Tuesday, 29 November 2011

On the Matter of This Nov30 Strike...

Here it is; in just a few hours, the biggest strike in living memory will be taking place in Britain. Well, a big enough strike anyway.

And I have nothing but pain and disconnected thoughts in my head.

First and foremost, yes, I am indeed very glad to see Unions getting their act together and finally taking industrial action.

And yet, I feel that familiar frustration with the nature of the strike and the kind of unions involved in it. I experienced the same feeling during the last “anti cuts” demonstration organised by the Unions a while ago.

That frustration watches them and asks… “Really? After all that’s going through only public sector workers go on strike and over the matter of pensions? Really?

It has a general feel of… middle class England wanting to better their lot. You know, that portion of Britain you see on the media, the only portion that seems to matter. They drink expensive fair-trade lattes, read the Grauniad, are ubiquitously white, and only “see” the misery of those at the bottom of society twice, three, four times removed. By which point the truth has been bleached and sanitised so much that they mistake making better consumer choices with saving the world.

I fully realise that these feelings are just that: feelings, not an accurate depiction of reality. And I know that the better conditions public sector workers have, the better the working conditions will be for all workers. That the better pensions they have, the better pensions everyone will have. And I’m also aware of the fact that Thatcher has made “general strikes” almost impossible, unless they are over pensions.

But still… pensions? Really? Did everyone miss the riots?

I am entirely convinced that “middle class England” simply has no idea how bad things are for the poorest members of society. And I literally mean NO EFFING CLUE.

They don’t understand the desperation, or the urgency for that matter.

They have the luxury of thinking about their “pensions” because their position in society is, relatively speaking, so “good” that they can physically think about the future and plan ahead.

They cannot imagine how it feels to not be able to even think about next month, next week even, because the future can only mean more of the present, which is unbearably painful. They can’t imagine what it’s like to be stuck in a cycle of “nothing ever gets better”, of “nothing to look forward to”, of “more of the same crap day after day”.

They are not, in short, “numb” to the future. They have the luxury of thinking about pensions.

Then there’s the Occupy movement, which, by its very nature, is born out of desperation, out of frustration of seeing no other “tactic” work. Occupiers go and stay there; not because they hope to achieve something, but because they literally can’t stand to carry on like this. They share one certainty only: things have to change.

People are so politically exhausted that they deal with their desperation by turning it into action. Nothing is in the world works anymore, so they go and do something that doesn’t work either. And they keep on doing it. Because at least while the Occupation is taking place, “something” is working; even if it’s just a small general assembly, to try to keep functioning something that could be swept away at any minute.

The Occupy movement feels like the politics and the actions of the hopeless. “Work without hope”, as a WWII poet once wrote.

The strike, the Occupy movement and the riots. From the most privileged workers, who “do the right thing” and “keep Britain running”, to the most desperate amongst us, who are literally told “they do are not part of society”.  
From public sector workers striking to keep things as they used to be, to the Occupy movement demanding an end to the “1% and the 99%”, to the riots, the most literal manifestation of “wealth redistribution” there could be.

You know what I would like to see? More strikes; for longer periods of time; over many more issues. Public sector workers should leave the workplace and stay out. Or occupy it and not work.

It is not enough to strike over pensions. Public sector workers, as the most privileged members of the work force, need to show solidarity to everyone else. I don’t know how; but they need to find a way to do it. Enough of trying to fix a broken system, or forcing the bad to not get so much worse; we need to start moving towards building an alternative.

Perhaps public sector workers could organise sit-ins with unemployed people? That could be rather fun. And I am pretty sure it would build solidarity like nothing else.

In a few hours most of us will be either striking or joining demos. Remember this: 2.5 million workers will, according to David Cameron, “draw Britain to a halt”.
Presumably the 2.6 million workers who are unemployed merely provide the desperation that keeps the cogs in the machine compliant and obedient?

As for me, I won’t be striking, since I don’t have a job. Instead, I’ll be doing by first ever “subbing” session for Women’s Views onNews. Voluntary work I hope one day will turn into paid employment.
Because I’m desperate. And I only know one this: things have to change.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Wanted: An Alternative to Debate

Ok, I admit it: I’ve only been half-heartedly following the “Occupy” movement. And I’m not sure why.

When you are a political activist, you spend your whole life dealing with the question at the back of your mind… “if things are so bad… why aren’t people on the streets?”. Then, like the proverbial three buses arriving at the same time, all of a sudden there are people on the streets. On the actual streets; occupying them; refusing to go anywhere.
And I fail to muster more interest than the average politically minded person.

Part of the reason for my lack of interest in the occupations has to do with the absence of… well… politics. There are no grand theories to explain the present, no plans on how to change things for the future… Everyone is rightfully and mightily pissed off, but when it comes to the “whys” and the “hows” people get so anxious they can’t take a step forward. A simple debate on producing a list of “demands” turns into “well, should we or shouldn’t we?”. And the conclusion to that is… “we need to have a debate over this”.

Ah, yes. “Talking” will surely provide the answer. “Talking” is, however, the only answer being provided. And I would be more excited about the prospect of “debating” within the Occupy movement if I hadn’t seen its effects within the feminist movement way too many times.

This trend takes place throughout the political spectrum, actually; I’m just focusing on feminism because it’s what I know best. Whenever you see a feminist in the mainstream media, and she’s asked about the “solution” to any problem that could be filed under “regulating industries”, aka: “telling corporations to do as we want, not as they want”, said feminist’s reply will invariably be… “I think we need to have a national debate over this”.

“This” could be pr0n, lapdancing, maternity leave, sexualisation in the media, etc. Feminism’s answer to it all is “let’s have a big debate”.

I’m beginning to fear that calls to “debate” are actually an attempt to “disengage” from the situation, to not deal with the issue at hand. Because to arrive at an actual plan of action would mean upsetting someone who disagrees, leaving someone out.

True, the “we are the 99%” surely joins everyone under the same collective grief. But when it comes to deciding what to do with that “99%”, everyone freezes.

This scares me for several reasons. First, because “life must go on”, and if “occupiers” don’t spring into action, the momentum of the status quo will sweep over them.

Madrid was one of the first cities to become “occupied”. It was so early on, in fact, that nobody thinks of it as part of the “Occupy” movement. Never mind the fact that the very word “occupy” was used, since the word “ocupa” in Spanish describes “squatter”, and the tactics were the same, ie: tents, kitchen, pharmacy and, you guessed it, “public debates”.

That was summer. 15th of May, to be precise.

Today, the Conservative party has won a “landslide victory”in Spain. Something tells me this is not what the “occupiers” at Puerta del Sol wanted, seeing as how they rejected “all political parties”.

What are the plans of the conservatives to deal with the economic crisis and reduce unemployment? If your answer contains the words “austerity” and “deficit reduction” give yourself 1000 points. The very same “policies” that the Tory government has been ruthlessly forcing through since they rose to power… achieving precisely no reduction of unemployment or bettering of the “economic crisis”. As my dad said about the elected president: “he also wants to fail, he doesn’t want to be left out”.

What happened to the occupiers? I don’t know. What came out of their debates? I can’t remember. And I say this having listened to actual members of the Puerta del Sol occupation during Marxism in July.

Now, political debates are lots of fun. But eventually a decision must be agreed on and actions must be taken. The alternative is no alternative at all; that is, if we fail to change course, course doesn’t change. We get the same politicians, with the same policies favouring the same people.  

But there’s something else lurking under the surface… and that’s a general sense of “frozenness” throughout the whole of society. People are emotionally and ideologically exhausted. Nobody can come up with an alternative, and nobody is enthusiastic about the future. It’s a sense of “bleh”, followed by “what’s on the telly”.

I am by no means the first to point this out. Mark Fisher does so in his book “Capitalist Realism”, for instance. There’s a collective “apathy”, fear of moving in any direction, and the result of that is paralysis.

And I’m scared because I don’t just see it all around me, showing up also within the Occupy movement. I’m scared because I feel it in my bones. I struggle with this feeling of “frozenness” every day. I notice other people struggling as well. We want to move, but we don’t know how, or where to.

We are petrified, literally scared stiff. And because we can’t do much else, we talk.

I’m afraid I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that it isn’t more “talking”. Something must be agreed upon and put into action. Quickly. Before the momentum of the status quo squashes us with “more of the same”.

It’s getting to the point when anything, yes, “anything”, would be preferable to “more of the same”. If only to save our minds and hearts from paralysing ennui.   

Friday, 18 November 2011

Fem 11 – The Personal - Coming clean with our feelings

This is an account of my own personal feelings at the Fem 11 conference last Saturday. My feelings aren’t “wrong” or “right”, they just are. I’m not holding Fem 11 accountable in any way for what I felt. I just want to share my experience.

I went to Fem 11 with three feminist friends. Me-from-two-years-ago couldn’t be more surprised if she heard this.
This helped with feelings of loneliness, social anxiety and general awkwardness which, I’m happy to report, remained at minimum levels.

I was excited to see so many feminists when we got together for the first session of the day at the Friends Meeting House. And I was even more excited when I saw Sandi Toksvig standing up to speak. *OMG, SANDI TOKSVIG!!!*

Sandi spoke about the differences between the “Right” brain and the “Left” brain, and how this correlates to men thinking with the “right” and women thinking with the “left”. In essence, men and women think differently, and the “male” style of thinking is linear, based on a logical succession of things. Or something like that.

This made me think along the lines I had already been thinking in for the past few weeks. I had been wondering lately whether the “scientific” mode of thinking is somewhat based on the type of thinking that corresponds to the more “autistic” part of the spectrum.

And this was followed by a conversation with a woman who was slightly autistic herself. She told me how she needs to know exactly what is required, in a detailed, logical sequential order.

As the day went on and I heard from other women, a thought began to form in my head. A slightly upsetting thought.

Other women kept talking about how “inspiring” someone’s words have been. And all I kept thinking was… “where are the arguments, the ideas, the facts, the theory, the economy”.

Sandi had said that men are the “thinkers” and women are the “doers”. And the penny dropped.

OH F*CK. I think like a man.

This explains why I am getting nowhere within the feminist movement. While other women want to discuss how they feel empowered by doing this or that, or how someone has “privilege” of some kind or other, I want to discuss the very real fact that THE ECONOMY DETERMINS EVERYTHING.

And nobody listens.

While other feminists want to organise campaigns and conferences, I stop and think “yes, but what exactly do you want to talk about? What are the ideas behind it? How radical is it when we are working for a solution within patriarchal capitalism…”

I want to discuss philosophy… feminists want to talk about how we organise and “do”.

This brought me, understandably, down. It triggered the old and well known feeling of being an “outsider”, ie: “I’m too feminist for the left and to lefty for feminism”. Great.

Oh No, I'm Ugly!

Then there was the fact that I was, after all, in a room with one thousand women. Most of whom were young. And pretty. And white, and blond. And dressed in pretty, feminine dresses and wearing pretty, feminine shoes.
Oh, look at that, the girl sat next to me is about ten, she’s wearing a skirt and eating a salad.

Yes, something had to give. It wasn’t long before a small but loud monster inside me started wailing…


I tried to remind myself that this was a feminist conference and that focusing on prettiness was totally missing the point. Which was a huge mistake, because monsters don’t understand logic or reason.

So off my monster went, quietly wailing inside me “I bet it’s easier to be a feminist when you are white, blond, pretty and feminine and normal and you all probably have boyfriends and I hate you”.

Luckily I was with friends, so I had other people to interact with, which stops you from even hearing your monsters. And that helps a lot.

Oh, Man! When Me?

Last but not least was the now familiar feeling of “omg, I could totally ran a workshop, why am I not giving a workshop, I know so much, I want to give a workshop, I’m ready, why am I not giving a workshop…” Which, in its loudest, angriest form, says “I AM SO MUCH BETTER THAN *HER*, I KNOW SO MUCH MORE, WHY AM I NOT GIVING A WORKSHOP, EVERYONE SUCKS”.

I know this feeling, I am good at spotting it when it shows up. And I’m getting better at dealing with it. Soon I’ll feel confident enough to give workshops and talks. Watch out world!
Feelings within the Feminist Community

Ok, if you have made it to this point (thank you!), I want to say a few words on why the hell I’m bothering talking about my feelings and stuff.

I believe there is a lot of pain in the feminist community. This is entirely understandable! We live in a woman-hating world; we are women. We are bound to feel hurt.

But here’s the thing: we never talk about it. And the thing about pain is, when it goes unacknowledged, it finds another way through.

So at Fem 11, I noticed a lot of anger from the participants. A few of them actually shouted from the audience during the talks. And a few of the questions were dripping in anger and maybe even hate.

And I know this is not “common” because during Marxism it practically never happened. Keep in mind that Marxism brings together the same number of people, and for 5 days at that. And yet I never saw anyone shout at the chair person, or at a member of the audience who can’t stop rumbling (and believe me, there’s an awful lot of rumbling during Marxism).

And I understand anger and hate; really I do. I have just talked about my own!

Instead, it would be far more productive if we started by talking about it.

For example: “I am angry when I see a sexualised ad. It makes me really angry. I feel silenced and insulted; my personal boundaries have been violated. And I’m so pissed off.”

I know we do this, but we tend to shift the focus on to why it’s wrong. We go from “I feel angry” to “advertising makes money off titillating men, and men want to see women being objectified…”.

And that’s good too, and it has its place. But it may be worth spending a few moments on how something makes us feel as women.

Then, we have to stop and spend a few moments thinking on how something makes us feel as “us”.

For example: “I know that for me, Mary Tracy, seeing pretty feminine blond women makes me upset because it triggers my insecurities and feelings of being too ugly, too brown and unfeminine, and all in all unworthy of being loved”.

See? Coming clean with our feelings might not be easy, but it always helps.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Answer to Online Abuse - Compassion

As you have probably heard by now, this past week has seen an outpour of writing by women who are sick and tired of experiencing online abuse. I wrote a small summary for WVoN, and Cath has gathered all the links on her blog.

I have given this matter a lot of thought these past days, trying to find a way to either share my experience or ignore the issue altogether.

I had to fight a few “demons” on the way. “Outsider Syndrome” came out in full gear, and I was left feeling, once again, like the “odd feminist out”.

Because, you see… Well… there really is no other way to say this, but…

I have never experienced online abuse.

So when I read Ray’s words, saying
“the internet is a society where being (perceived as) female and writing about feminism invariably leads to responses on the theme of *nasty abuse*”

I was left feeling… well… “different”.

For I am on the internet, and have been blogging for 3-4 years now. I am universally perceived as female and I write about feminism. But…

I have never experienced online abuse.

Faced with this reality, my demons (aka “Outsider Syndrome”) began screaming with rage, and expressing irrational, incorrect, and downright silly ideas:
OMG, how can they say that all feminists experience abuse? I haven’t! What is she trying to say? That I’m not a feminist? Or perhaps it’s because, oh, I don’t know, NOBODY HAS EVER HEARD OF ME! NOBODY READS WHAT I WRITE. And so nobody even bothers sending me abuse.”

And when I say silly, I mean it. For a split second my demon went on:
You know what? They should be downright grateful they are getting abuse! At least it shows someone is reading what they write. How would they like it if nobody took any notice of them? HUH? ‘Cuz that’s what happens to me! You know what, I wish I was getting…

Yeah, my demons are silly. They are made up of an emotional response to a painful situation. It’s complicated, but you can read about how they work in Havi’s blog.

So I had to calm them down before I could think clearly about what is going on. And I have a couple of theories.

  • Is it possible that I haven’t experienced any abuse online because I’m just not that popular? After all, if nobody reads what you write, then nobody can get angry at you.

  • Or is it possible that what I write about is not all that “feminist”? Or controversial? I have been keeping a low profile on the feminist front, mainly because I’ve been bored of it. But then again, I have written a post titled “Feminism: it’s all been co-opted”. And “The meaning of sexualisation”. So yes, I do write feminist-y things.

  • This is the most interesting and exciting one of all. Is it possible that the language I’m using to write is somehow not “triggering” to those people who are most likely to spout abuse at women/feminist writers?
Oh, if only this last one was true. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I’ve been trying to come up with a different language to use when discussing politics for a while now. A language that is less confrontational, which seeks to explain things rather than “force” one’s argument onto someone else. Based in dialogue rather than fight.

The answer is likely to include all of the above, along with things like “sheer luck”. But it’s the last one that provides the gate to “the alternative”.

I believe that the people sending abuse to women are in a lot of pain. It has been said before, I’m not breaking any new ground here. But it’s important to remember.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been in a lot of pain myself. Perhaps it’s because the Universe decided I should be extra sensitive to it. But the fact is that I can see the suffering that many men are under. For it appears to be mostly men who are “triggered” by feminist words.

Sometimes this knowledge scares me, for I have no idea where on Earth it comes from. Compassion, I suppose. It is a difficult thing to have compassion for the oppressed and for the oppressor. But fortunately, compassion is unlimited.

So if this is true, and a different “language” helps to not trigger abuse, then my suggestion to women/feminist writers would be… compassion.
Yes, I know it’s difficult. It’s only taken me 4 years to get here, and I’ve only just started. But it seems to be the only thing that works, judging by the success of other writers.

Not to mention that Buddhists would not have it as one of their core practices if it didn’t work in some way.

Notice that I use the word “trigger” to mean “what makes abusers angry”. I do this for a reason. When we are in pain, a few words can trigger an emotional response much like the one I had when I read Ray’s post.

In my case, her reference to “all feminists getting abuse” triggered by Outsider Syndrome, along with my “Popularity Deficiency Affliction”. My emotional response (or demon) said “Omg I’m different to all of them! And I’m unpopular as Hell!”.

And it drove me so angry and sad that I was within meters of saying not-so-nice things at Ray (in my head). Things like “Oh, you should be grateful you get abuse, you popular feminist; I bet you sleep in a bed of roses and bath in Champagne”.

Because the demons responsible for this kind of response are very silly. (And in my case, also funny).

These demons only come out when we are in pain. So when you see abuse, this is in all likelihood the words of someone’s demon raging in their heads and driving them to type horrible things.

I hope this makes some sense. What I’m trying to say is this: “people say horrible things when they are in pain”. And it helps if we remind ourselves that the horrible things are an expression of someone’s pain, and have nothing to do with us.

Just like in my case, the reactions from my demons had absolutely nothing to do with Ray, who is an amazing feminist doing a fantastic job. My rational, not-in-pain self has nothing but positive things to say about her.

I give my own experience as example because I think it will help. Because it shows how the “hurling abuse at someone on the internet” gene is present in all of us. Because we are all human, we all have pain, and we can all be triggered at any point by anyone.

And that’s why the answer to abuse is likely to be compassion.

Note 1: I want to make it extra clear that I do not have a single negative feeling towards Ray. I really think she's great. And I don't hold her responsible in any way for how I felt, because that would be stoopid. I believe she said the right thing, and my own personal demons have nothing to do her.
Note 2: For more about compassion and Buddhism, Pema Chodron's cds are a good place to start.
Note 3: I want to make it absolutely clear that having compassion for online abusers does not, in any way, condone their violent behaviour. Nor does it mean we should stop talking about what we need to talk about, ie: feminism. It just means that we can both a) put a stop to escalating abuse and b) we can use less triggering language. Though as my example shows, it will be pretty impossible to eliminate all triggering language, for anything at all can provide a trigger. Just think of it as sanding off some rough edges so that our words are not unncessesarily spiky.