Why I stand with Bahar Mustafa, with Julie Bindel, with Jane Fae, with Maryam Namazie and even with bloody Milo

Bahar Mustafa, responsible for developing and enforcing safe spaces to avert harassment and discrimination at Goldsmith University, is arrested under a law designed to prevent harassment and discrimination. for comments made during an argument about her advocacy of safe spaces to protect people from harassment and discrimination. This woman of colour had commited the (seemingly) criminal offence of tweeting the phrase #killallwhitemen.

Meanwhile another feminist woman of colour, my FTB colleague Maryam Namazie is invited then banned then unbanned then reinvited to speak at Warwick students union, the fiasco created by disagreement as to whether her feminist, socialist, secular, anti-fundamentalist views might incite religious hatred or Islamophobia and create an unsafe space for Muslim students. [Read more…]

Protein World and the pollution of the commons

Unless you have been living under a rock these past few days (or haven’t logged on to Twitter, which amounts to much the same) you have probably caught passing breezes from an almighty flap about the London Underground billboard advertising campaign for Protein World.

Featuring the improbably slender physique of Australian model Renee Somerfield next to the slogan “ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?” these posters inspired an online petition demanding their removal and an associated social media tempest. Things really got lively, however, when the company declined to follow the usual corporate PR social media strategy (issue a half-arsed apology for “any offence caused” then batten down the hatches) and instead standing their ground and launching gleefully into a full-blown flame-war with their critics – apparently handled personally by their CEO and marketing director. [Read more…]

When offence is not an emotion, but a currency

There might just be one reason to be grateful to Katie Hopkins. With her column and comments about drowned refugees and her genocidal reduction of migrant people to cockroaches, she reminded me (and I’d guess a few others) how it feels to be properly offended. You know, that moment when you read or hear something so horrible that your solar plexus cramps up, you exhale a sudden whoa and your body seems to drop a degree in temperature?

Offence in that sense is a very real, human emotion. It seems to me that much of the time when we discuss issues of offence, it is not that kind of emotional pain that we are talking about. It is a more abstract, theoretical sense that someone has transgressed some fairly arbitrary line of acceptability. And most of the time, it seems to me, offence isn’t an emotion so much as a currency, traded for various advantages in ideological, political or economic power struggles. [Read more…]

Calling bullshit on the safe spaces panic

A confession. When I read that a student at Brown University had responded to a debate about rape culture on campus by establishing a literal safe-space with “cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies”, I laughed, heartily, like the callous old monster I am. Even with my stern and serious head on, the idea that survivors of sexual assault should be patronised and treated like toddlers is profoundly wrong-headed and actively harmful.

The details emerged in a piece by Judith Shulevitz in the New York Times this weekend, which railed against the supposed creep of “safe-space” culture on campuses and the supposed chilling effect it is having on free speech.

I read a lot about this phenomenon. I read about it in the New York Times, in the Washington Post, in Reason, in the Guardian, in Spiked, in the New Statesman, in THES etc etc etc. Without exception, the pieces condemn student radicals for hiding from ideas, for curtailing free speech and for being anti-intellectual. The authors are almost invariably older journalists, authors and academics, at the tops of their professions. [Read more…]

Tim Lott and the myth of the poor, silenced literati

Like Tim Lott, I am a “transgressive lefty.” Indeed it would appear that we agree on a fair few transgressive points – I too question how religious beliefs are privileged and protected and how cultures associated with those beliefs can be afforded license to oppress and abuse the vulnerable. I have more than a few issues with aspects of feminist theory and I am more than happy to take an occasional swing at an ideological sacred cow. By and large I believe the best way to challenge ugly opinions is to give them air and shoot them down rather than suppress and repress them.

Believe me, I know what it is like to write something that offends or upsets a section of the left, to wake up to a hundred notifications on Twitter, 99 of which are people calling me rude names or to an email inbox peppered with invitations to die in a fire. Just last week someone (thanks mate, you know who you are!) sent me a link to a six-page long Mumsnet thread entirely consisting of radical feminists debating who was officially The Worst between me and Owen Jones (pretty sure I came out top – in your face, OJ.) [Read more…]

Racist is not something you are. Racism is something you do.

There’s a fallacy that commonly emerges when people talk about prejudiced, bigoted or oppressive language. It is the idea that racism is something only practised by racists; homophobia something only practised by homophobes, transphobia only something practised by transphobes etc etc.

There is an obvious and banal point attached to this, which is that pretty much every one of us harbours some stereotyped or prejudiced thinking of one sort or other, often unknowingly. We can all resort to a choice of word or turn of phrase, or hold an opinion or belief which we had thought entirely inoffensive until someone comes along and points out why it might be derogatory or degrading to others. The decent thing to do under those circumstances is apologise, learn and move on.

There is another consequence of the fallacy which is much more insidious, because its effect is to prevent people taking responsibility for their own words and actions. [Read more…]

Why Freethought Blogs matters

I guess I’ve had a pretty combative and stressful couple of weeks on the ol’ blogosphere, with one thing and another.

But a humbling truth about this network is that whatever microdramas may be absorbing me from one day to the next, I’m never far away from writers and activists whose personal efforts for social justice and freethought put any activism and travails of my own  in profound perspective.

Kaveh has a new blog up that reminds me of why I am so proud to be on this network, and why this place is necessary. It is short, sad and sobering, please go read it.

My deepest sympathies go to family and friends of the victim of the latest theocratic atrocity in Iran, Mohsen Amir Aslani. My utmost admiration, as ever, goes to Kaveh Mousavi and all bloggers, journalists and writers who brave the risks of oppression, persecution or worse to bring us their news and views.

Those sharing stolen photos are not acting like Edward Snowden – they are behaving like the NSA

In the 36 hours or so since the stolen intimate photos of movie and music stars began to be published online, I have read some outstandingly stupid justifications and excuses for their distribution.

Most of them are depressingly familiar from other discussions of sexual violation. Typical arguments include that these (mostly) female stars have previously traded on their sexuality, so have forfeited their right to say “no” to any other appropriation of their sexuality; that by allowing private photos to be taken in the first place they were ‘asking for it’ and so have no right to complain if someone takes advantage; or that it is all some deliberate publicity ploy and that they were probably complicit in the leaks – or in other words, they wanted it really.

Amongst all this predictably disingenuous balderdash is one claim that I’ve seen repeatedly on various Reddit threads and by several commentators on this Guardian thread. This argument equates the release of the stars’ private photos to the leaking of the NSA files by Edward Snowden, and suggesting that if one approves of the latter, it is hypocritical to object to the former.

There are many things I could say in response to this, but the most polite and restrained is that it is completely upside down and back to front. [Read more…]

Me and my #MaleTears: Facing the consequences of ironic hatred

I used to work in a feminist bookshop – it was much like any other bookshop, except it didn’t have a humour section.

That gem is perhaps the best example I know of the self-armouring joke. It plays on a cruel and unfair stereotype, but those whom it targets are left defenseless, unable to criticise the joke because to do so would validate it.

It sprang to mind when reading a paragraph in Amanda Hess’s piece in Slate which celebrates ‘ironic misandry’ as a weapon in the arsenal of modern feminism. [Read more…]

How I learned to stop worrying and love their #ListeningToMenFace

Poehler Fey

There was a moment when I was browsing the #ListeningToMenFace tweets over the weekend when I wondered whether it might be considered genuinely harmful.

If you’re a twit-refusenik or somehow missed it, this was a hashtag under which women, mostly but not entirely from feminist corners, posted photos, animated gifs of the faces they make when men talk to them. Some were posed selfies, most were celebrity grabs.

After laughing my way through the first few dozen entries I saw, the sheer weight of numbers began to wear me down. Had it become, I asked myself, something of a misandrist parade? An opportunity for women not just to strike back against the prevailing winds of patriarchal social mores but to gratuitously elevate a one finger salute to half the population of the planet?

I scratched my chin, cocked my head in a moment’s contemplation, then came to the following conclusion: “Ally…. get a grip and stop being such a butthurt bucket of toss.”

So yes, we can add the #ListeningToMenFace to the ever lengthening list of Fucks I Could Not Give. The key flash of realisation for me was that if so many women could identify with the joke and feel motivated enough to join in, there was a real and genuine itch there which needed to be scratched. And truth be told, looking at the photos, the videos and the gifs, a pretty hefty hunk of them looked rather familiar. Not only can I conclude that a lot of different women have shown me their #ListeningToMenFace over the years, I can add that on most occasions it was probably entirely deserved.

We live in a society where relationships between men and women – whether intimate, emotional, social or economic – are governed by myriad expectations, assumptions, habituations and complex etiquette. This means that, to some degree, most of us talk slightly differently to people of a different gender. Many of us might like to to think that we are immune to such habits. Most of us would be wrong, I think, but even if it were true, we all still interpret the other person’s words and behaviour through a lens that is coloured by their gender.

If we ever build a society free of restrictive gender norms, we might find ourselves in a position where the notion of a #ListeningToMenFace or indeed a #ListeningToWomenFace has no purchase or meaning, no humorous or satirical kick. As it is, I get why #ListeningToMenFace is funny. I also get why a #ListeningToWomenFace tag can be funny too, and if anyone expects me to argue it is different when men do these things about women because power relations blah blah, then sorry – a bit of gentle, impertinent ribbing of women by men is similarly lodged in the fattening file of Fucks I Could Not Give.

And of course it didn’t take long for the first such tweets to appear. The one truly saddening and worrying thing about this minor kerfuffle is that this evening when I looked, the top image under #ListeningToMenFace was this endearing photo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (above), the top image under #ListeningToWomenFace was the serial killer Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. A bit of gentle ribbing was answered by a reminder of brutal misogynistic violence. As the meme would have it, this is why we can’t have nice things.

I will not, however, allow that kind of unpleasantness to spoil anyone’s fun. As an original contribution to the #ListeningToMenFace game, I must pay tribute to my favourite fictional woman of recent years – Chloe O’Brian from 24. Without wishing to downplay her vital role in preventing umpteen biological weapons attacks and nuclear explosions, or to ignore her technical brilliance, but for all that her true genius is in pulling a #ListeningToMenFace. I mean, look.



And it wouldn’t be right to leave you without my own #ListeningToWomenFace. I did contemplate a gif from Scanners of that dude’s head exploding, but while I have had a few days like that lately, it really wouldn’t be accurate. The truth of my #ListeningToWomenFace is probably something like this: