journalism

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

twitter-censorship

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

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

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.

twitter_DH

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.

 

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.

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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