Last week, I attended two events featuring Jackie Kay at the Edinburgh Book Festival. She read from her new poetry collection Bantam, which as brilliant as her previous anthologies. I first heard Kay read from her collection Fiere at the Feminist & Woman’s Studies Association conference’ Rethinking Sisterhood conference in 2014. She quickly became my favourite poet; and, at that point, the only poet I liked since my sole previous introductions to poetry were the stale male crap I had to read in school. Kay is funny, witty, compassionate and so very, very generous. She is also utterly glorious in joy when reading her own work to audiences.
I could gush for ages about Kay, the beauty of Bantam, as well the discussion with Ruth Wishart at the Book Festival.There were some great questions from audience members, however the audience response to one question surprised me. A woman stood up to ask a question and started with the statement “this is a very middle class room”. I didn’t think this was too odd as a statement, but many people in the audience did not appreciate the generalisation and shut down the questioner completely. Now, Kay did say that we can’t ever generalise about audiences and spoke of all the ways she has developed to ensure that her writing is available to as many people as possible, regardless of issues like class.* Her tenure as Scottish Makar has seen her traipse up and down the country visiting all manner of places and pieces. Kay is absolutely dedicated to building generations of people who understand what Audre Lorde meant when she wrote ‘Poetry is not a luxury.’ However, the Edinburgh Book Festival is a very middle class event. Tickets cost 12 quid, which is not an insignificant amount of money for many people, and that is without factoring in transport to and from the venue or the fact that I paid 2 quid for a bottle of water having left my refillable one at home.** Having a spare 15-20 quid lying about to go to a book festival is well outwith the budgeting of many Scottish families.
The term ‘middle class’ is now understood as a pejorative defining someone whose access to wealth and cultural capital makes them blind to the reality of lives of many people. And, many of the audience members making negative noises in response to the term were doing so in order to disassociate themselves with the negative definition rather than addressing the barriers to participation in culture that many people live with every single day. Had the question been: ‘this audience is full of people who aren’t dependent on food banks’, perhaps fewer people would have taken it as an insult rather a description of an event where money is essential for participation. However it was intended to mean, Edinburgh Book Festival is open to people who have the capacity to save money to buy tickets.
In a perfect world, book festivals would be open to all people, but this isn’t a perfect world and the number of families dependent on food banks is expanding exponentially. But,1 in 3 children in Scotland live in poverty. Many other families live pay check to pay check . They live in areas with no accessible and affordable transport. School budgets have been decimated and trips to a book festival are the things that get cut first, despite being such an incredible enriching experience for children. Far too many adults are dependent on food banks to eat at least once a day. Charities are trying to feed children during school holidays to ensure they get fed at least once a day. Children are raising money to ensure that homeless people have dry socks; that we have people who are homeless or living in insecure accommodations is a disgrace. This is what we need to acknowledge and change.
Granted, language does change and many people who are middle class and wealthy are thoroughly unpleasant – as the support for Brexit makes clear. However, we cannot simply erase the original economic definition of the term middle class, not without erasing the lived experiences of people living in poverty or very close to the poverty line. We need to be clear what the full definition of middle class is and be very careful in how we apply it to specific situations and people. Using ‘middle class’ solely as pejorative is why several hundred people sitting in a marquee in Edinburgh during the various summer festivals (and without considering whether or not they are tourists who can afford to pay for hotels and meals out) immediately hissed at a woman pointing out the very real consequence of class analysis. Middle class is now ‘bad’, so no one is middle class – even those who fit the exact definition of the term in a Marxian sense. Frankly, more people need to get a grip and stop having minor tantrums when the truth of their economic status is pointed it. We need a return to a structural analysis of capitalism and a recognition that we can’t just identify ourselves out, particularly since the ‘no one’s middle class here’ noises were understood, by some, as a personal attack rather than structural analysis.
We cannot talk about the representation of people attending cultural events without starting from the point that it will always be closed to some people because we live in a society that punishes people for being poor. It really is this simple: economic class does exist and understanding it solely as a pejorative replicates the very behaviours and consequences that many activists think they’re challenging.
Poetry should never be a luxury; book festivals should never be a luxury. But, they are. And we need to be honest about why they are a luxury, not hissing at people who point out the truth
* This had come up in answer to a previous question.
** My medication means I don’t produce much saliva and occasionally have difficulty swallowing. No one wants to sit next to a woman who sounds like she’s choking up a lung because she has a cactus growing in her mouth.
Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will is one of the most important texts in the history of women’s liberation. There is no debate on its impact on the so-called second wave* feminist movement and on women being able to speak their truth. All movements for social justice need to understand their history in order to create their future. This does not mean we need to see foundational texts like Against Our Will as perfect. Unfortunately, Rachel Cooke’s interview with Susan Brownmiller, published last month in The Guardian, falls into the trap of refusing to acknowledge that our ‘foundational’ texts are not only not perfect but also not written only by white women:
Against Our Will finally came out in 1975, five long years after the first of the key texts of women’s liberation: Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics and Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex. Though it would later be attacked by, among others, the black activist Angela Davis for its attitudes to race (in his piece, Remnick writes that Brownmiller’s treatment of the Emmett Till case “reads today as morally oblivious”), its reception was mostly positive and it became a bestseller (much later, with pleasing neatness, it would be included in the New York Public Library’s Books of the Century).
Calling Angela Davis a Black activist rather than a Black Feminist Activist is deeply problematic. Davis was/ is a significant theorist and activist in the feminist movement. Her book Women, Race & Class, first published in 1981, is as radical and essential text as Against Our Will, Sexual Politics, The Dialectic of Sex, and The Feminine Mystique.The erasure of the term ‘feminist’ here implies that Davis’ critique was rude and unnecessary; that the experience of women of colour should only be spoken of in terms of sexism, and not the racism (or classism, disabilism or lesbophobia) that women experience. Failing to include the term feminist here doesn’t just imply that Davis isn’t a ‘real’ feminist, it completely erases her from the feminist movement.
The use of the term ‘attack’ rather than critical engagement reinforces the idea that Davis’ response was rude and unnecessary. Considering the fact that Emmett Till’s accuser has admitted to lying about Till wolf whistling at her, the insinuation here that Davis is the problem rather than Brownmiller’ representation of the murder of a teenage boy for the crime of being African-American is very concerning.
Firstly we need to stop using words like ‘attack’ to define discussion within the feminist movement. Critical engagement, debate, and self-reflection are essential to all social justice movements. No one should be above criticism and apologising is not a sign of weakness.
Yet, somehow we’ve arrived at a point where we split women into 2 categories: those we put on a pedestal and are absolutely banned from critiquing because they are ‘important’ and those whose work we must NEVER EVER read for fear of our brains imploding. Or, something equally ridiculous. This dichotomy plays straight into the hands of misogynists: we’re so busy back pedalling and apologising that we no longer recognise feminists as women. Women who make mistakes. Women who say stupid shit. Women who say deeply offensive things (and if they are on the pedestal we are definitely not allowed to mention the offensive language and actions). We don’t allow room for women to grow and change as actual human beings.
I am not arguing here for an erasure of past abusive comments, theories and actions or the dismissal of feminist texts which are deeply problematic. We need to acknowledge our actions and the negative consequences these had for other women. We also need to acknowledge that women can grow and change; that the true liberation of women will not happen if we ignore our history. Erasing Angela Davis from the feminist movement in order to protect Susan Brownmiller’s feelings and legacy are not the actions of women who are committed to feminist theory and activism. Against Our Will can be a seminal feminist text and be representative of the erasure of racism from feminist history. These positions are not a dichotomy. They are the true history of the feminist movement, where challenges from within are essential to the success of the movement.
Angela Davis is a Black feminist activist and academic. She did not ‘attack’ Susan Brownmiller. Davis simply demanded that the experience of Black women be recognised as reality; that sexism does not trump the intersecting oppressions experienced by women.
Patricia Hill Collins & Sirma Bilge, Intersectionality, (Polity Press, 2016).
Bell Hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, (Pluto Press, 2000)
Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders: Decolonising Theory, Practicing Solidarity, (Duke University Press, 2003)
Cherry Moraga & Gloria Anzaldua, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Colour, (New York Press, 2015)
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, (Haymarket Books, 2017).
* I prefer Liz Kelly’s theory of feminism as a tapestry which all feminists (and now womanists) create and recreate by adding new threads and undoing that which is now understood to be problematic, rather than feminism as a series of ‘waves’.
” … Still more troubling is your notion that moral bearings (‘civilised values’!) understandably disappear in spaces where people struggle with the worst things that can happen to human beings. We know that, in fact, some of the most courageous human actions, borne of deep decency, manifest themselves in these situations and not on the part of white saviours but those at the sharp end of misery. We also know that in zones like Hollywood, or indeed, academia, that have very little truck with ‘disaster’, notwithstanding the copious amounts of mediocrity they put out, we have seen depraved behaviour and enormous amounts of misconduct. Best case scenario your tweet connecting depraved behaviour and ‘disaster zones’ was a non sequitur. …”
It is now an acknowledged fact that women staff at Save the Children UK’s Headquarters in London suffered harassment and that their leadership failed them. In its public statements SCF-UK is now all about the implementation of policy reviews and a new dawn and a readiness for root and branch reform. Justin Forsyth, the former CEO, and Brendan Cox, his former number two, have both admitted that they mistreated women. But this stems from a crisis that culminated in 2015. Why is it only being acknowledged now? Why didn’t anyone speak up? …
… Jeremy Corbyn, in promoting liberal good intentions fails on good politics. He recently said of his support for trans rights: “I see the person in front of me.” We all do. Our intention is not to remove the rights of trans people to have happy and secure lives but it is to ensure that women’s rights also remain secure and that sex-based protections are not diluted in law. …
Since DC’s painful attempts at live action Superman, Justice League and Suicide Squad films, I’ve been telling everyone, and their cat, that Batman and Superman need to go. They are trite and whiny. And, unbearably smug and pretentious. Joker just needs to die.
Last week, I saw Black Panther with my daughter and two friends. The women in this film were incredible, brilliant, funny, intelligent and strong; characteristics that are missing in far too many superhero films where women are sidekicks and love interests. The difference between Black Panther and other superhero films is immense. We need more films like this rather another ‘woman as sidekick’ film like Marvel’s Antman & Wasp. I was hoping they would break tradition and have a solo Wasp film where she rescues her mother, since Antman should be the annoying sidekick, not a character worthy of subsequent solo films.
1. Storm – This needs to start with an apology from the fools in charge of X-Men Apocalypse who made her evil. Storm is not evil. Storm would never join a man/ God bent on the destruction of humanity. She is a teacher, midwife, and the true heart of the X-Men. Without Storm, the X-Men would have few redeeming characteristics since the men are all whiny and self-absorbed. She is their centre: powerful, strong and compassionate. I’m not going to get into Wolverine’s constant sexual harassment of Jean Grey, but Storm was far too forgiving in not accidentally losing Wolverine in a hurricane. On a different planet.
2. Batgirl: Any of the recent Batgirls would work. Barbara Gordon is the best name for a solo film, but Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown would be excellent too.
5. America Chavez: the origins film. Possibly where Captain America actually dies (if they let him live in Infinity Wars).
6. Iron Heart: Because any more of Tony Stark whining will make my head explode. He’s a dick. In every film. Literally, his only moment of actual humanity is in his relationship with Spiderman. Which is about 7 films too late.
7. Shuri: Because she is incredible. And totally smarter than Tony Stark.
1. Ms Marvel (Kamila Khan), America Chavez and Iron Heart team up with Wakanda’s Nakia, Okoye and Shuri to end the trafficking of women and children throughout the galaxy.
2. Harley Quinn, Posion Ivy & the Birds of Prey team up to kill Joker – and then Harley marries Poison Ivy. Oracle performs the ceremony and then they work together to end male violence against women and girls across the galaxies, recognising gaslighting and coercive control as criminal acts.
3. A Justice League film without the tedious whinging of Batman & Superman. Preferably they are both dead although I’d tolerate a fallen into a different time stream/ alternate reality plot as long as neither actually appear in the film.
8. Batgirl: I‘d quite like an a film in which all of the women who become Batgirl work together. I know the animated Mystery of Batwoman film has 3 women working together as one, but these women deserve a proper film which explores their relationships with each other.
9. Gotham Academy: teenage superheroes with raging hormones? What could go wrong?
*All the art here is by my daughter. You can find all her artwork on her blog Generation Why?, which is named after the first Ms Marvel book featuring Kamila Khan.
“Freya and Frankie’s longing for a baby has put their marriage under strain. IVF is their last hope – but how do you bring a child into the world if you don’t know who you are? Freya’s mother Lilias (an actress on and off stage) will tell her nothing about her father, not even his name.
When Freya signs on at a fertility clinic, she discovers a new capacity for deception in herself, while Lilias is forced to confront the limits of pretence. As the lies and secrets unravel, it seems mother and daughter have more in common than either of them suspects.”
I really struggled with this book. I loved Freya and Frankie: their relationship and their friends were beautiful and heart breaking in equal measures as they all deal with the consequences of Freya’s choice. However, I really disliked the chapters that went back in time to Lilias’ pregnancy. They seemed redundant as much of that plot line was obvious from the discussions between Freya and Lilias. Teasing out Lilias’ choices (and the subsequent consequences for Freya) was intriguing and the relationship between mother and child/ history and fiction were brilliantly written. The time hopping just seemed unnecessary.
It is definitely worth reading – I’d just skip a few of the chapters dated 1972.
We hear this over and over and over again. Every single time a male actor, athlete, musician, artist, politician, chef (and the list goes on) are alleged to be perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, the refrain is “oh, everyone knew”.
The original plan of Everyone Knew was to list only those men for whom allegations had become public in the immediate aftermath of Rowan Farrow’s expose of Harvey Weinstein’s crimes. However, it soon became clear that it was a false division. Part of the reason for including men like Charlie Chaplin and Roman Polanski, whose crimes go back decades, is to show just how ubiquitous this level of entitlement is and just how many men are perpetrators – men who did not suddenly become perpetrators when named in the press. We talk about Harvey Weinstein as though it was a watershed point. The simple truth is the complete opposite. These ‘watershed’ moments are continuous and constant. We need to keep pushing back on the silencing of women and children. And, we need to stop pretending that naming Weinstein will change everything. We have been here before and it hasn’t. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t fight back. We must. Otherwise the abuse will still continue – unnamed because we already ‘solved’ it.
Over the years, feminist activists and journalists have campaigned for boycotts of celebrity men with a history of violence against women and girls. The sheer number of allegations and the multiple perpetrators named in the past month make it difficult to keep track. This is why Everyone Knew was born. It will be a database of convicted perpetrators, as well as naming men who are alleged to be perpetrators. You can find the list here; it is not complete and may never be as many predators will continue to use the their money and their power to silence victims. I have also built sub-categories of employment and industry to show that this is more than just ‘Hollywood’ or some rogue US senators.
You can follow us at @EveryoneKnew17 & #EveryoneKnew
As with many feminist projects, I created this database without external financial support. If you can afford to donate £1 to help continue this project, I would be incredibly grateful.
*** note*** I wrote this the day David Bowie died. I took it down after months and months of rape threats. I’m republishing now, with more links to media coverage of Bowie’s involvement with the ‘baby groupies’ scene.
We need to be absolutely clear about this, adult men do not ‘have sex’ with 13 and 14 year old girls. It is child rape. Children cannot consent to sex with adult men – even famous rock stars. Suggesting this is due to the ‘context’ of 70s LA culture is to wilfully ignore the history of children being sexually exploited by powerful men. The only difference to the ‘context’ here was that the men were musicians and not politicians, religious leaders, or fathers.
The basic requirement for a good person is taking responsibility for their choices and the consequences of their choices. At no point has Bowie, or another of the men involved in the sexual exploitation and rape of ‘baby groupies’ has taken responsibility for the consequences. I have yet to see a statement saying, “I participated in this culture. I hurt children by participating in this culture and I apologise to the children I abused and those whose abuse I ignored.” A man with Bowie’s financial wherewithal could have taken the second step and donated funds to rape crisis centres, funded programs working with vulnerable children at risk of sexual exploitation.
It is perfectly reasonable and rational to mourn a man whose music made a huge impact on your life. It is neither reasonable nor rational to pretend that that person was a ‘god’ and erase their illegal and unethical behaviour because you love their music. I wrote my undergraduate thesis and first MSc to the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s album Californication. That one album has had a positive impact on my life and I still play when working. I’ve since read Anthony Kiedis’ memoir Scar Tissue and know now that he has a history of sexual exploitation of teenage girls. I had been under no illusions of his misogynistic behaviour before reading the book, but I was not aware of the full extent.
David Bowie was an incredible musician who inspired generations. He also participated in a culture where children were sexually exploited and raped. This is as much a part of his legacy as his music.
According to a recent study, 86 percent of women who have spent time in jail report that they had been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. As well, while women represent just 13 percent of the jail population between 2009 and 2011, they represented 67 percent of the victims of staff-on-inmate sexual victimization. Sexual violence is so pronounced among jailed and incarcerated women that Sen. Cory Booker, (D-NJ,) labeled the overarching phenomenon as “a survivor-of-sexual-trauma to prisoner pipeline.”
These numbers come from the Vera Institute of Justice, which authored a survey last year titled “Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform.” Given the rising numbers of incarcerated women, specifically in local jails, and the lack of research on them, the Institute wanted to examine who those women were and what adversities they faced. Other findings were equally alarming as those above.
Two thirds of the women in jail are of color, and the majority of that population is also low-income. Further, nearly 80 percent of the incarcerated are mothers, most of them raising a child without a partner. Eighty-two percent were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, while 32 percent have serious mental illness and 82 percent suffer from drug or alcohol addiction. Finally, 77 percent of those polled were victims of partner violence and and another 60 percent experienced caregiver violence. …
These men are, should you not recognize the type, wide-eyed and perennially confused. What’s the difference, the male bumbler wonders, between a friendly conversation with a coworker and rubbing one’s penis in front of one? Between grooming a 14-year-old at her custody hearing and asking her out?
The world baffles the bumbler. He’s astonished to discover that he had power over anyone at all, let alone that he was perceived as using it. What power? he says. Who, me?
The bumbler is the first to confess that he’s bad at his job. Take Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who testified Tuesday of the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team, which he ran and which is now understood to have been in contact with Russian agents: “We were not a very effective group.” Or consider Dave Becky, the manager of disgraced comedian Louis C.K. (who confessed last week to sexual misconduct). Becky avers that “never once, in all of these years, did anyone mention any of the other incidents that were reported recently.” One might argue that no one should have needed to mention them; surely, as Louis C.K.’s manager, it was Becky’s job to keep tabs on open secrets about his client? Becky’s defense? He’s a bumbler! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ …
It was sometime in 2006 that I remember sitting on my sofa, watching George Galloway pretend to be a cat. Enthralling and disturbing in equal measure though it was, (poor Rula) it was not what struck me about the man. Lodged in my mind far more firmly are the comments he made regarding fellow housemate and glamour model, Jodie Marsh: that perhaps some might feel it sexist, but he believed deep down she likely longed for nothing more than a quiet life of marriage and motherhood. I remember I gasped in disbelief. Had he really just said that? The man on the left beside me didn’t even flinch.
I wish I could say that were the first time it had dawned on me that some men supposedly on my side were not, but the instances are too many to name. The tale of one visiting man, loaded into a shopping trolley and forcibly wheeled off site by exasperated Greenham women, was a staple of my childhood. …
Ms. Millett died Sept. 6 in Paris, a week before her 83rd birthday, with Sophie Keir, her spouse and partner of 39 years, by her side. The memorial was held Thursday afternoon at the Fourth Universalist Society, a Unitarian church on Central Park West.
Before the service, friends and family traded war stories. Barbara Love, the lesbian activist, remembered a protest 50 years ago when she, Ms. Millett and others demonstrated against The New York Times and its gender-segregated want ads. And Ms. Love recalled, hilariously, the many actions Ms. Millett attended with a toilet. “It was arrested several times,” said Ms. Love of the toilet, though not at one famous demonstration in front of the Colgate-Palmolive offices on Park Avenue, when Ms. Millett and others dumped soap flakes into it to protest the company’s treatment of women on the assembly line.
Ms. Millett’s final demonstration was the women’s march last January in New York City, Ms. Love said. She attended in her wheelchair, holding a sign with her name on it. The police opened the barricades for her, and the march’s organizers led her to the front of the line, where demonstrators approached Ms. Millett to pay their respects and give thanks. “Even the police knew who she was,” Ms. Love said. It was a fitting tribute to the woman who some have called the most famous feminist you’ve never heard of. ….
“… Yet if recent events have shown us anything, they have surely shown us that the bureaucratic approach to sexual harassment has got us precisely nowhere. All the policies and procedures and guidelines and hotlines have not delivered justice to the complainants who tried to use them, or curbed powerful men’s enthusiasm for behaving ‘inappropriately’. By contrast, the stories which have circulated under the banner of #metoo have been specific, visceral, and shocking–and they have forced at least some organisations to take decisive action. …”
” … In 2006, I began using necrocapitalism to describe USA’s military-industrial complex and its expansion into sectors as diverse as insurance, medicine, leisure. However, as I traced economic histories, theories and practices, the foundation of our current economic model on slave trade, colonial wealth and yes, death became clearer. Since then, necrocapitalism has evolved to denote wider practices of the current capitalist model. It now seems an apt term to describe an economic model that is collapsing and devouring itself but that given its foundational premise could have had no other end. …
Ordinary people increasingly shut out from the means of subsistence; a rich and powerful minority privatising and extracting rent from common resources – it is 800 years this week since the sealing in London’s St Paul’s Cathedral of the Charter of the Forest and these were the grievances it addressed. Its resonances today are so strong that this ancient document from 1217 is providing the inspiration for a new political settlement at events around the country.
The Charter of the Forest, the lesser-known but equally significant twin of Magna Carta, asserted the rights of ordinary people to access from “the commons” the means for a livelihood and shelter, whether it was grazing their livestock, cutting wood for housing and fuel, fishing and hunting, creating water mills, or sharing the other resources of the forest. It restricted the rights of the king and nobles to privatise and exploit the forest while guaranteeing the rights of the commoners. It represented an early constitutional victory for ordinary people over a wealthy elite, and as such was hugely influential in the writing of other constitutions around the world. The battles in England continued of course, and waves of enclosures across Britain through subsequent centuries stripped away many of the rights. …
Millie Bobby Brown is talented, composed and precocious, but at the end of the day, she is just a 13-year-old girl. When the entertainment industry begins to give her the label of “Sexy,” it teaches both Hollywood insiders and the public that it is acceptable to sexualize a child.
While the current Hollywood sex scandal became public with the allegations that producer Harvey Weinstein had an extensive history of sexually harassing and assaulting women who were typically in their early 20s, it has since expanded to include the revelations that actor Kevin Spacey has had sexual relationships with and attempted to sexually assault teenage boys.
When child actor Corey Feldman attempted to speak out about the ongoing problem of pedophilia in Hollywood on an episode of The View in 2013, Barbara Walters interrupted him, saying, “You’re damaging an entire industry!” Now, the increasing number of sexual assault allegations against some of the most prominent directors, producers and actors in Hollywood is serving as a reminder that Feldman was not attempting to damage the industry—the industry had already damaged itself. ….
Miscarriages in Flint: ‘I Really Believe It’s the Water’, by Auditi Guha
… Researchers studying the water crisis recently found a high number of fetal deaths and fewer pregnancies in Flint since April 2014, which is when the city switched its water supply to use water from the polluted Flint River without adding anti-corrosives to treat it.
Comparing health records with 15 other Michigan cities, David Slusky from the University of Kansas and Daniel Grossman from West Virginia University found that fetal death rates jumped by 58 percent and fertility rates dropped by 12 percent in Flint, according to the Detroit Free Press. Their working paper is yet to be peer reviewed.
Nakiya Wakes, 42, one of the women portrayed in a movie about Flint that debuted last month, has faced two miscarriages, including one last month, and is convinced they were caused by her exposure to the lead in the water.
A mother of two, she moved to Flint in June 2014, and was pregnant with twins a year later. Five months into it, she lost one; and in her second trimester, she lost the other, she told Rewire. …