Friday 19 October 2012

Women - just unwilling mothers in waiting

Today the Telegraph offered us a charming little piece on emergency contraception. Titled "Five-day-after pill to be sold at chemists' without prescription", the first glimpse into the overall tone of the article was the subheading

A contraceptive pill which enables unwilling mothers to prevent unwanted pregnancies up to five days after sex, is to be made available to buy at pharmacies for the first time without prescription.

Heard that ladies? Your default state isn't 'human being', it's 'unwilling mother'. If you're not a mother after every time you have sex, you're a baby-murderer. Never mind if you don't want, can't have or already have children, every sperm is sacred, and you're Stalin.

It continues:
The Co-Operative Pharmacy chain is to sell the ‘five-day-after pill’ for £30, with no requirement for women to have had a doctor’s consultation beforehand. Instead they will see a pharmacist.
The demands that women should consult with GPs about emergency contraception are never borne of medical need. It is perfectly adequate to be spoken to by someone who is aware of the correct way to use a medication who can also explain any side-effects. The demands are, instead, borne of the desire to see women get a patronising little lecture about what a harlot she is before being allowed access to medicine. It is also about inconveniencing and wrong-footing us. It shouldn't be possible to just buy these things on demand, because that would stop us having to take a morning off work, go to the GPs, wait around for ages and then have to ask someone for permission to access a contraceptive - and that's if you can even get an appointment within 72 hours. We see this desire to patronise illustrated in the next paragraph:

The firm said it was taking the step to offer women greater choice, but critics said it would encourage “a more casual attitude to sex” and contribute to rises in sexually transmitted diseases.

Do these critics honestly care about women's safety? (Spoiler: no) People are very aware of the need to practice safe sex, and there are a myriad of reasons other than 'having sex without a condom' why they would need to access emergency contraception. For instance, someone in a monogamous relationship who usually takes the pill, but has become ill and vomited up one of her doses. They may have been using a condom, which split. They may have been raped. Do these 'critics' honestly think that someone will have the resources available to pay £30 to buy an obscure pill each time they have sex in order to avoid pregnancy, yet have never heard of condoms? This is just another example of using 'concern' as a mask to advocate the destruction of bodily autonomy.

They also said that ministers had originally given assurances that morning after pills would only ever be prescribed in "exceptional circumstances", but they had slowly become more widely available. There were also concerns that the rules would be flouted and under-18s would gain access to the pill.

Why has the morning after pill been more widely prescribed since becoming available? Because it works and didn't cause the destruction of society as we know it! They have become more widely available because people realised that women didn't need a stern telling off when they needed to access it, because they can make their own decisions about their body! Also, under-18s are both precisely the people who need this pill and the ones who will benefit least from its over-the-counter availability. Why? Under-18s are generally less likely to be well informed about contraception before they have sex,  and more likely to be scared of going to a doctor to obtain it and possibly also more likely to give into pressure to not use condoms. However, they also don't tend to have stacks of £30 lying around, so are unlikely to be able to buy it in the first place.

Called ellaOne, the pill is thought to work by preventing ovulation and fertilisation, and by making the lining of the womb less receptive to a fertilised egg.
It is significantly more effective than the most commonly used morning-after pill, Levonelle, which can be taken up to three days after intercourse.
Remember this bit of science, it will come up later.
Some 250,000 women use emergency contraception every year, overwhelmingly paid for by the NHS.

Except this won't be, it will be paid out of women's own pockets, so what's your point? Even if they did get all the pills on the NHS, that's a fantastic deal for the government. Assume the unlikely scenario that all 250,000 cases of pill-usage actually prevented a pregnancy, and that the NHS paid £30 per pill (which they don't, it is much less, but let's go with the high estimates to make a point). So the state has just paid £7.5million to avoid these pregnancies. OK. Now let's imagine that they weren't prevented. So now we have 250,000 foetuses waiting to be born. It costs £2880 to give birth at the Portland Hospital in London. Now, that's for a vaginal delivery with no complications and an overnight stay. No fuss, no muss. So even though the Portland is private, I'm going to take £2500 as my 'average birth cost', since the lower actual-money cost of an NHS delivery will be averted by non-textbook births being accounted for too. We now have a bill to the state of £625million, which is 83 times as much as the most that the emergency contraceptives could cost, and that's before you factor in child benefit, child tax credit, education, healthcare throughout life etc. etc.

But all this is a moot point. I'm not trying to put a price on a human life, or to say that we should promote or push people into not having children, I'm just saying that it's a bit stupid to drop sarky remarks about how selfish women are being using the public purse to pay for contraceptives when a) this story is about women paying their own money for contraceptives and b) it's cheaper than the alternative.

So what do the Co-op have to say about their new policy?
Jane Devenish, clinical service pharmacist for the chain, said it was “an emotive subject”.
But she said: “We believe that this service will be an important step to offer women access to a wider choice of emergency contraception in a community pharmacy to enable them to make an informed decision.”
She continued: “It is not our place to make a judgement on people’s motives or lifestyles and there can be numerous reasons for seeking medical help.”
When a woman came in asking for emergency contraception, she would be offered a private consultation with a pharmacist, who would advise her which option was best. Only over 18s would be able to buy ellaOne, she said.
Pharmacists would also recommend customers were tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and reminded that only condoms could protect against them.
This part kind of annoys me - because the Co-op are doing the right thing, but having to state that they think it's important that women aren't forced into pregnancy in the most appeasing, apologetic manner. It's not an emotive subject. It's been made emotive because of people insisting that every time a woman has sex but doesn't want a child she is just an 'unwilling mother'. The people accessing this pill all have the same motive - they don't want to get pregnant. The people usually brought up when spewing this 'motives and lifestyles' bunkum is most often the imaginary feckless wastrels from earlier who just go around drunkenly shagging people willy-nilly, condoms having apparently passed them by, then taking great delight in seeking abortion before going to spend all their money (benefits probably) on more WKD and doing more feckless fecking. Firstly, I have to ask how common this stereotype is, because I've certainly never met anyone who fits it - or is it, like the 'scrounger' rhetoric, taking the most wildly exaggerated possibilities and attributing these characteristics, actions and motives to everyone in a certain class? Secondly, and probably most importantly, even if these people do exist, why the fuck would you want them to have children? They sound like they'd be really bad parents guys.

Anyway, the rest of her sop to the wannabe-Gileadeans has been discussed above and should assuage their 'concerns' - the pills won't be sold to under-18s, people trying to get them will still have to face a patronising lecture, they will be informed about the nature and existence of condoms and so on. But lo! What is this? Someone is still not happy! I wonder who it could be?
But Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the organisation had a “profound objection” to ellaOne because “it works on some occasions by terminating the life of the early embryo”.
“We feel women should be told this is one of its modes of action,” adding that SPUC also objected to Levonelle on the same grounds.
He also criticised the Co-Operative Pharmacy for “taking away the safeguard of the appointment with the GP, who has access to the woman’s medical history”.
Oh, that wanker. So Tully objects to this pill because it 'terminates the life of the early embryo' and 'women aren't told about this'? Remember that thing I told you to remember from earlier?
preventing ovulation and fertilisation, and by making the lining of the womb less receptive to a fertilised egg.
So not allowing an egg to implant is now the same as abortion? Well holy shit, my periods have killed more babies than Herod in that case. A person is not pregnant until the egg has implanted on the wall of their uterus. Not allowing this to happen is preventing pregnancy, not aborting a foetus. And guess what Tully? Women are being told! Look, I got told about three paragraphs above in this very article!

So Tully is at best an absolute fucking idiot, and at worst a lying monster who wants to control everyone with a uterus (and probably a few more besides). Now there's another quote. We've had the head of sales and a frothing misogynist speak, so I wonder if any actual scientists will comment on how the pill wo... oh fuck, look who's turned up now:

Norman Wells, of the Family Educational Trust, said ellaOne was “likely to act" by inducing abortion, and that widening access would serve to increase STI rates.
He said: "When the morning-after pill was first licensed for use, the government gave assurances that it would be kept under the control of doctors and only supplied on prescription in exceptional circumstances.
"But since it has been made available over the counter in pharmacies, and in some parts of the country is being provided free of charge to girls and young women, its use has multiplied."
He also argued research showed morning after pills had failed to reduce abortion rates.
“Instead, young people in particular have been lulled into a false sense of security, taken a more casual attitude to sex, and become exposed to an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections," he said.
Oh yeah?

The article finishes with a short paragraph detailing where the Co-op sales trials will be held.

So there you have it. If you want access to emergency contraception you're:

  • an 'unwilling mother'
  • a slut
  • probably riddled with STDs
  • a scrounger
  • need lecturing about your morals
  • advocating for teenagers to have risky sex

How many times does this article mention reasons other than 'feckless idiocy' for wanting emergency contraception? None. So, off the top of my head, here's a list of a few:

  • Failure of regular LARC
  • Split condom
  • Not allowed to access contraceptives by abusive partner
  • Rape
  • Couldn't take time off work to renew LARC prescription
  • Can't access a GP because of homelessness

That list took about 30 seconds, which I'm sure is a hell of a lot longer than 'Medical Correspondent' (really?!) Stephen Adams took to stop judgement-wanking over women who need emergency contraceptives with his super-Christian, anti-science misogynist buddies to do some actual research into this story.

PEE ESS: Formatting will be fixed later, when I'm not busy.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Breaking news: Tories are disingenuous idiots. Again.

Well, I said that I'd soon get my fire for writing back, and nothing could have performed the job better than the soul-enema-inducing hogwash peddled in the Graun on Tuesday. Written by Amber Rudd and   Andrea Leadsome (so incorrect it took two of them to shovel the lies in), 'You're wrong Harriet Harman, Conservatives make better feminists' is the duo's ode to Thatcherism, and makes the spurious claim that not only may one be a Tory and feminist, one is a better feminist when a Tory.

To which I say:

I use my massive fingers to smite Cabinet members on the weekend.

Crude as my feelings may be, I think I'm justifiably pissed off when a national newspaper prints the feminist equivalent of the Cottingley bloody Fairies.

As I've said before to Louise Mensch, I do not think that word means what they think it means.

I'll start by critiquing the pair's rabid attack on Harman. They claim she's only slamming Tory "feminists" to further her own career, to 'polish... her reputation as the hard woman of Labour' - a claim which is frankly laughable. Truth be told, I quite like Harman. Although I make it a rule to generally despise politicians, she's always stuck to her guns and has got so much flack for it it's unbelievable. Blackshirt enthusiasts The Daily Mail make a running joke of her commitment to equality and diversity by constantly referring to her as 'Harriet Harperson' (because OMG wanting commitment to not being a bigoted arsehole is soooo hilarious). Even more liberal publications joke about her 'radical feminism' (she thinks women are people, how adorable). Anyway, Harman's been blowing the left-wing feminist trumpet for a long time, and really doesn't need the publicity of stating the obvious to further her career. You know who might need publicity by critiquing opposition members? Two backbench MPs no-one's had the misfortune to hear of before.

In the next paragraph, Rudd and Leadsome point the figure at the real menace to egalitarianism, TEH UNIONZ. You see, apparently if we watch a film that's set in the 1960s, we might see some sexism. The horror. OK, their argument goes like this: film shows trade unionists (in the 1960s) opposing equal rights for women. Trade unionists are linked with Labour, Labour are linked with the left-wing, therefore anything anyone on the left says is automatically null and void because... something. 

Now let me get my ranting gloves on for this. All right-wing economic societies are automatically sexist, because it benefits them massively. By denigrating the work done by half the population, one may overvalue the work done by the other and therefore get them more credit/recognition/cash monies. So in a capitalist society, saying that 'women's work' has no value allows you to underpay them and allow them fewer rights (for starters). I expanded on this idea here, but I think the quote "women work two-thirds of the world's working hours, produce half of the world's food, but earn only 10% of the world's income and own less than one percent of the world's property" sums the situation up nicely. 

Let me also add that of course the TUs in the 60s opposed rights for working women. First of all, it was the 60s, women hardly had any rights. When the film was set, abortions had been allowed to be performed in hospitals instead of filthy alleyways for about six months, there was no equality legislation and women being permitted an education was still a generational issue. Not exactly enlightened times. Secondly, as I mentioned above, key to the capitalist regime is to divide people into 'worthy' and 'unworthy'. If the plant had got rid of the women, then men would have taken their jobs. Since society at the time was utterly convinced of men's 'worthiness' over women, then it's hardly a chore to see why the TUs wouldn't stick up for them. Unless you are a complete ninnyface of an MP, apparently.

Oh and while pearl-clutching about the horrors of unionism and the Labour party in the 60s, they conveniently forgot that during the first part of the communist revolution in Russia (before Stalinism), women got full reproductive and working rights - this was before they were allowed to vote in America for fuck's sake.

They then discuss all-women shortlists. I'm not their biggest fan (imagine a parliament with 600 Nadine Dorrieses), but whatever. They claim that AWSLs prove that Labour are evil sexists, because they're only used to counter their members' innate hatred of women. Yeah, they probably are used for that, but surely that's better than nothing? There's 81 female Labour MPs and 45 female Tory MPs (which include such distinguished figures as Theresa May, Nadine Dorries, Louise Mensch, Maria Miller and Priti Patel, so maybe only 40 female human MPs). So Rudd and Leadsome's solution appears to just allow people to be as sexist as they want and maybe at some point for no reason they will change their minds? Huh.

The next paragraph is so silly it requires quoting almost in full:

Give a woman a Conservative prime minister and we will increase opportunities for her to get jobs, for children to get a good education, for hardworking families to improve their lives, for young women to get apprenticeships and for entrepreneurial women to start businesses. Conservative feminism is about boosting women to their full potential. We are optimistic and ambitious for women. Labour's policy towards women is still about the state protecting them. They don't believe women can achieve for themselves. What patronising rubbish.

OK, we have a Conservative PM. What have we got? Cuts in corporation tax redistributing money from women to menSavage cuts in female-dominated areas, which are more likely to target the women in those areasMeasures to preclude beaten women from accessing legal supportSurestart centres? Gone. Access to Violence Against Women Services? Almost gone. Benefits for mothers? Slashed. Housing allowances? You what?  Rape crisis centres? Nuh-uh. Disgusting attacks on reproductive rights. Provably bloody harmful 'abstinence based' sex ed being taken seriouslyCharges to access child maintenanceCharging us money to not have a husband.

Some of this shit might have been shot down, but it was all proposed seriously by our benevolent Tory overlords. I don't know about you, but I feel far more patronised by a government that claims to know that a) If I have sex it's because I'm a slut, b) if said sex results in pregnancy I'm too stupid to know what to do about it, c) I should make sure I have money stashed away for if I'm beaten or raped, d) if I lose my job due to their cuts I'm a sponger who doesn't deserve benefits et-fucking-cetera.

As @skipjack451 said, "it's the same bullshit as when they try and claim that they're better for the working class than Labour - even the rationale is the same, 'we are better for you because we force you to fight extra hard for every little thing'". If hard work is so good for people, how come none of the Tories have ever lifted a fucking finger? Oh, I'm sure Cameron fought so hard to go from Eton to Oxbridge to being given a £90,000 first job by his wife's family. I mean, diddums! He might have broken a nail!

The rest of their article is Mean Girls-style sarcasm combined with yet more historical cherry-picking and tiresome party promotion, and it's frankly not worth my time to go through.

In sum, Rudd and Leadsome are terrible writers, woeful historians and quite possibly have had their heads up Cameron's backside for so long that they've not actually heard what Tories do for women, because as we have seen, what Tories do for women is to treat them as idiotic brood-mares who simultaneously both don't deserve jobs, yet should pull themselves up by their bootstraps to get them. But don't expect equal pay, because your company could pay you in buttons and there'd be no way to find out.

Thursday 12 July 2012


Hi all, this is just a quick post to keep everyone up-to-date with what's going on with me.

You've probably noticed I'm not on Twitter or on the blog much any more. I started a job about 4 weeks ago. I'm having a really good time, I'm working from home testing things and evaluating stuff for Google (can't say much more than that I'm afraid). The conditions are great, I get to choose which hours I work and as long as I do more than 10 and less than 40 a week, I get to choose how many too. Unfortunately, when I can do something and have an incentive I will work like a fucking dog at it, so at the moment I'm trying to find a balance between working, writing and socialising. At the moment writing has really taken a back seat, since I'll spend four days of the week putting in 40 hours then need to spend the other three days doing literally nothing just to make my brain function again. I'm looking to redress this balance, but after 10 months of being unemployed my brain's in a cycle of 'EARN ALL THE MONIES! NOW SPEND ALL THE MONIES ON GIGS AND BEER!'.

So yeah, I don't know when I'll be back, but hopefully soon, because I miss writing and I miss everyone on Twitter. In the meanwhile, I've not turned my back on politics or activism, I just don't really have time to discuss them. I'm currently organising a Clit Rock gig to benefit Daughters Of Eve which will be in Brighton on August 5th and going to some Smash EDO demos, as well as other various causes. I'm also in talks with a UK-based feminist group to do some fundraising for them and starting to get more involved at the Cowley Club. Finally, I'm looking to start publishing some vegan recipe zines soon, so if you're interested in that, hit me up.

If you need to get in touch with me or just fancy a chat, I'm immediately alerted to any @-mentions on Twitter, comments posted here or anything on the Forty Shades Facebook page, so I haven't disappeared off the face of the earth.

Be excellent to each other, and I hope to see you all soon.

Sunday 17 June 2012

A small FAQ on anarchism

Hey readers. Sorry for the lack of content recently, I've been working hard on transcribing all the talks from Intersect (which can be found here), and in more shocking news, I've been offered a job which starts tomorrow. So yay that. Hopefully I can return to blogging a bit more regularly when I'm settled in with the job and everything.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post in which I castigated myself for not explaining my views and opinions in easily accessible ways, and said I was going to try do a bit more to explain myself and try educate people beyond my bubble about ideas and theories. Last week, someone asked me if they could pick my brains about some questions they had about anarchism. I agreed and we exchanged emails. With her permission, I've decided to reproduce the emails here because the sort of questions she was asking are ones I hear a lot, and I thought they might be useful for other people to look at. Quick disclaimers first - I'm not saying these are comprehensive answers, I've reproduced the emails without editing or adding anything in and I was answering the email when I was somewhat pressed for time. These answers can only be read as my personal opinions and ideas and not automatically ascribed to anyone else, I'm not trying to speak for all anarchists everywhere.

Hello Nat, 
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, I really appreciate it! I'm sorry if they come across a bit silly, I am pretty new to political theory, just trying to make sense of it all. If you can explain quite simply that would be brilliant because I'm still not quite sure of terminology. Determined to learn though. 
I understand that essentially anarchy is absence of a government or a leader, but I don't understand how that would work. Obviously anarchists are not crazy, violent folk, but if there's no control whatsoever would that not put a huge amount of people at risk of violence, poverty etc?  
How would we produce anything? Food being the no.1 priority, I suppose even if there is no moral obligation to farm crops people would still do it for themselves out of necessity. But what about the people that can't do work like that, disabled or without access to the materials that they need? It would be cool if it was mutually beneficial, so no one ends up starving in the street. Maybe I am thinking of communism. (Also assuming that in an anarchist world we are all vegan and so don't farm - or harm - animals. If we did then it wouldn't really be anarchy because there's still a hierarchy, am I wrong?) 
Also what about property? If there are no laws then surely no-one "owns" anything? With buildings and things I get it - no one should have to sleep on concrete when there's a house with a free bed 10 minutes away, so I'm all for buildings being usable by everyone. However, personal items like a box of teabags you just traded some carrots for, would that not 'belong' to you? If someone stole it, that would be a bit shit.  
Perhaps I am getting entirely the wrong end of the stick! 
If you can recommend any books or articles that would be great. Thanks again for your time! 
Best wishes 
- J

Hi J, 

I'll try take your points in order, let me know if I miss anything or I'm not clear.

Anarchy's not just the absence of a government or a leader, it's the belief that the only true democracy we can have is one in which everyone has a voice. To start at the very beginning, there are various types of anarchism, and some which actually do have the flaws that you're raising. For example, anarcho-capitalism (yes, really) is basically the belief that everyone should just go their own way without government interference and if someone fails, well that's too bad for them. This is basically just Ayn Rand style Economic Libertarianism under another name, and it sucks. Another very problematic strand of anarchism is anarcho-primitivism, which doesn't account for people's medical needs, and that also sucks.

I'd say I'm an anarcho-communist, which is probably the most popular 'type' of anarchist. Usually if people say they're an anarchist, they mean they're an anarcho-communist and will specify with the use of a different suffix if they're not that. In this email, when I just refer to 'anarchism', I mean 'anarcho-communism'. Anarcho-communism is basically what you were alluding to, it's communism but without leaders. The way this works is through the use of meetings and collective organisation. So, for example, there's a general meeting of all the people in the group, which will make broad decisions (i.e. 'we need to re-tile the loos in the social centre, we need to organise a demo about X cause, we need to make food to serve at the film night and we need to update the Y campaign website'). The general group will come to agreements about basically how to tackle those things, then will split off into smaller groups which handle the in-depth work and decision making. You can see this type of organisation in anarchist communities already, there's anarchist social centres in lots of major cities who organise together and try to create spaces away from the influence of government and the state. So, collective housing, community allotments, fundraising events, protests, skill-teaching classes, etc., which are all done according to anarchist principles and consensus decision making in order to create mutual and community benefit.

One important thing to realise about anarchism is that it's not designed so that all of the people in the country make all the decisions about everything. It's designed to work in small communities, who may work together if it's mutually beneficial - for example, several communities could get together to run a hospital which they all use, because there wouldn't be enough people with the knowledge to do it in one community.

Secondly, you raise the concern about violence and people not following moral obligations. Just because there's no state-mandated law doesn't mean there'd be no rules or no consequences for breaking them. Consider other places that aren't run by the state, like a book club or something. There are minimum expectations on you, say that you'd at least read the book and bring a bottle of wine to the group, and if you consistently don't even do that, you won't be welcome back. Well if you consistently didn't do what you could to help or attacked someone, you could be ostracised by the community (at worst, obviously there'd be levels of stuff in between that).  

You also raise the question of ill and disabled people. Well, if we recall the old Marxist slogan, 'from each according to his ability to each according to his needs'. That still holds true if there's no leaders. No one would be expected to do something they were incapable of when there's loads of other ways they could help contribute. There are a couple of other points to make here: firstly, a lot of what we think of when we think about 'disability' is actually imposed by society - for example, poor accessibility to public spaces means people can't get around outside the house or the inflexibility of working means that people can't get jobs where, for example, they could take a two hour break to sleep every three hours. We can realise this, plan around it and change it, which would enable people to do more things than they do now. Secondly, on treatment-based healthcare and associated issues, there's a lot of questioning of anarchism which is along the lines of 'but where would we get doctors?'. Moving into a society based around collectivism wouldn't mean we'd lose knowledge, it would just mean knowledge wouldn't rest solely in the hands of those who can afford it. We'd still have higher education, skill-sharing and learning, they just wouldn't cost £9k a year. We'd still be able to develop medicine, it just wouldn't then be patented to be sold off to only rich people. With the specific examples of medical doctors, we could have people who are trained to the level of the average doctor now, but we could also have people who are trained in treating minor illnesses/accidents, which wouldn't take as long and could be more widespread knowledge.

On the assumption that we'd all be vegan, I'd tend to agree with you - there's a strong representation of vegans in the anarchist movement, and most anarchist social centres I'm aware of are vegan-only (meaning that all the food etc on the premises is vegan, not that you have to be a vegan to step foot in it!). However, I also know that there are anarchists who disagree with veganism as a central tenet, because they only concern themselves with human hierarchies. I disagree strongly with them, but I'd consider that a small community keeping chickens and a couple of cows is possibly an acceptable compromise between full veganism and the industry-scale factory farming we have now.

On individual property, yeah, I see your point, but I'd distinguish between carrots and teabags and, for example, things like CDs or a scarf. The reason I make this distinction is that if you've got collective farms and allotments and suchlike,  the food and associated stuff it belongs to everyone, so you just wouldn't have the situation you described, if that makes sense? I'm not saying it's all communal cooking for the whole group all the time, but I'd compare it to an anarchist group I know in Brighton who grow loads of veg, and they've squatted a shop and people just come and take what they need. With regards to stuff like CDs and scarves, I don't think it's something that would be endemic or more common than usual, like, if your friends come to your house now they wouldn't just start pinching things. People are a lot better at sharing than we give ourselves credit for, we lived in communities like the ones that I've described for hundreds of thousands of years, capitalism is a mere dot in comparison. And, as I said above, no government =/= no rules or consequences.

I hope that answers your questions, feel free to email me any follow-ups if you want. I've got a busy few days coming up but will try get back to you when I can. I didn't really have any pertinent point to include these above, but I'd also like to mention a couple of other 'types' of anarchism. Firstly, anarcha-feminism, which is what I'd primarily consider myself. This is basically the same as anarcho-communism but makes special note of the oppressive role that gender inequality plays in our lives, and that we must get rid of that before we have a truly hierarchy-free society. Secondly, anarcho-syndicalism is fairly popular and not mutually exclusive from anarcho-communism. I'm not totally au fait with it, but it's basically collective organisation of workers and not having bosses. The wiki page on that can probably tell you more than I can: 

Finally, on books and websites I'll have to get back to you later, especially with books. My partner knows a lot more about that stuff (and even sells some) so I'll ask him and let you know. I hate reading political theory, I much prefer just talking about it and learning that way!


UPDATE: Chris from Good Lookin' South has provided this list of books and websites on anarchism:


A critique of capitalism

Basic primer on anarchist concepts and FAQs

Really good introduction to anarcho-communism, covers history, concepts and deeds in a fair bit of detail, without being too heavy going


Tuesday 5 June 2012

CeCe McDonald

CeCe McDonald is an American trans woman of colour who was yesterday sentenced to three years and five months in a male prison in Minneapolis for manslaughter by negligence. CeCe was arrested after her and her friends were subject to a brutal attack by a group of white people outside a bar. They began by hurling racist and transphobic slurs at CeCe and her friends and when CeCe objected, one of the group smashed their glass into CeCe's face, which punctured her cheek all the way through to the salivary gland. CeCe tried to run away and was pursued by her attackers. A fight ensued and in this fight one of her attackers was fatally stabbed with a pair of scissors CeCe carried in her handbag. CeCe was originally charged with second-degree murder, but accepted a plea bargain by admitting to manslaughter, because she didn't want to run the risk of a 40-year jail sentence.

I've set up a Google group to start two letter writing campaigns - one to send letters to CeCe to remind her she's not alone, and one to write to other groups/individuals to campaign for her release. If you'd like to join, it can be found here.

Here's some other links to details of CeCe's case and other projects to get involved with. I'm doing this very quickly because I'm quite busy, so if you have any other good resources, please feel free to put the links in the comments: 
UPDATE: A petition has been created to urge the state to transfer CeCe to a women's prison. I know how people feel about the effectiveness of online petitions, but here's the link anyway. It only takes two minutes to sign and might be worth a punt.

UPDATE 2: The petition has been stopped at the request of CeCe's official campaign team, so I've removed the link above (thanks Daz for reminding me). However, if you go to the official Support CeCe website, on the left hand bar are instructions for sending letters to CeCe and a link to donate to the campaign.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

So you're 'not one of those feminists'?

Today I saw a blogpost written by someone who was clearly just getting into feminism, and something in it made me very mad for a bit. It doesn't matter what the post was or who said it, because this isn't a call-out or a rage piece. You see, after a few hours I started thinking about it again, and yes what the blogger had said was wrong and yes it directly insulted me and lots of people I know and yes it played into big stupid patriarchy-holes and blah blah blah, but I kind of realised that (on this occasion) anger wasn't the answer. Explaining was.

Because I too was once like that blogger. Well, not that blogger, but we all have to start somewhere and we all have to learn things and no one gets it right first time, and this is why the internet is so great. We can read pieces written for people like us by people like us instead of dreary academic tomes on the nature of kyriarchy or whatever. YAY INTERNETZ.

A lot of my beliefs are so far from the mainstream that it's hard to even explain them to newbies, and it's bloody frustrating to try for the eight-hundredth time why CAPITALISM IS BAD M'KAY and so on, so I kind of rarely bother. Most of my readership by now know me and know what I mean when I talk about the kind of weighty issues surrounding feminism, intersectionality, anarchism or whatever I'm rambling about on a given day and so I don't have the impetus to word my posts in ways everyone can understand, and that is not cool of me. I've always tried to link to definitions when I first use a word from the social justice lexicon that people might not have come across, but I shouldn't get mad that not everyone can understand me immediately, I should be more accessible.

Which is why I am not shouting at this blogger or any other blogger who says similar things.

I've always advocated giving people a chance to show their true colours in potential call-out situations. You know, asking them to not, e.g. say the word 'retard' and explain why, then go full on RAGE if they object. I'm usually pleasantly surprised, and I'm not surprised by the people I'm not surprised by, if that makes sense? *side-eyes Vagenda and Jezebel*

Anyway, introductions aside, I'd like to do a bit of a Feminism 101 today. Maybe that blogger will see this, probably she won't, but other people who were about to say or have said the same thing (it's shockingly common) will see it and think 'Yeah actually, Nat has a fair point there and also she likes cats so I'll trust her on this and stop saying it'.

Here is a picture of a cat to prove I mean SRS BSNS:

So today we will be discussing why it's wrong to say things like 
"Yeah, I'm a feminist, but I'm not like, a shaven-headed, hairy legged lesbian bra-burning one."
This is wrong for several reasons, and I'll try to address them as best I can. Firstly, there's the glaring historical inaccuracy - the burning bra thing is a lie. If you are going to smear the more radical actions of a group, at least make them historically accurate please. Also, you had better have a good definition of what is 'too radical' because that vote you have? Won by suffragettes who smashed windowswent on hunger strike and taught themselves ju-fucking-jitsu in order to fight the police. So, you know, radicalism isn't half bad sometimes, especially when it comes to winning basic human rights.

So now that we have our short feminist history lesson out of the way, let's address the rest of the statement...

When you say 'I'm not a shaven-headed, hairy legged lesbian', what you're doing is two things that roll into one big bad thing. Thing one is that you're implying that those of us who shave our hair (or bits of it), or don't shave our legs or are fond of shagging other women don't have legitimate viewpoints and shouldn't be listened to. That what we have to say isn't valid because we're just big weirdos who are probably wearing silly trousers and everything. This is where Thing two comes in, and just like in the Doctor Seuss novel they work together to mess everything up and leave before your parents come home. Like gits. Anyway, torturous metaphors aside, this is also bad because you're buying into an INCREDIBLY patriarchal and misogynist idea which is doing feminism, and so YOU SPECIFICALLY, no favours whatsoever.

Because what you are doing is reducing women - all women, yourself included - into People Who Men (And Patriarchal Society At Large) Deem Fuckable and People They Do Not. What this does is implies that a) this is a correct and good legitimate thing to do and b) only people in the first group deserve to be treated like human beings.

This is a BAD THING.

To start with, who gets to say who's fuckable? Dominant trends and concepts of desirability vary wildly through history and different cultures - hell, even in a matter of decades tastes and concepts change. Still think this is the definitive level of hot?

Thought not. But it illustrates my point. Actually, even if you DO think mid-1990s Nick Carter is still in full possession of the sexyum, it proves my point, because it's rare to see people with hair like that now, so even if your tastes haven't changed, you can see how our society's tastes have.

And why should any of us have to justify our rights because someone doesn't particularly want to stick their penis in us? I mean, there's plenty of men I wouldn't want to sex up, but I still support their right to a basic standard of living. No one thinks men are lesser people if they don't want to fuck them, yet here we still are having to make sure we're boner-ific before someone will deign to give us a job or listen to anything we have to say. Which is very much something feminism, and you as a feminist, should be concerned about.

Whether someone is hairy or smooth, pretty (according to your and society's subjective standards) or not, long head-haired or short head-haired or paints themselves bright fucking blue and wears ponchos on the weekends, they still have thoughts, opinions, feelings and rights which they deserve to have listened to.

So please stop apologising for being a feminist, and stop trying to justify being one by essentially saying 'I'm a feminist but you can still stick your penis in me!', because reducing women to objects who can be fucked never did us any favours.

I'm giving this about three comments before someone tells me they don't want to stick their penis in me so therefore I am a) wrong about everything and b) jealous and hate sex, thus proving my point perfectly.

Monday 21 May 2012

Intersect, Bristol 2012

Last Saturday saw the (possibly inaugural) Intersect conference in Bristol, which was a feminist conference featuring speakers from different communities discussing the intersecting oppressions they face and what we, as feminists and allies, should be aware of and what we can possibly do to help them. Before I talk about the day and the fantastic speakers we had, I'd like to talk about why I decided to put on Intersect, and the logistics of actually doing it, in the hope that it encourages others to do the same.

About six months ago, I applied for a job with a well-known feminist organisation where one of the roles would be to organise talks, conferences and other events. I really liked the idea of it and started thinking about the kind of things I'd like to put on, but also started thinking about the problems I'd had with feminist conferences in the past, which had put me off attending*. I didn't get an interview for the job, but the ideas I'd had wouldn't leave. Now that I'd thought about My Super-Ideal Feminist Conference, I wanted to make it happen. I wanted to see a space which a) wasn't based in London, b) was explicitly intersectional and didn't exclude anyone on any grounds but instead promoted them and gave them a platform and c) went some way towards making people aware of and tackling some of the biggest problems facing women and didn't feel rooted in academia or theory.

I began to consider the logistics of organising such an event myself. There were several barriers to overcome, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea. There's a lot to be said for pointing out problems, but a lot more to be said for doing the best you can to get off your arse and offer a solution. So I mooted the idea on Twitter to gauge people's interests, and it all seemed really positive. Now that I knew there was a desire for such an event, I started looking into doing it. I've got a fair background in gig organisation and promoting, so I started thinking about it from that perspective. The first step was to find a venue. At the time, I was living in Bristol so it seemed obvious to hold it there - there's a great feminist community in place, so I knew people who'd offer help and advice too. I searched the internet and asked people I knew for suggestions about venues. Eventually I stumbled across the perfect place - Hamilton House in Stokes Croft. It's a fully-accessible, non-profit community space which was very much in keeping with my desire to have a relaxed setting where people could discuss their lived realities comfortably and not feel like they were being incredibly formal. Also it is attached to one of my favourite pubs.

Here came the first stumbling block - I needed a 50% deposit to secure the room, and I was on the dole. So, buoyed by the interest that people had expressed in the event, I put out an appeal to crowdsource the deposit. I gave it two weeks to reach the required amount, and said that if we didn't get it, I'd accept the lack of interest and scrap the whole idea. Thanks to people's incredible generosity, I reached the target in six hours. Obviously this meant I was now totally committed to the event which was terrifying, but also tremendously exciting.

I began to look into groups that I'd like to see speak at the conference. The basic idea had always been to give a platform to women who faced intersecting oppressions that I and many others are privileged enough not to face, in order for us to learn and to push towards making feminism more accessible to all. I began researching and speaking to several groups I had particular interest in, as well as people who didn't represent any specific group but faced intersecting oppressions because of their identity as women as well as another factors. I already knew Nimco Ali, Ariel Silvera and Paris Lees. A call-out on Twitter provided me with Emma Round and Becki, and after asking Kate Smurthwaite to host, she put me in touch with Women Asylum Seekers Together. A dream team was born, and I can't thank these women enough for their dedication and tremendous talks.

So eventually I'd found enough people who were able and willing to share their stories and experiences to fill a day's worth of talks. There were groups and people I'd have loved to have seen talk who weren't able to make it, which is part of the reason that, despite the hard work, I wouldn't rule out holding another one. So many tremendously important stories and ideas were shared on Saturday, but we only scratched the surface.

After this, I needed to sell tickets. I created Facebook, Twitter and email accounts for the event, so I could provide people with information and ways to contact me. My partner Chris designed a logo and a website and sorted all the techy things that I have no idea how to do, and we were off.

But this wasn't it by a long shot. As mentioned above, I wanted to make the event as  accessible as I could, and just making sure a wheelchair could get into the venue doesn't automatically mean you've catered for all people with disabilities! Chris managed to find a way we could livestream the event and record it for people to watch later (available here**), which meant that those who couldn't attend could still participate and hear what was being said. I continued to take donations so I could make the ticket prices as low as possible so as not to economically exclude anyone, and spoke to a local friend who works with women in extreme economic difficulty to offer them some free places. I tried my hardest to source some British Sign Language interpreters, but was unsuccessful, so I've also provided transcriptions of each speaker's talks on their pages on the Intersect website. We also live-tweeted the event and used the hashtag #INTERSECT on Twitter to enable people to see what was being said and offer their own contributions from home. I don't list what I did in order to give myself a pat on the back, and I know I'm not perfect. I'm just trying to demonstrate what I feel we should be aiming to do all the time, and welcome suggestions as to how I can improve. 

My final big task was to compile a programme, in which I also included articles on the topic of feminism and intersectionality from other groups and individuals - Women's Views on News, s e smith and Black Feminists UK all contributed to this. I wanted to do this to allow voices other than attendees and speakers a place at the conference. These articles are available on the Intersect website, along with my introductory piece, but if anyone would like a physical copy of the programme, I have a few left, so please get in touch.

Finally, six months of work came to a head as Saturday rushed towards me. I had some great volunteers helping, my mum came down from Bradford, an attendee called Syca offered to lend whatever help necessary on the day and Chris was his every-generous self, sorting out all the tech issues and calming me down as much as possible (by 08.30 I was so stressed that I'd already burst into tears because there was some stuff I'd forgotten to do and I couldn't get a cup of tea. Both issues were rectified quickly though). 

Eventually, we'd all settled in and Kate opened the conference, talking about the need to talk about the issues we'd be discussing on the day as they are 'the coalface' of feminism, which is exactly the way I feel. She then introduced Nimco, who with typical flair and enthusiasm discussed the problem of FGM and the difficulty of stopping it, with focus on girls in the UK who are at risk of it. After Nimco came Emma, who delivered a wonderful talk on the rights of disabled people and how feminism can exclude a lot of women with disabilities, whether consciously or unconsciously. She also discussed the issues facing people with disabilities as a result of the government's austerity measures and the media's demonisation of them with the 'scrounger' rhetoric. After that, I read a piece from my friend Becki about her experiences of trying to escape an abusive relationship as a disabled single mother of five. After lunch, two women who are involved with WAST spoke heartbreakingly about their experience of the asylum system. Ariel followed them, talking about trans and queer rights in Ireland, and the place of trans people in activist circles. Finally, Paris discussed her work as a trans rights activist with Trans Media Watch, Trans Media Act and META mag.

I couldn't have asked for better speakers. They all opened our eyes and really helped us see what we need to be fighting against. I knew vaguely what to expect from them, but the information they gave to us was shocking. More than anything, it absolutely hammered home the point that "our feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit".

And that was that. I couldn't be more grateful to everyone who spoke, helped, donated, attended, watched online or just took notice of what happened on Saturday. I left knowing just how much we have to fight, but also just how damn important it is that we do, and that we can do it!

Some people have asked me about putting on another event, or talked about putting on their own conferences, and I'd really encourage them to do that. I'm happy to help out in any way I can - even happy for people to use the Intersect name and branding to do so, as long as they keep to the spirit of the original. If you're interested in doing this, drop me a line at and I'll give you as much or as little help as you need.

*I'm not saying no feminist conference does this, because there are some great events out there. Just not enough of them.
**Except Nimco's speech, which is transcript only.