A toolkit for spotting prejudice

Have you ever read something and thought, “that’s prejudiced”, but without the ability to put your finger on exactly how? There are speeches and writings and quotes which seem sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic or transphobic, yet there is no exact quote that can be pulled out and easily called out for what it is.

This is because there are subtle ways of using language, barely perceptible, which reflect stereotyping and prejudice. In spotting these, one can call out the speaker or writer and address the grubby prejudice that lies beneath.

Symbolic racism

Following the Civil Rights movement and the overturning of the openly bigoted Jim Crow laws, racism in the United States took a different form: symbolic racism. Symbolic racism is characterised by three markers: a belief that minorities are being too demanding, resentment about special favours for minorities and denial of continuing discrimination. This is probably one of the easiest forms of subtle prejudice to spot, and it applies far beyond its original conception in “modern racism” towards African Americans. Take, for example, the headline of this [clean linked] Daily Express article: “NOW MUSLIMS DEMAND FULL SHARIA LAW“. Ignoring the fact that the article is patently untrue waffle, the headline alone displays a belief that Muslims are too demanding with the phrase “demand” and the qualifier “now”. Apparently those pesky Muslims are constantly making demands.

For an example of belief in special favours, one needs to look no further than cries of “reverse racism” or “reverse sexism”. It displays an alarming resentment for a push towards equality, constructed as a “special favour”. It abounds in discourse surrounding maternity leave and women-only spaces. It can also be seen in the standard right-wing battle cry that the outgroup du jour has more human rights than they do, presumably because of political correctness gone mad.

Denial of continuing discrimination is also rife. The justification goes that nominally, the law provides equality in the form of anti-discrimination laws (another “special favour” and often seen as an unreasonable demand). Therefore, everything is magically non-discriminatory. This phenomenon has been noticed by many, and is often seen for what it is. I will comment no further, therefore, and direct you to Privilege Denying Dude, which makes me smile.

Dehumanising language

Dehumanisation is an attempt to make a person or group of people appear less human by taking away their individuality. Much of the research into dehumanisation has focused on genocidal propaganda, where it is often fairly easy to spot: take, for example, this famous Nazi children’s book which compares Jews to a poisonous fungus, or use of the word “cockroach” to describe enemy combatants in the Rwandan genocide, or Morrissey’s description of Chinese people as “a subspecies“. The aim of dehumanisation is to turn an outgroup from people to a homogenous, subhuman mass, often by likening them to animals or machines.

As with symbolic racism, use of dehumanising language is often more subtle than describing every single person in the world’s most populous country as members of a subspecies. For example, sexual objectification of women is a form of dehumanisation: taking away the humanity and individuality of a woman and turning her into a pair of tits and a willingness to fuck. Words like “cougar” and “bitch” are also inherently dehumanising, with overt comparisons of a person to an animal. Concern about birth rates in immigration populations is also usually dehumanising. The word “breeding” invariably crops up somewhere.

A classic example of subtle, throwaway use of dehumanising language comes from the “bigoted woman” scandal. In a public event, an audience member asked Gordon Brown the question “all these eastern European what are coming in, where are they flocking from?”. Gordon Brown was later recorded bemoaning the fact that he had to answer a question from a “bigoted woman”. Notwithstanding the fact that the question is patently easy to answer–Eastern Europeans are clearly coming from Eastern Europe, the question did contain dehumanising language. The word “flocking” is typically applied to birds, usually migrating birds. It casts migrants as a mass of flapping creatures, rather than human beings. Much as it pains me to say it, I agree with Gordon Brown. The question reflected a degree of prejudice. She probably was a bigoted woman.

The Linguistic Intergroup Bias

Perhaps you have read through the piece, and you have managed to find none of the markers of symbolic prejudice, nor any language which ascribes unhuman characteristics to people? Look at the use of verbs.

The Linguistic Intergroup Bias is well-documented effect and crops up in the way people use words to describe an event. Consider two fictional scenarios: A, where a black man (Albert) punches a white man (Bob) and B, where Albert rescues Bob from a fire.

  1. Concrete verbs: A, Albert hit Bob; B, Albert rescued Bob
  2. Interpretive action verbs: A, Albert hurt Bob; B, Albert helped Bob
  3. State verbs: A, Albert hates Bob; B, Albert likes Bob
  4. General dispositional adjectives: A, Albert is violent; B, Albert is heroic

According to this model, were a white person to describe these scenarios, in scenario A, which reflects negatively on Albert, the describer would be more likely to use the more abstract types of description. To describe scenario B, which reflects positively on Albert, the white describer would be more likely to use the more concrete forms of description. If a black person were to describe the two scenarios the opposite is more likely to be true: more concrete verbs to describe the negative incident; more abstract for the positive incident.

The effect of this use of language is to imply how frequently such behaviour occurs: when one uses concrete verbs, it makes the behaviour seem as though it were a one-off. At a more abstract level, the behaviour seems to be something that person always does. As the different levels of abstraction vary by whether one is describing a member of the ingroup or a member of the outgroup, there is clearly an element of stereotyping going on here. It is thought that the effect emerges due to various expectations: because of the stereotype white people hold that black people are violent, they will use language that reflects this. There is also some evidence to show that these levels language use can help maintain stereotypes.

Furthermore, one [unfortunately paywalled] study noted that people who were more likely to use the Linguistic Intergroup Bias were also more likely to display implicit prejudice towards women or black people. While the participants did not express overt racism, they were more threatened by pictures of black faces. This experiment shows that this particular linguistic trick is related to prejudice. When reading a newspaper article or listening to a slightly racist friend speak, pay attention to the verbs they are using. It is a barely-perceptible marker of prejudice.


Prejudice is still going strong, but it is masked in linguistic gymnastics. When people deny discrimination against trans people or complain about a flock of immigrants, when they talk about unreasonable feminist demands or describe a disabled benefit claimant without using a single verb, they are being prejudiced. There is a vast body of research beneath this. From now on, if you do not appreciate their tone, you can call them out.

The socialist feminist dystopia, and why I’d like to live there

According to some, we ought to lay down our tools. The fight for social justice has been won, and the world is now ruled by feminists and socialists according to politically correct principles. It says so in a book:

‘Buchanan’s Dictionary of Quotations for Right-minded People’ has been edited by a writer in the USFR, the Union of Socialist Feminist Republics (1997), formerly the United Kingdom. The book is for people who are tired of living in a country run in accordance with socialist, feminist, and politically correct principles.

Don’t just take the word of a (possibly vanity-published) book. Richard Littlejohn also thinks so, as does pretty much every other right-wing columnist. Even the Norwegian murderer seems to believe that social justice is on top.

I am entirely unsure as to why this rag-tag band seem to think that this could possibly be a bad thing. Imagine a world in which there was gender equality. Imagine a world where there was racial equality. Imagine a world where every single person had the same opportunities in life. In this world, the word “equality” would be unnecessary, as individual differences would be meaningless and irrelevant. In this world, any person who got sick, or was born with special needs would have the same access to the same care and nobody would begrudge this. Every person would be seen as a person. There would be no genocide as there would be no hate. There would be no class war, as class would be a historical curiosity. There would be no rape, no sexual coercion, as all would understand principles of respect and consent.

Demonstrably, we do not live in this world, and that’s a real bummer as it would be absolutely fucking brilliant. It would be about as dystopian as being trapped in a room made out of chocolate and having to eat your way out, being greeted on the other side by a fluffy pile of hypoallergenic kittens that shat rainbows.

There are two questions here, then, and the answers to both are related. Why do some believe we live in a world run by feminists and socialists? And why do they think it is a bad thing?

The answer, I think, is because these people construct life as a zero-sum game. These people believe that they were born special and that nobody can take that away from them. To point out that they are wealthy and powerful by an accident of birth rather than anything else is inherently threatening to them. They look down on others–people born the wrong gender or race or sexual orientation, and are frightened that they are only a few genes away from oppression.

Equality is scary, and any moves to equality are terrifying to those who believe in the socialist-feminist dystopia as that would take away their special status, stripping them of the wealth and privilege that allow them to look down on their fellow human beings in disgust.

Letting go of the hate and fear, embracing a world where they were just like everyone else would be beneficial to them. Equality benefits all–that is why it is called equality. 

We are nowhere near that point. And I am trapped with the curious feeling that it might be quite nice to live in Richard Littlejohn’s brain.

If 30% of board members were women, we’d still be fucked

This article from Laurie Penny talks about the currently fashionable trend for trying to put more women in the boardroom as it is good for business. In particular, it references the “30 Per Cent Club”, a campaign group who aim for representation of 30% women on boards. Laurie discusses the political perspective very eloquently, and if you have not yet read the article, I strongly recommend you do so. Here, I provide some supplemental notes on the shaky science behind the 30 Per Cent Club.

The 30% figure is claimed to be evidence based, drawn from a 2007 report which found that businesses with more than 30% women on the board tended to do better, using a measure of success which is not in the public domain and ignoring any other possible explanations for the pattern, for example, that businesses with a better equality record might perform better due to being nicer places to work. The study was not well-conducted, and explanations for why this effect emerges are similarly problematic.

The notion that having more women in charge is good for a business rests on the assumption that men’s brains and women’s brains are fundamentally, innately different. Men are believed to be more likely to take risks, and these risks do not always pay off. This risk-taking behaviour has been put forward as an explanation for the financial crash. The evidence supporting this claim comes from a naturalistic study of City traders: those with higher levels of male sex hormone testosterone were more likely to take risks in investment. The sample size of the study was small; testosterone was only measured at the beginning and end of the day, not during trading; and, crucially, consisted entirely of men. From these results, a conclusion has been drawn by some that women must make better investors and therefore we need more women on the boards because women will not be distracted by all those manly endogenous steroids floating around.

Curiously, the explanation that men’s brains and women’s brains are fundamentally, innately different has also been used as an explanation for why there are fewer women in business in the first place. By this line of reason, men’s brains are set up for analysing, while women’s brains are set up for empathising. In work, the analytical person is better suited. At home, the empathic person is better suited. Men and women are just different, and have different roles. It’s not discrimination at all!

That innate, hardwired, cognitive differences between men and women can explain two opposing phenomena is not surprising, as the innate, hardwired, cognitive differences between men and women may not be as innate and hardwired as generally believed. Differences in performance on empathising or analytical tasks disappears when people are told that men and women perform the same on those tests, while the neuroimaging and hormonal tests are often as problematic as the testosterone study which “proves” that women make better investors. Building on this shaky foundation of research, the 30% Club campaigns for an arbitrary figure of gender representation in the hope of fixing a broken system with the power of women’s intuition. It is benevolent sexism: the belief that women are just better at this sort of thing than men, because they are different, and putting more women at the top will be beneficial as it will maximise profit.

In an ideal world, perhaps, women would already be represented in positions of power in numbers proportionate to their existence: 50%.

Pecking over scraps and calling it feminism

Spoiler warning: if you have been asleep since 1997 and only recently woken up, this post will contain Buffy spoilers.

Lately, I have been watching a lot of Buffy.

I adore Buffy. It is far and away one of my favourite shows. The characters are wonderful (except two-eyed Xander), the dialogue crackles, the fight scenes are awesome and generally I love it. It is also rather refreshing to have something which passes the Bechdel test with flying colours–a lot of conversations between the multitude of female characters revolve around “how do we kill it?” instead of shoes and boys. Buffy herself kicks arse, as do Willow and Faith and Anya and even Buffy’s mum sometimes gets in on the action. Buffy also gives us good female villains, ones that subvert the traditional dull femme-fatale-villain role. The creator of the show self-identifies as a feminist. Surely, then, Buffy is a feminist show?

Except it isn’t. A lot of people more eloquent than I have explained exactly why it is not. For those not click-inclined: the arsekicking strength of the female characters tends to come from supernatural means rather than their generally being awesome. The show has a strange attitude to sex and female sexual agency: Buffy’s sexual actions make Angel turn evil and Spike turn into a rapist, for example. There are rather a lot of scenes of women being attacked by hyper-masculine monster figures–and most of these women do not have the magically-bestowed powers of Buffy: Dawn and Cordelia fit into the trope of women who need to be rescued far too easily for what is supposed to be a feminist show.

In short, it is problematic as hell.

I also rather love Lady GaGa. Catchy pop music is something of a guilty pleasure of mine. GaGa has been declared a feminist icon by some, including Caitlin Moran. GaGa certainly subverts the usual sort of narrow sexuality found in pop music videos and acts: she takes “sexy” to such an extreme that it becomes thoroughly ridiculous. You are not really supposed to fancy Lady GaGa. She is there to shock, instead. GaGa works hard campaigning for gay rights. She writes her own music. She seems strong, independent, in control of her personal brand.

Lady GaGa is not a feminist icon. She has a nasty habit of appropriating cultures and disability in order to shock. She is still a cog in a machine of objectification of women. She recently came out with this quote:

“You should wait as long as you can to have sex, because as a woman, you don’t even begin to enjoy it until your mid-twenties. When you’re 17, you don’t even know how to operate what’s going on down there and you shouldn’t try.”

Like Buffy, Lady GaGa is too problematic to represent feminism.

Why do we do this? Why do we leap upon something so flawed and stick the label of feminism on it? I think the answer may be because there is nothing else out there.

The film, television and music industries are run by men. They are patriarchal institutions which produce patriarchal goods. Feminism, to these industries, is thoroughly unmarketable, as the point of women is to scream, get rescued and look cute in a little skirt, or to fall deeply, madly in love. Media for men, by men. Media for women, by men.

Every so often, they throw us a bone of apparent female empowerment. Buffy. Lady GaGa. Perhaps even Sucker Punch was an industry attempt at female empowerment. It was one of the worst films I have ever watched. If they were aiming for empowerment, they missed the mark by miles.

Often, we jump on the scraps, the little thing that they give us, because there is nothing else for us to have. When we switch on the TV and see a woman kicking arse, it is a damn sight better than the usual sight of her screaming. When we see a woman wearing a dress made out of meat at an awards ceremony, it is a refreshing change from the standard-issue floor-length Dior gown.

In the mainstream, there is precious little for feminists to enjoy, as it has all been processed and greenlit by the patriarchy. It is like how Fox allow The Simpsons to put in the odd joke about Fox. Permitted subversion that is not subversion at all.

And yet we take what we can get. We delight in GaGa’s speeches about gay rights, or Buffy fighting the forces of capitalism with a hammer and sickle. We delight because there is nothing else to delight in. We push the twinge of cognitive dissonance to the backs of our minds, minimising the flaws just so we have something to enjoy.

It has been this way since time immemorial. Consider Jane Austen, who is generally thought to be somewhat feminist. Her feminism is said to be down to writing novels where the female characters are presented as intelligent and independent. Despite this, they still spend an inordinate time talking about men. The addition of zombies makes Pride and Prejudice far more tolerable, demoting the guff about marriage to a subplot, and promoting Lizzie Bennet to an arse-kicking heroine. Nothing has really changed since Austen. We still seize what we can and call it feminism.

Here’s the thing: being a feminist does reduce enjoyment of music and films and TV, because so much the media is so horribly problematic. Sometimes I watch Buffy just to watch some women talking on TV. Once, I even ended up watching Sex and the City for that purpose. There was a small moment in SatC where they were talking about neither clothes nor men that I rather enjoyed (though for the most part I find it utterly insufferable).

It is gratifying to find something better than the usual bollocks that is out there, even if it itself is riddled with questionable content. We take what we can get.

With the bulk of production lying in the hands of the patriarchy, it is unlikely that this will change. Almost two hundred years have passed since Jane Austen began writing, and people are still vociferously defending her fluffy rom-coms as feminism. What comes out today is no different.

It is good that these small scraps get us talking. To discuss whether Buffy is feminist requires discussion of what feminism is, and flawed as these things are, discussion of feminism becomes more mainstream. The subversions of tropes become tropes themselves–Buffy brought us the arse-kicking woman; Austen brought us the intelligent, witty woman; GaGa brought us the beautiful freak. They still play by patriarchal rules, but slowly we talk. We discuss what the fuck that meat dress meant, or what the hell the writers are doing with the Buffy/Spike rape scene.

Outside the constraints of these media, ideas can grow. As we realise that nothing mainstream will be any good for us, we can work to change this. Change can take place in non-mainstream art, or by attacking the root cause of the lack of mainstream feminist media: smash the patriarchy.

In the end, Buffy taught me something very important: a gang of sufficiently determined women and allies can change the world. Who wants to join the Feminist Scoobies?


Special thanks to Jed for conversations which helped this post happen.

Readability and the spread of ideas

Reading this anarchist communique gave me a lot to think about:

Confronted with those who refuse to recognize themselves in our orgies of destruction, we offer neither sympathy nor dialogue but only our scorn. It is necessary to commence for once and for all; not to dream of new ways to organize, but to make manifest the subterranean communes in the heart of each c-clamped pushbar. We must reject all mobilization—in secret. In the realization of zones of offensive capacity, we destroy those who would have us give up the singular ecstasy of rupture for the misery of impotentiality.

Isn’t it amazing? It really explains everything so beautifully, and–fine. It was created with a generator, though to my eyes, it is indistinguishable from the real thing.

There is a lot of literature from feminists, anarchists, theorists and combinations of the above that I simply cannot follow. I do not think that I am stupid. I do not think that I am too poorly-read and dull-witted to comprehend the intricacies of such pieces. I think they might be badly written.

Coming from a science background, it was beaten into me that good writing was something that anyone could understand–one lays out one’s points clearly. People can then act upon the points, understanding what has been written. While learning to write, I was taught that clarity was crucial, and that if something was written densely, the fog of long words and impenetrable prose was probably hiding a distinct lack of a point. So I am naturally wary of anything which is not easy to immediately understand.

Most of what is written in opaque prose probably does have good points and good ideas concealed within. The problem is, it is difficult to find what it is supposed to mean. And from that, it is difficult to act upon what is being said. Feminists and anarchists have long been accused of academic elitism. This is of course the case when half of our engagement with people is so unreadable.

I suggested the other day that we should stop worrying about what the mainstream media thinks of us, and that to counter this we need better propaganda. When our propaganda is so throughly arcane, how can it propagate?

Beyond the dense academic prose, two other problems often occur in literature and discussion in spreading ideas. First is gross oversimplification. This is, quite simply, insufficient for communication. The other problem is an excess of managerial language.

Adam Curtis argued that this shift was due to internalisation of neoliberal thought–that we became managers of a revolution. I would suggest, though, that at least some of it is a reaction to the use of florid academia in communication: at face value, managerial language is more readable, as it uses shorter, more common words. However, it is just as easy to disguise a distinct lack of point in jargonish manager-speak as it is to hide behind a barrage of long words. There is also the fact that it is much easier to communicate process rather than ideas in managerial language.

We are therefore largely stuck with business waffle communicating process, and impenetrable waffle communicating ideas, or a horribly simplified piece of writing which can communicate neither process nor ideas.

There are alternatives, though. It is perfectly easy to spread ideas and propose methods without falling into any of the above traps: speak plainly and clearly. These anarchist communiques showcase nicely how such a thing can be achieved. They lay out arguments about wage labour coherently, without losing anything to oversimplification. It is a complex message which is made easy to understand. It is the sort of communication which needs to happen more often.

I do not think this is a big ask. Better writing costs nothing intellectually, and has the potential to make a big difference.

I ask, clearly and concisely: write what you mean.

In which I rant about Torchwood and queer stuff

Like any good geek, I stick with my shows, even when they’re thoroughly awful.

Take Torchwood. I think I might have hated Torchwood much more than I ever liked it, yet I have stuck with it even as it moved to the States. I feel the urge to vent something that has been bothering me about the latest series. This post will contain spoilers up to episode 3 of Torchwood: Miracle Day. I think, though, that the experience of watching the bloody thing is much worse than the experience of being spoiled.

I have watched Torchwood since it started. I enjoyed the fact that it was essentially Doctor Who fanfiction with a standard fanfiction-inspired dose of slash. All of the characters were at least a little bit queer. It was one of the central tenets of the show: sexuality, for most of the characters was flexible. The gay-or-straight narrative simply did not apply to Torchwood. Most people were somewhere in between. I cannot think of another programme where bisexual characters are so visible.

Even though I find Captain Jack Harkness a gratingly annoying character, I very much appreciated the idea that he came from a future where people had stopped giving a shit about sexual orientation and anything goes. I would love to go and live in that future (except for all of the haunted libraries with shadows that come and eat you).

And here is the problem: Torchwood stopped being queer. I think the rot set in towards the end of season two, when they killed off Toshiko, a main character who happened to be a bisexual woman. Captain Jack begins a serious relationship with Ianto, and stops flirting with everything that moves. That is understandable, I suppose; he has gone monogamous. In the end of season three, Ianto was killed off, another bisexual main character. Ianto died because he had been written into the role of Love Interest Of The Hero, a role usually reserved for a woman character. The trope played out just the same.

After a purge of all of the mortal queers, Torchwood went American. With that, it stopped being anything remotely resembling a queer-friendly show. In the second episode of Miracle Day, the characters are on a plane. There is an air steward there, a well-groomed man. For the entire duration of the episode, the nameless air steward is repeatedly mistaken for gay, presumably because he is well-groomed and an air steward. This “joke” is so tired and hackneyed that it was used in such cinematic masterpieces as Snakes on a Plane.

In the first two episodes, this is literally the only mention of anything remotely pertaining to sexuality: HAHA! LOOK AT THE CLEAN MAN! HE MUST BE A GAY!

By the third episode, the writers have remembered that Captain Jack is supposed to be queer, and throw in a thoroughly unnecessary sex scene between him and a nameless bartender. I will give the show credit where credit is due: the scene is more graphic than one would expect from an American TV show, and safe sex is mentioned. However, this does not make up for the whole of the episode before, which was such a homophobic cliché that I’d been sure it would have been leading up to some kind of humorous subversion. It did nothing of the sort. All the gratuitous bumming in the world can’t change that.

I had always joked that Torchwood was the only fandom not requiring slashfic because it was sufficiently queer all on its own. This is no longer the case, and it makes me a hell of a lot less forgiving of the fact that the writing is terrible, the plot makes no goddamn sense whatsoever, and all of the characters are irretrievably irritating.

To summarise: don’t bother with the new series of Torchwood. I will keep you updated if it improves.

Why should we give a shit what the press thinks of us?

I am sitting among feminists. I am sitting among radical lefties. I am sitting among activists. We discuss ideas for action. Every time, no matter what the action, the whisper will come around, and it will piss all over the nascent plans we had developed. “But that will look bad in the papers. They’ll use that against us.

Every time, the same. Ideas are aborted purely because of the fear of what the media might think.

The same thing happens in the aftermath of a protest. After March 26th, for example, the left descended into an orgy of backbiting: black bloc made us look bad, UK Uncut made us look bad, UK Uncut need to say they had nothing to do with black bloc so our media overlords will be sated. It was the worst orgy ever.

At the moment, this obsession with how the media views activism is apparent in the squabbling over Jonnie Marbles and a pie. There is still squabbling over that bloody pie. In the initial half an hour post-splat, much of the hand-wringing was over how a parliamentary process may have been disrupted. When it became apparent that the show went on completely as advertised, it shifted. This will look bad in the media, they chattered, Murdoch will come across sympathetically. We must call for a purge of the left, starting with Comrade Marbles. 

I have seem more people worrying about sympathy from Murdoch in the media than actual sympathy for Murdoch in the media.

At any rate, why should what the media think about us matter at all?

Our newspapers and television channels are owned by a small bunch of rich white men, and represent pet projects for disseminating their rich white male views. They have a vested interest in maintaining their own power, and anyone who challenges their position is ultimately viewed as a threat. To the media, feminists, socialists, anarchists, environmentalists, those who suggest that the rich white men who rule the world, are dangerous.

They do all they can to defame us: feminists become paranoid man haters; environmentalists, smelly tree-huggers; anarchists violent mindless thugs. This will happen whatever activists do. If Cthulu rose and was defeated by me, the Daily Mail would probably run a story about how I only vanquished the monster-god because he was male, and anyway I’m a massive slut, and isn’t that terrible?

No matter what we do, it will ultimately be used against us in the media. Why should we march to the beat of their drum? It makes us no better than the politicians. Look at Ed Miliband. He provides no real opposition to government because he is so hell-bent on satisfying the media. Look at the discourse surrounding the deficit. Politicians are not supposed to point out that we do not really need to bother with getting rid of the deficit, because the media has jumped upon the idea that if we do not reduce it, Hitler will ride out of hell on velociraptor. Look at discourse surrounding immigration. No politician will say “Actually, why don’t we talk about how immigration is not A Bad Thing at all?” This is because they must all play into the media narrative, that forrins and darkies are taking over the country and OH MY GOD THIS IS TERRIBLE WHY CAN’T CHURCHILL COME AND KILL THEM WITH A SPITFIRE?

Instead of attempting to appease those who we should actively be trying to challenge, we need to disseminate our own narratives. Trust in the mainstream media is low. Talking, pamphlets, direction to good readings, and more talking to people. That is how we spread our message. We cannot get it across through the mainstream media. They will not let us.

It is time to stop caring what the media thinks of us, and time to start telling the world what it is that we stand for.

More Magazine, male-centred sexuality and kissing girls

Let me start by saying, I did not buy More magazine. I found it, and out of sheer curiosity, I read it. I sort of wish I hadn’t.

Imagine my horror, as a queer woman, a feminist, and a person with a tendency to get a little bit angry to be greeted with this article:

How would your man feel if you kissed a girl?

How would your man feel if you kissed a girl?

Apparently this is the most important issue in the world when it comes to discussion of kissing women. Whether it turns men on. In the text of the article, there is absolutely no acknowledgement that perhaps queer women may exist. Kissing women is, according to More magazine, exclusively something that women do in nightclubs “in front of an appreciative male audience”.

The article provides the opinion of two men. One man declares that it is “seriously hot” and that he “can’t help but fantasise about joining the party”. The other man thinks that it is “just attention seeking” and “ugly” and “insecure”. Both men are falling prey to objectification.

What is perhaps worst about this, though, is that no opinions of women are sought. From the title of the article and all the way through, how a woman might feel about kissing another woman is not mentioned at all. This is because, to More, sexuality is constructed as something which is entirely male centred.

The magazine is utterly riddled with such articles. A story about Victoria Beckham’s post-birth weight loss is framed as “POSH SHAPES UP FOR DAVID”. An interview with a pop star which largely discusses her music and her weight is titled “I LIKE MY MEN RUGGED”, as if that were the most interesting thing about her. A story about Cheryl Cole casts her as a passive bystander in the crossfire of a fight between two men. The horoscopes page provides horoscopes for “your man”, so the reader can discover whether the line up of stars will make her boyfriend a little grumpier than usual this week.

The phrase “your man” occurs repeatedly. More‘s construction of sexuality is entirely monogamous: you get your man, and that is who you have sex with. More provides a “position of the week”, which explains “what’s in it for him”. If you are worried about him cheating, it is perfectly acceptable to look through his phone. Beauty products and clothes exist to “wow your man”. The most important thing about a woman is “her man”.

There is no space in More for anything outside of this heteronormative monogamous relationship. You are either in one, or you are seeking one. Someday your man will come. Perhaps you can tempt him with a little bit of girl-snogging?

The picture of sexuality presented in More is as unrealistic for many as the position of the week, which starts with “stand on the edge of your villa’s private pool”. For many women, the heteronormative ideal is undesirable or unattainable: it makes women who wish for the heteronormative ideal feel like failures for being unable to “bag a man”, while queer women may feel invisible and marginalised. It is also bloody awful to suggest to women that their boyfriend is the most important and interesting thing about them, as this is categorically untrue.

Sexuality is so much more than impressing a man or pleasing a man. I do not expect a mainstream women’s magazine to provide good detailed advice on polyamory or lesbian practice (though it would be brilliant if they did). What I would like to see, though, is some acknowledgement that ultimately, one’s sexuality should revolve around oneself: not about “what your man might like”, but about what you might like or want. The things that make you feel sexy.

Perhaps that is kissing women. Perhaps that is fucking women. Hell, perhaps it is kissing another consenting woman just to turn men on. Personal jollies, rather than constant thought of existing solely in relation to men.

It is so thoroughly miserable that even a magazine targeted to women will maintain the patriarchal notion that a man’s opinion is the alpha and omega.

And this is why I am adding More  to my library of publications to burn.

I blame the pietriarchy

Unless you have been thoroughly cut off from any news source for the past 24 hours, you will no doubt have seen that at a select committee inquiry, Rupert Murdoch narrowly escaped a pie to the face, defended by his wife’s quick reflexes. There has been the usual lefty squabbling over the pie, and I will not go into it. For what it’s worth, I think it was bloody hilarious, although Jonnie Marbles’s timing could have been somewhat better, but really, we shouldn’t spend too long arguing over pie when the government sneaked in privatisation of a chunk of the NHS. These two articles by Laurie Penny and Tim Hardy sum up how I feel about the matter rather beautifully.

In his deconstruction of the pie, Tim says:

The role of the clown is to show the ridiculousness of power.

This was pulled off beautifully in the pie-stunt for the most part, but of course some nasty stuff crawled out of the woodwork with it.

The reaction to Wendi Deng’s pie-defence has a strong whiff of sexism to it. The Telegraph saw fit to run a series of pictures of the woman in question, for no real reason other than it had an excuse to run pictures of a woman, the Torygraph being one of those newspapers which pretends to be above frantic masturbation over the female form. The Guardian ran a piece about how Wendi Deng’s action had lifted the image of Chinese women.

Then there is this blogpost, “TROPHY WOMEN ALWAYS PROTECT THEIR MAN“. In six short lines, it manages to convey a range of stereotypes about women who marry rich men. That is all Deng is, apparently. A trophy wife.

The stench of racism also clings to the reaction, with numerous tweets referring to ninja skills and karate moves, explicitly referencing Deng’s ethnicity. It is a pity that something as gleefully silly as a pie can draw out such unpleasant opinions. Perhaps they would be less jarringly offensive if they mentioned the pie, highlighting the ridiculousness of such opinions.

On the other hand, patriarchal constructions have been somewhat harmful to Murdoch. Our media is, ultimately, steeped in the beliefs of the oppressive system that spawned it. For a powerful man to be defended by “his” woman ultimately reflects badly on the powerful man: it shows his weakness.

It is ridiculous that this sort of thing could in any way damage Murdoch, but such is power and such is patriarchy.

It started with a pie. What will come out next?

Wrong on so many levels

Sometimes a broken clock tells the right time twice a day. Other times, the broken clock is so thoroughly fucked that it manages to so completely tell the wrong time that space distorts around it.

This article is even more thoroughly and completely broken than the metaphor above.

The story is short: a man went to donate blood. He was turned away from the blood donation centre because the staff thought he looked gay. There is much to be angry about here.

It is wrong that the blood donation centre failed to even bother screening a potential donor, following good practice. Every time I have ever given blood I have been given a questionnaire which asks about prior sexual behaviour. I am sure that practice is not that far removed on the other side of the pond. If it is not, that is something which must be changed. That is because it is also wrong to believe that one can gauge a person’s sexual orientation from their “appearance and behaviour” as the staff in question did in this incident. There are no magical markers of homosexuality. A heterosexual man may moisturise. A gay woman may wear frivolous shoes. To say there are visible indicators of sexual orientation is to fall into an unpleasant well of stereotypes. In this case, the man was turned away for being “noticeably effeminate. It would seem that only gay men are allowed to display any kind of feminine traits. This is grubbily unfair to all men.

Ugly generalisations of groups aside, another incredibly fucked up thing about this situation is that men who have sex with men are barred from blood donation. This blanket ban is highly discriminatory: the ban currently applies even to men who are in monogamous gay relationships or those who practice safe sex. It is a product of crude Bayesian statistics, and could easily be rectified by fine-tuning the screening procedure. Furthermore, in the UK, more heterosexuals than gay people have HIV. The move in the UK to lift the ban for men who had sex with men more than a decade ago is not good enough. Completely banning a group of the population from giving blood is wrong.

The wrong does not stop here, though. I wish it did.

The title of the article gives a clue as to what another layer of wrong is: “STRAIGHT MAN TURNED AWAY FROM BLOOD DONATION CENTER BECAUSE HE “LOOKED GAY”.

The actual sexual orientation of the man is thoroughly irrelevant to the story; to reference it shows a nasty pile of distasteful attitudes towards gay people. It makes it seem as though it is worse that a man is labelled as a homosexual than it is that a clinic is failing to follow good practice, falling prey to stereotyping and is a cog in a wheel of systemic oppression. It is sad that a man being mistaken for gay is what makes news, rather than the millions of men who are actually gay facing this sort of bullshit every single day of the year. Unfortunately, that is how society is.

It doesn’t help that the man who was turned away is a bit of a weeping syphilitic chode himself (as are the writers of the article and those who thought it fit to publish). Not only is he so mortally offended by being mistaken for gay that he told his story to a magazine, he also displays prejudice against another group of human beings:

Pace told the Sun-Times he felt “humiliated and embarrassed.” “It’s not right that homeless people can give blood but homosexuals can’t,” he said. “And I’m not even a homosexual.”

Those dirty homeless people, with their AIDS and their promiscuity! They’re worse than the gays! Did I mention I’m totally not gay, because that would be thoroughly icky!

The article tells the story of a cornucopia of wrongs in our society, and its write up reinforces prejudice. I would be impressed at how wrong it manages to be in less than 200 words were I not so thoroughly disappointed that this shit is still roaring on in 2011. Isn’t it supposed to be the future now?