Tuesday, 17 December 2013

You're missing the point.

from Living With HipsterGirl & GamerGirl

The above strip from webcomic Living With HipsterGirl & GamerGirl came across my Facebook feed the other day with a number of comments along the lines of 'women judge men by their looks to.' and 'male superheroes are not good aspirational figures either.' First of all this piece is not about the writing or quality of LWHG&GG - I only know it in passing and don't feel inclined to critique. This article is about some of the arguments that this strip references and spurs.
The argument made was:
  • Women dislike how female characters in comics are presented as they can not 'aspire' to possibly look like that. 
  • Additionally that women do not like that these characters can be the object of male fantasy or desire.
  • That this is hypocritical because women like to look at attractive male characters.
  • And finally that men are equally distressed because male superheroes are impossible to aspire to.
My counter argument is that this is largely missing the point. These arguments and the comic strips that illustrate them (as shown above) are ignoring the real issue and, in extreme cases, wilfully subverting the argument in order to stop any progress on the issue.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

1940s Short Hairdo

I wanted to share this because I found there was a dearth of information about short hairstyles from the 1940s, especially about how one would achieve such a style.

The early and mid-1940s favoured slightly longer styles, with gentle waves, soft curls and rolls. Shorter hair was seen as a little more unusual or old fashioned (harking back to the early 1930 or 20s). That wasn't to say women didn't have short hair. Hair doesn't become long over night and for health or hygiene, to say nothing of personal taste some women may have favoured a shorter cut.

Costuming though is all about recreating that quintessential style; something iconic and easily recognisable. For the 1940s that means curls and rolls no matter what your hair length is.

After some research I came up with this wonderful video tutorial from Vintage Dorris. She has slightly longer hair than me but it gave me something to work with and a bit of hope that  could achieve something approaching a classic 40s 'do.

So I bought some rollers and a bottle of  setting lotion (all from Sueprdrug) and bravely set to. Want to see how it went in my super short hair?

Thursday, 22 August 2013

NIN, Belsonic, Belfast 21st August 2013

Last night I went to NIN's first Belfast performance as part of the Belsonic festival. The fact that it has taken 25 years for NIN to perform here despite their world wide acclaim tells you something about the Belfast music scene but that's a ramble for another post.
What it meant was that this gig was something a little bit special; this was a gig that people had waited for. That puts a lot of pressure on a bad to say nothing of the organisers and show producers. The crowds that gathered in Belfast's Custom House Square had expectations that were felt well beyond the apartment walled auditorium.

I love going to gigs. I love the waiting and the build up. Last night was no exception. Getting on the bus and eyeing up fellow passengers who looked like they might have the same destination. Walking from bus stop to venue and seeing that the prevailing direction of travel was with me, and that it had a certain look and image to it; it was thrilling, a rising swell of anticipation and excitement that this was something we were going to enjoy together.

Crowds make a gig, and this crowd was an indication of how good a night it was going to be. A band with a career stretching over 25 years draws a broad range of followers. People dressed in plain jeans and football shirts stood next to the more stereotypical NIN fan clad in black, with piercings and partially shaved heads. Parents who had fallen in love with Trent in the early 90's stood with their teenage kids with matching expressions of anticipation and excitement. Belfast was ready this.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

fada beo Béal Feirste

Google translate tells me that the title of today's post is the Irish translation of Long Live Belfast. I'm hoping it's accurate. It might not be.

I love this city. I really do. I have lived here for four years and seven days and I can honestly say that it has been one of the most enjoyable places I have lived. Most of the time. You may have seen recent reports about rioting, protests and contentious marches. These news reports and indeed the events that spur them come up several times a year, most of the time, clearly scheduled around 'historic' dates so that we all know when to expect it. Friends that I have spoken to in he past few days will know that as well as irritated with the disruption, these marches, the arguments, riots and protests leave me tremendously sad. 
I want to tell you why they make me sad; It is because that is not an accurate portrayal of Belfast, Northern Ireland or the vast majority of the people who live here. I fell in love with this city, and it was in spite of the horrible attitudes and violent nature of some of the people. It was because of the many glorious things that are at the heart and soul of the place.

Today I went to St Georges Market in the city centre. St Georges Market perfectly condenses the things about this city that I enjoy, and I believe is a true reflection of the country and the city in particular. Let me walk you through some of the things that Belfast and Northern Ireland have to be proud of, the bits and pieces which really make up its identity.

This is me, right in the centre of Belfast, happy, content and not on fire.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Are Cat Calls and Wolf Whistles Offensive?

Short answer: In many, if not most, instances in our country cat calls, wolf whistles and unsolicited 'compliments' from strangers can cause offence or discomfort. Please not I do not say in all instances, just in many.

A few examples of the unsolicited 'compliments' and cat calling that I am referring to, which I have gathered from real people I am acquainted with.

[whilst groping] Nice tits.
Fat cow
Hey, red! Red, you gotta man?
Well, if it wasn't for that belly of yours, you'd be pretty good looking! 
Alright sexy!
She's pretty, is she yours? 
I'd like a feel of that ass.
Hey gorgeous show me some sugar.
I'd fuck you!
Nice skirt.. Do those legs go all the way up.
I don't know if you're a man or a woman but I'd still do you.
So what's the way to your heart? 
An assortment of noises often vaguely animalistic in nature.

It's a pretty mixed bag isn't it? Some of those when written down in isolation don't sound to bad at all, maybe even nice. Some of them are clearly horrible or even downright threatening. But as we should all be aware, context is everything. These are not phrases snipped from the middle of a conversation, nor are they the product of friendly banter. They aren't even politely given in one-on-one conversations. These are the stark phrases that are delivered without prequel, often at top volume, from one individual to a complete stranger or somebody who is merely an acquaintance.

Firstly, I apologise I'm going to have to make a couple of generalisations here (though I promise to address the exceptions): cat calling and street harassment traditionally takes the shape of men harassing women. Secondly the person making the cat calls is often in a group of a similar demographic to themselves.

 I would also like to introduce at this point the common defence of cat calling: women like the cat calls and it's just a way of giving a compliment.

 Well I'm afraid that that statement is just a fallacy.
Cat calls and street harassment are not giving somebody a compliment. They are not. 
Outside of friendship circles with a well established banter, wolf whistles and cat calls are rarely about telling a woman you find her attractive - if you wanted to do that you would strike up a conversation with the woman and inform her in a polite manner. They are not about paying compliments. If they were about paying genuine compliments then the men who make catcalls would do it to everybody - ‘Oi! nice shoes mate!’ ‘Who’s been hitting the gym?!’ etc . The language would also be overwhelmingly positive without slurs or derogatory content.
Cat calls and wolf whistles are about asserting dominance - usually (though not always and I'll get to that) the dominance of a straight male over any and all females. They are about power and making sure that women know that men have the right to judge and assert their opinion over women whenever they want, regardless of the social situation and relationship (or lack of).
Many men feel that they are being flattering and kind however they have been brought up in a way that they do not recognise the power play at hand. But they still bow to the reasoning that it is their right to make a cat call and it is the women’s duty to take it and like it. And that’s of course before we get into more threatening and abusive cat calling.

To readdress one of my generalisations then, yes some men receive harassment from other men and from groups of women. This is less of a regular occurrence but it still an artifact of one group trying to assert dominance over another. Men asserting dominance over men they feel are 'less manly' or different to their demographic including people who are gender ambiguous or cross dressing, or men they perceive to be gay. Groups of younger people or 'youths' harassing older people because they aren't 'cool. Women harassing men in order to re-affirm their own power and assertiveness in a world that traditionally doesn't allow it. Women harassing men because they are so used to it happening to themselves, why should they care about the feelings of others.

Let's get this absolutely clear right now. Harassment of anybody from any quarter is not acceptable, that is why it is called harassment. Cat calls and wolf whistles are more often than not a type of harassment. Two wrongs do not make a right. I have heard many men and some women say 'well it's OK for us to do it because they do it to.'. No. Just No. Is this true in any other context? Is it OK to mug people because somebody once nicked your wallet? No. Is it OK to start a career of house breaking because you had your house burgled when you were 12? No. It is not OK to harass people because you have been harassed.

Now of course that only addresses the men’s role. Some women do enjoy getting wolf whistles and cat calls. When they are delivered in a friendly and kind manner they can be pleasant and it can be nice to know that you look nice to other people. However, nobody should assume that all women, all the time like, enjoy and want cat calls. Even a woman who likes a compliment from a complete stranger about her ass may on that particular day be in a bad mood, or feeling sensitive or not want to be singled out. And even if a woman liked the first wolf whistle that morning, by the fourth fifth or sixth comment that day she might be feeling frustrated and angry and regretting her choice of attire. It is entirely possible that a woman left the house knowing full well that she was attractive but doesn't particualrly need to be told about it and would rather be complimented on her creative writing, astute wit or knowlege of the UK legal system (or whatever acomplishment she is particularly proud of that day).

Let's move on to the other generalisation I made and how this is relevant to cat calls. The person making the cat call is often part of a group made up of a similar demographic. That is to say you will often get a group of lads of a similar age; a group of women out together; the classic gaggle of builders on scaffolding being the purveyors of cat calls. Often it will be one voice speaking from the group and then looking to others for support and encouragement. The group might not always be physically present but may be a group of people with whom they can share their experiences with later in the pub or on line and receive congratulations and affirmation of their actions. 
This is about power as well but it is about personal power, confidence and self image. 
Wolf whistles etc are often a result of the individual doing it having low self esteem or confidence. It is easier for them to shout at somebody in the street than it is to calmly approach a person and actually talk to them. This isn't an attempt to excuse the behaviour but rather it paints a picture of the people doing the cat-calling as being insecure and having poorly developed social skills. This is further bolstered by the company they are in. The cat calling is an assertion of self an assertion of their own personal power in order for them to find a niche to fit into. By public asserting this power in front of their associates they establish themselves in a pecking order and re-affirm their worth in the eyes of (some) others. They have been able to appear confident and 'masculine', powerful and 'able to have a joke' in front of others in the easiest way possible. It is a short route to fitting in.
Ironically then, the cat caller is often perceived by the target and the wider public as being a little bit week and unable to interact socially with people in a normal and non confrontational way.
So even if the target enjoys unsolicited loud public compliments, finds them genuinely uplifting or complimentary, they may make judgements about the cat-callers social skills and personality which are not flattering and not particularly appealing, which in tern, makes the ‘compliment’ even less appealing.
There will also be times when the person making the cat calls is perfectly aware that what they are doing is abhorant behaviour, but still they choose to act in that way. What a delightful person they are.

Not all unsolicited attention, compliments and comments need be bad though. The reason for this is not the intent behind it; it is the respect, expectations and reactions that go with the comment. 
Shouting across a street 'Nice skirt love' is in many instances likely to cause discomfort, offence or even fear. Politely stopping somebody at an appropriate juncture (perhaps you are both standing waiting to cross a street), and saying 'Excuse me, but that skirt is nice.' or even 'May I say you look lovely in that outfit.' are probably going to be met with better responses. It's not guaranteed though. A stranger interrupting your personal space and thoughts to offer a compliment, particularly one pertaining to physical features may still illicit a negative response and that's OK. A compliment is not owed gracious or raptuous delight.
The expectation, reaction and respect is crucial now. Did you offer the comment in expectation of it escalating into a romantic or sexual proposition or did you give the comment as a genuine compliment? If the former you may be in trouble. How do you react to their negative or dismissive reaction? If you get angry, offer insults, try and convince the person that their feelings are wrong or invalid then you are in fact harassing them and your original comment was just an opening gambit. You wished to exert power by making your opinion of them important, when that failed, you have resorted to negative comments to make the person feel small, scared or bad, again in an attempt to exert power and dominance. By not reacting at all, apologising or at least showing a look of contrition you engage the third key element: respect. you have shown respect for another human being by acknowledging their feelings and accepting that your own actions, thoughts or feelings do not automatically trump theirs.

'Your hair looks lovely, miss.' Said the very nice man apropos of nothing as he passed by the young woman fixing her fringe. She smiled in surprise and said thank you. And thus the mythical respectful unsolicited genuine compliment did occur.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Negative Spoons part 2

Yesterday's post gave the history and background of my illness and explained what the issues and symptoms were. Today I want to look at what all that really means in day to day life and what sort of impact it has. I will be referencing spoon theory, an analogy used to describe living with chronic illness. If you are not familiar with spoon theory I suggest you go and read the original piece by Christine Miserandino.

I left off saying how I have been left with a group of nagging symptoms that don't really have definite name but that leave me unable to work and in, to put it mildly, a lot of discomfort. I also mentioned that I leave myself open to judgement from all quarters and that this can be an incredible drain. So let's talk about some of the judgement. People generally judge because they are dealing with a set of incomplete information, because they lack all the necessary data to understand the situation before them completely. More than that, they choose to form inaccurate conclusions from their incomplete data rather than acknowledging that they do not have all the information. A non-judgemental person looks at a situation, understands that they do not have all the facts  and think 'Well it looks like X but there could be other things I don't know about so I will not give my opinion on X.' . A judgemental person thinks 'It looks like X and I will not consider that there may be other facts so I will consider X only.'.

OK that was a little bit vague so let's look at it in real terms. I am unable to work; my illness makes me feel a lot of pain and extreme fatigue so work is not a viable option right now. I did however, go to a LARP event at the weekend and had a tremendous amount of fun. Judgemental person sees this and assumes that because I am able to go to the LARP event, I must be able to work and that my excuse for not working is a sham. But they don't have all the facts.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Negative Spoons

Part 1 in which we set the scene.

[NB: I was originally going to write a singal post about how things like LARP events can have a lasting effect on my health but I found it difficult to do so without first explaining why I was ill in the first place. Actually, I found this post to be particualrly cathartic and decided to keep it in its entirity. The real point of all this will come in a second post tomorrow.]

I have a long term illness which is quite hard to define. I began getting sick in November 2011, it was post LARP event so i assumed it was a bit of good old lurgy. I felt week, tired and achey; i was getting bouts of vertigo and my glands felt swollen. Must be flu I thought and took a few days off work to try and recover. Only I didn't recover, it lingered pushed through my body in waves, reeling from feeling 'under the weather' to 'downright dreadful'.
I suffered through November and December like this and it was, to be perfectly honest, miserable. The pain and fatigue were growing worse by the day and the vertigo had me terrified. In early January 2012 I finally visited a doctor, whatever this was it wasn't going away and I needed help.

The doctor diagnosed post viral fatigue following some sort of flu and said it would pass. I struggled on for a few weeks having to take more time off work due to pain, fatigue and vertigo not particularly lending themselves to a lab environment. Eventually the doctor agreed that post viral fatigue might not be correct since things appeared to be getting worse not better, and we also couldn't identify the triggering virus. So the tests began. tube after tube of blood was given and sent away only to come back negative. Working in a veterinary lab, we also made the decision to test for some more peculiar illnesses including brucellosis, leptospirosis, HIV and Lyme Disease. and nothing came back positive. By the end of March we were tentatively calling it Fibromyalgia and considering management options. The outlook was grim and I was finding it harder than ever to keep up with full time work. I hurt all the time, I was so exhausted i was dropping hobbies left right and centre, and i still barely had the energy to do a full day's work. I was taking time off sick, using my hard won flexi-hours and sneaking in annual leave where I could.

Then came a revelationary phone call from the doctor. A final blood test had come back from testing in a specialist laboratory and this time it was positive. I had the antigens associates the bacteria Lyme borreliosis. I had Lyme disease. furthermore my symptoms were consistent with somebody suffering with a long term case of Lyme disease; by this point I had added joint swelling, sporadic numbness, cognitive issues and digestive problems to the list. Lyme Disease being unusual in this country, left my doctor a little baffled and we tried the standardised treatment - a mid length course of oral antibiotics.
There was no improvement.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Finding the Keys

A protracted anaolgy about (some aspects of) dyslexia

Imagine the task you are trying to do (reading a word, filling out a form, making change) is a locked door. There is a little note on the lock that says 'blue key'.

Now for most people unlocking to door would just be a case of turning to the board next to the door which has all the keys lined up. Every key has it's own hook and is properly labelled with a different coloured tag or the right name.

If it's a door they know they can reach for the blue key almost without looking. Sometimes it takes a moment to scan through those carefully labelled ordered keys until they find the blue one.
But then they have the key and can unlock the door.

This is how a non-dyslexic brain finds the information to complete a task. It sorts through what it knows looking for the information it needs to finish the task. The information is in some sort of order that the person's brain knows and understands.

Now a dyslexic person comes to unlock that door. They might see that the note that says 'blue key' but that note might be missing or damaged, but they know they need a key. Instead of turning to a nicely ordered peg board they are confronted with a big bowl full of unlabelled keys all jumbled up.
At best they can go through every key one by one until they find the right key, but realistically it's going to be a daunting task and every key that doesn't face is a smack in the face that the keys aren't properly labelled.

A dyslexic brain can not always find the information needed to complete a task. It's not that it isn't there, we have the information we just can't find it. A dyslexic brain doesn't label things properly or put them in a nice convenient order. This means that a dyslexic person might not even know the information is there, never mind how to find it.

Sometimes there are methods a dyslexic brain can use to help overcome this. We can use relaxation methods to keep us calm whilst we carefully sort the information: separating the too big keys from the smaller keys, or in a real life situation breaking a big task into smaller tasks. We can practice new ways of learning or labelling information: looking at a key from all angles before we put it away so we can remember what it looks like or in real life trying different learning pathways like speaking out loud or practising when we learn new information.
We can ask for help. We can write things down. We can count on our fingers, draw pictures, sing songs, talk out loud, use reference books – anything we want for trying to make sense of that big bowl of keys.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

on Abortion and American Democracy

Tuesday the 25th of June saw a Special Session of the Texas Senate,  a session that had been called to hear bill SB5 after previous delays.

A brief summary of SB5 from NBC DFW

'[SB 5] would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and force many clinics that perform the procedure to upgrade their facilities and be classified as ambulatory surgical centers. Also, doctors would be required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles — a tall order in rural communities.'

In practise as many as 42 of the states 47 licensed abortion clinics would be forced to close as they do not or can not afford to comply with the terms of SB5. The remaining 5 clinics would be concentrated in the eastern parts of the state in urban centres. Those clinics that remain open would have a limit of 20 weeks on procedures.
Access to legal and safe abortion in the state of Texas would be restricted to those women who can afford it, those women who can get appointments in the few remaining clinics, and those women who can travel to the available clinics. It would also mean that women who needed an abortion post 20 weeks, whatever their personal circumstances, would be denied. Furthermore many, if not all, of the affected clinics do not solely provide abortions; they are clinics providing a number of gynaecological services including but not limited to pregnancy testing, birth control, cervical smears, gynaecological examinations, STI testing and pre-natal health care. They are commonly referred to as 'well woman cenres'. If the centres close then all these services will be lost and the worst effected are those on a low income and those in rural areas, in other words, those who need those services the most.

Following earlier delays in the normal senate session a Special Session had been called. Tuesday was the last day of this Special Session. Due to the Texas Senate having a Republican majority, the Republicans of course having a loud anti-abortion voice, the democrats felt that the vote needed to be blocked at this stage to allow for further debate and examination of the Bill. This meant a filibuster.

Starting at shortly after 11am on Tuesday the 25th Senator Wendy Davis began talking about issues surrounding SB5. And she continued talking. In order to block the bill Senator Davis would have to keep talking until midnight so that the special session would close with the vote being held; she was embarking on a 13 hour filibuster. The Texas Senate had already been surrounded by thousands of 'No to SB5' demonstrators and on Tuesday the public galleries filled up with people supporting Senator Davis and opposing SB5. The Office of Senator Davis made a public appeal for people to submit their opinions and stories regarding safe and legal abortion, that Senator Davis may read them out loud as part of her relevant material.

The Texas Senate you see requires that the material spoken during the filibuster must remain germane to the topic of the debate, it must be relevant at all times to the bill. And so the stories came in.
Stories about mothers and grandmothers who underwent 'backyard' abortions; stories of women sent across state lines to have an abortion; stories of people glad their mother had an abortion other wise they would not be alive today; stories of illegal abortions with life threatening consequences; stories of denied abortions with fatal consequences.
Stories of horror and dismay that access to safe and legal abortion could once more be restricted leading to more of these stories.

These contributions weren't from young liberal Democrats either; they came from fiscal conservatives and die hard Republicans. They came from men speaking of their wives mother's and sisters. They came from young women who were fearful and old women who remembered. They came from Christians, from Jews, from Muslims and from atheists. All sectors of the community were represented in this hours long plea against SB5.

When not reading out public statements, Sen. Davis recounted legal considerations and arguments. This is where we first encounter challenges from Republican Senators. Remember how I said a filibuster must remain germane? It was argued that Sen. Davis referencing and describing Planned Parenthood's budget was not germane. This was upheld by a vote (the Republican majority is important here) and counted as a strike against her.

Let's think about this for a moment. In a debate about changes to clinics offering abortion which require changes that may be outside of their budget, a previous ruling regarding the budget of said clinics is deemed to be not relevant. We have here an example of political, collective, wilful ignorance so extreme that it is difficult to actually comprehend.
Let me reiterate: the budget of a group of clinics was not deemed relevant to a Bill that has direct influence on the budget of that same group of clinics. A group of politicians deliberately chose to ignore the relevance.

Following that piece of alarming wilful ignorance Sen. Davis continued, fielding questions from opposition and supporting Senators alike. After seven hours of standing and talking, for a filibustering Senator is not given leave to sit down, Davis was offered help to adjust her back brace. Again a Point of Order was raised that this broke the rules. It was not clear whether the contention was because a filibusting Senator should not receive assistance or because asking or instructing for help is 'not germane' but clearly the opposition was out for another 'strike'. again, despite arguments, the absence of any rules pertaining to assistance, an interesting sub-debate about the language used in the rules which all refer to filibustering senators as he and him, the Point of Order was upheld.

Senator Davis continued to talk, answer questions and debate legal implications until the 11th hour at which point a third Point of Order was raised. This is where things get particularly complicated and the integrity of the Texas Senate begins to be called into question. Again the Point of Order concerned how germane Senator Davis's remarks about the states 2011 law regarding sonograms. This POA was raised by the Senate Chair himself.
Again we must ask, how is a state law regarding the provision of abortions not relevant to a bill concerned with he provision of abortion? I am unable to answer that question without descending into a fit of incomprehensible spluttering but the Texan Senators present were apparently able to discuss it at length. Here we must pay our respects to Senator Williams who essentially filibusters a filibuster by going into great lengths about the rules surrounding 'being germane' and the rules regarding three Points of Order. Several overlapping POAs where made during this period and it would seem that not only I but the Senate Chair became confused. It is not clear that all POAs  were noted or resolved, nor is it clear in what order they were resolved. Unsurprisingly the Senate Chair decided to uphold his own POA, the original POA that Senator Davis's topic had not remained germane to the Bill.

The situation was still not clear. The time was now at or around 11:48. A mere 12 minutes [give or take, the precise times are not clear] until the end of the special session. Senator Davis, still standing, had taken us through 11 hours explaining in detail with a myriad of facts and anecdotes, as well as professional and public opinon why SB5 should not pass. a further hour and half has been taken up by Senator Williams and arguments over rules regarding filibustering. Just 12 minutes remain.
It should be noted at this point that the Public gallery is intermittently cheering and respectfully silent. The Senate house itself is filled with many hundreds more supporters of Senator Davis.
Following being repeatedly ignored whilst other Senators (Republican) have their points heard and acted upon, Senator Van De Putte waits for quiet and asks:

'At what point must a female senator raise her hand to be recognised over the male colleagues in the room?

The public gallery understandably erupts into cheers of appreciation over this comment, for it does seem that a number of Democrat Senators, particularly female Senators, are being deliberately ignored in favour of other senators (whom we have already noted as having somewhat ludicrous Points upheld). Van De Puttes, as it happens had been calling for an adjournment as she felt that the current scenario was not conducive to a fair and considered vote.

Amidst cheering from the gallery, ongoing debate from senators and statements from the Chair that 'the vote would not be carried out until order is restored in the gellery', he roll call for SB5 began shortly before midnight.
The Special Session officially ended at midnight without any vote being concluded. The Chair decreed that due to special circumstances the midnight deadline should be ignored because the vote was started before that (regardless of the circumstances surrounding the call to vote) and therefore the vote is valid and true.

What occurred at midnight on July 25th 203?
Sadly it looks as if several rules and laws regarding special sessions, points of order and votes were blithely ignored by the Senate Chair so that they my pass the bill. I am sure appeal will be lodged and legal action taken.  
Not only is this a blow to abortion and women's rights but it directly undermines and questions the legal structure of democracy that the country is built upon. It is an affront to all those who support democracy and who try to get things done through legal channels. Rules and laws have been applied in the most scattered of ways and have been bent to suit the will of the Chair and the rest of his party (Republican majority in the Texas Senate). Additionally, the senators who are supposed to represent the people and vote on these bills on their behalf, have chosen to willingly ignore the opinions of thousands of people who opposed this bill. The opposition was presented in facts and figures; the opposition was presented in anecdotes and emotional pleas; the opposition was bipartisan, multi-faith and colour blind; the opposition stuck to the rules of the senate and fought within the legal framework. The Texan Republican Senators and the Chair in particular flouted this, ignored every opportunity presented to them to vote No and make a vote that represented their people. Certainly there were members of the public who agreed with the Bill but I do not think we can say with any certainty that they are the majority or that they made their opinion as known as those who opposed.
If the Senators were not representing their constituents and if the Senators were not respecting the laws and regulations of their own government , how can anybody say that a democratic procedure has occurred. Furthermore if democratic process can so flagrantly and apparently easily be ignored, how can any mandate to govern be respected and upheld?

I am fully aware that the behaviour of the Republican Senators in the Texas Senate last night are not representative of all Republicans, and that is in fact a big part of the problem. The Senators in the room last nigth who pushed through a vote, who ignored other Senators and ran roughshod over rules and procedure not only ignored their consituants but they ignored the very system of governance they strive to be a part of. They acted out of self interest and treated a serious and issue as nothing mroe than an abstract tool designed to gain them power and recognition from thir peers. 

It is shameful and deeply worrying and I can only hope that last nights farce of a democratic procedure can be exposed for the undemocratic deabcle it was and that SB5 will be shelved as is right and proper. 

12:26: update As I was writing this post it has come to light that Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst who had previously declared the vote as passed, has now stated that the session had expired before the vote could be completed and the Bill signed. It is a victory but now we must prepare for a second special session or future interations of the bill.   

Thursday, 13 June 2013

'As a mother ...'

A phrase that is likely to raise hackles almost anywhere, 'as a mother...' is often spoken by people who feel that their ability to procreate makes their opinion more valued or 'right' than that of other people. But it has another use that, to me, is even more infuriating: the characterisation of women as a mother.

It has niggled away at me for quite some time and is up there with 'women and children' as an oft used phrase that sets off my feminist ire. I have encountered two examples in the past week that highlighted the phrase and irritated me beyond belief.

The first was in a discussion about sexism and female characters in the Game of Thrones (GoT) books. This is a huge topic and one which can become quite heated. I don't want to delve into the full depths of that debate but to focus on one small aspect. Personally I enjoy the female characters in GoT; I like how they develop; I like how they overcome the oppressive conditions of their world; I like how hey interact with the many flawed and struggling men in the world. What I do not like is G.R.R. Martin's tendency to characterise women 'as a mother'. Certainly the world setting he has created is a common fantasy realm of young mothers and wives intended to produce an heir, but it goes beyond that. The phrase itself , 'as a woman', is used repeatedly throughout the series. The fact that they are a mother, have children, don't have children or will one day have children comes up again and again with those women of childbearing age. They are driven and confined by how they at as a mother. 
Cersei Lannister and Catelyn Stark, two of the leading ladies of the series repeatedly have their actions and decisions defined by their children and their role as a mother. This is sometimes done to great effect, as a tool for developing Cersei's narcissistic tendencies for example, but can also be confusing and jarring when the only reason given for irrational behaviour is 'because she's a mother'. Catelyn Stark, I am looking at you and your rash behaviour here.

The second example was during an online debate about female characters in computer games. Following a suggestion that it would be reasonable for male dominated FPS type games or those games featuring a faux military to include female soldiers in their ranks, in a reflection of many armed forces both official and unsanctioned, came the response:

'But I'd like to see a female soldier who isn't just a masculine woman - like a soldier who is a mother, for example.'
 Is that the only way we can characterise a female character in a game? The ranks of male soldiers aren't characterised in FPSs beyond males; soldier; quite tough; enthusiastic about grenades. Why is it not possible to see that female soldiers could be included in a similar way and be no more or less realistic than the amassed males?
Is it really the case that the only way we can characterise a woman is in regards to her offspring? Holding with the game characters for a moment, giving a female soldier an 'as a mother' back story is certainly an option, but how many male soldiers/ adventurers/ assassins/ criminals are characterised with 'as a father'. Really I want to know. How many? I honestly don't know. Perhaps it's shockingly common, but certainly in any of the FPS type game is have played or observed, he parental status of the male soldiers rarely arises. 
Can we not look at a female soldier and develop her character by saying 'she is fiercely patriotic, grew up in a military family, studied foreign policy at university and then trained as an officer in the Army.'. That would be a slightly more evolved character and it doesn't touch on her reproductive abilities.  
I don't even beleive that all characters in computer games should be well rounded individuals with well thought out backgrounds and motivations. Some games just don't need that. What I would like to see, is a number of brashly determined and gungho female fighters tumbling out of the APC alongside their equally one dimensional male counterparts.
I am aware that having a child can change a person, whatever their gender. There role in society does shift as do their priorities and focus. Whether male, female, gender neutral or gender queer, it is undeniable that having a child is likely to have a large impact on the persons life and how they are presented. However, in the majority of cases, the personalities memories and opinions are not entirely erased and replaced with a 'mother' template. This doesn't happen to men, and i doesn't happen to women either. If women who are stay at home mother's to two toddlers can easily be described with a myriad of traits and facts, from music preferences to political opinions, then it would follow that a woman who serves in the army in he midst of a campaign or a woman who is he head of dynasty embroiled in a civil war might,, just might, be a little more than a mother.
Authors, games designers and people in general have a responsibility to view people as whole individuals. We know (though there are many who fail to act) that we should not hang racial stereotypes around people's necks like a garishly covered billboard; it is about time we stopped slapping one word descriptors on to people based solely on their gender.

This post is merely an attempt to join up some of the irritated ideas that have been floating around my conciousness for the past week or so. It is not the most coherant of arguments nor is it well researched. I know that.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Anti-Fascist Belfast

Today I attended a protest in Belfast City Centre aimed at countering the quasi-patriotic message of groups such as the Ulster Defence League. Not familiar with the UDL? They are the Northern Irish equivalent of the EDL and count amongst their views that:

'...polish scum are taking over and it makes me sad as fuck sometimes i feel like getting out of my car and betting [sic] them.'


'...all because you think you cab come over n do what you want ... it proved right in the end i would have kept shooting until no pulse left in there body...'

as stated, endorsed and defended on their Facebook page. They are, racist, xenophobic, hateful and ignorant, on a crusade to spread heir misinformation and small minded and misguided views whilst encouraging violence and discrimination against those they feel are different. They are in short, fascists.

With it's long history of sectarianism Northern Ireland is no stranger to pitching 'us' against 'them' and is well versed in fostering a frothing sense of patriotism. That they have in recent years developed a fascist rhetoric is no real surprise. It is sad but not a shock.
At this point I want to note that there is a piece of graffiti on my street that simply says 'Get Out!' next to a swastika. I am sadly, in the thick of it here.

 Surrounded by a crowd of about 70 who supported the anti-fascist voice (a mixture of different groups and independents like me) I realised there was something I wanted to make clear. So here we get to the crux of this long post on my revised blog:

Anti-fascism is not a new idea. It is not novel or a new cause to rally too. It is not left-wing propaganda or a liberal conspiracy. Anti-fascism is the default position for the vast majority of people. Thousand if not millions of people in the UK alone are not fascist. They simply do not care about the race, religion, ethnicity or nationality of other people beyond the occasional fit of intrigue or friendly curiosity. People just aren't fascists. They aren't.
Those people that are have made a deliberate choice to hate people who are different to them are in the minority. Fascism is not the normal state. A ignorance and lack of care to people's differences is. To be fascist you must consciously disregards he evidence that is in front of you. Not just the studies polls and statistics but the every day evidence: the bloke in the street who you don't notice the friendly woman in the shop, the guys you work with who get on with their job and complain about the same things you do.
That is the direct evidence what us non-fascists deal with: some people are dicks, some people are nice and it has nothing to do with where they are from or what they believe. Fascist minorities choose to ignore this every day evidence and instead hold on to misguided stereotypes and tropes which just don't make sense. They make a choice and they are not the majority.

Those people who stand in front of a City Hall or Islam centre and say no to fascism are also in a minority. They are a portion of the non-fascist majority who have decided not to let the fascists get away with vocalising their lies. They face them down like a trainer with a bad puppy and say 'No! Wrong! Stop That!'.

We have a responsibility to prevent Fascist behaviour and to say 'No!'.