Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ssshh! Librarian around

I felt I had to defend the honourable profession of library work. A respectable employment, I should know I was one. The Notes and Queries in today's Guardian included answers to the original query about why there are so many mean portrayals of librarians ("sad", "peculiar" and "petty-minded"). Librarians are usually depicted as geeky intellectuals, sexually repressed and scary. Well, I have worked in the profession for some years and I can tell you... two out of three aint bad!

No, seriously, in the academic institutions I have worked the union activists (many strong women) were usually based in the library and when it came to strike action or even showing solidarity when students go into occupation, the library staff were the first to show support. In my previous job, all the union officials were librarians. And the fact that they have to put up with continuous cuts in budget and stroppy students who lose books.

So, librarians of the world unite you have nothing to lose but the unfair stereotypes....

The death of marriage ? If only .....

I know, I know, I should ignore the ravings of Melanie Phillips.
Her latest are on the subject of giving co-habitees rights similar to those who are married:

Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips told the BBC changing the law would undermine marriage.
She said: "This idea that society is changing and therefore the law has to change to keep up with it is wrong, in my view, historically the law has led the progressive dismemberment of marriage by stripping it progressively of meaning.
"And this is but the latest example of that. The law is based on justice; justice requires that you don't get something for nothing. You don't claim rights if you don't enter into obligations."

Hey Mel, you say that as if it is a bad thing!

A number of issues I have with this.

Firstly, why should the law protect marriage? If people want to marry for religious or moral reasons that is fine and their choice, but why should it be given economic and legal support to prop it up.

"You don't claim rights if you don't enter into obligations."
There is a myth that marriage is a commitment and living together is not. I know of many couples who have lived together for many years. Why is this less than a commitment? In some ways, it could be argued it is more; it does not need a legal document to make it difficult to separate, they choose to be together.

I was in a very long relationship where I co-habited. There was commitment and obligations. There was the same emotional and practical support as if we had been married. At different times, we supported each other financially. We had a joint mortgage and shared all the bills. The argument that by living together you can just walk away when there are problems is rubbish. There are often as many practical and financial issues to resolve, including where to live. There is still the emotional investment and wanting to make it work.

Why should I not have had rights? By that, I mean that we could have shared pension rights, that I could have been next of kin and recognised in the same way as someone who marries. A well as the moral arguments, recognising someone as a partner, there are the practical ones. It is in everyone’s interests to have clear legal and financial arrangements.

Of course, there are some who say why not just marry. Personally, I could not go into an arrangement that I fundamentally disagreed with on principle.

Cohabitees to get new rights

According to the front page of today’s Guardian, there are proposals to give cohabitees similar rights though not equal rights (no surprise there!) as married couples.

This is only a consultation paper so I am sure there will be time for the outrage from the moralists who claim that these proposals will destroy the patriarchal institution of heterosexual wedlock.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Porn: no to censorship

“Women are agents, and not merely victims, who make decisions and act on them, and who desire, seek out and enjoy sexuality”. (Caught Looking: Feminism, Pornography and Censorship)

While listening to the recordings from the Andrea Dworkin Commemorative Conference which happened last month, I was struck by the talk given by FAC (Feminists Against Censorship) speaker, Alison Assiter.

Assiter’s talk broke the cardinal rule by criticising Andrea Dworkin’s stance on porn. One audience member denounced her by saying, “You hate radical feminism more than you hate violence against women”.

Listening to the interchange taking place threw me back to the late 80s where I too was verbally attacked for not taking a pro-censorship position on porn and that it was “obvious” from my views I had not experienced violence (wrong!). Wasn’t I allowed an opinion which deviated from the “official line”? Isn’t feminism about a democratic and open exchange of ideas? I joined FAC 18 months later.

The issue of censorship is back on the feminist agenda (did it ever go away..?) or should I say dominating the feminist agenda. Again, like the debate on prostitution, porn has been heatedly discussed on some of the feminist blogs, with obvious differences of opinion. Interestingly, I also read a piece in Scottish Socialist Voice (Scottish Socialist Party paper) linking rape to porn.

When I listen to younger feminists trot out the anti-censorship line on porn I feel a sense of déjà vu and the feeling that an honest and open debate is once again stifled.

Andrea Dworkin argued that women will be free when porn no longer exists. Women, again similar to prostitution, are powerless, passive one-dimensional victims of patriarchy. There is no account of women as sexual beings with their own desires, needs and enjoying sex.

The most glaringly obvious omission from the pro-censorship position is the lack of recognition of the women who work in the porn industry. What about their demands?

Dworkin and MacKinnon drafted city legislation in Minneapolis and Indianapolis (which eventually were thrown out due to being unconstitutional). It defined exhibition of porn as well as the harm porn does. How do you define harm? The organisation Object also challenges porn on the basis of harm and not “morality”, “taste”, and “decency”. The problem with that argument is that you will be making alliances with the very people who view sex overall as smut and indecent.

Dworkin and MacKinnon seemed to have had no problem with making alliances with homophobic, racist misogynists who championed rolling back the gains the women’s movement had made (Jesse Helms, Coalition for a Clean Community, Citizens for Decency and so on).

Object also argues for “mechanisms to allow the appropriate regulation of the media”. I assume that means censorship?

Another argument used by the pro-censorship supporters is the link between rape and porn. Much of the research is inconsistent and contradictory, especially considering pro-censorship favourite, Edward Donnerstein, has complained that his work was misrepresented by Dworkin and MacKinnon.

Recently, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents published voluntary guidelines regarding “offensive materials”. The “lads mags” and newspapers like the Daily Sport could end up on the top-shelf. The Daily Mail offends me with its racist bilge about “bogus” asylum seekers but hey, I don’t see them being relegated to the top shelf, along with the Sun newspaper. Will these guidelines make women that less oppressed? Out of sight and out of mind?

Porn may reflect the sexism in society but it didn’t create it. Radical feminism has held up censorship of porn as the panacea for the oppression women experience in society. I hate the way women are objectified and degraded in porn but it is important to challenge, question and debate these sexist images and dominant sexual ideologies in a patriarchal capitalist society and not seek censorship. Do we need to be “bound and gagged” by censorship laws? No, I don’t think we do.

Finally, feminism for me, is about being able to democratically debate, discuss and question without censoring ourselves. That is liberation. Personalised attacks and insults destroy the very fabric of our movement.

socialism and sex workers

It has been interesting to read the debates on the feminist blogs, and Louise’s contribution here, on prostitution.

I just wanted to add some thoughts for discussion.

Firstly, I do not see criminalisation, even of just the punters, as effective in either eliminating prostitution or protecting women. Making something illegal does not make it go away, for example prohibition, drugs or abortion. What it does with prostitution is make it more difficult to help the most vulnerable , such as trafficked sex slaves, and puts the money and control in the hands of pimps.

If it is legal it is easier to deal with the pimps and the safety of women. I believe that feminists, and those on the left, should support unions for prostitutes and try to improve conditions. Whether we like it or not it won't just go away. Resources need to focus on tackling the most vulnerable, such as the trafficked women and underage girls, who are forced into prostitution. Support needs to go into helping woman who end up in prostitution through homelessness, poverty, drugs or abuse. Energy and resources need to go to addressing the causes of women needing to be prostitutes.

The debate is also framed in terms of women as prostitutes and men as punters. What about gay rent boys? How does that fit in to the arguments?

There are many degrees of prostitution. The most obvious is straightforward transactions of men paying for one off sex. However, what about men who ‘buy’ brides from developing countries? Would that young woman who is desperately poor really choose to marry that middle-aged western man if it was not for the financial security?

We need to work to help and support those who are prostitutes in society today.

What about society as we might want it to be.
Even with supporting women to get out of prostitution, even in a nice sparkly socialist world, will there still be prostitution?

Would any woman want to be a prostitute if they had a real choice? I think it is not easy to answer that. If someone was faced with menial work (and that will still exist, even with better pay and conditions) would prostitution be preferable?

Will men still want prostitutes? Why do men visit prostitutes? That is a fundamental question that will not just go away with the end of capitalism. It goes to the heart of how men and women view sex. I hope that society would be more open about gender roles and sexuality. I would like to see a society where people are not faced with the pressure to conform to nice nuclear family units, a world less judgemental about women and sex. So if we are free to live as we choose, without the conditioning of how men and women should be (ok, this is close to fantasyland), where would that leave prostitution?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Head in the sand New Labour

Labour MP Ann Clwyd has attacked fellow party members who "continually snipe" at its leadership.

She states :

"A small number of individuals are giving the idea there is a big rift in the Labour party," she told BBC News. ......."I talk to more people than most in my own party - and they are very angry. "Very loyal supporters of the Labour Party say, 'What on earth is happening?
"'We elected this prime minister. We elected this government. Why don't they get on with it. And why don't these other people just go away.'"

Im sure there are some who feel like that in the Party. There are many others , some not even that left wing, who feel disgusted by the behaviour of the Party. Many members feel they cannot actively campaign for a Party that has moved so far from even the soft left reformist agenda that Labour once represented. They feel disgusted by the way Blair cossies up to Bush , by the taint of sleaze that hangs over the Party as it moves further from any principles and its roots to one of big business. It has become a Party and leadership that seems unable to accept any responsibility for its unpopularity and electoral losses in the local elections.

Ann quotes the members she is talking to. I wonder if she has had chats with the 300 odd councillors who lost their seats in the last set of local elections ? Has she wondered where the 200,000 members who have left since 97 have gone ?

I never had any illusions that the Party would implement a radical left wing agenda once in power, but after so many years under the Tories I just wanted to get rid of them. Labour had to be better ? Ok I'm sure many on the left would call that naive . My position was that the Tories had created such misery and devastation, often to those most vulnerable, that soft left reformism would at least alleviate the suffering.

Nine years later I don't think there is any substantial difference in New Labour and New Tories. That's why we are 'sniping' Ann. With much justification.

She quotes members as saying "And why don't these other people just go away.'" Well Ann, as I have pointed out many have. I'm glad you feel that the Party is strong enough at the grass roots level that it can afford to haemorrhage further activists. Not sure if the big business donors fancy a bit of leafletting and all the dull work that needs to go on locally. As they start to desert , and the money dries up,will there still be the activists who fund raised and donated money for many years.

As someone who worked hard for the Party when it was not in power and was very unpopular, who was called a traitor for canvassing in a solid naval town during the Falklands war and faced hostility, I can no longer argue with people to vote labour. Not sure if I can convince myself anymore.

And one more rant ! The reference to 'loyal' Party members. I personally think Blair is disloyal to the Party. He has no time or respect for the ordinary Party members , the unions or any Party democracy and accountability. He has even talked of his admiration for Thatcher ! If he could persuade Cameron to defect I expect he would back him as successor. And don't get me started on the special relationship with Bush !
So I don't need a lecture on loyalty .

"And why don't these other people just go away.'"
I'm pretty close to saying to the Party I have been a member of for 26 years , Fuck you, I'll go then.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Cherie and her hair

Cherie Booth has given an interview on the World Service. She defends the £7,7oo hairdressers bill during the general election :

"Honestly - what a load of fuss about trivia! It's something about women, isn't it?
"Who noticed, or who made a big fuss, that the Tory Party paid £3,500 for the leader of the oppositions's make-up?
"But women and their hair, women and their appearance - it's part of the thing that we seem to suffer."

Im sorry but this is not a case of sexism pure and simple. Ok I do agree that women get judged more harshly on their appearances. To a certain extend men do as well , but not to the same level. What Cherie does not seem to grasp is why people criticise her. Its not about her looks for the most part.

She allows own goals for the media to attack her. She , and her husband, are seen as grabbing of freebies. For someone aligned to New labour and its spin, she seems to exercise incredibly poor judgement. An example of this is the signing of the Hutton report. How could she not see criticism of that coming a mile off. Cherie has said it was a private event - there is no such thing in politics and someone of her experience should know that.

To most of us £7,700 is not trivial. Its not trivial to Party activists (ok, the handful that still exist) who campaign.

Of course Howard and his make up was a ridiculous use of their Parties funds. But to say , look the Tories did it so its ok is not good enough. The Tories had sleaze , so its ok for Labour to. The Tories get money from big business so its ok for New labour.

The argument that others do something does not excuse or make good a behaviour. Its a further example of how out of touch New labour is with reality .

Both Cherie and Tony seem incapable of really listening to the criticisms of them and the Party. When will either of them hold their hands up and say I'm wrong, I should not have done that, the people (not the media) are not happy or are critical? Take some responsibilty !

Friday, May 26, 2006

Enron: go directly to jail

Reasons to be cheerful on a Friday include former Enron bosses Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling being found guilty of fraud. Skilling, who looked very shocked (ha!) by the verdict, could face, along with Lay, between 20 and 30 years in prison. The 2 men are free until sentencing, which is scheduled for 11 September. Just hope they don't do a runner!

Enron epitomised corporate capitalism, the super-rich bosses who made fortunes worth some $400m while ordinary people struggle to make ends meet.

So I am glad these greedy money grabbing men with their noses in the troughs got what they deserved.

I wonder if Dubya will be visiting his old mate "Kenny Boy" in jail?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

It is all in the face

According to research conducted by Dr Lynda Boothroyd of St Andrews University, an unhappy childhood has an impact on your face. Girls who grow up without a father, or where parents argue, are likely to look "masculine". Girls with happy parents are more likely to develop into women perceived as "feminine". Women participating in the study were separated into 3 groups and asked about their childhood. Photographs were the taken of the women. The faces of women who had happy childhoods have a more "oval shape, more curved eyebrows and bigger eyes" and "this is clearly a more feminine face" than women who had an unhappy childhood

As Dorothy Parker said, what fresh hell is this? So a woman who had a happy childhood looks like a cast member from the telly programme, Hollyoaks and a woman, like myself, who had a difficult, unhappy and traumatic childhood, looks like the bride of Frankenstein.

Firstly, why was the research only focusing on women and not men? Men too can have unhappy childhoods. And how do the researchers interpret beauty? Are they saying women who look "masculine" are ugly and women who look "feminine" are beautiful? I have looked at the some of the examples of the photos and I can't tell the difference.

This bizarre and deterministic notion is purely based on sexist assumptions on how a woman should look as we live in a society, which is saturated with images of the "perfect woman". This so-called scientific investigation just exaggerates this myth. Does it matter how we look and shouldn't research concentrate more on how an unhappy childhood impacts on later life?

There is an assumption as well that girls growing up without a dad will ultimately cause them unhappiness. I really despair at this simplicity as many people have different experiences, good and bad, of growing up with or without both parents. This study seems to me to be holding up the heterosexual nuclear family as a shining example of happiness.

Yes, stress and unhappiness takes its toll on adults as well as children, along with the daily grind of life and it will have an impact on how you look but to reduce it to gender stereotypes and the beauty myth is utterly foolish. It is all skin deep.

Cheers Dr Boothroyd, you made my day

I have used the picture of Elsa Lancaster as the Bride of Frankenstein as I like it and think she looks stunning.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Stroppyblog - "Euston Manifesto Free Zone"

Tomorrow is the launch for the Euston Manifesto, an event eagerly awaited in the virtual world of political blogs. All the leftie men who sit in front of their laptops can emerge to continue their arguments in the real world (well relatively real ) . Afterwards I am sure the debate will continue back at the blogs with much point scoring and political insults. I use the term leftie loosely of course . I realise there is much debate about what is left, what is right and is the EM left, neo liberal or neo con and is that a bad thing..... Oh my head is starting to hurt .

Personally the more I read on the blogs about the EM the more I lose the will to live. So if anyone else out there in blog world wants to escape then I can guarantee that this will be a EM Free Zone for the following few days . Oh the power, it feels like 1980s in Lambeth all over again. Perhaps I can fly a virtual flag . I reserve the right of course to change my mind if something inspiring emerges.

I'm not going to the event. I think even watching paint dry (which is not to dissimilar to listening to old male lefties argue) might hold more appeal. I'm off to hear Christopher Hitchens talk at the Brighton Festival.

Wal-Mart: the high cost of low price

I am still angry after watching the documentary. It was thorough and left no stone unturned when it came to exposing Wal-Mart's exploitative and abusive behaviour. The film starts with a speech by Lee Scott, Wal-Mart CEO, at a conference and various soft -focus Wal-Mart advertisements; interspersed with real life stories from former "associates" (Wal-Mart doesn't like using "employees").

The viewer is taken on a global expedition to countries where Wal-Mart exists. In the UK, we have Asda, which is part of the Wal-Mart empire. In Newham, the Queens Road market, which is 105 years old, is likely to be demolished to make way for an Asda. Market stallholders have been campaigning and petitioning the Blairite Newham council to stop this development. There is already an Asda in the area, so why are they desperate to build another one?

Grim statistics are presented while the viewer is entertained by Lee Scott maintaining that "associates" are treated well when in reality this is far from the case.

Pay and Conditions: low pay and fiddling the time cards
Wal-Mart drives down retails wages by $4.7 billion every year (UC Berkeley Labor Center)

In 2004, Wal-Mart employees were costing the taxpayer in California $86 million annually due to public assistance programs.
(Hidden Costs of Wal-Mart Jobs, UC Berkeley Labor Centre)

Former employers stated in the documentary that they couldn't afford Wal-Mart's own insurance. So they were encouraged to go on welfare by management. Wal-Mart denied this but it is backed up internal documents.

Former managers were informed on many occasions to keep the number of employees from being full-time, as many as possible by keeping them part-time.

In Texas it is estimated that Wal-Mart workers have been cheated out of up to 1 hundred and fifty million dollars in unpaid wages.

In the documentary, former managers gave examples of deleting time from workers' time cards.

This also reminded me of one of the chapters in Barbara Ehrenreich's book, Nickel and Dimed, which was about working for Wal-Mart. In the chapter, she wrote about their "time theft" policy. In other words if you are not working constantly on the job then you are stealing from them! That really is a joke considering that the pay is a pittance, they watch your every move and well, it is enough to instil fear and demoralisation.

Wal-Mart settled a class action suit for $50 million in Colorado for 69,000 current and former Wal-Mart workers who had worked off the clock.

There were many women in this documentary who couldn't make "ends meet",once they paid the bills, housing and child care. Wal-Mart just didn't pay. One woman said that once she got her pay check she paid it back to them as she did her shopping at Wal-Mart and couldn't afford to shop anywhere else.

Average earnings annually of an associate: $13,861
Annual earnings of Scott Lee, Wal-Mart CEO: $27,207,799

Equal Opportunities: Discrimination all the way
Black and women former workers spoke of racism and sexism. One Black woman asked her manager why she kept being passed over for promotion. The manager’s reply was that there was “no place for people like you in management”. One former manager said that women were described as “useless”.

Wal-Mart is facing a class action lawsuit brought by current and former women workers claiming discrimination. (Liza Featherstone – “Selling women short” 2004)

Global exploitation
One of the most poignant scenes is from a Chinese woman, based in Wal-Mart’s factory in Shenzhen. You glimpse the squalid dorm these workers live in and the rent is docked from their wages.

The woman called, “Princess” spoke of the inhumane working conditions such as the oppressive heat and the lack of fans. Her day starts at 8am and finishes at 10pm. She rarely gets to see her boyfriend.

She faces the camera and asks Wal-Mart customers to think what she and her co-workers are put through to produce the items they buy.

It is a similar story in Bangladesh while an ex-manager, who was based in Honduras, believed in the “Wal-Mart dream”, was sacked. His crime? For speaking out against inhumane working conditions.

No need for unions as we are family…
Ex-managers spoke about watching out for potential union activists and ex-workers spoke of keeping out of the way of these “bolshie” individuals. Wal-Mart have a unintentionally hilarious corporate video explaining why unions are bad because they “take your money”. That is rich coming from Wal-Mart.

$7,000 anti-union cameras per store
$30,000 spy van per store
$100,000 24 hour anti-union hotline
$7,000,000 rapid response team with corporate jet

Workers and shoppers have been attacked and killed in the car park area as there is no security. The security cameras are inside the stores watching out for union activity.

The all American Walton family: money grabbing corporate capitalists
What of Walton family? And I am not talking John Boy Walton but a bunch of exploiters who all live in luxury pads and even have a bunker!

Matriarch Helen Walton is worth $18 billion
They donate 1% of their profits to charity while Bill Gates donates 58%.
But they contribute $3.2 million in political contributions
In 2004, fellow workers donated $5million to a hardship fund while the Walton family donated….. the princely sum of $6,000.

The people strike back!
Wal-Mart receives millions to set up shop, tax cuts and subsidies. Once in position they hoover up the competition in no time at all. The place becomes a ghost town.

But it is not all doom and gloom as campaigners in towns in Arkansas and California successfully stopped Wal-Mart moving in. As a woman campaigner asks, how can the Walton family be Christians when they make profits off the backs of the poor.


Workers of the world…
The faceless, invisible low paid workers are the ones who are the bedrock of the economy. These exploited people who cannot make ends meet while Wal-Mart’s founders are billionaires. Only 25.5% of American workers have a job that pays at least $16 per hour and provides health insurance and a pension. Wal-Mart could easily provide insurance and pension but instead encourages workers to ask for public assistance. And now there are actions against Wal-Mart regarding fiddling pay and discrimination cases.

There was one good piece of news regarding pay in the UK where
health workers in Cumbria won their equal pay case. Workers had at last won recognition for what they do .

Barbara Ehrenreich concludes that the low paid will, “tire of getting so little in return and demand to be paid what they’re worth. There’ll be a lot of anger when that day comes, and strikes and disruption. But sky will not fall, and we will all be better off for it in the end”.

(Nickel and Dimed: undercover in low-wage USA)

And it seems that workers are tiring of the exploitation as Asda/Wal-Mart workers are balloting for strike action

The GMB are holding screenings of this documentary

Information about the documentary and the ongoing campaigns against Wal-Mart

United Food and Commercial Workers

Barbara Ehrenreich

Violence against women... walk on by

A woman screams and nobody does anything to help her. Juan Zhang from Melbourne was murdered and dumped in her car. Witnesses heard blood curdling screams but did nothing.


It echoes the case of Kitty Genovese who was murdered while 38 separate witnesses heard her screams and some saw her being attacked yet did nothing to raise the alarm.

I heard a woman scream while I was waiting for a tube and witnessed
people gawping as a man beat-up a woman. People just stared and moved on.

It was rush hour and there were plenty of witnesses. They chose to display their lack of a backbone by walking on by.

I intervened and got the staff from the station involved. The
violent man was visibly shocked as I actually believe he thought he had got away with it. But I am sure many of those people who saw it probably assumed it was a “domestic” and thought, no need to intervene, as the woman “won’t thank you” for it (I have heard all the crappy stereotypes and myths connected to domestic violence).

The reason I didn’t ignore the screams and the pleas from this woman was because I wouldn’t have forgiven myself.

I am appalled and stunned by these people who chose to ignore the screams of Juan Zhang. Interestingly, I have read that if you are being attacked you should shout/scream “fire” because people are more likely to take it seriously. Scary but true.

How many more women, like Juan Zhang and Kitty Genovese who desperately tried to make themselves heard, are ignored?

Thanks to Solidarity and Sisterhood for making me aware of this case.

'Hip' politicians

Why do they do it. We have Cameron cycling around , talking about happiness and cadging tickets to party with the Beckhams . Now Brown has given an interview to New Woman magazine, reported on the BBC news page.

He references Rabbits and 'Sex and the City' , talks about 'Team Jolie' , gets coy about his underpants and says his wife thinks George Clooney should play him in a film. Interspersed is some talk of the concept of Britishness and the role of fathers in their children's lives. So a little policy amongst the respinning of the dour sensible image.

It gets worse when he says whats on his i-pod (de rigueur for any aspiring trendy leader). Coldplay , bland and annoying but could live with. But James Blunt. Arghhh.

So sod the politics, which are BlairMk2 , his musical taste should disqualify him from the leadership campaign. Now I wonder what John Reid listens to.......

Big Brother

I know it is an easy target , but the latest Big Brother does seem to have plumbed new depths . I admit I have not watched it. I have though read reports of the contestant, Shahbaz Choudhary, who has walked out after less than a week.

In a bid to up ratings and keep alive a tired format, Channel 4 have collected together a ragbag of attention seekers. So what, its just entertainment. The problem is when they put someone who is vulnerable into a highly stressful goldfish bowl , watched by millions , as they start to crack. This is not the first time of course, it has happened mostly with the 'celebrity' versions.

Shahbaz threatened on air to kill himself . Hey never mind the first people to shag on BB, here we have potentially the first on air suicide ! Channel 4 state he was screened to ensure he was mentally stable to appear. It does not seem a very effecctive process to me. It would seem ratings are more important than the human cost.

As I said I have not actually watched any of it but it seems Shahbaz's behaviour was concerning enough for the Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation to write to Channel 4 expressing concerns.

It seems we now have the high tech version of the 'freak show' of Victorian times, parading the vulnerable and the mentally unwell. And at the risk of coming over all PC ( and whats so wrong about that anyway) I would like to see people who have mental health problems shown in a more positive light.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Madonna back to form ?

I must admit I have found the latest incarnations of Madonna tiresome - the English country lady, the spiritual waffle, the respectable yummy mummy who writes children's books and the 'lesbian' kiss with Britney (have some taste woman !). Ok she was never that radical, but in the past she did upset the establishment with videos such as Like a Prayer with its black Jesus and sexual undertones. She was seen as strong and at least had more personality than the identikit girl bands that pass for 'girl power' today.

So I am pleased to see she can still upset people with her latest tour , dressing in SM riding outfits and being suspended from a mirrored cross :

David Muir of the Evangelical Alliance also accused the singer of "blatant insensitivity".
"Madonna's use of Christian imagery is an abuse and it is dangerous," he said.

If people are offended they do not have to go and watch Madonna or buy her CDs. If someone's religious beliefs are strong why feel threatened ? Why is it dangerous? Its more dangerous if we go down the line of censoring what we do not like .

Shock! Horror! Women still paid less than men

According to the Office of National Statistics, published today, women are still paid less than men. The national average wage is £569 for men and £436 for women, which is a difference of £133, or £6,916 a year. In London, men take £790 and women £567. London has the biggest pay gap between men and women, followed by the South East (£150) and the East (£148). In poorer areas the disparity is narrower.

It is over 30 years since the Equal Pay Act came into force and yet women are still being paid less. And the Government, dynamic as ever, has introduced an equal pay questionnaire and have funded the Equal Pay Commission (EOC) to develop 2 equal pay reviews for small and large companies. I think we won't be too surprised by the findings.

Ruth Kelly being secretary of state with responsibility for equalities, you know, the one who endeavours to "fight discrimination wherever it exists". Well Ruth, this is a very good one to start with by flexing some anti-discrimination muscle.

But cynical me, I won't hold my breath.

Women and Equality Unit

Monday, May 22, 2006

Ruth Kelly: ambiguous as ever

In the latest Pink Paper, it is reported that Ruth Kelly turned down a request for an interview with the paper. Instead one of her staff sent the non-committal and ambiguous statement. The one we have heard before.

“As secretary of state with responsibility for equalities, I will fight discrimination wherever it exists, whether it be on the grounds of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief, or age.”

Hell Ruth, anyone can say the above as it is so abstract and meaningless. C’mon, define what you mean without the ambiguity. And don’t you think you are alienating lesbian and gay voters?

So the question I ask is, who exactly is Ruth Kelly accountable to as an elected public official, Opus Dei or the Labour Party?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Tony Blair and his fantastic pension

So Tony Blair and his cabinet are going to get a pension worth £25m. That's according to today's Observer. I don't hear "greedy" being lobbed at them by Sir Digby Jones.

This is what they will get each year:

Tony Blair: £123,000
Jack Straw: £58,000
Gordon Brown: £53,000

Weekly state pension: £75

One rule for them and another for those "selfish" public sector workers.

Talking of workers being paid a pittance, I am off to see the documentary Wal-mart: the high cost of low price. Will post something later about it.

Sex for asylum

On the front page of today's Observer there is a shocking piece about a young woman seeking asylum who was offered, by the chief immigration officer at Lunar House in Croydon, help with her case in return for sex.

This woman had been raped in Zimbabwe and was still experiencing violence while in the UK. Instead of advising her in a professional way, this official saw her as a target for sexual exploitation. This exposes how abusive, oppressive, exploitative the immigration laws are and this case is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Here's a thought, Mr Reid, what about scrapping the racist immigration laws!

Saturday, May 20, 2006


I see Fathers4Justice have made a reappearance. Unfortunately they only serve to polarise what needs to be a calm debate about how to best meet the needs of children when parents separate. A starting point would be to stop talking about the rights of mothers and fathers. Its about their responsibilities to the children they brought into this world.

The situation is more complex than F4J would want the media and public to believe. I would firstly like to state my position before elaborating on this. I believe as a society we need to recognise that both parents love their children and no one wins when families break up. Women have battled for years to get men to play their part in the bringing up of children. I do recognize that men are hurt when they no longer live with their children. As feminists we need to encourage men to remain in contact and recognize they have feelings.

Back to F4J. The reality is that there are still men out there who do not contribute or keep in touch with their children. Single mums are vilified but left holding the baby and the father no where to be seen. There are men who are violent to either their ex partner or their children.Courts have forced women to have contact with violent ex partners. There are cases of women and their children killed by ex partners . A recent Guardian article discussed these issues .

The starting point should be the children , their rights and needs . Both parties need to put aside hurt and anger and find a way to still be parents and minimise the distress for their children. F4J have to accept that there are times when it is not in the child interests to see their father, when there has been violence or abuse to the child . Where there has been domestic violence and there is a danger to the ex partner then contact may not be possible. A blanket right for fathers to see their children is not possible. Rights are not a given.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Prostitution: one solution = decriminalisation!

I have been reading various pieces on feminist blogs about prostitution. Blogs usually that I have the utmost respect for but when it comes to debating prostitution their arguments astound me.

How do radical feminists envisage making prostitution go away? I read in their arguments more laws in the aim of criminalising men but this will in turn have a negative impact on the women they are trying to “protect”. There is also a depiction of women who work as prostitutes as “eternal victims” who are one dimensional crack addicts. But what is also missing from this analysis is whether the depiction is true and what of sex workers themselves.

The International Union of Sex Workers campaign for the decriminalisation of all aspects of sex work involving consenting adults.

They believe they have the right to join unions and did so by merging with the GMB London region in 2002. They see sex work as the same as other forms of employment. But is that true?

Under capitalism and patriarchy, sexual relationships like everything else are a commodity. Alexandra Kollontai saw the hypocrisy and the contradictions in capitalism when she wrote that bourgeois society actively encourages prostitution with an exploitative economy while at the same time condemning the woman who enters the profession. Therefore criminalising sex workers only exacerbates their working conditions.

Frankly, socialists and feminists should be fighting to overturn the archaic laws on prostitution and to end the stigmatisation of sex workers instead of creating an image of sex workers as passive victims who need “protection”.

The government’s latest review of the prostitution laws chose to ignore the calls for decriminalisation and self regulation instead they continue to stereotype, criminalise and stigmatise sex workers.

As one sex worker argues, we are all working women who need money and are exploited like millions of women are everyday and that as women we can organise together. So, instead of picketing Spearmint Rhino shouldn’t we be working in solidarity with sex workers and not alienating and isolating them?

Surely sex workers, whether people who have chosen their work in as free a way as any worker chooses their work, or whether as sex slaves, need to be listened to. What is it that they want to fight for? What form of solidarity do they think they need? As Angela Davis maintains, prostitution along with the drug industry should be decriminalised.

Capitalism sucks! It screws us all around. Aren’t we all on our backs?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

'conservative' left

Following on from my last post I thought I would just throw in some thoughts for the left.

The left seems to be moving backwards on issues of sexism and homophobia, dropping principles whenever it seems expedient.

For me it seems that a world with the left in charge would still be 'conservative' in the social policy sense . Sorry but i'm not convinced discrimination would suddenly go away .

But its more than just an absence of discrimination, its about reassessing gender roles and the concept of families, about the fundamental structures in society. Whats so special about families and marriage? Many people today do not live in conventional families but have networks of friends. Their way of life is as valid . There is support and friendship that is based on choice, not by birth.

So perhaps we could have a world where no one really cared what MPs did in their private life as long as it was consensual. A non judgemental world.
Of course if people chose to live conventional lives they would not be judged, as they often judge today. If someone was religious that would be their choice, as long as they did not impose its rules on others.

The chances of the left really challenging their own views, and how they act, of course is highly unlikely at the moment.

AUT/Natfhe teaching boycott

First it was "greedy" public sector workers and now it is lecturers. Well, that's according to Sir Digby Jones, who says that he cannot believe that the future of students across the country is being "held to ransom" by lecturers. And I am sure Sir Digby receives an exceptional salary for attacking workers having the audacity to complain about their pay.

Lecturers' in Natfhe and the AUT have voted to boycott setting exams, marking work and also have agreed to walk out if necessary. They are pushing for a 23% pay increase over 3 years while employers have offered 12.6%. NUS has given lukewarm support though Kat Fletcher is worried about how the disruption by lecturers' will have an impact on students. Various student unions' around the UK have condemned the action by the teaching unions as "selfish".

Now, as a union activist myself, I get rather sick of hearing words like "greedy" and "selfish" chucked around.

I used to work in an academic institution (very expensive one) and remember being condemned by the SU President for being "selfish" as Unison activisits were striking over London Weighting. The strike was for 1 day yet that was enough for a rich ex-public school boy to rant at me. I remember being in a meeting with him when he was asked about student poverty and he looked puzzled. He replied that from what he'd read, student poverty was bad for morale. Stating the bleeding obvious, me thinks!

It puzzled me too how students could have voted for this posh twit who spoke about poverty in the abstract and saw unions going on strike as bad. Thankfully, many students' in the college didn't cross the picket line as we had organised ourselves in conjunction with the other unions, including the AUT.

Yes, I can understand the students being anxious and worried about their essays and exams including the fear they may have problems graduating.

But come on NUS, show some collective muscle by demonstrating against New Labour and showing solidarity with the unions rather than keeping your heads down and expecting to get a nice cushy number in the government as recompense.

More than just a bad hair day

I have to admit as someone who canvassed for Tatchell in Bermondsey I was pleased to see Hughes lose the Lib dem leadership election. Part of me felt concerned that the Lib Dems (and the public in general) still expect their leaders to be nice heterosexual family men and women. The other part was glad that Hughes received a taste of his own medicine, having gained all those years back from the homophobic abuse heaped on Tatchell, whilst he remained firmly in the closet.

Oaten , the other 'outed' Lib Dem, was silly to talk about hair loss. As well as setting himself up for being a laughing stock, it avoided the real issue as to whether he is gay/bisexual and why many in politics still feel the need to hide behind the family facade.

I have no problem with critiicising the Lib Dems for hypocrisy around gay rights, but I do have with the barely hidden homophobic schoolboy 'jokes' about Mark Oaten. A recent example is the caption competition on Guido. Of course this blog does not set itself up as being enlightened . Its commentators proudly act as schoolboys giggling at gay men, rating the attractiveness of women MPs and such like. But similar jokes are heard on the left as well.

Of course there are out lesbian and gay MPs, but still many hide their real sexuality. For all the scaremongering amongst the world of the Daily Mail all main political parties present and promote a heterosexual family image. Cuddly Cameron shows off his new baby, Blair talks about 'hard working families' and of course we have SM queen Ruth who will be the Govts Equalities representative.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Wait for the revolution, babe

I suppose my own reasons for setting up this blog are similar to Stroppybird. My political knowledge and experiences come from the revolutionary left and Trotskyism. Being both a socialist and feminist are connected. You cannot have one without the other.

Well, that is my view and unfortunately not a view shared by many on the Left. Women's liberation and liberation politics overall have fallen by the political wayside as these demands are seen as an add on at the end of the programme. Something which can easily be ditched at the end of the day. Demands which are expendable.

Are we to wait for the glorious revolution to be finally liberated (when they have finally got to us in the pecking order)..?

Well not me comrade, I am all for fighting oppression in the here and now and demanding that all liberation is integral in the fight for socialism.

That really sums up my "line" on things and I hope that this blog serves as a springboard for debates around ...whatever takes our fancy.

Goodnight, as it is way past my bedtime.

'Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime'

In amongst the media hysteria about 'foreign' criminals and the Human Rights Act is the tragic case of Valerie Hayes .
Valerie was found dead at Styal Prison last Wednesday, after a previous suicide attempt and self harming. Her history is a sad one. Drug addiction resulted in her children being taken into care. She spent 10 years in and out of a psychiatric hospital. In 2004 she set fire to family photographs , and with one previous spell in prison behind her for a petty crime, was sentenced to 27 months for arson. Its claimed by friends she tried to put out the flames and call the fire brigade when the fire got out of hand. Even if she didn't do this it would seem the action of an unwell woman whose life was falling apart and family destroyed through drugs, not a criminal trying to cause harm and damage.

Blair meanwhile is trying to out do Cameron on blaming and attacking the Human Rights Act. He talks about reasonableness and common sense.
So where was the common sense in sending someone like Valerie to prison. She needed help with her addiction and her mental health problems. She was more a risk to herself than members of the public , the 'decent' 'hardworking' people Blair seeks to speak to and for. Did Blair speak out about the justice system that criminalises the unwell and vulnerable in our society. Did he ask where was the common sense in a judgment that offered prison not psychiatric help. Of course not, middle England are concerned about foreigners running amok. The Valerie's of this world are seen as undeserving , not part of the hardworking families that Blair is so fond of.

If Blair wants to look at changing the balance of the justice system perhaps he should take a look at the figures for self harm, suicide and women prisoners. The female prison population has increased from 2,600 to about 4,600 since 1997. Two-thirds of the female prison population show symptoms of at least one neurotic disorder and/or have a drug problem. 37% of female prisoners say they have attempted suicide at least once.
This is an indictment of both the justice and mental health system.

Its not just women of course who self harm and commit suicide in prison. There are many vulnerable men in our prisons. Like women, many have been homeless, suffered abuse as children, have drug problems or mental health problems.

So when Blair talks about getting tough on the criminals and of common sense, where does that leave the vulnerable in our society who are more a risk to themselves than anyone else.

Deafening silence from Blair on this one.

Why stroppyblog

I'm generally disillusioned with the left and its lack of any real commitment to a principled position on women , lesbian/gay/bisexual and transgender people or any real equalities/discrimination issues. Going on the recent anti war demo it felt like the 1980's all over again . I marched behind the Outrage banner and overheard some people laughing at a gay group and even calling people 'poufs'. I was told that I shouldn't criticism the 'resistance' on its record of killing lesbian and gay people , and that their deaths were 'unfortunate'. Apparently it will all get sorted out once the occupiers are repelled . Right and the tooth fairy really exists!

The pro war left are not much better, arguing in a recent Harry's playground thread that yes there are homophobic killings but it wasn't any better under Saddam. That's irrelevant, two wrongs don't make a right. Criticism of the current situation does not imply praise of the old.
The recent thread on feminism, also in HP, brought out the reactionary attitudes to women .Apparently we all want to stay at home having babies and feminists are ugly hairy legged dykes. As I say it felt like reading a headline from the Daily Mail circa 1980.

So I wanted a place where I could argue my case, hopefully intelligently, and sometimes just rant !

I would like an informed discussion and debate. Failing that if I piss off people who I feel deserve to be offended then my life has been worthwhile. Particular people to annoy would be the schoolboys whose arguments on male left blogs (MLBs) veer from telling women they should criticise Prescott for sexist behaviour( thanks for telling me, being just a girlie I might not have noticed that) to lefties who tell me that I am distracting from the real issues ( that would be the Euston Manifesto then, debated by the rarefied species of left male bloggers who need to get out a bit more) , those that say feminism has been won ( of course it has, it was always about the right to buy Manolos and watch lapdancers) and of course the religious reactionaries who want to impose their views on what is right and wrong.

So Myself and Louise have set up this blog. Louise will say her bit later about why she wants to blog.

Saturday, May 13, 2006