Warrior woman

13 May

It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to blog and my word, so much has happened out there in the wide world.  I have had many rants in real life instead of in the blogosphere lately, and so I wanted to ease myself back in with a light bite – not so much food for thought as a ponderous amuse-bouche.

I grew up with the glorious action cartoons of the 80s, jerky animation, power ballad theme music, and the same sound effects in every series.  One of my favourites was She-Ra.  The woman rode a flying unicorn with a rainbow coloured mane, she totally rocked.  The first film I ever saw at the cinema was the She-Ra/He-Man cross over story “The Secret of the Sword“.  There is so much I could tell you about that film, but the key aspect is the *SPOILERS* fact that Adora and Adam (the mild-mannered alter egos of the heroine/hero) are twin siblings.  By the end of the film they both have magic swords which they can use to transform themselves into the super strong, super fast, super one-liner dropping, save-the-day, never-kill-a-baddie-just-send-them-away champions of their respective worlds.

That film came out in 1985, I was three.  I don’t remember going to see the film, even if it did get to the UK later than ’85.  What I do remember is that I watched both series, and that even as a small girl-child I was bemused by the relative physiques of the amazingly strong twins.  He-Man, even when “disguised” as Prince Adam, has the physique of a body builder – and a zealous one at that.  He has muscles popping out all over, arms the size of a female character’s waist.  This seems to make sense when He-Man does something requiring lots of muscle – lifting a boulder say, or throwing a futuristic flying car across the orange landscape.  But although Adora has an equally rare physique – hour glass and with lean legs wildly out of proportion – she looks a whole lot more ordinary than her brother.  My infant brain thought thusly: if Adora/She-Ra has a lean body, and He-Man is a bodybuilder… then She-Ra must be stronger than He-Man because she’s as strong as him without the muscle!

Now that is one sure fire way to start a playground argument in the 80s.  Almost as bad as the time I referred to a male schoolmate’s WWF Action Figure as a “doll”.

Anyway, She-Ra wasn’t the only super strong heroine to have a deceptively slight build.  I also grew up with the fabulous, kitschy, wonderful Wonder Woman – a WW comic bought for me when in hospital as a child is still one of my most treasured possessions.  Diana Prince/Wonder Woman has, throughout most of her portrayals, been slender rather than stocky and on occasion has had a figure of Barbie-esque levels of unachievability.  The most appropriate male counterpart to Wonder Woman is, in my opinion, Superman, and he has always looked muscular, although the level of definition of his muscularity has changed over time.

I have often wondered what She-Ra or Wonder Woman would look like if they had a bodybuilder’s physique, as their male comrades do, so I found this picture of a female bodybuilder, and got to sketching.  Female bodybuilders often combine displaying their muscularity with more traditionally feminine postures or mannerisms, so I chose this pose as it is more gender neutral, although you could read the turned head as demure.

So here is the bitesize fodder for pondering I promised you: is this what Wonder Woman should look like?  What should any superheroine look like if one of her powers is physical strength?  Should some male heroes with super strength look leaner?  Or even fat?  I’m sure there must be more representations like this out there – I’ll confess I haven’t really followed comics since I was a kid.  Answers on a postcard.  That is all.

Wonder Woman

Dead Pretty

15 Feb

The Sun is a tatty rag filled with half truths and hyperbole.  This is not new information.  What is new is that The Sun has actually managed to shock and upset me – I thought I was inured to its tactlessness and depravity, along with that of its tabloid shelf-mates.  I was wrong.

Her name was Reeve Steencamp.  She was a human being shot dead in the early hours of yesterday.  She wasn’t a character from some trashy Hollyoaks noir.  The Sun’s front page has reduced a whole woman’s life to a cheesecake photograph without a name.

I understand that Steencamp’s death (murder?) has made international news purely because her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, is an internationally recognised name, but the salivating tabloid pack have reduced her from a whole person, past being just Pistorius’ girlfriend, to the level of some dead chick readers can perv on.

Call that journalism?  It is one of the worst examples I have seen of the conflation of sex with violence in a so-called newspaper – selling a suspected murder story with ADDED TITS.  Fucking deplorable.

You would think that the press would have developed some sensitivity after Leveson, that they would be keen NOT to be seen being crass and sleazy after the hacking scandal.  There is a new campaign against Page 3, and yet today the Sun seemed to move Page 3 to Page 1 – probably assuming that Steencamp’s family live too far away to complain.

Well I’m going to complain.  Steencamp murder was reported in the early hours of Valentine’s Day – not just the day when many men are expected to bare their feelings for a partner despite being expected to repress their emotions throughout the rest of the year – but also the day of one billion rising.  A day when women and men worldwide joined a movement against violence against women and girls (VAWG).

A day on which I am sadly certain that Reeva Steencamp was not the only woman to lose her life to the violent actions of a partner.

Just one day after a tragedy for Steencamp’s family and friends and one day after a joyful protest against VAWG, The Sun presents the death of Steencamp as some kind of macabre soft-core.  I’m not saying that her death isn’t a news story.  I’m not saying that the papers should ignore the fact that she was a model – or indeed ignore the fact that she was beautiful.  I’m saying they should show far greater respect for her as a person than treating her as fridge-filler and an excuse to sex up the front page.

Her name was Reeva Steencamp.  May she rest in peace, and may her loved ones find peace, and justice.

Feminine and practical…

25 Jan

Like many ladies’ toilets, those at my work place have special bins for sanitary products – used pads and tampons.  Flushing these things is bad form, as it troubles the plumbing and adds to an already massive amount of (literal) crap being sent through the system.  So these bins are used to collect used menstrual goods and are then emptied by specialist companies focussing on hygiene.  I think because menstrual fluid is a biohazard, or something.

I could bang on here about how much better for the environment the mooncup is than disposable cotton wads of varying shapes and sizes, and how once you are used to a menstrual cup it is much more comfortable and it also makes you get over the whole “argh! period! I am a monster!” feeling.  But then equally I could bang on about how The Pill I’m on at the moment has stopped me from having periods and that no, I don’t miss them.  Not one iota.  No PMT (I was pretty much the stereotypical hysteric) no cramps (I used to have to go home from college take painkillers and lie on the sofa crying for two days a month) and no need for tampons.  So yeah, I could write pages and pages about how much easier life is without periods, but just know I am very, VERY smug about it.  Almost as smug as a man.

ANYWAY, none of the above is the reason for this post.  What I want to share with you is the following: the cute little paper bags hanging on the back of the toilet door for in which ladies may wish to deposit their used unmentionables, if you please, before putting them in the sanitary bin:

For your used unmentionables m'lady

For your used unmentionables m’lady

Well that’s very considerate, and I do like to package up most things that I soak in blood, especially that which comes from my vagina, it is only polite after all.   I do, however, find this helpful piece of paraphernalia to be most amusing, not because of what it is but because of the dainty one-legged lady-about-town printed upon it.  I wonder sometimes, when perched on the porcelain throne and facing the above image, what the designers were thinking:

“We need to do something to jazz up these disposal bags.  They look too sterile and useful.  Women might not want to use them – women may not even realise they should use them – if they look boring and functional and just say ‘disposal bag’ on them… come on people, think!”

“Ummm… we could put a flower on it?  Women like flowers”

“It’s been done – how about a kitten?”

“No, kittens don’t say “menses” strongly enough… let’s think about how women feel… what do women feel on their periods?

“Disgusting?”

“Fat?”

“Tired?”

“Miserable?”

“Fed up?”

“No no no… okay, let’s try a new tack.  What should women feel – all the time?”

“Oh!  How about pretty?”

“That’s good, but more…”

“More…”

“DAINTY!  Yes that’s it… we need a picture of a WOMAN being DAINTY… let’s make this happen!”

I imagine them all as male marketing execs in shirt sleeves sweating at the thought of uterine linings being shed across the country.  But I commend the sentiment: periods are a lady problem, ladies want to be feminine, let’s put a really feminine lady on the disposal bag!  It makes so much sense!  I’m assuming the one legged thing is an artistic accident… presumably the other leg is hidden somewhere in all those frills and skirts.  But something isn’t right… something just doesn’t make sense to me…

How is this woman going to reach her knickers, let alone a tampon string, past all those skirts?

Any attempt to even wee in this outfit is not going to be ladylike.  Even if she’s wearing a pad, it is going to be a mission to find it under her bloomers.  This woman looks like she is of an era where having a heavy period probably meant staying in the house and hiding from the rest of humanity.  Or is she rich enough to afford servants to assist with her feminine ablutions?

In summary: this daft image, on what is ostensibly a practical paper bag, is worth taking the piss out of because it shows the inability of some people to just let women’s things be practical.  It would work just as well for what it is without a poorly realised image of Lady Lah-di-dah on it, it is after all going to be thrown in the bin with a used tampon in it… why not supply a pretty ribbon to tie it up with as well?  Have another look at the Duchess of Disposal Bag, and if you have any suggestions tell me what you think would be a better design!

"Jeeves! Be a dear and yank this tampon out for me won't you?  Do mind the french lace - AND BRING ME A HOT WATER BOTTLE BEFORE I SACK YOUR WHINY ARSE!"

“Jeeves! Be a dear and yank this tampon out for me won’t you? Do mind the french lace – AND BRING ME A HOT WATER BOTTLE BEFORE I SACK YOUR WHINY ARSE!”

 

 

The Radical Notion

18 Jan

There is an old slogan from feminism that explains the movement simply as “Feminism: the radical notion that women are people”.

I’ve found myself thinking about that ‘radical notion’ as 2013 has rolled into motion.  I have often said that I’ve got one guiding principle in terms of sharing this planet with others – people are people.  It therefore follows that women, and men, and those who don’t fit in either category, are all people.

Now why is stating the obvious like this so important?  I think it is important because once you start to see another as less than a full person, you can start to treat them as less than a person.  You can deride them, you can dismiss them, you can deny them their rights.  This is a process called dehumanisation, and once a person or group of people is seen as less than human, it becomes easy for some to treat them very, very badly.

Historically this method of categorising other people as subhuman, lesser, or simply “other” has been the justification for despicable actions.  It doesn’t matter if you wipe out an entire group of people if they were not really people anyway.  Genocide, massacres, religious persecution, slavery, torture, conquest, oppression – all of these actions are reprehensible but they are made more sanitary or acceptable by portraying the targets as an inhuman threat or an aberration.

One thing that humans develop in childhood is empathy, and how their actions affect others.  I’m aware that different people feel different levels of empathy towards others and that some conditions can cause problems with social interaction due to lack of empathy, but empathy itself is a quality that allows humans to live and work together.  Yet we are able to lay this empathy aside, and as a species have done so again and again and again, allowing the kinds of atrocities against other people that I have already mentioned.

So it may be an obvious statement, that people are people, but I want this mantra to be at the front of all our minds, when we feel ready to slag off people who dress differently or eat different food.  I want this statement to be there, ready to reach for, whenever we start to feel violently towards “them” and the threat we perceive that “they” have to “us”.  Whoever “they” are, they are people, just like us.  What starts with cruel words is one end of the spectrum.  At the other end lies the unspeakable cruelty of which mankind is capable.

Coming back to the “radical notion” that women are people, I think that the rape apologism that oozes out even after such an horrific attack as that which killed a young woman in Delhi needs to be directly challenged.  There is a dark road that starts with “if she hadn’t been…” out after dark, out with a male friend, outside the house at all… and serves to focus on the victim of the attack as the problem rather than the attackers.  A woman, just as any other person, should be able to go and see a film and board a bus without being gangraped and tortured and beaten.  The perpetrators of the crime did not see her as a person, they saw her as a target, an object, a game.  They felt no empathy for her suffering or the struggle of herself and her companion against the attack.  They did not think of her pain or her dignity.  They had dehumanised her to the point of feeling justified and entitled to use and abuse her body however they wished, because her feelings and her response did not matter.  Perhaps it made them feel powerful, who knows.  Fine, we can all say that the perpetrators committed a terrible crime but I would like to add that those who seek to excuse the perpetrators from responsibility because of actions ascribed to the victim should not be allowed to do so.  No one, NO ONE, causes themselves to be gang raped and beaten with a metal bar such that their body falls apart and they fall into a coma and die.  NO ONE asks for that, not by where they go, how they dress, what they say.  Even in a violent case like this, there are people who wish to blame the victim, and that saddens me.

We cannot dehumanise the victim just because we want the crime to seem less terrible, less scary, and less of an indictment of the prevailing culture.  Apportioning blame to the victim is easy, and makes it easier to believe that it would never happen to us or our friends or family, easier to feel some sort of control – that by our actions we can prevent being raped or attacked.  But you can do everything ‘right’ and still be raped or attacked.  Victim blaming avoids the true cause of such crimes: the belief of the perpetrators that they could do what they wanted with total disregard for the humanity of the victim, and that is why they, and everyone in India and across the world need to get their heads round this ‘radical notion’ that women are people.  Women are not objects, their bodies are not public property, and raping women is a crime, as is raping any person.  There is no excuse.  It is perfectly possible to live a life without raping anyone.  It comes down to respect.  So I’ll say it again world.  People are people.

People are people.  Treat them well.

4 More Years

7 Nov

Photograph by Elizabeth Messina reproduced form The Huffington Post

I woke up to the news of Obama’s re-election. Like most of the world outside the USA this was good news to me.  I’m a total lefty, and although Obama is still right wing from my point of view, he was a far better option than the alternative.  Here are some thoughts I have on Obama’s re-election.

Firstly, as a Westerner and a citizen of a country that usually dances to the tune set by the USA, I hope that now Obama has his second term he becomes more bloody minded in affecting the change he originally seemed to stand for. This man won the Nobel Peace Prize and yet Pakistani civilians are still being maimed and killed by Western attacks, from drones or otherwise. The tension in the Middle East continues to be ramped up with Israel expecting US support should they wish to attack Iran – and personally I’m in no way going to support the UK government if it decides to wage war on another front (full disclosure – I didn’t support the invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan either). We have to learn from the tragedies of Afghanistan and Iraq which have caused so much death for so little progress.  As Remembrance Day draws closer and every celeb and their dog dons a poppy to improve their PR I can only think of the phrase “never again”. Can Obama bring peace not war and justify that Nobel prize?

I am glad that the election of a non-white president has not been written off as an experiment, and the racism of the USA has been exposed by this electoral competition through dog whistles and outright shouts including Romney’s campaign insider’s reference to “anglo-saxon heritage” (headdesk). The twitter user @yesyoureracist had a full and busy election day with some staggering racism being flung around often tagged #notracist as if saying that negated the expressed racism.  I have a suggestion for the many twitter users who said something along the lines of ‘minorities/black Americans are only voting for Obama ‘cos he’s black’ – why do you think ethnic minorities or “people of colour” are more likely to vote for a black man and not for a white man? What does that say about race relations in the USA, and what can you yourself do to improve the situation?

The last thought I want to leave you with relates to Obama as a symbol – something that has caused him problems, since he was raised on a high pedastol that he could only fall from at the start of his presidency. He is referred to widely as black, but his mother is white. He is the most famous and powerful mixed race man in history and his presidency, however history judges his policy, represents something of phenomenal importance that I hope will continue to resonate throughout the world – especially wherever people are judged for their lack of racial “purity”. If an obviously mixed race man can overcome the odds to be the Leader of the Free World, twice, of what are the rest of us capable?

This is explained beautifully in an open letter to President Obama, by the white mother of a mixed race son. The associated picture, included above, gave me goosebumps. A president can only do so much, perhaps an icon can do more.  Here’s to hope, everyone.

Privilege on toast

13 Oct

During last week’s Conservative Party conference David Cameron said something which for me sums up the problem of how privilege works in the UK. Using classic political styling he set up a strawman: that people are asking him to justify the existence of privilege, specifically his and that of his cabinet, for example. He then blew his paltry strawman away with a very Cameronesque soundbite. He said:

I am not here to defend privilege, I am here to spread it.”

The first thought that came to mind on the thought of spreading privilege was that he was sending BoJo out on the sleaze without any condoms. Then I thought more seriously about what he might mean – buy enough bottles of Moet and eventually you’ll find one with a golden ticket to a garden party at Buck Palace? Or the deeds to a Kensington address? Or ownership of a race horse? Spread the privilege Cammers, caviar for everyone! On tiny crudités! Pass them out at the job centre along with cloth napkins and Cuban cigars.

I digress. The main “shaking my head” point for me about this Cameronism is that no-one is genuinely asking DC to defend privilege. We make potshots about his privileged background as it seems to (mis)inform his policy – he makes sweeping judgements about the lives of low/no income Brits without acknowledging that, generally, he has no personal experience nor empirical evidence to back up his stereotypes. I am not asking him, however, to defend his own existence or to come up with a reason “why David Cameron”. All I want from DC is a recognition of context and, as this is all I want from any politician, thoughtful evidence based policy enacted efficiently, justly, and sensibly.

Cameron is answering a question in order to avoid examining another, far more important question. Most people I would imagine aren’t expecting a defence of privilege. We’re adult enough to realise that within any given scenario privilege will exist or develop. We don’t all have access to the same resources when we are brought into this world or since, life just isn’t fair in that way.  What I think most critics and commenters want from Cameron is for him to explain the behaviour of those with privilege, especially the ones who treat those without their privileges with disdain.

Every millionaire seems to like being described as a self-made man, but the truth is that for most of the super-rich, they had a hand up. Even if they didn’t have an inheritance in the form of cash or property or a business, they perhaps had familial connections and were introduced to people who pulled strings for them. The very few who came from poor backgrounds are exceptional people, who have achieved great things no doubt, but I think it might be wrong for them to imagine that they would have got anywhere without the everyday consumer, or without the infrastructure, legal and transport, provided by the state through taxation. Ignoring the context in which they achieved their success can lead to conceit and a sense of self-aggrandisement, a sense of superiority over the rest of us plebs.

What Cameron has not been able to do (nor Blair before him) is to bring to account those so swelled with their own privilege that they turn their backs on the rest of society, at the least by saying nasty things about the underclasses, and at the worst by doing everything within their power to avoid paying their taxes, often whilst decrying the benefits system as full of “cheats”. What is it about privilege that limits one’s ability to feel compassion for those worse off than yourself? Except of course when raising money for deserving charities through lovely parties and extensive foreign holidays visits. I guess you can’t compel a person (or corporation) to act reasonably or with compassion (unless you OWN them, like we own the royals), but you can compel them to pay their taxes.

So perhaps, DC you can’t defend the actions of the privileged or their existence, but perhaps you can make sure they follow the rules as much as the bottom third of the triangle must. Of course, examining your own privilege, leading to greater integrity and understanding of the way our society works takes honesty, patience and will. I suggest our glorious leader tries to spread this instead.

Spirit in Motion

17 Sep

After a summer of becoming an instant expert in every sport I watched, the Olympic and Paralympic Games are over. A summer of cheering on every team GB competitor no matter what their chance of success was brilliant, but now the summer is over and presumably telly has gone back to whatever dire state it was in before all the games started.

I definitely have the post-games blues.  I rollercoastered from sneering disdain and cynicism over the entire 7 years after the bid was won to fervent sportsfan revelling in Team GB’s success, humility, hard work and humour.  I was won over by the Olympic opening ceremony, unsurprisingly since I am probably exactly the type of person the ceremony was designed for: affectionate towards children’s literature and the NHS, able to appreciate both Mr Bean and modern dance, and fond of this green and pleasant land without being ignorant of its historical misdeeds and flaws.

From then on I was hooked.  I find it hard to even think about which sport was my favourite, some I enjoyed from familiarity (judo), others because I had no clue what was going on (fencing) but what they all had in common was something so endearing and powerful: people trying their damnedest.  My cynicism about the games and the corporate mega-sponsors and the political grandstanding melted away as I watched these people from all over the world stepping up, trying, failing, winning.

Sometimes hearing the stories of the competitors and their personal journeys was almost overwhelming.  Examples of the “triumph of the human spirit” abounded and I felt proud not just of the UK or Team GB and Team Paralympics GB, but of all of us.  All of the people, just being people.

I was proud that it was the London 2012 Olympics which was the first to host female competitors of all partaking nations, I was pleased that we are part of the progression towards women globally being treated as whole people.  The UK does better than a lot of places in terms of women’s rights, worse than a few others, but this Olympics had some fantastic moments for women from around the world.  I look forward to the day, however, when MEN get to compete in every Olympic sport.  Currently men are not allowed to compete in synchronised swimming or rhythmic gymnastics, I hope to see that change, I would be interested to see how male competitors would approach those stereotypically “feminine” sports.

The games definitely demonstrated that people do want to watch women’s sport.  They gave truth to the lie that women’s sport isn’t televised because no one is interested in it.  Men and women watched women competing and men and women were thrilled by it.  Just ask Jessica Ennis, or Nicola Adams.  The support for Team GB’s and Team Paralympics GB ladies was no less than that for the gentlemen.  It was fascinating to see mixed gender teams in some of the Paralympics sports, including wheelchair rugby, which was immensely popular.

One of the great things about sport is that is about what a person can do, not where they were born or what colour they are.  Mo Farah, Somali born Muslim (the Mo stands for Mohammed), is now Britain’s most successful middle distance runner, the right wing newsrags conveniently forgot their anti-immigration stance to celebrate his two golds.  The idea of sport for healing and rehabilitation was the origin of the Paralympics, and I am absolutely thrilled that this year’s Paralympics were so successful.  I actually went to the Paralympics with my Dad, we saw some amazing races, and the men’s high jump final for single leg amputees… the 3 medallists all cleared 1.74m – I can’t clear that with a ladder!  It was amazing.  That was also the day George Osborne got booed, we were in the stadium and it was a very loud boo, but that’s a topic for another time.

I’ve heard people say that after the sportsmanship of the summer, with even the devastated Jody Kundy coming back to apologise for his outbursts, the behaviour of some prima donna footballers in the moneyed leagues is shown by contrast to be puerile, petty, and poor.  I can’t help but agree, I wish I could say that this summer’s games would change the way sport is reported.  I wish I could turn to the back of the paper and see women’s sport discussed and reported, I wish that headline courting millionaire footballers and WAGs would be treated with scorn or at least with indifference,  I wish that football would learn from rugby: play fair and respect the ref or you’re off.  My cynicism has unfortunately returned to such a degree that I know this won’t happen for a long, long time.

I hope however, that some spark of the spirit of this summer’s games will continue in the national consciousness, inspiring people of different ages and backgrounds to indulge their inner Olympian/Paralympian.  It will be interesting to see how the new sporting heroes of the UK are celebrated – who, for example, will be Sports Personality of the Year?  Ellie Simmonds, Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, David Weir… it’s going to be a tough choice!

Bring me my chariot of fire

29 Jul

I am usually somewhat of a cynic whenever there’s any flag-waving to be done.  I’m proud to be British but also aware that it’s kind of odd to be proud of anything that you never actually achieved.  I’m proud to be a woman, I’m proud to be mixed race, I’m even proud to be a brunette… but none of these things are achievements, they’re just the way things are.  Now, being proud of something you’ve worked for, like a qualification or a job or a successful event, makes more sense.  If I had been born a blonde boy in Australia I’d probably be proud to be all those things as well!  Anyway, despite nationality being somewhat arbitrary I am proud to be British, and proud of Britain.  The reason I don’t get behind the flag waving is that I also see Britain’s flaws and just past the glow of patriotism lies the spark of nationalism, xenophobia, and racism.

Despite my cynicism, I do want things to go well.  I want the Olympics to be a success for example, and I was really pleased at the spectacle of the Opening Ceremony.  It was magical and silly and the lighting of the cauldron flame, with all the “petals” of the sculpture representing the countries that were taking part coming together to form one great symbolic fire, was amazing.  From Twitter and from speaking to people in real life (I still do that sometimes) I think that the response has been overwhelmingly positive.  We Brits might be proud but we do sometimes find it hard to celebrate ourselves and our country, and I think the ceremony allowed us to do that without being too earnest or tacky.

There are those however who didn’t like the ceremony.  As the saying goes, haters gonna hate.  What interests me about this is the particular features of the ceremony they didn’t like, and why.  Top Tory Twat Aidan Burley, he of the Nazi stag do fame, has put his foot in it with some snidey comments about the “leftie multicultural crap” of the ceremony, in particular seeming to be offended by the celebration of the NHS in a sequence with glowing beds, dancing doctors, and all the children’s literature baddies being chased off by an army of Mary Poppinses-es.  es.  Many people have slated Burley, but Daily Mail hate-hack Rick Dewsbury has claimed his comments were spot on in a piece that is so staggeringly spiteful, as well as flagrantly racist, I find it hard to accept it isn’t a spoof.

Dewsbury used the personal tragedy of a family who lost someone due to neglect in a hospital as the jumping off point for a rant against the NHS as a whole, while dancing through a clear outrage that some of the people in the ceremony weren’t white.  It’s a nasty bit of writing.  One comment I’d like to address here is Dewsbury’s assertion that the mixed race family in the centre of the segment celebrating the internet and Britain’s great pop music history is “absurdly unrealistic”.  I actually think the original wording of the article was more extreme* but I didn’t think to screen print it.  His basic premise here is that the idea of a happy middle class mixed marriage is “absurd” and “unrealistic”.  I’ve got news for you Dewsbury: these people exist.  I should know, one such couple spawned me.  That’s right Rick, my existence AT ALL negates your argument.  It gets worse for you Ricky boy… I personally know many mixed race people and many couples who are not of the same race.  And by race I mean skin colour, because lets face it, you’ve got no issue with a fair ginger person marrying an olive skinned brunette, you only have a problem with whites marrying blacks.  Or asians. Or any of those “ethnic minorities”.

Back to Burley:  I spoke to my sister (another mixed race ethnic minority infiltrator RUN RICK RUN, THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!) about the MP’s tweet, and she made me laugh by pointing out that saying you’re glad the sportsmen and women are coming in marks the end of the “multicultural crap” is hilarious, because nothing says “no to multiculturalism” more than the assorted peoples of the 200 odd nations of the world competing in the Olympics walking by.  Some of them in variations on their traditional national dress, no less.  Burley, you really are thick, even for a nazi person who went to a Nazi-themed stag do.  Wanker.

And finally for Dewsbury.  You’ll probably never read this from your racial purity bunker in Midsomer village, but I want to say it anyway.  You say it was “shameful” to glorify the National Health Service, the only universal healthcare service in the world, but I say it is shameful to take a family’s loss and devastation, which should be fully investigated by inquest not by tabloid blather, and use it to launch a twisted attack on one of the building blocks of modern Britain via your own thinly veiled racism.  No one has ever said that the NHS is perfect, I’m still waiting for a knee op that has now been cancelled twice, but the fact that it is there at all saves lives and marks us out as a nation that will not leave strangers to die on the street.  This may shock you, but the fact that we have an NHS does not mean that you can’t pay for private healthcare if you wish, if I was an athlete I’d have gone private to have my knee fixed sooner, for example. Choose private if you prefer, but don’t then whinge about how ‘my taxes will still pay for it’ because even if you have private healthcare, if you ever need an ambulance it is the NHS who will come to your aid.  In this country, if you collapse on the street, someone will dial 999 without thinking twice, and an ambulance will come, and you will be treated regardless of whether you can afford private healthcare or not.  But if you really would rather die on the street in this scenario than have the doctors you so loathe try to treat you, please will you have that wish TATTOOED ON YOUR FACE so as not to waste the time of any well-meaning passers by.

In summary I would like to say to both Burley and Dewsbury and any other Alf Garnets out there who agree with them these two points:

1.  The NHS isn’t perfect but it is one of the things that I feel is a legitimate British achievement we can all be proud of, because we are the only nation that cares enough about each other to even try to make it work.  Slagging it off isn’t the way to fix its flaws, funding and managing it properly, investigating its failings and implementing policy to fix them, is, along with allowing good people to get and keep jobs in it.

2. Britain has black people.  Britain has brown people.  Britain has people of so many various shades that they couldn’t even fit on one dulux colour sheet.  Some of them meet people from different colour swatches and fall in love and have babies.  The age of Empire so many of the racist right bleat on about wistfully IS THE REASON that we have British people of African, West Indian, Near and Far Eastern and Asian descent, and more.  These people’s parents and grandparents are part of our nation’s history, part of our landscape.  If you have ever been to the area of London where the Olympics are held you would know that there are people there from all sorts of backgrounds, and that the young people growing up in cities like that don’t have the fear that you have.  You seem to panic that celebrating this somehow undermines the white ethnicities of Britain, and the people whose families have lived in the same areas since the domesday book, but it doesn’t at all.  No one is saying that Dizzee Rascal is a greater Brit than Brunel, or even Ethelred the Unready, just that he is another thread in the tapestry.  Deal with it.

*The article has definitely been tweaked post-publishing. Dewsbury’s comments about Dizzee Rascal and Grime music are gone, as is a statement complaining about seeing an ethnic minority face in nearly every camera shot. Also, some trite phrasing about the segment with the mixed race couple deserving praise “if it was that two people with different colour skin and different cultural heritages can live harmoniously together” has been shoe-horned in, and whereas before it said one would be hard pressed to find such a couple, it now says it “isn’t the norm”. Perhaps the PCC does still have some clout and the DM wanted to avoid crossing it. More likely they realised that the tone was extreme even for the DM readership and back pedalled. It’s pretty poor practice for a paper to edit published pieces and not record the changes, still, this is the DM we are talking about!

Rude boys

25 Jul

“Fat cow, you’re so fat and disgusting. You’re so ugly I bet you’ve never had a boyfriend, you’re just a nasty fat cow. I bet you’ve never even had sex, you’re so ugly and fat no one would want you”

 
Although this sounds like the kind of tirade a teenage bully might come out with in a particularly tough episode of Grange Hill, this is actually a small snippet of some sustained abuse directed at me the other day. What did I do to inspire such eloquent ire? I asked a couple of guys who had invaded our picnic to go away and leave us alone.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, sat in the sunshine between the pond and the river in University Parks, Oxford, my friends and I had eaten strawberries and melon, drunk an alternative to the usual bucks fizz, and got to know the newer members of our group. The shadows were slowly getting longer, and some of the picnickers had gone home, leaving just 5 of us women. It was a perfect, silly, lazy afternoon.

As one of my friends, let’s call her America, opined on our latest topic, a voice from the path piped up
Oh my god I love your accent…
The statement came from a young fella, very skinny, wearing no shirt, pink shorts slung low enough to show his black boxers, cartoon character socks and trainers, with friendship bands or similar around his wrist. He and his friend, who was slightly less skinny, and wearing a green jumper over a shirt with cord trousers and trainers, were walking along the pathway when PinkShorts heard America’s voice and became entranced with it. She said thank you, and PinkShorts carried on…
Where are you from?
America: “Carolina”
PinkShorts: “Oh my god, that’s so amazing, I’d love to go there
America: “Well you should, it’s a great place”
PinkShorts: “Can I sit here?” Plonks himself next to where America is sitting.

My spidey-sense was tingling. I had an immediate thought of “oh here we go…”. Why? Well I guess I could see that PinkShorts “Can I sit here?” was the start of his making a play for America, who was totally unaware of this. America has a boyfriend that she adores, and although she is stunning she, like many girls, doesn’t really expect men to hit on her. In this case even more so because, as she said later, she thought PinkShorts was gay.  PinkShorts’ friend, Jumper, sat down next to him, and what followed was mostly a friendly talk, in which they said they were from Oxford, they told us what their jobs were, they asked us all what we did. Just as PinkShorts was drawn to America for her accent, Jumper took a liking to another of our group, let’s call her Eire, who has an Irish accent.

I’ll be honest, I did not like these two from the start. PinkShorts couldn’t stop scratching his balls, both of them were very demanding “what do you do? How old are you? Where do you live? Can I sit here? Can I have a picture with you?”. We mentioned our knitting group and where we meet and PinkShorts starts up with “Can you teach me to knit?” Both of them said they’d love to come along, and then Jumper said something that totally raised my hackles, he muttered it and after he said it when America said “What did you say?” he just shrugged and the natter of PinkShorts took over. Jumper had said “I’ll come along, as long as I get a little something-somethin

Sad enough for a middleclass Oxford white boy to say the phrase “a little somethin-somethin” without any sense of irony, but also – what? Did this guy really think that America/Eire/any of our other friends would be so keen to get him to come to knitting club that we would offer some sexual services? Ew.

I was bored of the repetitive, whiny conversation of the two interlopers, and started making daisy chains. “Oh my god, I want a daisy chain, will you make me a daisy chain” Ew again. By now the guys were making America uncomfortable, my phone beeped with a text from her: I am gonna say we are getting ready to leave just to get rid of them.

First though, America and Eire decided to go off to the loo, leaving the interlopers with me and two other women. They immediately zoned in on one of them as the prettiest, with PinkShorts asking to have his photo taken with her. Then Jumper said to myself and the other woman “let’s have a photo of you two. Hug!” We didn’t move. I couldn’t help myself, I replied “no thanks, I don’t respond to commands like a dog.”
That comment wounded Jumper’s sensibilities “why are you so mean?” he pouted.  I pointed out that I didn’t want my picture taken by a complete stranger, that I didn’t know who they were, where they’d been, what they’d been drinking, and I didn’t have to do anything they told me to. This led to both PinkShorts and Jumper telling me that I must have some ‘emotional damage’ to be so mean. I was thinking about asking them to leave, when America and Eire returned.

Jumper was asking for Eire’s phonenumber, she politely said no, and no she didn’t want his number. America was starting to be colder towards PinkShorts. I thought, enough is enough.

“The thing is guys, we’d like to have the rest of the evening to just us girls. We came out here to hang out with each other, so we’d really like it to be just us”

I got more of the “you’re so mean”. Finally, one of the other girls said “we’d really like it to be just us, so can you leave” they ignored her “I mean really” she said “just bugger off”. They started to protest, so America added “seriously, I think you should leave now”. PinkShorts and Jumper showed no sign of moving, and Jumper once again asked for Eire’s number. That was it, my bitch switch flipped.

“You’ve been asked to leave, I think you should leave”

Jumper suddenly seemed to decide that I was the reason Eire wouldn’t give him her phone number “you’re hideous” he said “this is all you, you’re disgusting”. Now even sweet natured Eire added “I think you really should leave”.

This started more protests, more abuse at me, and so I stood up and I laid into these idiots. I didn’t swear at them, they hadn’t sworn at me, I just said something along the lines of ‘you can’t just come over here and demand we do what you want. We don’t want you here so just go away and leave us alone’

Well that was it. Both PinkShorts and Jumper started a tirade at me about how ugly I was, how disgusting I was. They called me a fat cow, an ugly cow, a bitch. They said I was hideous, and that I probably had never had a boyfriend. Eire was distraught:“no! She’s beautiful, you can’t say things like that!” and had her hands over her ears as the guys continued, I stood up again to rant back at them and then realised it was pointless, they weren’t listening. As I sat down again America said to me “leave it, there’s no point saying anything to them” and she was right. They stood up, carrying on the abuse even as they walked away, stopping a few yards away to continue shouting and yelling at me.

Eire was astounded “I had no idea they were like that” and seemed really upset at first, and at great pains to tell me that what they had said was nasty and untrue. Whilst I definitely appreciated her kindness I felt I didn’t need her reassurance. I hadn’t even picked up an adrenalin reaction, I was just resigned. I knew these guys had one thing in mind when sitting with us, and I knew that in their heads their lack of success wasn’t due to the fact that THEY were not appealing to America or Eire, but due to ME and my evil fat cow influence on otherwise pliable females who might give them a little somethin-somethin. They thought they had every right to be pushy and to hijack our picnic and demand phone numbers and photos. I was not surprised. But I also wasn’t having it. You do not step up to MY friends and treat them that way, or harass them, because I know these women are not interested in boys like PinkShorts and Jumper, and I know they deserve some respect. If you expect me to be a good little fat cow and sit quietly whilst you take over my time with my friends to be sleazy and selfish and rude, then you are in for a shock. This cow ain’t so insecure she pipes down when there are ‘menfolk’ around. You can call me fat, I know my own dress size. You can call me ugly, I know my own face. You can tell me I’ve never been loved, I still have the letters and the photographs. Whatever you say to me I am not afraid of you, it shows your weaknesses not mine.

The rest of the evening was chilled out and nice, and actually the whole event is now a source of humour. I was pleased to note that despite the bitch in me being released I didn’t slag the boys off personally, just their behaviour.  The episode also showed that my idiot-radar was working that day, and most importantly that the girls I was with are lovely, I’m glad to know them.

One last thing that America noted: although PinkShorts and Jumper asked lots of questions to show their interest, neither of them ever asked “do you have a boyfriend?” They just assumed that because they had shown an interest, these girls MUST be available to them. Even if I hadn’t been there, they would certainly have found out that they were wrong.

Diagram of possible thought process

Was this the thought process that occured in the minds of PinkShorts and Jumper?

Mix-d: feelings

6 Jul

It has long been my intention to put together a list of resources that might be interesting or helpful to people in the UK who are mixed race, have mixed race kids, or are just curious about the largest growing ethnic minority in Britain. As usual I have been off on various tangents, but a recent post in my twitter feed has reminded me of this goal.

Bradley Lincoln set up Mix-d: as part of the Multiple Heritage Project which started in 2006. From what I can see Lincoln originally started with an aim of providing consultancy to schools with mixed race students, and more importantly with the aim of allowing mixed race students to speak for themselves and discuss their experiences and ideas.

I first found out about Mix-d: organisation through google when looking for online resources about/for mixed race people in the UK. Although I was pleased to see someone like Lincoln and his growing team creating a space for discussion, I wasn’t overly impressed by the management-speak name “Mix-d:” and the corporate styling of the website and organisation as it felt too polished and shiny, filled with marketing style. I realised later that perhaps this stylistic approach was meant to appeal more to schools and government organisations than to individuals who might be looking for some warmth and understanding about their particular experiences. I was particularly dismissive of the Mix-d: Face competition to find mixed race models, as I felt that this fed in to the idea of mixed race people as exotic and beautiful, when in fact we are just people, some of whom are beautiful, some of whom have radio faces, just like any other group.

Having said that, Mix-d: has organised numerous conferences for young mixed race people and their stated mission “To see mixed race people at the heart of mixed race discussions” is incredibly important. As Lincoln says “There were plenty of people and books that told me I was mixed race. They were right – I am mixed race – but that didn’t capture how I felt, or what I knew to be the experiences of other mixed-race friends and family members”. I have found myself that when discussing my ‘mixedness’ with other mixed race people I would feel understood in a way that didn’t happen when talking to people ‘of one race’ even if they were from multi-cultural backgrounds. A classic for us mixed race people is the “where are you from?” question which is often asked with the real meaning of “what are you?” something discussed brilliantly here. This is a question that the UK ethnic majority, the so called ‘white British’ population do not experience in the same way.

It has been really inspiring to see Mix-d: become what it is today, where other well-meaning projects have fallen by the wayside, Mix-d: is working towards offering information for organisations working with young mixed race people, and a “parent pack” for parents raising mixed race kids who may not have any experience of what it is like to be mixed race (or if they do don’t know how relevant it is to today’s youth growing up with the internet and smartphones and hovercars more high profile mixed race celebrities).

The latest project that Mix-d: have highlighted over Twitter (Lincoln, if you ever read this, get someone to update the Mix-d: Twitter account more often!) is fascinating. As part of a British Academy research project, which also formed the basis for the BBC2 documentary series “Mixed Britannia” back in Autumn, by Dr Chamion Caballero and Dr Peter Aspinall, a timeline showing the development of the mixed race community in Britain since the start of the last century has been put together. The timeline includes recorded mixed-race marriages amongst ordinary people as well as some who are famous, the creation of the eugenics society and so-called research supporting the idea that mixed race children were somehow of poorer stock than racially pure children, legal changes to the status of immigrants, race riots, studies into societal attitudes toward race, and pop-culture moments. I am really pleased to see this research presented in such an accessible way, and with such a diversity of events recorded.

One of my main issues with discussions about mixed race issues is the idea that mixed race people are a modern invention, and that relationships between people of different racial backgrounds NEVER used to happen. This is a blatant fallacy, and feeds in to the idea of racial purity that fuels white (or any other racial) supremacism. The timeline, although starting ostensibly at 1900, challenges that fallacy, recording the experiences and discussion of mixed race communities that have existed in Britain since then. The timeline project has made me revisit Mix-d: and review their approach. I think that Lincoln and his team are creating a positive space for discussion, without shame or recrimination. Theirs is a forward thinking organisation that looks to work toward encouraging mixed race young people to explore their heritage. The consultancy element is important, schools and other organisations do need resources to support them in the support of these students, and Lincoln is looking to fill that need. I am interested to see what Mix-d: becomes in the future.

I do think Mix-d: has a silly name, but I’m pretty sure that they would say the same about MsMongrel. I’d like to leave you with a song featuring my least favourite, but previously common, term for mixed race people by Thin Lizzy, fronted by Phil Lynott, a mixed race Irishman, something I learnt from the Mix-d: museum timeline.