Categories
activism Book reviews book shops Politics prejudice Uncategorized women

The Problem with Wilful Blindness

There was a time back in the last century, when I gave credence to the idea of ‘colour blindness’ as a way of solving racism. It turned out to be a way of convincing yourself it had been solved – if you happened to be white British, that is. While we were being virtuously, wilfully blind, assuming everything was going to be rosy from now on, Liverpool was in turmoil, and school kids were passing around those “Boot Boys” novels. Many of us had completely blinded ourselves to the renaissance of fascism.

It doesn’t work because we don’t have a level playing field. I can see that you are black and act as though it doesn’t matter, but you can’t see that I’m white and act as though it doesn’t matter. I can pretend we’re the same colour, and the problems disappear – from my view. Not from yours.

But now, we have another form of wilful blindness to deal with. Understandable, and well-intentioned, a horde of would-be progressive academics, activists and politicians – to give a random sample: Dawn Butler, Philip Pullman, Owen Jones – and now Margaret Atwood apparently – are pretending to be sex-blind.

As with race, the problem with pretending to be sex-blind is that women have very real, very practical problems that can’t be catered for and can’t be funded unless our sex is recognised. The police, pretending to be sex-blind, record cases of ‘women’ committing violent and sexual crimes, and every time they do it, the statistics that women’s services depend on for their funding get hazier until they become worse than useless; women’s health and wellbeing groups are trying to get by without using any of the words that clearly denote the female condition, and as a result, the grounds for their funding and the efficiency of their outreach go down and down; and teaching on sex and gender has gone the same way – now so far from reality that we have a generation of young people who really cannot tell sex from gender.

What we need to know

Black people can’t escape the problems of being black unless we sort out our institutions and our racist cultural heritage, and we can’t do that unless we see, and talk about, the realities of colour.

It is not wrong to talk about, learn about, and formulate rules about, colour – in fact we need to.

Women can’t escape the problems of being female unless we sort out our institutions and our sexist cultural heritage, and we can’t do that unless we can see, and talk about, the realities of sex.

It is not wrong to talk about, learn about, and formulate rules about, sex – in fact we need to.

Like many people, I’m busy reading up on anti-racism now, because I realise we really, really need to talk about it and sort out the injustices going on around us. I was hoovering up Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race” and agreeing with every word… but I ground to a halt on page 181. Feminism, she tells us, must work to liberate everyone. Yes, in a sense. I do believe that if we can deal thoroughly with sexism, we will all be living in a better, healthier society – but, to revert to my first example, does that mean we should be yelling “all lives matter” when black people have something to say? I don’t think so.

Eddo-Lodge says that feminists should be thinking about “disabled people, black people, trans people, women and non-binary people, LGB people and working class people” – well yes, but am I allowed to add “if they’re female”, or is she doing the “all people matter” thing at feminists?

Reality matters

Having included absolutely everyone in the worklist for feminists, Eddo-Lodge then illustrates her statement by saying feminism will have won when we’ve ended poverty, and when women are no longer required to do two jobs by default (meaning the care and the emotional work as well as the money-earning – true, but that’s about female people, isn’t it?). Feminism must combat sexual violence (that is, almost always, males attacking females). Feminism must combat the wage gap (because females earn less). And it must be class conscious (true, absolutely, unequivocally true). And she says feminism must be aware of “the limiting culture of the gender binary”.

And she’s lost it. Feminism is, and has always been, grounded in challenging the social rules and practices based on ‘gender’ – that is, the social constructions that tell us how males and females should behave and should be treated – constructions that are different in different cultures, but that have some commonalities (based on sex). But like many commentators, she’s translated that into telling us we must also disregard sex – wrong. Then she slips from ‘sex’ to ‘sexuality’ and tells us feminism must recognise that sexuality is fluid – well, that’s a whole nother argument and I’m not going to go into that one here but the key point is that reality matters.

Eddo-Lodge tells us that feminism, like anti-racism, has to be “absolutely utopian and unrealistic, far removed from any semblance of the world we’re living in now”. And here, at last, we have the key to a clash that’s been causing endless pain and furore in recent years. Yes, we must deconstruct race and racism. But colour won’t go away, because people are different colours. That’s reality. We must deconstruct GENDER and sexism – but we can’t deconstruct sex, because biology won’t go away. That’s reality.

Rejecting reality in order to be wilfully sex- or colour-blind means blinding yourself to problems that need our attention. If you want to help find solutions, please don’t do either.

Reality matters. Sex matters.

Racism, sexism and classism are the errors to be corrected.

Do please read Eddo-Lodge’s book – it’s excellent, except for page 181. We need to think about, and act on, what she’s saying.

And if you haven’t already, do please go to J K Rowling’s website and find out what she actually said about sex. It is exactly what we need to be saying, and exactly what women are being repeatedly punished for saying.

Categories
Earlyworks Press flash fiction Poetry Short stories Uncategorized

Our Short Story Comp Judge

Journalist and media consultant Lynne Walsh, an arts reviewer at the Morning Star, is judging our Short Story Competition this year.

Here’s Lynne’s story…

Lynne Walsh describes herself as a journalist and campaigner, and says it’s not clear which came first.

The desire to be a reporter came early; she says: “My mother complained that, at about 4, I was always up and down the bus, asking other passengers ‘Where are you going? What will you do when you get there?’ Then I’d give my grandparents the headlines, when we arrived for tea: ‘There was a man on the night shift, a lady drinking tea from a red flask, and a little girl like me – she’d lost a button off her best coat.’ Big news in the South Wales Valleys, I reckoned.”

The campaigning [aka kicking up a fuss] crept up on her, as a teenager: “Volunteering for Oxfam, running fundraising events, making speeches – it’s a good training ground, when you’re trying to hide the fact that you’re very shy!”

The love of short stories started young – “My friend Penny and I, walking round the village, creating tales from what we saw around us. One, a ghost story set in the old mine workings, had us running for home; we’d scared ourselves, with our own fiction.”

Love turned to obsession, with trips to ‘town of books’, Hay-on-Wye. “My boyfriend and I would come home with the boot and back seat of the car full of books. We read voraciously – and we wrote: journals, terrible poetry, stories, plays, all that stuff that stays, forgotten, in attics.”

Journalism was a way of telling stories, even when they came from turgid council meetings or traumatic court cases. “There’s a lot of discipline in reporting, a lot of constraints – but at its heart, there are the complicated lives of real people.”

As well as working for newspapers, magazines and radio, Lynne has helped run major campaigns. “My CV says I worked on HIV & Aids campaigns in the 80s and 90s. The story, though, is that I was quite ashamed of my chosen profession at that stage – tabloids writing about a ‘gay plague’. I wanted to work with scientists giving us facts; the challenge was to turn that into something meaningful for ordinary people.”

The CV also shows a stream of clients, with whom Lynne has developed media strategies, coached spokespeople and created events:  Women’s Resource Centre [WRC], Drinkline, National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, Hestia, British Association for Counselling, BackCare, National Family Mediation, Mental Health Media, National Appropriate Adult Network, Fair Play for Women and Safe Schools Alliance.

There are personal stories within all of them; “At Drinkline, I voiced all the recordings for their helpline. It did worry me that friends who were concerned about their alcohol intake might call, and get my voice. For some, more of a hindrance than a help!”

At the WRC there was the Women Speak Out! Project, helping speakers make short films to promote their expertise on trafficking, poverty, domestic abuse and slavery. “I met Ntombi, who’d been trafficked, held in Yarls Wood and Holloway. She’s a dancer now, part of an African cultural troupe that performs with incredible joy. She brings a new meaning to the term ‘survivor’. Telling her story makes my heart skip a little beat!”

Lynne handled the UK media work for LGSM [Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners] around the launch of the film ‘Pride’ and the 2015 London march. “There are 101 stories from that series of events – one of them involved my colleague Alison and I moving the entire Tredegar Town Band across a packed parade. We shoved aside baffled Met police, insistent corporate sponsors and anyone who got in our way. That’s the power of the hi-vis jacket.”

There are stories of a different kind in Lynne’s community learning classes. She’s taught hundreds of learners to write accounts of the lives of their families, neighbourhoods, and experiences. Students often get creative; stories embellished, with flights of fancy; incidents become more colourful in the retelling. Lynne lectures at conferences which examine the links between storytelling and health, and is occasionally evangelical about the benefits: “Let them confabulate! Encourage them to create different versions of themselves. Help them understand they can ‘write their own endings’. Why not? It’s not newspaper reporting.

“I teach the basics, of planning, gathering material, structuring the story. I’ll even help them get over anxiety about grammar and syntax. I’ll read poetry, or song lyrics, or ask them to bring in a memento, and tell me its story. What I’m always looking for is the heartbeat of a story – it sounds cheesy and I don’t care, because it’s true – the memorable or quirky or emotional thing that makes me want to tell that story to the next person.”   

Competition entry details….

Poetry Competition

Flash Fiction Competition

Short Story Competition

Categories
activism book shops Labour Politics prejudice Uncategorized

Read this, Sir Keir

We need to tell our politicians something…

Sir Keir’s recent comment on BLM (which he corrected apparently, after a lot of shouting) demonstrated that he can’t see why Black Lives Matter have made many of us want to change everything. He can’t see why people want to change or educate our institutions, including the police.

He’s a long way from being the worst on racism – just look at those Tories – remember Theresa May, Amber Rudd and their development of that ‘hostile environment?’ Remember the list of revolting, racist comments Boris Johnson has to his name?

I know many of us are busy learning to be anti-racists now. I see the books by and about black people leaping off the shelves in the bookshops. If you haven’t done so yet, please do some reading.

If you’ve started already,

please do this now

Get a photo of yourself holding up a book you think would help Sir Keir understand. Spread it all over social media with these tags…

#BlackLivesMatter

#ReadThisSirKeir

And then save the photo somewhere where you can find it again so that every time a politician does or says something that demonstrates they just don’t get it yet, you can post it again, with their name on the tag.