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.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Daily Feminist Activities for Boys.

Now that’s out of the way, let me start by making one thing absolutely clear: feminism is for everyone.

Feminism is not solely the preserve of crop-haired, man-hating, bovver-booted dykes in dungarees; nor is it festering in dry academies. Feminism is simply about assessing who our culture has made weak and who it has made strong, and just what in hell we’re going to do about it. And since the most keenly felt social dividing lines in contemporary society are still drawn between men and women - with little to no room for the many thousands who place themselves most comfortably between those binaries - feminism affects all of us on a basic socio-political level.This is because feminism is about nothing more or less than the politics of gender.

Whether you’re a boy, a girl, transsexual, transgendered, gay, lesbian, bisexual or a straight-laced, rugby-playing man’s man from Wigan who’s never even heard of Germaine Greer, you - yes, you - are being fucked over by your gender. More on this later.

The question is - what are you going to do about it? One of the things that infuriates me most since I’ve started dabbling my tiny toes in the murky, scum-skinned, crisp-packet-floating waters of gender politics is people giving me excuses for their lack of engagement with modern feminism. These range from the merely uninformed - ‘I can’t be a feminist because I want to get married and have children’ - to the dazzlingly anodine -’I can’t be a feminist - I shave my legs.’ However, the one which sets my tits on edge most often is: ‘I can’t be a feminist - I’m a man.’

I’m sorry, what? You mean that just because centuries of social discrimination have put you on the winning side of the power divide, it’s not your problem? Of course it’s your problem; it’s your problem because wherever society makes people unfree, your personal freedom is implicated, circumscribed. However, simple inertia isn’t the only reason that some men are reluctant to come on side.

More often, and equally disturbingly, what I hear from intelligent, reasonable men and boys is the reluctance to engage in feminist debate because ‘it’s not my place’. Feeling themselves implicated by the mere biological fact of their gender in centuries of oppression they assume they have no right to comment or even be involved; and are embarrassed when called upon to do so, despite having deep respect for women.

This is, of course, nonsense. Sadly, though, the ‘not our place’ attitude, puerile and ignorant though it may be, is one that some women feminists - particularly so-called ‘radical’ feminists - have allowed to fester. It is, however, utter drivel. Boys: as former oppressors, we want you on side. We NEED you on side. In fact, we can’t do without you. Lucky for you, there are many, very basic things you can do to raise your own and others’ awareness about feminism and gender politics. For your delectation, for your edification I have constructed a list of suggested activities.

Ten daily feminist activities for boys.

1. Use ’she’ instead of ‘he’.

Pronouns matter. Using ‘he’ where gender is disputed is not acceptable; neither are words like ‘mankind’ to stand in for ‘humanity’. It is simply not good enough to say that you meant to imply men AND women - the words we use affect the way we conceive our world. Try using ’she’ instead of ‘he’ where either would do; you’ll find it makes you think about basic gender categorisation in subtle, important ways.

2. Change your porn habits.

Everyone likes a good wank, don’t they? However, not all groin-bashing-material is equal. When ‘harmless fantasy’ involves the exploitation and abuse of women -either in the industry itself, which is deeply murky and unequal, or in the situations portrayed - it’s not okay, I’m afraid. We can save the Great Porn Debate for another time. Thankfully, however, there is a great deal of woman-positive pornography out there: particularly professional voluntary sites like the excellent Suicide Girls, the delights of which I’ll leave you to savour for yourself. Sites like Pornotube also contain a lot of voluntary, amateur stuff which - whilst not half as polished as professional pornography - are good for a giggle, and often show footage which is both a lot closer to real sex, and surprisingly hot. If anyone has other links to share and discuss, do comment below.

3. Stand up for yourself.

Gender stereotyping works both ways. The next time someone tells you, even in jest, that you’re useless/unfeeling/clumsy/ emotionally stunted/ lack creativity/ are sexually boorish/bad at cooking purely because you’re male, don?t take it. Remind them how angry they’d get - and rightly so- if the sentiment were reversed. Gender discrimination, any gender discrimination, lessens all of us, and you have a right to refuse to be implicated in it.

4. Shave your armpits.

Most girls do it. You should too. Why do we do it? Because armpit hair is icky. Why should you do it? Because armpit hair is icky.

There, I’m glad I got that one off my chest.

5. Learn to give compliments properly.

Wolf-whistling, cat-calling, whatever you choose to call it: it’s not flattery, it’s aggressive, and it’s harrassment, and we don’t appreciate it. I know very few women indeed who like being wolf-whistled at, and those few tend to have very low self-esteem indeed. If you’re in a group of people doing so, don’t join in.

Conversely, if you really want to give a woman a compliment? Come up to her in person- one-on-one is much less intimidating - and tell her that she’s beautiful. Be as specific and non-explicitly sexual as you can - compliment her hair, her eyes, her laugh, her sense of humour, her fascinating intelligence. And then - if you can - walk away, so she doesn’t have time to get embarrassed or to feel that you’re expecting anything in return. I know about three men who have this down to a fine art, and all of them - shock of the century - are popular with the ladies.

6. Learn to love cunnilingus.

Enough said.

7. Educate yourself.

Take time to get to know the real issues facing women in contemporary society. An excellent and highly readable primer is Naomi Wolf’s book The Beauty Myth; another is Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs. Make one of the big feminist websites, such as Feministing or The F Word, part of your regular reading. Think about what you read; talk about it with your female friends to see how their experiences match up. You’ll be very surprised at what you’ll find.

8. Be nice to your mum.

Mums can be a pain, I know, but take time to think about whether or not you’re fair to yours all the time. This culture vilifies motherhood, and everything about it; and that vilifcation is eroding respect for women in one of their many highly important roles. However awful your mum is, try to appreciate her from time to time, and think twice before you bad-mouth her in front of your friends.

9. Don’t pay for everything.

You’ll like this one. The notion that, on dates or in relationships, men should be responsible for a greater share of the financial burden than women, is outdated and nonsensical: the message, essentially, is that the woman can?t support herself properly, and shouldn’t have to now that you’re there to do it for her. Offer to split the cost of a meal or a cinema trip; if you want to treat her, allow her to treat you in return. Everybody wins!

And, finally:

10. The Great Door-Holding Debate.

It’s a classic trope: the poor, unreconstructed ‘gentleman’ holds the door for a young lady, only to be rewarded with a rigorous ear-bashing for daring to be such a chauvinist; others like him become scared to follow suit, only to be criticised for their lack of politeness. So, what the hell do you do?

Simple answer: you hold the door, for anyone, wherever you can, because it’s simple good manners and makes everyone’s life that little bit easier. I try to do so all the time, and so do lots of women I know, because politeness should not depend on gender relations but upon simple human decency. If you get shouted at - which will only happen if you’re very unlucky - take comfort in the knowledge that it’s not you that’s unreconstructed, it’s them. If you’re still nervous of door-holding, Pennyred suggests that you start with easy, soft targets. Such targets include: people holding a lot of shopping; people pushing buggies or in charge of small children; old people; and, of course, other men.

If you manage successfully to complete these assignments, please send a full class report to Penny Red at Red Pepper, along with your phone number, kinks and basic measurements.