Friday, September 28, 2007

telephone calls from on high/rangoonery.

I always answer the phone. It's usually either telemarketers, which she hates, or relatives, who aren't related to him (he's left for the frozen northern wastes now anyway), and some of whom stress her out, so I always try to get there first. I thought this was a telemarketer - there was that silence-then-fuzz thing, and I almost hung up halfway through the first sentence, but didn't. It was 'This is a recorded message from the Labour Party.'

Election on November 1st? You betcha. The message system (clearly I should write a ranty post about why the recorded voices are always women) asked who I was going to vote for in 'the next general election', no timeframe specified, (I pushed 4, 'don't know'), and then whether I'd ever voted Labour in the past (no). I'm now wondering if I should've lied to fuck the system, because it would be great fun if this exercise left them falsely confident and they wound up going to the country and hanging it, but hey.

A thing I should not have to rant about, but do; Aung San Suu Kyi/gender. This is not the 1950s and should not still be a fucking issue. I feel almost as if I am being petty about it but I am not; they are. After reading the abovelinked post, I then later caught this from the Beeb;

"What can we bring Daw Aung?" we asked the contact who had set up the meeting in Rangoon. "Oh, she wants supplies and reading matter!" was the reply.

I had assumed she wanted the latest edition of the Amnesty International Almanac or perhaps Nelson Mandela's memoirs. Supplies, I assumed, meant batteries or light bulbs.

What she did in fact want were the last four editions of Vogue, perhaps a Marie Claire or two and a few jars of face cream. This was utterly reassuring.

Aung San Suu Kyi has an Oxford degree and was married to Michael, an Oxford academic and a leading authority on Buddhism.

She has given her life to her people and needs to prove to no-one the seriousness of her intent. But this woman, who also happens to be exceptionally beautiful, wanted to preserve a degree of normality and dignity under very abnormal circumstances.

We handed over the gifts, she prepared delicious curry for my cameraman and me, and then we conducted a tough interview about how she could actually run a country as ethnically divided and brutalised as Burma, if she ever got the chance. Her answers were humble but firm. There is steel behind the jasmine scent.

*looks around for something to bang head against* Well. Definitely not me who's obsessed with Suu Kyi's gender. Where to start? That it is reassuring that a female political figure reads Vogue and Marie Claire? That it is 'normal'? - I seriously, honest-to-god, haven't known any woman who reads that stuff since I was at sixth-form. This is not to say that it is a bad thing, only that that form of gender performance is a minority interest and it being seen as 'normal' and 'reassuring' says a lot more about the moran who wrote this shit than it does about Aung San Suu Kyi. The 'ohh-we-must-ponder-whether-she-is-tough-and-srs-because-she's-a-GIRL' stuff is piling moranity upon moranity.

A thing that made me laugh.

A thing that made me cry.

Might go into both of those more later, not sure. I have a new copy of Neuromancer so expect cracky rants about Gibson and the Virgin Mary soon. I could also whine about hating Microsoft (wtF @ everything about the new Hotmail), Yahoo (stupid fucks buy up Musicmatch then wreck it) and Google (why is Blogger talking to me only in Dutch? Or is 'Tastaturk├╝rzel: dr├╝cken Sie Strg zusammen mit' German? Wtf is this setting and how do I change it?)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Democracy, represent.

There seems to be a general agreement that democracy is good and ideally everyone should do it. In fact, a lot of people have died over this opinion recently.

If this the-people-choose thing is so vital, why are we not moving towards direct democracy? We could. Representation began in an age of primitive communications and very low literacy - does it really still have the least purpose, or do we only do it because it's what we're locked into? Is there any real benefit to keeping civic life restricted to a tiny elite (who are, at least if you look at UK MPs, almost all white, male, heterosexual and of a middle-class background)? You can say expertise is necessary in political life, but it's not the representatives that provide that; they just make the civic choices.

If you love democracy, is it possible to defend a system of representation that often ignores, or acts against, the will of the people? (I'm thinking of the 90% of British people who were against the Iraq war). makes me sad; it's a graveyard of civic impotence. I've signed dozens of them, even though I know there's never, ever a point to it - the best result anyone can hope for is for the PM to email 1.7 million people to tell them he doesn't give a fuck what they think. From someone who went to war for democracy, he seems oddly cold to it at home.

Yeah, in practical terms we're locked into what we've got. (Though given that we stalwartly defend the use of juries to enforce our judicial process, and have the bureaucratic machinery in place to manage that, I'm wondering how hard it would be.) But is it even slightly ideologically defensible to not be working on dismantling representation here in the same way we seem intent on dismantling dictatorship overseas? Let's refer to SCUM here:

The elimination of money and the complete institution of automation are basic to all other SCUM reforms; without these two the others can't take place; with them the others will take place very rapidly. The government will automatically collapse. With complete automation it will be possible for every woman to vote directly on every issue by means of an electronic voting machine in her house. Since the government is occupied almost entirely with regulating economic affairs and legislating against purely private matters, the elimination of money and with it the elimination of males who wish to legislate 'morality' will mean there will be practically no issues to vote on.

I'm not digging all that ideology, and I think there's more to civic life (and the economy) than she makes out, but it's cute that Solanas is way ahead even of Switzerland on one of the most vital questions of liberty.

I'm also inclined to wonder how much the limpness of representative democracy contributes to our idea of adulthood - 'adult' being a byword for sex and an accompaniment to alcohol, an invitation to enjoy those two things as you please, while the political rights of an adult are so slight they're barely worthy of discussion. I have voted three times (two local, one general) and sat on two juries; that's the full extent of the effect I, as a citizen, have had on my country. To do more I'd have to align myself with a popular party (guess what, they're all lead by white, privately educated men), hope I fit through their hoops, win a popularity contest against several other people (who have no less right to participate than I do), then spend five years pretending I alone could convey the wishes of 75000 fellow citizens, no two of them alike.

I can't describe the leap of logic (maybe after lunch -), but when Gordy faffs about 'Britishness', or Daaave hugs those hoodies, I see one huge connected process, with them at the top pretending that the power they unjustly hold has nothing to do with any of it.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Just a little true-life story about companies that suck:

When I was a filthy student, I used to live in this lovely four-storey, six-bedroom house with a bunch of friends - four of us stayed for two years, another four for one year each. Most of the financial stuff was handled by one of the basement-dwellers, Pete, and I took care of the rest.

He got in touch with me last week to tell me that Southern Electric had just called and told him to give them £1000.

This was not the first time Southern Electric had asked us for money we did not, in fact, owe them (our home was once two separate properties and they were at one point asking us to pay double the metered bill because of this), so he was naturally uncowed. A mess of contradictory details was produced - improbable differences between readings and estimates, demands for cash for power used at a time after our group had moved out, timescales that changed from phonecall to phonecall. Maybe they had a case and were just really, really disorganised about it - that's more likely than them just making it up, but it sure as hell seemed like they'd made another ridiculous error and were expecting us to give them money for it. So Pete called Ofgem, who told him that Southern Electric were too late to legally back-bill us anyway, and gave his complaint a case number.

He called Southern Electric and passed on Ofgem's comments and our case number, and they instantly capitulated and decided not to pursue our money after all.

Like magic.

So when Tory politicians prattle about how we'd all be better off if businesses were deregulated, I can't help but wonder how they're defining 'better off'.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

the eyes have it

It's annoying, having your favourite sexual organ constantly underrated.

I've been reading around the porn wars again (oh blah blah wank whatever wank about wanking blah) and it's irritating how often it comes back to the status of the female body. In particular there were two CiF pieces at the weekend about prostitution; you'd've read them a million times before, I'm sure, one idolising the Swedish model, one saying that it's not that simple. The comments return over and over to your-body-your-choice, to whether feminism is consistent, blahblahheck. It's not relevant. The meaning of a female body will never be relevant to women's sexual liberation, because I've got news for you; 98% of women fancy men (buried in a sidebar there).

Men. Male bodies. The ones with cocks, you know? Not that you can ever see that on TV, because male bodies are obscene and all. Looking at men is something 98% of women have in common - there's no feminist principle more unifying than this. Given that, feminist issues centre on female bodies strangely often.

So there's this Sheila Jeffreys idea that I just find plain ridiculous:

"A world without prostitution in any form, including pornography, for men might seem very threatening indeed because it removes the sexual prerogative of being able to degrade and use women irrespective of their personhood or pleasure. It means that men cannot access the sexual pleasures of women enslaved to their will by purchase. [...] In a world beyond prostitution women can relate to each other without the division created by the different, and conflicting uses to which men put them. Women will have the opportunity to unite to pursue goals which do not include sexual subordination, even for a fee."

Nope, sorry, not important to how women relate to each other, or to their goals. Because 98% of women fancy men. It's not, on the whole, relevant to them that a tiny proportion of other individual women are exchanging their bodies for the money of a larger-but-still-minority group of men. In a social responsibility sense we need to worry about trafficking and pimping, just as we need to worry about gun crime and the deaths of innocents in warfare - these things can be vital matters of conscience, things that have to be solved in order to make people feel comfortable with the world outside their homes, but they don't have to have personal impact. I don't believe the prostitution laws effect those 98% of women whose sexual interest lies, exclusively (82%), primarily (11%) or partially (5%), in the male body.

The Girl made an excellent post about how focusing on the male body makes women happy - and how the media, and the law, can conspire against our gaze. Many of the comments she received were along the lines of 'nonoez, objectification IS WRONG and if women do it that makes them JUST AS BAD AS MEN'. I'm of the opinion that yes, objectification is wrong, and what's wrong with it is that men are so inhospitable. They'll take it, but they won't dish it out. Really, why wrong? It's just looking. There are any number of ways to avoid being looked at, if you do find it upsetting - ways of dressing, of acting, of being present. It's just odd that so few women employ those ways, when almost all men do. You'd almost think they didn't want women to ogle them, as if being the object of our gaze was so terrifying it wouldn't be worth the extra sex they'd get out of it. There's reams of literature about men finding female sexuality scary - about terrible divinities like Aphrodite and Lilith. It's not the female body that's not wanted, is it? It's the eyes.

It's never happened, but I've always imagined that if a man asked me why I don't shave my legs, I'd say 'For the same reason you don't shave yours'. Because the way my legs look is irrelevant to my presence, to my sexuality - what matters is where my eyes rest.

And there are men responding to The Girl's Cif piece this morning saying 'women have sexual power, any woman can get sex whenever she wants!', still assuming that a woman is a body and a man is a pair of eyes. That's not sexual power. Sexual power is desiring and having those desires fulfilled; doesn't matter how easily you can get a man to fuck you if you fulfil his wants and he doesn't fulfil yours. But this is new, and women's bodies being on display is not new, so his visions are clearer than yours, and easier to live up to. And it bothers quite a lot of people that he can go out and buy what he wants; even if a woman can, even if she has the economic power to do so, few do, right? Because paying men to cater to your sexual desires is something only wild young women who've grown up in this evil, sex-saturated society do, right?

Bitchy Jones is ever-articulate on how men who pay find it hard to relate to women who do not pay. (I confess that I was looking for a different post of hers but I can't find it and that one does almost as well. She's also done something on how irritating endless sexual images of women can be to members of that 98%. Plus she is, on the whole, to blame for me latching on to this woman-body man-eyes thing.)

My eyes, incidentally, are (thanks to both Bitchy and to my sister) lately mad into Dieux du Stade. Have a good look at them, but I warn you, that fifth guy is so mine.

Friday, September 07, 2007

terminology creep:

I have insomnia. If I didn't, I might not be bothering with this, but tea+biscuits+ranting on the internet is my way of dealing with 2.30am, and that pernicious terminology creep just sidled up over here.

I don't much like pointing out these things, because it makes me feel like I am being Issues, and I'd kinda like to be a brain and a voice and stuff rather than just a wangsty backstory. It's not just on the internet - I've been in this position at the London Socialist Feminists discussion group too. I either speak up and feel like a whiny little discussion-derailer or let it pass and have my head esplode of logic failure and unexpected invisibility. So please, say it with me:

single parents =/= single mothers.

All Bs are A, but not all As are B. You follow?

It is true that the vast majority (I've heard it quoted as 90%) of single parents are women. This is not a good reason to use the terms as if they were interchangeable. Firstly it renders single fathers and their children invisible and conceals the places where their needs differ from the needs of single mothers. Secondly, it's pure fucking misogyny. Yeah, it's just reflecting the misogyny that generally exists in family structures - the bulk of single parent families are formed from the breakdown of two-[heterosexual]-parent families, and of course mummy always has to keep the kids, because human beings are just designed that way, so calling single mother families 'single parent families' is just the natural way of things, m?

It's using a neutral word to cover up an un-neutral problem. It's saying that we don't have to question why mummy takes the kids. It cuts both ways; she has to have that parental responsibility, while he cannot have it. Or alternatively; she is permitted to hog that position, while he is permitted to neglect.

It disguises the differences between single mother families and single father families. I'm not made of bullshit statistics, but every single father family I've known of is the result of either bereavement or imprisonment; the absolute imperative for mummy to take the kids means that the place where daddy takes the kids is a pretty confined and inaccessible terrain. On the other hand there's this whole jumble of problems many single mother families experience - getting child support, coping with the emotional fallout of family breakdown, access (sometimes referred to as 'pay-per-view parenting', by which we mean 'pay-per-view paternity'), and dealing with the lousy stereotypes (foolish, pathetic welfare mum and incapable, irresponsible deadbeat dad. I don't know any single father family stereotypes. Maybe they wouldn't work so well on TV or something.) There's always going to be some overlaps and some reversals of the norm, but on the whole assuming that a single parent family is a single mother family means assuming that some problems are everyone's problems (and that my problems were/are not really there).

I'd like to live in a world where there were parents. It's a role I wouldn't run away screaming from myself. In that world the term 'single parent' would have substance. I just haven't personally experienced this world - I've seen only single mothers and single fathers, and conflating the gender roles that prescribe their fates into a nice, neutral term is not a great idea.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Odd that this should pop up right when I'm digging into writing me some cyberpunk. Tasers are technology shaped like a dream-come-true - a terrible threat that does no real harm, power held with no consequences for the powerless. Except, of course, that we live in the real world, and the corpses are piling up and up.

But that's alright, because they're only used in really tough situations where the only other option would be to use a gun, right? All those corpses are bad people? Right?

There is also evidence to suggest that, far from being used to avoid lethal force, many US police agencies are deploying tasers as a routine force option to subdue non-compliant or disturbed individuals who do not pose a serious danger to themselves or others. In some departments, tasers have become the most prevalent force tool. They have been used against unruly schoolchildren; unarmed mentally disturbed or intoxicated individuals; suspects fleeing minor crime scenes and people who argue with police or fail to comply immediately with a command. Cases described in this report include the stunning of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Florida, following a dispute on a bus, and a 13- year-old girl in Arizona, who threw a book in a public library.

So, being aware of taser-related corpsepiles already, I was pretty stunned by that chief constable's attitude. "What was it like? Not pleasant, is the answer.[...] I was completely incapable of movement. I would have fallen if I hadn't been supported by my colleagues. I very strongly advise you, if faced by an officer and a Taser, that you follow the instructions of the nice police officer, because you will not enjoy the consequences of disobedience."

Um. That's a pretty dim exercise of power there. I guess when you're the hand behind the trigger, you don't see the need to say "What was it like? Not pleasant, is the answer. I and the others who have the power to do this will use it only as a last resort, will not make idle threats with it, will not treat it as if it is harmless and without consequences, and will not bully the difficult or the incapable with it."

And I'm the hand behind the pen, and have the responsibility of exploring these issues in cyberpunk, which I shall.