Saturday, 31 May 2008

Policy Heading in Right Direction...

The Scottish Executive has laid out a new five point plan for tackling drug use in Scotland. Perhaps, its most important contribution is point one:

Recognising that tackling problem drug use will only be done through effective policies on the economy, tackling poverty, and supporting families and children.

Now, this is exactly the right approach. The areas of Scotland that are devastated through problem drug-use are also areas of massive social deprivation. They are frequently areas that previously relied on hard industry, coal, steel and the like, which have now gone and never been replaced. Such communities are marked by the complete lack of hope; lack of hope for a future; lack of hope that there is something to live for. Problem drug-taking is frequently a response to a lack of incentive not to take drugs.

Yet, while I am pleased that they realise this is the right approach, I wonder how they are going to achieve this. Rural regeneration has been a problem for the last thirty years and, as yet, no one has came up with decisive answers about transforming communities devastated by a lack of employment opportunities and the all the related problems of poverty and deprivation. Throwing £94 million at a problem will not make it go away if there isn’t a clear strategy for regenerating communities in the long-term. Knowing what the problem is, is very different from knowing the answer.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Newsflash: Abortion Statistics are News.

Today’s headlines in Scotland inform us that WOMEN IN SCOTLAND HAVE ABORTIONS. Ok, they don’t quite say that, but it feels a bit like that. Today, the statistics for the number of abortions performed in Scotland in 2007 were published and, as usual, were headline news. Please note that there is nothing new or particularly exciting about these statistics. They are published every year, but we all love to talk about abortion, so we will. There were 13,703 abortions in Scotland last year, up 540 on the previous year, meaning that around ¼ of all Scottish pregnancies (that were known about) ended in termination. Only 44 (0.3%) abortions occurred after 20 weeks, a reduction from 49 in 2006 and 67 in 2005. Rather unsurprisingly, the usual suspects also came out of the woodwork to pass judgement and equally predictably the same old tropes that we have come to expect passed their lips.

Mary Scanlon MSP, the Scottish Tories' health spokeswoman, noted, on the fact that more than a quarter of women had previously had a termination, that:
There is a general consensus that abortion should not be used as a form of contraception. Sadly, it appears that, for some women, this could be the case.

Ian Murray, from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, commented:
The reality is these statistics refer to human lives – both the babies lost and the women whose lives will be scarred by their decision forever.
Again, we all know that all women that have abortions are irreparably damaged (presumably the women who have repeat abortions are just sadists).

Another interesting statement, this time by The Scotman, was that:
Pro-life groups reacted angrily when it emerged that 372 patients having abortions were under 16 years of age.
This I am extremely puzzled at. Why would pro-life groups feel differently about underage abortion than any other type? I suspect that this is hyperbole on the part of The Scotsman, but, if true, part of me wonders if the logic goes ‘women have choices=bad; girls have choices=worse’, because the lower down the social ladder you are as a woman, the more you are hated.

Most abortions occurred amongst the 16-19 age group, very closely followed by the 20-24 age group, highlighting that women are more fertile when they are younger the follies of youth, it seems. Admittedly, this shows that teen pregnancies are high in Scotland, but also that teen pregnancies are overwhelmingly amongst women who are legally old enough to be having sex. Only 2.7% of abortions were on girls under the age of consent. I find this an interesting paradox. I realise that there is a difference between the legal age women can have children and the age when it is socially acceptable or desirable for them to do so, but it does make you wonder if the fuss about the teen pregnancy rate is really a fuss about legally adult women making decisions about their own bodies.

What has been less commented on, with the exception of the Lib Dem spokesman, is that twice as many abortions occurred in areas of social deprivation as in wealthier areas. If people want to reduce the abortion rate tackling poverty seems the obvious place to go. Yet, it is much easier to make emotive or unhelpful statements. As the spokesman for the Archbishop of Glasgow noted:
These statistics are an ever-present sign that society has failed both Scotland's unborn children and women. [Check out the order of priority.]
Well, if society has failed them, what is society going to do about it? Bemoaning the numbers doesn't seem particularly helpful.

Monday, 26 May 2008

A Sadly Unsurprising Tale.

The Daily Record this week is airing the dirty laundry of Rev. Mike McCurry at Mosspark Baptist Church. Now, the story itself is hardly the stuff of legend. Older married minister of a church and respected member of the community has an affair with a 21-year-old female parishioner, Victoria. When caught, he denies the affair existed, claiming the girl stalked him and made up false allegations. She, on the other hand, has numerous witnesses and ‘text-ual’ evidence to support her claims, showing McCurry to be a liar. Now, the rights and wrongs of their affair hold little interest for me. But, what struck me when reading this tale was the anti-women attitude taken by the Church in this case.

The Church leadership, not McCurry, told Victoria that McCurry no longer wanted to see her. When she showed up at church to confront him, having never been told by McCurry that he wanted the relationship finished, the Church leadership would not let her talk to him, essentially treating her as the wrong-doer. The scandal caused her so much heartbreak that she left her job and family to move to England. She only returned to testify at the Church hearing after McCurry claimed that she was a stalker and her mother, a member of the Church, challenged his lies. McCurry has subsequently been allowed to continue in his post as minister, but he and Victoria are not allowed any further contact. Now this seems to me, the equivalent of ejecting Victoria from her church and ‘community’. How can a church member have communion within a church where she is not allowed to interact with the minister?

I would not like to paint Victoria as victim with no agency. At 21, she made a choice. But, it isn’t too hard to see that McCurry is significantly more culpable in this affair. He was the leader in the Church, holding a position of authority over Victoria, who was half his age. He was the person betraying his wife and congregation (and presumably God) through rejecting his vows of fidelity to his wife and faithfulness to the tenets of his religion. So why is it that Victoria is effectively removed from the congregation and forced to leave her community, and he remains?

I don’t necessarily think McCurry should lose his job- this is a decision for the Church. But, I do think that the Church has to consider that they have a responsibility to more than McCurry; that they should have taken action to protect Victoria, to listen to her side of the story, and to ensure that she remained welcome in her community. It seems to me that if the Church wants to continue to have a place in modern society then it needs to treat women with considerably more respect. It also seems to me that if I were a member of such a Church, I wouldn’t want to be led by a man who happily lies to save his own back at the expense of another.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Canadian Club: Men Only.

Racialicious has a project up critiquing a sexist set of American Canadian Club adverts. In response, she created her own version of the ads and asked readers to send in their versions. Some of the responses are really great. I especially like 'your dad was a real man', portraying an alternative version of masculinity to that portrayed in the adverts.

I also really love the idea of this project, reacting in a creative fashion to the advertising by producing effective alternatives. The adverts created are all really well done and professional looking, highlighting that feminist advertising is effective advertising. I agree with the commentator at Racialicious that if they want to punish Canadian Club, creating new adverts for them doesn't really work. But, I think as a project that shows that there are alternatives to the mysogonistic BS that is frequently created, then it's fab, and as a project that allows feminists to define what it means to be a man or a woman, then it is a really interesting historical project.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

All Feminist; All of the Time.

There has been a discussion at a number of websites recently about what feminist TV looks like. What do we want from our female characters? What do we want from the world in which our feminist characters live? In many respects, this comes under the much bigger question of what do we want from the world as feminists? What changes do we want to happen, and what does a post-patriarchal future look like? So, in many respects, this is a horribly difficult question, and one that I don’t have an answer for. Today however, I would like to address one part of this question, which is the tension between real women’s experience and the behaviour of feminist characters on TV.

One of the frustrations that many women have with the TV characters they watch, especially those characters who are feminist or proto-feminist women, is that they don’t behave in feminist ways all of the time. Saranga at Paiwing, for example, expresses frustration that despite Buffy the Vampire Slayer retaliating against the man who tried to sexually assault her, she does not challenge him or disagree when later told her clothing provoked the attack. Buffy’s response suggests that she buys into this mythology. Now, how is the viewer meant to read this scene: should we be annoyed that Buffy failed to follow through on her feminist credentials? Or, do we say, well that’s how a real woman, perhaps caught off guard, may respond in this situation?

What about a less clear cut story plot such as in Lipstick Jungle? Top female exec (beautiful, mega successful women in a man’s world), who loves her husband, but isn’t getting any sex, has an affair with the young hawt male. At first I think this is a bit ‘ew’, but why hold her to a different standard from men. Then, she wants it to be only about sex; then she thinks she is falling for him, guilt about husband etc. Cop out or just one of those things? What is the feminist action in this story plot: to remain faithful to her husband and never have an affair??

The problem with demanding feminist TV is that some of the time the feminist decision, in a patriarchal world, doesn’t exist. Instead, you have female characters making a myriad of decisions, some right, some wrong, in circumstances that they can’t control. (In many respects, exactly like the real world). And, the thing is, this doesn’t mean that such television isn’t ‘feminist’. One of the longest-running aims of the feminist movement has been to get women’s experience recognised; to destroy a world where the white, middle class male’s experience is considered normal and proper. Television that shows women’s experience in all its ugly and imperfect detail legitimises the experience of women, by bringing it into the public sphere. It allows other women to recognise that their experiences are not unique; that they are not alone in the inequalities and problems they face.

So, perhaps, when looking for feminist TV, we should not ask ‘did she do the feminist thing’, but instead, ‘did she behave like a real woman would’? Does her character have depth and complexity and does her behaviour feel real, remembering that different women have different experiences? Does she have a central role within the show, or is she a sounding board or prop for the male characters? Is she human?

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Ova Captures Sperm.

I know I am years late with this news, but I thought it was a rather cool fact when I came across it. The ova is actually the aggressor in the conception process, not the sperm. Indeed, the sperm tries to escape, but the ova sends out chemicals to draw them into her orbit. The analogy of the assertive sperm, winning the race, and fertilising the egg is not the real story. Now, I wonder why such a myth exists? [sarcasm]

Another faulty metaphor oft used in the medical sphere is that of menstruation as a form of death, where the womb and egg is destroyed and passed out, but, on the other hand, when sperm is ejaculated it is talked about as fertilising and spreading of seed, thus life. In fact, the endometrium constantly renews itself, so could be talked about as constantly living, whereas the vast, vast majority of sperm find only death.

Just a turn of phrase, perhaps, but the significance for how we conceive of the operation of the body are massive.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Day Seven: Sunday.

Yesterday was mostly a lazy day, sleeping late, reading some of my book, and writing a blog entry of length and substance. I spent a couple of hours looking up articles for my research in the afternoon.

So, what’s the conclusion after a week of work? 37.5 hours of productive academic working time, not including time where I was trying to work but actually procrastinating. Hey, that means I worked exactly the amount that academics in the UK are contracted for- how cool. This doesn’t include thinking time, like when I plan articles or to do lists in my head at the gym. I think this was fairly typical for a week where I have marking, doing adminy type stuff with just a bit of writing thrown in. If I am researching in archives or having to write something (rather than tweaking), I would work at least twice this many hours- but then that is not every week. I don't think I ever do much less than this.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Celebrity and the Public Sphere.

An article in the BBC magazine highlights that female celebrities are more hated than male celebrities, and often for no apparent reason (that is, why women would be hated more than their male counterparts that behave similarly- not that we don’t have reasons for our hate). Now, women-hating, in any of its varieties, is hardly news to feminists. Women who do not conform to strict models of femininity, which are constantly changing, are always open to censure. Female celebrities walk the same fine line that all women do but in front of a wider audience. They are constantly critiqued it they are too fat or too thin, bad examples to womankind both; if they are too sexy or too prudish, bad examples to womankind both; if they are too ambitious or not ambitious enough, bad examples to womankind both; if they drink too much, or too little (any drinking while female bad). The female celebrity, unlike the male, is always set as example to womankind. Male celebrities can undergo censure if they break particular taboos, such as drug-taking as athletes or beating their wives/ paparazzi (and then it depends on the individual- what with all those lying bitches), but when their weight fluctuates, or they get drunk, or their mini-skirt is too short, they do not get held up as having failed men everywhere.

Why are all women in the public sphere set on a pedestal where they can but fall (ideally drunkenly coming out of a nightclub without knickers) , while men are just men, allowed all the foibles of humanity. As the academic the BBC quote for this article notes, ‘There is incredible ambivalence in a post-feminist culture towards women in the public sphere’. Yet, there has always been incredible ambivalence, if not downright hostility, to women in the public sphere. Until the nineteenth century, women who published in the public sphere, who held professional jobs, such as painter or even mid-wife, who performed in plays, who held public civic roles, all risked being tainted with the scarlet letter of promiscuity and prostitution (a taint significantly more damaging to a women’s reputation in a bygone age than today- not that it’s insignificant now).

The right to play a role in public life was fought by feminists of the eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and yet, while significant gains have been made, we still have not come to terms with women as public figures. The only way we can conceive of women in public is as idols on pedestals, examples of ideal femininity. When female celebrities, who are only human after all, fail to meet these standards we condemn them, without ever questioning why. It’s kind of frightening to realise that, despite the right for women to be in public being counted as a feminist victory, we haven’t yet come to terms with women as public figures; that we have no framework for understanding what a female public figure should look like or how she should behave, without falling back on the narrow, prescriptive models of ideal femininity; that our only response when we see such women is too condemn them for not being ‘good enough’.

In a funny way, this reminds me of the Brilliant Women exhibition I visited a few weeks ago. One of the striking things about how eighteenth century society viewed the ‘bluestockings’ was their association with the Muses, female goddesses who inspired the arts. The only way society could deal with women as public figures was to imagine them as women on a pedestal meant to inspire, rather than to be active participants in the real world. In twenty-first century society, we have more women in the public sphere, but we still haven’t moved past this model for interpreting women’s behaviour in the public sphere. And ultimately, this has been a failure by us to recognise women as human beings; human beings who are flawed, make mistakes and are are doing the best we can. If we want to reconceptualise women in the public sphere, we need to grant the rights of humanity to women; so we are more than models or ideals, but individuals.


This is a bit off-topic, but in the above article, the journalist uses abstracts submitted for an academic conference as the basis of their academic research. I am not sure what I think about this. First, how many academics would write an abstract thinking it would be used by journalists as the basis of their argument- I mean 250 words can never fully portray the nuance of an article, or even the paper given at a conference. Second, many papers given at conferences are based on new research, before findings are fully consolidated, and it may not have been anticipated by the authors that people would use them as ‘fact’. Just thought this was a bit weird.

Google Searches

Somebody found me looking for 'Margaret Thatcher's Romantic Letters'. Now I don't know what these are, but I think I'd like to read them.

Day Six: Saturday

Morning: I got up late, pottered around the house, went shopping briefly for gift, visited my in-laws.

Afternoon: read some of C.J. Samson’s new book Revelation; checked my emails and spent about half an hour dealing with some work related email stuff (see it's not just me who works on a Saturday). Then read over my article and tweaked it for about two hours.

Evening: Made dinner; watched some Dr Who; while doing some browsing for a job application I am writing I found a really good bibliography and spent 2½ hours cherry-picking the good books/ articles and emailing friends if I found stuff for them- I am not sure if this is work or masochism.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Day Five: Friday.

8-930 Swim
930-10 Tidied house; ate breakfast
10-1130 Procrastinated working, by looking at stuff online, a little blogging; checking emails etc. Documents were duly open on desktop to give the appearance of actual working.
1130-2 Fiddled with book proposal (plus sample chapters); wrote cover letter and finally emailed it- it is now gone with all my hopes and dreams to be ripped to shreds by some publisher
2-530 Worked on article, interspersed with web-browsing. Article is now finished; will send tomorrow, I think. I like to give myself pause to realise the massive hole in the argument
530-645 Half wrote job application; got to the hard part where you have to write the supporting statement and gave up (it’s not due in for a week or so)
645-7 Wrote blog.

Am now going to have some dinner and say howdy to the dude I am married to. Maybe watch a film.

Yes, I Should Be Working.

But I found this at the Fword. You have to *watch* (not just listen) to the video.

Flexible Working Hours Extended.

In better news, the British government has finally agreed to extend the right to work flexible hours to all parents of children under sixteen. Currently this right is only given to parents of children who are under six or disabled. This is a great decision both as it makes life easier for working parents and because it recognises that children are an important part of our society, rather an inconvenience to be conveniently forgotten about. And, guess what, despite those who predict the devastating consequences for the economy, studies show that staff with flexible hours are happier and more productive. Who’d a guessed?

Day Four in the Life.

Thursday. I was tired yesterday, so it wasn’t the most productive of days.

8-10 Gym
10-11 Last bit of housework, breakfast, checked emails.
11-12 Intended to work, opened documents, eyes glazed over, browsed internet, looked for jobs a bit (to make me feel like I was being productive).
12-230 Finally got down to editing the chapters for my book proposal- finished- ready to go in post.
230-5 Intended to work on article, but instead read chapter of colleague’s book. This took longer than it should, probably because I was tired.
530-630 Pilates.
645-8 Dinner and made rhubarb crumble, because rhubarb was on offer at supermarket.
8-900 Wrote up the comments for colleague’s chapter, checked emails.
9 Collapsed in a heap. Had an early night.


Thursday, 15 May 2008

Day Three in the Life.

Yesterday, I did nothing academic, other than reply to a few emails (half an hours work). What I did do:

8-930 Swim
930-230 Worked my second non-academic job, which supplements my stipend
230-400 Went food shopping
4-614 Cleaned by disgustingly dirty house
630-730 Yogalates
745-830 Dinner and first half of Eufa Cup Final
830-1030 Finished tidying house (with football in background)
1030-11 checked my emails
11 Relaxed.

Today, I am going to do real academic work, I promise (myself).

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Day Two in the Life.

I would try to think up something interesting to engage with for your entertainment, but I have end-of-term malaise (boring stuff to do and the promise of free time that needs to be filled with research and writing and requires actual thought- combining to make brain mush). What I got up to today (so far).

8-10 Went to gym (I didn't spend all two hours working out- this includes travel).
10-11.15 had breakfast, did some housework, checked and answered emails.
11.15-12 Commuted to work (read essays).
12-3.45 Marked essays-yeah they’re all done forever (ok until next year or if we have late submissions). Adminy things like pay claims and travel expenses.
4.15-4.30ish Writing my blog and checking out the interwebs.

This evening I have an art class near my work (6-9pm). In between, then and now I plan to read over the chapter I am tweaking and make edits. After 9pm, it’s anybody’s guess, but it will involve a commute home (during which no marking to read- devastating).

Monday, 12 May 2008

A Day in the Life.

I have little of interest to write today, because I have been thinking about my academic writing. So, I thought I would take a leaf out of Dr Crazy’s book at Reassigned Time and blog about my working week. So here is the first day in the week of the life of a post-doc at a British institution. For a bit of context, this is the end of term, so I have the dregs of my marking and the like, but no teaching.


7.50-8.45-Commute (during which) Read colleague’s paper.
8.50-11.45 Invigilate exam (during which) finish reading colleague’s paper; mark last of one set of essays; look over one chapter for book. (It’s a small exam- three students)
11.45-1.00 Check and answer emails; business for society in which I am treasurer; write cover sheets for essay; hand back essays to students; begin writing feedback for colleague.
1.00-230 Lunch with another colleague; discuss upcoming collaboration and catch up.
2.30-3.00 Stand in line to register for graduation!!! (Annoyed about the queue but hey!)
3.00-3.30 Meeting with third colleague about her project (on which I have done a bit of work in the past).
3.30-4.00 Quick look around shops with colleague.
4.00-5.00 Commute- read essays .
5.00-6.00 Check emails- finish and email feedback on colleague’s article; look for jobs.
6.00-9.00 Pilates, dinner, read blogs and write this.

I now plan to answer a few work related emails that I haven’t got to yet and then relax. I should finish that marking, but I can't be bothered.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Why I Don’t Watch TV.

I, in an unusual move, caught an episode of Question Time tonight, where the issue of the Scottish referendum came up. There were a couple of issues that were being clearly not spoken (unsurprising given that there were no Scots on the panel) that bugged me. First, Wendy Alexander is being criticised for calling for an early referendum on Scottish independence. By doing this, she is seen as betraying the Labour Party. But, what this discussion forgets is that Wendy Alexander was voted in to represent Scottish interests in a Scottish Parliament. Just because the official Labour party line is pro-union, and thus anti-referendum, does not mean that she can put her head in the sand and pretend it’s not an issue. Referendum will happen; it’s just a question of when. She should be allowed to make the best judgement of the political climate in Scotland without this being seen as betraying England. Because, guess what, this isn’t about England. That is the whole point! We’re fed up with Scottish politics always being determined by what’s happening in England.

Which is quite ironic, given my next point. What Wendy has realised is that Scottish people are a lot more likely to vote for independence under a Conservative UK government than under the current Labour government. The Conservatives are unlikely to make any headway in Scotland in the next election, leading to that threat that loomed over Scotland throughout the eighties- a Scotland without any Conservative seats, under a Conservative English government. The Conservative victories across England and Wales have made the Scottish public nervous, because Margaret Thatcher still looms in our memories, and it’s as a nightmare.*

The problem with a panel of English politicians and politicos discussing Scottish problems is that they show no awareness (or I suspect cannot admit awareness) of the dissatisfaction within Scotland of the anglo-centric drive of British politics. They can only see Wendy Alexander’s behaviour as a betrayal of England, because they forget that the whole world doesn’t revolve around them. And the sad thing for pro-unionists is, if they don’t wake up and figure that out, Scotland is going to move on without them.

* Although not it seems in the minds of first year u/grads who don't know who she is- but that's another story.

Do As I Say.

Police are being urged to ‘harass young thugs’ today. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is suggesting that people who display anti-social behaviour should be given the same treatment with the state giving repeated home visits and checking that they have paid their road tax, television license, council tax etc. Presumably this policy is based on the concept of ‘do as I say, not as I do’, forgetting that actions committed at an institutional level are usually reflected in social behaviour at lower levels.

From a different perspective, if the state has the money and resources to commit people and time to this sort of state harassment, why does it not use it to address why people behave in anti-social ways in the first place? Why not spend this money giving support to poverty-stricken families, which are associated with this type of behaviour; providing community resources that give alternatives to this behaviour? What good does checking whether a poor family have paid their council tax actually do? (In Scotland at least) all that will happen is a fine, and the family will owe more unpaid debt. Yes, very effective.

[ETA: It might seem simplistic to assume that all anti-social behaviour is caused by the poor- I think we might want to problematise this- but, the nature of this discussion by Jacqui Smith makes this assumption. Presumably, checking council tax payment or benefit fraud would be less of a threat to employed, middle-class 'thugs'.]

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The Joys of a Bank Holiday Weekend.

This weekend, a bank-holiday in many parts of Scotland, saw the brutal murder of three children and one adult in two separate instances. In both cases, it appears that they were killed by their fathers. The murder of children by their parents is, of course, not unique, but, within the small population of Scotland, it is an unusual occurrence. For two sets of children to be murdered on the same weekend is even more shocking. The particular motivations for these murders have not, as yet, been uncovered. Both fathers subsequently appear to have attempted suicide and are in hospital. It is interesting that these crimes follow closely to a case in Austria where a woman, and subsequently her children, were held captive in a celler by their father for over twenty-years. In this case, the father is now being described as mentally ill. Now while this may be the case, what is important to recognise is that this sort of crime is a reflection of the nature of the society in which it is committed.

I would like to suggest that it is a culture that understands children as the property of their parents, and particularly, of their fathers, that underpins and explains these events. Whether it because of the behaviour of children, as punishment towards wives, or simply due to the mental disturbance of a deranged mind, that people, and particularly men, feel that they have the right to dispose of their children, or hold them captive, is indicative of their sense of ownership over them. You might argue in the case of mental illness that they are not making a rational choice, but even irrational choices are underpinned by cultural values. Why is it that these men did not murder other people’s children, random strangers or simply commit suicide? Why, even in insanity, did it appear to be a good idea to hold a woman captive? The sense of ownership, and thus disposability, of children is so central to understandings of fatherhood that it drives even disturbed behaviour. No doubt part of that drive is related to responsibility. The suicidal man, driven to take his own life, does not want to abandon his responsibility towards his children and so end their lives, in addition to his own.

Yet, while it is important that parents are responsible for their children, there needs to be a separation between the concept of responsibility and the concept of ownership. Children are not property. They are people with full human rights, whose only ‘fault’ is immaturity. We are responsible for providing them with safety, provision and education until they reach adulthood, but that responsibility does not give us ownership over them. Their immaturity does not remove their human rights. Until we change how we understand the relationship between children and parents, these sorts of crimes will remain a part of our society.

Monday, 5 May 2008

bell hooks: All about Love

I have been meaning to review bell hooks All About Love: New Visions for a few weeks now, but got distracted by my tangent into postmodern feminism. But, by coincidence, I was teaching a class on Second Wave feminism last week and the topic of romantic love came up and it reminded me of her work. I brought up the topic of alternative forms of family life as a goal of some feminists during the Second Wave and my class, of first year u/grads, were discussing the idea of communal living. They really hated the idea as they thought that children wouldn’t be loved by anybody except their biological parents, and it struck me that they had failed to realise that many conceptions of communal living not only got rid of the concept of the nuclear family, but of the couple. So, I suggested that they try to think of the family as something where the romantic couple didn’t exist; where loving relationships could take a different form. And they could not get past the romantic couple. They were happy that the couple could be gay, but they insisted that there was something unique and special about the romantic couple that could not be got rid of. It surprised me that a younger generation could be so conservative that they could not even consider alternative ways of loving. hooks work is about thinking about new ways of loving, and it ties in with another interest of mine, thinking about how the feminist movement is going to move forward. All About Love is an attempt to provide a vision for a more loving, equal feminist movement, and through it, a more loving society.

hooks argues that we, as a society, do not know how to love, because we have never been taught how to love. She talks of how, perhaps unlike the ‘all we need is love’ ethos of the 1960s, young people today are uncomfortable about talking about love within social movements. Love is increasingly restricted to an act between two individuals and as such is viewed with scepticism and discomfort when explored as something that society and social movement should engage in. She argues that love is about hope and equality. It is about allowing people to be recognised as full human beings, able to recognise their full potential in a supportive environment. Love is about community.

All About Love highlights how society is confused about love. We combine love with authority so unthinkingly that we cannot see that to truly love, we need to love without power. She gives the example of childhood, where love and authority are complexly intertwined. Parents hold authority over their children, but call that authority love. Children are punished, even abused, in the name of love. She argues that many people grow confusing violence with love; while others, who receive no discipline, grow up to believe love means always having your desires fulfilled. She argues that to create a more loving society, we need to value our children more, to respect them as human beings, to offer them loving guidance, empowering them to make decisions over their own lives. She recognises that children are often too young to make responsible decisions, but that shouldn’t mean not allowing them to be involved in the process. It also doesn’t mean making children do things that are not in their own interests, because it makes our lives easier or because we can. It means giving them the necessary guidance and boundaries to be able to make responsible decisions over their own lives. It also involves teaching children that adults are human too, deserving of respect (not because they hold authority, because they are human) and consideration. It involves rethinking the power hierarchies we think arise naturally within relationships between parents and children.

hooks has lots to say on other loving relationships, including friendships and intimate partnerships. One her most interesting observations was her remark that we are increasingly taught that nobody will love you, unless you first love yourself, but that this is nonsense. hooks points out that having people who love you in your life is vital to your self-esteem and your ability to function well. It is impossible to love yourself, when you have no support network. She also highlights that we repeat the power hierarchies of childhood in our adult, loving relationships so that we repeat the same abuses and hurts as adults that we experienced as children. There is lots of great stuff here and some real, practical advice on how to move forward. It even involves an interesting section on ‘divine’ love or the role of spirituality or faith in our lives, which I thought was a brave and important discussion given the tensions that exist between feminism and religion.

One of the most important contributions, I think this book is making for the feminist movement, is its discussion of love in community. hooks argues that we have been brought up to place the romantic partnership as THE central relationship in our lives. When people ‘couple up’, they often throw all other friendships and relationships out of the window in their pursuit of the romantic dream. hooks argues that this is damaging for people and for society. She suggests that for many women, the focus on the importance of the marital unit has left them open to a myriad of abuses as they seek to shore up their relationship at any cost. The focus on the couple has destroyed our sense of community, so that we now live in a state of war with our neighbours, rather than in friendship. She argues for loving beyond the family, because it will help reduce the inequalities of power and abuses that exist when the family is the only place where we can have our needs fulfilled. Fellowship in the community reduces our sense of being along; it gives us a broader support network; it allows us greater empathy and awareness of the needs of our fellow man; and with it brings respect and friendship across society. Love in the community is about healing the tensions and challenging power inequalities that exist when we refuse to acknowledge each other.

I wonder what my first year u/grads would make of All About Love. I sense that romantic love, and the power hierarchies that it frequently reinforces, are so deeply entrenched that we may be uncomfortable with the idea of loving beyond the family. Yet, I also think that her message is one that should be well-received within the feminist movement. Rethinking the natural order of life has always been part of our tradition; perhaps romantic love is just the next shibboleth that we need to tear down.

Saturday, 3 May 2008


There is nothing like Boris Johnson being elected mayor of London to make you grateful for being Scottish.


As someone remarked to me this evening, 'if the Tories win the next election, I'll vote for independence'. At least there is one bright mark on the horizon.

Friday, 2 May 2008

What’s Missing From This Picture?

Life Magazine Cover, 1965.Via.

I'll give you a clue.

De Formato Foetu, Adriaan Van Speigel, 1631.Via.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

The Apprentice UK: Racist Edition.

Now I don’t usually watch The Apprentice because I detest reality tv, but my husband is an avid fan so yesterday I caught an episode. And was awestruck at the blatant racist treatment of an Asian women, called Sara, by the other contestants. The programme showed how the group (both male and female) talked over her during team meetings, ignored her ideas (which in the main were better that what they produced), and refused to recognise her contribution to the group. When her team failed, they, to a man, blamed her, due to her alleged lack of participation (which was obviously wrong as her contributions were demonstrated throughout the episode). If this was not bad enough, when they returned to the house after the posh, blonde dude got fired, both teams sat round as a group and criticised her lack of participation, referring to her in the third person, as she sat with them. Whenever she tried to defend herself, she was talked over and she was finally lectured at by a man in the other team who said if she ever behaved like that again, he would ensure she was fired. At no point did anybody in the other team ask Sara about her version of events or question the group’s story. At no point, did anybody in her own team acknowledge her contribution or listen to her ideas.

Now why was this racist, you might ask. They never called her a derogatory name or refused to work with her because of her race. This behaviour was racist (and informed by sexism), because racism is a lot more subtle than we like to imagine. Racism is about refusing to acknowledge an individual or allow them a voice. It is about privileging the voice of white people over that of people of colour. This pattern was shown repeatedly during this episode. Sara’s experience of racism was also informed by sexism, as I find it hard to imagine that the male contestant who lectured her at the end, pointing his figure in her face and standing up to physically leer over her, dominating the space, would have behaved quite so aggressively or patronisingly with a man of colour (not least because he might have got lamped).

I have no doubt that the editors of The Apprentice and for that matter Alan Sugar’s pet observers realised what was happening. The editing very clearly portrayed the racism and there was a significant bit of nod, nod, wink, winking, to suggest that Alan Sugar saw what was happening. But did he, or his assistants, or the BBC, pull up the group for their behaviour? Did he challenge this racism? No. Now, I am sure that racism makes for good television, but, while this show is being made, the contestants are under the employment of the BBC and owed a duty of care. By ignoring the blatant racism, the BBC failed in their duty of care towards Sara. By refusing to acknowledge that racism, the BBC perpetuated racism in society, suggesting that such behaviour was excusable and normal. They should be ashamed.