Thursday, 29 December 2011

New Blog

I have set up a blog for writing about my experiences with sexual abuse, domestic violence and living with PTSD.  It is called Writing the Flash Backs.  This blog contains graphic descriptions of sexual and domestic violence, and may trigger anyone effected by these issues.  Please refer to the warnings at the beginning of each entry for details of what's discussed.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

News-Worthy Women of 2011

The BBC have published a list of noteable news-worthy women from 2011.  As you scroll through this list you might notice that the majority of them are brides, victims or -- well -- pandas.  And of these women, I only actually remember reading news stories about three of them (One was the panda!).  But as we all know, there have been loads of women doing awesome things in the news this year.  I've compiled a list, but please add your own!
(Disclaimer: Describing these women as news-worthy does not mean that I agree with them.  I'm looking at you, Nadine Dorries.)

January 2011
Sian Massey – Referee Official subjected to sexist criticism by (male) Sky Sports commentators
February 2011
Hillary Clinton – Speaks out against ‘internet repression’

March 2011
Wajeha Huwaider – Makes protest video to campaign to legalise women driving in Saudi Arabia
April 2011
Atifete Jahjaga – Elected first female president of Kosovo

May 2011
Angela Merkel – Phases out use of Nuclear Power in Germany

June 2011
Christine Lagarde – Named IMF chief
July 2011
Louise Mensch - Participates (understatement) in the phone-hacking Inquiry

August 2011
Aung San Suu Kyi – Ongoing establishment of democracy in Burma

September 2011
Nadine Dorries – Attempts to reform Abortion Legislation

October 2011
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee & Tawakkol Karman -- Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize

November 2011
Dilma Rousseff – Becomes Brazil’s first female leader

December 2011
Adele – Named biggest selling artist of 2011

Honorable Mention

Caroline Lucas – Couldn’t fit her in anywhere else, but holds the title of having the most questions answered by PM in the Commons!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Another Year of Progress (2011)

It's about that time of year when one considers all that has happened since the last time it was Christmas.  Because I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression, this is a happy time for me, as I can look back at all the things that I have done this year that I would not have been able to do the year before.  Here is my list:

1)      I learned to drive and passed my test first time.
2)      I went, on my own, into two social situations in which I did not know anyone.
a.       The first of these was to a meeting of the Swansea Feminist Network.  I didn’t know anyone who would be there, but it was at a Women’s Centre and therefore not very scary.
b.      The second was to join a sports team.  A full contact sport.  With trainers.  While being scantily clad.  This is a gold star point of progress for me, particularly as I am ENJOYING IT!!
3)      I went with Mark to the wedding of one of his friends, at which I did not know anybody but Mark, who was the best man and therefore not able to ‘take care’ of me.
4)      I started divorce proceedings against my ex-husband and abuser.  As part of this, I described my abuse to a stranger (my solicitor) without crying or being overwhelmed by any other panic responses.
5)      I was able to talk to two friends who had known me when I was with my ex-husband about the abuse without panicking. 
6)      I have been able to write about some aspects of my abuse to people online, who have been able to use my experiences to help them towards training to help other women who are being abused.
7)      I have been able to look at my ex-husband’s website and see pictures of him, and pictures that he took of me when we were together, with only very minor, controllable panic responses.
8)      Any panic attacks that have occurred because I’ve felt threatened by the possible presence of my ex-husband have been controlled on my own, without needing support from family or friends.
9)      I have been able to carry out acts that used to bring about panic attacks without any form of anxiety response.
10)  I have been able to read books and watch scenes in films that have triggered minor flashbacks, and have been able to control my panic/anxiety responses on my own.
I’m really proud of the progress I’ve made this year.  I feel like I’m starting to get to a point where I can turn my experiences into positives, by helping others and sharing.  These are my goals for next year:

1)      Continue with roller derby.  Try and become more confident in the social situations – not leaving as soon as possible at the end, talking to people more, attending social gatherings, etc.  Maybe even make friends!
2)      Carry out a long drive (I am planning to drive to Scotland in March), and feel confident that I can do it and that, even if I get lost, it doesn’t matter because I’m in control.
3)      Start to write more about what happened.  Try to write without needing to pick over why the things happened, but just letting the memories and experiences out and accepting that they took place without needing to know why.
4)      Try to help more people who are at earlier stages in recovering from abuse or coming to terms with PTSD than me.  Maybe look at volunteering for a group that helps victims of domestic or sexual abuse.
5)   I'd like to feel more comfortable talking to my family about what happened, and not feel like I have to do so much to hide it or hide my responses to some of the things that scare me.  I don't know how to achieve this, though, which is why it's last.

Please, feel free to add your own lists.  I’d be really pleased to see a whole page of progress!  Or if anyone feels they can help me with any of my goals, please leave a comment and I’ll contact you  :)  Alternatively, if you feel I could help with anything based on what I've written here, please contact me.

Monday, 12 December 2011

A Festive 30 Seconds of Misogyny

I am listening to the radio.  I’m not normally a radio person, but one of the cats had stood on the TV remote and somehow flipped it over to BFBS Radio, a station I don’t know.  The music’s not overly offensive, and I’m trying to work up the energy to get back to some analysis I’ve been working on, so I leave it.  As I stare into space, mildly amused by the antics of my two cats, the presenter introduces today’s phone-in: what annoys me most about Christmas.  The first message read out is from a man who hates the Christmas shopping.  So far, so interchangeable with The Grumpies’ Guide to Christmas.  The second message read out says, “I never know what to get my girlfriend”.

One this point the presenter is very helpful.  “What about an iron?” he says, barely able to conceal the glee and chuckles at his own cleverness.  He proceeds with a few more domestic implements that any girlfriend would be delighted to unwrap for Christmas – some of them would even make quite a good impression when used to smack said boyfriend over the head!  His parting suggestion (he’s now snorting, and I can picture his eyes watering at just how funny he is) is “a broom”.

Yes, I know.  I’m suffering from my feminist humour bypass again.  Bloody grumpy feminists.  Can’t they take a joke?

The problem, I think, comes from my own basic understanding of a joke.  Isn’t it supposed to be funny?

The shopping-gender divide seems to be something of a theme this Christmas.  Perhaps it’s because all the adverts have gone into sentimentality overload.  They aren’t showing the usual endless clips of harassed but cheerful looking women battling through the shops, frantically wrapping presents and preparing a Christmas dinner so big that even the poor starving Cratchetts would be sick or turkey by mid-January.  So the enforcement of the festive female stereotype has to be done somewhere.  But it seems to be happening everywhere.

I was watching the BBC news a few days ago, and they too were doing a piece on how irritating shopping can be at this time of year.  They interviewed a man and a woman.  The woman had been shopping for herself, not Christmas shopping – and had enjoyed herself.  The man had been attempting (and failing) at Christmas shopping and having a horrible time.  From this the (male) reporter drew the conclusion that women are better at Christmas shopping than men.  The (male) studio anchor chipped in, saying women “just enjoy these things more”.

Standard Male Privilege Response ™ will be, “What does it matter?  It’s not hurting anyone to draw such blatantly sexist conclusions and broadcast them on national media.  Where’s the harm?”  Normally at this point I would start in on statistics to do with how these messages affect women growing up, or discourage women, or result in an insidious removal of women from positions of power.  Not this time.  Because it’s Christmas.  And at Christmas I’m allowed to be petulant.

Enforcing gender stereotypes with militant persistence at Christmas matters because It’s Just Not Fair!!  It encourages a latent laziness in everyone who has a penis.  It encourages every man to not bother to think of those around them, to try and shunt the touchy-feely loving emotional part – one of the few that still exist in this commercialised capitalist festive world – over onto the women.  Because they’re no good at knowing what would make other people happy.  The women can do that.  They *like* giving a fuck about other people. 

Yes, shopping at this time of year is an absolute ballache.  I hate shopping at the best of times, but we all know that elbowing your way to the last remaining copy of Elf in HMV, while it blasts Slade at you through tinny speakers, is a particular circle in Dante’s hell.  But the whole point of it is that it’s supposed to be worth it.  Because you KNOW someone who answers the phone, “What’s your favourite colour?” and it’s just plain WRONG they’ve never seen this film.*  Having a penis does not excuse you from understanding your fellow human beings, the people who tolerate, and possibly even love you the whole year round.  The ones who make you smile.  The ones, God forbid, who may even clean up your snotty tissues when you have a cold.  Or make you a cup of tea when you’ve had a really miserable day.  Or picked the lock on that chest in Skyrim with the Really Awesome Weapon in it, because you have no patience with locks.

This is why it’s not OK to joke about getting your girlfriend – or any important woman in your life – a clich├ęd domestic appliance for Christmas.  It’s the season of goodwill.  In my mind, the time of year when a woman should be able to be appreciated for herself in all her individual glory, safely cosied away from the evils of misogyny.

Merry Christmas, ladies.  May you all have the power tools and video games you’ve been longing for all year!

* Apologies to all who didn’t get this reference.  You really should watch Elf.  It’s a very good film.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Lady GaGa and What She Should Have Done

So, a couple of nights ago my partner and I sat down to watch The Jo Whiley Music Show on Sky Arts.  It’s not something I would normally watch, but Nicky Wire was on as a guest and the other half is a mad Manic Street Preachers fan.  So I sat down and prepared to put on my ‘yes, Nicky is wonderful, dear,’ face.  It was actually an incredibly interesting show, and I will definitely be watching it again.  The format is that Jo Whiley, former Radio One presenter, has a circle of stylish sofas, on which she sits with three guests.  In this episode her guests were the afore-mentioned Nicky Wire, the former Pop Idol contestant Will Young, and rapper Professor Green.  They have a set three of four topics they discuss, a quick VT of an interview with another musician, and a few songs from one of their guests.  Interesting and entertaining!

But I am not writing about the show because I’ve found something new to put on Series Link.  My interest in this particular episode piqued when they ran a VT of Lady GaGa describing her ‘ideal band’.  Following the VT, there was a short discussion of her choices and of the guests’ choices for an ‘ideal band’.  The discussion then shifted to a debate over the progression of GaGa’s career.  Topics covered were her dress code and the choices she made about her latest album.  Unfortunately, I’m not blessed with an eidetic memory, so I can’t give a word for word account of the discussion.  But at one point, all three of the male guest panel agreed that Lady GaGa would be ‘better’ if she had released a very simple album.  Reasons cited were, “because she’s such a good musician and songwriter” and the panel believed that her “stunts” were harming her career and drawing attention away from her talents.

When watching it, I was pretty shocked for several reasons: because Nicky Wire seems like the last person who should criticise a new artist for ‘pulling stunts’ or dressing strangely; because artistic license is ultimately at the heart of being an artist; I’ll even admit that part of it was because I love Lady GaGa (though I’m sure when certain comments come in, I’ll regret citing this as a reason).  As I’ve had time to think about it, I’ve grown steadily angrier.  Because I am angry, I am going to write a purely angry paragraph.  It will be only one paragraph, and then I will move on to rational discussion of Why This Was Not OK.  If you don’t like women getting angry, I suggest you skip the following paragraph, as I will not be answering any comments saying that this is not a fair assessment because I’m only acting emotionally.

How dare a group of white privileged men sit in a circle serenely commenting on how ANY female artist should have carried out her career?  The fact that any woman can be as successful as GaGa has been is a credit to the women’s liberation and feminist movements, and to the fabulous creativity of GaGa herself.  She has fought against her production label and the media to put forward her own creative choices, and for that she should be applauded from the highest possible vantage point, not slyly criticised and patronised by her peers.  

Phew, thank goodness that’s over.  I can get back to my proper rationale now!   So my reasons for thinking this was a blatant example of male privilege undermining the woman’s movement and, in particular, Lady GaGa’s own special brand of feminism are as follows:

She’s Such a Good Artist!
I don’t know why this should come as a shock to anyone who’s really listened to her music, or heard her perform live.  Yes, GaGa ‘can sing’.  Yes, she can write her own material.  Yes, she can truly entertain and captivate a live audience.  She’s been on the popular music scene for three years now, this has all been discussed to death and it should be news to no one.  It should not be cited as something that influences any of her artistic decisions.  Her first album, The Fame, sold over fourteen million copies world wide.  This is just the number of people who bought her album legally.  I don’t understand why GaGa’s abilities are still being discussed and debated at this late stage in the game.  Possibly because of the following...

She Doesn’t Need to Pull These Stunts!
Ah, yes.  Of course.  Any form of unusual artistic expression can only be about publicity, drawing media attention.  To sell her albums, obviously.  And herself.  Because she’s got a pretty weak fanbase really, hasn’t she?  Especially for an artist only on her second studio album.  Especially for an artist trying to cover up the fact she has no talent.

Oh, but wait!  We all just said she’s talented!  In fact, we’ve been saying it with surprise for the last three years.  And as a high profile celebrity, actually, the media would probably follow her whatever she was doing.  Because let’s face it, the tabloid media are pretty interested in high-profile singers regardless of whether their attention is wanted or not.  God forbid that a woman take all that attention and use it to her own advantage, or the advantage of the political and artistic causes she supports. 

Among the ‘stunts’ discussed by the panel was the meat dress.  In the first place, give up on the meat dress already.  It was a year ago now, and an awful lot has happened since then.  In the second place, this was only mentioned in passing as “one of her craziest stunts”.  No mention was made of why the artist said she did it, or the various interpretations of the outfit’s meaning.  Just as no mention was made of political intent with any of her ‘stunts’.  There was no mention of GaGa as a feminist, as an activist for equality, or as a person who uses her status to bring issues under the nose of journalists who would not normally cover such statements.  Because of GaGa’s ‘stunt’, people discussed feminism, the culture of celebrity, artistic expression and agism.  Unfortunately, there was also a lot of discussion of how needy women will do anything for attention, but I choose to ignore those conversations (I know they’re bullshit).  GaGa’s stunts are necessary and important.  They are not (necessarily) a sales factor for her music, but they are an important part of who she is as a musical artist.

She Should Have...
It seems like I can’t go a day without reading a woman’s article, without reading in comments underneath about what she ‘should have written’.  I addressed this subject briefly in a previous blog, but I will just quickly say that people have their own interests.  They will discuss and research whatever interests them.  If something else interests you, go write about it.  Chances are, if it touches on that person’s interests, they will even actively support you doing it.  So when Whiley’s guests started discussing what would have made a ‘better’ second album from Lady GaGa, there was a small part of me that was disappointed that this is not a phenomena that only effects internet articles. 

The specific suggestion was that GaGa should have done an acoustic album.  The word used was “simple” – there are obvious connotations, but as I don’t think they were intended I won’t go into discussing them.  The reasons cited were those above: she does not need to pull stunts, but despite all three well recognised and established artists agreeing that she is an excellent musician, she still has to prove herself in some way.  I sat listening to this discussion, wondering if any of the successful men sat on the sofas had ever been talked about in a similar way.  Wire, I very much doubt it – and if they had he would neither have noticed or cared.  And if he had noticed or cared, he would have tried his very hardest to do the opposite of whatever was suggested.  Professor Green, I will confess, is an artist with whom I am entirely unfamiliar.  I know he’s a successful white British rapper, and therefore must be a reasonable minority in his field.  And Will Young’s second album was released once the next round of Pop Idol had begun.  The attention was already off him, and he was free to begin expressing himself as an artist, instead of as the winner of a talent show.  This was possibly the first album in which people did not tell him what he should or shouldn’t do.  Given the careers of these men, it is doubly patronising that they preach and comment on what GaGa “should have done”.

It is worth adding that no acknowledgement was made to the fact that GaGa is a genre artist.  She may have had consistent number one singles and albums in the ‘pop’ charts, but her music is billed as dance or electronic by Billboard Magazine.  No one would recommend that either Nicky Wire or Professor Green, who are both genre artists, completely switch genres for their second album. 

But aside from what I would call sexism, and my critics will undoubtedly call constructive criticism, there was no understanding of the fact that the point of GaGa’s music is that it’s fun!  She produces punchy songs that fill the dance floors.  They have empowering and sometimes political lyrics, but if you don’t want to listen to them you still have a bloody good time.  And “simple” album would have fallen flat on its face, disappointed her core fan base and would surely have seen the artist disappear into obscurity.  Perhaps while three men on a sofa talk about how she “should have” stayed true to what she was good at.

To Conclude...
There are other topics on which I could opine, but I think I’ve made my point.  There will be those reading who think, who is this woman?  This feminist?  How can she complain about misogyny in a show that has a female presenter?  Yes, this show – which was, otherwise, rather fantastic – does indeed have a female presenter.  A female DJ presenter, and we know how hard they are to come by.  But I am not going to spend a paragraph thanking the patriarchy for installing a woman as the figurehead of a niche show in a post-watershed time slot.  I’m not of the opinion that we (as feminists, women or human beings) should thank the patriarchy for the small crumbs they are willing to throw to the cause of equality.  Especially not when I watch a good show – presented by whatever gender, creed, race, ability or sexuality of person – devolve into what is, essentially, a group of privileged white men discussing how the girls should be doing things to win their approval.  What this discussion became might not have been an attack on Lady GaGa or her music, but misogyny does not need to make its point by screaming "I HATE WOMEN!!!" in an abused housewife's face.  It can make itself just as evident by calmly questioning the artistic license of a hugely successful new musician, and patronisingly offering suggestions of what she should have done.

Monday, 31 October 2011

"Politically Correct That!"

Having been involved in quite a few online protests and discussion about various issues the last couple of months, I’ve found I need a place in which to vent my frustration.  My interest lies largely in the realm of feminist issues, including management of rape and sexual abuse survivors and ‘prevention’ campaigns. 

It seems that wherever and whenever a person or a group attempts to complain about something that strikes them as wrong, there is a hoard of people ready to make the following arguments.  As you may gather from this article, I don’t think much to any of the following as grounds for defending something that someone feels is offensive, harmful, sexist or hateful.  This is a very long rant, however, to have on individual threads addressing multiple people.  Especially when such responses are inclined to make me so angry I can’t type.  So I will post up my general reply here, and forward people in this direction as necessary.  Please feel free to do the same.

Standard ignorant arguments about people who complain:

“Don’t Choose to Be Offended”
People don’t seem to realise that offense is an emotional reaction.  People do not have a choice about it.  It’s like finding something funny.  You can’t choose to find a joke funny.  You can choose to pretend to find it funny to appease those around you, but whether you genuinely find it funny or not is down to your personality, experience and emotional reaction.  I would like to state here, that I am not a liar.  If I have an objection to make, if I say I find something offensive and can give a reason why, those reasons are genuine.  This could be because of my life experience.  For example, I am a woman so I get offended about sexism.  I have been sexually abused, so I get offended about victim blaming.  HOWEVER, I don’t think you only have a right to be offended about something if you have personal experience of that particular thing.  If something goes against your moral principles, it is the right thing to do to complain about it as loudly and directly as you can.  Because let’s face it, the people who say ‘you choose to be offended’ are probably the same people who say, “Why are you complaining and not doing something about it?”  In the consumer world, complaint and protest the few effective weapons we have.

“Political Correctness Gone Mad”
Every time I read the sentence “Political correctness gone mad”, I literally want to punch the person nearest to me and scream, “POLITICALLY CORRECT THAT!” in their faces.  I don’t, obviously.  But I usually really really want to.
This is a really wonderful umberella for people to hide under, as a reason they’re right and the ‘liberal lefties’ are wrong.  Because when said (or typed) in a smug privileged voice, it really really sounds like they’re right.  But they’re not.  They’re gaslighting.  It is the most frustrating response I have ever come across, because almost the only reaction is an emotional one – which just further lends to their ‘point’. 
What this particular group of words actually says, when used in the context of a debate, is that the person saying these words either cannot or does not want to answer the argument in place.  This person does not want to think about why someone would be offended by the word ‘mong’.  They cannot imagine a world in which a woman would be offended about poor old Eamon Holmes telling a rape victim to get a taxi next time.  They simply cannot see far enough outside of their own glass bubble to consider why someone else would find this offensive, and deal with that person’s feelings.
In my house, we have a special name for this sort of person.  It is: RUDE!  A person who cannot be bothered to understand why someone else in upset or offended, and tells that person to quit whining and get on with it? That is a RUDE person.

“If You Don’t Like It, Don’t Buy It/Watch That Show/Follow That Person”
Ah, if only the world were this simple.  Remember Nazi Germany?  Remember the death camps?  Remember how you were taught in school that normal, every day people worked in those camps, just like me and you?  And they were tried after the war, weren’t they?  Remember what they said?  They said, “I was just following orders.”  And I’ll bet you sat there disgusted, with your look of disbelief.  How could anyone possibly sit and do nothing? Worse, play along and pretend that what was happening was OK?  You’d never do anything like that! Right?
I know I wouldn’t.  Do you know how I know?  Because when I see something that I think is wrong, I say so out loud.  Sure, there aren’t any Nazis using gas chambers any more (Least I bloody hope not!) but I was brought up to have principles, based on logic and empathy.  When I see something that goes against my principles, I stand up and say, “That’s not right.”  Quite often, that’s all I can do.  But I have a right to say it, and I exercise that right (I’d like to add that, when I see something that’s very right, I also fling my whole-hearted support behind it.  Despite what this article might suggest, I am not one of life’s whingers!)  I’ve been flamed for this on several occasions.  It’s very hurtful, I won’t lie to you, to be told you’re a ‘stupid bitch’ because you point out that making fun of Down ’s syndrome is offensive and hurtful.  What’s more angry-making, however, is to be told to just avoid these people.  I’m not in Primary school, I’m a big girl.  I’m not going to ignore the bully.  I’m going to call them out and try, in my own tiny and insignificant way, to make the world a slightly better place.  If that makes me a stupid bitch, then I guess I can live with that.

“Bloody Keyboard Warriors!”
This, of any argument, makes me laugh hardest.  Because it is almost ALWAYS used in print format.  Apparently whatever has made me a keyboard warrior, does not apply to the person arguing against me.
I have no defence to this except that I don’t believe I am a keyboard warrior.  I post my responses and articles under my own name.  If I’m on twitter, there’s a picture of me and I’m pretty sure you can find my email address if you look closely enough.  I consider myself an activist in ‘real life’, when I have the time, and I’ve contributed articles to feminist publications under my own name.  I express myself best in the printed format, because I’m a pretty shy person.  I’m not good at public speaking.  Shit comes out wrong.  I use print, not because I can distance myself from what I’m discussing (On the contrary, what I say comes from the heart) but because I can edit what I’ve written.  Make it more balanced.  Make it less personal to whoever I’m arguing against.  Draw on a pool of experience from those I know online, which would otherwise be more limited because of my location.  I do not post anonymous or snide comments, or personal attacks.  I’d be a bit hypocritical if I did, really, wouldn’t I?

“Does it Really Matter?”
I understand that I’ve just likened complaining about a well known figure repeatedly using the word “mong” with Second World War ethnic cleansing.  I know, obviously, that the two are poles apart.  I’m not that tweaked.  And I know that in the grand scheme of things, savagely defending equal rights for all might seem like an over-reaction.  I don’t think so, but I can understand how some might think that.  I have several responses to this.
1)      This matters to me.  I’m a busy woman, I have a hectic job and various commitments.  When I’m ranting about women’s rights chances are that, yes, I could be spending my time productively playing with my cat.  You should, in that case, consider that I haven’t chosen to do that.  I’ve been effected enough by something that I’m sat in front of a computer writing a very long piece defending my rights or the rights of people I care about.  If this did not matter to me, I would not do it.
2)      If you have a cause that you care about more than whatever we are discussing, surely you (not I) should be attending to that cause?  You want to wipe out poverty in India?  Make peace in the Middle East?  I am 100% behind you.  You go tiger!  But if you think that is the most important cause in your life, surely you should be off supporting that cause instead of trying to tear down mine?

The things I am arguing for (or against) are not controversial and they are not going to hurt you.  It does not take the brightest person in the world to know that rape is not the victim’s fault.  I’m stating the bloody obvious.  And stating my obvious does not take anything away from you.  If you feel I am taking anything away from you when I say that we should not use a word that has been established as deeply offensive, or when I accuse a group of victim blaming, then maybe you need to look a bit more closely at why you’re so incensed about my arguments.