BEEM: We’re no longer allowed to talk about poor people in social housing because it hurts other people’s feelings.

BEEM is the umbrella group registered tenants associations in Edinburgh & Lothians, which forms part of the tenant participation strategy of  the Scottish Government. I hadn’t ever heard of  them before but they were offering free lunch to members. And, seriously, who turns down free lunch?

It was tedious.

Free lunch did not even remotely compensate for the tediousness, despite being excellent and involving cake.

The first two hours were presentations on why the Scottish government came to develop a national strategy on tenant participation and the achievements therein. The information was interesting but not what I had expected from the blurb in the email. I wanted more information on how BEEM could support local tenants’ organisations; not a history of Scottish government legislation.

There were lots of complaints about how few tenants organisations showed up to this meeting. But, it was on a Thursday. The fact that people in social housing might have actual jobs that they can’t take time off for free lunch events seemed to have been missed by a number of people paid to be there. And, we won’t even go into the issue of caring for children or family members with disabilities. That being a barrier to people (read women) participating seem to have missed everyone completely. Yes, there is some funding for childcare for these events but BEEM didn’t include any suggestion of potential childcare in their email invite. And, really, when was the last time a local authority paid for a carer so that a person (read woman) could attend these meetings safe in the knowledge that appropriate support had been covered for those they care for?

There was also no real discussion of literacy or language issues being a barrier to tenant participation in their community organisations, at the city, regional and national level. When I raised it, everyone pooh-poohed the suggestions saying that all Edinburgh council documents were available for translation. How this is meant to help people who are functionally illiterate went unanswered; as did my point that not everyone was comfortable accessing translation service via the council for numerous and valid reasons (and as someone who speaks English as a first language but with a ‘foreign’ accent, I can’t imagine how much patronising “support” those who speak English as a second language get from local employees. More than one has heard my accent and done the whole talking in a loud voice very slowly routine.)

The lack of recognition of just how severe these barriers can be for tenant participation was evidenced by an employee of a local housing association who thought that tenant at community level could be increased by holding meetings on evenings and weekends. My hand shot straight up in the air and I went straight through the “working/caring” commitment roll call. This was met by blinking.

The final note was a discussion on a desire for a major cultural shift to get people into renting properties rather than home owning. Because too many people equal social housing with poverty and that is just too embarrassing for some social housing tenants. After all, who wants to be poor? Granted, people who are poor don’t really get a choice in this but BEEM weren’t overly concerned with this somewhat large section of social housing tenants. There was no discussion of fact that places like Germany and Canada with huge rental markets also invest in pension funds negating the need to depend on a house to fund old age.

Personally, I’ve never understood the logic of home owning as a retirement fund. If your house is your investment for your old age, then surely you need to sell it when retired? Having no pension but a house you want to pass on to your children as an inheritance makes no financial sense to me. But, heh, I’m poor and will never own a home. so what the hell do I know?

It’s safe to say I scurried out as soon as it was over and won’t be going back. There may be a huge stigma attached to being poor and living in social housing in this country but that isn’t the fault of the people living in those conditions. It’s the fault of government policy, media coverage and people who think it’s more important to pretend that poor people don’t live in social housing . So that other people living in social housing don’t get their feelings hurt by having to recognise poverty in their neighbours.

Between this and the fucking appalling presentation by Police Scotland on internet safety for children this week, the revolution can’t come soon enough. And, I’m not having Police Scotland or BEEM along to mine.

We are not penguins. Cute and cuddly is not an excuse for genocide.

 

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This very brief article is doing the rounds of twitter today:

Ex-Nazi ‘bookkeeper of Auschwitz’ asks for ‘forgiveness’

Lueneburg (Germany) (AFP) – Former SS officer Oskar Groening, known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, admitted at his trial Tuesday to “moral guilt” over the mass murder at the death camp and asked for “forgiveness”.

“For me there’s no question that I share moral guilt,” the 93-year-old told the judges, admitting that he knew about the gassing of Jews.

“I ask for forgiveness,” he told the court, attended by Holocaust survivors. “You have to decide on my legal culpability.”

You’d think a fairly straightforward case of criminal liability for genocide, but no. Apparently, old people are cute and cuddly and therefore not liable for their actions:

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Second wave feminism and racism

Erasing women of colour from their participation in the second wave feminist movement is racism.

Claiming racism didn’t exist in second wave feminism is racism.

It is entirely possible for both statements to be accurate. Claiming that one is true and the other is not is also racism.

Why don’t we talk about bad fathers?

This is an old post that I meant to expand but didn’t:

 Today, Giles Fraser wrote about the ways in which mothers fuck up their children. Granted, he briefly mentions fathers but, mostly, Fraser blamed women for not being ‘good enough’. At no point does Fraser mention the role of fathers in raising children or ‘fucking them up’. Fraser ignores the reality of male violence against women and children within the home that has a serious detrimental effect on children’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Why are mothers always to blame when it is men who commit the vast majority of violence within the home? Children experience domestic violence at the hands of their fathers both as victims and as witnesses. It is fathers who sexually assault and rape their children. It is mostly fathers who refuse to financially support their children preferring instead to allow them to live in poverty to punish the mother and it is fathers who kill their children to punish the mother. Why do we blame mothers for not being “good enough” when it is fathers who are the mostly like to abuse children – physically, emotionally, and sexually. Why don’t we talk about bad fathers?

 

Trashing Boxing Day sales ignores structural poverty within the capitalist-patriarchy

My FB and twitter feed are full of people commenting that they wouldn’t dream of going to the Boxing Day sales – just as it was on Black Friday. I can understand the desire to comment on rampant consumerism that our capitalist-patriarchy is predicated on, but targeting the people buying in these sales is not appropriate because it completely ignores the issue of poverty.

I believe that the patriarchy will not be smashed unless we also destroy capitalism. There is no way to make capitalism ‘fair’ – it will always be predicated on the exploitation of the unwaged labour of women as carers for children and family and the the labour of people who live in “non-industrialised/non-Western” (or whatever othering term is being used this week).

Advertising makes us believe we are shit parents for not buying our kids the must-have toys of the season. We know it’s a scam to make rich men richer and that our kids won’t be scarred for life if we don’t buy them the toy, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t buy the toys because we don’t want our kid to be the one missing. As a single parent, I’ve always shopped in the sales. This is why we have the entire first edition of the Lego Harry Potter castle (75% off at Tescos), Playmobil school (50% off), pink micro-t scooter (25% off plus free delivery but only if you get the pink one) and numerous Barbies, Polly Pockets and My Little Ponies (both the branded and non-branded ones). Did I need to buy these for my daughters as a single parent? No. Did I still line up on Boxing Day, first day of the annual Playmobil sale at Toys’R’Us ( 40% off & if you spend £40, you get a ‘super’ set worth £20 free!) and Black Friday. You betcha.

They didn’t make me a better mother and they didn’t compensate for my eldest daughter’s father being a dick and either failing to even make contact at Christmas (having not paid child support all year) or sending her a puzzle for 18 month olds when she was 6. I still shopped on those big sales day because I didn’t want my kid to be the one at school who didn’t have a gazillion presents to talk about. And, I know most of these are made by people, including children, who are making less than a pound a day and frequently live without clean water and sanitation. It feels shit being in this position but I’m very lucky compared to many single parent households as I never lived under the poverty level.

So many women, and it almost always women, live in poverty because men refuse to financially support their children and the state colludes with these men by allowing them to perpetuate financial child abuse. The state, and increasingly NGOs, collude with multi-national corporations forcing huge swathes of the population of the planet into poverty with farm subsidies in ‘industrialised’ countries, commodifying water, running a “war on drugs” when we have a worldwide shortage of medicinal morphine & have destroyed the cash crops of indigenous famers, and denying workers a living wage (whether they be living in a slum in India or in London).

Capitalism requires people to live in poverty in order to continue. We need to challenge the corporations like Apple (I say typing on my new Apple computer bought on credit card as my old one was dying) who build their products in inhumane conditions or Nestle, who continues to promote their formula in areas with no access to clean water despite the fact that this actively kills babies, or any company who participate in the arms trade – all of whom are culpable in mass genocide.

Yes, there are many people buying in the sales who are ‘middle class’ but let’s talk about why they feel the need to line up at Next at 4 in the morning  for sales. Are they buying work clothes that they can’t afford at normal prices? Buying bags to make them look ‘professional’ at job interviews? Clothes for the kids to wear on weekends (since school uniforms are more expensive because it forces you to buy two sets of clothes)? School shoes which are grossly over-priced and completely impractical for girls to play in? Are they buying that TV because it’s the only form of entertainment they have?

Instead of denigrating people who buy at these sales, let’s talk about the capitalist-patriarchy, consumerism and poverty. Let’s examine why it’s considered acceptable to denigrate those who shop on Boxing Day but not those who line up in the week before Christmas spending thousands to have the Perfect Christmas. After all, spending hundreds on one toy the week before Christmas is as damaging to the planet as it is to spend 1/2 on the same toy on Boxing Day.

Is sexism still acceptable when racism isn’t?

I’ve seen this sentence used numerous times in the past few weeks in feminist blogs and online discussions and it horrifies me. The idea that racism is no longer acceptable comes from such a place of privilege that I struggle to understand how someone could genuinely believe this. UKIP have increased their membership and won a local election. They dominate the media. The Tories anti-immigration policies are inherently racist and are getting stronger because they are appealing to racist voters. This is with discussing the lack of representation of Black* people in the media and the higher echelons of business and industry. To claim that racism is no longer acceptable is to perpetuate white supremacist culture. It completely erases the experiences of Black people and actively implies they are making shit up when they point out racism. It is an asinine statement to make and those making it need to do some self-reflection on their own racist behaviour.

Setting up racism and sexism as a dichotomy also completely erases the lives of women of colour. It assumes that the experiences of white women with sexism are qualitatively worse than Black men with racism. It ignores the fact that Black women experience both racism and sexism and these cannot be separated. It also completely negates any discussion of class – both within and outwith racism and sexism.

Feminists need to stop using the phrase “why is sexism still acceptable when racism isn’t” and start reflecting on their own participation and privilege within white supremacy culture. We need to challenge women who believe this and we need to start acknowledging that racism and sexism are not separate entities: that they work together and that all white women have privilege over Black women and that poverty does not erase this privilege. An analysis of women as a class requires understanding how classism, racism, misogyny, and lesbophobia work together to oppress all women but that those oppressions are experienced very differently for individual women. Misogyny was the first form of oppression but that does not mean it exists outwith other forms of oppression now – or that there is a hierarchy of oppression.

The theory of intersectionality is important and it needs to be reclaimed from those who have not bothered to read Kimberle Crenshaw’s work.

 

*I’m using Black as a political category with the understanding that racism is experienced differentially within/ outwith specific communities.

To Combat Drug Violence and Corruption, Mexican Police Detain Student Activists…..

This post was written by Cath Andrews (@Andrews_Cath) and was first published on her blog.

This afternoon, unidentified police officers snatched a student activist from the street in Mexico City. The student, Sandino Bucio Dovalí, studies Philosophy at Mexico’s National Autonomous University and has been active in the recent protests in Mexico City against the kidnapping of 43 student teachers and the murder of three others in from a rural teaching college in Ayozinapa in the southern state of Guerrero. The 43 student teachers were detained two months ago in confrontation with municipal police from Iguala and Cocula. According to Mexico´s Federal government, they were later handed over to a drug gang. It is believed they were murdered and burnt in a rubbish dump.

Armed agents from Mexico’s Special Investigative Police Department for Organized Crime (Subprocuraduría Especializada en Investigación de Delincuencia Organizada or SEIDO), detained Bucio Dovalí as he left a busy metro station near the Autonomous University. This detention was captured on video. In the recording, it is clear that the agents –who were not wearing uniform- used excessive force and violence. When on-lookers tried to intervene to prevent what appeared to be a kidnap attempt, police agents threatened them with heavy duty rifles. SEIDO later confirmed the detention of Bucio Dovalí.

Bucio Dovali is not the first student activist to be arrested in the wake of the large demonstrations in Mexico City and a number of other towns and cities in Mexico. Last week, ununiformed elements of Mexico’s Federal Police attempted to arrest Bryan Reyes and Jaqueline Santana as they walked on the street. This attempt was thwarted by uniformed police officers who responded to the students’ cries for help. Federal police have accused Reyes and Santana of stealing 500 pesos (25 UK pounds or 45 US dollars) from its agents. Both students are now in prison awaiting charges.

These detentions appear designed to intimidate students from protesting against the disappearance and murder of the Ayotzinapa student teachers. The news of this event has provoked protests around the world and has severely affected the image of Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto. In the two months since the student teachers vanished, there have been on-going protests throughout Mexico. Demonstrators want the Mexican government find the missing students and undertake actions that would put an end to the drug cartel’s violence. There is abundant evidence of collusion between Mexico’s politicians and the cartels, most obviously from the events of Ayotzinapa. As a result, the legitimacy of Peña Nieto’s government is being questioned daily in the press.

Moreover, in recent weeks, President Peña Nieto and his wife, Ángelica Rivera have also been facing allegations of corruption concerning a house built for Rivera by the building contractor who has undertaken many lucrative building projects for the Federal Government during Peña Nieto’s presidency.

In a speech delivered a few days ago, Peña Nieto threatened to use Mexico’s security forces against demonstrators. The detention of Bucio Duvalí and others in the past week suggest that he has resolved to fulfil his promise. Moreover, it appears that these arrests are only the start, as reports indicate that arrest warrants have been issued for many other student activists.

Instead of directing his energies to combatting the murders, kidnapping and people trafficking undertaken by the drug cartels, it appears Peña Nieto has decided to target students who are protesting against his handling of the disappearance of the student teachers from Ayotzinapa. In this context, the fact that the students arrested during last week’s demonstrations have been charged with inciting terrorism and participation in organised crime is chillingly ominous.

Mrs Doubtfire is Patriarchy in Action.

I have always hated the film Mrs Doubtfire as I thought it was creepy. As a teenager, I never understood how a useless father who lost custody of his children in the divorce due to his useless, incompetent and lazy parenting. Hell, even the editors at Wikipedia – who are not known for their feminist analysis – get that this a film about a pathetic man:

His wife, Miranda (Sally Field), considers him irresponsible and immature, and their marriage is on the rocks. When Daniel throws Chris a birthday party despite his bad report card, Miranda loses her temper and asks for a divorce. At their first custody hearing, the judge provisionally grants Miranda custody of the children, as Daniel has neither a suitable residence nor a steady job.

The entire premise of the film is that the character of Daniel Hillard, played by Robin Williams, is a dickhead. This isn’t a loveable film about a man supporting his ex-partner and children. This is a man who had a temper tantrum at being held accountable for his piss-poor fathering and instead of taking responsibility for the consequences of his behaviour, he chose to lie to his children and ex-partner by dressing up as a female housekeeper. The idea that his ex-partner Miranda is too stupid to notice that her new “housekeeper” is, in fact, her ex-husband in drag demonstrates a remarkable lack of belief in women’s intelligence.

My analysis as a teenager wasn’t feminist. It was just disbelief that a useless father could miraculously become a better one overnight. You don’t need to be a feminist to look at the fathers of all your friends – who have little to no contact and commit financial abuse of their children by their refusal to pay maintenance – to understand that whitewashing a man’s laziness helps no one. The ending of the film is all about evil women and nasty judges punishing men for being useless and the children being devastated at their father being removed from their lives. Miranda got full custody of the children because the father REPEATEDLY lied to her, the children and the judge. Having a steady job and a permanent address does not undo years of piss-poor parenting and lies. The premise of the film is that children are men’s possessions and it doesn’t matter how shit a parent they are, the children will be harmed by being parented properly by their mother. The fact that evidence points out the exact opposite of this is always ignored, even with an abusive father, because father’s rights are always more important than the health and wellbeing of the children involved.

I haven’t seen Mrs Doubtfire in years  and it wasn’t until I saw this shared on Facebook that I realized the subtext of the film that I had been missing for years:

Angela LeeI was just telling Jitana that Mrs. Doubtfire was a tribute to domestic violence and stalking. Yup, one of the most famous comedies in fact romanticizes IPV stalking. Women are always the joke.

I hadn’t even realized that this film was about stalking and intimate partner violence. I had always focused on the relationship with the children. The stalking of the mother and the wearing down of her boundaries is classic abusive behaviour. Being “jealous” of Miranda’s relationship with a new man isn’t the behaviour of a good man – it’s the behaviour of an abusive man who believes his ex-wife is also his possession. Daniel has no right to interfere with his ex-wife’s new relationships. He has no right to stalk her and he has no right to manipulate her. Lying to Miranda and the children about who he is isn’t a funny movie plot. It’s the creepy behaviour of a classically abusive man.

We need to stop pretending these kinds of films are just a bit of fun. They reinforce male ownership of children, stalking as appropriate behaviour for men and rewarding men for not being assholes. Children aren’t rewards. And, a lifetime of piss-poor parenting and irresponsible behaviour cannot be overcome by lying to your children.

#WomenAgainstFeminism, Feminist Critique and the Replication of Patriarchal Abuse

These are a few of the tweets currently being posted on #WomenAgainstFeminism by women who genuinely believe that feminism is a serious problem:

bc feminists today are truly intolerant, incapable of debate & will attack anyone who challenges their agenda

because I don’t need to blame everything that happens on a man.

Feminism has hurt men, women, and children to serve the few at the top who couldn’t make it on their own.

And, this is what some feminists are tweeting in response:

Still can’t believe the hashtag is real… I honestly can’t believe the world has people that stupid.

pointing out the stupid people on the tag how fun

i like how every girl in the tag that’s actually against feminism looks like janet reno. pick your battles, uglies.

It is absolutely true that many of the women who are posting grievances on the #WomenAgainstFeminism tag are white, privileged women and there are some very valid criticisms to be had of the tag but calling people ugly isn’t activism and it won’t change the opinions of those you are insulting. Pointing out the privilege of those dismissing feminism, like in this tweet:

“I am so privileged that I wont take the time to understand a movement that is for helping women who aren’t as lucky”

is absolutely essential. Calling Janet Reno ugly is not.

Critiquing the tag doesn’t require insulting the appearance & intelligence of the women posting on it. It doesn’t require replicating misogynistic language or insults. It requires an evidence-based answer – such as those pointing out the battle for women’s suffrage, rape laws, equal pay acts, maternity rights, reproductive freedoms and the ability to have your own bank account. It is feminism that one these rights for women. Feminism didn’t achieve any of these goals by being obnoxious to other women.

Feminists should understand that systemic misogyny within the capitalist-patriarchy makes it very difficult for women to see the reality of our oppression. Even naming male violence as an oppression results in women being belittled, abused and harassed online and off. Our education system is designed to teach children to pass exams – not to question authority. Our media is owned and dominated by white men who have a vested interest in preventing women from accessing knowledge.

This isn’t to say that the women who started this tag aren’t causing harm to other women. Of course they are but we don’t need to replicate patriarchal patterns of silencing against women who are blinded by their privilege or too afraid to speak out. This is the true demonstration of the power of the capitalist-patriarchy: using women to silence and control other women. We can challenge these women with kindness or with anger. but we do not need to engage in abusive language.

Instead of insulting the women who started the hasthag, let’s start a real discussion as to why women see feminism as threatening. Let’s start questioning their belief systems and pointing out the reality of the lives of women who do not have similar privileges.

 Calling women ugly and stupid is exactly what men do to us every single day. We do not need to be doing this to other women – even if they are tweeting out messages which cause harm to other women. We don’t need to replicate the lowest common denominator.

And, if you do feel the need to be abusive, why not target some of the men posting on the tag:

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Choice Feminism and the Bra Wars

To wear a bra, or not to wear a bra – that is the question most don’t bother asking. So, I was rather intrigued by a thread on Mumsnet asking if women really do take their bras off as soon as they get home. It should have been one of those threads which are silly, funny and celebrating the differences amongst us. Instead, literally the second post was a rather dismissive: “surely no one takes their bra off as soon as they get home. If they do, they must be wearing the wrong bra size.” This was followed by a series of equally patronising responses suggesting that women who only wear bras when absolutely necessary must simply be too dim to understand that their bra doesn’t fit properly.

Now, it’s quite possible that many of the women were wearing badly fitting bras; just as likely as those who wear them constantly are wearing ill fitting one. I stopped reading rather quickly but I didn’t see any comments pointing out that getting a bra sized properly costs money. It’s not a service that Primark offers and many women can’t afford to spend £20 on a bra from Marks & Spencers or Debenhams, never mind the more expensive brands. Some women don’t even live anywhere near a store that offers proper fittings. Some women can’t even afford the cost of bus fair to travel to a store which offers proper fittings, never mind find £20 to buy a bra. Obviously, they could measure themselves but that would mean knowing the best places to get advice on bra fittings. Oddly, this isn’t always on women’s to do list. It ignores those cute little issues of disablism which prevent women from accessing service or even systemic racism which results in non-White women being trailed around department stores by security guards racially profiling them as shoplifters (and, around here at least, anyone wearing a track suit).

Granted, in the scheme of feminist thought, bras aren’t always high on anyone’s list of priorities. Certainly, coverage of the prison book ban rarely mentioned women not getting access to clean bras or knickers either. I never actually thought about it until it was pointed out by a friend who works with girls exploited by gangs.

Bras are just one of those silly things that you can spend a few minutes chatting about. At the same time, the discussion of bras on Mumsnet was a pretty basic model of why “choice feminism” is actually an anti-feminist position because it starts from the position that all women are equal and have equal access to resources, eduction and services. It erases the multiple structural barriers that restrict the ‘choices’ women can make. The implication being that women who remove their bras as soon as they walk in the front door must be wearing an ill-fitting bra through a somewhat unfortunate tendency to dimness. It ignores the very basic issues like access to money to buy a bra.

It also ignores the idea that some women don’t want to wear a bra. And, that it’s totally okay to not like wearing bras. It’s not okay to prevented from making the choice to wear or not wear a bra that may or may not fit properly but that it’s totally ok to be a little bit different.

If your first instinct to a discussion on whether or not women wear bras is to suggest that those who don’t are doing it wrong, well, I’d suggest the problem isn’t really with the bra-refuser.

 

UPDATE: This comment is posted below but it’s a really important critique of my post that I’m including it here so no one misses it (and thank you Kate):

Actually it misses even more than just who can afford a well-fitting bra. It misses can you afford to share your home only with those who you can comfortably walk about bra-less in front of. Or do you have lodgers, etc? It misses are you comfortable without a bra? It misses do you have a schedule that it fixed enough to know you won’t have to up and leave at a moment’s notice. It misses how you’ve been made to feel about your bra-less breasts growing up. Whether you’re embarrassed or ashamed. Whether they get sweaty underneath. Whether your own family might ridicule you for the way they look bra-less. I’m quite large and (1) I hate them out of a bra and feel self conscious if anyone can see the shape of them and (2) find bra’s (even expensive professionally fitted ones) uncomfortable. I compromise with pyjamas with a soft support top in and changing bras regularly. Even just writing this makes me think about them and hate them and feel sad though.