Women Against Feminism on Tumblr suggests feminism. is dead. It seems the feminist movement has divided women against women . The future doesn’t look good for the F word. It’s getting difficult to separate feminist fact from fantasy.
Last week Women’s hour gave airtime to some feminist issues. The 9 minute clip can be heard online.* Ellie Mae O’Hagan argued a gender pay gap exists (see Guardian CIF) while Laura Perrin from The Conservative Woman blog claimed the only reason women get paid less is because they take time out from work to have children. Childcare has always been a a feminist issue. Women Against Feminism was cited as an example of anti-feminist feeling.
Messages on the Tumblr site are mixed. In a world where the internet exposes all aspects of life around the planet, it’s hard to see what appears to be insulation against the greater global picture of gender inequality. Part of this could be Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism and how social media encourages a society of self, but the legacy of early feminism is also to blame. A niche occupation; the stereotype was butch man basher, but the reality more single, childfree, educated, white, western female. Feminism failed to support the role of mother, wife and home-maker. In the 80’s I thought I was feminist until the day I was denied access to a local Women’s Centre because I had my sons with me, while women with daughters could enter. This was the day I thought F**k Feminism, you’re not for me.
I think partly I was relieved. Having halted a career for my family, the unsympathetic portrayal of feminism in the media was unsettling. Early press coverage focussed on negative images and feminists were mocked unsympathetically. Outed as bra-burning, men-haters, female friendships became suspect as men were taught to hate these strident dykes with more hair on their bodies than heads. The labelling of women as feminist soon carried undertones of threat and violence. For evidence of structured inequality of the patriarchal kind, you didn’t need to look much further than this. Feminist calls for political and economic parity came with a price which disguised any genuine ambition for social change and the backlash continues. The female body remains subject to scrutiny. There has never been a more image saturated age and a young girl quickly learns her value is associated with her appearance. It needs sensitive parenting and educated curricula to change dominant cultural attitudes but you can’t call it a feminist agenda any more because feminism is being rewritten and gender discrimination reinvented as victim-hood as evidenced by Women Against Feminism
There are many signs lessons haven’t been learned and the F word is still a dirty one. As a political movement feminism continues to be divisive. Yet fighting gender discrimination is no different to fighting against marginalisation by age, religion, disability or any other cultural category. To make a difference to structural inequality based on sex and gender, feminism this time around needs to be different – for a start it has to cater for all women and include men. But then it wouldn’t be feminism and that is the problem.
* In a perfect example of exclusive and inaccessible practice, The BBC offers no introductory text or transcript. You have to listen.
The picture on the right is the original tomb, the one on the left is the replica.
King Tutenkamun’s tomb is being recreated. The copy will be next to Howard Carter’s house on the hill at the entrance to the Valley of the Kings. Initially tourists will be asked to choose which one to visit; the real or the fake. I wonder how many will make the journey to Egypt then opt to visit a replica of the most famous tomb in the world, when the real one remains open less than a mile away. The intention is to protect the original, damaged by the impact of tourism. It makes sense to appeal to the fragility of ancient burial sites, sealed up with the intention they would never be visited again, designed for darkness. It also raises questions about the difference between the real and the imitation.
In France the prehistoric cave paintings in Lascaux were discovered in 1940 and opened to the public in 1948. Visitor exposure created rapid air change. Body heat and breath were blamed for rapid growth of fungal mould threatening the 17000 year old pigments. The caves were closed within 15 years and the replica Lascaux II built nearby. Tourists can experience the colour, size and impact of the paintings without damaging the quality of the original.
What happens next? Maybe a tomb or cave for tourists to visit which isn’t a copy of an original but a synthesis passed off as authentic. Here is a way to alter history. A gradual seepage from the real to the artificial, in the name of preservation, with visitors no longer knowing the difference. Signs and simulations encourage us to feel we familiar with places and people we know nothing about. Consumers are saturated with media images of significance rather than substance, continually pressured to buy a product or engage in activity for what it represents rather than what it is. I think visiting a replica must be preferable to not having access at all. Education substantially depends on text and images which are facsimiles. I’d visit Lascaux II for the experience and probably not over-think the reconstruction. Soon I won’t even have to go to France because there are talks about Lascaux III which will go on tour.
I’ve stood in King Tut’s tomb and doubt the ability of any fake to replicate that sense of awe. Tut is a plain place. The tomb of Ramses VI is far more visually stunning. With Tut it’s the history which bestows the meaning. Knowing this is the place where the most fabulous of all Egyptian treasure was found. Authenticity like this can’t be duplicated but authentic experience is not sustainable if it risks destroying it. There are no easy answers; least of all what happens to the original? Preserved and protected, visited by a privileged few, secreted away behind locked doors and security systems. What price will be put on an original experience? Sounds like two-tier tourism in the making.
Mills and Boon landscapes are places where alpha males strut and lesser females submit. M&B were about submission long before 50 Shades of Grey turned domination into a supermarket sex word. In the literature world they might not always be taken seriously but there’s gold in them there pages.
I was given a M&B for homework. The genre being romance, I expected Bridget Jones meets Catherine Cookson. ‘The Return of the Stranger’ by Kate Walker was more the visceral stuff of archetypes. All the classic M&B ‘ingredients are there. Lust. Revenge. Money. Power. Men portrayed as testosterone driven heroes. Women submissive. ‘The words shrivelled on her tongue as she saw the dark frown that snapped his black brows together over his blazing eyes, the sudden ferocity of his anger shaking her.’
M&B men have control over women who appear to want to be controlled. ‘He could have her now. Kiss her into submission….one day she would leave all her pride in the dust and she would beg for his touch’. Scary stuff. Women in M&B might have careers and social status but underneath they’re quivering psychological jelly.
I’m reminded of the heroes of ancient Greece who cared only about themselves. Theseus – who promised to marry Ariadne in return for a ball of thread to guide him out of the labyrinth – then snuck off in the night abandoning her. Odysseus – who took ten years to return from Troy, having affairs with Circe and Calypso on the way while Penelope kept house, weaving tapestry through the night to deter her suitors. When Odysseus came home he had all her maidens hung in the yard for the crime of sleeping with the suitors’ servants. Arrogance on legs. Plato’s utopian idea of a Republic contained three categories of people – the philosopher, soldier and artisan. All male of course. Women didn’t get a mention. It looks like patriarchy continues to thrive on a 21st century M&B booklist.
I turned to the M&B company for the advice they give to authors. There is acknowledgement the alpha hero has become somewhat politically incorrect yet the message given to M&B aspirants is ‘the success of Modern Romance proves that many women still fantasize about strong men’ The woman is the heroine but only as primary she-character rather than another Lara Croft or Grace Darling. An M&B heroine only finds her destiny or what M&B call her ‘journey of fulfilment’ via the hero. More scary stuff. ‘He takes control and drives the story; he has the power to make things happen! He is the key driver of the romance – he is the aspiration of the story’s heroine (and the reader) The Alpha Male is a celebration of strength!’ [their italics]
Glossing over the stereotypical images and clichés (I hate clichés) it’s my M&B had a story (albeit a reworking of Wuthering Heights). The author was skilled with the formula. For me there was too much description of what the characters were thinking in between their sentences. Many pages were all thought and not enough action. Descriptions of eyes like ‘shards of black coffee ice’ were original (at least to me – I may need to read more M&B to make an accurate judgement).
The best stories are those with space for the reader’s imagination. Writers need to show not tell and there isn’t much showing in a M&B. You’re given all the detail rather than the space for producing it yourself and in most places the detail is too much. M&B is primal stuff – driven by power and desire. M&B call this genre Modern Romance but it could equally well be Fantasy.
The Mann Booker Prize came to town last night. DCB Pierre visited Hull University as part of the Booker Prize Foundation University Initiative. Under this banner, prominently displayed on stage, copies of Booker prize books are distributed free to first year students across all disciplines. A selection of authors then visit a selection of universities to meet the students and anyone else who’s interested. Last night DCB Pierre met students at Hull.
When the book Vernon God Little won the Booker prize in 2003 I didn’t really get it. I found it hard to align with the narrative viewpoint of a 15 year old US male being accused of murder and VGL was consigned to the unread list. It has helped to listen to questions and answers about the background to writing the book. Setting it against contemporary capitalism and its continual need for profit regeneration, alongside media manipulation of public opinion, all had the Althusserian effect of instant recognition. I could identify with the bigger picture informing the narrative in a way I’d missed first time around. I also liked how Pierre talked about his relationship with his readers. Two separate entities coming together through a third medium of the book or shared experience of the story. Meeting the author is like joining up the circle.
I’ll try reading Vernon God Little again. Usually I say read the book before the film. In this case, I think it’s helped to listen to the author before reading the book.
Earlier this year the Guardian printed a list of organisations across the country which are closing or losing services as part of the public spending cuts agenda. It’s not difficult to see who will be affected or rather who won’t be affected by the loss of valuable community services. Libraries, the Arts, leisure facilities, voluntary groups, support for the homeless, those struggling with addiction, older people, young people, the sick and the unemployed are all now facing the daily realities of having their government grants either cut or taken away.
The development of talking rubbish bins which congratulate you for using them seems not only bizarre but a flagrant waste of resources. The bins are being brought to the streets by Keep Britain Tidy, who are running a Love Where You Live campaign. Keep Britain Tidy is part-funded by the Government through Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and they work closely with other Government departments, such as the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit in the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Some of the London bins will burst into song when litter is thrown into them, with tunes including I’m Singing in the Bin and Rubbish Keeps Falling on my Head. I don’t get it. Either we are suffering an economic crisis or not. Welfare is more important than hearing Actress Amanda Holden’s recording of “Yes! Do that again!” or former cricketer Phil Tufnell calling out “Howzat!” whenever a piece of litter is deposited. “We wanted to find a way to make bins enjoyable,” says Colette Hiller, director of Sing London who are also involved in the project. I have a suggestion. Forget making bins enjoyable. How about concentrating on people instead?
The Equality and Human Rights Commission have published their inquiry into disability-related harassment. This is what the media call ‘hate crime.’ It is violence perpetrated against vulnerable members of society who are unable to stand up for themselves or have friends or relatives to protect them. The inquiry highlights ten cases where people died or were seriously injured and the EHRC are calling this harassment.
The OED says to harass is ‘To wear out, tire out, or exhaust with fatigue, care, trouble, etc.’ and the act of harassing is to ‘To trouble or vex by repeated attacks.’
Surely crime towards people disabled resulting in serious injury and death is far more than harassment? By diluting the language in this way the EHRC are diluting the effectiveness of the message. This is not harassment; it is aggravated assault and murder and those who have lost their lives and been injured in these dreadful ways deserve much better than this.
One of the reasons I don’t have a television is the quantity of rubbish far outweighed any quality and there was little sign of the original broadcasting promise to inform, educate and entertain. The adverts, with their continual pressure to comply with cultural discursive practices, were particularly galling. I haven’t missed it at all. I want to have some choice over my exposure to media advertising – not have it forced on me. Like this morning – at the cash machine – where in order to draw out cash I had to watch adverts for a well known brand of chocolate biscuits.
This is wrong on so many levels. It’s evidence of further linkages between corporate multinational food companies, the supermarket giants and the banking system. It’s contrary to government initiatives to promote healthy eating and reduce the amount of sugar, fat and salt we consume. You might not have thought ‘chocolate biscuits’ all week but the image is now surfacely and subliminally planted in your psyche. Why weren’t they advertising British apples?
The present government’s Change4Life programme is aimed at combating Britain’s high obesity rate by encouraging people to eat healthier food and exercise more. Then they scrapped the Food Standards Agency and gave the task of promoting healthy eating to food giants like Unilever, Nestle and Mars – who between them just about control the worlds supply of sugar, salt and fat. It’s like asking tobacco companies to run stop smoking campaigns and it’s madness. Or like my good friend and colleague Maria told me this morning, in response to the news that David Cameron’s uncle has said the working classes prefer to be lead by aristocrats, it’s absolute tosh – which apparently is aristocratic for ‘shite’.
Government is promoting cultural change. They’re calling it social action. Otherwise known as giving. They have ‘new technologies at their disposal’ and ‘insights from behavioural science’ with potential to show how ‘obstacles to giving can be overcome’ and ‘tap into our motivation to give’ (p7). Giving is government’s green paper designed to make givers of us all.
Government recognises it can’t compel people to social action – no, it has to be built from the bottom up (p7) a reference it’s hard to take seriously. Social action is what local organisations and communities do already –have always done – and will continue to do regardless of the latest government smokescreen for cuts – known colloquially as the Big Society.
Back to the giving report. Don’t worry if giving isn’t your thing. Government recognises that some groups ‘face different barriers to participation’ for example barriers ‘associated with health or disability’ or ‘a lack of time due to caring responsibilities’ (p10). If you identify with these barriers, please don’t think you’re being excluded from any extra-curricular ‘social actions’ on top of your day to day struggles. Government will ensure ‘opportunities to give that are accessible for all’ and what’s more they’re ‘excited by the potential for this created by new [Internet] technologies’ (p10)
Don’t have the Internet? It’s not a problem. But don’t get too excited. Government won’t provide it, you’ll stay digitally excluded. They’re just going to use more ‘traditional methods of providing information’ (p11) about opportunities to give. And don’t go worrying about any lack of ‘organized social action’ in your neighbourhood. Government will ensure those living in less active communities receive the support they need to ‘galvanise’ that social action into happening.
Not yet convinced that giving is for all and all are for giving?
Government has saved the best till last. They tell us (and you can feel the smugness seeping off the page) ‘Spending money on others, including charities, makes us happier than spending on ourselves; we get something back – the ‘warm glow’ that comes from giving.’(p15)
So you heard it here first. Get out there and get giving. Regardless of your personal situation, your health or your lack of facilities, giving will make you make feel good about yourself. Why? Because ‘evolution has endowed us with a social brain that predisposes us to reciprocate acts of kindness (p15).
We’ve also evolved to recognise bullshit when we see it…
When it came to benefits the media were biased. They reported with glee on the so called benefit cheats and scroungers, focussing on large families living council owned accommodation with barely contained self-righteous smugness. You didn’t read much about those struggling to get by on limited income and coping with a hostile built environment and difficult public transport. But since 20/10 the media are now focusing on the sick and those disabled by society. There’s precious little about the potential damage to the lifestyles of those they used to lampoon and whom these savage cuts were mean to be directed at in the first place.
Adults of working age who have lost their work through illness like a stroke or vision impairment, or have been injured in an accident and who want to work, are now being given a year in which to rehabilitate and find new employment. 12 months is a very short time in a society that has become adept at tokenism and aversive discrimination. After a year their Employment and Support Allowance (previously Incapacity Benefit) will be reduced and then what’s going to happen?
Removing the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance for people in residential care will allegedly save £135 million a year by 2014/15. City banking bonuses come to mind? An adapted car, or wheelchair or a scooter can make all the difference if you don’t have mobility. How else are you supposed to leave your building? How can something that is so fundamental to daily life be so callously withdrawn?
The government is taking away from those with least to lose. Many of whom have become unemployed through no fault of their own. Easy targets, already struggling with daily tasks we take for granted, it looks unlikely the future holds much improvement. We can’t ignore what’s happening. Do something useful and get involved in your local community. See what a difference a few hours of your time can make. And think twice before casting your vote at the next election. A responsible society cares for those in need; it provides support and encouragement to enable independence, it doesn’t deny welfare to those who need it most. When the government says it will protect it’s not talking about the needy, it’s talking about itself.
Nearly as mad as this: a two way table top device for enabling communication for a some who is deaf blind allows one person to key in text which is converted to a Braille readout for the other person to read. They then key in their braille response which is converted to text. So simple and so enabling.
How disabling is that?