Things I read this week that I found interesting

I read things, and I read some things this week and found them interesting. Perhaps you will too. Please share me links and things.

Sisterhood (stillicides)- Absolutely amazing piece on “feminist infighting” and how that’s OK, because sisters fight. Smart, smart words.

On allies, silencing and privilege (Philippa Willitts)- On when allies do need to shut up.

Let’s Talk About Names: Flavia (Flavia Dzodan)- Powerful piece as Flavia talks about the privilege of having a name.

Bearing Witness: Ethical alternatives to ‘being’ an ally (FeministPlus)- A very interesting idea for something to enhance–or replace–being an ally.

I do not think like you think. Thoughts on being non-neurotypical. (fearlessknits)- A very personal perspective on the experience of being non-neurotypical. Well worth a read, particularly if you want to understand neurotypicality a bit better.

The Day I Taught How Not to Rape (Accidental Devotional)- A teacher’s perspective on teenagers’ understanding of consent and processing of the Steubenville rape.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun Apology For Using Female Writers (Rock, Paper, Shotgun)- A tongue-in-cheek apology for using female writers.

“Crazy Trans Woman” Syndrome (Odofemi)- Sometimes voices are silenced within communities. This blog talks about the problem within the trans community.

Why Are Sex Workers Left Out Of the Violence Against Women Conversation? (Kate Zen)- A call for the inclusion of sex workers in discussions about violence against women.

Sex work and demand (itsjustahobby)- On why demand won’t just magically vanish for sex work.

“Why not just wear a burqa”: Experiences of ethnic minority women writing online (Asiya Islam et al)- Five accounts of intersecting bullshit flung at women of colour writing online.

Reports surface of rape and torture in Iraq (Michele Lent Hirst)- Rape has been a prevalent aspect of torture in Iraq in the last ten years.

All bodies are beautiful? (Anytime Yoga)- On the maxim “all bodies are beautiful” and how that actually doesn’t matter.

Weaponising workfare (Aaron Peters)- An essay on workfare.

The Fast-Food Feminism of the Topless Femen (Le Monde Diplomatique)- Post highlighting terrible politics within the Femen movement. And it gets worse, from this account from a woman who left Femen Brazil.

And finally, why not cheer up with some pictures of hot men and cats that look like them? I still don’t understand Tumblr, but I think this might be what it was invented for.



Are the cis supremacists winning?

Content note: this post discusses transphobia

Last week, an awful New Statesman column was published which featured a cis woman whining about being called cis. Me and Cel West wrote a takedown of it.

Things haven’t died down since then. In fact, a lot of cis women seem to have become empowered to spout utter nonsense. I will not link to specific nonsense, lest I get accused of being Big Mean Stavvers Bullying The Poor Defenceless Women, but suffice to say there’s rather a lot of cis women who agree with the the original assertion that they don’t like the word cis.

And it gets worse. Today, I have had nakedly transphobic hate speech tweeted at me, and tweeted at me from corners I would have never expected. It came from people I had previously thought to be all right, but it was that same old nasty cis supremacist line which has never quite made any sense to me about how trans women are really “males”.

It strikes me as particularly sickening that this comes in a week where Lucy Meadows had been disrespected in death by the mainstream media, the same mainstream media that may well have played a role in killing her with their violent lies, replicated again and again by people who think themselves feminists.

Yesterday, over 200 people mourned Lucy Meadows, standing in the cold with candles, outside the Daily Mail offices. Over 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for Richard Littlejohn to be fired for his tirade of hate. A part of me wondered–as it did in January when Julie Burchill and Suzanne Moore went on transphobic diatribes to mass outrage–that perhaps the tide was beginning to turn. That maybe, just maybe, we were overcoming the seething cissexism of society.

But we have not. If anything, these vile sorts are gaining traction, crying about being silenced. It is defended by women who do not think they are bigots themselves, finding that calling out any woman spouting hate speech to be far worse than the hate speech itself.

It isn’t.

It really, really isn’t. It is utterly vital that we reject transphobia wherever it exists–even where it is within our backyard. Especially when it is in our own back yard.

I am fearful that we have hit a pivotal point in the discourse, one where the bigots have effectively managed to neutralise any attempt to point out that they are bigots by complaining of bullying. They wave their hands like a stage magician, diverting attention from the very real bullying they themselves are perpetrating, the structural violence that they perpetuate, the things they say that can very easily kill people.

And I don’t quite know what to do about this. I’ll keep on fighting where I can, but suddenly it feels far bigger, far more daunting. As a cis woman, I am not personally affected by transphobia. This is precisely why I fight it, because I know I have more strength and more resources to do so. But it’s a thankless task, and some are such severe bigots I believe it is impossible to reason with them.

So cis feminist readers, I ask you to join with me in fighting the rising tide of cis supremacy. It is not acceptable. Be a fucking ally. Stand with your trans sisters in solidarity, and don’t let this slide. We have a huge struggle ahead of us, against a structure many of us have internalised, but if we are to win anything, we must first attack the problem within our ranks.

Things I read this week that I found interesting

I read some things. They interested me. Maybe they’ll interest you too. Here they are. Please leave me more things.

Her Name was Lucy Meadows: the consequences of transphobic press monstering (Sarah Noble)- Beautifully-written and moving piece on Lucy Meadows and transphobia in the media. A must-read.

Showing too much (Philippa Willitts)- There’s been some very good things on blogs and the mainstream media, but with too many triggering descriptions and images, and possible invasions of the privacy of dead people. Philippa outlines the problem. Gave me pause for thought and made me remove one of the links which I was going to include in this round-up.

Yet another blog about trigger warnings (zedkat)- A very useful resource on the function of trigger warnings/content notes, and how to use them.

Don’t like the Mean Girls’ table? Check out the rest of the room (CN Lester)- Bang-on, and somewhat politer takedown of that awful NS piece about the “Online Wimmin Mob”.

For the mob (Pierce Penniless)- An exploration of what the mob is, and pondering why ostensibly left-wing commentators are using the term.

Standing with Adria (Feministe)- An expression of solidarity for a woman fired for publicly taking a stance against sexism.

Sex Worker or Therapist? (Psychology Tomorrow)- A piece censored by Psychology Today on the therapeutic role sex workers can play.

The postmortem portraits of Phineas Gage (MindHacks)- Anybody who has taken a psychology or neuroscience class will have likely heard of Phineas Gage, and his frontal lobe. A look at how pictures of his brain have changed over time.

They call it climbing and we call it visibility (Bethany Black)- On trans visibility and being out.

Against “rape prevention advice”: a radio debate (TMP)- Does what it says on the tin, well worth a listen.

Richard O’Brien: ‘I’m 70% man’ (BBC)- In which Richard O’Brien talks about gender identity, and it’s interesting. Skip everything after the picture of the Rocky Horror Show cast, as it’s treating gender identity like it’s some sort of debate.

The domestic abusers lobby (Jill Filipovic)- The NRA are actively lobbying for a law which would make it easier for domestic abusers to kill their partners.

In Which I Was Not Relieved By Comedy (Kawai Odoom)- An analysis of the awfulness of Comic Relief.

Getting With Girls Like Us: A Radical Guide to Dating Trans* Women for Cis Women (Autostraddle)- Another Ronseal, but very, very useful.

This is white history– For all those complaining that there’s no White History Month, here you are: the history of the horrors white people have inflicted over the centuries.

And finally, a little bit of misandry to brighten your day.

So I, like, won something (and am really fucking surprised)

Remember how last week I begged you to vote for me in the RWL Awards in a rather undignified fashion? Well, you lot granted my wish and I actually won.

I’ll admit I’m shocked. My category was strong as fuck, and I never expected someone like me to win. I’m aware I’m scary and weird and basically blog about why everyone else is wrong except me, so I’m massively surprised that people are OK with that. That people actually agree with me, and appreciate what I’m doing. I honestly didn’t think that was the case. I expect what I do to make me unpopular, a lone howl of rage into the abyss.

I started blogging for me, and for me alone. To get the fury I feel at the world off my chest; to cathartically spit fire to save me from punching things that oughtn’t to be punched; to shout, however ineffectually, against the dominant narrative. I’ve never really expected anyone to be even moderately interested.

That you are, and that you support me means a lot to me. I can’t quite believe that anyone cares what I have to think, but I appreciate that you do. It’s been fucking bizarre for me, seeing this level of support, seeing what I can do to help in the tiny little way I can, shouting ever-so-slightly louder against the dominant narrative. I never expected this, and I couldn’t have done it without you listening to me.

So thank you. Thank you for listening and supporting, no matter how quietly. Thank you for making me feel like I’m not alone in my foul-mouthed anger. I’ll keep doing what I do no matter what, but it makes things so much easier knowing I have you all by my side.

The problem with the word cis

Content note: this piece discusses transphobia and suicide. 

This piece is co-written with Cel West, who is an activist and feminist both online and off, and who tries to write about trans issues as little as humanly possible.

The New Statesman editorial team have decided to publish yet another word-turd whining about privilege-checking. We wouldn’t recommend reading it, but if you search “Online Wimmin Mob”, you’ll see exactly the level of contempt its author has for anyone who has had the misfortune of engaging with her online–if indeed anyone has: all of the examples she provides take place in the realm of pure rhetoric rather than linking to specific examples of what has actually been said.

The discussion of anger and frustration is one that has been had a thousand times before, so we’ll just link to Stavvers on being angry one more time. Let it be said, once again, though, that it’s a thing that happens time and time again, to feel furious at privileged people refusing to check their fucking privilege once again, and that it’s really, really fucking tiresome to see them calling the tone cops across a national, high-profile news website over and over and over and over.

A lot of cis women have a problem with the term in a way they can’t quite fathom. Well, I’ve fathomed it and I’ll tell you: because it’s a name that has, once again, been conferred upon a certain group of women without their consent. It would still matter, although infinitely not as much, if a Twitter search of “cis” demonstrated that the term is mostly used in a sisterly and affectionate manner. Nah, more like “cissexist”, “cisfascist” and, in one case to a certain Laurie Penny of this parish, “f*ck off cis girl.”

And that’s the stuff I didn’t search for, I just happened to see it on my feed one Tuesday evening.

So forgive me if I hear “cis” as an insult to the very essence of who I am and then, when I complain, feel aggrieved that I’m not entitled to experience my discomfort because my “privilege” means that my point of view doesn’t matter and my opinions don’t count.

C: It’s hardly surprising that trans-inclusive feminists get angry when people wheel out the same old transphobic tropes. Here’s one: the term cis is an insult to “the very essence” of cis women; this directly implies that trans women aren’t real women. Another is the trope that spurred my tweet of “fuck off cis girl”: a direct response to the trope that trans women are inherently far more violent and dangerous than cis women.

That particular tweet was sent to Laurie Penny from a demo as I trembled with fear, self-loathing and suicidality as she publically turned away from her trans inclusive position to uncritically accept Suzanne Moore’s assertion that, because a dozen trans people and allies might turn up outside her publically announced event with placards, that Moore was so being threatened by violence and thus in danger for her life.

Ironically, that tweet not only lost me friends, including Laurie, but the outing it required led to me not only being spotted and condemned by radical feminists as part of their customary gathering of dossiers on trans activists (a similar process to that used by the fascist site RedWatch), charmingly dubbing me “an ugly man”; at the same time I was attacked by non-feminist trans activists using oddly similar misogynist tropes as “must be mentally ill”, having “no idea what you are doing”, and as “a danger to the cause”.

Yep, it’s almost as if these unconscious tropes lead to us doing the patriarchy’s work for it.

I’m going to step back from that particular drama for a bit and let a cis woman speak for a bit about “cis”.

Z: Yeah. That cis girl doesn’t like being called cis. That cis girl doen’t like being called cis, because she never chose to have that term thrown at her, because it reminds her that she’s privileged and (incredibly mistakenly) thinks that that’s why people are pissed at her and don’t think her view is valid (actually it’s because she’s wrong).

The author has completely failed to understand the function of the word “cis”. It is not used as a stick to beat the egocentric trolletariat or other general bastards. It is word which restores linguistic balance. Before “cis” came into use, there was “trans”, and a plethora of slurs, and… nothing else. No label signified normality. There were the freaks, and there were everyone else. The word “cis” exists to amend this, however imperfectly. It was incredibly useful to me when I learned that word existed. It made it easier for me to challenge my own prejudices.

When someone is more offended by the words cissexism or cisfascism than the fact that these problems exist and make life really shitty for trans people, there is little that can be done to rehabilitate them. Yet the author, and other cis people, some of them feminists, still strongly reject having the label cis applied to them. How many of them were outraged at that Julie Burchill piece, which included a line about how much she hated being called cis?

It ultimately all comes from the same line of thinking as that which drove Burchill to write her spiteful tirade. It is cis supremacist thinking, that nagging desire to be normal in opposition to trans people.

No wonder so many people get angry, get rude. No wonder the author wants to silence this dissent by declaring that feminism is exclusive and mean if people get cross with her for spouting such utter lumpy shite. It almost seems as if she wants to be a martyr, to prove herself a victim. We should greet her with indifference, and be furious instead that this sort of cissexism is repeatedly deemed acceptable by so many.

There is nothing offensive about the word cis. It is the repeated exercise of cis privilege that should offend.

C: I’m just sad that these fights happen, rather than working together to unpick systems of domination, and using one another to see past our own limited experiences and unconscious prejudice. But we can’t do that without intersectionality, and specifically here without the word “cis”.

Without that, we end up with the arguments of trans-exclusive radical feminists against trans activists that dominate most articles that mention the word “trans”, that is, PTSD survivors on both sides yelling at one another until one cis woman states that “trans women trigger me by existing”, or that memorable quote by another “they don’t get that we wish they were all dead”.

For the sake of my remaining fragments of sanity, please let’s not go down that road.

(While writing this article, it become abruptly clear that words in the media do indeed have effects in the “big, wide world out there”: a trans woman told to “disappear quietly” by columnist Richard Littlejohn chose to do exactly that, by committing suicide)

Z: I have nothing to say to this except yes, yes and yes. I agree with you so much.

Fuck cissexism. Destroy it with big metaphorical hammers.

Postscript: Cel and Laurie later resolved the whole “cis girl” issue and are friends again 🙂

In which I apply for a job at the Daily Mail

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to apply for the position of MailOnline Showbusiness Journalist. I feel that I am more than qualified for the role.

I am able to bring myself to look at long-lensed photographs of children and adults alike, enjoying their everyday lives unaware of the invasion of privacy being bestowed upon them without actually feeling physically sick when I look at them. I have a strong awareness of body image issues affecting women in this day and age, which will come in handy when the line of duty requires me to draw attention to any part of their body about which they and other women may feel uncomfortable, with sneering derision.

I have a deep understanding of society’s weird attitudes about sex: ascribing desire and constant conscious performance to women even before they hit puberty, while all the while attaching shame to any display of genuine sexual agency. I also have access to a thesaurus, thus giving me the capacity to vary my language and not just repeatedly use the word “flaunt”, over and over until even MailOnline readers expire of boredom. I feel that this skillset will help me deeply when commenting on photographs of six year olds revealing, exposing and parading themselves (see how easy that was?).

My background in medical psychology has taught me the symptoms of pregnancy. I’m afraid to say they do not include smiling, having a new boyfriend or wearing a slightly baggy top, but I am also willing to pretend that they do.

I have a vivid imagination, my creativity is second to none, and I am more than able to generate my own showbusiness stories from the ether. In my spare time, I like writing fictional short stories.

And finally, I have never experienced any insomnia, so you can rest easy knowing that I will be able to perform the duties required of me while still being able to sleep at night.

Looking forward to hearing from you!


P.S. You are scum and I sincerely hope you are all miserable.

There is nothing unusual about the Steubenville rape

Trigger warning: this post discusses rape and rape apologism

And so the sad story of the Steubenville rape continues. The perpetrators were found guilty of raping an unconscious girl, as many others looked on and watched, finding this assault nothing more than an exciting topic for gossip. A community was torn apart as the perpetrators happened to be integral members to the football team, their important social standing meaning that many decided to twist reality and try to fervently believe–and make others believe–that this was somehow the fault of the survivor. And even after the guilty verdict, the rape apologism continued, pundits mourning the fallen careers of the perpetrators. And Steubenville, in a bid to make sure this never happens again, has decided to launch a probe into why it all came to pass.

Time will tell what is unearthed, what conclusions are drawn by these officials, what they learn from what happened in this community.

I’ll save them the time and expense of their investigation.

It was rape culture. All of it.

It is perhaps more horrifying to realise just how banal this whole affair was. That perhaps this exact combination of circumstances and individuals involved is unique, but all of these aspects happen regularly, devastatingly regularly. It is almost impossible to unpick how these aspects interacted with one another to cause what happened, so forgive me if what I say jumps back and forth. All of this is connected.

Rape happens a lot. An awful lot. We are socialised to believe that there are a lot of things which are acceptable. In the “no means no” model of consent, silence is take as a form of assent. This particular survivor was unconscious. She could not say no. And rape culture creates a perception of some survivors as more acceptable targets than others. That if one does not behave in a perfectly patriarchy-approved fashion, one is at least partially to blame for what happens. Drinking alcohol is one of those factors. That young woman became fair game through her behaviour. This was seen in the hurricane of rape apologism attempting to defend the perpetrators, but it also went some way to explaining why it happened to her in the first place.

This is not to say she was in any way responsible. She was not. In the minds of the perpetrators, and all those who stood by and filmed her violation with their phones, though, she was. They diffused their own responsibility and projected it onto the survivor.

Those bystanders, they are far from uncommon. It is perhaps unusual for them to document this in such a fashion, but people have stood by, idly observing violence since time immemorial. You have no doubt heard of Kitty Genovese.  I don’t doubt that the majority of people present that night thought that what was happening was all right, and, as person after person failed to challenge this assault, it rapidly became seen as normal. The social power of the perpetrators, and the close-knit status of some of the bystanders no doubt exacerbated this effect.

And the social power of the perpetrators meant that others who had not been there that night were more willing to excuse what they did. When powerful men rape, communities all too often close ranks around them, throwing the survivor to the wolves. There is a pervasive belief that being accused of rape is worse than being raped–a line of argument which its proponents like to pretend they are not promulgating by claiming that in this instance, they’re definitely not talking about a rape. It was imaginary, they say, and it ruins a man’s life.

To an extent, it does, though only in the unlikely event they are found guilty by a broken and corrupt system of justice. However, why shed tears for them, rather than opening up to sympathy for the survivor? It seems all too easy for too many people socialised within this culture of violence to instead sympathise with the perpetrators.

And yes, some are saying the sentences are too short, while others are saying the sentence is too long. Both of these arguments are rooted in a belief in retributive justice. It is my belief that this system cannot help address the cultural attitudes that make rape possible. Indeed, it may make it harder to address these: it reinforces the view that a rapist is some sort of aberrant monster rather than your friend, your boyfriend, your star quarterback, those people that you know and you respect, those people that you love. And this belief stays your hand in stopping them, and it sticks in your throat to admit that what happened was rape.

It was rape culture that made Steubenville happen, and it will be rape culture which will mean that this will happen again and again. Each time the exact combination of circumstances and individuals involved will be unique, but all of these aspects happen regularly, devastatingly regularly.

What we need to stop this is a radical shift in our thinking about everything. Steubenville was torn apart as a community by this rape, and Steubenville can heal itself, transform itself. Steubenville needs transformative justice. We all do.

We need to learn from this, examine what happened and think of new ways of organising, new ways of holding perpetrators accountable, new ways of supporting survivors and new ways of unlearning the cultural attitudes that allow rape to happen. We need change. Actual, real change at every single level.

It is a vast task we have ahead of us, but it is the only way to ensure that this banal culture of violence is demolished, once and for all.

A request for a favour

Hello lovely readers. You’re ace, you are. Well, most of you. The ones who don’t hate-read it to get a creaking rage-boner, anyway.

Today, I’d like you all to do me a tiny weeny little favour that will take about five minutes. I’ve found myself nominated for an RWL Award, which is very exciting as I never get nominated for anything usually.

I’m in awesome company in my category, and probably wouldn’t mind if any of them won, but I’ve never won anything in my life, so obviously I’d really like it to be me.

Can you take two seconds to vote for me?

Pretty please?

Pretty please with an improbably large pile of dessert toppings on the top?

Voting closes at midday tomorrow, Tuesday 19th March.

Make me feel happy inside and toss me a vote!

❤ xoxoxo Zoe

ETA: How very rude of me not to give you a little something to sweeten the deal. As a thank-you, here is a high-res stream of some kittens. You’re welcome.

Things I read this week that I found interesting

It’s that time of the week again. Here are some things that I read that I found interesting. Some of which weren’t even written this week. As always, drop me any links you think may interest me in the comments.

Public Order in the Gallery (This Day)- Wail writes beautifully on the experience of sitting in the public gallery at a trial, and the enforced passivity demanded by judges.

Alfie Meadows and Zak King are not guilty: now it’s time for police behaviour to be scrutinised (Petra Davis)- A discussion of the context of Alfie and Zak’s trial, and the implications.

The Hour of Power, 10th March (Nina Power & James Butler)- Radio show, discussing revenge. Even if you don’t listen to the whole hour, the first 7 minutes or so are cathartically raw.

How to do madness: An illustrated guide (zedkat)- an exploration of stock images used to illustrate discussions of mental health.

Brendan O’Neill and the feminist left’s lack of ‘ambition’ (ITISIWHOWILLIT)- That weeping syphilitic chode has been at it again. A feminist who isn’t me provides smackdown.

do your homework (or, what goes wrong when writers don’t… and then write about kink) (SexGeek)- There’s been some terrible writing about BDSM around. SexGeek provides detailed analysis and busts some myths.

Sex workers get raped too, but the resources to help them can be hard to find (Jessie Nicole)- Violence against sex workers is rife. There are a lot of barriers, but also solutions to this problem.

And finally, I’ve been burning through Game of Thrones once again in anticipation of the third season. I’ve been really bothered by something (well, apart from the obvious, like the rape, the misogyny, the racism, etc): how the seasons work, with those superlong seasons. It’s kind of fucked up. I suspected it might be something to do with wobbly axial tilt of the planet they live on, and so does this article, which also provides other food for thought.

The blood on the hands of the state

I want you to read this story of a man who died in prison having been jailed for stealing a gingerbread man. He was ill, mentally and physically. He was jailed for stealing a gingerbread man and died in a prison, having been thrown on the mercy of a state which refused to address his needs. I want you to feel the horror at the senselessness of this man’s death, of how it should have never happened.

It is a gutwrenching horror, difficult to put into words. A life ended over a gingerbread man. It pricks more keenly as you realise it is connected to so many other villainies.

Deaths in prison are startlingly common. Since the beginning of this year, there have been 34 deaths in prison, and five deaths in police custody. And the figures may be higher: it is hardly unheard of for the state to fudge the figures and pretend that this all happened elsewhere, to twist the truth so far that it becomes a lie.

And let us not forget the numerous failings of the state to care for people with mental and physical health problems. With their ATOS assessments and their bedroom taxes, with their attempts to cut the things which people need to stay alive, there have been deaths. There will be more.

This man was in prison due to a bloodthirsty crackdown from the state. They wanted to reassert their authority after the riots, pretend that justice was being done to assuage the fears of a mob which may have never existed at all. The media and the state colluded to whip up a panic about lawlessness and a hunger for revenge, when in fact this man had merely stolen a gingerbread man. He should have never been in prison in the first place.

And in fact, the whole institution of prison is merely a violence enacted by the state. You may attempt to justify it by crying out about the rapists and the paedophiles and the murderers, but remember that here you are braying in chorus with the foul bastards who would throw anyone they do not like into a hole to die, using your fears to protect their modesty. And if prison is your only solution, you lack imagination in devising new means for restorative justice–or new means for vengeance.

And why should we let these state murderers be the gatekeepers to justice? It is even, now, a crime to say that they have blood on their hands, with the judge–a cog in this vast machine of violence–saying “I can think of nothing more alarming than the statement that ‘Cameron has blood on his hands.” What about the fact that he does have blood on his hands? What about the fact that so do judges, and politicians, and police, and the state-sanctioned contractors who enact violence on behalf of this vicious state?

Do not justify it by saying there is nothing better. Think of things which are better.

And we shall grind all their prisons to dust, build a bonfire of their symbols of power, and we shall burn their machinery piece by piece. They cannot continue to murder with impunity. From the ashes, something new will rise. Something beautiful.