Trying something new

If you’re narrow minded, don’t bother reading on because you won’t like what you find.

I am not really a fan of writing personal blogs on here, mainly because I suspect the people who follow the blog are (understandably) more interested in reading about political/feministy stuff going on. I try to keep it impersonal. But I wanted to share something that some people might want to read.

This whole year for me has been one of doing new things, having new experiences, and figuring myself out, and figuring out what I like and what makes me happy. Trying to become more balanced and all that guff.

I’ll start this particular learning curve with some background information. My gran, bless her, is a stubborn 80 year old woman who is one of the most cynical people you could ever meet. She reads the Daily Mail like it’s gospel, strongly dislikes any form of religion, and is er, well, a force to be reckoned with. So imagine our surprise when she started having Reiki treatments a few years ago. It’s totally out of character for her, and my first thought was, she’s probably going to really hate the poor guy doing it when she realises it’s a con. But she did it a few times and she loved it. Now, she wouldn’t be without it. Her Reiki practitioner sees her regularly, and they’re now close friends.

I’ve been interested in alternative stuff for as long as I can remember. I don’t absolutely believe in anything but I’m an open minded person that needs some kind of proof in order to believe in things (no religion for me!)… I went on a retreat of sorts this year – and I came away feeling like I’d learned a lot but now realise I have yet to utilise the tools I’ve learned. I did a meditation class, and I really enjoyed it. I found when I was in a certain position that my hands burned hot, like they were radiating heat. I wasn’t near a radiator, and nothing else in my body was warm – how weird is that? I tried Reiki and I saw a Clairvoyant. I didn’t notice much of a difference with Reiki other than I left feeling more positive and proactive, and the Clairvoyant stuff… I found that really useful too, but I don’t really want to talk about that in a public forum.

What with being one of the vast numbers of unemployed graduates in this country, I’ve had to think of ways to keep myself amused, to keep my spirits up (have had my own brushes with mental illness in the past and I don’t want a repeat of that thankyouverymuch!)… I’ve taught myself how to sew, I’ve learned to use a lucet; new recipes; tried to learn to crochet (and failed); I’ve read Fuck It; learned about new feminist theory; I’ve had a great experience meditating; I saw a Clairoyant for the first time… I’ve been to one of those creepy talks about the power of the mind and I decided I didn’t need to buy someone else’s book to realise what I already know. And now I’m stuck again. It’s been about six months since I left Uni, but it feels like forever.

SO. I’ve decided to sign up to learn Reiki myself! Bit weird, considering I felt like I hadn’t really gained much from it. But my gran swears by it, and she would be the first person to tell me if it was nonsense. Luckily her practitioner is also a Master which means he can teach others – I met him, and we finally managed to get some dates sorted to do it. He is the most normal sort of person you could meet – I expected a soft-talking, stereotypical spiritualist kind of person. He actually reminds me of my mechanic – you wouldn’t look at him and think he is into spiritual stuff, let alone teaching it! So that was reassuring. I also thought that at £5 an hour, his course is remarkably cheap – cheap enough to write off as a bad judgement/mistake if I don’t feel it does anything. I start the first level (there’s 3 levels in Reiki) in a couple of weeks – I’m really nervous but also pretty excited. I’m doing it alongside a lovely Australian lady who is really spiritual and totally open-minded and prepared for anything, which is great. I don’t know if I will do the second, it really depends what happens.

Why am I posting this? Well, I wanted to see how people would react, I know for a lot of people it’s way too ‘out there’. I’d really like to blog as I go, after each class, and see how I feel it’s doing. I know it’s not political, I know it’s very personal, but I actually haven’t read that much about Reiki or experiences of learning Reiki/how it feels to do it to somebody else. Now I’ve explained it all and hopefully someone is still reading… Thoughts?

Some basic trans intro links

To start with I want to clarify: I am not trans, I am a straight ciswoman. There are a few reasons I wanted to post this (just a collection of links) – partly for myself and my own ongoing education in trans issues, and partly because perhaps some others might find it useful too. I was helped along by a few people on Twitter who gave me some of the links, so I’d like to say thank you to them for that.

Authors! If you’ve written something below and want your name/twitter name credited to it, or if you want the link to be removed, please leave a comment & let me know.

Queer Dictionary. I go back to this if I ever come across a word or an acronym in the following posts that I don’t understand, and it explains a lot. Pretty good for referencing back to, I think. This glossary of terms is also good.

Trans 101. The answers to questions you probably wanted to ask but were too scared to.

Not Your Mom’s Trans 101. Great 101 post covering all aspects of trans issues.

Gender – WTF? by @SonniesEdge – What it’s like to be trans.

A few great posts on the F word from a trans perspective. Especially like this one about newly found privilege, and how transitioning from F to M made the author a feminist.

Talking of new-found privilege – Hello Testosterone, Hello Heteronormative Privilege.

Feministe post, What Trans Means To Me.

Some articles about children or young people who are trans here.

Some tropes (same website)

‘Trans women are still men, right? Trans men are still women?’ No.

‘Trans women have patriarchal privilege.’ No.

‘Trans people treat gender as if it was not socially constructed.’ No.

‘Trans women are really just men in dresses, right?’ No.

There’s a few others on that website, Questioning Transphobia. All pretty interesting.

The conundrum of democracy

Quick one related to stuff I’m talking about on Twitter. Just some stream-of-consciousness thoughts…

We’re in a representative democracy. We vote MPs in and they vote ‘on our behalf’ [Without going into too much detail I have issues with this anyway - do you vote for party? For personality? For their manifesto? Manifestos get ignored. Letters to MPs get ignored. How do they represent people, exactly?] and then … That’s that. We tick some boxes on one day and we’ve had our say for the next few years.

Interesting, then, that there should currently be a discussion about referendums on Twitter (hat tip to Louise Mensch MP who has been mildly irritating the last few days – though she raises a good debate) – we had the AV vote earlier in the year and that went catastrophically wrong. Not because I was in favour of AV and the vote came out against it. But more that it showed up how ridiculous the very notion of democracy is in the UK. The entire referendum made a mockery of it, and made us fools. Both campaigning groups used awful tactics to win votes, patronising and showing utter disdain for the population. Dying babies? It’s a change of voting system, not a death sentence. That made me lose all respect for anyone working on those campaigns. The British public are not stupid, they are not to be treated with disdain and it’s utterly shameful that both sides were allowed to use untruths as fact.

I’m a fan of direct democracy – I think more power should be given to people directly, not given to them on one day and then left in the hands of what is ultimately a bunch of rich people who don’t live in the real world or face real struggles. People whose past employment history would have very little beyond “Parliament”, who send their kids to schools that charge, and who then charge the tax payer for clearing out their moat. Sorry, but I don’t buy that that is a fair and just way to run a country.

But I have an issue with referendums too. What happened with the AV vote is exactly how not to do a referendum. For direct democracy to work, we need to ensure that information regarding the topic is impartial, balanced and factual. That means no emotive dying babies nonsense. No guff about boxers or racing. Pure unadulterated facts. People can then make up their own minds. I don’t want to say that people are stupid – because it’s not always a case of lacking intelligence, but lacking the information or the motivation to do their own research.

One last thing I have noticed. There is clearly a reluctance to go ahead with a referendum – any government worth its salt would happily give the plebs a referendum if it was guaranteed to go their way. Most people in Britain are anti-EU and want out. So who in the government is stalling? They must be pro-EU but they’re keeping awfully quiet – why? What is it they know that we don’t? I wish someone would just own up and explain…

Fighting oppression via the medium of… Uh, cupcakes

A while ago, I read a piece somewhere online about young feminists not knowing what the Fawcett Society was, and how terrible it was (well, sort of). I hope I can be forgiven this this feminist faux pas – and perhaps even prove that maybe the FS is not the be-all and end-all, nor the definitive line of British feminism.

We have all heard the stats about women basically being ignored by consecutive governments; how cuts and redundancies will hit women hardest and nobody cares or bats an eyelid or does anything about it. Women are being trod on left, right and centre. We can all agree that this is not restricted to Conservatism – Labour were just as bad. But it’s all okay. Because the Fawcett Society are taking a stand! There’s a protest soon. A protest that requires you ‘dress up’ in a 50s theme. Can’t make it? It’s alright – you can host your own tea party!

I could cry.

I get that it’s trying to be ironic. “The government are taking us back to the 50s, we need to show them we won’t take this anymore” etc. But irony doesn’t wash with feminists when it’s being used on terrible, sexist t shirts. It doesn’t wash when men make sexist jokes. Why should it wash with other women that we are allowing ourselves to be portrayed in this way?

Obviously, I am all for the protesting. I am all for sisterhood and displays of it. Playing dress-up and baking cakes for your nearest and dearest is, I’m sad to say, absolutely not civil disobedience, and doesn’t say to anyone: “I’m really angry and I’ve had enough”. What it says to me is: “I have the money to go out and buy an outfit so I can play dress-up for the day, and I have the luxury of time to be able to bake cakes and have a tea party”.

The thing is, it appeals to a particular breed of feminist. It appeals to the ones that don’t particularly want to get their hands grubby, the ones who are most probably not going to be affected by these changes that the government are putting through. I am not saying that people cannot represent others who can’t go. But I find that the very nature of this form of protest really smacks of privilege, and is kind of offensive to those women who are not geographically able to physically protest, who don’t have the money to spend on a new ironic 50s outfit, and who don’t have the time/skills/money to host a tea party.

Those women who are too busy working several jobs and trying to run a house who are actually being affected – does this protest speak to them? Does it speak to me? No. I want a protest with fire in its belly. I want brilliant slogans, fantastic creative banners. We women are just as good at being resourceful, creative, and bloody angry – just the same as our male counterparts. How can you reduce such a group to such a small and conformist idea?

Underneath it all, it says: Well, this is what we’re good at, ladies. We are good at being hostesses, and we’re good at shopping and we’re good at baking – we may as well face up to it and use our inherent biological assets and skills as a tool for protest.

No, no, NO. It’s not subversion, it’s submission.

I am glad that they are doing something (incidentally this is the first thing I’ve seen) but in short, it’s a really, really terrible concept and I honestly think I am damn well vindicated for largely ignoring the Fawcett Society up until now.

The Cult of Assange, and Occupy Everywhere

Today’s the day of mass occupation. All over the world people have decided to occupy squares and spaces, in an act of mass civil disobedience. In London, people chose the London Stock Exchange – though this is rather misplaced as the LSX is not actually a) public property and b) where the trading goes on – and that failed, so they’re now outside St Paul’s. It seems this was inspired by Egypt’s Tahrir Square, and then Occupy Wall Street.

Criticism of the appropriateness of this one-revolution-fits-all approach (which I have offered and discussed among friends) aside, I’m concerned about the Cult of Assange, and what that really means in terms of holding people to account. Assange turned up at Occupy London, to a media furore, and loads of cheering (and booing – but from what I could see Assange was freely given a platform from which to speak). I watched a video in which one woman screamed “WE LOVE YOU JULIAN!”

I put my head in my hands.

No, he has not been convicted of anything – though this blog does throw that somewhat into doubt, as does this. No, I am not saying he is a rapist. No, I am not saying I don’t like WikiLeaks or that I disagree with the general principle of transparency (though it would seem Assange himself is not a big fan of things being too transparent).

I just think that we need to stop the whole Messiah parade for a second and actually ground ourselves in reality. Julian is but one person in an entire organisation that purports to represent true freedom of information. I don’t know if he raped anyone, and I don’t think it’s my place to publicly say so even if I think he did.

But y’know, there is a terrifying theatricality and atmosphere of hysteria around Assange – and others who we deem to be ‘in the movement’ or ‘on our side’ – that we are in danger of ignoring or glossing over what would normally be considered contemptuous and amoral (at the least!) behaviour. It’s like the hysteria that broke out when Johann Hari was found to have fabricated quotes. “Not Hari!” the left screamed, “He couldn’t POSSIBLY do this, because he’s on OUR side” – Look what happened. We let one slip through the net, we let them all.

I think it’s important that we suspect, scrutinise, and examine all that we think may be doing wrong, regardless of their job or their position in society. Regardless of whether we want to protect them because we think they are doing good for ‘the cause’.

I can’t help but feel disappointed that Assange turned up to Occupy London, and I’m sure others do too. Now, he will make the headlines while the true stories behind the ‘Occupy’ movement get lost. To me, the picture on this blog really does say a thousand words – and it is the total opposite of what we need at the moment.

Crafts, China & Capitalism

So, the last few days I’ve been at Alexandra Palace in Wood Green for the Knitting & Stitching Show. It’s a huge thing that happens every year and all the crafty people go to it, and if you’re like me, you see things you’ve never seen before. Like Luceting, which I learned, and can now do – gratuitous photo warning – and I’m making some cord with that at the moment:

Getting the hang of the lucet

…But that’s by the by, I didn’t start this blog to bang on about crafting. What intrigued me was that my dad explained that there was this really weird way of dyeing fabric – fabric that this lady was selling at the fair. It sounded interesting so I went to check it out. The stall was totally blue, and actually I found that really off-putting in the beginning, which is why I didn’t originally have a closer look at it.

It’s called Shibori, and it’s very similar to tie-dyeing – like many of us used to do as children – but instead of random knots, there are intricate ties in the fabric to create very specific patterns. There are some particularly stunning examples around, but these may give you an idea:

        

So, it can be beautiful, right? Tying the material takes *so* long, it pretty much wouldn’t be worthwhile to pay someone to do it. She gets the stuff from China. So, what struck me was that this lady is clearly capitalising on very cheap labour, and making a lot of money out of it. I wouldn’t imagine she pays that much for the material itself, and just imports it.

My conundrum was whether this is ethical or not (from her point of view) – but also as a country, what about China? I have noticed that Chinese goods are saturating different markets and undercutting other businesses a ridiculous amount. A quick look on eBay will show you that the Chinese can afford to sell for a pittance – and if you go to places like Camden Market, the older British-owned businesses are being driven out by rising rent and Chinese stalls selling cheap goods. Of course, the cheaper an item, the less of a guarantee you have of quality. But I don’t think people are really concerned about quality in Western society. Just look at Primark and all those other cheap shops. We love to feel like we have a bargain. Especially in the middle of an incredibly deep and long-lasting financial crisis.

On one hand, the people making the Shibori can get money – they are in a job (albeit low paid) and the lady selling the material clearly makes a profit too. Something just seems really odd about it to me, and I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable about it, as I was standing there acknowledging that the people who make the material live in poverty while the lady in front probably has much more in her life, in terms of materialistic things, than they might do. I don’t for one second equate happiness with materialism or ownership of goods and perhaps I am assuming too much but I would imagine their quality of life is less than hers? Yet they are the ones who make it and put all those hours of work in…

And I don’t think it is limited to this precise art or industry. I don’t think she should not be able to make money from it. Good on her for seeing a gap in the market and seizing the opportunity. I wish her all the best (we live in a capitalist society so I suppose in a way it is good to have made your peace with society and to embrace it). I just question the ethics of buying it (personally – as a consumer … I can appreciate that it is pretty but could I buy it knowing the circumstances of the production? No) and more generally, the ethics of a world that seems to be dependent upon goods from China made with cheap labour, yet one that will eventually suffer more because of it.

Disclaimer: I’m not interested in demonising individuals. I’m not interested in naming the company or the lady, or putting people off of buying Shibori. I hope I haven’t given that impression – I think some of the patterns were lovely and I can see why people would buy it, it just made me question how the world works.

Why do I keep doing this to myself?

As I learn more, read and write more about feminism, and engage with others on the topic, I ask myself this even more often than ever before. In the face of what I would class as ‘minor’ abuse and ridicule online, why do I keep doing it?

Because the very fact that I get abused for saying what I think, proves to me all that I’ve been reading. The fact that someone reads my writing on feminism, or even just my tweets – and instantly uses the fact I am a woman against me (“learn your place”, “bitch should be quiet” and so on) makes me even more determined to write about it and learn about it and seek out like-minded people.

We live in a society that allows women to be degraded and talked down to, and in some circumstances actively encourages it. From women on trial being defined as a ‘promiscuous she-devil‘, to misogynistic t shirts in TopShop, to street harassment… A lot of people presume the women’s lib movement in the 70s had solved everything for us, but these recent examples show just how far we have to go. It amuses me that often in these cases, people tell me I am ‘overreacting’, that there are ‘better things’ to focus on, that I am ‘looking’ for issues. These are of course classic derailment tactics. But to those people, who are mostly men, I tell them that they haven’t grown up as a girl, and they haven’t felt what it’s like to be restricted in everything you do in life. To those who are women (and there are), I simply feel sorry that they haven’t seen the world in the same way that I have, or worse – that they know and see injustice but honestly think they should just put up with it.

Well, I refuse to. Why should I put up with being called a whore in the street? Why should I have to sit on a bus while a man masturbates in front of me? Why should I have to learn to deal with strangers touching me where and when I don’t want them to? Why should I have to feel scared walking home at night? The truth is, I shouldn’t – this isn’t an unreasonable wish, and I don’t think many would argue that I should. Yet even those people who realise this sometimes fall foul of what is acceptable behaviour to me.

Which brings me back to my original point. Why do I still do it? Because I have to live in this society, the same as anyone else. I have to deal with misogynists in every shape and form. I’d like to think that at some point in the future the majority of people will feel the same, and we will have an equal society based on very basic respect for every human being regardless of race, gender, sexuality or disability. I think the saddest part in all this, and the thing that makes me continue, is that a lot of people I love or associate with don’t see it the same way as I do. I have friends and associates who are misogynistic or sexist or anti-feminist/anti-equality, whether they mean to be or not. And I don’t really have much choice because that’s how everyone is. It’s so prevalent that I don’t really know many people who don’t think that way. And to me that’s a big problem, and that’s why I continue. I would like to wake up one day and not be treated differently because I am a woman.

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