Archive for the ‘Freedom of Speech’ Category

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.

 

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:

twitter

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.

 

feminism_q07

Happy New Year!  I hope to introduce you to more writers, thinkers and do-ers  in 2014. Maybe I’m a bit tired of the cut of my own jib, or maybe I’ve suddenly gone shy(!). Either way, I think engaging with a variety of perspectives is always a good thing.

An independent-minded UK-based blogger/tweeter I like is Jacobinism. He has begun the year with a thought-provoking post entitled Racism; Censorship; Disunity. He puts forward the view that the ‘Left’, and ‘intersectional’ activists and writers within the Left, can be blind to oppression and violence unless it comes from white people. To illustrate his point he uses a case study from within the feminist blogosphere, where a young feminist woman was attacked and then censored by ‘intersectional’ feminism, for her views.  Jacobinism writes:

‘There is a damaging idea fast gathering influence on the Left that – like a lot of contemporary postmodern Leftist thought – urgently needs dismantling. This idea holds that racism is only possible when prejudice is married with power.

The corollary of this premise is that racism may only travel in one direction – from the powerful to the powerless – and it is therefore nonsensical to discuss, still less condemn, racist attitudes expressed by ethnic minorities. In the West, racism is the preserve of the white majority who use it – often, it is claimed, unconsciously – to sustain their advantage and to oppress those they deem to be ‘other’. In the geopolitical sphere, meanwhile, this racism is the preserve of the world’s wealthy democracies and is expressed as Orientalism, Military and Cultural Imperialism, and Neoliberalism, all of which are used to dominate and subjugate the Global South.’

Jacobin’s discussion of the feminist ‘storm’ that illustrates his points is probably best read in full. To give a flavour of the ‘case study’ here’s some extracts from his post:

‘On 20 December, the feminist writer and activist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published an article in the Huffington Post entitled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Wilde-Blavatsky’s post was a rebuke to those – on what she described as the post-colonial or intersectional feminist Left – who use identity politics and arguments from privilege to delegitimise the voices of white feminists speaking out about the abuse of women in the Global South and within minority communities in the West…

The response to this argument from the bien pensant Left ranged from the incredulous to the vitriolic.

In the comment thread below her article and in a storm which overwhelmed her twitter handle and her hashtag, Wilde-Blavatsky (who tweets as @lionfaceddakini) was derided with accusations of arrogance, ignorance, bigotry, racism and cultural supremacism. She was advised that she had not listened sufficiently closely to authentic voices of women of colour.  Others declared her to be beneath contempt and an object example of white feminism’s irrelevance. She was accused of using a fraudulent call for unity as a way of advancing an argument from white victimhood. It was demanded that she immediately re-educate herself by reading various academic texts on the subject. Her “white woman’s tears” were repeatedly mocked, as were her protestations that her own family is mixed-race. And, of course, there were the predictable demands for retraction, penitence and prostration…

To accept that one’s unalterable characteristics can play any part in the validity of an opinion is to submit to the tyranny of identity politics and endorse an affront to reason. Arguments about rights and ethics must be advanced and defended on their merits, irrespective of who is making them. There is no other way.’

I applaud Jacobin for taking on this thorny subject, and for referring to feminism in doing so. Not only do feminists find it difficult to have aspects of their dogma questioned, they find it particularly hard to stomach coming from a man. But I have a couple of points to make that disagree with his argument.

1) All feminism suggests men are ‘innately’ powerful and women not.  I agree with Jacobin  that actions should not be protected from criticism simply due to the identity of those taking them. But I am wary of Wilde-Blavatsky’s  allusions to patriarchal culture and behaviour in her criticisms of violence against women in ‘the Global South’. Isn’t the term ‘patriarchy’ a way of playing ‘identity politics’ too? Don’t men get dismissed by feminism in general for having views on gender because of their ‘unalterable characteristics’?

2) All feminism reinforces the gender binary There have always been tensions within feminism and different schools of thought within the ‘movement’. However as I have said in my ‘controversial’ piece Against Feminisms, all feminists rely on the binary of man v woman with ‘man’ being found powerful, oppressive and so not worth listening to. And so

‘ feminist theorists such as bell hooks and Julia Serano and Beverly Skeggs, even when they are referring to other divisions such as ethnicity, class and transgender identities, are still relying on the reification of the man v woman binary to support all their arguments about gender.’

3) Feminism is more ‘united’ than it seems I will write more on this another time, but my view is a lot of the ‘conflicts’ in feminism are not exactly fabricated, but they’re superficial.  Feminism does have common characteristics.  I find this ‘flowchart’ that was doing the rounds online recently, laughable. But it does indicate a basic worldview that I would suggest all feminists share to a large degree. It also illustrates clearly how not being a feminist is unacceptable and derided by feminists of all stripes (click image to enlarge):

FEMINIST-570

I don’t want a young woman writer to be censored for having the ‘wrong’ outlook. But I think young men are ‘censored’ from expressing their views on gender before they even begin. Gender studies and media output on gender are dominated by versions of Wilde-Blavatsky. I don’t privilege (‘white people’s’) racism over gender but I don’t think gender inequalities function how any feminist presents them. If that makes me persona non grata at some dinner parties who cares? I can have my own party (and the booze is always great)!

music-morrissey-25-live-blue

I wasn’t planning to see Morrissey 25 Live the film of a recent, ‘intimate’ (1800 seat venue) gig at a US school, Hollywood High. But Sara Annwyl invited me  so that was that. The event celebrates Moz’s 25 year solo career, but he still slipped some Smiths songs into the set list . I have never been to a Moz gig. I wondered if watching this, I’d be left kicking myself for not getting it together, in the 30 years I’ve known his music, to see the great man live. But to be honest, much as I enjoyed the experience of having huge close ups of Moz’s sneering eyes and mouth shoved in my face for 90 minutes, I’m now relieved to have kept my love at a safe distance. Why? Well, for all the reasons I loved him in the first place.

As has been well-documented already, Morrissey is pretty intense. And, it’s not necessarily his introspective, caustic lyrics that produce that intensity. Though they add to the mix. No it’s his performance, his body, and the response he provokes in his adoring fans that make Moz explosive. Scary. Weird. From his first appearances on Top Of The Pops in 1983, when we witnessed opened mouthed, as he waved his gladioli-adorned tush, and wailed that distinctive wail, it was clear that this man wanted our attention. And boy he got it. But even knowing what I know, even being the ‘crazy’, ‘obsessive’ fan I am (not just of Moz), I was pretty taken aback by what I saw on screen in the Curzon Soho last night.
morrissey25liveathollywoodhighflowers

The plain fact is; Morrissey demands to be worshipped, and quite literally. As Morrissey put his hand to his heart, or reached it out in a plaintive plea (to God?) so did the fans. Any ‘extreme’ or ‘religious’ symbolism taken up by the screaming audience was started and exacerbated by Moz himself. It was he after all, who grabbed a very young boy from the crowd in the closing moments of the gig, and held him in his arms, beatific, Christ-like. Earlier, when Stephen gave the mike to a few lucky members of his loyal flock, he was met with utter, complete devotion. As the Evening Standard put it:

‘The inanity of the fans makes a nonsense of the 54-year-old singer’s self-deprecating wit (“I’ll always hold my head up high…in a psychiatric unit”). “Thank you for living,” says a woman and Morrissey, instead of retching, smiles.’

It was that coy smile that got me. Suddenly all ‘irony’ and detached commentary was gone from the 50 something’s expression. He was the cat that got the cream. Morrissey LOVES Morrissey-love. And that love of the love he receives, but only pretends to reciprocate is probably what got Moz through that gig at Hollywood High. As @louderthanwar  explained in some detail, the show was meant to be at the start of an American tour this year, turned out to be one of the last as he fell ill and ran out of funding for the rest of the planned shows. It’s hardly surprising that the way Morrissey performs, body and soul splayed before us, takes more out of him in his 50s than it did in his 20s. Maybe the show is over for good. If so, this film will become more iconic than it seems at the moment. More poignant. We’ll see.

But, I for one can’t finish on the topic of Morrissey without mentioning his tits. And how he has to get them out at any given opportunity. What began as a young slip of a man tearing his shirt off unexpectedly and aggressively at Smiths concerts infront  of flustered teenage boys has evolved into something a bit more mannered. A bit more of a strip-tease. @THEAGENTAPSLEY pointed out rather astutely that towards the end of the gig:

‘ Morrissey ripped open a shirt that he must have intended to sacrifice (unlike the first two [see above-QRG], which he had worn to go offstage and change, and which looked much nicer) at crucial words about those whose physical appearance one despises’.

It just wasn’t like the old days anymore. When Morrissey didn’t care about the state of his (now designer) clothes, and ripped them off spontaneously. Now it’s a carefully choreographed part of the stage show. But with his pretty body still in bloody good nick for his age, nobody was complaining and certainly not me.

moz25live_pink

In our little darkened corner of central London Morrissey 25 Live became a sing-along. It might have been The Sound Of Music or Rocky Horror for the sense of joyous camaraderie (especially the young(ish)man two seats down from me who was in fine voice) and our enthusiastic going for the top notes. I sang Speedway with particular gusto. And I said my goodbyes.

FBerkley

‘Somehow I managed not to be thrown out of his borrowed office (that I was a leather-jacketed male may have contributed to his patience) and was able to shift the topic away from Stone and classifications of madness in the European Middle Ages to ask about his blurb for John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. My point of entry for the shift to my keener interests was something he said about ahistorical heritage-making of “gay people.” I suggested that one of the most egregious examples, where even rabbits are “gay,” came in a book bearing a blurb from him.

He recommended ignoring Boswell’s first chapter and said that he had been more struck by his initial reading of Boswell’s book than he was later, working through some of the same materials himself. The resolution he proposed was not to regard Boswell’s writings as a sound history of “gay people” but as valuable for understanding the particular problematic of intolerance for sexual diversity. (I rejected that, saying that I read the book as a very tendentious apologia for the moral responsibilities of the Holy Mother Church specifically for persecution of those diverging from its prescriptions for sex. He neither endorsed or rejected this characterization.)’[i]

Stephen Murray met Foucault when he was teaching at Berkeley in the 1970s. He was a student and attended his lectures, but quite critically. ‘Foucault worship’ had not taken hold then. He wrote this account of their meeting in an email to his friend, Sam , many years later:

Stephen to Sam

Hey Sam,

Thanks for your email. I am glad to hear you have a new book coming out. Sure it’s electronic but isn’t everything these days? It won’t be long before we are all fucking robots and men will just be clothes horses. Maybe that day has arrived.

You wanted me to write about that time I met Foucault? Jeez it seems so long ago. Sure you can pass my account onto your contact. I have never been in a novel before. Foucault’s Daughter sounds like she might be an interesting character.

Anyway, excuse the flowery prose. I couldn’t help myself darling! Here goes:

‘It was a bright crisp autumn morning in Berkeley. It is funny sometimes to think of how Fall is called Fall and to actually witness leaves cascading off the trees in the wind. There are not many words that so literally describe what they describe. How about ‘fuck?’ No, that doesn’t work. What about gulp? No. You see it is hard to find one. Winter? No. Passover? I guess but that’s not quite the same.

I was nervous about meeting Mr Foucault. My worst fear: that the eminent philosopher would just slam the door in my face.

I approached the study, the one Foucault was borrowing from a Professor and knocked, a limp-wristed knock on his door. ‘Entrée’ came a voice from inside.

So I entered. Who wouldn’t enter Monsieur Foucault’s inner sanctum given half a chance?

I had been in Foucault’s lectures but nothing had prepared me for being in such close proximity to the man himself. I held out my limp-wristed hand…

He did not take it but pulled out a seat and told me to sit. I felt like a kid.

‘coffee;?

‘oh yes please’ I said a little too enthusiastically.

We sat and drank coffee and I looked at his face which was so alert and alive and his bald pate and his glasses, and it was partly like looking at a cartoon and partly like looking at a lover and partly like looking at my father and partly like looking at…some kind of religious deity?

Anyway. I looked and then I thought it was about time I said something.

‘Um, well, I have always been interested in your separation of the gay’ person from people who do homosexual acts. It seems this ‘’gay identity is gaining more and more currency…

‘It does, yes. But sometimes I prefer to examine power separately from the obvious that is being presented to me. In one sense the ‘gay identity’ is only very partial. It is worth uncovering how sexuality is regulated across the board , no? ‘ he took a sip of his coffee.

‘Yes of course. I guess I was looking at your work over the course of your career and noticing a link between all the theories of how you have distinguished between an essentialist idea of the person.. for example, the ‘mad’ person and the actual systems of discourse by which…

‘Oh I do not make any link between my work over time. I am not part of the canon and I never will have my own ‘canonical oeuvre’ this is ludicrous! And bourgeois!

Foucault slammed his coffee down on the desk hard and it spills onto his papers.

‘Merde!;

This was not going too well.

‘I meant..’

‘I know what you meant! But you are wrong.!;

So I left the talking to him. He explained about how his work would get appropriated and watered down over time and how he didn’t like it and worried that when he is gone there will be such a bastardisation of his writing it could be meaningless.

‘Knowledge is not for knowing. Knowledge is for cutting’.

He looked wistful for a moment, anxious. He said that sometimes he wished he could take his work with him when he died and so everyone had to start again. He did not want to be mis-remembered, misinterpreted.

I looked sheepish, being one of those students who was guilty of lifting Foucault quotes left right and centre.

He smiled softened.

‘I am tired of these four walls. He said. J’en ai mar de ces murs’. He gesticulated at the cramped space around him.

‘let’s go for a drink’.

With that he stood up and reached for his leather jacket , which made his attire become remarkably similar to mine.

And then he almost pushed me out of the door, talking as he went, down the corridor out of the building, across the campus, strewn with fallen golden leaves.

SandM

He took me to his favourite bar just off campus. I felt like I was in a dream.

‘what would you like?’

‘a beer please;

We took our beers and we sat at a table. Quiet for a moment. Just two guys in a bar.

‘so do you go out? On the scene?’ asked Michel.

A little I said.

‘I t gets a bit repetitive after a while/

‘and do you go to the s and m clubs?

‘yes. Sometimes’

‘They do not have them in Paris. I think it is amazing to have a public place for such things.

‘I guess so, yes’.

I am very interested in the overt demonstration of power dynamics in the S and M sexuality. It seems, so, so,… honest.

‘I hadn’t really thought of it like that before’ I said. I had really but I decided to be deferential to the don. Despite his protestations I think that is how he liked to be treated, and something was telling me that  beer could turn into something much more interesting.

‘It is fascinating.. the way people, men, enact power inequality in the sexual arena and it produces something new it is not merely reproducing power but creating it, I am sure it can have a liberating effect!’

He was getting very animated now and took off his jacket in the heat. I saw his chest through his poloneck it looked firm, sensual. I started to wonder what his cock was like. Oh god this was Michel Foucault and I was thinking about his cock.

Was he thinking about my mouth, on his cock?

He stopped talking.

What is it? He asked. ‘You were miles away.

‘Oh sorry’  I mumbled. I don’t think Foucault liked it if you didn’t pay attention to him.

‘anyway I was saying about how in s and M the dominant partner synthesises the irreducible element of power, the mythical irreducible element of power and presents a challenge for the bottom. The submissive partner to either conform to that irreducibility, or to disrupt it. Do you see what I mean?

I nodded. I understood perfectly how I would have liked Michel Foucault to challenge me to disrupt his irreducible power by either sucking his cock or not. Or sucking his cock in a way that was not 100% satisfying to him which would challenge him back to reassert his irreducible power, maybe by turning me round and spanking my arse very hard.

Now he sounded angry.

‘You are not listening to me Stephen! What is going on!;

Or maybe I could challenge his irreducible power by mere insolence?

‘I am sorry Michel. I am really interested in your theory it is just.. just..’

‘What? What is the problem.’

‘let me get you another beer and I will tell you.’

So I went to the bar. I walked slowly, breathing in, moving my ass in as seductive a way as possible. He couldn’t fail to see the signs. Could he?

I came back with the beers and he just started talking again.

Talking and talking about fucking power. All theory and no practice.

I tried one last time.

‘S o how would it work, in practice, if the actors were, say, you and me?’

I looked at him as coyly as I could.

‘oh.’

For a moment the great philosopher seemed embarrassed.

‘er.. I don’t know.

And then he said:

‘ you see Stephen, in my recent explorations of power in S and M, I have been most interested in ‘surrendering power.  It is quite  a new experience for me and I have found it, liberating! I think there is an ontological change that comes about .from giving up power to another man don’t you agree?

‘yes’ of course I fucking agreed. That’s what I wanted to do too.

This exchange of power was really not working for me.

And then Foucault returned my coy look with his best coy look and said.

‘I would consider giving up my power to a man like you’.

I started to laugh.

At first he seemed hurt, angry again.

But the man was not stupid.

He got the joke and he started to laugh as well.

We drank our beer and we laughed at the ridiculousness of sex and power, and the impossibility of equilibrium, a pair of cock suckers sharing a private joke.

Outside the leaves kept falling off the trees . There was nothing anybody could do to stop them.

From Sam to Stephen:

Ha. Wasn’t it Edmund White who said he thought all writers are bottoms, really? They must use up all their phallic penetration in their intellectual practice. Looks like I got everything the wrong way round. As usual.

This is an extract from my 2011 novella, Scribbling on Foucault’s Walls. You can obtain a PDF copy here

And another one’s gone! From Feminist Ideology. I was recently contacted by the blogger called Female Fed Up With Feminism. Like me, she is a woman who has used that precious right of women (and everyone else) everywhere, and changed her mind. Now that she has become ‘fed up’ with feminism, and seen its bias against men, and against honest open debate, she has decided to challenge some of the worst excesses of the gender politics ‘cult’. FFUWF writes:

‘I am a very proud non feminist female who has decided that it’s time to deal with the frenzy that is now going on in the media about how society is riddled with so-called ‘sexism’. I believe that things are much more complicated than that, and that the manner in which feminism is hijacking important issues is stopping us from having a mature and rational debate about many things.’

Also like me, the blogger is concerned about feminists’ tendency to attack  freedom of speech   in the name of combatting sexism.  And one of the outfits she finds most irritating and propogandist on the subject of sexism is that well known (to some of us) twitter account  and blog Everyday Sexism. If anyone has any ideas about how to challenge Everyday Sexism’s bullshit about men, women and gender, let us know!

I will finish by wishing this latest Female Fed Up With Feminism all the best in fighting her  ‘sisters’ . Don’t forget to wear protective clothing though – these debates can get very heated!

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Earlier this week I watched (for the first time) American TV Show Justified, about a cop working in small town Kentucky, amidst gangsters, drug dealers and evangelical Christians. The episode I watched featured a great guest performance from well known American comic Patton Oswalt. He and his co-star played a lovely Stan and Olly routine as they bungled their way through some dodgy moonlighting police work, destined to go wrong.

The next thing I knew Oswalt was the subject of a Salon article by Molly Knefel chastising him for failing to speak out against rape and violence against women. Oswalt had previously defended Daniel Tosh against a feminist blogger who slammed him for making rape jokes. Feminists are angry with him for showing empathy for the victims of the Boston bombings, but not for women who are raped or assaulted (- by men. I don’t think this row is about lesbian rape). Knefel wrote in Salon:

‘What is challenging, though, is speaking out against the normalization of sexual violence, the degradation of women, and the role and responsibility that men have in either perpetuating or combating rape culture.’

Then over on twitter Oswalt got more stick for what? Not getting down on his knees and confessing his sins to the Good Lady of Feminism?

I am annoyed about how the feminists have picked on an individual man in the public eye, and seem to be taking him to task for a complex socio-cultural set of issues in society. He’s just a guy who makes jokes. He’s not Obama or Bono – he hasn’t set himself up as a spokesman or a moral crusader. But more so I am annoyed that feminist writers are peddling a narrative – again- about men, those dirty dogs, and women those poor innocent damsels. It’s very Mills and Boon in a funny kind of way. As I said in what became a rather ‘controversial’ article –  Rape Culture and Other Feminist Myths:

‘My instinct is that holding onto special victim status has some pay offs for feminists. They can continue to present gender politics as a binary opposition between men (potential rapists) and women (perpetual potential victims of rape). Basically, the concept of rape culture is misandrist, and it does not allow for the fact that women are sometimes perpetrators of sexual assault, and men are sometimes on the receiving end.’

I am glad Patton Oswalt stood up for himself to a degree, and didn’t let the feminist mob walk all over him. But I hope that one day, a high profile man (or indeed woman, or anyone who identifies however) actually takes on the myth of ‘rape culture’ and challenges the nasty misandry that underpins it. Women rape too. Men can be victims of rape. Violence in our culture has more men victims as a whole than women. More men commit suicide and suffer injuries at work than women. The ‘rape culture’ schtick is WRONG.

I of course say this often. But when I speak out against feminist rape culture fantasies people attempt to ‘silence’ me. I had my Rape culture myths piece taken down from The Good Men Project, and when I questioned feminist versions of rape culture over at cyborgology blog, my comments were deleted and I was chastised for being ‘unscholarly’. But its the dodgy statistics, misandry and – yes – hysterical premises of feminism’s precious ‘rape culture’ that is unscholarly.

Yes Patton Oswalt has a ‘platform’. But so does feminism. And when it comes to gender issues any man is at risk of being sent to the wolves if he speaks out of line. I believe any subject should be fair game for comedy. And I’ll be taking suggestions for jokes about feminists at the usual address. We could start with this lovely lady as inspiration:

h/t Henry for the Red video.

Let Me Back In

Posted: May 10, 2013 in Blogging, Freedom of Speech

 

Thanks everyone for their messages here and elsewhere, when I took a bit of  a breather from the trials and tribulations of being that – er- notorious  ‘internet troll’ Quiet Riot Girl.

But friends, enemies, frenemies and strangers. I’m back.

How’ve you been?

Xx

 

Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play
And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues drawn
It’s always darkest before the dawn

-Florence and the Machine

This is a short note to say I won’t be around much in the public rooms of the internet for a while.  I’m not able to speak/write freely or tell of my present situation so, in those circumstances, I am ‘going dark’ for a bit.

Friends can always find me in the usual ways.

See you soon, in the full light of day. It’s always darkest before the dawn.

XXQRG

 
Freud might have a field day with this ‘Man Extreme’  ad. The (phallic?) snake, eagle and lion are asking to be interpreted more than I have time for here. And anyway I am a bit preoccupied with the name of this gentle perfume: Man Extreme is a bit, well, extreme for something so fragrant. It’s ok, fellas, you can smell like lavender and patchouli if you want. That doesn’t make you a girl. Or does it?
 
Metrosexuality seems to be so blatant, so ‘out’, so obviously ‘feminine’ in many ways – those tits! those legs! that make up! that hair! – that it is no wonder many men, whatever their sexual identity, are a little bit anxious about giving in to something that seriously puts their ‘traditional masculinity’ into question. Before we blame straight men for this macho reaction to the explosion of men’s beautiful self-love, let’s not forget that the ‘gay beard’ craze is just as uptight and macho as any heterosexual expression of ‘manly’ anxiety. Remember 2011’s popular beardy ‘gay movie’ Weekend? And don’t get me started on GayBros – ‘straight acting’ gays who make the 70s Clones look positively forward thinking!
 
weekend
 
Then there’s Ballet Boyz. On one hand, this bunch of pirouetting peacocks remind us how comfortable young men are these days with a) showing off their bodies, b) embracing their ‘feminine’ side, and c) showing off their bodies.
 
 
On the other hand, there’s some familiar ‘disavowal’ of full on feminine flamboyance going on.  There’s the obvious ‘manly strap on’ in the name – Ballet BOYZ, with an added hard man hip hop flavour. And there’s the slightly ‘laddish’ (No Homo) atmosphere of an all-men dance company, run by two men, that enables a (bearded!) Guardian journalist to say:
 
“[the company] doesn’t do ballet. Instead, it does 21st-century choreography with a muscular and occasionally dangerous edge.”
 
Phew!  that’s ok then!
 
It is within this rather ‘backs to the wall’  21st century context of pretty boy, pretty insecure masculinity that Dove for Men have launched a new shampoo. And in which a Brazilian ad for their metrotastic hair care product has caused heads to turn.
 
 
Dove has traditionally described itself as being For Women. So when they launched their Dove Men cosmetics and toiletries range they needed to set it apart from the girls’ stuff.  And they’ve come up with quite an ingenious way of doing so. Judging by the reactions on twitter and elsewhere, this ad is a hit. But why? The advert involves an office worker who is plagued by long luscious locks, a la Pantene for women, and is only rescued by a colleague telling him how Dove for Men can restore his masculinity. Critics have called it ‘confused‘, as it veers between taking the piss out of men wearing ‘feminine’ cosmetics and celebrating (and of course selling) that very idea. But I think the cleverness of this commercial lies in its willingness to embrace the confusion that many men experience when buying into consumerism and narcissism, but also worrying about whether or not they are ‘still a man’. So the machismo that Dove are obviously espousing and exploiting is also subtly put into question and sent up.  Does shampoo really make your hair grow long and shiny? Of course not. As this tweet shows, the silliness of the premise is part of the ad’s success:
 
And making a man enact the exaggerated, posing, overly ‘coquettish’ movements of a woman in a shampoo ad, a subtle but not-missed message is put across about how ridiculous and unrealistic this version of OTT femininity is, and how gendered marketing for the same products is kind of lame in 2013. But for many men (and maybe women too) watching, whilst they are laughing at the joke, they are also reassured by it. Dove for men is a real brand, selling real shampoo to ‘real men’.
 
nivea
 
You’d think that maybe one group of people who are not convinced by these manly marketing strategies would be the ‘beauty bloggers’ and ‘male grooming’ bloggers who see these gimmicks day in and day out. But  the fact that consumer experts such as Grooming Guru are, despite a few misgivings, convinced by products labelled as ‘For Men’ shows how metrosexuality is still  somehow threatening, even to the most enthusiastic metrosexual men. GG says:
 

‘I’ve personally always found the ‘man’ prefix superfluous and silly (though I still think the “For Men” tag has value for brands like Nivea, Clinique and L’Oreal who need to differentiate their men’s lines (often reformulated to suit men’s skin and its unique needs) from women’s. So come on guys, don’t spoil your perfectly good products with thoroughly daft names okay?’

Pushing products ‘for men’ may of course in one sense be a wheeze to make more money – it creates two markets where once there was one – but I don’t think this is the whole story of Dove for Men, Or Man Extreme, or Ballet Boyz. Because the ‘market’ of men’s vanity and self-love (not to mention dance) has been growing and going strong for a long time now. I don’t think anything, not even – gasp! – gender neutral packaging would stop the tide of metrosexual consumerism.  But while that phenomenon is here, it may as well also do the job of soothing men’s troubled, but oh so moisturised brows, about their anxiety over what it means to be a ‘man’ in the modern age. Going back to Freud, I think that in the early part of the 20th century, he was exploring how the gender binary is a form of ‘neurosis’. Now, in the 21st century, I would like us to admit that as long as we split people into this arbitrary division between ‘men’ and ‘women’ and try and flatten out human complexity and the many many ways of expressing our identities, we will be stuck with silly, complicated but ultimately macho ads like the Dove for Men one.

The gender binary, unfortunately, seems to be a winning formula. But I’m not buying.