Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Posts tagged ‘history’

What the US election should teach us

You’ll probably be aware by now that Donald Trump is now president elect of the United States. Here in the UK, we found out in the early hours of Wednesday morning and, believe me, it ruined my day.

It seems almost impossible. Days later, I have to remind myself every few minutes that, yes, this is actually happening. The US have managed to elect an unqualified bigot, who stands accused of sexual assault and only picked up politics as a hobby last year. There’s a huge disparity between Trump and the Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton –  Clinton is vastly more qualified, has 30 years of experience in politics and handled her campaign (and ultimate defeat) with dignity and calm. She failed to win over voters in the electoral college – although she did, in fact, win most of the popular vote – and this is largely because people simply don’t trust her. She will forever be linked to Bill Clinton’s scandals; she will always be associated with the disastrous handling of Benghazi. She is overshadowed by a political dynasty and that is extremely difficult to shake off. There’s some staggering sexism to be found in her treatment. Throughout the long, tumultuous campaign, it seemed Trump could get away with just about anything under the guise of “business sense” or “locker room talk”. Clinton couldn’t.

On the one hand, of course, this is wildly unfair, it does Clinton (and powerful women everywhere) a disservice and we must fight it. However, her party and the moderate/centrist movement as a whole should have seen this coming a mile off. It should not have been a surprise. She was not, in far too many ways, an ideal candidate. She should have been everything Trump was not, wrapped up in a progressive, trustworthy package. Instead, the Democrats put forward a candidate that is practically emblematic of corporate America. They lost because of racism, because of misogyny, because of the irresistible potential of a new license to hate under Trump, but also because of a lack of enthusiasm on the part of habitual Democrat voters. They just couldn’t get behind Clinton, so they voted for a third party, they voted for an independent candidate, or they didn’t vote at all.

I understand why the American electorate might have opted for someone different. I see the allure of that. But the truth is: Trump is not different. He is not a politician – something many Trump supporters seemed to revel in, bizarrely – and is therefore unqualified. He is not anti-establishment, which also seemed to draw voters in. If anything, Trump will run the country like a business, moreso than any past president ever has done.

Bigotry and prejudice have been vindicated. People have challenged me about saying this and accused me of being anti-democracy, because Trump was elected democratically. If thinking a vile, prejudiced rapist should be barred from holding any kind of office makes me “anti-democracy”, then fine – I’ll wear the label with pride. Brexit was also chosen in a democratic, public referendum and it too was characterised by propaganda and prejudice. In the wake of Brexit, the rate of hate crimes in the UK increased by 41% and it’s not an overreaction to protect yourself or to fear for your safety now. We should see this as a warning sign that people are being mis-sold extremist politics that actively damage communities under the guise of cheerful populism. In the same way that the right here in the UK can cultivate this blame game (e.g. “the immigrants are taking your jobs”, “scroungers are fiddling benefits”), Trump and the US alt-right can masquerade as annoying internet trolls – which is largely accurate! – but also promote something much more sinister.

Finally, I wanted to conclude by reminding anyone reading this, American or otherwise, that this is not the end. We can mourn, and I don’t blame you – particularly if you are part of a minority group – for mourning and for being very scared indeed.

The main thing we should all take away from this is that we should still fight. We have a responsibility to make our society a better, fairer one. We have a duty to those who came before us and those who will follow us to make equality our priority. However, we also have a right to safety from violence and discrimination. We can expect to see that right abused and taken away if the surge of support for far-right politics continues.

Liberals, progressives and the left have to mobilise. Right now.

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Is Ross Poldark A Hero?

If you’ve read the novels or seen the original series (I have done neither), then you probably saw the events of last week’s episode of Poldark coming. In Series 2, Episode 8, we saw the tension between Ross and his former lover Elizabeth come to a head… and it was less than romantic. Let’s be real: it was a rape scene. There is no getting around that, there was nothing consensual about it. No matter how the BBC or the fans dress it up, Ross was firmly in the wrong. He was aggressive (he had the air of a fairly dastardly Bond villain when he entered the room). He ignored her wishes (she asked him to leave her bedroom and he refused). Finally, damningly, she plainly and repeatedly said “no”. It was rape. But the handling of the scene seems to suggest that those involved think otherwise. The BBC haven’t bothered to try and contextualise it, the author’s son has praised their faithful attitude to his father’s text – written in 1953, I might add – and even Aidan Turner, Cap’n Poldark himself, has weighed in on the issue. He said of the scene in a statement made to the Sun newspaper: “It seems consensual, and it just seems right. He goes to talk. He doesn’t go to commit a crime. They talk and it seems like there is still this spark between them, this unfinished business emotionally. Certainly, that’s how Ross feels. He doesn’t force himself upon her. He is emotionally quite inarticulate. I don’t think he quite understands himself.” He elaborated: “It would be boring to play a character who’s just a do-gooder”, which I think is in somewhat poor taste. This isn’t the excusable behaviour of a rogueish ne’er-do-well. It was a calculated attempt by a male protagonist to intimidate and control a leading female character. In a popular TV series, to cast that man as a hero is unacceptable.

The response from the cast, the crew and the fans begs the question: why are we so willing to excuse the flaws of our heroes? Furthermore, is Ross Poldark a hero at all?

The answer lies both in how the narrative unique to Poldark treats its protagonist and in how fiction at large treats rape and sexual violence.

First and foremost, Ross is not a nice character. He is a terrible person dressed up by the narrative and the cinematography to seem like a lovely ray of sunshine. Oh wow, look at his Adonis-like bod… whoops, you missed him being an abusive, unfaithful shitbag. At this point, he is as bad as the series’ villain George Warleggan. George is violent, emotionally manipulative and arrogant, and we as viewers are encouraged to hate him for it. All those qualities could be said of Ross too. We are not, however, expected to hate Ross, because he doesn’t know he’s doing wrong, poor boy. I think this ties in with the comments Aidan made – that Ross didn’t intend to commit a crime. The implication there is that, because he didn’t really mean to violate both her body and her autonomy, it isn’t actually that bad. 

This is the same thing survivors of rape are told in real life. Rapists are constantly leaving court without a conviction. They didn’t mean to, you see, they didn’t know. They thought they had the victim’s consent, because “no” really means “yes” in the throes of passion, doesn’t it? That’s my real issue with this scene. I get why it happened. Ross Poldark, a desperate, angry man with a big, control-freak ego, feels betrayed and confused. Elizabeth is torn, caught between the man she really loves and the man she must marry to secure her son’s future. Something catastrophic and ugly needed to occur at this point in the plot – as a writer, I know that. I’m also aware that the BBC are adapting a book series from over 50 years ago which is set in the 1790s; of course there will be iffy ethics and dodgy morals. However, there are ways to present this scene without condoning what happens. They needed to pick a point on the spectrum, frankly – either she consented enthusiastically or Ross forced himself on her. Yes, there might have been a grey area; perhaps Elizabeth was simply overcome with her long held passion. But, unfortunately, there is a long history in cinema of what amounts to a rape fantasy, in which the victim will eventually enjoy an unwanted encounter if the perpetrator is pushy enough. Poldark, unwittingly or not, has signed its name on that list.

We’re at a point in the evolution of pop culture that, by now, we should have grasped that you can enjoy something and still be deeply critical of it. Poldark is not a bad TV series, nor am I crediting it with being some kind of moral touchstone for the masses. The cast are fantastic; the plot is (generally) well-crafted and engaging. The Cornish coast is the real star of the show, obviously.

However, my enjoyment of it doesn’t diminish the discomfort I feel. We excuse the faults of fictional men – and often those of real ones too – all the time. In a way, that “Oh, but he didn’t know” (which we’re all so fond of) is rather infantilising to men and it’s deeply violent towards women. Our media and our visual culture is saturated with this idea that all can be forgiven because he’s the hero. Ross, in my opinion, is very much a Homeric hero – an Achilles or an Odysseus. In ancient Greek culture, a “hero” achieved incredible feats, but always for personal gain. Our modern heroic qualities are normally more along the lines of selflessness and compassion. There’s a real clash of ethics there. We’ve blurred that line, I think, and now we don’t really know what we want or deserve from our fictional protagonists. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t portray bad people on screen. I’m also not saying that the main character of a film or book should always be a saint. Real people are flawed and they do terrible things.

We just need to be honest about that.

Still thought Demelza was justified, tho

Please like and share if you enjoyed! 

Agathon and the Women: Effeminacy and Femininity

There is a definite prejudice towards men who use femininity as part of their palate; their emotional palate, their physical palate. Is that changing? I’m not talking frilly-laced pink things or Hello Kitty stuff. I’m talking about goddess energy, intuition and feelings. That is still under attack, and it has gotten worse.

– RuPaul

I want to talk to you about Agathon.

Agathon was an Athenian tragic poet and playwright, who lived from (roughly) 448BCE to 400BCE. None of his own works have survived in their entirety – we know of six titles and we have 31 textual fragments – although he appears as a character in Plato’s Symposium and in Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae (Women at the Thesmophoria). Neither of these depictions are very flattering. He appears in the first act of Thesmophoriazusae. In the play, the tragedian Euripides is accused of misogyny, and the women of Athens have had it up to here with him. At the Thesmophoria, a women-only festival, they plot their revenge. Euripides plans to have Agathon – a man notorious for dressing as a woman and for his submissive sexual exploits – infiltrate the festival for him (although this doesn’t work out and Euripides’ relative Mnesilochus goes instead).

Agathon is mocked pretty ruthlessly throughout his appearance in the play, although you could argue that he gives as good as he gets; honestly, I wish he was in the play more. He’s heavily coded by the narrative as gay, he dresses as a woman (for writing purposes) and it’s implied that he works as a prostitute, but it’s the latter two of these qualities that seem to qualify him for mockery. Nobody would have had a problem with him being gay; the Greeks didn’t really have a concept of homosexual or heterosexual. You were either dominant (penetrator) or you were submissive (penetrated). Agathon falls into that second category – the category reserved for pubescent boys and women.

The reason I bring up Agathon (aside from his general brilliance) is because he exemplifies how masculinity and femininity intersected in ancient times, and there’s a lot we can learn from his portrayal about how the ancients – and how we – approach femininity and also what we might call effeminacy. Homophobia and sexism are both social justice issues. We don’t necessarily lump them in together or deal with them in the same way, but I often find that people who are passionate about fighting one of those causes feel some affinity for the other too. I also think many homophobic stereotypes and cliches which accompany depictions of gay men in media have their roots in misogyny and anti-femininity. That’s not to say the LGBT+ rights movement owes anything at all to feminists or to straight, cis women, but I do think there are some similarities to be acknowledged.

I’ve often argued that plenty of men’s issues are a direct result of our society’s demonisation of femininity. Men don’t have the opportunity to access domestic violence services and, even when they do, they don’t feel as though they can and still retain their masculinity. There’s a high suicide rate among young males, another result of constant social pressure to conform. This is when masculinity becomes toxic, something men have to labour under all their lives rather than something they settle into comfortably.

Perhaps this contributes to homophobia, particularly to femmephobia (discrimination towards feminine-presenting individuals, something that is perpetrated by gay men too, not just heterosexuals). Perhaps this insecurity manifests as resentment towards men who confidently, comfortably inhabit the space (a gap which is rapidly closing) between masculinity and femininity.

You might have seen an image that did the rounds on the internet recently, of a man wearing a “No fats, no fems” shirt.

no fats no fems

Yeah, okay, it’s a hella cute shirt. Yeah, it was meant to be ironic. But it highlights a massive problem in the gay community, this idea that “twinks” – feminine gay men – are letting the side down and giving in to stereotyping. In a way, it contributes to both homophobia and misogyny in one fell swoop. You can read a gay man’s perspective on “anti-campness” here, from Guardian columnist Owen Jones. In the article, Owen states: “This anti-camp hostility partly comes from a desire to conform to traditional gender roles, which gay men have already subverted whether they want to or not.” It’s all part of “internalised homophobia”, in which gay men (and gay women!) perpetuate harmful stereotypes out of fear and insecurity. However, this is steadily improving. I quoted RuPaul earlier. He’s a prime example; his series RuPaul’s Drag Race has been a smash hit with eight seasons (and two seasons of its spin-off All Stars) under its belt. As drag has entered the mainstream consciousness – via the accessible “talent show” format that RPDR employs – so has the idea that mixing masculine and feminine gender expression is totally acceptable.

On a broader level – beyond just the gay community – I think we’d solve a lot of men’s issues far more quickly if we stopped enforcing this idea that feelings = femininity = weakness. Even now, being called “a girl” is a grave insult for many boys and men.

Feminists have always had a complicated relationship with both masculinity and femininity. When feminists critique masculinity, generally what they mean is more along the lines of machismo – a word of Spanish origin that denotes hypersexual manhood, denigration of women and adherence to a strict set of “masculine” traits. Men also put up with some pretty hellish expectations regarding their bodies and their lives. I – and most other feminists I know – give a whoop and a cheer when a plus size man is hailed as a modelling icon or when the internet’s latest sweetheart is “unconventionally attractive” (whatever that even means).

Owen Jones – I know, him again! – also wrote a piece for New Statesman about masculinity. I used a quote from that particular post in my Quotes series. He wrote in that article: “…the point is this. Being a man is not static: it can change and be redefined.” I think that’s the crucial thing. The more we encourage people, especially young people, to see masculinity and femininity as fluid, the better our society as a whole will be. The pressure to conform to a rigid gender role can be so damaging and dehumanising, and it causes a massive disconnect between a young person’s inner identity and their outward expression. Imagine a world without that self-sabotage.

Really, we should see gender as a painter’s palette. Blend. Experiment. Why use just one colour for the masterpiece that is your life?

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Thesmophoriazusae, spoken by Agathon. He has a lot of good dialogue in the play, but, after studying the play for my AS Level, this line stuck with me. I think it’s apt for what I do.

What you write depends so much on what you are.

People I mentioned/cited:

Owen Jones, How To Be A Man, New Statesman (x)

Owen Jones, What Alan Carr Taught Me About Gay Men’s HomophobiaThe Guardian (x)

RuPaul, RuPaul speaks about society and the state of drag as performance artWikiNews (x)

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 6, Section 2 (x)

A little more about Agathon:

Agathon is credited with being an innovator in the world of Greek tragedy. Athenian plays were almost always based upon mythology, although they occasionally had their origins in history. Agathon is thought to have been the first playwright to have written an entirely original play, Anthos (“Flower”). The reason we know about him – aside from his roles in Symposium and Thesmophoriazusae – is because he won at the Lenaean Festival in 417BC. Greek playwrights competed at these festivals, showcasing their latest works, and it was a great honour to be awarded first place. I was especially surprised to learn that, as, in Thesmophoriazusae, Aristophanes depicts him as being an incompetent writer.

For more about him, go here, here and here. You can find PDFs of Thesmophoriazusae online, although a published translation is generally a better bet (we used this edition at college).

Dateline London, 17/09/2016

Just catching up on Dateline London (Owen Jones appeared on it on Saturday), and the panel are having a fascinating discussion about the presidential election, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The consensus is that Trump, while lacking in ideals and policies, is very good at galvanising and “inspiring” (for want of a better word) his particular demographic. Conversely, Clinton has the ideals and the political gravitas, but she hasn’t managed to garner support in quite the same way.

You can find the episode on BBC iPlayer here, although it’s only available for the next month.

“Women Transform Into Their Idols” – BuzzFeed

I just watched this super cute video from Ladylike, a series by BuzzFeed. In this episode, the team get to dress up as their female role-models. It’s amazing. I loved all their reasons for choosing these women as their role-models, and their choices said a lot about what each Ladylike member finds important in their own identity.

 

Women and the Left

Alternative title: I’ve Got Tits And I’m In Your Trade Union.

I saw a comic earlier on Facebook, by an artist called Suzy X, which perfectly encapsulated something I’ve been pondering for a while.

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If you’re a fan of Vice or its sister site Broadly, you might have seen the article they published on the “brocialism” phenomenon (x). Essentially, a brocialist is a man with right-on leftist politics but a dodgy set of morals when it comes to women. It might sound silly and, to be fair, I laughed at the article while reading it.

I stopped laughing when I realised that it was all too familiar. It’s often difficult for people who are fighting a cause – such as resisting class-based oppression – to recognise oppressive actions in themselves and their activism. As they focus on one area of privilege, they may lose sight of others. We see this in “white feminism”, which erases the nuanced experiences of women of colour and fails to address intersectionality. If you bring up issues of intersectionality in certain circles, you may be accused of pandering to “identity politics”. In this same way, leftists who also happen to be feminists, like myself, get a lot of flack for “dividing” the movement.

Obviously class is an important indicator of social privilege – I’m not suggesting that we should abandon it altogether – but women and DFAB people have an important role to play within the left. In fact, I’m of the opinion that class should be incorporated more into feminism. Women’s experiences, particularly if they are wives and mothers with families to support, are intimately connected with working-class issues or disadvantages associated with a low income background. For example, as shown in a study by UNESCO in Ethiopia and others by UNICEF in Eastern and Southern Africa, poverty is the main barrier to girls’ and women’s education. Girls are traditionally entrusted with domestic tasks such as fetching water. If the only source of water is far away and requires a time-consuming journey, this results in more girls being late to or absent from school. There is also a stark lack of “gender-sensitive” teaching; therefore, girls grow into women who don’t know how to protect themselves from STDs. UNICEF have stated: “Educated girls can better protect themselves against HIV, trafficking and abuse. Educating a girl also means that as a woman, she is empowered and more likely to participate in development efforts and in political and economic decision-making. Women who went to school usually manage to increase the household income.” When women are educated and empowered, it holds benefits for their families and even for whole communities.

An example closer to home (at least for me!) is the impact de-industrialisation has had on family life for working-class people, right here in the UK. Historically, men from predominantly working-class have participated in “skilled” work, i.e. they learned a trade or took on a job manufacturing a specific material/product. In my area, our main industry throughout the nineteenth century and much of the early twentieth century was chain-making. However, in the latter part of the 20th century, our industries and the communities that had grown around them suffered. There are lots of reasons for this, but the actions of Margaret Thatcher and the war her government waged on trade unions were primarily responsible. For people outside the UK, you probably won’t be aware of the major turmoil that occurred during Thatcher’s stint as Prime Minister, when thousands of miners (mining being a job rooted in the working class) participated in strikes during the 70s and 80s. In an article for New Statesman, Owen Jones specifically linked de-industrialisation with the changing status of masculinity in our society: “…what it means to be a man is in a state of flux. Deindustrialisation, undoubtedly, is a fundamental reason. Britain’s economy has been increasingly emptied of skilled industrial jobs. Take manufacturing: while 5.6 million people worked in the sector in 1982, only 2.6 million did last year.” When men lost their jobs as a result of mass de-industrialisation under Thatcher and the legacy of privatisation that followed her, it placed greater pressure on women to provide for their families, and areas of England, Scotland and Wales remain poverty-stricken. You’ll find that the poorest areas are those that historically thrived due to industry.

Women are not just passive victims in class war. Our foremothers have fought to find a voice and a platform within the left, which is why it angers me so much that we should have to reaffirm our place in the movement. In 1930s Spain, the anarchist organisation Las Mujeres Libres fought to empower working-class women.  The women of the Spanish anarchist movement felt marginalised. They were laughed at when they tried to contribute during meetings and this made women hesitant to speak up. This angered Mujeres Libres because the movement was supposed to oppose and ultimately abolish all forms of oppression and social hierarchy. They put an emphasis on a “double struggle”, in which they could pursue both women’s liberation and social revolution. In order to give working-class women the best opportunities to participate, they organised childcare services and schools. They also developed literacy courses, social studies classes and medical training. I love the story of Mujeres Libres, purely because of how brilliant they were at meeting the specific needs of the working women they supported. The scenario was similar for Clara Zetkin, a German socialist activist and an advocate for women’s rights. She too held the opinion that women were not allowed to participate equally within the left. She presided over the Women’s Office of the Social Democratic party from 1907 onwards and she founded International Women’s Day in 1911, although she had been involved with the women’s movement in Germany since 1874. Becoming a cultural icon in the former German Democratic Republic, streets and parks bearing her name can still be found there.

And the women of the left are still fighting. Even within feminism, there are leftist movements: socialist feminism, Marxist feminism, labor/labour feminism. There is even a movement called transnational feminism, exploring how capitalism and the patriarchy intersect in order to exploit women.

I refer to The Left a lot in this article, although I don’t mean to suggest that everyone with a left-wing viewpoint is part of some homogeneous mass. What I generally mean when I use the term The Left is leftist activism and the platforms where this takes place. When I say “women struggle to find a platform in the left”, I mean that very few of today’s prominent socialist thinkers are women. That’s a problem. We’re not lacking in vocal socialist women because women don’t understand politics, nor is it because women are politically apathetic. In fact, we’re not lacking socialist women at all. Speaking as a feminist, I know what it’s like to get shouted down, on the internet and in real life. Therefore, I can confidently say that the issue is that so many men continue to exclude women from conversations about class or refuse to acknowledge sexist bias in their own actions.

This is not to suggest that we are somehow worse than the right (FYI: that’s not the case). But it is more hypocritical of us if we’re seeking equality of the classes whilst remaining blind to other struggles.

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.