From Greece with love

Since it’s National Poetry Day, here’s a poem I wrote about Greece, austerity and valuing the wrong stuff.

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Learned heads shaking,
Lamenting,
My feckless, spendthrifty ways.
Apologies, my friends, but I just can’t summon the remorse.

 

You like everything to be paid for; neat, balanced
Yet my boundless gifts
Of language, democracy, philosophy
Lie weightless on your scales.

 

Austerity.
One of my words, you know
Appropriated by you
Repatriated to me as neighbourly advice
Sinister and smug.

 

My heroes might be gone now
They melt away without faith
But I’m not yet brought so low
You want my Acropolis?
You’re already in my debt.

 

 

My summer festival find – Glasgow’s WHITE

My summer festival find – Glasgow’s WHITE

I stumbled upon Glaswegian five-piece White on day two of Portmeirion’s Festival No.6. Fifteen hours of rain meant that I was on my second change of clothes. The shorts I’d optimistically worn were peeled off and discarded back in the tent. I’d ingeniously repaired my burst welly by swaddling my foot in a binbag. We were trying to forget our crumpled tent, the casualty of a marauding jakey the night before.

Determined to make the best of the festival, we sought a venue with a roof. That’s how we found White – seeking somewhere NOT WET to eat some pizza and dry out.

At first glance, they look like a typical guitar outfit (albeit with a woman on drums), with obligatory fringe-tossing frontman. But these guys aren’t making wallpaper music – there’s serious talent here.

It’s hard to pin down their sound. Despite having two guitarists and a bassist, you can’t define them as a straightforward guitar/indie band. There’s an electro quality on some tracks that’s reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem. Lead singer Leo Condie’s vocals are ambitious and similarly hard to pigeonhole, switching from snarling to soaring.  The band released Future Pleasures last year, and I get the impression they’re proudest of this track. But I prefer I Liked You Better When You Needed Me, due for release this autumn. It kicks off with a meaty riff that revolves through the track, while there’s a nicely acerbic touch to lyrics. I’m not sure who takes the creative lead in the band, but someone is seriously good at writing bridges. There’s a big songwriting talent here.

In terms of performance, they sounded very tight. The risk (and reward) of smaller music festivals is the varying quality of the lesser-known acts. For every budding alt-j, there’s a dodgy counterpart (this festival also featured a scarf-waving warbler who thought she was a succubus). But for a band that hasn’t played a lot of gigs in their current guise, White are seriously slick. According to NME, this is because the band hid themselves away for most of last year, refining and rehearsing their material.

Leo Condie remarked that the band “wanted to have the songs in place, have an image and a sound in place, so that we’d be like a spaceship landing from out of nowhere.” Based on the set I heard at Portmerion, I’d say they’ve gained that point.

Image should always come second to sound, but they’ve got that nailed too. As a unit, they’re eminently watchable. Condie clutches the mikestand somewhat coyly, bearing a more-than-passing resemblance to Jarvis Cocker. But these aren’t borrowed feathers – there’s a charisma and joy in performing that’s all his own. On drums, Kirstin Lynn takes no prisoners, which is presumably why she’s known as ‘Glasgow’s hardest snare-hitter’. There are no passengers here: everyone is contributing to the sound.

Since Festival No.6, I’ve been hoarding and repeating the band’s few Spotify tracks. With more singles to come and a tour underway, I‘m rooting for them to get the success they deserve. As it is, I’m grateful to them for turning a soggy afternoon into a festival highlight.

 

Check out White on their current tour.

Taking Down ’15 Reasons Why I’m Not A Feminist’

Taking Down ’15 Reasons Why I’m Not A Feminist’

I encounter number 10 a lot. Oft used by people who talk of women “playing the victim card”, as if structural oppression were akin to a game of Snap.

asexblogofonesown

So there’s a woman in America (where else) called Anna Senneff who believes that ‘third wave of feminism has gone too far’. She’s sick of Hillary Clinton running her mouth off about unnecessary and trivial things like, umm….’women’s issues’ and all that bollocks. Probably something about periods and vaginas, amirite? So Senneff wrote a list of 15 reasons why she isn’t a feminist. And because I’m a writer aka I’m basically unemployed, I am going to spend my Tuesday afternoon TAKING HER DOWN. Enjoy.

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  1. Because I think that despite men having a more privileged role historically, men’s rights and issues are something we can’t ignore.

Men’s rights aren’t ignored. That is the whole bloody point *claws own face off with rage*. I will literally go to my grave chanting ‘feminism is about EQUALITY’.

  1. Because I don’t want to identify with a cause that has built its foundation on the idea…

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Cheering Lauren Mayberry, who socks it to the trolls

I love the band Chvrches for two reasons. Firstly, because I spent the tail end of 2013 living in London, blithely dodging traffic while listening to ‘The Bones of What You Believe’, and secondly because its lead singer, Lauren Mayberry, is bloody brilliant at calling out casual misogynists. She casually, caustically flicks them back to their swamp.

Back in September 2013, she penned this righteous rant for the Guardian. In fact, it’s doing it a disservice to call it a rant – it’s a perfectly reasoned article. It asks why women in the spotlight attract misogynistic abuse, and why they should be expected to put up with it.

Before reading Lauren’s essay, I already knew the first answer to the first question. To some men, women who have the temerity to hold powerful positions – or indeed, any position that isn’t submissive, quiet or subordinate – are threatening. Such men try to negate women’s achievements and views by taking them down a peg or two, usually by reducing them to their appearance, or focusing on their possession of a vagina. I’m thinking here of the opponents of Julia Gillard, former Australian Prime Minister, who criticised her ‘big red box’ instead of her politics. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel, termed an “unfuckable lard ass” – by the Italian Prime Minister.  Just last week we had the Combover King Donald Trump, commenting that the Fox moderator who asked him tough questions “had blood coming of her….wherever”.

Back to today – when in typically fearless style, Lauren Mayberry posted a link to the misogynistic comments posted under the band’s new video. Leaving aside the most graphic and gross ones, the least sinister gist seems to be “you’re not allowed to call people sexists and then look nice in your video. Take yourself off and hide in a sack if you don’t want our abuse!” You see, if there’s one thing a misogynist hates more than an uppity woman who doesn’t know her place, it’s one who speaks about it publicly. The appearance of an articulate women – who happens to beautiful – having an opinion sends these misogynists into a rage.

Writing in 2013, Lauren wrote about the grotesque rape threats she had received – simply for being a woman, fronting a band. And, depressingly, she’s not the first – on an earlier blog, I compiled a not-so-nice list of women subjected to violence and rape threats for daring to have an opinion on stuff. These included Laura Bates, Lindy West, Lucy-Ann Holmes, and the Suffragettes.

Increasingly, rape threats and sexual violence have become the standard silencing techniques used to frighten women into submission. That’s why the “don’t feed the trolls” argument is invalid here – more women need to speak out, not less. It’s important to draw a distinction between men who don’t agree with a woman and can lucidly explain why (debate), and men who threaten to hurt and silence women for having an opinion (misogynists). I don’t think I’m exaggerating here when I call these silencing tactics an attack on free speech.

And that why it’s important to applaud the women like Lauren who do speak out. So these misogynists get the message – we are not going anywhere. To quote Lauren – bring it on, motherfuckers.

On judgemental feminists

I’ve recently encountered two problematic instances of feminist writers policing the behaviour of other women. These examples, which I’m about to explore, baffle and annoy me in equal measure. Why are presumably well-intentioned women telling women how to behave? Do they think we don’t get enough of that?

Halloween harlots

Let’s start with my favourite of all the pagan holidays, Halloween. I love dressing up at Halloween, with its implicit freedom to wander the streets dressed as a banshee, a tiger, or Kermit the Frog, without folks passing judgement on my sartorial choices or sanity. That’s not to say I find Halloween costumes unproblematic – why does the Leather Face (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) butcher’s costume have a miniskirt apron? And why is there such a dearth of ‘non-sexy’ costumes for those of us who want to buy them? These thoughts have often gone through my head, and when I hear them articulated by other women, I sympathise.

Where I lose sympathy is the point where feminists tell their adult peers how to dress at Halloween – or equally as annoyingly, how not to. Which brings me to this recent article by Hadley Freeman, who tells us to “dress like a jelly bean, ladies! Yes, it does make your bum look big and, no, no one can see your breasts, and that’s just great”. This is cleverly couched in an article that at first glance is about the lost “innocent joy” (did it ever exist?) of Halloween, yet which goes on to say “I’m not here to slut-shame women who dress like sexy hamburgers for Halloween. But ….. Halloween should be an opportunity for people to show off their creativity, not their side boob”.

As a woman, I really do encounter other people’s expectations on how I should dress (short skirts = rape, remember?) often enough already. I do not need this writer, purportedly on the side of feminism, adding her demands to the mix. It represents yet another voice telling women that our behaviour isn’t good enough (“too much boob! Not enough creativity!”). I’m weary of it: one of the age-old problems women face is being held up to a higher standard of behaviour than men. If we fall short of this, we are punished. And dress is a common, spurious focus of blame: a recent, typical example being the #iammorethanadistraction hashtag, spawned after girls in various American schools were told to cover up or wear “shame suits” based on their clothing choices. People have far too much to say about what women should and should not wear: they need to pipe down. Coming from feminists, this hectoring is especially galling.

There is hope though!  I just came across this tweet from left-wing feminist Laurie Penny. A right-on attitude.

Beng a wife and a complicit misogynist

I found out this weekend that most of my friends are complicit misogynists. By adopting their husbands’ name upon marriage, they have been apportioned some blame for the “centuries of misogyny” that have oppressed other women. Not by me, I hasten to add: this was a comment made by a friend on Facebook, under a BBC article discussing women changing their name upon marriage. Which brings me to my second wearying example of  women judging and policing other women.

I find myself arguing from an odd viewpoint here: I find the idea of exchanging one name for another a pointless tradition, rooted in the times a daughter was literally ‘given away’ by her father; a flesh-and-blood chattel, if you like. I intend to keep my name when I get married next year because a) it’s my identity and b) it’s a link to my father and also my paternal grandmother, who I was very close to.

That said, I have no judgement to offer on the women who decide to change their name to their husband’s.  It’s their name, after all. Judgement – what on earth gives me the right to judge other people? I can understand and respect women who say ”I wouldn’t change my name” (their name, their choice), but not those who censure and belabour other women who choose to do so. It’s an incredibly arrogant standpoint: to condemn every woman who changes her name, when there is no possibility of knowing their individual circumstances and motivations. A recent Vagenda piece where the writer expressed her “ dare I say it – disappointment” when women “shuffle off into marriage” and take their husbands’ name was met by some interesting responses, including:

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I’m generally a big fan of the Vagenda, but its writers have been accused on various occasions of writing from a position of middle class, white woman privilege. This recent article, while containing a lot of fair points, includes a thread of the pitying condescension that attracts such criticism. I can imagine the self-congratulatory writer, pluming herself on her sagacity as she thinks “I’m so cerebral. If only other women would think about these issues as deeply as I do!” As these comments from various women demonstrate, it’s breathtakingly arrogant of her to assume they haven’t.

Censuring women who change their name is another example of the higher standards of behaviour forced on women, by women. Feminism, at its most simple level, is about the right to equality. Surely that includes an equal right to self-expression? To wear what you like, call yourself what you like – as a man would?

To me, those who seek to belabour women for their choices are simply  derailing  the journey to equality:  women should be free to make decisions without  fearfully looking over their shoulder and wondering who they’re letting down: their school,  PTA, religion, or in this case, self-righteous feminists.

Some sisterly solidarity wouldn’t go amiss. And less judging.

Why I’m done with Facebook: organ harvesting and narcissism

Someone recently asked my mum if I had voluntarily scarpered from Facebook. There was a huffy aspect to this person’s questioning as if she couldn’t fathom why I wouldn’t want to continue seeing boring updates and pictures of raw chickens wearing onions (seriously) at the price of handing over all my personal information on a plate to a monolithic company.

The steady drip-feed of creepily invasive questions is what pushed me over the edge and into the arms of deactivation in May. The tipping point came when I logged in find Facebook blandly asking “When did you meet Daniel?” (my fiancé). It helpfully encouraged me to add the month and the year. I’m bemused on two fronts here: why does Facebook fondly imagine that anyone would care when I met my fiance? And more importantly, when did it decide to become an online interrogator?

I shouldn’t have been surprised to be questioned in this way, as a few weeks previously Facebook had asked me if I’m a registered organ donor. Is it just paranoia from watching Ewan McGregor in the Island recently, or is Facebook’s next move to harvest my organs? When you’re asking yourself this, it’s really time for a re-think.

This massive corporation wants to know every country I’ve visited, the films I’ve seen, the books I’ve read, the cities I’ve lived, what I studied at school, where I used to work. Does no-one else find this really fricking intrusive? And it’s not as if  I’m giving this information to a friend, or a benign Santa-like figure.  It’s a publicly listed company, run in the interests of its shareholders, having unrivalled access to every seemingly insignificant detail about me.

Oh, and I’ve to hand over all this information for free.  And if  I’m really lucky, Facebook will pocket some advertising dollars so I can see some cliched age-and-gender based adverts in my feed.

Turns out I’m not alone here. To date, over 400,000 people have signed a petition asking Facebook to stop forcing users to install its latest messaging app. The app sounds innocuous enough – until you accept the terms and conditions. By accepting them, you let Facebook  access your phone’s  camera and images, call and send messages without your consent, and access information about all of your contacts. Oh, and they can send that info on to third parties.

Needless to say, I have no intention of signing up for any of that.

LOOK AT ME!

Turning from Facebook’s monumental snoopiness, I also think it brings out the worst in people. The looming example of this is oversharing pictures. If, when I met my friends face-to-face, they always showed me holiday pictures and baby pictures, I would be bored witless. It’s behaviour that would be deemed odd and tedious. Why then do it online? Call me crazy, but the act of constantly parading pictures of yourself is not a trait to be valued in another person. Yes, you’re superficially communicating with another human being by sharing photos and having them comment on them. But how is this exchange in any way interesting or meaningful? Why not Skype or god forbid, speak in person?

Einstein defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If that’s true, I must be certifiably nuts based on the number of times I’ve refreshed my Facebook in the vain hope it will elicit something interesting. No more: I’m done.

Silencing tactics: the sexist shitcake

I wrote previously about the silencing tactics often used on women who challenge damaging sexist norms. It’s something I find galling – the frequency with which a woman draws attention to a piece of sexist/unfair behaviour, to be told it isn’t a problem and to stop complaining.

It’s a double whammy: you have the oppressive silencing tactic handed to you as a cherry on the cake of whatever was sexist in the first place.

I came across a classic example of this today. Retailer M&S is running a ‘Leading Ladies’ campaign that includes models chosen for their achievements. Enter Roma Agrawal, an Indian-born structural engineer who worked on the Shard in London. She got involved to encourage women and girls to become engineers, and to challenge the UK’s perception of girls’ and boys’ subjects in the UK. In her words:

“There’s less of a divide between girls’ and boys’ subjects in India than here. It’s normal there for girls to study science. I didn’t realise that a gender divide existed until I came to university at Oxford. I looked around the lecture theatre and there were about 10 girls in a class of 150. That’s when I thought this was kind of weird. We are designing things for society and if the people designing them only represent a small proportion of society we probably can’t deliver well.”

So far, so good. Kudos to M&S for choosing role models on the basis of their academic/professional achievements, and to Agrawal for trying to show women that science and engineering are valid career choices. Where it turns to shit is the following crap reporting from the Evening Standard:

“This softly spoken 30-year-old in a yellow dress is the woman who made sure the biggest erection in Western Europe didn’t fall down”.

Obviously, what an article reporting on celebrating women for their achievements really needs is an allusion to the women’s sexual appeal. She might have helped construct the Shard but let’s not forget her ability to sexually excite men!

Agrawal’s spot-on response was to challenge the paper, on the basis that “this one sentence contradicts the core message of the article: that women can excel in engineering and other male dominated industries on their merit. I believe women should be judged on their skills and contribution in the workplace and shouldn’t have to fear being sexualised”. The Standard refused to edit or remove the comment, on the basis that it was, in their own words, “light humour”.

So there we have the sexist shitcake. Now for the cherry silencer, which came in the form of a comment from the charming ‘Whigwham”.

 

capture

 

Note the helpful copy-and-paste explanation of the word ‘erection’. Silly engineer lady doesn’t know the meaning of the word, and clearly needs to be told!

I was tempted to respond with a correspondingly helpful explanation of the word ‘pun’, but sadly the comments thread had closed. To illustrate that the “light humour” (the Standard’s own phrase, remember) of the comment hinges on the dual meanings of ‘erection’: she helped erect the Shard and she can erect penises too! See what the writer has done there? Clever, eh Whigwham?

“What’s the problem?”, he asks.  (I am assuming it’s a he. If he/she is reading this and wants to correct me, feel free). The problem, dear sir, is that this woman has raised a legitimate objection to a sexist remark, made doubly worse in the context of an article about valuing women on their achievements, not their sexual attraction. But of course, you, being a man, know better. There is no problem, no sexual objectification, and if anything this woman is prejudiced and needs to take a look at herself! Why is she complaining?

Astoundingly, five other fuckwits read that comment and decided that the appropriate response was to recommend it.

You do have to wonder about people who dismiss someone’s rational, well-reasoned point of view so casually. Their thought process seems to be that because they haven’t experienced sexism themselves, it doesn’t exist. It seemingly doesn’t occur to them to listen to their fellow human beings – if they’re women, at any rate.