30 October 2012

A Man's Man's Man's Word

For some reason this put itself at the top of my blog in October 2012. I actually wrote and published it in May 2011. Fuck knows how. A few more semi-coherent, largely reasonable but provocatively-worded points about this SlutWalk thing:
  • If you dress like a slut, you will be treated like a slut
  • Being a slut can get you raped
  • Men can't be sluts
  • Feminists like Cath Elliot have no claim to the word
  • There is no justification for promiscuity

If you dress like a slut, you will be treated like a slut
Or, more to the point, it's not actually necessary to be a slut to be labelled one. Just as hyperassimilated second-generation Christian converts fell foul of the Nuremburg Laws, just as Sikhs suffer Islamophobia, just as straights can get queer-bashed, sluttiness isn't something you choose. It's something slut-shamers allocate to you. To become a slut, all you need do is be labelled one.

Please note that there's not a specific way to dress like a slut. It's fashionable for women's clothing to suggest availability, so there's a fag-paper's breadth between slut and fashionable. The way to dress like a slut is to be a slut, and wear clothes. Don't flatter yourself, sluts, that you have any say in the matter.

Being a slut can get you raped
Obviously, as mentioned above, there's not actually anything you can do to avoid becoming a slut. Deciding whether you are or aren't one isn't really your prerogative. But try to avoid it all the same, as it's a known fact that sluts can't say no and therefore being one may be seen as constituting consent.

Men can't be sluts
You might say that gay or even straight men can get called "sluts" too. But, I wonder, is there a history of gay men using deliberately feminine terms for themselves and each other? Even slut? Could you maybe call a straight man a slut in a feminising sense? As in "a man who puts it about in the manner of a distasteful woman"? Just being used on men doesn't remove its reference to women, the amusing absurdity of using it for a man showing how clearly it refers to a woman. So if anything a little humour can help entrench it.

Feminists like Cath Elliot have no claim to the word
I'm thinking specifically about what she says here
Because of their history, and because I’m a feminist, ['slut' and 'cunt'] are words I would never use to describe any other woman, just as they are words I would never ever use to describe myself.
Which is reasonable enough, but I've never trusted avoidance tactics. Even if anyone had any particular moral right to determine how other people use their own language, good luck persuading hardline misogynists to use more feminist terminology. Good luck switching off the linguistic auto-pilot of the people who don't read feminist blogs. Language is not shaped through sitting round deciding what words are ok and which aren't. Language is shaped by usage, and words belong to the people who use and understand them. If you decline to say a word, you forfeit any ability to shape its meaning through the contexts you say it in. If she really means that "feminism is about liberation, not capitulation", she just capitulated a perfectly good four-letter combo to woman-haters.

There is no justification for promiscuity
Aside from that, the problem with 'slut' isn't like the problem with, say 'Nigger'. It's not a word for an ok thing to be that has been given nasty connotations through several centuries of slavery, violence and systematic discrimination. The signified, not the signifier is the problem. Someone who grew up being called 'dyke' or 'faggot' can try and reclaim these words, because their objection is mostly to the set of sounds or letters. 'Slut' goes deeper. The very concept of 'slut' is rotten. A slut is a woman who is too promiscuous. Sometimes we like it - I believe pornography tends to get excited about "sluts" from time to time - but I doubt anyone would be surprised that our attitude to sex leaves room to have no respect for sluts as human beings, but still like the idea of fucking them. "Promiscuity" shouldn't exist. Without us specifying a normal sexual appetite or number of partners, promiscuity and sluts just wouldn't make any bloody sense. I mean, we don't have a word for someone who scratches the end of their nose too much.

On balance then, I'm in favour of the SlutWalk. Even though absurdities like sluttiness need to be ironised, misapplied and generally mashed about until they mean precisely fuck-all, this relatively straight-faced use of the word still has its purpose. We don't just need to break the word. We need to break the word's connections to rape. We need to break the connections between dressing like one and being one - and dressing up like a slut for the purpose of serious frigid-feminist hairy-armpit demo action is going to bollocks up all kinds of fun preconceptions.

But let's not get bogged down with the word. This isn't really about sluts, because sluts don't exist. It's about lots of sex, multiple partners, revealing clothes and provocative behaviour. It's about asserting women's right to do them, and the right for them not to be considered consent. Once we've sorted that out, what we call it should be largely academic.

PS Oglaf is good at the word 'slut'.

19 October 2012

A Day in the Life of The Twitter Activists

You may or may not be aware of the Activist Socialist Party/Revolutionary Communalist Party/Red Chili Peppers/whatever they're called now. If not, Lissy Number has kindly documented their Twitter Empire, and a small bit of code twits regular summaries of whatever it is they're on about. It's easy to dismiss them as a "cult", because they pretty much are, but they also manage to have this bizarre self-sustaining momentum despite not having any real specific ideas. Like this sci-fi story I once read where someone wrote a constitution for a local sewing circle and it took over the world.

Generally, their jokes look like this: And their serious statements look like this: and occasionally get either rather mean-spirited: or descend into a full-on intersectional clusterfuck: They also do artwork but it's usually not very good and they only really publish it in theory now.

Anyway, they have a leader. He's on Twitter if you don't believe me. They also have an anarchy-themed account, which is brilliant. I reckon everything you need to know you can learn from the Radcal Anarchist feed. Bear in mind that, although I'm going to be drawing conclusions from indivudual tweets, the Activists are pretty repetitive and most of these have come up with slightly different wording at least fifteen times each.

Firstly, they seem to be having an internal struggle with three main factions. Most urgently dangerous is the faction among the anarchists who think anarchy is "horizontal" or "leaderless" or involves "consensus-based democracy" or whatever. Oh yeah, this leader demands DISCIPLINE. Not that kind of discipline though. You see, the second mutinous faction is the ones who want to have interesting sex: The ones they really hate though, the ones they're constantly battling with, are the ones who want to take drugs, get drunk and have some kind of fun or other alongside the serious business of activisting: Apart from this barrier obviously: NO FUN.

Bear in mind they do have an effective and sympathetic treatment centre for those who are struggling with addiction. But of course, you know what so-called "anarchists" always say whenever you tell them freedom doesn't include any actual fun, especially if you mention dancing. Of course, some up-their-own-arse elitists will always try to argue about what this or that socialist or anarchist or philosopher "meant" or "said" or "consistently emphasised throughout their writing", and they'll tell you to "actually read the fucking book" or to "at least get a primer or something" or "even listen to the fucking In Our Time podcast with Melvin fucking Bragg of all people" but you can't go paying attention to these paid quislings. Ok, bear in mind the same stuff keeps coming up, so this same squabble must be going on all the bloody time.

Clearly if The Leader of the Activist Socialist People's Front of the Revolutionary Revolutionist Party is going to fight those who act in the interests/pay of the capitalist boss class, he needs a comeback. He has two in fact. "Reformist": and, for something a little more serious, "traitor": And we all know what happens when the great all-seeing eye falls upon traitors right? Right?

15 September 2012

Dawkins' Bullseyes, OR Why My Murderous Ideology Is Different

Earlier today, Richard Dawkins wrote on his Twitter that
Some people can't cope with religion being satirised like anything else. The only bad satire is satire that fails to hit the bullseye.
I think after it was misconstrued as approving of The Innocence of Muslims, he deleted the tweet. This was particularly annoying as I'd retwat it along with the following tweet, and it made the sarcastic approval I twat look sincere. It takes some pretty sizeable brass-balls to say the defining quality of good satire is hitting the bull's eye, as you can never again make satirical comments that are that spectacularly wide of the mark in so many ways. But then our Rich is no stranger to basing his smug satirical comments on a complete misunderstanding of the situation.

It's already been carefully explained to him why he might have missed out a few of the roots of Muslim anger. But there's some bonus blinkered hypocrisy in there for anyone who's willing to look.

Charles Darwin was born in 1809. This preceded the independence/unification of New Zealand, Peru and Italy, all three countries Dawkins mentions. In fact, when On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was published in 1859, New Zealand was a self-governing colony and it would be two years before a unified Italian Parliament would sit (in Turin, until 1870 the capital they declared, Rome, still belonged to the Church). This means two of the three countries he uses as examples are actually more recent inventions than evolutionary biology. Richard Dawkins's bullseye satirical tweet relies on the idea that conflating completely separate countries is irrational, when those separations are actually younger than his own academic field. That the protesters might be railing against a Christian/secular West rather than specific states, that religious extremists might divide humanity up according to religious, rather than national criteria, doesn't seem to occur to him. The angry Thor enthusiasts are obviously idiots, despite clear divisions between nation states being no less made-up politicised bollocks than, well, God. If you're struggling to get your head round the geography of this, Italy is actually closer to Peru than Britain (UK) is to the Falklands (UK).

Obviously Dawkins is not the only person to get huffy about how irrational religion is while blithely believing away in some weirdo deity called Countries. Modern Nationalism is generally seen as starting with the famously anticlerical French Revolution. The 1848 Revolutions and largely non-Nazi Kulturkampf consciously and openly fought the old, god-bothering order with liberalism and nationalism. Nation didn't just drift into the void left by faith, it was actively used against it as a weapon and replacement.

We're quick to imagine religious faith tearing the world apart, even if it means ignoring secular patriotism. Theodor Herzl, celebrated in Israel as the founder of Jewish nationalism, identified (as did his successor Max Nordau) as a Free Thinker, considered his movement almost entirely secular, squabbled with all manner of Rabbis and never circumcised his son. Yet Zionism is frequently characterised as a religious mania and Israel-Palestine an entirely sectarian conflict. Sometimes, shifting the blame from the racists to the religious seems a little more deliberate. Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation puts ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia, as tangled and convoluted as it was bloody, entirely down to Orthodox Serbs vs Catholic Croats vs Muslim Bosnians.

Let's not pretend nationalism is all sweetness and light, or even harmlessly innocuous. From Mao to Hitler to Saddam Hussein, people have been slaughtered by secular nationalists with an efficiency, ruthlessness and scale that make amateurs like Osama Bin Laden look like a cross between Father Christmas and the Chuckle Brothers. Religion and nationalism slot scarily neatly together at times, but that lets neither off the hook, and nationalists tend to have more, bigger guns. Even on a more banal level, nationalism creates the illusion that, in increasingly unequal societies, the various economic classes have some kind of shared interest. Those awful Muslims insist we respect their religious taboos even if we're not Muslims, but it's entirely legit for Britain to demand French and Italian hacks respect our royals without even being their subjects.

Just imagine though. Imagine thinking religion was an irrational, murderous and divisive fiction to keep us stupid and docile, and then acting like nations were actually a thing.

27 July 2012

It's a Zone Not a Verb, My Friend

Ok firstly, it's sad that The Friend Zone isn't as amazing as it sounds. Secondly, I'm not really sure or particularly bothered whether the Friend Zone is a thing or not. It has a wikipedia page if that helps at all. Thirdly, the term has reached the point where, if it is a thing, I don't actually know what it is.

Like most people who were watching American telly in the mid-90's, I first came across the idea in Friends. This bloke fancies this woman with this hairstyle. They later fuck and don't fuck and fuck again until the show ends 10 years later. But, before that (1994), this other lothario-type bloke warns him that if you wait too long to make a move on a girl, you'll end up in The Friend Zone and she'll have lost interest in you sexually. Two years later, Chris Rock also uses it, with the implication that he's an idiot and it's his fault. Five years on, 2001, it crops up in Scrubs, but where the running gag fuckcouple have exactly 48 hours (exactly) to kiss or else they'll get Stuck in The Friend Zone. This one's especially interesting as it seems they get stuck there, due to them both being rubbish and idiots, rather than just the hapless bloke.

In both of these, it's a force of nature. It's a natural process that women, or men and women, go through with interpersonal relationships, and the main thing with it is time. Maybe this is true. I've had friends and acquaintances that I've fancied a lot when I first met them but then as I got to know them, I cared less and less that they were fit. I've also been friends with a lot of women who didn't particularly want to fuck me, though I wasn't sure specifically why and spilling my guts on the matter earlier or later didn't seem to make any difference.

In 2005 someone based a whole film, the cryptically titled Just Friends, on the premise of The Friend Zone. I've not seen it so I don't know if they fuck in the end, but its approach is slightly different. In this one, you do end up in The Friend Zone, mostly by having lunch, but the woman decides that you're a friend. Either way, there's a shift in agency. Women, with clockwork efficiency, consciously give you Friend status. But ending up in The Friend Zone is still your own stupid fault.

Nowadays, and I'm not sure when it happened, there's Friend Zoning. Instead of blundering into The Friend Zone because you're terrified of initiating things and leave it too long, a woman actively puts you there. Instead of an accident that was sort of your, or human nature's, fault, it's an act of spite on her part, a special manspace in her psyche, with all razorwire between it and her fanny. So rather than dating advice, you get batshit biotruth hypergamy conspiracies and sexual violence-based revenge fantasies that really aren't the way to treat your friends.

The Friend Zone, as in the dating balls-up, might well be bollocks, and might not. Either way, it makes you fucking miserable, and more so than your standard romantic disappointment. If she's genuinely your friend, you've probably got quite fond of her, which not only makes it sting that little bit more, but turns your friendship from something fun into something painful. On top of that, a friend is someone who actually likes you personally, so you've not ruined things yourself by being an arse, and if you're also passably attractive, it's hard to see where you went wrong. It also feels unfair on a gut level, because you didn't get what you wanted and she did, and all she had to do was not want as many things. Basically, rejection is heartbreaking and frustrating and you're probably allowed to be a bit heartbroken and frustrated over it.

Friend Zoning, as in some weird mean thing women do to men because fuck knows why, is definitely bollocks. Using it as a verb makes the woman personally responsible for not fancying you, morally culpable for the fact that not everyone wants to fuck everyone at any given time. It goes from fucking up and not getting what you were hoping for, to being fucked over and not getting what you were owed. The difference between The Friend Zone as an accident and Friend Zoning as a verb is the difference between deserving sympathy for being unlucky, and squandering sympathy by being a cock about it.

12 July 2012

Daniel Delegates

This is a post about rape jokes. It's got some in. If you don't want to read them, feel free to skip to the end at any point and I won't be offended.

So Daniel Tosh, comedian, was doing his schtick about how rape can be funny, got heckled for it, and made jokes about the heckler getting gang raped. He has since, I should point out, provided some unsubstantiated counter-accusations by way of apology. Anyway, this has set off the customary argument between the people who say rape is never a legitimate topic for humour, and the comedians who say it can be when they do it.

Ally Fogg argues that comedy "takes you on a journey", and whether the joke is ok or not depends on the journey. I'd put it even more simply - every joke is a statement. A convoluted, roundabout statement largely for entertainment purposes, but still a statement. If the statement is so at odds with your understanding of the world that it makes no sense, you won't find it funny. If it's the kind of statement an asshole would make or agree with, if you tell or laugh at that joke, you're an asshole.

Usually, as I've gone into, the statement is pretty easy to decode. Sometimes, you're saying the opposite of what you really think, or what you really think but exaggerated. Sometimes you're saying something you think but that it's socially unacceptable to say. Sometimes you're saying what your gut reaction is, but which is at odds with what you actually think. Most of the time though, you're also saying "I refuse to take this topic seriously at this point in time."

This is one of the problems with rape jokes. Nobody treats knocking on doors as a serious topic. As long as you take politics seriously at some point, being flippant about it is legit. When a person jokes about rape, they announce to anyone listening that they refuse to take rape seriously, and where this differs from refusing to take, say, murder or common assault seriously is that we as a society have a real problem taking rape seriously outside of humour. Granted, humour is upside-down, especially dark humour. The fact that we're shocked when people refuse to take it seriously can be the point of the joke, if you find it funny being shocked. But remember, not everybody likes being shocked by the thought of sexual violence.

From here on in there'll be detailed dissection of rape jokes, so you can either skip to the end, or skip the off-topic prattle about other shite he's said and read the main one the post is about.

The weird thing is, some of the statements Daniel Tosh has made through jokes, I reckon most feminists would agree with:
Basically, there are four kinds of rape. The traditional, scary rape which seems to happen only to joggers, so if you wanna stay safe, knock it off with the cardio.
This joke seems, weirdly, to be aimed at the kind of pre-emptive victim-blaming we get in the form of advice on how not to get raped. Instead of things like don't drink, dress sluttily or go out without a strong, responsible man to protect you - things we don't want women to do anyway - he picks things women are supposed to do, like work out and be healthy. He goes on:
Then there’s prison rape, which involves criminals so it doesn’t really count.
Well shit, feminists have been saying for years that our attitude to prison rape is abominable. He can't keep it up though:
Now, date rape is the politest rape of them all, but it would happen way less often if doctors would just stop prescribing the date rape drug. Last, but not least, statutory rape, which can be very confusing, because let’s be honest, women never look their age. 15 or 57, who can tell? I don’t work at a goddamn carnival. And every place is different. In these states [shows highlighted map of the US], the age of consent is 16. Basically, if your state can’t wait for President Palin, it’s a safe bet you can legally bang a high school sophomore. But for you real perverts, in Mexico it’s 12 so book your flights today.
He has to go off into puns and silliness (from Ludicrous Statement jokes to Rape!-LOL jokes), because the overall message of the skit is not "Victim blaming is ludicrous and we need to pay more attention to sexual assaults in prison" but "Relax, it's just rape. No need to take it so seriously."

Then there's the joke he apologised for. He starts off with a mixture of Rape!-LOL jokes and Rape-Joke-In-Front-Of-A-Feminist jokes. Rape is funny because it's something you're not to joke about, and telling jokes about rape is funny because some omnipresent straw feminist says you can't but you're doing it anyway. These are basically the worst jokes - the least funny and making you the shittest human being. Anyway, as soon as his authority as comedian is challenged, he goes:
Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…
The joke works on two levels, both of which are unfunny and shit. On the first level, he's been told his jokes are upsetting someone, so, in a heroic act of resistance, he does it worse and focused directly on her. This is your standard Rape-Joke-In-Front-Of-A-Feminist. On the second, he's using hyperbole and Going Too Far. He's saying it'd be funny if she was gang raped, but all he really means is she should shut up.

Daniel Tosh has a weird idea of dramatic irony. This woman thinks something is too awful not to take seriously, so what would be hilarious is if it happened to her really awfully so she had to take it seriously. Not she disrupted my humour, wouldn't it be ironic if she didn't hear anything funny for a week, or she hates rape wouldn't it be funny if nobody ever got raped again anywhere. She hates rape so wouldn't it be funny if she got the thing she hates. Like how poetic justice is when someone prevents a murder and then gets murdered. But what Tosh is getting at is the same either way - he is not at fault for joking about rape, she is at fault for being uncomfortable with it. Though obviously nobody should really assault anyone, the threat of rape is a great way to shut up gobby women.

But the most interesting bit is that Daniel Tosh doesn't do his own dirty work. He doesn't imagine himself raping the heckler, but like 5 purely hypothetical guys. Maybe they're the stereotypical raincoat-and-glasses pervert entirely unlike him or his audience. Or some animalistic ethnic group entirely unlike him or his audience. Or the stereotypical Tattooed Thug that Nice Guys always lose out to, entirely unlike him or his audience. Or stereotypical overprivileged fratboy jocks, entirely unlike him or his audience. Whatever he was imagining, rape is externalised, outsourced.

Transgressive humour, as it's basically just pretending to break taboos under controlled conditions, does more to reinforce than to undermine them. But an awful lot hangs on what exactly these taboos are and why. Compare his skit on anti-bullying campaigns, where he seems to identify more with the bullies, and even if he's partly joking, the overall butt of the joke is the lameness of the victims. Yeah, he's edgy, but the wrong edge. Where good comedians push the envelope, he pulls it back towards himself and his own.

Daniel Tosh's joke doesn't remind us that rape is a terrible, terrible thing that we should never do, but that rapists are terrible, terrible people utterly unlike us. Clearly he would never rape a woman himself, but he's quite happy to use the fear of gendered violence by unspecified other people to get her to shut her trap. Even when his jokes hinge on the idea that rape is bad, like UniLad, his working definition is mostly the comparatively rare "stranger rape". While he doesn't tell the 6% of rapists in the crowd to keep up the good work, he does tell them to relax because rape is something other people do. Although he's not quite saying "rape is funny", he is providing a release valve for after bossy feminists force us to take it seriously. Of course, he would be appalled if the heckler really was attacked, it's just important to remind her of her place because his freedom of speech is more important than hers.

I don't want to say flat out that rape is never a laughing matter or a subject for humour, for the simple reason that I've seen quite a few feminists, even Melissa McEwan and even on anti-rape marches, use humour in discussions of rape, if not to comfort the afflicted, then to afflict the comfortable. Humour is a powerful tool and not one misogynists should have the monopoly on. The problem isn't that Daniel Tosh uses humour around rape, but how he does it. Daniel Tosh uses rape jokes to afflict women for the crime of being afflicted, and, if any rapists start to feel uncomfortable, to comfort them with a reminder that the real rapists are elsewhere.

Edit: Couple of things: Stavvers and Actual Professional Comedian Jonnie Marbles have both written things on Daniel Tosh which I recommend, plus Jezebel has a guide to joking about rape without being a total arse, giving four examples. Oddly enough, all of the examples, as well as ridiculous statements which satirise our perceptions and complacency around rape, are Unreasonable sick jokes. They make irrational behaviour and gut reactions that really happened sound absurd by describing them as if they were reasoned thought processes, rather than just saying something that the mean feminist thought police won't let you.

Also, I found out about Daniel Tosh's hilarious lightly touching women's stomachs while they're sitting down memeskit. Like with his heckler abuse, in itself this isn't rape, or sexual assault, or even particularly sexual. But it's the same use of hypothetical rape to intimidate: we get to touch you however and whenever we want and don't you forget it, PS no fat chicks.

05 June 2012

Workfare and Slavery

Argument broke out on twitter over whether referring to workfare as slavery was helpful, productive or downright offensive. So I want to say all in one place why it's so difficult to discuss.

Firstly, metaphor:
This is not a question of metaphors. Metaphor is calling your boss, who pays your wages and leaves the office door unlocked, a slave-driver. The argument over workfare is iffy precisely because it moves beyond metaphor, precisely because calling workfare slavery can be understood as a straightforward statement. The problem isn't that it's a bad metaphor, it's that it's too close to being true to stay in the safe world of metaphors and irony. Slave-driving bosses are not real slave-drivers and nobody who says so really thinks so. Workfare slaves might just be slaves, depending on your definition, and we have to be more careful.

Secondly, the offensiveness:
While this is an important thing to bear in mind if you don't want to fuck up on the intersectionality front, and possibly more important than pedantic discussions over what, exactly, slavery is, avoiding offensiveness does, necessarily, require a good, solid definition of slavery. The second-to-last thing we want is to tell real slaves or their descendants that something tiny by comparison is "slavery". But the last thing we want is to tell real slaves or their descendants that no, that wasn't real slavery.

This post does a very good job of outlining just a few types of slavery, and there are a great many more - including the other most famous example. Many of our ideas about what "real" slavery is don't always fit with what we'd use the word for. Indentured labourers are not routinely whipped. The slaves of the classical era were not enslaved along racial lines. Forced labourers in gulags and concentration camps were neither owned nor sold. Nor is using past forms of slavery to understand present conditions exclusive to white, free-born liberals.

I'm not willing to tell Paul Robeson that no, that slavery wasn't the same and it's offensive of him to say so. Comparing real slavery to real slavery is clearly not offensive. What's crass and offensive is comparing real slavery to unreal slavery. So to argue that a comparison is offensive, you need a definition of "real" slavery that excludes at least one form of coerced, unpaid labour. And you need to be able to defend both your definition and that exclusion. Slavery is a broad category, and my definition is fuzzy round the edges. The idea of being offended because someone else's definition is broader and fuzzier or doesn't exclude enough is one that makes me quite uncomfortable.

Finally, pragmatism:
There are two ways to look at workfare in relation to capitalism. You can see it as an anomaly, or you can see it as business as usual. As far as I'm concerned, it's both. While workfare is not at odds with how capitalism usually behaves, it's very much at odds with what capitalism likes to believe about itself. Capitalism doesn't like to think of itself as coercive or exploitative. Capitalism likes to think of itself as paying everybody as much as they earn, as individual freedom, as a rising tide lifting all boats and as the only alternative to slavery/serfdom/gulags. And in order to function, capitalism has to believe its own bullshit.

There are two ways to argue against unpaid workers sleeping under bridges. We can fight it on capitalism's terms, or on our own. Clearly we don't want to argue that it's doing capitalism wrong, because that implies we could just do capitalism right and it'd be ok. But we also don't want to argue that this is just what capitalism is, because that implies capitalism is honest or consistent. We can, and should, argue with capitalism on its own terms at the same time as arguing on ours. Workfare is one of many examples where capitalism refuses to abide by its own values when there's profit to be had, because this is how the profit motive works. Pointing out cheating is good, pointing out that the game is rigged is better, but the best thing to point out is that capitalism rigged the game, lied about the rules, cheated anyway, and will play like this every time.

We're in uncharted territory with workfare. It's not exactly slavery as we'd normally understand the word, but then nor are most forms of slavery, past and present. It's also not capitalism's standard way of exploiting the proletariat, but then it's not a surprising change of tack either. History won't give us any precise terms for it, but it'll give us some vaguely useful ones. Whether workfare is slavery depends an awful lot on where you draw the line for slavery. It's also sort of irrelevant. Workfare is capitalism drifting worryingly close to that line, in a typical breach of its own professed values, and with worryingly little embarrassment about any of it.

25 April 2012

In Praise of ALL of Your Breasts Are Special

I've got to say, I was disappointed by the two recent Good Men Project (who are usually really nice) articles about breasts. Not because I don't like breasts. Oh no! I'm not some kind of homoqueer! …Ladies! It's just, well, I generally prefer little ones but I've not actually read any F. Scott Fitzgerald. Worse, what's important to me is a sense of humour, which, heartbreakingly, correlates far more closely to large breasts.

I never chose this - to fancy one kind of personality type but not the type of tits that causes it. To want the world-renowned jollity of a fat person but also sophisticated a-list personalities. And the scary thing is - this isn't the first article I've seen about how small breasts make you a better/more fuckable human being. I'm pretty sure I'm nowhere near alone in my preferences, which means I'll have competition. But how can I ever compete! I've not read any F. Scott Fitzgerald, I'm rubbish at sports and didn't grow up as an athlete, and I'm frightened by the idea of an adventurous and daring life. I feel like I borrowed my dad's car and drove to Costco, but I left my wallet in my hotel room and the staff took £20 out of it because I didn't hide it in my pants. Do you understand what I’m saying?

This next bit's for other good men so any females reading, bear with me: I'm still a proper lad. Yeah so I don't fancy the usual kind of lad-mag fodder. But it's ok. I'm alright. I'm not crazy. No need to hate me or worry about me. I've got excuses. I mean, it's ok to like fat birds because they're better dancers, have sweater manatees and don't make you drive your dad's car to Costco in a triangle. Well surely then it's ok for me to like small tits, right? You can offset them for tight calves and skis and a muscular stomach and being a better dancer. I'm not completely toeing the party line, but my reasons for deviating are ideologically sound. No need to call me an arse-man. I'm just sensitive, and bitches love that! So if one of you could just leave a comment giving me permission to fancy non-standard women and still be a lad that'd be great and I could sleep easy.

Also for purely research purposes, if anyone could find the body type which correlates to reading Fanon, getting drunk in front of Question Time and laughing at dogs, ideally also being impressed by men who play the bass guitar and prattle incessantly about Zionism, that'd be great. Thanks.

21 April 2012

The Rise and Fall of UniLad, or What the Fuck Banter Even Is

Obviously there's going to be rape jokes in this post. If you don't want to read them but are still curious about the rest, you might want to skip to the end.

Ok so Stavvers has had a already poked it with a stick, in a littery-crittery but-is-it-art kind of way. Eva Wiseman wonders
Why does banter exist? Why do men joke like this? Laugh at things that you're not meant to laugh at – insult each other, test their hetero skills? Are they taking the piss out of their own intimacy? Their very manliness? Is banter the act of whispering "IDon'tFancyYouIDon'tFancyYou" with your eyes?
To which the answer is "not exactly but pretty much yeah sort of".

We've all engaged in banter-related activity. We've all shown affection to people by winding them up - by taking the piss out of their favourite team/band/Russian novelist, by humming songs you know they hate, by drawing attention to their negative qualities, by randomly showing them a picture of Slavoj Žižek wiggling his tongue erotically when they're trying to eat, things like that. And this kind of banter is a useful, upside-down social ritual. Hugs and handshakes can be insincere. Banter can't. Banter shows three things:
  • You are aware of your friend/teammate/lover's faults and weaknesses.
  • You know them well enough to annoy them, so can judge their soft limits.
  • You know and care about them well enough to stop short of offending them, so can judge and respect their hard limits.
Combined, you get a practical demonstration that you are well aware of the things that make them insecure, and respect them nonetheless. This is particularly important among LADs, Real Men™ and other such heterosexuals, because, as we know, if you say "I know your flaws and I respect you in spite of them" to another man directly, you might as well slip a finger up his arse and whisper "I love you. Yes homo."

UniLad fanboys though, can't do this right. At least, not to women. I'm going to be generous and say they probably are pretty good at respectfully judging hard and soft limits among themselves. They're also very good at cowering before the spectre of homoerotic desire. But with women and feminists, they can only do two of the three things. Clearly, they've found some flaws in women and feminists. And they seem to have done quite well at pissing women and feminists off. But they show no respect whatsoever and are quite obviously utterly clueless at judging their boundaries. The purpose of banter is to be handled, so if someone can't handle the banter, it's stopped being banter. This is not banter. This is not playful. This is not safe and under controlled conditions. This is an outright attack, targeted specifically at perceived vulnerabilities, pretending to be a game.

Which, unless you want to skip to the end, brings me to the rape jokes. First off, I think we focus far too much on what UniLad LADs say about rape. They deserve substantial credit for their attitude to consensual sex because, as you'll see if you read any of their articles, when UniLad LADs have sex, they pretty much ALWAYS win. How amazing is that? When they're good at sex they are ACTUALLY ZEUS HIMSELF. When they get sucked off they debase the mouth-provider in hilarious ways. Their sex lives involve Batman-punching noises like POW!, BOSH!, and KA-DOGGY-STYLE! Even when the woman is so hairy he doesn't even get laid, the joke's on her because UniLad LAD has a wank. Suck that feminists.

The reason UniLad LADs need a meat-hook or Captain-Birdseye chainsaw or whatever to get it up, the reason they can't have sex with a vagina but only with an anus or gash, the reason they can't just enjoy the sensation of a woman's lips and tongue caressing their erect penis unless she's somehow degraded by it is because they're fucking terrified. Maybe even rightly so. Rejection hurts. Affection leaves you vulnerable. Erotic thoughts are fucking frustrating when you've no chance of acting them out on the horizon. 'Woman' is a serious word. 'Wench' is silly, consciously silly, so through humour, you can distance yourself from the thought of sex while pretending to be a pirate. Haha! Arrrr! Having sex with a woman involves mutual pleasure, tension and release, skin on skin and the warmth of another human body. Destroying a wench involves transforming into a 14-megaton cock-missile that shoots up her clunge-hole and explodes her into fragments of sneaking-out-the-next-morning banter-fuel. It's just easier to think about sex this way if you're not having any. Plus if you feel too much fondness for a wench you might end up gay.

I've made a list of what I think the types are, and LibCom (compulsory reading - go and do it now) analyses jokes in terms of telling two different stories - the first story builds your expectations of what it was the chicken wanted on the other side of the road, the second tells you only that it wanted to be there. This is flawed on three counts though. Firstly, though jokes that only have one story are only shocking because they break social convention, breaking taboos under controlled conditions isn't necessarily antisocial and actually helps establish them. Secondly, there isn't a clear dividing line between one-story and two-story jokes. Thirdly, all of the rape jokes in the offending post were two-story jobbies.

The main one - and bear with me on this - I actually agree with:
If the girl you’ve taken for a drink…won’t ‘spread for your head,’ think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds.
The story-switching trick actually happens twice here. It switches from a story about what you should do - seduce a wench - to what you shouldn't do - rape her. This is a Going-Too-Far Rape Joke - while clearly women have no sexual agency and are only there for you to win shags from, to take this attitude to its logical conclusion is a no-no. Then it switches from a story about how serious the underreporting of rape is, which it is, to one, told from the perspective of a rapist, about how the terrifying number of unreported rapes actually encourages rape. Well fuck it, that's what feminists have been saying for years. This is a Rape!-LOL! Rape Joke - just playing off the shock value of mixing rape and humour - but it's also quite a sophisticated Unreasonable Sick Joke, showing - absurdly - the incentive that low conviction rates give to rapists as a carefully calculated thought process.

This leaves them in something of a pickle. One one hand, they've just said something serious and actually rather disturbing about rape. On the other they might have slightly advised their readership to go out and rape women. So:
Uni Lad does not condone rape without saying ‘surprise’
The two-stories trick lets them kill two birds with one stone. The first story is a disclaimer so as to squirm out of having told their readers to commit sexual assault, the second story is a joke, shitting on every serious statement they have previously made including the bit about not raping people, so as to squirm out of having made a serious apology.

For the joke they had to plunder the classics:
It's not rape if you shout "surprise!" Then it's legally classified as "surprise sex".
The first story is the famous pro-rape gambit of limiting what counts as rape, so you can continue to be appalled by rape, while being in favour of an awful lot of variants of it. You expect a serious "it's not rape if…". The second story is something silly that doesn't even make sense to rape apologists. This is an Unthinkable, Ridiculous-Idea Rape Joke.

But then, as soon as their non-apology goes up, this switches from a two-story joke to a one-story joke. Because pretty much every fuckwit who commented rolled out the same joke. Some of them thought of better or more original ones, but essentially they're all telling the same joke: Feminists don't want us to be offensive so we will be offensive to feminists. This is basically the least sophisticated of rape jokes, the Rape-Joke-In-Front-of-a-Feminist Rape Joke. And they're all telling it.

Some one-story jokes, as I said, make legitimate points. Even the plain shock-value rape joke defamiliarises rape, and reminds the listener that rape is really fucking awful. Though the vast majority of rape jokes by UniLad LADs implicitly recognised that rape is bad, the problem is that their working definition is by a stranger, who knows what he's doing is rape - which is only true of a very small proportion. And, obviously, there are certain people who might not enjoy a shock reminder of how awful rape is. The Rape-Joke-in-Front-of-a-Feminist Rape Joke has much nastier implications. The taboo it breaks/establishes is still rape, but not because rape is bad in itself, but because killjoy feminists say you're not allowed.

Offensive or over-the-top jokes aren't exclusive to LADs and rape. The Left is quite partial to jokes* about Gulags, eating the rich and SCUM manifestos, not because we're actually planning them, but because we feel the need to establish them as taboos. Likewise FULL COMMUNISM NOW: while it it's not a moral boundary like shooting Andy Warhol, FULL COMMUNISM, in practice, could take up to a decade to implement. Some jokes break taboos of practicality as well as morality, though this tends to be both less common, less funny and less smug.

What I found interesting was the sheer amount of effort UniLad LADs' attempts at banter involve. Being a LAD seems to be a constant battle, with flippant, repetitive humour as the only weapon, against confronting all kinds of things. The emotional bonds between them, the possibility of forming emotional bonds with women that they're fucking, women being sexual beings in their own right, the horror of rape and also the fact that it's the logical culmination of their attitude to sex, all of these need to be covered up. The jokes FHM prints under naked ladies aren't meant to be funny, but a stern warning not to take your erection seriously, in case you realise you've just bought a jazz mag for people who are too embarrassed to buy jazz mags.

Rape banter is the same. Shit jokes, violent analogies and straight-up objectification allow LADs to read UniLad's erotic fiction while pretending that they're not reading erotic fiction, to share their sexual fantasies while pretending that they're not sharing their sexual fantasies. Joking about rape not only hides their downright rapey attitude to sex, it sets a limit, as a reminder not to let it spill over into actual rape. But by joking almost exclusively about Classic Rape™ and drug rape, this limit still allows for an awful lot of non-consensual sex, while neatly separating it from rape. These jokes help UniLad LADs avoid committing a very narrow and relatively rare form of rape while treating their basic attitudes to sex and women as harmless. Seeing sex as violence and women as fuckmeat is ok in principle, but rape is, in the exact words of UniLad's apology, taking it too far.

Edit: *Wink

Disclaimer: Linkshund does not condone gulags, eating the rich or the SCUM manifesto.

Disclaimer for the Disclaimer: He does really. LOL.

05 January 2012

The Catch-All Privilege Checklist!

I saw this female privilege checklist. But I thought it wasn't racist enough, and that homophobia and transphobia were only really hinted at, so here it is:

The Anyone Who Isn't Identifiably Straight, White and Male Including by Birth Privilege Checklist

In no particular order:
  1. I can encourage a child to put my nipples in its mouth without being labelled a paedophile.
  2. When I talk about the oppression of people like me, everyone will find it easy to keep a straight face.
  3. I am more likely to be a better dancer.
  4. I can wear pretty dresses without fear of being called a faggot.
  5. I can call someone 'my nigger' without sounding racist.
  6. Automatic door priority.
  7. I can suck another man's cock without fear of being called a faggot.
  8. Girls will like me because I'm all exotic and foreign.
  9. I am more likely to smell better.
  10. If I fall on hard times and have a webcam, I can make money just by masturbating.
  11. I can own several, even very large, dildos and vibrators without fear of being called a faggot.
  12. I can stop being bothered about competitive sports without fear of being called a faggot.
  13. I am never starved of affection as people will call me 'brother' or 'sister'.
  14. My partner is likely to want anal without any kind of pressure.
  15. Nicer hair.
  16. If I am stopped by police they are unlikely to have the right guy.
  17. Kids' TV presenters are likely to be either the same gender as me or at least a bit camp.
  18. Nobody laughs, EVER, at the rap song I did at the school talent show.
  19. My public toilets are lickably clean, nor do I ever miss the bowl/urinal when drunk.
  20. I do not have to worry in case balls touch.
  21. You know what they say about Black men? People will finally say that about me.
  22. I can meet someone I am attracted physically to in a public toilet or changing room.
  23. A changing room for fuck's sake! They might even be naked!
  24. I get to have babies.
  25. I can want cuddles without fear of being called a faggot.
  26. Members of the opposite sex will assume I do not fart - therefore allowing me to do so with impunity in front of them.
  27. Girls will like me more.
  28. I do not have to wonder what it's like to have boobies.
  29. People might think I'm cooler.

02 January 2012

Politics of Envy

One day, sitting at home, you get a phone call. It's from your friend. Her flatmate has moved out and left a whole fridge-full of delicious food. She's atrocious in the kitchen, but she knows you and your three flatmates are very good, and makes a suggestion: The four of you come round, make something amazing out of her food, she'll throw in a couple of bottles of wine and you'll all eat it together. It's a lovely idea, you all go round together, but as soon as you get to her flat, you need the toilet. And the thing is, though you're a pretty good cook yourself, all your flatmates are even better, and by the time you've finished your business, washed your hands and come out, they're all busy making dinner.

So you ask "Is there anything I can help with?" No, it turns out. They're all fine, just sit down. So you sit, you chat to the hostess, but you feel awkward. So you ask again, again nothing. A few minutes later, you start asking them individually, can you chop that, is there anything you can help with, why don't you take over that so he can have a turn sitting down, but to be honest, you feel like you're getting in the way more than anything. Soon, dinner's ready, it smells delicious, and you're just about to tuck in when your flatmate goes "wait!". He's staring you right in the eye. "Wait a second. I don't see why you should get any. You've not lifted a finger to help. What makes you think you deserve a share of the meal we've spent the past hour and a half slaving away on?" You go home, hungry.

Now, obviously you're partly to blame for having moved in with Ed Miliband. Tories and the Labourites that ape them are very concerned about the long-term unemployed. Your housemate was obviously very concerned about "idleness" and "something for nothing culture", and is damned if anyone's going to get something if there's nothing he actually wants from them in return. These people get very upset at the idea of someone never having a job. It doesn't seem to bother them that if 2.5 million people are unemployed and there are only half a million vacancies, then however you arrange it, at best there would still be two million people unemployed.

I can sort of see the objections to taxpayers' money going on benefits. But something for nothing, long-term joblessness, none of these cost us any extra money. Whether the two million leftover unemployed are idle because they're between jobs or have never had one because they're too shy, whether they would desperately take any job offered or just plain can't be fucked with it, it doesn't cost the taxpayer an extra penny either way, because there will be the same bloody shortfall in jobs. Two million jobseeker's claimants going idle is two million jobseeker's claimants going idle, and "choosing" a lifetime of it doesn't cause any net increase in idleness. I'm not saying it's not right to get people off benefits, that getting a job isn't a solution. I'm just saying that without full employment it's blatantly only going to work for a fraction of the people you yell it at.

So why do we care? Why do we get so fucking angry about people getting bare subsistence wages for nothing, when as a society there's nothing we want them to do for us anyway? Capitalist society's wife spends weeks and weeks asking "what do you want for your birthday?", and then after spending all that time saying "oh, nothing at all", capitalist society is pissed off with her for not having got it a present.

This is the real politics of envy. When us lefties get accused of it, our "envy" really amounts to condeming policies that create or perpetuate poverty, to wanting life opportunities for children to be earned and not bought, for incomes to be acquired by earnership and not ownership. Ours isn't envy, it's the urge for justice.

Right-wing envy though, is pathetic. Yeah, it's awful getting up to go to work. Mornings are shit. Commuting is shit. Jobs are shit. Bosses are shit. If we liked it we wouldn't have to be paid for it. But destituting other people won't get you a lie-in on a Monday morning. Right-wingers envy dole claimants for getting less than £70 a week to live on. Even though there's nothing they want from you, they hate and envy you for not giving it to them. Your housemate stares at you, burning with envy, because you're going to get the exact same portion as him. The only way to placate these people, who want nothing from you and resent you for it, is to pretend to be busy actively seeking work.

Long-term idleness is a problem. But it's not a problem for me personally. It's a problem for those that are stuck on it. Yet the "squeezed middle" who Tories, Labour and LibDems desperately chase round don't see that. For them, the victims of idleness are not the people condemned by a shortfall in jobs to low incomes and low social status. No, they are the perpetrators. The greasy, rotund, Burberry-covered perpetrators. The victim, as always, is sad middle-class tossers who have to look at poor people. And your housemate, Ed, would have rather you put the wooden spoons in alphabetical order than sit there having a chat. Which makes him sound an awful lot like Bill Hicks's boss.