2013: The year of the hollow gesture

There is a certain fashion now to define a year and What It All Means as a comment piece. And so, in an attempt to be down with the kids, here is what the last year has meant to me.

To me, 2013 has been a year of Big Grand Media Gestures which do absolutely fuck all to change any of the system, as Big Grand Media Gestures are wont to do. Most recently, we saw this with the pardon of Alan Turing. Almost 60 years after the state drove Turing to suicide through their homophobic laws and “experimental” forced hormone administration, they have issued a royal pardon. Alan Turing is forgiven for being gay, to rapturous applause from precisely no-one paying attention.

It is not hard to see the hollowness of this gesture. Alan Turing was but one of the thousands of men persecuted in this fashion in the past, and it just so happens that he was the one who made himself most useful to history. This pardon was stage-managed by Chris Grayling, a man who believes B&Bs should be able to turn away gay couples. Homophobia is not a thing of the past, it is a thing which is still actively perpetuated by those in power, and they should be the ones on their knees, begging for forgiveness for the wrongs of the past, the present and the future. They should grovel at Turing’s grave, and prostrate themselves before those who–alive or dead–still bear the convictions that Turing did. One cannot magic this away, and all of the bits of paper rubber-stamped by the Queen in the world will not make up for it.

Maybe, instead of pardoning Turing, they should have stuck him on a banknote as a convicted criminal. Alan Turing, the queer who saved the world, convicted criminal. After all, it’s clear they wanted a war hero on a banknote, and unfortunately the only one they could think of was Churchill, the notorious racist and architect of genocide, whose major achievement was appearing the lesser of two evils next to Hitler. It was this that pissed me off when the face of the new five pound note was announced earlier this year.

Churchill’s jowly visage will be bumping off Elizabeth Fry, a social reformer who made conditions better for prisoners. A large campaign with a feminist flavour was outraged by this, framed only around how we need to have another woman on a banknote. Eventually, the Bank of England issued a press release earlier than they otherwise would have saying they’d be sticking Jane Austen on a tenner. Job done, women!

Except, once again, we see a certain hollowness. Elizabeth Fry is the sort of person who, in current conditions, would never make her way on to a banknote. She saw humanity in prisoners, while today the government are doing all they can to make the lives of those in prison as much of a living hell as they can get away with. The faces on our banknotes are a political decision. That is why they got rid of the woman who cared. It’s why they replaced her with a warmonger. And it is why they were perfectly happy to use the image of the relatively-inoffensive Jane Austen.

The state’s response to the banknotes campaign was a hollow gesture, but the campaign itself had a certain hollowness in a climate where many women just need some banknotes in our purses. Austerity is hitting women hardest, and many of us can’t hold on to a tenner for long enough to care whose face is on it.

The other large feminist-flavoured media campaign of the year has been No More Page Three campaign. I’ve written before about the myriad problems with it, so I’ll spare the screed and link you to this and this instead. As with the banknote campaign, I don’t doubt that those involved think they are doing good work, but as with the banknotes campaign, they are asking for something paltry which does nothing to change any of the underlying social conditions. It is for this reason that such campaigns are popular with the media. No More Page Three has been supported by almost every media outlet, with the notable exception being The Sun (obviously). Let us remember that the media is owned and run by the rich and white and male, who have a vested interest in the system changing as little as possible. And they’ll allow attention to be thrown over such campaigns because they know it won’t unseat them from their comfy thrones. It benefits them to reduce feminist discourse to simple requests for a page of a newspaper to be removed, or a woman–any woman–to be depicted on a tenner.

The media support is a hollow gesture, and playing the media support game is, ultimately, hollow feminism. It’s misdirected noise. There is a lot of good work going largely unnoticed, as Lola Olokosie notes here.

What we need is a revolution. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of revolution envisioned by Russell Brand, the kind which just magically comes if we wish hard enough for it. Brand’s words were hollow, only words, with little thought for what he was actually asking for other than something else. To watch people shitting themselves with joy over a millionaire sexist waffling an analysis which might have been pretty good if it came from a twelve year old was absurd. Brand wasn’t bringing the idea of revolution to the masses, he just said the word “revolution” on the telly.

Those of us who actually talk the detail and the process, those of us who translate these ideas into praxis–we are labelled at best “divisive” and at worst “criminals”. Even articulating the problems is frowned upon, so how can we build a solution?

These are the things that are likely to come up in the nostalgia shows of the future when we talk of 2013. These grand, yet hollow gestures, this token resistance. I am not saying it is a year where nothing has happened, because loads has. From the achievements of Black feminism to the gains made by the 3Cosas campaign, small victories are being won to little, if any popular attention. And this is what I hope to see more of in years to come, turning our backs on the Big Grand Media Gesture and moving towards the highly unmarketable organising and activism that is essential to immediate survival, and building a better future.

Things I read this week that I found interesting

This week has been Christmas so I haven’t really read much at all. But here’s some things.

Filter firms are destroying the gay and trans internet (Jane Fae)- Jane looks at the impact of internet filtering.

A year in Black Feminism (Reni Eddo-Lodge)- Black feminism has achieved a lot this year, read all about it.

And finally (yes, I really did read that little this week, it’s been Christmas) let’s reflect on the important questions Richard Dawkins has been asking this year.

Things I read this week that I found interesting

Hello everyone! It’s nearly Christmas, and there’s an end-of-term vibe in the air. Here are some things I read this week that I found interesting. Perhaps you’ll find them interesting, too.

Why do some feminists want to burn the Jane Austen banknotes? (Helena Horton)- A conversation on the rejection of a high-profile feminist campaign.

“Help, my eyeball is bigger than my wrist!”: gender dimorphism in “Frozen” (Sociological Images)- Some weird freaky anatomy in Disney.

Put THIS on a banknote: young mothers without money abandoned by the chattering classes (Kate Belgrave)- Kate draws our attention to a project which is ignored within media feminism.

An Open Letter to Caitlin Moran (fireplum)- The latest in a long line of shitty behaviour from La Moran.

The Starvation Army: Twelve reasons to reject the Salvation Army (Reddebrek)- You’ll see the Salvation Army about a lot this Christmas. Here’s why you shouldn’t give them a penny.

When “Life Hacking” Is Really White Privilege (jendziura)- On a set of tips that aren’t actually tips at all.

Rochdale and the stain of sex work (sometimes it’s just a cigar)- Rochdale dismissed victims of abuse, here’s how.

‘FREE CECE’ – Laverne Cox’s documentary to free CeCe McDonald (GLAAD)- This is an important project.

And finally, 2013 was a vintage year for awkward cats. Here’s 40 of them. And also, since it’s Christmas, enjoy some rude food.

Dear BT

Dear BT,

As you may know, I’m kind of against internet filtering anyway. Like many others, I share concerns about blocking important resources about sexuality and sex, and think it’s vital that children are able to access information about what options are available to them, and what is and isn’t OK. It’s vital that this information is available.

We’ve all heard horror stories about sex education sites being inadvertently blocked as porn, due to false positives on filtering. This is, of course, terrible. What’s worse, though, is that you’ve actively set up Sex Education as a category in your parental controls. That’s pretty iffy in and of itself, and gets much grosser when we look at exactly what you’ve explicitly decided to give parents the option to block:

Sex Education will block sites where the main purpose is to provide information on subjects such as respect for a partner, abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyle, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

I’ve got some news for you, BT. This is really, really important information that young people need to access. This is information that keeps them safe from abuse–information about what is and isn’t OK. Respect for a partner is something vital that young people need to know about.

About the only way what you’re doing is OK is if you’re using your filters as a red flag list for spotting potentially abusive families. Are you trying to find out what sort of parent would block their children from knowing about respect, so you can help get their kids out of that situation?

Nope?

I thought not.

Basically, BT, I didn’t think much of you to begin with, and I certainly don’t think much of you now. Your priorities in what information you want to help block are really, really fucking skewed.

No love,

Stavvers

P.S. Terms like “gay and lesbian lifestyle” are homophobic dogwhistles, you pile of skidmarked Y-fronts.

Edit 22/12/13: I note you’ve now reworded, BT. But are you still blocking all of this vital information? If so, all of this still stands.

An anticipatory obituary for the SWP

The SWP have appeared dead in the water for months, since the revelations of sexual violence and attempts at cover-up like an inept, less popular and worse-dressed Catholic Church. And yet, like cockroaches, they have survived.

The latest horror to come to light is a phrase uttered to applause at their conference:

We aren’t rape apologists unless we believe that women always tell the truth – and guess what, some women and children lie

At best, this statement can be interpreted as unabashed, unapologetic rape apologism. At worst, one wonders why they’re laying the groundwork for smearing children who have survived sexual violence as liars, and what else may emerge.

Following this statement, the SWP has once again haemorrhaged members, and some are once again celebrating the death of the party. I hope this is true, but sadly I suspect that we’ll be seeing this gang of misogynists shambling on, long outstaying their welcome. After all, they’ve survived this long.

Part of the problem is the SWP are everywhere. As well as their folding tables and newspaper salesmen, and the chap who shows up with a legion of placards screaming the SWP branding, you’ll find them in other places. They get themselves elected into positions on trade unions. They have a number of front organisations, including Unite Against Fascism, Unite The Resistance and Right To Work.

There’s a lot we can do to hasten the demise of the SWP. First and foremost, we absolutely must not organise with these fuckers. We must not organise with the SWP itself, and we must not organise with the front groups. This is harder than it sounds, given they have attempted to monopolise resistance, but it’s absolutely crucial if we are to take a stand against sexual violence.

We must make sure that they are completely and utterly unwelcome in our spaces. Wherever there is a SWPper, have the words “misogynist” and “rape apologist” ringing in their ears, as anyone with principles left long ago. Vote them from elected positions, and scream at them in the streets. If they do not leave, direct action may be necessary. Be critical not just of the SWP, but those who try to defend them, like the AWL did.

This is not a ban. It is simply standing up.

And finally, we need to create a climate wherein misogyny and rape apologism are thoroughly unwelcome in all of our organising spaces. It’s not enough to challenge it when it comes from the SWP–after all, everyone hates them. We need to put the necessity of safer spaces front and centre in all that we do.

I look forward to the demise of the SWP. I look forward to the demise of misogyny in my organising spaces even more.

Further reading:

I heard you have an SWP problem (thenameoflove)

Kill the SWP inside your head (me)

Things I read this week that I found interesting

Greetings everybody. Have you been listening to the new Beyonce album? Isn’t it amazing? Anyway, in between that and all the drama of this week, I managed to read some things and find them interesting. Here they are.

As a black feminist, I see how the wider movement fails women like my mother (Lola Okolosie)- Amazing piece celebrating the largely invisible achievements of black feminism.

Does talking about race fuel racism (End Racism)- A must-watch video conversation.

A Storify about consent within feminism and who it applies to (Flavia Dzodan)- Important points about where feminist rhetoric is failing. Very much worth reading.

Soho police raids show why sex workers live in fear of being ‘rescued’ (Molly Smith)- The impact of anti sex work laws has horrific consequences for workers. Read all about them.

fair (Taking Steps)- Heartbreaking post on growing up trans under patriarchy.

5 Reasons I’m Here for Beyonce’, the Feminist (crunkfeministcollective)- Short and sweet explanation of why Beyonce is amazing.

Why White Feminists Are Mad At Beyonce (Julia Sonenshein)- An overview of white feminism versus Beyonce.

Beyonce’s new album should silence her feminist critics (Mikki Kendall)- Truth.

The everyday microaggressions I experience as a black woman in Berlin (Bim Adewunmi)- Bim gives some examples of everyday racism.

21 Racial Microaggressions You Hear On A Daily Basis (buzzfeed)- The issue of microaggressions is visible this week, which is vital for this to change.

Can a feminist wear high heels? Is the Pope a Catholic? (The Life and Times of Jude)- Jude drops some truth bombs that shouldn’t need dropping.

Myths About Gender Confirmation Surgery (Brynn Tannehill)- Busting myths about GCS.

And finally, the best feminist music videos of 2013. Sadly, published before Beyonce dropped her new album, so missing 17 of them, but there’s still some amazing stuff in here.