Monday 30 March 2009

'Just a couple of black eyes, maybe a cracked rib. Nothing you didn't get on the Rugby field.'

Oh yes, the tapes are out, oh yes, yes, YES.

Hang on, my gloating liberal gonads have oozed a little. I'll put a towel down.

As I was saying: the tapes are out.

You know, those tapes, the tapes from 1990 that seem to suggest that the current Mayor of London is willing to break the law in order to help Darius Guppy (Darius. Guppy), his chum from Eton and Oxford, arrange an assault on a journalist who had got his blood up.

Dispatches has excerpts. Go, listen to them. Listen to the current Mayor of London offer to give Guppy that journalist's number. Listen to the current Mayor try to ascertain just how badly his friend is going to beat this guy up.

They've got the tapes out, they've finally got them out. Gods bless the internet.

Saturday 28 March 2009

Put People First March 28/03/09

My throat is raw. I'm screaming at the top of my lungs:

One, two, three, four -
Corporate bailouts no more!
Five, six, seven, eight -
Spend it on the welfare state!

There's city dust in my eyes, and my legs feel like blocks of wood as we take the final mile down Picadilly towards Hyde Park. A painted banner flaps against my body, proclaiming us Anti-Capitalist Feminists. And I'm still chanting. I'm an animal, a tiny, burning ball of rage and justice, I've got all my sisters with me, it's been four hours since my last latte and I'm running on adrenaline and outrage. Me and thirty-five thousand others.

And yet the Put People First march is still, somehow, suffused with an air of pessimism. The Troops Out Of Baghdad placards look especially mournful: because yes, we have been here before. The last time I marched down Picadilly in the cold March breeze with thousands upon thousands of angry fellow citizens, we wanted to stop the troops going in to Baghdad, and we were heard, and we were ignored. The samba players are overwhelmed by the thump and screech of a marching band from the end of the world, and the set-piece of the procession is a cheery twenty-foot tall rendering of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Thunderclouds are gathering.

A woman I'm marching with tells me that she doesn't think the G20 will change anything even if it's in their power to do so. Ahead of me, in front of the RMT banners, an old man is explaining to the just-walking little boy holding his hand about the protests in 1981. We've seen all this before. So why are we still here?

We're here because we're fed up of being lied to. We're here because we've been royally screwed over, and now we're angry. We're here because even if we don't expect to be listened to, that doesn't mean we'll stop trying to be heard. Not ever.

On my way home through Green Park, tired beyond words, I pick a bunch of wilting daffodils that glow faintly in my grimy hands in the noonlight. Around the corner, the band are still playing, the people are still screaming, the dull rumble of thirty-five-thousand feet is still ringing down the thoroughfare. Dreamily, I give out the daffs to the rows of police officers standing in front of the Ritz. One of them even takes a flower, and pops it in his lapel.

Photos to follow.

Thursday 26 March 2009

Parliamentary expenses, hypocrisy and whorebaggery.

Monday's post has now appeared in an extremely updated format over at Labour List, taking in the fact that I was on the radio on Tuesday talking about MP's expenses. I tried to argue that the scumbags should be prepared to accept the average wage, that they should be prepared to live the decisions they make for us.

You can hear Shane Greer being an obfuscating Tory weasel and me making a prat of myself on BBC Radio Wales here (the relevant bit starts about three minutes in). I giggled. I giggled. I mean, what serious political commentators go on the radio and giggle? Christ.

...and the post itself is here. I link because it's substantially different and, I think, a little bit better than Monday's version. Apparently I'm now Labour List's new 'voice of reason'. Am I alone in thinking that that's a fairly damning indictement?

Meh, anyway. I've been running all over London smoking furiously and doing a hundred different things this week, and feel like a Proper Journalist - i.e, knackered, jaded and haggard. Instead of updating this blog again today, I'm going to curl up on the bed with hot tea and the complete works of H.P Lovecraft. Have a lovely Thursday.

Monday 23 March 2009

Rip it up and start again.

It's not often that my faith in the British press soars quite as much as it did yesterday, when I offered up silent thanks to the nameless journalist who did the digging on Tony McNulty MP's claming of £60,000 as 'expenses' on a second home in Harrow, where his parents currently live. Yes, that Tony McNulty, Purnell's lapdog. The same Tony McNulty who believes that crushing poverty is an important incentive to persuade benefits claimants into jobs that aren't there. The same Tony McNulty who believes that the Welfare Reform Bill - voted in last Wednesday, albeit with some important amendments - is an appropriate strategy to bully the workless back into below-minimum-wage jobs. He claimed as much as £14,000 per year on the home, on top of his considerable MP's salary and additional expense claims.

It has been pointed out numerous times, not least by McNulty himself, that the money he claimed - equivalent to the entire salary of many of his constituents - wasn't against the rules. I'm sure it wasn't. I don't however, give one solitary iced damn if the Queen gave him the cash in a gold-plated envelope scented with the royal perfume, it's still entirely and indefensibly wrong.

Because, well. How dare he, really. How dare he dictate to the poor and needy how they should live their lives, how dare he imply that people are 'playing the system' when he himself has been playing the system for at least five times the annual rate of jobseekers' allowance every year. How dare he tell Britain's poorest and most disadvantaged young people that they do not deserve the paltry £48 of jobseekers' allowance they receive every week, when he himself has been claiming at least £270 per week in additional expenses on top of his salary. The sheer pig-headed hypocrisy of it all makes my ovaries itch.

It has further been reported that Mr McNulty claims to have made "considerable" use of the property, but said that he had stopped claiming the allowance in January - get this- 'because the fall in interest rates meant he could afford to pay the mortgage from his MP's salary'. As Mr Eugenides puts it, 'you have to marvel at the sheer ingenuity of people who only stop stealing from us when they've driven the economy far enough into the ground that it becomes temporarily cost-effective to act honestly.'

I mean, what is it with these guys? Have they completely lost all sense of narrative subtlety? Do they actually wander the corridors of Whitehall stroking overfed white cats, cackling to themselves and rubbing their hands with glee when brownbeaten assistants scurry up to tell them that the local orphanage has been demolished just as they ordered? What has happened to this government, when the Conservatives - the Conservatives! - have to suggest to McNulty that 'questions need to be answered'?

If you hadn't guessed, I'm incandescently angry about this.

They have no idea how the other half live, these people; they have no compassion, they have no compunction, and they lie. I refuse to believe that Labour MPs are stupid as well as hypocritical, mainly because I've met some. They know. They know full well just what £270 per week would mean to some of Britain's poorest families, in terms of staving off daily hunger and protecting parents from loan sharks. They know. They just don't care. They're content to claim it for themselves instead, all the while refusing to instigate policy changes that might help the 1.3 million unemployed young people in this country being thrown on the scrap-heap for good, all the while refusing to help Britain's 2million workless citizens and many more benefit claimants raise themselves above the poverty line.

The potential to create jobs in this economy is staggering - and yet the government is sitting on its hands. No FDR-esque New Deal for us, the country with one of the most meagre provisions of social security in the developed world - just more expensive and fruitless chivvying of the jobless into jobs that aren't there, with a workless to vacancy rate of 30:1 in many parts of the country. For some of the millions of school and college leavers out there, it is already too late. For many of Britain's long-term unemployed, grinding poverty and hopelessness have already done their damage. For the rest, time is rapidly wasting. As Saint Polly puts it:

The social cost of leaving a generation to rot will be far greater than the small financial cost of creating jobs and training now. Crime, welfare dependency, children's problems, mental and physical illness and all the social ills that shame Britain from previous eras of gross social neglect are huge debts weighing on the nation's future as surely as IMF sums. A job creation programme can be afforded, in the same way that war, anti-terror measures or an outbreak of avian flu have to be afforded. The social destruction wrought by long-term unemployment is a national emergency.

They could afford to bail out the banks at fifty times the cost of these damaging new welfare reforms; they can afford to save us from desitutition if they choose, but instead, the cabinet ministers we elected to serve us sit on their bottoms paying themselves vast salaries under the table, in a state of near-perfect inertia.

Bugger this. I want a better world.

Days like this make me want to forget any notion of Trotskyan Transitionalism and take it all in my tiny hands and smash it to brittle bits. Instead, I'm going to be taking my frustration out on the streets of London this Saturday, at the Put People First march and rally in Hyde Park. Hope to see some of you there. I'll be the short one.

Saturday 21 March 2009

Tales from Turnpike Lane station 4: Sandra and Jodie.

There’s not been a great deal to grin about this week. Things at home are, well, they’re not easy. Several of my dearest people are all fucked up and there's precious little I can do about it. Last night, having been bailed on for my last appointment of the day, I lit a cigarette outside Kings’Cross and decided to watch the world go by for a while. The weird, hallucinogenic strip-lighting under the awnings, the crush and low, murmuring panic of rush-hour, the smokers in their own little worlds. I didn’t have anywhere special to go, but I didn’t want to go home, and I’ve always found it meditative to snatch a moment of silence in the in-between places, where everyone’s busy going somewhere else. I stood there, blowing smoke at the sooty air, wanting to taste the dirt, feeling sorry for myself.

Then I met Sandra.

Sandra is 48, and her neck is covered in little white scars where the violent husband, who she ran away from, burned her with cigarettes. Despite the associations she sold me a Big Issue and told me her story in exchange for a fiver and a couple of smokes.

‘See that guy over there?’ she gestured to another Big Issue seller, a round guy in his forties who was hassling a weary female commuter. ‘He can get money out of people like that – like that, and he spends it all on heroin ! A woman on the streets, though, noone wants to know. They look at you like you’re trash. It makes me feel like trash, and, I mean I know I am trash, really, dyou see what I mean.

‘Last night I woke up and this dirty old guy had his thing out, right in my face. Disgusting.

‘I’m done with London now, just trying to get home to see my boy – I’d like to bring him some chocolate, he’s mad for chocolate, just like me. Although I can only have it now if it’s melted, dyou see what I mean.’ I do see. Sandra has no teeth.

I gave her all but the three quid I've left to get me home. Feeling like a complete twat, I mutter ed something about going back inside to meet my boss (who left an hour ago) and finished my fag behind a pillar.

Then I met Jodie.

Jodie was standing sobbing in the puddle of dark by the entrance to the underground, with a couple of security guards hovering around about to move her on. She was trying to sell her last Big Issue. You’d have thought that the inconsolably-weeping, strikingly-pretty-blonde-teenager gag would have been enough to make at least one or two commuters stop and offer her some cash, or at least enough to make the hired police go away, but no. This being Britain, most people just slunk past looking vaguely embarrassed.

I gave her a cigarette, and two of my remaining pounds (I could pay back the debt on my oyster tomorrow, that’d be fine, definitely). She now had six of the twenty pounds she needed for a deposit on the hostel she’d got a place for, which would give her a shot at housing benefit and a real place to live. A sweet, scared-looking nineteen year old from Ireland, she’d been in and out of care in London for years. If she was scamming me, she was scamming me for something I didn’t need quite so much as she did right then. But I had nothing left to give, nothing at all to give Jodie to keep her warm and safe whilst I scuttled back to the home that suddenly seemed a lot more inviting. I stammered my apologies, and sloped away.

About halfway down the escalator, hemmed in by briefcases and light-haemmoraging adverts for boob jobs, I thought: no. Fuck this, no.

I scanned the crowd for the richest looking bastard I could see. Fortunately, I can recognise bespoke tailoring when I see it, and within seconds I was bouncing up to a stern looking dude in his late thirties, wearing subtle tweeds and a fetching pink silk tie that probably cost more than everything Jodie owned.

‘Excuse me, sir, I hope you don’t mind – I’m doing some research for a school project – but what job do you do?’

‘I’m a banker.’


At this point, the chap took a quick look down my top, and any qualms I’d had about being manipulative disappeared as if by magic.

So I explained.

I explained that there was a little girl at the top of the station stairs, crying, with nowhere to sleep tonight. I explained that she was cold, and frightened, and in danger, and just wanted a place to go. Could he spare even some of the fifteen pounds she needed?

‘Sorry, I have to go.’

‘Come on,’ I raised my voice, ‘you make a good living. This girl has nothing. She's freezing. She's sick. This isn’t for me. Come on, please. Her name’s Jodie.’

And to my absolute astonishment, the man in the pink silk tie produced a bulging wallet and whipped out a crisp new twenty-pound note from a bunch that constituted more money than I earn in a month. He handed me the twenty with a growl and swept away in a whirl of Prada, not seeming to hear me yell thank you thank you. I never even got his name.

I bounded up the stairs two at a time to give Jodie the money she needed plus enough for something hot to eat. I have never been hugged so earnestly and unexpectedly before. Being British, my first sensation was, of course, crushing embarrassment. But heading home, I felt vindicated. Wealth redistribution by public humiliation of the casually loaded may not work as a long term social strategy, but damn it’s fun.

Because look, I know I sound like I'm just about to burst in to song, but life is fucking hard. Your life's hard, my life's hard, Jodie's life is hard, even pink tie man's life is probably hard in its own peculiar way. And it's because life is so fucking hard all the time that as long as I have my faculties I will fight unfairness wherever I see it, and I don't care if that makes me an annoying bitch, actually. I don't care who I have to shock and humiliate and shout at in order to make life that little bit easier - if not for us, then for someone, somewhere. That's guerilla socialist feminism, and it's always easier to look away.

(I did make it home to Turnpike Lane in the end, but I had to jump the barriers, and at 4'11 that's no mean feat. More kicking against the pricks shall follow just as soon as my groin is a little less sprained. Oooh.)

Tuesday 17 March 2009

On Orwellian nightmares.

This week, I have mostly been re-reading George Orwell’s 1984.

Perhaps unsurprisingly to those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while, 1984 was one of the formative books of my childhood and adolescence. I read it on a yearly basis until I was 17. Between the ages of 15 and 17 I edited a clunkily subversive student rag that was called, not entirely without irony, Newspeak. I haven’t revisited the book since 2004. I’d been planning to do so for a while, and this weekend I saw that Penguin have just brought out a super-sexy new red and black edition done up to look like a Stalin-era circus poster, and I was persuaded to part with seven of my hard-earned pounds.

It's been too long. Somehow, sixty years after it was published, this book is once more at the linguistic core of the zeitgeist. Words like doublethink, Big Brother, Thought Police are used by all political factions, indiscriminately and with tongues only half in cheeks. I was struck by the way that terms like ‘Orwellian Nightmare’ were flung around at Saturday’s Internet For Activists conference, at which I was speaking- flung around with a quiet, numinous resentment that I found deeply frightening.

1984 is claimed by both the left and the right, but by far the most urgent message of the book for the modern age is one of paranoia. 1984 is the definitive paranoid novel. Not only is the shadowy state watching our flawed protagonist, all the time, every single second, but nobody really has a clear idea of what the state is watching for, or how far their remit extends – only that the mere act of thinking against the party line, whatever that party line happens to be, is enough to ensure inevitable extermination. The creeping horror of being watched, the loathesomeness of life in a paranoid state, was never more viscerally expressed.

British democracy, as Orwell himself noted in his essay ‘The Lion and The Unicorn’, functions best when it respects the deeply private nature of the British national character.

Saturday 14 March 2009

Britney and the Bedlamites: for Red Pepper

I've just got back from an internet activists' conference, which was all kinds of shiny. I shouted at Anonymous, who both looked and talked like rapists in their oh-so-scary masks, when they tried to explain me why they had a policy of using the term 'cumdumpster' to describe women. 'It's offensive. So it's funny. It's funny because it's offensive, yeah?'

Dear pointless cigar-smoking prick: you're an idiot. You ain't Rorsharch and if you were I'd still be laughing at you, not with you. Grow up, show us your bloody face and learn that bullying and activism do not equate.

Anyway. The following article was written for Red Pepper, but got elbowed out of the current issue. It's still going to be a great issue, and you should all buy it, but here, for your special Saturday night pleasure, a Penny Red exclusive: Britney and the Bedlamites.


The lunacy and redemption of Britney Jean Spears is a contemporary hagiography. The former teen pop sensation's appearance at the 2009 MTV awards, apparently sober, well-groomed and grinning like the waxwork which Mme Tussauds created to commemorate the event, signalled a return not only to health, but to virtue. Once again, Britney looks like all little girls are encouraged to grow up to look: pretty, compliant, obediently performative - the first signals of good mental health for women in and out of the public eye. The fact that the singer's very real and very chronic mental health problems cannot be cured with a decent spray-tan and hilights is irrelevant to the international celebrity press: in the eyes of the public, Britney Spears has been redeemed.

Two years earlier, Spears had shaved her head in an LA hairdressers’, and tabloids across the world screeched that the singer had lost her mind. The event catalysed a burgeoning fetish for feminine neurosis in Western pop culture, a fetish which seems to have achieved its squalid climax in the public ‘healing’ of Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse and their ilk. Open any magazine, turn on any tv station, and the message remains the same: women who are successful, or who don’t know their place, will go mad, and will require healing.

It's nothing new for women to be labelled insane if they display behaviour that diverges from received feminine norms of submissiveness, sexual and social discretion, purity and humility, and in today’s culture the trend is no different: bad-boy rockers are cool, racy ‘troublemakers’, whereas bad-girl rockers are ‘troubled’, and need to be saved from themselves. Self-destruction has always been part of rock and roll, but when it comes to male artists, their suffering is invariably portrayed as far less important than their genius, or even as an unfortunate, necessary part of it. Think of Jim Morrison. Think of Hendrix. Think of Kurt Cobain. Think of Heath Ledger, who has just got his very-much deserved posthumous Oscar for that screwy-beautiful performance in Dark Knight.

But the double standard kicks in when we remember Sylvia Plath, Marilyn Monroe, Britney, Amy and Kerry for their illness more than their art. All of these women suffered or suffer from bipolar disorder (manic depression) – a very real medical problem which affects about 1% of the adult population, and a significant percentage of creative, dynamic and high-achieving people - but it is women in the public eye who are defined, ane morally judged, on the basis of their mental health.

Female artists, with or without emotional problems, are treated not as suffering geniuses but as silly little girls who aren’t bright enough or mature enough to take care of themselves. On the pages of newspapers and magazines and websites across the country, women’s minds and especially women’s bodies are poked, prodded, pinched and squeezed like livestock at a cattle market, their flesh weighed and labelled and stretched on the slab of media scrutiny – and now it’s claimed to be for their own good. A pound lost or gained from the backside of a A-list artist is taken as evidence of impending breakdown, and whatever successes they may or may not attain is deemed futile if the papers declare that they are cracking under the stress, binge-artists, secret alcoholics or, worst of all, ‘starving for attention’.

The fantasy is seductive. In a Western world that still fosters a deep suspicion of successful women, the myth of feminine neurosis gives armchair misogynists of both sexes a happy explanation for the fact that unprecedented numbers of women are reaching the top of their game in the media and the arts. It’s reassuring to be reminded that women are fragile and flawed. It’s reassuring to be reminded that girls are deranged, deviant creatures who can’t cope with pressure. But we’ve seen all this before.

In the 19th century, women were deemed highly susceptible to becoming mentally ill, as they were seen to lack the mental fortitude of men; contemporary medical theory spoke of the uterus as a sponge that wandered around the body, sucking out the juices of reason, leading to ‘hysteria’. If they dared to enjoy sex they were deemed ‘nymphomaniac’, a disease treatable by solitary confinement, leeches and clitorectomy; if they were lesbians or chose to remain unmarried, they were ‘frigid’. The risk of insanity greatly increased if any woman attempted to better herself through education, work or too many activities. Many women, especially in the upper- and upper-middle classes, learned to suppress emotions for fear of being labelled as mad and sent to an asylum or confined to their rooms, a phenomenon vividly recounted in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.

In today’s supposedly progressive culture, women are still threatened with the spectre of being deemed insane if their behaviour deviates from socially circumscribed norms. On the cover of every magazine, young women are reminded of what happens if we let go of self-control: we will become fat and powerless and unloved, grotesque, overconsuming, stumbling out of taxis way past our bedtimes, flashing our knickerless crotches at unsuspecting paparazzi and returning home to grind what’s left of modern morals into a fine powder and stuff it up our disintegrating post-feminist nostrils. But the spectre of young women’s imagined loss of control both as mental illness and as cipher for social degeneration is a long established and tediously familiar one, echoing Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ paintings of the 18th century. As early as 1712, the Spectator made explicit links between a number of ‘addictive’ substances and their dangerous effects on the female mind, warning its ‘fair Readers to be in a particular manner careful how they meddle with Chocolate, Novels and the like Inflamers; which I look upon as very dangerous to be made use of during this Carnival of Nature’.

Fast-forward three hundred years and success, emancipation or simple pleasure still gravely endangers the mental health of Britain’s female icons, out on the lash and the combined pill, vomiting helplessly into the gutters of modern decency as the distinction between mental illness and plain misbehaving becomes ever more irrelevant to the feminine equation.

Britney Spears’ very public breakdown in 2007-8 was a crucial flashpoint. Preened for stardom since babyhood, young Ms Spears spent a lifetime being pumped up, dolled up, sexed up and shoved onto every waiting stage: her first relationships and developing body were devoured by press attention, but despite the pressure and public scrutiny she somehow managed to produce four very fine studio albums, all of which were chart-toppers. When she finally began to show the strain, the outcry was instantaneous and horrific. The singer, who was a Rolling Stone cover girl at sixteen, began to be regularly caught out by the papparazi in the ultimate act of extreme insanity for a woman in the public eye: the consumption of a hamburger and fries. Eventually, Spears recreated with a borrowed buzz-cutter an act that has for centuries represented the supreme rejection of social feminisation, and hence the supreme demonstration of ‘insanity’. Plastic Britney dolls had been available since the singer turned seventeen; before long you could pick up bald ‘Britney Shears’ dollies, complete with tortured plastic grimaces and miniature straight-jackets.

This isn't the fourteenth century, and mental health is not a moral judgement. Britney's bipolar disorder is an ongoing medical condition - it isn't a moral lapse that can be purged as long as the sinner confesses the error of her ways to enough celebrity magazines and vows never to eat chips again. To imply otherwise is to do an extreme injustice to the millions of people across the world who are touched by mental ill health, as well as to slide into lazy misogyny: the idea that the mentally unwell and women in the public eye can be 'redeemed' with the right haircut and the right lighting is an insult on both fronts.

Women, including those of us with mental health difficulties, are socially and morally whole human beings, who do not require redeeming. What we require is respect; and we're coming to claim it. Squeal all the papers might, they cannot stop a new generation of female artists, singers, musicians, models, actors, writers and photographers hammering on the doors of privilege. These women want it all - fame, family, creative and personal fulfilment and oodles of cash - even if they have to get it whilst managing a mental health condition, as one in four of us do. Despite the bar of acceptable behaviour being set far higher for females in the arts and the media, despite flocks of paparazzi picking over their bodies like carrion birds after a battle, despite their every artistic, social and sexual transgression being seized on as evidence of blind insanity, the inheritors of 21st century pop culture are coming up punching, in control of their lives, their minds and their message, even if the message isn’t what patriarchal society had in mind.

(image by Withiel)


I hope you enjoyed that, my dears. Now, I'm going out to a sweaty goth club to drink cider and black and swish around like a fool. Y'all have a good one.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Oh, and in case you were wondering...

Yes, this was me.

Take up your mouse and click!

A dear friend of mine from university is currently using all the means at her disposal to fight Oxfordshire PCT's effective blanket ban on funding gender dysphoria surgery, a ban which bears little to no resemblence to medical, financial or ethical sense. As part of this, she has created a petition on the Number Ten website in an attempt to create more weight on the PCT to address its policy, which seems to be founded on little more than outdated misconceptions and prejudices.

The more people sign, the more likely it is to receive serious attention. My friend, everyone who lovers her and all trans allies everywhere would really, really appreciate this small gesture of protest for change from any UK residents. It takes thirty seconds. Put the kettle on and you're done.

There is also a longer report explaining the background and problems, available online.

As sebastienne explains:

Gender reassignment, in the UK, is mediated through specialist clinics. For the south of England, the specialist clinc is at Charing Cross Hospital in London. In order for Charing Cross to put you forward for surgery, you have to demonstrate that you are functioning day-to-day, living in your target gender.

In order to get funding out of Oxfordshire PCT, you have to demonstrate "extreme need" - and pretty much the only way to do this is to be so depressed as to be at risk of suicide. A state of mental health which then makes you ineligible for treatment by Charing Cross.

Oxfordshire PCT will only fund your gender reassignment when your condition, through non-treatment, has made you too ill to undergo surgery.

You can read the full report here. If you are currently living in the UK - please sign this petition and propagate it. Feel free to copy and paste this text, I know I (Penny Red) have! Goooo radical queer intertubes!


ETA 29/03: The text of this post was collated from several other places where the information had been posted, including Jacinthsong's livejournal. I was in a rush at the time and thought the cause was important enough to justify it, but I know you guys deserve better than cut-and-paste, and it's not something I'm intending to make a habit of. xx PR

Sunday 8 March 2009

Identity politics and cyberculture: we're not in Kansas anymore.

I've been thinking a lot, over the past few days, about what it means to be a feminist writing online, and whether I can hack the amount of abuse I've been getting recently. Whether it just depresses me too much to carry on. People have been telling me to shut up and get a real job for a while now. Perhaps I should listen to them.

On the internet, identity is fluid - and so choosing to adopt and pursue a female identity, or indeed any identity which deviates from white heteronormativity, is a statement with which makes a lot of people uncomfortable on a very basic level. Choosing to be proud of an identity that consciously others itself from the white, male consensus with which the internet, like so many other fiefdoms, emerged, is problematic. It can and does draw an horrific quantity of abuse, including on the pages of mainstream debate sites such as Comment Is Free, Lablist and even Libcon.

In 2009, the internet is big, it's really, really big. Big enough for safe, positive spaces to have developed for women, ethnic minorities, queers and their allies; big enough for communities to have formed which have taken the mold of global parochialism and smashed it to splinters. IRC channels, gaming communities, debate forums and messageboards are no longer populated by a self-referential community of mostly-white, mostly-middle-class males with ponytails and ketchup on their tshirts*. We've moved beyond global village territory. This is a global metropolis, and its streets are full of dissenters.

In the seven years I've been active online and the three years I've been blogging, I've seen a lot of my favourite bloggers hounded off the tubes, or simply withdrawing after months or years of snide bullying and sniping. But the reason for this blog, if there is any one reason, is a blogger called Biting Beaver, who I used to follow back in 2005-6.

At that time, let's just say that I wasn't getting out of my room much. I was in a state; the internet was safe. I discovered feminists writing online, and remembered that I used to be one. I remembered all that self-worth I used to have, all that hope. And then Biting Beaver - whose real name nobody needs to know - took the brave step to record her experience of being denied emergency contraception until it was too late. She fell pregnant. She had an abortion, recorded the experience - the first and bravest female journalist, because paid or unpaid the blog was journalism at its finest, to really do so. It made me - proud. It made me - sad, and angry, and hopeful, all at once. I remembered what it was like to feel like my body wasn't a prison. I remembered what it was like to know how to fight back, and to want to do it in any way I could.

Then, Biting Beaver received so many death threats that she was driven from the internet and disappeared.

And I thought: fuck you. Fuck all of you snide little losers and rednecks and toryboys spitting bile at keyboards in your sad little bedrooms. This is my internet too. I want it back.

Along with almost all female, feminist and ethnic minority bloggers, I have faced appalling verbal harrassment online. But we are no longer vulnerable to the sticks and stones of patriarchy: our technology has moved on. As long as a contingent of brave hyperpeople maintain an online presence despite the bullying and ridicule that we face, there is no way to stop minority politics playing a central part in the information revolution.

Saul Williams would say: 'Muthafuckers better realise. Now is the time to self-actualise'.

Morpheus would say: 'Buckle your seat-belt, Dorothy; because Kansas is going bye-bye'.

I say: the world is getting colder and meaner, and there are too many of us now for anybody to hold back the culture revolution that's coming. So bring it. Tell me I'm a slut, tell me I'm a joke, tell me I'm a stupid little girl, tell me I'm upsetting the natural order. We upset nothing. You, you with your wars and your big spending and your bigotry and your cruelty and your constant fucking lies, you broke it. Now sit the fuck down and see what we're going to build with the pieces.

*Not that I have any problem with individual people like this, refs: my dating history, 2004-2009.

Saturday 7 March 2009

Tom Harris and popular misogyny: LabourList guest post.

I've put a post up on LabourList, which my friend Rowenna Davis is editing for International Women's Day. It's about Tom Harris (you didn't think I'd forget him, did you?), sex education and women's bodies as public property, and it's a response to a directive to make a lot of old Labour dadalikes cross in under 700 words.

If you get a moment, please do go and join the debate - the comments are already getting pretty fruity. Christ, I thought I had it bad with you lot. TBR, Dandelion, Neuroskeptic: all is forgiven, or at least it will be once I've made myself tea and a smoke and had a nice little calm down somewhere quiet. Oh my yes.

My oppression, your oppression

I have been stunned - truly shocked and appalled - at the level of hatred and wilful ignorance I've seen flooding the press and the internet over the past few days. Just look at the response to Amnesty International's campaign to end violence against women. A great deal of the comments, all of them from male avatars, claimed that Amnesty's statistic of 1 in 10 women experiencing rape or other violence was false, and that if it wasn't false it was irrelevant. That statistic is explained fully by Amnesty here, and I for one am happy to support it. But that's not the point. The point is that I've seen almost every debate around women's rights this week being derailed by a discussion of whether or not men have it worse, and whether or not feminism is therefore irrelevant.Jennie Rigg, as she so often does, put it best on LC yesterday:

You want to see a decrease in violence towards men? Why not campaign about it? Why derail every single fucking campaign about violence against women? You do see what I’m getting at, don’t you? I mean, you don’t see Save the Whale protestors derailing anti-seal cull protests, and you don’t see anti-seal-cull protesters at whale hunts shouting “but what about the SEALS??”

How about you support us, and we’ll support you? How about instead of rubbishing this campaign, why not say “great idea girls, and something I can fully support. No woman deserves to be beaten up and raped! Incidentally, I am supporting this other campaign, about male violence, fancy joining in?”

Well, quite. Derailing feminist arguments to complain about the poor menz isn't constructive. The point of all that bitching and moaning clearly isn't to make things better for men - if it were it'd be organised somewhere besides response forms to worthy women's rights articles - but to obstruct feminist campaigns. Instead of pouring on the scorn, instead of trying to play oppression top trumps, why can't men organise themselves and their allies to resist, say, violence against men, which I think we can all acknowledge is a problem? Why can't men organise to campaign for better mental healthcare, since the 18-25 male suicide statistic is so often quoted as an example of institutional misandry? Until I see any of that, I'm afraid I'm just going to keep assuming that men attacking feminists is just...well, it's just men attacking feminists, really.

Sunny quoted me in the Guardian yesterday (the comments to that one are well worth a read), and I'm going to re-state why I believe that men need to stop acting out how threatened they feel by women's rights:

A crucial mistake that continues to be made is the fallacy that acknowledging male gender oppression somehow invalidates the whole concept behind feminism. It does not. However, across the debate sphere for decades the cry 'but men don't have it easy either!' has been taken as a direct attack on feminism – and sometimes it has even been meant as one. Otherwise perfectly intelligent commentators descend into petty fights over whose gender oppression trumps whose, not realising that everyone's gender oppression is equally valid, not understanding that the expression of someone's struggle is not an attack on everyone else's.

The truth is that any oppressed group struggling for equality and for full socio-political representation will meet with resistance from the overculture, and their efforts to organise against injustice and violence will meet with resistance - overt or covert - from that more privileged group. Part of the reason for this is that whilst equality battles are never an attack on the overculture, they always challenge it - they demand that it change its attitudes and its self-perception. That's what International Women's Day still does, by demanding that men and women across the world stop accepting violence against women as a fact of life.

So yes, guys, we are challenging you. We want you to see us as complete human beings, and we want you to be as outraged by physical and sexual attacks on us as you would be by physical and sexual attacks on members of your own group. We want you to unite with us to stop violence against women, without seeing that struggle as in some fucked-up way a threat to your own self-conception as men. Yes, we want you to change. Instead of shouting us down, stand up for your own rights alongside us, as allies.

And challenge us back: I guarantee that you will not find us wanting. Because, if you think about it, we all know what it's like to feel unsafe walking home alone at night. We all know what it's like to fear male violence. We know what it's like to be physically threatened, to be scared, to be cowed by the ubiquity of male aggression, especially if we're in some way weak, or feminine, or different. And we can all take a stand against that, without getting into these silly fucking scraps over whose oppression tastes best.

Thursday 5 March 2009

No to Welfare Abolition!

I've just got back from a very strange activist meeting, albeit one with only minimal hand-signals, in the upstairs of a London pub which was playing Johnny Cash classics on a loop. The details of the action we're planning took two repeats of Ring of Fire to get through, which is pretty good going. Anyway. As promised, here are some details for action taking place next week, which has been thrillingly designated a 'Week of Action' to concide with the vote on the Welfare Reform Bill that's being rushed through the Commons. The week is being organised by Feminist Fightback, the London Coalition Against Poverty (LCAP), the Disabled People's Direct Action Network, and other supporting groups.

Here are the details:

*Most importantly: next Monday, 9th of March, LCAP and Feminist Fightback are planning an immensely fizzy and exciting piece of direct action which is SO secret and super-special that I can't even give you all the details online. Suffice it to say: we'll be dressed as bankers, and my outfit (as discussed below) is going to be spectacular, darlings. This will be a fun, disruptive action, and there will be all kinds of roles for people to play, some with more of an arrestable factor than others. We'll be meeting on the 9th at 10.00am, in Central London. Everyone is welcome - the more the messier! To get the details call 077 480 52289

*Disabled People's Direct Action Network and LCAP will be taking part in a high-profile direct action in central London on Wednesday, March 11th at 10:30 a.m. To get involved, contact or see the facebook page.

*A picket has been called outside of the Mare St Job Centre (Hackney) for March 16th at 11:00 am. This is very near the time of the 3rd reading, so the groups involved want to make this picket as big as possible. If you would like to help leaflet and inform people about their rights during the week, or if you'd like to get involved in planning the picket, email Activists all over London will be leafletting outside of their local Jobcentres all week, and if you'd like to be one of them, there are leaflets available for printing on the LCAP website at

Make trouble!

Wednesday 4 March 2009

Riot fashion shoot: pissing about in the kitchen

Penny Red's fashion tips pt.1: how to look cool at a protest.

As you know, at this blog I try to keep my finger very much on the sputtering pulse of fashion, and touch base with what the kids are being persuaded to buy today. We're slap bang in the middle of all the major fashion weeks - we've just had London Fashion Week, and Milan Fashion Week is slithering to a close - so I thought I'd offer my own meagre contribution. Enjoy.

What’s hot now for the summer of rage! Ten ways to wow!

1. Go hooded. The sartorial symbol of our surveillance society never really went out of style, and it’s a staple that’ll see you through the entire summer of rage. Wear your hoody long and chunky to conceal problem areas – utility belts or a cheeky little can of mace– or thin and layered in case you end up having to leave your coat in the hands of the filth in the middle of a dubious British summer. Practical, versatile and a reliable staple for understated cool, your hoody is a statement of a sort of class fluidity which doesn’t actually exist in the UK, but is still a really lovely idea, particularly if you’re a Sloane down to play howling mob for the day. It makes it clear which side you’re on.

2. On the London and Milan catwalks, this season’s colours are, predictably, more muted and sober, in keeping with a general atmosphere of brooding dread and, one suspects, a lack of money for strong dyes at the major fashion houses. Work the trend by stepping out in spring’s hottest hues, from the dusky plum of ‘strangled banker’ to the looming grey of ‘policeman’s boot’, or the season’s statement colour, a watery, washed-out red known simply as ‘the ghost of Labour socialism’.

3. Hats. It’s Britain. It’s cold. It generally rains on the just. You need a hat. Yes, even if you have a hoodie. Don’t wear your granddad’s antique topper, not even ironically – it’ll get nicked, and before it gets nicked you’ll look like a wanker. Berets lend that non-committal counter-cultural atmosphere, but this season’s must-have headwear is most certainly the beanie: get it right and you’ll look like a gritty extra from Matrix 2 channelling tha futurist revolution, man-versus-hypercapitalist machine feel that’s so hot right now. Get it wrong and you’ll just look like a person wearing a beanie, and everyone will assume that you were a teenager in the nineties. I hear that’s still chic. Don’t wear a bowler either. If the papers are to be believed, you’ll be lynched by a screaming mob of disaffected workers and unemployed graduates suddenly unable to afford their daily macchiato.

4. Masks. Recent years have seen mask-wearing back on the frontline of demo chic across the world, spearheaded by big protest brands like Anonymous. The iconic mask is, of course, the V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes variety, popularised by the recent film adaptation of Allan Moore’s eponymous graphic novel and initially sold as tie-in merchandise. Pros: it definitely looks creepy. It sends a very distinct message, especially if you’re demonstrating in the UK and especially if you’re going to be within shouting distance of Parliament Square. It’s still zeitgeisty enough to be edgy, and nobody’s yet been papped coming out of Whiskey Mist in a V mask. Cons: it’s a bit of a cliché, someone might think you’re a member of Anonymous, and, most importantly, if you’re going to be on a demo you might as well stand up and be counted. I’m for faces, on both sides. If you really must mask up, think outside the barrel: Thatcher and Reagan masks are a wardrobe staple for any pop activist worth her salt, or you could try customising your own carnival mask, one of the glittery sort stocked by fancy-dress shops, for an eclectic look with that little hint of Venetian debauchery.

5. Kevlar. Forget tweed, forget silk: Kevlar is this season’s fabric. Not only is it versatile and on the cutting edge of mid-nineties grunge revival, it’s stab-proof and tough as a mummy’s nuts. See? Fashionable and practical.

6. The 21st-century activist knows how to accessorise. That old staple, the whistle, has stuck around for a reason, but if you want to make a really big statement, consider a hand-held loudspeaker. Flyers are this season’s equivalent of the pointless-little-clutch, and if you want to blend trends you could always carry them in a pointless-little-clutch, although you might have to drop it if you need to run anywhere. Other old favourites are the water bottle, the rape alarm, the emergency biscuits and the packet of wet-wipes. You will definitely need a packet of wet-wipes. Trust me on this. The biscuits are almost as important, as they double as a way to stoke group solidarity as well as preventing those pesky little sugar crashes. Nobody wants to be seen stopping off at Pret A Manger in the middle of a rally.

7. Heels. Don’t even think about it, not even – and it pains me to say this – not even if you’re a fabulous weekend queer. No, actually, do think about it. Think about walking for several hours across tarmac or grass,wearing stupid little kitten heels. Think about trying to make a run for it and snapping your stiletto. They’re not even useful anymore, since any kind of shoe held in the hand is now officially considered a weapon in bodily harm and assault cases. Nice, stompy practical boots are the way to go, and you can be on-trend in a pair of Dms or nice and dry in some army surplus. But let’s face it. This isn’t Milan. Nobody’s going to be looking at your fucking feet, unless you’re stupid enough to try and kick a copper in the head, in which case you’re drunk or you’re a sociopath, and either way you shouldn’t be on the march.

8. Possibly the most important tip of all: waterproof mascara. Look, the government is getting bloody frightened of us. First sign of trouble, it'll be the tear gas, the pepper spray and the hoses. Whilst you're waving your battered placards in an agony of face-aching chemicals, take comfort in the fact that your make-up, unlike your paycheck, your house and your benefits, isn't going anywhere. Where's that mascara going? Nowhere. You rock that scene, demo-girl!

Forgive me.