Saturday, 23 March 2013

Please consider knee jerk reactions to press regulation...

RIP Lucy Meadows:

I think the press have behaved so disgustingly but it's too easy to just blame them (though they should take in on their conscience, especially Littlejohn). We have a society afraid of difference and unwilling to approach people with empathy. That is something we all must work on. I include myself in this, as we all should.

All of the above said, whilst we can of course tighten up laws against intrusion, and put social and economic pressure on the organisations that control what news we see and how it is reported, I still don't think that "press regulation" is the answer. I don't think you deal with prejudice by silencing it by law and whether I am wrong about that or not I definitely don't think state regulation of what the media can say (and we are the media , blogs, social media, etc... will get caught up in the regulation) is ever a good idea. In fact I think it is yet another step towards a very bad political situation. We already have no real difference between the options of who rules us, we have laws that are giving us less and less freedom, we have a surveillance society, we have a state that suppresses protest, we have increasing pressures on the poorest and more and more laws designed  to protect the position of the richest.

I see so many people who I consider fellow travellers, who are opposed as I am to inequality, who believe in empathy and in a fairer and more sustainable society embracing the idea of state regulation. I can't emphasise enough that the state is not your friend, that there is already too much closeness between press and state, there is already too much focus on the interests of the status quo in our media.

This terrible tragedy does tell us that things need to change. That we need to try and forge a situation where it wouldn't happen again. But press regulation is not the way to do it. Worse than that I am not convinced that press regulation will get rid of transphobia from our media at all. But it will almost certainly silence some descenting voices.

I hate the media and their practices, they hound and mock the vulnerable whilst not challenging the powerful anywhere near enough. But as Amanda Palmer says "we are the media" we can share and focus on different narratives, we can share unreported facts, we can gather together with likeminded people, we can change what sells and by changing what sells we change what is said, because the mass media only publish stories that will make money for the people who back them.

Thursday, 14 March 2013


Women and feminists have to deal with incredible amounts of terrible misogyny and trolling in both the real world and online. Any negative feelings I have reading the hashtag #ThingsFeministMenSay are insignificant in comparison to that.

And this hashtag comes from that place. From frustration and anger that is created by the constant pushback radical women face when trying to push for rights, equality, respect and ultimately a change to the patriarchal structure of society. I sympathise very strongly with the emotions at the root of this.

I also think that a similar hashtag with different wording could be a powerful satirical and cathartic twitter thread. There are plenty of patronising men out there who think they can come in and lead the feminist movement, who don't see their own privilege, who attempt to tell women what their feminism should be. Hugo Schwyzer for example who was the straw that broke the camels hashtag.

Is that what I'm doing in this post? I don't think so but some may. And I get that.

Cards on the table I am a white, middle class, cisgendered, heterosexual man. I am, by virtue of my skin colour, appearance etc... highly privileged. But that doesn't mean I don't have gender based shame, that doesn't mean I haven't experienced abuse, that doesn't mean the patriarchy has treated me well, and it doesn't mean I'm not a feminist. I believe there are plenty more intersections than the clearest ones and that their are categories within categories.

It took me years and years to call myself a feminist; partly because I was brought up by feminists and had read a lot of feminist theory and that had led me to consider it problematic to do so. But after a lot of time thinking about it, and many after many conversations with female and male feminists I was persuaded to the argument that men could be feminists and began to define myself as one a year or so ago.

When I say I was brought up by feminists I mean that my mum is a feminist and my dad would define himself as an ally or sympathiser or something like that. He was born in the 1920's and has come pretty far in his thinking on gender and at 89 he's come about as far as he's going to go. My older sisters were feminists in the 70's when the movement was coalescing and their influence on me as a child was similar to the influence of aunts. My dad stayed at home in my early years and looked after me. My mum went out to work. Things changed when I was 8.

I don't know how's stepdad defines himself in terms of feminism but his effect on our household was as patriarchal as fuck. My mum was both main breadwinner and the person who did all the housework, where he hit me but not my sister, at one point my mum even tried to change her personality to a less "nagging" one. And all of this only began when they married. That flicked a weird switch in him and he changed. He fell into a milder version of his own childhood's pattern of working class Irish Protestantism where the sons were beaten by their father and the daughter was a Madonna who could do no wrong. I don't know much about the life of his mother but I think it's reasonable to expect the worst. The worst of patriarchy. The worst of humans.

After they split my mum had a breakdown. I was 12. During that time I spent long nights trying to comfort her as she raged and cried. She repeated the (pretty fair) mantra that men had ruined her life (she me in this assessment) as well as making other less gendered statements like wishing she had never had me. During that time (and the time before it when at the same time as becoming aware of my sexuality I listened through thin walls to their marriage falling apart) I internalised a lot of shame and guilt about being a man.

I didn't fit in to my new school. Partly because I was an English boy in Wales, partly because I was seen as a "swot" partly because I had non-conventional attitudes like opining capitalism and supporting feminism) and stood up for them. But mostly, I think now, because I was so raw and damaged from what was going on at home. Whatever the reasons it would be years before I would form close friendships with contemporaries. I was isolated and alone. I was given a new name by bullies. They called me Melvin. This name seems trivial and innocuous but its effect was not. It became what everyone in the school new me as.

I was scapegoated for the frustrations of the other children. The name would be jeered at me wherever I went. I would be kicked and punched walking down the corridors. I was spat on from above on the stairs or sometimes from the top deck of passing busses. Things were thrown at me. Occasionally worse things happened.

My "othering" was a constant thing that didn't end till I left school. A lot of the bullying was homophobic (despite the fact that I am straight.) The worst of it was done by boys but girls certainly joined in too. Once a girl held me down whilst two boys kicked me repeatedly in the face smashing my glasses.

But much of the kindness and solidarity that I eventually received came from girls. And the few boys who were also othered.

I may be in all of the privileged categories mentioned above but I have some experience of systematic abuse created by patriarchy and powerlessness.

That doesn't mean it's been as bad for me as it is for many others. In many other ways I have been lucky and privileged. For example despite stopping going into lessons in Year 11 to avoid the bullying but I still passed all my GCSE's with high grades because I was privileged to be able to pass exams easily. I am privileged so I don't get stopped and searched in the street. I am privileged because I have never experienced sexual harassment. The list goes on.

But grouping all men into one group and situating them asthe system rather than as a part of the system is problematic.

If I made a hashtag #ThingsFeministWomenSay and listed things Nadine Dorriessays that would justifiably outrage a great many feminists. Feminism itself holds many views within it. I hace been told I can't be a feminist or eceb an ally. But women also get told they can't be feminists if they are pro (or anti) sex work for example.

It saddens me that people I respect and want to stand with dismiss a whole group based on the actions if the worst of us. I understand that the burden is in men to prove to be better than that. The experiences of many women lead to this dismissal just as I once dismissed all the children in my school and over time cane to see that there were many exceptions. And that not all bullies were equally problematic. Some could be reached and persuaded round.

I don't mind if you consider me an ally or agree that I am a feminist. But please don't completely exclude me. I don't want to lead you. I don't want to make feminism about men.

It has taken me a long time to stop being ashamed of being a man. It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I feel I can call myself a feminist.

Feminism doesn't owe my gender anything. Despite all genders being hideously forced into roles it is clear that women and trans people have been the greater wronged by patriarchy.

But I do hope we can all find ways to empathise across these imposed boundaries. Because we aren't that different.

My thoughts on this are evolving. I'm very open to being corrected if I am being stupid. We can try and check our privilege but we can't always see it so its important to hear feedback from others.