Sheep, goats, angry men in coats.

One of the most troubling elements of recent political life is that some of my fondest theories and literatures are being recast in a new light, and it’s not flattering. The Frankfurt School, comprised of a twitchy bunch of middle-European men, thick in both coat and brow, produced much of the most prescient works on the cultural aspects of consumerist culture.

Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse angrily penned blistering critiques of low culture – films, books, T.V and drew direct lines between consuming this shit and quietly by-standing the Holocaust. More than fifty years on, all of their works are still troublingly apposite, but perhaps what’s become most alarming to me is that their ideas and language have been co-opted by what we might charitably call, ‘the far right’.

Consider this quote from Herbert Marcuse (1964),

Independence of thought, autonomy, and the right to political opposition are being deprived of their basic critical function in a society which seems increasingly capable of satisfying the needs of the Individuals through the way in which it is organised.

Every day some version of this statement will turn up on my Instagram account, usually in the service of those who champion, ‘freedom’. The anti-vax movement didn’t initiate this movement but it networked, refined and mobilised those with nascent views about their ‘freedom’. You know the people I’m talking about – the sovereign citizens, terrain theorists, bio hackers, survivalists etc.,. People I don’t normally think of myself as naturally gravitating towards. Although these people are generally characterised as being racist (something I can’t judge really as I have the privilege of not paying enough attention) what I am absolutely sure they are united by is a sneaky whiff of anti-semitism. The Frankfurt School would be sizzling.

The irony of bleating about the insidious and nefarious social and political manipulation rolled out through instagram is not lost on me. And yet claims about how the mainstream media depoliticises and poisons us, frames junk choices, broadly, controls us, continue apace. Here’s Adorno (1974), not even remotely writing about Instagram,

The phrase, the world wants to be deceived, has become truer than had ever been intended.

The resonance with today’s current bunch of wellness warriors is acute.

So what to make of this? For me, it’s like discovering that your high minded, moral, well-meaning religion (critical theory) has been adopted by Hillsong. Extremism is the hallmark of ‘not really understanding what the Frankfurt School was on about’. The creation of binary narratives – sheep/goats, blind/seeing, redpilled/bluepilled etc.,. are simplistic meta-narratives that mirror the ones that ‘freedom warriors’ claim to be so keen to resist.

The people who really get on the wagon with the ‘freedom’ talk are doing exactly the same thing as the people who run their lives according to the mainstream consumerism presented to them via the same channels. The sheep and the goats are equally serviceable in a curry. They are all making and producing and reproducing themselves and their identities through the medium of images presented and controlled through social media.

Herbert Marcuse claimed that ultimately, the main aim of the culture industries was to make profit, and I think that’s the right place to start thinking about this. Because although people who are extreme about what we might loosely call ‘the freedom movement’ mediated through social media, it is the social media platforms that make money out of them. They are, to repeat the phrase, the product.

Often, these social media personalities complain about being silenced or moderated or edited by the platform because of their unpopular views (for instance, people having their anti-vax posts removed) but in fact, the posts that get removed are the ones that don’t make the platform enough money. Engagement plus advertisement makes profit.

Perhaps these ‘influencers’, bravely baring their unshaved clackers to the world to give a defiant finger to ‘transhumanism’ are aware that the platform still makes money out of their content, but think it’s an acceptable price to pay for the ability to get the message out.

A vast majority of the content about ‘freedom’ exists in the health sphere, and was consolidated and weaponised by the anti-vax issue. Suddenly, a big part of the ‘wellness’ sphere transmogrified into a tight coalition of ‘paleo-bros’ and ‘bio hackers’ – a very male dominated eco system of tightly wound, mostly white guys who are succesful in part because you can’t smell ketosis through the screen. These people, like many, many others (including me) are convinced that the modern food industries are designed for profit rather than human health. It’s very hard to argue with that. But their criticisms of the corporate structures that engender the ‘food’ economy are refracted through their own bodies, identities and relationships. They use much of the language of the men’s rights movement – that men should be strong, protective, muscle bound, virile etc.,. and that the modern food industry has feminised men and contributed to the breakdown of the modern family.

In other words, the ‘anti authoritarians’ question and reject the meta narratives of science, government, risk and control and replace them with another set of equally controlling hyper individualistic notions of personal sovereignty, that amount to little more than outing themselves as advanced hyper-consumers who are seeking to reproduce much older traditional ideas about the family and masculinity. The main difference between the meta narratives of science, governmentality and risk is the focus on humans as a group whereas the ‘anti-authoritarians’ are extreme individualists. These people are the ultimate consumers – they are performatively made and remade through their relationship to the products they consume.

To be clear – BOTH groups are pretty bad. On the one hand, there’s the mainstream, slavish adherence to ideas about how to be a controlled body – eat mass produced food and consume the ‘mental health’ bullshit that renders you governable. Many of the strategies of government and public health exist to address the obscene rates of illness that are a direct result of corporate negligence in the service of profit.

BUT, the extreme ‘anti-authoritarians’ are doing more or less the same thing – finding their tribe, allowing themselves to be completely preoccupied with their narcissistic individuality, completely obviating the possibility of political engagement in the current omnishambles. They are noisily ‘opting out’ and thinking this will solve everything.

What to make of all this? How to retain my love affair with critical theory as liberation? For me, it’s with the help of two ideas – governmentality and anti semitism.

The idea of an extreme freedom midwived through extreme narcissism and cultivation of the performative individual is little more than the most modern iteration of identity-based, late capitalist consumerism. The appeal of simplistic, formulaic ideas of control (government bad and evil versus plucky heroic freedom warriors) simply reproduces some very well worn patriarchal tropes. It’s Star Wars in yoga pants.

And anti-semitism? Well, the idea that the extreme left and right are connected by anti-semitism isn’t new. The left think that major media corporations are Jewish controlled, and as such, governments dance to their tune. The right are anti-semitic for more tribal reasons. Both frame Judaism as a powerful, controlling force with a ready supply of sleeper foot-soldiers. The Frankfurt School was developed precisely because its founding members were understandably horrified by the way in which the Holocaust could be countenanced by regular, ordinary working people – their friends, neighbours, colleagues and associates. I’m always stunned when I see people at protests holding signs that say, ‘Always wondered who let the Jews be taken away? Now you know’ etc.,. These are always the same people who ascribe to ideas about the global order that aren’t much different to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

And with that, it’s time for me to go and make a potentiated almond goat’s uterus smoothie.

The Noble Victim, a cartography of absolutism.

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Ah, the ABC this morning.

Click bait, aimed at provoking transphobic hatred from all corners. Whoever made the decision to choose this story has a lot to answer for.

Here’s the intro:

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That’s right, Mara was locked up for 23 hours a day because she’s transgender.

We’re told that Mara is terrified, alone and scared in prison.

One week in, another inmate calls her a ‘faggot’. She punches him and is placed in ‘unit one’ (solitary).

Now we are told something different, that Mara was placed in solitary because she punched another inmate, not “because she is trans”. This would have happened in a women’s prison too. Likewise, the fear, confusion, terror, alienation, sadness and drug withdrawal. This article is not exactly an exercise in balance.

Obviously this story violates the ABC’s editorial policies that require it to accurately report facts. ‘Mara is placed in solitary because she is trans gender’ is not true. The editorial policy makes a clear distinction between reporting or editorialising and crusading. Clearly, this is the former.

However, I am not interested in the explicit misrepresentations in this story. What I am interested in how these stories come to be made in the first place. What causes a journalist to write such tabloid crap? Year 11 creative writing at Cremorne St Patricias College for Ladies has a lot to answer for.

Mara is positioned throughout this story as a victim. Her background is described. It is harrowing (assuming it’s true). Her prison experience is detailed as something extreme, which of course makes you realise that the authors aren’t aware that being strip searched and called names is a bog standard part of the prison experience, no matter which one you go into.

Mara is described as wholly innocent, without culpability, a complete victim of her circumstances. It reminds me of the simple binary moralising of the ‘Noble Savage’ discourse that occasionally pops up – describing people whose very existence is noble and unblemished, spiritually superior, higher-than-human.

The noble savage idea is a dangerous one – it positions some groups of people as so different they’re not really human, reinforcing the idea that some people are irreconcilably different. It has extremely serious consequences for indigenous people and groups who try to forge claims for compensation or recognition, because it delineates which claims are legitimate and which are ‘outside the frame’.

Mara’s victimhood operates on a similar, simple set of binaries. Her past experiences render her unable to be responsible for any of her negative actions. Her bad behaviour isn’t her fault. Consider the language in the article:

Mara’s relationship was turbulent. She was convicted for assaulting her partner.

All in the passive voice, as if she was just standing there in the self check out at Woolies minding her own business and then got convicted for assault.

The article deviates from the details of her incarceration in ‘unit one’ at the critical moment: when we would otherwise hear why she’s actually in there. There is no discussion of Mara’s victims, simply the ‘turbulent’ relationship.

Mara’s victimhood status denotes her as having a childlike innocence. She is absolved of wrongdoing. It’s a form of holiness. The parallels with Christian puritanism are overwhelming.

An accurate representation of Mara’s situation would do her better service. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that being a trans woman in a men’s prison is not a good scenario. Australia was actually one of the first countries in the world to recognise this and make some arrangements accordingly, but of course, it’s not a perfect solution. Mara would struggle in a men’s prison, and would be considered too dangerous to be placed in a women’s prison. It’s a simple logic – the justice system has privileged the rights of female inmates (in a women’s prison) over Mara’s individual rights. Mara gets the raw end of the deal. There should be improvement in the arrangements for trans gender people in the justice system, and we should all advocate for that. This article doesn’t do that, it simply states that Mara should not be in a men’s prison.

How did we get here? How did we get to the point where the ABC will sensationally lie in the opening paragraphs of an article in order to create their blameless, Disney child-victim, to obviate and sabotage any real chance of sensibly discussing a real problem?

Social media increasingly polarises people. True story. As a consequence, there is now an entire generation of young adults who’ve grown up with the idea that culture can be neatly ascribed along very simple, binary lines. It’s the Disney-fication of morality. You see it all the time in the debates around BLM, feminism or trans politics – anything that is nominally cast as an ‘identity’ issue (when, in my view, is mostly likely a structural class issue, but that’s for another day).

Of course there are real children who actually are real victims of their circumstances (child soldiers blowing each other away with fully automatic machine guns, teenaged girls being abducted into fundamentalist military groups to produce babies).  We see these victims when they turn up in Australia, battered, emotionally ruined, unable to speak English. They are widely pilloried.

To be clear, childlike, innocent victimhood is for some and not others.

So who makes these decisions? Who trivialises stories and agendas like Mara’s, with such sycophantic, polarised, misrepresentative, sensationalist rubbish?

No doubt the authors/producers of Mara’s story felt like they were doing her a favour. They’ve been had, in the truest sense of the term.

What’s most clear of course, is that the ABC chooses to publish this ‘content’ at the zenith of funding crisis, when hundreds of staff are losing their jobs. This expensively produced feature article appeared on the main ABC news page, demonstrating to even the most left of ABC audiences that if this is the calibre of one-eyed, crusading, hysterico-drama the broadcaster is cobbling together it could probably do with a bit a trim, if we’re honest.

So who made the editorial decision to run this and why now?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melting

For me, the big, terrifying topic du jour is the Arctic melt, currently carrying on apace. When there are temps into the high 30s in the Arctic, it’s perhaps safe to say that COVID is looking pretty minor really.

That said, I’ve been prompted, via my kid, to explain why ‘everyone hates JK Rowling when she’s awesome’. The kid knows what climate change is but she’s absolutely baffled about hate-speech directed at her favourite author.

I think I did a serviceable job of explaining the issue. I rely pretty heavily on scientific explanations for more or less everything, and the kid is familiar with basic biology, so the idea that almost every human is made of cells that are sexed – that is, XY or XX, was pretty straightforward. This is quite essential. 10% of spontaneous abortions, for instance, are due to Turner’s syndrome.  It’s very important to have functioning chromosomes, in the right number and stacked up the right way. Yes, this is a reductionist view, but my kid thinks that humans start at DNA so I crack into things from there. Almost all humans that make it past 24 weeks have ‘sexed’ cells.

I was looking for intersex examples where ‘chromosomally’ males present as females, and of course, found the world of athletics useful. Caster Semenya in particular, because so much has been written about her. I explained that biologically she has male chromosomes and ambiguous genitalia. This explains why her body looks mostly but not entirely male.

Caster Semenya considers herself a woman and should be considered thus. That’s not biology, that’s just basic respect.

It’s distasteful that we have worldwide conversations about a person’s genitals but I’m old enough to remember this happening before – with East German olympic athletes. I’ll come back to that.

In the course of reading about athletics, I found this article, in The Conversation, which I read as one side of the debate – supporting Semenya’s inclusion in women’s sport. Here, the author explains how women’s sport could be changed to fairly include women like Caster Semenya.

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And this, I realise, is a perfect example of why people are getting rather upset about JK Rowling.

This article makes the statement that women should be allowed to take performance enhancing testosterone to bring them closer to their XY competitors, and make up for the other biological differences that being XY gives to an athlete (muscle development and mass, etc.,.). The article states it would not entirely level the playing field (“reduce the advantage”), as more than just testosterone dictates body development, but it would enable these women to possibly perform a little more like men, and therefore be closer to their intersex or XY competitors.

To be clear, this article says that women should ‘dope’ so that their sports category, women, can include XY women.

There is no discussion of any negative health consequences for this doping.

Sanctioning athletes taking performance enhancing, sex altering drugs that will damage their life long health has been done before, in East Germany in the 1970s and 80s.

And this is why it’s such a good teaching example.

In this case, XX women must change to accomodate XY women if they want to participate in elite sport. They may damage their bodies to do so. Is this fair?

Well, consider this; Up until this point, it’s been the case that XY women must change and potentially damage their bodies to meet the requirements of XX women. Is this fair?

Neither situation is fair. There is no situation where both groups’ needs are met. Both ‘solutions’ require one group to alter their body in potentially damaging ways. This is because in sport, unlike almost every other facet of life, one’s biology and physical capacity is the arbitrating factor.

So who will win?  she asked.

Well, that’s what the fuss is all about.

 

 

How to female.

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When I first started uni my wildcard course was Anthropology. I loved it. The lecturer was brilliant, a very terse Brit with a Gatling gun delivery style.

One sunny afternoon I was helping my Mum lift some heavy things for the church fete and saw my lecturer slope across the driveway.

“What’s he doing here?” I asked Mumsy, who told me that my lecturer was a member of the Presbyterian church.

I was stunned. Why on earth would a man who’d peered beneath the curtain of humanity’s Stupid Beliefs willingly adhere to one himself?

I still had, in my mind, a very modern approach to social sciences – that is, I thought they were actually ‘a science’. Watching Dr Gatling unloading boxes onto the church’s cold front porch was like watching an epidemiologist tipping lavender oil into a vial of polio vaccine.

Of course, Mr Gatling knew something I didn’t. As an anthropologist he knew that silly cultural artifice is the defining characteristic of our humanity. He went to church because it was a culturally relevant institution that integrated his personality, his family life and his sense of purpose. It made him knowable, accountable and relevant to himself. Being Presbyterian was part of his identity, and intersected with all the other bits of himself, like being a man, a father, a worker, a socialist and everything else.

Let me tell you another story. Recently I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with young teenagers. ‘Interacting’ might be pushing it, but imagine the kind of shepherding that one might undertake with an algal bloom in a strong tide and you’re getting close.

I like teenagers, the more difficult, the better. And it strikes me that we’ve done something peculiar to the current batch. We’ve told them, their entire lives, that the most important thing in life is to be an individual. Be yourself, screams the television into their cherubic young faces. There is nothing better than being an individual, and what’s more, if you try not to be, you’ll end up UNHAPPY.

Spoiler alert; a lot of them are pretty unhappy.

What we need to tell kids is that culture is important. In fact, there’s very little of ourselves that isn’t mediated through our culture. I’m not saying anything that millions of others haven’t, everyone from Noam Chomsky to Levi Strauss to Jordan Peterson. We, as humans, respond strongly to social roles. We are unmoored without them. It’s bad enough when the roles change because of structural reasons, (think, rust belt unemployment), but when we’re told to abandon them as inauthentic to our true selves, that’s harder still.

I’m realising too, as the gender wars kick into high gear and scores of young teenage girls decide they don’t identify as Pole-Dancing Barbie, and are therefore, obviously, not female, that gender is where much of this comes home to roost.

Gender is socially constructed, and yes, it does have a passing acquaintance with biology. Sex is binary, obviously, Otherwise we would have male/female/slime mould. It is also not a scale. When I say binary, I mean discrete categories. There are humans, of course, whose sex is ambiguous – about 0.018% of the humans. This alone is used to determine a ‘spectrum’ model of gender that we tell our children is based in biology, but isn’t.

Gender, on the other hand, is social and malleable. This is of course completely straightforward. And it stands to complete reason that in all of humanity there will be humans who do not feel that they are living ‘in the right body’. These humans must have the same human rights as everyone else. Currently, they do not, and are subjected to the kinds of violence that women have been familiar with for generations.

What we should not do is conflate biology with gender, but that’s exactly what we tell our kids.

It’s scruffy, because kids are being told that that biology is determinative and a big confusing mess that they can make sense of themselves. I think what I would like to say is that we’ve told young people that they should know how to be gendered young people on their own terms, without any cultural reference point. It’s like handing them the fabric and telling them to make a pair of pants, with no pattern, no advice, other than just, ‘Whatever YOU think they should look like, it’ll be GREAT because YOU’RE AWESOME”

Even the ebullient language is enough to bring on a crippling bout of depression.

All other social animals watch their family and community for cues about how to behave. Expecting humans to be so drastically different is both astonishingly arrogant and foolish.

I say this as a parent. I never, ever thought that I would engage in any kind of feminine silliness. I inwardly judged mothers who claimed that their girls were just girly because that’s how they came, fresh out of the box. I am not girly and have lived a very masculine life, but that’s largely because there was little time for anything else. My culture dictated that I be useful, and in the absence of any other option, that meant being able to drop a Salisbury diff out in an afternoon.

I’ve thought a lot about the type of femininity I model for my daughter. And as she gets older, I’m embracing and encouraging her in ‘things girly’. Partly, this is as a way to fit in, and partly, it’s a way to let her know that her femininity can be her own thing. But mainly, it’s because there is value in sociality, it’s what makes us human, and smart people, like my anthropology lecturer, know full well that resistance is futile.

 

Time capsule

Tragically, my once-in-a-blue-moon visit to facebook informed me of this story, where a young woman, Nicole Tuxford, was recently raped and murdered by Paul Wilson, in Christchurch.

Wilson had previously murdered another woman, 21 year old Kimberly Shroder, in Hokitika in 1995. I remember it – she was a couple of years older than me, and like many people I knew the killer’s family (I did not know Kimberly).

There are two things that really stick out in this article. The first is this incident, Wilson’s first violent assault, prompted by Kimberly’s rejection;

Seeing [Kimberly] at the Westland Hotel in Hokitika, [Wilson] demanded to know where she was going but she refused to tell him. Her cousin Bruce Schroder and a few mates took him outside, roughed him up and sent him on his way.

He returned with a loaded shotgun. Bruce put himself between Wilson and Kim and Wilson pulled the trigger. The gun failed to go off and Bruce and others wrestled the gun from him.

The gun didn’t go off. If it had, Wilson would have most likely murdered Bruce Shroder by shooting him with a shotgun. The local community reacted thusly;

“Call it naive… we just believed at the time that it was so out of character for him to do that and we just believed that this had to be a one off. We all thought we knew him so well.

“We all rallied together and we got petitions and stuff, got references about his great character. We rallied together as a community and did what we could to support him.”

A petition vouching for his good character collected 800 signatures.

Wilson went to jail for ten months and,

The Schroders kept supporting him. On almost every Saturday of his prison term, Kim and her mother Nancy travelled to Christchurch to visit him. Wilson said Nancy was always there to pick him up when he fell…”more of a mother to me than my own mother”.

He spent Christmas of 1993 with the Schroders [after serving his time for attempting to murder Kim’s cousin with a shotgun] and thought he could renew his relationship with their only daughter. But Kim was moving on and had started another relationship. Wilson found out and began visiting her flat at night, torturing himself by listening to the couple’s lovemaking. Kim began calling him her stalker. One night he knocked on the door and punched her in the face.

On May 17, 1994, he went to her flat about 9pm. Earlier in the day Nancy Schroder had dropped off a jersey she had knitted for him.

To be clear; Wilson had been stalking Kim. One night he knocked on her door and punched Kim in the face. Soon after that, Kim’s mother took Wilson a jersey she had knitted for him.

If an ex boyfriend punched my daughter in the face, I would knit him a jersey out of his intestines.

That evening, after the knitted gift from Kim’s mother, Wilson visited Kim’s flat, tied up her flatmate, and waited two hours for Kim to come home. He then waited for Kim to make a hot drink and visit the bathroom, where he raped and murdered her.

This wasn’t the dark ages. It was the 1990s. We were all watching 90210 and listening to Big Audio Dynamite. Reading this now I’m astonished that everyone was so accepting of this behaviour. But then I put my 1995 Greymouth hat on, and I’m not surprised at all.

Perhaps one of the most chilling parts of this story is that Wilson was stopped on his way to Ms Tuxford’s flat for a random breath test. He was three times over the legal limit. The police checked his licence and told him he’d have to walk, and he couldn’t take the two large knives he had in the boot with him. He took a taxi to Ms Tuxford’s, waited all night for her to arrive home (she’d spent the night with her boyfriend elsewhere) and then tortured, raped and murdered her.

 

 

Mothered

I don’t often write about parenting. Actually, I don’t write about much of anything anymore, except books,

Lately though, I’ve been receiving cute videos of my niece, and remembering the days when we took videos of our toddler all day long. And then, just like that, we stopped. Kids stop being ‘cute’ in the simple, heart-melting way. But they keep being wonderful.

My kid is changing right now. She’s nine, and there’s an appreciable acceleration in her maturity and approach to everything. She’s just entering the cusp of adult-ness – peering into the exciting world of self-direction and mastery. I recently recounted her terrible sleeping habits as a toddler and small child to a friend. And then I remembered how when she started school she grew out of them.

First, there were the years where I would gently wake her up for school and help her get dressed, and then one morning I woke up to the sound of drawers being opened. She emerged, wooly haired, in her school uniform. I thanked the tunic’s designers for their oversight with the zipper – she still needed my help to get dressed. (There are multitudinous times that I reflect on my own childhood – mornings in my childhood house were dominated by getting out the door for my Mum to get to work. I had to dress myself and now I take simple pleasure in finding a pair of matching socks or brushing my kid’s hair).

After a change of school, she really got into springing out of bed, ready to charge into another day of tearing around the playground and crapping on about unicorns.

And then, about a month ago, she started hopping into bed with me in the morning, just for five minutes or so. Just to lie there and look at me, to trace her finger down my nose, to ask me gentle, silly questions about the day, or to tell her a story about goats, ‘in a funny way like you do’. My best guess is that she is calibrating herself for another busy day, and, after a quick cuddle, we get up and crack into things as normal.

Parenting is not always the same. I felt acutely aware of my role when she was a baby (obviously) and then a young toddler. I was a full time Mum and although her Dad was very involved too, I felt like she was oriented to me in a very basic, essential way. And then she grew older and more independent. I started working more, and her life was more structured around Dad. And now, as she grows into a new stage, she is reaching out to me more again. Partly this is for added security (I’m guessing this explains a bit of the morning cuddles) but partly I think she is watching me to see how it is to be a woman.

None of us are the perfect woman – I’m a bit of a shambles, I get distracted easily, I’m always going off on some bender about some random thing. I’m both focused and unfocused. A lot of the time I’m not well (physically that is. Mentally I’m SANE AS A FUCKING JUDGE).

I study lots of different stuff – sometimes all at once. Sometimes I worry that I’m not providing a very good model of being ‘focused’.

And I feel her watching me when I’m around other people – to see how to be with them, how to make friends, how to manage other people. Sometimes I’m troubled by this – as women we’re trained to consider the emotions of others constantly. But then again, I don’t want to erase my femininity, just to hold it to account.

The other day she asked me about a friend who kept trying to be nice to another girl who sometimes bullied her. I told her that if a boy is mean to another boy, he just thinks, ‘Well that guy’s a dick, I won’t play with him’. But when a girl is mean to another girl, the victim thinks, ‘I need to make this mean girl like me, because making people like me and affecting their emotions is something that I should do’.

How else can you explain why girls go back to their abusers, be they schoolyard bullies or loseroo boyfriends?

I’m going nowhere with this, other than to suggest that this parenting thing changes massively over time, but it’s pretty fabulous.

 

 

 

Clutching my pearls and thinking out loud

I’m seeing a lot of this lately; pile-ons from young women in Twitter, claiming that men who call one another ‘soft cock’ or ‘pussy’ aren’t just crass, they’re evil or mentally unhinged, with masculinity so toxic it melts your vegan nailpolish at 100 metres (and smells like Lynx and packet macaroni – be on guard, womyn).

In other circumstances, this ‘pile on’ – where the hysteria reaches epic proportions and otherwise sensible people find themselves making frankly ridiculous claims about the mental health/motivations and/or personal hygiene of someone else – would be called out for being over the top.

The fact that it isn’t demonstrates a complete schism between the classes. I’ve heard many, many men refer to one another as soft-cocks and pussies. Generally speaking it is a gentle form of giving one another curry. It is not, as the hysteria would suggest, an incitement to commit war crimes (generally war crimes language is more subtle. It often includes terms like, ‘operational’ ‘sustainable’ ‘negative’ ‘maximise’ and ‘neutralise’. This masculinity smells less like Lynx and more like Polo for Men).

I have worked in male environments before, with men who might be called working class *gasp*. I am familiar with their strange and exotic ways, a familiarity that I can only assume does not extend to the woke twitteratto, above.

I know language matters. I am not undermining the sexism that this kind of language reflects – a social order that is rapidly changing. Yet I struggle though to connect this kind of sexist language with severe violence against women – which is the basis for this extreme, clutch-my-pearls hysteria against it. Calling someone a pussy does not make you a murderer.

It’s something I’ve thought about a lot lately. My personal is my political. And I think my personal is different to these twittering women above. Unlike them, I suspect ‘personal’ includes experience with ‘the working class’. Many encounters have shaped my view, including this one;

I once worked in a place (all men) where one employee (I’ll call him ‘Neil’) regularly used the services of a prostitute. Neil was married with teenaged kids. His wife was aware of the arrangement. Although he held a relatively senior position in our little hierarchy (he got to choose the workshop radio station four days out of five and had access to the welder for personal use, both privileges bordering on minor royalty) he was always on the outer. Several years previously Neil had made one or two derogatory comments about his wife’s sexual organs. These comments were eventually relayed to me when I started. Although he was treated with some decency, he was not respected. I wouldn’t say shunned, but definitely regarded very differently. Worse.

The language in this workplace would feed the Twitter outrage machine for a year. Terms of endearment included; Cunt, fuckhead, soft cock, pussy. Men routinely derided one another’s sexual abilities and capacities. Except Neil. Neil was left out of it.

Terms that alluded to one’s sexual prowess (or lack thereof) were acceptable. Interestingly, terms that derided one’s cognitive abilities were not OK. No-one was ever called a moron. That’s a key difference between classes – slagging off one’s mental health or abilities is completely OK for the twittering middle classes (I guess it doesn’t matter how thick you are if your parents are rich, Queenwood will get you over the line and you can pretend you got there on merit). It’s not OK for everyone else.

Men who are sexually violent have a peculiar attitude to women. It is not denoted by calling one another’s masculinity into question by calling them softcocks. You know it when you see it. Looking back on it, I was never, ever left alone in the workshop with Neil. Everyone else – no dramas, just not Neil.

Men who are violent towards women belittle them, often in subtle ways, and often in front of other people. Thinking that masculine violence is underpinned and heralded by smutty talk just demonstrates a class division between middle class young women and working class men (I’m not even comfortable with the term working class because it’s so problematic in both economic and cultural terms. It’s also universalising and therefore feels derogatory).

The whole point of this navel gazing is of course so we all stop talking about this;

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Why I only buy books written by men.

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 9.43.48 AM.pngYes, it came as something of a shock to me too. But I think I know how it happens.

I buy books from op shops. This is for two reasons. First: I am poor. Second: There is nothing I enjoy more than tipping an entire cup of coffee and/or brake fluid into a good book. The three-for-a-dollar shelf at the Salvos is the clumsy reader’s natural habitat.

Op-shopping hones my reading choices in a rather hokey way, unmediated by popular media or breathy reviews on National Radio. It introduces a deliciously wobbly stochastic process oriented by little more than, ‘For fuckssake, just tell me which one of these boxes isn’t going to the tip, Russell’.

What it doesn’t do, however, is weight for gender.

Last Thursday’s three-for-a-dollar selection is typical;

  1. a peculiar work of ‘experimental literature’ (Habitus, by James Flint)
  2. a well known but tragically dated work of cleverness (Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express)
  3. a classic that I should have read as a teenager but chose to modify a set of header pipes instead (Huxley, Brave New World).

You’ll note these books are all written by men. Female authors are under-represented in the publishing industry, and therefore, ultimately, on the op-shop shelves. But this doesn’t entirely explain why I end up taking home only male authors (so to speak).

Last year, Booker prize winner, Marlon James firmly planted himself in a towering pile of shit for claiming the publishing industry deliberately appeals to white, middle class women (WMCW). According to him, writers of colour are tacitly encouraged to write WMCW’s stories. This, according to James, is the key to getting published.

James characterised these books as;

“…pander[ing[ to that archetype of the white woman, that long-suffering, astringent prose set in suburbia. You know, ‘older mother or wife sits down and thinks about her horrible life’.”

He’s right, of course, writers of colour are tacitly encouraged to write stories for White Middle Class Women. Mostly however, WMCW write these books for themselves. In other words, most self-involved, white women’s narrative fiction is narrated by self-involved white women.

We’re all familiar with this genre. I like to call it suburban-ennui, it is characterised by suffocating interpersonal relationships, pop-sociologies of motherhood or overly considered evocations of minute moral dilemmas. Frequently, these books do little more than reconcile the small generational differences between the author’s mother’s life (as remembered by the author), and the author’s own. They are unutterably dull and redolent with the scent of score settling. Men are one-dimensional or absent altogether. The storyline is often animated by some kind of contrived family secret *gasp*, a banal horror like alcoholism or sexual abuse of which the white, middle class author knows sweet fuck-all. They are portraits of seething proximity and emotional tourism, a claustrophobic, technicolour yawn.

It’s worth mentioning the type of middle class white women’s literature — something I like to call Gyno Grunge. The apotheosis of the exhausting suburban tomes above, Gyno-grunge is equally formulaic. Unlike their motherly suburban counterparts, these stories typically revolve around a single, hideous alter-femme, women who are overtly, grotesquely physical — comprised of cheesy creases and coarse, unbidden hairs. Venal and lazily violent they are part circus-freak, part modern morality play — women in extremis. Invariably they succumb to the purple excesses of loneliness, masturbation and poor dental hygiene. Their class status and motivations are unpredictable and unknowable. They are foreign and base, a clunky ‘other’. Like its suburban-ennui counterpart, above, Gyno-grunge also makes for dispiriting reading.

‘Suburban Ennui’ and ‘Gyno-Grunge’ comprise an inward-looking women’s lit, as tedious and insulting as it is dominant. And the fear of encountering it amongst the jaunty stacks of paperbacks at the Salvos has me clutching for the Wilbur Smith.

And this is how I end up buying the work of male writers. It’s not that I think all women writers produce the kind of work as described above, but many do, the industry rewards it and I fear I might accidentally read some of it.

I’ve decided, though, that in 2018 I will right the balance. I will only select works by female authors upon which to drop honey and brake fluid. Let’s see how this goes.

Phew

I have a passing interest in economics and policy. At times, this has led me to examine some of the key theories about history and economics, including Marxism. Today we’ll be talking about Cultural Marxism  *cue hysteria*

Cultural Marxism is the idea that economic Marxism failed (where’s my revolution, it was here a minute ago etc.,.) and so now lefties are attempting to dismantle the current social fabric with a different type of Marxism – the Marxism of culture. Or so the critics would have it. You’ll be familiar with this idea; Cultural Marxists are promoting the death of the family and western social structures through the devious propagation of silly ideas like gender theory and identity politics. Thirty years ago, the same thing was said about feminists, that was until right wing pundits realised that the only thing that served capitalism better than one person working outside the home was two people working outside the home.

Undaunted, these shrill lunatics continued to maintain that cultural Marxism is a threat to humanity. Feminism has been replaced by issues such as ‘gender dysphoria’ or ‘trans-visibility’. Yep, it’s scary stuff, this cultural Marxism. Apparently we’re teetering on the edge of a society-wide apocalypse because a bunch of bored, screen-sallow shut-ins think that everyone cares very deeply about the cut of their trousers.

The corporatist oligarchy is shitting itself.

And that’s my point. Because if anything, the wobbly juggernaut of Western capitalism loves cultural Marxism. After all, if young adults are keeping themselves entertained competing to see whose dignity and humanity has been, like, super-impugned the most, they’re hardly likely to organise to take collective action against the forces who stand to fleece them the most.

Cultural Marxism is Gen Y’s Marxism – tangling itself up in narcissistic irrelevances, while the real machinery of global capitalism marches on. Cultural Marxism is the Marxism you have when the real thing is too dangerous. Cultural Marxism’s key sponsors are likely to be The Capitalists themselves. After all, this form of Marxism doesn’t bite. What’s not to love?

There’s another reading of course – that capitalism has won. After all, nothing screams, ‘conspicuous consumption’ like the idea that you might fetishise (and monetise) your very gender.

It’s all deeply silly.

Conversations

Yesterday

Kid gets off bus buzzing and happy.

K. N says I’m her friend and she gave me this friendship ring. It’s because we’re friends!

M. Cool.

K. She also says I should wash my hair and conditioner it, because she said she could smell a funny smell and she thought it was me. She said I would look heaps better with shiny hair.

M. Well, you have a shower every day, and you’ve been swimming a lot, so I doubt you’re stinky. But OK, you can use conditioner if you want.

This morning

K. Mum, can I wear talcum powder today?

M. No, we’re walking out the door, it’s too late for that conversation Wait, is this cos N said you smelled bad yesterday?

K. Yeah, she said I should wear perfume, but I told her that my Mum only lets me wear talcum powder, and that’s only sometimes.

M. Ok, let’s get this straight. Sometimes girls tell one another that they should change something about how they look so they look prettier, or that they should smell different. They seem like they’re being nice and being your friend, but it’s actually called; ‘Being a bitch’.

[perhaps could have toned this down a bit, but the kid is used to this kind of straight talk chances are she’ll survive]

M. It’s a bit like bullying where someone tries to make you feel bad, but in this case they’re not necessarily trying to make you feel bad. It’s just a thing that girls learn to do to make other girls feel like they’re inadequate and that they need to do something to themselves to improve themselves.

K. But why do they do it at all?

M. There are a couple of main reasons. The first is that it makes money. Companies do this thing where they tell you there is something wrong with you when there isn’t. But then they make you think there is, and then they tell you they have a product that solves the problem. But there wasn’t a problem in the first place.

Have you got two legs? Are you tired of having two perfectly operational legs? Are the bottoms of your legs always in shoes? Yes! Well, we’ve got the solution, the new Suzuki 1000!

K. I don’t know what you’re on about Mum [exasperated but increasingly common look]

M. Look, companies tell you that something normal about your body isn’t normal. And then they sell a product that will change it. And then they become rich, by solving a problem that wasn’t a problem in the first place. That kind of thinking has become quite normal, so that’s one reason that girls think it’s OK to tell other girls that there is something wrong with them when there isn’t. Make sense?

K. Yep

The other reason is a thing called sexism. Have you heard of sexism?

K. No.

M. It sounds like sex, but it’s really just the old fashioned idea that girls should be pretty and smell nice, and play with dollies, and that’s all they can do. No science. No Operation Ouch. No maths. 

K. No maths? Whaaaat? But we all do maths at school.

M. Yeah, but with sexism girls think it’s OK to not be good at maths, because what’s really important is that they look pretty and smell nice. Imagine if you couldn’t go to the Physics Learning Labs because you were a girl.

[Look of abject horror as this freaky alternate reality sinks in]

M. Yeah, so that’s sexism. The important thing to remember is that N probably isn’t trying to be horrible when she tells you there’s something wrong with how you look or smell. It’s just something some girls are trained to do. So you can still be friends with her, but just be aware that you’ll hear this kind of stuff from time to time. What’s important is that you are aware that there is nothing wrong with you, and you get to decide if you want to change something about yourself. 

A good thing to ask yourself is; would this friend still say this stuff to me if I was a boy? Would N tell a boy that he smelled bad or should use conditioner in his hair?

K. No, I don’t think so.  

M. Ok, that’s sexism, consumerism and body politics covered. Now, try to remember to get your jumper out of your tote tray please, and have a look for missing containers. Here comes the bus.