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I’ve not been publishing online much lately,  I have been working on my novel, so to speak. :D But I am moved to respond to something in the Observer today.

Lauren Laverne is a fantastic radio DJ and more. Her knowledge and enthusiasm for popular music and her ability to communicate that to the masses puts her up there with some of the great musos of our time. Im not saying she’s quite a Peel but yes even I think that should she be a man she’d be more lauded than she is for her talents and expertise in the field.

But Lauren’s forays into feminist oriented journalism are not quite so laudable in my view. Her latest piece, in the Observer, calls for ‘coercive control’ in (romantic? heterosexual?) relationships to be criminalised. The title of her piece uses the term ‘emotional abuse’ and the standfirst calls it ‘psychological violence’. These slips in terminology reflect the confusion of the article and of the calls to criminalise not physical but psychological harm in relationships. If those calling for new legislation cannot specify clearly what it should cover it is not a good sign for that proposed legislation. Indeed, the term ‘coercive control’ itself is a bit of a tautology. With ‘coercion’ and ‘control’ having very similar/overlapping meanings and synonyms. I can’t help but wonder how Foucault would translate the phrase – ‘powerful power’?

Whilst Laverne acknowledges  men can suffer emotional abuse in relationships her line on  criminalising this abuse is part of a wider feminist campaign led by organisations such as Women’s Aid (http://www.womensaid.org) which focusses  on emotional abuse by men of women in romantic /sexual relationships. When in fact there is plenty of abuse in the other direction. Laverne references a statistic of 30% of women having reported (to the national crime survey) suffering domestic abuse at some point in their lives, which further puts the emphasis on women being harmed – by men. It is not clear how this statistic was reached and what the questions were in the survey. Would men be less likely to report incidences of being hurt emotionally or physically by their women partners?

It is interesting to note in relation to women’s ‘emotional abuse’ of men in romantic relationships that the recent feminist Ban Bossy campaign seems to be saying we should not ever describe women’s behaviour in negative terms. I dont support  old- fashioned stereotypes of ‘nagging wives’ but on the other hand, I do know some domineering women who ‘control’ their male partners in some ways. And I am not even arguing against this as a phenomenon per se. I would go so far as to say some men consciously or unconsciously, like some women, enjoy being dominated! But (especially heterosexual) men’s submissive  tendencies are still unacknowledged to a large degree.

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And there’s the rub. As I have said before, I think any understanding of, and commitment to tackle domestic violence and abuse should take into account many people’s masochism. This is not to defend non-consensual harm – like Lauren I have experienced it myself – but rather to try and understand what drives people in sexual/emotional relationships and how they might be more happy in their power relations. Because a sexual relationship without power probably wouldnt have much/any sex in either.

I also think that when it comes to domestic abuse, one of the problems is the privatised couple formation of traditional heterosexual relationships. If we were more open to our neighbours and friends about our relationships then ‘coercive control’ might not go undetected and unchallenged as it does. I am not saying nobody should be monogamous, but I don’t think monogamy, marriage and coupledom as an ideal help protect people from harm by that one ‘true love’ we are encouraged to find and keep behind closed doors.

One of the key arguments in Laverne’s piece is that people suffering domestic abuse stay in relationships due to fear and ‘self doubt’ imposed by their abuser. I agree to an extent. But I do not think the question ‘why don’t they just leave them?’ should be dismissed altogether. I have asked this question to friends telling me of the domestic abuse they suffer, and have got short shrift. And yet as Laverne herself found, leaving is the solution to the problem. In most cases except for a horrendous minority of extreme ones* the ‘coercion’ does not stretch to preventing someone physically from leaving their abusive partner. And rather than criminalising the emotional hold that abusive partner has on someone, as Laverne is suggesting we should, maybe we could focus on trying to increase people’s confidence, support networks and opportunities to leave and start a new life.

*and I know of at least a few very extreme cases where people have taken great risks/made great sacrifices to leave an abusive/violent partner and of course, have not regretted it.

The previously shocking phenomenon of men wearing perfume, has become mundane in its ubiquity by now. And men looking pretty in perfume ads is not exactly rare either. So the latest Dior Homme ad starring Twilight heart throb Robert Pattinson almost passed me by. The fact I noticed it enough to stop and think about what it is selling, (apart from top notes of lavendar, sage and bergamot), is mainly due to the fab Led Zeppelin track accompanying the images.

The advert, shown above in its uncensored ‘directors cut’ form, expresses something else commonplace, but probably still worth commenting on: metrosexual machismo. The fragance itself might be screaming ‘IM STILL STRAIGHT’ despite the way it has made the lovely Mr Pattinson sensuous, coquettish, even passive (in this version of the ad, his girl straddles him in bed, and then he’s seen lying back looking all come to bed eyes into the camera). Metrosexuality may have gone mainstream quite a few years ago now, but it’s still not quite out.

Some of the motifs of this advert are positively 1970s in their macho symbolism – the beautiful girl on Robert’s arm reassuring us he’s not, you know… the car he drives down the beach in full on phallic pacifier mode, the red-blooded rock n roll Led Zep track. They all try and comfort the audience, and the man in the street about to indulge himself in some Dior Homme, that men’s self love is not gay. The (post coital?) cigarettes in the (ahem) uncut version of the ad didn’t make it to television,  being just too 1970s and against 21st c health and safety guidelines. And, inspite of the ‘uncensored’ tag, the film as a whole is very safe.

Of course wearing perfume doesn’t make you gay, but it doesn’t keep you straight, either. And I for one would like to see a few more media representations of metrosexuality that celebrate its sexual ambiguity. That is what I love most about it after all.

 

The Knowledge

Last week I had to force myself to watch the BBC documentary, Blurred Lines: The New Battle Of The Sexes. I knew it would be bad. I didn’t envisage quite how bad. But maybe in the midst of the horror, the programme had one single redeeming feature. Like Harriet HarmanBig Red and Lindy West, it at least serves as an instructive display of feminism’s true colours. The BBC have produced a perfect lesson in misandry.

For those of us involved in online gender politics, Blurred Lines didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. It rehashed some of the most well known internet ‘gender wars’ of the last couple of years. Playing the role of concerned, fussy grandma (or auntie?) to the young women of today, presenter Kirsty Wark reeled off a familiar catalogue of injustices that feminists claim damage women and girls’ wellbeing.  Twitter abuse sexism in gamingrape jokesobjectification of women , student lad culture , it was all in there. We’ve read it before in The Guardian, Jezebel, Slate etc. But on primetime National television, the blatant, stereotyped portrayal of women as vulnerable victims of brutish, ‘misogynist’ men came across as particularly manipulative. Especially narrated by a very  successful and powerful woman in the UK media.

One of the glaring flaws of the programme was its use of individual examples to make generalised claims about how awful men are, as a group, towards women as a group.  The Steubenville rape case, though horrific in and of itself, does not in my view tell us anything about gender relations amongst young people overall. It may help with the viewing figures though. Similarly, Grand Theft Auto is one single video game amongst thousands. Kirsty Wark heard young men gamers tell her clearly that they did not approve of or make use of GTA’s feature enabling players to simulate violence against women sex worker characters, but their words were drowned out by the graphic ‘misogynist’ imagery from the game.

This brings me to another weakness of Blurred Lines. In using the sensationalist examples above, Wark employed what I have termed concern porn. As another blogger has pointed out, the programme put  forward moralistic, anti sex views ( no sex workers were asked about the Grand Theft Auto footage, for example). But it combined those views with showing the very scenes of explicit sexual violence that it claimed to disapprove of so much. I can still see the middle aged Ms Wark in my mind, staring wide-eyed at her computer screen, tutting loudly.

The central ‘thesis’ of Blurred Lines was that the expressions of aggressive heterosexual male sexuality that emerged in the 90s in the form of ‘lads mags’ and internet porn have reared their ugly head again, in the full blown social media world. The message  I got was that if boys and young men are allowed the freedom to express themselves and their desires, their interests and passions, this will lead to all sorts of evil.

‘Evil’ is a strong word, that I use deliberately here.  because throughout the show, Kirsty Wark’s language evoked shadowy, malicious (male) forces. I lost count of the times she referred to ‘darkness’, as she referred to men’s sexism taking a ‘darker turn’ in recent years, or sexist behaviours by men leading to something ‘much darker’. She spoke of ‘visceral misogyny’, of men’s hatred of women ‘infecting’, and ‘polluting’ the lives of girls and young women. Once again, a feminist woman painted a picture of ‘patriarchy’, as a malevolent man in a dark cloak, threatening womankind everywhere.

I might have hated this ‘documentary’ a little less, if it had have owned up to its ideological bias. But it presented a semblance of ‘balance’ by including one or two critical voices. A male stand up comic and British journalist Rod Liddle made some good points. Liddle exposed feminism’s doublespeak when he pointed out that everyone gets abuse online, not just women. Is it that you think women are different from men, and less able to handle difficulty? he asked a bemused Kirsty Wark. But any reason coming from Liddle was undermined by the fact he’s a favourite ‘hate figure’ amongst feminists and liberals in the UK, and tends to be ridiculed and dismissed. Wark will have known this when she chose to speak to him on air. Here is a feminist on twitter illustrating my point:

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Then, right near the end of the broadcast, a final piece of hypocrisy flashed by. In promoting feminist resistance to all this misogyny in the internet age, Wark mentioned favourably the feminist parody of the Robin Thicke video hit, the original ‘Blurred Lines’. Maybe you can enlighten me in the comments as to why the women in the video talking of ‘castration’ and ‘emasculation’ whilst pushing some scantily-clad young men around is any different from the ‘offensive’ lyrics and images of the Thicke output. Anyone?

However much I disliked it, I wasn’t surprised, following the programme, to see that most reactions to it were positive – not just on twitter but also in the British Press. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby the constant repetition of the word ‘misogyny’ on television was echoed throughout the land by the many feminists and feminist supporters who tuned in. What never ceases to anger and upset this non-feminist woman, no matter how many times it happens, is how the narratives of ‘misogyny’ are so often built on an unacknowledged hatred of men. It’s clever I suppose, if you think about it. But it doesn’t fool me.

I seem to have found myself on a break from twitter, again. We can argue later about whether or not logging in to send dms to friends, or to click on the occasional link, constitutes ‘cheating’. But officially, I’m not there.

I’m not temporarily unplugging though, and claiming some kind of ‘detox’ from the internet as a whole. I agree with Casey N Cep who wrote recently in the New Yorker:

‘Few who unplug really want to surrender their citizenship in the land of technology; they simply want to travel outside it on temporary visas. Those who truly leave the land of technology are rarely heard from again, partly because such a way of living is so incommensurable. The cloistered often surrender the ability to speak to those of us who rely so heavily on technology. I was mindful of this earlier this month when I reviewed a book about a community of Poor Claresin Rockford, Illinois. The nuns live largely without phones or the Internet; they rarely leave their monastery. Their oral histories are available only because a scholar spent six years interviewing them, organizing their testimonies so that outsiders might have access. The very terms of their leaving the plugged-in world mean that their lives and wisdom aren’t readily accessible to those of us outside their cloister. We cannot understand their presence, only their absence.’

I am not ‘absent’, technologically speaking, then, even if that sometimes seems an attractive prospect, and even if I don’t tweet for a while. I am still reachable via the usual means. I still need the internet to go about my daily business, such as it is.

This piece by Adrianne LaFrance is an interesting commentary on where twitter is at, in 2014, 5 years after it came into being. I don’t agree with everything she says. But I have my own reasons for finding twitter now a lot less fun than it seemed back in 2010 when I joined. One of the problems is that I do not feel free to speak my mind on twitter anymore. And I’m not really prepared to try and produce a sanitised, easy to swallow version of QRG.

Sometimes the ‘breaks’ in relationships expand and merge and turn into permanent splits. Maybe that will happen with me and twitter, maybe it won’t. But for now, I’m seeing other people. We’re on a break!!

 

journalism

I saw this George Orwell quote on twitter ( /via @MrDarrenGormley ) and found it quite resonant.

The PR-ification of journalism has been well-documented already.  But maybe what hasn’t been so well documented, is the lengths to which some journalists are prepared to go these days, to censor what they don’t want ‘printed’ – or in the internet age, spoken, tweeted, blogged, etc.

I know the hoi polloi have stormed the stage now, and that makes some ‘professional’ hacks uncomfortable. But if they don’t want to be just another PR, they should embrace the new world, and what it has to offer in the way of ‘citizen journalism’, ‘feedback’, ‘BTL comments’ and diversity of information and opinion.

And if you’re a journalist reading this and thinking: yes but she’s a troll, she has no right to claim her freedom of speech may be under threat. Her speech is beyond the bounds of decency, morality or some other …ity, then maybe you’re part of the problem I’m talking about.

Those who make a living by writing and speaking should value everyone’s freedom of expression. Even mine.

 

This week I’ve seen two videos that ‘turn the tables’ on gender roles, and specifically in the realm of ‘street harassment’ of women by men, the brutes. One (above) is an advert for Snickers, the other an Everyday Sexism project featured in The Guardian

The snickers ad has generated some commentary, including two posts with differing viewpoints in Sociological Images and a not very complimentary piece in Time Magazine.

I was going to write something myself but realised I don’t have much to say about either, really. I actually found them hard to watch, cringeworthy and annoying, especially the Everyday Sexism one. I think what’s most irritating about both is their heavy-handed use of ‘irony’ or what passes for it in our oh so knowing, clever-assed post-ironic world. Perhaps the Everyday Sexism/graun effort seems particularly crass because suddenly, feminists are using ‘humour’ to cover a topic they have previously had zero sense of humour about. My pal Ben who first showed me the Everyday Sexism vid had his comments about it deleted at Graun/Cif HQ, along with those by some other commenters. Maybe that ‘humour’ doesn’t run very deep then?

What do you think of these videos? Do they ‘turn the tables’ on gender norms or do they spectacularly miss the point?

 

twitter-censorship

This week has been a worrying one for twitterphiles like me.  The social media site was blocked by the Government in Turkey, in a seemingly blatant attack on Turkish people’s rights to freedom of expression.  Today a court proposed that the ban should be lifted. As they wait for confirmation that it will be, Turks are using creative means to get round the ban, such as installing   Tor browsers and tweeting via sms on mobile phones.  Whilst representatives from twitter the company did speak out against the ban by Turkey’s authorities, they are not quite perfect ambassadors for freedom of speech. In 2012 twitter.com put their new policy into practice, allowing them to block tweets in particular countries, when they censored output in Germany from neo-Nazis. I’m not a fan of racism in any form, but a social media company making political decisions to restrict access to content concerns me. This seems particularly ironic when we remind ourselves how heavily the actual Nazis relied on censorship  and repression of certain points of view in their regime.

There have also been observations by twitterers that sometimes suspension of individual users can be the result of pressure from groups who dislike them, rather than for any violations of twitter.com’s terms and conditions. I am surprised I’ve never been suspended myself, actually, considering the various political and personal cliques who don’t like the cut of my jib on twitter! (I hope I’m not giving anyone ideas *stern look*). But whatever its faults, I am inclined to agree with Paul Bernal, an  academic who studies privacy, media law and Intellectual Property, that twitter provides great opportunities for freedom of speech:

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I also agree with Dan Hannan, MEP, that whether it is at state or individual level, the calls for banning, censoring and punishing people are always made in relation to other people. A  ‘troll‘  is always someone else isn’t it?. But the kind of rhetoric that demands ‘tougher penalties’ for ‘cyber bullies’ and the values it espouses could have a negative, restrictive effect on us all.

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I have considered leaving twitter a few times in the last couple of years. But there are too many reasons to stay. Apart from the excellent friends I have made, and apart from my ‘professional’ reasons (for that read: ego) for using twitter, illustrated by recent praise for my novella  and for my critique of feminism, Leaving The Sisterhood, I think it’s too important to abandon. I know that I am no different from the majority of twitter users, in that my ‘output’ is often frivolous, or boring, but its my self-expression. My chance to contribute to discussions and debates, to see the events of the world unfold in real time, to learn and expand my horizons.

A lot nearer to me than Turkey, we also learned this week that restrictions have been put on prisoners receiving books and other gifts. Their freedom of expression and freedom to learn is not just curtailed by their incarceration, but now by further, draconian regulations. Even in the comfort of my own home, it is all too clear to me, that my right to talk shit on the internet is not something to take for granted. And it’s certainly not something to give up. They’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming away from that little blue bird, I’m afraid.