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activism Politics prejudice women

To the person handing out leaflets outside FiLiA in Portsmouth

Was it the ‘good cop, bad cop’ approach? The kiddies filled the square with obscenities and threats while you did nice and polite leafletting by the conference entrance? Well, maybe you really did mean well and had no idea what they were doing so just in case that is so, here’s a polite reply to the points made in your politely offered leaflet.

You say: “The Truth about GRA Reform for Trans Women”

Firstly, you cannot possibly say what’s right or wrong about reforming the GRA unless you stipulate what reforms you are talking about – there are lots of people suggesting lots of reforms, some good, some not so good, some disastrous for women.

You’d have to give more detail – but I do wonder – do you have any opinions about what trans MEN want and need, or are you one of those who mysteriously only care about trans women? Anyway, regarding the statements you listed about this unspecified reform…

Reverse of leaflet. Points listed are included as headings in the blog post

You say: “Trans women have always used women’s facilities”

You know, the toilets and changing rooms question is not the soul and centre of this, nor did I hear it mentioned even once during the FiLiA weekend. They are the issues the media tend to focus on, so I suppose you think that’s what the average feminist is concerned about. There are laws about toilet and changing room *provision* but in many places – including all private and commercial venues, the rules are up to the proprietor, not a matter for law. Use of women’s facilities is becoming a problem because identifying as this or that is such a trend in recent years that the number and variety of people claiming the right to use women’s facilities is increasing unpredictably. You cannot possibly know where or how this is safe for women, because no-one does.

What concerns us more about the facilities situation is that the demands of trans activists are increasingly making it impossible for parents, guardians and facility managers to operate elementary safeguarding, which relies on women feeling free to call for help if anything concerns them. What made the now notorious wi spa incident so alarming was that a woman who was quite rightly going for help because her daughter had encountered a predatory man was responded to with accusation of transphobia, rather than prompt assistance.

You say: “Most shelters in the UK accept trans women”

We know that and, in many cases, they are right to do so. Most shelters have special facilities, or can direct people to other facilities when it is necessary to apply the Equalities Act exemption for women who need to be in female only company/spaces but, as in the point above, it is getting increasingly hard for refuge and crisis centres to use their best judgement on this, due to bullying and threats of de-funding from trans activists and those who respond to their demands.

You say: “The prison system makes its own determination on a case by case basis”

Are you aware (most commentators don’t seem to be) that this does not mean person by person? The authorities have severe trouble making the law as it stands at the moment work in line with the safety and rights of women. They often depend on waiting to see if women get attacked before they can deal with problem people. This is not fair on women, and has added to the appalling state of fear and tension in women’s prisons. Here’s a snip from a recent judge’s report confirming that sorry state of affairs, and a snip of the relevant bit…

"...A history of sexual offending is an indicator of risk of future sexual offending; and women are more likely than men to be the victims of sexual offending. The evidence therefore supports the existence of a prejudicial effect on women if transgender prisoners in the male estate are transferred into the female estate."
excerpt from the report linked to above

You say: “Individual sporting organisations make their own regulations”

We know this, and current guidelines in the UK state that those organisations should ‘strike a balance’ between fairness and safety on the one hand, and inclusion on the other – that is, women’s sports organisations should try to make their fixtures fair and safe for women *sometimes*. I think that’s pretty appalling, don’t you?

You say of altered birth certificates, “the change is not retrospective”

How can you possibly know that? You don’t know whose reforms will be heard and passed, or what arrangements about birth certificates they might produce. You do realise, don’t you, that the accurate recording of the number and whereabouts of males, females and trans identified people in our country is an essential for all of us, if the government is to plan for and provide the care we each need?

And finally, you say “allow trans women to get married and die with dignity”

That sounds to me as though you are one of the many people who has misunderstood the notion of ‘spousal veto’. A lot of people have got the idea that a person’s spouse can veto their transitioning. That is not true. What the current law does is allow a spouse to veto their partner transitioning *without voiding their marriage*. That safeguard is necessary because some religions and cultures still forbid same-sex marriage. Now, whilst I would agree that that is a backward attitude, I can see that it *is* unfair to shunt a religious person into a same-sex marriage without their permission, can’t you?

As for needing a Gender Recognition Certificate to die with dignity, what on earth do you mean? I thought trans activists wanted to scrap those certificates. Anyway, I’m afraid I can’t comment on that as I don’t get the point. Perhaps someone could explain in the comments.

What feminist activists actually do

So, your leaflet might change minds somewhere if people don’t really know the law, but most of the women at FiLiA are experienced activists, with their minds on tackling the problems women face in the light of war, the climate crisis, rape and porn culture, sexist obstruction of women’s careers and education, and a hundred and one other issues. That means most of the delegates would know the law as it applies to women far better than you seem to and anyway, are fed up of the assumption that we want to think about GRA reform all the time, and/or that we are worrying over nothing.

It’s also highly unlikely such women would give credence to leafleteers who work as part of an event like this …

A selection of the obscene and abusive placards and pavement chalkings around the Guildhall. Sorry, I am not going to reproduce them in detail.
Protestors in front of Portsmouth Guildhall during FiLiA conference weekend.

The real tragedy though, is the things that didn’t happen in Portsmouth, due to misguided objections to FiLiA.

Categories
activism Corbyn Labour media Politics prejudice Uncategorized women

Why politicians are stupid

Never mind Starmer, Johnson or any other besuited blaguers. This line from Ceri Williams, in the informal, ‘thank you and good night’ speech at the end of an unofficial fringe meeting, was, in my opinion the most important utterance of this year’s entire political conference season.

It’s like when you go to Spain with the phrase book. He was okay to … order the coffee but when they asked him, did he want tea – oh my god. Because he didn’t understand the language.

[context and video of the speech below]

In the UK, political parties negotiate a manifesto – in effect, a shop window – that presents their core policies to the world. How it’s negotiated and by whom differs from party to party, but it’s the manifesto – or at least the publicly amplified gist of the manifesto, that allows people (and politicians) to consider which party they want to support/be a part of. All politicians need to do is familiarise themselves with the main points of their current manifesto and they would always be capable of coming up with at least a basically coherent reply to questions about all their party’s policies.

That’s the theory.

One of the many reasons Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership years scared the pants off the establishment was that he was working towards a situation where everyone would get an opportunity to contribute to the Labour Party manifesto, and Labour MPs would work according to that manifesto. He didn’t get anywhere near that in reality – but the prospect of it terrified them.

What really happens

Politicians follow their noses – they scent what the leader of their party wants, what their most lucrative donors want, what the media want on any given day, and try to sound ‘on the button’. This is why journalists and reporters can have lots of fun when they want to knock down a particular politician by seeking a currently contentious issue, and trying to think of a question their victims may not yet have been rehearsed to answer.

That tactic didn’t work on Jeremy Corbyn (until after Starmer’s Brexit stitch-up prevented him speaking plainly) because like most honest people, he’s not afraid of saying ‘what do you mean?’ or ‘I don’t know’. My all time favourite was when a reporter asked him ‘are you a Marxist’ and he replied, ‘I don’t know – I haven’t read everything Marx wrote. Have you?’ [Interpretation: do you know, or care, what being a Marxist might mean? Shall we have a real conversation? About why you are asking me that question?]

Another one I liked was when he was asked if he knew what the women’s campaign was about. He said, ‘I’ll ask my friend Linda Bellos.’ [Interpretation: don’t be afraid to talk to people with a range of views, even ones who are currently contentious. That’s how you learn.]

They’re all the same

Other than the occasional honest broker who slips through the net as Corbyn did, most politicians spend their time ducking, dodging and blaguing, trying to interpret every question they’re asked according to the requirements of the day. It’s why people say ‘they’re all the same’, it’s why politicians generally are neither useful nor valuable – and it’s the clue, for anyone who wants to really look into it, that should lead you to the conclusion that politicians are not especially powerful.

They are servants – but of what? Of whom? If we are to save any of the things that we really care about, that’s the question to answer, and we need to take the fight to the people who really hold the power.

The reason Ceri Williams’ comment about phrase books is so significant is that it flags up exactly how and why politicians get caught out. Rather than sitting shouting at the telly when they talk uninformed ‘phrase book’ politics, we need to switch off the telly, leave the newspaper in the shop, and choose between actively educating our own MPs on what matters to us, and pushing them towards real debate, or going round them and solving our problems by creating and building movements ourselves.

The speech 

[Context: Ceri is talking about the violence and threats to a meeting two years ago which provided witnesses to what women have been putting up with in our communities … ‘as women and men who are arguing to retain our existing rights in law,’ because for years now, politicians have not seen fit to get their heads round this highly relevant and very contentious issue]

” … and it’s that silencing that has led Keir to look such a twit when he was asked a question. We can help you Keir. We can help you not make an idiot of yourself. We’ve asked you all week ‘don’t be a Davey’ because Marr made Davey look an absolute idiot about ‘adult human female’, that that’s a bad thing to say and [Starmer] had been no doubt briefed to answer that question possibly a little bit better, but that didn’t [happen]. He [Marr] said ‘is it transphobic to say that only women have a cervix’ and he’d not practised the script because …. we have asked for a meeting for two years now. We’ve offered him half an hour we think we could in half and hour explain how he could start thinking about the conflict of rights and talking about it in a respectful and helpful way so we can move forward about it in the Labour party. …”

The basic lack of knowledge in this particular case is that the politicians queuing up to die on the hill of that question didn’t realise it was a question about female people.

Categories
activism Labour media Politics prejudice women

Back to reality

Well I ain’t in the Labour Party any more and I am really enjoying re-discovering speaking my mind. Here are three things that need saying everywhere and often, and that it’s damned hard to say in the Labour Party.

Anti-semitism?

Be VERY careful what you say about anti-semitism, and think very carefully about what you hear said. We are living in times where the resurgence of the far right with all their pernicious lies are growing confident, so you may well come across angry and frightened Jewish people. They deserve respect, credence, support and protection.

Our politics is HIGHLY toxic so you are JUST AS likely to come across bloody good actors crying wolf, and people weaponizing anti-semitism claims. They need to be called out every time.

Tricky, isn’t it. If you’re not sure which one you’re dealing with, keep quiet and carry on listening, and seek out hard evidence. Don’t risk adding to the harm being done.

Sometimes, your own best comrades who have seen through con after con can be completely blind-sided by this one.

Transphobia?

Be VERY careful what you say about transphobia, and think very carefully about what you hear said. We are living in times where the resurgence of the far right with all their pernicious lies are growing confident, so you may well come across angry and frightened trans people. They deserve respect, credence, support and protection.

Our politics is HIGHLY toxic so you are JUST AS likely to come across bloody good actors crying wolf, and people weaponizing transphobia claims. They need to be called out every time.

Tricky, isn’t it. If you’re not sure which one you’re dealing with, keep quiet, carry on listening, and seek out hard evidence, don’t risk adding to the harm being done.

Sometimes, your own best comrades who have seen through con after con can be completely blind-sided by this one.

Racism? Sexism? Misogyny? Homophobia? Class hate? Delusional extremism?

There is no doubt – absolutely no doubt – that we live in a pernicious, capitalist, PR-weilding culture the drivers of which are world-class masters at using sex, race, class and fear of difference to divide and rule. These are the prejudices and attendant cruelties that are happening to millions of people, every single day and they go both in plain sight and in disguise. These are the issues we need to understand and work on.

Pay attention – question your own beliefs and assumptions (even the “virtuous” ones). I do this every day, and I’m very good at telling others to – BECAUSE I know enough to know that there are still things I’m missing and getting wrong. The worst thing about realising you’re being conned is the attendant realisation that half of what you assume you know is probably wrong.

Sometimes, your own best comrades who have seen through con after con can be completely blind-sided by this one. Sometimes, people you’ve learned to see as your friends on one issue are your enemies on another, and vice versa.

Try reading some of Caitlin Johnston’s stuff on ‘the dominant narrative’ if you get lost in the smoke and mirrors. You know what finally made me leave the Labour Party? This:

The worst divide in the Labour Party

It is the divide between those who know Starmer’s team are liars and manipulators who just stole the party, and don’t care

and those who know Starmer’s team are liars and manipulators who just stole the party, and do care.

Inside or outside the party, please help us climb back to politics based on reality.

Reality

Left and right wingers, black, white and other ethnic and national groups, women and men, all kinds of people can have healing human contact moments across every possible divide EXCEPT “confabulation” – that is, the pathological, persistent denial of reality.

This song has been in my head for a while now – let’s give it a re-run, and dedicate it to party politics!

Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel

Categories
activism Labour Politics prejudice Uncategorized women

Solidarity? It’s out here!

Being a socialist feminist in mainstream politics is a pain, it really is. If you intend to read this article, for your sanity, before you start could you remind yourself that outside of party politics, people have families, friends and colleagues with a range of opinions and ideas, and they mostly manage to get along, and even enjoy discussing their different opinions….

Then you have the Labour Party, which a friend recently said feels like this…

… a party which would appear to be full of ‘socialists’ who exclude anyone who talks socialism, and ‘feminists’ who support misogyny in the thinnest of disguises, and jump down your throat if you dare mention ‘controversial’ topics like women’s legal rights,

That may be a slight exaggeration – or is it? A significant proportion of my socialist friends who have been visible in lefty organisations and debates are now getting those ‘Are you or have you ever been….’ auto-exclusion letters but others, whilst yelling about that injustice, are scoffing at the idea women are being side-lined. Well, here is the only successful (if you can call it that) attempt to discuss women’s legal rights at the Labour Women’s Conference…

Or you have the Green Party, where as a woman, you are liable to find yourself being referred to as a ‘non-man’, so terrifying is that ‘controversial’ word ‘woman’.

By the way, on the left Red and Green used to be friends

They have a leadership election coming up. They have the opportunity to choose between Shahrar Ali, who has expressed the heretical view that people ought to be able to talk about women’s rights…

….or this (apparently women who disagree with Womack are sh*t that won’t go away)

https://mobile.twitter.com/Obsolesence/status/1428267078860132353

Fortunately for Green Party members, it’s an STV election, so you could for example vote for Shahrar Ali and a civilised debate *and* vote for an effective activist woman, such as Tina Rothery (Ali is a socialist/environmentalist activist of long standing too by the way, so vote for both of them!) and if there’s someone you really, really don’t want, you just put ‘RON’ which means ‘re-open nominations’ ie, ‘this candidate is not acceptable’.

There’s even the option, if you’re a ‘civilian’ who broadly supports the Green Party, of joining for a while (it costs £3 per month) voting for civilised debate (Ali) and a focus on actual environmental issues (Ali and Rothery), then scarpering before anyone discovers you’re one of those foul people who is a socialist, thinks sex exists, believes in freedom to debate, and even dares to say ‘woman’.

Which reader are you?

You might be one of those Labour Party people who are intent on getting rid of ‘the hard left’ or ‘far left’ – please bear in mind that our country is way off track from a global or historical perspective. Terms like left and right are not static and, according to most progressive politicians outside the UK people who supported Jeremy Corbyn here, and Bernie Sanders in the US, are actually democratic socialists, and therefore relatively moderate.

There will be those whose political and trade union experience and general common sense tell them that allowing a proper debate is the way to solve a conflict. To them I say, please speak your truth more loudly – the hurlers of abuse are absolutely drowning out common sense from both socialists and feminists in ‘progressive’ politics at the moment.

There will be Red and Green people who think that gender-critical women are being silly about trans people. Please find out what these ‘trans activists’ mean when they say ‘trans rights’ – they aren’t fighting for what you may think they are. They are fighting for a law change to ensure the right of any kind of male, at no notice whatsoever, to just say ‘I am a woman’ or even ‘I am non-binary’ (a term no-one has yet found any material or science-based definition for) and gain entry to women’s spaces and services for any reason or none, or just for a laugh.

There will be those who just think this is a horrible, transphobic article, and that everything people like me say is ‘hate speech’ and that we can’t possibly be socialists. To think that, you have to also think there is absolutely no truth in the idea that any male would abuse opportunities of access to vulnerable women and girls. To you I can only say – what planet are you living on?

There will also be those who think women bothering them about women’s issues is an annoying distraction, some sort of obsession that gets in the way of serious socialism. I think they, above all else, are the main reason that I, a socialist feminist, can’t put up with the Labour Party any more. You know what? Even the Communist Party of Great Britain are doing a better job of listening to a range of women’s opinions. This is an extensive and useful debate about what’s going on…

https://fb.watch/7wCSyheyIy/

Personally, I’m not going to join any of those parties but I am going to go to FiLiA, where among the genuinely women-centred events and talks, we will meet Women Uniting – an all-party political group, formed to try and persuade the political world that sex matters, and that women matter, whatever their political hue.

https://filia.org.uk/latest-news/2020/6/21/women-uniting

But we’ll no doubt have to put up with a cluster of pottymouths ‘protesting the meeting’. No-one seems to mind women from left and right getting together to debate but apparently, allowing all the varieties of feminism is not acceptable to ‘the left’ in Plymouth ‘Antifa’ and CLP. If you’re in the area, try telling them what you think about people bullying women when they meet to debate. At best, they’ll tell you about something nasty someone reputedly said, offering it as proof that Women Uniting is yet another ‘far right hate group’. But don’t try to tell them that conferences are debating arenas, and that there’s no such thing as a conference in which only one opinion is allowed, because there is, as Labour will discover in September – the Blairites are in charge again, and you know what happens to people who express divergent opinions at Blairite conferences…

[The Red-Green image in the body of this article comes from London Green Left. Please read the article and comments. It’s very informative…

The image at the head of this article comes from an organisation now proscribed by the Labour Party, I forget which one. I wonder what they said wrong.]

…but (don’t forget) outside party politics, people *can* discuss their differences so if you’ve still got the party-political bug, here’s Shahrar Ali’s pitch – if you want to rescue socialism in the Labour Party, there will be ‘alternative’ meetings around conference in September. Look here for socialist news – or here for feminist news or if, like me, you’ve had it with party politics, please don’t give up with *politics*. There is much that can be done, in a comradely way, from out here.

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activism Book reviews Labour Politics prejudice women

On re-uniting the left

All white people are racist; all men are sexist, racism and sexism are systems that can exist and oppress without the presence of a single person with racist or sexist intentions; sex is not biological but exists on a spectrum; saying  you are not racist, sexist or homophobic is proof that you are; language can be literal violence, and some opinions must be silenced for the safety of others; denial of “gender identity” is killing people; a homeless woman in danger, or a mother in fear for her children, who says things have never been so bad needs to “check her privilege”; the wish to remedy disability, obesity or poor diet is hateful, and a sign that you do not allow the right of disabled people to exist…

I expect you agree with, or made an effort to agree with, quite a lot of that but I expect, somewhere in that highly virtuous and well-meaning paragraph, you had a ‘hang on a minute’ moment.

I have been reading a book that’s a wee bit off track for a socialist, near radical feminist such as myself, a book that recommends liberalism over revolutionary socialism at every turn and, I am aware, this will probably be the point where any self-identified Social Justice Warrior will stop reading my blog. On the other hand, if you are one of the many bemused socialists, revolutionary or otherwise, who have been avoiding certain topics in politics in recent years because they have become so immediately toxic that walking on egg-shells just isn’t enough to avoid the rows, this book is for you.

When does a theory become an ideology?

“Cynical Theories” by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay explores in detail how the rigid, cult-like tenets of Post Modern Critical Scholarship have got the left by the throat, and why the ‘Critical Theory’ doctrines make every disagreement into a disaster, and every debate into a passionate row, and what we might do about it.

When does an ideology become a cult?

Like most people, I have laughed at the claims of ‘political correctness’ over the years, and also on the other hand, scoffed at those statements that start ‘I’m not a racist but…’ like most people, I cheered on the gay liberation movement in its day, and the glorious summer of statue-demolishing and anti-racist education brought to us by BLM … but that is not nearly enough to satisfy your Social Justice Warrior. You must be 100% aligned with all the principles of identity politics, or you are a problem in their eyes, someone to ‘cancel’ at every opportunity.

How do you counteract a cult?

I first picked up a clue as to why this disease had so eaten away at the left from a Counterfire presentation a while back, that began to explain how Identity Politics sits in opposition to class-analysis but it didn’t go so far as to hand me a road-map. This book does, and I warmly recommend it to anyone who understands the need to re-unite the left, and who can see why we won’t do that while we have activists wedded to the power-grid that rigidly defines what many call the ‘oppression Olympics’, activists who will tell the most desperate, downtrodden citizen imaginable that, if he happens to be a white, cis-het male, then he is an oppressor, and he must bow to the every utterance of a citizen whose intersectional standpoint happens to be lower on  the grid than his.

It is adherence to this power-grid view of oppression that (to give this week’s example) leads the CEO of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre to decide that ‘re-educating’ women who feel the need of all-female company after a traumatic attack is a priority.

So – keep your radical and revolutionary views by all means, and argue with any pages in the book that are too softy-centry in their suggested solutions, but do read the book if you want to understand where all this vitriol, this screechy dogma and no-platforming and these claims of ‘literal violence’ when disagreed with stem from; if you want to understand all these ‘name and shame’, ‘withdraw the whip’, accusations of ‘hate speech’, this-and-that-o-phobia and attempts at show trials came from, and how to diffuse them; if you want to help us return to a world where it is possible to disagree on individual issues, to stand in comradely opposition, negotiate conflicts of rights, and still stand on the same picket line in the name of socialism and solidarity against the very real, class-based, property-and-money based oppression of neoliberalism, read this book.

‘Cynical Theories’ by Pluckrose & Lindsay

Mike Cushman on the slippery slope of tropes – One example of how the dictats of rigid Critical Theory are used, or not, according to who you want got out of your way.

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media Politics prejudice

Difference of opinion and hate are not the same thing

I dedicate this blog post to the person who casually slandered me in a Facebook group last week and probably didn’t even notice they’d done it.

It would be so nice if I could call this blog “the bleedin’ obvious” but I keep finding myself in this conversation, so the only thing that’s obvious is that it’s something we all desperately need to remind ourselves, not least because our government is now engaged in what I think is probably a wrong-headed idea in the first place – that is, making laws about ‘hate’.

Getting along

If you and I disagree, it may be that we are looking at something from different angles, or informed by different experiences. If that’s the case, then we’d really benefit by questioning and listening. When we come to understand each other, we’ll both know more, won’t we? And probably, we’ll both come to a slightly altered, better informed position.

Or it may be that one or both of us are wrong, because we’re going on beliefs, rather than sound knowledge. That’s horribly likely these days, when so many groups and individuals are making a career out of being very influencial con-merchants. Again, if we sit down and compare what we each think we know, we’ll probably unravel some errors and come out both knowing more.

Sometimes, that’s not so easy. Maybe one or both of us is deeply emotionally invested in what we think we know. Where that’s the case, if we’re not important to each other, we’ll probably stop talking, because it becomes hard work. If we are important to each other, we need to be more careful – we’ll probably ‘agree to disagree’ and approach the contended issue another time, maybe a bit at a time, or wait till one of us learns more.

Social media

But then, now I think about it, most of the situations where I’ve seen disagreement presented as ‘hate’ are actually conversations between complete strangers.

Imagine two people are chatting in the street, and a third comes along, rubbishes what one or both of them are saying and throws in an opposing idea, then waltzes off into the sunset.

Or then again, imagine someone who’s generally quite polite to you, or doesn’t talk to you at all, suddenly saying you’re a complete idiot and everything you’ve just said is evil.

It’s the sort of thing that happens on social media all the time – but we actually think it happens more often than it really does – either because we step clumsily into conversations we haven’t read all of, or because we type something that sounds okay to us, but actually reads quite differently to how we intended.

I bet you, like me, regularly tell yourself you’re going to start being more careful on soc media. I even think there’s a good chance that you have, at least once, done what I just did – which was see a conversation started by someone I vaguely know, in which someone had said something I think is wrong and damaging, so I just went in and corrected them and sailed off again to carry on with what I was doing. I probably just started a row, or really offended someone, or added to the general feeling that the world is full of hate.

Lack of moderation

There was a flare up in a Facebook group I’m an admin of. I was in the thick of it. Someone complained about the ‘lack of moderation’ so I diligently went through all the flamey threads. I found one example of out-and-out slander, two blatently abusive statements, one case of completely arbitrary, unilateral censorship by a moderator (not me) and vast swathes of condescending, patronising, ill-informed infuriating twaddle. How the heck do you moderate *that*, I thought. Then I realised that ‘lack of moderation’ has more than one meaning. I think that conversation was held between grown ups, many of whom displayed a shameful lack of moderation. But then, if I asked them where the abusive bits were, they would no doubt judge it differently.

But what if someone’s intentionally trying to hurt or confuse someone, or scare them into silence? – Well, perhaps even then, we should moderate our response – just explain to them that that kind of thing does not generally work, in the long run. All it does is upset people and make you unpopular.

Where are our standard-bearers, where are our role models? We’re going to have to be grown up all on our own….

Resolutions

Er… let’s try harder (to get along I mean, please don’t try harder to annoy people on soc media). We could do with a bit less hate in the world.

Even if we disagree about COVID and vaccines

Even if we disagree about Brexit

Even if we disagree about sex-based rights

Even if we disagree about the police

Even if we disagree about what happened to the Corbyn movement.

Good grief, it used to be just football teams, didn’t it?

Categories
activism Corbyn Labour media Politics prejudice women

Listen, question, test

This idea is so important I have given it one of those fashionable three-word slogans to help me remember it.

It’s unlikely you’ll agree with every statement I’m going to make in this article. If you’re the kind of person who needs trigger warnings to protect you from the trauma of being disagreed with, please try to keep calm and tell yourself they are just examples, not weapons. Spoken or written facts can’t hurt you – really they can’t. Nor can spoken or written lies, unless everyone lets them lie there unchallenged. Nevertheless, I’ve labelled the statements below as controversial examples one to four, in big headings, so you can take them one at a time and go and have a lie down in between if you’re easily distressed.

Listen, question, test

If you’ve ever read anything about education, you’ll know that the central aim of most lesson plans is to encourage students to listen, question and test ideas, so that their knowledge is on firm, well understood ground. On that basis, all good teachers present students with both true and false statements, so they can learn to test information and find truth.

If you’ve been in politics for more than a few years, you’ll remember a time when it was understood that debate was central – allowing a variety of people to put forward their views, then allowing everyone to listen, question and decide things.

‘Listen, question, test’ is also the best way to gently and usefully point out to someone that they’re arguing for a wrong idea.

And yet today, Angela Rayner has expressed a new view that has taken over from all that.

Unacceptable truth?

That may be true, but to say it is unacceptable, because it causes distress, she argues.

The most obvious problem with that is that you end up having all your organisations controlled by ‘cry bullies’ – those unscrupulous and/or neurotic people who are professional distress generators whenever disagreed with.

The deeper, and perhaps more important problem is that we none of us can develop firm, properly understood views on anything if we’re not allowed to listen to a variety of views, then question and test theories.

Controversial example one

Prejudice in political parties

It may be true that anti-semitism was exaggerated in the Labour Party but we mustn’t say so because it upsets people.

Consequence: many people believe that the Labour Party in particular is rife with anti-semitism, and the papers are so full of this opinion that we’ve all but forgotten we have a serious, systemic problem with anti-black racism, and that the Tory party is trading in every kind of prejudice imaginable and largely getting away with it.

Controversial example two

Israel- Palestine

It may be true that the government of Israel is breaking human rights and international law, but it’s best not to say so because it stirs up arguments about anti-semitism.

Consequence: Jeremy Corbyn is suspended and no-one’s very clear why, leaving the Labour Party deeply bitter and split, and unable to effectively oppose the most dangerous government in our lifetime – meanwhile, there are fewer and fewer voices free to speak up for Palestinians who are losing everything in an unmentionable dispute over illegally occupied territories.

Controversial example three

Women’s rights

It may be true that women still need their legal rights as a sex-class and our children may be at risk from pernicious lobbyists but it’s unacceptable to say so because it upsets the no-debaters in the trans rights movement.

Consequence: we are left with a Labour Party manifesto that contradicts itself, because we haven’t worked out properly how self-ID can go alongside the current, legal, sex-based rights. Many people – including a fair number of trans people – who are unhappy with the unresolved situation are afraid to ask the questions that would take us forward, so we’re all stuck.

Controversial example four

Virus response strategies

It may be true that some of the things we’re doing to halt covid are not appropriate, but don’t contradict ‘the advice’ because it encourages anti-mask conspiracy theorists.

Consequence: we are all very unclear about what we should be doing and why, now, because most of us don’t trust the government but we can’t question lockdown rules, even for the purpose of testing and improving them, without presenting ‘unacceptable’ ideas.

Don’t make yourself stupid

You can’t learn without listening, questioning and testing. The no-debaters, presumably because they’ve stopped themselves listening, questioning, testing and learning, regularly show themselves up in their resultant ignorance.

Last week, during the free-school-meal debate, Rayner called someone ‘scum’, and was unmoved when Tories cry-bullied their objections at her – and yet at the last UNISON conference she was telling women not to express their gender-critical views because it would upset people and they’d be kicked out. Why is it okay to upset people sometimes, but not others? Now, when it’s desperately important that we identify and clear out *real* prejudice, including anti-semitism, she tells us its unacceptable to express views on it.  

She’s only a no-debater when it suits her.

The best way to argue is to listen, question and test

Please listen, question and test – it’s the way to dismantle bad ideas and the way to learn about and take on board good ones. Above all, please never trust people who say there are truths you cannot tell.

You may know what my position is on the ‘controversial points’ above. That doesn’t matter. Please consider the idea that we need to listen properly and please do feel free to question my views when you think they’re rubbish.

In fact, I object strongly when you don’t. If I’ve got a wrong idea, I trust my friends to question and test it until I figure out where I went wrong. Why not do all your friends the same favour?

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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.

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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.

Categories
activism Politics prejudice Uncategorized women

White woman thinking

Do you remember your personal experience of #metoo? Does it bear some lessons we can use to learn anti-racism?

All the stories

#metoo was a celebrity thing at first, but then it started flowing around social media and those posting their experience, and those reading those posts, began a journey. For me, it was a slow realisation that whilst I’d been ‘pretty lucky’ (a friend pointed out a story that started “apart from the usual groping…”) – although I’d been pretty lucky, I had never realised just what a morass I’d been ‘rising above’.

That morass included quietly accepting the blame for all the shame or confusion I suffered – of digging it quietly in, dodging the consequences of “don’t get yourself into trouble” – but not successfully dodging them – of growing up with a feeling that I ‘handled things badly’, or ‘put myself in the way of harm’.

The backlash

And then came the #notallmen and the #getoverit and the outright aggression from men – and yes, some women – who took any talk of female oppression as an insult to any and every man. We’re seeing all that now in the ‘all lives matter’ responses to BLM.

It hurts

I still clench my fists and cringe when I remember an incident from decades ago – I cringe, and send up a prayer of thanks to a woman I’ve only met once, the woman who stepped in and saved my then teenage daughter from a situation I’d been completely blind to – blinded by the horrible familiarity of unhealthy male attitudes everywhere I went.

I’m not blind to sexual exploitation any more.

#metoo was an excellent learning experience for women. It helped bring us together, and empower the latest wave of feminism. Despite the scary bits, I don’t regret it for a moment but what I’m thinking about now is how raw, undermined and vulnerable many women felt at the time. To participate, you had to speak your pain. To really spread the word, you had to speak your pain in public, on social media, in all the places that would invite the backlash, that would remind you of, and put you in the sights of, the people who want to hurt you.

#metoo was an excellent learning experience for men. Many men did get together and have enlightening conversations, and discuss what was going wrong, and how to help put it right. Even if it made them feel uncomfortable.

Black Lives Matter

Many of us are engaged now in a very similar exercise – we’re learning what’s missing from our history, and in finding out that “I’m not racist” isn’t enough. We have our ‘L’ plates on, and we’re learning how to do anti-racism. That’s great, but it does mean that we have our attention very much on ourselves – what can we do, what do we need to know, etc etc

Black feelings matter

But this morning I read some messages from black women about the emotional toll black people are currently suffering from all these statements and actions. Of what a slog it is to unburden and analyse a lifetime’s defensive reaction to racism, of how many times they’ve already had to try and explain, of the anxiety caused by the attention on them, and the anticipation of the inevitable backlash…

So – if anything I’ve said here about the experience of #metoo resonates with you, please use it to inform yourself about how black people might be feeling right now. We need to tread carefully, we need to be aware of all the stirrings of lifelong struggles that have common elements, but may be far more intense than we realise for some around us.

We need to be honest, and kind, and humble and do a lot more active listening than maybe we’re accustomed to.

Resources for learning and activism

I haven’t been through all the links yet but this looks useful.