Tuesday 25 December 2007

Humbuggery and radical rantings.

Woman is born free, and is everywhere in chain-stores.

This holiday season, the drop in national festive spending has been worse than predicted; even the last-minute pre-christmas dash hasn't been enough to recoup losses on the high street. This is causing panic over dried-out mince pies in boardrooms up and down the country. Women wield a level of consumer power that is truly terrifying to those who recognise it, and in the face of spiralling food and clothing costs, we're starting to dig in our heels just a little.

Let's not forget that in the macro-capitalist playground in which we live, our power as women doesn't reside in our looks, nor in our sexuality: it's in our wallets. Seventy-five percent of global retail revenue is generated by women. That means that, every time an ordinary consumer makes a purchase anywhere in the world, three times in every four it's a woman handing over the cash or the credit card. We have a huge and terrifying amount of purchasing power - enough to bring world economies to their knees simply by changing our spending habits. Which we might be starting to do, ever so slightly, at this most financially loaded time of the year.

My Christmas wish? That every stressed and overworked home-maker, every dutiful daughter, sister and friend, every woman breaking herself and her bank balance in order to make christmas that little bit more special for those around her, will realise the true nature of the power that she wields. An economy that is geared towards making women consume and expend effort in an established manner can only be maintained if those women continue to do so in those same, very precise ways. And at this time of the year, the effort required, the money involved and the social and financial juggling expected of us in fulfilling those social requirements pinches particularly hard. But, sweating over the mince pies or collapsing under a sea of discarded giftwrap, we are not as disempowered as we might think.


In the spirit of a Socialist Christmas, have a truly amazing short story, written by China Mieville for the Socialist review three years ago. Never say I'm not good to you. And that's it from me, I'm now going to go and gorge myself on booze and chocolate in the best British fashion. Merry non-denominational festivities to all, and bollocks to all that.

Wednesday 19 December 2007

Rape, Raunch Culture and Girl Power.

'Every 10 to 15 years, feminism needs rebranding', says Katherine Townsend for the BBC.

Today, John Redwood has publicly declared that 'date rape' is different from 'stranger rape' and should be punished differently; effectively, yet another old white Tory telling us that we're asking for it. There is nothing new in this attitude, but such a respected politician saying it so unashamedly in so public a forum is very, very worrying indeed. Thank god Redwood never became Prime Minister.

Righteous indignation aside, the 'asking for it' attitude can be very pervasive. Even as a hardened, well-read feminist I still find it difficult to process my own experiences two years ago of date rape and subsequent venereal infection in anything other than those terms. We're persuaded that rape is something that, if we behave in a sexually forthright manner, we should practically expect - and expect to go unpunished. And this is one of the attitudes that allows endemic rape to be a continuing fact of our society.

Elsewhere in the patriarchy today, the Spice Girls' reunion tour has prompted lots of debate about changes in the nature of feminism over the past ten years - not that the mainstream press ever takes its cue from Red Pepper, of course.

I am a feminist who is both pro-porn and pro-sex. However, I'm completely in accordance with Ariel Levy and her fellow critics of what she terms 'raunch culture': the idea that, to be empowered, girls and young women must be 'sexy' above all else, must be in a constant state of hyper-pneumatic, barbie-doll faux-arousal, flashing our bodies for popular approval. Adverts on the underground promise us that breast enhancement surgery will make us 'more confident', that we do not deserve 'confidence' unless we appear constantly young, sexy, desirable and up for it. But this is not confidence. This is not empowering. This is not rebranding feminism: it's old-fashioned sexism re-packaged as something new. Young girls are being taught that sexuality is performative, not for their own enjoyment but for others to take advantage of - and how that's a great step forward from the sexual prudery of the 19th century, I don't understand.

So, on the one hand, young girls are taught that the only way to gain approval is to be 'sexy', to act, dress and behave in a raunchy manner in accordance with a mass media saturated with unreal images of vapid, nubile, 'sexy' examples of womanhood. On the other hand, we're still being told that if we do dress in such a way, we can expect to be raped and to have only ourselves to blame. That makes our culture one of assumed rape-privilege over women and girls compliant with the zeitgeist - and that's a terrifying thought.

The 'total coverage' effect of raunch culture should not be mistaken for anything other than misogyny. Just because we're assaulted by images of unreal naked women at every turn does not mean that the attitude of the patriarchy to women's bodies is any different: on the contrary, women's bodies are presented just as they are seen - as consumables belonging to the observer or purchaser rather than the woman herself, and as acceptable targets of violence and exploitation.

Girl power is more than a short skirt and an up-for-it attitude. I'm not suggesting that female sexual prudery is the path to personal emancipation - as a former burlesque dancer it would be rather hypocritical of me - but we must re-educate ourselves, our comrades and our children until there is an understanding that women's bodies are not for sale. We must teach our daughters that their sexuality is for their own enjoyment, and not only there to gain them approval from patriarchal consumer culture and from their peers. We must make it clear, once again, that our bodies are not free too be used by anyone without our consent - under any circumstances.

Bigots like Redwood are not going to disappear any time soon, but we can make them understand that we will not tolerate being treated in this way. Our 'confidence' does not depend on our commodity value, because we are not commodities - we are whole people, with complete say over how and for what our bodies are used. Nothing else can be acceptable.

Monday 17 December 2007

Freak Power!

Last night, around two in the morning, my partner, a beautiful fetish model, was coming home from his first catwalk show. Yes, I know, I'm a lucky young sod: but sit down at the back, there's a story here. Shivering at the busstop between Mornington Crescent and Camden town, wearing big, black make-up that made him look like he'd been gently mugged by Adam Ant, he was approached by a group of crop-headed squaddie-looking wankers in business suits, out on the lash. One of them grabbed him by the shoulder, shook him roughly and screamed at him,
Another one clutched at his jacket and yelled full in his confused gothboy face: 'You fucking cunt!'
If this highly imaginative insult-and-battery weren't enough, someone then threw a beer glass, which shattered on the pavement a foot in front of him. Luckily, the bus came, and Team Arsehole disintegrated into the night, leaving my partner severely shaken.

Did I mention that my partner is physically disabled and on crutches?

We turned on the news to discover that we've just pulled out of Basra, and that those wankers were almost certainly either puffed-up city suits, squaddies just back from the Middle Eastern Front, or both. Whoever they were, they have crewcuts, are loud and drunk, and really hate the freaks: the strange, the queer, the disabled, the deviants, the reprobates amongst us. Hate them so much that they were prepared to work a little queer-bashing into their celebrations before staggering into the rest of a night of violence and paranoia.

Make no mistake: they want to see us weak and scared. They are out there, the dull, the rich and the powerful - soldiers, investment bankers, jaded consumer-faux-democrats and right-wing pop-writers, the dangerous majority who His Reprobation Hunter S Thompson calls the Sane. They are out there, and they want us locked up with our genitalia thinly sliced on top of their sashimi, because we live, even slightly, outside the black box:
Sane is a dangerous word. It implies a clear distinction between the sane and the Insane that we all see clearly and accept as a truth of nature. But it is not. No. The only real difference between the Sane and the Insane, in this world, is that the Sane have the power to have the Insane locked up. That is the bottom line. CLANG! Go immediately to prison. You crazy bastard, you should have been locked up a long time ago. You are a dangerous freak - I am rick, and I want you castrated. (Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear, 2002).

Of course, it's easier if less precise just to yell 'cuntface!'.

This is why, no matter how much various sub-groups get on my tits, I'll always have time for the freaks: the short, the young, the sick, the disabled and disenfranchised, the queers, the sexual deviants, swingers, fetish nutcases and drugged-up hedonists; for the goths and hippies and the geeks; for the Socialists, the Communists, the bickering Far Left beaurocrats, for the poor, and for women, especially those who've caught a glimpse of the nightmare of capitalist gender fascism in which we're living.
Freaks are a threat to capitalism. Freaks are a large, deeply fragmented power-base of deviant energy that has long been languishing in the political Deep Woods in these crazy, fucked-up post-2001 times. But we haven't disappeared, and we won't disappear, and we won't vote for you; we never did vote for you. Freaks and politics will collide again in this decade, and when it happens, I plan to be on the frontline, with a bag of glitter make-up and plenty of home-made placards. I hope to see some of you leading the way.

Wednesday 12 December 2007

You say 'tomato', I say 'fuck off, fascist scum, before I stomp all over your entitlement-swollen yankee gonads'.

Right chaps, my attack-womb is primed and ready for launch. This makes sick. I wish it were satire, I really do, but I fear it's unlikely. The article damns itself more convincingly than any summary could; essentially, it's an expat American telling the British why our women aren't up to standard - apparently, this is because we don't starve ourselves quite so consistently, our 'grooming' isn't rigorous enough and we are, hence, not 'good enough' for him. This is borne out with dire enthusiasm by a sickening little trot out of misogynist anecdotes, including one date where the writer could hardly contain his disgust at his partner eating shepherd's pie. 'This is why no self-respecting American woman consumes carbohydrates after 2pm.'

I'm sorry. What.


It's not the semi tongue-in-cheek reduction of women's comparative worth across continents entirely on their physical appearance and nothing else that bugs me most. It's not even the casual, flippant reduction of even this to a measurement of body weight and food consumption - at one point he actually talks about measuring the difference between British and American women with 'calipers'. He doesn't need to come out and say 'women are pieces of meat'; it's written in every hate-filled line of this piece of slanderous filth. That just pisses me off. No, what really, really makes me goddamn furious is the casual assumption that women are, at baseline, an inferior species: a breed of humanity who are defective unless thousands are regularly spent on their 'upkeep' and 'grooming', who do not deserve the things like freedom, relaxation or a healthy, normal 2000-calorie-a-day diet that proper people deserve - and that if they indulge their wicked habits, they are not good enough for him, Tad Safran, the writer of this article, who self-describes as 'not the greatest prize out there.'

In case you were wondering, Safran is single.

Moreover, the kind of 'superiority' he's talking about is one which affects only the wealthiest and most socially 'grabby' of Americans - the women of New York or LA, whence all of his examples are drawn. For example: although the average US citizen is heavier than the average Brit (gender notwithstanding), there exists within American culture a paradigm by which wealth is displayed via the physical thinness of women , where cultivated thinness demonstrates exactly what Safran calls 'necessary upkeep' : vast amounts of money, effort, self-punishment and available leisure time are spent on dieting, personal training, 'bikini boot camps', as they are on waxing, tanning, dental work and cosmetic surgery, a lifestyle available only to the wealthy few, mostly white upper middle classes in either nation. I'm preared to bet that $800 on beauty treatments per month isn't the outlay of the average American family.

Although this culture of thinness and beauty is gradually spreading across the pond to Europe, no, you're right, Tad - we don't care quite so much. Yet. It's changing: my kid sisters own far more make-up than I do and spend time straightening their hair and saving their pocket money for eyebrow waxes that I would never even have heard of at fourteen. But our standards haven't quite been warped so far that the average UK citizen really believes that thinness is equivalent to beauty: over here, the photo comparison between plump, pretty Charlotte Church and twiglike, tangerine-toned Paris Hilton seems to show Church as the much more effortless beauty. Hilton looks pretty damn scary as far as I'm concerned; what frightens me is that my sisters might not be able to see the difference.

Unethical journalism.

Yes, this article is deliberately provocative in places, and through the glowing red mist I can, of course, concede some of Safran's phraseology to satire. But why was such an ugly, misogynist piece ever published? Of course, the beauty editors at the Times knew that Safran's article would draw attention -as indeed it has, given the number of online comments, many of which make excellent reading. But that's nto a good enough reason for publishing something which, part-satirical or not, is so amazingly hate-filled towards women.
This is a hackneyed comparison, but consider what the response would be if Safran had published a (half-satirical) article attacking the relative deportment of ethnic minorities rather than gender differences. With equivalent sentiments, it would run something like: 'golly, you British, you just don't know how to train your blacks, do you? Over here they'd never leave the house without all that nasty kinky hair properly straightened out, and they all spend thousands per month on dangerous skin-lightening treatments - it's just upkeep, you know, I mean, we wouldn't want them going au naturel! Of course, ours tend toget a little pushy - your blacks are much more polite and obedient, will think twice before just jumping into bed with a white person. Well, I suppose that's what you get if you let them get ideas. Land of the free!'

I'm sorry. That was a comparison that needed to be made, but writing it has made me feel soiled and disgusted, so I'm going to have a cup of tea, check my emails and come back in 5 minutes .....

[later] It actually makes me feel uncomfortable to even think statements like that through grammatically. Certainly no editor would ever publish racist hate-speech along these lines, but this is exactly the argument of Tad Safran's article. It's incredibly distressing, and the decision to publish sexist propaganda like this - tounge -in-cheek or no - is frighteningly disrespectful to women and, indeed, to all of us who see both men and women as complete human beings.

What makes me spit is that I know that this article was partly published in order to make me, and people like me, angry, and that makes me even angrier. So it's okay to publish wildly disrespectful hate-speech as long as we can wind the feminists up and watch them go, is it? Bollocks to that. There has to be a sense of media responsibility - in Britain, of all places, we have a national press that the world relies on for objective journalism relatively unmarred by sensationalism.

Yes, I'm rising by even blogging about this article. Yes, I probably shouldn't even give it my attention: it's bilge, and whichever (probably female, British) beauty editor at the Times allowed it through subbing probably recognised it for bilge. But ignoring them isn't going to make misogynist filth like this roll over and go back to chewing on the bones of nubile anorexics. There has to be outcry, and it has to be loud. This sort of derision, dissection and mockery of women is unjust and deeply unethical. We will not stand for this. We will not stand for this.

Tuesday 11 December 2007

Porn, Prudery and the Law: The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

Since the first caveperson picked up a flint to hack an enormously bosomed gnome out of granite, pornography has been a fact of life. In July this year, in one of his first acts as prime minister, Gordon Brown tabled the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, 2007. I'm going to be covering the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill that's due to come into force in 2008 in more detail. Here, though, is a separate little dip into one of the issues that needs a whole separate debate: the new anti-porn legislation.

Now, this new bill included legislation banning the downloading and possession of violent or ‘extreme’ pornography, in response to a large scale media reaction to the sexually-motivated killing of Jane Longhurst in 2004. Ignoring the widely accepted fact that there is little to no evidence to support a direct link between violent sexual crime and ‘extreme’ pornography, the state has leapt upon the opportunity to further police and to criminalise the sexual mores of its citizens.

Handing control of pornography to the state is never going to end well. Conveniently, since the legislation was introduced to the Bill in 2004, the government’s definition of ‘extreme’ pornography has been expanded to include some kinds of homosexual porn. Giving the state license to say what is and is not criminal pornography gives it license to suddenly decide that the tastes and interests of any non-mainstream group should be penalised – to decide, for example, that whilst it’s no longer a crime to be gay, it is a crime to download certain pictures of men having intercourse with other men.

How old were you when you took your first illicit peek at an older kind’s dirty pictures – 13, 14? Quite possibly younger if you’re male, since ogling forbidden filth remains practically a rite of passage in schoolboy culture. Censoring pornography does not work. Even in the UK, arguably the most restrictive of English-speaking cultures in terms of anti-porn legislation, pornography is everywhere. It’s on the top shelves of newsagents, splashed across the front pages of Nuts, Zoo and Loaded. It’s widely available on most high-streets, in adult shops up and down the land, in the ‘explicit’ sections of every bookshop and print-store, and, most of all, it’s on the internet.

Censorship of pornography is also illogical. Since when did forbidding something fun do anything other than increase its illicit appeal, make it more enticing to the public, and cause an explosion in rates of crime associated with the new contraband? . During Prohibition in America, for example, not only did national alcohol consumption actually increase between 1920 and Repeal in 1933, but the result was a massive upsurge in violent and organised crime in connection with alcohol. Stricter legislation on pornography is likely, moreover, to drive the producers of ‘extreme’ pornography underground, depriving participants of legal safeguards and making working conditions considerably more unsafe for porn models, actors and actresses. Legislation to increase pornographic censorship would be immeasurably socially damaging.

Fundamentally, porn itself – the explicit representation of the human body or sexual activity with the goal of sexual arousal and/or sexual relief –is not harmful. What grates is that so much of the porn that is being produced and disseminated is so very, very dire.
Much of the contemporary porn available is tacky, limited, demeaning, badly executed, badly scripted and – often, but by no means always – exploitative to those that participate in its production and consumption. It is the type of pornography that is saturating our culture that is harmful, not porn itself.
Supply dictates demand, and if what is being supplied is countless images of women being demeaned, humiliated and, most of all, made voiceless sex objects, then this will be taken as the baseline for desirable sexual activity by young men and women who – despite legislation that is already in place – grow up watching this abominable, tragically limited trite. Our cultural sex-narrative has gone wrong. Our response to this should not be to criminalise sexual images, but to radically re-think the way in which we explore sexual desire.
What I’d like to see is pornography with a plot: pornography in which grown men and women are equal players, in which sex is joyful, playful, soulful, awkward even, and never abusive. I’d like to put that most dangerous and illicit of things, tenderness, back into scripts, screenplays and directives. I’d like pornography to be beautiful. I’d like it to be made by producers, models and actresses who are enjoying what they are doing and who are union-protected. I’d like my porn to be artistic, I’d like it to play with fantasy and desire whilst keeping within the boundaries of non-harmful sexual and emotional exploration. Then, I’d like this kind of pornography to be government-subsidised, and to be distributed freely online and in schools as part of a validated PHSE curriculum, so that growing children and teenagers can explore enriching, non-abusive sexual desire in an open, positive manner.

Finally, in this sexual utopia, I would restrict so-called ‘extreme’ pornography – pornography that includes, for example, violent BDSM games, rape and abuse fantasy or necrophilia – to over eighteens, who would hopefully be adult enough to explore valid kinks in a mature way that would ensure that they remain fantasy. A pornographic market overflowing with widely available, quality, joyfully explicit plot- and character-driven, sexually equal pornography would both benefit the sexual and emotional health of the next generation and reduce people’s drive to indulge abusive kinks at vulnerable, impressionable ages.
If we really want to reduce violent and sexual crime against women, only a radical re-think of our attitude to pornography, encompassing a long, hard look at our social and sexual mores, will cut it. A warped, limited and misogynist cultural sex-narrative is the problem, but censorship is definitively not the answer.

Thursday 6 December 2007

Big dicks, high heels and subliminal messaging.

Tonight, feeling sick and ill at ease with myself, I bought a small stack of 'girly' magazines on my way home from the grocery run. Now, I've got a dirty secret: I rather like these sorts of magazines, if by 'like' one means 'find absorbing and fascinating in a deeply terrifying, makes-me-want-to-throw-things sort of way'. They're compelling. They're compelling in the way a traffic accident on a nighttime motorway is compelling: convincing you that, somewhere very close by, half-hidden and staked out by fuss and flashing lights, something deeply terrible is happening.

There's a certain cliche to the mutteringly levels of dissent against 'girly' magazines' use of repetitive images of impossibly airbrushed, stick-thin 'ideal women'. But that's just the superficial evil, the scum and bits of rotting crisp packet on the frothy cesspool of gender-fuckery that is every edition of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, New Woman and Grazia. There are, in fact, a surprising number of words in these things, and many of them are extremely upsetting. Let's jump in at the murkier part of the deep end, with a look at the horror that is the horoscopes.

Magazine horoscopes are ludicrously clever little pieces of tripe: good ones are ambiguous enough to make sure at least half the readers will be able to find something to relate to their situation, whilst remaining pointed enough that this isn't obvious. So, here's what Glamour magazine predicts for me and my fellow Librans for the coming months:

'Now Pluto moves into your home zone, changing the way you live at the deepest level. Catherine Zeta-Jones has Pluto transforming her ideas about home and domesticity...If you're single, you could settle down and get married. ..this will be a positive change and you'll discover a much calmer, happier and more contented you.'

Fantastic! Marriage is going to sort out all my problems the old-fashioned way!Only trouble is, though, I'm actually on the cusp of Virgo. What would my fate be had I been born a few days earlier?

'You may start to think about having children. Say a big hello to this question: do you want children or not? Celebrity Virgo Amy Winehouse has already expressed a wish to give up singing to be a wife and mother, and maybe that would help her to clean up her act.'

And for Cancerians:

'If you've been finding it impossible to land a steady relationship, well here it comes. If you've been dating a string of men, here comes The One. And with lucky planet Jupiter joning Pluto in 2008, expect a proposal very soon! Cancerian Lindsey Lohan will meet a partner (probably someone older) who calms her down and helps her to reinvent herself as someone more sensible - and much happier.'

Anyone starting to notice a pattern here?

Another thing these magazines simply love to do is to make lists. Ten Ways To Be Better In Bed. Top Twenty Signs You're Ready To Commit. Top ten trenchcoats for this season (subtly different buttons from last season's). What's being plugged is a lifestyle where high-fashion, high-maintenance living and hot sex are merely keys in to the ultimate goal of - guess what - finding a man, settling down and having children. Yes, content has subtly changed over the past decade: you'll now find tips on asking for a payrise or promotion alongside articles like 'My Abortion Hell' and 'A-List Diet and Excercise Secrets' - the focus, of course, always upon earning more money to spend upon the high-fashion items spewed gaudily across three-quarters of the content. Don't be fooled: nothing written in these magazines has anything at all to do with empowering women. Rather, it's about creating a hermetically sealed dystopia in which women are not thinking, feeling, creating political beings, but androids: androids who exist, quite simply, to shop.

Shopping for the right outfit, make-up or shoes for that party, that club or that dinner date; shopping for the right partner, the right house, the right wardrobe, even the right body, with diet-clubs and cosmetic surgery chains providing a large proportion of the magazines' considerable advertising revenue. Shopping for the sake Anything that falls outside of this broad dystopian market category is simply not acknowledged. For the purposes of Cosmo, Glamour, Grazia and Heat, it doesn't exist. We don't exist. Or we shouldn't.

Almost more important than what's in these magazines is what's missing. Hetero-abnormality is forbidden. The content is strictly, savagely heterosexual and heteronormative. There is simply no room in these pages for those of us who are happily gay, bisexual or genderqueer, those of us who are happy with our body shape, those of us whose main recreational activity *isn't* shopping or applying This Season's Makeup Pallette. Alternative ethnicity is forbidden: nearly all of the faces one sees in this magazine are white, and those which aren't are abnormally pale. Poverty is forbidden: nowhere is it suggested how 99% of the readership is going to afford to buy all of the new outfits, shoes, make-up and gizmos every single issue requires us to find in order to be a cool, confident woman of the moment. Alternative politics are certainly forbidden: you'll be hard put to find any political references at all, in fact, although I'm sure it won't be long before someone decides to give The Home Secretary a makeover.

Let me make one thing absolutely clear: you cannot read this stuff ironically. I know that you, and me, and probably most people we know who have ever bought one of these vile magazines, all think that we're okay, that we're above this stuff, that we can see through the sham and advertising. Like hell we can. The people writing, producing and planning these magazines are very clever, very well-paid and very good at what they do: selling a fantasy of conformity and a cooked-up, artificial femininity which requires ridiculous amounts of extraneous spending to attain. They sell it overtly, but they also sell it subliminally, and you, too, are susceptible.

There's only one option: you, and me, and every poor fool hanging aroung the 'women's lifestyle' rack have got to stop giving our money to these people. Subscribe to Red Pepper instead, or to New Statesman, or New Scientist. And instead of this poisoned dystopia of credit cards, big dicks and high heels, let's use our imaginations to dream of other possible worlds, of endeavour, justice and radical experimentation. Anything else is selling ourselves and our intellects woefully short.

Monday 26 November 2007

Giving Feminism a bad name.

More on Saturday's Reclaim The Night protest, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this week. It seems some opportunistic young sort snapped a photo of yours truly, looking bespectacled and cheery after my placard had detatched itself from the stick. NB: no revolution will carry through without liberal amounts of gaffa tape.

Elsewhere around the country, though, tie-in demonstrations were less well attended, with barely 50 women gathering for the usually activist-friendly Oxford's Reclaim The Night on Sunday. And with the current attitude to direct action - particularly feminist direct action - who can blame them?

In February 2003, everything changed. More than a million people marched through the streets of London to protest against the Iraq war. A very British protest: carnivalesque samba-bands were trailed by gore-tex wearing middle-aged couples eating sandwiches wrapped in foil. We carried placards bearing slogans like 'Not in My Name', 'Make Tea, Not War', and, memorably, a girl behind me carried a poster bearing the legend 'The Only Bush I'd Trust is My Own!', decorated with a stuck-on muff of genuine hair donated, she claimed, from her boyfriend's underarms. It being my first big demo at the tender age of sixteen, I spent most of the time shinning up traffic lights trying to get pictures of the crowd, which moved under the bridges of London like a breaking dam, slow and ominous and unstoppable. This wasn't a smattering of direct action from a small, frothing Left minority: men, women and children of all ages, races and backgrounds from everywhere in the country had come to London to make themselves heard. We did not want a war.

We wanted to be heard. And we were heard. We were heard, and we were utterly ignored: weeks later, amid waves of popular protest, Britain went to rattle Bush's rusty sabre in the Gulf anyway. That day, New Labour Democracy lifted its skirts to reveal its skeleton, and we stumbled blinkingly into the realisation that our politicians were not listening to us anymore.

The kids reading those headlines back in 2003 are now 19, 20, 21, votable, marriageable, arrestable, old enough and ugly enough to make decisions for themselves. What good does direct action do anymore? Far better, as F Word editor Jess McCabe said recently in conversation with the Guardian, to stay home, blog and answer emails.

The nail in the coffin of Women's direct activism has been struck, however, by the fact that the most outspoken of feminist activists are still spitting misandrist vitriol over the pages of respectable broadsheets and big-name rallies. Julie Bindel, the headline speaker at this year's anniversary event, spokesperson for the spirit of feminist direct action, genuinely hates men. Her speech at the Reclaim The Night rally is eminently summarised in the accompanying article in the previous day's Guardian, which can hardly have done anything to boost attendance.

Now, I am achingly aware that male violence - yes, male violence, thank you Julie - is one of the biggest problems faced by this, and indeed any, society. But the problem isn't who is perpetrating the violence, it's the violence itself: and women are equally capable of physical violence when the occasion arises. Domestic violence in lesbian relationships is a well-documented phenomenon, as is the terrifically under-acknowledged number of husband-beaters in the country. Furthermore, male violence is also perpetrated, with equal if often differently applied savagery, against other men. Men, too, are the victims of rape; I'm currently in a relationship with a male rape victim who is still on a brave and draining journey of recovery from the experience. Take a survey of your closest male friends and you're more than likely to find one or two who've been seriously traumatised by physical violence from a young age, at the hands of other boys. The fact that there remains a culture of male violence in the Western world does not mean that men as a species are ripe for helicopter culling, any more than the existence of racism against ethnic minorities means that all white people are incurable, detestable bigots. The existence of this culture of violence means that attitudes need to change, and tolerance of violent behaviour in society needs to change likewise. Blaming men - all men - for endemic societal violence purely because of their sex is tantamount to saying 'it's not their fault - they're just like that. Bar extermination, there's nothing we can do but take it'

Garbage; tooth-aching, frankly upsetting garbage. Men are not born monsters, just as women are not born innocent, wilting madonnas. Men are, like all of us, raised in a society that is deeply disturbed when it comes to gender roles, and men, like women, suffer deeply from the culture of male violence under which the Western world still labours. Men suffer from this culture of violence, rage and emotional constipation far more than misandrist radical feminists like Bindel will ever be able to understand. Our fucked-up cultural attitudes to gender demean and hurt not just women, but all of us.

Shouting for 'men off the streets!' is going to get us nowhere. Uniting to end violence in society is. I want to see a march that unites all victims of street violence against sexual and physical assault - not just women, but men too, and also transpeople -who are equally if not more vulnerable on the streets of London and Oxford at night, and whom radical feminists like Bindel would see excluded from the cause.

I can see where Bindel is coming from: like many radical and reactionist feminists, she's angry. She's probably been victimised in her time. But anger, hatred and violence are not the appropriate response to anger, hatred and violence, not once you're out of training bras (flaming or otherwise). The feminist movement needs to welcome as many men as possible into its ranks. To do otherwise is plain hypocrisy.

Sunday 25 November 2007

Friday 23 November 2007

I like the leather, I like the whips and chains...

Some people think
Little girls should be seen and not heard

But I think -

Oh, bondage! Up yours!
X-Ray Specs.

This weekend, London goes fetish-mad. Following the opening of Club Antichrist (link NSFW) tonight, it's the 10th annual Erotica show, a huge retail extravaganza with tie-in events headlined by none other than Dita Von Teese. Being a kinky little fuck doctor of journalism, I of course have my best shiny pvc mini-dress and party bondage gear ready for action.

Fetish. Erotica. What does it mean? Any sex-act is subversive, reminding us as it does of an essential humanity that can't be charged to a credit card; any sex-act that deviates substantially from standard heterosexual, heteronormative social models of normal shagging is that much more subversive. The UK fetish scene plays into all of these deviances, so it attracts - and influences - many who find themselves outside the 'hetero-normal' bracket, whether gay, straight, bi, trans, gender-queer, teenage or middle-aged. It's a subculture that's intensely, gorgeously performative, with many clubs and events blurring the boundaries between sex and theatre. Fetish is fun.

Playing with power.

It's also a subculture that's intensely respectful - almost definitively so, since power-play and BDSM are amongst the main thrusts (sic.) of the scene. The feminism - or feminisms - of BDSM are a minefield of fascinating cultural specificity, since by their very nature power-play fetishes operate beyond the sphere of existing power agendas, and are worked out for themselves, between consenting adults both of whom are gaining from the power transaction. That's not to say that some people - both male and female fetishists - take other, personal socio-political agendas into the bedroom, but it's very far from the norm. You'll find men who are sociopathically domineering at home or at work begging to be straight-jacketed, chained and flogged by tiny women in ridiculous shoes; you'll find women who love to be laced into corsets and spanked until they scream on the boards of companies or on the frontlines of feminist rallies. In fact, the mere act of playing with power in the bedroom can change one's response to the imposition of power in other, more clothed arenas of life.

Cash for Kinks.

The only problem I have with the scene - and it's a big problem - is the high cost of entry. Sexual subversion is a powerful force for social change; one of the only ways to defuse it is to twist its emphasis into line with the dominant status quo. In Western domestic society, capitalist participation and acquisition- shopping - is the dominant status quo, so it's hardly surprising that one of the main activities of the fetish crowd seems to be buying stuff. That shopping is a central part of the fetish experience is less surprising still in the light of the intense performativity of the scene - in which both voyeurism and exhibitionism are major parts of the participatory experience. The scene is partly about showing off; showing off one's eccentricities, kinks and physical assets, however, becomes less playfully shallow when it necessarily also involves a display of one's disposable income. The lifestyle is expensive, from bondage gear, toys, equipment and outfits to tie-in objects d'art, all of which need to be specially and carefully made, and all of which are costly. Unfortunately, although members of the scene are generally co-operative types, the nature of many of the toys means that sharing isn't an option. What all of this means is that vulnerable members of society - the young, those on lower incomes or without the disposable cash required - find themselves excluded from the very sexual underworld that could do most to expand the horizons of the naive and under-privileged. In a very Marxist sense, the fetishism of the scene extends to the commodity as well as to the sex-act.

That said, though, at one point, whilst living with a Domme and her sub, I made them a present of a washed length of black inner-tubing from a car engine that had been abandoned in the road near my college. Bondage games, and sex-fetish play in its broader sense, need not be prohibitively expensive.Moreover, the fetish subculture is one of the closest things to an anarchic, self-perpetuating mini-economy that the UK, along with other states, can boast: most fetish products are made by small, independent businesses and craftspeople for a dedicated market. Few people become multi-millionaires through fetish business, and those who participate do so for love of the craft and love of the scene, since profit margins for bespoke items and products made from, for example, rubber and worked leather, are so low - 'an average of 5% across the industry', according to one insider. Finally, most of those involved in selling to the scene are scene members themselves; there's a certain, elegant simplicity in the economic lives of a group who make a living selling chic couture sex-play gear only to finance the purchase of more of the stuff for their own play.

The key difference with the sexual-fiscal economy of the fetish subculture is this: the sex is the point. The sex is the point and the shopping is subsidiary to it, whereas in mainstream, heteronormative advertising culture, the shopping is the point, and sex just a means of upping sales.

So, tonight I'm putting a leash on an obliging boy, packing some whips and bondage tape and heading to a club for some investigative journalism. The fetish culture negotiates a minefield of capitalist moral quicksand and power-games; I want to know if it's retained its subversive soul. Goshdamn, but I hope so. ;)

Tuesday 20 November 2007

Fucking like a Feminist

Stop the press, hold everything! Recent studies have found that feminists do it better: that, contrary to traditional stereotypes, feminism and romance are not incompatible, and that both women and men have healthier relationships with feminist partners. Thank you, Rudman and Phelan: we knew this already, but it's nice to have an official seal of U.S academic approval, nonetheless.

The study worked on the hypothesis that 'if feminist stereotypes are accurate, then feminist women should be more likely to report themselves as being single, lesbian, or sexually unattractive, compared with non-feminist women.'

Not only was this proved categorically untrue, but 'healthier relationships' and better sex lives were reported all round by feminists and those who loved them.

So: Feminism in Being Good For Everyone Shocker. The reasoning behind the Rudman/Phelan report's findings isn't too taxing to get our flexible little heads around: sex between two partners who see each other as human beings, and not as 'means to an end', is going to be better sex than any encounter in which one or both partners are made to feel guilty, ashamed, incomplete, or in which one person's pleasure is privileged over the other. Men who see women as the rounded, complete people we are - not as little-girls, as baby-makers, porn stars, fragile domestic goddesses, two-dimensional helpmeets, as property, as status symbols or as 'compliments' to male dominion - are going to be much more fun to be around, and are going to enjoy our company much more when we eventually demonstrate that we have hearts and brains as well as tits and cunts.

What's truly shocking is that an article on the study which came out this week on the Guardian's Comment is Free page - a netspace that hardly springs to mind as a hang-out for right-wing shit-stirrers - prompted hundreds of righteously indignant comments from men, and some women, who did not concur that fucking like a feminist is good for the nation's sexual and emotional wellbeing. This is just one more indictment of how far we have to go before we get our sexual attitudes sorted out in this messed-up consumer society. Even on this blog, I've had comments telling me that the idea of men giving to women in bed is ridiculous, that I should learn to give better head and plug my outsized feminist gob with something useful whilst I'm about it.

So, let me tell you a few things about feminism, sex and socialism.

Fucking like a Feminist

1) The concept is not all that different from Screwing Like a Socialist, the basic principle being that the other person is not there to be consumed, except possibly with whipped cream. The person or persons in your bed are not products, and you're there for their pleasure as well as for your own. Even in bondage/kink/role-play situations, the agreement is the same: respect my desires and I'll respect yours. Treat me like a human being and I'll treat you like a human being. Get me off and I'll get you off. Sex negotiated on terms other than these, sex which is abusive, destructive or lacking in mutual respect, isn't good sex, except for very sad people with serious self-esteem problems.

2)Sex is not a bodily transaction with orgasm for one or both partners as the desired end product. Sex is a physical and mental exploration of pleasure and its possibilities. The mainstream model of heteronormative, heterosexual sex -whereby penile penetration is the main event, with the man eventually achieving orgasm and, ideally, bringing the woman/girl to orgasm as well by thrusting into her with his penis - is limited and outdated. Challenging received gender roles in the bedroom means more experimentation, more emotional risk-taking, and more fun for everyone.

3) Choice, variety, equality, respect. Feminists - by which I mean male and female feminists - sleep with men, with, women, or with both. Feminists have sex both within and outside of long term relationships. Some feminists are kinky, or polyamorous, or have rare fetishes; some aren't, and don't, and that's alright too. Some feminists are dominant in bed; equally, some feminists like nothing more than to be bent over an armchair and spanked silly, and that's alright, too. Some feminists love cock to distraction; some feminists are rampant, unstoppable lesbians with a string of satisfied girlfriends; and some feminists really don't like to have sex at all. And that's alright, too; any sexual proclivity is feminist, in fact, if it is approached with equal respect for both partners' needs and desires and rights as human beings.

4) Feminists see their sexuality - however it may manifest - as an important facet of their personality, but only one facet nonetheless. Sex is important. Sex is delicious. Sex can't be ignored or evaded or made irrelevant, especially in a capitalist society which uses it to sell products on every billboard and street corner. Sex is also only one factor in the myriad concerns which make up women's complex lives, and men's, for that matter: reducing your partner, or yourself, to the level of a purely sexual animal, is degrading, sexist and ultimately demeaning to both partners.

5) Feminists have fun and respect each other. Feminists are sexually brave, which is not incompatible with sexual shyness. Feminists are not afraid to ask for what they want in bed - or to accomodate their partners' desires. Feminists are gay, straight, bisexual, transsexual, genderqueer, kinky, vanillla, radically romantic, in myriad changing combinations. Feminists are fun, in and out of bed : period.

6) What feminists don't do, however, is sleep with men (or women) with entitlement complexes; men who think of women as lesser creatures, accessories, there to provide sexual satisfaction for men and to be used and dominated without their consent. It's not that feminists think men are the enemy: it's that feminists have enough self-resepect, generally speaking, not to sleep with bigoted arseholes. Let me leap to conclusions here, but I think we may have found the basis for objection of many blog-trolls, bullies and boors with an inflated sense of their own Right to Rut: hot, self-aware feminists simply won't sleep with them.
And doesn't that just make them hopping mad?

What the volume of opposition to the findings of the Rudman/Phelan study (and to what enlightened women have known all along) demonstrates is simply the impotent, cross-patch flailing of bigots and bullies who realise that they might not be able carry on using treating their partners as sex-toys and expect to get laid anymore. It's the frustration of men, usually young men or the privileged, moneyed middle-aged, encountering the fallacy that women aren't sex-objects, whores, or pneumatic blank-slates, that good sex involves an encounter with a partner's heart, mind and soul as well as their tits, cunt and arse. It's the rage that heralds the stripping of unearned sexual privilege, and we must not give it space. Once they've shaped up enough to get a taste of feminist fucking, they'll never look back

Friday 16 November 2007

Behave? No, no, no!

Even considering that she's been splashed over the front pages of 'Metro' and 'London Lite' pretty much constantly since January, it's been quite the week for Amy Winehouse. The Wino party bus rolled into Birmingham amid the aftermath of husband Blake Fielder Civil's imprisonment for trial-fixing; that the subsequent tour dates have been 'shambolic' is hardly surprising. What is surprising is the fact that Amy's crowds are still surprised by her on-stage breakdowns, fits of tears and shouting, drugged-up mania and stagey strops such as, lately, hurling away the microphone and walking out in the middle of a cover of the Zutons' 'Valerie'. Guys -it's Amy Winehouse. You pays your money, you makes your choice.

Let me make a confession: I'm a huge fan. Never mind her bizarre hairdo and manic, self-destructive fits. Never mind her drug-use, her obvious eating disorders, her boozy, floozy, shambolic nicotine-diva behaviour. Never mind the fact that she's a glorious trainwreck. I think Amy's great.

The simple fact is that Amy Winehouse is breaking new ground. Never before has a female rock star -and Amy is unmistakeably a rock star, despite her sultry jazz-pop numbers - been so badly behaved, so publicly. From Jagger to the Doors to Nirvana to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to the Libertines, male stars and groups have used drugs, turned up on-stage drunk or not at all, got into fights, trashed hotel rooms, had ill-considered, public love-affairs, and made a great deal of mess for their well-paid managers to sort out. This trend has rarely extended to female stars - in fact, 'messiness' of this sort has routinely spelt career death for any starlet with an eye on her own perfume label. Not so with Amy's, whose lifestyle and cleverly constructed lyrical manifesto are all about hard-drinking, drugs, crazy men and glorious emotional anarchy, served up on a platter of ice-cold cynicism with a vodka chaser. I hardly dare to imagine what an Amy Winehouse perfume would smell like, but I, for one, wouldn't let it anywhere near my pressure-points.

Stunts like, say, stepping out in blood-soaked ballet slippers are perfectly pitched to subvert the 'sweet and innocent' paradigm perpetuated by singers like Britney Spears in the late nineties. Alright, so Amy's not exactly taking care of herself. She's openly admitted to having 'a bit of bulimia, a bit of anorexia', and seems to be living on a diet of booze, fags and attention. Her car-crash of a marriage, up to and including the latest jail debacle, hasn't exactly struck punches for female independence; the extravagant, passionate way Winehouse and Fielder-Civil have conducted their love-affair, however, is framed on more than an equal footing: Amy very much wears the trousers (or should that be the ballet slippers?) in this relationship.

She's clever, non-conformist, and has a wonderful, cynical sense of self-deprecation. I can't help it. I think she's fantastic. Winehouse's summer anthem, 'Rehab,' was a rallying-call against the forces of conformity and behavioural pathologisation. 'They tried to make me go to rehab,' she belts out with the force and passion of a woman three times her physical size, 'but I said, no, no, no.' Strange, then, that 'go to rehab' is exactly what newspapers and feedsites across the world seem to be suggesting that Amy do - the press have leapt, drooling, upon every drugged-up appearance, every instance of diva-like behaviour, as a sign that the singer should lie down and line up for institutionalisation like a good little girl.

Catastrophe Princess?

Funnily enough, noone has yet tried to suggest that Mick Jagger - or any other male musical icon you care to mention - is clinically insane and should be institutionalised for his own good. Amy's self-destructive non-conformity is much more threatening to a social paradigm that has always been able to cope with wild young men, but still can't quite handle wild young women, except as charity cases or warning stories. Across the pond, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan have jumped on the Catastrophe Princess bandwagon, falling out of nightclubs without their knickers on and being locked up for drunk driving. Winehouse, though, refuses to fit neatly into the box the media have drawn up for female stars gone feral.

For one thing, she's still very much on her feet. For another, she's a phenomenal talent: Back To Black, her latest album, was this week confirmed as the top-selling record of 2007. Her music has even made me - me! - hum along to blue-eyed soul, and I normally like my noise with three chords and a man from Belfast shouting. Her lyrics are powerfully raw, emotionally honest; her compositions demonstrate a musical range and a depth of feeling remarkable for a 24-year old from Enfield. 'Rehab' ends with a confession that brings an unanticipated lump to the throat of anyone who's ever tried to self-medicate for depression:

They said, I just think you're depressed
I said, yeah, baby, and the rest...
It's not just my pride
It's just till these tears have dried.

She's been justifiably lauded as the most important British musical talent to emerge in the past few years. Alright - so Amy Winehouse isn't a good girl. She's probably mad, certainly bad and quite possibly dangerous to know. She's emotionally anarchic, self-destructive and an unashamedly bad role model for clean-knickered young people everywhere. And I, for one, hope that she never starts to behave.

Monday 12 November 2007

Thoughts on Lyrical Terrorism.

I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

There are many things wrong with me, the top three being that I'm young, foolish and not as clever as I think I am. I have not posted for two days because I spent all of Saturday on a balcony somewhere in the depths of Haringey, being pumped full of dubious substances and ranting to anyone who would listen about how George Eliot was a disgrace to the revolution. I then spent all of Sunday sipping weak tea, watching Doctor Who, nursing a thoroughly deserved hangover and trying not to move my hands, as the sound of skin on blankets was upsetting me.

I am 21-and-almost-a-quarter years old. This sort of behaviour might not be clever, nor might it be setting me up for a glittering career in industry; it is, however, allowed, even expected, that young people in their early twenties do do thoroughly silly things from time to time. Drink too much, say, or take too many drugs; hurt themselves and other people through ignorance or cowardice or naivety or panic or sudden lust. In a fit of pique, one or two errant young things have even been known to vote Tory, although I've heard that you can now get pills for that on the NHS.

The point is that this sort of weird, destructive, fucked-up behaviour is not unexpected for bewildered, thrill-seeking young people in their early twenties. Really, deep down, most of us just want to look cool in front of our friends. Thankfully, most of us are also able to get away with a few indiscretions as we ramble our sticky, sordid way towards adulthood.

No such leniency for the Lyrical Terrorist, though. At the end of this week, Miss Samina Malik, 23, became the first woman to be convicted under the UK terrorism act. Malik had been working at a branch of WHSmiths at Heathrow airport, and spent her spare time writing really terrible poetry praising Osama Bin Laden, scribbling cryptic messages to herself on the backs of till receipts, and possessing a copy of the Al-Quaeda manual. At no point do any press releases give details of firm evidence that Malik is linked to any terrorist group whatsoever; she simply claims to have called herself 'The Lyrical Terrorist' because 'it sounded cool'.

Malik remains under house arrest until her sentencing on the 6th of December.

has pointed out, quite rightly, that Malik has been convicted for thoughtcrime, pure and simple. In the abscence of concrete underground activity or rebellion, merely the idea of such activities constitutes crime. Oh dear. Looking through my bookshelves, I possess the following seditious texts: The Scum Manifesto, by Valerie Solanas; Intercourse, by Andrea Dworkin; 1984, by George Orwell; The Female Man, by Janet Russ ...and many more, actually. I've written some really shocking poetry in my time, too, mostly to a boy called Ian Waples who was two years older and had dreadlocks. Moreover, whilst bimbling around the house cleaning things, I can often be heard singing punk songs alarmingly out of tune (one of the many reasons I like punk: it's forgiving to the anarchically passionate, yet musically average participant). Some of these songs even contain anti-establishment sentiment. I like folk music, my god - most folk songs are about rape, murder, rape-and-murder, or political insurrection. Do I have no shame? Does this mean that I, personally, am about to storm Dublin with a backpack full of nailbombs? Does owning 'The Scum Manifesto' make me a potential muderous man-killer, just drooling to aid and abet bio-terrorists in their ceasing struggle against our male overlords?

Of course it bloody well doesn't. Why, then, is a naive, rather stupid, politically curious, quite possibly mentally disturbed young woman - probably dissatisfied with a boring job and with her disenfranchised status as an Islamic young woman of colour in the UK - now under house arrest? Why is she being convicted for possessing material 'likely to be useful for a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism', when what's really useful to people preparing terrorists acts are not volumes of childish dogma but, say, phone-numbers. Any contacts at all. Weapons, or materials for making weapons. All of these would constitute potential evidence of planned terrorist activity: the ramblings of an addled young woman with delusions of grandeur, scribbling on the back of a stationary receipt, are not.

That Malik is being treated in this way because she is Muslim, of Middle-Eastern origin and female, is not up for debate. What this young woman needs is some compassion, and perhaps a few days off work and a decent therapist to listen to her problems. What she's got, however, is a slap-down conviction for nothing more than thoughtcrime, a conviction that will no doubt prevent her from securing decent employment for a significant period of her young life.

Something is deeply, deeply wrong here.

Wednesday 7 November 2007

And today, on Brown-o-vision: Gordon Goes for Gold!

The Queen's speech really does get on my tits. Not least because, this year, some of the most interesting policy-proposal in the past few months was dribbled out to a televised audience of ermine-clad, elderly peers in silent ranks - only half of whom have been elected since the Lords reform bills of the past decade - looking disturbingly like something from an Ursula LeGuin novel. Lords expert Meg Russell is damn right to point out that this 'anachronistic hoopla' does nothing to strengthen popular faith in politics. I sat through the whole thing half-expecting an exchange along the lines of: 'we're reviewing the 28-day terrorism suspect pre-trial bill'! 'Oh, no, you're not!' (They're not.)

This, however, is the right move. Or, at least, it looks like the right move. Rights to flexible hours for more working parents? Great. Great, because it brings working womens' issues back into the spotlight. Great, because it might help persuade the voting public that Cameron isn't the sole Great White Hope of working families. Great - as long as it's backed up by legislation ensuring that those who then seek flexible hours don't a)face a drastic salary-cut or b)lose their jobs.

One thing, though. The right is only available to any employee with 12 months' service. Correct me if I'm wrong, but 12 months, for, say, a woman with a young child attempting to return to work after maternity leave, is a very long time indeed. A proven year-long service record will be no problem for many of the more affluent, middle-aged, middle-class citizens, but it WILL be a problem for the most vulnerable working citizens: contract workers, those in low-paid service industries where jobs are less permanent, immigrants, recent graduates, women returning to work, and the young. Furthermore, this sub-clause will mean the new legislation has no effect on the corporate bullying of the 1 in 16 British workers who are classed as 'agency workers' - this includes, for example, a substantial proportion of UK nurses and care workers.

Moreover, it seems that employers will have the right to refuse flexible working hours 'on the grounds of excessive cost.' Brilliant: so we'll have no actual right to flexible hours - but nevermind, at least we'll have the right to ask for them!

Distinctly below-average, there, Gordon. Must Try Harder.

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Islam, feminism and false logic on the left.

Came across this little gem via feministe: feminists are letting the terrorists win.

In precis, conservative students across the USA have been picketing Women's Studies departments which do not offer a model on Women and Islam, specifically denouncing Islamic cultural practices, as part of 'Islamo-fascism Awareness Week' (if you nearly spat your tea across the keyboard at that one, you're not alone). The reasoning being that, if you're not denouncing the treatment of women in Islamic cultures, you're not denouncing 'Islamo-fascism', which you should be doing as a good little American citizen. The really funny thing about this one being, of course, that the issues of Women in Islam, and the situation of women in the Arab world, have absolutely bugger all to do with US/British military action in the gulf.

Generally I find myself on board with the fine people at feministe on most things gender-political. This blogger, however, seems to have fallen for some very simple false logic. To whit: the Republican argument that, if one supports military action in the Gulf, one must actively denounce the mistreatment of women in the Arab world, does not mean that those who oppose military action can't actively involve themselves in Islamic Feminism. That's just as nonsensical as arguing that all feminists are proto-terrorists. The original article says, in fact, that protestors have specifically been targeting those Women's Studies faculties which do not have any provision for Islamic Women's Studies whatsoever. Now, I'm no Redneck Republican, but I'd be on the front-line of any protest to raise the academic accessibility of such studies. One in every three women in the world is a Muslim. Two percent of the population of the US and three percent of the population of the UK are followers of Islam. Islamic issues, for better or worse, are of deeply topical political and cultural significance. As such, for an academic department to ignore them, much less one which purports to deal centrally with issues of equality, is not only racist, but phenomenally short-sighted. The fundamental point that both this blogger and the whole damn Republican Right (tm.) seem to have missed is that awareness of and concern for women's rights in Middle Eastern totalitarian states has little or nothing to do with one's support, or lack of support, for military action. Sloppy thinking there. Very poor show.

Alright, now let's get one thing straight: the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were nothing to do with women's rights. Had the combined Pentagon and Westminster hawks been at all interested in fighting for the safety and self-determination of women worldwide, they would have made constitutional protection of Afghani women's rights a priority whilst they were masterminding the new constitution. They would not - just for instance- be wining, dining and declaring 'shared values' with the leader of a country boasting arguably the most shocking human rights abuses against women on the globe. The pro-war lobby does not care about Arab women, other than as a convenient lever to prod wavering centrist liberals into acquiescence.

All the more surprising, then, that the blogger at feministe seems to interpret the protest action as demanding that feminists either 'condemn their [Islamic women's] religion and...launch deadly attacks on their countries' or shut up and get back to figuring out what Mary Wollestonecraft ate for breakfast. Even more deeply reductionist is the assumption that Islam is 'not our culture, so it's not our business, so it's not our place to get involved.' Hello? I'm sorry, since when did 3% of the population constitute 'not our culture'? And since when did 'not getting involved' imply 'not speaking about Islamic issues, not speaking about Islamic women, not getting angry and organised about the phenomenal cruelties and injustices that are carried out overseas in the name of religion'?

Yes, political involvement with cultural and religious cultures and sub-cultures that we don't understand is foolish. Which is exactly why we should be educating ourselves about them. Which is exactly why we need more courses on Women and Islam. Lack of understanding is a piss-awful excuse for inertia on the political left. At some point, someone's going to use the word 'multiculturalism', and then I'm going to have to go away for a little bit and break things.* When are we going to get it through our thick collective heads that Islam, Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic totalitarian states are not the same beast?

Crucially, Islamic women are not homogenous. Yes, as some clever linkage in the feministe post demonstrates, there are lots of vocal, independent, successful Muslim women. I went to college with some of them; I've been on the panels of feminist conferences with others; throughout my life, there are likely to be Muslim women writing my textbooks and signing my paychecks. However, the fact remains that Islam is non-monolithic: Islamic women's issues in the Western world are not of a kind with Islamic women's issues in many extremist Middle Eastern states. Although it is, thankfully, getting easier for Muslim women in the UK and elsewhere to be self-determining, it is no less the case that many Muslim women, especially those in Arab states, do not have voices, are unable to stand up adequately for their own rights, and need the support of other men and women, both Muslim and non-Muslim. We need to be talking about the role of women in Islam, and we need to be analysing the situation of women in Islamic states, and - just as importantly - we need to be aware of the difference.

Discussion of this sort is crucial, both within and outside academic environments. Only by talk and debate will the general public come to the realisation that Islam is neither an evil, nor even a specifically sexist religion: rather, that there are some who use Islam as an excuse for misogyny and cruelty, that there are some heinously woman-hating, homophobic, savage totalitarian regimes masquerading as Islamic states, and that these are subtly separate issues from the theosophical paradigms of Islam itself.

Self-education is one of the most important ways in which the left can regain the courage of its convictions. Flatly denouncing someone's religion is unacceptable, especially when used as an excuse to, say, commit atrocities abroad. But questioning how that religion is used - indeed, questioning how all major world religions are used - as a destructive tool in the hands of oppressive personalities and regimes is vital to liberalism, to feminism, and to humanism.

*'Multiculturalism' = quite possibly the most disgusting and misleading word in the English political lexicon: admirable in concept, it's been used as shorthand for tolerating cultural segregation and ghettoisation, and for conveniently sweeping messy issues like arranged marriage under the carpet, shorthand for 'it's not our problem because they're not really British/American/people with rights and feelings'. 'Multiculturalism' as it's understood today, particularly in the UK, has nothing to do with real respect for other cultures.

Monday 5 November 2007

Anarchy in the UK!

Every time I sit down to write about politics I end up writing about emotions, and every time I try to write something emotional it always seems to come back to politics.

I'm 21 years old, and have been hunting happiness since I can remember. Sometimes constructively, sometimes destructively, and pretty much always chaotically: I've experimented with drugs and sex and therapy, read all the self-help books I could get my hands on, seen herbalists, hypnotists, homeopaths and sociopaths; I've had my heart broken and I've run clod-footed over the hearts of others in search of emotional enlightenment. I've travelled continents with only a small back-pack half-full of rolled-up socks, poetry books and Polish vodks. I've been an anorexic, a starver, a self-harmer, an addict, a manic depressive, and have suffered from crippling anxiety attacks. I've been institutionalised, and I've soldiered through an Oxbridge degree, which is pretty much the same thing without the nurses, the locks on the doors and all the free biscuits.

The hardest thing I've had to learn in all of that time is how to sit with sadness.
What started me thinking about all this was nothing more than a scrap of conversation with a friend, and then, on the Picadilly line to college, watching a grown man in a sharp suit fighting back tears behind a copy of the Metro.

So much of modern life is about trying to buy things that will distract us from our problems, make us 'happier': up the interminable escalators to the spit-out point on the street, dozens of billboards try to tell us how to be wealthier, prettier, sexier, slicker, cooler - as if, somehow, all this would make us forget that we were angry, or hurt, or tired, or lonely, or sad.
Happiness, in fact, does not require the abscence of sadness. Real contentment, in fact, requires one to routinely sit down with sadness, one's own or other peoples', and acknowledge it, and allow it to pass through you.

Capitalist faux-democracy, however, does not allow for sadness. I shan't, actually, apologise for talking feelings and politics in the same breath, because I'm convinced that the two can't be separated like that. So: the capitalist political paradigm does not condone sadness, because if one is sad, and if one acknowledges and takes time to process and to sit with one's sadness, then where are the profit margins? What can be sold to stopper that sadness, if one has suddenly decided to feel it and to let it go?

Note, of course, that I'm not talking here about serious depression, which is its own, frightening illness deserving of every medical, personal and psychological attention that can be thrown at it. I'm talking about low-level sorrow, fits of black dog, depressive days, dissatisfaction, loneliness, bad turns, the Blues. The sadness that everyone encounters on a reasonably regular basis because, hey, life's not always amazing fun. The capitalist political paradigm tries to persuade us that these feelings can be squashed down or bought off. Actually feeling painful feelings and letting them go is antithetical to capitalist idealism, despite being generally essential to personal wellbeing. Actually being awake and aware of one's own feelings, rather than numb to them, is a threat to capitalism. Sorrow, properly and unashamedly acknowledged, is a threat to capitalism.

Unfettered joy is also a threat to capitalism, because joy - spontaneous or self-supporting - needs no financial transaction to take place. Joy is a simple, visceral response to the unpriceable pleasures of life. Uncontrolled joy - like uncontrolled sadness - is not encouraged in our society, where one is, instead, expected to be neither too happy nor openly sad. Unrestrained joy is a threat because it cannot be controlled or adequately hung on to. It is a threat because automatically exposes one to the thing that capitalist thinkers fear most: loss.

Emotional fluency is, hence, deeply radical. I propose Emotional Anarchy.

I propose genuine psychological self-determination in which every emotion is valid and needs no apology. I propose adventures with independence, dependence and interdependence. I propose bravery in self-exploration, I propose being unashamed to express feelings on public transport, I propose radical kindnesses, considered excesses, dances with one's own joy and despair. I propose Emotional Anarchy.

Emotional anarchy does not require you to run riot with your feelings, although rioting may be an unavoidable side-effect. It requires only honesty, self-expression, consideration and kindness. It'll probably save the world. To conclude, before I disappear into my soft, damply pink teenage faux-political rectum, I'm reminded of a snipling from Blake's 'Songs of Innocence and Experience', which says this better than I ever could:

He that binds to himself a joy/ Doth the winged life destroy -
He that kisses the joy as it flies/Lives in eternity's sunrise.
From The Clod and the Pebble.

Sunday 28 October 2007


Take That's sellout reunion tour provides a jolly pop-precis of the state of political power today!

The erstwhile 'fab five' - sorry, four - started by delivering 'The Take That Manifesto'....

...whilst the choreography for their next number says more about gendered politics than any academic tract I've read in months.

I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

Saturday 27 October 2007

The 'Pro-Life' fallacy and other fascist fantasies.

Now that's out of the way, let me make one thing absolutely clear: I love babies. Not that I'm getting down on my many fine friends who have no maternal impulses whatsoever, but I'm not one of them. In fact, my IQ seems to decrease exponentially in the presence of one of these small, snuggly bundles of fun, transforming me from a Chomsky-quoting faux-intellectual to a gibbering, cooing puddle of fourth-wave feminist goo. And I intend to have one or two of my own someday, when I'm good and ready.

I'm also a socialist feminist - or, more specifically, a socialist with a strong feminist agenda who believes that one cannot, fundamentally, be a socialist without a feminist agenda. I believe that the 'Pro-Life' stance is antithetical to feminism, and I want my daughter, when I have one, to be able to grow up in a world where her choices are absolutely and incontestibly her own, where she is allowed full control over her own reproductive system as far as the technology of the day is allowed, and where the words 'knitting needle' will imply only a relaxing hobby.

In a society where the media wields unimaginable political power, the 'Pro-Life' lobby is a mass media gift - hysterical in its approach (quite literally), the cause cries out to be illustrated with graphic shots of fetuses clutching at doctors' fingers, fetuses lying in bloody pools on metal slabs, fetuses, well, doing what fetuses generally do - gestating . It's also crammed with opportunities to publish horror stories about babies who were 'nearly' aborted, or trauma tales of women who have regretted terminations. The Pro-Choice Lobby has no such easy, graphic grab-'em content. All it has is the majority consensus and an agenda for truth and justice.

Moreover, even the positive-sounding term 'Pro-Life' is deeply misleading. A cursory analysis of the term exposes it as a propaganda hook concealing a fundamental and troubling value judgment: 'Pro-Lifers' are, in fact, 'pro' the life of the child at the expense of the life of the mother. Not only is this value judgement an arbitrary one which, completely coincedentally, just happens to demand the termination of womens' right to control their own life choices, it ignores the fact that abortion is, and has always been,a fact of human life: legislating to criminalise them would not stop abortions, but merely lead to a dramatic increase in the waste of human life and potential from unsafe backstreet and amateur home terminations. I do not want my daughter to be denied medical and psychological care, to have to fumble for her cervix with a metal skewer.

Moreover, the value judgment upon which the 'Pro-Life' lobby depends harks back to the days when an unborn child who might potentially be a son was considered more valuable to society than the life and future of its mother, who was already known to be female.

The 'Pro-Life' agenda is violently misogynist both at root and in intent. One can be a feminist and decide to keep an unwanted pregnancy. One can be a feminist and press for a reduction in the rates of unwanted pregnancy. One can even be a feminist and be personally against abortion - as long as one doesn't actively oppose other women's legal right to terminate pregnancy. One cannot, however, truly call oneself pro-woman whilst believing that women's right to control their own bodies should be suspended.

We on the young left should not countenance a return to the dark days of coat-hangers and closed doors. As such, we must be constantly vigilant against the increasing threat to our reproductive rights and those of our sisters and friends, as MPs discuss, for example, reducing the time limit on late-term abortions. Constant vigilance is needed, as well as constant re-evaluation of our arguments and priorities as technology changes. This battle, like so many before and since, has been hard-won; it is the responsibility of our generation, now, to safeguard the rights won for women forty years ago. We cannot risk complacency.

Thursday 25 October 2007

Shout out for Pro-Choice Week of Action!

Forty years ago this week, in 1967, abortion was legalised in the UK 'under certain circumstances'. This week has been declared a Pro-Choice Week of Action. So, just back into the office from a demo, I come across this nonsense, in the Grauniad of all places: Lord Steel in Abortion Retraction.

And this is the Guardian. I don't have to describe to you what's been going on in the Mail and the Mirror this week, you can check it out for yourselves.

Firstly: how outrageous, how absolutely, stunningly outrageous that the moderate and right-wing press are now blaming women for using the freedoms that were won for them.

Secondly, it has to be stated again that abortion is neither a pleasant option, nor is it easy to get hold of - discussion of the postcode lottery over the weekend opened my eyes to just how hit and miss the UK abortion services, themselves amongst the most liberal in the world, really are.*

And thirdly - most importantly - even if women were being irresponsible, and I'm not saying they are, but if they were, the answer to that is NOT to take away their choices. WE ARE NOT CHILDREN. Want to limit the number of abortions? Provide better access to contraception, and more sensible dispensing rules about the morning after pill, for a start. I'm entirely with Furedi in that the rising figure represents a greater number of women making educated and informed decisions about their lives, and positive if difficult choices for themselves and for their loved ones.

Is it time for a re-think on abortion laws? Yes, absolutely it's time for a re-think. We want abortion to be as early as possible and as late as necessary; we want the choices that we deserve as mature adults, we want control over our own bodies. And we want it now.

*Joyously enough, one of the key speakers of the debate, Shonagh from Pro-Choice Ireland, brought along a very disruptive and criminally cute toddler of indeterminate gender, which was bimbling around and tugging on skirts and combat boots throughout the talks. Her friend tried to calm down its burbling with a delicious flapjack. I cannot tell you how much of a mistake this was.

Sunday 14 October 2007

Thoughts after an assault.

This post was going to be an update to the last; I still have a lot of exciting porn links to give you all, and those are on their way. However, on Friday night, I was sexually assaulted on the Camden road.

It was four thirty in the morning, and I was coming home from a rave. I was not alone. I was tired, burnt-out from a great night, glassy-eyed and in desperate need of a cup of tea. I was wearing a short, fluffy pink dress which would have fallen squarely into the police-statement ‘asking for it’ category had it not be accessorised by a huge, black man’s army jacket and equally huge, spiky bovver boots. Two minutes’ walk from my front door, a tall,scrawny chap wearing denims and a drunken grin stumbled into the sodium-orange light on the road ahead of us.

After a few minutes’ friendly, if annoyingly exuberant banter, which prevented us from walking on, he suddenly grabbed me hard, and started humping me enthusiastically, shouting that I was ‘his friend, his friend, his best friend.’ I was pressed against his chest and, despite how much I struggled and slapped him, could not break free. My horrified boyfriend, who, although noticeably disabled (he takes his crutch with him on nights out) is really quite built, couldn’t pull him off either. After a few minutes he appeared to lose interest, we kicked him away and walked on hurriedly; he tailed us back along the street and started doing it again. Eventually, we shook the fucker and made it home.

Now, a lot of white, middle-class people these days are of the opinion that feminism, at least in the UK, has run its course. That we’ve achieved everything we need to and should now be quiet and do our homework and take our desk jobs and have babies in our mid-twenties like good little girls. A lot of these same people think that, instead of focussing on problems at home, ‘we’ - which entails, in practice, anyone but us - should be addressing worldwide injustice against women: the epidemic of violent rape in the Congo, the adultery and divorce laws of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, honour killings.

There is, unquestionably, a great deal more work to be done in violent regimes where it is women, children and homosexuals who immediately come off worst (350 gay Iraqis were lynched, tortured or burned to death last year. A huge proportion the asylum seekers who come to Britain from the Carribean are fleeing because their sexuality puts them at risk of assault, torture, rape and murder.). However, there is no question of ‘instead.’ Just because women’s physical safety is more assured in most areas and social divisions of the West than in many other countries does not mean that there isn’t still a great deal of work to do in making the world a better and safer place for women. Neither does it imply that the work we have left to do cannot be instigated on a truly global scale.

In the UK, we have developed a reasonably workable system where women - most notably middle-class women - can function with more equality in a man’s world, so long as they don’t shout about it too much. I for one am not satisfied with this. I want exponentially better childcare rights and provision; I want motherhood and ‘women’s work’ respected as they are in other countries (often, sadly, the same countries in which women suffer higher levels of rape and abuse). I want a higher rape conviction rate; higher than, say, 5%. I want full and immediate access to all elements of reproduction control that are technologically possible, rather than grudging, judging, unpredictable access whose security is constantly being eroded under our noses. I want to live in a culture where women’s bodies - a category into which the body I inhabit falls - are not reduced to objects of national, self-digusted fetishisation. I want people like the drunken bastard who humped me so violently and mindlessly in the street on Friday night to be stripped of the entitlement complex that led him to do so.

There is still a LOT of work to do.

What we are fighting is male-pattern dominance and male-pattern violence. Elements of these underly a leviathan proportion of the human injustice, cruelty and violence in the world. I do not mean to imply only ‘violence against women’, but violence against male and female victims, including strains of anti-woman violence. I do not mean ‘violence as perpetrated by men’: women can sometimes be abusers too, although it is true that most male-pattern violence is male-instigated. Neither do I mean to imply that all men are, at root, violent beasts: I have the misfortune to be a straight girl and to have more male than female close friends, and most of the finest men I know abhor both violence and the pathologies that cause some men to enact violence and abuse.

What I mean, quite simply, is the violence that has infested Western and other societies with the impulse to dominate, to conquer, to control - to hurt. Were I to list all the different manifestations in which this male-pattern violence appears across the world, I’d be here until all of us got bored, and besides, I’ve homework to do. Besides, I’m sure you can think of examples in your own life, in your friends’ and families’ lives, where male violence has obstructed, blighted the lives of or simply scared the bejeezus out of its victims.

Both my boyfriend, who I shall call A., and my best friend (also male) have arrived at their non-violent philosophies as a result of suffering horribly under the clammy hands of male violence. In a similar way, the attack on Friday night was as much an attack on A. as it was on me: our assailant made several drunken comments about what a ‘big man’ my boy was (he’s a jitsu champion, and certainly much more muscled than the attacker); when he saw that A was crippled and did not pose as much of a physical threat, he started sexually assaulting his girlfriend: amongst other things, a simple, primitively violent territory stake: a statementof dominance. That, as much as the attack itself, made me sick to the stomach.

Feminism is a multivalent movement of deep significance that is intrinsically linked to even broader global struggles against cruelty and injustice. Whilst women, children and homosexuals are unfree and abused, all members of society are lessened. The eradication of male-pattern violence and entitlement pathologies and the slow introduction of more traditionally ‘feminine’ principles - tolerance, kindness, listening, sharing, allowing others space, making our voices heard and respected without aggression - into our social philosophies will not just benefit women, but every human being. There is a great deal of work to do, at home and abroad. Take my hand; let’s get started.