Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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:

blurred_lines_rod_liddle

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.

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?

 

The above video – by celebrity-endorsed campaign Chime For Change- features Laura Bates, founder and proprietor of the @EverydaySexism project, talking about her work. Earlier this month, Laura made a speech to the United Nations Commission On the Status Of Women in New York. A transcript of the speech was published in the New Statesman but with no narrative attached about the context of her visit.

Well what is the context? Why did a frightfully nice, posh, white English woman, with an MA from Cambridge university, travel all the way to New York (paid for by whom?) to talk to a global organisation charged with tackling poverty, war and disease? All because women on twitter tell her about their experiences of ‘street harassment’ that blights their (otherwise comfortable, western, plentiful) lives?

Feminists often present their movement as being neglected, dismissed by the ‘patriarchy’, treated with the same  ‘misogyny’ and sexism they claim to suffer as individual women. But the UN is positively enthusiastic about feminist dogma, even if it doesn’t always name it as such. The UN commission on women is very well funded and staffed. It produces annual reports called The Worlds Women dedicated to examining and supporting women around the globe. Before I say it, you know I’m going to say it (what about the….men?) this excellent article by Philip Cohen at The Atlantic echoes some of my worries about the rigour of UN research and statistics, that are wheeled out to justify all the money and attention it gives to women. Questioning the famous feminist claim, which references UN research,  that women do the majority of the work in the world, but own only 1% of its property, Philip writes:

‘These things are hard to measure, hard to know, and hard to explain. Setting aside the problem that the data didn’t (and still don’t, completely) exist to fill in the numbers in this famous sequence of facts—the first and perhaps greatest problem is that we can’t easily define the concepts, which is part of the feminist problem. Even in 1970, how could women own only 1 percent of property, when most women were married and in many countries had at least some legal claim to their families’ property?’

He goes on to say:

‘consider one of the facts. With a combination of arithmetic and basic knowledge of a few demographic orders of magnitude, it’s straightforward to conclude that, whether or not women only received 10 percent of the world’s income in the 1970s, they receive more than that now.

Here: In the U.S. in 2009, the 106 million women who had incomes averaged $29,700 each. I think that’s $3.2 trillion. The whole world’s gross domestic product—a rough measure of total income—is $58.1 trillion. So, it looks to me like U.S. women alone earn 5.4 percent of world income today. Ballpark, but you see the point.

One of the potential negative consequences of this is also one of its attractions: The claim that, for all women do, they own virtually nothing, is a call to global unity for women. But it is undermined by the fact that a large number of women are—let’s face it—rich. So if global feminist unity is to be had, it won’t be built on a shared poverty experience.’

Exactly. One of the main reasons I find Laura Bates and her Everyday Sexism campaign offensive, is that it seems to be an attempt to put wealthy western women’s ‘suffering’ at the hands of ‘patriarchy’ on a par with that of women living in poverty and terrible conditions including in war-torn countries across the globe. And she seems to be convincing the UN of that parity of ‘victimhood’ too. The problem with poverty, war and disease, for both Laura and the UN Commission on Women, is that they affect women and men. In very large numbers. And they put into question the ethical and statistical justifications for all the resources that go into women.

Even apart from poverty, the focus by British and American feminists in the (social) media sphere on street harassment, online ‘abuse’ etc, ignores real suffering of women elsewhere. I watched the Channel 4 news item recently about the Saudi princesses who are kept in captivity and severe discomfort by their father, the Saudi King. Even I see that as a situation that could be described as ‘patriarchal’ and ‘oppressive’ to a group of young women. But the twittersphere, the guardian-type feminists and the UN remained eerily silent about the story. I think they were too busy staring at their navels, and applauding the brave actions of the lovely Laura, as she flew back from the states following her whine about catcalls and wolf whistles. 

Ponders End #fridayflash

Posted: March 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

ponders end

ponders end2

I’d never been to Ponders End. I’d never even heard of it. Then suddenly I couldn’t get away from it. I thought I lived on the outer outskirts of North London till one grey winter’s day the jobcentre sent me on the 121 bus to the jobsnet thing and the bus kept going, and going but we still weren’t in the countryside. I was out of my comfort zone as we passed the Great Cambridge Rd and the bus still kept going till I asked someone where we were and finally got off in a nondescript suburb that didn’t feel like London at all. Ponders End is well named.

The skyline is dominated, if you catch it at a certain angle, by four blocks of high rise flats. Each one is painted a different colour –  purple, blue, green, orange. Maybe the council thought they could convince the good people of Ponders end they were in Marseille, or Barcelona, somewhere where housing estates are colourful and the sun bounces off the brick and you can buy huge juicy tomatoes and ripe camembert in the local shops, but they only have a Greggs and a convenience store selling tired courgettes and baked beans. Still it was a nice idea.

Jobsnet are supposed to help you find work but someone at the jobcentre had made a mistake so I couldn’t get registered. There’s a lot of bureaucracy involved in falling through the bottom of your life. I chatted with the blokes who work there, told them about my PhD apologetically, as if it might be a problem. Then I explained about my criminal conviction, how I didn’t even know if I’d make the next appointment as I hadn’t been sentenced yet and their eyes widened. I guess I’m an unusual case. But we agreed I’d go back in January. I wished I were someone else.

The next time I was in Ponders End I was really in it. Stood in the lobby of one of the tower blocks, wearing a bright orange high vis jacket that said ‘community payback’ on the back in bold letters. Stretching before me was a line of windows, in a partition between the lobby and a corridor that led to an emergency exit. Apparently the block was soon to be knocked down. I expect the community, being uprooted and rehoused, didn’t care I was paying them back some debt or other.  I cleaned the windows anyway. The task was symbolically pointless.

At the end of the shift, one of the lads from my project fell into step with me as I walked back to the 121 stop. We might have been teenagers, coming home from another scintillating day at school. I wondered why a boy was talking to me. He let two buses go by and got on mine and sat next to me on the top  deck. I don’t quite know how it happened but by the time I’d got off, relieved to be back on home turf, I’d given him my phone number and he said he’d text. Maybe I really was someone else. Maybe I’d walked into another life, in which I was doing community payback at the Ponders End flats, and giving my number to a young man with an electronic tag on his ankle under his socks.

I started to be filled with a long lost terror that has something to do with change, saying yes for once, being open to possibilities…

( b and w photo of Ponders End by Nico Hogg )

If you follow feminist discourse online, in the western liberal hemosphere, you won’t have failed to notice there’s been some trouble at t’ mill  lately.

A recent piece in US publication The Nation commented on Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars, suggesting that infighting and conflict in feminism is a contemporary phenomenon, linked in some way to social media.

There followed articles by UK feminists Helen LewisJulie BurchillJane Clare Jones and others, all variations on a theme, identifying feminism’s problems as being caused by or worsened by ‘identity politics’, ‘call out culture’, certain forms of  ‘intersectionality’ etc.

Burchill was her usual screechy, belligerent self, only matched in tone by @redlightvoices whose  diatribe entitled ‘I hate you all, media vultures‘ has caused Laurie Penny to drink gin and feel sad or something.
LauriePenny_whitefem

As you can see I’m not quoting from these articles or commenting specifically on the content of the fall out.  Because theatrical conflict amongst feminists has been going on for decades. There have always been different schools of feminism, including Liberal, Marxist and Radical varieties. Feminists have always disagreed on issues such as sex work, domestic labour, heterosexuality (some feminists are against it, you know) etc. Social media provides a bigger, more visible stage for the performance of diversity within feminism. But, how diverse is it, really?

As I’ve written before, e.g. in my post Against Feminisms, feminists have much more in common than they do separating them. Speak to even the most intersectional of intersectional feminists for five minutes, and you’ll realise that they are united with their radfem and ‘white media’ sisters by misandry, a dogmatic belief that non-feminists are ‘misogynists’, a refusal to engage in research and writings that challenge their views, the ‘identity politcs’ of women v men, etc etc. Sometimes I wonder if the infighting and ‘divisions’ in feminism might be elaborate ‘ploys’ to present the movement as complex and diverse, when really its very simple, and united in its politics.

Even the great feminist philosopher Judith Butler, whose work has probably been one of the influences on my flight from feminism  –  what is gender anyway? why do we rely on binaries of ‘male’ v ‘female’, ‘man’ v ‘woman’? how is identity performed and contested? – falls back on the identity politics of womanhood. In a talk I attended last year, Butler grappled with some of the questions I’ve listed above, only to return to rhetoric about women across the globe lacking educational opportunities, political representation and economic power  ( to rapturous applause from her student fangirls).  So men are the problem after all? It’s the patriarchy, stupid.

Don’t get me wrong, watching a bunch of feminist women tear each other’s hair out on the internet is entertaining. But that’s all it is.  The real ‘debate’ to be had in gender politics in my view,  is over the value and purpose of feminism, any feminism, in the 21st century world.  And the fact that some of us are having that debate, and coming to uncomfortable conclusions, is probably what is upsetting those nice ladies from feminism.inc the most.

one gay lawyersa4-1

Last week Ben Summerskill resigned from his post of CEO at Stonewall.  In a wonderfully curt farewell,  Pink News politely points out that the ‘highest paid’ member of staff of the UK gay rights organisation earns between £90,000 and £99,999 p/a. I do hope Mr Summerskill has a contingency plan to keep him in the lifestyle to which he’s accustomed  (at the expense of various others).

Summerskill’s parting ‘shot’ is a poster campaign against workplace homophobia, devised in collaboration with a flash  Marketing Agency. And it is probably an apt finale, since Stonewall, thanks in part to Summerskill’s direction, has arguably become little more than a PR outfit itself.

Even in the blurb on the posters, ostensibly aimed at improving organisational culture in relation to sexuality,  the Stonewall publicity machine is in full force. It reads:

‘At Stonewall we’ve campaigned for 25 years for equality. We’ve had major successes with legalising same sex marriage, repealing section 28 and lifting the ban on gay people serving in the forces.’

As someone who has been involved in sexuality and gender politics for the whole 25 years of Stonewall’s life to date, I find these claims pretty offensive.  I know for example that the (eventual) repeal of the discriminatory Section 28  (regarding funding for ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities) was achieved by diverse groups of people with various political affiliations. Here Stonewall does its usual trick of taking credit for things it didn’t do, or at the very least, didn’t do on its own.

Equal Marriage is a much more recent development and so it’s even more audacious for the gay rights organisation to try and erase contemporary history by claiming it for itself. Those involved in the campaigns for same-sex marriage know all too well that Stonewall were very late indeed to that particular equality party.

But I think it’s the scare-mongering doom and gloom that the posters inject into people’s working lives that I find most galling. The text goes on to say:

‘99% of young gay people still regularly hear homophobic language at school, 100 homophobic hate crimes are reported to police every week and 2.4 million people have witnessed homophobic bullying at work in the last five years’.

It’s typical Stonewall stuff: the percentages quoted suggest they have done survey research, but there is no reference or link to said investigations. We’re expected to take at face value headline figures such as ‘99% of young gay people still regularly hear homophobic language at school’ with no indication at how that stat was arrived at. Nor for that matter whether or not bisexual, trans or – gasp- heterosexual young people hear that same homophobic language (maybe some students are provided with ear plugs).

The ‘2.4 million’ people (who Stonewall elsewhere explain are ‘of working age’) who have ‘witnessed’ homophobic bullying in the last 5 years is even more misleading.  I could go into more depth about statistical bias, but  to put it bluntly, and without the ‘research’ to hand, that could mean that almost 39 million people of working age haven’t witnessed homophobic bullying at work.  That’s over 94%.

If homophobia really was in decline (some of us think it is!), Stonewall might go out of business. So the cynic in me can’t help but see one of its raisons d’etre, as exaggerating and reinforcing problems, fear and misunderstanding around sexuality.

And, whatever your views on the level or degree of homophobic discrimination in the UK, it is difficult to deny how Stonewall makes things worse  by ignoring and dismissing other issues such as the experiences of bisexual and trans people.

As Sarah Brown has written since Summerskill jumped ship, Stonewall’s record on trans inclusivity is pretty dire. Her article is open hearted and offers an olive branch to the new leadership at Stonewall. But it’s also pretty damning which ever way you read it. The reservations of trans people and their allies about Stonewall’s agenda are put even more succinctly by @Scattermoon, who made this image to add to (or rather dismantle) the latest Stonewall poster campaign:

one gay trans

I have other criticisms to add about what I see as the elitist ‘ gayism‘ of the PR based, media savvy Stonewall that Ben Summerskill developed and now leaves. Rather predictably I doubt how far Stonewall understand the metrosexual revolution in masculinity, that renders identities such as ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ if not meaningless, then pretty blurred. That’s why I find the Stonewall  football ‘homophobia’ poster probably the most pointless one of the bunch:

One is Gay - Footballers

There are further questions about Stonewall’s presentation of gender and ethnicity in its current campaign. I might return to them soon. I wish Ben Summerskill all the best in his future endeavours. I want to believe that this is an  opportunity for positive change at Stonewall HQ. But I’m not that optimistic. Thankfully, I’m far more hopeful about the rest of us.

_____________

Thanks to everyone on twitter, where I was pointed towards a lot of the news and material mentioned here.

See the full Stonewall workplace homophobia campaign poster gallery here