Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Off to Marxism 2011

I'm on my way to Marxism 2011, where I will be harassed by the SWP and will sleep on the floor with no access to shower or internet.

If you happen to go, come and say HI. I'll be the one wearing glasses and an exhausted look.

I can only hope that I'll come back with more than "I could have given the bloody talks, I know more than them!". If that be the case, and I can be arsed, I'll write about the experience.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Problem With "Live And Let Live" - More on Moran

During the Newsnight debate, Caitlin Moran revealed to Paxman and the audience her life motto of "live and let live" (adding after that "when my head hits the table, please order me a taxi". Presumably because it sounds transgressive and "edgy".)

Moran’s bubbly, perky and boisterous cry of “live and let live” fits the neoliberal agenda to a T. By doing nothing on a social level, by “allowing anything to happen” we are literally leaving the doors wide open for corporations to do what they want. It’s not a far cry from “deregulation”. And we know how well that went with the banks.

Think about the actual meaning of “live and let live”. What it doesn’t say, but is implied, is this:

A) we will allow everyone to do what they want, we won’t stop anyone from doing what they want. Translation: we will allow businesses to sell whatever they want, and if people want to buy, that’s their choice. (And if the product is bad for them, it's their own fault for buying)

B) we assume that “doing” stuff is good. Translation: buying trumps not buying. We will allow the selling of everything.

C) we can’t say that anything is “bad”, and therefore we can’t stop people from doing what they want. Translation: we can’t judge anything as morally "wrong", but we can nevertheless say that stopping a business is not allowed, while allowing a business to exist is.

What this type of ideology never addresses is this: why is it that “live and let live” always translates into more businesses opening rather than less? Wait, that’s not a good way of putting it. Here’s another: why is it that “live and let live” comes to mean “stuff will be produced and sold” and it never means “stuff will not be produced or sold”?

For a clear-cut example, why is it that nobody ever, like, EVER, brings up this argument to use it against the arms trade? Nobody ever says “look, I believe in live and let live, so stop making weapons”. AHA! How about “I believe in live and let live, and since cars kill tens of thousands of people every year, it would be a great improvement on letting other people live if we all gave up cars”. Instead, the argument, which is never applied to this case by the way, takes the form “look, let people have cars, live and let live”.

Do you see it now? Even when the “letting people do whatever they want” actually gets in the way of people living, the argument “live and let live” is still applicable. Why? Because it’s not the innocent request for “everyone to get along” or "respect other people's choices" . It’s actually the nasty propagandistic shtick used to silence dissidents by painting them as “intolerant”. What they really mean is “let people do whatever they want” and under they breath they add “because there is no such thing as society”. Your actions should never get in the way of another person’s actions. Because, it is assumed, that the actions of another will never affect you or anyone else. 

And that, my friends, is at the very core of every exploitative economic system. So long as the actions of another never affect you, the ruling classes can get away with doing anything to anyone. And that’s important to remember: while we argue over whether something is “good” or “bad”, whether it has “negative” or “no” consequences, while we get into discussions and end up, out of sheer frustration, “agreeing to disagree” and stating that “there is no way to know”, corporations get busy with ruling the planet, opening new shops and malls, and before you know it you can’t get together outside of the city library because it belongs to John Lewis. Yes, you read that right. We, the public, argue over which member of the public should decide for all of us. And while we argue, what is left of the public space gets appropriated by corporations. We can stop arguing then, surely. There’s no point anymore: we no longer control our lives.

WHOOPS! It seems like somebody decided what was “good” while we were busy arguing over whether it should be done or not.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Sexualisation and Feminism in Newsnight

There are probably worse things than Newsnight featuring a discussion on Feminism. Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened on Monday.

The program is worth very little, though I’d strongly recommend it to any feminist with low blood pressure. Those with high blood pressure and/or any cardiac condition may want to stay away.

The programme asked “if we are living in an over sexualised society, and if so whether that is necessarily a problem”. And in traditional journalistic fashion, it failed spectacularly to answer that or anything else. 

For some reason that escapes my non-publicly-educated brain, the “discussion” was preceded by an exploration of Brazilians and vajazzling. Then, the programme moved on to Jeremy Paxman introducing the guests: Caitlin Moran, Brooke Magnanti and Kat Banyard.

The “debate”, if you can call it that, turned out looking rather pathetic. Especially because it was aired precisely after a report on the Syrian revolution. Anything any feminist could have said would have looked pale by comparison, and the fact that the programme switched from “Syrian revolution” to “vajazzling” didn’t help either. By the time the “debate” ended, with Moran clapping and asking for “clown pr0n” and Magnanti claiming that there is “clown pr0n” already, I bet every person watching the programme must have thought “and THAT is why nobody cares about feminism any more”.

As for what was actually debated…

Like I said, the political positions of each woman can be summarized thus:

**Magnanti comes from a pro-sex industry framework. She argued against most of what Banyard was saying. Her ideas about the subject at hand were, “everything is so peachy”. I’m paraphrasing, but not by much.

**Moran comes from the individualistic “whatever rocks your vote” framework, with a touch of cleverly disguised “enlightenment”. Her idea seems to be to let people do whatever they want to do, but gently tap on their shoulders as they are about to do it and ask “are you sure you want to do this? Because pr0n is very boring sex, you know”.That said, she doesn't seem to believe in feminism much. When Paxman asked her "where does this leave feminism in a sexualised society?" she shrugged.

**It was left to Banyard to make any case against anything. She is clearly departing from the old school line of thinking that says that social problems must be solved at social level, because there is such a thing as society and the actions of some have consequences on the lives of others.

This line of thinking is not very popular nowadays. Banyard brought up words like “objectification” and described pr0n as a relentless and hurtful. At one point, Magnanti asked her to produce “evidence”. Typical.

What I want to highlight is how unfair it is to present Magnanti’s position alongside Branyard. Here’s why: Magnanti is where she is, arguing for what she argues, because it translates into personal gain. Her popularity comes straight from her advocacy of the sex industry, from presenting prostitution as a wonderful career choice. The better public perception of the sex industry gets, the more money will make its way to her pocket.
Now compare that to Branyard’s position. Pr0n could be banned tomorrow, the whole of the sex industry going in a puff of smoke… and she would not gain anything from it. Perhaps the odd interview here and there. But that’s it.

Do you smell a fault? To put it crudely, Magnanti is in it for the money, Branyard is in it for… the social justice. The first is working to improve her lot, the second is fighting to improve the lot for all of us.

THESE TWO POSITIONS ARE NOT EQUAL. Especially when you take into account the downside of being a feminist activist: the loss of opportunities with publishers and editors, the constant onslaught of threats and venom, little things like that.

To put it even more crudely, Magnanti is ok with throwing some women under the bus if it translates into personal gain. Banyard is trying to improve circumstances for all women even if it translates into a personal cost.

Jeremy Paxman may not see the difference, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t. I am tired of seeing Magnanti’s words within feminist discourse. Yes, her personal experience matters. But it only matters as “a” personal experience. And her personal experience cannot outweigh the personal experience of another woman. The only reason why it does, is because Magnanti is saying exactly what everyone wants to hear. And there is money to be made out of that. 

As for the program's main questions... "if we are living in an over sexualised society, and if so whether that is necessarily a problem". The answers are:
YES, we are undoubtedly living in a over sexualised society. And it is a problem, because of:
a) the relentless presentation of women as sexual objects. That affects all women, mind, not just those who "choose" to take their clothes off.
b) the commodification of human sexuality, which carries all the problems of commodification of anything human. In short, individual corporations profit from something that belongs to humans, and they get to redefine it as well, which is wrong.
c) the disintegration of the "real" thing called sex, which is accompanied with the increase in sexual violence, promiscuity, decrease in empathy and human connection.
d) the grooming of children to embrace the sex industry, so that they'll be more receptive to it when they grow up.

And that's just off the top of my head. See? It's not that difficult when you believe in social justice and your interest lies in making society better.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Anger, SlutWalk and the "Feminist Brand"

I haven’t written anything lately. And I think I know why: I have been feeling gut wrenchingly angry.

It took me a while to realize this, but here it is: anger is not good for writing. At least not for me. I have heard many women claim that they are “angry” and that this made them feminists. That’s all well and good, but when you have to write and express yourself? I find anger just tightens my stomach into a pretty neat knot and doesn’t allow anything to flow, including writing. It’s effectively paralysing.

And yet, can we imagine politics without anger? 

The source of my anger was the tsunami of SlutWalk talk within feminism, and the consequent push to the margins of people who raised issues with it.

I felt dismissed, I felt as if young popular feminists were calling me a fuddy-daddy for daring to believe that after the media frenzy, the feminist cause will not have achieved much.

I felt that all my work, most of which hasn’t seen the light of day yet, was deemed irrelevant because, as one writer put it:

“The SlutWalk is the expression of a new marketing-savvy style of feminism, rather than a civil rights movement. The issue of rape may be grave, but the approach is Facebook friendly.”

The implied message being “if you’re not marketing-savvy and facebook friendly, please kindly go and remove yourself from this movement”.
And if you happen to believe that a political movement shouldn’t have anything to do with “marketing” or “facebook”, both developments brought to you by imperialist American late capitalism, the source of modern evil and the root of human suffering?

Neolibleralism has infiltrated every last niche and cranny of our lives, to the extent that if we want to have a political movement, we have to brand it, advertise it and sell it. Excuse me, but WTF?

Is it even possible to imagine anything, any idea, any collection of values that do not constitute a brand? Are we that far “gone”?
This really shows the effects of corporate ideology,

FACT: Feminists in the 70s achieved far more without any “marketing-savvy style” or “facebook friendly approach”. While us modern day, third wave feminists discuss whether it is empowering to wear high heels and what feminist pr0n would look like, the actual living standards for women are being cut back with a vengeance. Women’s shelters, rape crisis centres, child care facilities, you name it, we are losing it. Public sector jobs and social sciences, the last jobs women could do with a clear conscience and the very ideas that could promote equality, all of it is being taken away.

But yeah, let’s go back to how empowerment is empowerment and Feminist pr0n is a reality in every bedroom. That’s where it’s at.

This onslaught of “media focus” brings to feminism exactly the same thing that it has brought mainstream society: shallowness, the concern for the immediate, the absence of a historical context, shocking words that bring money for the writers but aren’t good for Feminism, (ie: “Why I find pole dancing empowering”), a hyper individualism that renders all political movements irrelevant.
Create controversy, laugh all the way to the bank. It poisons the well, but who cares. You can always buy bottled water.
And this is what’s being relentlessly pushed to us all, whether we embrace it like eager teenagers who have never known anything else, or whether we are part of a dissident movement. In the age of 140-characters “wisdom” there is no room for ideas, or theory, or anything that cannot be reduced to a sound bite. Thinking is passé and old fashioned.

This “journalist”, for lack of a better word, compares Germaine Greer with the 17 year old organizer of London SlutWalk. Greer wrote a book that helped countless women and has never been out of print. The 17 year old has a “don’t mess with me” attitude and wears a floral dress. Presumably, she is also “marketing  savvy and facebook friendly”.

THAT’s where I feel dismissed. Because my lifelong dream is to become a writer and speaker.

And what SlutWalk showed me is the extent to which people do not want to engage with ideas, because what’s cool is far more important. Goodness knows “sluts” have been cool for a few decades now. For references, see Madonna.

It has showed me how if I want to be heard, I’ll have to be controversial. Or take my clothes off. Or promote the taking off of the clothes.

There doesn’t seem to be any more room in mainstream society for questioning the status quo. Even those in political movements bow to mainstream ideas in the name of improving the Feminist brand.

Feminism is not a brand. We are not in it for the fame and fortune. We do not gain public support by increasing our visibility at all costs. This is not viral advertising. We don’t even need public support: a small but deeply committed group of women can achieve far more than a disperse group who get together once a year to march and wave banners.
A radical political movement doesn’t create change by bringing the majority on board. Rather, we get on with the work, and watch how the majority, eventually, joins in. That’s the way it has always worked. But by sacrificing our goals in the name of visibility, we are getting neither a group large enough to force change through Parliament nor a deeply committed small group of women.

Enough with the Feminist Brand already. It may work wonders for individuals, who suddenly gain visibility through creating “controversy”, and go on to give interviews and write books. But it is never going to make the movement stronger.

And just because I can, I leave you with Germaine Greer’s opinion of a “Feminist Brand”. When a report found that “feminism had a poor "brand image" among young women today”, Germaine rejected it and said:

“Somebody should explain that we're not selling anything”
 As for my anger... It's always good to remember that the transition into more "radical" feminism can take time. That I'm not entirely alone in disliking this SlutWalk wave. And that, in the long run, only meaningful things remain because they are the only things that matter.

Friday, 10 June 2011

On Fame, Fortune and Mortality

Here's some insight I gained during meditation. It has to do with the futility of striving for "fame and fortune", and the very concrete fact that we will all die in the end.

It doesn’t matter if you gain all the fame and fortune in the world. You are still going to die. So, our answer to “why we are on this planet”, along with all the other “spiritual” stuff, cannot be linked to what we do for a living, to what we do “in the human world”. Happiness, meaning, purpose… they cannot be linked to how much we succeed on anything. Not even how much we defeat the “systems”. 

Too often we run after fame and fortune, some measure of “glory” because civilization has convinced us that those who get “somewhere” are “immortalized”. That word is interesting. We remember them for centuries after they have died, we read their words and celebrate their deeds. We even build monuments in their name. But it’s all a farce. No matter how important, famous or celebrated a person is, there is no way to attain “immortality”. Everyone dies. From the most wealthy, to the most basest beggar. We live and we die.

It is actually one of the poisonous beliefs of civilization, one of its working principles. That “immortality” can be achieved by compliance to … something. God, king, nation, art. That if we get somewhere, we can outlive our time on this Earth.
No such luck.

It is important to separate our desire to do something with our time here from our often unquestioned belief that the greatness of the something will bring us worthiness or eternity. We all want to feel “worthy” and indeed we wouldn’t be reaching for worthiness through our careers if society provided it in some other way. Never before had people been shamed by the prospect of being a “nobody”. Our need for some basic recognition is legitimate. But the way to get it is not excellence in any chosen field.

Similarly, we all have to contend with the fact that death is the only certainty we have in life. That applies to all of us, rich and poor, famous and “nobodies”. True, more people cried the death of Elizabeth Taylor than my own granddad’s. So? Death is death for everyone. The question is, “how did you feel while you were alive?” And second to that comes, “what did you do while you were alive?”. My granddad did not “achieve” much in popular terms. He held the same low type job for decades. But he was a cheerful fellow who took pleasure in very long walks, books, cooking and abundant conversation. My dog loved him, and she was a tough one.

What is my point? I don’t have one. Ok, yes, I do. It’s this: our first goals must be internal. Or spiritual. We must feel remotely happy independently of what happens in our lives.

It’s easy to absorb “toxic” concepts from our environment and not notice that we are living as if they were true. The belief that we will not really die if we become rich and famous is one of them. You probably don’t actually “believe” that you will be immortal per se. But me personally? I carry on under the delusion that I’ll be richer and more famous in the future, and that that will somehow make the present better. How does that work? Because I subconsciously believe that in the future my life will be so much better that it will make my present life more "alive". When you consider that I will not, by definition, have “more life” as time goes by, then I’m working under the premise that “fame and fortune” will give me life in and of itself.

Ok, yes, this is complicated and I don’t know how to explain it any better.

And worthiness? Well, I live my life feeling completely and utterly unworthy, safe in the belief that I’ll be rich and famous in the future and that will make me worthy of living on this planet, worthy of people’s time, worthy of people’s love.
But of course, that’s not how it works. I could be crowned Empress of the Discworld tomorrow, which would be pretty cool. But it would not make me feel any more worthy, because that is something I have to resolve for myself. I have to give my own worth, nobody can do that for me. Not even Terry Pratchett.

Now, if only I could follow my own advice...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Sexualisation - "Fighting the Right"

Ok, it seems like I am not done with this topic yet.

Let’s take it slow. What it’s important to understand is this: it’s been a while since the “Right” discovered how to trip “progressives” into undermining their own arguments. This is how they do it:

They present an outrageous, preposterous, extreme, ridiculous, raging argument that nobody could possibly agree with. The progressive bunch bites right into it and oppose the argument. But because the argument is ludicrous to begin with, firmly rooted in the “extreme right”, the progressives end up making the argument for something on the “centre-right”. And that was the point all along. To give validation to ideas that are less than barmy, instead of presenting ideas that are actually good and revolutionary.

Wait, what does any of this have to do with “sexualisation”?

Let’s apply the previous idea to sex. The Right comes up with something preposterous, like Nadine Dorries arguing that “girls should be taught to say no”.
Now you probably agree with me that this is insane, from every conceivable angle. If for no other reason than that the word “no” is usually fairly well known amongst English speaking people.

Now, what do progressive people do? They stand up and say “There is nothing wrong with sex, sex is good”.

DANG IT! You’ve just made their point for them!

Now, I’m going to say something that will come as a shock to most people independent of which place they like to inhabit inside the political spectrum.


I know, I know. Shocking, isn’t it? But it’s true; I can prove it. Here it is, in a few words.


Never. Not even in the name of “Christ”. Want proof? President Mondo Fucko was passing laws for making “abstinence only” education in public schools at around the same time as Britney Spears was playing out to be an underage pop-sex star.

Once more: IF THE RIGHT REALLY WANTED TO STOP “SEXUALISATION”, IT WOULD BAN MTV. And pretty much everything else in our modern media.

So when the “Right” comes out with nonsense about “abstinence” education, what they actually want is for “progressives” to effectively support the sex industry. Because THAT is where the money is.

And why do they need any support? Because people are getting worried about this “hyper sexualised” culture we live in. In the exact same way as people get worried about this “hyper sugar and saturated fat” culture we live in. They look around and notice that a) sex imagery is everywhere and b) they can’t do anything to stop it.

So people get worried, and understandably so. The Right, being better at ruling the world than the Left, picks up on this “worry” BUT, and here’s the key, they DISTORT THE SOLUTION. They say “of course you are worried about “hyper sexualisation”, I totally understand”. That’s the “bite”. Then people turn and listen to them, and they throw their bit of crap “let’s ban sexually active teenagers”. Which is a “solution” that steps right into fascism. And is doomed to failure, which is precisely the point.

They do the exact same thing with fatty foods. It goes like this: “of course you are worried about “hyper sugar and saturated fat”, I totally understand”. And then they throw the solution, “let’s ban fat people”. I am not joking, that is precisely what they argue for. For more on that, read Melissa's posts on fat hatred.

This is a typical tactic from the Right: show concern for the wellbeing of society while you fail to acknowledge the existence of society. In other words “gee, the world is looking wrong, I tell you what, let’s change individual people, who are all separate from one another”.

You only have to read what Dorries says. In order to make her argument, she describes
*Sexual imagery
*Teenage magazines
*Pr0n channels
*Lad’s mags
*Computer images

And what does she suggest as a viable solution? Changing sex education at school. From the “big” stuff powered by humongous corporations, to a few hours in the lifetime of a child. Yeah, that will shift society, that will.

Like I said, this doesn’t work. And they know it. If Nadine Dorries really had a problem with sexualisation, she would argue for tackling the issue at the root: ban the magazines, ban the padded bras, ban the music videos. (There would be nothing surprising about this, the Right has been banning things since the beginning of time).

They don’t do it because they don’t want to. They don’t care two hoots about “sexualisation”. They care about gathering support from worried parents, they care about appearing “concerned” and “moral”. They even care about brainwashing children, creating conflict between their sexual desire and their worldviews.

They don’t care about people. They never have.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

I Too Write Letters

Dear Feminists of a perhaps young, non-radical and/or liberal pesuasion,

It is not necessary for you to emphasise that you like sex to get your anti-rape message across.

Rape has nothing to do with sex.

Yours sincerely,


Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Meaning Of "Sexualisation"

What follows is awesome. I don't know how it made its way to my page, but it did, and I'm happy.

There are many ways to interpret the meaning of “sexualisation”, and it is important to be clear about it so as to not fall prey to the “rightwing” distortions.

What Sexualisation means to the Media

We know what “sexualisation” stands for in the eyes of the media: the pressure on younger and younger “children” (it’s of course girls, not boys, but what the Hell) to become sexual objects before they reach puberty.

The problem with this definition is not what it says but what it leaves out. It is an unquestioned assumption from our culture that females will naturally develop a penchant for becoming sexual objects when they begin to fancy men. (The possibility that they may not fancy men at all, that they may fancy women, that they may fancy both or none, is not really considered.) That is not questioned. Nobody is arguing that adult women shouldn’t be sexualised, or that the media should stop sexualising our culture. And nobody but feminists argues that women, irrespective of their age, should never be presented as sexual objects. And even feminists have a hard time agreeing over that one.

So yes, sexualisation does mean “pressure on young children to become sexual objects”, but this is only problematic in the eyes of the media because it’s happening at a younger age than before.
The media does not take issue with the fact that a) it happens at all, b) there’s pressure, c) only happens to girls or d) to reduce a human being to a sexual object is immoral and wrong.

What Sexualisation means to the “Right”

Some people have twisted the meaning of “sexualisation” and use it in the context of “children’s sexuality”, arguing that “children are sexual too”. This is, of course, utter nonsense. Nobody is using the word “sexualisation” to mean “the hormones in the child’s body sexualises them”. This bogus attempt at diverting the conversation from what “big people with power and money” do into what “is natural for children” is, in my humble experience, a tactic from the “Right” to silence criticism. Keep this idea in your pocket, it may come in handy. What they are trying to do is to bring the topic back to the individual, and eliminate all ideas that a small group of people, namely those with power and money, have way more, ehm, power than most individual people, namely those who have to put up with the “sexualisation”. They are effectively cutting off the child from their environment, so that sexual development looks, to an imaginary alien, like a normal, healthy stage in human growth.

Like I said, poppycock to that.

What Sexualisation actually means

Sexualisation doesn’t mean in any way “a child’s sexuality”. What it means is “the turning of a child into a sexual object”. Why?
Because nobody can “sexualise” anybody without objectifying them first. (Ok, perhaps hormones can do it, but nobody is taking issue with that.)

How can “sexualisation” require “objectification”?

Let’s reduce the word “sexualisation” to its bare bones, to mean what it sounds like it should mean: to make something or someone sexual. The “something” is easy to understand, but the “someone”? Let’s see. How can you make someone “sexual”? Surely that is something people do for themselves? Whether we mean biological sexuality or a “sexual” appearance, it’s still something people do for themselves. That’s where the problem lies: in order to sexualise somebody other than yourself, you have to impose your will upon someone. Sexualising means, at its core, that consent is absent from the person being sexualised. Much like what happens with words like “medicalization” or “westernization”. It implies that the subject has not choice in the matter. And this is the very essence of “dehumanization”, which opens the door to “objectification”, the turning of people into objects. 

So, this “sexualisation” deal implies that someone is forcing someone else into being sexual against their will. And the truth behind forcing someone into something is that it reduces people into the something. If you force someone into being “labour” you reduce them to just “labour”.
In order to “sexualise” someone, you must make them “sexual” against their will. If you succeed, the person is reduced to “sexual” and nothing more because you have taken away their humanity.

 As for Children...

Children do what children do. And that includes sexual development. The problem is that children cannot develop sexually in whichever way they want while they are immersed in a culture as sexually toxic as ours. Rather, they are expected to develop in one way and one way only.

Children develop sexually without any need for “external” intervention, meaning culturally imposed ideas of what sex is and how it should look like. The proof is in the pudding. For quite a long time the very idea of sexuality was kept very hush-hush, as we all know. There was no concept of children developing their sexuality. And somehow this didn’t stop children becoming sexually active adults.