Lisa Hilton’s Athenais: When spite is mistaken for women’s history

I came across this book in a charity shop. I’m glad it only cost 50p, otherwise I’d have to write to the publisher demanding my money back for mis-selling a deeply spiteful text as a “biography” of Athenais, mistress of King Louis XIV of France.

Whilst the premise is ostensibly biographical, it’s mostly a treatise on how ugly women deserve to be treated like pieces of shit. And, any man who cheats on his ‘ugly’ wife has every right to; especially if you are the King of France and like pretty things. Then you get to be as abusive, cruel, and selfish as you like. You can humiliate and insult your wife, pretend she doesn’t’ exist, and still be considered a good guy, Because, hey, you’re the king, And, even the ugliest guy doesn’t deserve an ugly wife. Even if they are violent and hateful and cruel.

Even Athenais is dismissed as irrelevant once she stops being beautiful. Her beauty gone because she got fat. After giving birth to 9 children and being in a relationship with a man who forced all of those around him to eat too much.

Below are three images of the snide way in which women are treated. Hilton’s misogyny was accompanied by the usual classism and racism, but I have just picked examples of her loathing of women.

Here we have the theory that Queen Marie-Therese was so ugly that King Louis XIV was required to cheat on her repeatedly.

The Dauphin’s choice of an ‘ugly’ woman was clearly because he was insane. As no proper king would choose such an ugly woman (except, obviously, his father who was also trapped in a marriage with an ugly woman). 

And, women are stupid. Therefore, completely deserving of being described as hysterical.

No one should bother reading this book, and I am now stuck between burning the copy I have, keeping it so no one else is forced to read it, or returning it to the charity shop I bought it from.

Burning it is my current default position.

Zadie Smith: why the focus on make-up ignores the massive elephant in the room

I was fortunate enough to get tickets to see Zadie Smith at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year, which is why I know the “Zadie Smith banned her daughter from wearing make-up” is utter bollocks. Quite how the person who spread this rumour managed to understand Smith’s comment as a ban is mind-boggling. I’m veering between two options: a) they are on the wrong side of dim; b) deliberately propagated this for click bait.

It is incredibly disappointing to see media who claim to be feminist calling out Smith without investigating the context in which Smith referred to make-up. She did not “ban’ her daughter from wearing make-up.  The statement below was in response to a question from the about raising children within the harmful culture of patriarchal standards that hold girls to unrealistic expectations of beauty. Smith used the issue of time as a way to explain to her daughter, in age appropriate language, how patriarchal standards negatively impact girls’ lives.

This article from Feministing very good on ‘choice’ feminism and patriarchy:

… Makeup cannot be beyond the realm of criticism just because we enjoy it and it makes us feel good. There are social contexts and structures which contribute to why we enjoy it and why it makes us feel good. Our existence in a misogynistic society operates in complex ways: we can subvert and reappropriate the tools of our oppression, but we cannot completely erase the patriarchal conditions of our existence through our own choices and enjoyment.

To lambaste Zadie Smith for expressing worry that her daughter could be forced to care about things that her son won’t be compelled to care about — things that could affect her self-worth, her spending, and her assessment of herself — is to fall into an uncritical and complicit liberal feminism. We can, and must, pass on a feminism that more rigorously interrogates systems (and does not see this critique as an attack on individuals) to the next generation of young people who will need it to navigate a sexist world. …

What seriously pisses me off about the attacks on Smith are that all of this media coverage has erased the real problem: white privilege.

The chair of the sessions was critic Stuart Kelly, who I had not heard of before this. I had a raised eyebrow early in the session due to some of Kelly’s questions, which were on the wrong side of pompous. This is without the multiple references to his involvement with the Man Booker prize. I left the session under the impression that Kelly had been both a judge and the organising committee for a number of years. Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, says no.

Kelly lost all credibility when he stated that the focus on choosing ‘quality’ books for major literary awards will, eventually, lead to ‘equality’; that focusing on gender, race, or class is not necessary. Quite how long he expected this transformation to take considering millennia of oppression experienced by those not privileged enough to have been born white, rich and male.

I’m also pretty certain he’s been practising that statement in front of the bathroom mirror because he looked incredibly pleased with himself for sneaking it in. Because he was a judge at the Man Booker prize one year. After a deer in the headlights moment when he realised no one was going to give him cookies for being awesome, Kelly opened the session up to questions from the audience; a number of which were more white people’s feelings than recognising Smith’s discussions of race, class and gender.

Granted, a number of questions from the audience weren’t exactly quintessential examples of intersectionality at play, but the focus on Smith’s words around make-up and raising girls in a culture which considers beauty more important than intelligence is sexism. I would love to see feminist press targeting Kelly’s refusal to understand how multiple oppressions prevent people from accessing publishers; never mind how books are chosen for literary awards. Instead, they’ve gone for shaming Smith for trying to raise a daughter who recognises the structural oppressions within a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

Sharing images of ‘missing children’: the problems of violent fathers and spiteful trolls

Within hours of the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, people across social media were sharing images of those who were declared missing. Some of these were shared by family and friends who knew girls and women attending the concert, but who had not yet heard whether they were safe. These images were also being shared by those wanting to help – a desire borne out of genuine kindness. Unfortunately, by early Tuesday morning, media were already reporting that some of the images being shared were of people who were not at the concert. One of the first images we saw when we logged on to Twitter was of Nasar Ahmed, who died in November from an asthma attack at school. We immediately tweeted out asking people not to share images of children declared missing unless they knew that the source is real. At that point, we didn’t know the scale of the spiteful and cruel trolling. Then we were informed that another image being shared was of Jayden Parkinson who was murdered in 2013 by her boyfriend, who had a history of domestic violence. In the end, multiple false images were being shared; many of which originated from a thread on reddit where men were encouraging each other to deliberately and maliciously harm the families and friends of victims with ‘fake news’.

Male violence doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The toxic hyper-masculinity, which results in suicide bombers targeting young girls attending a concert in Manchester, the mass sexualised violence of children, and the proliferation of violent pornography is also responsible for the so-called ‘trolling’ of victims of male violence. Terrorists, like rapists and domestic violence perpetrators, depend on the support of these men to increase the carnage and fear. Whilst we’re quite sure that these ‘trolls’, who deliberately shared misleading images will have absolute tantrums about being compared to the supporters of Daesh, they are part of the same conducive context of violence against women and girls that allows male violence and toxic masculinity to flourish.

This is the reality of male violence in the global context: men believing they have the right to commit violence against the bodies of women and children; men believing they are entitled to control women and children; and men thinking it is hilarious to maliciously target traumatised victims and their families.

There is another reason to be careful when sharing images of ‘missing children’ online, which is also due to male violence. In this case, it is men who are perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse.The most dangerous time for women is when they leave a controlling or violent partner. It is this time period which sees an increase in the intensity of violence, such as that requiring medical treatment, but also murder: of the woman, a mother with her children, or the children to ‘punish’ the mother. Violent fathers denied access to their children have been creating fake ‘missing children’ notices for years, relying on the kindness of strangers on social media to stalk former partners and children.

It is essential to ensure that images of ‘missing children’ come from a reliable source: a family member or police in order to prevent violent men finding victims of their violence and, now, preventing so-called ‘trolls’ for targeting victims of terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, due to institutionalised racism and misogyny, police forces don’t always recognise missing children as ‘missing’. BAME children are far more likely to be deemed ‘runaways’ and, therefore, not worth ‘wasting’ police time in searching for them. Mainstream media are equally culpable and are far more likely to share images of white children who are missing. Sometimes social media is the only place actively searching for these children. If a missing child image does not come from a reliable source, you can reverse image research to find the origins of the photo.

In a just and fair world, all missing children would be deemed equally important. Mainstream media would give as much attention to a missing 14-year-old Black boy from London as they do a 13-year-old white girl from Surrey. The police would have appropriate resources to find children and support them – after all, children who do run away from home do so for a reason. Sometimes home is the least safe space for a child. Children, and their mothers, would be able to live free of violence, or the threat therein. Perpetrators would be held accountable for their actions and choices. Family courts would ban violent fathers from using them to continue controlling their former partners. Child contact would be deemed in the best interest of the child based on peer-reviewed research, which clearly shows that children do better without being forced to visit violent fathers.

We don’t live in a just world though. And, until then, we need to take care on social media to ensure that the children labelled missing are actually missing. We need to hold the mainstream media and police to account when they fail to investigate and report on missing BAME children. It is a delicate balance that no one will not always get right every time, because it is hard to believe just how spiteful and malicious online ‘trolls’ are. They depend on our compassion for others, which is why we need to hold the men who posted false images of ‘missing children’ legally culpable, as well as those who commit terrorist attacks. Sharing fake images of ‘missing’ children is a heinous act and it is part of the continuum of violence against women and girls. We need to eradicate all forms and this starts with insisting that spiteful and malicious ‘trolling’ of the victims of violence is a serious criminal act so that no other family has to go through what happened to those impacted by the Manchester bombing: as victims themselves or families like those of Ahmed and Parkinson.

 

First published at Everyday Victim Blaming on 7.6.2017

Voting Labour; even if your local candidate is a bit of a buckethead

My local labour candidate is a nincompoop. As 30 seconds perusing Gordon Munro’s election pamphlet would demonstrate. Not only does he include a rather unnecessary amount of information about his history of swimming and water polo at our local pool, he’s also included a huge photo of himself with George Clooney. Quite why no one questioned the relevance of that photo is anyone’s guess. It is not the worst election pamphlet I’ve seen this time. That honour goes to a UKIP candidate who is strangely obsessed with the types of metal used in a Robin Hood statue.

I’ve been involved in local community organisations in Leith for over a decade. It’s safe to say Munro’s questionable tendencies predate his photo op with Clooney. Munro is fairly well-known for supporting projects that increase his prestige and power – such as his insistence that the Duncan Place Resource Centre closure due to the building being condemned following years of council mismanagement isn’t really a big deal. And, that the programs offered by the DPRC could be transferred easily to the Leith Community Centre, despite it being a third of the size and involving only halls rather than community education classrooms and other specialist facilities. 3 guesses which community centre board Gordon Munro has been involved with over the years.

For years, I’ve been saying that I only voted for Munro because my former Labour MSP, Malcolm Chisholm, could be trusted to squash Munro’s more eyebrow raising decisions. Chisholm retired at the last Scottish Parliament election and was replaced by a male SNP MSP who looks about 12 and has zero understanding of male violence (or even what his own parties policies were on this prior to the election). Since a write-in campaign to have Chisholm elected Prime Minister against his will isn’t an appropriate response to destroying the Tory party, I will be voting for Gordon Munro. I fully intend to be as big a pain in his arse when he’s an MP as he was as a local councillor, even though I appear to be permanently off his Christmas card list now.

I’m voting labour because I’m a single mother with 2 children, an obscene amount of university debt, and a disability that has severely curtailed my ability to work, even part time. Gordon Munro might not be my favourite politician, but neither are my other local councillors Chaz Booth (Green) and Adam McVey (SNP). I do trust Munro on a number of issues that are important to me and I’m perfectly content to spend the next 5 years campaigning to ensure that Munro changes his stance on other policies (provision of community centres, massive investment in the crumbling fabric of school buildings, 3 block radius ban on parking near schools for non-residents, the banning of all men from driving cars in my neighbourhood).

I’m voting Labour because:

I’m also a fan of Labour’s leaked policy expanding abortion rights to women living in Northern Ireland. I’d like them to go even further to remove the “2 doctor mental health’ rule for women accessing abortion in England and Wales (Scotland will be reviewing the rule during his parliament).

I’m going to campaign for Labour to do the following over the next few years:

  • Ban Trident
  • Stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia
  • Recognise that the child poverty is due to fathers refusing to pay maintenance, which is a form of child abuse
  • Ring fenced massive investment in schools
  • Ring fenced massive investments in the NHS
  • Ring fenced massive investment in community care
  • Fundamental changes to family courts and child access that recognise that viewing domestic violence against a mother is also child abuse. Children have the right to live free from exposure to violence and that includes violence perpetrated by their fathers
  • Higher corporation taxes
  • More post-secondary training programs for young people
  • End to housing refugees in detention centres (and increasing financial support for asylum seekers)
  • End to charitable status for private schools.
  • Expansion of right to vote to all 16 year olds.

 

I’m voting Labour because we cannot afford another 5 years of Tory rule. Too many people have already died because of Tory policy. My local Labour candidate might make me roll my eyes on a daily basis, but he isn’t creating policies that force people into poverty or supporting polices that actively kill people. Perfection is a goal, not a reality in politics. And, right now, we need a labour government more than ever, regardless of whether or not you actively like your local candidate or if you loathe Jeremy Corbyn.

We need a labour government now more than ever.

Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow conference

This is the speech I had written for the Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics; yesterday, today and tomorrow in May 2014. I didn’t actually say what I had written. Instead, I spoke specifically to male violence as a silencing tactic and erasure of women’s work because of male violence.

I want to thank every single woman who has supported AROOO since our inception. I never thought this network would be as successful as it so thank you.

Founding A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network

 

Male domination of speech, both in public and private, has been well proven in research for thirty years now.Margaret Atwood wrote about men dominating classrooms in early 1980s. Dale Spender wrote about it in The Writing or the Sex? in 1989.[1] There have been countless studies in education and within the workplace that demonstrate the silencing of women’s voices within the presence of men. Recently, the largest global study on violence against women found that it was the feminist movement that had the biggest impact on tackling the issue; much of this was accomplished with women-only spaces. Dworkin’s famous passage from her seminal text Intercourse is truer now than when she wrote it:

“Men often react to women’s words – speaking and writing – as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence. So we lower our voices. Women whisper, Women apologize. Women shut up. Women trivialize what we know. Women shrink. Women pull back. Most women have experienced enough dominance from men – control, violence, insult, contempt – that no threat seems empty.”[2]

I have been online for nearly 20 years and the abuse of women online has gotten worse. The misogynistic attacks on feminists like Caroline Criado-Perez and the racist/ misogynist abuse directed at women of colour[3] make it very clear that online spaces are not safe for women. In many ways, Dworkin’s words are an understatement of what occurs online. Men’s reactions to women’s words has become more violent, more hateful, in many ways, more socially acceptable.Women can’t hear one another when we’re forced to plough through thousands of threats of rape, torture and death in online spaces. We lock our twitter accounts, censor ourselves and hope we don’t become the next target. We don’t need a threat to be directed at us personally to act as a silencing tactic.

The media explosion in the winter of 2013 on so-called “twitter wars” was the final impetus to the founding.The level of misogyny directed at women by male media for the crime of disagreeing with one another was simply unbearable. Much of what is dismissed as ‘twitter wars’ is marginalised women seeking recognition of the multiple oppressions within their lives. Dismissing these concerns as ‘twitter wars’ is a new patriarchal silencing tactic. The recognition of intersectionality is absolutely vital to the future of the feminist/womanist movements.we do need to acknowledge that women internalise misogyny and these traumas do impact on how women interacts with each other. Considering the trauma of being raised female in a racist, disablist, lesbophobic culture where male violence against women and girls is the norm, it’s hardly shocking that many women have internalised the woman-hating messages and lash out at each other. After all, lashing out at other women is unlikely to result in you dying which is a realistic fear of calling out men.

Rather, it was the assumption, mostly from men, that disagreements on activism and theory within the feminist movement were a sign of hysterical women incapable of rational thought. In my anger, A Room of our own was born. It is a women-only space both in terms of preventing men from joining the network but also actively preventing them from joining in conversations via comments and on twitter and Facebook. I started from the expectation that members will have fundamentally different definitions of feminism/ womanism and that these differences are worth exploring, debating and celebrating.

AROOO does have members with very strong opinions on issues like prostitution and pornography but we are also one of the only online spaces where radical feminists and pro-sex industry feminists share a platform. It’s for women new to feminism and womanism and for those who kick started what is commonly referred to as the Second Wave. I work very hard to keep it a safe space in face of quite intensive abuse and whining from me. Our youngest member is only 10 years old, and writes as Sexism in Schools. Giving her a feminist platform where disagreement, debate and discussion are encouraged and not dismissed as hysterical, irrational women fells really powerful. I want feminists and womanists, new and old, to experience the same. Many of our members have disabilities which prevent them from accessing ‘real life’ feminist activism or caring responsibilities that means they are trapped in the house. Online feminist spaces are essential for these women’s participation but also their mental health.

I do get a lot of complaints about alienating men, hurting their feelings and demands that we include men lest we be viewed as man-haters. Apparently, men can’t learn about women unless we expend our energy teaching them. Frankly, any man who can’t work out how to google isn’t someone I want to waste my time on. It also isn’t women’s responsibility to ensure that men never feel excluded. After all, very few men spend any time actually considering the exclusion and erasure of women.

More importantly, men spend vast amounts of time online policing women’s conversations and even the language we use. Men don’t spend vast amounts of time policing other men, even those making threats of violence. Women-only spaces remain fundamental to the success of feminism as a political movement dedicated to the liberation of women. Women need a space to discuss and debate issues without having to worry about male violence. The violent threats of rape and death are daily and most men don’t bother to challenge it. Instead, they pretend its some other man over there when we all know its not some random man on the internet. It’s actually most of them -either engaging in violence themselves or pretending it doesn’t exist.

The only way to stop the silencing of women is to uninvite men and that’s the lesson men need to take from this. If they insist on attending, whose voices are they really silencing?

[1] Dale Spender (http://dalespender.com.au)

[2] Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, (http://radfem.org/dworkin/)

[3] I have chosen only to name Caroline Criado-Perez here because two people have been convicted of abusing her via twitter. Women of colour experience misogynistic and racist abuse daily on twitter and neither twitter nor the police seem all that concerned about these attacks. As their names are not publicly known via press coverage, I will leave them unnamed to protect their anonymity. Criado-Perez has waved her anonymity in press coverage of her abuse.

[4] Bidisha’s personal blog: http://bidisha-online.blogspot.co.uk

[5] A Room of our own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network (http://www.aroomofourown.org)

The Conservative Gendered Stereotyping of Children, Radical Feminism and transgenderism.

This is Part One of a series responding to the issues around transgenderism and the media representations therein.

 When my daughter was 3 she decided she wanted to be a mermaid for the ability to swim underwater. This lasted until she realised that mermaids do two things: swim and brush their hair. Understandably, this was deemed too boring. So, she became a mermaid superhero, which combined awesome swimming skills (and potentially a visit to Atlantis) with the ability to fly and read minds (and ignore her mother). Eventually this became a superhero mermaid rock star since I, in a moment of extreme unreasonableness, refused to let her dye her hair bright blue. (She decided her way around this was to become the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as the band could veto my no blue hair rule, but that’s a whole different story).

My daughter no longer wants to be a mermaid or a rock star. She still loves superheroes and we spend a lot of time in comic book stores and at Comic Cons. She also has short hair. Despite clearly being a girl, at a recent Comic Con she was referred to as a boy because she chose to attend as a male superhero. The fact that many of the traditional male superheroes, such as Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Green Lantern,  are being replaced by women was deemed irrelevant. GrantedIMG_7717 this had a lot to do with the extreme sexualisation of female superheroes and villains, as seen in the comic artist Frank Quitely exhibit at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. Quitely was involved in the changes to the X-men costumes to make them more ‘practical’, except for Emma Frost who is wearing platform boots and two tiny pieces of cloth covering her breasts.*IMG_7716

Whilst deeply annoying, the ‘misgendering’ of my daughter did raise some interesting questions on why men assumed a primary school child had to be a boy because her costume featured neither a tutu nor a corset. The teenage boys dressed as female superheroes were classed as ‘transgressive’. My daughter, however, had to be a boy.

I was reminded of this situation when the utterly dreadful Good Housekeeping article on a boy whose Conservative Christian parents decided he must be a transgirl went viral. This child was forcibly transitioned by his parents in response to their relatives suggested he might be gay because he liked to play with toys that were for ‘girls’:

“Shortly after Kai turned 2, friends and family were starting to notice her behavior. Living in Pearland, Texas, that meant we were getting a lot of sidelong glances and questions. Kai would only play with other girls and girls’ toys. She said boys were “gross.” Family members were flat-out asking me if this kid was gay. It made me nervous, and I was constantly worried about what people would think of me, of us and of my parenting. While family was questioning whether Kai was gay ….”

Kai’s parents were so horrified by a son who like to wear bright dress up clothes that they decided he must be a girl.  This poor child has to contend with homophobic parents more concerned about appearances than raising an emotionally healthy child with a wide range of interests.

The correct response to such homophobic comments from family and friends should be to remove them from your child’s life (and deal with your own homophobia). Yet, these parents were feted by Good Housekeeping for transitioning a child to cover up their homophobia. Because having a gay child is the worst possible thing than raising a son who plays with toys traditionally assigned to girls and who may be gay (or, you know, just a kid who likes playing with toys). We are expected to celebrate these parents for their homophobia and for caring more about the neighbours than their own child.

This Good Housekeeping article encompasses all of my fears about the ways in which the construction of the Trans narrative is both deeply conservative and harmful to children.** Rather than recognizing the ways in which gender stereotypes create a hierarchy of male/ femaleand the decades of feminist research into the negative consequences this has for girls, we have, once again, arrived at a point where gender is deemed a binary with children unable to be just children. So, my superhero loving daughter, who only reads comics featuring female superheroes and villains, is being defined as male by so-called leftist people, who cannot conceive of women outside of a hyper-sexualised, violent pornographied object and by right-wing religious fundamentalists who believe women are inferior to men. It is not unsurprising that an Islamic fundamentalist country like Iran forcibly transitions people with the other option being death. The story of Kai demonstrates a similar trend in fundamentalist Christian communities in the US – the isolation and shaming of gay and lesbian children within these communities is well-documented and is responsible for the self-harming and suicides of far too many children.

I cannot see anything liberating about forcing children into categories of boy/girl based solely on whether or not they like trains or tutus – and all the subsequent medical interventions – or the entirety of the bigender/agender/ genderqueer constructions that continue to reify the sex based hierarchy rather than challenging them. Certainly, the recent article in the New York Times entitled “My daughter is not Trans, she’s a tomboy” still supports the theory that ‘girls’, unless they do ‘boy stuff’ are not as good as being born male. Girls who play with Barbies are bad and girls who climb trees are good is an asinine narrative that punishes children for trying to learn who they are within a culture that punishes children who try to conform or challenge the gendered patriarchal constructs of  masculine/ feminine.

Labelling children transgender at the age of 2 is a conservative and reactionary response to the questioning of gender. It is inherently homophobic and it fails to challenge the neoliberal discourse of ‘choice’ which depoliticises liberation politics and renders any discussion of class-based politics as ‘hateful’. As a radical feminist, I want nothing less than the full liberation of all women from the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.  This includes recognising that gender is not a performance or an ‘identity’. It is nothing more than the systemic social, cultural and physical oppression of women’s bodies, predicated on women’s reproductive, sexual and caring labour, which does nothing more than a reinforce a hierarchy of man/woman.

*Thank you to Claire Heuchan who pointed out this part of the exhibit to me.

** Part two is a discussion of the medical establishment and the transitioning of children.

Suggested Reading:

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, (London,2010).

Dr. Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of our Gendered Minds, (UK, 2017)

Glosswitch, ‘Our culture dehumanises women by reducing them all to breeders and non-breeders‘, (New Statesman, 2014)

Claire Heuchan, “Sex, Gender and the New EssentialismSister Outrider, (7.2.2017).

Claire Heuchan, Lezbehonest about Queer Politics Erasing Lesbian WomenSister Outrider, (15.3.2017).

.Claire Heuchan, The Problem that has no name because women is too “essentialist”Sister Outrider, (22.2.2017).

bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody, (UK, 2000)

Miranda Kiraly  & Meagan Tyler (eds.), Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism, (Australia, 2015)

Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford University Press, 1986)

Peggy Ornstein, Girls & Sex, (Great Britain, 2016), see pgs 160-165

PurpleSage, The Relentless Tide of Sex Stereotypes, (20.5.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, “Gender is not a spectrum”Aeon, (28.6.2016)

Dr. Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, What I believe about Sex & GenderMore Radical with Age, (2015)

Denise Thompson, Radical Feminism Today, (London, 2001)

 

Thank you: on train stations, sea lions, and gratitude

Several years ago, I took my daughter to a feminist conference in Newcastle. We had a lovely time. Right up until the very last minute. We were booked on the last train home on the Sunday night. Unfortunately, there was a huge kerfuffle due to an error on the notice boards, which had the last train to London and the last train to Edinburgh leaving at the same time from the same platform. Mistakes happen, but people were very stressed and there was a lot of pushing and shoving from adults. A little girl, no more than 5, standing to the right of me was pushed off the platform under the train that had pulled up. It was one of those moments where time stood still. Every second felt like a million minutes. I froze. The man, who was directly behind my daughter and better in a crisis, knocked my daughter over so he could grab the little girl.

He saved her life.

He also apologised to me for knocking my daughter over.

I caught the apology as I was dealing with my daughter who was in distress. I hope I said something along the lines of ‘don’t worry’ or thank you. I can’t guarantee it though as I was trying to get my kid, our luggage, and help the other mother with her luggage onto the train. I don’t remember if she said thank you to him either. She definitely said thank you once we were all on the train, but the man who saved the little girl wasn’t in the carriage and everyone who was told her not to apologise.

Usually, this memory only comes up when we’re at the Newcastle train station and my travel anxiety levels explode. What kicked off the memory this time is an incident in Canada where a little girl was pulled off a dock by a seal lion. There is some debate as to who was responsible: the child’s guardians for letting her get to close to a wild animal or the people who were feeding the sea lions (which may or may not have been a family member of the little girl). What caught my eye was a media article that quoted a complaint from an eye witness who claimed that the family members didn’t thank those who intervened to rescue the little girl, which seemed rather beside the point. Granted, this could be the media making a mountain out of a molehill or deliberately misrepresenting a comment. Equally, this statement could have been from an eyewitness in shock babbling – certainly it’s the kind of babble I have come out with in difficult situations where my mouth bypasses my brain. And, obviously, it would have been good if the family had said thank you, but none of us really know how we would act in an emergency. Would we rush into help? Phone an ambulance? Provide emergency first aid? Panic?

When did our cultural empathy get permanently lost? – that we worry more about the performance of good manners than actually being kind.Why do we refuse to recognise how different people react to trauma?Why don’t we accept that it’s okay to be so distraught in a moment that we don’t see what is happening in our immediate vicinity; that there is nothing wrong with focusing on an injured, frightened, and wet child to the detriment of having ‘good’ manners. I suspect my reaction would be similar to the family, who left immediately with the child. Because I would be embarrassed and my anxiety response to everything is to hide. Having been severely bullied at school for years and dealing with an emotionally abusive stepparent, I know my trauma reactions in difficult situations (and that feeling in my stomach writing that down). I know that some people have lived lives free from such issues have different reactions. I’m just not sure how we’ve arrived at a place where the performance of perfection is more important than giving people the space to process events.

If this story is as stated in the media and you agree with the bystander’s main complaint that a frightened person should have expressed sufficient gratitude, you probably want to review your priorities. A little bit of kindness goes a long way.

Justin Trudeau is not a Feminist Superhero: Part II

French President Emmanuel Macron has fulfilled an election pledge for gender parity in his cabinet. Obviously, this is a good thing. Unless you read the Huffington Post who credit Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, with the phrase ‘pulls a Trudeau’ in the headline. Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 13.33.49

Because no one ever thought about gender parity before Justin Trudeau. Who is now a God among men: what with his constant photo ops with pandas and taking his kid to work. Obviously, Trudeau clearly spent the entire day balancing childcare and being Prime Minister. And, had no help whatsoever from anyone.

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 13.41.43

 

The Huffington Post cleverly forgets to mention that the previous French President, Francois Hollande, also had a cabinet that was 50% women.* Or, the years of feminist activism and policy development on the importance of gender parity. Because only men count.

The constant referencing of Justin Trudeau as a feminist superhero is so beyond tedious that I can’t quite understand how many people believe this. For the record, having gender parity in your cabinet does not make you a feminist; nor does taking your kid to work when you are the boss in a building full of staff capable of caring for your kid.

Before you start banging on about how feminist Trudeau is, it’s worth checking out his environmental record. After all, Trudeau wouldn’t have joined the protestors at Standing Rock, he’d be with Trump signing off on yet another environmental disaster that is destroying the lands of Indigenous Peoples.

Using Trudeau’s name as a signifier for feminism erases the real work of women globally to end the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. It ignores his sale of arms to the Saudi government and his full support of pipelines and the Tar Sands. Trudeau is a hypocrite. Not a feminist.

*  Clearly, I always knew this. And, did not come across this information in a comment on twitter.

 

Part One is here.

Gender Hurts by Sheila Jeffreys

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 12.39.53Whilst there is much to commend this book in addressing the political implications and regressive policies surrounding the social construction of transgenderism, it suffers from poor writing technique, such as the unnecessary use of the word conclusion at the end of chapters and a constant repetition of statements made in the introduction in various chapters – sometimes every chapter. Each chapter was sub-divided into sections that are constructed as mini-essays and divided by headings. Frequently, these mini-sections end in a sentence repeated immediately in the first sentence of the next part. This is simply poor editing, as seen elsewhere in the repetition of phrases:

“ The men who engage in upskirting are a varied group, including male tennis fans at the Australian Open …, male school students who uploaded film of a teacher onto the Internet …, and even a male urologist. In a case in New York in August 2012, a respected urologist extended his professional interest into a new direction, and was arrested for filming up a woman’s skirt on a station platform” (p. 154-155)

As a one-off this sentence would not have bothered me, however this level of repetition did get tedious in a 200 page book. It’s not like there’s a dearth of research into the trend of ‘upskirting’ and the types of men who commit this criminal act (which can be reduced to all men are capable of doing so regardless of class, race, faith, access to education etc).

Another issue is the failure to engage with a wider variety of primary sources, academic research and media coverage. There is simply far too much evidence and theory dependent on Jeffreys own work. This would be acceptable if she were the only person engaged in this type of research, but she isn’t and hasn’t been for several decades. That the work of other women into the impact of transgenderism on women’s rights has been silenced by academic publications and a media obsessed with being ‘right’ as opposed to being truthful is something that Jeffreys could have challenged by referencing all of these works. Instead, there are places that resemble a university reading list by male academics with tenure that list only themselves in the ‘required reading’ section. Perhaps this is unfair, but I do expect more from feminist writers and activists.

When Jeffreys does engage critically with sources, especially whilst reading ‘pro-trans’ testimonies, her insight is excellent. It is unfortunate that more of the text was not given over to such analysis. As it is, careful editing would have knocked the text down to 120-140 pages rather than a 190 giving space for more direct evidence and critical engagement. Chapter 4 – ‘A gravy stain on the table’: women in the lives of men who transgender – written with Lorene Gottschalk is the strongest section in the book as it involves a close reading of supposedly positive testimonies of the lives of women whose male partner are transgender. It is very clear from these testimonies that the emotional, psychological, and financial impact on women is dismissed or erased by academics and writers.

Chapter three entitled ‘Doing transgender: really hurting’, also written with Lorene Gottschalk, and chapter 6 ‘Gender eugenics: the transgendering of children” are equally powerful. I am always shocked by people who ascribe the medical and pharmaceutical industries with concern for the health of transgender people without any discussion of the motive of profit. Or, the theory that the medical establishment is somehow truly honest in their approach to treatments, such as puberty blockers in children, despite the lack of long-term research on the effects or their well-documented history of prioritizing profit over people (development of birth control being a case in point!). I wish Jeffreys had gone further in deconstructing the lack of evidence-based research into treatment, the statistics on suicide post-transition, and the histories of those researchers and scientists pushing transition of children.

There is quite important research and theory in Gender Hurts. It’s unfortunate that Jeffreys spent more time congratulating herself rather than on the research itself. In this poorly written text, there are some incredibly important discussions and questions that simply did not get the space they deserved.

Le féminisme radical et l’accusation d’essentialisme.

My article Radical Feminism and the Accusation of Gender Essentialism has been translated into French. Thank you to TradFem for the translation.

(Première version d’un article qui a été publié dans la revue Feminist Times en avril 2014)

La critique la plus courante adressée à la théorie féministe radicale veut que nous soyons « essentialistes » parce que nous croyons que l’oppression des femmes, en tant que classe, se fonde sur les réalités biologiques de nos corps. L’hypothèse selon laquelle les féministes radicales seraient essentialistes est basée sur une incompréhension de la théorie féministe radicale, issue de la définition du mot « radicale » lui-même. Le terme « radicale » désigne la racine ou l’origine. Notre féminisme est radical dans la mesure où il situe la racine de l’oppression des femmes dans les réalités biologiques de nos corps (le sexe) et vise à libérer les femmes en éradiquant les structures sociales, les pratiques culturelles et les lois basées sur l’infériorité des femmes aux hommes. Le féminisme radical conteste toutes les relations de pouvoir qui existent dans le patriarcat, y compris le capitalisme, l’impérialisme, le racisme, l’oppression de classe, l’homophobie et même l’institution de la mode et de la beauté.

Les féministes radicales ne croient pas en l’existence de caractéristiques qui soient exclusivement masculines ou exclusivement féminines. Les femmes ne sont pas naturellement plus nourrissantes que les hommes, et eux ne sont pas meilleurs en mathématiques. Le genre n’est pas fonction de notre biologie. C’est une construction sociale créée pour maintenir des hiérarchies de pouvoir inégal. L’amalgame entre le sexe et le genre est un autre malentendu commun au sujet de la théorie féministe radicale. Le sexe est la réalité de votre corps sans qu’y soient liées des caractéristiques négatives ou positives. Le genre est une construction sociale qui privilégie les hommes/la masculinité en regard des femmes/de la féminité. Le féminisme radical est accusé d’essentialisme parce que nous reconnaissons ces hiérarchies de pouvoir et cherchons à les détruire. Nous ne croyons pas, comme on le suggère souvent, que ces hiérarchies sont naturelles. Il faut voir là une tactique de censure à notre égard. …

 

You can find the full text in French here.