Wednesday 15 October 2008

The day the music died.

And we all know the real song
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.


  1. Sadly, at times of upheaval the possibility of radical change is always in competition with the appeal of regressive returns to imagined natural states.

    One of the popularly regarded poignant images of the last recession was the male worker forced to stay at home while his wife or partner supported him, rather than the 'natural' other way around.

    When things are thrown into flux women usually end up either getting the blame, or doing most of the work, or very often, both.

    I'm not sure that recession does lead to the end of ornamental culture. From what I remember of the eighties, there was an ever increasing ornamental culture, where spending power of women was really courted, while certain codes were re-inscribed.

    I think people often take freedom on the basis they are given it rather than creating it as they would like it to be. Being afforded increased disposable income, with this being met by an ever growing market of commodities that no longer do anything but directly meet conscious and unconscious fantasies and fears related to sexuality, aging and social mobility, for many people has been a kind of freedom, at least in comparison to the lesser freedoms that may have been awarded previously.

    Notice the rightwing argument that frames a return to home and to child rearing as a freedom in comparison to the hard, unpleasant world of work, for example.

    I hope that if the recession does bite, then people will make their own entertainment and their own culture.

    But I always hope that.



  2. It doesn't really look like things are gonna collapse as it is right now, but who knows? Most Americans still seem to think that the economy is in a bad state, and that in itself will have effects.

    I hope at least people are starting to question their consume/produce centered lifestyle.

  3. I love The Indelicates so much right now; I think they have a lot to say on a lot of matters.

  4. Phhhh... "Right now, a loaf of bread costs more as a percentage of the average wage than it ever has."
    Come on! A loaf of bread is about 50p. With the average wage at 20 odd thousand pounds that statement is a long way from true.
    If you don't want to sell your body, don't sell it. Its simple. Quite frankly i'd rather live in a country where i'm relativly free to decide what work I should do (including selling my body should the fancy take me) than being forced to work in a tractor plant because some big-wig decided that was the best idea (or maybe just look best on the statistics list). The pursuit of maximum profit is a good thing - it equals the maximum useful work decided by the consumers/citizens. What's bad is the bosses pursuing the maximum amount of money without any thought for the owners.
    Gordon Gekko was right.

  5. Mark -
    you've got no idea, have you?
    The average weekly wage is around £450 (£398 for women). That means that the price of a loaf of bread (£1, not 50p, as of November last year) amounts to 0.22% of the weekly wage, before rent, bills or travel are taken into account. When they are, it's about 0.7%. That's just a bog-standard, average loaf of bread, without any of the things you need to make eating actually bearable - butter, say, or protein, or milk, tea, sugar, and let's not even talk about fruit and vegetables, because most people can't afford them now.

    'The pursuit of maximum profit is a good thing - it equals the maximum useful work decided by the consumers/citizens.'
    No, actually babe, incentives don't work that way. Markets are entirely amoral, which means that 'useful work' can mean anything at all - including, in this case, society deciding that the most 'useful work' a young, nubile woman can do is fuck for money.

  6. Another thing to throw in is that the 'average' wage of £20000 is somewhat misleading, tilted far too heavily upwards by people who earn an absolutely ridiculous fortune. One person earning half a mill every year is going to have far more impact on any national average wage than any normal people you care to name.

    The whole system doesn't need to collapse, and hopefully won't. What I'm hoping for is that the top ten percent, all those rich investors and so on, fat cats to use more politically laden parlance, are brought down to earth to struggle through with the rest of us. They're the ones who lead our culture after all, cut them out of the equation and changes are inevitable.

  7. J - Doesn't it all rather depend on what kind of average you're using? If you're calculating it using the median, as most people do, then that effect should be relatively small.

    Penny - you can buy a loaf of sainsbury's cheapo bread for 50p.
    Now i'm no mathematical wizard, but given your own figure there 450*52= 23400. The idea that someone on £23000 a year can't afford a loaf of bread is fairly outlandish - can't afford two holidays a year, or both a playstation and an X-box, maybe, but the vast majority of people have no problem feeding themselves.
    Furthermore, there is no way in which people now are worse off than they were 30 years ago, let alone throughout the entire history of the British Isles. The original statement that food was a larger proportion of the average wage than ever before was pure hyperbole and did nothing to aid your argument. Considering that the quality and quantity of food is now higher than at any time in history and that it requires a smaller proportion of the national budget and time to aquire it, its probably the exact opposite of the truth. I remember reading recently that the UK throws away £10 billion of food every year. Hardly seems like a crisis to me.

    I agree markets are entirely amoral - but joyously, people are not. I suppose I just have faith in peoples ability to organise themselves in whichever way they consider most fitting and quite frankly, if people would rather suck some cock for £100 an hour rather than work in a shop like the rest of us, I have a hard time feeling sorry for them. This is a matter of personal choice and failure rather than some evil conspiracy to enslave the young and beautiful.
    Serious question. Under a socialist system, would you provide the ugly with free sex? NSS?

  8. Mark - markets are not only amoral, they encourage social amorality. People don't choose to go into sex work because they'd 'rather'. It's not a 'conspiracy to enslave' women, but rather a knock-on effect of rampant capitalism.

    You still haven't responded to my figure of 0.7% of the average wage for a bog-standard loaf of bread. When did you last buy a loaf of sainsbury's cheapo bread?

    If you really believe that 'the vast majority of people have no problem feeding themselves' then you've clearly not been reading the papers. In fact, a lot of people have a great deal of trouble feeding themselves, much less feeding themselves well. A loaf of bread really doesn't go very far at all.

    I find your final question immature and pointless, but I'll answer it anyway: no, of course not. Because, despite what you and the rest of the libertarian world seem to think, sex is not a consumer service. It's an expression of intimacy and desire, not something that should be 'provided' 'for free' for those that can't access it, which is what you seem to imply - despite the fact that there are a great deal of homely-looking people who enjoy hugely fulfilling sex lives. You should get out more.

  9. "If you really believe that 'the vast majority of people have no problem feeding themselves' then you've clearly not been reading the papers."

    So the papers are full of stories about people starving to death on the streets of Britain, eh?

    I work in a homeless shelter and we hand out free food every day to anyone who wants it. We usually end up throwing quite a lot away because we have a surplus. We literally can't give food away fast enough. There is no shortage.

  10. First, bread.
    I dispute both the method and the conclusion. Firstly, an 800g loaf of Sainsbury’s basics white bread costs 30p so your figure of £1 for a loaf is way off. This takes your figure from 0.7% to 0.23% straight away. Next, deducting the cost of travel and rent before calculating the income for food will say rather more about the current price of rent and travel than it will food. Thirdly, if you are going to include the price of rent and travel shouldn’t there be some qualification for the differing quality of housing compared to the past and the amount of entirely unnecessary travel which takes place?
    Finally and most importantly, even if we use the figures that you have provided it’s clear that the average person is better off than at all other times in history, except perhaps the very recent past.

    The above link contains a table with details of the disposable income of various types of workers throughout the ages, measured in the number of lbs of bread they could afford to buy in a day. Now the best figure on that list is for a factory worker in 1843 who could afford 37.14 lbs of bread a day. This isn’t including his rent or transport, but simply the amount of money he has to live. Now, according to you, a modern average woman is left with about £133 a week after rent etc. giving about £19 a day. Lets say that 80p will buy you a nice 800g loaf of bread (it will) So that is 41.8 lbs of bread a day. That means that even after accounting for rent and travel the average person is better off than an ordinary (well off) person (at a time of relative economic prosperity) in the past was, before doing so.
    This isn’t really comparing like with like since we are currently in a time of economic turmoil. If we look at the 1970’s, considering a weekly wage of £100 and bread at 30p, the humble loaf was more expensive a mere 30 years ago. That also doesn’t take into account times in the past where the price of bread was effectively infinite - times of famine. For details of real hardship please check below.

    The vast majority of people really don’t have trouble feeding themselves. It costs somewhere in the region of £60 to feed two people for a week and you can’t tell me that anything but a minority of people have trouble coming up with that amount of money. I’m not saying that there aren’t some people out there suffering, but to suggest that this is a general experience is a bit much. To be honest, I find it a little offensive that people tend to use the time and money granted by the massive increases in productivity that we have enjoyed , to complain about how terrible things are.

    Regarding newspapers, I tend to avoid them since they are generally utter tosh, though I do sometimes read about politics, the economy and crime on the internet.

    Second, morality.

    Could you explain to me how markets encourage amorality? Is there any evidence for this?

    People don’t chose to go into prostitution because they’d rather? What exactly is the mechanism that gets them into it then? Are you saying that when faced with an increased amount of money people are constitutionally incapable of saying no? If so, I’d suggest your opinion of the moral character of people is exceptionally low.

    Why should prostitution merely be an effect of capitalism? There is an argument that sex and love are fundamental needs - wouldn’t it be necessary for a state concerned with the happiness of its socially backwards or hideously ugly citizens to address this?
    I must say that personally I find the idea of prostitution distasteful, but people have always had and will always have sex for reasons that the more delicate amongst us find offensive. I’m not too sure that attempting to enforce my ideas of good taste on people (consenting rational adults), especially when regarding something as fundamental as their sex life is either necessary, or possible.

  11. Not sure I agree with your assessment of let's bring it all down. The people who suffer worse when an economy collapses are those who were already suffering. The boss of Lehman brothers with his multi=million homes and pay cheque will be fine. The receptionist on the other hand cannot feed herself or her children or pay her heating bill and yes the pronouns are deliberate. The victims on any recession or depression and the poor and women and society is not receptive to change otherwise the great depression would have ushered in socialism in America. It didn't.

  12. My tuppenny's worth on the price of a loaf issue:

    Yes, you can get economy white sliced bread at most supermarkets for around 39p, sometimes cheaper. And a pretty good loaf at Asda would cost about 77p. But a loaf is the kind of thing you don't necessarily always get during your big shop, and many more deprived areas don't have close supermarkets. If you're buying a loaf of bread from a corner shop it can easily be £1 for a cheap nasty loaf.

    On the Dworkin issue, I don't like the formulation of penetrative sex=rape because the danger is it trivialises the experience of rape survivors. But I think the basic point is fair.

  13. Morality is always defined by those with status and/or influence.

    In situations of financial inequality, those with define morality for those without.

    Those without may develop their own moralities, but it will be within the parameters set by those with.

    I think sex work is like that. It may confer some individual gain or freedom, but it does so only a maneuver within a restrictive structure that ultimately serves those with power and/or wealth. In some respects you can describe it as making the best of a bad job.

    Given the uneven playing field, it's hard to criticise women who find an advantage and way of getting ahead, but we shouldn't forget that they are doing so within a set of strictures not created by them.

    It's hardly surprising that, given any kind of liberalisation or relaxing of strict moral codes, what you usually end up with is a number of women pushed into positions that men have always wished to see them in: sexualised, degraded and/or taken away from the real levers of society.

    If everything has a price, a fundamental for market driven economies, and supply and demand is paramount, it's not surprising that more women go into sex work and related ornamental fields as long as the men with the money continue to hold onto particular views of women in general that would make it profitable to do so.

    In a nutshell, women have to dance to the tune of men's ideas of them, as always.



  14. It's funny that you can write this immediately after a put-down of the misAndreaist "misandrist Dworkinite" view concerning heterosexual sex. Do you really not see how the two are connected?

    The anaology with race is slightly pertinent here. In days of slavery, it's true that a black person and a white person could be friends, but necessarily within the social and political context, it's got to be a different kind of friendship than is possible from a position of mutual equality. In a context where women and sex are commodified, as you feel they surely are, it's hard to see how consent can freely be given, or how sex can be truly non-coercive...

    It may be a challenging or disturbing or uncomfortable assertion, and it may have been very baldly put, but there was an element of accuracy in what Dworkin was saying, as you have reflected in this post. You just have to have an intellect to be able to see what she meant.

  15. "In a nutshell, women have to dance to the tune of men's ideas of them, as always."
    Of course. But equally men dance to the tune that women set. We all dance to the tune that each other sets - its called being a social animal and i'm not sure you're going to solve that particular problem without recourse to some serious DNA tampering.
    The best we can do is make sure that agreements take place without threat of violence - complaining about people doing work for those with money is rather like complaining about me returning a favour for a friend because he unduly influenced me by helping me in the past. Or viewing my marriage as unnacceptable because my wife influenced me using her beauty and charm.
    I can't really understand this attitude - the reason why prostitution pays more than shop work isn't because men value it more highly - its because fewer people want to do it. Which rather invalidates the claim that poor, weak minded women are only influenced by the amount of (evil man) money they can make.
    If you dislike the idea of prostitution due to prudery and wish to enforce that on your fellow (wo)man thats one thing, but to claim that you're doing it for the benefit of those involved in the trade is ridiculous.

    PS I don't know if any of you have ever had a job, but I have and they can be pretty dull and soul destroying at times. So arn't the vast majority of men using the prostitutes just as likely to be "victims" of the system as the prostitutes themselves?


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