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?

We still need to talk about consensus

A while back, I posted a few points about consensus decision-making and stimulated a wonderful discussion on its use. In the first piece, I highlighted some major issues I had with the process:

  1. That discussions are most frequently hijacked by a “core group”
  2. That those who speak most tend to be from privileged groups: i.e. they are usually white, cisgendered able-bodied men
  3. That the process can lead to a phenomenon called groupthink which impedes good decision making.

After brilliant discussion in the comments, a partial solution was happened upon: applying the principles of enthusiastic sexual consent to the consensus process. This solution, though, mostly solves the problem of groupthink. The first two, the core group and the unchecked privilege, remain problematic and deserve further discussion.

At the time of writing the prior pieces, I had not yet read “The Tyrrany of Structurelessness“, an essay which highlights these problems in structureless organisation, which was written in the 1970s. It is sad that these problems are still running strong in activist groups: I am hardly the only one who has noticed that core groups tend to take control.

There is a psychological phenomenon at play here: that of minority influence. Minority influence involves a person or small group of people swaying the decision of the majority: this was demonstrated by having people view blue slides of varying brightness and judge the colour. When a minority argued that the blue slide was actually green, the majority tended to follow. Minority influence can affect how people judge a colour. It is hardly surprising therefore that it can sway a group decision towards the views of very few.

Its facilitation of minority influence is both a strength and a weakness of consensus decision making. It is a strength in that it theoretically, it allows outsider’s views to sway the views of others. It is a weakness, though, that in practice the minority who hold the sway are the core group; they are the loud, privileged people.

In The Tyrrany of Structurelessness, a selection of solutions are proposed for countering this dominance by a small group:

  1. Delegation of specific authority to specific individuals for specific tasks by democratic procedures
  2. Requiring all those to whom authority has been delegated to be responsible to those who selected them
  3. Distribution of authority among as many people as is reasonanbly possible
  4. Rotation of tasks among individuals
  5. Allocation of tasks along rational criteria
  6. Diffusion of information to everyone as frequently as possible
  7. Equal access to resources needed by the group

Applied to consensus decision making, with decent facilitation, these recommendations can certainly make headway, although they do not address some severe problems head-on: particularly that of privilege.

In an impassioned call to arms Forty Shades of Grey says:

It’s time to start kicking arse and taking names. And this time, I mean all of you. I’m sick of being alienated from scenes I like, and I’m not the only one.

Here’s the deal: Challenging one dominant ideal in society (patriarchy, theism, capitalism etc.), whilst displaying sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic or any other discriminatory traits is not on, and I’m calling you all out on it.

It is not enough to simply say “well, our group doesn’t discriminate” when patriarchal, white, cis-centric values are the norm.  

If you’re not actively fighting oppression, you’re propagating it.

I am displaying consensus jazz hands to this sentiment. While many of those who dominate meetings claim to be feminists and fighters of oppression, quite the opposite is true. They sway collective decisions. It is time to call this crap not just in social situations, but as part of formal discussions. We will be accused of derailing for raising a process point, identifying that the same privileged few are those who take over a supposedly collective decision, yet it is imperative to call it where we see it.

When we clear out the shit in our own backyard, maybe we can take on the world.

How the Tories stole choice

“Choice” is the buzzword of the moment, the favourite word of the Tories. They use that word a lot. I do not think it means what they think it means.

The anti-reality Nadine Dorries was once again given a platform to express her confused opinions in The Guardian’s Comment Is Free section. Her piece is entitled “I want to introduce more choice for those seeking abortion, not less“, which would be a noble goal if that was in any way her intention.

With lies and misinformation, Dorries claims that her amendment to the already-hideous Health and Social Care Bill would increase women’s choice regarding abortion, by giving them access to independent counselling before they make the decision to terminate. Dorries repeats the claim that her amendment is supported by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, which it is not; and claims that counselling provided by abortion services is inadequate and taking away choice from women.

This is not true. Services like the British Pregnancy Advisory Service provide counselling and abortions. 20% of women who approach them change their minds and choose not to have an abortion. This is hardly pushing women into abortions, and is certainly not for the “financial motives” which Dorries declares must be the reason. It is also infinitely preferable that services who are familiar with women seeking abortions to provide counselling services. They are the experts. They have the necessary information and understanding of the psychology of women seeking abortions.An “independent” source may lack such knowledge and provide inferior care.

Dorries asks “Why would anyone imply that I want to make abortion illegal? I fully support quick and easy access to abortion”. Yet this is not quite true. Dorries has said herself she would like to see the abortion limit reduced to 9 weeks.

What Dorries is doing here is part of a long-term strategy to removing access to abortion, starting with something seemingly palatable. This pattern has been seen across the Atlantic, where in many states “counselling” has been made compulsory. The aim of these measures is to discourage women from abortion. This is not widening the right to choose. It is using the language of choice to remove choice.

In this week alone, this is not the only instance of a Tory talking choice when meaning anything but. David Cameron’s White Paper “Open Public Services” hides an odious sentiment inside the pleasant language of choice.

The white paper aims to allow the private sector to take over public services. Cameron declares the aims of the paper to be “choice, diversity, decentralisation, fairness and accountability.”

The first three words, as operationalised in the white paper translate as “increase competition”. Cameron would like to see competition in the areas of the private sector who seek to peck over the remains of our public services. Such competition would not be beneficial to any but the rich and the private sector themselves: in combination with decentralisation, this would lead to exacerbation of “postcode lotteries”–difference in public service provision in different areas.

This is, of course, inherently unfair. Accountability is nothing but another meaningless buzzword from politicians as I fail to see how accountability can be possible if the private sector are not subject to Freedom of Information requests.

Privatisation will not improve our lives: it will make it markedly worse. For an example of this, look no further than Richard Littlejohn’s nemesis: wheelie bins. Rubbish collection is outsourced by most councils to the private sector. With their profit motivation, bins are collected less frequently. This is why waste collection is utter rubbish. The private sector do not provide good services. They provide as little as possible to make as much money as possible.

Imagine if all of our public services were this bad.

According to David Cameron, this is “choice”.

The Tories have stolen the word “choice” and used it as a charming euphemism to describe their imposition of their will on the people: Nadine Dorries with her religiously-motivated crusade against bodily autonomy; David Cameron with his reckless pursuit of a neoliberal nightmare.

It is not choice. It is a lie, and a rhetorical device. To fight this, we may be met with the phrase “do you hate choice?”

We should choose to fight these measures precisely because we like choice.

A few quick notes on body policing

A small row broke out in the comments under the post on Topshop and its use of a photograph of a model who was unrealistically, unattainably thin. The row was essentially about body policing and how it applies to women of all shapes and sizes.

Gwendolyn made this good point:

I am a size 4. There is nothing wrong with being a size 4. Size 4 and 6 girls get so demonised by people who forget there are a lot of people who are naturally small and slim. I have never dieted or over exercised, i am just healthy, being my size and shape is what is healthiest for my body yet bloody Gok Wan, the media and other women tell me and all the other women my size and shape that we’re not ‘real women’.

It is certainly true that the “real women have curves” ethos is just as harmful as the notion that the ideal body shape is that of the unattainably thin model.

Another commenter, Zoe Rose, then said this:

One of these days, I’m gonna snap. One of these days, some lady is going to say those stupid little words – ‘you’re so lucky to be so skinny!’ – and I’m going to snap.

And then I’m going to tell her that it must be awesome being so fat.

Zoe Rose does make a good point about the body policing thin women face, and that it is sometimes disguised as barbed comments about luck. The retort and solution, however, is completely wrong. One does not react to body policing with more body policing. That is never right.

Then commenter Het won the internet with one of the finest, most eloquent summaries of the harms of body policing I have ever seen:

It’s hard being A WOMAN. Of whatever size. If you’re thin, as you say, you have those problems to contend with, of inconveniences of finding clothes that fit you, or being excluded from some bogus definition of “real” femininity. But it’s not as if bigger (both fat and also those who are not particularly thin) women don’t have to face different but equally important problems.
At least if you look in a magazine you can see people who look like you. At least you’re not being encouraged to have dangerous and unnecessary surgery.
But it’s not a competition. Capitalism benefits from women fighting each other instead of it.

My point is, the fact of the matter is all femininity is an unreal construct. It seems to me that the issues you are describing that affect you are part of the same problem faced by bigger women: the problem of society feeling it owns all women’s bodies and has the right to control them and to make money from that control. The fact that you can say that you are made to feel that people think you are not a “real” woman, and that I as a fat woman can say the same surely proves that we are in the same boat: that of the impossible and self-contradictory demands made upon women’s bodies that aren’t meant to make sense but rather to procure money from our discontent and divide our gender in arguing about who has it worse.

One minor quibble with this, though: body policing is not only harmful to women: it is also harmful to men. This rather fantastic blog explores the unattainability of the masculine body ideal, providing examples of the horrifying things male models must go through to present the ideal male body:

And the illusion being sold by the fitness magazines is that this hyper-masculinity is attainable. If you just work out longer and harder; if you’re just more careful about your diet; if you just take the right supplements and drink the right sports beverage… then you, too, can have a body like a fitness model. A cartoon image of fitness is being sold to men as if it were actual fitness. And men are being taught that there’s something wrong with them if they can’t get there.

But this ideal of masculinity isn’t just difficult to achieve. It isn’t just narrow; it isn’t just rigid; it isn’t just out of reach for some or even most men. It is, quite literally, unattainable. Even the fitness models themselves can’t attain it: not without nightmarish physical ordeals, camera tricks, and Photoshop. It is a carrot being dangled in front of a donkey — which the donkey will never, ever get to eat.

Body policing and idealised body shapes and sizes are harmful to all, and inextricably linked to prescribed gender roles. This is another reason to fight patriarchy where we see it.

I think Julian Assange is a rapist. I still like Wikileaks.

Trigger warning for rape

If what his own defence lawyers say is true, Julian Assange is a rapist.

He described Assange as penetrating one woman while she slept without a condom, in defiance of her previously expressed wishes, before arguing that because she subsequently “consented to … continuation” of the act of intercourse, the incident as a whole must be taken as consensual.

In the other incident, in which Assange is alleged to have held a woman down against her will during a sexual encounter, Emmerson offered this summary: “[The complainant] was lying on her back and Assange was on top of her … [she] felt that Assange wanted to insert his penis into her vagina directly, which she did not want since he was not wearing a condom … she therefore tried to turn her hips and squeeze her legs together in order to avoid a penetration … [she] tried several times to reach for a condom, which Assange had stopped her from doing by holding her arms and bending her legs open and trying to penetrate her with his penis without using a condom. [She] says that she felt about to cry since she was held down and could not reach a condom and felt this could end badly.”

In the first instance, he penetrated a woman without her consent. The penetration was not consensual. This is rape. Legally and morally.

In the second instance, he held down a woman and attempted to penetrate her while she was distressed and fighting him off. If penetration occurred, this is rape. If penetration did not occur, it is attempted rape and rather serious sexual assault. Legally and morally.

Even his own defence is saying that Julian Assange is a rapist.

Despite this, there are still those who leap to Assange’s defence. A top tweet referred to what Assange did as “being a bad lover“, and many others similar in tone buzzed around hashtags pertaining to Assange’s extradition hearing. Some of these voices even come from the left.

It is a far cry from the outrage surrounding Ken Clarke’s distinction between “serious rape” and “date rape”. Suddenly, the very same people who objected to a Tory engaging in rape apologism are doing the very same thing themselves: springing to the defence of a rapist, declaring there must have been some sort of misunderstanding, or perhaps the women are lying, or perhaps holding a woman down and forcibly attempting penetration isn’t anything like rape, or squirming around, groping for legal loopholes.

What Assange did was wrong. Thoroughly wrong. I had hoped we had reached a stage where penetrating a woman who is unable to consent or using force to penetrate a woman is known by all to be something that is thoroughly reprehensible and worthy of punishment. I am disappointed and furious that this is not the case.

It is perfectly possible to decry Assange while supporting Wikileaks. As a project, I think Wikileaks is a good thing. Some information needs to be made available in the public domain, and Wikileaks is brilliant for facilitating this. I also believe in free speech, something championed by Wikileaks. Free speech allows me to express my opinion that Julian Assange is a rapist.

Assange is not Wikileaks. For starters, Wikileaks is a large project which is staffed by many people other than Assange. Another difference is that Julian Assange is most likely a rapist, and Wikileaks is not. It is therefore perfectly simple to support Wikileaks while acknowledging what Assange did is completely and utterly wrong.

It is rather like Rebekah Brooks and the News of the World. Rebekah Brooks should have resigned or been sacked, setting up a distance between Brooks and the newspaper. Instead, Brooks was kept, while the newspaper was taken down.

There should be a distance between Assange and Wikileaks. Wikileaks is not Assange. Assange is not Wikileaks. It needs to be clearer: given that Assange is probably a rapist, he is poison to the project. There is a line of reasoning which suggests that the case against Assange was pursued to destroy Wikileaks. I believe that this notion has some traction, and it makes me sad that this case was only brought forward to further the interests of those Wikileaks damaged.

To dissociate Assange from Wikileaks is the solution to the problem. He is hardly essential; there are many competent people who could head up the project. The new head of Wikileaks would not be a rapist and therefore would not be toxic.

Yet many of the same people who called for Brooks to go are defending Assange with rape apologism, instead of divorcing him from the project.

This is unnecessary. We should be focusing on what is right and what is wrong.

Rape is always wrong.

Update: It is entirely possible the defence is referring to if Assange did it, rather than an admission that he had. This does not mean there are not charges to answer. There are. This does not mean he is innocent, nor does it mean the survivors are liars. The allegations must be taken very seriously indeed and not dismissed or brushed away from the discussion.

Update 2: Just want to point out that I am retracting my “still liking Wikileaks” assertion. While I support the notion of a service like Wikileaks which would allow people to anonymously leak information, which would hold the powerful to account, Wikileaks isn’t it. It’s become Assange’s personal propaganda machine, not leaking anything of value and merely waffling on about their leader. It’s beyond help, which is a huge shame as we really need something that would serve the function Wikileaks once did.