Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Archive for August, 2016

Let’s Get Critical

This will probably be a bit of a long’un, but Owen Jones’ post was no little’un either. It’s his fault. (It’s not, it’s not. It’s mine for having such long conversations with myself about the state of the left and then wanting to write them down.)

Also, I’ve called him “Owen” a lot in this, which is not very professional. Referring to him as simply “Jones” felt clunky and patronising, like I’m his Maths teacher.

Guardian columnist and political commentator Owen Jones published a blog post last month regarding the current turmoil within the Labour Party (which you can read here). The blog post you’re reading right now (significantly less articulate than his) was supposed to be published some weeks ago. The problem was: I kept changing it. In the end, I thought: “Eh, other people have tweeted him better responses in under 140 characters. Get over yourself, girl.” Yesterday, however, Owen treated us all to a video concerning the same issue, in a nice manageable eight-minute chunk, and I thought: Do it. Write it. Go on. Double donkey dare you.

The post (and the new accompanying video) simply asks Jeremy Corbyn supporters (Corbynites? Corbynions?) to consider nine questions concerning Corbyn’s next move and the next move of the Labour Party generally. These questions concerned policies, strategies to win over particular voting demographics (e.g. Conservative voters, over-44s) and also the party’s “vision” or ultimate goal.

Fair play, I thought. I’ve wondered that myself, and I even have a Corbyn shrine.

As for the fine folk of Twitter? Not so much. Their stance after the blog post’s release was more along the lines of “Blairite careerist sellout”. Which was rude. Funny, undoubtedly, but rude. As a result, my own response started off as a “Leave Owen Jones alone” petition, directed at the aforementioned barrage of irate Twitter users who took offense at the blog post on behalf of Jeremy Corbyn/Labour/Karl Marx’s pet goldfish.

Then this post mutated into a musing on how difficult it is to hold an even slightly controversial opinion in any movement. I’ve considered the whole fiasco (it was a bit of a fiasco) over the past month and came to the conclusion that, actually, I could empathise quite a bit with Owen (just without the powerful political mind, numerous television appearances, bestselling books and gorgeous cat*). The pressure to avoid divisive opinions is far from exclusive to the left, and I think about it a lot within the context of feminism. You might recognise my dilemma too. You see someone speaking out about feminism and you want to support them – you really, really do – but they’re just so problematic. You can’t say “No, you’re representative of neither me nor feminism”, because then that divides the movement and sets us against each other (in the same way that the Labour Party feels – and, to a large extent, is – divided right now). I always feel especially guilty having these thoughts if the public figure in question is a woman.

Furthermore, you can’t be left-wing and live in a bubble, just like I can’t be a feminist and do so. I can protest that I don’t want to dilute feminism and make it palatable to men and anti-feminists, but that’s really not very helpful.  To paraphrase Owen’s point about knocking on doors in the video: the whole point of a movement, political or social, is to persuade. Acknowledging and engaging with the people who don’t agree with you is never very fun, but, within the context of any kind of campaign or cause, it is necessary. There’s no point if all the people already on board are just going to stand around drinking squash and saying: “Well, I think Jezza Corbz is a top lad and I don’t give a rat’s arse if nobody else does.”

He is indeed a top lad, but Tories, the over-65 bracket, most of the (former) Shadow Cabinet and also my stepdad aren’t convinced. (Truthfully, my stepdad just does not like Corbyn. Thankfully, he likes Owen Smith, the alternative, even less.) Owen is totally right (not that he needs my approval); that’s definitely where we’re** going wrong. All his suggestions for how Labour ought to continue were justified and implementing them would meet the needs of the vulnerable people that Labour are meant to protect and would provide what others are seeking.

I’d add – if I were anywhere near qualified enough to comment – that, alongside support for older people, Labour should be encouraging a rethink regarding how the NHS budget (what little there is) is distributed. Mental health is still not given parity with physical health. I know it’s a cliche at this point, which disturbs me deeply. Many of my close friends and my relatives had or have mental health problems. Through their experiences and my own perspective as an ally to them, the lack of appropriate support and education is frankly bewildering. I remember Nick Clegg promising better mental health services when the coalition formed. Look how that one turned out. Don’t be the Lib Dems, Labour.

(As a side-note: it’d be nice if we could stop treating socialism like the plague too. I’d like to say I’m a leftie without getting either the pitying “sit down and shut up, you scrounger” look or the outraged “omg you think Stalin was right” glare. We are entirely too comfortable with the right and with capitalism. Not to be the Trot in the room, Britain, but “bourgeois” just isn’t a good look on you.)

Honestly, I’d love for the Labour Party to reaffirm everything I’ve come to love about it. I’m too young to remember a pre-Blair Labour. I remember writing to Tony Blair, not long before he was succeeded by Gordon Brown, and asking him to save the polar bears. I got a letter back – admittedly it was not personal correspondence from our disgraced former Prime Minister, but it was all very official nonetheless. It’s framed, lost somewhere up in our loft.

It struck me while writing this that a New Labour government, as it was under Blair and Brown, remains the only kind of Labour government I’ve ever known. That makes the flicker of hope in my heart all the more exciting. It started with Corbyn, on that day in September last year. I knew, listening to him and following his work, that this was the politician I’d waited for. The polar bear set-up is quite a good metaphor, actually, for the approach Owen Jones suggested in that fateful blog post. What we’re doing is not enough. We need a new strategy.

The polar ice caps are melting and there’s a good chance they’ll fracture and splinter. We can’t let them split, though, for the sake of the polar bears.

Blair and Brown never saved them. Cameron or May would probably shoot the poor things for sport.

Knock on some doors, Labour, and tell ’em what you’re about. Leave Twitter alone for two seconds. Minimum selfies, please.

And, maybe,  just maybe, you can save those bloody polar bears.


Notes:

* That’s actually a lie; I have two cats and they’re beautiful and flawless. But the rest still stands.

** “We”, she says with utter seriousness, as though she has ever done anything except give a Ukipper a stern and meaningful look in the street.

For more pure unadulterated Owen Jones, from concentrate, you can follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook as @OwenJones84. He has a regular column in the Guardian and a YouTube channel. He is also (surprise, surprise) the author of two bestselling books, Chavs and The Establishment. They will make you angry, but you’ll be happy about the fact that you’re angry. Trust me.

On Feminist Art

Sorry I’ve been so inactive! I’ve been focusing on college work, mostly. However, during the summer holidays, I’ve tried to branch out in terms of the feminist material I’m reading and creating. I’ve followed lots of great feminist artists on Instagram (like Paloma Smith/@octoplum), as well as some zine-makers and writers. I really like the DIY vibe I get from most feminist art, the idea that these are women making incredible things with the most ordinary of tools.

Art has been an integral part of feminism for a long time, starting with the original feminist art movement in the 1960s. For me, it marks how feminism has expanded from the realm of academia. It’s not something contained in statistics and studies and essays; it’s real, tangible and present in the lives and imaginations of women. There’s something inherently radical about the act of expression through creation, the very making of art that has come from your own heart and your own brain.

I’d definitely like to try my hand at producing a zine (there’s a “how-to” from Rookie magazine here), but for now I thought I’d stick to something simple and familiar. I was in a creative writing club at school and since then I haven’t had much chance to do any writing. I thought I’d have a go at something similar to the “found poetry” or the “cut up” techniques. I’m not sure my version strictly fits into either genre, but I enjoyed making them and I’m pleased with the results. It’s very therapeutic and cheap – all you need are scissors, glue and a few unwanted magazines and newspapers – but it can be quite time-consuming, especially as I’m pretty picky and I kept rearranging the lines!

FYI: these are my intellectual property, so please don’t nick them or share them without crediting me!

It’s up to you to interpret these, but the two short ones on the top right were specifically about feminism and how it’s perceived. The top left was inspired by all the writers I love right now who are fighting for social justice with the pen, not the sword. The bottom left was meant to be more evocative of the disconnect between the polished exterior of British society and the colonialism and corruption we like to gloss over. The bottom right is about the area I’m from, the Black Country, which you can learn more about here if you’re not local!

You can read more about feminist zines and self-publishing here.

5 Spectacular Sportswomen

The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, kicked off today. In honour of this massive international sporting event, I decided that this article should feature 5 incredible feats of athleticism and endurance… by women. Women were first able to compete in the Summer Olympics in 1900, but, even as recently as 1992, 35 countries were still entering exclusively male competitors. The first time that at least one woman competed for every country was in 2010, a whopping 114 years after the first Olympic Games in 1896.

Lena Jordan

Lena Jordan was a Latvian trapeze artist and aerial performer. In 1897, she became the first person to successfully perform a triple somersault on the flying trapeze. No man beat the record she set until 1909. An article from the Chicago Tribune in 1982 states that “… fewer than 20 trapeze flyers have ever succeeded…” and also that two of the men to ever complete the move died trying to replicate their success, which gives you an idea of how scarily dangerous this move is! Hats off to you, Ms Jordan – you were a braver woman than I!

Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle

In 1926, Gertrude Ederle – born in Manhattan to German immigrant parents – became the first woman to swim the English channel. She was a champion swimmer, Olympic gold medallist and a world record holder in five events. Only five men had successfully swum the English Channel before her attempt. The former record had been 16 hours, 33 minutes (set by Enrique Tiraboschi). She crossed the Channel in 14 hours and 39 minutes. From Trudy herself: “People said women couldn’t swim the Channel, but I proved they could.”

Bonita Norris

Bonita Norris was the youngest British woman to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, at the age of just 22 (until 2012, when 19-year-old Leanna Shuttleworth broke her record). Bonita also successfully climbed to the summit of Mt. Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world. She’s a television presenter and a charity fundraiser too (seriously, what can’t this woman do?!). I was lucky enough to listen to her speak about her experiences at my school, as part of our International Women’s Day celebration (she’s lovely and you should Google her!).

Florence “Flo-Jo” Griffith Joyner

“Flo-Jo” was an American track-and-field athlete. In 1988, she set the world record for the 100m sprint at the U.S. Olympic Trials, astounding everyone watching. She completed the race in just 10.49 seconds, and it’s this achievement that has led to her being considered “the fastest woman of all time”. At the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, she set another world record in the 200m sprint. Well, actually, she set two – she completed it in 21.56 seconds in the semi-final and then beat her own record in the final, finishing in 21.34 seconds. In 1998, she sadly passed away at the age of 38, after an epileptic seizure.

Cheryl Haworth

Ever wanted to meet a woman who can lift the equivalent of two fridges over her head? Well, let me introduce you to Cheryl Haworth, the American weightlifter. During the Summer Olympics in Sydney, in 2000, women’s weightlifting was introduced. It was Cheryl’s time to shine, and she brought home a bronze medal at the age of just 17. She competed in the heaviest class. Her weight made her the subject of media scrutiny, and in an interview with Stumptuous, she stated: “It’s frustrating, because it’s like instead of “Oh, you’re the strongest woman in the history of the US”, it’s like “You’re big but you don’t sit on the couch and do nothing. How does that work?” They just don’t understand that bigger people can be elite athletes.”

 

So there you have it: five fantastic women, of all different shapes and sizes, who set incredible records and achieved amazing things!

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