Writing task: One journey, two perspectives

Working my way through a creative writing exercise book I came across this task, which I undertook with my Dad.

‘Go on a walk or a journey with someone; make notes, and write two passages about it afterwards. Compare the different styles, topics and conventions of your accounts of the same event.’

We went to a cafe near my parents’ home, and had a cuppa whilst waiting for Mum to finish work. Here are our alternate-generational travel reports on our trip to a rubbish British high street.

Dad

The rather dilapidated frontages of Wimborne Road, showing the effects of recession, neglect and age, creep by, offering sometimes surprising things. A funeral director’s with an England World Cup display in the window; betting shops without one; a Big Issue seller dozing in the Sun. The traffic flows around us as we cross some of the many roads that feed into the main ‘drag’, as people used to call it. Traffic seems to me sometimes like some huge organic entity, every cell destined for a specific location and flowing according to the dictates (signs and lines) of the body of the city: Bournemouth and Poole are much bigger than most people think, about half a million people crammed into a seaside sprawl, their numbers inflated by students both British and from abroad, the latter attending the many English colleges around. Thought the foreign student who spat forcefully on the pavement as we passed was letting his nation down a bit.

One of my favourite lorries passes: Suttle Stone Quarries, it says. I wonder about these subtle stone quarries. Do they tap gently with small picks rather than use dynamite, to avoid disturbing the neighbours? Do they fit extra-quiet engines to the lorries, and let them out only during the day so everyone can sleep? Is there a rival firm called Blatant Stone Quarries, noisy, brash and with monster trucks that screw up the environment and infuriate the locals?

In the café where we pause, the man at the next table turns out to be one of the Self-Righteous brothers. He has a negative opinion on most things, and dominates the conversation with the woman opposite him. “Brazil? Not likely, get stabbed on the first day, probably by little kids; always used to be sunnier in June but look at all these clouds, global warming of course; so I said to ‘im, look, if you do it that way there’s no way you’ll get her back…..” .

Trawled the charity shops on the way back, and find of the day was an unopened Solar System jigsaw. Perhaps the child I sell it to will do what I did, and be inspired by it, as I was by a library book at age 10, and become a planetarium person or a professional astrophysicist…

Me

“There is nothing of note about this,” I thought “except for how bland and unremarkable it is.” It was as ugly a British high street as the majority of its counterparts, but it was long. Long enough that it persisted over the horizon in royal blue and stark red takeaways; deep pink nail bars; and plastic pubs painted to look like wood, as though desperately trying to be nonchalant about how real they were. The endless commerce peeled, and the brighter its colours, the more drab it appeared.

As Dad and I continued through the forced, stained rainbow (stainbow?), a wall-mounted metal ashtray hung glaringly open by the door of one of the rubbish pubs.

“There! Now that’s true.” I exclaimed, privately. I lamented my lack of camera; there was something suddenly exciting about this filthy high street owning up to itself. I could see its insides, and it was gross. I loved it. A black molasses of Embassy, Mayfair, and Rizlas buried under a more recent layer of rainwater and orange, and once more by the grey remainder of pacifier after pacifier, slumped together in a redundant, toxic paste. I was once again reminded why I quit, and felt smug. Then uneasy, as I thought of all those wonderful human insides still inviting that deadly, anti-feeling syrup to be a part of them.

Just seeing it made me more aware of the atmosphere around me. I’ve noticed recently that pollution makes the inside of my nasal cavity hurt. To quell my paranoia I asked Dad how far away we were.

“It’s just on the horizon there, you see?”

I did. Finally.

As I continued up the hetero-high street in my ill-fitting dress, I wondered whether my multifarious and vague sense of unease was rooted in multifarious and vague geography. Being back in and around my hometown is a comforting and compromising experience; like a sudden scent, it can transport me from being back in the nest to being back in the grip of a particularly unhappy time – 12 onwards – one of fierce self- and peer-cruelty. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t in danger.

“Focus on the writing task. The present, not the past. This is about this, not that.” I couldn’t extricate my feelings about this place from my feelings about my adolescence.

The woman who ran the cafe was very sweet; as I ordered a decaf latte she glanced at me and smiled, looking pleasantly surprised. As I tried to decipher why, the wheel slowed in my head and clicked to a halt at “she thinks my accent is funny.” I never decided whether that funny was joyous or condescending. Her American accent was very charming. I wondered if this strip-mall road was like a quaint model village for her.

Finally we sat, and after a wholly negative pull on the walk so far (the guy sitting next to us was basically Jay’s Dad from The Inbetweeners: “Brazil’s a deathtrap and no one speaks English, I wouldn’t”), sitting down with Dad reminded me how privileged I am to come from this particular family in this particular lame, homogenous seaside town. I wondered what he was making of this – things rarely faze him. He is much less particular than I…I think. He’s so unfazed I can never be sure.

A bus chugged away outside the open cafe door, and the warm fumes poured into my face.

“That’s French, that.” noted Dad.

“Which…what?”

“See on the bus there: ‘Yellow Buses, RATP Group’, that’s the Regie Autonome Transports Parisiens, they own the Metro and bus services etc. in Paris. It’s like EDF Energy, you know them? They’re French. And SITA. That’s a French company.”

“Globalisation, innit?” I always feel like an ignorant teenager in conversation with Dad – luckily he’s a very good and kind teacher.

“It’s like countries are trying to take each other over, push each other out. But everybody wants it, it seems. So that’s how it’ll be.” I don’t subscribe to his matter-of-factness, however.

“It is changing though, Dad. There’s a massive anti-consumer and anti-capitalist movement growing, and it’s organising…” I trailed off with disappointment as my lack of evidence at the changing tide of society and the Good Revolution sapped at my enthusiasm.

“Well, yes. A couple of McDonalds’ were burned down in France, although I think it was a protest at the debasement of cuisine rather than a protest at globalisation. And BP, of course, stands for British Petroleum, right? But on their website, they’re…” Dad made a fancy hand gesture – “Beyond Petroleum!”

We both snickered. “I think ‘No you’re not.” he said. “You sell petroleum.'”

As the Francais-owned bus, the one sign of multiculturalism in Winton besides the American cafe we sat in, rolled away, I thought again about leaving Britain for somewhere. I wonder where I will settle, where I will be when I am Dad’s age? Will there be enough petroleum to get me back to him?

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Feminism: Connection & Progression (aka What’s Next?)

the-futureIn the twenty first century, what, and where, is Feminism? There are close to 4 billion women in the world now, and the personal is ever political; that’s a buttload of politics. Are we still solid, guys? Would addressing you as ‘girls’ instead be patronizing, or more feminist? (I have many more questions, the masses. Please do not flame me yet. [P.S. How many readers constitute a ‘mass’?])

Aren’t we due another wave? There’s only been a few, and feminism’s totally internet-famous now. Today, internet culture has revolutionized life for everyone, not least those engaged in the gender equality movement which is at once exciting, thriving, and relentlessly, miserably co-opted. Just this week, the #nomakeupselfie campaign, for example, while raising money for a good cause, has simultaneously unleashed the ‘bravery’ of women who briefly don’t wear make-up as a defiant act in the name of freedom and peace and charity or something.* (The date is 21st March 2014. #Progress! [Have you looked at any rape statistics recently? Maybe 2014 could be the year we engage with that via hashtag!] )

Where can we possibly go from here? Is the concept of ‘post-feminism’ still a joke? Do I ignore or denounce Bill Maher’s pseudo-liberal sexism? How feminist is spending all day on social media sharing videos about advancing equality, of which none encourage spending vast chunks of my short life on the internet sharing videos?

As a distraction from the nervous determination for answers and clarity, and the accompanied sweating, I shall conduct some research. This shall be a defiant, strident act in the name of my own autonomy, and of using the internet productively. And of imaginary feminine freshness.**

The To-Do List (?)

In The Factuary’s “What Do Feminists Have Left?”, comedian Guy Braunum concurs that women of America (and of the rest of the world, FYI) have come a long way, baby. This video has a lot to tell us about the mainstream approach to feminism. Not only because of the US-centric, humour-imbued, internet-hosted habitus of contemporary feminism, but also because of its specification, categorization, and foregrounding of particular issues over others. And of white media personalities dropping sardonic lines.

(Typed to the accusatory reflection in my computer screen…)

[‘Media Personality’? Please. – Ed.]

Acknowledgment of equal pay, rape culture, reproductive health, micro-aggressions and media representation is right on. It’s good to have a challenge or five, but really? Five fronts on which ‘feminism’ has to continue to fight? Were we to eliminate these struggles tomorrow, would that be gender inequality checked off the list of Worldsuck? Can any one entity express a finite list or end point for feminism? How many more questions do I need to ask before I get to the point?

To boil it down to one question (oppressive kitchen-centric terminology – Ed.): with ‘internet feminism’ clearly alive and kicking, which ‘wave’ are we in now, and is there an end goal (or five) to that wave – how and who is feminism, what or where should it be, and be doing? *Sweats*

PSYCH! I hid, like, 3 whole questions in there! (So… so many…)

Waves (aka The Officially Recognised Stages of Western Feminism)

First-wave feminism tackled (certain) inequalities in law: we know these baby – wave-makers, broadly speaking, as the suffragettes. They achieved representation, statues outside Parliament, and songs in Mary Poppins; all of which they bloody deserved. They were willing to trade eating, breathing and not being trampled to death for the sake of being recognised as actual human beings with totally normal brains, capable of putting a cross in a box because of some reasons. It was easy to define an end point at which they’d succeed, because what they wanted to change was already written down, listed and numbered: the First-wave feminism to-do list already existed in the laws of Parliament; Pankhurst, Davidson et al would just put their thing down, flip it and reverse it. But this extended, at first at least, only to women over thirty and of a certain economic status. #successfail

Second-wave feminism, in which women rejected de facto inequalities that remained, spanned the 60s and 70s. Between first- and second-wave, everyone was too distracted by some pretty serious international breakdowns in relations to pay attention to the intra-relations of the nation (save for Vera Lynn, who released her much-ignored feminist reggae album Intra-Relations of the Nation in 1943.) The grudge held after women got some legally-mandated equality lasted ages, until… like, right now. Simone de Beauvoir, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan & later bell hooks, amongst others, were the anti-Smurfette Principled Justice League of battling non-legal structural issues, such as unequal family and workplace frameworks, designated and prescribed sexual behaviours, and ensuring women’s reproductive freedom. All they wanted was a holistic recognition of woman’s human being-ness in attitude and belief rather than just mandated lip-service. But society (some ladies included) was all like “…Ew.” #onelovefail

Third-wave feminism (c.1992-?)… is harder to define. One, because it’s not necessarily ‘over’, and therefore lacks a hermetic historiographical place from which to examine it; and two, because its basis is in opening the understanding of feminism to its own far-more-diverse-than-allowed-to-be-acknowledged history and culture, and the nature of gender itself. But is this broadening of discourse and increasing intersectionality succeeding on the ground? And what constitutes success?

The myriad voices and definitions that have created, and continue to form, third-wave, are a testament to its recognition that previously the experience of women of relatively affluent white culture was made paramount, and the infrastructure of binary gender identity had been taken as-seen, ignoring and excluding the continuing struggles of women of colour, transgendered people and those of the working- and under-classes. #seeingpastowneyelidsfail

 Fighting and factioning

Prejudice from within and without feminism persists (often irretrievably embedded in the unconscious); the disparity between those foregrounded and those marginalized rages on in feminism as it does in society. ‘Feminism’ is not necessarily a monolith of progressive energy that women are either in or out of, for or against (and depending on your utopia, if you have one, may or may not need to be); feminism is its own Venn diagram within society’s. We disagree on as much as we agree on – our definition of what makes women’s lives better will never be able to be singular once we specify outside of simply: ‘respect’.

The womanist movement, beginning in the 1960s, throws into relief the long-standing failures of mainstream feminism to fully represent the needs and rights of all women, in a context not simply of gender but of class- and race-based oppression. Womanism is an umbrella under which ‘feminism’ is simply one element, alongside spirituality, and restructuring all relationship dynamics; a clear demonstration of intersectionality and social activism. Womanists delineated this expansion of understanding decades before any activists or bloggers would band together in its name under the label of feminism.

While social movements such as these can be understood as linear processes, insomuch as they exist within linear experience of time, ‘feminism’ is not necessarily a series of ever-successful stages with beginnings and ends. There have been recognized waves of activity, but these constructions aren’t exhaustive and completely omit particular people, struggles and groups. To this day, we still fight for what the suffragettes originally fought for: a recognition of all people as intrinsically equal beings, rejection of oppressive hierarchy and confines, and ensuring our ability to collectively remove the godawful from power. And at no point did those fighting for gender equality stop for decades at a time for rest, or victory laps around Donald Trump and all his acquisitions.

Cyberspace

Are we succeeding at our new, supposedly diverse and inclusive feminisms en masse? Generally, female-centered culture is still viciously twisted and shoved through the funnel of mainstream culture, which has willfully ignored undercurrents of progression in favour of trivializing debate and flogging globally-waning self-worth.

But, the internet! YES! And, unfortunately, sometimes, still no.

The internet is a two-sided, defaced coin in feminism’s utility belt. It’s afforded women huge gains in their ability to communicate, connect and organize. It has provided everyone with self-publishing and distribution platforms, broadcasting previously ignored and suppressed voices and experiences. It is the Room of Everyone’s Own. And thus, the room is also used by the defensive, the ignorant and the sexist; the asshats of the world still have dented egos when logged on and they’re looking to use them. They are packing Angry. It’s the same perilous tundra as the real world, with equally ambiguous intimacy.

ORGANISE

Feminism, womanism, gender equality et al cannot but be foregrounded in, and driven by, intersectionality. It won’t work unless it acknowledges and understands the personal, political and partitioned world that we inherit, and undermines the oppressive structures of individualism, economics and education (cultural as well as academic). Otherwise, we’re gonna have to Van Gogh it. Once dissected and posthumously appreciated, we can move on with the best bits. All collective, anti-oppressive movements by definition need to transcend ego, and require hard graft, structurally and personally. And pithy names, like Intersectionalists Against Kyriarchy or All of Us Hating Ignorance & Violence Together Forever. (HighFiveFreezeFrame!)

Having the cyber-tools to share and debate productively at the touch of a button relies on us actively and consciously doing so. Mainstream culture funnels us to certain places; it operates smoothly on decades of carefully formatted infrastructure and the (morally bankrupt) economic freedom to do so. Solidarity is paramount. Anti-feminist haters, while painful, can be easily debunked, but feminists fighting over feminism is some shit, and particularly tiresome shit to wade through. Fair in-criticism must be embraced and accepted, however difficult; and there’s a fine line between criticism and fighting. I don’t remember the last time someone was called out (calmly) and they just acknowledged it and apologized. Heaven forbid we might learn something from one another.

Can we balance consumption with production? Slacktivism with activism? Challenging with acceptance? All extended hands and discussion, incorporating each others’ needs. (Extend a hand to an MRA sometime, you might surprise him.)

This is how we avoid being defeated by violence, and having to resort to violence ourselves.

* I have no beef with anyone who participated in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. Some of my best friends are people who participated in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. I jest to make a point about perspectives and trends in mainstream culture.

**(On your behalf, Dove approves this message, the whole article, and all of Feminism.)

Connect with:

Feministing – a feminist blog with a diverse staff who write on intersectional feminism, and provide us with the busy-life-friendly Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet.

@feministing/feministing.com

 

KrissyChula – the funniest woman on YouTube.

@krissychula/www.youtube.com/user/krissychula

 

Hartbeat – the other funniest woman on YouTube.

@HARTgotBEATs/www.youtube.com/user/hartbeat

 

LaciGreen – the sexiest and most positive sex-positive person I’ve ever had the pleasure of sensing.

@gogreen18/www.youtube.com/user/lacigreen

 

Paris Lees – journalist, presenter & trans activist and all round sweet and considerate person (it seems like.)

@ParisLees/lastofthecleanbohemians.wordpress.com

 

Writers of Colour – tireless online organisation promoting work by people of colour; very active on Twitter.

@WritersofColour/mediadiversified.org

 

Jay Smooth – video blogger & Hip-Hop radio guru who vlogs on politics, race & culture.

@illdoc/illdoctrine.com

 

New Statesman – British mainstream leftist magazine. Politics, pop culture & several feminist columnists & editors.

@NewStatesman/newstatesman.com

 

Jackson Katz – educator in gender, specifically the construction of masculinity. The first man in the US to have taken Women’s Studies. Check out his amazing TED talk.

@jacksontkatz/jacksonkatz.com

 

ADDENDUM: On posting this article online, one reader pointed out that while she agreed with a lot of the points, the article still read as ‘white-washed’, containing little alternative history to that which I was critiquing. She suggested this reading; ‘Whose Feminism, Whose History?’ by Sherna Berger Gluck, Maylei Blackwell, Sharon Cotrel & Karen S. Harper (which you can read here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_HfOnXTgYJoWENoTnpITlM1Ymc/edit?pli=1)

It provides an engaging, complex and well-woven history of some of the womens movements in LA over a number of decades. My article scratches the surface of the problem of mainstream history, whereas this provides a deeper account of many women’s marginalised, intersectional struggles.

Women in Pornography: Annabel & Grace

chongI was first introduced to Sex: The Annabel Chong Story in the second year of my Film Studies degree in a week titled The Pornography Debates, part of the segment on gender representation. Now that I choose to write about gender in culture I regret not plunging myself into full engagement with the course; but despite my mental absence, I remember this documentary with trepidation.

 

Grace Quek is a Singaporean woman, better known under her porn star alias Annabel Chong, who gained notoriety for breaking the record for having sex with the most men at one time (251 in 10 hours) in The World’s Biggest Gang Bang. Her story caught the attention of student filmmaker Gough Lewis (who I recently learned was her then boyfriend,) who directed the ‘Annabel Chong story’, a story in fact about Grace Quek, sexual politics, the pornography industry, exploitation and emotional instability.

 

Quek’s story is both mesmerizing and frightening, and as a character she evokes immense respect, frustration and pity. I distinctly recall troubling, hugely ambivalent feelings of anger vs excitement, and dismissal vs curiosity; on first viewing, I had no idea how I felt about the story of Annabel Chong: a plastic, often embarrassing character that essentially never existed. I now see that Quek’s story is “where it’s at” (one of Chong’s favourite phrases), and it raises fascinating questions. The Pornography Debate’s place in gender theory is as frustrating as it is appropriate, and this film delineates the complexity of this regrettable dynamic.

 

Perhaps the most obvious question could be phrased as “is being a porn star a feminist act?” This reductive question has a longer answer. Quek went about being a porn star in the name of equality and expression and it could be convincingly argued that her venture was a feminist act. (Though Quek never uses the word ‘feminism’ specifically she often espouses feminist rhetoric.) Definitions of ‘feminist’ are often very disparate, and pornography debates illustrate this. Her claim that attempting to sleep with 300 men was a piss-take of the masculine notion of ‘stud’ is a legitimate concept found in both academic and everyday discussions of sexual politics. A student at USC during production, Quek’s academic excellence is evident in footage of her contributions in class and her teachers’ testimonies to the fact; she clearly and purposely conflates her academic work with that of her chosen career.

 

I don’t see Quek’s actions as ‘feminist’ ones, regardless of having faith in her stated intentions. The most solid insight that the film gives is that the pornography industry operates on a strong current of violence and sadism and systematically engages in exploitation. Much of this is directed at women, whether genuinely or just for show, and women participate either knowingly or with a view to ‘liberating themselves’. Quek’s claims that she wants to change views on female sexuality from stereotypes of passivity to aggression, and that she really enjoys sex, are just fine. Yet these claims are somewhat eclipsed by other revelations, and the insight provided into the industry she participates in. Participating in something on its own terms and claiming it as your own does not equate to subverting or defeating it.

 

Some of the most telling scenes are those in which Quek is at work; in an interview discussing her upcoming record attempt, John Bowen, director of the World’s Biggest Gang Bang, who speaks either for or over her, matter-of-factly informs the interviewer that “Little Annabel” is going to “take them orally, anally, vaginally, any way you can do it” for “as long as it takes”. After continuing “right now, we’ve got a nationwide search for 300 guys who wanna come in and fuck ‘er”, she is eventually addressed directly, with a pat on the head: “Why don’t you stand up, sweetheart, and take your clothes off and let the people see what they’re gonna fuck.” Quek giggles, smiles and agrees throughout, constantly glancing towards and deferring to Bowen and jumping up to strip meekly at his word. Later we are introduced to the notorious Rob Black (Porn Director of the Year 1998, who made his name with rape fantasy films), who, in discussing the commoditization and legislation of sex work angrily asks why you can’t “have a guy fuck a girl, and while he’s fuckin’ her, have another guy come over with an axe and cut off her fuckin’ head?” This regulation on “our sex”, he believes, is “bullshit.”

 

It is, of course, wholly possible to be a ‘feminist’ porn star (though an indistinct, nebulous concept), yet in the 90s porn industry Quek needed to do more than turn up for work, have sex and inform us she likes it to be advancing her agenda of destroying the cultural limitations on female sexuality. Other than a phone call with Black in which Quek sternly demands more money than her co-stars, she is rarely seen challenging anything of the ideology or systemic exploitation of the industry. In an admirable though contradictory statement, she also claims that she doesn’t care that she never received the $10,000 that she is owed from Bowen for the record she set, because she didn’t do it for the money.

 

As the film progresses, the more we learn about Quek, and the more her self-exploitation/liberation becomes unbearable. After discussing being gang-raped as a teenager, and subsequently addicted to drugs, we see her self-harming while tearfully admitting that “life makes you numb” and this is a way to feel her pain. I don’t feel it right to speculate on the exact link that all of these elements of her life have, but on seeing her advertising the gang bang, uncomfortably and monotonously inviting us to have “intercourse” with her while batting fake ‘come-to-bed’ eyes into the camera, it is all the more upsetting to know that a vulnerable and victimized individual is actively pursuing a venture which requires her to be an object for others’ pleasure, in a potentially masochistic process of hyperbolic de-ja-vu. Quek’s face during the gang bang scenes displays immense pain; we learn that the reason she stopped at 251 men instead of the intended 300 was due to tearing in her vagina.

 

The original ambivalence that I felt after seeing the film reflects the ambivalence and complexity borne from the issue of female sexuality and its exploitation under patriarchy, specifically as a commodity. Long misunderstood as sinful, shameful, and worst of all, commodifiable objects in themselves, many women continue to understand their sexuality and bodies on these terms. It then follows that choosing to sell one’s own body and sex equates to liberation from the sinful, shameful, externally-owned scenario. In fact, it ensures the perpetuation of a cultural climate that understands the owning, selling and availability of women for others’ pleasure as commonplace and inevitable. Feminism is about improving the lives of women, away from violence, disrespect and wider inequality and under-representation. To promote equality in the porn industry, the violence, degradation and dehumanization of women must be attacked. Quek bravely and determinedly participated in the porn industry for her own complex reasons, but hardly on progressive terms. She has since retired, and I sincerely hope she has spent time healing.

Diane Abbott’s Crisis of Masculinity

crisisDiane Abbott’s most recent concern, the UKs ‘crisis of masculinity’, has understandably touched quite a nerve. Making assertions on the identity of a group of people will inevitably rattle cages, since the egos in those cages (which we perceive to protect the sacred self) are challenged and scrutinised. (Uncomfortable self-reflection is not conducive to maintaining one’s sense of utter righteousness, and, it would seem, favoured by neither privilege nor lad culture.) The subject becomes touchier when the person opining does not ‘belong’ to the group; the offended often claim all criticism is misunderstanding of the ‘truth’ due to the offender’s lack of experience or difference. We can all agree that Abbott’s ‘got balls’, just not to the extent that she belongs.

 

Abbott has a point or several, but she’s just missed the mark. Her misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) here is not down to her sex, as many have claimed. I think it’s comes from the mainstream understanding of gender as binary, following the ‘us and them’ dichotomy that pervades so many attitudes. She and I have identity traits in common: we both identify as female, and it would seem we are both moved by gender and how it is married to wider societal issues. So, I hereby cast my mere opinion into the ether for all including Abbott to consider, or at least react to with repulsion.

 

In ascribing this crisis to ‘masculinity’, Abbott has (probably inadvertently) blamed the kind of behaviour she criticizes on all who identify as masculine. To clarify: intellectually and spiritually, I don’t believe in dualised gender. (Emotionally, I still work against negative limitations I have internalized throughout development. [Sniff. Tiny violin.]) Since gender isn’t tangible it isn’t essentially definable, and thus the traditional definitions of gender are, for me, lost in the nature vs nurture argument, and in a recognition that all traits are human traits. The majority of us will still identify with ‘traditional’ gender roles as they have been defined, since our lives are initially made easier (remember school?) when we do; most people will let you know somehow which traits are ‘natural’ (despite this often occurring when we ‘naturally’ exhibit the wrong ones.) The absence of gender becomes apparent each day when women display human traits which are ‘masculine’, men display human traits which are ‘feminine’, and lesbian, gay and transgender people display human traits which are, yep, human.

 

Abbott has not only promoted the false idea that masculinity exists as a unified ‘thing’ for all who identify as masculine, and Is Bad, but has also made all those who identify as masculine feel attacked. Those who do display whiskey-drinking, porn-loving, viagra-popping, woman-hating behaviour are on the defensive of such behaviour, and those who identify as masculine but don’t display these behaviours are on the defensive from being misrepresented. Attributing a crisis to masculinity is reductive; it’s almost equivalent to attributing the miscommunication of social crises entirely to Diane Abbott.

 

Of course, there are chronic crises of sex inequality that we require men to prioritize in a way that our culture and society discourages. Regarding systemic, ongoing, daily oppression as a worldwide, urgent problem ought to be of utmost importance to everyone. Confronting a man’s blasé attitude towards the exploitation of sex workers, for example, is often met with ridicule, then defensive anger. But this is a society-wide problem also; there are plenty of women who knowingly and naively support existing patriarchal structures, and plenty of men who don’t. I don’t regard binge drinking, degrading or violent pornography, unnecessary pharmaceutical intervention, and misogyny as tenets of ‘masculinity’; I regard them as a result of long-standing complex processes within (patriarchal) society that stratify and bind people on the basis of their class, race and gender. What Abbott describes is a crisis of identity for numerous British people, largely influenced by a western capitalist society that cultivates entitled, violent, sexist, belligerent, materialistic and nihilistic values in its citizens. The inclusion of consumerist and individualistic culture in her discussion began to touch on this, and the crises of unemployment, depression and suicide trends naturally follow from what capitalism peddles; but what underpins the behaviours and beliefs associated with identity was not unraveled further than “masculinity is broken”. I applaud much of what she did say; I only wish she had addressed it to all citizens, and especially the MPs with whom she works.

 

There are several crises facing us, globally rather than nationally. Abbott describes issues of identity politics, which take dictation in part from the crisis of capitalism (but are not its most brutally damaged victim.) Individuals reject and accept these dictations all the time, and we must understand the abjection that often follows from rejection of these values in order to develop the strength to reject them. In the face of the glorified social and financial capital of commodified masculinity and femininity, deviating can be frightening and isolating. The initial confusion that arises from rejecting gendered identities can be matched by the freedom found expressing a more whole, diverse and fluid identity.

 

There are questionable stories about society, human nature, and nature under which we develop. They can be difficult to fight within ones own psyche, let alone in discussion with others. I have learned everything I am writing now, from my situated perspective. I encourage change of my own perspective regarding new information, and I hope for continued enlightenment. It requires work, and a denial of fixed knowledge and self while allowing expression of what you feel is right and just.

 

We have a cultural crisis of self, rather than a crisis of men or women or immigrants or Britons. We currently face crises of humanity on many fronts: culturally, financially, environmentally, etc. All of these present us with constant opportunities for monumental change. Will we take them, and quickly enough?

Navigating a Culture of Sexual Objectification

…is something 52% of the population must do, daily.

In fact, it’s something 100% of the population must do daily, but 48% (probably) don’t internalise it as self-image. Although…I’m sure there are tribes that never see any mainstream media, and people who don’t leave their houses or have a television or have the internet….

I promise I’m trying, Inclusion and Accuracy.

Guesstimate: about 89% of the population see images, and films, and television programmes, and news items, and magazines, and adverts, and people that continue to sexualise cis-femininity. Daily. It’s toxic, it’s both surreptitious and brazen, and it affects YOUR BRAIN. And it will affect the brains of your children if you don’t teach them otherwise. This is why when you see any media which promotes anything Bad, you should punch your child. Hard. It’s called aversion therapy, and it works. (You’re welcome.)

Sociological Images has provided all of humankind, that is, everyone that is not one of the PhD-holding editors of the blog, with a series of posts about sexual objectification in (mainly advertising) images. The author, Caroline Heldman, defines the posts as “a series about how girls and women can navigate a culture that treats them like sex objects.” Nice one Caroline; frankly, it’s about time. 24 years into my life (after being groomed by media for all of those, but studying and deconstructing media for four of them) I actively see myself as a brainbodysoul subject, and it feels good in my brainbodysoul. But the grooming runs deep in all of us (eww) and unfortunately, it seems that all people need a frequent reminder that we humans are complex beings and not just the shoulds and givens that our constructs and institutions insist and demand we are and be. So, in conclusion, stop watching and start reading.

There are plenty more interesting articles on sociology, and images, on Sociological Images. But first, check these out as a 101 to not caving to the continual insistence that the female body is SEXY, and that that fact is important to you (oh, and empowering. Definitely empowering.)

Part One: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/07/02/sexual-objectification-part-1-what-is-it/

Part Two: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/07/06/sexual-objectification-part-2-the-harm/

Part Three: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/07/10/sexual-objectification-part-3-daily-rituals-to-stop/

Part Four: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/07/13/sexual-objectification-part-4-daily-rituals-to-start/