Monthly Archives: March 2009

Not Just Cricket

The EYS Bullshit Detector has been going into overdrive this week as the Pope announces condoms make HIV worse, 1 in 6 counsellors in our own back yard think homosexuality should be ‘cured’, and Chris Moyles’ lame homophobic jeerings, and pisstakingly fat wage packet of £600,000 per year are exonerated by the BBC. I eagerly await the figures of exactly how many counsellors think we can be cured of Chris Moyles; however in the mean time, two news events have come to light this week which prima facie have little to do with each other, save for the fact that they both involve women, and it is these seemingly vaguely-related pieces I want to focus on today. For those in possession of attention spans the length of a Paris Hilton jail sentence, I provide a synopsis of my argument, which is as follows: dismissing women as a class as less able or less deserving of respect and attention is the more socially presentable end of the misogynist mindset that perfectly logically leads to the assumption that women can legitimately be killed or forced into suicide. Women don’t deserve this as they are human beings.

I came across this article in the sensationalist ragbag and once-decent paper The Independent by the right-wing commentator and patriarchy coddler Dominic Lawson. Again, for the attention-bereft who may be already thinking of logging back into Facebook to see if anyone’s invited them to do a ‘What Flavour Mini Milk Are You?’ quiz in the last 20 seconds, the summary of the article is this: entitled ‘Well done our women cricketers. Just don’t expect me to watch them’, the article argues that women essentially aren’t any good at cricket, and that “It’s no criticism of women to point out that they are physically incapable of propelling a cricket ball at 90 mph”. Shit as women are, sometimes if one does well on a national level we can overlook her inherent womanness-shitness for the sake of our own jingoistic pride, though of course it won’t match up to the thrilling experience of watching a man: “with the truly exceptional man..there is something extra, a kind of gasping astonishment on our part that such strength and power could be encompassed by a human being at all.” Lawson then goes on to consider for a nanosecond the idea of fair attention for people who represent half of the population, before insinuating that women shouldn’t get too big an idea of themselves. The whole thing is delivered with a level of pomposity which would make Anne Widdecome look like Jim Royle, and ends on a baffling comparison of women to disabled people, apparently legitimatized by the fact that his own daughter has Down’s syndrome.

Two conclusions may be drawn from this sexist pile of ardent cock-worship: one is that, for spurious ‘reasons’ of biology, the commentator, for the purposes of his piece, does not believe women are as valid as men. The second conclusion which one might draw, and which I arrived at after a bout of inner vituperation, is that while the first conclusion may be true, the fact is that it is a belief held by one overprivileged, underenlightened newspaper columnist, and for various expletives’ sake, is only about cricket anyway.

This belief had a diazepamic effect on my addled brain for a time, until I opened the same newspaper a few days later and was greeted with this odious little instalment of cultural misogyny, a news article about the plight of womankind in Turkey. Over there, a recent attempt to crack down on the patriarchal phenomenon of “honour” killings has meant that men, instead of killing their female relations in cold blood for the crime of wanting their autonomy, are now pressurizing them instead to kill themselves. The repugnance of this situation should be obvious to anybody with a braincell or a beating heart. What may be less obvious to some is how entirely propped up this appalling situation is by patriarchal institutions: a father owns his daughter; wishes to trade her off to a new owner via the property-exchanging mechanism of marriage; when she dares to respond with contrary actions or wishes, he destroys his soiled property as it is no longer fit for consumption. The whole system is founded on the idea of woman as commodity, and in the newly-emerging twist, the woman is forced to take patriarchy-sanctioned autonomy and end her own life in tacit acceptance of her worthlessness as damaged goods.

Judging from the comments left on the website at the time of writing this, most people seem to think that, whilst unquestionably barbaric, this phenomenon is really a problem of the Middle East, and nothing of the sort would ever be capable of happening on these fair enlightened post-medieval shores. And it is unquestionably true that the Islamic religion, like any of the main religions, is anathema to women’s status as full human beings. But the difference between a commentator like Dominic Lawson opining that women are less valid and deserving of respect than men and the Turkish patriarchs killing their daughters or forcing them into suicide is merely one of degree, certainly not one of ideology. Once one introduces the notion that women are somehow less fully human than men, one rationalizes that they may then be objectified, commodified, subjugated, and ultimately disposed of when no longer required. The dehumanization of women operates on a spectrum of the barely perceptible (archaic conservative newspaper writer who has clearly had a bit too much cognac with his afternoon pheasant thinks women aren’t as good as men) to the severely critical (man in Turkey thinks killing his daughter is no worse than throwing out an old TV), but let there be no doubt of the continuum. Hence any opinion, medium, or vehicle which attempts to convey women as anything less than human ought to be blasted out of existence with the same aggression you would a malignant tumour.

Now can anyone guess my views on porn?

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The Hazards of Love

For once I am ahead of the game, or at least only days as opposed to months behind it, thanks to my awareness of the release of The Decemberists‘ new album The Hazards of Love on Monday. Variously and inaccurately described as a “Rock opera” or some such misnomer, the record couldn’t be more different in many respects from their previous releases.

The Prelude (thankfully nothing to do with Wordsworth on this occasion) racks up expectations equal to those which would be experienced if Sofia Coppola were to imbue a version of Romeo and Juliet with characteristic soft-lighting and floral symbolism, only to tread a dangerously fine line between that and the soundtrack to an extra-terrestrial invasion.

‘The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone)’ appears to set the scene (at least lyrically) firmly within Elizabethan pastoral literary traditions, roving through the forest brim full of Ovidian myth and wanton metaphors.  A Bower Scene necessarily ensues with romping bass and suspicious impregnation to match.   ‘Won’t Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)’ deserves the benefit of the doubt with regard to the Elizabethan punning on “want” as both lack and desire, despite the unfortunate parallel of the Grange Hill soundtrack in the piano part.  The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All) sees a slightly more tender though insensitive bedding of “our heroine” (presumably the harmonies indicate this to be with her true love) and the song soars to a climax.  The discordant strings signal ‘The Queen’s Approach’ and ominous presence in the manner of a tuneless lute.  Rather bizarrely, a transition which would undoubtedly displease the Neoclassicists, ‘Isn’t It a Lovely Night’ is suddenly riddled with Italianate influence more suited to a ‘Cornetto’ advertisement or adaptation of Mary Poppins in which the streets are peopled with Venetian straw hats, gondolas, and striped blazers.  Twee harmonies and the misplaced swoon of a slide guitar thinly veil the bawdiness of the discussion regarding the ‘little deaths’. ‘The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid’ is, quite frankly, a little ridiculous, fusing Arcade Fire wailing, and guitar riffs ordinarily the territory of the White Stripes in what I am only able to depict as Anya’s bunny rant from Buffy the Vampire Slayer the Musical meets Shirley Bassey in Jesus Christ Superstar.

‘An Interlude’ is very pleasant.

‘The Rake’s Song’ is a little bit ‘The Kid’s Are Alright’ apart from the wholly inexplicable children’s choir.  ‘The Abduction of Margaret’ isn’t overly surprising, given the context and the distinct Ovidian allusions, particularly the Diana/Venus narrative.  ‘The Queen’s Rebuke/the crossing’ continues with the Elizabethan metatheatricality with the Queen’s assertion that her ‘head is the canopy high’, which is couched in a forest of 70s rock.  ‘Annan Water’ flows along with eddying mandolin, banjo, and acoustic guitar, and the narrative shifts to ‘Margaret in Captivity’ and ‘The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)’  with the trippy return of the Village of the Damned chorus.  ‘The Wanting Comes in Waves (Reprise)’ idles like a Shakespearean clown scene.  ‘The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)’ , rather appropriately ushers in the ‘long last rush of air’ as the ‘rushing waves’ bear witness to Margaret’s wedding vows and violin-ridden consummation.

‘These hazards of love never more will trouble us’, apparently, but they will certainly be regularly heard.

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Feminist Irritations – Additions Welcome

Realising that I ordinarily mount a full-scale humourless attack on a hopelessly offensive article I thought it may be refreshing to publish a simple list of my current top five feminist irritations.

05. “Man-size” tissues – because men inevitably suffer from worse colds than women, and it would simply be indelicate for a lady’s dainty hand or face to be smothered by such a vulgar item.

04. Dog ball throwing sticks (for which this is clearly the technical name)  – since, despite now being eligible to walk larger dogs (only if effectively mastered), women are wholly incapable of providing sufficient exercise for their pets without the aid of a plastic arm extension which, if released at the correct point in its trajectory, will throw a ball as far as a man could.  Obviously, women never do this, which explains the short distances as opposed to it becoming a reflection on men’s abilities.

03. The gendered sections of The Times – must be destroyed, but this will take time.

02. Patronising winks – inspired by the related experiences of a friend of mine.  The “little lady” or “pretty lady” approaches to winking are particularly unacceptable, and worsened when administered by strangers.

01. Outmoded chivalry – I don’t mind having a door opened for me when the person opening it is already ahead, or even just closer to the handle; I do mind, however, when it involves someone scurrying past me to do so and a noble stance being adopted in the process.

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To Be Still

To Be Still, the new record by Alela Diane, has provided the soundtrack to my week (briefly along with that of the entire “serious” level of the library on one occasion) so I thought it only appropriate to review it.  As the follow-up to the The Pirate’s Gospel, I must say To Be Still subverts all but the one expectation that it will be brimming with whimsical excellence.  The haunting archaism and prevailing cynicism of the former are all but lost (thankfully along with the creepy choral effects of ‘Pieces of String’), and the rustic antiquarian furniture has been polished up to a sheen.

A rather curious choice for an opener, ‘Dry Grass and Shadows’ would perhaps be more at home on a Fleetwood Mac album as the long-lost sibling of ‘Albatross,’ although with the exception of the slightly absent-minded slide  begins a rather pleasant horseback ride through the mountains.  Having first heard ‘White as Diamonds’ as part of an ancient Daytrotter Session I couldn’t have anticipated a finer version.  Alela’s characteristic acoustic finger picking is carried along by an ambling cello and whistling violin, maintaining the steady trekking rhythm, despite wobbling a little in the middle.  ‘Age Old Blue’ would, I think, work better without the werewolf accompaniment and is definitely a trundle through an arid valley, and ‘To Be Still’ without the Hawaiian feel.  ‘Take Us Back’ thankfully does what it says on the tin, and recovers quite spectacularly with the aid of a witty string arrangement.  The ambling resumes through ‘The Alder Trees’ and ‘My Brambles’ hitting only the occasional thorny patch.  I’m not sure about ‘The Ocean’ beyond a certain surprise that the mandolin and banshee combination works so well.  Lyrically, ‘Every Path’ is a highlight, but even that can’t compare to the delicate fashioning of ‘Tatted Lace’, engulfing one like mist in the wind.   The journey ends with an encounter with ‘Lady Divine’, the maturity of which shows just how far Alela has travelled.

Alela Diane is about to embark upon a brief UK/European tour, the details of which are available via her myspace.  Please do support her on tour and by purchasing her records.

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Freshly Baked Gender Rolls, Anyone?

Pick up yours today

Pick up yours today

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Fucking hilarious

Within the riflesight of this instalment of Thank Fuck It’s Feminism Friday is the spoof news site The Daily Mash, in yet another case of me picking a fight with Something I Generally Quite Like. When it isn’t being horrendously derogatory towards women, that is.

It is my firm belief that as long as this article is funny, women will continue to be the oppressed sex class whose degradation is taken as a sine qua non of male validity. You don’t need a degree in Women’s Studies to read from the headline (‘Press Stole My Dignity, Not Gang of Whores Thrashing My Bare Arse, Claims Mosley’) that the joke rests on the shared assumption that there could be few things more degrading than being beaten by a ‘whore’.  Not only does this represent a woman exerting physical power over this hitherto virile man, but also (imagine!) a woman who has the temerity to have had sex with several men, thus violating the sacred law that dictates a woman is the property of one man, to be used as his own personal meatsock. What could be more degrading to the patriarchal psyche than being oppressed by a member of the oppressed class, especially one who has disgraced herself  by proving herself unfit for the purpose assigned to her as exclusive property?

As if that weren’t enough womanhatred, the article goes on (under the guise of humour, remember, so any misogynistic tosspottery is, like, totally edgy or ironic or whatever): “I’d then be strapped to the chair with a pair of very dignified leather thongs before the most respectable of the whores started screaming at me in a well-educated German accent.” That’s right, folks. It’s funny because prostituted women aren’t generally respectable or well-educated! They’re disenfranchised and often living in complete poverty! Can you imagine a privileged woman ever agreeing to something so degrading? The hilarity!

From one article which relies on the degradation of women for its humour to another, this time from the Guardian’s Charlie Brooker. In his defense, Brooker is writing of the ludicrousness of stripping somehow being an empowering thing to do, but it’s very telling that he uses the example of men being forced to strip in order to highlight the absurdity:

Now Sky have gone one better by announcing a show called Credit Crunch Monty..in which a group of jobless men will be “laid bare in every sense as they reveal their background stories and their emotional journeys are captured – from overcoming the setback of unemployment to building up the confidence to perform a striptease”, ie a grand televised performance where you’ll presumably get to see their dicks and balls jiggling about, all empowered and that. Excitingly, it’s also being broadcast in HD, so if you’re still rich enough to afford a sparkly top-of-the-range TV you might just be able to make out the individual hairs bristling on their cringing scrota, thereby empowering them further.

Why is it that to talk of men stripping is to highlight their utter degradation as human beings, yet women who strip or have sex for money or any other nudity-related act can be dismissed as whores and mocked for being the paragon of degradation themselves? Oh wait I forgot, that would be assuming that we think of women as human beings in the first place.

Are you laughing yet?

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