Equal pay now: a small feminist action

 

When I am behind a megaphone, something quite magical happens. I become the message I am conveying: there are no insecurities or fears, it is just pure dissemination of information. It is intoxicating and empowering.

This is perhaps part of the reason I protest so frequently.

Yesterday I was part of a tiny action aimed at raising awareness of the gender pay gap. We chose the City, as for doing the same jo

We met at Holborn and unfurled the banner which bore the stark, simple message ‘EQUAL PAY NOW’. There were five of us, all pa We shouted and leafleted, then began to march through the City towards Liverpool Street Station, pausing briefly to spread the word on the steps of the Bank of England. Some faces lit up in understanding. Others sneered.

At Liverpool Street, we draped our banner over a clock and shouted from above, like angry feminist gods, to puzzled commuters below. Some faces lit up in understanding. Others sneered.

At this point, Liverpool Street’s security asked us to leave. We politely ignored. The police arrived. We told them calmly of our message. The manager arrived. As she asked us to leave, we complied, not having the numbers to risk arrest and dearrest.

We left, shouting, and stood outside the station until all of our leaflets were exhausted. Some faces lit up in understanding. Others sneered. A young man joined our small, lively group.

‘You are being ripped off,’ we told the women in the finance sector, talking to them in a language they could understand.

Many did. Many sheepishly accepted leaflets.

‘Surely this can’t be true?’ we were asked frequently. We explained that it was, and they should check out the extensive set of references on our leaflets.

There was support, delicious, glorious support. Many women and some men cried, ‘Good on you!’. One woman walked with us for a while.

‘Well done,’ she said. ‘You’re not preaching to the converted here.’

And we were not. I counted seven instances of outright misogynistic abuse. Then there were those who victim-blamed, declaring women were paid less because they chose to be, or that they worked differently, despite our repeated assertions that the pay disparities we were highlighting were for doing exactly the same job. Then there was the mirth: so many men laughing and sneering that people had the gall to be angry and take action.

I was annoyed. We were there to point out unfairness and oppression, and we were greeted at times with stark evidence of women not being taken seriously.

Megaphone in hand, the empowerment it bestowed flowing through me, I would, at times, shame those who detracted us.

The man who said that women were paid less because women had smaller brains got a public scolding outside Holborn. Passers-by turned and stared. He slinked off briefly.

The man who, while laughing, said, “We work in the finance sector, and I can tell you that she earns more than me,” was greeted with sarcasm. I said, “The plural of anecdote is not data. With a grasp of numbers like yours, I’m not surprised there’s a financial crisis.”

The men who laughed from the concourse of Liverpool Street were greeted with a shout of “shame”. E was on the megaphone at the time. She shared the feeling of power. The men blushed.

The young man who stood and sniggered, finally plucking up the courage to utter the height of witticism, “Get back in the kitchen, love,” received the apex of my ire.

Megaphone in hand, I followed him up the street, informing him and a group of commuters that he had a tiny penis. His friends hooted with laughter.

It was perhaps misjudged, to cast aspersions on the size of his genitals. There are implications to that. I was not thinking of the consequences. Just once, I wanted him to feel what women feel every day: the sense of powerlessness in the face of harassment, of gendered abuse, of humiliation. I think it worked.

Reception of the action was largely somewhere between neutral and positive, though.

The support we received was exhilarating. The interest shown by those who did not know about the magintude of the problem was uplifting. I truly feel as though we may have changed some minds rather than merely preaching in an echo chamber of saved souls.

We should do it again, we decided, with greater numbers, and a more audacious form of action.

On the way home, buoyed by such a wonderful day, I encountered a completely novel form of street harassment. Just when I had thought I had seen all the patriarchy had to offer, I saw something new.

A man leapt out from behind a lamp post and shouted “Boo!”

I had no megaphone.

I gave him an angry scowl.

He looked sheepish. He blushed, chastened.

I smiled to myself. The strength does not have to come from a megaphone. It is only a conduit.

Gash.

At risk of becoming That Woman Who Blogs About Cunts All The Time, indulge me with a small rant.

I really hate the word “gash” and find it incredibly offensive. I hate it when it is used to refer to the female genitals. I hate it even more when it is used as a synonym for “bad”. “Sucker Punch was absolutely gash.” No. Sucker Punch was almost entirely awful. It was crap, it was rubbish, it was a  big pile of shitting arses. It was not gash.

I sometimes wonder if this is how a lot of people feel about the word “cunt”.

I tweeted, floating the idea that “gash” was more offensive to me than “cunt”, and received unanimous agreement.

Gash is horrible because gash is a wound. Gash is horrible because it takes the beautiful and natural and turns it pathologised and violent. Gash is horrible as it comes up from the back of the throat like a cough of disgust.

Gash is an insult, a hatred of cunts.

In which I review a film that I watched

Last night I went to see Sucker Punch.

I can review it in three words: not entirely awful.

In more words (and some spoilers!):

First of all, I liked some of it. I have a huge weak spot for steampunk, and so provision of a steampunk-inspired First World War, complete with Zeppelins, undead Germans and a big fuckoff mecha made me dance in my seat. I have long thought to myself: who’d win in a fight? A dragon versus an aeroplane? I was gratified to see that this burning question addressed in cinema. I was glad to see that Vanessa Hudgens had managed to be in a film marginally less shit than High School Musical. I quite fancy Jon Hamm, and he was in it a bit.

Sucker Punch was also quite funny, though I’m not sure if it intended to be. Parts of it felt like a deliberate parody of 300, which is one of my favourite cinematic deconstructions of masculinity, a macho mince along the tightrope between hegemonic masculinity and homoeroticism.* Some of the dialogue was so awful that I laughed out loud in moments which I can only hope were supposed to be a touching homage to the Death Tropes in TV Tropes.

In all, then, there was probably about 10 minutes of content I liked, and perhaps 30 minutes of content I half-enjoyed while still viewing the content as problematic. In a two hour film, that translates as Not Entirely Awful.

My main problem with the film was that an unfortunately large chunk of it was spent on a ghastly non-plot in which a young woman is forced into an asylum and threatened with lobotomy, except she’s really trapped working as some kind of stripper-prostitute, and she and the other girls want to break out and the main character uses her powers of sexy dancing inspired by badass dreams to make this happen, except it all fails miserably, and it doesn’t matter because that was also a dream and she was really still in the asylum all along and got lobotomised. Oh, and the character who didn’t want to escape escaped. That, really, is the plot. It was sort of like if One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Moulin Rouge had sex while Inception watched and Thelma & Louise wept quietly in a corner, except lacking any of the redeeming features of any of the above films.

The asylum scenes were passable, though riddled with cliché. It set up the story of a young woman named Baby Doll (this is the level of quality of character names in Sucker Punch), who has a tragic backstory involving a wicked stepfather who was one moustache short of playing a villain in a Victorian melodrama. It is he who places Baby Doll in the EVIL ASYLUM. You can tell it’s evil because there is thunder and lightning in the establishing shots.  Evil Victorian Stepfather strikes a deal with an orderly, who you can tell is evil as he bears a resemblance to Lurch from The Adams Family, to have Baby Doll lobotomised so she will not remember the melodramatically Victorian acts of evil that he perpetrated.

In the asylum, we meet the ensemble cast of characters. Inmates wear a uniform of a short dress which is cut to enhance the classic hourglass shape. For some reason, never explained, the inmates are encouraged to dance through their drama.

Unfortunately for Baby Doll, she does not get to enjoy much of this charmingly menacing atmosphere as she is whisked off for a lobotomy and the scene changes to the evil brothel (you can tell it’s evil because everyone in there, except the goodies, are cartoonish villains).

One might guess that the setting changed to an evil brothel so that the characters could wear fewer clothes and it could be more sexy. However, guesswork is not required, as with an alarming lack of subtlety, at the scene change, a character declares that lobotomies and asylums just aren’t very sexy. That really happens. The film actually addresses the fact that fetishising mental illness is highly problematic, immediately after just having done it.

Thanks to this shift in tone, the audience is now treated to the characters perpetually dressed in underwear or fetishised schoolgirl costumes. Baby Doll is rather perturbed by her sudden situation in an evil brothel, and her purity is threatened: she has a few days before a nasty baddie will come and STEAL HER VIRGINITY. Fortunately for Baby Doll, at the sound of music she becomes teleported into a dream world where a wrinkly bloke informs her of how to escape. In the dream world, Baby Doll wears a much smaller fetishised school girl costume. She embodies the line that women are supposed to walk between whore and madonna: while dressed in a highly-sexualised fashion, she is fighting for her chastity and virginity.

Baby Doll shares her escape plan with her colleagues, who have equally silly names like Sweet Pea and Blondie (although, in what I am sure the writers thought was a subversive work of genius, Blondie has brown hair!). Some two-dimensional female bonding and terrible dialogue ensues. It is rather difficult to differentiate between any of the main characters based on any facets of their characterisation. The two main characters, Baby Doll and Sweet Pea, are differentiated only by the fact that the former wants to leave, while the latter does not.

Nonetheless, Sweet Pea manages to appear in all of the dream sequences.

Most of the plot ranges from dire to boring, and it is only the dream sequence segments which occupy the space between tolerable and actually quite fucking awesome. I would have enjoyed them rather a lot more were it not for the brazen objectification of women. While I have never fought dragons or leapt out of a helicopter, so do not know the accurate mode of dress for such an occasion, I am fairly sure it is not a tiny little skirt that blows up to show a whisper of knickers as one flies through the air with four inch stiletto heels. Jack Bauer certainly never bothered with that gear. Even Buffy had a tendency to wear sensible shoes and jeans.

One might suspect that the costuming was entirely an exercise in titillation.

A further rather problematic aspect of the dream sequences is that much of the action was undertaken by the three blonde characters. Blondie, the hilariously ironically-named brunette and the token ethnic character who never really does much, are consigned to the task of piloting helicopters, aeroplanes and big fuckoff mechas. While this is an admirable and necessary task, the director did not seem to feel it worthy of as much screen time as three lithe young blonde women showing their white flesh.

This fantastic review at Bad Reputation (who also hated it) suggests:

Oh yeah, and like a really unironic sucker punch (geddit?) I’ve just realised that this film totally passes Bechdel. Yeah. Woo. Way to perfectly prove that just because there’s more than one female character and that they manage to talk to each other doesn’t mean it’s any bloody good. Or even particularly feminist. Which this film isn’t, by the way.

Fortunately, it is such utter drivel that it won’t register as meaningfully anti-feminist because nothing it contains is meaningful or worth registering.

However, I find it concerning. I honestly believe that Sucker Punch believed itself to be a film about female empowerment, All The Girls Together fighting against oppression. It was nothing of the sort. Amid the rampant objectification of women and fetishisation of innocence and mental illness, the message came across as this: women! Use your bodies!

It was a shame, really. The plot could have been salvageable, were it not so hackneyed. The dream action sequences could have been amazing were they not so heavily focused on being an excuse to look at conventionally-attractive women’s bodies. It could have actually managed to be a film about the exploitation of mentally ill women, about sisterhood fighting oppressors. Dare I say it? It could have been a feminist classic if it were written by competent writers and acted by more competent actors.

As it stood, there were ten minutes that I liked. And those bits mostly involved a dragon chasing an aeroplane and not even trying to be sexy.

*I absolutely refuse to believe that 300 isn’t that silly on purpose.

Fannies, noo-noos, tuppences

Recently, on a bored Friday afternoon, I decided to conduct a small straw poll: what did you call women’s genitals when you were a child?

I asked for two reasons: first, I was bored and wanted some @-replies. Second, I was genuinely curious as to the language surrounding the issue, especially considering that the male answer is the near-ubiquitous “willy”.

From my highly scientific survey, childhood euphemisms for cunt seem to fall into four major groups:
The ridiculous: nou-nou, fanny, twinkle, foof, minnie, and similar. Words that one cannot say without a giggle; silly and frivolous words that one could equally use to describe the remote control or other household items with temporarily-forgotten names.
The clinical: the supposedly-correct ‘vagina’ or the more accurate ‘vulva’. I had an acquaintance at school who said ‘vulva’. At six years old, I found it absurdly clinical.
The cultural: I used what is apparently a rather rude Greek word: pouto. Perhaps it was foreshadowing: it translates as ‘cunt’. Other people from other backgrounds may use a word from a mother’s mother tongue.
The shameful: one of my Twitter correspondents knew children who would say ‘Delilah’. The Freudian connotations are startling. Into this category, I would also place what emerged as the clear winner in the straw poll: ‘tuppence’. I cannot think of any anatomical reason why the female genitals would resemble a 2p coin, so the reason must buy into the transaction model of sex. A cunt is worth pennies–two, to be precise–a thing where the ferryman must be paid in order to gain safe passage.

Outside of all of this, and one which made me smile was “willy for boys and billy for girls“, which the submitter found with hindsight presented an “equal but different” approach. Certainly sweet, although somewhat derivative of “willy” and therefore suggestive of a “men as norms, women as other” approach.

A further point of note was the sheer quantity of tweeters who did not ever speak of genitals, particularly female ones.

Even as children, female genitals are surrounded by shame, by sly giggles. As one tweeter put it:

fanny & willy, although as a boy fanny always felt naughtier and ruder.

This was not limited to boys, though. Many women tweeted that they were too embarrassed to say, even as adults.

We are taught to fear cunts. They are as hidden in language as we are supposed to believe they are concealed between our legs. It starts early, with daft squishy words thought to be horribly rude, or with grubby connotations of financial transactions and treacherous sexual power. It is not just the word “cunt” which holds power.

Female genitals are supposed to be secretive, mysterious; euphemised in frivolities and foreign dialect. Shame grows from the mystery–if it is not talked about, how can we ever know that a cunt is nothing to be frightened of? That a cunt is not ruder than a cock? That it’s all just perfectly lovely, non-shameful stuff.

I am not exactly the child-owning sort, but if I had children, I would teach them a rainbow of words, from the unnecessarily-obscene “cunt”, to the absurdly clinical “vulva”, and everything in between. And with that, I would say “there is nothing inherently wrong with cunts. And they’re worth more than 2p”.

Black bloc: a psychological perspective

A l0t has been said about the actions of people adopting black bloc tactics at the March 26th demonstration. An epic lefty clusterfuck ensued, with passionate defences and condemnations flying through the press, blogosphere and twitter.

As the dust settled, more nuanced discussion began, calling for critical thinking and discussion about strategy and tactics:

What Black Bloc has done is highlight a grey area in our thinking about protest, property and violence. We need to think deeply and critically about that, not just thoughtlessly denounce or defend.

I wholeheartedly concur with this sentiment, and would like to add my own concerns about Black Bloc tactics to the debate. My collection of psychology degrees and obsession with good decision making feature heavily in this analysis, and I express these views to add to the debate.

Black bloc involves anonymising all members of the group by wearing similar, all-black clothing, and, crucially, covering the face. There are several reasons for this:

Anarchists using the black bloc tactic wear masks for many reasons. The main one is the fact that the police videotape activists for their “Red” files. The police do this surveillance and information-gathering to frighten moderate activists from participation in protests and social struggle. The police do this even when there are laws against it (see red squads). Masks promote anonymity and egalitarianism. Instead of a “leader” yelling instructions to a protest group via a megaphone, those in the bloc make decisions among themselves. They also protect the identities of those who want to engage in illegal acts and escape to fight another day.

The identical clothing and masking of the face are therefore important tactics for creating anonymity, which, from a security perspective, is essential. From a psychological perspective, though, it is problematic.

Anonymity has some rather unfortunate side effects, most notably, the phenomenon of deindividuation. Deindividuation is the phenomenon which causes people on the internet to behave like dickheads. Deindividuation the phenomenon which facilitates massacres and police violence–after all, riot police cover their faces and become a swarming mass of identically-clad perpetrators of aggression. Deindividuation can lead to making strategically flawed decisions.

Three effects are thought to emerge from deindividuation:

  1. Weakening people against performing harmful or socially disapproved actions
  2. Heightening responsiveness to positive or negative cues
  3. Increasing adherence to group norms

Much has been made of the first point: whether the Black Bloc performed harmful actions. As RozK puts it:

If you have a loose structure and perform slightly random acts, you may end up going further than is compatible with the general will you are trying to embody. You are not going to persuade people of the justice of attacking the Ritz if you also attack a Pret. You are not going to keep the sympathy of people who might like you to target banks if you also go after the Boris bikes.

I can see the case against Pret and Boris bikes – but am not especially convinced, let alone convinced they would be any sort of priority.

I would regard these as concerns, not criticisms.

This theme has emerged frequently in discussion surrounding Black Bloc actions at the demonstration, and it would seem that many are uncomfortable with the selection of some of the targets. Some actions have certainly perceived to be harmful and undesirable from those who broadly support the nebulous aims of the Black Bloc.

It is entirely possible that some of the targets which were less-well selected were down to cue-responsivity: the lure of the Boris Bike was too great and subsumed the thought which generally tends to go into target selection.

It is therefore not a stretch to imagine that deindividuation may have contributed somewhat to Black Bloc actions. Importantly, though, deindividuation and its cousin, dehumanisation run the other way: a classic example of this is the Stanford Prison Study, in which ordinary people were made to act like prison guards and prisoners. A key effect was that the “guards” stopped seeing the “prisoners” as individual people.

Within the press, Black Bloc people have been seen as “thugs” and “hooligans”. Even on the left, this language has been used to describe Black Bloc. Furthermore, to police eyes, the Black Bloc cease to be human, thus providing impetus for indiscriminate brutality.

Because of these factors, I think that serious thought needs to be given to addressing this psychological effect. While many on the left hurriedly denounce Black Bloc, we in the anti-cuts movement are all together, and while showing solidarity, we need to rethink, regroup and focus on strategy.

Because it’s your fucking right to govern your own body

This came to my attention today via @hautepop, today, with the laconic introduction:

Stupid offensive attempt to use socmedia & word “fuck” to get young women using morning-after pill

I QFT, because it’s FT.

WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I USE EC is a tumblr page which ostensibly provides reasons for women to use emergency contraception, through irreverent and amusing swearing.

It is actually a hive of slut-shaming and reinforcement of traditional roles within relationships. I present a few of the reasons presented as to why the fuck I should take the morning after pill that the internet provided for me.

Because if you don’t remember his last name, you probably didn’t remember to use a fucking condom.

You’ve spent 40 dollars on a lot stupider fucking shit before.

Of course he didn’t fucking pull out in time.

Your boyfriend won’t stop playing Wii long enough to help you with a fucking baby.

I find it difficult to see how any of these are going to persuade a woman who would not use the morning after pill to rethink following this orgy of digrace to change her behaviour.

The site links in the corner to Back Up Your Birth Control’s tumblr page. BUYBC is a US campaign aimed at raising awareness of emergency contraception and improving access. This is a worthy goal, and I wonder, therefore, if they were the voices behind WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I USE EC?

If they were, the campaign was poorly thought-out.

There is no need to use slut-shaming to raise awareness of reproductive options available. There is no need to reinforce those binary gender roles.

There is one reason, and one alone to answer the question WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I USE EC?

Because it’s your fucking right to govern your own body.

Why I’m marching tomorrow

Tomorrow, 26th March 2011, up to a million people will take to the streets and march against the government’s ideological austerity measures, raising awareness that there is an alternative: taxation and promotion of new jobs and green growth. I will be one of these people.

I will be marching for the future generations of children who will not receive the same opportunities in life that I did. They will face crippling debt of up to £40000 if they decide to go to university like I did. Those from poorer backgrounds may not even be able to do their A Levels.

I will be marching for women, who are disproportionately affected by the cuts. My sisters will be more likely to lose their jobs in the public sector. They will lose numerous benefits relating to childcare. They will be unable to leave abusive relationships; marriage or poverty. Pension reforms mean many women will spend their retirement in poverty.

I will be marching for all of the valued public sector workers who face losing their jobs due to the cuts. These people provide us with things that we need–security, advice, care–for what is often a very small salary. They will lose their jobs as the government has chosen to look after their rich private sector friends instead.

I will be marching for all of the people with disabilities who face heartbreaking cuts to the support they need. Many will lose living support, transport support, mobility support, the roof over their heads, their very independence. They will lose everything which allows them to live a life of dignity, ostensibly to save a few quid.

I will be marching for the people who might, possibly get ill at some point in their lives. Our government is will restructure our precious NHS, allowing vast swathes of basic care to be outsourced to their rich private sector friends. All the while, up to 50000 NHS workers–doctors, nurses, midwives–will lose their jobs.

I will be marching because I am outraged by our government’s complete lack of thought for their fellow human beings. I will be marching for my own future, and the future of others.

These cuts will affect me. These cuts will affect you.

See you on the streets.