Bored now: Communiques from the Vampire Castle

I don’t doubt that many of you who follow “left” politics will have come across Mark Fisher’s essay “Exiting the Vampire Castle“. I would like to say how grateful I am to Fisher for writing it. His analysis is so far off the mark throughout that it manages to lay bare major problems which plague our organising, and  has empowered those whose analysis serves to justify these problems to make themselves known. It shows us a movement which is desperate for leaders, any leaders, who must be above criticism. It shows us a movement where any woman who asks to be treated as a human must be bourgeois, even as a millionaire white man somehow qualifies as authentically working class. It shows us a movement which uses pseudotheory to validate threatened entitlement and maintain a status quo. I could at this point compare this shambling, dated mess intent on cannibalising class solidarity to the point it only extends to white men to a zombie; I shan’t because this debate is already saturated with mythical beasts.

At any rate, some good writing highlighting the myriad problems has emerged. I have little to add to this discourse, so will link to the critiques. I will add more as I find them. All of these are worth reading, as this analysis is so poor that there are many facets to critique.

B-grade politics and reaction (Angela Mitropoulos)

K-Punk and the Vampire’s Castle (Not Just The Minutiae)

Brocialism (Recording Surface)

All hail the vampire-archy: what Mark Fisher gets wrong in ‘Exiting the vampire castle’ (Ray Filar)

Vampires aren’t actually real, though. Class is: a reply to Mark Fisher’s castle of bollocks (Cautiously Pessmistic)

Damn these vampires (synthetic_zero)

A neo-anarchist vampire bites back: Mark Fisher and neoconservative leftism (Automatic Writing)

Gothic Politics: A Reply to Mark Fisher (Matthijs Krul)

Things I read this week that I found interesting

Morning all. I am a hungover mess of glitter and kisses, but I have some things to show you. Show me nice things that you found interesting if you like.

An observation about rape culture and our racial histories (Flavia Dzodan)- Flavia writes about the inherent whiteness in the construction of rape culture.

‘Official protest’ is no protest at all (Aaron Bastani)- Aaron examines current directions in policing process and what it means.

Long way ahead for intersex rights (Rambling Thoughts Of A Physicist)- A useful piece on the struggle for intersex rights and what allies can do.

No Fat, No Femme: The Politics of Grindr (Nick Artrip)- A look at some oppressions visible within Grindr.

A Day In the Life of an Empowered Female Heroine (Mallory Ortberg)- What would it be like existing as one of those one-dimensional Strong Female Characters?

Being trans* taught me more than feminism did about patriarchy (Peggy Colebank)- On the horrible and patriarchal way feminism treats trans women.

The Radical Politics of #selfies (The Feminist Griote)- On the representation of Black women.

Rebecca, Celebrity and Selfies. (sometimes, it’s just a cigar)- How women don’t love ourselves enough.

Bouncing Back: The Street Kings (and Queens) of New Orleans (Puja Patel)- A really awesome history of twerking, and its cultural significance in New Orleans. Read this.

I’m sorry, did my existence hurt your feminism? (kshandbaptiste)- On how white feminism can be harmful.

Feeling Depleted? (feminist killjoys)- Another excellent post about burnout and affective labour.

B-grade politics and reaction (Angela Mitropoulos)- A very thorough analysis of the Vampire Castle nonsense.

Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian vampires (Bonnie Zimmerman)- Another very useful essay which might contribute to critique of the Vampire Castles stuff.

And finally have some intellectual jokes.


Me, my selfie and I

The latest thing which we’re meant to discuss if it is or isn’t feminist is selfies: those little pictures we take of ourselves. Most of us fell somewhere between “Yes, I’m a feminist and I take selfies” and “Meh”, but in the spirit of media-friendly debate and clickbait, some awful stuff had to be shat out and published.

Jezebel stepped up for publishing the worst. I can’t say I’m surprised, since they’ve managed to be godawful in the past on other issues, most notably with their massive race problem, which interacted with them defending and enabling an abuse perpetrator. This article isn’t as bad as those things, but it’s still so awful I won’t link to it. It’s called “Selfies Aren’t Empowering. They’re a Cry for Help.” For reals. And its argument falls into two strands: “women aren’t saying anything in pictures of themselves” (?!) and “it’s just a way of getting validation from other people” (????!!!!!)

Here’s a picture of my face while I was reading it:



You might not think it, since I decided to stick a big picture of my horrorshock face in the middle of this post, but I’m terrified of having my photo taken. When it comes up, I am filled with bubbling anxiety and almost end up on the brink of tears. I don’t have any current photo ID because I hate the idea so much, and I have often ended up disappearing when among friends and the camera comes out.

It started some years ago. I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say it involved a man, coercion, a camera and my naked body. Since then, I haven’t exactly had the association of cameras with male control of me broken. I often encounter cameras in my interactions with the police: they photograph and film me and people like me to keep us in line. It’s a threat, the way police hold the cameras: we are watching you, and we will attack you and say you deserved it all along. This method of using cameras has since filtered down to the kind of misogynist who likes to do the cops’ work for them, and will photograph and film those who call them out on their behaviour in an attempt to intimidate.

To me, someone taking my photo is therefore intrinsically linked with patriarchal control. Whether it’s sexual or behavioural control, it is an attempt to mould me into something that men want me to be: the quiet woman, the sexual object. They use the camera to position me into whichever roles they would prefer me to occupy.

It’s different with selfies. With selfies, I have complete control over my own image.

I suppose I started taking selfies when I realised there were some things that words couldn’t articulate well, and what I needed to say was best said with my face and body. When putting a webcam or a front-facing camera in front of me, I can see exactly what I look like, and make sure, before taking the snap that I look how I want to look and I am communicating what I want to communicate.

And that’s why I take selfies. Because it’s me presenting myself to the world in the way I want to be presented.

I am not filtered through a male lens into what these shutterbug Pygmalions want to see. It’s just me and my message.


Some worrisome nonsense about condoms in the news

Wafting across my monitor like the diffusion of a singularly sulphurous fart comes this article, which the Guardian saw fit to run on their front page today. 

An article about safer sex ought to, by rights, display a fairly grown-up attitude towards safer sex. Unfortunately, this doesn’t. It opens with a lot about how “hilarious” condoms are. There’s little explanation as to why, just repeated exclamations that they’re funny. Further compounding this rather worrisome attitude is a reference to the “clap clinic”, which I can only presume is a rather stigmatising way of describing getting oneself checked for STIs regularly. On top of all of this, it spreads misinformation, referring to the practice of “double-bagging”–wearing one condom over the other is a terrible idea, unless you like condoms to break on you.  Of course, it’s hardly surprising her attitude is so bad: in the last paragraph, the author expresses surprise that adults ever use condoms. 

While there are some decent points made, like the impact of condoms on pleasure, on the whole the piece is rather lacking. The author concludes that better condoms are needed rather than a better attitude to them. 

Unfortunately, a magic super-condom that’s thinner probably won’t make much difference. I remember about a decade ago when Durex launched a condom which was supposedly far better and made from a different material. It didn’t wow me, and, crucially, it was way more expensive than the bog-standard model. For students and working class people (who dance and drink and screw because there’s nothing else to do), this is not going to help matters at all. 

Ultimately, this article represents one of those well-intentioned things which contributes to a poor societal attitude towards condoms. It just adds shit to the pile of excuses that people use not to wrap up and play safe. The fact is, barriers like condoms are the best thing out there if you don’t want STIs. They don’t protect against everything–such as HPV (although the author seems to think they do, mentioning something about genital warts)–but the protection they offer is pretty good. They’re also pretty cheap and readily-available, and fairly portable because they’re small.

So basically, I’d love to see less misinformation in the mainstream media. It’s not a big ask, surely; it’s no like there isn’t a massive host of sex educators doing good stuff. Fuck controversy, and fuck ironic hipster bollocks. Let’s celebrate condoms, the unsung heroes of sex. 

Happy International Men’s Day!

It’s that time of year again! That’s right, it’s International Men’s Day. Yes, you read that right. No, it’s not new. It’s been around for a while. Yes, I’ve had those arguments on International Women’s Day, too.

Anyway, I’ll stop with my derailing, because today is all about celebrating the achievements of men and lauding their contribution to society. The fact is, we don’t do that often enough. We as feminists fail to pay enough attention to what men have done for us, and it’s time to appreciate that. In honour of International Men’s Day, let’s talk about men, and only men. Today, gents, just to balance the scales, it’s all about you. 

Men are doing excellent things in the workplace. By any measure, they are being rewarded for what they do by getting themselves paid more than women. Bravo, men. You deserve that. The stats say you’re worth it: even when we account for the fact women are more likely work part time, or be on maternity pay, you’re still getting more. We all know why that is. It’s because you’re worth it. After all, you built this system where people have to work and very few reap the benefits, with the vast majority of us completely alienated from the fruit of our labours. It’s only fair you’re getting something back for your contribution to this.

Let’s celebrate the fact that men are keeping the rape statistics–a feminist staple which we couldn’t do without–booming. Up to 99% of perpetrators of rape are men. That’s right. Up to 99% of you! Once again, might I just say how impressed I am by your hard work. You’re also doing pretty well on other violent crimes: props to you for covering, for example, 92% of domestic violence cases, and dominating the physical violence in particular!

Perhaps we should now turn to a little bit of male history, since that’s something which rarely gets taught in schools. Who shall we discuss? Shall we think about the colonialists, the architects of genocide, the rapists, and the murderers and the tyrants? Maybe we’d like to think about all of the wars which men started, in which men died. There’s just so much male history to teach, and I cannot believe that they don’t teach male history in our schools!

I must applaud the tenacity of men. When you men are in the room, women speak less, and I’m sure that’s because you have loads of interesting stuff to say. How we’d cope without valuable insights such as “You’re pretty” and “But not all men…” and rephrasing what we’ve just said, I really don’t know. I’m glad you’re tearing through this culture of silence.

But most of all, I feel it’s essential to bear in mind that it is men who have contributed the most to build this world. Certainly, it’s western bourgeois white cis men who’ve done the heavy lifting, but you’re the most underrepresented group of them all. I’m glad your achievements are being recognised not just by International Men’s Day, but also White History Month.

I really don’t feel like you can see all that you’ve created, men. So perhaps on this day, of all days, think about your role in making the world like it is, and keeping it that way.

Things I read this week that I found interesting

Well, it looks like Lily Allen is dominating my links. I do wish feminism would sort its shit out so there wasn’t as much that needed critiquing. As it stands, I’ve divided the links. But ho hum. Anyway. Here’s some links. Drop me more if you’re that way inclined.

Must-read critiques of that fucking Lily Allen video

I included these critiques because they all add something different, presenting a pretty thorough picture of why it pisses off women of colour so much. I recommend you read them all.

Culturally Clueless: Race, Feminism & Lily Allen’s Hard Out Here Video  (Alex McPherson)

A Quick Comment on ‘Hard Out Here’ (Black Feminists)

Lily Allen’s Racist New Music Video, “Hard Out Here” (#BlackinAsia)

Silly Allen (Sam Ambreen)

Misogyny, Racism and Dick Pics: Why We Need to Aim Higher with our Intellectual Icons (Raised On A Diet Of Broken Biscuits)

Other stuff

[untitled] (Brooke Magnanti)- Brooke analyses the level of transmisogyny that the media consider to be acceptable.

Insidious: Sinister Heteronormativity in the Dark Skies of Paranormal Activity (Laura Buttrick)- Laura looks at horror films and the heteronormative tropes that are perpetuated in them.

Wrecking Ball Feminism. (The Book Lantern)- Four feminists discuss Miley.

Transgender women in women’s restrooms: A purely imagined harm (Zinnia Jones)- Zinnia hits back against some horrid transphobic bullshit going on across the pond.

TDoR For, By, and About Trans Women Of Color Now (fakecisgirl)- A very important opener to a conversation that needs having.

Remember Storm? We check in on the baby being raised gender-neutral– A really heartwarming piece on a very sweet family who are letting their youngest child choose their gender identity.

And finally, got a hangover? Which of these cats are you? Also, might as well link to this noble project, of every single Buffy episode ranked in order of quality. I think it goes a bit easy on Season 6, but I can’t be arsed to make my own.

Shit I can’t believe needs to be said: Liking problematic stuff doesn’t make you a bad person

In a desperate attempt to get past the tedious arguments that keep hampering our progress in actually Getting Shit Done, I’m going to say this, and then every time it crops up again I can whap this out and be all like “ta-da! Here’s my opinion, now I’m going to go back to bed.”

Today it’s Lily Allen putting out a music video that women of colour feel reflects another manifestation of white supremacy. Yesterday it was some other music video, the day before it was a newspaper column, and before that it was a thing on telly, and basically what I’m saying is these arguments happen again and again. It goes like this:

  1. Pop culture thing happens.
  2. Privileged people like it.
  3. People without privilege criticise it from their perspective and call it problematic.
  4. Privileged people who like it get upset.
  5. Privileged people who like it think the criticism is some sort of personal attack.
  6. Privileged people who like it declare the thing to be Not Problematic.
  7. Ranks close. Nothing changes.

I was once one of the people who lathered, rinsed and repeated steps 4-7, so I can see exactly how it happens. It’s nice to enjoy something. It makes you feel good. And you’re a nice, good person. Also, racism and transmisogyny and sexism and ableism and bourgeois dickholery are generally pretty awful. So, it logically follows that because you and the way you feel are good, and oppression and supremacy are bad, the thing you like can’t be any of those things.

Except that’s not how it works. That thing you liked? It’s not a part of you. You almost certainly, in fact, had no creative control over it. Instead, it was created by rich and privileged people, far far away. Chances are, they’re not big evil hood-wearing KKK members either. They fucked up, because privilege kind of does that.

The people who are criticising it are those who have to experience oppression. This means they’re a hell of a lot better at spotting it than privileged people. They are probably right here, far more likely to be right about this than you, the fan.

So do you need to stop liking that thing you like? Hell no. I recommend you read this excellent guide: “How To Be A Fan Of Problematic Things”, which guides you through the process of actively critiquing pop culture, starting from this position:

Liking problematic things doesn’t make you an asshole. In fact, you can like really problematic things and still be not only a good person, but a good social justice activist (TM)! After all, most texts have some problematic elements in them, because they’re produced by humans, who are well-known to be imperfect. But it can be surprisingly difficult to own up to the problematic things in the media you like, particularly when you feel strongly about it, as many fans do. We need to find a way to enjoy the media we like without hurting other people and marginalised groups.

So please, please, please let’s stop having this wearing argument. While liking something problematic doesn’t make you a shit, having this argument pisses people off. It pisses off the marginalised voices we need to hear more of in feminism. It pisses off people who are subject to oppressions. It pisses off everyone who’s had to sit through this nonsense more than once–on both sides.

Let’s just listen to what’s being said, understand it and engage with it, and then enjoy our favourite things with a more critical eye.

Naming the problem

Content note: This post discusses transphobia, transmisogyny with particular focus on a known perpetrator.

I suppose in the past I’ve avoided, for the most part, discussing specific perpetrators of transphobia and transmisogyny. My reasoning for this has been that this shit is structural: one perpetrator does not a system make, and bringing the fucker down won’t heal anything without deep change. I prefer to discuss things more broadly, as a nod to the systemic nature of these problems.

So let’s talk about the problem named Cathy Brennan. I doubt I need to introduce her to you. The first Google hit for her name gives a precis on what she’s like. For more, it’s really worth looking at the work the trans community has done on collating the abuse she has perpetrated and the heartbreaking personal accounts of what she’s done.

Brennan is one of the most virulent of the TERfs. This is perhaps due to her class privilege: Brennan works as a lawyer for payday lenders and is fucking raking it in. Despite this, she has a hell of a lot of time on her hands. This time, she uses to harass and abuse trans women. She researches their dead names, finds pictures, and then puts them on her websites next to pictures of rapists. If she can, she contacts employers. These are trans women, simply existing as trans women, smeared and outed because Brennan doesn’t think they should exist.

Brennan uses her lesbian feminism as a veil for this behaviour. It is nothing more than that: a veil. Brennan will gladly side with homophobic organisations if they will get her what she wants–that is, making life more dangerous for trans women.

And this is not a petty intellectual difference. What Cathy Brennan does endangers the lives of women. Outing trans women can starve them out of a job, it can socially isolate them, it can put them at risk of acts of violence–the very male violence that Brennan pretends to oppose. Furthermore, her rhetoric trivialises rape and abuse: morally equating the existence of trans women with these horrors does nobody any favours except the bigots.

As feminists, we must stand against this. We must reject Brennan entirely. We need to stand against these repeated incitements to violence, and back up our trans sisters who are victims of her work.

Yet cis feminism does too little. We stay quiet in the face of this, because the perpetrator is a cis woman and the excuse of sisterhood keeps us quiet. Brennan has a small but loyal army of enablers who police any criticism, who cry division and silencing whenever anyone dares to point out that putting women in danger is hardly a feminist act. The whole thing creates a climate wherein it is hard to speak out.

My own reasoning for refraining from writing about Cathy Brennan specifically rings hollow in my ears. On reflection, that’s been rather a double standard on my part: I’ll gladly write reams about perpetrators like Julian Assange. Even I, Attacker Of Women, have perhaps gone somewhat easy on a perpetrator, because even I, Attacker Of Women, have internalised some of the cisterhood bollocks which shuts down and silences these discussions.

It has taken me this long to fully nail my colours to the mast. Fuck Cathy Brennan. I hope that every time she cooks pasta, it comes out slightly overdone or slightly underdone. I hope she steps on upturned plugs every morning. I wish stale biscuits and unripe bananas on her.

Calling out this one person will not fix a broken system, but it is vital that we do so. It is vital that we draw attention to the abuse she perpetrates, and reject her brand of feminism entirely. It is vital that we support her victims. It is vital that we question her enablers. We need to unite against hate and violence within feminism, and Cathy Brennan is one of the best places to start. As cis feminists, she is our mess, and we need to help clean it up.

It is not enough to say that Cathy Brennan isn’t a feminist, because she wears that label. We need to actively challenge her, to make it known that we see what she does and we reject it entirely.

Further reading:
#dearcisfeminism– A very enlightening hashtag, unfortunately marred by a few TERf attempts at detrailing
You Can’t Ignore the Bug (GenderTerror)
Abuse is still abuse (Sam Ambreen)
Transphobia has no place in feminism (me)
Time to pick a side (also me; both of these pieces kind of talked around the issue without naming the problem explicitly)

Things I read last week that I found interesting

I had no internet over the weekend so I just watched The Wire in my pyjamas and didn’t read or write much, but here are some things I did get around to looking at.

Why Blackadder Goes Forth could have been a lot funnier (Steven)- An examination of passive resistance strategies used by soldiers in the First World War.

Consent Thoughts from Lecture (Kitty Stryker)- Interesting thoughts on BDSM, consent and accountability.

An open letter to my favourite humour website in the world (jaythenerdkid)- Jay gives Cracked some helpful advice.

Programmes about ‘scroungers’ are always on TV, what’s going on?! (halfagiraffe)- A worrying trend.

Yay! Permission from a white cis dude not to identify as a feminist! (Flavia Dzodan)- Everything that needs to be said about Joss Whedon and his bullshit.

And finally, mind is a bit blown.