Monday 30 November 2009

Don't swallow that sedative: fifth column for Morning Star

With thanks to Dr Petra Boynton


Attention shoppers, and, ladies, that means you - now that marriage, mortgage and maternity are the new must-have items in today's post-credit-crunch-pre-Torygeddon social control bonanza, there's a new lifestyle drug on the market.

It won't help you dance all night, shunt you through a red-eyed work deadline or - heaven forbid - encourage you to go to bed with random strangers. It won't even make you lose weight. It's called Flibanserin, and it's here to help you please your man.

As any fool knows, in this all-the-sex all-the-time society the only functional couples are the ones who are going at it like crack-addled bunnies night after hard-shagging night, whatever their age or personal preference.

Your duty as a woman is to provide your male partner with the sexual release he needs. Don't fancy sex with hubby tonight? Let's not be silly enough to question mandatory heteronormative monogamy or a culture that frames heterosexual intercourse as the ultimate panacea - the problem, little lady, is with you. You have a disease called hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), and Flibanserin can fix you.

According to Boehringer-Ingelheim, which just happens to make and sell Flibanserin, HSDD is "a form of female sexual dysfunction (FSD)" affecting around 10 per cent of women. It is "a medical condition characterised by a decrease in sexual desire ... the condition can negatively impact a woman's life and her relationship with her partner."

Yes, that's right, girls - you're sick, and now there's a cure.

After only six weeks of continuous pill-popping most of you should experience, along with pronounced sedation and other side effects that made 14 per cent of test subjects quit the drug before the end of the trials, a slight increase in sexual desire, amounting to an average of 0.8 more "sexually satisfying events" per month.

In fact, according to relationship counselling service Relate, the main cause of low sex drive in women is not a personal chemical malfunction, but difficulties in the relationship.

But why address problems with your partner or discuss the changing nature of a relationship when you can swallow a sedative and smile all night?

Academic psychologist Dr Petra Boynton accurately predicted that following Boehringer-Ingelheim's aggressive marketing drive, we could " expect plenty of headlines ... reinforcing the idea that women's sex problems are 'all in her head,' with a mix of science and the promise women who're not sexy enough can be fixed.

"What you won't see is questioning about the drug, safety and long-term effects. Nor will you see any critical reflection on the construction of female sexual dysfunction as a medical condition."

Boynton, along with many other academics, believes that the recent categorisation of HSDD as a disorder has been a result of agitation by drug companies eager to monetise female sexual anxiety.

A researcher for the British Medical Journal in 2003 concurred that "corporate sponsored creation of a disease is not a new phenomenon, but the making of female sexual dysfunction is the freshest, clearest example we have."

Nor is the medicalisation of female sexuality anything new - in the Victorian era, women who showed signs of enjoying sex were deemed "nymphomaniacs" and treated with incarceration, lobotomy, cliterodectomy and other brutal genital mutilations.

Centuries of routine shaming of women's sexuality have made hypercapitalist economies of female sexuality easy to create and exploit.

Leonore Tiefer noted in the peer-reviewed PLoS Medicine journal in 2006 that "a long history of social and political control of sexual expression created reservoirs of shame and ignorance, [and] popular culture has greatly inflated public expectations about sexual function and the importance of sex to personal and relationship satisfaction ... this sets the stage for disease mongering, a process that encourages the conversion of socially-created anxiety into medical diagnoses suitable for pharmacological treatment."

Conservative shadow minister Chris Grayling would approve. The idea that a sedative drug can be prescribed to calm perennial problems within the heteronormative, monogamous marriage model must be terribly attractive to a man currently employed to create the largest, flimsiest soapbox to shout about "traditional" family values.

Speaking to the Sunday Times this week, Grayling lamented that under Labour, marriage had become a "non-official institution" and pledged that a future Tory government would make it a priority to raise the status of married life.

For all their proselytising on the virtues of small government, it is the Tories, and not Labour, who are already making plans to pry into people's most intimate relationships as an explicit strategy of social control - sorry, "fixing Broken Britain."

The writing's on the wall for women's sexual and economic agency, unless the fightback begins today.

Mandatory monogamous marriage and maternity are back on the agenda, and if we'd got a little too used to valuing own wants and desires above the edicts of a hypersexed but bizarrely puritanical consumer culture, drug companies like Boehringer-Ingelheim will be only too happy to sell us a pill to numb our protestations.

The message couldn't be clearer - we're going to get fucked anyway. We may as well lie back and learn to enjoy it.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

No Feminism Without Trans Feminism: for The F Word

This article will shortly be appearing at The F Word, but I've published it here in response to several hatefully transphobic posts by other cis feminists. It's a direct retort to Julie Bindel's latest piece in Standpoint magazine, and focuses primarily on the experiences of trans women, as these experiences have been the main focus of controversy over the past three decades of feminist thought –the intention is not to erase the experiences of trans men and boys. This article is best enjoyed whilst listening to the music of Athens Boys Choir.


For decades, the feminist movement has been split over the status of trans people, and of trans women in particular. Feminist heavyweights like Germaine Greer, Jan Raymond and Julie Bindel have spoken out against what Greer terms “people who think they are women, have women's names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody." Some prominent radical feminists have publicly declared that trans women are misogynist, "mutilated men"; trans people have responded to this harassment by vigorously defending themselves, demanding that anti-trans feminists are denied platforms to speak on other issues and, in some cases, by renouncing feminism altogether. The deep personal and ideological wounds suffered by women and men on both sides of the argument are reopened with new vigour every time the mainstream press gives space to an anti-trans article by a cis feminist.

Many otherwise decent and sensible cis feminists have fallen prey to lazy transphobic thinking. In the vast majority of cases, cis feminist transphobia does not stem from deep, personal hatred of trans people, but from drastic, tragic misapprehension of the issues at stake. Last week, outspoken feminist Julie Bindel declared in an article for Standpoint magazine: "Recent legislation (the Gender Recognition Act, which allows people to change sex and be issued with a new birth certificate) will have a profoundly negative effect on the human rights of women and children." Her views are founded on the assumption that “transsexualism, by its nature, promotes the idea that it is 'natural' for boys to play with guns and girls to play with Barbie dolls… the idea that gender roles are biologically determined rather than socially constructed is the antithesis of feminism.”

Bindel and others have, initially with the best of intentions, misunderstood not only the nature of transsexualism but also the radical possibilities for gender revolution that real, sisterly alliance between cis feminists and the trans movement could entail.

Femininity is a social construct, and Bindel is right to identify it as such. She is utterly wrong, however, to claim that transsexuals are any guiltier than cis men and women of re-enforcing damaging stereotypes. In fact, the misogyny and sexist stereotyping that Bindel identifies as associated with trans identities are entirely imposed on the trans community by external forces. Sally Outen, a trans rights campaigner, explains that “It is only natural for a person who strongly wishes to be identified according to her or his felt gender to attempt to provide cues to make the process easy for those who interact with her or him. That person cannot be blamed for the stereotypical nature of the cues that society uses, or if they can be blamed, then every cisgendered person who uses such cues is equally to blame.”

Even a casual assessment of the situation indicates that the problem lies not with transsexual people, but with our entire precarious construction of what is 'male' and what 'female', 'masculine' and 'feminine'. Bindel's description of trans women in “fuck-me-boots and birds-nest hair” are no different from today's bewildered 12-, 13- and 14-year-old cissexual 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 garish lipstick, the trans women for whom Bindel, Greer and their ilk reserve special disdain are simply craving what all growing girls crave: social acceptance.

Amy, a 41-year-old trans woman, says that “transition in later life is a really weird experience, in that you're suddenly and unexpectedly plunged into being teenage, plus you have teenage levels of female hormones coursing through your veins. You haven't grown up through the sidling-toward-teenagerhood that girls get, the socialisation and the immersion in society's expectations and realities. Trans women get to learn those, just a quarter of a century late, in my case. The results tend to be a bit wild.” Or, as one cis friend of mine put it: “If I’d had the income that some trans people do when I was a teenager, I’d have owned a cupboard full of fuck-me-boots.”

Indeed, the fact that socially accepted female identity is something that must be purchased is something that trans women understand better than anyone else. For socialist feminists like myself, who locate patriarchal oppression within the mechanisms of global capitalism, the experience of trans women, who can find themselves pressured to spend large amounts of money in order to 'pass' as female, is a more urgent and distressing version of the experience of cis women under patriarchal capitalism. In a society where shopping for clothes and makeup is a key coming-of-age ritual for cis women, all Western people wishing to express a female identity must grapple with the brutal dictats of the beauty, diet, advertising and fashion industries in order to 'pass' as female.

Not a single person on this planet is born a woman. Becoming a woman, for those who willingly or unwillingly undertake the process, is torturous, magical, bewildering – and intensely political. In his essay 'Mama Cash: Buying and Selling Genders', transvestite Charles Anders explains that: "Transgender people... understand more than anyone the high cost of gender, having adopted identities as adult neophytes. People often work harder than they think to maintain the boy/girl behaviours expected of them. You may have learned through painful trial-and-error not to use certain phrases, or to walk a certain way. After a while, learned gender behaviour becomes almost second nature, like trying to compensate for a weak eye. Again, transgender people are just experiencing what everyone goes through.”

Feminism under the knife

The concept and practice of sex reassignment surgery is the territory over which radical feminists and trans activists traditionally clash most painfully. Julie Bindel, along with others, believes that the fact that SRS is carried out at all means that "we've given up on the distress felt by people who identify as gender dysphoric, and turned to surgery instead of trying to find ways to make people feel good in the bodies they have." Bindel makes the case that the SRS 'industry' is part of a social discourse in which homosexual and gender-non-conforming men and women are brought back into line by "nutty bloody psychiatrists who think that carving people's bodies up can somehow make them 'normal'". Were SRS an accepted way of policing the boundaries of gender non-conformity in any half-sane nation state, Bindel's equation of the surgery with "mutilation" would be more than valid - it would be urgent. However, SRS is nothing of the sort.

In face, sex reassignment surgery is carried out only very rarely, and only on a small proportion of trans people, for whom the surgery is not a strategy for bringing their body in line with their gender performativity but a way of healing a distressing physical dissonance that Outen vividly describes as "a feeling like I was being raped by my own unwanted anatomy". Surgery is normally a late stage of the transitioning process and falls within a spectrum of lifestyle choices - for those who opt for it at all. Trans activist Christine Burns points out: "Julie Bindel is quite right that we ought to be able to build a society where people can express the nuances of their gender far more freely, without feeling any compulsion to have to change their bodies more than they really want to.

“However, that is precisely what many trans people really do. Only one in five of the people who go to gender clinics have reassignment surgery - the other four in five find accommodations with what they've got. Bindel's thinking cannot admit that, far from emphasising the binary, 80% of trans people are doing far more to disrupt gender stereotypes than she imagines. With or without surgery, trans people are living examples of the fact that gender is variable and fluid."

Of course, like any other surgery, SRS has its risks, and a minority of patients will regret the procedure. But for most of the trans people who decide to pursue gender reassignment surgery, the operation allows for potentially live-saving progression beyond the debilitating effects of gender dysphoria. Moreover, many post-operative trans people have found that the operation actually lessens their overall distress around binary gender identity: Amy explains: "'Being female is an important part of my identity, but it's not an all-consuming part any more. Until I transitioned and completed surgery, it was much more so. I woke up from surgery, and the burning dissonance, the feeling of everything being wrong, wasn't there any more. These days, I realise that I don't actually have that strong a sense of gender any more. Isn't that strange, given all I went through to get here?''

The radical gender fluidity within the trans movement is exactly what Bindel, when I spoke to her in the process of writing this article, emphasised above everything else: "Normality is horrific. Normality is what I, as a political activist, am trying to turn around. Gender bending, people living outside their prescribed gender roles, is fantastic - and I should know. I've never felt like a woman, or like a man for that matter - I don't know what that's supposed to mean. I live outside of my prescribed gender roles, I'm not skinny and presentable, I don't wear makeup, I'm bolshie, I don't behave like a ‘real woman’, and like anyone who lives outside their prescribed gender roles, I get stick for it."

What Bindel has failed to grasp is a truth that could re-unite the feminist movement - that trans people too, far from "seeking to become stereotypical", are often eager to live outside their prescribed gender roles and frustrated by the conformity that a misogynist society demands from those who wish to 'pass'. Marja Erwin told me that "gender identity and gender roles are not the same. I am trans, and I am not the hyperfeminine stereotype. I am a tweener dyke, and more butch than femme. I know other trans womyn who are solidly butch, and others who are totally femme, and, of course, the equivalents among straight and bi womyn."

Much of the stereotyping imposed upon trans women is enforced by sexist medical establishments - a phenomenon which radical feminists and trans activists are unanimous in decrying. Bindel, like many trans feminists, objects to the fact that psychiatrists are “allowed to define the issue of gender deviance”, giving medical professionals social and ideological influence beyond their professional remit. Clinics in the UK require trans people to fulfil a rigid set of box-ticking gender-performance criteria before they will offer treatment and SRS demands this conformity with special rigour. To receive gender reassignment surgery, m-t-f patients will normally be expected to have 'lived as a woman' for two years or more - but individual psychiatrists and doctors will get to decide what 'living as a woman' entails. A UK psychiatrist is known to have refused treatment because an m-t-f trans patient turned up to an appointment wearing trousers, whilst Kasper, a trans man who was treated in Norway, was pressured to stop dating men by surgery gatekeepers:

"I had to answer a lot of invasive questions about my sexuality and my sex life, and one of the doctors I had to see lectured me about how transitioning physically might make me stop being attracted to boys".

All this is a far cry from some feminists’ fear that surgery is prescribed to ‘transform’ cissexual gay men and lesbians into transsexual heterosexuals.

The demand that trans people conform to gender stereotypes in order to be considered 'healthy' or 'a good treatment prospect' is something that cis women also experience in their dealings with the psychiatric profession. It is standard practice for women in some inpatient treatment facilities to be pressured to wear makeup and dresses as a sign of 'psychological improvement'. The institutional misogyny of the global psychiatric establishment is something that radical feminists and trans activists can usefully oppose together.

Defying gender binaries

Feminists - even prominent ones with big platforms to shout from - do not get to be the gatekeepers of what is and is not female, what is and is not feminine, any more than patriarchal apologists do. Intrinsic to feminism is the notion that such gatekeeping is sexist, recalcitrant and damaging. If feminists like Greer, Bindel and Jan Raymond truly believe that having a vagina, breasts, curves, a uterus, being fertile or sporting several billion XX chromosomes is what makes a person a woman, it clearly sucks to be one of the significant proportion of women have none of these things.

Excluding the trans population for a moment, there are women all over the world who lack breasts after mastectomy or a quirk of biology; women who are born without vaginas, or who are victims of FGM; women who are androgynously skinny, naturally or because of illness; women who are infertile or post-menopausal; or, significantly, the 0.2% of women who are intersex. Is the female identity of these women under question too? If it is, feminism has a long way to go.

Greer and her followers seem singularly uninterested in the science behind their binary thinking, which establishes that prescribed gender roles still fall largely into the binary categories of 'man' and 'woman', but human bodies do no such thing. The spectrum of human physicality belies gender essentialism - as must feminism, if it is ever to be the revolutionary movement our culture so desperately needs.

Trans activism is not merely a valid part of the feminist movement: it is a vital one. The notion that one's biological sex does not have to dictate anything about one's behaviour, appearance or 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 the radical heart of feminist thought. It is essential for cis as well as trans feminists to oppose transphobia and transmisogyny.

At the very heart of sexist thought is the assumption that the bodies we are born with ought to dictate our character, our behaviour, our appearance, our choices, the nature of our relationships and the work of our lives. At the very heart of feminism is the still-radical notion that this is not the case. Feminism holds that gender identity, rather than being written in our genes, is an emotional, personal and sexual state of being that can be expressed in myriad different ways that encompass and extend beyond the binary categories of 'man' and woman'. Feminism holds that prescribed gender roles are a tyranny that no-one - whether trans, cis, male, female or intersex - should be forced to conform to in order to prove their identity, their validity or their human worth.

Feminism calls for gender revolution, and gender revolution needs the trans movement. We must put aside the hurts of the past and look towards a future of radical solidarity between all those who are troubled by gender in the modern world. Whatever our differences, until contemporary feminism fully and finally accepts trans people as ideological allies, it will never achieve what Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel, Christine Burns, Sally Outen and every feminist who has ever longed for a better world are all working towards: an end to the damaging and demeaning tyranny of gender stereotypes. Whatever our differences, only with trans people on side can feminism hope to work towards the type of equality our foremothers dared to dream of.


Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I will be attending the demonstration in Trafalgar Square tonight. This piece is offered in recognition of the ideological and (sometimes) physical violence that has been done to trans people by cis feminists, in hope that all feminists can one day stand together to resist violence against women, and in memory of the hundreds of trans women who have been murdered at the hands of misogynists over the past decade, in particular the latest UK victims, Andrea Waddell and Destiny Lauren.

Update on Reclaim The Night Faff

It was worse than we imagined. Members of the IUSW, X-talk and Feminist Fightback faced verbal abuse and bloody police intimidation, the latter apparently at the instigation of Reclaim The Night stewards. That's not how feminism works, not in any shape or form.

I could cry, I really could, if it weren't for this bit at the end of Feminist Fightback's statement, written yesterday:

"At a time when we face the prospect of a Tory government, threatening to roll out all sorts of further attacks that will have disproportionate effects on women, through public spending cuts and the repressive rhetoric of ‘family values’, it is even more important that we build a movement that can work together on all the issues upon which we agree, and allow room for difference and debate upon those we don’t. We should not be afraid that differences of opinion will block unity in action. In fact it is only by allowing space for diversity of opinion and embracing discussion that our movement will grow."

*grins* NOW we're getting somewhere.

Friday 20 November 2009

Pre-protest faff-laden filk-off-athon of doom (or: why the London feminist scene is quite depressing at the moment)

The only people we hate more than the patriarchy are the London Feminist Network!!!

No, really. This week, in between typing until my posh pansy fingers bleed for fun and profit, I have been watching in awe as one of the most serious feminist issues of our time has unfolded online. I speak, of course, of the great London Protest Chant Row of 2009.

It's the annual Reclaim The Night march tomorrow, which means that up and down the country, earnest sisters are getting ready to have a massive shout at each other. What'll it be this year, ladies? Trans people insulted in the street? Screaming matches outside Spearmint Rhino? Punches thrown over podium space (no, really) ?

Apparently, this year, it's protest songs. We're not content anymore with trusty old numbers like the women! -united! - will never be defeated! - direct, idiot-proof, and easily slurrable for those discerning gentlewomen who like to take a hipflask or two to such events, naming no names. This year the various feminist factions who've come to (literal) blows in the past over issues like prostitution, lapdancing clubs and transmisogyny are actually literally writing actual protest chants to piss one another off. Bad ones. Here's this, from Object, to the tune, and I'm deadly serious, of John Brown's Body:

The women who’ve been bought and sold

They need to have a voice,

If you’ve been pimped or trafficked

Then you haven’t had a choice.

It’s time to tackle punters,

And to show them what we mean,

Begin with Clause 14!

Women’s bodies not for sale (x 3)

And we won’t be for sale no more!

Look, I'm a fan of Clause 14, and I'm glad it wasn't thrown out when it went through the Lords last week. With proper sanctions it sends the right message - that people who use prostitutes have a responsibility not to fucking rape them. Right. Good. But whatever you think about the scansion of this verse, written after the event, it is no more or less than a massive, throbbing screw-you-in-the-eyes to the sex workers' rights groups that fought long and hard to make their voices heard over this Bill.

Yes, these shitty lyrics are right: sex workers need a voice. Unfortunately, both factions in this debate are prone to make the claim that the other faction denies sex workers a voice. What actually happens is that both groups, in the events they organise and the propaganda they put out, select a few speakers that they deem to be the 'authentic' voices of prostitution, wind them up and point them at each other rather than at the forces of patriarchy. On hearing about the proposed - for want of a better word - song, one member of the socio-feminist workers' forum Feminist Fightback said:

"Looks like we need to get on it with our own chants. Does anyone have a megaphone we can take?"

One of the proposed retort-songs is:

I sell sex/ Get over it.
I have a Brain/Get over it
I will win/ Get over it

And this time Feminist Fightback are actually looking like the mature ones. I'd join in, but, yknow, I don't ....actually sell

Not to sound crass, but come on, sisters. We can do better than this. We need to do much better than this. We're meant to be symbolically reclaiming the night from enforced fear of sexual and physical violence, not taking cheap shots at each other. There is goddamn work to do. Right now, today, we live in a goddamn rape culture (hat-tip to Shakesville; trigger warning). Women and girls are abused, beaten, raped and murdered every day by violent partners. Women all over the world are still second-class citizens. Another generation of women in this country is growing up cowed, objectified, pressured to perfect themselves, to erase themselves, to starve themselves. We should be worrying about the pay gap, not the megaphone gap.

There is work to do. And if there are things we can't agree on, then we need to bloody well sort out what we can agree on and learn ways to work with each other, otherwise we're going to get laughed off the ideological playing field, and we stand to seriously let down those thousands of women in this country alone who really don't have a voice. I'm laughing right now, but not in fun. Come on, guys. Get it together.

Thursday 19 November 2009

A 'Straight, White Men's' officer for SOAS?

I was kindly invited to speak at a very interesting SOAS debate today. I can't make it, because I have a Secret Family Engagement; but here's my remote contribution :)

White, straight men are on the back foot on campus. London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) was established in 1916 as the School of Oriental Studies, with the specific remit of training future colonial administrators in the language and culture of the people they were destined to rule.

Nearly a century later, at this institution founded on racist, patriarchal principles, straight white males account for less than 20 percent of the SOAS student body – a fact that has prompted calls for them to be recognised as a minority group by the students’ union, and granted their own exclusive welfare strategy. Today, as part of their Diversity Week, SOAS will debate whether or not to appoint a ‘Straight White Men's Officer’.

University life often comes as a shock to the privileged sons of this country. Higher education is the time in their lives when young men are most likely to experience minority status: white men may dominate in the world of work, in top-level management, in politics, in administration, in the arts, in culture, in the military and in the media, but as undergraduates they make up only 36% percent of the student population. White males are also have less chance ofless likely to graduateing with a first or upper second class degree and of finding immediate employment than their female classmates, where by contrast, less than thirty years ago, white males appeared to dominate every mixed-gender campus. At university, unlike in other environments, straight, white young men cannot pretend that they represent the standard for normal humanity – instead, they are required to confront their roles as members of a privileged minority interest-group on the world stage. Nowhere is this sea-change more evident than at SOAS.

Many have opposed the motion to appoint a ‘Straight White Men’s Officer,’ pointing out that white, straight males do not face discrimination on the grounds of race, sex sexuality or gender – and that to suggest that they do marginalises the experiences of oppressed groups.

SOAS students’ union women’s officer Elly Badcock comments saidthat: “Women have a women's officer because we're fundamentally disadvantaged in society, and liberation campaigns exist for those who have been systematically and structurally discriminated against, specifically because of their sexuality, gender or race.

Straight white men have never been discriminated against on these fronts, so claiming that they are an opressed group smacks of whingeing.”

Indeed, whilst white, straight males are now in the minority at SOAS, no evidence has yet come to light of such students facing racist, sexist or heterophobic discrimination on campus. James, 25, who studied Arabic at SOAS, told me that "as a white male in an aggressively diverse environment, I never felt anything other than welcome, really."

Like other white, male students, however, James sees saw the need for a white men's officer to address issues other than discrimination: "Iit'd be useful, if only so that so that we can identify as a minority group alongside other minority groups, and if and when we need slapping down, it can be done by one of our own.

That, and they could organise Bruce Springsteen appreciation nights."

At SOAS, straight, white young men are confronted with the truth of their status as a minority group, albeit a privileged one, in every classroom and hallway. That white, straight males are finally recognising themselves as the minority group they have always been is a positive development, and the appointment of officers to oversee this difficult process of recognition could well help the white, straight young men of today identify and position themselves in solidarity with women, queer people and other minorities.

The needs of straight, white males are different to the needs of other minority groups, and should be treated as such. But being born a privileged son does not mean that one deserves to be denied support in the process of finding and exploring one's identity, especially as growing up as a white, straight and male in Britain today is so often a confusing and painful experience.

Today’s white, straight men too often mistake the work that equality activists do to oppose the worst consequences of white, male, heteronormative privilege as active discrimination against themselves as individuals. Attacks on unearned privilege are not the same as discrimination, nor are they something with which any ‘Straight White Men’s Officer’ should waste his time opposing. Instead, such an officer would best serve his community by helping students explore positive ways of expressing a straight, white, masculine identity in a society thoroughly sick of being dominated by straight, white males.

Gay, female and non-white people, at SOAS and elsewhere, have every reason to be wary about allowing straight, white males any more exclusive identity clubs: historically, there are have been few models for such spaces that dido not define themselves violently against everyone who is 'different'. Having fought to create spaces in which our own identities as women, homosexual people and/or BME people are celebrated rather than attacked, it seems disingenuous to suggest that white, straight men might make positive use of such safe spaces.

But in a diverse community like SOAS, where white, straight men are already compelled to recognise and adapt to their minority status, a 'Straight White Maen's Officer' with an agenda to support students in avoiding the pitfalls of prejudice and negotiating their own identities might well be a positive appointment.

The gradual movement of today's young, white, straight men towards a positive identity model deserves all the support it can garner. This Last week, Courtney Martin reported in The American Prospect on a recent conference, led by men, on the fight to build a new 'feminist masculinity': " There are legions of progressive men ... who are struggling to redefine masculinity and live that redefinition every day. They have the opportunity to shed their socialized skin and all the anxiety that comes with trying to be a "tough guy" and make a happy life defined, not by their paycheck or their size, but by their humanity. Fighting against the world that we don't want is a critical first step, but fighting for the world that we do want is where liberation truly begins."

SOAS was established a century ago to train young white, straight young men in the arts of domination and subjection. With a little imagination, it could well end up training the next generation of white, straight young men - struggling to find their place in a world that orders them to dominate and then blames them for doing so - in the arts of listening, sharing and solidarity.