Sequinned Mannequin

Small thoughts that have become too big to keep inside my brain. Small things that asked my camera to make them big. Music that makes my insides feel big and my outsides feel small.

Street Harassment: Addendum

As an addendum to my recent post in which I ramble incoherently about street harassment, some more incoherent ramblings from a Facebook comment that once again ran away with me and got out of control:

Also just to add that street harassment occurs in a variety of ways that range from being threatening through to merely irritating. Even if we strip away the gender issue and remove the focus on appearance and sex, having people intrude upon your personal space is annoying. Being forced to interact, or make a choice between interacting and not interacting, which often feels like a choice between being polite and being rude even though it’s pretty rude to invasively demand someone’s attention, is wearing. I mean, no-one likes being accosted by charity workers in the street trying to get you to subscribe to Greenpeace or whatever, no-one likes being stopped for directions when in a hurry, no-one likes being the one the inebriated person on public transport chooses to sit next to and jabber away at. For example. Generally speaking, whether or not this is considered a sad state of affairs, people don’t like being interrupted whilst going about their daily business (although of course it doesn’t mean people can’t or shouldn’t talk to each other, just that a bit of consideration of whether the person you want to talk to seems like they are open to conversation should be had – it’s not usually very difficult to tell).

If you then add in the fact that the kinds of harassment directed at women are overwhelmingly sexual in nature, that the interaction or refusal to interact can quickly escalate into an abusive situation, that it is particularly frequent for a group of guys to pass comment on a single female, and that there is a pre-existing culture of misogyny, sexism, violence, etc., that already troubles male/female relations, it’s easy to see how something that is at best an irritation holds at least the potential for something far more sinister. And one of the most important things, I think, is not about what each individual occurrence turns out to be like, but about the fact that as a woman you know that you are going to have to face some interactions of this sort on a daily basis, you know that leaving the house is running the gauntlet of dealing with some kind of harassment, and that’s what produces the anxiety as much as what happens in each situation. And then there IS each situation, and having to work out what the right response is, what behaviour is least likely to exacerbate the situation, what to say to get rid of someone following you up the street, whether an appeasing reply or smile is a safer or quicker way of ending the interaction than ignoring it and hoping that the unwelcome comment is where it stops, that you won’t be hounded for a response as if you owe it.

When the weight of all those considerations is on your mind before you’ve even left the house, before you’ve encountered another person, and is still there in the background even if you get through a whole day without any such occurrence, surely it’s obvious that it’s a problem? If nothing else it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting thinking about it, worrying about it, being anxious about it, having demands on your attention, and on days when you aren’t feeling strong, or when even speaking to someone you know very well about kittens feels like too much, it can be overwhelmingly distressing. And that’s when you start wondering if you’re feeling robust enough to wear a certain outfit that day, knowing that it will attract more attention, or whether you can leave the house at all, because sure the comments you get that day might all be ‘nice’, but equally they might not be, and before they’ve happened all you know is that, wherever on the spectrum of annoying to threatening they fall, they will happen.

(NB: Obviously it’s not only women who experience street harassment, not all people receive the same kind of harassment, not all people feel the same about it, not all people are made anxious by it, and not all people have a problem with it BUT it is far more prevalent in women’s lives and I still believe it’s born out of a culture that sees women and their bodies as public property to be ogled, judged, and commented upon, and the fact that some people are ok with that, or that they are ok with the particular brand of attention they get, doesn’t mean that it’s ok as a status quo, and doesn’t mean that the attentions given to different individuals are equal in terms of amount, tone, or any other manner in which they could be measured. Although in individual interactions I’d say the guiding principle should be the response of the particular person involved, when confronting this as a societal issue I think it’s misleading to think in terms of whether people on an individual level like or dislike their experience of it. Rather we should maybe consider the questions it raises about whether we want this kind of behaviour to be normal in our culture, whether as a widespread phenomenon we think it’s ok, whether we’re happy for a large section of society to feel uncomfortable, anxious, etc., as a result of it, and whether, regardless of our personal feelings, when we examine the underlying ideologies, power structures, etc., that give rise to this kind of behaviour, we want to maintain those.)

Iceland Photos Part One

I’ve just been to Iceland. It was amazing. The country. Not the supermarket.

We went for ATP festival and then stayed on in Reykjavik for four days, taking a couple of day trips out. The first batch of photos are from our journey to Thorsmörk national park, via Seljalandsfoss and a glacier with a name far too Icelandic for me to even remember let alone spell. I will write a proper entry about the whole experience, but for now here are some pictures from my shiny new Flickr account, which I have set up to replace my Tumblr, which now mainly pulls through Instagram stuff (annoying format) and instead of putting them in blog entries (not enough storage and quite a lot of faff). In time everything will appear there so if you’re here for the photos, follow over there…

Essay: Too Much Info? ‘Women’s Health’ Magazine on ‘Oversharing’ in Social Media – a Critical Discourse Analysis

(I wrote this two weeks ago, then went to Iceland, then added a bit more to the bottom, so apologies if it doesn’t cohere…)

Before I get embroiled in a massively long digression, here is the essay: Too Much Info? Women’s Health Magazine on ‘Oversharing’ in Social Media – a Critical Discourse Analysis

Last week I went to a panel discussion on sexism in the media, held by the UK Coalition for Media Pluralism. With only an hour and a half to accommodate four speakers, the event could barely scrape the surface of such a brawny issue, but was nonetheless a (rather depressing) reminder of just how prevalent and insidious sexism in the media is. (ETA: There is now a podcast of this panel available.)

There is a petition/citizens’ initiative on their site that I would encourage you to sign – the Coalition isn’t just targeting sexism but all the isms, is in fact taking the fight beyond the isms to erode the ‘collusive relationship between media owners and senior politicians, which skews public debate in favour of big business and private interests, and fails to insulate government policy making from the private interests of proprietors’. As they point out:

with power in increasingly few hands, public debate is often restricted to those agendas favoured by press elites, as the space available to a diversity of voices shrinks. Powerful media outlets regularly use their position of influence over public opinion as a platform for attack and misrepresentation. The unemployed, the working poor, and immigrants, are routinely vilified by the press, marginalising large sectors of society and denying them a voice for self-representation. Our media should represent a diversity of voices and viewpoints.

(quotes from http://www.mediainitiative.org.uk/about/).

All this made me think that the next essay I wanted to put up is this one, on account of it being the closest I’ve come to looking at sexism in the media (well, this and another piece I wrote on gendered representations of suicide with reference to Sylvia Plath and her son, Nicholas Hughes, but I haven’t PDFerised that yet). I’m not sure that my argument is as nuanced as it could/should be, and many of my interpretations are open to other views (as is usual and right and this, I suppose, is what we’re trying to work towards – a plurality of voices, experiences, perspectives, and a plurality of interpretations of those too), and it’s clearly only one reading of one very specific issue addressed by one article in one magazine, but I think it demonstrates something of how ingrained sexism – or any ism – can be, right down to the level of the word. There are also hints here of the kinds of issues that came up at the panel discussion – the policing of women’s bodies, the intersection of gender with class/poverty – and the general idea that there is a boundary between what should be private and what should be public, that women who transgress this are all the more abject, and that these unruly women should be kept in check by the rest of us, rounded up into villified groups that come to stand for everything that is wrong with x type of person(woman), and held up as examples of now not to be.

As a related aside, this reminds me of quite an interesting reply I had to a tweet I made recently under the #yesallwomen hashtag. First off, I got WAY more than I bargained for in choosing to participate in that campaign (for a history of it please read this). Having seen a couple of retweets in my timeline I clicked on the tag to see what others were saying and noticed, stomach sinking, that the genuine tweets were outnumbered by at best mocking, most frequently cruel, and at worst threatening ones. Reply after reply to women recounting their many experiences of sexism on a scale from the everyday background hum of misogyny to events of staggering horror, reply after reply of vile outpourings of loathing and anger. And I thought huh, that’s kind of ironic, the people who have the biggest issue with this hashtag, the ones trying the hardest to claim it’s unnecessary, are the ones proving most effectively how incredibly relevant it actually is. So I posted something to that effect, noting that the deluge of hatred was at least as revealing as what it was replying to, and of course came in for flak of my own. Nothing, I should add, compared to what a lot of people received, and most of it just a bandwagon act, but there was one response that intrigued me: ‘probably because the internet was built by trolls. Not women, TROLLS. no free rides for overly opinionated hags’.

Putting aside the nonsensical beginning (was the internet ‘built’ by any one group? Does it have to be built by that group in order for that group not to be screwed over by it? I know I’m giving this too much rational thought and there’s no point arguing with a troll, but I still find it useful to look at what points of view are contained within what’s said and the implications), it’s the ‘no free rides for overly opinionated hags’ that’s interesting. In fact, it’s mostly just the ‘no free rides’.

A ‘free ride’ in this logic seems to be not being trolled. So if you’re an ‘overly opinionated hag’ (in the eyes of this person, to qualify for this status one apparently just needs to be a woman who has any opinion at all) you deserve to get a good trolling for being so bold as to speak that opinion. In fact, the implication seems to be that everyone should expect a good trolling for voicing an opinion (I’m inferring this from the fact that a ‘free ride’ is generally seen as a negative thing akin to not paying your dues, getting something for nothing, etc., and wanting or expecting a free ride is being a shirking sissy) but that ‘opinionated hags’ are even more insufferable because, it is suggested, at least by my interpretation, that they expect one. Like, fucking opinionated hags, not only do they have their overly opinionated opinions and not only do they dare to bang on about them but then they go and bloody complain about it when subjected to merciless abuse as a result.

Kind of an interesting one there, because we get so many sexist tropes in one neat little phrase. Women with opinions are hags, women with opinions are never just opinionated but always overly-opinionated because in this conception having any opinion at all is over and above the acceptable number a woman can have, but despite being hags with too many opinions they are also fragile and oversensitive and think they should be given an easier time of it. Really, then, we’re rife with hypocrisy, us hags. We should man up, I expect, and take all that abuse on the nose. Because that’s what we should expect, right, if we’re going to be an overly-opinionated hag? Getting the abuse comes with the territory, and we shouldn’t have strayed into this domain if we aren’t willing to take the consequences. And we certainly shouldn’t wander into alien terrain and then complain about how it operates because how very dare we? How dare we want a man’s right to speak AND to be granted respect for what we have to say? And how dare we be upset at the mockery and/or cruelty loaded upon us by those who either disagree with our opinion or our right to even have one? It’s our own damn fault and the responsibility is ours, not that of those who think it their place to disabuse us of the notion that we might get a free ride. Obviously what happened is that we waded in with all our unruly opinions knowing full well that we should expect to be strung up for them and then went wahhhh wahhhh stop being so mean and make an exception for me bateyelid bateyelid doalittlecry pushupourboobs. SORRY KIDDO, NOT GONNA WORK ON ME.

Clearly it’s that. Because if it’s not that it’s just that we’re stupid, right? lol. lolololololol ignorant hag with too many opinions thought that people might treat her like human being lol! Naive bitch thought people might listen to her overly opinionated opinions HA! Sad pathetic out of touch loser sides are splitting omgsooooooofunnyrofl!

What I’m trying to say, in a manner entirely lacking any erudition, is that we can’t win. Either we should keep quiet, or we should expect to be punished for having a voice. If we choose to use our voice, then we either knowingly walk into a pit of bears and can’t complain when they maul us half to death, or we did it accidentally, only cementing the fact that we should never have gone there in the first place, that we are wandering out of bounds and treading ground we just don’t understand. Aside from disagreeing with the idea that it’s normal to expect an opinion to be met with abuse, I’m not all together sure this argument even holds any water, because although it rests on the idea that having opinions is inextricably bound up with being attacked for vocalising them, and although the internet does give people unprecedented freedom to troll – or, to be complete cunts to total strangers on account of being able to pretend they aren’t actually people in ‘real life’ by virtue of them not being directly in front of each others’ faces and thus able to deny that there are any consequences of this behaviour – it’s certainly not the case that no-one gets a free ride. Just like in society, or school, there is a pecking order, and not everyone is attacked with equal venom.

But even if we for a moment suppose that there is a logic here, and that we should expect anything we say online (I’d argue that it’s certainly not just online that this happens, and that the way people behave online is indicative of the way they want to behave in ‘real life’ and therefore there is little difference, really, if we’re talking about the kinds of prejudice underlying this behaviour, but certainly getting embroiled in an online discussion of just about anything (see the staggering clusterfuck the comments on a rainbow cake recipe of all things devolved into, summarised here in a manner that made me laugh so much I nearly choked) is akin to throwing yourself to the lions), anyway, if we expect that we should not just be disagreed with, questioned, or contested, but be disparaged, mocked, and abused – and, especially in the case of women, aspects of our appearance or personality to be considered equally fair game for humiliation or insult even when entirely irrelevant to the point we were making – the idea, and it’s an incredibly prevalent one, that we shouldn’t complain about it because ‘that’s the way it is’, can do one. I suppose, thinking about it, that this fear of upsetting the status quo is really what drives the kind of behaviour that pounces on overly opinionated hags daring to open their dirty little traps. DON’T COMPLAIN. THIS IS THE WAY IT IS. IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, OFF YOU FUCK. It’s basically just an excuse for people to behave shittily without compunction and avoid being held accountable on the ‘that’s how it is’ guff.

Ok so we have to ‘be realistic’. But only to a point. Things are, for now, the way things are, so if you’re gonna get involved with something that isn’t great, it’s impractical to get involved in it unless you’re willing to put up with the not-greatness. However, I don’t believe that invalidates your right to complain about it, or to try and change it. You don’t have to like it or lump it. Celebrities being mercilessly papped and hounded by the press do not have to just be ok with it on account of well hey you knew being famous would mean this would happen so don’t get in a tizzy when some spineless worm with a gigantic lens puts your knockers into the public domain without your permission. People in minority groups do not have to just be ok with abuse they may receive for entering certain environments or for making their minority status apparent. All the girls in nightclubs in Magaluf who get cold feet about performing sex acts on strangers do not have to just be ok with DJs swearing at them to get on with it because ‘this is what we do’. (As an aside, this is a very good analysis of the broader issues raised by the Magaluf girl story.) To use a few crude examples. But you see the point. I hope. That just because certain unsavoury things are more likely to happen in certain situations, or that certain stuff ‘comes with the territory’, the only available choices should not be either don’t enter the territory, or put yourself in that situation or don’t complain about the negative aspects of it. Especially as clearly there is not always a clear distinction about these things and it’s not always a matter of choice.

And the thing with Twitter is that actually it’s completely possible to find yourself part of a discussion by accident. Of course it’s the internet and of course it’s public but although I know that, just as I know that this blog is also public and searchable, I’m still always surprised when someone I don’t know interacts with a tweet or a blog post. I think I’m just making my own little statements and speaking to a small group of people and all of a sudden I find myself in a snakepit defending everything from how I look to my right to be alive. Ok so I haven’t done any research, but my anecdotal observations tell me that the big difference between a man voicing his opinion and a woman doing it are the way those who disagree engage with the speaker. It seems so much more common for a woman herself to be attacked, her body, her looks, her personality, and be called derogatory names, than for a man to be. This is what tells me that it’s not as simple as disagreeing with the opinion, but with the having and expressing of the opinion at all. The objection, it seems, is to the messenger at least as much as the message. So it’s not so much that us overly opinionated hags don’t get any free rides, as that our ride comes at a far greater personal cost – the suggestion is that this is par for the course, but as with most other things, it’s unequal, and it’s yet more undermining to try and smuggle it in under the ‘that’s the way it is’ rubric because that is manifestly not ‘how it is’ for everyone.

My last aside on this is something that popped into my head when I was thinking about the amount of criticisms I saw of physical appearance when perusing yesallwomen. There were a lot of stories of everyday sexism, of women being offered sex on the street or having men tell them they wanted to fuck them, or similar. The standard stuff. And then, of course, there were a ton of retorts along the lines of ‘yeah right like anyone would want to fuck you’. There is a general myth, believed especially strongly by the kinds of guys who are into street harassment, that being ogled at and commented upon by complete strangers whilst walking down the road is a compliment. Ok so there could – COULD – be situations in which it was done in a non-threatening way and intended to be complimentary and was taken that way. It is, and should be, I think, possible for a person to say something nice about another person that they don’t know and for it to actually be nice. But it’s an unclear line, and I’m not speaking of the isolated occasions but of the generally-accepted habit of women and their bodies being fair game for comment and the generally-accepted view that women who complain about it are just being too damn sensitive. Because it’s nice, right? Being sexually desired is all we could possibly want so why on earth wouldn’t we want to be told about how ripe for fucking we are every time we leave the house?

And however much women say actually no, it’s not all that nice and it’s not very flattering and it is at best irritating and at worst threatening, it doesn’t make much difference really because we just don’t understand, do we, that the guys are just trying to be nice? I mean, god, what’s wrong with us? We just can’t see niceness when it slaps us in the face, can we? Stupid ungrateful bitches!

The first not so subtle clue that maybe it isn’t nice actually is that if you are being nice that is generally supposed to be doing something that the person you are trying to be nice to likes, so if they say dude I don’t like that really then a person actually being nice would be like oh shit, sorry, I was trying to be nice but I see that I was unsuccessful and you didn’t like it so I will not do that again and will take a cue from you about what you would find nice and try and do that instead because my motivation here was to do something nice for you that you would like. People get shit wrong all the time and misread things and misjudge people and situations and I don’t think it’s about getting everything right the first time but about examining what the motivation actually is and trying to recover that if it starts getting lost and being willing to change what you are doing so that the message the other person receives is the same as the one you are trying to send.

I was talking about this with a friend last night and it’s so obvious really but it’s amazing what a hard time people have understanding what it means to give – i.e. giving someone what they want and not either what you would like to receive or what you want to give them. It’s pretty hard to be grateful for something you never wanted, and it’s pretty easy to be resentful of someone who isn’t grateful when you’ve done something ‘for them’ – but is it actually for them? Because if it is, the approach should be guided by their needs and desires, otherwise it’s empty generosity dressed up in injured ‘I was just being nice’ness that manipulates someone into feeling guilty for not being thankful for something thrust upon them that they didn’t want. Which is really more like abuse than being nice. You have to have more than just good intentions – those intentions need to be converted into good actions, and if it isn’t right first time, the good response is to change the action to match the intention, not doggedly hold onto the intention as if that should trump everything, as if meaning well is more important than behaving well or considering how that behaviour translates itself to other people.

So I’d say this is what makes it pretty clear that good intentions have little to do with most street harassment (or anything else done under the guise of ‘being nice’ when the recipient of the niceness takes issue with it). It’s just what it’s dressed up in to make it seem defensible and to silence any objection, to shunt the problem off its originators and onto its recipients. It’s not men harassing women, it’s women being ungrateful for men’s attentions. The problem, as usual, is the women. But the reason why I bring in the wealth of ‘yeah like anyone would wanna fuck you lol’ comments is that if you look at the yesallwomen tag, or the Everyday Sexism feed, street harassment is something that pretty much all women experience. Obviously guys are attracted to all kinds of women and I don’t mean to suggest that women who don’t fit the stereotype of conventional attractiveness aren’t desirable, but I think the fact that there are women who gain both kinds of negative attention is telling. There are women subjected to sexual harassment by the same kinds of misogynists who then declare them unfuckable – it’s like, in order to maintain the myth that harassment is about giving pretty women compliments, a woman who doesn’t fit into the standard beauty norms has to be derided for claiming to have experienced it because in this construction it is not possible that she could have – it’s not harassment, you see, it’s just men telling women how nice they look, but because not all women adhere equally to cultural ideas of what nice-looking looks like, not all women can receive these compliments. Either way you cut it, a status quo is undermined. If we believe that harassment is actually complimentary, then the spectrum of what’s generally considered attractive is a lot broader than it seems to be. But if we believe that beauty norms are actually pretty narrow yet the spread of harassment is wide, then the myth of it being all about how men can’t help telling women how gorgeous they are falls apart a bit. (Again, I’m not saying that I believe only women who adhere to mainstream attractiveness norms are beautiful, or gorgeous, or worthy of compliment, or that they are the only women to be desired, just that it seems to me that the kinds of men who think it’s ok to yell at women in the street are the same kinds of men who attack the yesallwomen hashtag, are the same kinds of men who think sexism is ok/doesn’t exist, who think feminism is unnecessary or stupid, who – and this is conjecture and stereotyping on my part – probably don’t think too far outside the box in terms of (anything) what they consider an attractive woman to look like.)

So if the same men telling a woman in the street they want to fuck her are the same men who then declare the same woman unfuckable, it seems quite clear that the desire to fuck her, and the desire to tell her that, are not a product of insatiable lust and an earnest desire to shower her with compliments, but about something entirely different. I feel like the natural extension of justifying street harassment as harmless compliments results in victim-blaming those who experience rape on account of what they were wearing. It’s not just about making the woman the responsible party and constructing female sexuality as dangerous but about constructing rape as something that is about desire. Men desire women, and this attractive woman wearing a short skirt was just too alluring for the man to resist sticking his penis in. In a weird way it makes rape into the same kind of ‘compliment’ as street harassment – he was just so overcome by your beauty, he just wanted you so much, ok so he transgressed a boundary or two but only because you’re so desirable. It masks a much more unseemly reality – that sex can be a weapon, that sex is often about power and dominance, and that in the context of sex ‘desire’ is a very complex issue that isn’t just about desire for the other person but desire for power, control, dominance (or to feel overpowered, controlled, dominated – I say ‘feel’ rather than ‘be’ because there is a big difference between those two states, hence the difference between a rape fantasy, which is controlled by the fantasiser, and rape reality, which is controlled by the rapist) and these desires play into each other and intersect with broader issues of gender, sexuality, etc.

I’m not sure I’ve expressed it very well but when I first had this thought it seemed like a really clear illustration of why these narratives around harassment and sexual abuse don’t hold up. In my view, in the majority of cases the kind of ‘harmless’ harassment the – probably unconscious – motivation is something less benign and more sinister and threatening than it’s commonly accepted to be. It may also in some cases be about physical attraction, but as a standard behaviour in a widely sexist, misogynist society, I’d argue the underlying conditions mean that most of the time it’s a symptom of more than raging libido, appreciation for beauty, or an innocent intention to ‘be nice’ – even when all those things are present as well. This is further supported by the very defensive responses of many men when they are informed that actually women aren’t generally thrilled to be accosted when going about their daily business (‘I was just being nice! You’re being too sensitive’ as opposed to ‘oh, shit, you don’t like that?’), the speed with which a ‘compliment’ turns into abuse if not received by the woman in precisely the right way (bearing in mind that non-response falls into the category of incorrect response, so simply ignoring street harassment isn’t a confrontation-free option – there is no way not to engage with it, which is telling in itself because if we are to believe it’s just about being nice, then why do the comments require a response, and why is silence followed up with further demands for engagement?), and the fact that if this really is about talking to women, about establishing some kind of communication and beginning a conversation, why isn’t the more usual greeting of ‘hello’ used in place of any of the numerous greetings involving appearance and/or sex acts?

I should probably have just done a whole post about street harassment. In fact, I think I’ve done one before and am probably repeating myself, and the problem with talking about these things is that the only people who ever read them are people who already know what it’s like, because only people who are affected tend to be interested, so it’s preaching to the converted. The people who perpetuate the problem and have the power not to mostly don’t give a shit, don’t think it’s a problem, are personally unaffected by it so have no need to think about it, or are at pains to say how they are one of the good guys, they don’t do that kind of thing, so it’s not relevant to them. (There’s a good article here about how most men don’t see misogyny in action.) The thing is, the people to whom sexism, or any ism, isn’t relevant, are precisely the people who can do the most to stop it happening. The people who have the luxury of ‘not being interested’ in discussing sexism or racism or whateverism are the ones with the most cultural power, are the ones who occupy the groups that have the biggest contribution to determining the status quo, are the ones whose general interests are served by the perpetuation of the inequality that is invisible to them, that they can opt out of thinking about, that they can distance themselves from, that they can declare not relevant to their lives. The people who think there is no such thing as power, and therefore no such thing as inequality, are the people who cannot recognise it because they hold it. And the reason it’s so easy for it to stay where it is is because the disempowered can easily be dismissed as the unruly, misbehaving rebels whose only means of obtaining some kind of stake is through violent or extreme means, who discredit themselves and undermine their position by behaving in such a manner, which apparently justifies everything staying precisely where it is.

I’m getting sidetracked again but my point, or one of them, is that no not all men are sexist, not all white people are racist, not all straight people are homophobes, not all anyone is anything, but undeniably in western society the straight white male as a group is where it’s at. And the good guys get the same benefits from that as the bad ones. So it isn’t enough just to claim it’s not relevant on account of you individually not being like that – not to mention all the unconscious or normalised ways in which the isms are enacted without their perpetrators realising. And that’s the main point, I suppose, and the main counter-argument to those who say that feminism isn’t necessary or that they personally aren’t racist, etc.: it’s about what we all do without knowing we’re doing it. It’s about the way these structures are embedded in the way we live our lives, in the framework of society and culture. It’s not just about targeting bigoted individuals, or about saying that all guys who comment on women in the street actively hate women or that telling a politically incorrect joke means that person actually hates whatever group the joke makes fun of, it’s about what it means that guys who comment on women in the street DON’T consciously or actively hate women but that it is a totally normal thing to do even though when it’s broken down and examined it’s clearly not ok. It’s about what people say and do without realising what they’re saying and doing. It’s about the culture that gives birth to these sayings and doings and makes them commonplace and unremarkable so that we don’t consciously consider what it means. And that’s why it’s important for those who occupy positions of greater privilege to enter into discussion with those who have relatively less, and to learn about others’ experiences, so that the invisible ways oppression works can be made visible and behaviours can change. So that we can all be more conscious of how our actions translate, how we accidentally shit on people, how we perpetuate norms that we don’t see as being in any way problematic precisely because they are normal. And that’s why we need a pluralised media, to represent the experiences and views of a broader range of people, to show a greater spectrum of normality, and to open up the floor for many more voices.

Oh, and here’s the essay! Too Much Info? Women’s Health Magazine on ‘Oversharing’ in Social Media – a Critical Discourse Analysis

Song: Tori Amos – Wild Way

The big long entry I have been promising – about Tori Amos and her influence on my life yadda yadda – is coming. By which I mean I have written half of it, several weeks ago, and as yet have not returned to complete it. BUT I WILL.

In the meantime, here is another track from her most recent album, which in a previous entry I called a return to form and then read a bunch of reviews slating everyone who called it a return to form, so I will just say that it’s better than one may have suspected or hoped and leave it at that.

You can have a live version, because I was at this show and it was pretty good, and the girl sitting next to me practically had hysterical palpitations like I did 15 years ago and I was glad that she can still do that, still means that much, and, if that girl is anything like I was, is still giving comfort to those who need it.

In vaguely related news, living with people is hard.

Essay: Kathy Acker’s Feminine Logic: Irigaray’s ‘Mimesis’ at Work in ‘Blood and Guts in High School’

Before I finished my MA (Modern Literary Theory) last September I had all these great intentions. When I finish I will blog every day! I will edit my teenage journals and turn them into a novel! I will immediately put together a PhD proposal! I will start writing serious articles without swear words in them! I will start writing poetry again! I will rework my dissertation to correct the glaring problems that came from brutally butchering huge chunks of it and completely changing the order of the sections the night before the deadline!

And then came the bit where I did that final push and wrote the dissertation. The dissertation, you see, is supposed to be on your mind from the moment you start the course in October. For full-time students, the dissertation proposal is due in January, before any feedback on the autumn term assessments and whilst still only a third of the way through the programme. As a part-timer, mine was due the following January, so I at least had the benefit of having completed two assignments before I had to wrap my head around what I might want to devote a 15000-word research project to. That said, I still had no real clue – the assignments I’d submitted had been graded above-average but below what I was used to, I was feeling despondent about my academic ability, and I certainly didn’t feel I had any proper idea of what I wanted to focus on. With it always in my mind that I wanted to do a PhD afterwards, it seemed like a very big decision, because the Master’s dissertation tends to be what lays the foundation for future research. On top of that, I’d never actually written anything longer than 6000 words before, having completed a joint honours BA in which the final-year dissertation was a creative writing project.

Considering I didn’t know where to begin, and considering that the proposal is, as far as I can gather, not really expected to be an accurate picture of what your final project will end up being because obviously before you’ve started it it’s difficult to know what direction it will take, I find it quite funny that the proposed title I put forward in January, in a state of panic, is almost word-for-word the title I ended up with. In a way I think I was trying to avoid that, as I spent an entire day wracking my brain trying to decide on a title before realising that somehow I had ended up doing exactly what I set out to do, despite not really knowing what that was at the time.

Anyway, it got done in the end, but it was a pretty stressful experience. As I imagine it is for everyone. It definitely did not help that I had to move house at the start of July due to my landlord being a douche, which took out several weeks of prime dissertationing time. It also did not help that a good friend of mine died a week or so before the deadline. (That sounds like I’m blaming him for being so insensitive as to pass away at an inconvenient time, which is not at all what I mean – I just mean, you know, it wasn’t an easy time, and quite the reverse is true – I’m angry at my dissertation for being so all-consuming that I thought ‘oh I’ll visit Steve when this is finished’, assuming as one does when myopically embroiled in their own life that everything else will wait, only to be pipped to the post by Death, who cares not a fig for deadlines or Master’s degrees or dissertations and who taught me, too late, to care less of a fig about them myself.) In the end, I managed to scrape together two weeks off work by negotiating a little study leave, using my remaining holiday days, and borrowing some from the following year, and spent that two weeks slowly declining into insanity. I did far too much research, I had far too many words (first draft was, I think, 24000), I went several kinds of wrong as a result of pretty much not seeing anyone except Edith, occasionally my partner, and a couple of times my MA-mate Sean who lived around the corner and preserved some of my social faculties by accompanying me for coffee at my favourite St David’s Coffee House in Forest Hill and being one of the few people who could empathise with the special kind of weirdness that dissertation-writing does to your brain whilst not at all minding that it becomes the only thing you can talk about.

By the time the two weeks were over I was wrung out in every possible way, resentful of the whole project and the importance I placed on it due to missing a final opportunity to see Steve, and all those pledges about keeping myself in the habit of academic writing, or writing of some description, of putting together a PhD proposal, all that was thrown angrily by the wayside out of a speeding car that couldn’t get away from it quickly enough. I thought, and not for the first time, fuck academia. Fuck it all. (It probably didn’t help that my dissertation was a reasonably damning critique of academia, either…)

But I can never stay away from it long. My relationship with academia has always been one of alternating idealisation and disillusionment (not too different to my relationships with people, then…), but I don’t think that’s uncommon, and probably it’s not a bad thing, either. It’s good to keep some sort of perspective, even if at any given moment it’s not especially balanced. So, by way of lengthy introduction, that’s what I’m doing now. I’ve got my scholarly distance from scholarliness, I’ve moved house yet again, my life is theoretically relatively stable, and it’s about time to start thinking about the next application cycle. September 2015. PhD. Funding. These are the goals. And to that end I’m putting up some of my essays from BA and MA, making a profile on academia.edu although I have no idea what it’s supposed to achieve and whether it’s a good idea, mostly just to get my eye back in and make me feel like I am in some way still connected to academic things even if that’s only by revisiting things I did in the past. I have a tendency to draw a line under stuff when it’s completed, to dismiss it, and if I’m going to be able to generate the confidence and enthusiasm to move forward with academia again I need to remind myself that I have achieved things, I have written things, I have thought about things, I have faced challenges at all levels of my education and I have still excelled, and somehow I made it through two years of a postgrad degree whilst working full-time and dealing with some not insignificant life trauma and graduated with Distinction so like, yay me or whatever. It can’t all be luck. I’m clearly capable of getting shit done and doing it well. Sorry if this all sounds smug and braggy – sometimes I just need to give myself a kick up the arse and a pat on the back and be a bit proud to stop myself being soggy, negative, and despondent, which is pretty much what I’ve been for the last year and is why despite all my assertions that I was going to get a new job and do all this great stuff I haven’t done a single bloody thing.

So here’s the first upload – an essay I wrote last May for my MA module ‘Rewriting Sexualities’. I probably shouldn’t have started with this as it achieved the best mark I’ve received for anything in my whole academic career, so it’s all downhill from here, but, other than my dissertation, which will go up at some point too when I’ve made some revisions, it’s also one of the most representative pieces I’ve written in terms of my interests. Also: sogginess, negativity, despondence be vanquished!

 

Kathy Acker’s Feminine Logic: Irigaray’s ‘Mimesis’ at Work in Blood and Guts in High School

 

Song: Cop Shoot Cop – Room 429

Well, I was going to upload an essay I wrote about Kathy Acker but the PDF I made of it last night has come out all weird so that delight will have to wait. Grr. GRRRRR. I feel exceptionally irritated about this minor inconvenience, so presumably my uterus is about to explode. I have that clogged-up grumpy twisty sensation and I’d quite like to throw a little tantrum but I won’t because I have to pretend to be a mature responsible adult.

GLOWER.

So here’s something a bit dark and grrrr from Phil Puleo’s band Cop Shoot Cop. Beautiful Mr Puleo now drums majestically for Swans. (I promise that one day soon I will write a blog entry that is in no way related to Swans or any current or previous members of Swans. Just not today.)

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