Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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

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)!

 

…whoever you are

all-fours

Cover Image : All Fours by  Matthew Stradling (1998), Oil On Canvas.

‘I’d like to drop my trousers to the queen’ – The Smiths  ’Nowhere Fast’ 

‘To define is to limit’ – Oscar Wilde  A Picture of Dorian Gray (in Kemp, 2013:71)

‘Hocquenghem argues for anal pleasure not as a specifically homosexual activity, but as a way of undermining all sexual categorisations’ (Kemp 2013: 8)

Punctum Books, an independent open access publisher, describe their work as ‘spontaneous acts of scholarly combustion’. The Penetrated Male by Jonathan Kemp certainly lives up to the billing. I am already a fan of Kemp’s work. His debut novel London Triptych, about masculinity and (homo)sexuality in three different eras, is well worth a read. This time Kemp, who also lectures at Birkbeck university, is exploring similar themes in a more academic format.

The book consists firstly of a literary analysis of some interesting modernist texts. These include Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (1903), Baudelaire’s 19th c essays collected in The Painter of Modern Life, Genet’s Querelle of Brest (1947) and Ulysses by James Joyce (1922). But what makes the book ‘pass’ the PhD test of producing ‘an original contribution to knowledge’ is the way Kemp both applies and critiques ‘Queer Theory’ (e.g. Foucault, Bersani, Deleuze, Barthes). In doing so he presents ‘the penetrated male’ body in representation as a radical way of dismantling the well-worn assumption that a ‘penetrated’ male body is necessarily ‘feminine’. Here I am going to look briefly at Kemp’s commentary on Joyce’s Ulysses. Because, as Kemp says, ‘if Genet buckles that metaphor [of the penetrated man as 'feminine'], Joyce will be seen to tear it to pieces’ (Kemp 2013: 164).

Kemp writes:

‘Ulysses is a prime example of how the body, when it emerges within discourse, often does so in explicitly or scatalogical ways. It is as if these two functions were, by virtue of their supposedly secretive or private nature, outside of the public law of language; as if out of sight is out of mind held true for the body. Or, as if the tabooing of certain words not only excised them from so-called decent or proper language, but excised the very body parts  and functions to which they refer. To refer to them thus implies discursive impropriety or indecency’.

Ulysses was published in the early 20th century to the horror of many. I am reminded here of Anthony Burgess’s marvellous book of Joyce appreciation/criticsm: Here Comes Everybody (1965). Burgess describes how Ulysses was first thought of as a ‘dirty’ book. Although it is now considered a literary ‘classic’, Kemp’s observations about certain words, topics and expressions being ‘taboo’ is still relevant in 21st century, ‘sex obsessed’ culture. Nowadays some heterosexual people are enjoying anal pleasure, for example. But is this kept ‘secret’ on an individual level? In my article entitled  We need to talk about bumming, I described feeling unable to discuss my own adventures in (hetero) anal with my straight friends. And, whilst gay ‘liberation’ has moved on in leaps and bounds since Joyce’s time, it can be argued that contemporary ‘gay’ culture, which validates ‘respectability’ via e.g. marriage and parenting, reinforces some sexual taboos and puts actual (homo)sex back in the shadows.

Maybe this is partly why I found Kemp’s unearthing of Joyce’s ‘dirt’ so refreshing. He says:

’Joyce does not present his characters at stool, or micturating, masturbating or copulating, simply in order to shock, but to present life more fully as it is lived. As Joyce himself remarked, ‘if Ulysses isn’t fit to read, life isn’t fit to live’ (cited in Ellman, 1982:537)’. (Kemp 2013: 171)

I think Kemp takes the view that one of the ‘radical’ aspects of Joyce’s Ulysses in the context of sex and the body, is that it presents humanity in all its glory, and does not sanitise sex or elevate it from other bodily functions. This is in part what made the book so unpalatable when it was first released, even for literary types.‘The disturbing quality of what HG Wells called Joyce’s ‘cloacal obsession’ is indicated by most critics’ dismissal or avoidance of it, as if to talk about shit were tantamount to playing with it, as if there were no space, no difference at all, between words and things. Carl Jung called Ulysses the ‘backside of art’ (cited in Heath 1984) while Ezra Pound urged Joyce to remove most of the scatological references. John Gross avoids the subject altogether, claiming ‘at this hour in the day there is nothing new to be said on such a topic’ (Kemp 2013: 172)

I love this notion of the way people can treat words as if they were the thing they represented. It goes quite a long way to explain why we have all got so screwed up by ‘gender’. Words such as ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘male’, ‘female’ have been somehow taken and treated as accurate, whole ‘signifiers’ of whole populations of hugely complex and diverse human beings (and indeed animals). No wonder we’re in such a mess!Kemp discusses elegantly and clearly why Joyce’s Ulysses can be seen as a ‘way out’ of this bind of gender, and gendered language. In refusing to automatically ascribe ‘femininity’ to the penetrated male body (specifically Bloom’s body in the book), Joyce uses it as a symbol of something different, something new, a departure from the binary. Kemp identifies this ‘departure’ as being possible in and expressing ‘Modernism’. He says:

‘Joyce’s modernism allows for a certain queering of masculinity that doesn’t try to avoid or erase the body’s penetrability; but rather uses it to critique gender dimorphism in interesting ways’ (Kemp 2013: 172).

This ‘modernism’ does of course evolve and morph into ‘postmodernism’ and many of Kemp’s ideas, that emerged from reading Ulysses, are still relevant today in the fully fledged postmodern era. You will have to read Kemp’s book (and ideally Ulysses itself – I confess I only managed up to about page 40 when I tried) to find out more about those ways in which Joyce ‘critiques gender dimorphism’!

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You can buy The Penetrated Male By Jonathan Kemp direct from Punctum books

All Fours by  Matthew Stradling (1998) featured here with permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
This is an extract of my review of two new Punctum books publications. You can read the full version of the review here.

bookish

Tomorrow – allegedly – Morrissey’s autobiography, all 480 pages of it, will be published by illustrious outfit Penguin Classics. In the Indy a few days ago a rather waspish Boyd Tonkin criticised this turn of events.  His main objection was that Morrissey was being given special privileges in the publishing world as the grande dame of Literary Pop. He wrote:

‘Penguin will next week publish the first edition of Morrissey’s Autobiography – which almost no one outside the company has yet read, let alone formed a fashion-proof judgment about – as a Penguin Classic in the familiar black livery. Well. “The Queen is dead,” sang the quixotic melancholiac of Davyhulme, so long ago. Penguin Classics, as a noble idea of affordable, accessible enlightenment, has certainly died this month. The verdict has to be suicide.’

I tend to agree with him:

I think Moz demanding to be a ‘Penguin Classic’ highlights some of the contradictions in the star: he likes to drop his trousers to the queen on some days, on others he is clamouring to be accepted by and honoured by the establishment. His fans just thought the hoo-ha was  a storm in a fine china tea cup and were amused to see the ‘literati’ were feeling Rick-rolled by their hero. But my favourite commentary so far on the forthcoming book, and on  Moz as just a tad self-important, is this suggestion for the front cover by a Guardian reader (click to enlarge the ego):

Morrissey autobiography design by TiberiusGracchus

Barbs aside, Moz showed his more cuddly, democratic side recently when he saved a brilliant  tumblr from the ‘copyright bullies’ at UniversalThis Charming Charlie mashes up Smiths/Moz lyrics with Peanuts cartoons to wonderful effect. But has the ‘tumblr generation’ overtaken the 50 something popster in creativity, wit and verve?

charlietumblr_mubm0zmFU61seji43o1_r1_500

I am pretty sure I am not the only Moz fan worrying that could indeed be the case. For, Moz didn’t wait a while after the demise (or triumphant close? – we wish) of his musical career before pondering on life, love and of course hate in an autobiography . Instead he has careered straight from almost collapsing on stage and cancelling all his gigs, with no more  new material in sight, to producing  what he seems to be presenting as a stately, magesterial, definitive memoir. I think Gore Vidal played it a bit more stylishly.

Morrissey has deliberately caused some hype around his forthcoming book – or if not hype, then at least plenty of whispered, and shouted, catty gossip. I want it to live up to all expectations and be a Vauxhall and I of a tour de force. But I’m not holding my breath. (well I am, but don’t tell anyone!)

 

‘Boyfriends/And girlfriends/And enemies/Those upon which we rely’ – Low

When I was a child I treated friendship as sacred. If I were to attempt some clumsy psychoanalysis of myself, these many years later, I might begin to see why. My parents broke up when I was four years old, and my world collapsed. (Unconsciously then), I think I decided that in my own life people would not be so unstable, unreliable, so breakable as my parents. But of course they were.

I say ‘child’ but this dangerous belief has of course followed me round through adulthood, so that when friendships (and romantic relationships) have broken down, I have felt a loss, an inadequacy, an anger, a shame, akin to that first big break-up of my early life. It wasn’t my fault. But nobody told me that at the time. And, even today, in the complex world of adult relations, I tend to blame myself deep down, for most things that go wrong.

But there is in me, and it is getting stronger, (thanks in part to some recent and very helpful psychotherapy), an ability to step away from that ‘guilty’ child. To see life, and people (including me), as complex and unpredictable, and to accept that. Not all friendships (or romantic relationships) last forever. That doesn’t necessarily diminish them. I broke up with my ex partner over eight years ago now, but it is only very recently I have been able to feel happy and grateful that we knew each other, were very close, had some laughs, were best mates. A Buddhist might find my revelation amusing, for they know that if life itself is temporary, the things within it are hardly going to be permanent. I always was a slow learner.

I don’t think I am the only one afflicted with a perfectionist side when it comes to friendship. I can think of one or two people out there, who are probably even more ‘extremist’ (and less reflective?) than me. They hold onto this romantic notion that if someone is not utterly wonderful and nice and the kindest bestest friend in the world, they must be some kind of devil. Freud knew about this dichotomising amongst friends and even admitted to doing it himself:

‘An intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable requirements for my emotional life; I have always been able to create them anew, and not infrequently my childish ideal has been so closely approached that friend and enemy coincided in the same person.’

I think if we want to keep our friends, and to make new ones, to keep open to life and love’s possibilities, we have to acknowledge that negative aspect in people and relationships. In hindsight, I think my ex understood it better than I. After a row, or an affair, or a terrible sorrow-filled night, when I thought nothing could be salvaged from the wreckage, he would always treat me exactly as he had before the crisis. He didn’t seem fased by our ability to be ‘enemies’ at times, as well as lovers and friends. Maybe he had a bit of Nietzsche in him, and thought:

‘The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.’

I’m not quite there yet. I still have a slightly rose-tinted view of friendship. And I still get crushed by messy imperfect reality on a regular basis. But I am learning to accept, much more than that heartbroken four year old could at least, that humans have frailties and that’s ok.