What they mean when they say “their sacrifice”: remembering the centenary of the Armistice

This morning, I have been contemplating what I don’t doubt many of us have: the end of the First World War. I’ve been thinking about the senseless horror of it all: 17 million dead, and more than double that wounded and disabled. For what?

There was no just reason for the First World War: it was a perfect storm of imperialism, nationalism, and having lots of shiny new gunny toys that all these powers wanted to play with. It resulted in an international massacre.

The bereaved always wish to make sense of their loss. Nobody wants to believe that their son, their husband, their father, their boyfriend, that cheeky lad who delivers the milk and always has a smile on his face, were killed for nothing. Nobody wants to believe these brutal deaths and this generational scar could have been prevented if just once, someone sat back and said “this is a little bit much, maybe let’s chill.”

And so it was processed as “their sacrifice”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that phrase, and started to believe there is a point to it, that perhaps “their sacrifice” is a correct way to describe what happened – just not in the way that it’s taken to mean.

Those who were killed in the First World War did not sacrifice themselves. They were sacrificed.

It was an act of human sacrifice, the ruling class feeding children to machine guns to hold on to lands far away, to make themselves slightly richer in the future. The First World War was a mass slaughter in the hope that from the blood could grow a stronger nation: something which would be of little benefit to those whose blood was spilt, but very handy to those sending them through gas and guns. Their guts – their literal internal viscera – were intended as fertiliser for an empire.

They were a sacrifice, a tribute, a prayer sent up by the rich and powerful so they could stay rich and powerful, and maybe even grow a little more rich and powerful.

One hundred years later, we say we’ll remember, but those same rich and powerful, who made their pact with a bloodthirsty devil and many of them made out like bandits, now want to see us forget.

They want to see us forget because they are still committing that same act of human sacrifice to the altar of greed, over and over again. We have had a hundred years of wars motivated by imperialism, militarism and nationalism: that very same motive for the war that they said would end all wars.

Today, I’m remembering the sacrifice of 37 million people, in fury at those who decided to slaughter and maim them.

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Usually I ask for money here, but today I’m asking you to make a donation to the Peace Pledge Union, who educate for pacifism and agitate to see an end to the cycle of violence. You can also buy a white poppy for next year. 

PE is hell: How to actually get kids enjoying physical activity

Content note: This post discusses PE lessons. If you had a bad time in PE at school, this might dredge some stuff up for you.

I made a thread on Twitter about PE lessons today, and how I did all I could to avoid the weekly sessions of organised hell. It was popular, because my experience was far from being an outlier. I’ve yet to hear from even one person who didn’t despise PE and wasn’t left with lifelong emotional scars.

I was mostly a good kid at school, but my record was not unblemished: I had a series of detentions, and all of them were for PE, because I’d avoid it being forced to do it whenever possible. I’d maybe hide behind a shed instead of doing the cross country. I’d walk out of lessons. Once I participated in a small strike action with the other chubby, malcoordinated kids, where we sat down in the goal in protest at being made to play football when we all fucking sucked at football. The detentions were infinitely better than the PE lesson: usually it would entail tidying the equipment room, which was great fun, because I love arranging things into their correct places.

The nightmare starts in the changing rooms. You are around the time of puberty, as is everyone else, all at different points, and you are made to undress in front of others. A lot of people are forced to shower, naked, in front of others. Some were monitored by the PE teacher: an adult looking at naked kids, which is a gigantic safeguarding issue. This right here is an easy fix: install some cubicles for changing and showering. It’s an important lesson that we must teach children and young people that your body is your own and you should never be made to show it to others. This information protects children against sexual abusers, and yet, suddenly, in the context of a PE lesson, public nudity is enforced. That’s not good. And it’s additional hell for trans children, disabled children, late and early bloomers, any child who might not want to show their naked body to others. So, put up some cubicles.

I was a chubby kid with dyspraxia as well as bad eyesight and epilepsy. I wasn’t particularly built for sport, especially if they’d make me take my glasses off, so I couldn’t see what I was doing. PE was never going to be good for me, and indeed, it was absolutely horrible.

I hated the team sports. It felt like open season for bullying had been declared on me, because I wasn’t exactly a good addition to any team, what with not being particularly capable of kicking, throwing or catching a ball, nor hitting one. At best, I was mostly excluded from the games, with everyone playing around me. At worst, it was vicious mocking, berating and yelling because I was crap and I knew it. It must have been frustrating for my capable teammates, having to put up with me playing wing defence in their otherwise well-oiled netball machine, but it was an utter ordeal for me. And the worst thing was, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. Even if I was all right at catching a ball, fuck knows what I’d do afterwards. I once scored a rather spectacular own goal in football because nobody had taken a moment to explain which way I was meant to be going. It’s the only goal I have ever scored, and I still remember the absolute exhilaration of having the ball, dribbling the ball, shooting, scoring! And then my team being pissed at me because, well, I made us lose.

Running was humiliating, too. Genetics meant I was never built for being a particularly good runner anyway, even if I hadn’t fucking hated it. I’d always come dead last, and the long distance was the worst for that, knowing all eyes were on me, as I struggled and puffed my way to the finish line while the teacher bellowed barbed encouragement. And don’t even get me started on the beep test; I am pretty sure the Geneva Convention has some pretty strong things to say about forcing someone to run until the point of exhaustion, with an added layer of social humiliation to top it off.

I was lucky to not have to do swimming in secondary school, although quite a few people on Twitter told me about that particular humiliation. The changing room experience ramped up to 11, with the added joys of many of compulsory swimming’s victims having periods. Again, I was lucky that periods weren’t much of an issue for me: I didn’t start until I was 14, and my periods were so fucking irregular I think I only had about three while I was at school. However, I’ve been told of the horror of having to say, when the register was called, in front of everyone, that you are currently menstruating and therefore shouldn’t be swimming–and then the teacher would log your period so they could catch you out if you used the excuse a little too often! Which, as well as being an experience I cringed by proxy hearing about, is also pretty awful for young people whose periods are just settling down so they will have a weird cycle and might be on more than once every four weeks.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There were a few activities I did like during PE lessons. I loved rounders, because if I was fielding, the team would put me somewhere the ball was unlikely to fly, because everyone was wise to the fact I was rubbish at catching. And batting was even better, because there was no way on god’s earth I’d hit the ball, so could go back to sitting around. The fact I liked rounders because it was a massive doss speaks volumes to how badly PE was taught. But I also rather liked gymnastics and trampolining, and it was a pity we almost never got to do that–I wasn’t every good at those sports either, but they weren’t competitive, and it was fun to try out something new to me.

My experiences were not uncommon, and it is not a fault of any of us PE-hating kids. There’s nothing wrong with us. It’s that the entire system is fucked. A part of PE lessons being fundamentally broken for the vast majority of kids is likely that same right wing nostalgia that bred a Brexit vote. Older generations had a horrid time in PE, and so younger generations should suffer, too. It’s character building, or some other nonsense. I mean, yes, it built character for me in a way, as I learned about making excuses, but that’s not really a particularly positive skill to learn.

Another problem is the objective doesn’t seem to be to get children and young people to be physically active, but rather, to maybe try to breed a sports superstar. Certainly, my experience and that of many others is the PE teachers would focus most on the capable kids, encouraging them, cheering them on, catering to their level. This is a problem, because statistically it’s almost certain that the next Mo Farah isn’t in your PE class, and if he was, it would be good if his talents could be nurtured with better access to free out-of-school and after school training.

Streaming classes by ability would probably help address this a lot, but broader changes to the way things are done would be invaluable. Rather than focusing on the kids who are already good, try to nurture those who aren’t. For example, I was never taught proper techniques for basketball, just yelled at because I couldn’t bounce a ball and run at the same time, by my teacher and my peers. It would have been much better if rather than just chucking a ball and some bibs at a class and instructing us to play basketball, I could have had a “you’re doing OK, but you need to work a bit on how to do this. Let me help you.” I might not have just fucking walked out of a lesson had that been the case.

Cracking down on peer bullying would also help immeasurably. If someone is shouting at the crap unsporty kid for letting down the team, send them off. Teach them good sportsmanship. Teach them to be an actual team player: the problem is with them.

Of course, a lot of those Brexit-voter nostalgia types will cry that I am advocating for PE lessons to be less competitive and let me be clear: yes I am. I want the element of competition completely eliminated from PE. It fosters bullying behaviour, and it’s demoralising, and it is a huge driver in the hatred of PE. Fuck who’s doing best at a sport, let’s recognise and accept that success looks different for everyone and cater to that.

Running 400 metres instead of 1500 is a huge achievement for some kids; celebrate that, rather than forcing them to run almost four times that length. Just being able to catch that ball is a vast achievement for many: celebrate that. And yes, get kids doing activities that suit them best and they like. Give them chances to try out various sports and types of exercise and choose which ones they want to do. Have a wider range of activities on offer, such as martial arts, circus skills or yoga. If there’s a whole-class football game, consider letting some kids referee rather than play: they’ll still run about, but they’re not being made to do something they’re not good at.

Accept when someone says they can’t do PE that week without pressing as to why. They know their body best, their limitations, and it’s kinder not to force someone to announce they’re menstruating. Ask if there’s anything they’d like to do that lesson, an indoor, lower-intensity exercise like yoga, perhaps. If PE isn’t a hellish experience, they’ll probably not be trying to bunk off–young people are only bunking off of PE because it’s an awful experience.

Yes, it’ll probably cost money to offer opportunities to try different activities, but the government is constantly on about throwing money at PE to “combat obesity” and “encourage activity” so why not do something that stands a fucking chance of achieving the latter, at least, rather than failing miserably at both (of course, a PE lesson is hardly going to combat obesity, a rather sketchy goal in itself!)

A lot of this rests on an assumption that admittedly runs counter to personal experience: that PE teachers are not fascist child-hating bullies who delight in dominating children and watching them suffer, but instead actually want to encourage children to take up physical activity. But if the former applies, fucking sack them, because they’re unfit teachers.

PE could be a nurturing environment where children learn useful skills for life, such as teamwork and cooperation, do some exercise each week, and carry that enjoyment of sport and physical activity into adulthood. At the moment, for many of us, it’s been the exact opposite of that. PE doesn’t have to be a hellish ritual humiliation, but a lot has to change.

And once again, to my fellow PE-haters: you’re not alone, and it wasn’t your fault that your PE experience was awful.

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Duct tape mouth selfie: AKA I’ve been maliciously reported and suspended

Back in 2016, I tweeted concerns that twitter abuse guidelines would be used more to silence women who tweeted confrontational feminist slogans, than actual misogynists.

Unfortunately, I can’t link to the tweet, because it was reported and I’ve been suspended from Twitter.

Yep, I’m on the naughty step. I’m on the wrong end of a malicious reporting binge which is a tactic being increasingly used to silence voices.

I’ve been wracking my brains to think of who I’ve pissed off this week, and the shortlist is:

  • TERFs
  • MRAs
  • Neo-Nazis
  • FBPE
  • Men who feel deeply personally invested in maintaining sexism in motorsports
  • The journalistic establishment

I admit it’s not a great list; the overlap between categories is pretty strong.

This time it was my turn. But I’ve seen it happen before to friends of mine, predominantly women of colour: outspoken women who speak truth to power, and therefore power wants them silenced.

Let me talk a little about what happened to me, and how you can spot malicious reporting, and avoid it yourself. It’s a tactic used to silence.

What I can see happened, as clear as day, was that someone (or some people) did a search on my old tweets, looking for tweets using a particular confrontational feminist slogan (“Kill all men”, if you’re interested. If you want to learn more about the meaning of the slogan, here’s something I wrote years ago, when it was an active slogan and I made the tweets). Now, I know a search was run, because phrasing within the reported tweets was identical, and the tweets were years apart. So, off the bat, we have abuse of reporting rules: we have someone seeking out offensive material to silence a woman.

They’ve also been abusing the process in other ways, using a “slice and dice” approach. I was first suspended on Sunday, for 12 hours. I returned. Then, once again, I was reported, for tweets containing–you guessed it–identical phrasing, just to bump me off again. This time, I’m on the naughty step for a week.

I’m planning on deleting all old tweets, so please don’t worry if conversations go missing. I’ll be sad to lose them, but it has to be done. I can’t deal with this form of harassment, this concerted attempt to silence me.

In the meantime, avenge me. Kick up a stink and share this blog. Demand to have me back. Go all #jesuisstavvers. Raise awareness, and take a mo to delete your old archive, too.

Oh, and follow me on my alt, @thestavvening. I’m not using it much this week, because I figured I’d use my time out as a little social media holiday–might as well take a break! But it’s worth following the account, because there’s a very effective tactic for silencing women, and I wouldn’t put it past the trolls to try to pull this shit again in the future.

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Some doomful predictions for 2018

2017 has been a hell of a year, hasn’t it? A year of doom, gloom and misery. And, sadly, emerging from this shit, I can’t see much good coming of the year that will follow it.

Now, I hate being right. I don’t want any of these predictions to happen. Unfortunately, I fear that they will.

The Tories will escalate vicious cuts

The government is in a bit of an awkward position at present. They know that, we know that, and if an election is called, they are more stuffed than a Christmas turkey. The party hates Theresa May, and thus, she must do all she can to appeal to them. The Tory right has little manoeuvring space, because they got everything they wanted with Brexit, but that’s always just been a wedge issue. So, what do they need to be appeased, to maintain a minority government? And what do the DUP want for propping up a minority government? Why, death and poverty, of course! As a cynical gesture of pandering, I suspect that the ideology-driven Tory “austerity” agenda is going to get even worse. And your fave “liberal” Tories like dear old Soubz are just going to vote it right through, because they’re fucking Tories.

Let’s face it, there’s not going to be a snap election next year. Tories are primarily creatures of self-preservation, and they always have been.

TERF and Nazi collaboration

I’ve included TERFs and Nazis under the same heading because tactically, they are identical, and I strongly suspect there’s more overlap between the groups than either would care to admit. These groups thrive on pretending they’re under attack, and now they’re facing small consequences like not being invited to so many lucrative speaking gigs, or people being a little bit rude to them on Twitter. Like petulant children, they lash out.

They are inherently unreasonable, and utterly dangerous. They will play the victim harder than ever while punching down. TERFs and Nazis alike will escalate their “free speech is under attack” lines, with their more respectable faces photographed wearing duck tape on their gobs. Jo Johnson is already making noises about forcing universities to platform the far right. Changes to a law about gender recognition that would bring Britain into line with countries like Ireland and Malta are already being kicked into the long grass. There’s a lot of sympathisers in politics, and many more in the media. They’re probably going to side with these hateful bigots.

Trump will be deposed or die

Why have I listed this as a bad thing? Surely it’s good that Badwig von Orange will no longer be president?

Only if you’ve failed to notice who’s waiting in the wings behind him. Get your red gown and wings, because under Mike Pence things will likely get a lot worse. He’s quietly, competently evil, and under him, the USA will move further in the direction of The Handmaid’s Tale. There’ll be less fightback to this than is needed, because everyone will be talking (or debunking) conspiracy theories surrounding Trump no longer being president. Meanwhile, access to reproductive healthcare will be quietly stripped away, LGBT rights and access to healthcare will be rolled back, and it’ll all be done with silent, ruthless efficiency.

Trump’s on some thin ice, and I can see an impeachment happening when his position finally becomes too corrupt and untenable. I can also see him dying, because that much cocaine and anger isn’t good for anyone’s heart.

The robot uprising won’t happen, they’ll just be spying on us

I, for one, would welcome our new robot overlords. Unfortunately, they’re not coming to save us. Instead, something more frightening lurks. Already, people are gladly welcoming devices that are always listening into their handbags and homes. Concurrently, many governments are looking at ways of increasing surveillance–take, for example, Amber Rudd’s crusade to end encryption. It’s not a far leap to be worried that these little doohickeys that make life marginally easier will be used against us.

There is an unprecedented amount of personal data already being processed, which could be accessible to those who would use this data to sell us shit we don’t need or to incarcerate us.

A little bit of advice: don’t pay with your face, and be careful.

Nothing will change

This is, perhaps, the scariest thing of all: that literally nothing will change. That the positive developments over the last year–such as abusers facing accountability–have no impact whatsoever.

It’s possible. We’re up against a lot, and systems are slow to change and highly resistant.

Can anything get better?

Possibly. I’ve written some more hopeful predictions to accompany this over on Patreon. I suspect these will happen alongside the gloomy forecast I’ve presented here, but I think they might happen. And if they do, at least the “nothing will change” prediction is moot.

As I said, I hate being right. I hope none of this comes to pass. I just fear that it will.

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Congratulations to the anti-trans bigots who got reproductive healthcare defunded

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Patreon’s awful new fee policy and an alternative

Update 14/12/17 Patreon altered the fee policy. I am still gratefully accepting patrons on my Patreon. Well done for kicking up a fuss, folks!

Some of you might be aware that Patreon have recently launched a new fee policy which forces the brunt of fees onto patrons. This is a huge problem for small creators like me, who ask for small contributions, but more importantly, it affects those lovely people who like to give a small amount to creators.

Here’s a little bit of maths from @niquaeli to show how the new system affects you (and me):

If you want more detailed information about how awful the new Patreon charges are for small pledges, check out this thread from @FoldableHuman.

Basically, it’s screwing us. With that in mind, I’m looking at alternatives. Kickstarter Drip is still in invite-only beta, and I’m not yet sure as to whether it’s a superior option to Patreon, so in the meantime, I’ve made a liberapay account, with a view to closing my Patreon if they don’t back down on the fees soon.

https://liberapay.com/stavvers

Liberapay is made by a European non-profit, and helps those of you who choose to give small amounts to one, or many creators. The upside is you don’t pay so much in fees. You can give under a pseudonym, protecting your privacy. Also, it pays in Euros, which is nice for everyone, and you don’t have to give whole-euro amounts. It’s weekly, so if you wanted to support me by paying 1 Euro a month, you could pay 25 cents weekly.

The main downside is that when you make an account, you have to pay at least 15 Euros into your “wallet”, and I understand this might be a little steep as an upfront payment for some of you. You don’t have to spend it all at once, you can just set it up to pay your favourite creators the small amount, and it’ll email you when you need to top up your wallet. Bit of a faff, maybe, but it might work for you.

If you’re interested, here’s my liberapay again…

https://liberapay.com/stavvers

Of course, if you just want to make a one-off tip, there’s always my paypal

Thanks for reading, and I’m so sorry about Patreon. If they don’t change their fee policy, screw them, and screw them hard. I bear grudges, and they are currently right up on my naughty list.

Witch hunt.

Content note: this post discusses sexual violence, rape apologism and historical femicides

Picture a witch. The worst, wickedest witch you can. The kind of witch who causes crops to fail, floats in water due to Satan’s power, and all-round causes trouble for men.

Your witch doesn’t look like a powerful white man accused of sexual violence, does she?

So why is it, then, that whenever a powerful white man is accused of sexual violence, his defenders rally around and decry the whole thing as a witch hunt?

In the early modern period, many Europeans were killed in witch hunts. Up to 90% of these people were women (ETA I HAVE BEEN CALLED OUT ON THIS AND I AM WRONG. Read this thread. I have erased trans women in this article. READ THIS THREAD. I just want to clarify my stance that of COURSE when I use the term “women” I am including trans women. Every time. But I can do a lot more to be clear about this. I also always welcome call-outs. I’m trying, but I’m still capable of being wrong. I unconditionally apologise for any harm I caused by blarting my cluelessly cis opinions.)These so-called witches were denounced, blamed and ultimately tortured and killed.

The sort of person who cries “witch hunt!” are devoid of any analysis of what actually occurred in the witch hunts and witch trials. Yes, members of the community would accuse the perceived witch. That’s where the similarities end. See, witchcraft and consorting with the devil is bullshit. Sexual violence is not. Sexual violence is frighteningly common, and a lot of men are very willing to admit to having raped someone if the r-word is never used. When a man is accused of sexual violence by one woman, statistically it’s far more likely than not that he did it. When he is accused by multiple women, it becomes a near-certainty. Contrast that with the likelihood that a gobby woman caused a prize calf to come out looking a bit weird by casting a spell.

The profile of the witch was a working-class woman known for a “quarrelsome and aggressive nature“. When men were accused, they, too, were typically working class. Witch hunts were undeniably gendered, with perhaps a class component involved too. It is a very different kettle of fish to accusations of sexual violence levelled at men powerful enough to believe themselves able to do what they want.

It is not hysteria, nor a moral panic, to level true allegations. And, indeed, it’s well-documented that survivors speaking out encourage more survivors to come forward.

For a powerful white man who is also a creep, perhaps survivors coming forward can feel a little like a witch hunt. I’ve written before, on the topic of trigger warnings, that white boys are wrapped in cotton wool their whole life. The same applies here. These men have not experienced true adversity in their lives. They are pampered and protected from ever feeling even vaguely uncomfortable; thinking about how their behaviour might affect other people, and how other people might be experiencing considerably harder lives, is an alien concept. They project their discomfort onto everyone else, blissfully unaware that for the rest of us, it’s not about feelings, but about material circumstances–because, for them, it’s all about his own feelings.

For a powerful white man who has escaped accountability for his actions all of his life, accountability must feel like persecution. And the threat of being held accountable may feel like a witch hunt for men who are aware that they, too, could be held accountable for the exact same thing.

But it is not the same thing, and it never was. These are people who cannot grasp the facts about what a witch hunt actually constituted. They centre themselves in a massive-scale historical femicide, because they are incapable of imagining the world not revolving around them.

So. Powerful white men are not the victims of a witch hunt when sexual violence allegations surface. But nonetheless, there usually is a witch hunt around this time: of survivors.

A moral panic tends to surface, and a round of denunciations comes. The victims of this witch hunt fit the historical profile: they are women speaking out of turn. If you want to see a witch hunt around allegations of sexual violence, look no further than the survivors speaking out.

Every time, it is the same. The survivors’ behaviour is scrutinised, they are smeared, they are accused of all sorts of horrific acts, they are vilified as “grotesque”. All of it, just like shagging Satan helps you kill fields of wheat, is fictitious. It happens in the media, and I have witnessed it too many times to count in networks I occupy when survivors have attempted to speak out against abusers. The function of this is likely much the same as the function of the historical witch hunts: to keep women in their place and to protect power.

That is what a witch hunt looks like; not survivors finally coming forward about mass abusers.

I write this article, partially because once again a rich and powerful white man has been accused by multiple women, and the old media narratives have emerged. But I also write this, fully in the knowledge that the next time a rich and powerful white man is accused, the exact same thing will happen once again. I don’t believe I’ll break the cycle in writing this down, but it saves me having to comment to the exact same effect on every damn time it pops up.

The real witch hunt is never, and has never been, about the men accused. It’s always been the survivors who have been hunted.

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