Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Desktop poetry from another Adrienne (30 days of blogging day 8)

I accidentally let it get to almost 10pm without coming up with a topic for this blog, because I have wasted the entire day on frivolous thing like job hunting, playing accordion music on the piano and making chocolate ripple teabread. These things all went pretty well, except the chocolate ripple teabread went in for a little too long and got stuck in the oven and I gave myself a massive burn trying to rescue it. I regret nothing. Anyway, the upshot of all of this is that this is going to be quite short and most of the words will be somebody else's. There will be something a bit longer and more rigorous tomorrow!

Along with the Windows Sticky Notes I have on my desktop reminding me of important things like my government gateway password and the chinese word for "pervert" (色狼), I also keep my absolute favourite Adrienne Rich poems. If you don't know anything about Adrienne Rich ‒as I didn't, for a shockingly long time given that she comes up every time I google my own name (i.e. often) ‒ you should start at the obvious place. The short story here is that she was an incredible poet who had an incredible life, wrote "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" which is an important piece of feminist writing on the position of lesbians in the movement, and also wrote several decades worth of poetry books, the vast majority of which I have not yet read. This is a bit silly given that what I have read, I loved. There's just so much!

A better Adrienne.
But here's the best of what I have read. The first poem on my desktop is "Ghost of a Chance":
 You see a man
trying to think.

You want to say
to everything:
Keep off! Give him room!
But you only watch,
the old consolations
will get him at last
like a fish
half-dead from flopping
and almost crawling
across the shingle
almost breathing
the raw, agonizing
till a wave
pulls it back blind into the triumphant

This is quite a pessimistic sentiment to start one's all-important "inspiring poetry" Sticky Note with, but I absolutely love it despite identifying with its situation depressingly often. Like every self-identifying feminist, I've dealt with my share of man-ostriches, armchair anthropologists,  "egalitarians-not-feminists", outright sociopaths and otherwise awesome friends who just can't see how I could ever find love with hair on my legs, ew. When this all gets too much, it's nice to have words to fall back on as a sort of structured despair about the world. Yes, some men are terrible and even the good ones say terrible things. Forgive them, because you are asking something that the rest of the world makes almost impossible. Thinking is hard. Feminism is hard. Harden up, Adrienne! All will be well. Moving on.

The second, equally depressing thing is an excerpt from "My Dream of You":
What if I told you your home
is this continent of the homeless
of children sold taken by force
driven from their mothers' land
killed by their mothers to save from capture
-this continent of changed names and mixed-up blood
of languages tabooed
diasporas unrecorded
undocumented refugees
underground railroads trails of tears
What if I tell you your home
is this planet of warworn children
women and children standing in line or milling
endlessly calling each others' names
What if I tell you, you are not different
it's the family albums that lie
-will any of this comfort you
and how should this comfort you?

I keep this one because it reminds me why I study development. I don't really have anything more to express about it, to be honest; the whys and wherefores of my development career path is a navel-gazing entry for another time.

Three is "Delta", which is somewhat more uplifting:

If you have taken this rubble for my past
raking through it for fragments you could sell
know that I long ago moved on
deeper into the heart of the matter

If you think you can grasp me, think again:
my story flows in more than one direction
a delta springing from the riverbed
with its five fingers spread

If "Ghost of a Chance" is a response to most men some of the time, this is a response to a few men all of the time. It is a reminder that sometimes people have useful criticism and provide chances to grow, and sometimes the chance to grow comes from learning who to ignore. In particular, I learned to ignore That One Guy who once told me I was obvious and predictable and he was deep and complex, and this was one of many reasons why he is going far in life and I am just wasting my own gifts. I expended more energy than I should have wrestling with this, and his other proclamations on my worth as a person. But in the end, it didn't matter whether it was wrong or right: the important part is that he was irrelevant. I long ago moved on. Thanks Adrienne Rich!

The final excerpt is probably that affected me most, because it's addressed to me! It's part of Contradictions, which is a long series of standalone stanzas dealing with love, life, pain and age (Rich had bad arthritis for a lot of her life).

Dear Adrienne:
I'm calling you up tonight
as I might call up a friend as I might call up a ghost
to ask what you inted to do
with the rest of your life. Sometimes you act
as if you have all the time there is.
I worry about you when I see this.
The prime of life, old age
aren't what they used to be;
making a good death isn't either,
now you can walk around the corner of a wall
and see a light
that already has blown your past away.
Somewhere in Boston beautiful literature
is being read around the clock
by writers to signify
their dislike of this.
I hope you've got something in mind.
I hope you have some idea
about the rest of your life.
In sisterhood,

Dear sister ghost: I don't know what I am going to do with the rest of my life. Neither did you, I assume. But in a small way, you make my choices and my path easier. So that is something for both of us. Thank you.

Oh, readers! Are you still here? Well, if Adrienne Rich was not your cup of tea, maybe try some Hollie McNish?

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Food [of/and/for/with] love

Content Notice: As is hopefully obvious from the title, this post is all about food. If you are the kind of person who likes to be careful with food discussions, or you are on Ramadan and would rather not think about it right now, check back again tomorrow for a post that will not be about food!

Yesterday I showed you my sag aloo. Today, I spent an inordinate amount of time making burritos with a slow-cooked Mexican-spiced pork leg, homemade guacamole, vegetables, beans and some stuff from the fridge that needed eating (I'm sure Tesco salsa is fine even 2 days after the expiry! Right?)

I attempted some artistic arrangement here but it wasn't too successful. Oh well.
Since I'm at home on my own for most of the week, with the 'rents off camping, the kitchen is currently mine to work whatever culinary wonders I fancy at any time I like. Deciding to buy a half-price pork leg from the supermarket and then marinate, sear and slow cook it over a period of 8 hours was a slightly extreme response to this sense of freedom but it was well worth it. By the end of the process, I was satisfied, Brother of Feminist was satisfied (although he became more satisfied upon replacing the home-made guacamole with barbecue sauce, which is secretly great because now I have more guacamole!) and I had about half a pig still sitting on the kitchen counter begging to be made into alternative delicious foods. Hurrah!

I am going to be eating this in every meal for the next 3 days (plus some "artistic" onions as a bonus!)
A note: I am lucky enough to have parents who will fund my food habits ‒ within reason ‒ during my period of post-graduation wastrelhood, hence why I am currently able to eat a variety of meat, dairy and vegetables. This is not a luxury which a lot of those reliant on benefits can afford. Because unemployed and poor people have clearly not done enough with their lives to deserve meat, dairy and vegetables. I think it's important I clearly state that privilege, because then we can all meditate on how crap it is that this is a privilege at all. This is cheap meat and vegetables, not caviar and lobster. Burritos for all!

Come to my house and I'll make you one too.
 But enough of those serious and important political issues (for now), let's get back to Millennial Bourgeoisie Cooking Hour. I am a very big fan of cooking, although I am easily deterred when circumstances are difficult. Living in China with only a hot plate and (eventually) a rice cooker to cook on led to occasional flashes of inspiration, but also to a lot of takeaway dumplings and crap burgers. When I do cook properly, it tends to take up a lot of "headspace"; that is, I'll spend a much longer period of time fussing over what needs to be done and thinking about cooking and procrastinating about cooking and worrying about ingredients than I do actually cooking the things, which leaves me less time for getting important things done (like blogs!)

We are often told that the "obesity epidemic" (which includes me, at a tidy 90 kg and 173 cm) is fuelled because people are replacing love with food, and we all need to get our feelings sorted out and start thinking of food as the fuel it is. This is ironic, given how much healthy food currently advertises itself as "love yourself by eating a thing!" and how much we are expected to feel guilty about eating anything that has been within a 10 mile radius of chocolate and/or custard (unless it's dark chocolate and the custard packet has "BE GOOD WITH YOUR BODY THROUGH ME" emblazoned on it in bright complimentary colours). Decoupling food from emotions is something that you must do whilst being impervious to advertisers who are spending literally millions of pounds on making you have the feelings they profit from. Good luck with that!

"You count! But only if you are dieting. Because, see calorie counting! Ha, what a great pun." - actual Waitrose staff quote

I also think it's silly because while yes, it is possible to have healthy and unhealthy relationships with food, the answer to an unhealthy relationship is not "disconnect all feelings from eating and fuel yourself like a robot". Of course food is about feelings! For me, making food for myself is about challenges and success, and making food for other people is about giving care and receiving acceptance. Feeling my friends will only love me if my cheesecake is perfect is not a desperately good reflection on how I think about friendships, but the fact that the cheesecake always is perfect (ha!) means that cooking and serving and eating it is full of important social implications. These are made even better by the fact that, despite having several mars bars and a cup of sugar in it, my cheesecake does not come wrapped in cardboard which screams "you are a bad, bad person, ooh naughty naughty, go on, do it, no don't do it, no do it, you did it, shame on you" every time you look at it. My cheesecake, my skills, my feelings.

I was at a house party on Saturday night, and it struck many of us that our friendship group is now firmly at the stage where we "put on a spread" for each other. This is an exciting step for a crew whose prevoius culinary exploits mostly took place in the cramped underground bunker which served as our college kitchen. The friend who was hosting put on an insanely good "spread", containing dishes with ingredients from many continents (I feel this is a necessary attribute to be a good British cook unless you're REALLY gifted with Yorkshire pudding) although of course she has to qualify it with worries about not having made quite the number of sweet potato quiches that her guests were expecting. As none of us were specifically expecting any sweet potato quiches at all, these fears were unfounded, and the upshot was that we all got more bonding done than if we had simply relied on the ample amount of alcohol that was also consumed. Everyone is fed, everyone socialises, everyone wins. Food is wonderful!

I'm not sure if I have a feminist point to this, unless I want to shoehorn in a reference to cupcake recipes and twee-feminism on Hello Giggles (which I don't actually know all that much about, because I am Very Serious about my feminism and don't know how I feel about nailart, also there don't seem to be any cupcake recipes at all on the front page at the time of writing, so failures all round). I guess if there is any point of this, it is that the nurturing, social side of food and of cooking are wonderful things whatever gender you are, and that In The Kitchen ‒ perhaps even Making A Guy A Sandwich ‒ is sometimes a great place to be, depending on the kitchen and the guy (hint: probably no guy who ever tells you to make him a sandwich will be the right guy to make a sandwich for). Feelings are wonderful things too! Wow, this is all really profound right now.

On a final note, I tried using my Tumblr again earlier, and I discovered it will make 4-image GIFs if you take selfies with it. The only natural conclusion was to do this:


Week 1 of 30-day blogging is over. Tune in every day next week for more of... whatever this is.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Bitesize blogging

I've got no big insights or pressing feelings that I wish to share with the world today, so instead here's a roundup of marginally interesting but unconnected things. Using headings!

Adrienne's Day

Today I went to Sainsbury's, and also to the jobcentre. Later, two men came to the house to deliver a flatpack wardrobe. During my interactions, none of the strangers I dealt with were rude or condescending even though some of them were men! A true victory.

The dog is depressed. The chickens appear to be as happy as ever. I am still learning linear algebra for fun. For "fun".

Is That Thing That Was Happening Still Happening?

That thing that was happening on Twitter is still happening. At least one man has been arrested for harassment. It is time for the world to learn that "Freedom of speech" does not mean "freedom to violently silence others." 

I am still supportive of the long term goals but suspicious of the short term ones. Just in case anybody needed an update on my super important opinions on the thing.

A Video Of A Jar

Allow me to introduce the future.

China Continues to Suck if You Want to Get Married

Women aren't cheap to maintain, folks. It's not like having sea monkeys. They need feeding and regular baths and worst of all they buy shoes. If you wish to own marry a woman in China, you will first need to prove yourself worthy by completing a series of trials designed to ascertain your manly manliness.

All of the above paragraph is meaningless nonsense. The moral of the story is that everything you read on marriage in China will be excruciatingly awful.

The Pope Has Said A Thing that is Strangely Inconsistent With What You Would Expect His Worldview To Be

I mean, this is a brilliant step forward for the Catholic Church, but isn't the Pope's answer to his own rhetorical question "I am the embodiment of God's Will on Earth"? Isn't that, like, kind of a big deal?

The Food I Ate Whilst Writing This

Scratch cooked Sag Aloo.

Yum yum yum yum yum

Sadly I ate it alongside half a Sainsbury's ready meal Rogan Josh which spoils the victory somewhat.

Tomorrow, I will be making burritos with slow cooked pork and handmade salsa and guacamole. I might even have some other people to give some to.

While My Camera is Plugged in

You might as well also look at this picture of spiders in my room.

The fat one that is in focus is in fact two spiders: one fat one and one much one sort of stuck to the bottom of the fat one with its legs sticking out. I am not sure if this is spider sex or spider post-sex or just spider fun. Aren't spiders fascinating? I put the fat one outside (after putting it in a glass and inspecting the potential spider sex, as any sane person would) but the other one is still up there, keeping me mosquito-free.

In about a month's time, my entire room will just be spiders. Then I will be less accommodating towards the little bastards.

The Telegraph Wrote About My Gap Year Company

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Stuff I like Sunday! Avatar: The Last Airbender

As this is a reasonably dull planet and we can't expect new things to happen every single day, I thus declare Sunday to be the day in which I fail to learn and interpret anything new about the world and instead witter excitably about things I already know about and like. Today's iteration of this idea is about my favourite cartoon and possibly my favourite TV show: Avatar.

No no NO. Not this one.

This one!
I first discovered Avatar: the Last Airbender through the method that is probably any pre-2010 fan’s worst nightmare: I saw the movie. It was a transatlantic plane ride in August, I was tired, bored and a little despondent (rather like the Bright Eyes song except without the life-affirming aquatic crash sequence) and for some reason, M. Night Shyamalan’s version of “magical warrior monks save the world” was the best thing on the in-flight entertainment. So I sat through 3 hours of muddy, sanctimonious, racist rubbish, saved only by the deadpan use of the word “bender”, and at the end of it came out thinking “there might be something in this.”

I went home and, as I still had a month of holiday left before starting my incredibly important finals year, spent the time wisely downloading and watching all three seasons of the cartoon, as well as learning exactly how racist the film was. Seriously, don’t watch the film. What began as a harmless resolution to watch a couple of episodes a day quickly turned into a several-day marathon. I returned to college with an A:TLA obsession and a 30” Appa plush toy, determined to share the Avatar world with as many people as possible.
I quickly converted two of my besties/Doctor Who watching buddies, but we didn’t get too far through the series due to the pressures of the term. We then went on a college ski trip with some other friends and took the series along, hoping to watch a couple of episodes in between trips on the pistes. Two of our roommates subsequently became so obsessed with watching the series that they blew off one of our evenings out to sit and watch this cartoon instead. We returned several hours later to discover them sat in exactly the same positions, surrounded by takeaway, midway through Season 2.

Never too old for toys!

Luckily, it’s a pretty satisfying obsession to indulge. The action unfolds in a neat three seasons with barely a poor episode among them (even the widely-hated ”the Great Divide” isn’t that bad… and you can learn the Chinese words for “clean” and “dirty” while you watch!) When so much TV is so clearly compromised through scheduling and casting and being dragged out endlessly for profit, it’s refreshing to sit down and watch something that’s almost entirely unaffected by those problems when watched in boxset form. The tone is also amazing, especially for a children’s show: the humour gets quite lowbrow and silly (with a few “how the hell did they get that in there?” moments), but the overall plot and its implications are pretty deep and definitely interesting no matter what your age.

But let’s talk feminism for a while. This series is amazing, but is it good to watch as a woman? Well, it is the journey of a boy. It’s a sad fact that even now (and I’ll get onto A:TLA’s sequel in a minute), it would be impossible to pitch an adventure like this as a story fronted by a girl. But as boy protagonists go, our hero Aang is pretty refreshing to watch. He is (spoiler!) the Avatar, the only person in the world who can control the four elements of air, fire, earth and water. People in the A:TLA world are born into nations which each correspond to one of these elements, and Aang is from the Air Nomads, meaning that his original element is air. He’s also a pacifist vegetarian who doesn’t really want the status thrust upon him and has to learn how to cope with his destiny whilst remaining true to his own values, which is a good portrayal of non-standard masculinity in my book.

What is his destiny? Ask anybody who has watched the series and they can probably narrate it to you word for word:

The world is out of balance! Aang has been trapped in an iceberg for a hundred years and in that time the Fire Nation have ruined everything with their fiery ways. They kill all of the air nomads except Aang, hence why he's the last Airbender. Luckily, Aang has met two plucky kids from the Southern Water Tribe (waterbenders live at the north and south poles, although the north is significantly more developed for Reasons) to help him on his way.

This is where it gets good. Aang’s main two allies through the entire series are a brother and sister called Sokka and Katara. Sokka is a brilliant character in his own right (who has a feminist awakening in episode 4, no less!) so it pains me to gloss over him, but oh my goodness his sister. Katara is a waterbender, which means that she can control water in all its forms (ALL of them… *ominous foreshadowing*). Her desire for training is a plot motivation in the first season and by the end of it, she’s overcome sexism and worries about her inadequacy to become one of the most powerful waterbending masters in the world, all in record time. She then continues to be consistently one of the best fighters right up to – and including – the finale. On top of this awesome fighting the series also gives a lot of time to her feminine traits, particularly her maternal attitude towards her brother and friends. Rather than suggesting this is her natural place, the series actually explores the positives and negatives of this trait and allows her and other characters to react and grow because of it.
Classy classy

The second season introduces several more exciting women (and… no exciting men, ha ha). The “Gaang” is expanded with the introduction of an earthbending master for Aang, who is a twelve-year-old blind girl whose character development process was literally “we are going to think of a hilariously stereotypical disgusting, brash twelve-year-old boy and then make him blind and female”, and whose crowning glory in the series is inventing a form of earthbending that had been thought literally impossible since the dawn of time. Meanwhile, the antagonist stakes get upped from “angry but traumatised teenage boy” (I’m so sorry that’s all you’re getting here about Prince Zuko) to “sad, deep teenage boy’s psychotic sister and her two powerful friends.”  Said sister, Azula, is probably the most powerful firebender on the series, meaning that aside from Aang himself all three of the consistently strongest fighters on the show are girls. That’s quite exciting!
So, Aang and his friends kick  arse all the way across the four nations, meeting freedom fighters, mad kings, sexists, deadpan hunter ladies with crazy giant starmole mounts, brainwashed clones, fortune tellers, painted warrior women, schoolchildren, a spirit panda and a recurring cabbage salesman. As you can probably tell from the fact that this is a finite, ended series aimed at children, in the end the day is saved by both male and female characters, romance blossoms and balance is restored to the world again. And when it’s finished, you can read the comics! Then you might finally get your life back.

Did I mention the completely accurate Chinese characters and distinct martial arts styles? Those are pretty great too.

Despite having great quality female representation, and avoiding the tokenistic approach to quantity that so many stories seem to fall into, A:TLA isn’t the perfect feminist fable. Whilst there’s brilliant parity and subtle emphasis on female strength among the younger cohort, the older characters – those in authority who shape the world – are almost exclusively male. The final antagonist is the Fire Lord, who is attacking the Earth King’s realm while his usurped older brother acts as mentor to the angry but traumatised prince. The brother is also a member of an all-male transnational secret society of old people who play a big role in the finale, and Katara and Sokka’s father also plays a significant fighting role. Meanwhile, Aang is guided through his journey by the spirit of the male avatar before him. Although there are one-shot older women who are important and awesome, and some consistently relevant mother figures, representation of women in the non-teenage cast is depressingly closer to the default crowd scene ratio where having 17% women seems like equal representation. This gets worse in Avatar’s sequel, The Legend of Korra, where the ensemble focus and updated setting makes it screamingly obvious that everyone with authority and agency in the world are old men. It’s depressing that the only strong older woman in that series is also the only older character to fall prey to the season’s Big Bag (whose M.O I won’t ruin because you should still go watch it even with its flaws). As Legend of Korra is about the woman avatar who comes after Aang, it’s sort of sad that they seem to have created a female lead and then decided that to even things out, everyone who influences her life will be male. Even more depressingly, Korra’s interactions with her iteration of the “Gaang” are completely overwhelmed by a very rushed romance plot, meaning that she barely has any interactions with the other young woman character as it would apparently ruin the “rivalry”.

Also everybody got really upset about Korra's biceps, because women trained daily in several martial arts form the age of 4 should still look feminine goddamnit.

Avatar: The Last Airbender doesn’t turn cartoon gender representation on its head, and to be honest you wouldn’t expect it from a mainstream Nickelodeon cartoon. What it does provide is a brilliant, well-told story that’s worth watching even if you’re not a habitual cartoon watcher. The show is beautiful, it has a clear ending, the story is good and the women are incredible, even if as ever there aren’t quite enough. Go watch Avatar! You won’t regret it.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Authority, morality and the irresistible feminist urge to ban everything

Now that I'm back out from the great firewall, and in a more sociable timezone (GMT +8 is great for being the first one to wish your friends a happy birthday, but not so good for real time social media networking), I'm trying to up my Twitter presence again. Get down with the kids, create my brand, do whatever it is we're supposed to do with social media. I like Twitter because despite the fact that 99% of what happens on it is rubbish, the 1% is usually stuff that you'd never have read without people of vaguely the same allegiance to you pointing out how interesting it is. I also follow Sarah Palin, which is useful in itself because without her tweets I'd never have known that George Bush Sr. shaved his head the other week!

So, what's going on in Twitterland? Well, for one thing Laura Bates from Everyday Sexism went on the Jeremy Vine show: an event which he introduces in his build-up as "if you're a bloke, ring in and find out what you can and can't say", which seems to be to be a bit of a bad start. I don't know what happened on the show itself after that because I am allergic to the sound of Jeremy Vine's smarmy devils advocate voice, but the aftermath was a predictable barrage of sexist outpouring from men on the internet, documented on the Everyday Sexism twitter.

Meanwhile, while having Jane Austen on the tenner remains (I hope!) an uncontroversial decision, the fact that Caroline Criado-Perez, the brilliant creator of the Women's Room, dared to mobilise women to join in the decision making process is, according to misogynist scum, an offence worthy of a barrage of rape threats. Cue a petition calling on Twitter to create a report abuse button, so that people subjected to systematic threats have a way to shut people down more easily than the current blocking process.

There's also some thing about the ever-relevant Caitlin Moran and her followers leaving Twitter for a day but I'm not sure what that has to do with anything, so we'll gloss over that.

I think my readers will already be aware of the general state of sexism on the internet, the frequency of sexist abuse for women who dare to talk authoritatively, and the lack of understanding among men about why the violent sexist dimension of internet abuse is important in its own right. Let me also be clear that everyone who gets threats like this should not just be told to "go away and ignore it", even if it's not immediately clear what should be done. Nobody should have to sit through violent abuse in the first place, let alone then having to put up with endless variants of "calm down, dear" or "sticks and stones" as soon as they reach out for help. If you are the kind of person who thinks this is a valid contribution, please go away and have a good hard think about your life.

But it's not immediately clear what should be done in the short term about things like this. Should Twitter provide an easier route for reporting members to be banned, or would it just be used by the same morons who already think that sending rape threats is a valid expression of their personalities?

As with so many feminist issues, it comes down to the tricky problem of legality vs. morality. The two are related but shouldn't be confused. In most cases, we believe that laws (or I guess "rules", as this isn't just about law) should follow society's ethical principles. The exception to laws having moral justifications are purely normative regulations like "stop at this red light". The converse is things that we have moral judgements about, but don't think should be in law, which encompasses a lot more things, like not cheating on your spouse without consent, or going to visit your gran once in a while (actually both of these things are laws elsewhere, but shhh)

 Confusing the latter is a favourite tactic for people arguing against particular feminist campaigns. Take the most common criticism against No More Page 3; although the campaign is very specific on the fact that it is asking for the Sun to voluntarily stop printing topless women in its newspaper, it's a favourite tactic of everyone from random lads to David Cameron to go "yeah well I don't think it's serious enough to ban it, is it? Freedom of speech!" This is an example of many things: terrible listening skills, some ridiculous hypocrisy from David Cameron, and the depressingly common use of "freedom of speech" to mean "I should be able to talk about how sexy women are at any time it suits me, no exceptions". It's also worrying because the distinction matters, and it's not clear whether arguments which conflate the two are deliberately derailing or genuine misunderstandings. Given that No More Page 3 operates alongside campaigns which do advocate legal change on related issues (like Child's Eyes) it's pretty important for the debate that people are equipped to understand the basics of what different campaigns hope to achieve. Feminists do disagree, after all!

I'm in two minds about whether Twitter needs a "report abuse" button. I signed the petition: I certainly think the people in charge of Twitter have a responsibility to acknowledge that their service has a problem, and I think the petition is the best way to achieve that (I'm not naive enough to think it will automatically obtain what it's actually asking for). But I also have a lot of sympathy with those who think that a new button would be immediately open to abuse. Given how much less anger women need to show before they are labelled inappropriate or aggressive, a fast-track ban service would probably end up with opinionated women being reported for far less offensive things than their male counterparts, and as Twitter staff are humans with the same unconscious biases as all of us, it would be impossible to ensure fair treatment. It's not an easy choice to make.

The long term goal here has to be moral change. It's changing societal mindsets so that sexist abuse of women is unthinkable by the vast majority of people, and changing societal pressures so the kind of people who continue to abuse and threaten women even knowing that it's wrong have other powerful constraints on their behaviour. Having enforceable rules in place might influence the second part of this equation, but it's likely to do so at some cost to free speech in general ‒ which, shock horror, many feminists do believe in! It's also unlikely to conquer any additional hearts and minds. Anybody who believes this abuse is unacceptable will still believe it is unacceptable, all of the injured male (and occasionally female) egos worrying about misandry and threats to world peace from femifascists will take this as a defeat rather than a learning opportunity and slink off to their horrible forums to talk about their white male oppression some more.

But if changing laws (or rules, I'm being very sloppy with terminology here) won't create the desired effect on morality, how do we influence morality directly? And how do we protect the fantastic, visible women who are doing so much to put feminism back on the national agenda, at great risk to themselves? That's an issue that requires a lot of discussion, but I think it starts with exactly that- discussion. We speak up. We demonstrate that for most of us, men and women, these norms about not threatening women are already our norms, and that we actively do not want to tolerate people who violate them. We replace silencing platitudes with expressions of solidarity, we work to make our positions and campaigns as clear as possible, we challenge authorities when they allow violence to run unchecked.

Human morality has had problems for thousands of years, and it's not there yet. Internet morality lags behind even that. These things are depressing, but we can fight them- and we probably don't even have to ban everything.

(While writing, Caroline Criado-Perez wrote her own article on New Statesman. I actually really dislike the way the internet slang "trolls" is being used in this debate but... that's a problem for another time. Still worth a read.)

Day 4 of 30. No end in sight. Day 5 will not be this depressing.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Meanwhile, in America...

So in response to yesterday's nonsense about the Royal Baby, I got linked to two good articles. The first is some Serious Business from Laurie Penny about babies born to single mothers on the same day as "Baby Cambridge". She's got the opposite point to me on how people link these big happy symbolic events to negative underlying trends: she thinks everybody is actively trying to stop discussion on other babies, whereas I am cynical about the number of people who have conveniently discovered the existence of other babies but will conveniently forget about it once the royal birth is off the front pages. Anyway, those other babies are important all the time and the article is good, so go read it.

The other one is from America!

Yes, the United States of America have some news for us! I've definitely written about US issues before and I will do again without all this weird self-conscious fanfare but you know what, sometimes it's fun to pretend to have short-term memory loss and small-island syndrome. So let's collectively pretend that the US is novel and interesting and that things happen there that the rest of the world cares about. Like political sex scandals!

So let's appreciate this man. His name is Anthony Weiner. By German pronunciation standards that should be pronounced "whiner" not "weaner", but I'm pretty sure the sausage/penis slang is spelled that way in English? I'm not looking it up because hey, 30 blogs in 30 days! There's only so much fact checking you're getting here. But let's assume it's Anthony Sausage-Willy-Tee-Hee-Hee because that's funnier and I don't really put much faith in Americans' ability to pronounce "person from Vienna" as a German speaker would.

I looked him up on Google image search so you don't have to. Seriously, I don't recommend it.

ANYWAY. Anthony From-Vienna is a very naughty boy. He has been spending far too much of his time back in the day sexting young women instead of doing whatever it is Congressmen are supposed to do, like filibustering or sitting on committees or hanging out in the library of congress eating frozen yoghurt (it is possible I am getting confused with my own time in Washington D.C., which mostly involved library and yoghurt). This is convenient, because it might help us fully integrate "sexting" into the english language as a word we can say without sounding like a self-conscious Gran trying to get down with the kids. Seriously, try saying "sexting" in a natural way. Sex-ting. It can't be done.

Equally impossible to take seriously is the fact that Mr. Weiner has apparently been sending sexts (another impossible word) under the nom-de-plume of Carlos Danger. The great American public took a dim view of this when it first came to light, and Carlos resigned from congress, but now he's back and trying to be mayor of New York. As a symbol of how seriously electorates take mayors, he's got to be up there with Boris Johnson, except as far as we know Boris Johnson did not send pictures of Boris's johnson to random women before being elected ‒ preferring instead to become mayor first and then alienate us through some choice comments about women in education. And as a result, we (or rather America, and other people who have been paying attention to more international news than I have) get treated to voyeuristic nonsense about Weiner and his long-suffering wife (now long-suffering thanks to both having a sex addict husband and horrible media treatment)

Still don't care about tabloids.

Now, of course, two things happen. The first is that, like with the baby thing, having one interesting case automatically makes a lot of others intrinsically more interesting (thanks again Gail Collins!) The second is that after an acceptable period of voyeurism, we all get a bit tired and scared of the idea that so many people who run the world think like this, and find ways to either make it somebody else's fault or to dismiss it all as irrelevant to whatever these guys' jobs are. In a recent high profile case in China, public official Lei Zhengfu was secretly filmed having sex with prostitutes, and the tapes were then used and later published online (by a different man, where it's not clear how he got hold of the tapes; prostitution is illegal in China so this didn't turn out too well for the women involved). Whilst reporting on the case started off focusing on Lei and his corruption ‒ apparently the prostitutes were bought for him by clients who were unable to bribe him with money ‒ by the time the people involved were put on trial last month, the focus in the Chinese media swung firmly around to the "blackmail ring" of women involved in making the tapes, several of whom got long jail sentences (the man who published the video, to my knowledge, did not.) Though Lei himself got 13 years, media opinion on the case seemed to tire of having to speculate on why public officials are so awful, especially when a convenient (but incorrect) answer was apparently right in front of them. Why are men weak? Women. Always women.

It remains to be seen whether New York will join the "mayors with last names that are willy slang who are also a bit sexist and disturbing" club, and whether anybody will care about the sexist disturbing bits by the time the election rolls around. Whatever happens, I think it will take a few thousand more instances of the connections between sex and power for us to start caring for longer than it takes to tell a story. Even if the story IS about Carlos Danger.

(One last thing. Here a link that I found and need to share despite its irrelevance: Wikipedia's list of scandals with the -gate suffix. Thank you, Watergategate, for your contribution to the english language. You are almost as useful as "sexting".)

Three days. A weekend away planned. How will this first hurdle pan out for our blogging heroine? Tune in tomorrow for "Adrienne learns how to set up scheduled blog posts for Great Justice"!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Babies and stuff

The Kingdom rejoices!

Yeah, so let's do this Royal Baby thing. The Lion King joke is already out of the way so I suppose I should also make that other trite remark that literally everyone has already got to before me: a WOMAN has had a BABY! Look at how newsworthy and profound this event isn't now that we've written it in generalisations! If we want to veer into seriousness we can pretend to care about the 367,000 other babies born on the same day, twenty-four thousand of whom will not live to see their fifth birthday. It's a relevant statistic when we're griping about not being able to watch "proper news" on telly for a couple of days, although of course most people using that statistic have never bothered to look it up before and it will not suddenly become inherently newsworthy once the Interesting Baby has left the front page. I have a degree in development now, I'm allowed to say pessimistic shit like that.

I'm also not going to talk about Kate's baby announcement dress choices or post-baby weight loss regime. I'm sure one day I will descend into despairing wails at tabloid sexism (I actually can't remember if I already have, to be honest) but today is not that day.

Happy people! With a baby! Actually maybe it is nicer when you say it like that. Simpler, anyway.
Now that's all out of the way, time for me to say something marginally more original. I was considering just filling up the rest of this post with graphic pictures of childbirth, but actually a google image search for "crowning baby" brought up a lot of pictures of prostrate headless women which were too similar to weird objectifying porn shots for me to want to stick them on this blog. Look it up on your own time if you must, you'll see what I mean. So I'll do the next best thing and talk about stories.

No matter how indifferent or opposed you may be to monarchy in the modern world, and how fervently you hope this child lives to see the British royal family abolished as heads of state (and I do hope for that day), it's hard not to feel slightly strange about the fact that Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge is... not the right gender for his own narrative. They changed the rules about women inheriting and everything! People are starting, in that slightly weird reinventing-the-wheel way, to think about kickass heroines being OK and possibly quite groundbreaking even though they have existed before! They had that film about Scotland which was about a girl and she could canonically be heir to the kingdom! Jane Austen will soon be on the tenner (not actually so relevant but whatevs)! So surely it is time for an awesome real life princess that our country can have mixed-to-positive feelings about for the forseeable future? No, Prince George (literally) did not get the memo on these things, and had the audacity to be born the wrong gender for storytellers and gamblers everywhere. For shame, he's not even called Diana!

Of course, it doesn't help that we were spoiled for dramatic voyeuristic stories just one generation before...

The fact that we had a "right gender" for this kid to be born as at all does drive home how much we think of famous people's lives as fiction. I'm a big fan of Hadley Freeman's theory on this, that our modern readings of the Royal Family and the Beckhams and Justin Bieber and Scarlett Johanssen (who, by the way, has cellulite at 27, indicating that her boyfriend is a sociopath for staying with her) (oh dear I said I wasn't going to descend into tabloid bashing and yet here we are) are functionally equivalent to Victorian serialised novels. Here is a little snippet about what these people are doing! Admire or deride them, and despair when you contrast their apparently exciting lives to your own miserable existence! Then, to add the modern twist, invent headcanons and write RL fics of your favourite celebrity characters getting married by Garfield the cat. When these are people you literally just know from pictures then there is no functional difference between Prince William and Harry Potter, except that one is significantly more likely to appear on a bank note one day.

Now that we live in the day of being able to tell the creators of our media in real time exactly how much we hate them for not doing exactly what we wanted, having a first born with the audacity to not be female like we all sort of expected is just inexcusable. It's not even like Victoria Beckham's fictionalised baby drama in which she had to keep having children until she had a daughter because it was so incredibly important for her to be able to dress up a small girl (I'm not saying her family planning choices weren't influenced by wanting a daughter, just that if you read any tabloids during the time she was having children, it probably didn't go down in the melodramatic way they had it happening). Nope, we're STUCK with princes forever now, and we will be FORCED to watch an entire generation of girls who will automatically have no desires except to marry into royalty, rather than having just one who was fortuitously born into it whilst everyone else has to envy her. This is not the season arc we wanted!

There is only one solution. First, try to stop feeling anything except vague human goodwill towards celebrity people. You have no idea who they are, and it honestly doesn't matter. Second, and this is important, fill the void in your life by watching Let's Play the Sims videos on Youtube. True, Sims aren't quite as quotable, and they do piss themselves more than the average IRL celebrity. But they probably still have more interesting lives than you, and it's better than worrying about the narrative implications of a 2 day old baby.

2 days 2 blogs! It's madness! Just 28 to go.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Feminist for hire (30 days of blog day 1)

Hi world! I graduated!

And I had terrible hair the whole day!

Yes, a moment which was either two or five years in the making, depending on how you look at it, has finally come to pass. I'm a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Public Administration - or, as I prefer to think of it, a Spinster of Arts and a Mistress of Public Administration. A uniquely feminine educated entity conforming briefly to patriarchal standards of intelligence measurement, before flitting off to do whatever it is that educated feminines do with their time. Exquisitely coded cupcake blogs and subscriptions to the Persephone Books newsletter, here I come!

This is now a cupcake blog. Be very afraid.

Except not really, for anyone (wow it sounds great though doesn't it, the Englishwoman equivalent of the American Dream, if only...). What I actually have to do now - and what I actually want to do, I hasten to add - is find some sort of gainful employment, in order to become a Proper Adult in the Real World Regardless of Gender Or anything Like That. My reasons for wanting to do this boil down to two main points:

1) As I have discovered, it's actually quite nice to have money of one's own and not rely on Chinese government handouts and gifts from antecedents to get one through the month. You can buy nice stationery! You can drink more fancy alcohol without worrying about how much cash you need to keep back for the ride home! You can go out for breakfast and have the pancakes with the fruit in for 50p extra and do it more than once in a week! This is especially true now that the Chinese government are no longer in the equation, and getting handouts is going to involve going to the Job Centre.

2) If I spend some time in the real world, I am going to really appreciate escaping from it again in a few years time when I do my PhD.

I don't know who you are, Doctor Joy Browne, but someday you won't be the only Joy Doctor in town...

And so, I make the move from feminist student (the adjective is always important) to feminist job hunter. This, as always, complicates matters. It means that, on top of the usual unemployment pitfalls like "how important is it really to write these e-mails when I could just play XCom all evening" and "taking this EdX quantum mechanics course has nothing to do with my future but will make me a well rounded individual, I'll do it", I also have my difficult womanly brain pointing out to me such facts as:
  • CVs with women's names on the top tend to be perceived as less accomplished than CVs with men's names attached, even if the qualifications listed are exactly the same. At least, this has been rigorously tested in science faculties and there's anecdotal evidence for it in the "real world" too. Given that I'm looking for gender specialist development research jobs and there aren't exactly many male gender specialists my age, I probably don't have as much to worry about, but still it's annoying to speculate that I might already be a super high flying development executive if only I had been called "Adrien". At least I'm not a mother yet!
  • I probably won't get as much money as a man doing the same job as me. Yes, even though I'm in the "ridiculously privileged" category by every measure except gender (and weight, but catwalk modelling was never really an option in the first place...)
  • A "fact" rather than a fact: I'm not an expert at anything at all compared to anybody else, ever. For some reason, growing up in a world of condescending mansplainers and "you're only worthy if you're beautiful" standards for women means that most of us are slow to put ourselves forward as worth listening to on any subjects. There's a whole website set up to combat this in the UK.
  • Women don't look as naturally swag in business attire as men tend to, unless you get a really nice suit tailored and that costs a lot of money. Can't I find somewhere to work where I can continue to wear ridiculous summer dresses all year around?
Nothing on that list is insurmountable, of course. Except for the unswagness, that is a tragic fact of life. But the time I have to spend thinking about how patriarchy insidiously affects my own unimportant existence and agency is time that would be better spent thinking either about profound, all-encompassing feminist questions like how to overthrow global capitalist patriarchy, OR actually doing things that will lead to a job. Nobody said feminism would be easy!

Soon I will also be an angry stock photo career lady. It's good to have dreams!

There is nothing for it, dear reader. Time to harden up, read some Sheryl Sandberg, send out a million tailored CVs to the awesomest people of the world, and hope for the best! At least my Mum believes in me.

ATTENTION: This is day one of a self-imposed "blog every day for a month" challenge, designed to counteract my blogging inertia (brought on mostly by a crisis of expertise and partly by other people wanting me to write things and partly by... video games...) by proving to myself and others that I can be consistently prolific and interesting if I give myself permission to do it. Everything will probably be a fair bit shorter than what I used to write, and I will probably end up veering off-topic a few times. There may even be some fiction! Anyway, if you like my writing and have a lot of time on your hands then keep checking back all this month for plenty of profound wisdoms all day every day.