Sunday, 16 January 2011

A Dialogue With Cunts

I like arguing on the internet. I like the buzz of righteousness, the “Ha!” of a thrust hit home, the smug parrying of an attack with the perfect put-down. I like it even though I pay the price for participating in ground-down teeth and frankly pretty impotent rage. But it’s a widely agreed-upon truism that arguing on the internet about feminism is the most teeth-grindy experience of all. There’s even a cartoon about it, which itself was triggered by a tweet-war involving a graphic artist who made some mildly irritated remarks about the way male fans reacted to her and which subsequently generated a tangled web-wide meta-conversation about sexism, and finally, with the frantic “What about us poor men!” hysteria raging on its own comments thread, ended up proving its argument that any cyber-debate about the oppression of women becomes an opportunity for men to bleat in outrage about themselves.

My experience of the Great Cyber Sex War is limited, but I can see what the cartoonist (a man, although that was an unpleasant surprise to those who whined about what a beastly, bitter, man-hating lezzer-who-would-never-get-laid the artist must be) was getting at. I threw up my hands in despair and signed out of a music-based forum the day another poster described me as “scary” because I tended to argue back as forcefully as some of the pack-trolls who stomped about in that particular male-dominated little world. Unlike my three or four most shouty opponents, I was very careful not to resort to ad hominem attacks, because I felt (ultimately pointlessly) I had to be on best behaviour to ensure that my points were taken seriously, so the scariness must have been solely down to the fact I, unlike any of the very few other female posters on the forum at that time, had a dogged relish for the arguments that flourished in the politics threads. How fucking sad that a woman who can hold her own in a political debate is seen to be something to be afraid of!

Today I read Suzanne Moore’s "Time To Get Angry?" on the Guardian’s website and felt properly cross enough to throw myself into the ring. Never mind the frustratingly par-boiled examples she gives and the general impression of incoherent rather than righteously focused rage; never mind the lack of clarity in her suggestions for progress; never mind indeed the bizarre fact that she fulminates about the lack of anger in the feminist movement (there are still whole seething Eyjafjallajokulls worth of anger to tap into out there, Suzanne: you don’t need to start your own crusade as you rather touchingly suggest), or the fact that she’d turned up at The Guardian having taken The Mail’s dollar for the past few years (co-option or fighting the enemy from within? Hmm. I can’t bring myself to give her anything like the benefit of the doubt on that one): it was the responses that came after which horrified me. Whatever Moore said and however effectively or otherwise she put her case, nothing reinforces her call to action like the unbridled hatred displayed in the comments section.

What a peculiar, exhausting, frustrating and depressing pile of muddle-headed nastiness it was to wade through. If anyone had any doubt about the depth and intensity of misogyny in society, reading that little lot would have convinced them it is alive and thriving on the Guardian (of all fucking places) website. The utter lack of comprehension about what feminism is sent shivers of despair down my spine: as far as the eye could see were hordes of pissed-off, hard-done-by men, furrowing their collective monobrow over being hated by the horrid wimmin. Hardly a pro-Moore “Yay! Go sister!” to be heard over the squeals of indignation. Depressing stuff. All feminists are apparently female furies, who view every male human being as a rapist or murderer-in-waiting and apparently every last one of them is motivated by bitterness rather than a considered ethical or political desire for justice and equality (though what they are so very bitter about remained elusive to their decriers: perhaps it’s an ineffable womany thing). Most infuriating and ignorant of all were the charges laid against feminism.

Feminism is just female sexism”, says one enlightened soul. Really? Feminism’s project, as far as I am concerned, can still be summed up by the aim of the magazine The Revolution, founded in 1868 by Susan B. Anthony: “Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less”. How can that be sexist, the definition of which can be broadly agreed upon as being the practice of attitudes and actions which perpetuate the oppression of one gender by another? Women are not in a position to dominate men in this society, as is evidenced by their inferior social status, economic status, cultural, religious and political statuses. It’s a misunderstanding of order to equate women being apparently routinely bitchy or using their gender as some sort of a weapon against men as sexism. (Jesus fucking Christ, fishlike on a bike, being bitchy is the very least they can do, in the face of the relentless, demeaning, heartachingly mundane sexism that women encounter in some form or another EVERY SINGLE DAY.) Denigrating feminism by accusing it of sexism is as absurd as chucking the racism card at the anti-racist movement because people of one race get royally pissed off at being treated as second-class humans - or worse - by people of another and blame them, quite reasonably, for being the agents of their oppression.

Here’s a slightly more rabid comment on Moore’s article, to demonstrate where that dislike or distrust (of feminism in particular but of women in general) can lead:
“When, not if, but when, this country fails, because its men and boys have been so demonized by feminism and women in general, and the invaders move in because there the men are so disinfranchised with how they've been treated, see then how womens lives regress. British men did everything they could do make the lives of women in this country better, and what did they get for it?
Hate and demonization.”
Poor lambs. (I could lay on the “sic”s, but let’s allow him his dignity: love that nicely ironic misuse of “disenfranchised” there.)

Here’s another, from the same spluttering hound, but echoed by many others: “Women in this country have been given rights by men. They are the most looked after women in the whole of human history, and yet they still kick and scream asthough they are 'opressed'. Its simply not true, and I for one, and I know that Im not alone, am developing a hardend attitude toward women. You've been given the best lives of anyone, and yet your totally ungrateful. Men are, in greater and greater numbers, withdrawing our support for women. Lets see how you fair when men we men stop working for you.”

So it really is war, isn’t it? Every word takes great, stonking, black marker-pen strokes and underlines the undeniably concrete effects of sexual inequality, from "women have been given rights by men" and "we men stop working for you" to "your totally ungrateful". Of course we're ungrateful, you patronising fuckwit. What exactly gives people who have cocks the authority to give or take human rights from people who have cunts? Absolutely nothing. You can't squawk about men being used or accused or having horrible things done to them while maintaining a position of superiority over women: it totally negates your - and this is an overly-generous term for it - argument. Work out the difference between structural misogyny in society and general injustice and I might take you seriously. Until that time I say rock on ingratitude!

What I want to bang into every last one of those dull heads (and not just those of the clearly racist-with-it mental cases) is that feminism is not a bunch of indiscriminately-man-hating women, it's a project (undertaken by both men and women) critiquing and seeking to dismantle an oppressive power structure that blights lives the planet over.

Anger about the structure that feeds misogynist practices is, of course, blatantly very much needed and being enraged about what Suzanne Moore calls “the horrible, horrible things” that are done to women by men obviously does not preclude fury over the horrible, horrible things that are done to Muslims just because they are Muslim or to any other group of fellow human beings that is stigmatised, attacked or oppressed simply because they belong to that group. Or indeed the injustices that ordinary men suffer under the current system: here's a neat summation of the privileges of patriarchy, or how getting shat on as a man is still better than being a woman.

I'd like to live in a world where girls could grow up without being regularly belittled or bullied or abused or mutilated or stoned or raped or jeered at or given shit jobs for less pay or imprisoned or beaten or publicly derided just because they were born with the wrong genitalia. Where it doesn't matter which sex a person is. Where freedom applies to all the various shapes and sizes of human. This is far from the case and I cannot get my head around any rational, humane person wanting anything else, which is why, in a way, I find the slightly less spittle-flecked anti-feminist posts the most problematic.

Feminism has an almighty PR problem at the moment, even from the more, er, kindly-disposed, if ragingly paternalistic, critics: “If you do get 'angry' then you are going to lose support from sections of society who can emphasise with your position" Assuming he meant empathise, there’s that argument again, wheeled out against the recent student demonstrators: don’t get angry, because you’ll scare people off. It’s bullshit. Nothing (see my previous blogpost) ever got changed by people being NICE. Disobedience is the only way.

Which brings me to the question of having dialogue with cunts. Or not. The particular cunts referred to by Situationist slogan “No Dialogue With Suspect People. No Dialogue With Cunts” are those wanting to sneak their way into the movement rather than combative interlocutors, but to borrow the words rather than the intention: is it worth arguing about feminism with the knobheads that populate the internet? In my experience these are people with entrenched views, who have a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of feminism as well as deep personal resentment and distrust towards women (understandably enough: they’ve grown up in a misogynist culture). The likelihood of anything I or anyone else says being taken seriously and changing their opinion is remote. But I do think that an oblique dialogue with them is necessary: taking every point that is made and deconstructing the nonsense might bring others into the debate and make a dialogue something busier. Might make people think. Might unearth one an opponent who has something opinion-changing of their own to add. Otherwise the argument is already lost. One of the reasons you get such hateful and misinformed crap as I’ve quoted above – I can’t imagine it being stood for two decades ago – is that complacency has won out over anger. Despite the infuriating twattishness of people who don’t read properly and end up arguing against straw Dworkins, it’s very clear that vast swathes of the population have missed out on their Feminism 101 starter-packs. 

Surely it's very simple: if you believe that all human beings, regardless of their gender (or sexual orientation or race or class), should have equal access to justice, financial reward, resources, services, freedom etc., then you agree with the project of feminism and can call yourself a feminist. If you think women should not be treated equally in these areas, then you're a sexist in what is demonstrably a sexist world.

Pick your side. The fact that this battle remains to be won more than two centuries after Mary Wollstonecraft's passionate and rational attack on sexual double standards is a just and reasonable cause of utter fury. The internet is full of hate-spouting idiots who need to be challenged and have their dangerous views demolished piece by piece. Go argue. Viva rage!

(Pictures reblogged from the very cool Anarcho-Feminist)

Friday, 7 January 2011

Just Say No To Nice

There’s a new gang in town: the unsettingly-titled Cabinet Office's Behavioural Insight Team. Their activities so far seem benign and sensible enough – making it automatically an option to give to charities when using an ATM; signing new drivers up to the organ donation scheme by default: basically using psychology and habituation rather than legislation to modify the country’s behaviour – but they leave me with a nasty taste in my mouth. A taste that makes me rant and rave rather than act anything like the good girl the government seems to want me to be. For a start, why would the Tories be interested in coaxing people into making more charitable donations precisely when a great chunk of the population is having an appalling time financially, if not to save itself the job of paying for cuts fallout? Charitable funding being, after all, one of the areas to feel the Osborne axe. (Scrape away at the surface and there’s some nasty sexism going on with those cuts: let’s not forget that it is women who make up the majority of the public sector workers who will see jobs and incomes cut by Tory policies as well as traditionally being the biggest donors to charity both in terms of money and time. Ideally, I think, the ConDems would have all women working for free, rings on their fingers and back at the stove, Valiumed-up à la Betty Draper, because apart from anything else it would save a packet on the childcare vouchers.)

This Orwellian psy-ops team is developing clever ways of making us behave better by exploiting, in the deliciously pointed words of the Independent, our “shame, vanity, laziness and the desire to fit in”. (Who needs hellfire when you’ve got Cameron with his combination of dangling moral carrots and psychological pigboards? He’s making the fundamental raison d’être of the C of E utterly redundant and will leave it as merely the provider of rather stately venues for communal sing-a-longs. Which, on reflection, would be no bad thing.) The sheer cuntarded arrogance of the political class in assuming that the general public is so dumb and apathetic that they need to be tricked – “nudged”, in the terminology of the special advisors to the unit – into altruism is one thing but what is more astounding is the fact that none of this is the business of the government anyway. The morality of the state, its laws and its governance, is the work of the people who comprise it, not their temporarily elected representatives. (On the subject of morality, there was a perceptive article recently, arguing that UKUncut represented a sea-change in political activity because although the tax loopholes exploited by big corporations and non-dom billionaires may be legal, they are not, by any measure, right:  it’s up to us to make that different.)

The unpleasant aftertaste continues to fire up when I think about the government using “normative behaviour” to shame people into behaving how they’d like them to. Whose norms would those be? Cameron’s? Nick “Integrity” Clegg’s? Ha! Or even those of the new New New Labour leader, Ed Milliband, who fudged pathetically when asked why he wasn’t married and, instead giving it a bit of self-respecting “marriage is an outmoded, unnecessary, essentially misogynist institution and state intrusion into my private life is both irrelevant and oppressive”, mumbled that he would get round to it eventually? Cop out. It’s not as if a single one of those Westminster weasels is going to be worthy of any kind of trust: you wouldn’t let George Osborne babysit your tortoise, let alone give him dominion over your morality. I certainly don’t imagine that shaming or guilt-tripping people into behaving according to Tory-prescribed norms is going to end well for anyone who isn’t the two-point-five kind. These are people who have demonstrably lied and conned their way into power, who have let their wealthy pals get away with tax murder and whose troops bomb villages and kids and parties and journalists and thus get away with yer actual blood’n’guts murder as well.

So how fucking dare these immoral scum suggest that the country’s ills could be cured if only people could just be gently shoved into being nicer to each other? If all the freely-given, un-nudged voluntary work parents, for example, do now were added up in woman-hours and paid at minimum wage, I wonder how large a bill would be presented to the Treasury? And they want MORE. Make no mistake, these people are bastardly in the extreme and no amount of getting McDonald’s to coax people to eat more broccoli is going to change that. They want to make up for the fact that hospitals are underfunded and understaffed by allowing family members to stay around and help out: wouldn’t it be better, really, to cough up the funds to make hospitals safer, more humane places to be ill in first? Otherwise it’s arse-covering rather than progress.

It’s almost as if communities didn’t already exist, people didn’t already volunteer their time and energy, wouldn’t look after each other anyway… Even if you believe (go on, try it) that the Tory cabinet were being sincere rather than devious with these proposals, they must live in an almighty bubble of selfishness and greed if they think that by covertly steering the herd into being nice everything will be OK. Because, of course, your poverty and ignorance and ill-health is YOUR fault, you lazy gits, not ours, so YOU fix it.

What is going on is a smoke-and-mirrors diversionary tactic: it shifts the blame onto people (particularly the working class, all broken as they apparently are) and their flawed ways whilst letting the industrialists continue to pollute and the bombers bomb and the politicians lie and the tax-exiles bathe in Martini. And it’s crap. Because, really, who is need of behaviour modification if not the Eton Rifles?

Here is a deep-rooted (disingenuous, hypocritical, Daily Mailoid) misrepresentation of society by a bunch of rich, powered-up twats who boast about loving the Jam and the Smiths while their whole being shouts out Huey Lewis And The News. And that’s being ridiculously generous. Society functions on so many levels beyond the financial and the legislative: musicians and artists and writers know this perfectly well because they do what they do for the sheer heart-swelling love of it. Yes, wages would be nice, but the lack of them hasn’t stopped the flow, doesn’t prevent people from writing blogs or putting on gigs or setting up record labels. They certainly don’t need sticks or psychological trickery to make them contribute (ugh, vile word). Likewise those who help out at Macmillan day centres or man helplines for charities.

It boils down to the fact that if you think of society as mudlike and manipulable, you’re doing the individuals who constitute it a great disservice and scoffing at the phenomenal amount of vigour and love and creativity that powers the wheels of community. If that lot in Westminster really wanted to make the world a better, healthier, more enjoyable place to live in, then instead of conning people into false altruism or covertly-improved nutrition, they would modify the behaviour of the Capitalism-sanctioned nudge-merchants that we all have to negotiate daily, with their grubby paws in every area of life from advertising to schooling. Because, if you look at it that way, it’s a great big mediated bread-and-circuses con trick, all of it, from national newspapers to rubbish TV, from deceitful, dangerous governmental reports about WMD and drugs to unheeded police codes of conduct. Even the implicit decision of the government to allow its sinister little team to be publicised by the papers should furrow a brow or two. In the age of Wikileaks everything gets to be questioned: stuff that was once the realm of conspiracy whisperers is out in the open, the lies palpable; Big Society, Big Brother, whatever, it’s time to dig our heels in, get nasty and say no.

Those Dancing Days

(First posted on Louder Than War)

Last month I saw Those Dancing Days at All Tomorrow’s Parties - the Butlins-hosted Ee-Zee fest for the middle-aged indie-kid - and they blew the gathered Scottish popocracy off its collective stage. If you haven’t heard (of) them yet, they are five girls from Stockholm who play ferociously bouncy pop. They turned up on stage at some eyelid-drooping hour of the night, a whirl of gold sequins and pouts, and played their hearts out for a crowd of soon-besotted aging Belle & Sebastian fans. And what struck me first – other than the sulky glances the bassplayer was throwing out at us from under her hoodie and behind her glasses – was how breezily proficient they were.

OK, so proficient has never had much of a history as a successful come on. It’s the prefect’s pin of the pop badge collection; a goddamn boy thing. Draws admiration rather than the urgent twist of the guts and the groin you want from your music. It’s possibly, even, the absolute antithesis of the anarchic curve-balls genius throws, especially if you believe the theory that creativity comes from the ability to make mistakes. Training fucks this up: if you abide by the rules, you might get really really good at following them, but you’re not going to do anything miraculous.

So many of the bands I’ve loved have been good at doing the wrong thing, have embraced the axiom that if you make a mistake you play it again and you play it LOUDER: I’m thinking of another all-girl band, Ut, who picked up the instruments that came to hand – violin, drums, guitar – and dragged whatever notes they could out of them. And glorious it was too, strings scraping gorgeously errant harmonies you’d never dream up if you knew what the hell you were doing. The alchemy of wrong worked especially well for women back then, who’d been out of the boys-with-guitars rock’n’roll loop for so long that they had to make their own. Mix in naïveté and chuck away any maps and, picking names from the hat that informed my musical tastes, you get a band like Pram, with their xylophones and toy pianos and unearthly space lullabies; Throwing Muses with their backbone of American demotic shapes, traditional folk songs and military band rhythms (and, oh god, Kristin with her wild ideas of how guitars play); whole hives of riot grrls who, like their punk and post-punk sisters before them, just wanted to play and weren’t going to let something as tiresome as musical expertise stop them, bum notes all over the place, loud and proud and thrilling. Yup: guts and groins, a shivered feel for what sounds right rather than what should be, that’s where it’s at.

So the fact that Those Dancing Days wear their competence so well was somewhat surprising, especially since the only recording I’d heard at that point had fostered a general impression of blissfully shambolic, foot-tripping ingenuousness. But not only do they wear it with casual grace, they make it something to celebrate, something icy cool. Perhaps girls can bank a certain amount of proficiency credit simply by virtue of their gender: boys being clever-clever is nothing new but technical skill isn’t generally much admired in women (for an example of how absurdly low the stakes are here, see the Elle magazine list of, er, the best female guitarists OF ALL TIME, which inexplicably includes Kelley Deal among the twelve it manages to dig up. But, to its credit, if we must spare it some, the list does rate Marnie Stern, whose frenetic guitar lines are a resolutely ungirly bloodrushed whoop in the face of boy-centric virtuosity). But never mind their cute-cool capability, there’s a whole lot more going on which elevates Those Dancing Days way beyond the kooky-girl-backed-by-boys-in-skinny-trousers formula that women at the Pitchfork end of the market usually get to be allowed to slot themselves into.

For a start, they’ve been playing together professionally for five years. And not just any old five years, but the half-decade from mid-teens on, when neurons are snapping and hormones hustling and brains re-wiring themselves in a stew of self-belief and iconoclasm. What they make with that is a headlong rush of stabby synths and furious beats (the tiny sweetly-smiling Cissi batters at her drum kit like it’s an annoying little brother needing to be taught a lesson or two: she’s mesmerising) beneath a sure-footed vocal that belongs somewhere else entirely. Wigan, maybe.  Linnea, with her untamed mop of curls, is channelling those precocious big-voiced girls of Sixties pop - Sandy, Petula or Ronnie perhaps - soaring and sweetly abrasive, as un-indie as cigars. The combination of brash youthful inventiveness and utter sortedness is extraordinarily engaging, particularly in a bunch of girls who, whoever winsome, are recognisably ordinary kids, all pinkly enthusiastic and stylistically unpolished (in pitiful contrast to the poor X-Factored newbies of tellyland pop, who go from awkward to Auton without passing Go) and thus the epitome of insouciant cool. Zooey bloody Deschanel they are not.

I first heard their song Those Dancing Days (taken from their EP Those Dancing Days: go for the all-out name bombardment, why not?) a couple of years ago. Built around a squelchy keyboard riff, some high-speed scattergun drums and gloriously self-absorbed teenage lyrics - “High on life/ In love with me/ Dancing in the night/ Dancing through the days” - I liked it but was obviously not paying enough attention. The fact that live they stomped over an entire festival weekend gives me great hope for their forthcoming second album. As does the poundingly fierce new track, Fuckarias, which, whether through teenage gawky genius or second-language-itis, has lyrics as wrong as you like:

“You're an uninvited clown
A foolish puppy with a too long tongue
You stumble and fall, you're the worst of them all
You're in my space, get out of my face.”

Ha! I love them. Fuck ‘right’, let’s dance. Go download the song for free here and you can fall for them too.