The Vicky Bliss Mysteries: Great Feminist Books; Unfortunate Use of the word Misandry

I loved these books. They totally inspired my inner history nerd especially as I know *nothing* about art or art history. I love museums and art galleries but my retention of who did what and when is appalling. I have fairly plebian tastes about art and am firmly convinced that all outdoor art installations are meant to be climbed on by small children. There is no point in art existing if we all just stand around staring at it. Art should be engaged with and small children crawling all over outdoor sculptures is engagement.

The first Vicky Bliss book by Elizabeth Peters, Borrower of the Night, dates from 1973. It is an overtly feminist book with the character of Vicky Bliss announcing her stance as a feminist in the first chapter. She is an art historian with a PhD teaching at a small US college [who then starts working at a museum in Germany by stint of some excellent blackmail]. She is bright, funny, intelligent, and ambitious; all required characteristics of a great feminist.

But, and its a huge but, Peters insists on using the word “misandry”. I hate this word, especially when its bandied about to describe one man. It is perfectly legitimate to hate one man because they are a rapist or a misogynist or a racist or homophobic or a thousand other things. But, misandry isn’t the word to use here. It’s just hate. Misandry is a word bandied about by Misogynist Rights Activists [MRAs] who like to think that ‘misandry’ is equal to misogyny which is complete and unmitigated nincompoopery.

Misogyny isn’t just hating women. It’s the structural, institutionalised, and endemic hatred of women which is (re)created and replicated in political, social, religious and cultural systems. It is embedded in every facet of society and isn’t just about disliking one women; it’s about engaging in behaviours which replicate the patriarchal subjugation of women. It is everything from sexist jokes to pornography to rape culture. It’s about millions of women dying needlessly every day because they are women through all kinds of violence including malnutrition from not being valued enough to be given enough food to eat. It’s the laws on rape which favour male rapists over female victims. It’s in the piss poor child maintenance and domestic violence laws. It’s in the basic practise of women being paid less than men for the same job or being considered responsible for all the childcare and housework. It is the practise of rape as a tactic of war on female bodies to “emasculate” their male “protectors”. It is in every music video which requires a talented female musician to gyrate half-naked in order to sell their music. It is everywhere. And, it is everything.

Misandry only exists in the minds of whiny-arsed men afraid of having to give up their privileged positions. Misandry only exists in the minds of misogynists. It is not real.

FFS: School Uniforms DON’T improve children’s learning or behaviour.

It doesn’t matter if you stick a bunch of preschoolers in ties or teenagers in bright orange prison jumpsuits, dressing children the same doesn’t make them better learners. It doesn’t make them behave better. Children learn best in safe environments where they are respected and where the staff and management respect one another. I know I’ve ranted about this before [and all over MN] but I have NEVER seen any research-based evidence that says uniform increases student outcomes or changes their behaviour positively. I have seen lots of studies which imply this [and media coverage which swears blind that this is the case] but in these studies the inclusion or formalising of school uniforms has always been part of a wide-ranging number of changes to the schools including a new management team and a new behavioural contract policy.

This article in the BBC just made me want to rip my hair out. Now, I don’t necessarily agree that teenagers calling their teachers by their first names is a good thing. That’s the type of behaviour that comes after positive relationships already exist between the students and staff [and I frigging loathe the diminutive “Miss” for women teachers. Totally demeaning that shit is]. But, this pretence that British children learn better wearing ties and shorts in the winter is just nincompoopery. American, Canadian and German children don’t wear uniforms and their children aren’t running about like Barbarians blowing up schools and assassinating their teachers. Violence does occur but that is reflected, particularly in the US, in the exclusion of poor, ethnic minority students into sinkhole schools and gang culture. It’s about poverty and racism. Children aren’t stupid. They can tell when their school is funded properly or when they are being dumped somewhere with teachers who don’t care and they respond accordingly.

Could we just stop with this freaking cognitive dissonance about ties making kids learn better. It just seriously farks me off.

Edinburgh Book Festival: Cultural Femicide at its Finest

The Edinburgh Book Festival catalogue has, once again, arrived by post. As ever, it’s dominated by male authors. Lots and lots of men writing books and speaking about books and having important thoughts and questions about books. Granted, there are a number of women authors represented in photos but that’s clearly an advertising fudge. At least, I think its a fudge. I haven’t actually bothered to count the number of male and female authors attending and then do some fancy maths comparing them with the photographic representations. But, I’m pretty confident that the women authors are disproportionately represented in the photographs of the festival than women authors are actually speaking at it.

In fact, most of the women authors seem to be children’s authors. Now, I’m a huge fan of children’s fiction [except for Twilight and books about magic ponies. Those are just all kinds of awful] but we all know that in the world of literature, children’s fiction just doesn’t quite cut it which is unfortunate as, apparently, J.K Rowling is one of the only billionaires in the UK who actually pay proper income tax. [Not that I’m suggesting anyone who hasn’t read all her books needs to run out tomorrow to buy them, but a brilliant woman author who pays tax? The Tories won’t find one of them]. Children’s literature is dominated by dead, white men. Newer, more popular, children’s books are derided as rubbish and dull. The Harry Potter books, some of the best-selling books ever, are frequently dismissed with “at least, it gets boys reading book”. Talk about damning with faint praise. Now, I do happen to think that there are a lot of children’s authors who write literature [as opposed to popular fiction which I enjoy just as much]. Women like Kit Pearson, Jean Little and Madeleine L’Engle write literature [however poncily you want to define that term]. Authors like Jacqueline Wilson, who is a constant presence at EBF and financially successful to boot, are relegated by snobbery to being unimportant. The dismissal of books aimed at children is part of cultural femicde because it denies the very power and success women writers have with audiences of children, who are just as critical about the quality of books as adults are.

There are some incredible women authors attending EBF. I’m looking forward to Caroline Moorhead’s The Resistance Women Who Survived Auschwitz. I am interested in the contested definitions of resistance as is applied to the Holocaust and how the label of “resister/resistance” is culturally appropriated or denied depending on political context, who has the right to label themselves resister and who has the right label others as resister. This debate is clearly played out publicly in discussions over Fania Fenelon’s memoir Playing for Time; a book which is both feted for its honestly and critiqued for its rewriting of history. I’m also looking forward to Jeanette Winterson, Kate Summerscale and Monique Roffrey. I have, for the past few years, tried only to see women authors speak but it is difficult, particularly when one is starting from a feminist position.

Interestingly, and totally opposite to the rest of my ranting about the EBF in general, is the Anobii First Book Award given to either writers of their first book or overseas authors whose book has just been translated into English. This award seems to have gender parity which raises some interesting questions. I don’t actually know how authors are selected; if they volunteer or are chosen by committee. However, if they are chosen, then it does seem like the emphasis on “Important Male Authors” is a deliberate [if subconscious] policy. It also reflects an ageism since the women writers nominated for the Anobii prize are all very young, reflecting both their status as first-time published authors but also, perhaps, an acknowledgement of the cultural femicide inherent in the book industry. At least, I hope so. Either way, the Anobii prize is quite odd considered the gendered nature of the rest of the event.

And, finally, I’m also slightly perplexed by the keynote question which is “should literature be political?” How, precisely, can someone argue that it isn’t. Even the drivel which is Twlight [and it is serious fucking misogynistic drivel about loving your abusive boyfriend and cutting out all your friends and family so he doesn’t hurt you] is political. Hell, its the ultimate Patriarchal Handmaiden text written by a Mormon evangelising the no sex before marriage bullshit which works out so well for society. Literature is, and always has been, political; as much when it focuses on the private lives of individuals as it does on the public political and cultural structures of society. Also, the panel to discuss it seems to include no one in possession of a vagina. Obviously, because women never write books about political issues.

I do love EBF. I love the hope they maintain every year in holding the festival in a bunch of tents in Charlotte Square. I love the fact that its a mud swamp by day three. I love the whimsy involved in tossing random rubber ducks into the swamp for decorative purposes. Most of all, I love the fact that the slide show shown before every session only contains pictures of lovely literary people having picnics in the grass on the one day a year that the festival isn’t a mud swamp. You can’t argue with that level of cognitive dissonance. Yet, every year I’m disappointed by the lack of women writers, by the lack of overtly feminist writers. As a general rule of thumb, EBF is a lovely day out with a great bookstore but the Independent Radical Bookfare held in October has a greater variety of authors and a better gender parity.

Oh, and before I get any pissy comments telling me to calm down or that I’m over-reacting, women buy more books than men. Women read more books than men. There are more women involved in the publishing industry than men and it’s women’s volunteer labour which makes many book festivals possible. We should expect gender parity in book festivals when the vast majority of people involved in the industry have vaginas.

Women Power: Family Planning Saves Lives

The lack of access women, all over the world, have to birth control and abortion directly impacts on family and community structures. Where there is little or no access, there is an increase in maternal and infant mortality with the practise of unsafe abortions, occasionally infanticide, or the birth of unwanted children [particularly due to economics] causing untold problems in communities. There are cultural prohibitions against some forms of birth control but the lack of access to basic medical care [or even clean water] means that too many women are suffering from unwanted pregnancies and too many children are being born into families that can not support them. This is without getting into the issue of women being allowed to control what happens to their own bodies by having the power to control whether or not they conceive without being coerced via government policy or economics. Even ignoring the US governments cowardly policy, during the Bush administration, of not funding any family planning clinic that mentioned abortion, the impact on women’s lives has been horrendous.

There have been several high profile campaigns bringing media and world attention to this issue; notably the White Ribbon Alliance on Maternal Mortality whose global patron is Sarah Brown. Their information page contains numerous links to important research into maternal mortality, including the research into feeding infants during emergencies; a piece of information that the large multi-national corporations like Nestle like to pretend doesn’t exist. It might sound counter-intuitive but donations of formula and baby-food in disaster zones, particularly where access to clean water is non-existant, lead to increases in infant mortality. It is much safer for infants to be breastfed and any woman who has previously lactated can feed an infant as the female body is designed to respond to the nutritional needs of an infant. The White Ribbon Alliance works in partnership with other organisations in a variety of nations to advocate for safe motherhood as a basic human right.

The newest campaign on safe motherhood and reproductive rights kicked off with the International Reporting Project sending 11 bloggers to Kenya to report on reproductive health and population issues. The bloggers, including the very lovely Lynn Schreiber, spent the first day in Kibera, one of the largest slums in East Africa where population estimates range up to 3 million [although this generally considered too high]. This is part of the lead-up to The London Summit on Family Planning held jointly by the Gates Foundation and the UK government in July [with any luck Melinda Gates will shame Cameron into at least pretending to be human].

There are some obvious questions which need to raised when dealing with the issue of family planning, particularly in relation to issues of coercion and the, quite violent, history of population control polices such as those enacted in Nazi Germany and China not to mention places like California which had enforced sterilisation programs for those deemed unfit. Dorothy Roberts’ Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty lists some of the coercive policies enacted in the US to prevent poor African-Americans from having children. It included the use of mandatory birth control in New Jersey in order to receive public benefits. In the 1990s. We may think of Nazi Germany and China when thinking of coercive population control but they are by no means the only guilty party and it isn’t “history”. Coercive reproductive measures happen everyday anywhere that access to birth control, abortion and medical facilities are not present [and this is without getting into the issue of rape and sexual violence which severely impact on women’s health, particularly in war and disaster zones].

This is why I was glad to see that Amnesty International, the Centre for Reproductive Rights, Action Aid and dozens of other human rights organisations, academics and women’s rights activists have signed this declaration:

We, civil society organizations working to promote women’s and young people’s human rights, call on world leaders on the eve of the “Family Planning Summit”, hosted by the UK Government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights are at the centre of all efforts to meet reproductive health needs, including family planning. Contraceptive information and services – “family planning” – form an essential part of the health services that women need throughout their lives. Any steps to increase demand for contraceptives must actively support efforts to improve comprehensive and integrated sexual and reproductive health.  

Contraceptives must be provided through primary healthcare, with full regard for women’s human rights and the specific needs of young and unmarried women and other groups. Our experience, built over decades of work around the world, has taught us that the failure to take actions guided by women’s human rights – to health, to life, to live free from discrimination among others – can have devastating consequences. Policies that accept or tacitly condone forced sterilization, the coercive provision of contraceptives, and the denial of essential services to the young, poor and marginalized women that need them every day have violated, and continue to violate, women’s human rights. 

Nearly twenty years ago, governments at the International Conference on Population and Development agreed that respect for women’s reproductive autonomy is the cornerstone of population policy. Any return to coercive family planning programs where quality of care and informed consent are ignored would be both shocking and retrograde. The Family Planning Summit must ensure that the clocks are not put back on women’s human rights: women’s autonomy and agency to decide freely on matters related to sexual and reproductive health without any discrimination, coercion or violence must be protected under all circumstances. …

Save the Children are also involved in the Family Planning Summit and have started a petition requesting that the British government make a firm commitment to the issue of family planning and safe motherhood. Please sign this petition to help women around the world give birth and raise their children with access to real health care [and education].

Free access to birth control, family planning and safe motherhood should be a basic human right with every woman having the control over her own body and her own family. Anything less is nothing more than a return to the normal coercive practises but this time tied up in a different fancy box with a UN ribbon on top.

Misogynistic Advertising Walk of Shame: Compeed Blister Pads

I know nothing about sports. I don’t like playing them and I don’t understand people who watch them obsessively on TV [and that’s without getting into the environmentally destructive racing sports which annoy me on several levels]. So, obviously, I didn’t recognise the name Caroline Wozniacki. It is somewhat of a standing joke that I have to google half the references in both the Daily Mail and “women’s magazines”. I don’t read either which saves me time.

Now, the first compeed blister pad advertisement with Caroline Wozniacki isn’t the most misogynistic drivel I’ve ever seen. That Perrier blowjob-whilst-drinking-water ad probably tops my list right now. Yes, the ad features unnecessary close-ups of Wozniacki’s legs just to make sure the audience [who are assumed to be stupid] know that she’s a “girl”. Her black dress is the usual tight, ridiculous signifier of women’s sexuality. So, whilst the ad is sexist, it’s not quite the essence of misogynistic stupidity which annoys the crap out of me.

This advertisement, however, makes me want to rip my hair out. It’s Wozniacki, in a little black dress, playing tennis in high heels. Because all tennis superstars play tennis in their high heels. In high heels that give them blisters. One would think that an athlete would take slightly better care of her feet than to run about in shoes that give her blisters, especially considering she can afford to buy lots of shoes. But, no, in order to sell blister pads to women wearing shoes which don’t fit them properly, we have to turn an athlete into a fucktoy.

How about women stop wearing shoes that give them blisters? Or cause the same damage as Chinese foot-binding; a practise banned because of its inherent cruelty? Then we wouldn’t need blister pads. [and our bodies wouldn’t be crippled with pain].

Then Compeed couldn’t bore the shit out of us with this travesty of stupidity.

Loving the NHS: Why Privatisation Kills

Someone on Twitter linked to this document Dying for Coverage: The Deadly Consequences of Being Uninsured by Families USA. And, I read it. And, I was horrified. One of the statistics quoted is that more people in California in 2010 died because of a lack of health insurance than in car accidents. Now, I’m not unfamiliar with the shite which passes as the US healthcare system. You can’t grow up in Canada in a place which only had American TV channels accessible or attend uni in a border town without getting at least a passing understanding of its all-round crapness. But, the idea that more people die from lack of adequate healthcare than in car accidents [with the sheer number of stupid people who are apparently legally entitled to drive; some as young as 15] is just jaw-dropping.

Living on the border with the US, you see lots of healthcare tourists. Many are elderly people on pensions travelling several days on buses in order to buy their prescription medications for pretty basic conditions like asthma and diabetes [and I say basic because the treatments like ventolin have been on the market for years and cost very little in Canada or the UK]. The use of the term “tourism” is just farcical. Travelling 4 days on a bus when you’re 75 to get treatment for diabetes is not the sign of a civilised nation. And, it’s hardly surprising that the states with the highest amount of deaths due to lack of health insurance are the states with the largest populations of Hispanics, African-Americans and other ethnic minorities. Nothing says racism quite like poor access to healthcare. Nothing says racism quite like institutionalised and systemic murder through lack of basic healthcare. And, there can be no debate on this. A child who dies of cancer because they can’t afford the treatment isn’t dying because of cancer. They are being murdered by a society that doesn’t give a shit.

The Affordable Care Act comes into effect in 2014. It still won’t guarantee basic health insurance for every person living in the US and that’s only if the evil Republicans don’t get it vetoed [and anyone who participates in that should be going straight to hell]. This bill still doesn’t cover universal access to birth control, abortion or maternity services. The US has one of the highest rates of maternal death in “Western-Industrialised” economies. The misogyny inherent in killing women through lack of access to these services is astronomical.

 I am proud to live in a country which has free healthcare at the point of service. Where a child with cancer is treated at ANY hospital, regardless of their insurance. Where abortion and birth control are considered human rights. Where prescription medications are available for all and not just those lucky enough to be wealthy.

Apparently, Angela Merkel has a vagina.

I know this because @IndiaKnight, and others, are gleefully insulting her “camel toe” on Twitter. Now, this could be some of my weird-arse feminist principles coming into play, but Angela Merkel’s vagina or vulva or whatever genitalia is currently being belittled is possibly the least interesting thing about her. [Unless she has a corn on her toe. I don’t actually care about that either.] The important thing here is that she’s the Chancellor of Germany; like the only financially stable country in Europe right now.

The woman has actual fiscal power to help end the recession [not to mention that pesky issue of the more women in power, the more likely issues specific to women are to get government attention]. Merkel is a hell of a lot smarter than The Double Nincompoop Act of Sarkozy and Berlusconi and I thank the Goddess everyday that those two are gone. But, I don’t remember Twitter insulting the various genitalia of those two and, frankly, their sexually predatory behaviour is well-documented.

But, Merkel has a vagina. And, it doesn’t matter what she does or how she does it. All that matters is that, today, Merkel has a “camel toe” and, therefore, is an object of ridicule. My crazy-arse Feminist principles don’t care how Merkel looks. I care what she says and the consequences of her actions. They have the real ability to cause serious harm or fix a serious situation. Her vagina does not. So let’s stop playing the Patriarchal Fuckability Game and start worrying about what Merkel is doing [along with every other European politician] right now.

Girls In Science: How to Patronise and Offend in 45 Seconds.

This is an EU Initiative to encourage girls into science. Its’ a video involving 18 year old models in skintight clothing, wearing ridiculous shoes, crawling about on their bellies for a tube of lipstick. Because nothing says science more than sexualising a bunch of teenagers and making them look desperate for lipstick: the one thing guaranteed to bring them wealth, success and happiness.

It’s just all kinds of awful. It’s the kind of campaign one would expect from 14 year old boys who have never had a date. Or, a stupid misogynist who actively hates women and doesn’t think women can be scientists. Because there is no excuse for this level of misogyny to be made by an organisation who are charged with breaking gendered stereotypes. All this does is reinforce the same patriarchal bullshit which assumes that women are nothing unless they are fuckable; even if they are geniuses like Rosalind Franklin [DNA and who was not awarded the Nobel Prize because she passed away several months before the ceremony], Marie Curie [the first person – and not just one with a vagina – to be awarded two Nobel prizes in chemistry and physics] or, you know, every freaking woman on the planet [and in space] currently working with the field of science in physics, chemistry, archaeology, paleo-bottany, AIDS research and on and on and on and on and so forth.

I do like the inclusion of the fuck me heels: you know the ones which cause exactly the same damage to women’s feet as the [now banned] practise of Chinese footbinding. An activity roundly condemned for its misogyny and the actual physical, debilitating harm it caused women. But, now, roundly hailed as a sign of a really fuckable woman in “Western culture”. Because nothing says “fuck me” like deliberately physically destroying one’s body for the pleasure of someone else.

I could complain all day about the minutiae of this video but, instead, I think everyone needs to watch the Unofficial Response To EU Misogyny: Because It’s Brilliant.

Also, this video is so clearly an example of cultural femicide. So much so, that I expect the Girl Guides will be writing snotty letters to the EU next week.

Have to add this because it’s genius: This is what a Scientist Looks Like

Hilariously, the original video link has been removed from Youtube. I’m guessing because of all the negative comments underneath so this is a new link.

Misogynistic Advertising Walk of Shame: Perrier Water

Perrier has outdone themselves with the ‘women are nothing more than wankfodder for men’ with this particularly stupid piece of misogyny. Basically, it’s a female ‘astronaut’ (and I use that term loosely) in a gold ‘spacesuit’ prancing about in sexualised poses doing the faux blowjob-licking-her-lips schtick. Do males over the age of 14 actually find this attractive?

And, seriously, thanks ever so fecking much Perrier for using what could have been a really brilliant woman-as-scientist motif and reduces women to nothing more than fuckbots. Genius display of creativity that.

Adding Perrier to the boycott.

Here’s a link to the ad with a genius article suggesting its “inspired” by 2001: A Space Odyssey. Honestly, I’m just shrieking with laughter at the self-congratulatory twaddle in the review.

Father’s Day: The Patriarchal Whiny Prize.

My feelings on the capitalist-patriarchal conspiracy which is Mother’s Day are quite clear. It was a fob-off for women who do most of the work most of the time. So they get one insipid little day a year to go home to visit their Mummies (and all the work that goes into it). It is patriarchal obfuscation at its finest: one day a year. Despite doing all the shit work. And, that’s without getting into the issue of whose responsible for mothers-in-law. Here’s a hint: not usually the person with a penis they gave birth too.

Father’s Day, on the other hand, is just the kind of stupid prize men give themselves in self-congratulatory hypocrisy because, God forbid, women get something men don’t. (See also International Men’s Day in response to International Women’s Day). Giving yourself a prize for doing nothing is totally a male response. And utterly pathetic.

Here’s a couple of tips for men on Father’s Day:

Stand up and be a father.

Do 50% of the parenting.

Do 50% of the scut work.

Do 50% of the shit work.

Get up in the middle of the night with your sick kids.

Take the day off work when your kids are sick.

You don’t ‘baby-sit’ your kids. You are a parent.

You don’t get rewards for acting like an adult. You shouldn’t get one for being a parent.

Pay maintenance. Not paying maintenance is child abuse.

You show up for contact. There is nothing more important than your children. You skip contact to watch football, then you are a shit father.

Domestic violence makes you a shit father. Abusing your partner in front of your children is child abuse.

If you can’t name your child’s teacher, best friend or medication, you are a shit father.

If you can’t name your child’s favourite toy, you are a shit father.

If you need to be told what time your child’s school starts or the names of their after-school activities, you are a shit father.

Parenting is a 24/7 job with no breaks or overtime. If you don’t understand that, then don’t have PIV. Children deserve real fathers; not neglectful arse wipes who care more about their cocks than they do their children.