What does “popular support” mean? A case study of No More Page 3

It’s no secret that, like many other feminists, I’ve been somewhat sceptical of the No More Page 3 campaign. Since its inception, I’ve been squabbling with liberal bourgeois feminists about the worth of pouring so much time and energy into getting rid of a single, solitary page of a single, solitary newspaper.

The thing is, I love to be proved wrong. I really, really do. Just once, I’d love for my critique of something to turn out to be completely off the mark. Just once, I’d like to be able to say “Whoops, my bad, I’m a pessimist, I expected the worst and that didn’t happen.” Just once, I’d like to be unassailably and objectively wrong in my doomy, doomy predictions. But no. I’m fucking Cassandra.

The main defence used by NMP3 supporters is that the campaign has “popular support”. And they’re right about that, I suppose. They’re popular among the high-profile media feminists. They have the support of charming individuals like Alastair Campbell. And they even have trade union support! The official campaign website trumpeted proudly about UNISON passing a motion in support of the campaign. Unfortunately, they remained rather tight-lipped about another motion rejected at the very same conference: where UNISON voted against starting from a position of believing women who reported gendered violence.

This strikes me as pursuit of popularity at the expense of getting anything done. Yes, they have some big-name backers, but many of their big-name backers are demonstrably no friends of women, and no allies in the fight against structural misogyny. And all the while, the Sun is continuing to print things which make the lives of many women actively worse, dumping all over poor women, disabled women, women of colour. And Page Three is still going strong.

We need to ask ourselves why NMP3 is so popular. On the face of it, it seems quite nice that a campaign resonates with everyone. However, let’s take a minute to think about who this “everyone” includes. This is a cause that has united a warmonger, a union that doesn’t think rape survivors should be believed and Caitlin fucking Moran. And the reason that they’re all united in their opposition to putting a pair of tits on a particular page of a particular newspaper is because No More Page 3 isn’t creating a challenge against patriarchal hegemony.

Gaining popular support, by default, means making oneself as palatable as possible to the status quo. It means becoming appealing to those who directly benefit from the structures of power and privilege, so that they will allow you to have your minute on a soapbox with your paltry demand.

It will never be popular to articulate a structural critique which highlights how things are broken and wrong all the way down, because that means that major changes will have to happen. With mass communications controlled by the most privileged, the message will not get out through these means. With a system of government controlled by the most privileged, the changes will not come through this channel. With businesses working only for themselves, they will only do the best thing for themselves.

Some may decide it’s worth it to work within this system anyway. Perhaps they knew all along that what they wanted posed no direct threat to the status quo. Perhaps they watered down what they wanted to make it sweeter. Either way, whether they win or lose, little difference will be made.

But for true change, to really dismantle these structures of power, a lot more is needed. We need to be creative and robust with our demands. We need to be fearless: we will be loathed and despised by the powerful. What has been won so far was not won by being popular, and we still have a long way to go.

Poly Means Many: Needs (and meeting them)

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

I have needs. Everyone does. I’m one of those lucky bastards who has bases covered on the bottom tiers of the old Maslow’s hierarchy, and I’m doing half-decently at some of the other bits and bobs. But this post isn’t directly about my mental and physical health, or my fragile employment situation or any of that shit, because this is about my relationships.

My needs are fairly problem-focused because I have a lot of problems in my life. So when I talk about getting my needs met, a lot of the time that means exactly the same as solving problems that I’m facing. Sometimes this might be something material: getting someone to help me hang curtains, or move furniture, or cook. A lot of the time, though, these needs are far more abstract: someone to cheer me on, someone to ask what’s wrong, someone to say nothing, just hug and briefly make the world feel like a less shitty place.

Poly communication–at least, of the kind promulgated by a lot of the guides to poly–is somewhat individualistic. When we need something, the model goes like this: we work out what we want, we sit down with our partners, we say “I need X”, and then we have a conversation about it and hopefully everyone goes away happy and fulfilled and that need is incorporated into the relationships.

The thing is, that doesn’t work for me. It rests on a number of things that can’t necessarily work it out for me. Firstly, I am fairly inarticulate, particularly when I’m distressed. When something’s wrong, I’m not always capable of finding the words, any words. So I’ll pretend I’m perfectly OK with varying degrees of success, or do an awkward thing where I cry everywhere which I often think is uncomfortable for everyone, except actually those who I love and trust are pretty cool with that.

Also, my needs are fairly fluid and moment-to-moment. The people who write the poly manuals and run the workshops tend to be fairly privileged. They are often economically stable and have access to decent treatment for the problems they face. So problems take the form of “I’d like to see more of you.” “Sometimes I feel like your new relationship with so-and-so is eclipsing ours and I need to feel like I still matter to you.” And so on. These are important issues, which matter for sustaining relationships, but they’re not the sort of things I need.

Finally, this mode of communication sometimes doesn’t sit well with me. In the past, I’ve had relationships with people who are very articulate and capable of doing the old “I need XYZ”. And it kind of backs me into a corner. Because I’m not so good at saying “I can’t do that”, I end up being cornered into doing things I don’t want to do, or I cannot. It all sounds reasonable to me, the way it’s put, and I want to do it. I acquiesce, and when I inevitably completely fail at managing to do what I agreed to, they are cross with me for agreeing in the first place, and I should have said something earlier.

I need people who can be constant sources of support in ways that I cannot articulate or explain. I need people who can proactively check in occasionally. I need people who don’t treat me like I’m made of glass, but can have whole conversations that to an outside observer would sound like a banal exchange between strangers, when it is in fact vital me-maintenance. I don’t have the energy to have long conversations about every little thing that crops up that I might need to deal with. I just need things moment-by-moment. The same is true for those I love and trust. We’re crawling in the dark, and we found each other.

One day, perhaps, when my life is sorted, I might find myself in a position to be able to have the long conversations about the relationship detail as my needs shift up the pyramid. For now, I do what I can, and the love I have enhances my life.

Things I read this week that I found interesting

I read things. I found these things interesting. Maybe you will, too? Leave me things to read that you found interesting, too.

Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In (bell hooks)- bell hooks analyses “Lean In” feminism, and concludes it’s a crock of shit and explains what needs to happen. It’s amazing.

An intersectional feminist approximation to aesthetics around Zwarte Piet (Flavia Dzodan)- I didn’t know much about Zwarte Piet, so this is an enlightening post looking at colonialism and how it looks.

I believe the word you are looking for is “rape” (Knox O)- On eliding the problem at Yarls Wood detention centre.

On Rihanna (Yellow Faced)- An exploration of the intersections of racism and misogyny surrounding Rihanna.

The word comrade and why I don’t want to be called it. (itisiwhowillit)- A useful examination of what’s a bit awful about that word.

So Let’s Talk About The Fucking Asterisk (Natalie Reed)- Natalie explains her personal beef with the asterisk in “trans*”

Sex workers need support – but not from the ‘hands off my whore’ brigade (Selma James)- Some advice for sex worker solidarity.

Why I don’t “debate” (Flavia Dzodan)- Flavia again, this time with a must-read critique of “debate” as constructed by the privileged.

Ten things male feminists need to stop saying (jaythenerdkid)- PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE STOP SAYING ALL OF THOSE THINGS

And finally, I’m indirectly in Private Eye, OMG. You can guess which room I spent a lot of my day in 🙂