When silencing isn’t silencing and sisterhood isn’t sisterhood

A few weeks ago, I expressed some fear that perhaps the cis supremacists might be winning. Nothing has happened since then to allay these doubts: in fact, if anything, I am even more convinced that feminism has an enormous problem in its camp that some are doing all they can to keep raging.

Once again, I am not going to name names or link links, as the climate in which I write this post is somewhat sour, and it feels like any attempt to address the shit that is in our backyard is automatically taken as some sort of unsisterly “attack”, and cries of silencing abound.

Well, the thing is, when expressing some opinions, people should feel silenced. This is definitely the case with bigotry. Compare the rallying cry of the Daily Mail commenter, whining that one “cannot say anything any more” with how some cis feminists have reacted to being called out . It all comes from the same place, a sense of entitlement to being able to crap all over other people, because you and yours are clearly the most important people in the world.

And accusations of being unsisterly are just as absurd. As Stillicides so eloquently put it, sisters don’t have to get on. The belief that unpleasant opinions should not be challenged–and that it some kind of attack–if they are put forward by a woman is patently bollocks. Is it really OK for Nadine Dorries to poke around in our uteruses just because she is a woman? Should we just let her keep on going with this just because she is a woman? Of course fucking not, because it’s fucking dangerous rhetoric and absolutely should be challenged.

But, just as Dorries complained of victimisation because of our uterine missives, we see a lot of complaints of vicitimisation at calling out privilege and behaviour which–whether intentional or not–oppresses other women.

Being called out on bigotry may make you feel a bit bad. Hell, it might ruin your fucking day. But what it is you are being called out on ruins lives. Cissexism/transphobia, racism, classism, whorephobia, all of these oppressions are shit that a lot of women face on a daily basis from society at large, and then also from within feminism. It’s hardly sisterly to make these women feel like shit repeatedly just because you don’t really want to critically examine how you could be contributing to making them feel like shit.

And it’s hardly fucking silencing to have to shut the fuck up and apologise once in a while. What is silencing is telling a lot of women–women already struggling uphill–that their problems do not matter, that your own privileged freedom of speech is far more important. It is strange how listening to a diversity of opinions in feminism does not include listening to why bigotry is just not OK. 

The people who are actually silenced and alienated by such challenges are precisely the people who need our help the most, whose voices we need to amplify rather than silence: trans women, women of colour, queer women, disabled women, women experiencing the diverse and horrid rainbow of intersectional oppression.

I am not sure why there is such a prolific belief that bigoted and problematic views cannot be challenged when articulated by a feminist. I understand fully that it is quite, quite horrible to realise that you’re actually part of the problem, but there are two ways to resolve this dissonance. The first is what too many people are doing: pretend that all of this criticism is unfounded. The second is what will actually make feminism stronger and help it to include all women: accept the criticism and try to change.

We have thrown far too many  women under the bus already, when in fact what we should be doing is hijacking that bus and driving it at full throttle into the barrier marked KYRIARCHY.

Call-out week: a semi-coherent series of things on my mind

  1. When silencing isn’t silencing and sisterhood isn’t sisterhood
  2. Your prejudice is unconscious, but it’s still there
  3. “Call-out culture” isn’t a thing (but it should be)
  4. Self-doubt and receptivity to privilege-checking
  5. Confessions of a former arsehole

Poly means many: Looking out for each other

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at polymeansmany.com

There are so many different things I could have written about for this month’s PMM topic, the frighteningly broad “dealing with the bad stuff”. My first instinct was to share war stories of terrible things that went wrong in poly relationships for me, but the thing is, this sort of shit is not intrinsic to poly relationships, nor are these problems ever not present in mono relationships–indeed, I’ve a fair few war stories about my life as a mono person.

So I am taking a different approach, and turning a topic which I and many other of the PMM bloggers dreaded into a celebration of sorts.

Valerie Solanas put it beautifully when she said that life in this society is “at best, an utter bore”. Inhabiting this capitalist, patriarchal society, we are bound to be thrown all sorts of horrors in our life, and we will often find ourselves frustrated, sad, horrified at these things that happen which are often far beyond our control. To maintain itself, this system benefits from our feeling alone in our misery, allowing it to crush each of us individually.

This is why we need each other so much. From my own personal experience and that of others–and a vast wealth of scientific evidence–having a support network makes it so much easier to deal with the bad stuff. From mental health problems to a major negative life event to just getting through day-to-day life, a support network is essential.

And this is where poly comes in. A lot of the skills that you need to maintain a good support network–and be supportive to others–are exactly the skills that are needed to make poly work. These are the skills that, when entering a poly lifestyle, you tend to end up reading books about, going to workshops about, practising and learning endlessly.

There is a lot of communication involved in looking out for each other, and getting the help that we need to deal with the bad stuff. Perhaps one of the most difficult sentence to utter is “I’m not OK”. This is a fairly essential thing to be able to say when you’re in a poly relationship, and the skill of being able to verbalise this is one which we tend to become reasonably adept at. From this, it is easier to say what sort of help you need: a shoulder to cry on, a phone call once a day, money, or maybe even just a hug. It’ll be unique and individual to the person.

Likewise, a good supporter will listen calmly, and know when to ask a very important question “are you OK?”. Again, these communication skills are vital to poly. We learn to be good listeners, to be responsive to the needs of other people, to show empathy. And, most crucially, we kind of have to learn about attending to the emotional needs of multiple individuals, to try not to neglect anyone but to give what we can where we can.

This is not to say every poly person in the world is actually any good at these important skills: of course a lot of us are not. We’re only human, and we’ve been raised in a system which wants to keep us apart from one another. What I can say with some certainty, though, is that the skills I learned from being poly have helped me so much in supporting–and being supported by–others, whether they are partners or not.

It would be so good for everyone if we were all taught these skills, consciously, from birth. To look out for each other, to support each other, to look after others as much as you can. To be open and ready to listen and able to vocalise safely. To seek and provide comfort.

These are skills we all need to deal with the bad stuff. And whether we are poly or not, they are essential.

Things I read this week that I found interesting

Here is a selection of things that I read this week which I found interesting, and perhaps you will too. Please drop me more links of interesting things.

‘We’re all in it together’: The assimilation of queer into the crisis population (Lucy Freedman)- An excellent post on pacifying the non-radical queer community in times of economic crisis.

I don’t need white saviours to try and rescue me from my oppression (Not your ex/rotic)- A marvellous take on Femen’s “topless jihad” from a Muslim woman.

“The revolution starts in the ATOS smoking area” – on welfare, addiction, and dependency (Ramona’s blog)- A brilliant, brilliant piece on addiction and the benefits system.

Anti-trans fuckery in feminism (Steel Thunder)- Gloriously sweary takedown of trans exclusionary feminism.

Finishing CBT (zedkat)- A very honest personal account of CBT, worth reading it if you are considering CBT.

My 1980 Raymond piece by request… (Roz Kaveney)- A piece written more than 30 years ago against trans exclusionary feminism, which is still frighteningly relevant.

Sexism at the border: A personal account (Clay Nikiforuk)- Border patrol are shitlords. Here’s a story about why.

Men buy sex for many reasons – as a sex worker, I can tell you they don’t deserve to be criminalised (Laura Lee)- A sex worker explains why she is against “the Swedish model”.

Support for the evicted Sussex students (Guardian letters)- A letter of support for Occupy Sussex students.

Baking a Hello World Cake (Products of Mike’s Mind)- This cake is incredible. It is a program that prints “hello world”. And it’s also a quite-yummy cake.

Reno calls a domestic violence hotline: The MRA Reality Distortion Field in action (manboobz)- An MRA decided to prank call a DV hotline, and then claim he was the oppressed one. Manboobz give him the smackdown.

Don’t use Mick Philpott’s case as a stick to bash polyamory (Charlie Hallam)- Charlie smashes some myths about polyamory.

OPEN CALL! to current interns, volunteers and casual workers… (Precarious Workers Brigade)- Are you a precarious worker in art? If so, please participate in this project!

Open Letter to the Telegraph (Diary of a Benefit Scrounger)- A smashing of some myths about benefits.

Funny for not much money (Tiernan Douieb)- How the recession has impacted on comedy and comedians.

The Story So Far — April 4th Joey Barton, Marseille owes apology to transgender community for hurtful remarks (Richard Whitall)- Calling out transphobia in a place you wouldn’t necessarily expect–on a football blog.

More on Consent (The Polyamorous Misanthrope)- On consent and dominance.

Talking about my abortion (Molly Crabapple)- A very honest personal account of an abortion.

And finally, check out the Hawkeye initiative, with Hawkeye replicating female poses. Brings strange feelings as while it does show how ludicrously gendered comic book characters are, it’s also a little bit sexy.

Polyamory, Mick Philpott and abuse apologism

The Mick Philpott case has provoked a rather repulsive reaction. The Daily Mail’s now-famous front page blaming benefits has had its sentiments echoed by Osborne and Cameron. Meanwhile, the BBC has taken a different tack, and decided to blame polyamory.

Yes, really. Apparently, according to an expert who cannot tell the difference between polygamy and polyamory, repeated by a journalist who also cannot tell the difference between polygamy and polyamory, the relationship between Mick Philpott, his wife, and his lover somehow “sheds light” on polyamory. Here’s a little snippet of a quote from our resident academic expert in polyamory, Dr Thom Brooks.

“The two are practised very similarly and [are] almost always a relationship of one man with two or three women, with the man at its centre,” said Dr Brooks, of Durham University.

Er, no. I’m not quite sure where Dr Brooks has been getting his data from, but it looks like he’s only been bothering to investigate “polynormative” relationships and ignored the vast rainbow of experience of polyamory (however, it might explain why he seems to think polyamory and polygamy are interchangeable). This goes a long way to explaining the drivel he and the article’s author spout to try to paint Mick Philpott’s relationships as in any way representative of the poly community.

Yes, in some poly relationships there is a gender and a power problem, and in some poly relationships there are partners who just go along with it because they feel as though they do not have any other options. This is not a problem with polyamory. This is a problem with patriarchy.

Tellingly, what’s missing from this article–and, indeed, from the rags and politicians’ blaming of benefits–is block any attempt to address what was actually going on. The words “domestic violence” and “abuse” do not even appear in the BBC article, and probably don’t appear in any of Osborne regurgitating the Daily Mail and pretending it’s politics.

And that was what was going on. Abuse.

To ignore it, to clap your hands and say “hey, look, over there!” is to block addressing any discussions of the shocking prevalence of domestic violence, to ignore how frighteningly common this gendered abuse is. It is hardly surprising that they are doing this: there are agendas at play here.

For benefits, it is clear that those with the power wanted to attempt to smear any person requiring support to survive so they can continue to get away with their economic violence against vulnerable people. And for polyamory, it’s the same old bigotry and hatred against any sexual relationship other than the state-approved monogamous relationship between the “right” sort of people (usually these couples are a cis man and a cis woman, but they will grudgingly make concessions for trans people and same-sex couples who don’t rock the boat too much). It is a powerful tactic to associate whatever target it is with someone who killed children, and it is a foul tactic, instrumentalising the deaths of those children to make an attack.

The other agenda is that, horrifyingly, there is nothing newsworthy and exciting for the increasingly-irrelevant traditional media about yet another instance of abuse. It is something that happens every fucking day. It does not titillate, nor thrill, so they seek out more sensational angles, no matter how far they are from reality.

Ignoring the abuse ends up normalising it. It is something which passes almost without comment, as it has been so thoroughly obfuscated by the sensationalist line. It screams “this is not worth addressing”. And in ignoring it, it almost excuses it. It is apologism by neglect. It is a failure to draw attention to abuse and the structures in society that support it, the horrible frequency of these experiences which differ only in scale rather than substance.

This is, in its own way, another agenda in and of itself. To protect the system which allows men to exert power over women, and there are those who are relishing the conspicuous media silence. I don’t doubt some of these people actively brainstormed distractions from addressing the abuse.

It is often said that it is silence which allows abusers to keep abusing. This is as true in the orchestrated distraction from abuse as it is anywhere else.

If you’re a woman, don’t go to the Pride of Spitalfields

Content note: This post discusses sexual violence and apologism, quoting first-person accounts.

Last week, I went to the Pride of Spitalfields for a nice drink with some comrades. The evening ended on a rather sour note as two of my friends were groped and the landlady blamed them for what happened. Aside from my group, the whole pub felt as though it was full of people who were enabling this behaviour, if they were not themselves actively perpetrating it. I’ll let the two women tell their story in their own words, though I’ve trimmed for length. You can read Sam Ambreen’s account in full here, and MagicZebras here.

Sam:

Pride of Spitalfields is the name of the pub where Meow Meet – a gathering of like-minded individuals’ crazy about communism and cats – took place. There was a planned pub crawl but as the night went on, we settled and occupied the back quarter of the pub. Being with kindred spirits aside, I felt myself on full alert having clocked the various leering geezers dotted around the bar. Very early on in the evening a large skinhead attempted to woo me with his American accent all the while slurring how much he liked the cat on my dress, his eyes fixated on my breasts. After we’d done a good job of ignoring him, he sloped off.

I felt safe. A mixed group, I was friends with many of them and since we’d been out together and tackled patriarchy effectively before, I felt reassured I could just be. With these righteous men and women I felt free. Except patriarchy was more brazen that night. I caught the bald American through the corner of my eye, as he left his table to walk past me for the loo. He stroked my shoulders and back whilst I was sat on a stool between two of my friends. Shocked and utterly grossed out, I told the group what had just happened. When he came out of the toilet, one of my beautiful sisters pointed at him and said “how dare you touch her? Don’t fucking do it again?” Far from being embarrassed he’d been caught out, he leant in to her and asked her to slap him. In an attempt to distract him, I asked if he was American. When he replied yes, I said “figures”. Well, then he called me a “fucking cunt”. When the rest of our group stood up, he crawled off, mumbling expletives.

Shaken but proud and empowered, I told one of the barmaids what had happened. I was happy when she immediately said she would not serve him anymore. She also said he had been aggressive but they couldn’t throw them out because there were only three women behind the bar. However, I was just pleased that she’d acknowledged what had happened. Shortly after, the man and his friends left. One of them even apologised to one of the men in our group. We were able to enjoy a few more drinks before the second incident of the evening.

Sat on my stool at the side of the table, somebody grabbed the back of my neck and pushed me down. Alarming and distressing, yes, but I also have a spinal injury. I’ve been told never to attempt to touch my toes. I have to think of my every movement before I make it. I am having an MRI in three days. Livid, I shot up and shouted at the man. I can’t remember what I said; I was too frightened and angry. Other people in the bar started shouting at me, how it was funny it was always the same girl complaining, how our stools were in the way of the path to the toilet and my blood ran cold. I asked the older landlady whether they were saying I was making it up and she matter of factly nodded yes. I didn’t exactly want to burst into tears and start rolling off all the other times I hadn’t been believed but that’s what happened. Like a collage of all the other times I’d been violated but made to feel like the evil scheming temptress I must be. All of it poured out as the mascara gushed down my cheeks. I’d had a drink but the pain is always the same and I react in exactly the same way. Triggers, emotions so strong and so embedded because of careless caretakers and patriarchy; that I try and keep a lid on. For years, I slapped a smile on it until the corners of my mouth hurt so much from smiling, they’d quiver. Now, I cannot.

One of the things said to me by the patrons of that pub was that we should just accept it. Accept what? Being groped? Being leered at? My body does not belong to the public. It is mine and it is fragile. If anyone touches me without my consent, I will shout and scream blue murder.

When I finally calmed down I learnt the man who’d grabbed my neck had also groped one of our teenage comrades. The guy was in his 50s. One of my friends hugged me as she said she’d challenged one of the younger barmaids as to whether she’d been harassed more than a coupla times in one evening and she said yes. The landlady responded there was little they could do with their customers of old. And there, patriarchy is atoned. Capitalism is what makes the misogo man’s world go round.

MagicZebras:

The evening started well, even though the pub was really crowded. We piled in, chatting amongst ourselves and ignoring the uninvited advances of the odd creepy drunk guy with efficiency and grace.

However, at about 11pm, a very drunk man in a stupid hat walked past us on the way to the toilets. On his way, he grabbed my arse so hard it hurt and pushed my friend Sam’s down aggressively – really fucking dangerous considering she has a spinal injury. Outraged, and surrounded by friends who we knew would support us (really vital!) we both stood up and challenged the guy, yelling at him that his actions were not fucking ok and he needed to fuck off. When he went to the toilet we comforted each other and told our friends exactly what had happened. When he returned from the toilets he had the cheek to make sarcastic comments and lots of those at MeowMeet stood up, telling him to fuck off, leave us alone and never touch a woman without her consent again. Other people in the bar got involved, it seemed quite a few men, trying to be “nice”, had a hell of a lot to say about the subject. I was told in a seemingly reasonable tone that I should pipe down because “this sort of thing happens all the time, shouting’s not going to change it.”. I walked away from that patriarchy-accepting wankstain to support one of my friends who was challenging the landlady and other female staff about what had happened. The landlady’s response to the incident was disgusting. She told us that she didn’t believe us, asked me if I was drunk (I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol all night, not that it makes any difference whatsoever!), blamed us for any incident that might have happened and refused to challenge harassment from a regular customer because he often spent money there. For me, that’s pretty much the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy in action – capital comes before the security of women. Always.

Fuck. That.

The incident and the rhetoric we got from staff and customers at the pub was highly distressing; both me and Sam cried hysterically, I threw up and even had flashbacks from other times I’ve been sexually assaulted and harassed – which from talking to my female friends seems to be really common. Mostly, I was upset by the attitude of other people who thought that something being a common occurrence meant that it was acceptable. Utter bullshit, and the same bullshit that perpetrators of any sort of sexual violence rely on to go about their behaviour unchallenged.

It’s abundantly clear that at least one member of staff in the Pride of Spitalfields had a terrible attitude to the misogyny perpetrated by the clientele: this woman was the landlady. The rest of the bar staff seemed more supportive, although there was little they could do to help. I hope that they are able to unionise and support each other in these horrible circumstances.

I’d urge you, if you’re a woman, to avoid Pride of Spitalfields for your own safety–it fucking sucks that we have to do this, but Pride of Spitalfields is not a safe space. And, actually, everyone should avoid the fucking place, because it is a seething shithive of misogyny and maybe they’ll go out of business.

In the future, we might take action against the place, but in the meantime, please share these stories to avoid this having to happen again.

The most shitbrained bollocks I’ve read today (but only because I’ve been busy)

I don’t doubt that there has been a lot of shit going on today. It is, after all, a day, and the odds of shit not happening on this day are astronomically low.

However, let me introduce you to what happens when you let a six year-old rape supporter who likes it when women feel unsafe write for the Telegraph. You get articles like this one, entitled “The prudes of the NUS hate boozy, popular ‘lads’. So what do they do? Smear them as rapists“. Now, I’ll grant its dicknozzle author the right to be distanced from the title, which could easily be the work of a subeditor of a similar dicknozzle mindset, but the rest of the article is a pure shitbrained wankfest.

Poor little Jack Rivlin is rather baffled by a report from the NUS which found women to feel unsafe around large groups of lads–specifically, the WOAAAARGH BANTER wankstains crowd. He thinks it’s “hysteria”, which sends up the red flag screaming that this little carbuncle is a seething misogynist.

After rather smugly suggesting there’s no evidence that “slutdropping” ever happened–which, given his critical thinking skills, he seems to believe equates to the entire rest of the report being unevidenced–Jack decides to offer his own unevidenced assertion about what is actually going on.

Wait for it, everyone.

This is really really clever.

Brace yourselves.

Seriously, hold on to your hats, gloves, scarves.

Hold on to your fucking knickers.

Are you in the brace position?

This devastatingly clever insight from Jack Rivlin about rape culture on university campuses will blow your fucking minds.

We’re just jealous, apparently.

Based on literally no evidence whatsoever, Jack Rivlin has blown the lid off the entire conspiracy. We don’t really care about preventing rape, he’s absolutely right. We just care about making life shit for the popular men who have better lives than us.

Shit. Rumbled.

It’s quite staggering how unable Jack Rivlin is to put the pieces together and understand how research works, and connect the microcosm on his university campus–“just normal guys enjoying their youth”–to a broader rape culture. He needs to pay some fucking attention. Did he miss the news entirely during Steubenville? Has he missed the research into the prevalence of rapeand rapists–on campuses? Does he innocently think that rape is a problem between individuals rather than shaped at all by culture?

I think he does, in his own rather dissonant way–he mentions the SWP, for example. It is merely another example of someone ignoring or actively downplaying rape when it is perpetrated by someone on their own team. Much like the SWP, really.

So I don’t know why I ended up giving this inconsequential tediousness the time of day. I really don’t. There’s nothing new and nothing interesting in it. It just annoyed me, because rape culture is, at best, boring and annoying.

Farewell, welfare

It is not an April Fool, no matter how much I wished it would be. Over the next month, we will see our fears unfurling. The bedroom tax, the benefit cap, the cuts to legal aid, council cuts, scrapping DLA, Universal Credit, the butchering of the NHS. It will all come this month.

And it will hit the most vulnerable the hardest: the sick and disabled, the poor, women, and especially those experiencing intersecting layers of oppression. It is clear why they are doing this: those who are the most vulnerable, they believe, are powerless to resist. They do not want a repeat of 2010. They do not want any sort of resistance, so they pick on those they believe to be least capable of doing so.

We will see deaths. We will see lives ruined, and mental and physical health declining as people struggle to survive in the immense stress the bastards in Westminster have forced upon them. It is bad now; it will get worse. They have made it that way.

And they expect people to quietly lie down and die, out of sight. All the while, they will slander those they have abused, saying they were undeserving of the means to survive. They will repeat the same fictions over and over, and credulous apologists will swallow these narratives wholesale.

Yet as it gets progressively worse, it will be harder to hide the lies, harder to hide this heinous violence the state are perpetrating. It will become clearer and clearer what they are doing.

And they have given us nothing to lose.

People are better than those who want to rule over others. We will face their attacks with solidarity, we will watch what they are doing and we will not allow the murders they commit to be hidden. We will observe, growing ever more furious.

And we will fight back. We are under attack, and we will defend ourselves from this onslaught. We will be avenge those killed by these bastards.

We know what they are doing.

And we are not as powerless as they like to think.