking for an abortion on the NHS?Fortunately I got the familiar fisting cramps that night and was soon happily curled around a hot water bottle, but by that time I’d learned two things: one, that abortion and reproductive rights, like so many other feminist concerns, are primarily questions of class and economics. Two, that when you’ve had a pregnancy scare, ‘Alien 2′ is not the film to watch to calm yourself down.
Abortion is a class issue. My organisation, Feminist Fightback, is currently lobbying and demonstrating in protest at the abortion rights retractions currently on the Commons table as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which would cut the time-limit on later-term abortions.
This will not affect rich women, who have always been able to access abortions when they wanted them. It will affect vulnerable women who have no choice but to throw themselves on the mercies of the NHS postcode lottery and pray that they get a short waiting list and two pro-choice doctors.
Germaine Greer said, in her introduction to the Female Eunuch, that she could only speak about women of her own age, class and background. Very worthy, one might think, apart from the small fact that it was a blinkered, heinous and lazy approach that meant that one of the most influential political books of the decade only mentioned middle-class, educated, white women with prospects similar to Ms Greer’s.
Young feminists today are realising that in order to further our cause we must look beyond our own experiences. An extremely bright young working-class woman told me yesterday: “Rightly or wrongly, I regard feminism as it exists today as the territory of university-educated middle-class women with the privilege of spending some of their time debating privilege.”
While I would never dream of arguing that feminist theory, feminist blogging, etc is anything but worthwhile, to somebody whose concerns, through economic necessity, are more about finding and maintaining a job that will support them it cannot help but seem alien, or even irrelevant. The mainstream feminist collective appears not to care particularly about the realities of life as a working-class woman ‘
That, thanks to the oversights of Greer and her ilk, really is how feminism has come to be seen in many circles, despite the fact that it is fundamentally a socialist issue that transcends class. But that is changing, and I don’t think it’s an accident that it’s changing now.
Young women today, whatever their background, are finding themselves more socially and financially unstable than they have been for generations. As well as being more independent, we’re more likely to enter adulthood with massive amounts of debt, we face more pressure and competition to do well, our options and finances are more precarious, and we are more likely, whatever our level of education, to end up in hard graft, minimum wage jobs, as opposed to the glittering careers and model family lives so many of us were told to aim for.
This is part of what puts us in a position to empathise and share concerns with working women more than, perhaps, our mothers did. We are also aware, as 21st-century women, what it means to overwork for little reward within a patriarchal capitalist system that is fundamentally opposed to feminine needs.
After the social mobility of the mid-century, young women are finally coming to realise once more that the simple fact of being female puts our work, our capital value, on a different semiotic scale from that of our male classmates. For all of these reasons and more, feminism is turning again towards socialism as its natural counterpart, spearheaded by enterprising new groups like Feminist Fightback making links with workers organisations and trying to join forces with the dispossessed.
This isn’t about posh girls flirting with communism because they don’t want to pay their taxes.
We have no right to take control of someone else’s issue, no right to stomp into a territory we might not fully understand with our big mostly-white middle class feet. What it is about is people who’ve been lucky enough to have greater social opportunities and a platform using those opportunities and that platform to advance the cause of working women and to recognise that as women and as workers our goals are the same.
And then - crucially - it’s about making space on that platform and space in that debate for working-class women, women who may be bringing up kids alone, who may be working too many hours on minimum wage and may not have time or energy to blog or to organise direct action.
This is going to mean that middle-class feminists face the daunting task of working for change without the moral high ground, which is something that we are traditionally bad at. But we do not need the moral high ground to be agitators. Instead of ignoring our privilege, and by definition the concerns of the less privileged, we need to start using the advantages we’ve been given to form links, pursue local action and work for change, without necessarily expecting to be thanked and lavished with praise.
Like the men who helped push women’s suffrage through parliament 80 years ago, like the whites who marched with Luther King in the sixties, we have a duty to give help where we can, and then to step aside.