Archive for November, 2010

  • The English Defence League in Preston- a personal account

    ‘Apathy and evil. The two work hand in hand. They are the same, really…. Evil wills it. Apathy allows it. Evil hates the innocent and the defenceless most of all. Apathy doesn’t care as long as it’s not personally inconvenienced.’ – JAKE THOENE

    What do you do when an organisation of racists turn up on your doorstep, arguing for their ‘democratic right to protest’?

    If you’re one of the people who didn’t turn up to counter protest the racist EDL in Preston city centre today, then not much. The English Defence League are an organisation who routinely band together to spew race hate on the streets of England .  They hijack the St George’s flag and the Union Jack to make their point, in turn subverting the symbolism, giving the flags a whole new meaning.  In my opinion, when they turn up to your city, strong anti-fascist opposition is needed. For want of a better phrase- when racists are involved, you’re either for or against them.  I and other UCLan students turned out to counter protest this morning because we felt that we had to take a stand.

    When I woke up this morning, I had a quick glance over the regular social networking websites. Some planning to attend the counter demo were angry and excited, ready to vent. Some statuses were those of keen journalism students, anticipating a significant news story in their university town. Others were just plain scared. I on the other hand, felt none of those things. It was an overwhelming sadness that settled itself around my shoulders early this morning. Sad at the fact that we even have to oppose racism in this day and age. Sad at the fact that these people felt the need to stir up tension in a city with a good race relations record. Sad at the fact that I had to warn my brown friends to be careful on the streets. These people seek to oppress and divide, and it almost felt like the liberation movements I eagerly learnt about all those years ago amounted to absolutely nothing.

    Of course, in the face of far right extremism, a defeatist attitude amounts to nothing. So it was with a heavy heart that I trudged onto campus with a few friends to our designated meeting point, incredibly grateful for those who turned out to take a stand against such virulent, racist views. There were roughly 20 of us from UCLan altogether, and I was proud of those of us who were there.

    On reaching Preston city centre, we were greeted with live music, but that didn’t hide the fact that we were pretty much penned in by barriers for our own safety. Thanks to police restrictions, the anti-fascist side of the demonstration had exactly one hour to speak and play live music in the hope of celebrating multiculturalism, before we were asked to disperse.

    One hour of anti-fascist action on a day where racists rampaging through the city felt like a proverbial drop in the ocean. It was freezing cold, but I was glad I was there. Myself and a friend broke off from the crowd, darted through the back roads, and positioned ourselves in the middle of the waning English Defence League crowd. There were points when I couldn’t determine if I was shivering, or shaking in anger. The youth of some of those protestors was the most chilling factor of the day- predominantly white, predominantly male; some looked like early teens, some looked like children, whilst others were nearing their thirties. There were numerous reports of the EDL setting off smoke bombs, throwing fireworks and fighting each other. Clutching cans of alcohol; they wrapped themselves in St George’s flags and Union Jacks.

    There was a strange, uneasy atmosphere in Preston today. Since moving to the city to study, I can safely say the number of racist comments I’ve had to suffer has been minimal.  And I’m not even the EDL’s main target. But today, an invisible, suffocating feeling of fear blanketed the streets. It was easy to feel intimidated by groups of white men with black scarves covering their mouths and concealing their identities.

    Sometime I think we live in an upside down world- a world where a person holding a sign that proclaims ‘peace and love’ is asked if they’re ‘looking for trouble’ by the police. This happened to a friend of mine who was asked to drop the placard before walking past the pub that the EDL congregated in this morning. He was warned by a representative from the same police force that allowed an organisation spreading race hate to march in a diverse city in the first place. Of course, there’s the safety factor- you could argue that we were penned in for our own safety, that my friend had to drop his placard for his own safety, and that my university’s student union didn’t promote the counter protest for student safety. But I often think that if we keep ourselves paralysed in fear, our good intentions will be rendered inert. Doing anything you can to take a stand is infinitely better than doing nothing at all.

  • The problem with pro-feminist men

    Don’t get me wrong, I love third wave feminism, but like every movement, it has its ups and downs. Take for example the case of young, attractive male Hollywood actor, Ryan Gosling. It’s not often you hear Hollywood heart throbs, especially of the male persuasion, utter the words ‘It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self.’ This alone should be celebrated, and it is.

    Gosling was speaking out in response to the Motion Picture Assosication of America, the organisation responsible for rating US films, branding his new film Blue Valentine an x rated  NC-17. The MPAA have made this decision because of a scene that depicts Gosling performing oral sex on the film’s female lead, Michelle Williams. The couple in the film are in a relationship, and the sex act is consensual.  This rating, from the same organisation that has given less adult themed ratings to films that include women being raped by mutants and lizard men, as well as suffering sexual harassment and violence.

    In regards to this, Gosling hits the nail on the head:

    ‘You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film.’

    In theory, I should be happy- and I am to an extent, I think it’s brilliant that he’s highlighted the issue. But in practice, I’m annoyed- and not just because I’m a fun hating feminazi.

    I’m annoyed because Michelle Williams said almost exactly the same thing, and the media didn’t see fit to mention this.

    The just as astute Williams said:
    ‘Mainstream films often depict sex and violence in a manner that is disturbing and very far from reality. Yet, the MPAA regularly awards these films with a more audience friendly rating, enabling our culture’s desensitization to violence, rape, torture and brutality. Our film does not depict any of these attributes. It’s simply a candid look at the difficulties couples face in sustaining their relationships over time. Blue Valentine opens a door for couples to have a dialogue about the everyday realities of many relationships.’

    Irritatingly, Williams’ quote is often far down in any related article, shovelled in under a headline that only mentions Gosling’s objection, therefore implying that the sentiment holds more credibility if uttered by a man.

    This is annoying.

    In reaction to Gosling’s words, straight feminists across the blogosphere appeared to melt in pro-feminist man themed arousal. One comment on Jezebel’s article actually read ‘I want him so hard right now. We could re-enact that scene.’

    Regardless of whether that comment was a joke or not, it isn’t cool. There’s a danger of undermining the message if we reduce our response to his words into ‘OMGGG I WANT HIM SO BAD’. Not to mention that feminism is about rejecting excessive objectification. I think Gosling is a great actor,  and I respect him even more so for expressing a distaste for blatant inequality, but just because we share the same views doesn’t mean I want him in my pants.

    I’ll bet you anything that if Gosling’s words were uttered by a lesser liked, female Hollywood star such as Katherine Heigl (who’s comments on gender inequality in the past have earned her the title of the most hated woman in Hollywood), they would have been ignored or dismissed.

    I couldn’t possibly say there’s a problem with pro-feminist men. In fact, the title of this post may seem a bit loaded. The problem is the media’s reaction to their opinions. If anything, we should be welcoming everyone into third wave feminism, regardless of gender. But we should be careful not to spark unwarranted hero-worship to these men who, are in actual fact, pointing out inequality and talking common sense. If we do, we’re at risk of leaving the women, like Michelle Williams, who are saying the exact same thing, by the wayside.

  • Privilege denying dude

    I’ve just stumbled across this blog, it’s too good not to share.

     

    If anything, this blog both pokes fun at and highlights the constant, irritating arguments that those of us who campaign for liberation rights have to patiently discuss, time and time again, with people who are in denial of their prejudices. All in all, it’s amazing!

  • Do lads’ mags belong in student unions?

    Women: not objects

    Lads’ mags- what’s the big deal? Well, quite a lot actually. After successfully removing the magazines from the union shop’s shelves, Professor Mark Blagrove, The head of the University of Swansea’s Psychology Department, told the union’s student paper: ‘The University should have higher standards than the outside world. The University should be like BBC 4 and that’s it, and then you suddenly get the worst bits of cable television.’

    Whilst I wouldn’t quite describe the issue in those words, Professor Blagrove is correct.

    In these sex saturated times, many people don’t find lads’ mags offensive, but that’s because the blatant objectification of women has filtered into our social consciousness. However, just because they’ve existed for as long as you can remember doesn’t mean you shouldn’t question them.

    After conducting my own somewhat amateur study into lads’ mags -I spent my hard earned money on a copy of both Nuts and Zoo- I came to the conclusion that they’re soft porn.  All that’s missing are vaginas on show.

    A university is an educational institute. Our student union promises to ‘make life better for students’, whilst our university promises to ‘to promote gender equality’. The sale of lads’ mags in the student union directly undermines both of those statements. Whilst these magazines are obviously harmful to women, they’re also seriously detrimental to men, as they advocate tired, restrictive stereotypes. Both women and men are so much more than this.

    Putting the images aside, there’s the issue of the content in these magazines. In May this year, perennial laddish  icon Danny Dyer caused an widespread furore when he advised a Zoo reader in his column to “cut your ex’s face, and then no one will want her…” –  simultaneously endorsing domestic violence as well as the notion of women as possessions. Dyer cried misquotation, and in a statement, Zoo blamed it on a “regrettable production error” – but there’s no denying that his quote stank of misogyny. Anyone with a social conscience can see that allowing this kind of crass, vulgar attitude towards women in a university’s student union is objectionable in the extreme.

    In February, growing calls to move lads’ mags to the top shelf were fuelled by a report commissioned by the Home Office, with the argument that they add to the pornification of the mainstream media. And more recently, human rights group Object have targeted Tesco after the supermarket chain banned customers shopping in their pyjamas on the basis that the sight may ‘cause offense’. Object retaliated by donning pyjamas, creating a conga line through the aisles, chanting anti-sexist slogans and covering up lads’ mags with paper bags that read ‘lads’ mags lie about women’.  I can’t help but agree. These magazines promote the idea of women as nothing more than sexually available objects- always on standby; waxed, primped and preened – legs parted and lips pouting, all for your pleasure. That is a lie.

    So yes, lads’ mags should be removed from our university’s shelves. I’ve no place to judge if you’re intent on getting your rocks off, but there’s no place for porn in our student union. Students primarily come to university to be educated. These magazines reinforce and encourage the objectification of women. If student consumers are that desperate for a soft porn fix, they can always leave university premises to find some.

    Originally written for Pluto’s debate section.

  • So- what exactly happened at #Demo2010?

    I couldn’t tell you what happened at Millbank yesterday- I wasn’t there. I and other UCLan students were due to catch our coach back to Preston at 3.30pm- in fact, many students had been coached down to London as part of their student unions. None of us had time to hang around in London burning things.

    But what of those who did? The condemnation of those students, teenagers and random, trouble seeking strangers who took part in the hours of vandalism and destruction has been widespread. Yes, there were some who had turned up to make trouble, but we should be wary of demonising all the students who turned up to the protest. Attempting to demolish the Conservative Party’s headquarters was too much, but unfortunately, this is a sign of the times.  The political parties who betrayed students were in need of a symbol of discontent, but this was a symbol too far.

    Some factions of the mainstream media should be chastised for honing in on the violence of the protest. This kind of reporting obscures the original message of the demonstration, and blurs the very reasons why students were out on the streets. Initial coverage gave the impression that the protest began and ended at Millbank tower- failing to stress that 50,000 plus students marched peacefully.We walked, we danced, we chanted, and approved of each other’s banners and placards. Some people in the crowd formed a conga line that meandered closely to the barriers, only to be pushed aggressively back by police on the scene. This was the only incident of police brutality I witnessed at the event, and it didn’t look very fair to me. Thankfully, as the the day went on, media coverage increased in its balance.

    On the morning of the 1oth, news channels were reporting that both students and lecturers planned to march on the streets of London. By 4pm, the same news outlets were reporting that student riots were in full force, with no mention of the peaceful protesters, or the lecturers who were marching beside them.   Nothing was said of the parents that marched for their children or the elderly gentleman outside Westminster who held a placard that read ‘I’m fighting for my grandson’.

    The most remarkable fact about yesterday’s demonstration was that, for many who marched, the tuition fee hikes won’t even affect us (with the exception of further education students who were there). We were there to protest about the injustices of the future. Yes, students are angry. We are angry because thousands of students voted Lib Dem, and we’ve been lied to. Disillusion and unrest are spreading fast. Those of us who campaign against tuition fees need to cut the violence and keep up the momentum.

    As for those Conservative bloggers who are calling NUS president Aaron Porter to step down from his position- the very idea is ridiculous and counter productive. Neither Porter or the NUS could anticipate double the predicted numbers, or the violence and protests. Vicious criticism of the demo’s organisers reads like Tory propaganda.

    Yesterday’s demo was the depiction of frustration and a regrettable explosion of discontent. It’s sad that as students, some of us have had to go to a ridiculous extreme just to be heard. This is what happens when you ignore and betray the people who you were elected to represent.

    It’s looking likely that nothing will change. Thanks to the violence and riots, all students have been tarnished by the actions of a few. It’s time to understand their anger.  I’m proud to have taken part in the largest student mobilisation of a generation. Yesterday was of the utmost importance- even if we’re ignored; at least we’ve demonstrated our discontent.

  • A world of contradictions: a quick dissection of the English Defence League

     

    With the English Defence League gearing up to march in my university town on the 27th of November, I thought I’d look into their ideologies. In the past I’ve dismissed the growing street movement as a bunch of lunatics, but with numbers of the EDL growing as the BNP fall apart, I’ve done some digging to see if there’s any truth in their statements. Founded in 2009, the League facebook page already has over 40, 000 fans- can all of these people be wrong?

    Here are four hotly discussed EDL topics.

    1. Vehement dislike of the use of halal meat.

    Excuse my ignorance, but I don’t understand this obsession. All forms of animal slaughter for human consumption are cruel- halal or not. If it bothers these people so much, they should just convert to vegetarianism rather than using halal meat as a flimsy excuse to justify their Islamophobia. If they’re this passionate about animal rights, they shouldn’t be eating meat, full stop. Media hysterics -such as this article from the Daily Mail – only act as catalysts, fuelling the fire to a one sided debate that needs to be discussed in its entirety.

    2. Absolutely, definitely not racist.

    The EDL don’t seem to understand the notion of nationalism- as well as pushing the message ‘black and white unite’ on their propaganda, many of the members argue that there’s a difference between racism and patriotism. The OED defines nationalism as ‘an extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries.’ There’s your middle ground. Unfortunately, whilst hijacking the St George’s flag to emphasise their racist viewpoints, they’ve inadvertently (or, perhaps deliberately) changed the meaning of the symbol. Now, I don’t know about you, but screaming ‘we hate pakis‘ at a protest sounds pretty racist to me.

    3. Fighting for women’s liberation

    Here’s another cause mercilessly hijacked by the English Defence League. As they get involved with the burqa debate, it seems they involve themselves in anything remotely to do with Muslim culture- any excuse for racism. The EDL often refer to the burqa as oppressive symbol, and hijack the women’s rights movement as part of their racist arguments. It’s an interesting and nuanced issue, because burqa bans are always shovelled under the umbrella of religious debate, when in actual fact burqa bans are a thinly veiled attack on women, their bodies, and how they choose to dress themselves. The French government have inadvertently dictated what women should wear- not men. To force Muslim women to take off their burqas or hijabs is just as oppressive as forcing women to wear them. Thus, it makes sense that more women are wearing it as an act of defiance, as well as for religious reasons.  The EDL’s protests aren’t about feminism; instead, it’s just another excuse to be racist. If these people were feminists, they’d campaign abouta lot more than this single issue. I could write about this all day, but Laurie Penny sums it up quite nicely.

    4. Labelling everyone who disagrees with their ideology as lefty Marxist/communist scum

    Reading these diatribes got me wondering how many EDL members have actually read the communist manifesto- as their cries of communism sound very similar to right wing America’s disdain for the political ideology.  The first slip up is labelling those who oppose the EDL as lefties- during his election campaign, David Cameron said ‘The EDL are terrible people, we would always keep these groups under review and if we needed to ban them, we would ban them or any groups which incite hatred’. Last time I checked, Cameron was the leader of the Conservative Party. Using Marxism and communism (political ideologies that the EDL don’t understand) as an insult isn’t the best idea. Those of us who label the EDL ‘racist’ are qualified to do so as we actually understand what racism is, and why it isn’t very good. Anyone who’s read Marx would probably think that the EDL, a predominantly working class movement (not that I’m looking my nose down at that fact, I’m working class too) would sympathise with what the manifesto has to say.

    Nietzsche once said ‘Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

    Looks like he was right.