7 Jun 2017

Why should you support creators?

It's a very good question. 

Why should you, a hard-working, tax-paying citizen, pledge any of your precious cash to support me on Patreon when presumably I'm some artsy-fartsy type who lies on a chaise longue all day waiting for inspiration to strike?

Well, it's a fair point. There are plenty of other good causes you could be supporting, plenty of other crowdfunders to help people who are more in need than I am: those fundraising to cover surgery or cancer treatment expenses, for example. And you should definitely donate to them if you're able, and if you're looking for a way to make a difference to someone else's life. Their need is obviously much greater than mine; I'm a healthy, able-bodied person (touch wood!) and there simply is no comparison between life-or-death requests and my little ask.

However, if you're OK with that distinction, and are still up for funding the arts, stay with me while I explain the point of having a Patreonand assure you that it's not just a way for writers/artists/musicians/photographers etck to fund a life of sipping Absinthe/ Smirnoff and watching Jeremy Kyle. Well, not in this writer's case, anyway...

Writing pays ABYSMALLY. I promise you, it really does. For every J K Rowling or George R R R R (how many Rs? I forget) Martin you read about who's coining it in, there are about ten million other writers struggling to make even minimum wage from their writing.

That's not an exaggeration: a 2014 study by the Authors' Licensing and  Collection Society found the average salary for a full-time author is £11,000 a year (for the purposes of comparison, the over-25 minimum wage of £7.20 x 40hrs a week x 52 weeks = £14,976). Blame the internet and the death of print, blame the countless outlets constantly trying it on by asking people to write for "exposure" (read: FREE), but there it is. And don't even get me started about chasing down payments from outlets taking the mickey - I've just had to get my union (which I can barely afford to be a member of!) involved in squeezing payment out of a company who took 78 days (yes, that's 2 months and 18 days) to cough up. Unfortunately my gas and electricity provider doesn't accept "it's coming soon" as payment, funnily enough...

What about advances on books? I hear you cry? Well, to quote Holly from Red Dwarf, do me a lemon! Much like the tenet of sods' law that says to get a loan from a bank, first you must prove you don't need one, the authors most likely to get advances are those who don't need the money because they're already insanely successful (Oh, and Milo Yiannopolous but he messed that one right up, didn't he!) The vast majority of authors don't get advances precisely because we're relatively unknown and publishers aren't willing to gamble that they'll get their investment back. Also, small or indie publishers simply don't have the resources to pay advances. That is the camp I'm squarely in.

Long story short, this book that I'm writing won't earn me a cent until (optimistic estimate) June 2018 when royalties start coming in. That means it will have to be researched, written, fact-checked, proofread, edited, indexed (and these are all things I'll be doing myself), release forms for interviews gathered, permissions for artwork obtained (and any copyright fees paid by me, because there's no budget for illustrations) and submitted probably nine months before I see any money from it.

I'm not complaining - I promise! - but rather explaining how it all works. I love what I do so, so ridiculously much and I love working with a publisher who was willing to take a chance on some strange gobby chick from across the Atlantic and give me the creative control to bring my ideas to life. I know I'm insanely lucky to have such a fun job, and have people out there who actually want to read what I write who aren't related to me, or being bribed. 

That's why I want to make this book as fantastic as it can be, and that means funding the time to write it. Which is where you come in.

My extreme gratitude towards my readers means I want to reward anyone who supports me on Patreon with as much involvement in my writing as possible; from being able to pick the topic of my next blog post, to free copies of both my books, it's all there for the taking!

Thanks for your support x x x

24 May 2017

Polyamory is NOT the same as Polygamy, and other myths busted

Much as it seems counterproductive to give any airtime to an article* from right-wing conservative website The National Review, their recent piece about polyamory is so ridiculous that it simply cries out to be debunked. With the polyamorous lifestyle still emerging from the shadows and remaining unfamiliar to many, misconceptions about it still abound. There's still little enough information around about what it really means to be poly that an article entitled "Polyamory is Just a Modern Name for a Backwards Practice" risks being treated as a resource until it gets shown up for what it really is; ill-informed, sexist, heteronormative, biphobic, reactionary nonsense. 

*I've used DoNotLink so the article doesn't get the clicks for which it's so clearly trolling.

The premise of the piece is that pop culture excitement around polyamory means that a man having two female partners is being accepted as the cool, new, edgy thing, and it's actually a ruse to trick women into accepting lousy treatment from men. Erm...where to even start with this?

The major flaw with the article is that it treats polyamory (people of any gender having multiple, consensual relationships) as indistinguishable from polygamy/bigamy (which technically may mean someone of any gender having multiple spouses, but which in practice has usually been taken to mean a man having many wives - even the BBC appears to use it this way). The latter (and yes I know the proper word is 'polygyny' but it's so little used that I'm going to stick to using 'polygamy' in the manner that it's commonly understood) is most concentrated, or at least has historically been practised, in retrogressive religious communities/cults where women have little power, are seen as subordinate to men and raised to only be wives, mothers and housekeepers. It is pretty different from a woman who has her own job, house, money and full bodily autonomy (* raises hand *) deciding to have fun with more than one person (all of whom could even be women, because SHOCKER, lesbian poly women exist too) in an open, ethical manner.

The author has little evidence for her supposition that "women suffer" from polyamory. Heck, she has little evidence to offer regarding polyamory at all, apart from People magazine running an article about a polyamorous triad, the show You Me Her and a seriously exploitative, nudge-wink sounding documentary called Sister Wives. This hardly constitutes an explosion of polyamory, for a start, but rather indicates that the media is finally giving the poly community some attention because it's a new and sexy angle that they can work for clickbait. Also, none of these three things are the same. The first example is of a poly V, where two people are involved with the same person ('pivot') but not with each other. From what I can tell, You Me Her is an example of a poly triad, where all three people are involved with each other. And the last? Is an example of what I mentioned early - NOT polyamory, but polygamy - a patriarch using religion to justify having more than one wife and the wives accepting a subordinate position to him.

Funnily enough, no one in the poly community is trying to convince the mainstream that the latter is cool, or fun or edgy, because we know it's the opposite. Most of us are poly because we reject the restrictive structures imposed on our love and sex lives by heteronormative, sexist, religiously-based rules. We do not practise or endorse polygamy (in the way that the term is currently used and understood) because it is not ethical, egalitarian or in any way progressive. And frankly, I'm a little suspicious of any conservative pretending to be concerned about women being oppressed in polygamous households, because women subservient, domesticated and constantly pregnant seems to be exactly what conservatives want.

On to the next thing - the complete erasure of poly triads or Vs that involve two men and one woman. The author claims - again, with no evidence except a few carefully selected references to pop culture.
Nobody is asking for a show called “Brother Husbands.” Nine of ten pictures for polyamory involve one man with multiple women . . . Men may sleep around, but they don’t tolerate the degradation of being a part of a modern male harem, nor have they ever, really.
The author's hostility to the concept of non-monogamy is clear in their choice of pejorative terms such as 'degradation' and 'harem.' They presume that anyone whose partner is also dating others is being exploited and demeaned. They presume no one could really want or enjoy this. They presume that the person with multiple partners is only doing it for an ego boost. Sounds to me like a heck of a lot of monogamous conditioning at work there.

But that aside, it's simply not true that all poly relationships involve one man and multiple women. You want a pop culture example? How about the most recent season of Orange is The New Black, where celebrity inmate Judy King has both a boyfriend and a husband? Or the famous threesome in House of Cards where Frank Underwood and his wife Claire have a fun tumble with their Secret Service man, Edward Meechum? Or This is England '90, where Lol, Woody and Milky parent their children openly and communally, as a three? Also, I don't know what search engine the author was using, but when I googled Polyamory, I got four photos of poly quads showing two men and two women, two photos of a woman with two men, one pretty piece of art depicting a woman with two men, and one stock image of a man with two women. Perhaps there's a bit of selective searching and confirmation bias going on with the author?

That's not to say there isn't also a problem with cultural bias. Poly triads involving two women get more attention because the idea that two women together is every man's fantasy persists. Poly Vs, where the women both date the same man but not each other, get less attention (or aren't even considered as an option) because then there's no hot girl-on-girl action; or, they only get attention for the reason that this author is pushing - that two women 'sharing' a man must be miserable and jealous. There's no consideration of the idea that you can date, sleep with, love, share your life with more than one person and actually be happy that way. Or that not everyone wants the commitment of a full-time relationship (solo polyamory is definitely a thing) and that some women might be quite happy being able to share the load, emotion-, time- and sex-wise, of having a partner, with someone else. 

Also. Also also also. Bi men exist. Poly triads with two men exist. Poly Vs with two men exist. As do bigger, looser group arrangements where the number of men match or outnumber the women involved. The erasure of bi men, and the way bi women are fetishised yet their sexuality is not actually taken seriously (it's just something hot for a man to watch or get involved in!) is a problem in our society. A culture built around what men supposedly want to see doesn't know what to do about guys who have sex with both men and women - even though there are plenty of women who find man-on-man erotica very hot - so it pretends they don't exist. But if you're really going to dig in to what poly means and is, you need to do better than just repeating artificial cultural myths.

For me, as a straight poly woman leaning towards the 'solo' edge of polyamory, ethical non-monogamy has never felt anything but empowering. I've written elsewhere on this blog about how I believe polyamory forces one to deal with many of the barriers to feminism, by deconstructing the toxic climate which teaches women to be jealous of and mistreat each other in pursuit of a man and which shames women for owning and expressing their sexuality without shame. Solo polyamory also prizes independence, self-love and blazing one's own trail as an individual rather than as part of a couple, which I think is still something we can't promote enough to girls and women. When I was a teenager, I used to moon around thinking about The One who pop culture told me would come along and make everything better. Needless to say, I don't think like that any more. Now, I am happy to be my own One - while still enjoying both meaningful and more casual connections with some fantastic men. 

So yes, there may be 'unicorn hunters' in the poly community (couples aggressively/sleazily looking for a bisexual woman to 'complete' them in a way which fails to treat said woman as an equal part of the relationship) and a greater cultural bias against male bisexuality. There may be lousy and unethical behaviour in the community too, as there will inevitably be wherever you find human beings. But none of those problems has polyamory at its root - quite the opposite, in fact. The only times I've 'suffered' have been when my polyamory butts up against someone else's monogamy (or their failures with it - i.e. those who want to cheat rather than practise ethical non-monogamy) and the situation inevitably ends with no one getting what they want. 

So to call polyamory 'barbarism from the 1850s' in an article where it is presumed that what all women crave is a nice, heterosexual, secure, marriage to a man and that getting anything else must mean we are being exploited is pretty fecking ironic. Don't fall for this faux-concerned fake feminism - we know what we want.

If you like what you read here, please consider supporting my writing over at Patreon!

4 May 2017

My next book - it's happening!

I'm very pleased and excited to confirm that McFarland have agreed to publish my second book, working title To Deprave and Corrupt: Britain's Battle with Obscenity. I'm about halfway through writing it and the deadline is mid-November 2017. 
So, what the dickens is this new book all about?

Well, 2017 marks the 160th anniversary of The Obscene Publications Act, which amazingly, still controls freedom of expression in the UK. The Act defined obscenity as anything “with the tendency to deprave and corrupt,” yet no one has ever been able to agree on what this actually means...

In the 1600s, you could be thrown in the stocks for criticising the king or the Church, but the law was less bothered about smutty literature. Occasional prosecutions for publishing risque books occurred, but generally the term "pervert" was synonymous with "atheist" until relatively recently. It wasn't until 1857 that an actual law on obscenity came into play, but this didn't stop erotica flourishing during the Victorian era - sample book titles included Lady Bumtickler's Revels and The Story of a Dildo!

The trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1960 is a well-known example of literature winning out against obscenity law, but there is no book that tells the story of what led up to this landmark case, or what came after it - hence me deciding to create it. The modern version of the Obscene Publications Act came into force in 1959, yet it still governs what we can and can't see on TV, film, online, in magazines, books or on the radio. You might well ask; how can such an old law still be relevant?!

Through interviews with porn performers, online safety specialists, magazine editors and free speech advocates, I'll look at how we've arrived at our current situation--which is much more censor-happy than most people realise--and what needs to change. 
Provisional chapter titles include:

  • Saving Face (-sitting): The Current Situation
  • Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children? Justifying Censorship by “protecting innocence"
  • Shoving it Down our Throats: Homophobia and Obscenity
  • How Did We End up Here? Obscenity in British History
  • Women Don’t Want That Sort of Thing: Gendering Obscenity
  • That Special Relationship: Britain and America’s Parallel Journey Through Obscenity
  • Trial by (Social) Media: The New Obscenity
Blog posts that give you a taste of the kind of material I'll be covering can be found here and and here.
I think this is a story which really needs telling in an accessible manner, not least because of its implications for free speech and the regulation of sexuality.

If you like the sound of all this, please check out my Patreon page where you can support this writing project and be rewarded with exclusive access to my work!

19 Apr 2017

The hidden warning of The Handmaid's Tale

There's been a lot of talk about The Handmaid's Tale--not just in the run-up to the release of the Hulu series, but pretty much ever since the US election last November. Sales of the book increased 200 percent after it sank in exactly what the presidency could spell for women, and not before time. Since I read the book myself as a 17 year-old in the early 2000s, I've only watched it become less and less like a far-away, freakish impossibility and more like an actual prediction of things that could come to pass. Anyone who hasn't read it and been discomfited at its prescience clearly hasn't been taking notice of the world around them, with its forced vaginal ultrasounds, rape clauses and "women as livestock" bills--or rather, they haven't considered news regarding women's bodily autonomy to be actual, y'know, news.

I haven't actually watched any of the trailers for the Hulu series because I want to see this adaptation so badly (the actors responsible for Peggy Olson and Poussey Washington taking on the leads? YUSSS please!!) but it's not available in the UK yet so I'm refusing to torment myself for now. However, I have re-read the book recently (thanks to writing work being so abysmally paid that I moonlight as an A level English Literature tutor), and as will happen when you revisit a work you thought you knew so well already, something struck me anew. [SPOILERS UPCOMING]

What women are being warned about in the book is not just misogyny, not just men who hate women and know that rolling back their reproductive rights is the fastest way to keep them servile, not just the power structures and institutions that will give such men a pass to do so. It's something much more insidious; it's the lure of anti-feminism itself, to women.

To put it another way, the danger isn't just that men may hate and oppress women--it's also that women may side with those men. As protagonist Offred says when the rollback of women's rights begins:
What was it about this that made us feel we deserved it?
Now, I know Offred is supposed to be an imperfect heroine, a regular woman who finds herself a reluctant freedom fighter. She's not the fearless lesbian who can fix her own car or find a weapon with only a toilet cistern at her disposal, she's not the rowdy 2nd-waver who marched for women's rights. And that's why we're supposed to like her, relate to her as an everywoman, a flawed protagonist. She's not too extreme. Indeed, she admits that pre-Gilead, she always saw feminism as somewhat unreasonable
I didn't much like it, this grudge-holding against the past.
That is, until it was too late.
That is what makes Offred such an object lesson. And that is what makes me want to shake her whenever I read The Handmaid's Tale. Because I find it such a terribly cautionary tale about a woman who never cared about feminism until the state came for her rights. 

In the pre-Gilead days, Offred admits that she found her feminist mother embarrassing and overly militant. While we can all understand how a mother's expectation for a daughter to be "the model offspring, the incarnation of her ideas" could indeed send their child running in the opposite direction, Offred's mother is absolutely right to castigate her daughter for taking her freedom for granted. Watching Offred's husband Luke helping with the dinner, she tells Offred:
Look at him, slicing up the carrots. Don't you know how many women's lives, how many women's bodies, the tanks had to roll over just to get that far?
But Offred's pre-Gilead world is a determinedly apolitical one. She watches her mother go on marches for women's rights with absolutely no desire to join in. Later she admits that there was an "animosity I used to sense in men, even in Luke. . .saying bitch in his head," but never joins the dots to consider how that animosity would play out if left unchecked. She reflects how living in the shadow of men's violence against women was normalised, and how she never baulked against being expected to live with it, but instead reverted to #NotAllMen to try and explain it:
 You'd remember stories you'd read, in the newspapers, about women who had been found. . . in ditches or forests or refrigerators in abandoned rented rooms, with their clothes on or off, sexually abused or not; at any rate killed. . . But all of that was pertinent only in the night, and had nothing to do with the man you loved.
She lets her best friend, radical lesbian Moira, tease her about being in league with the patriarchy, but, most heartbreakingly, never takes her warnings seriously - until the day "they shot the President and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. . . that was when they suspended the Constitution."
Look out, said Moira to me, over the phone, here it comes.
Here what comes? I said.
You wait, she said. They've been building up to this. It's you and me up against the wall, baby.  
Even as the world order she knows is crumbling around her, it still hasn't occurred to Offred that women's rights will be first on the chopping block--she needs a radical feminist to tell her this. And of course, Moira and Offred's mother is right. Women's passports and bank accounts are declared void. Their identities and freedoms are quickly erased. And only then, when the political becomes personal--when Offred realises her husband is not being disadvantaged by the changes at all--does she acknowledge, too late, what feminism won for her, offered her, and warned her against.
Something had shifted, some balance. . .He doesn't mind this, I thought. He doesn't mind it at all. Maybe he even likes it. We are not each other's any more. Instead, I am his.
Yet even as her time in the repressive Gilead state shows her how complacent she was to consider women's rights already won and ergo not requiring any further fight, Offred steers clear of ever getting too political. When the Commander asks her about the steamrollering of women's rights "What did we overlook?" and Offred responds "Love. . .falling in love," as a reader I always want to smack her. I find myself inwardly screaming LOVE? LOVE?! What about financial independence, work, freedom of movement, bodily freedom, being seen as more than a set of ovaries and a womb, or how about just NOT ROLLING BACK WOMEN'S RIGHTS TO THE STONE AGE?! Offred's response seems like such a wussy, wishy-washy answer that does nothing to address the utter misogyny in the Commander's assertion that "this way [women]'re protected, they can fulfil their biological destinies in peace." He's sitting there spouting exactly the kind of dangerous, faux-reverent, determinist propaganda about women being nothing more than reproductive vessels, and Offred doesn't challenge that. Instead she mentions the one thing that's supposed to distract women - romance. Flowers and hearts and having a man. It's a feminist facepalm moment - but I suppose that's why it's convincing.

Because we've all known those women, and we've all been those women, at some time or another. We've all fallen short of what we know are feminist ideals, resorted to individualism, trodden on other women. We can relate to Offred's human shortcomings--she meets her husband Luke by having an affair with him during his first marriage, she feels little solidarity with many of the female characters in the book (Janine, Serena Joy), rejecting the idea that women necessarily have any kind of obligation to one another just by virtue of being women. But I believe Atwood constructed Offred's character in this way to show just how ultimately disempowered these failures will leave us, if we take them to extremes. If we persist in screwing other women over for male attention, if we think it makes us look cool and tough to say we don't need feminism or to dismiss feminist women as angry, ugly or unreasonable, if we fail to take notice of the world around us and understand that justice witheld from women anywhere is injustice to women everywhere. . .

. . .then we will have no one to turn to, and no one to blame but ourselves, when we and our rights end up against the wall.

10 Mar 2017

American Pie - a secretly sex positive film?

In my constant search for pop culture artefacts that aren't horrifically sexist, perhaps I've become desperate or lowered my standards, but re-watching American Pie as it happened to pop up on my TV the other night, it struck me that what is often seen as nothing more than a gross-out teen movie is actually surprisingly sex positive.

Caveat: obviously it's a film about nice-looking, able-bodied, white, heterosexual kids in one of the richest countries of the world. We're not going to be able to get away from that, I'm afraid. But for what it is, I was struck by how, nearly 18 years since I first went to see it at the cinema, this film contains a lot of secretly feminist attitudes to sex.

1) It acknowledges that girls masturbate and have sex drives of their own

Firstly, through the conversations between Vicky (Tara Reid) and Jessica (Natasha Lyonne), which also propel the movie past the boundary for passing The Bechdel Test. Granted, they start off talking about whether Vicky's boyfriend Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) has ever given her an orgasm (and pretty realistically for a 17/18 year-old couple without sexual experience the answer is no), but the conversation then moves on to the more likely scenario of Vicky giving herself an orgasm. Jessica clearly has played solo before, Vicky is slightly scandalised at the thought of loving herself. And the exchange premiered the wonderful euphemism for female masturbation "to double click one's mouse." Women not talking about men but instead about how they can please themselves? Feminist and sex positive tick!

Secondly, through Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth)'s explorations when she's on her own in Jim (Jason Biggs)'s bedroom, a scene which also acknowledges that women also look at, and get off on, porn as she helps herself to some of his magazines to aid the experience. And finally, through the revelation Michelle makes when Jim is sitting next to her at the prom after party, bored senseless by her band camp stories, and she tells him that she used her flute as a dildo, causing him to spit his drink everywhere in shock. She shrugs "You think I don't know how to get myself off? That's half of what band camp is," speaking to a million horny teen girls tired of not seeing their own desires, but rather only those of boys, represented on screen.

2) It tells teen boys that they're douchebags if they try to pressure girls into bed

So, the boys' sex pact may seem a bit problematic: Kevin's rousing speech ("No longer shall our penises remain flaccid and unused!") contains some elements of entitlement, as if the boys are owed sex and girls should give it to them. However, the whole premise of the film is that it isn't going to be that simple; the boys are going to have treat girls like human beings if they stand a chance of getting themselves sexual partners.

This is emphasised on several occasions. Firstly, through Jessica's conversation with Kevin, where she tests him by advising him that telling Vicky he loves her is the best way to get her into bed. "That's how I was duped," she adds, and Kevin immediately responds that he doesn't want to "dupe" Vicky, but rather to please her. Jessica recommends giving her what she's never had before...

...which leads to Kevin calling up his older brother Tom for advice. Rather than us seeing blokey blusterings, the two have a surprisingly sensitive conversation where Tom says he's not interested in helping if Kevin is just trying to get his girl into bed. Again, Kevin emphasises that this isn't the case, and. as if Kevin has proven himself worthy of the knowledge, Tom then gives him access to the 'bible' of sex tips hidden in the school library, compiled by generations of boys. The most important section? The "Home of the Tongue Tornado", which although slightly terrifyingly named, leads me to the fact...

3) It acknowledges that for many women, oral sex is the best way to an orgasm

It's already been established that Vicky hasn't experienced an orgasm, either at her partner's hands or her own, but this all changes once Kevin goes down on her. Cue the pretty shonky joke where Vicky's dad comes to her bedroom door to call her down to dinner, and thinks her cries of "I'm coming, I'm coming!!" are her response, when of course it's because Kevin's down south working hard with his tongue. But considering how many books or movies make out that penetrative sex alone will always and easily lead to an orgasm for women--Yo, Sex and the City! Yo, Fifty S***** of ****!--American Pie is pretty damn good at emphasising the reality; that for the vast majority of women, just having a penis inside them ain't going to cut it. When Vicky and Kevin later do have sex, it definitely doesn't seem like an orgasmic experience for her--which again, is a pretty realistic depiction of first time sex, especially between two inexperienced teenagers.

4) It emphasises safer sex

Think how many sex scenes you've seen on TV or in films interrupted by characters stopping and searching for a condom (not including the likes of Grease or  Knocked Up, where lack of protection is central to the plot). Then think how many more you've seen where contraception is never mentioned, hinted at or used at all, but the characters just glide from kissing to foreplay to penetration with nary an awkward scrabble around in the nightstand or the guy stopping to put a condom on. I'm guessing the latter group is much bigger. The amount of films that never show even a quick "are you on the pill?" or "have you been tested?" conversation is depressing, and makes it irritating that the porn industry gets blamed for irresponsible sexual behaviour when Hollywood carries just as much of that blame, if not more, for making out that contraception and STI protection somehow magically happens without anyone ever talking about it or hopping out of bed to "wrap it up before you slap it up" (copyright Tim Westwood, some terrible lost time in the 90s). American Pie, by contrast, shows the four boys making their sex pact official by swearing on a box of condoms, which they all then take some of, and we later see Jim having a good old look at one of his rubber friends, Kevin pocketing a condom before the prom, and also Michelle having brought her own condoms to the after party.

5) It shows first time sex in a variety of ways, good and bad

Hollywood is rarely good with nuance, and subtlety definitely isn't what you expect from a gross-out teen sex comedy. Yet by showing the four different teen boys having four very different experiences, American Pie dodges the trap of depicting first time sex as either all doves cooing and choirs singing or all awkwardness and inconvenient bodily fluids. As mentioned above, Kevin and Vicky's experience is a bit quiet, a bit painful, but nothing terrible; it's pretty much how you'd expect it to go for two first-timers. Oz and Heather have the more stereotypically sensual experience with lots of slow, lingering touches and loving looks, all against the background of a beautiful lake, but (we later find out) don't 'go all the way'. Which is kind of nice in itself, seeing how goal-focused and phallocentric our definition of sex can be; it's important to see all the other things you can do with a partner depicted as appealing, without it necessarily having to end in PIV. It also sees Oz telling Heather about the sex pact and admitting he doesn't care about it; being with her is more important than reaching a 'goal' of sex to impress his friends (could we ask for any more 'right-on' behaviour from a horny teen boy?!). Finch, as we all remember with a smirk, discovers a mutual attraction with Mrs Stiffler and, having found an older woman the right match for his maturity (which is usually read by his peers as eccentricity) ends up having great fun on a pool table. And of course Jim is met with the highly sexual, confident Michelle, which again emphasises that teen girls have sex drives all of their own and a sexuality that isn't constructed as a passive response to male desire.


So yeah, there's still the pie scene, and the jizz-in-the-beer scene, and the coining of the term "MILF", and the usual homophobic ribbing one expects from teen boys (although this is confined to Stiffler, who we're generally supposed to see as an idiot anyway). But in amongst all that are a lot of sexual politics more progressive than in many films I see today, 18 years later. While some things need to stay in the late 90s - dial-up internet, belly chains, Aaron Carter's pop career, all-white, all-straight teen movies - there's clearly a lot of other stuff that we in the jaded 21st Century could still stand to learn from the class of '99.

3 Mar 2017

When you start talking about the bad stuff men do, the man present always wants to be acknowledged as an exception. One of the good guys. I guess that's fair and I usually don't mind doing it, but sometimes I wish they didn't need to stop the conversation so often to be reassured. 

When I first read those words in 2003, there was no #NotAllMen hashtag. Hell, there was no such thing as a hashtag, because this was pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook, pre-social media, pre- the common understanding of terms such as "mansplaining," pretty much pre-online feminism. But I knew it was something I had already experienced and that it was something that resonated with me. I was in my first year of university, already fiercely feminist, but without a world of memes and blogs and Feminism 101s to back me up, just a load of dusty tomes in the library that few people outside of the Sociology department had bothered to look at in years, probably decades. 

But I knew that whenever I mentioned feminist issues such as rape or domestic violence, men (or boys, as they still seemed - we were all only 19 after all) immediately jumped in to say "But I don't do that" or "Good men don't do that" and seemed to want a pat on the head for it.
I knew that it irritated me for reasons I couldn't quite articulate when men said "We all just should be equal, so you don't need to be a feminist - just be an equalist or a humanist," - and say this to me they certainly did.
I knew that feminism was seen as unreasonable, argumentative and unnecessarily divisive, and was far more likely to be the butt of a joke or an excuse for the guys around me to deliberately try to wind me up (read more about this in my post on my experiences at uni) than for any kind of real discussion about sexism or violence against women.

And nearly fourteen years later, I'm still seeing all this stuff happen. Which perhaps shouldn't be surprising, but I can't help think that in 2017, there are a lot fewer excuses for people in the most privileged groups in society to not have even the most basic literacy about that privilege. The internet's reach has absolutely mushroomed since I first sat in my halls of residence with my 1998-model PC that took 10 minutes to boot up and had a fan that made sounds like a refuse lorry. Hell, we didn't even have Wikipedia to babysit us every time we wanted to look something up! (I know, the deprivation). There were no Tumblr accounts, no helpful online guides to feminism, no stats at our fingertips, no click-of-a-button definitions of what privilege, mansplaining, whitesplaining, derailing etc were and why perhaps it was a good idea to desist from them. If we wanted an adequate explanation of why racism against whites or sexism against men was not technically possible, we probably had to trudge onto campus in the British rain and find that explanation in a book, something today's students would probably consider a human rights violation, rather than being able to access a concise answer with a swipe on our smartphones (our phones were considerably dumber, if less destructable - I think I had a Nokia 3310 for most of uni).

So, you might say today's men (and some women) have no excuse.
And yet they persist.
Only last week I witnessed a man (rightly) crash and burn in a Facebook thread after he felt the need to clarify a woman's assertion that women get more messages on dating sites because men bombard any female they see in the hope it might get them some action, with "Some men."
Ooof. I could see the shitstorm coming, but when alerted to why disrupting a discussion about women's experiences with #NotAllMen is unhelpful and unnecessary, matey boy did not acknowledge or apologise. Instead, he asserted "But I'm an ally!"
Double oof. The quickest of online searches would have told him that allying is not something you are, it's something you do (oh, and btw, interrupting women online? IS NOT HOW YOU DO IT), and also you don't get to give yourself that title. The oppressed group you claim to be allied to gets to make that decision, and right now, as an ally to women? YOU HAVE FAILED, SON.
But no, our man just blithely dug himself in deeper by refusing to take on board any of the criticisms coming from various female commenters, and instead depicted himself as a victim, set upon by all these evil angry wimmin. 

How could he have saved himself so much time and aggro? Well, a little reading clearly would have helped. A major attitude change would have helped, but seeing how invested this chap was in his picture of himself as A Good Guy, Really, To Whom These Evil  Bitches Just Won't Give Any Credit, we probably don't have time to wait for that. But one simple action would have helped.

He could have shut the fuck up and listened.

Because that is how you truly show you support for "equality."

First, you recognise that equality is a far off dream for the majority of people on this planet.

Then, you look at why.

Gender, race, class, economic background, sexual orientation, gender orientation, religion might be just a few of the factors you come up with.

Then you look at all the ways in which YOU do not suffer as a result of those things. If you are a straight white cis man with the internet access and literacy to read these words, I'm guessing you suffer either very little or NOT AT ALL.

Then you look at those who DO suffer as a result of those things and who are airing their grievances.


You do not say "Not all men/white people/white women/rich people/straight people/cis people...."

You do NOT say "But I'm an equalist!" Far off dream, remember? You think everyone else in the world doesn't already dream of equality too? But they don't have the PRIVILEGE to mush everyone else's complaints into one beige ball and make out that it's as simple as "Can't we all just get along?" There are specific oppressions to deal with first. Oppressions based on all those factors I mentioned above. And those suffering from those specific oppressions have a right to get angry and to be activists based on those specific oppressions. Because that is the only chance they stand of levelling the playing field.

Or, let me put it another way. If you, as a straight cis rich white man have three apples, and a white woman has two, and a black man has one, and a black woman has zero, and a black trans woman has minus-one and so on, how does giving everyone one apple help the situation? That's the equality you're asking for. You're asking us to be blind to existing inequalities. That doesn't help. We can talk about being equalists when we're in a world much closer to the even distribution of apples. But we are about a zillion miles from there right now. And every time you try to erase existing inequalities by making out that feminism, or Black Lives Matter, or gay or trans rights or Muslim rights activism are somehow unreasonable and irrelevant, you are keeping us there.

So instead, recognise your privilege. That doesn't mean anyone is saying nothing bad ever happened to you. What it does mean is looking at your general position in society and recognising all the safety and benefits it buys you (one of those being that strangers don't pop up on the internet to 'debate' your right to be treated as a full human being, so maybe pack that shit in for a start). It means looking at all the safety and benefits denied to others who don't walk down the street looking like you do. And START LISTENING.

Because that's what I do when I see talk of white privilege, white feminism, straight privilege, cis privilege, class privilege - because I know I benefit from all those things. I'm white, middle class, cis and straight presenting, femme, of an average BMI, educated, English speaking. I know those things all buy me certain rights and benefits. So when anyone who doesn't share those privileges talks, I listen. Even if they are slagging off white women or cis people in pejorative terms. I DON'T interrupt with #NotAllWhites or ask for credit for the ways in which I have not oppressed a particular group (cos you don't deserve a medal for just doing the basics of being a decent human being, I'm afraid). I listen to the anger and I ask myself where it comes from. I ask if it's legitimate. I conclude it most definitely is. I ask myself if I'm doing everything I can to ally, and conclude I could always do more. I stay quiet. I keep listening, and - here's the most important point - I DON'T jump in to make the conversation about me and my hurt feelings. Cos my feelings aren't hurt, actually, because I recognise that what's being talked about is so much bigger than me. It's about systems, structures, traditions, presumptions - not me as an individual person. As an individual I still need to take responsibility, but I am not going to achieve that by wading into a discussion with an oppressed group and acting like they've insulted my mother and owe me an apology, just because they've dared to let off steam about how a group I happen to be part of (whites, cis, straights, Westerners, whatever) lives free of oppression in a way that other groups (people of color, gay, trans, Muslim, immigrants, and so on) definitely do not.

TL;dr - Shut up and listen. Nope, don't say that. Or that. Keep shutting up. Yes, still. And now. Yep, still now. Bite that lip. Nope, don't say it. Don't. DON'T. Still listening? Good. Keep going. For how long? For as long as it takes until you no longer feel the need to interrupt because you realise your voice is NOT THE IMPORTANT ONE HERE.

To end on a positive note, change is clearly possible. A close male relative of mine told me he had to go to a conference for work and was explaining why he doesn't enjoy these events. He's someone who in the past has seemed exasperated by feminism, especially my allegiance to it, and has said he doesn't understand "why everything has to be a big debate." Yet, with no prompting from me, he said the conferences sucked because "it's all just white middle-aged men." I was so impressed and proud of him for noticing and for realising that a world of people who look just like you and have had the same experiences of you isn't a good thing, that I could quite easily have given him a cookie or a pat on the head.

But I didn't. Because he didn't deserve it for doing exactly what he's supposed to do.