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My Friendship

twin-thing

My oldest, closest friend; she’s my twin, an unfair advantage over everyone else!  However, she may not think so.

I have been musing a lot on the definition and practice of ‘being a friend’; partly because I had to cancel attendance at two 40th birthday parties in the space of five days due to a chronic pain flare-up, and partly because I have at last count four friends (not known to each other, I move in many and varied groupings) who are currently going through extremely painful break-ups from abusive relationships and I have been thinking deeply about how best I can support them and their individual needs, and how to recognise if I should back away or am being overbearing.

Well, Merry Christmas to all, right?!*  Life doesn’t stop because the festive season starts, and for many, including some of those I care very deeply for, Christmas is a reminder of how damaged, ‘imperfect’ (especially when compared to the many advertisements inculcating a normality that doesn’t exist below surface image), and unhappy their past and/or current experience may be.

I fear strongly that I am a ‘bad’ friend; I fear that my conditions will prevent me from being what I can be to those I love, and I know that is a part of my conditions to have this fear.  I think it is common to have these fears, and that it may be possible, just a little, that I overthink things!

I try to show my care for my friends and maintain my awareness that we all see our lives through a filter; a prism concentrating light into what we ourselves can only perceive, separate and apart from even those stood next to us in life.  I hang on to the truth that is I can only be responsible for that which I can control, which as I grow older is revealed to be less and less.

But still, I worry, and I am sure many of you do too.  For many reasons including but not limited to personal preference, I am a ‘stay at home’ bod; content to be a couch potato surrounded by books, television and whatever hobby I am playing with at that time (genealogy since you didn’t ask).  I also find talking on the phone difficult; the written word is my medium (some may say otherwise! Bah humbug to them!).  As I get older, my friends and I are drifting geographically, if not in personality and chronology.

Friendship does change.  It can evolve into something deeper or it can drift into separate pathways, occasionally crossing but never as close as when walking the same journey.

It took me a very long time before I could say “I love you” to my family (we weren’t a demonstrative family – it’s taken me a while to teach them but I started when I was around 20 and now they are completely house-trained), much longer to say it to my friends (and it still feels awkward sometimes, but I want them to know), but that doesn’t mean I did not feel it.  There are so many different kinds of love, as many as there are people to love and reasons for loving.

I also know what being a friend isn’t.  It isn’t mindlessly supporting someone even when you see them behaving in ways which are damaging to them and others.  Being a friend means pointing out kindly (at first!) what results their behaviour is having and how it is not the best way to behave.  It means an awareness of our responsibilities towards others.  It means that your best friend may be a domestic abuser and it is not being a ‘good’ friend to deny that this is occurring.  It means supporting them to stop being an abuser.  It means recognising no-one is inherently good or bad, and having your own moral compass and principles which allow you to understand the complexities of human beings and to support and love in a way that minimises pain, as pain is not something that can be avoided in life.

Being a friends means stopping someone, or at least trying to stop them, making a huge mistake.  One example is contained in this video I made with the help of my Sanford Collective theatre group friends (now sadly defunct), Stop Assault Before It Starts.

Being a friend does not mean all take and no give, but equally it does not mean all give and no take.  It’s a balancing act, and one which can be complicated by myriad interchanging factors such as health, geography, changing careers, unemployment, and much more.=

It’s heart-breaking when a friendship ends, more so when it is through discovering that someone you had believed knew you as a person does something to betray that they have not understood you at all.  This has happened to me twice in my life, and I still feel the pain now even though it has been many, many years.  That’s when I learned how hard forgiveness can be, and what was my responsibility in that ending of a friendship.

But ultimately, I hope and desire my friends to know this:

  1. I do love them.
  2. I am very loyal to them.
  3. I would fight their corner, without question.
  4. I will support them, whatever.
  5. I respect them.
  6. I will not allow them to destroy themselves, if at all in my power to prevent it.
  7. I will recognise their autonomy and try not to step on their toes.
  8. I will not condone or ignore cruel, painful, abusive behaviour to me or anyone else.
  9. I believe in giving many, many chances, but there is a limit. Takes years to get there, mind.
  10. If there is gossip floating about, I may hear it if I cannot avoid it but as a rule will only believe information if it comes direct from the horse’s mouth. Not that I am comparing them to a horse.
  11. No-one is all good or all bad, me most definitely included.
  12. If I have to cancel a plan, it upsets me more than it will ever them.
  13. They are in my mind, and always in my heart.
  14. Again, and most importantly, I love them.

So, on that note, Merry ‘whatever winter festival floats your boat/summer festival if that’s the season you are in’ and a happy New Year (whenever that may start for you)!

group-hug

*Apologies if you aren’t reading this around Christmas time.  Pretend it’s like a TV repeat on ‘Dave’…

Marvel-ling at (a lack of) Diversity

I am a big geek, the biggest.  I have bigly geekiness, let me tell you.  Many people tell me I have geek.  This bigly geekiness led me to go see Marvel’s latest offering, Dr Strange, at the cinema as opposed to waiting until it has reached the smaller screen (worth it, the effects are incredible).

tilda-swinton-the-ancient-one

Tilda Swinton – “The Awesome One”

Before I went to see it, I was very aware of the controversial casting of Tilda Swinton as “The Ancient One” AKA “The Supreme Sorcerer”.  The character in the graphic novels is a wizened old (stereotypical and quite racist depiction of an) East Asian man.  The character in the film is specifically stated to be a woman of ‘celtic origin’ (and that caused controversy itself with my historian Sooterkin™ – no such place as ‘celt’ for a start…).  Yay for the wimmins!  Representation!  This you might think would be my feminist stance.

No.  Enough of the female white privilege already; the election in the United States of America has shown me more clearly than ever before the importance of the intersectionality of feminism and of white feminism acknowledging its privilege and stepped up by stepping down.

I have written about the importance of visibility before and now we have the rise of the right across the world, it is even more of a vital issue.  White women were central to the election of Donald Trump with only white post graduate college-educated women voting for Hillary Clinton over The Fart® (a fact which boggles my mind, given his outspoken sexism and admitted sexual abuse).

vote-stats-us-election-2016

Terrifying statistical evidence of the extent of privilege being able to ignore the very real prejudice of The Fart and his campaign.

If it was to play with gender that Ms Swinton (superb in the role, as she is in everything) was cast, then why swap out the race too?  There are a LOT of Asian actors* who would have been able to play the role, and Marvel itself is no stranger to casting Asian and mixed-race Asian leads in its TV series (I’m thinking of Daisy and Mae in Marvel’s Agents of Shield).  Or think even more outside the box, and cast a woman who is not of East Asian origin OR white! Indigenous US-American, for example, would open up all sorts of potentially fascinating storylines…

Representation is key to combatting the perpetuation of racist ideology.  Misogynoir (the combined racist/sexist oppression suffered by Black women is on the rise, all ethnically identifying women face (dual at the very least) oppression; we need to WAKE THE F*^K UP RIGHT NOW!

Our sisters are dying, literally.  When I say sisters, I mean sisters to ALL of us.  We need to listen, really listen, and do what we can to fight this.

Privilege is very real, and it is now being bolstered by the ideology of the right that sees those who fight for a semblance of equality (i.e. equality of opportunity, as people are not equal in wants, needs, desires, abilities etc.) as ‘Social Justice Warriors’ (a derogatory term used by those who oppose feminism, anti-racism, anyone who fights against the prevailing prejudice within a system) who are high on a diet of ‘political correctness’ (or politeness and respect as I call it) and who are enemies to whomever is identified as ‘their own’.

I am fully aware of the opposition to the idea.  I have had conversations with one male friend who has objected to the casting of more women in shows as being ‘pandering’ and ruining programmes; this before actually watching them – the assumption is that it is unnecessary and purely to meet some sort of arbitrary equality target.  Maybe in part it is, but the gender of a character need not and should not affect the story especially in fantasy and sci-fi, genres where social inequalities are very often central to the storylines and which have a fine and long tradition of exploring potentialities.

I have had similar conversations with friends over the casting of people of different racial identities, disabilities etc.  In every single one, and I am not exempting myself from this as I as much as anyone need to constantly address my inherent privileges, the first objection is that it is tokenism, the second that it is ‘ruining’ graphic novels adaptations to recast with different races/sexes etc., the third that there are ‘too many’ of a particular oppressed identity and it is not truly reflective.

It’s sci-fi/fantasy.  Since when does it have to be ‘truly reflective’? It really isn’t and all media representation has a long way to go to be reflective anyway.  (In case you are wondering, yes, I adore “Luke Cage”, “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil” for what they are as well as for what they represent, but we need more!).

Even when the statistical equivalence is less than that which would reflect reality, those of privileged identities feel overtaken and pushed out, and that perceptions of the same behaviour differentiated by gender, for example, mean privilege remains the default position.

I have now reached the standpoint in my beliefs where I think it essential that we need to over-cast roles to represent an increased diversity.  More actors than would be statistically equivalent to reality in a show, please!  More black than white, more disabled than able-bodied, more transgender than cisgender, more ethnically diverse than whitewashed, more gay than straight, more of every oppressed group than not oppressed!

(pauses whilst the collective heads of the right and the unthinking privileged explode in utter horror)

We privileged have had way more than enough time in the spotlight.  Time to sit our butts on the sidelines and let someone, some people, else shine.  People of non-privileged identities, I don’t see you, but I really want to.  Time for over-representation, not representation.  Time for over-diversifying, not statistical reflectiveness.  Affirmative action, on steroids!

Time for us privileged to get out of the way.  Completely.

how-to-be-an-ally

*I use the term ‘Actor’ because there is no reason to differentiate gender in the job of acting; the roles have genders, not the job of acting.

The Trump Card

lady-liberty-hides

The Trump Card

What have you done, you poor and huddled masses?

Who sailed hopeful to the shores of your promised land.

You grew fat on the backs of immigrant oppression,

And we in our land co-founded, helped, and we profited.

But since then we thought that we had all learned.

 

Oh say, can you see, sweet land of liberty,

The horror of what you have allowed to become?

Did you not learn from the British concern,

When Europe broke down and we moved away,

To kill all the hope of those despair.

 

The star spangled banner in Trump triumph unfurls,

And smothers the land of the free and the brave,

In a wave of oppression and fall-out depression,

In God is your Trust but only the rich must

Be happy at this turn in the social hell.

 

I feel fear for my friends over the pond who

Are comforting the fearful they love who are scared,

That the Leader of the Free World, though self-proclaimed

Elected on grounds of bigotry and misogyny

Only the rich and the white are now safe.

 

Tina Price-Johnson

© 9th November 2016

Hope will return, I am sure it will, along with the fighting spirit, because really, what other option is there?

The Transgender Child

transgender-symbol

Gender Fluidity, Gender Identity

I am a cisgender female adult; that is the identity through which I am viewing this topic.  I will most likely make mistakes in my wording, and please do call me out if I show my privilege.  I need to learn as much as anyone else does.

That said, I was intrigued by a discussion that occurred on a status message (ah, Facebook, you source of blogspiration, you) about children who identify as transgender.

The main problem is the dialogue that is used to talk about the experiences of transgender children – it’s always about how they ‘feel’ like a person of the other sex identity and how they were noticed by their cisgender parents as enjoying what are traditionally seen as toys/interests of the other sex identity than that they were assigned at birth; the confusing use of the word ‘gender’ when it is about ‘sex’ (as in male/female) too.

The stories of transgender children speak about so much more than interests and play; roles and choice of toys. It’s about seeing your body and not recognising it as the sex that everyone is telling you that you are. It’s about having a penis and wanting to cut it off because it is alien, it doesn’t belong, it’s not ‘you’.  It’s about not going to the toilet at school because you don’t belong in the boys or girls bathroom, and wetting yourself instead (an experience reported by many transgender children).  In the same way I, as a cisgender woman, know that my vagina is very much a part of me and that my breasts belong on my body and that my womb is the correct organ for my body to contain (whether it operates correctly or not is another question and bears no relation to my womanhood), a transgender man knows they are not. Children can feel this too, and it can lead to intense and significant mental health problems.

Cisgender people view society through the privileged prism of knowing that we are in the physical bodies which are correct. We don’t feel the disconnect, or the disgust, that testimonies of transgender people do. Children know this, in the same way they may recognise their natural sexuality at a young age but have no way to express or understand it.

The medical profession has always viewed transgender identity specifically through the cisgender privileged lens, meaning that in order to receive any form of treatment they have to conform to what are gender-specific stereotypes to ‘prove’ their sex/gender. Often yo will then find they are castigated and abused for conforming to such stereotypes. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. When it comes to children, the parents have no other way of ‘helping’ their child other than presuming and explaining to themselves through such stereotypes. When adults, and post-transition (at whatever point the transgender adult feels they need to reach as transitioning is a many faceted, many layered process) you will often find the stereotypes fall away as their body becomes their own and matches the sex/gender always was.

I would far rather the gender binary was done away with completely and we had no gender-specific pronouns etc, and that children were simply children and adults simply adults. However, that’s not the world we live in at the moment, and transgender identity is far more about the body/psyche than it is about conforming to a gender stereotype. That conformity is that which is pushed onto the identity, not the other way around.

We simply don’t have the language to be able to express exactly what it is to be transgender; our language (and I am speaking about English, as that is the language I was born and raised to use and understand) is gendered, our understanding is binary.  There is male/female, man/woman, and language is created to reflect that.  We have patriarchal systems and ideologies which maintain the binary, and this can be seen in our pronouns, our stereotypes, our conforming ideals.  We identify inanimate objects by gender (ships are ‘she’ for example).  Feminism argues against gender stereotyping, and transgender identity is absolutely a feminist issue.

I find, though, that the vast majority of people who worry about children being pushed into declaring themselves transgender and seeking treatment from doctors and psychologists are those who do not have transgender children.  It is very much not being a ‘tomboy’ or a ‘girly-boy sissy’, and isn’t it telling how both are derogatory names for non-gender conforming behaviour yet that applied to the boy child is far more damaging than that applied to a girl.  To be ‘feminine’ is deemed a negative for males as a giving away of the privilege, but to be ‘masculine’ is only negative for girls in that girls shouldn’t seek to dominate the way a boy ‘should’.

transphobic-and-why

Gender Fluidity, Gender Identity

My understanding of transgender identity is that it is about so much more.  It’s about the sex of one’s body and how one ‘knows’ that one is not in the correct physical body.  I cannot know how that is, I am a cisgender woman.

It is at this point as an ally who strives to be a good ally, I must listen to the voices of those who are transgender and those who are raising transgender children.  They are the voices of experience.  They are the ones who must lead in the struggle.  My job is to support and speak out, and call out if I can, and be called out when I should be, and most importantly, to accept that calling out.

Testimonies of parents and children:
http://www.parents.com/parenting/my-transgender-child-this-is-how-i-know/

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Transhealth/Pages/Transrealstorymother.aspx

http://www.etonline.com/news/163373_9_inspirational_stories_of_transgender_kids_their_supportive_parents/

http://www.transkidspurplerainbow.org/im-a-girl-understanding-transgender-children/

An overview of transgender identity in history can be found here:
http://bilerico.lgbtqnation.com/2008/02/transgender_history_trans_expression_in.php (also links to the other six parts of this series).

Or here (note: use of pre-transitional names in the article): https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jun/02/brief-history-transgender-issues

Thank you for reading.  Please share.

The PLP and the Leadership Contest

A Letter to My MP On the Labour Party Leadership Contest

Your vote is your voice, use it.

I write further to your emails of 19th July and 17th August, and have been taking my time in responding partly because of my intense disappointment at your support of Owen Smith.

I fail to understand both why the PLP have behaved so abominably to their popularly elected leader and how you could support Owen Smith as a leader over Jeremy Corbyn.  Indeed, the ———— Ward voted to support Jeremy Corbyn by an extremely narrow margin, and the meeting was better attended than most because the membership feel so strongly about supporting Jeremy Corbyn as leader.  As at the date of writing, the vast majority of Wards have voted to support Jeremy Corbyn over Owen Smith, as have the majority of Unions.

I was very disappointed by an attendee at the meeting who stated he worked in your office and then proceeded to give his own personal opinion about how Jeremy Corbyn was ‘looking’ whilst working at the Houses of Parliament and attaching psychological meaning such as he was ‘looking tired’.  In court this would be inadmissible as this worker is not a psychologist nor at his own admittance had he spoken with, nor did he have any knowledge of Jeremy Corbyn’s state of mind or physical capabilities.  Surely we are attacked enough in this way by the right-wing press, we don’t need staffers and PLP members to denigrate based on personal opinion and propagandist interpretation?

Jeremy Corbyn has the support of the membership, and it is the membership who are the backbone of the Labour Party.  Jeremy Corbyn represents the views of the Labour Party and it is extremely dismaying to see so blatantly that the PLP no longer do.  It is time we as a party got over the failed experiment with ‘New’ Labour and the betrayal of the root and reason for the Labour Party.  The party was formed to support the disenfranchised; to literally enfranchise the people and ensure they had a say in the running of the country.  It is clearly stated in the Labour Party membership booklet what the aims are.

Furthermore, the disgraceful attempt to remove new members from being able to vote in the leadership election, despite the clear promise in the guidelines, and forcing the issue through court to a successful appeal (although given the Judge’s reported affiliations I do question that verdict and as a person working in the legal system I understand how such rulings are at appeal stage based on opinion and interpretation of contract law as opposed to a clear reading of the same) I have lost all faith in the elected members of parliament for the Labour party.

Sadly, this now includes you as you have openly stated your support for Owen Smith over Jeremy Corbyn.  To me, your reasons for supporting Owen Smith seem entirely unfounded.

In your email of 19th July 2016, you state “It pains me to say it, but Jeremy has lost my support.  Not because I disagree with his ideas though.  I mean I was with him last night as we voted together against replacing Trident.  But because I believe that we need to provide a credible alternative to the conservatives.”  Jeremy Corbyn is a credible alternative to the conservatives; unfortunately by staging this coup at the most regrettable time, when the conservatives had been seen to lost the Brexit/Bremain vote and were at their most vulnerable, the PLP has itself discredited the Labour Party and missed a vital moment in which we could have defeated the Conservatives and shown Labour as the more effective political party.  It is the PLP who lost the Labour Party its credibility, and this is the view of the majority of the membership as is shown by the clear support Jeremy Corbyn has across the Labour Party membership.

It was claimed that Jeremy Corbyn did not campaign sufficiently hard enough for the Remain vote.  He attended over 100 events despite ‘being on holiday’ and made numerous television appointments.  It seems his principled stand against debating alongside David Cameron was seen as problematic, yet many cite his principles as the best reason for supporting him. No matter what he did, he would have been criticised, which is proper in a democratic process.  However, when it is his own PLP doing the criticism, they are doing the Conservative’s job for them.  Is it any wonder the PLP is nicknamed ‘Tory lite’ or ‘Diet Tory’ when such behaviours are clearly on show?  IPSO, Mori, YouGov and Survation polls all showed that Labour support for Remain stayed consistent throughout the campaigns.  It was the Conservatives who failed this campaign.  The PLP should have been acting on those facts instead of denigrating their democratically elected leader.

I fail to understand how the PLP cannot understand this and should appreciate your clear explanation as to why you believe Jeremy Corbyn has lost the credibility and support of the Labour Party membership and the public.  Even the right wing press clearly states Jeremy Corbyn has the support of the people, yet opinion pieces such as that by Sadiq Khan and Owen Smith himself claim otherwise.

You also stated that “The man [Jeremy Corbyn] has principles, he is honest, but I believe it’s time for him to go.”  This beggars my belief.  Why would you want to get rid of a man of principle and honesty?  You also state that Labour is a political party, not a fan club or protest group.  This seems to indicate what you think of those of us who support Jeremy Corbyn; patronising, reductive and untrue as it may be.  I have spoken with very many people who have been galvanised by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader; he provided hope, a strong leadership, and a believable pathway to equality and fighting for the minority and discriminated against groups within society who tend not to vote in general elections because they are not represented by the electoral candidates.  Jeremy Corbyn gave these people, who in the last election represented 33.9% of the voting population, a voice.  By taking this away the PLP are hoping to appeal to Conservatives.  This has not worked over the last two general elections and the PLP is figuratively throwing away 33.9% of the voting population.  This is a retrograde step and a huge mistake.

In your email of 17th August you state your reasons for supporting Owen Smith.  You give a list of your beliefs, all of which are also those of the Labour Party AND Jeremy Corbyn, but the only reasons you give for specifically supporting Owen Smith are that you believe he will mean the Labour Party is in a stronger position to win with Owen Smith at the head of the party.  This despite clear evidence that he does not have the support of the majority of the Labour Party members, and that he is seen by many as untrustworthy due to the fact he registered his website for the coup before resigning his position and worked for a private pharmaceutical company as a lobbyist before entering politics.

All the policies that Owen Smith claims to be standing by are those of Jeremy Corbyn, yet when it came down to it last year, Owen Smith abstained on the NHS Reinstatement Bill and Jeremy Corbyn did not.  Voting records are publicly available at http://www.theyworkforyou.co.uk, and I think perhaps the PLP should pay more attention to how often such sites are accessed; it seems that some PLP members may not realise how public (rightly) their voting records are.  Jeremy Corbyn showed an ability to work with cross-party members whilst holding to the principles of both himself and the Labour Party, it was Owen Smith who failed at this time.

You also stated in the email of 17th August that “Locally, we as a party need to ensure we remain an inclusive party focused on fighting and winning the next election.”  I agree and applaud this stand.  Yet it is Jeremy Corbyn who instigated the in-depth examination of anti-semitism within the Labour Party, through the report of Shami Chakrabarti, which also covered racism and islamophobia, and came to very useful conclusions.  I have read the report as I am sure you have too, and given your support for inclusivity I am sure you applaud the conclusions and the implementation of the same.  To date, Jeremy Corbyn is the only political leader ever to have taken any such step in the move to wipe out bigotry and discrimination within the ranks of a political party.

However, as I have stated before, it is Jeremy Corbyn who appeals to and has the support of those who are more often excluded from mainstream politics.  Indeed, despite ——————— being a multi-cultural borough I was very disappointed to note that the heavily attended ———– Ward meeting was almost exclusively white (one attendee of middle Eastern heritage) and quite clearly the majority were home-owners and/or of middle-class description.  Clearly the party which supports Owen Smith does not appeal to the non-voter or those who are defined as being of a minority group.  Jeremy Corbyn is supported by the working class, those of BAME identity, and those groups who campaign for equality and are of non-privileged identities.

A clear message of the division between the candidates is on the Prevent measures and the reactions of the Islamic community to such a controversial anti-terrorist countermeasure.  Owen Smith supports this measure, which is tantamount to racial profiling, whereas Jeremy Corbyn opposes it.

In my view it is very clear that Jeremy Corbyn remains the best candidate for leader of the Labour Party.  I am deeply disappointed that you do not agree, and look forward to receiving your detailed response as to why you believe this.  It is not Conservative voters we should be appealing to, it is the non-voters and it is there Jeremy Corbyn is superb as a leader.  Jeremy Corbyn is not only re-engaging the Labour voters who left as a result of New Labour, but bringing in new members in the youth and the underprivileged people.  These are precisely the people the Labour Party should be supporting and for whom the Labour Party was created.

I should appreciate specific reference to the policies of both candidates in your response.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully…

 

Jeremy COrbyn2

My choice for a Leader; the personification of hope, principle, approachability and the Labour Party

Dr Harley Quinn-Geek Culture & Feminism

Last night my Sooterkin®, my ‘nephew’ BabyH© and myself went to see Suicide Squad; Sooterkin and I are big geekazoids and BabyH has the makings of one given that he is an avid gamer.  We all enjoyed it.  There are flaws; too many characters with too little back story due to the running time, massive jumps in shot meaning occasionally it was hard to tell where in the story we were, over-egging the smoke/rain/wind/fire so the action could not be seen, and I was angered by the killing of Slipknot, the only indigenous US-American character, very early on as the example to the Squaddies of what would happen if they defied Amanda Waller, and think if they were going to do that Captain Boomerang was way more annoying and pointless, but at least the male gender was very well represented.  Viola Davis as Amanda Waller was very truthful to the graphic novel, and I wanted to see and know a lot more about Katana but Enchantress was really not the scary evil that was needed to make us feel the Suicide Squad’s evilness was balanced out.  Overall, a good film but not a great one.

You could be forgiven for thinking this was the Harley Quinn film though, so much emphasis has been made about what is a tour de force performance by Margot Robbie.  She has perfectly captured the Harley Quinn complexity even in such an ensemble piece (props to Will Smith as Deadshot too, loved the scenes with his daughter).

Harley Quin1

Margot Robbie as Harley Quin – superb.

Such a furore has there been about the character of Harley that I have been asked my opinion as a trustworthy feminist (why, thank you, kind person).  Talk of her overt sexualisation and the potential romanticizing of what is a blatantly and very dysfunctional relationship between Harley and the Joker has been everywhere, and both are valid points to be made.  Harley has worn many different outfits over the years, but this outfit was definitely the least covering of them all.  Those shorts – bumfloss!  My vagina winced (sorry parents, if you read this).

She also spends much of the film covered in bruises, blood, smeared make-up and quite disheveled, so if a person can’t see past the outfit to the person then I question them, not the character.

Harley is a sexual character.  Her background is touched on in the film, but not in depth and I believe there are vital pieces to her story missing.  She was Dr Harleen Quinzel, Psychiatrist to the in-mates of Arkham Asylum.  She was Joker’s psychiatrist.  She and he fell into what has been described as love.  The assumption is always that the Joker seduced and broke her down mentally, and he did.  He was very abusive and cruel, narcissistic and psychotic.  But you know what?  Harley KNEW that.  She was his appointed Psychiatrist.  She had cruelty, madness and badness within her.  They brought the worst out of each other.  She is as much a part of the relationship and the insanity of the pair as he is, and to assume she is ‘the victim’ at all times is to ignore the agency of her as a woman, and abuse of her position as his treating Psychiatrist that she chose to undertake.

I’m not excusing Joker.  But I refuse to excuse Harley too.  They are a killer couple, as responsible as each other.

Harley is not a feminist icon, and I am getting a little tired of every single female character newly introduced into the comics world being expected to be one.  Yes, new characters and new stories for existing characters should be written with the complex nuances of the modern world in mind, and it is not good enough simply to introduce female characters, we need female writers, artists, inkers, colourists, storyliners, editors, publishers and publicists in the mix too (also for all intersectional identities too).  I asked the Manager in my nearest comic store why all his books, even new female characters, were written by men.  The Manager had no answer apart from “I don’t know… they don’t sell?”  Yes, he actually put it to me as a question.  They don’t sell because you don’t offer them!  There are female writers etc. out there but the industry is still one with a massive gender bias so more needs to be done.

harley quin cartoon

a very early Harleycarnation.

Harley is a very sexualized character, but is it a sexuality in which she is in control.  She is using and twisting the patriarchal views of sexuality against men in particular, but she is not specific to gender and has an open sexuality (would be nice if heroes could be more open with sexuality too).  Harley is empowered in her choice of clothing, her awareness of her attractiveness and her use of it, and her refusal to be defined by it.  This was not made clear in the film, and is one of the main shortcomings of Harley’s character.  The costume in the film made me feel the same way I did when I saw Wonder Woman in Batman -v- Superman; that sinking feeling of “here we go again, take a strong female good or bad, and reduce her to an object for the male viewer”.  Cover your legs, it provides more protection!  Unnecessary crotch shot in the fighting scene in BvS too, but I digress…

The one thing that comes through very strongly, for me, with Harley’s character is that in the screwed-up situation that is the Suicide Squad, she is very much in control.  She makes her own decisions, she is an intelligent woman (let’s not forget she is a doctor of Psychiatry, and as the film shows is fully aware of who she is surrounded by and what their particular diagnoses are).  Joker is her kryptonite, but equally she is his.  They really are not a romance story.

She is not a feminist icon.  She is a well-rounded villain.  She is not a hero.  She is a very flawed human being.  She is not an object, well, not only an object, but ALL women are objectified simply by being women in our society.  All female characters are going to be put under a microscope, and if a person objects to what someone is wearing because they find it overtly sexual and presumes that is objectification, they really need to look at why they are having that reaction.  In the context of the story and the character, is that true?  In Harley’s case, I don’t think so, not in the film, not in the graphic novels and not in the character.

Oh, and for all those pathetic little geekazoids who are making idiot memes about how all these girls are suddenly going to come out as comic fans because of Harley and they are going to take over geek worlds and it’s SO UNFAIR and it’s political correctness gone mad and other such bullshit – were you born knowledgeable about your favourite characters?  Who did you first identify with?  Why?  Did they reflect your own gender?  How lucky for you that there were so many male characters around for you to identify with.  How did people react when you expressed your interest?  Were you questioned and denied the right to love the character because you couldn’t answer the detailed and intimate questions about what he did in comic #54 page 3 in 1973?  Get off your fear-created privilege pole and get over yourself.

In that way, yes, Harley will prove a mighty step forward, if she does inspire women and girls get into the fantasy world of comics and graphic novels, and maybe that will mean more women and girls writing, drawing etc.  If that does happen, BRILLIANT!  But as a feminist icon, Harley is as flawed and dangerous as any really evil villain should be.

harley quinns.jpg

HARLEYFEST!!!!  HARLEYPALOOZA!!!  HARLEYVAL!!!! ETC…

To Work or not To Work: the Disability Paradox

I am a person with disabilities.  I was diagnosed with spinal osteoarthritis about 10 years ago, and it has degenerated, as it is wont to do.  I have mobility problems and I need to use a disabled person’s freedom travel pass (DPFTP) to travel because I cannot know day-to-day if I am going to be able to walk or not (I also have epilepsy but that is fully controlled with life-long medication so doesn’t cause me problems in my everyday life).  It was a heck of a fight to actually get a travel pass in the first place given the hoops you have to jump through (ha! As if I could jump let alone make it through a hoop!) to prove your disability.  There is no understanding of the flexibility (again, ha!) and changeable nature of many mobility disabilities; one day I may be able to walk 500 metres, another day I’ll be lucky to get out of bed without collapsing.  Every single day I am in pain, to varying levels.

This morning it was brought to my attention that disabled people are made invisible and restricted in what they can do (not new to me, but to many it may be).  I was attempting to get onto the platform of my local (to my office, for yes, I am one of the ‘lucky’ disableds with a job, in a supportive workplace too!) train station to visit a new client.

I was denied access.  Apparently my DPFTP will only work after 9.30 am on National Rail services.  Check out the complicated map I have to try and understand every time I attempt to travel, that the staff didn’t give me and I had to download from t’interwebes myself (tough luck if you don’t have internet access, disableds):

20160812110543_00001.jpg

(this also applies to people with older person’s travel passes; 60 for women, 65 for men – non-existent gods forbid you should work after this age, because everyone knows the state pension pays enough to live on champagne and oysters for the rest of your life).

confused-smiley

Huh? What? Say again? Nope, still not getting it…

I had understood I would be able to travel as this was the advice I had been given previously.  However, my local (to my home) train station, being the one I would normally use, is on the underground as well as overground line, so I can only assume that it is the underground I am allowed to travel on.  Same station, same platform, similar times, different operator, different rules.  Confused?  Yeah, me too.

I had to cancel my client meeting and source another firm nearer to their location to help them.  This potential client was dying, about to be transferred to a hospice and desperately wanted a Will drafted, and we had done a lot of preparation to make this possible, so I feel terrible about this.  I can only hope the other firm is able to help them.

Disabled people in England & Wales are now stuck in a situation where they are denied the ability to travel within normal working hours in the morning, yet are being bullied and threatened into applying for myriad jobs to which they cannot get for fear of losing the PIP they have been transferred onto because their disability has been deemed not to be ‘bad enough’ by a panel of unqualified non-medical personnel with no experience or empathy. (Scotland and Northern Ireland tend to have different rules; it may even vary county to county within England & Wales but many people commute to London so this affects ALL of them).

A disabled person’s freedom travel pass is not a luxury, it is an essential part of the life of a disabled person with mobility issues.  Even with being in full-time work I still need it because I cannot know day-to-day how I may be.  Mornings are always appalling now.  Without the pass, I could not afford to work.  I am lucky, my partner works but he needs the car (and I cannot always drive it, if my pain is particularly bad I cannot be safe behind the steering wheel) so I have to use public transport.  That’s my individual experience; many have similar but different tales to tell.

Policy is not the same for all travel companies, and I was left humiliated, embarrassed, angry and apologetic to the staff who had suffered my ire (I did express my apologies as it is not their fault).  To me, National Rail is clearly discriminating against disabled people who work, and given the government is determined to make as many disabled people enter the workforce as possible (even if they die whilst applying for jobs or are actually unable to work due to their particular disability*) this discrimination is going to become more widespread.

I’m still angry, so I’m not sure how much of this blog is making sense, and I’m left wondering if maybe I should just give up working.  All I know is

  1. I’m disabled.
  2. I work full-time.
  3. I cannot use my travel pass on National Rail services during working hours, when able-bodied people can.
  4. The only difference between the passes is my disabled pass is free to me and non-disabled travel passes are paid for by the person using it.
  5. Policy on use of the DPFTP is inconsistent.

In my opinion, that’s discrimination.

 

* http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/one-in-four-claiming-disability-benefits-faces-serious-difficulties-including-delays-unfair-10457434.html

* https://welfaretales.wordpress.com/category/pip/

* http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/pip-mobility-20m-case-studies

* http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/dwp-told-to-publish-esa-deaths-report-after-two-year-delay/

* https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/aug/27/thousands-died-after-fit-for-work-assessment-dwp-figures

Visibility is VITAL

Cindy Crawford 1980 vogue cover

1988 and we were only now learning women’s bodies weren’t blemish-free.

When I was a mere nipper, just becoming aware of the people around me and the judgements made on everyone, I remember vividly being conscious that I have a number of moles and freckles (although I didn’t learn the difference until embarrassingly recently) on my body.  I did not see women represented with moles on their bodies in the wider world, certainly not women who were assessed to be beautiful.  I therefore believed that my moles and freckles were ugly, and that I was ugly.  It was not until the acceptance of Cindy Crawford as a ‘beautiful woman’ that moles became visible and I understood that they weren’t hideous blemishes to be covered and hidden at all costs.

The lesson I learned was that moles are ugly.

This might seem very minor to most of you, but when you are judged on your physical appearance, and all women are, it is huge.  As a child learning this lesson, it sinks in and it stays there.  Even now, I know I have this belief in my ugliness, for having moles and for the many other reasons that  means I do not conform to the westernised standard of female attraction.

Leaving aside the argument as to the value of ‘beauty’ as a tool of assessing human beings, this lack of visibility had a profound effect on me at a very early age, and *coughmanycough* decades on it still does.  So, lets extend that out, shall we?

I, as a white child, was well represented in all other aspects of my life.  My upbringing was in a predominantly white area with only 5 students of colour in a school of 1,200 for the five years I attended the secondary school; we knew who they were because they were so few and that in itself brings its own problems for those students and the weight of societal expectation laid on them.  I had many role models around me to identify with, the TV I watched showed white people doing all manner of things, and it was not something I questioned

As a white adult, I am still represented.  My colour is highly visible.  I see criminals and lawyers, teachers and politicians, housewives and detectives, all of the ‘normality’ (to a given value of normal, and that is defined by what is seen and accepted) represented by people who are of the same colour as me. That imbues a sense of the possible, the attemptable.  That no path is blocked because of my colour. Furthermore, I don’t even think about the possibility that my colour may affect my future.

That’s my privilege.

Same goes for heterosexuality, cisgender identity, able-bodied representation, religion, gender conformity and so on.  I have some but not all those privileges, and the privilege means I don’t think about the fact I am not represented, because I am.

This is where empathy is important, and for those people who are privileged in the extreme – the white educated non-poor middle-class able-bodied heterosexual cisgender male – such empathy is harder to come by because they do not experience a lack of privilege.  I will never experience such privilege, so my voice is easily dismissed.  So much more so the voices of those even less privileged than I.

That is where visibility comes in.  It is a representation without words that strikes down to the soul for everyone, not just those who are now seen in the wider context of society.  It is not just those who are discriminated against who benefit from the visibility.

I was watching a programme called Wildlife Reunions (I just got a rescue cat, I’m totally animal-mad at the moment, it’ll pass [no it won’t]) and it featured elephant caregivers all of whom were black.  Educated, African, well-rounded black men in good long-term jobs exhibiting a deep level of caring and empathy.  I thought to myself, when is the last time I saw such a representation, and I could not think of a single moment of television in which such an image was depicted.  When we do see Africa, it is framed as a war-torn conflicted continent filled with starving people, who suffer disease and famine and require the intervention of benevolent first world charity.

Same with disability. Much as I love Grand Designs, and Kevin McLeod, he made a comment in a recent repeat, and I paraphrase, in that he forgot someone who was building a house was disabled because he rose above it and adapted himself to the world around him.  My goodness, how I found that patronising and ignorant.  I know it was meant kindly, but it clearly stated that disability was something only the disabled person had to deal with and manoeuvre around.  All this whilst building a house with adaptions built within the walls because he could not live in a ‘normal’ house which, as all houses are, do not allow for the potential of disability in anyone.

Other than that, disability is people in wheelchairs, specialised comedy programmes, the odd soap opera character, The Last Leg and the Paralympics.  There is a reason why disability is invisible, and that is the lack of accessibility and the exclusion from mainstream media representation.

I could go on, but I would ask you all to take time to really see what it is you are exposed to around you.  For example, how are BAME (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) people represented?  Compare to white people; is the representation as broad and well-rounded?  What does that mean to you, to your personal identity?  These things have a subliminal effect.  We retain a definition of ‘normality’ even when we try to fight against it, and we must fight against it.

A simple example that many are aware of is the representation of youth culture in the media, particularly 16-24-year-old age group.  Is there a difference between representations of BAME youths as compared to white youths?  Be honest with yourself, it’s the only way to move past the guilt that you may feel (because I do, very much so) that you have accepted and ignored the damage unequal and non-contextualised representation does to ourselves and our society.

There is a reason black people are far more likely to be shot and/or involved in violent crime than white people, and it is not ‘black-on-black’ violence (a reductive dismissive and ignorant statement which really should be banned).

Now stop for a second.  When you read that sentence, did you assume that the black person was most likely male and most like the criminal rather than the victim?  Be truly honest with yourself and examine your initial thought.  It’s okay, no-one’s reading your mind.

That is what representation of black people in the media brings to you.  It is systematic oppression tied into the expectations we all hold of how a black person will behave.  That form of discrimination is one that kills.

Privilege is a curse as much as it is a, well, privilege, because it means we are blind and we miss out on the experience of so much of life.  Accept that you will have racist thoughts, you will have suppositions about disability, you will retain ideals of gender-stereotyping and so on, if you are in the privileged sector of that social grouping.  That’s not your fault.

If you don’t see all that you know exists, be aware that the invisible is just as valid, and the experiences of the invisible need to be heard, shared and shouted.  Step outside the privileged comfort zone.  It is not the job of the discriminated against to teach you, they have enough to do fighting for their visibility.  It is your job, and my job, and everyone’s job, to learn and research and remove oneself from the platform of privilege to give space to those whose voices are by the very essence of experience more important that yours (and mine).

Visibility is vital.  It’s for all of us to fight for it; the privileged even more so than those not.  You won’t lose anything and you will gain so much.  But even if you didn’t, are you really content to achieve and profit on the backs of those who you are stepping on and pushing down simply because they don’t have the same skin colour, physical abilities or gender as you?

Pudendalocks and the Three Bares

Pudendalocks and the Three Bares

Once upon a time, it was, and a very long time ago,
or possibly in will be in the future, it’s very hard to know,
There was a girl called Pudenda – (I think her parents were caned,
They may have not realised the full meaning when she was named)
But I digress, this tale is not one about her family,
But more about the way she came have a natural affinity
With her body and her name and that which grew upon her,
I talk of course of the locks that develop around a vagina.
I skip ahead again, I really must get my head and words together,
To tell the tale, properly, of Pudenda’s developed nether.

Pudenda grew up happy, noisy, loud and ran carefree,
She was not restricted in her life’s full rich possibility.
She’d climb up trees and wear high heels, although not at the same time,
At least not after the first attempt to make a higher climb
In which her heel got caught in a really gnarly thickened branch,
And she fell and it took a while to get the blood to stanch…
But anyway the point of this is that her life was an open book,
She believed and grew up knowing she could do anything, just look
At the world around her and decide one day eventually,
What it is that she really wanted to do and may want to be.

Slowly as she grew though she came to realise that
Not everyone held the view of freedom that she had.
She looked around and saw the ideals that the world seemed to push,
On hair and face and body and clothes and even her new-grown bush.
Hard to believe, in fact she could barely credit the truth.
Why would the world care what developed as she grew out of youth?
Could it really be so important what look she may sport down there?
Whether hairy, groomed, shaved into patterns, or completely bare?
She’d barely hit puberty when it seemed the world crashed in,
And suddenly she had all these rules to follow in order to fit in.

At school she heard the teasing and the laughter of the girls
In the changing rooms during gym lessons, pointing at the curls
Of the newly pubescent developing growth of the young body
Although as all of them were experiencing the same puberty
It seemed to Pudenda that they were only laughing at themself
And it must be nervous fear of being left somehow on the shelf
Of not conforming and not attracting their future partner for life
And of attaining that idealised goal of someone’s most-loved wife.
Pudenda’s upbringing had taught her that her life would be full of choice,
But now the choices seemed limited by an outside pressuring voice.

As Pudenda grew a bit older into her burgeoning sexuality
Understanding her attractions and with whom she wanted to be
She saw how the culture in which she and her peers existed
Had a very narrow view of the way in which women were depicted
More than that and more than the restrictions she had realised
Was that her own vagina had been specifically idealised.
Her labia apparently had a correct width and length it should be
And as for her pudenda-locks, it seemed less was more to see!
It meant that as soon as puberty had hit and her bush had grown,
In order to be attractive her bush had to be shorn, shaved and mown.

Her name had been an embarrassment but now she took it as a sign
That she would be a voice in the wilderness to shout “what’s mine is mine!”
And whether Brazilian, Hollywood, French, the traditional Three Bares,
She did not see any reason to conform, to be told how to style her hairs.
Mainstream porn, the major source of a young boys sex education,
Meant that normality for them was to see all bared to the nation,
And when she said bared, she meant bared quite literally,
Naked pre-pubescent pubic mound, completely hair-free.
Choice is good, choice is fine and she thought informed choice the best.
But how can such a choice be made without facts? She must protest!

So many different terms she found for what existed down below,
Vafro and jewfro two terms discovered; there would be more to know.
But all describe an area that is as varied as each person is in life.
So why is it necessary to conform to one ideal, to avoid perceived strife?
As Pudenda had relationships and became more sexually active,
She realised that no-one really cared about hairiness, she was still attractive.
The pressure and the torture and the pain she had endured
Was pointless and wasted and yet still went on as girls matured.
It angered her to know that in this and in all things physical
Young girls were pushed and oppressed through the body critical.

Pudenda then embraced her name and it became her raison d’etre
To shout out loud and everywhere, to campaign to make things better.
She became Pudendalocks and made it her life to fight the Three Bares.
To enable all the women and girls she knew to own what was theirs.
To strike at the heart of raunch culture and its narrow confines.
To free the minds of everyone from what society defines
As the way a woman could and should and would always be.
As the gender boundaries blur people would be proud to say “I’m me!”
Not boxed in or suppressed or confined or restricted in choice.
Pudendalocks would be her name. Freedom would be her voice.

So that’s the story of Pudendalocks and how she grew into her name.
The way in which she developed into the fighter she became.
Like all fairy stories it would end in a happily ever after.
But it will only end that way if you join in her thereafter.
Pudendalocks has a voice and she fights for freedom from oppression,
I intend to help her and all others in the fight against suppression.
Although as my readers you will know happily ever after isn’t real,
But the fight goes on and is the thing, to fight with grit and zeal.
Fairy tales and nursery rhymes aren’t real, we know that obviously.
But discrimination is, so let’s join with Pudendalocks, for equality!

© Tina Price-Johnson
28.09.2014

This poem got a very good reaction particularly from young (i.e. 18-21) women in the audience who approached me after I performed it to discuss what it said and how they felt, and to ask what a pudenda* was  … really, we do need to have a better, more informative and detailed discussion about our bodies in which no gender is excluded, and include informed consent in that discussion!

Please read, please share, please let me know what you think!

*the exterior area of a person’s genitals, most often applied to women in the area in which hair grows – let’s face it that could be anywhere from halfway down the inner thighs to the navel, and all or no areas in between.  We aren’t all identical!

The Great British Eccentric

The Great British Eccentric

When I grow up, I want to be just like them.

Just like a great British eccentric.

I will be wizened and gnarly, with a beard that

No woman should be able to grow.

I will curl it and wear ribbons.

And pretend I am a musketeer.

Brandishing my walking stick at all my foes,

Like Errol Flynn, but with bigger balls,

And less sexually transmitted diseases.

 

I will wear all my clothes, all at once,

In no particular order.

I will be hugely, massively, squishably fat.

And wear skin-tight leggings,

And have people talk in scandalised fashion,

About the wobbling of my tremendous thighs,

And my chins, and jiggle of my no longer sexy bosom.

And not care in the slightest.

 

I will clash in a glorious riot of colour,

Of pattern and of style.

If I am not large, I shall go the opposite way,

And be so skinny a gust of wind would blow me over,

Or at least that’s what I will say.

And I will wear voluminous skirts that drown me,

And threaten to trip me over, but I won’t fall.

Because I will be held up by bits of string,

And sticky tape and card and paper that I carry around.

Just in case I might need them.

 

I will challenge complete strangers to races,

On my walking stick, and if they agree,

I will win every time.  Because I will cheat.

Because I am old, and cheeky, and will get away with it.

I will talk to strangers, just like my parents said I shouldn’t.

I will discuss my health in long, vivid description.

Sparing no details, from the hairs in my ears,

To the peculiar discharges I never expected,

From my long-descended vagina.

 

I will write, obsessively, about all that I see,

On the biros I steal from Argos and betting shops.

I will make a bet on the wrong horse.

I will intend to get it wrong, just because.

I don’t need reasons any more for anything.

I am old, I am invisible, I am free from you.

Free from expectation.  Free from derivation.

Free from giving a shit!

 

I will flirt outrageously with anyone and everyone.

Gender be damned, I will twinkle and glow.

I will be adorable and in turn be adored.

Or feared by those who are still in their box.

Too afraid to step outside in technicolour.

Monochrome grey their world of lines,

And rules and guidance and littleness.

I am outside now, outside the box, outside

The rules, outside the society I was suppressed in.

I will be the me I want to be, finally.

 

I will challenge strangers to debate or conversation,

If I see a girl on a walking stick, I will run,

I will hobble and twist and grate to her,

And I will tell her my life so she can know,

That she can be all that she wants to be.

That she can reach for the stars and shine.

That she can be just like me if she wants to.

Like me and my scream of joy at life.

Like me, the great British eccentric.

 

© Tina Price-Johnson 6.1.14

 

Inspired by an old lady who challenged me to a walking stick race as I passed her in my local shopping mall; we then had the most hilarious of chats.  She was in her 80s, clearly and proudly non-conforming and totally free in herself.  I want to be her, so I’m practicing from now on!