Thursday 30 October 2008
Esquire magazine, admittedly not always the most reliable of sources, has interviewed several prominent US career fascists, and amongst the drooling, gum munching racist filth it was today revealed that significant members are planning to vote for Barack Obama rather than his white, Republican opponent.
Rocky Suhayda, the Chairman of the American Nazi Party, said: 'White people are faced with either a negro, or a total nutter who happens to have a pale face. Personally I’d prefer the negro.'
And there's more!
Tom Metzger, the Director of White Aryan Resistance, said:'The corporations are running things now, so it’s not going to make much difference who's in there, but McCain would be much worse. He’s a warmonger. He’s a scary, scary person--more dangerous than Bush...I hate the transnational corporations far more than any black person.'
Please understand the difference between endorsing white supremacists' rhetoric, which I'm not doing, and giggling helplessly as the last rats leave the sinking McCain schooner and American politics goes through the looking glass. Combine this with possibly the worst assassination plot ever (two young men plan to buy/steal some guns, wear white tuxedos and drive in the general direction of Obama, somewhere, whilst shooting things and shouting, before getting shot by police. That was their plan. That was their whole plan.) and I think liberal American kiddies can sleep safe in their beds.
When we're done cackling, we should probably remind ourselves that on this side of the pond we're rather short on Charlie Chaplin fascists - instead we've got a highly organised neo-fascist faction, the BNP, with a stunning PR team and the guile to get out there knocking on doors and trying to win parliamentary influence, having already gained a seat on the London assembly. Just, yknow, saying.
Friday 24 October 2008
Regular readers of this blog will know how I feel about Julie Bindel and her terrible views, which are - upsettingly enough - shared by grand dames of the movement including Germaine Greer. I think it’s important not only to challenge them, but to offer a response. So here’s a contemporary feminist take on femininity, feminism and transgenderism, from the point of view of a largely cis-gendered feminist activist (yes, many of my best friends are transgdendered and wondering where all their makeup has gone). For a transsexual feminist's viewpoint and a much more in-depth and articulate study, look no further than the excellent Whipping Girl by the ravishing and razor-sharp Julia Serano.
Transsexualism is not merely a valid part of the queer- and gender-liberation movements: it's a vital one. The notion that one's biological sex does not have to dictate anything about one's behaviour, appearance or even the eventual layout of one's genitals and secondary sex organs, now that we live in a glittering future where such things are possible, is a radical one.
Furthermore, not all transsexuals present, as Bindel would have it, as 'men in dresses'. Transsexualism, transgenderism, transvestism and intersexuality present in a myriad different ways. Some bio-men choose to live as women and to take hormones, but do not elect to have any surgery. Some bio-women present as males half the time by binding their breasts, stuffing their pants and going to nightclubs in tanktops and baseball caps, the liberated 'bois' of the spreading San-Francisco scene. Some people are born with hormone imbalances, or born entirely outside of the two-gender sphere altogether: in fact, one in 2,000 babies is born without an XX or XY genotype. Trans issues go way beyond 'men in dresses', although drag queens tend to remain the postergirls for the same reason that Kylie Minogue is now the face of breast cancer: they look good doing it.
Femininity is not a sacred cow. Femininity is a social construct, and Bindel is right to identify it as such, but utterly wrong to claim that transsexuals re-enforce these stereotypes. The problem is not with transsexuals, but with our entire fucked-up construction of what is 'male' and what 'female', what 'masculine' and what 'feminine'. Bindel's bio-'boys' in 'fuck-me-boots and birds-nest hair' are no different from today's bewildered 12, 13 and 14-year old girls struggling to make the transition from deeply felt, little-understood womanhood to socially dictated artificial 'femininity'. Like teenage girls stuffing their bras with loo-roll and smearing on inappropriate lipstick, the m-t-f transsexuals for whom Bindel, Greer and their ilk reserve special hatred are simply craving what all growing girls crave: social acceptance.
Yes, they are performing femininity. But so are all women, every day. Yes, some of them might sometimes present as 'pantomime dames' in Greer's ever-tactful phraseology. But after a long night out on the tiles, too much slap, tarty heels, padded bra, bling and rapidly deflating hairdo, I fail to see in what way I'm less of a pantomime dame than, say, the fabulous Jodie Harsh (a lady who does it much, much, much better than almost everyone else).
Jodie Harsh is a pantomime dame. So is Victoria Beckham. Lily Savage is a pantomime dame. So is Vivienne Westwood. So was Margaret Thatcher. So is the Queen of England. We are all pantomime dames, performing femininity because that's how we gain social acceptance. Those who have least to gain by performing femininity – bio-males who, in doing so, voluntarily and utterly abandon male privilege – are perhaps the bravest and canniest of all of us.
It is those who have found themselves outside the two-sex system who have done the most to challenge toxic gender binaries throughout history. From the Hirjas of India to the holy hermaphrodites of ancient Greece, from the Molly-boys of 18th century London to the f-t-m artists of bohemian paris, transsexual, transgender, transvestite and intersexed individuals have been revered and reviled, studied and sought out, as if they held the keys to the mysteries of the gender system that binds us. Perhaps they do.
Wednesday 22 October 2008
The work of government-funded anti-prostitution group The Poppy Project is ‘incoherent’ and ‘dangerous’, according to British experts.
The release of a damning report by academic specialists in the politics of sex work comes in the wake of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s plans for a massive crackdown on the ‘blight’ of prostitution in the UK. The Home Secretary’s proposals, based largely on the dubious work of The Poppy Project, will outlaw street prostitution and criminalise some buyers of sex – moves which have also been denounced by women’s rights groups.
‘We are appalled that the government has used this sloppy research while ignoring a large body of reputable research,’ said Dr Helen Ward, one of the authors of the document. ‘Jacqui Smith’s proposals are deeply flawed and will put sex workers at even more risk of violence and exploitation. They also contain yet another major assault on civil liberties – this time on the liberties of adults having consenting sex.’
‘Just two years ago in Ipswich we all witnessed the tragic consequences of zero tolerance policies on sex work,’ said Kate Hardy, a researcher in sex work and member of activist group Feminist Fightback. ‘Women are forced to take more risks, with less time to decide whether or not to get into cars, having to work alone rather than in pairs or small groups and working in darker more isolated areas.’ Police in Ipswich implemented just such a policy before the tragic murders of a number of sex workers in the city in 2006 (pictured).
‘It is not the place of the criminal law to be policing people’s personal morality,’ said Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon of the University of London, adding that ‘If they really cared about people’s safety or about public nuisance, the government would allow these women to work off the street.’
The Poppy Project, which last year received over £2.4 million of public money, offers highly conditional help to the 0.2% of prostitutes who are victims of sex trafficking. Feminists and sex workers alike have been appalled at the insistence by members of the Project that prostitutes agree to give up sex work forever and to turn in their traffickers – sometimes a very dangerous step for them to take – before they receive any help whatsoever. ‘It’s like the worst sort of Victorian philanthropy,’ said Dr Brooks-Gordon.
As well as making life more dangerous for street prostitutes, the Home Secretary’s proposals will give the police greater powers to raid brothels and flats where sex workers operate. This move is particularly astounding, given the fact that the police are currently allowed to keep a quarter of the money used in such raids – even if that money represents a woman’s life savings. The risk of diverting police attention to pursuing the most profitable rather than the most exploitative sex work establishments has not been lost on the Home Secretary, who simply declared: ‘we will take their bling away from them.’
‘There have been scenes of police arriving at 5am in full riot gear and dragging women out into the street in their underwear,’ said Dr Brooks-Gordon. ‘As a feminist, I find it very hard to see how that promotes women’s rights.’
The aim of the changes, according to a Home Office memo, is ‘to send a clear message that the Government will protect the vulnerable.’ However, many groups, including coalitions of sex workers, have raised concerns that the implementation of such legislation will actually increase the dangers for trafficked women and migrant workers in the sex trade, whose lack of papers will leave them even more vulnerable to abuses within underground prostitution rings.
The Safety First Coalition denounced the moves towards criminalising the purchase of sex being promoted by UK ministers ‘despite evidence from academics and sex workers in Sweden that the law has forced prostitution further underground, undermining women’s safety, driving women into the hands of pimps and making it harder for the police to prosecute violent men and traffickers.’
Isabella Lund, of the Sexworkers and Allies Network in Sweden, commented on the failures of the Swedish Model in Sweden itself, saying that ‘street prostitutes today are more exposed to robbery, assault and rape than before.’
If Jacqui Smith and her cronies really care about protecting society's most vulnerable workers, they wouldn't be focusing on 'taking their bling away' but on putting schemes in place to help prostitutes clean up and clear out, or to make their work safer, if that's what's needed. The work of The Poppy Project smacks of the worst sort of moralising Victorian philanthropy, and is utterly inappropriate for dealing with the social problems caused by prostitution in the 21st century.
Tuesday 21 October 2008
Click the link and sing along.
Friday 17 October 2008
A significant proportion of the UK believes that abortion is far more permissible if the pregnancy is the result of rape. In October 2007 a CBS News poll showed that 34% of the residents of the United states - the highest proportion of the sample- believed that abortion should only be permitted 'to save a woman's life, or in cases of rape or incest.' And in a survey of British students, over two-thirds of those who identified as 'pro-life' believed that abortion should be permitted in cases of rape. This single fact tears a savage hole in 'pro-life' reasoning.
Believe it or not, there's one area where the twisted logic of Governor Sarah Palin actually makes some sense: either abortion is murder, or it isn't. I happen to believe that it isn't, but let's suspend disbelief for a second and suppose, as some people do, that a foetus is an entire and sentient person from the moment of conception. Murder’s still murder, even if you do it with virgin, unsullied hands. The prominence of the viewpoint that abortion is okay as long as the woman has been raped tells us what the real issue is here.
The real issue is women daring to have sex at all. What people really mind isn’t women evacuating the poor little embryos, it’s women daring to exercise sexual self-determination and getting away with it. In other words – in fact, in the words of several pro-choice websites – women deserve to ‘suffer the consequences of sin’. Of course, if a woman’s been raped then it wasn’t her fault she had sexual intercourse, so she's excused.
It's easy to see why the pro-choice movement takes such pains to parrot this wildly hypocrytical piece of rhetoric, appealing, like at the parliamentary rally this week, on behalf of women who might be 'forced to have their rapist's baby.' But unless you subscribe to the misandrist Dworkinite premise that all penetrative sex is rape, there has to be more to it than that. A woman shouldn’t have to justify her decision to have an abortion in terms of her sexual purity.
If you truly believe that it’s alright for a woman to terminate a pregnancy when she has a good excuse for being pregnant -one that doesn’t involve the crime of consenting to sex - then you concede that it’s okay for some pregnancies to be terminated. In the pro-choice movement, we are convinced that nobody else should get to decide whether or not a woman ‘deserves’ an abortion. We believe that it should be her decision alone, not someone else’s blind sentimental call, and certainly not a question of sexual virtue. Let’s put aside this archaic reasoning and modernise abortion law to reflect 21st-century values.
Use Abortion Rights' online lobbying tool to lobby your MP ahead of the crucial vote on Tuesday, or come to the protest on Monday the 21st at 5.30pm outside parliament, Westminster tube.
Wednesday 15 October 2008
but we won't sing along
'cause our boyfriends and girlfriends
and parents will say
Don't be a square, grow your hair and be happy
It's not god that made you this way -
So lift up your top
Lift up your top
Lift up your top, got to use what you've got
Try not to see anything but the fee
It's all tongue in cheek anyway!
'Our Daughters Will Never Be Free,' The Indelicates, 2008
We have a very short window in which to start asking some crucial questions about wealth and gender. We have a short window, whilst the FTSE and the Dow and the Nikkei buckle and collapse, to commit blasphemy. To say that the very nature of financial markets, of patriarchal capitalism itself, engenders ideological violence against women - and by association, men - everywhere.
Fact: markets will seek to maximise profits. Fact: sexism sells. The image of the cackling city boy stuffing his bonus into a hooker's disembodied garter - just the leg showing, never the face - has become one of the icons of hypercapitalist success. However you wrangle the incentives, an economic model spawned and nurtured in an atmosphere of male privilege will seek to make money by selling women's bodies back to them, by selling them to other men, by exploiting women's work and by hijacking femininity as a saleable commodity and nothing more.
I remember the first time I met Ginger Spice. It was four years ago, and I was standing at the reception desk in the acute anorexia wing of a London mental hospital. I was there because there was nobody but my receptionist to watch me and make sure I took my meds and kept my meal supplements down, wearing a floppy hat and a tracksuit that flapped on the bent coat hanger of my body, drawing slogans to keep me occupied. And Geri Halliwell walked by.
She was there to see the girl in the next room from mine, a friend and a fan. And my first thought was how very, very tiny she was – barely five feet three in massive heels, dwarfed by shopping bags and a bunch of violent pink crepe-wrapped roses. Tiny and fragile-looking, all desperate smile and thin hair bleached back to its natural pale strawberry-blonde, Geri Halliwell had been in the press all year, and still is, thanks to a much-touted recovery! from anorexia, bulima and other lapses in celeb inscrutability. Through the haze of numb, sour fear that dogged those hospital days I remember thinking: that’s Ginger Spice. That pale, frantic creature is the same girl whose posters I had on my walls, whose feisty, pumped-up pop smashes were the first singles I ever bought with my pocket money. That’s Girl Power, right there. There it goes.
How sad, and how empty it all seems now. In 1996, we were told that anything was possible. Girls were powerful! Girls were sexy! Girls were marketable! You could be anything you wannabeed! Fast forward twelve years and the record is scratched and broken, the Spice Girls themselves bleached by years of pap-dashes into wasted, desperate husks of the energetic, ballsy girls we once thought we knew. We made ourselves into products again the instant empowerment was wrenched away from the feminist movement and assaulted with price-tags, we were consumed; we consumed ourselves. Femininity was for sale, and too much of it made us sick. Sick of ourselves, sick of our lives, sick of looking forward to another twenty years of hard sell until we could no longer pretend that we were young and available and found ourselves consigned to the scrap-heap with the computer shells, splitting bin-bags and acid-leaking fridges.
The year I started eating again - really eating, not just subsisting on crackers and tea - the sub-prime mortgages broke and the markets began to deflate like a balloon at the end of a long party. Right now, a loaf of bread costs more as a percentage of the average wage than it ever has. Groceries are getting harder for everyone to afford. We can no longer stuff ourselves with impunity, but right now, right this second, I feel something I spent my whole life missing. I feel something girlishly blasphemous and slightly obscene. I feel full.
Shopping, preening, starving, serving, fucking. Five key activities for my generation of young women under capitalism. We were born in the shadow of Thatcher and taught to prepare ourselves not for productivity, but for producthood. We do not remember living through anything but boomtimes, but for us, money is still something we will not win without the trappings of servility; we came to learn that nothing sells better, or faster, than our bodies, and the better and faster we could cash in, the happier and worthier our lives would be -
There's no better example of the pitfalls of unregulated capitalism than the strange case of the 22-year-old woman, known by the pseudonym Natalie Dylan, who is selling her virginity in hopes of financing her college education. She wants to be a marriage and family therapist. This transaction is "capitalism at its best," according to the manager of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch in Nevada, which is brokering the deal. He made the point on a TV show last week on which we both appeared as guests. I argued this is capitalism at its worst. You've got a desperate woman (she was allegedly defrauded out of a hunk of cash by her no-good dad); virtually no safety net if you're poor; gargantuan college fees, thanks to little government assistance or regulation; and the perfect storm of circumstances that makes a young woman think it's OK to sell her body. Scary? Yeah. Does it have to be this way? No. It's about the morality of the market. - Marian Meed-Ward, Kingston Whig-Standard, Ontario 25.09.2008
Maybe I'm a little biased, being accustomed to a student lifestyle and still having no job to lose- but I say let it all come down. Let the markets crash, and let the ugly arrogance of a society rent by the gashes of commodified gender come tumbling with them. So what if the glittering future that was promised to us as long as we behaved ourselves like good little girls has vanished? We may have been trained as hyper-consumers, but we don't have to live that way.
Let it all come down. Let's see the arrogance of the testosterone-stinking trading floors thwarted and the altars of deregulated markets toppled: we don't need the old gods and their archaic laws any more. Now that governments have intervened with basic financial packages to has save us from utter disaster, we can breathe a little easier - but the ideology of Western capitalism will never be the same again, and its discourses of gender are open to decimation. Bring it all down.
Friday 10 October 2008
You can't say 'Compassionate Conservatism' without baring your teeth, but I wanted so badly to believe - so I went to the Comment is Free/Soundings debate on Monday with an open mind. It was titled 'Is the Future Conservative?', and my mind was as open as a field, as open as the sky. As open as my jacket pocket, from which I lost £2.55 and my student bus pass on the way home, which just shows what you get for trusting people.
Wednesday 8 October 2008
Diane Abbott has tabled an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, due for its third reading on the 22nd of October, calling for an extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. This is precisely the same amendment that Emily Thornberry MP was forced to withdraw back in May, when Gordon Brown assured her that the move would be seen as a slap in the face by the nine DUP members who swung the 42 days vote in the Prime Minister's favour. Today at noon, forty women from Northern Ireland will hand into Number Ten a letter signed by the leaders of civil society in NI supporting abortion rights for women in the region.
The women want to meet as many MPs as possible whilst they are in London, in order to counter some of the anti-abortion propaganda which is doing the rounds in Westminster. MPs are, for instance, being told by the government that they should not adopt an ‘imperialist’ or ‘colonialist’ attitude to NI and impose something on the region.
'But there is no question of Westminster ‘imposing’ abortion on NI; it is already a reality of life here,' said Alliance for Choice spokesperson Goretti Horgan. 'Each year thousands of Northern Irish women travel to Britain and Europe and pay for private abortions. For women living on low incomes, getting the money together on time is impossible. An unwanted pregnancy can leave some women in a desperate situation – which is why we now find some women turning to the internet to buy the abortion pill.' Women who have taken black-market abortion pills often present at hospitals in Northern Ireland with terrible bleeding - and if the reason for their symptoms is discovered, some could face a life sentence once they recover, last night's audience was told.
'The poverty of some women in NI also impacts on the numbers of late abortions in Britain,' said Ms Horgan. 'The time it takes some women to find enough money to have an abortion means that women from here are three times more likely than British women to have abortions after 20 weeks. However, thousands of others are forced to continue pregnancies they find intolerable. This includes women pregnant as a result of rape and sexual abuse', says the Alliance for Choice spokesperson.
'If you're afraid of falling into some colonialist mindset by overriding Stormont, please, forget it - we need our human rights,' said Dr Audrey Simpson of the Northern Irish Family Planning Association, reminding those present that when the Bill was last on the table in May, Northern Irish MPs had 'no qualms' in voting to cut the time limit from 24 to 12 weeks for English, Welsh and Scottish women.
Whilst a majority of Stormont MPs are vehemently anti-choice, they do not represent the needs and opinions of their constituents on this matter. Northern Irish MPs are elected along sectarian lines, with a simple choice between orange and green candidates. Since 1967 over 80,000 women have travelled to England to have abortions, but there's one big reason why more pro-choice women, doctors and lawyers aren't speaking out, according to Annie Campbell of the Alliance for Choice: 'they are afraid'.
Ms Campbell explained how women suspected of seeking abortions in Northern Ireland have been the victims of appalling abuse, adding that anyone vocally supporting the pro-choice cause in Northern Ireland can expect significant harrassment. 'This is a global war and, as usual, women's bodies are on the frontline,' she said. She urged all the women and men present at the meeting to lobby their MPs, asking them to speak out for Northern Irish women 'because at the moment, we can't speak for ourselves. There's no use in us lobbying our MPs for the right to legal abortion - for all we know we'll just be put on a hit-list,' she said.
Dr Evan Harris MP, who has been instrumental in furthering the pro-choice cause in parliament, repeated the call for pro-choice citizens to lobby their MPs and urge them to vote for the positive amendments on the bill, reminding those present that 'this is a once in a generation opportunity to modernise the law'.
It's also the last chance Northern Irish women will have to fight for their rights to legal abortion for a very long time: soon, criminal law will be devolved to Stormont, after which 'we won't see positive change for generations,' said Annie Campbell.
If you agree that it is unacceptable that a group of women in the UK are still treated as second-class citizens and denied reproductive self-determination, here's how you can get involved -
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
1)Write to your MP, asking him or her to vote in support of the amendment extending abortion rights to Northern Ireland, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. 'We get so much hate-mail from pro-life groups that every supportive letter we receive makes a genuine difference', said Katy Clark MP last night.
2) Sign the online FPA petition in support of extending rights to Northern Ireland, here.
3)Come along to the protest organised by Abortion Rights UK ahead of the crucial vote - details will be posted here as soon as they appear and will also be available at Abortion Rights.
4)Add your voice to the Pro-Choice Majority website, containing testimonials of delays and obstruction to the process of medical abortion by representatives of the 80% of the UK who support a woman's right to choose.
Tuesday 7 October 2008
Wednesday 1 October 2008
They've wheeled out Margot James, PPC for Stourbridge and noted deep-blue dyke, to tell us all why we need to vote Tory. This is the same Margot James who did not stand as a gay candidate at the last election, and who has been heard saying that she hoped her partner's name, Jay, would be mistaken for that of a man by reporters. Ms James' parroting of the party-line at the Stonewall event yesterday goes something like this:
"Gay people are net contributors to public services through their taxes, because very few of them have children.
"I think gay people have got more angst on this issue than anybody else because gay people are paying in, through their taxes and actually using far less of the NHS because they tend not to have families, less of the education system for the same reason and all the more reason to be angry with this government for the waste of their taxes."
Translation: "Everyone knows you faggots hate kids! So vote for us - we hate kids, too!'
The logic of the tory tax argument also falls down when the ageing society is brought into play. Sure, homosexuals may, on average, raise fewer sproglets than their het friends, but this makes it all the more important for us that we live in a society that invests properly in healthcare, elderly care and the pensions system. Without the dubious surity of grown-up kids to wipe our octogenarian posteriors, we are going to need a government that invests in our care - a government that values the contribution we make as members of society enough to make public spending a priority.
The main tory line, however, remains that you and I should vote Conservative because, well, there are quite a lot of gay conservatives. Newsflash: there have always been gay tories; there have been gay tories before the word was even invented. What there have never been are tories promoting a gay agenda. In recent years, tory MPs have, for the most part, had an appalling voting record on queer issues in parliament - vital issues like civil partnerships and the age of consent. The tories are quite happy for us to carry on shuffling in the dark. If they're gay, too, they certainly haven't traditionally wanted the world to know about it. The tory closet door remains firmly shut. And no wonder, this being the party that introduced and tried desperately to save Section 28 of the Local Government Act, 1988.
Just a reminder: the amendment stated that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship". Ian Duncan Smith and a great deal of the tory party faithful spent 2003 trying to save this disgustingly homophobic piece of legislation. Nobody has apologised for that, and the silence of top conservatives over their shocking record at the Stonewall event stunk of hypocrisy.
I am not suggesting that just because you like a bit of same-sex action you absolutely must be a political radical. Not at all. Not one jot. In fact, I'm grudgingly of the opinion that one thing the 1990s were good for was freeing gay men and women of the grinding obligation not to also be bigoted fuckwits if they so chose. But bigotry and a forward-thinking queer agenda have never gone hand in hand, and if one is queer - not just gay, which is a statement of fact, but politically queer - you do have a duty to vote for anyone else apart from the tory party and far right.
Queer politics involve more than a private penchant for cock and a public rhetoric of tax breaks for straight, married couples. Queer politics are politics which make it easier for the millions of men and women who choose to live and love outside of the heteronormative box to do so without cultural, practical or financial discrimination. Queer politics are inherently radical, and not everyone working towards them is gay, and not everyone gay has queer politics. Let's not mistake gay - which is what the Conservative party has always secretly been - for queer, which it never will be.