A picture tells a thousand words. If I were to ask any of you about key aspects of the current conflict now erupting in Kobane in Syria, you might well describe an image. Whether it be of a man in an orange jump suit being beheaded by a cloaked ISIS member or a smiling aid worker holding a young Syrian child, this war has been summed up and presented on our TV screens in graphic imagery.

Pictures of pretty freedom fighters sell armed struggle/revolution/war – choose your terms as you see fit. The above juxtaposed photos are particularly telling. On the right the iconic photo of the beautiful Marina Ginestà, Catalan 17-year-old Communist militant (PSUC) during the Spanish Civil War. On the left, a young woman with a gun slung over her shoulder, looking back to camera intensely. Tweeters have claimed she is a ‘female kurdish fighter’ but others have questioned this claim.

But the provenance of the photo is immaterial really when its point is to symbolise and represent those fighting ISIS in Kobane in a certain way. If even young, attractive women are bearing arms against those evil hooded men then the fight must be a moral one? Or is the message also more base than that and it just makes bloody war look a bit nicer? It comes to the same thing ultimately.

It is not just this and other images of young armed women in Kobane and the surrounding region that are being used as, in my view war propaganda. There are also a number of articles and blogposts celebrating the role of young women in fighting ISIS. For example spiked editor Brendan O’Neill praised Arin Mirkan, a 20 year old woman who killed herself and some ISIS fighters in a hand grenade attack. He wrote:

‘Well, now we know that taking the ultimate risk – and let’s face it, suicide bombings, or self-explosion on a battlefield in Mirkan’s case, has a 100 per cent risk factor – is not something only Islamists do. So do Kurdish women. Twenty-year-old Kurdish women. Young women who, if they lived in Britain, would currently find themselves encouraged to treat rude tweets as a devastating assault on their personhood. Maybe Mirkan’s actions won’t only dent the morale of IS but also remind us in the cosseted, deadened West that there is more to life than being safe and snug and always protected from risk, adventure, challenge and offence.’

Regardless of previous pieces by O’Neill condemning our moral relativism about suicide in general I find his arguments quite crass. Maybe ‘risk’ and ‘adventure’ are aspects of war but should they be used as adverts for it? I think O’Neill is right about how cosseted we are in ‘the west’. And western feminists are particularly over sensitive and navel gazing But maybe one reason there is little feminist discussion of either these representations of women fighters in Syria, or the fact of women fighting in a current conflict, is that both are inconvenient to feminist rhetoric. ‘War is all men’s doing’ and ‘women and children are hurt most by war’ and ‘rape of women in war is the main problem’ are all viewpoints held by many contemporary feminists. So images of women fighters are studiously ignored. Also feminists’ preoccupation with the ‘objectification’ of women tends to be limited to women in  sexual (usually passive) modes of being and a woman with a gun doesnt quite fit the bill.

Baudrillard should he still be with us, might be more quick to notice and comment on these representations of war than feminists. His statement that ‘The Gulf War did not take place’ in the early 90s, rather than a denial of the conflict in the middle east, was a comment on media representations of war and the relationship between them and the reality of the violence:

Baudrillard was pointing out that the war was conducted as a media spectacle. Rehearsed as a wargame or simulation, it was then enacted for the viewing public as a simulation: as a news event, with its paraphernalia of embedded journalists and missile’s-eye-view video cameras, it was a videogame. The real violence was thoroughly overwritten by electronic narrative: by simulation.’

In the 90s gulf war, Baudrillard suggested the media spectacle served US military/political interests, as it presented a view of a 2-way conflict that he believed was more of an act of imperialist aggression by the states on gulf countries/people. I am interested in the meanings conveyed by the imagery from this current conflict in Kobane and beyond. And I think they are multiple. In relation to the promotion of these images of pretty young women ‘freedom fighters’, the message coming from a variety of places is that the conflict is about ‘freeing’ or ‘liberating’ the Kurds from the terror of the ISIS jihadists. And who better to represent the need to be ‘rescued’, saved from an awful fate, than an innocent-looking girl/young woman? There are also meanings to be conveyed by the videos of the horrendous beheadings of hostages by ISIS. One question has been to what extent showing the videos at all have western media played into the hands of ISIS and helped ‘promote’ them whilst trying to expose and condemn their brutality. Another has been which videos are real, which fake?

I am horrified by the actions of ISIS. But Western liberal leftists who are idealising and claiming support for ‘the kurds’ are not telling us much about context. In short, the ‘kurdistan workers party’ or the PKK , do not represent all Kurdish people. They have murdered kurdish dissidents and people who disagree with them or who get in their way. And of course, as they are a nationalist organisation at loggerheads with the Turkish state, western liberals’ calls for Turkey (and the US) to help the PKK in their fight against ISIS seem naiive at best. And in a region where war, imperialsim, religious oppression, nationalism, terrorism have been raging for centuries, this sudden ‘something must be done about  ISIS’ without historical analysis/perspective comes across as pretty dumb. Surely it could be argued that forgetting the lessons of history is one reason why we’re still in this mess Stanley?

I think we should all be sceptical about everything we see and read in the media when it comes to war, however much it fits our own ideologies (some romantic souls are still attached to the idea of socialist revolution, headed up by pretty young women). I found this ‘letter’  allegedly from a 19 year old kurdish woman fighter in Kobane to her mum, hard to believe for example:

‘We are here to defend a peaceful city. We never took part in killing anyone, instead we hosted many wounded and refugees from our Syrian brothers. We are defending a Muslim city that has tens of mosques. We are defending it from the barbaric forces.’

The letter is published on the kurdish question website. Call me cynical but it seems like staged propaganda to me. It seems too rigorous in fitting in all the arguments for PKK armed conflict neatly in a supposedly personal letter from daughter to mother. And claiming not to be killing people after describing the group of seasoned ‘fighters’ the young woman is with also seems fishy.

The PKK does include women fighters. Feminist or not, this does not sell its aims to me. But, with a little help from global media, western lefty-liberal-Marxist types, and a (sexist) tradition of using images of ‘pure’ and ‘noble’ woman as symbols of revolution/’just war’ many are buying into the ‘brand’, and willing powerful states to get behind the cause. Until some other media spectacle catches our attention…

The 'demonstration' during German designer Karl Lagerfeld's show for Chanel during Paris fashion wee

I knew there’d be a bit of a hoo-ha about Karl Lagerfeld’s staging of a ‘feminist demo’ on his latest (Paris) catwalk show. In the Guardian and various recesses of twitter, anyway. Hadley Freeman calls the display ‘flim flam feminism’ which I rather like as an additional sub-genre of the dogma. Sounds more fun than the serious holier than thou type you get in the Graun. Hadley also demonstrates the constant contradictions within feminist rhetoric, when she says the feminist themed catwalk show is apt, since feminism is currently ‘fashionable’. Because there remains a loud refrain amongst her sisters that feminism remains unfashionable, ‘taboo’ even , and so it is brave women of conscience who are able to come out and stand up with the sisterhood. The slipping between ‘we are strong! we are powerful! we are a mass movement’ and ‘we are weak, we are castigated, we must fight the power’ may not be consciously designed by feminists, but it is an important discursive weapon in their artillery. The weak, isolated image of feminism allows the myth of  big bad’patriarchy’ to be perpetuated, whilst  the ‘we are legion, we can /and have change(d) the world’ rhetoric allows feminists to galvanise the troops, and take credit for what some of us think is socio-economic change beyond the influence of Hadley Freeman, flim flam feminists, et al. Caroline Criado Perez embodies the dichotomy well – she plays poor weak victim of abuse, patriarchy, misunderstanding, and also powerful crusader and winner of feminist campaigns, set to take over the world. and, I wouldn’t be surprised if she did just that.

Whilst I’m not a keen follower of fashion I do find this catwalk show interesting. I think it is playing on, building, the ‘brand’ of feminism and probably especially on the feminism hadley dislikes. But I would say flim flam feminist/ ‘girl power’ fashion icons such as Beyonce, Rihanna, Victoria Beckham are more widely known and liked by girls/women than any Guardian columnist and more relevant influences to Lagerfeld’s show. But it is also playing on a favourite theme of fashion and 21st culture more broadly – nostalgia. Or faux-nostalgia. The Times described it as a ‘women’s lib’ themed show and that is what it looks like to me – a post-ironic nod to 70s bra-burning husband-leaving feminists. The models holding the placards are doing so with a nod and a wink, and a ‘this shit is O.V.E.R. we’re it now’.

In our current age, the past is continuously referenced, regurgitated, but not necessarily with any real valuing of its content, it is much shallower – more Baudrillard ‘surface’ than that. I do wonder though what the future holds for culture when our present is such a scrapbook of high resolution replications of previous eras, shown on catwalks, lap tops, iphone screens. I fear it will be just more of the same, on different more high tech screens. As a true Nostalgic I know that Blondie knew all this and saw the future back in the late 70s/early 80s:

‘ooh baby, I hear how you spend your time, wrapped like candy in a blue blue neon glow’

Feminism is a brand. Lagerfeld is profiting on it.  It’s a successful brand partly because it is nebulous, malleable, and in the end, can be all things to all women. From Hilary Clinton to Emily Watson to Hadley Freeman/The guardian. As a commenter under Hadley’s article pointed out, ‘flim flam’ feminism is no less real than Guardian hand-wringing variety. But not quite all women buy into any of it, thankfully. Whatever type is in this season.*

*I Loved how Hadley said that the show is as feminist as a ‘ fruitcake’ – when I coined the term ‘mumsy cupcake feminism’ http://quietgirlriot.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/mumsy-cupcake-feminism/ just for those power-women who love to bake in their cath kidston aprons in their spare time between writing angry articles on their laptops on the kitchen table. Fruitcakes are feminist too!

hand-fist-power1-1024x682

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

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

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

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

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

nagging_wife

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

journalism

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

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

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

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

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