Friday, 30 April 2010

"Galactic Teabag says enough is enough..."

I nearly wrote this piece late last night, but settled for a facebook status instead. I am, however, still mad about it in the cold light of day, so I'm going to do the post anyway.

Today I am mad about this:

"Depression is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign that you have been trying to be strong for too long. (Put this as your status if you have had or know someone who has had depression. Most people won't, but it's mental health week and 1 in 3 of us will suffer at some point in our lives.)"

It's a facebook status update that was doing the rounds last night - and it's by no means the first one I've seen. And, it may be a controversial oppinion, but they piss me off.

I'm fine with the ones that are actually trying to do something positive, like promoting an event like this one from back in January:

"Put this as your status if you or somebody you know has suffered or is suffering from a mental illness. Mental health is a BIG TABOO, so break the silence to support all those that are or have suffered. Most try to cope alone. Come along to the Mental Health Network meeting on Mon at 6.30pm in the [student's union]."

or even ones that have the courtesy to link to a website such as this one.*

But last night's? Just a big fat no. thank you.

It's problematic in so many different ways. Firstly, it's difficult posting anything like that to start with. Because of the taboo, there are many, many people out there who don't *want* to admit that they've suffered/ are suffering from depression, or who just aren't ready to talk about it yet. Encouraging people to get help and trying to break the silence is one thing, but pressuring people into owning up is another.

Secondly - "depression isn't a sign of weakness", fine, yes, great. It's an illness that is more common than you think, and which isn't your fault if you get it. "
it is a sign that you have been trying to be strong for too long"... Um.... what now? So all depression stems from life events? Way to simplify a complex issue which can have many different causes, symptoms and presentations, and way to tackle the stereotype that you can only be depressed if you've had a hard life. It's that kind of attitude that actually stops people like me from seeking help because they think that no-one will believe them, because from the outside their life looks fine, and there are plenty of people far worse off. That's not a deep insight into mental illness - that's a trite halmark gift card. A motivational poster slogan. An idiotic pronouncement on an electronic post-it.

Thirdly - something like this is a great way for someone to look socially aware and sympathetic** without actually doing something about the problem. Its me-too-ism. The equivalent of jumping on the band waggon of "Yes! I too have been affected by all these issues! Why? Because I have a depressed friend!" and it's insulting. It's fetishising mental illness, not seriously trying to solve the problems of its stigma. One of the facets of which is the idea that a lot of people "only do it to get attention"***. Again - not helping.

I'm not asking people to stop with all of these posts because it's annoying and I wish they would go away, so I can live my life pretending the issues don't exist - I live with the issues anyway, so that would be impossible - I just think that, well intentioned or not, sometimes they actually do more harm than good. I would therefore ask people to please, think before you post.

*I'd even be happy if it was linking to a personal blog post on the subject (not that I'm plugging or anything...)
** Not that everyone who puts this up isn't socially aware and sympathetic, just that posting this as your status doesn't actually count as being saas in itself.
*** As if attention was a bad thing? As someone who's been ignored and excluded more times than I can count, it gets old very quickly.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Can't Take the Credit, but Wish I Could...

This is the most amazing piece of writing, and something that I wish I had written so much I'm going to re-post it here. It's by Jaclyn Friedman, and was written in response to This story (and others like it) which I quoted a while back.


Dear Mysogynist College Newspaper Columnists:

Congratulations. You have written a column encouraging dudes to rape drunk girls, and it's now earning you 15 seconds of internet fame. Well played. I hope you're making the most of your moment.

Here's the thing though: you're using my body to do it. Your "edgy" little missive does more than puff up your resume -- it also tells the world that if I (or any woman) drinks in public, I've irrevocably consented to pretty much any sexual act with any guy I might make eye contact with, regardless of what I actually want to do with my own (admittedly drunk) body. So suffice it to say I take this a little personally, and I've got a few things to say about it.

First, don't kid yourself into thinking you're groundbreaking or even original. People have been telling women who "misbehave" that they deserve/secretly want "whatever happens to them" since the dawn of time. The threat of rape is one of the main ways women have been controlled throughout history. So, way to go on telling drunken sluts they asked for it. It's been such a taboo subject for so long. In Opposite Land.

Second, you really think poorly of straight men, don't you? Do you honestly think most guys can't tell the difference between a woman who's into having sex with him, and one who is freaked out, passed out, or too drunk to consent? Or is it that you don't think most guys care about the difference? Either way, that's cold. And, according to good research, it's also false - most rapes are committed by a very small minority of men, who know exactly what they're doing. The rest? They prefer to get down with women who are actually enjoying themselves. But why be bothered by a little thing called research when you're busy making a name for yourself on the internet?

Third, your editors should be ashamed of themselves for publishing your flimsy victim-blaming crap. Free speech is a legal standard, not a journalistic one. Journalists are supposed to, y'know, have ethics. And fact-checkers.

Fourth, and lastly, please go directly to hell. I have just as much right as any man does to go out and have a few drinks without having a violent felony perpetrated against me. I am sick to death of my body being used for the amusement of jackasses like you, even theoretically. You may think a scandal is good for your ego, or your career. You may even be right about that. But trading women's safety for a little notoriety is a deal with the devil if I ever heard of one. And I hope you pay.


Thank you, Ms Friedman, you officially rock.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010


Ok, so has everyone heard about this pile of drivel? Yep?

Ok, has everyone heard about yesterday's responce to that: the Boobquake?

Good, then I can talk about it and we're all up to speed.

See, when I first heard about this event, I was thinking Johnathan Swift, I was thingking "A Modest Proposal" I was thinking this was hysterical. Yes, why shouldn't we have a pseudo-scientific "test" of this utterly stupid, bigoted attitude and prove how wrong-headed it really is? Even the suggestion - silly though it was - was a satirical point in and of itself. Merely suggesting that we take this theory seriously enough to subject it to scientific rigour was enough to hold it up to ridicule and show that there was no way it would ever stand up to any kind of scrutiny, without needing to actually follow through on the proposal. What a beautiful piece of satire; Bravo.

And then I read the comments on the facebook event, to the tune of immature (male) morons shouting about how awesome it was that they get to see teh boobiez. And I saw a friend of mine - who will remain nameless - posting as his status an exhortation that his girlfriend should take part, despite the fact that she is a teacher - a post that I read as she would like to participate, but was not comfortable dressing unprofessionally in front of a classroom full of people who wouldn't get it, and who would instead take the opportunity to perve on her. And I suddenly started feeling really quite sick and skeezy.

Because that's the problem. This should never have become anything more than a Modest Proposal. Because, let's face it, we in the West have our own issues around the female body. We don't see women's bodies as any the less "slutty", we just have different ways of expressing it. And yet we also have the whole Girls-gone-wild phenomenon whereby our culture constantly tells us we have to show off our bodies. The message we get all day is: Be slutty, but not too slutty, because no-one likes a prude, c'mon girl, lets see some skin, but of course when you cave to the pressure and do show off your assets you are slutty and shouldn't be surprised when you get treated badly, you slut... etc, etc, etc.*

And sadly the whole point of the Boobquake went and got lost in amongst the howling of "get yer kit off". See, this is the bog problem. The idea that women have to perorm sexually in order to get any positive attention whatsoever. In which case, our message is going to get undermined by the methods by which we promote it.

"Everyday women and young girls are forced to “show off cleavage” and more in order simply to be heard, to be seen, or to advance professionally. The web is already filled with images of naked women; the porn industry thrives online and many young girls are already vulnerable to predatory abuse. Violence against women and girls has a direct correlation to the sexualisation of women and girls. The extent of their sexualisation is evident in the hundreds of replies that pour into the “Boobquake” Facebook page where women write, apologetically: "I don’t have boobs, not fair" or "Hey, I only have a C cup… ” and “what about those of us who no longer have a cleavage? they sag too low.”" **

Boobquake became a joke. And that took the sting out of the satire.

Which brings me to a piece that I found in the Grauniad the other day by David Mitchell - who has suddenly gone up in my estimation.
Quite appart from containing the wonderful phrase: "But, as this election campaign is demonstrating, when it comes to sexism, "PC gone mad" is a long way from power – it's still a minority party compared to "chauvinism gone senile"" the article has a very good point or two to make on the subject of "empowerment". Sorry "Empowerment". And how publicity isn't always good publicity, despite what the maxim would have us believe.

So Boobqake? I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to pass on this one. At least until "science" has decided I have a voice, independant from my breasts.

*This whole thing has been gone over, and over, and over more times than I can count. If you want to know more, start with: Ariel Levy's "Female Chauvanist Pigs" then try Natasha Walter's "Living Dolls" or Courtney Martin's "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters" - all of which I would encourage you to read anyway because they are awesome. And that's just for starters.

** This from one response to Boobquake - Brainquake

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Quick Airbrush fix...

Ms Magazine have got in on the body image/ airbrushing debate. Interesting read.

I think I have to highlight this quote though, from Samantha Moore, because it's an important thing which I've tried to say, but which she says much better than I did:

"While boosting women’s self-confidence is peachy, it cannot be a successful driver of social change. What we really need to contest is the beauty myth—the illusion that female beauty standards are natural, inevitable, and backed by some concrete “truth” about optimum femininity."

Followed by this quote from the end of the article itself:

"Images that fall outside the limiting standard can’t produce change when millions of taken-for-granted images constantly cultivate our expectations and solidify the standard. Publishing unadulterated images every so often, with great fanfare, does not successfully challenge the normative Eurocentric image of ideal beauty, which includes vast amounts of alteration. Rather than promoting real change and creating a critical dialogue that explores the creation and maintenance of unrealistic, confining and, often, dangerous images of beauty, the announcement of these unaltered photos can easily become a spectacle designed for publicity and ratings."

Of Black Dogs and Blogs

Kate Harding and Jay Smooth have something to say here:

Ok, so go away and read/listen to those two links that I posted up there before you come back and read this. It’s ok, I’ll wait.

Ok, back?

Right. This is more of a get-stuff-off-my-chest post than the usual Opinion piece that I tend to post. I’m actually writing this now on a WP, rather than straight to blog, because I don’t even know if I’m going to put this out there. But here goes:

I wrote one of the comments on that particular Shapely Prose thread, and even that half-hearted attempt was bloody hard. Even now, I’m struggling not to write out a list of what sucks about me, how I’m an awful, useless person – or qualify every single good thing about me with a “well, but so-and-so is better” or rather “I should be better.” I think it’s a really interesting discussion that should be had, and which I might start later – why women always feel they have to respond to compliments with a denial, or qualifying sentence – but it’s not the one I want to have right now.

See, I found that comments thread wonderful and painful to read at the same time. It’s amazing watching people be happy about themselves for a change, and acknowledge all the good things about themselves that make them awesome people. And not one of those posts seemed to me self-aggrandizing or boastful or stuck up.

But then I felt like crying, because I was thinking – why can’t I be like that?

Why can’t I be a published writer, instead of just an amateur? Why can’t I be a great singer, instead of just a mediocre one? Why can’t I be a great cook, or keep a spotless house, or do stand-up, or fix computers like a pro, or speak four languages like a native, or be someone or do something awesome like everyone else?

Why can’t I even do the things that I’m supposed to be able to do well? Like finish my novel(s)? Or send some short stories or poetry off to a magazine to get published? Or, hell, finish my God-damn PhD?

And then my “little hater” comes out and starts telling me that maybe I was never any good at those things that I supposedly do well. That I’m not just in a rut; I’ve actually reached my limits. That I don’t have what it takes, and deep down I know it, and the reason I can’t put pen to paper right now is because I’m putting off that moment of failure when the manuscript is finished and I send it off, and publisher after publisher rejects it, and I have to give up on the biggest and only worthwhile dream I have ever had in my life – to be a writer – without which my life is mediocre and dull, and just not worth anything anymore.

See, my “little hater” is called Depression. And right now it’s winning.

I’m not fishing for compliments here, or sympathy, so please don’t feel you have to post any. Nor do I, at the moment, need advice on how to cope, since I’m already taking steps in that direction. I just wanted to put that out there.

I don’t really think there is a conclusion to this. I want there to be a happy ending, or an uplifting sentiment for me to end on. Some sort of affirmation that we are all awesome and that I don’t hate myself really, but while the first bit of that is true, it would be disingenuous of me to lie and say the second half. The best I can come up with is this:

Mental illness is still a huge taboo in our society. Not enough people talk about it, or even acknowledge it. So I’m going to. It might be that the one way to get myself up and going and working again is to bleed this poison out of my system, and if that helps other people understand just a bit better, if it breaks down just a bit of that huge silence, and gets people talking, well that’s all to the good.

Expect more posts on this, and related topics.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

More on Airbrushing

Ok, so some of you might remember my post on airbrushing in magazines from back in February, which seems to be generating a lot of comments at the moment. Most of the comments I've been getting there and elsewhere seem to agree with me (though often for widely different reasons) that merely pointing out that a picture has been airbrushed is not going to do a lot for female body confidence as a whole.

The next question would then be, so what is going to make a difference? Well, how about this for a solution. It seems that, over in the States, they've just introduced a new bill, called " The Healthy Media for Youth Act". You can read a bit more about it and what it entails over at Feministing, or read the whole thing here, though like anything of that kind, it's a bit on the dense side.

I do just want to quote this big specifically, from the Feministing version, because I think it's a huge step forwards if it gets through:

In addition, the GSRI has put together a set of Healthy Media Images Standards, a set of guidelines that are essentially a blueprint for creating feminist media, including:

• Feature and value girls and women with varying body types and ethnicities
• Show girls in age-appropriate attire
• Do not sexualize female bodies to sell products or amuse male customers
• Include a diverse cast of female characters in active and ambitious roles
• Feature females in traditionally male roles, such as CEOs or action heroes
• Feature girls and women who have confidence in their abilities and appearances
• Show equality and mutual respect between female and male characters
• Feature positive relationships between girls and women, showing them cooperating with each other
• Feature male characters who value female characters in their talents, intelligence, and overall personalities, not just their appearances

That makes me very happy.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Funny vs Offensive

Finaly a defnintion that makes sense.

I would just like to add my own $0.02 to MacInnes' working definition, which is probably the best one I've come accross so far. I don't think it can be stated strongly enough; "the powerful and rich should be subjected to greater mockery than the poor and underprivileged." You do not mock those who are less fortunate than yourself. You don't take the piss out of kids with Downs Syndrome - the world has already given them one of the shortest ends of the stick it has to offer, and they have quite enough in their lives to struggle against without "transgressive" "commedians" perpetuating further prejudice against them. Same goes for anyone who's been dealt a crappy hand in this world. How fucking childish is that kind of behaviour? Worse than childish. Seriously - if you had kids, and they started making fun of the one kid in the playground with learning difficulties, or the one with one leg, or the one Indian kid, you'd be horrified, and your kid would be grounded for the rest of his/her natural life. We punish children for this kind of behaviour, and yet laugh at adults who should be old enough to do better? No. Not funny, Frankie.

At the same time, I think it's also a question of relative power - not an absolute. Essentially - it's ok to make jokes when you are doing it compassionately, and from a standpoint where your privilege is not making you into a patronising git. As an example - Eddie Izzard joking that there are benefits to being dyslexic - because it meant you were a killer at I-Spy... "'S' is for 'Ceiling!'" etc. I have heard some really great jokes that were teetering round a whole load of -isms, but which managed to be handled properly and in an empowering way. The problem comes when straight, white, able-bodied men (and most of the time it is S,W,A,M, but I feel forced to add "or anyone else in a position of privilege" just to cover the small percentage of cases when it isn't) decide to make comments about a minority without knowing what the fuck they're talking about. They haven't lived it, and they haven't a clue how to handle it. That's not "alternative" - that's the dominant perspective. And again, that's not funny.

I will however leave you with something that is funny. Courtesy of my mate Nik who sent me the link. And who also has some insightful questions on the original subject here.

And something that will definitely make you smile, even if you didn't like the above.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Spitting mad. Again.

It's usually the Daily Fail, or something from America that gets me really worked up, but nope, this time it's The Telegraph. Specifically this article.

Essentially, it's explaining how being assertive at work and in the home, and expecting your SO to do his share of the housework, and let you have your say in how the house is run is turning him into an emasculated man-child who can't do anything because he's scared of doing it wrong.

Here's the anti-feminist buzzword bingo for you:
"Ballbreakers" - check
"traditionally masculine/feminine traits" - check
Any reference to "hunter-gatherers" or cave men - check
"male instinct to protect/ provide" - check, on both counts
"unfashionable truth" about "biological/ innate gender difference" - yup - (please, dear God go read Natasha Walter's "Living Dolls" before you go spounting that old chestnut...)
"Biologically programed/ hardwired" - check
"emasculation" - check
"feminism" - Nope.

Women today,"demand total equality at home." And why the hell not? but according to Ms Woods (the article's author) "It's by no means an unreasonable expectation – but it is an unwise one." Unwise? Unwise?? Why?
Because apprently men will be unable to do the chores up to the female standard; and then when women have to clean up after their SO, "By taking over every household task, women are effectively colluding in their partner's lack of involvement. Women are better multi-tuskers and so when our partners don't come up to scratch we complain bitterly as a parent would, and end up doing the job ourselves, infantilising them in the process," she says. (The "she" being Francine Kaye, aka "The Divorce Doctor") "We end up labelling our men lazy, because they have to be told what to do and nagged into doing it, but the truth is, we have pushed them to the point where they are afraid to take the initiative, because they feel they can never get anything right"

Her solution then? Massage your partner's ego, and he will become a Real Man again. Apparently, "To get our relationships back on track, we women must try to rein in our control-freakery and rediscover our femininity, which will (theoretically) reawaken our partner's dormant masculinity. We must praise our partners, thank them for taking us out to dinner (even if we split the bill) and generally massage their tattered egos." Instead of telling our men-folk to stop being such whiny children, suck it up, and get on with it the way women have been doing for centuries?

At least Woods aknowledges at the end of her piece that "It's a bitter pill to swallow for those of us who have spent our working lives striving for parity," and "If you find yourself slack-jawed in horror at the prospect of letting your partner off the hook so easily, then welcome to the club," but she still seems to be coming down on the side of Kaye's poison... why? because apparently it works. Yes, like decapitation solves your dandruff problems.

The thing is, if it was just about appreciating one's partner for being supportive and helping out, (never mind that this should be normal - do you ever thank your SO for not being a murderer? no! because not-being-a-murderer, like being-a-supportive-partner-and-doing-your-bit should damn well be the default state...) I might just be able to contemplate it. On the proviso that we women got appreciated just as much for doing our 50% (which we don't, and yet we still manage to get on with it...) but this is more than that. What is being advocated here is a massive step backwards. I'll leave you with the closing remarks, just to illustrate:

"My female clients are invariably amazed at how much impact an appreciative approach can have on their partner, and how quickly he responds when they show their more feminine side," she says. "It's not a case of being all helpless and girlie, but of being more feminine. If you behave more like a woman, your partner will act more like a man."

So yeah. The best solution would be for us all to toddle back to the 1950s, like good little girls, and just act more feminine. Who's betting we still get saddled with the washing up?

Friday, 2 April 2010

My Playground, My Soap Box.

Ok, so here's a question I'd like to add my $0.02 worth to, apropos of very little at all.
Is moderation censorship, and at what point can we tell trolls and oiks to shut the hell up and go away without compromising freedom of speech?

It's something that happens to a lot of feminist bloggers - or at least any of them who write about anything as controversial as their feminism, and happen to be lucky enough to get read by a decent sized audience - there will be people coming along, and instead of participating in the debate at hand, start trolling, being abusive, trotting out tired old misogynies and mansplaining. I even warned a friend of mine off* writing a blog post where she planned to discuss something very personal and sensitive, in case she got this kind of jerk turning up and directing abuse at her in the comments. It sucks, and so some people decide to have agressive moderation policies, and just filter out the unproductive crap and ban persistent offenders. And that's fine... until someone shouts "censorship" at you**.

See, I don't think it is censorship at all if I delete your comments on my blog, in the same way that if you excreted in my sandpit I would be well within my rights to remove the mess so that I and my friends could play safely. You may disagree. You are perfectly allowed to do so, and if you like you can go away and write your own blog post detailing how I am wrong and you are right, and no-one is stopping you from doing so. But see, this is my soapbox. You don't like it? Get your own. Kate Harding says, pretty much, exactly the same on her blog, which has, supposedly, a very draconian comments policy***.

This gets a bit different when the blog you write is one for a bigger organisation than just you: for example The Sexist blog, over at the Washington City Paper, which has fairly recently been asking whether they ought to tighten up their comments policy. In situations like that, because you are writing for a public institution, the assumption is that you ought to provide a public platform (that is, if you provide a platform - comments section - at all). And while that is true to an extent, I will go back to the playground analogy just for a bit. In this case, there are loads of kids, playing in the playground, under the watchful eye of a responsible adult (the mod). As long as they can all play happily, anyone can come play in this playground - no one is excluded... except for the one kid who can't play nice, who keeps stealing people's toys, hogging the swings and beating the other kids around the head with a barbie-doll or tonka truck. That kid? The Troll who keeps being abusive? They are banned. Because whilst we all have the right to freedom of speech, the blog-owner also has a responsibility to their readers to create a safe environment for comments and discussion. The reader's right not to be attacked trumps the troll's right to say what they like. ****

And this is different again to when you are the editor of a paper or similar, and one of your columnists decides to write something... disagreeable. It worrys me, it really does, when the chief editor of any publication (even a student one) feels she cannot cut or (ffs) edit a column for fear of "censorship". That's not censorship. That's being discriminating - and I mean that in the sense of being able to distinguish good writing from drivel; in the sense that one can have a discriminating palate. For God's sake, that's the JOB of an editor, to decide what goes in the paper and what doesn't. What should be printed, (and thus given weight) and what you don't want to put your name to, and yes, by all means have a "letters" column, and print everyone's views. All the above comments apply. You have to balance columnist's rights with the paper's responsibility, and remember, at the end of the day, that it's your sandbox and anyone who is not prepared to follow your rules can get their own.

See, what this all comes down to is platform availabilty. It is sensible discrimination and moderation when you simply refuse to share a platform with someone (or, rather, refuse to let them share your platform) and it is censorship when you actively prevent them from ever having a platform of their own - and sorry, but this is something only governments, or anyone who has a monopoly on media outlets can do with any degree of efficiency. And when that happens, then I'll start complaining... if they'll let me...

*Didn't actually say that she shouldn't do it, just that she ought to be prepared for this kind of thing if she decided to go ahead with it.
**And if they're American, citing whichever ammendment to whichever historical document it is that protects their freedom of speech (I'm not American, it's late at night, someone please remind me what it is I'm thinking of?)
***And still some hateful shit occasionally filters through. However, what with Ms. Harding's regular readership not only allowed but encouraged to take pot shots at the Trolls, that can actually end up being amusing on occasion. I fully expect to see Troll-baiting become an internet blood-sport soon.
**** Oh, and just to clarify, this isn't people being offended by "edgy" humour or political viewpoints or the like, this is people being personally insulted, degraded and threatened. See also. Just so we're clear.