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.

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.

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.

Loving Aurora Teagarden [and Looking For Recommendations of Series Featuring Strong Women]

I’ve been boring Twitter senseless with my updates on loving the Aurora Teagarden books by Charlaine Harris. They are Harris’ first series and aren’t her best books but she does touch on the themes which make the True Blood so fascinating: feminism, racism, manners, homophobia and constraining social structures which punish those who don’t fit. The character of Aurora Teagarden isn’t quite as fun or feminist as Sookie Stackhouse who, above all else, is a real fighter and an incredible woman who knows herself. Aurora Teagarden is still stuck in the marriage/baby rigamarole, despite her interest in solving old murders and subsequent accidental involvement in solving current murders. They are both strong female characters though and there can never be enough strong, quirky, intelligent and interesting women characters in books. 

Some of my favourite characters in book series, in no particular order, are: 

  • Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum
  • Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs Pollifax: elderly widow gets bored and joins the CIA. As you do.
  • Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple
  • M.C Beaton’s Agatha Raisin via LeBof
  • Charlaine Harris’ Lily Barb [there is a pattern to this one!]
  • Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple
  • J.D Robb’s Lt Eve Dallas
  • Elizabeth Peters’ Vicki Bliss
  • Alison Gordon’s Kate Henry
I’m always looking for more recommendations for series.

Scholastic: Reinforcing Harmful Gender Roles for Profit

I loved Scholastic book fairs as a child. The monthly catalogue full of crappy books you just HAD to have [and the chance to buy great books at discounted prices]. I still have lots of the books I bought via Scholastic: the complete Judy Blumes and Beverly Cleary books; The Chronicles of Narnia; Lord of the Rings; Laura Ingalls Wilder; Roald Dahl;  and Jean Little. We have many Junie B. Jones and irritating books about unicorns collected by the teenager. The Book Fairs were always the highlight of Parent-Teacher interviews. And, yeah, as a child I didn’t quite get that they were merely a capitalist enterprise exploiting a captive audience and that our schools sold us out in an attempt to deal with their chronic underfunding. As they do.
Scholastic always did gender its products: pink butterfly erasers for girls and football keyrings for boys. But, this gendering, whilst all kinds of stupid, is nothing like the extreme gendering Scholastic is pushing now in their How to Survive Anything Books. I genuinely can not believe a company with the reputation Scholastic has for its educational materials is so desperate to sell books that they’ve come up with this as an acceptable way to market to kids:
Boys Only: How to Survive Anything! Table of Contents:
  1. How to Survive a shark attack
  2. How to Survive in a Forest
  3. How to Survive Frostbite
  4. How to Survive a Plane Crash
  5. How to Survive in the Desert
  6. How to Survive a Polar Bear Attack
  7. How to Survive a Flash Flood
  8. How to Survive a Broken Leg
  9. How to Survive an Earthquake
  10. How to Survive a Forest Fire
  11. How to Survive in a Whiteout
  12. How to Survive a Zombie Invasion
  13. How to Survive a Snakebite
  14. How to Survive if Your Parachute Fails
  15. How to Survive a Croc Attack
  16. How to Survive a Lightning Strike
  17. How to Survive a T-Rex
  18. How to Survive Whitewater Rapids
  19. How to Survive a Sinking Ship
  20. How to Survive a Vampire Attack
  21. How to Survive an Avalanche
  22. How to Survive a Tornado
  23. How to Survive Quicksand
  24. How to Survive a Fall
  25. How to Survive a Swarm of Bees
  26. How to Survive in Space
Girls Only: How to Survive Anything! Table of Contents:
  1. How to survive a BFF Fight
  2. How to Survive Soccer Tryouts
  3. How to Survive a Breakout
  4. How to Show You’re Sorry
  5. How to Have the Best Sleepover Ever
  6. How to Take the Perfect School Photo
  7. How to Survive Brothers
  8. Scary Survival Dos and Don’ts
  9. How to Handle Becoming Rich
  10. How to Keep Stuff Secret
  11. How to Survive Tests
  12. How to Survive Shyness
  13. How to Handle Sudden Stardom
  14. More Stardom Survival Tips
  15. How to Survive a Camping Trip
  16. How to Survive a Fashion Disaster
  17. How to Teach Your Cat to Sit
  18. How to Turn a No Into a Yes
  19. Top Tips for Speechmaking
  20. How to Survive Embarrassment
  21. How to Be a Mind Reader
  22. How to Survive a Crush
  23. Seaside Survival
  24. How to Soothe Sunburn
  25. How to Pick Perfect Sunglasses
  26. Surviving a Zombie Attack
  27. How to Spot a Frenemy
  28. Brilliant Boredom Busters
  29. How to Survive Truth or Dare
  30. How to Beat Bullies
  31. How to be an Amazing Babysitter

The ONLY thing these lists have in common is “How to survive a Zombie” attack. Now, I’ve not bothered to check out anything past the table of contents but I’m guessing the advice isn’t the same.

I can not state how much I loathe this essentialist gender bullshit. I really can’t. It’s not like there is no one with a vagina wandering about Northern Canada who might get attacked by a polar bear and boys are equally likely to suffer sunburn as girls. FFS, girls are being taught how to survive a “crush” and its pretty fucking obvious that this book isn’t aimed at teenage girls. It’s aimed at children and its telling girls that they have to have “crushes” and “be in love” in order to be a “real” girl. And, frankly, the “How to be an Amazing Babysitter” bit is just unbearable tedious and reinforces the belief that the one true desire of girls is to be a mother otherwise they just aren’t girls. The real answer to “How to Play Truth or Dare” is to NOT play it. Someone always gets hurt because its an invitation to bullying [which is hilarious considering surviving bullying follows on the list].

Really, the girls list is an how to guide on surviving being a teenager in a capitalist-patriarchy whilst the boys list is a guide to having fun. How utterly despicable is it that we are already conditioning girls into being Handmaidens whilst allowing boys the freedom to be as creative and imaginative as they want. What better way to spend a long summer day than climbing trees and pretending to be a guerilla army destroying zombies? Or being an astronaut in space? Or living in the jungle and fighting crocodiles and snakes?

And, what about the boys who don’t like hanging about in trees? Are they not “real” boys? Hyper-masculinity and the Patriarchy damages boys too. It creates a construction of masculinity which requires boys to be physically aggressive and never take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

Shame on Scholastic for selling our children out and reinforcing the Patriarchy’s policy of cultural femicide.

Language, Feminism and Reclaiming the Nincompoop

So, I’ve been contemplating my use of language, particularly those defined as ‘rude’, for a while now. I’ve been trying to stop using words whose origins are in disablist, homophobic, racist and misogynistic language. Words which are racist are, culturally and politically, more likely to be frowned upon; although the number of Scottish people I hear using “chink” and “paki” never fails to shock me. I also still visibly twitch when I hear British people say they are going out for a fag. For me, that word will always be homophobic. That is the context of the word where I grew up and I can not remove it from my personal-historical context. I also think its telling that the use of the word ‘gay’ as an insult is increasing exponentially in  teenagers as it is rooted in both homophobia and misogyny. They are both part of the backlash to Feminism as well as the Gay Rights movement [notably I think the issue of gay marriage has kicked off the homophobic backlash]. The refusal to remove these words is an example of heteronormative privilege (and the I’m all right so you must just be whiny bullshit favoured by those who refuse to acknowledge that their behaviour is anything less than perfect).

It’s been much harder to remove words which are disablist and misogynist. There are obvious words like ‘retard’ and ‘spaz’ which most people, with an ounce of compassion, have already removed from their vocabulary. But, there are so many common words whose origins are rooted in disablism, particularly of people suffering with their mental health, that it’s very hard to stop using them. Words like idiot and moron are so culturally ingrained that calling people on it just provokes whinging about ‘political correctness’ (that term bandied about by rude people demanding the right to be rude regardless of the hurt it causes others). But, these are all obvious terms of insults. It’s the much more casual “are you insane” or “have you lost the plot” [which I’m ashamed to say I’ve used today] which are extremely harmful because they don’t seem to cause harm. It’s the very “innocence” of their usage which reinforces the very harmful cultural practices we should be challenging.

I know there is an argument for reclaiming words used to oppress from your oppressors but I am not sure how successful this is; after all even 5 years ago gay was being used positively. Now, it is steeped in the very homophobia it was reclaimed to contravene. It is now the insult par excellence to challenge someone’s masculinity. I struggle with reclaiming words like bitch, cunt and slut. Are we not implying there are women who are still “sluts” when we try to use slut in a positive manner? How can we challenge misogyny by continuing to use words which define women by their sexuality and behaviour?  It is why I find “Slutwalk” so problematic as an anti-rape awareness campaign. The focus is on the word “slut” and not on the issue of rape. I think it reinforces the very rape myths it seeks to challenge [and that’s without getting into the issue of racism and the experience of Black and First Nations women who have always been defined by their sexuality].

I’ve tried to stop using any words that fall under this rubric and replaced them with words like nincompoop [my new favourite word] and buckethead (a la SGB). But, really, once you’ve removed insults which don’t originate in homophobic bullying, or demeaning mental illness or denigrating genitalia, you are pretty much reduced to poop-based insults like a 5 year old. I love the word nincompoop but even its origins are questionable. Yes, language evolves but, sometimes vocabulary should simply be erased rather than evolved or “reclaimed”; even nincompoop.

“Girls”: Objectifying and Belittling all Women; All the Time

This started as a twitter conversation with @Alexwintermute @lynnschreiber @ladycurd and @queenofbiscuits about insults and defining the acceptability of words. Actually, it had to do with calling people “love” and “duck” and “hen”; whether or not they are offensive or worth calling people on. I’ve been contemplating what I said for a few days now [you can also read that as too lazy to type my thoughts up] and this is my semi-illiterate musings since I wrote it at 3 am.

So, whilst I’m not necessarily enthused about strangers calling me terms of endearment, I wouldn’t ask them not to; unless they were using it in a patronising or offensive manner. I would, however, consistently call people out on using the term “girl” to define or describe me [or anyone else]. I find the term “girl” extremely offensive. We do not use the term “boy” to define adult men so why is it acceptable to use the word “girl” to define adult women. “Girl” is only used to objectify and belittle women. Yes, some women do like to use the term but I think that is because of patriarchal constructions of beauty which assume that older women aren’t worthy or important. There are only two constructions of women in the patriarchy: fuckable and unfuckable. Older women and those who do not conform are invisible; unworthy. Therefore, to remain “visible” women have to conform to the patriarchal definitions of beauty which privilege youth. So, women call themselves “girls” whilst spending fortunes on “beauty” products to make themselves look younger. They stop expressing their opinions for fear of being labeled a hag. Women become infantile to prevent bullying [and I certainly don’t blame any women for choosing this path. Being a target of hatred by the Patriarchal establishment is frightening].

I think, though, that “girl” is an incredibly misogynistic term used to silence women and its use, regardless of context, hurts women. There are other words which are misogynistic in usage, such as the use of “blonde” but it does not carry same level of systemic and structural oppression that “girls” implies. Blonde is inexcusable as an insult. “Girls” represents structural misogyny and the erasure of women from culture. And I don’t think individual ‘choice’ is a good enough excuse to use a term whose structural usage is the erasure of adult women from discourse. The “choice” doctrine is individualistic, narcissistic twaddle designed to elide structural and systemic oppressions from discourse; whether this be misogyny, racism, or homophobia. It merely obfuscates the issue and blames those who have neither the wealth nor the specific skill set to overcome oppression [usually this bit involves kicking a football around a field or being grossly over-paid to appear on shite TV programs].

The capitalist-Patriarchy profits off the insecurities of women; you only need view Boots’ horrendous “Here Come the Girls” advertising to realise just how much money is to be made making women feel old and ugly. I won’t buy products from any company which tries to label me “girl” and I assume any man using it as a compliment is either thick or sexist; neither of which are particularly attractive. “Girl” represents all that is wrong with rape culture and misogyny. We need to stop using it and stop pretending we can re-appropriate it from those who cause us harm.