I had never been to The Shacklewell Arms before last night.  It seemed fitting that my first visit to the legendary Hackney pub and venue would be for a special occasion. And the last night of the first tour from The Earlies for eight years was definitely special.

By some feat of logistical and spatial magic, the eleven-piece band and their huge array of instruments and technical gear managed to squeeze themselves onto the tiny stage, some of the musicians hidden from view in darkened cubby holes. But once they began their first number they all made their presence felt. With The Earlies, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

Writing about what music sounds like is a fine art, or a mug’s game or both. Even quite good music writers have failed to capture the diversity, richness and genre-defying sound of The Earlies in words. So I won’t even try. At one point in the gig, though, looking at and listening to the cellist, trombone player, trumpeter, flortist, singers, guitarists, pianists, percussionists, an image sprang to my mind. A school orchestra gone awol, released from the limits of their classical disciplines into a wonderous world of free expression and… ok yes, I did think of School Of Rock for a moment.


I’m a full blown sentimetal country music fan, and there are plenty of country twangs and moods in Earlies’ songs. But I like how they resist – both musically and lyrically – the let’s call it ‘schmaltz’ of a lot of country music. The Earlies don’t overtly sing about heartbreak, or nursing a glass of bourbon on the porch. But last night I suddenly remembered where their first (2005) album had reached me, somewhere in Northern England, heartbroken, probably nursing a bottle of wine on the back step. And when they played Wayward Song, I let the tears fall as if the Earlies were Loretta Lynn or Johnny Cash after all.

‘…in this life we love who we can, then they’re gone…’


Hossein Derakhshan was in prison in Iran for six years, convicted for speech crimes relating mainly to his blogging.  He has recently written about his newfound freedom, but also about how blogging and the internet transformed, not necessarily for the good, whilst he was incarcerated. I recommend you read his article in full, in medium.

I am posting an extract here that I found particularly resonant with some of my own experiences. Maybe one day I’ll be ‘free’ enough to blog about them. In the meantime, I’m relying on the courage and clear expression of Hossein Derakhshan:

‘There’s a story in the Quran that I thought about a lot during my first eight months in solitary confinement. In it, a group of persecuted Christians find refuge in a cave. They, and a dog they have with them, fall into a deep sleep. They wake up under the impression that they’ve taken a nap: In fact, it’s 300 years later. One version of the story tells of how one of them goes out to buy food — and I can only imagine how hungry they must’ve been after 300 years — and discovers that his money is obsolete now, a museum item. That’s when he realizes how long they have actually been absent.

The hyperlink was my currency six years ago. Stemming from the idea of thehypertext, the hyperlink provided a diversity and decentralisation that the real world lacked. The hyperlink represented the open, interconnected spirit of the world wide web — a vision that started with its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee. The hyperlink was a way to abandon centralization — all the links, lines and hierarchies — and replace them with something more distributed, a system of nodes and networks.

Blogs gave form to that spirit of decentralization: They were windows into lives you’d rarely know much about; bridges that connected different lives to each other and thereby changed them. Blogs were cafes where people exchanged diverse ideas on any and every topic you could possibly be interested in. They were Tehran’s taxicabs writ large.

Since I got out of jail, though, I’ve realized how much the hyperlink has been devalued, almost made obsolete.

Nearly every social network now treats a link as just the same as it treats any other object — the same as a photo, or a piece of text — instead of seeing it as a way to make that text richer. You’re encouraged to post one single hyperlink and expose it to a quasi-democratic process of liking and plussing and hearting: Adding several links to a piece of text is usually not allowed. Hyperlinks are objectivized, isolated, stripped of their powers.

At the same time, these social networks tend to treat native text and pictures — things that are directly posted to them — with a lot more respect than those that reside on outside web pages. One photographer friend explained to me how the images he uploads directly to Facebook receive a large number of likes, which in turn means they appear more on other people’s news feeds. On the other hand, when he posts a link to the same picture somewhere outside Facebook — his now-dusty blog, for instance — the images are much less visible to Facebook itself, and therefore get far fewer likes. The cycle reinforces itself.

Some networks, like Twitter, treat hyperlinks a little better. Others, insecure social services, are far more paranoid. Instagram — owned by Facebook — doesn’t allow its audiences to leave whatsoever. You can put up a web address alongside your photos, but it won’t go anywhere. Lots of people start their daily online routine in these cul de sacs of social media, and their journeys end there. Many don’t even realize that they’re using the Internet’s infrastructure when they like an Instagram photograph or leave a comment on a friend’s Facebook video. It’s just an app.

But hyperlinks aren’t just the skeleton of the web: They are its eyes, a path to its soul. And a blind webpage, one without hyperlinks, can’t look or gaze at another webpage — and this has serious consequences for the dynamics of power on the web.

More or less, all theorists have thought of gaze in relation to power, and mostly in a negative sense: the gazer strips the gazed and turns her into a powerless object, devoid of intelligence or agency. But in the world of webpages, gaze functions differently: It is more empowering. When a powerful website — say Google or Facebook — gazes at, or links to, another webpage, it doesn’t just connect it — it brings it into existence; gives it life. Metaphorically, without this empowering gaze, your web page doesn’t breathe. No matter how many links you have placed in a webpage, unless somebody is looking at it, it is actually both dead and blind; and therefore incapable of transferring power to any outside web page.

On the other hand, the most powerful web pages are those that have many eyes upon them. Just like celebrities who draw a kind of power from the millions of human eyes gazing at them any given time, web pages can capture and distribute their power through hyperlinks.

But apps like Instagram are blind — or almost blind. Their gaze goes nowhere except inwards, reluctant to transfer any of their vast powers to others, leading them into quiet deaths. The consequence is that web pages outside social media are dying.’


I take what the world throws at me, and spin, twist, skim, fly, flip, throw it back –  Selima Hill

Making Maxine’s Baby is Caroline Hagood‘s second collection of poetry. It follows her impressive debut, Lunatic Speaks and exaggerates, plays with, crystallizes that book’s themes and styles.

I don’t want to give too much away, because Making Maxine’s Baby is a story, a ‘narrative poem’, an urban fairy tale that it is best you discover for yourself. Maxine, the central character, is a homeless woman in New York. She is also symbolic of the writer, both  the author of the book and the ‘Writer’ with a capital W.

‘Before they bludgeoned them

or left them to rot under a stack of TV dinners,

writers used to talk to muses,

but now she makes do shouting at manholes

and playing her harmonica

for the A train people’.

Hagood’s signature soup of vivid, surreal imagery, pop culture references and side-eyes to literary theory is served here with growing confidence and panache. In particular the author explores Horror as a way of representing simultaneously the harsher elements of Maxine’s experience, and her chosen form of imaginative escape route. In the poems entitled ‘Horror Theory’ She

‘dreams of standup comics

sliding dead down shower walls

making red capes on white tiles’.

As in Lunatic Speaks, the colour red recurs throughout the book as a motif.

‘Maxine is always wondering what colour

she is inside. Red probably…

not lipstick

but uncle’s bloodclot, not raspberry

but hooker’s nipple, gore on murder

weapon, color of his face when she said

he didn’t love him’.

The Horror genre is further evoked through descriptions of film scenes, quotes from famous directors and Maxine’s hobby of slipping, a little Travis Bickle like, into screenings of obscure horror flicks like ‘Onibaba, Ichi the Killer and Santa Sangre‘.

I tend to watch horror films through my hands, but Maxine stares them out.

‘All Maxine can think of is Sally’s tortured eyeball

in Texas Chainsaw Massacre when she puts her glasses on’.

The ‘theory’ in the ‘Horror Theory’ poems drags the reader out of the cinema and into the realms of psychoanalytic literary and cultural criticism. I particularly enjoyed Hagood’s down to earth yet poetic portrayal of the key concept by one of the more difficult-to-read scholars in the field:

‘After she read Julia Kristeva, she pictured abjection

as a man so lonely he makes a wife doll

out of household goods, with one ping-pong ball eye

to gaze at him, and a toilet paper hand’.

As well as Julia Kristeva, the wonderful work of Carol Clover was brought to my mind, particularly her treatise on gender in horror films, Men, Women and Chainsaws.

''Torture the women', Hitchcock said.'

”Torture the women’, Hitchcock said.’

So Making Maxine’s Baby does not lead the reader into a Wordsworthian, ‘tranquil’ contemplation. The landscape of the book is definitely urban, noisy, distracting. Sleeping as she does on the street, Maxine ‘can’t be sure of anything’ when she wakes – ‘whose soft bruised limbs are these? Whose morning saliva?’ But she seems to thrive on the uncertainty, the promise of the city. ‘While walking the Brooklyn Bridge today, /she choked on something sacred’.

Hagood, a (New York) city girl herself, revels, via the character of Maxine, in the psychogeography of everyday urban life.  An American Iain Sinclair perhaps, tracing the footsteps of an imaginary John Clare through underpasses, unlit streets and the grimy backs of restaurants, hoping to find freedom and inspiration in the dark.

‘Gertrude Stein understood the structure
of her writing when she saw her first Picasso.
Maxine pictures her psyche as a Lower East Side
tenement. Some days she wakes to find her body
become a suburb – how to navigate this town
so rich with bramble patches and Br’er Rabbits?’

I hear echoes as well from William Carlos Williams Paterson where ‘a man in himself is a city’. And a woman, too?

Intellectually rigorous and poetically deft it may be, but what I like most about Making Maxine’s Baby, and Hagood’s poetry overall, is its undercurrent of silliness and joy. I laughed out loud a few times, reading the manuscript, and inwardly a few times more, thinking about some of my favourite lines later. (I won’t try and relive those moments here, you’ll just have to read, and laugh for yourself). Hagood manages to celebrate, respect and poke fun at the practice of writing, reading and studying literature (and other art forms) all at once.  And the humour bounces off the seriousness of the work just right.

I hope Caroline Hagood makes us some more poem-babies soon!


Making Maxine’s Baby  is published by Brooklyn publishers Hanging Loose Press. Read more about Caroline Hagood here.


I’ve been blogging for about five years now. In that time I’ve received a lot of correspondence from readers, whether it be thoughts, ideas, links, praise, criticism or even vitriol. Occasionally someone is asking for help, or for an answer to a question or dilemma. I try and reply to them all but I doubt I solve the problem in hand. So when I received this interesting email from Jim*, I thought I would share it with the QRG crew to see if we could put our heads together and come up with some suggestions and responses. Jim writes:

I read your article “Leaving The Sisterhood…” and felt compelled to contact you, I am somewhat a misogynist (In fact, I found your article when Googling something misogynistic…) but I don’t want to be (if for no other reason than I feel ashamed when I think of my mother whilst harboring misogynistic views), and I feel that I need a reasonable woman (i.e., yourself) to help me overcome it.

To describe my misogyny, common thoughts/feelings I have are:

– “Women use the old chestnut that women have life harder because only women have to suffer child birth, but how many times in your life have you been punched in the face in some meaningless fight you didn’t start or want?”

– “You talk about how you walk down the road frightened about being viciously raped. I walk down the road frightened about being viciously attacked. Why do you only think you are the only one who is at risk, or rather, why do you think I am not at risk? Because I’m male? How does being male help against a knife wielding maniac?”

– “You talk about male privilege. WHAT MALE PRIVILEGE? I have worked very, very hard against a lot of adversity to get where I am today. I resent being told it’s due to “male privilege””.

From my perspective females have ALWAYS had the privileges. The education system seems obsessed with boosting girls’ progress whilst COMPLETELY ignoring boys’ – in my school the female teachers (the majority) actively ignored boys who weren’t achieving, in fact some disliked me for doing boyish/male things despite the fact I worked hard. Legally, women are always presumed to be the innocent party and the men as guilty. Day to day socially men are expected to make their own way in life and criticized if they don’t, whereas society seems more than happy to help out a struggling woman. If a man needs emotional support he needs to learn to suck it up because nobody cares, a woman just needs to cry before people flock around to offer support.

Can you offer any suggestions/help? I don’t want to have this anger and resentment of women (I want a happy relationship with a lovely girl!) but I can’t find or think of any method to overcome it.

QRG replies:

Dear Jim,

Thank you for your email.  I know it is difficult to speak up and articulate negative feelings about feminism, which, inspite of being presented as  marginalised,  actually seems to permeate all aspects of our culture, politics and relationships.

I had thought of trying to be witty and comical in my reply to you, to send up the often very worthy, poe-faced ‘agony aunt’ role. But others have done that much better and much funnier than me. And your very pertinent questions warrant a serious response.

First off, I have read your letter a couple of times (it’s an extract posted here) and I can’t find anything remotely ‘misogynist’ in what you’ve said. The word ‘misogyny’ which means hatred of women, has become so overused in contemporary discourse as to have been rendered meaningless.  If some feminists are to be believed we are drowning in a sea of ‘misogyny’ that is rife in pop videos, Shakespeare, figures of speech, advertising etc etc. As if anything men do or make is probable ‘misogynist’ if we look closely enough. It’s difficult, but if you try and stop yourself from judging yourself and men in general by these faulty and unfair standards, you might feel a bit better!

What you have written to me is not misogyny, but rather a clear set of examples of how feminist dogma twists reality into something where women are always presented as innocent victims of life’s inequalities and men are always presented as the big bad wolves. You know from your own experience this isn’t true. If you haven’t read it already, I recommend Neil Lyndon’s 1992 book No More Sex War  (updated version on kindle here) which covers some of the same issues.

So, on an intellectual level, my answer to your questions is simple: you’re not a misogynist and you should follow your own instincts and keep a sense of realism and rationality in the face of feminist untruths. But I think you also raise some more difficult problems. It’s all very well believing you are right, but how do you deal with the inevitable resentment that comes from having your viewpoint dismissed and discredited by what I do think is the ‘dominant’ feminist culture? And how do you proceed to form and keep relationships with women without compromising your beliefs?

I won’t pretend that is easy. But then relationships never are, so kow-towing to ideologies you disagree with won’t guarantee you get the girl and live happily ever after anyway! I still think it is best to stick to your guns and just be yourself, even if you scare off some women that way. I have been heartened lately by growing numbers of young men and women challenging feminist dogma, such as the women against feminism and some of the gamergate folk.

Also, it may not seem like it at times, but there’s more to life than gender politics. If you focus on things you enjoy and get to know people with common interests, political/ideological differences might not matter so much. I still have some feminist and pro-feminist friends, because there are other things we share and talk about like music, writing, the great outdoors, film. I’ve found networks like MeetUp excellent for finding people to do stuff with.

Good luck and thanks for sharing your thoughts with me and the QRG blog readers!’


*not his real name

Image at top: Sad young man on a train by Marcel Duchamp


Neil Lyndon is a brave man. Some might say he’s ‘foolish’; others might think he’s ‘wrong’. But whatever your views, it would be difficult to deny his courage. For over twenty years he’s been publicly questioning, challenging, and countering feminist dogma at some personal cost, and with very little support. No matter how much we are told the media is ‘sexist’ and dominated by ‘boys clubs’ or ‘laddism’, it is very difficult to find a single mainstream journalist who directly and consistently criticises ‘the sisterhood’. As an often lone voice in the wilderness, Lyndon is to be admired. In 2014 he self-published a collection of his writings since 1990: Sexual Impolitics: Heresies On Sex, Gender and Feminism. This kindle book is said to contain ‘the full unexpurgated, uncensored text’ of his 1992 publication: No More Sex War: The Failures Of Feminism. I can well imagine the extent to which editors in the early 90s might have altered and sanitised Lyndon’s original work in order to make it ‘safe’ for general consumption. But, having bought a hardback copy of No More Sex War in a second hand bookshop a couple of years ago, I thought I’d read it how it was first unleashed on the unsuspecting, unsympathetic world back in 1992.

My first observation is about how readable and clearly expressed the book is. As someone who has more recently attempted to write critically about feminism and to point out its flaws and failings, I know it is not easy to sum up exactly what it is that’s wrong with such an influential and seemingly ‘common sense’ way of looking at the world. I also know from my own experiences, that the ‘feminist critic’ has to be capable, rigorous and eloquent, because any weakness in argument will be pounced on and used to dismiss and belittle their positions. So it is a major strength of No More Sex War that it is accessible, always backed up by evidence and examples, and maintains clarity and reason throughout. If feminists and feminist allies have still ignored, dismissed or treated Lyndon’s book with contempt (which I believe they have) this is through no fault of the author. It is most likely that they just didn’t want to hear the valid and important points he makes.


Lyndon begins by setting out his stall, and explaining why he cannot subscribe to a dogma which claims women and only women suffer disadvantage and discrimination in our society (the book mainly refers to western capitalist society). He cites examples some of you will be familiar with, such as the fact men do not have equal custody rights over their children as women, men have no say in whether or not a woman they’ve conceived with has an abortion, and men have little or, as was the case at the time the book was written, no paternity leave when their children are born. Therefore, Lyndon argues:

‘If any disadvantages apply to all men, if any individual man is denied a right by reason of his gender which is afforded to every individual woman, then it must follow that ours is not a society which is exclusively devised to advance and protect advantages for men over women. It is not a patriarchy’ (Lyndon 1992:9).

This simple statement, that seems so obvious and true, could put an end to the tiresome ‘oppression olympics’ currently being played out across the globe (including or predominantly online). If anyone would take heed, that is. For there’s a sadness that runs through No More Sex War, for me as a reader, and for the author, which stems from the fact that no amount of reasoned argument and critical thinking can quell the tide of feminism’s ‘righteous’ anger, prejudice and sometimes bile. It couldn’t in 1992 and it can’t now.  But that doesn’t make this treatise any less valuable. One of the strengths of the work is how fearlessly Lyndon looks feminism directly in the eye, asks it questions and analyses feminist viewpoints, in prominent feminists’ own words. Critics of the dogma constantly get accused of misunderstanding or misinterpreting feminist beliefs and stances. But Lyndon does no such thing. Rather he painstakingly, patiently dissects feminist texts, from serious tomes such as Greer’s The Female Eunuch and Firestones’ The Dialectic of Sex to throwaway remarks and interview responses in the mainstream media. It makes for grim reading at times. Some choice examples of ‘casual misandry’ Lyndon cites include:

Anna Raeburn, agony aunt: ‘I regard men as a pleasant pastime but no more dependable than the British weather’
Germaine Greer, author: ‘It always amazes me that women don’t understand how much men hate them’
Jane Mcloughlin, author: ‘We’ll wear you [men] like alligator handbags’.
Lapel badge: ‘the more men I meet the more I like my dog’

And of course, I hardly need to tell many of you that a reason No More Sex War is still relevant in the 21st century social media age, is that social media campaigns such as ‘Everydaysexism’ dedicated to noting and exposing sexist remarks and actions, never includes examples of sexism against men.

feministNeil Lyndon writes from the point of view, not of a ‘retro’, ‘chauvinist’ ‘neanderthal’ man who dislikes feminism because it challenges his power and dominance over women. Rather he tells a moving and interesting story of being a young, left/liberal hopeful man in the 1970s, ready for and keen on ‘liberation’ of men and women. But twenty years on when he wrote the book, he concluded disappointedly that he and the ‘radicals’ of his post-war ‘baby boomer’ generation had not quite delivered the new world they were hoping to create. In places I think he can be a bit heavy handed in his damning critique of the politics he encountered in the 70s and 80s,  as it was influenced by Marx and Freud in particular. But it is fascinating for me, a small child of Marxist/Freudian/Feminist parents in the 70s, to hear one person’s perspective on that period. In particular Lyndon astutely examines key socio-economic changes of the post-war era. He shows that feminists not only often take credit for developments they had no role in bringing about (such as women entering the workforce and the invention of the contraceptive pill) but that in many cases feminism reacted against social change and harked back to previous times when men and women had more ‘traditional’ roles. Because if there’s no Great Dark Patriarch anymore then there’s no target for most of feminism’s wrath.


I’m posting this review later than promised, and meant it to coincide with a review of the same book (or rather the new Kindle edition) by Sarah Brown at Harry’s Place. In it she writes:

‘As I began to read No More Sex War, I was reminded of the arguments used by some counter-jihadists. Their implacable hostility to Islam arises (in part) because they only accept the most austere interpretations as truly Islamic. The book opens with an assurance that he fully supports the advances women have made over the last hundred years or so, but goes on to describe feminism as a form of ‘totalitarian intolerance’ comparable to Nazism or Stalinism. This suggests a ‘no true feminist’ fallacy is at work here – liberal feminists aren’t really on his radar.’

I don’t think this is true. I think Lyndon was open to a ‘liberal feminism’, when he was a young, politicised man in the 1970s. For me No More Sex War reads as a disappointed realisation that feminism is not what he and many others hoped it was and would be. Maybe I see it that way because I share his disappointment. In any case, he anticipates Sarah’s criticism in the original text:

‘feminism, they would probably say, has developed so far and has taken so many different but connected forms that it cannot be discussed as if it was a single body of belief and attitude which can be reduced to three cardinal propositions’.

And I share Lyndon’s response to that common refrain amongst liberal feminists, who don’t want to be associated with the actions and words of their more ‘radical’ and ‘extremist’ sisters. He writes:

‘Despite the evasions of the contemporary sisters, there must be a connecting characteristic between all the various forms and styles of feminism, otherwise they would not be grouped together under that umbrella term and the word ‘feminism’ could have no meaning.’

He goes on to identify that connecting characteristic  as ‘ the belief that women share interests which are distinct from men’s’,  that ‘those interests can best be advanced by women acting collectively’ and that ‘women’s particular interests are and always have been at odds with the interests of men’.

If, like Lyndon, and, better late than never, like me, you think that men and women’s interests (and the interests of people who eschew the binary altogether) are not at odds, then I fail to see how feminism has anything to offer you. No More Sex War is not exactly an optimistic book, but twenty years after it was first published, thanks in no small part to pioneers such as Lyndon, I think we can allow ourselves a little bit of hope.

The Princess Diaries Premiere

‘The ideas we give children to play with, tell them what we expect them to be.’ – Sarah Ditum

‘If, after over sixty years of a considerable amount of research effort, direct effects of media upon behaviour have not been clearly identified, then we should conclude that they are simply not there to be found.’ –David Gauntlett


Earlier this week, born-again-radical-feminist Sarah Ditum took part in a heated radio debate with party planner Lisa Forbes about princesses. As little girls (and boys) across the globe eagerly await the arrival of  Frozen 2, the question of the role of princesses in the media in shaping real life femininity is a pressing one.

Ditum (unsurprisingly) took the view that princess films produce damaging aspirations for girls to follow, and Forbes who runs princess parties for girls (unsurprisingly) didn’t. Their discussion ended like this:

Sarah Ditum: ‘you as a female human are going to have to look like a cartoon character to belong in this world of imagination that we’re giving to you’

Lisa Forbes: ‘That’s your perception, that’s you putting your opinion onto a little four, five year old, they don’t see it like that’

SD: ‘You dressing a girl in a princess outfit is you putting your opinion on a four five year old. They do not pop out of the womb with an innate liking for sparkles and crowns. That is something that we give them. That is culture we make it and we give it to them and we have to be honest and responsible about the messages that we’re giving them’.


Here, Ditum is reaffirming a popular feminist stance on the social construction of gender, and couples it with a crude media effects model. One is not born a princess, one is forced to want to be one by Disney films and party planners. But as David Gauntlett has explained, those who have concerned themselves seriously over many years with the issue of how far the media does effect people’s attitudes and behaviours have not found any direct cause and effect relationships.  Gauntlett’s article ’10 things wrong with the media effect’s model’ is well worth reading in full. He makes specific mention of how the media is said to affect children, and argues (as does Lisa Forbes briefly in the radio segment) that children are much more nuanced and critical in their consumption of media than ‘media effects’ psychologists give them credit for. He writes:

‘The same kinds of approach are readily observed in media effects studies, the production of which has undoubtedly been dominated by psychologically-oriented researchers, who – whilst, one imagines, having nothing other than benevolent intentions – have carefully exposed the full range of ways in which young media users can be seen as the inept victims of products which, whilst obviously puerile and transparent to adults, can trick children into all kinds of ill-advised behaviour.

This situation is clearly exposed by research which seeks to establish what children can and do understand about and from the mass media. Such projects have shown that children can talk intelligently and indeed cynically about the mass media (Buckingham, 1993, 1996), and that children as young as seven can make thoughtful, critical and ‘media literate’ video productions themselves (Gauntlett, 1997).’

As someone more fond of deconstruction than social construction I think the princess radio debate is worth revisiting in the context of its overflowing onto social media. This twitter exchange involving Ditum and two others is interesting, because it destabilises her position that media princesses have a negative effect on young girls development. In revealing that her own daughter was ‘a princess obsessive’ for a couple of years Ditum (as one tweeter implies) is admitting her role in ‘constructing’ gender as she sees it, via allowing her daughter to take part in the princess ideal. In adding that ‘it wears off if you have other stuff around’ she is suggesting that kids tend to have access to a range of media imagery and are not permanently scarred by early princess exposure.


Another blogger Ms Vanilla Rose, recently pointed out that Ditum’s new statesman byline describes her columns as “Politics for tired people”.  Rose says: ‘Too tired to question her, maybe.’ I’d add that if you look at them at all closely, most feminist claims within the mainstream media at least, lazily lack depth of thought, research and evidence to back them up*.

*Warning: pointing this out can result in spoilt ‘princess’ like tantrums!

The following principles of academic freedom are taken from an interesting 2009 statement by UCU, one of the major trades unions for academics, researchers and other higher education staff. I recommend reading the whole thing here. ‘Academic freedom includes the right(s) to:

  • freedom in teaching and discussion;
  • freedom in carrying out research without commercial or political interference;
  • freedom to disseminate and publish one’s research findings;
  • freedom from institutional censorship, including the right to express one’s opinion publicly about the institution or the education system in which one works; and
  • freedom to participate in professional and representative academic bodies, including trade unions.’

einstein Monkeys Image from: http://www.prwatch.org/news/2005/10/4104/academic-freedom-aint-what-it-used-be Einstein quote image from:  http://pauleisen.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/academic-freedom-are-there-limits-to.html

I first wrote critiquing the concept of ‘rape culture’ back in 2010 when I still identified as a feminist, of sorts. Below is a version of one of my posts on the topic, published by  Arts and Opinion and  A Voice For Men in 2012. My thoughts on ‘rape culture’ have evolved since, but I stand by my main arguments. I will revisit the subject in the coming weeks, in the light of recent coverage of rape and ‘rape culture’ in the more mainstream media.


I didn’t enjoy being stalked by my ex-boyfriend, and then having him break into my house, threaten to kill me and then assault me. I didn’t enjoy it at all. Sometimes I call that night, over ten years ago now, as ‘the day I became a feminist.’

I was already a feminist. My Mum and her Mum were feminists. I was born into it. So I never really had to think too much until he stood over me, his hands round my neck, squeezing, telling me what a bitch I was. I never had to think what ‘being a woman’ or ‘being a feminist’ means. I will give him that. He and his violence really got me thinking.

After my assault, and my lonely journey through the legal procedure that followed, I naively thought I might be able to share some sisterhood and solidarity with other women who’d suffered violent attacks, including domestic violence and rape. But when I have tried to connect with women who campaign on violence against women, I repeatedly get told that because I have not been raped, I have no right to talk on this issue or to try and empathize with women who have. Rape seems to hold a special symbolic position in the minds of these feminists and is treated as worse — but also somehow better — than all other violent crimes.

The term used to demonstrate the privileged position rape holds in feminist discourse is ‘rape culture.’ According to Melissa McEwan:

‘Rape culture is the myriad ways in which rape is tacitly and overtly abetted and encouraged having saturated every corner of our culture so thoroughly that people can’t easily wrap their heads around what the rape culture actually is.’

Far more important than my own feeling of exclusion from feminist campaigns and groupings around gender violence is the countless number of other people who get attacked and killed in our society, who are not acknowledged by the concept of rape culture. Have you ever heard a feminist say that we live in transphobic assault culture? Or murder of young black men culture? Or homophobia culture? Or even domestic violence culture? I haven’t. Incidentally domestic violence is far more common than rape, and can also include rape. But it just doesn’t seem to impress the feminists who believe in rape culture. They are welcome to their victim top trumps, but I am not playing anymore.

When I say rape is privileged in feminist discourse, I don’t mean that it benefits anybody. I believe that by focusing on the centrality of rape in our culture, feminists are actually making it more difficult for all of us to campaign against all forms of gendered violence in society.

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

I’d like to quote somebody who left a comment on a previous essay of mine about this topic. This woman is a survivor of rape, so the rad-fems won’t be able to dismiss her critique of rape culture the way they do mine:

‘This mythologizing of rape is still rooted in the whole “pedestal” complex, IMHO, and thus rapists are EVIL and women who get raped are spiritually/psychologically disfigured for LIFE and blah blah blah. The “rape culture” paradigm, while clearly meant as helpful critique and containing valuable cultural insight, seems to carry on that tradition.’

The term rapist is one I am not comfortable with using at all, if I can help it. I know I am in a tiny minority, as I see the word splashed across the newspapers on a regular basis, and I hear it being used widely in conversations about rape. The reason I don’t like the word rapist is that I think it serves to undermine our attempts to tackle rape and sexual violence. This is because it pathologizes people who commit rape, portraying them in our culture as monsters and hate figures’ This leads to a situation where we place rapists pretty near the top of a hierarchy of evil characters (maybe just behind pedophiles), so that in fact, it is actually very difficult to prosecute for rape. If rapists are these inhuman monstrous characters, it is not surprising that courts up and down the country are reluctant to convict the thousands of people who commit rape each year.

I have received criticism for my view, particularly from feminists who argue that survivors of sexual violence need the term rapist to enable them to name their attacker, proceed with seeking justice and ultimately to get over their ordeal. But I believe that just as we have changed our terminology from talking about victims to survivors of rape, we also need to change how we label perpetrators. When I hear the word rapist I think of a man, and not a man who is capable of change, of reflection. We have to speak about and talk to men who commit sexual assault as if they are able to change, and we also must acknowledge men are not the only perpetrators, if we want to reduce sexual and intimate partner violence in society.

‘Rape Culture’ is a myth. I reject it outright.

Sunshine On Concrete #FridayFlash

Posted: January 16, 2015 in Elly Tams

There are parts of the world I only know because of the dull brown envelopes that fall onto the mat, telling me I must go there at a certain date and time. Camberwell Green is one of them. It doesn’t really look like it sounds, that children’s TV programme echo – Camberwick Green it’s not. For me, and some other unlucky souls who put on their smartest clothes in the vain hope that it will help, Camberwell Green will always mean the magistrates court. The slabs of concrete march all the way up the path as if they’re about to take over and cover the Green, the trees, the sky. Greyness prevails even on the sunniest of days, (and I’ve been there in all weathers so I know). You’re not supposed to be ‘guilty’ till a district judge proclaims it, but there’s something about that approach, the reluctant swing of the heavy doors, the dark wood panelling inside that removes everyone’s innocence as they enter. What did Foucault say?: ‘our prisons resemble our factories, schools, military bases, and hospitals-all of which in turn resemble prisons’. I am sure he included magistrates courts in that imagery. Its not the architecture of liberty, anyway.

I don’t know what I am or am not permitted to say about what happened to me in Camberwell Green. I walked into a  vortex of semantics, where words become crimes, and describing my experience in a particular place could put me back there automatically, or somewhere worse. But maybe it’s ok to say this. Outside, just round the corner from the court building, there’s a greasy spoon called ‘Sunshine Cafe’. Not many legal types seem to go there. I mainly saw workmen having a brew in their breaks. The staff, probably middle eastern in origin are lovely, and it’s cheap. Not London prices at all. I remember Sunshine cafe because it’s where I sat, before or after or inbetween court sessions, taking comfort in the hot tea, the familiarity of my sister’s face, our ability to laugh inspite of it all. And I remember it because it’s the sort of place and people I’ve come to appreciate so much lately. Since the brown envelopes started to fall on my mat (will they ever stop falling?). In Sunshine Cafe I am treated like a ‘normal’, law abiding citizen. I am smiled at, respected, allowed to just be me. Now I know as some other unlucky souls know, who say ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’ in their best voices in the vain hope that it will help, what it’s like to be the ‘suspect’, to be looked down on and cast in the role of criminal, outcast, pariah, I take ordinary moments of human interaction as the gifts they are. Train stations, supermarkets, swimming baths, suddenly seem filled with kindness and compassion.  A world where nobody is perfect and we’re all just doing our best to get by. Sunshine on concrete. Light slips through the cracks and whispers about freedom.


It seems to be a symptom of love, that every so often, in the middle of a sleepless night, we allow ourselves to contemplate some horrific what ifs? What if I lose my love? What if our love fades? What if we’d never met? What if one, or both of us die? It is scary and sad but these questions serve to cement us to the loved one, to maintain our desire and commitment, to stave off loss and reaffirm life. Love returns to its delightful inevitability.

And so it is with my love of Low. The band have been going strong since they appeared, seemingly fully formed, complete and perfect in 1994 with their debut album I Could Live In Hope. But I was unaware of them then, making do throughout the 90s and into the 2000s with other favourite bands and artists such as PJ Harvey, Pulp, Prince (of course), The Libertines, Go-Betweens, The Fall. I could have survived on those I guess.

Then, in 2005 my musical landscape was transformed. I went on a blind date with a beautiful yet completely incompatible man with piercing blue eyes, and an impeccable taste in music. He brought his best mate on our first and last date. I assumed I’d never see him again. But a few weeks later I got a text telling me I had to go see this band at the Leadmill in Sheffield where I lived at the time. They were called Low. So I went. And I fell in love. (Not with the blue-eyed boy who was at the Leadmill that night, with his mate in tow of course). But to him I remain eternally grateful for his parting gift).

The Great Destroyer was Low’s 7th studio album. They played most of the tracks from it the first time I saw them live. I’d bought the album the day before but hadn’t had time for it to really sink in. By the end of that evening I’d sunk deep. Some Low fans like that album least – maybe it’s too poppy for their delicate sensibilities, too mainstream? As the first I heard it remains one of my favourites. ‘When I Go Deaf’ from The Great Destroyer is not only one of my favourite Low songs, it’s one of my favourite songs of all time. Now, whenever I hear the opening chords, I feel the goosebumps return that I felt the first time. Listen.

Apart from the beautiful harmonies sung by the core members of Low – husband and wife Mimi Parker and Alan Sparkhawk of Duluth, Minnesota – and the kick-ass guitars, and the obviously classic songwriting, I noticed something at that gig that I now see as part of Low’s ‘trademark’. Their rapport with the crowd, mainly loyal fans I think, was very special. For the main part of the gig the audience, inspite of being northern, and drinking, and at the spit and sawdust venue of the Leadmill, were practically silent. They had come to hear Low not to talk or heckle. But when the trio (there’s always a Third Man in Low and always a fantastic musician and I never remember his name) came back for the encore the silence was broken. ‘TWO STEP!’ someone shouted, joined immediately by others. ‘CANADA!’ screamed someone else. ‘MAJESTY!’ I didn’t really know what was going on. But Mimi and Alan put their heads together, whispering conspiratorially, then began playing to raptuous applause. For Low, I now know, are a band who listen back, and at every gig I’ve been to they’ve played requests from their fans. These days I’m one of the shouters in the crowd, and from me it’s usually ‘BREAKER!’

In the years that followed that first Low experience, I immersed myself in their music. One patient muso friend, who also likes Low once told me that I could, you know, listen to some other stuff too. But until I’d got to know all ten albums, their B-sides and rareties and some fantastic EPs, I could’t rest. Whilst in a way I am disappointed I can’t sit here and say I have known and loved them for the full twenty years Low have been in existence, I feel very lucky to have had them and their music thrown in my lap when there was already so much of it, with so much to explore and discover all at once. Their first album was one of the last I really got into. It’s probably not as immediately accessible as some of the others. I remember a solo holiday in Brighton. Sat on the beach, drinking a bottle of prosecco, I played I Could Live In Hope on a loop on my crappy walkman CD player, and I was hooked. I think it was something to do with the sea.

I haven’t seen Low play live in 2014, twenty years since they began. But I saw them twice in 2013 – once at the Barbican, where they played with the majesty and solemnity befitting the venue and their stature. I also saw them back in Sheffield where I started, in a working men’s club. At one point Alan Sparhawk started singing the local club’s football song, winking at the crowd. It seemed like a homecoming. I am always at home with Low.

I could go on. I am sure I will – when I’ve switched my computer off for Christmas I’ll listen again to Low’s Christmas album. The final word on Christmas albums in my opinion. And I am sure Low will go on too. They are currently recording some new material and I can’t wait to see them play it. I do sometimes allow myself the awful thought of what if? What if I’d never known Low? What if they never make another record? What if one of us or both of us die? But life seems impossible without them.

I Love…Low.

NB: The ‘Third Man’ in Low now – and he really is an excellent musician – is Matt Livingston.