Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Posts tagged ‘politics’

General Selection of General Election Thoughts

Readers in the UK will be aware of this, but for those of you who aren’t: we all just got thrown a political curve ball. And it hit us squarely in the nuts.

Provided it is supported by MPs, we’ll all be going back to the polls three years earlier than we expected on 8th June 2017. It makes sense – Theresa May has been in an unstable position since she became Prime Minister, because she didn’t have a public mandate and wasn’t elected. If she wants to carry on negotiating a Brexit (hard, soft or scrambled), she needs the full support of the electorate. However, I still don’t think this was necessarily a good decision; we are, as mentioned, in the middle of leaving the European Union and we need consistency. It’s certainly a good move for her and her party, though.

We should, without a doubt, exercise our right to give her that mandate or not. We decide who guides us through the process, whether it is May, Corbyn or someone else. That’s why I’m so disappointed to see people complaining about the election or, worse, threatening not to vote. I’m particularly bothered by young women, for whom this will be their first vote, suggesting that they won’t participate. It’s probably a cliché at this point, but we haven’t always had this right and I think it does a disservice to the women who fought for it. Women, please, always vote.

People who say they find discussions about politics “annoying” annoy me, to be honest. Politics affects every area of our lives. The world of politics dictates how much your boss should pay you and your right to complain about or question aspects of your job. The world of politics dictates what you will learn in school, how much your teacher earns and how your school is run.

Litter in the park? It’s because your local council has a tiny budget and that’s a result of POLITICS.

Underfunded and overstretched national health service? Yep, POLITICS.

Your right to freedom of expression? Your right not to be tortured? POLITICS, POLITICS, POLITICS.

Take your grievances onto the streets and protest. Take them to the polling station and make your voice heard. Take them to your bosses and your friends and family.

Talk about it, because it’s important. In the current social climate, you have NO excuse to be ill-informed. Know who your local candidates are. Know what they stand for and what they intend to do with your money and your trust. Know what their party manifesto says and how it affects you. Be clear on the issues that have a direct impact on your life – whether that’s child benefit, student loans, the living wage or the housing deficit.

I know it’s difficult and confusing. I do know that. For example, I support a lot of Jeremy Corbyn’s values, but Labour at the moment is a shitshow and I honestly can’t envision him being PM. So I’m as stuck as you are. I don’t know exactly who I’m going to vote for at the GE, but I’m going to watch the party broadcasts, read each manifesto and learn from other people.

The word politics comes from the Greek word polites (πολίτης), which simply means “citizen”. Politics at its core is about citizens, about people. There’s no point to it if people remove themselves from it.

And as for the election…

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It’s 2017. What now?

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

To all my readers and followers, thank you for making 2016 so rewarding (and challenging). A lot happened last year – a lot – and I’ve had to rethink my politics very carefully over the course of the year. I’ve had to come to terms with my failings and my shortcomings. I’ve had to educate myself on issues of which I wouldn’t otherwise have formed an opinion. I’ve had to change.

Of course we had Brexit, followed by the election of Donald Trump. There have been terror attacks, sieges, military coups and political dissent. At times, the left and progressive movements in general seemed to be on the verge of collapse.

However, rather than seeing these events as a defeat, we should see our persistence, our survival, as a triumph. We can and should mourn the people who have lost their lives. We should lament the state of politics and the dissolution of diplomacy, both in the West (with the rise of the far right) and in the Middle East.

Once we have mourned, the next step is to address our flaws, no matter which social justice movement we belong to. We need to consider why people find right-wing populism so appealing. How can the left – both here in the UK and elsewhere – mobilise effectively?  How can feminists engage with the left and what should our role be? How do we solve the issues that matter to ordinary people?

Then we fight. We read and we research; we write and we speak. We protest, loudly and with conviction.

Treat 2016 as less of an inferno and more of a fuse. Let it burn inside your heart.

“Time to make a difference” – Jack Monroe

“Austerity is necessary; we need to tighten our belts. What about when those belts are tightened around the necks of the most desperate who hang themselves from the rafters because their benefits have been cut? Because that was a friend of mine.

A powerful talk by Jack Monroe, writer and activist, on their experience of poverty. In order to help other families who were struggling to raise children on less than £10 a week, Monroe began sharing cheap recipes on their blog Cooking on a Bootstrap. You can find them as @MxJackMonroe on Twitter.

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.

“What does a Feminist Society even do?”

Short answer: a lot. 

I got this question loads when I first told people that I was going to run a feminist society. I still get asked and I’ve already presented a third of my planned sessions (we finish next March). You might be wondering too – or, potentially, you want to run your own feminist group and don’t know what to talk about!

A point in my previous article about running a feminist society was that you should start by deciding what type of group you want to be. This is true of all good collectives – you should have an ultimate goal. Our group’s goal is simply to broaden our horizons as much as possible and to discover, together, what feminism means in today’s global society. Sometimes, that means we have to look back at the work of our foremothers, examining how they shaped the feminist movement we know and love, as well as acknowledging their failings and faults. Other times, it means that we must consider what our personal activism has to look like in order to create the future we want and need. We are a group rooted in the past, the present and the future.

But that might not be what you want. The feminist society you envision might not have many debates or discussions (like mine does – we do talk a lot!). It might be an action group, in which you organise protests, demonstrations, fundraisers and awareness events. That’s important and valid too, and you might like to incorporate those things even if yours will be a discussion group. For example, in honour of International Women’s Day next year, we’re planning to raise money for a women’s shelter and organise a showing of a feminist film in our college’s lecture theatre.

Another concern I’ve seen in forums and message boards is this: how do I come up with ideas for my sessions? A challenge indeed! I got started early, as soon as I was given the go-ahead to run the club. Sessions started in September, but I had planned all my allotted sessions by the end of June. This is definitely advisable; it gives you ample time to research (and design any PowerPoint presentations you might want!).

For our debates, I tried to stick to a “theme” for each half-term. The first half-term has been all about the history of the women’s movement and its foundations, as well as exploring intersectionality and diversity. We discussed the “waves” system, separatist and cultural strains of feminism (i.e. womanism, chicanisma), TERFs and early radical feminism. That made sense to me – it meant that everyone was on the same level and had the same grounding in feminist history. Our second set of sessions will focus more on politics and human rights, and how feminism supports and intersects with these.

Pro-tip: Google a ton of human rights awareness days and create your discussions based on these! There’s International Women’s Day (8th March), International Men’s Day (19th November), International Day For The Elimination of Violence Against Women (25th November), Menstrual Hygiene Day (28th May), Human Rights Day (10th December) and many, many more! If there’s an existing day of recognition, you’ll usually find it easier to discover resources online. IWD has an official website with downloadable information and activities, as do many of the others in the previous list.

You might also want to shake it up and show documentaries in your sessions (if you have access to a computer, screen and projector). Documentaries can be a fantastic way to engage your group in challenging discussions, especially if they are a little bit quiet to start with! It gives them (and you!) something to respond to, rather than forcing you to come up with an amazing point under pressure! If you want to incorporate this, YouTube is your best friend. I already had a few documentaries that I desperately wanted to show, but it’s quick and easy to type “feminist documentary” into YouTube if you need ideas. I’d recommend watching them first though!!! (There will soon be a “resources” page in the top-right corner of my blog, where I’ll link to documentaries we’ve shown/will show in the group.) You could also play music from feminist artists – we’re going to have a session on the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s. Maybe you could try craft activities, like handmade zines or posters.

Really, the best thing you can do is ask. What issues are your members passionate about? What do they want to talk about? What do they want to learn?

That’s all my advice for today, folks! Best of luck if you’re researching for and planning a feminist group. If not, why not? 😉

Please like and share if you enjoyed this post!

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 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.