Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pink please Bob..

About to depart for my long-awaited holiday, I am struck – not by the jolly end-of-term feeling I’ve had to endure from my colleagues for the past two months – by inertia. Lots to do, no chance of doing it all, grumpy emails: all result in mental paralysis. It would be lovely to think that it’ll all be over once I get back; sadly this is not going to be the case. However, for a little while at least, I do not have to think about it.

Nor do I have to think about the black-tie-do I have to go to when I get back. I don’t suit black-tie clothing, nor go to enough events that buying something nice could be seen as investment, so it has been quite stressful. Given my general state of dour grumpiness, an evening or so of navel-gazing is hardly going to be enjoyable. Here’s hoping there’s going to be some nice wine.

To top it off, it’s pouring with rain and I didn’t take a coat with me this morning. I am a fool.

On a more cheerful note – some good stuff has been happening since I last blogged:
• Karl Rove has resigned and, joy of joys, GWB’s nickname for him was “turd blossom”. It’s obviously very bad to laugh at the misfortune of others, but let’s face it, it’s really funny.
• The Conservatives pledged to fight hospital closures as hospitals that weren’t even closing, apologised for it and then retracted the apology. The inability to get that right seems to cast doubt on their ability to actually run anything. Very entertaining.
• It’s been scientifically proven that women prefer pink because that’s what colour their lipstick was back-in-the-day… No, hang on – that’s wrong. It was because we were hunter-gathers and elephants were pink… You know, actually, this may not be good news after all. A study proving something completely useless, based on socialised traits… Especially given that pink was considered a *male* colour until the 19th Century. So, in summary, I think we’ve proven… well, nothing. Except you can apparently get research money for *anything* if you’re looking to enforce gender stereotypes.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Big Fish, Little Fish

This post is in response to a comment left on my post about the personalisation of the political – namely that feminists personalise issues because otherwise it’s hard to know where to start. I think this is a valid point. In other areas of life – say environmentalism, relationships to charity giving – we feel we cannot make a difference to the larger issue, so we try to make a difference in our immediate circle: carbon offsetting, volunteering at care centres, walking instead of taking the car. We feel we are making a contribution and it allows us to readily identify others who are prepared to make a similar contribution, rather than forcing us to face the difference between ourselves and (to take a wild example) those people camping outside Heathrow. Why should this not be an uncontroversial approach to feminism?

Making an individual contribution in the name of feminism is not controversial – I think we should definitely encourage people to do so. Some people may not feel comfortable going on marches or campaigning on a national level but they can still make a difference by refusing to laugh at misogynistic jokes, or through volunteering at their local shelter/rape crisis centre. My blog is part of *my* own individual contribution – how worthwhile or productive it turns out to be is sort of beyond the point.

However (yeah, you knew that was coming). Our approach to feminism in terms of localised/individual contribution does, I believe, differ from the way we approach environmentalism or charitable giving. With these issues, we hold in mind the bigger picture approach – we visualise, as we make the contribution, the world we are willing into existence – and we expect that battle to be fought at higher levels than ourselves; we are merely a lower tier in the overall fight. If we did not think this, we would not have to listen to Cameron blathering on about his wind turbine, nor would we care about the US and Australia opting out of the Kyoto treaty. With feminism, we are often urged to accept the smaller victories and ignore the wider issue because we can’t do much about it.

This seems wrong. Unless we have a clear picture of what we are trying to achieve large-scale, how can we judge the success of our individual action? Unless we see it as part of a wider movement, it seems hard to defend the idea that it is worthwhile doing it. It’s true that we might not be able to make much difference and that it’s hard to see where to start – but that need not always be the case. Facing up to the challenge of identifying what it is we hope to achieve in the wider world could make the whole thing a lot more manageable.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Quiet Optimism and the card-carrying contingent

I’ve done it: after a couple of years with no fixed political membership (or, maybe, being affiliated for the first time – was I ever really a member of the other one? Lack of documentation makes me wonder whether my comrades pocketed the membership fee whilst I flittered on none-the-wiser.) I am now a paid-up member of the Labour Party.

I am a little surprised at myself really. I’ve always had a bit of a leaning towards Labour from my younger years, when I blithely assumed Labour meant Left and that was the way it was always going to be. Then, as we trooped further into the Blair years, that changed. New Labour felt corporate and earnest in the wrong way. It probably didn’t help that I was, at this point, introduced to some of Oxford’s finest (read: scary) Labour hacks which turned me off further. I grew increasingly apathetic, which is sad given how enthusiastic about UK politics I used to be.

Unlike many critics, I won’t blame this all on Blair – I may have been dissatisfied with the style of government that emerged under him, but I refuse to swallow all of that crap about the country getting worse under Labour – clearly, we are much better off than we used to be. Hence all of the whining – we can *afford* to whine now. Listening to people (including my own parents) whinge makes me want to bash my head against the wall. Certainly, things aren’t perfect but come on – under Thatcher my dad was unemployed – now they have a large, 4 bedroom house with a paid off mortgage and two new cars. Do not expect me to sympathise.

Now that Brown is in charge, things feel different again. They haven’t gone back to the Labour I thought I supported when I was younger (although I’m prepared to admit that that Labour probably didn’t exist at all, at least not in the form I’d imagined) but there is a sense of progress and competence. And, more importantly from my perspective, the sense that there is quite a lot of thought going in to making decisions. I’m all for sensible government; let’s have more of it. Hopefully, I won’t have Brown on a pedestal like many did with Blair in the early years. Still, I’m quietly optimistic.