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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Yes, All Women.

I'm writing this post in the light of the horrific events that unfurled in Santa Barbara over the weekend, where a damaged and ill, but also entitled, privileged and misogynistic young man, fueled by anger and humiliation at what he saw as his rejection by women killed seven people and injured several more before taking his own life. In the hours and days immediately after the tragedy You Tube videos and a chilling and angry manifesto came to light outlining his attitudes to women, people of colour and his plans for his 'Day of Retribution'

 This particular tragedy is almost the perfect storm of issues. Guns (all of Elliot Rodger's guns were legally obtained despite the fact he had a history or mental health issues and he lives in California which has some of the strictest gun laws in the US), the mental health issues (Rodger's had a number of ongoing mental health issues and had apparently been in therapy for many years, his family and parents were aware of the issue to the point where they had called the police on at least one occasion believing Rodger's to be a danger to others) and vicious and deep seated misogyny. And it is this which I want to talk about right now.

When the story first broke and news of his videos and manifesto came to light women across the world were, understandably, shocked, horrified, saddened and angry. Men, whilst many felt the same way were quick to point out that 'Its not all men', women were keen to point out that, yes, we know that, but when it comes to misogyny, whether it be casual occasions of everyday sexism or sexual violence or aggression, it is all women.

This spawned much debate online, particularly on Twitter, where the #yesallwomen hashtag began trending. The purpose of the hashtag was to allow women to share their experiences, to open a conversation and make our male feminist allies understand that whilst of course its not all men, almost every woman will on a reasonably regular basis be the victims of male aggression and  privilege. For some women this takes the form of serious abuse (whether it be sexual, physical or emotional) or sexual violence for others it is domestic abuse, discrimination in the workplace, being prey to the unwanted and overly enthusiastic man in a club, a wolf whistle in the street, and audible comment about body, attributes, age, weight, looks, intimidation by a man or group of men. The list could go on and the problem is with many of these is that with the exception of the most serious, they are seen as entirely acceptable. Male privilege and our culture of casual sexism is such that aggressively pursuing a woman who has made her lack of interest quite clear is ok. Shouting at a woman whilst she walks her dog or takes a run or runs her errands is fine. Casual touching of a woman without her explicit consent is fine. But its not fine, its not ok and its not acceptable. We have become so trained that we should see these behaviours as harmless that often even other women will indulge in the culture of 'victim blaming' we seem to have created. That a woman should be flattered by a stranger yelling from his car that she has a 'nice arse/tits/is doable' that she should not be offended when a stranger yells at her that she is fat/ugly/a bitch. Women who stand up for themselves in these circumstances are further often further abused. The fact that we have a sliding scale of sexual aggression and misogyny is part of the problem. The fact that we have to be relieved that we have 'only' been victims of the lesser kind of these acts is a problem because they shouldn't exist.

In addition to gender, race also plays its part and cannot be ignored in the discussion less, #yesallwomen becomes #yesall WHITEwomen (and there is a very interesting debate currently going on on twitter under that very hashtag which I do recommend you read as it gives some very interesting perspectives and statistic with regards to the experience of women of colour) in the US amongst women of colour rates of reported coercive sexual behaviour are most high, with almost 40% of black women being victim of this kind of behaviour. Whilst it is true to say that ALL women experience this, we cannot ignore the experiences of women of colour who are statistically more likely to be the victims of more serious sexual aggression and more likely to be ignored as victims. Issues of white privilege and intersectionality are part of the debate and I do believe if we are to move feminism forward and truly become 'all women' you cannot discount the part race plays and the differing experiences of women of colour.

Unfortunately our media also perpetuates the cycle of misogyny. Look around your house, pick up the first magazine you see. Even those aimed directly at women often seem to exist only as objects. Magazines tell us how we should look, what we should be doing to 'please our men', they shame us for being fat, for having agency and using it.

Lets look at some examples from the media. Now the women I talk about here might not be my favourite people in the world, they may not live the kind of life I would chose, but do they deserve to be talked about in the kind of language that people do? The answer must surely be no.

Female celebrities are objectified to the nth degree. Kim Kardashian (think what you will of her) lives her entire life being too fat, too thin, judged for relationships (cos like 'Oh My God, she's been married three times'), you can argue that she has made the choice to live in the public and eye and its true that she did but does that really mean we should be allowed to pass judgement on her every act? That we should fat shame her throughout her pregnancy for daring to do what many pregnant women do (myself included) which is gain a lot of weight? And then of course she was judged all over again when she lost the weight, but would have been just as harshly judged if she hadn't.

Kate Middleton has recently had her bum in several papers and on the internet because her skirt blew up when she got out of a helicopter. Everyone has an opinion on whether she should weight her hems, wear a slip, wear bigger pants (she appears to be wearing either a thong or none, I would be inclined to suspect the former) but how about we just don't take pictures of women's bums when the wind catches their skirt and blows it up. How about we look at what it says about how we view women that a picture of a woman's arse, taken without consent is deemed public interest (this was hold even if Kate's full time job was wearing a bikini, consent is all and just because you've seen someone's bum once doesn't mean you always get to see it).

Kim Novac attended the 2014 Academy Awards. At 81 years old she looks pretty good and she's definitely had some work, but if that's her choice I'm fine with that. Plenty however, had a LOT to say. Headlines appeared on her 'shocking' new look and mocked her attempts at maintaining her youth whilst ignoring the fact that society has made it so unacceptable for women, particularly those who work in the public eye to get old that its incredibly common for women to undergo surgery to attempt to fight it.

It is in this context, this culture of victim blaming, slut shaming, fat watching, ageist, god for bid you go out looking a bit rough or should stand up for yourself or exhibit any kind of agency or not think it totally HILARIOUS when a man grabs your boob in a club 'for a laugh' that we live.A place where, factoring in unreported rapes, its estimated that only 5% of rapists in the UK ever spend a single day behind bars, or where women's reputations, lifestyles associations, dress and sex life are dragged through the courts and laid open for all to even get that 5% to face the consequences of their crime. It is in this world that ALL women live. In the developing world sex is used as a weapon of war, in the developed world a culture of casual sexism is all pervading, and whilst I certainly prefer my reality that of women in the developing world again it lays out questions as to why either group should have to tolerate what they do.

So yes, we know, we understand that its not all men, but it is all women and until ALL men understand that we need to keep having this conversation.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Its a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird

Most of you in the UK (and many outside) can't have helped but hear about Michael Gove's latest ill thought out, poorly conceived piece of idiotic policy making. Mr Gove has made changes to both the GCSE and the A-Level English Literature specification which basically removes many stalwarts of both courses, such as Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" and hopes to replace them with twentieth century literature by authors from the British Isles. Once again (in concurrence with his ignorant ideas about the History curriculum) it shows Mr Gove pushing our education system towards a mono-cultural abyss. More and more it seems that Mr Gove sees Education, not as his job and his responsibility with the weight of millions of emerging character and intellects at stake, but as his own personal fiefdom in which to experiment and make changes purely based on his own view of the world and of education. At this point I will make the point that Mr Gove is, unlike many (though not all) Education Secretaries, not an Educator, he has no background in Education. His degree is in Journalism and it was this profession he pursed until he became an MP in 2005. Yet this lack of expertise has not stopped him from enacting a whole series of changes, most as foolhardy as the next leading teachers and educators everywhere to despair. All three of the major teachers' unions have passed votes of no confidence in him and he has been roundly criticised  by the Association of Headteachers in addition to this. Mr Gove makes it clear at all turns that he despises teachers and that the advice and expertise of experienced educational practitioners and academics has no bearing on his ideas nor his policies.

The most recent, the proposed change to the English curriculum has incensed both the teaching profession and public alike. Both Lee and Steinbeck have long been popular mainstays of the GCSE curriculum and I myself studied them. Gove's mistake seems to have been tied up in his massive disconnect between himself and the people he (and his government and party ) are supposed to represent. Scroll through Twitter discussions and Facebook posts and the amount of love for both these books is immense. So many point to them as books that made them love reading, or that taught them valuable lessons on race and class. Atticus Finch is oft cited as a role model of integrity that those of us who studied the books at school and are now parents our self aspire to be for our children and as the kind of man we would like to teach our sons to be. The importance of these books to our children and their education has nothing to with where they were written and everything to do with the stories they tell and the lessons they impart. That Gove can't see that makes him singularly unfit for the position he now occupies.

Please sign the position requesting that Mr Gove reverse his position here

Monday, May 19, 2014

UKIP are not your friends.

UKIP have been in the news a lot lately. For one, there are European elections coming up and due to unfortunate voter apathy even from the more pro European amongst the electorate, UKIP are expected to do very well. And its a shame. Because UKIP should not be representing us in Europe, for them Europe is an anathema, the thing which is holding back Britain from regaining its former glory, whilst drowning us in immigrants who have come over here to steal our jobs or scrounge for benefits depending on what day of the week it is. In addition this is the kind of thing they get up to when allowed out in public . Its pretty pathetic isn't it?

However, there are those who find appeal in Farage and friends belligerence, who are willing to look past the fact that their economic policies work they would need to be powered by the rainbow coloured poop of a thousand unicorns, who hone in only on their anti European stance or try and dress their support up in the language of challenging the system, of fighting the status quo of opening up the parliamentary system etc etc. And in themselves all this arguments are fine, they have some credence. However, what does not and should not stand is the party they choose to espouse to make these points. Let us say for a moment that UKIP was a party chock full of terrific ideas, a foolproof budget and a neat and amicable exit from Europe ( I am pro Europe by the way). Even if all these factors existed there would be one very big problems with UKIP and that should be the one reason that you choose to deny them. They are a party of division. Whether or not the party is 'racist' or not can be argued using questions of nuance, but what cannot be denied is that they do espouse policies which attract those with racist, bigoted and divisional beliefs. They are the only party to ban former BNP members they exclaim with pride, yet this is because they are the only party which attracts that mind set with any great number and offers them access to the upper levels of the party. They are always quick to act when one of their number is caught putting their unfeasibly large feet into their seemingly even bigger mouths, but it doesn't change the fact that it is their own policy of creating scapegoats which attracts and fosters those with more extreme view points.

I'm not anti UKIP because of the newspapers that I read, I have not 'been blindfolded into your opinion  by the cognitive dissonance of the left wing press' it is not my 'inability to understand the federalist agenda of the EU and its fanatics'.  In fact even if I was vehemently anti the European Union I would not and could not bring my self to support a party such as UKIP. Even if the rest of the parties were slowly collapsing like my hair in the heat, (which its entirely possible they are, they aren't in good shape that's for sure), if UKIP were the only choice I would spoil my ballot. I am anti UKIP because they offend my every sensibility as a citizen and a human. Whilst their policies, such as they are just about manage to skirt the boundaries of out and out offensive, their membership is firmly beyond the pale. They are active members in extreme right wing pan European political groups such as the EFD who have compared Muslim women to Osama Bin Laden and frequently warn against the 'threat' of Islamisation.   A vote for UKIP might 'sock it' it to the Tories, or Labour and quite likely the Lib Dems but it will do so at a cost too high. Its not 'protest', it is complicity. It is not that others don't understand or that they have been duped, it is being an apologist for something that is reprehensible. There are numerous other examples I could use to hammer home my point, but at this juncture they are probably redundant. My abhorrence of UKIP has nothing to do with their anti European stance generally and everything to do with their scapegoating of minorities, their offensive candidates and their general lack of the traits of that make up a decent human being. Alas, they will win their seats later this month and come next year will probably have enough people who are willing to subscribe to their anachronistic xenophobia and posturing or who vote for them out of a desire to protest the other parties that they will win some parliamentary seats. But it will be a shame and despite what their apologists and supporters claim it will not make us a better country. The cycle of division and intolerance will be perpetuated and Nigel Farage's braying voice and idiotic posturing will continue to get booked on Newsnight and Question Time, because clowns always make for entertaining television. Even dangerous ones like Farage.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Puppy Love

They say that objects don't matter and and to some extent that's true but what about when something precious is lost? And by precious I don't mean monetarily expensive, I mean something imbued with precious memories, an object which embodies a time or a feeling. An object like a little blue stuffed dog.

Puppy Cullen was gifted to my son on the day he was born by one of my truest and closest friends. Boy and dog have grown up together, from those days when Puppy Cullen and the Boy Child would hang out in the cot or pram, to those destructive early toddler days where the two of them would stagger round the house getting up to mischief like a little gang. There was a period of estrangement, like all relationships, where the two of them took the time to grow as people, where the Boy Child was hanging out with Pooh Bear, but fate soon brought them back together. Childhood best friends, inseparable. Hours were spent watching the washing machine turn waiting for the little blue dog to emerge clean and fluffy, they would watch TV together, take trike rides, play trains. As a mother I often would marvel at the comfort and real joy this little stuffed toy, this inanimate object could bring my child.

And then it happened. Puppy Cullen didn't come home with us one day. Frantic searches, the leaving of telephones numbers, the upending of bags and suitcases ensued, but alas in vain. Our little blue friend, the Boy Child's greatest companion was gone. My little man, was as you might expect, distraught. But what I didn't expect was my own emotional reaction to the loss of the little blue dog. When the realisation that he was lost to us sank in, I cried. Big, fat hot tears. There may have been sobbing. Okay, there was sobbing. There was definitely Ugly Crying Face. I cried as if I had been the one that had lost something entirely beloved to me. And in a sense, I had.

What I failed to understand was how much of my son's childhood was bound up in that well loved, slightly smelly and never quite clean despite tri weekly trips though the washing machine, piece of blue material. Such was my son's love and affection for this inanimate object that by extension I saw the toy as part of him. So much of my son's early childhood, those almost three years of boisterous, sticky, joyous childhood were tied up in his friendship with Puppy Cullen and when Puppy Cullen was lost, the transient nature of these early years was brought home to me, how much has already passed and can never be regained. I felt like I'd lost part of my little boy's childhood and I was grieving for, not a little blue dog (or at least not just a little blue dog, because I'll miss that smelly little fella) but for part of my son's childhood that is over and done with.

As I watch my son grow with that pride that only a mother can feel for her children,I want so much for him. For him to be happy, for him to be safe, to never know real strife and hardship, for him to always know that he is loved. But it is bittersweet, I want our children to grow, to become increasingly independent and to know their own mind but I cannot help but to be wistful about what has already left us. The things that change so quickly that you sometimes need to stop yourself from wishing the time away in a flurry of 'please go to sleep/eat your dinner/ don't tease the cat/ stop licking your sister you know she doesn't like it'. Tomorrow I will no doubt be back to rescuing the Patchy Cat from the drawer in which the Boy Child has put her, wishing that for 5 minutes he would use someone else as a human railway track and despairing of the fact that his artistic medium seems to be felt tip pen on walls, but right now I'm going to savour his little boy impetuousness, his extremes of emotion, the mischievous look on his face as he sidles out of the kitchen with that banana I said no to because it's dinner time soon. I'm going to let both him and myself be sad for the fact that Puppy Cullen is gone and that part of his childhood is gone and can never come back. So long Puppy Cullen and I hope whoever found you loves you a fraction as much as your first best friend and you make your new friend as happy as you made the Boy Child.