Friday, July 27, 2007

Better late than never.

Why I am not a third-wave feminist - Part I. Personalising the Political

Although it is not true of all third wave feminists, I increasingly find that these feminisms revolve around the idea that feminism should only be concerned with cosmetic changes, rather than deeper social transformation. No doubt that this might be unfair on some feminists, who do not see their own contribution as purely cosmetic, but I do think it's an issue that needs to be raised. Much is made of the gains that can be achieved within society - for example, the halting of the lads-mag phenomenon, achievement of equal pay. As I will explain a little later, it's not that I don't think these issues are important (on the contrary, I believe they're incredibly important and hats off to all women out there fighting the fight) but that they limit the sphere of acceptable action for other feminists.

My point is this: most of our campaigning is done on things that are personal to women - lads mags, short skirts, empowerment, porn. I do not mean that we all stand on our own moral soapboxes and ignore the issues of others, but that we have taken these arguments out of the political sphere. We wish to change these aspects of society without modifying society itself. Undoubtedly, society would be better if these issues were addressed and everyone respected each other, but it seems completely naive to think that we can achieve our goals without changing basic social norms and institutions. To put it bluntly, how can one expect society to change (which is effectively what we're arguing for) if the underlying themes of acceptance are couched in the exact same fabric as the sexist principles?

I don't blame third wave feminist for this - in fact, it's perfectly understandable that feminism has made this move. It is, after all, a way of hitting back at critics. In order to appear "legitimate" and to avoid slurs of hairy-legged-man-hating-dyke-prudes, we have often had to separate ourselves off from "other" feminists. We are pro-sex, not prudish. We teach young women that "we can join in the joke if we want to" (with obvious emphasis on the choice) because otherwise, how would we appeal to them? Daily-Mail style, shrill outrage at feminism takes the exact same form - what if this was your daughter? Feminists are emasculating your sons, women are stealing jobs, there is a brick through your window because the mother of the child that threw it went to work and didn't stay at home. There is periodic worry over the amount women drink and the way they wear short skirts. This is so much easier than looking at the long run and saying that feminism challenges our misogynistic social practices and this can be a little worrying. No - instead, they have to personalise the political.

And so do we, in our turn. We talk about issues in terms of "how it affects me" or our communities. We eschew grand political movements in favour of grass roots action. We try to make our cosmetic changes because there is no room for us to talk about anything larger. We are too afraid of seeming unpopular and giving the media more to sieze upon. We see politicising the personal as too intrusive and intimate, ignoring the fact that it already *is* political (more of this in a later post). So we take what *should* be political and move it back into the personal sphere, out of context and, if I am honest, away from the best chance we have of making a real difference.

It's not about saying these battles are unimportant, because they *are* important. However, I would say that these are *battles* and not the war. There is little, if any, immovable and unshakeable progress that can be achieved on this battlefield alone because all victories are achieved within the patriarchal framework.

Row, row, row your boat...

Hasn't this week been exciting? Floods, surges, sandbags... Yes indeed, if it hadn't been terrifying it would have been rather exhilerating. Luckily, the waters did not reach the Heloise-stronghold, although we did at one point make an emergency dash to the sandbag pick-up point. Filling and lugging sandbags in the rain was not pleasant but being flooded is hardly a picnic either, so I can't really complain.

So. National disaster, tragedy all round, lots of nice "human suffering" features on the BBC etc.

Predictably, this is where I'm going to stop being uncontroversial and start being a little critical.

1) Not really a national disaster. Yes it was terrible for the people whose homes were flooded. Yes it is horrible that they will have to wait 18 months until it gets sorted. Being without water is almost unimaginable and I am exceedingly glad that it didn't happen to me. However: the emergency services coped, some disasters were averted, water is being flown in, insurance will be paid. It was hardly Hurricane Katrina though. People aren't going to return to their homes a year later and discover dead bodies in wrecked houses, or realise they will never be able to go back to their city...

2) Far be it from me to detract from the (considerable) suffering of the fairly wealthy south, but it seems to me that the flooding of Hull, some weeks before this, was actually more disasterous. All the more so for being almost completely ignored. 17,000 homes in Hull were flooded and uninhabitable. That's quite a lot. And all we heard were people blaming the north for not being insured. Hardly the sympathetic treatment given to, say Tewkesbury (which I happen to be rather fond of).

3) News coverage was a bit gratuitous. Or should I say *is*. Whilst away (in the north) we discovered that Oxford was flooded and were informed by a breathless reporter, that the site of the Heloise stronghold was flooded. You can imagine the doom and panic this inspired - far away from home, unable to defend property etc etc. So much so, a long-suffering colleague agreed to cycle down and check it out. Oh the humiliation when it turned out the river had not even burst its banks. There's also been a bit too much badgering by news reporters, who seem to be out to win prizes for making people cry. "Everyone's been very kind" says an old lady. "But aren't you upset that all of your possessions are gone - things that can't be replaced" urges the sincere-eyed news reporter. Leave the old lady alone! Don't compound her misery by making her cry on national TV.

In summary - yes it is horrible and some poor people are going to have to endure the consequences for a long time. Let's not blow this out of proportion though. We in the UK are lucky enough to live somewhere where extremes of weather and natural disasters happen extremely rarely. Moping around feeling sorry for ourselves is hardly going to endear us to anyone.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

And the heat is on...

How long until I crack and read the online leaked Harry Potter final installment?

Must... wait for... book (claws at face) but its not out until *saturday*... (much wailing and gnashing of teeth - the SO is upstairs reading it RIGHT NOW)

teh internets are a bad, bad thing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Like Smarties...

I know I said I was going to blog about third wave feminism but various work crises have put this on hold for the moment. Instead, I am going to briefly rant about medication.

Boringly, it seems as though everyone who has a blog is on some form of anti-depressants. This just brings home to me (a) how mediocre I am even in medication (b) there will be a lot of people suffering from adverse side effects *as I write this*.
Having recently switched back to my original happy-pills, I am enjoying the sensation of no longer being medically sedated (oops – shouldn’t have been driving for the past few months). This is a good thing, as before I was so zonked that I was too tired to do any work. Now I am similarly unable to work, but because I’m feeling the full force of the agitation the other pills blocked out. And I have numb fingertips – a weird and fascinating phenomenon.

I have come to the conclusion that chemical solutions are not optimal – it’s like sticking a duvet over a buzzing mobile phone; buzzing still going, only… muffled.

Just because I’m a masochist, I am also going to try changing contraceptive pills at the end of the month. Given the hormonal meltdown that occurred with the first ever pills I took, I am understandably dubious. Still, I am nothing if not insane (hah hah). Don’t even get me started on how the contraceptive pill side effects are part of a male conspiracy…

The SO, on hearing I was changing Ads expressed disappointment: “but you were so meek on these ones – like, like a… sheep.” I love you too. Luckily I know he’s only joking – who *wouldn’t* want a crazed belligerent girlfriend ranting about political correctness whilst he’s trying to watch the Simpsons?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Quick Post...

The chastity-ring-case has been lost (hurrah!). I previously posted about this and have to say the comments of the young woman in question have backed up my thoughts. If she really *is* as worried about sexual health and STIs as she claims, why didn't she spend the time campaigning for better and more comprehensive sex education? Focus on the oppression of Christians seems a little off-bat.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Why I'm not a third wave feminist and other, equally riveting, stories.

Having indulged in some explicitly feminist reading recently, I’ve been thinking more closely about what I believe *my* feminism to be. More particularly, I’ve been trying to process why I feel so uncomfortable identifying as “third wave”. You know what? Really I’m not third wave at all. Yes, yes – shock all round I’m sure.

I’m going to try, in my next few posts, to explain why this is. I don’t want it to sound offensive, or as though I am being disparaging of other feminists (many of whom are of my generation) who *do* choose to identify this way. Feminism needs support, from as many people as possible. However, I do want to make it clear that I do not think that one type of feminism is more “feminist” than others – feminism, like most schools of political thought, is made up of many variants and the most sensible thing to do (rather than dogmatically picking one theory and sticking to it) seems to be to pick up the bits that work, acknowledge the bits that don’t and think about why that is.

Sooo… that is the mammoth task I have set myself. We shall see how I manage. I’m a little rusty on the ole constructing-a-valid-argument type thing so you’ll have to cut me some slack/hound me mercilessly until I get better at it.

In other news, I’m completely flabbergasted by the whole Jacqui-Smith and her amazing cleave story. I have to say, in the blanket coverage of news I was subjected to over the terrorism-weekend (the perils of a politically aware SO), I completely failed to notice it. The cleavage that is. I certainly noticed the *story* in the papers over the next few weeks. Christ almighty – this is the Home Secretary being calm, unflappable and apparently competent, yet all some people seem to have noticed is her cleavage. She was wearing a suit, as far as I can remember. I think I admired her necklace (yes, charmingly *female* of me). Boobs? No.

The only conclusion I can come to: too many people are dangerously obsessed with breasts. Interesting as they can be – I should know, I have grown some – really, it’s time to seek help.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Daily constitutional

Have to admit that I am quite impressed by GB’s proposals to increase accountability to Parliament and other constitutional reforms. I wondered, when he said that tightening security due to threats of terrorism had to be balanced by greater and clearer accountability to parliament, whether this was just paying lip-service to a wonderful liberal ideal. It was certainly a more reassuring response than Tony Blair’s martyred rhetoric, or the bruiser approach favoured by John Reid (and who *didn’t* cheer when he left office?). Yet here it is, expanded in more detail.

Yes, it is lacking in some ways – no mention of electoral reform, but I can’t see the switch to AV+ or similar happening soon; I expect that Labour thinks it might damage their chances in the next election, where I suspect (if they win) it will be by a narrow margin. However, I wouldn’t give up hope of this altogether. Cameron bleating on about Scottish MPs blah-blah-blah, seems a weak kind of response, given people get worked up about this every so often, to no great result.

As for the clash this morning – slightly disappointing: thought GB might give it a bit more oomph. When I think back to that first budget when Cameron was leading the tories, I recall the glorious moment that Brown steam rollered over Cameron with great gusto, so I’m not that worried yet.

Interesting times.

Less of a bang, more of a whimper...

I’m currently reading “Full Frontal Feminism” (review to follow once I’ve finished it) and I was struck by one of the comments on the back of the book, which referred to it having the “sassiness” to keep people reading. I don’t quite know why I found that so troubling but I do (which is a lie really, as I’m about to tell you why).

The reason is this: the expectation that young feminists have to be sassy and full of “fuck you!” to have their opinions considered valid is unhelpful. It creates a stereotype which is, in some ways, just as damaging as the whole man-hating-hair-legged-bra-burning schtick. Sassiness can be just as alienating as it is inclusive and sassiness, whilst it may be enjoyable to read, does not close the wage gap or lead to greater rights in the work place. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that sassiness does not *contribute* to any of these things – indeed, it may well give the kick start needed – I’m simply pointing out that it is not the be all and end all. And I think we might be in danger of dismissing the contributions of those people who do not express it in a recognised way, which would be detrimental to what we’re trying to achieve.

Perhaps I am only noticing this because I myself, at the current time, am not at all filled with sass. I’m exhausted, fed-up and completely shit-scared because work is a nightmare. However, I’m still a feminist – and I don’t think my opinions are in anyway less valid because of it. Well, relative to usual, given that they are of course *opinions*.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

In Crisis

In the Guardian today, a sobering article described how the lack of funding for Rape Crisis centres means that many will have to close down, possibly within days. I found this information deeply disturbing – although I have never used the service myself, I wish that I had previously been aware of it and find the idea that it might disappear abhorrent.

After being raped, it is essential that women have a “safe” ground – someone to talk to that they don’t really know, but who can provide information and support about whatever they feel their next step should be. Often, rape survivors suffer in silence (as I did) because they are too afraid to discuss or confront what has happened to them with people that they know and love. They are too afraid that they will be judged negatively, or that they will be blamed for something that they ultimately could not control. In this sense, Rape Crisis does more good than anyone can ever estimate, simply by being there.

Perhaps the difficulty stems from the fact that Rape Crisis is not centralised like other organisations (e.g Refuge). Of course, centralisation would bring difficulties – how would the level of funding needed be judged? Also, the local groups themselves are often better placed to decide what kind of services are needed – are they in an area with a large ethnic community and require different training to understand cultural sensitivities, for example. However, a centralised base for Rape Crisis would be better placed to publicise and raise initial funds for the local organisations. A small policy/research unit could lobby more effectively than disparate groups. Recruitment to local centres may well become easier if there was a central core to promote issues and raise awareness of the service.

One day, I would love to take on this challenge. I would really like to give something back and make sure that people are aware of the importance of Rape Crisis and to make sure that all women had equal access to it. Sadly, it looks like it might be too little, too late.

Please, if you can – phone your local centre and find out what’s going on there and what you can do to help. Rape Crisis needs your support, just as we have needed it in the past.