So I’ve seen several “how to be an ally” posts over the last few days…..

All with the bullet point “intent doesn’t matter”.

The idea that “intent doesn’t matter” renders it completely irrelevant whether something is a skill or a choice. Which means that people who possess certain mental skills get lauded, while people who struggle with those skills get attacked just as readily as if they had chosen to hurt people. “Intent doesn’t matter” means “it doesn’t matter if you tried, it only matters that you failed”–which means, it doesn’t matter how much you care or how hard you’re working–your hard work produces the same results as other people’s laziness, so we’ll treat it as though you’re just lazy. How often do disabled people, especially disabled women, hear that?

In order to get it right all the time, you have to be a kind compassionate person *who is good enough with language to change their available vocabulary at will **who has the executive function and processing speed to select and arrange their words in advance and still have time to get their point across without being spoken over ***who speaks english fluently and probably as a first language ****who has the education (or ability to self-teach) to understand the context of each case and how not to misspeak again *****who has the spare time and energy and spoons to keep up with community norms as they change. Anyone who doesn’t have ALL these traits may not just fuck up occasionally, but regularly, and may make a tremendous effort to correct their behaviour and *still* not get it absolutely right. The fact that they’re trying their best doesn’t make it magically inconsequential if they hurt feelings or perpetuate oppressive ideas, but it should be *relevant* in how communities respond to their mistakes.

After all, this probably wouldn’t even matter if it wasn’t coupled with the norm that if somebody does something problematic, you are entitled to attack them as much as you like. But it is, and that makes people afraid to speak up about issues that affect them for fear of misspeaking. And it manipulates people into spending time in communities that regularly enforce the idea that you’re a piece of shit if you get it wrong, for fear of missing a development.

Under these norms, some guy can say all the right words in the right order and thus get lauded as a feminist hero (see: Russell brand), while a well-meaning person who’s maybe socially anxious, less verbally skilled, and/or less educated and consequently uses the wrong language sometimes gets branded a dangerous oppressor. That’s not “just” ableist and classist; that’s a horrendously inaccurate way to judge who is safe to be around and who isn’t. The most manipulative abusers always do come across as charming and are highly capable of rearranging their language to appeal to their audience. That doesn’t make them safer than some person who’s doing their best but is not so great with words; it means they possess a certain mental skill, and it may mean they’re better at manipulating situations to their advantage. This allows harmful people to rise to the top, while people that struggle with meeting these expectations get drowned out when they point out how inaccessible this makes things for them.

An excellent disabled feminist (gottliebe on tumblr) once said that people care about people with disabilities, so long as their disability doesn’t actually do anything. I don’t know if this is what they meant, but very often in the mainstream of SJ feminism there are discussions about how it’s unacceptable to say “stupid” or “crazy”. (I won’t go into my opinions on that here; it’s a whole other topic). But as soon as anybody brings up that it’s very difficult for them to eliminate words from their vocabulary, they are shouted out of the discussion. As Mel Baggs says, they as good as say “What do you mean, you can’t eliminate that word? What, are you STUPID or something?” “I respect your disability, but how dare you allow it to get in the way of you doing the right thing? How dare you allow it to affect your ability to do things that matter to me?” They respect the idea of your disability, a set of words or letters that they will fight not to be used in a derogatory or flippant way, ever. But they don’t respect you as a person and the way a disability might impact you in a way that is inconvenient for them.

I think what’s most telling is that when I bring this up—whenever anyone brings this up, in fact—they get accused of making excuses. Of lying, to avoid responsibility. Sometimes people even bring out the old Logic “but you’re eloquent, what do you mean you struggle with new vocabulary? But you wrote that post, what do you mean you can’t read an equally long post, right now? What do you mean you don’t have the spoons to check every claim you make to see if someone’s said it before; you had the spoons this morning!” Who else says this to disabled people? Everyone who thinks impairment isn’t real, that there’s no such word as can’t. This is a comfortably-established component of ableism. The whole idea that we can simply judge people, to an equal standard, on what they produce and not on their inner self and their character and motivations, is a component of ableism. The idea that we do not empathise with people as having inherent value based on their character, but see them as designed for aiding in the production of desirable outcomes, and where failing to do so is equally bad regardless of their hard work, is not just ableist but embedded in the lack of compassion that defines oppressive ideologies. I don’t like that the same principle at the heart of the state’s treatment of disabled people can be seen running through the mainstream of activism.

Just as people claim that “intent does matter” is just an excuse, so do people claim that criticisms of callout culture are simply people intellectualising the natural anxiety of being called out. Well….I’m afraid if community norms state that it’s perfectly reasonable to use abusive language towards someone (even call for their suicide) on the basis of what may well be a failure to attain perfection in a skill that’s difficult for them, then yes that does tend to make people anxious, and I don’t think it’s inevitable, good or productive.

I mean, if people really didn’t care about justice, they could leave the communities. Who cares? They could go and do something else with their time. But usually people feel they can’t, and probably because ableism is an axis of oppression and these people need their activist communities; people that will fight for them in instances of injustice. But then people are frightened to speak for fear of misspeaking, so their voices are not heard. And whose voices are heard? Only those who possess the requisite mental skills, language ability, and education. Particularly, those who know how to change their behaviour easily to suit their audience (a group whose venn diagram circle would overlap heavily with “manipulators”). Cis, heterosexual, abled, charismatic, conventionally handsome rich white males, who are still held exempt from criticism even in feminist circles. Often, people who are hypocritical and self-unaware, who don’t apply their principles to themselves, who hold everyone else accountable for their mistakes but don’t see how these principles could be applied to themselves and would run a mile if they could.


“All Right In The Seventies” Review part 2

CONTENT WARNING, for discussion of misogyny, rape culture, cissexism

Yet another issue I had with this show is that….while things were undeniably worse in the seventies and there’s no doubt about that, they still are far from perfect. The men in the show seem to view all these attitudes as so old-fashioned as to be inconceivable, as though rape jokes really haven’t been on television for forty years. Yet laughing at rape and objectification is so normalised, I suspect that most of them would switch their horror for amusement if these jokes were presented in the edgy, self-aware format to which they’re accustomed. It’s very easy for comedians (well, male ones anyway) to sit there and pass judgement on the old days, but if male comedians had consistently pointed out contemporary sexism in comedy with the same vigor perhaps it wouldn’t be such a persisting problem.

You could easily make a compilation of moments from mainstream 00’s comedies that were exactly as bad as all but the very worst clips from the 70s. In a different form, sure–less cheesy, more gritty, less innuendo, more swearing, less clueless, more “ironic”. The first time I remember reacting to comedic sexism was when I was twelve, and it was on the Big Fat Quiz–David Walliams proudly declaring on national television that he wasn’t listening to Girls Aloud speaking because he was “trying to decide which one he wanted to sleep with the most”. Not the seventies. 2006.

Nor is it confined to the shows that everybody knows are problematic, like Top Gear or Little Britain. The IT Crowd has a whole episode where the punchline is there’s a trans woman, and in the end she gets into a physical fight with a man (in which she is injured to an extent that would provoke outcry if they hadn’t just kept implying she wasn’t a “”real””woman). There are episodes where the main punchlines involve sexual harassment and rohypnol, and another where the joke is that a “”deformed”” woman should be grateful for any male attention. Peep Show features an episode where a man gets raped and it’s continually used as a punchline and downplayed. Fuck, even Outnumbered—Outnumbered, the most family-friendly sitcom in the universe!—featured an episode where the joke was that there was a pretty blonde woman who needed to cover herself up so the boys (and the creepy man with the telescope across the road) could contain themselves, and that was just earlier this year.

Here’s the Big Fat Anniversary Quiz from 2007, another one I remember being particularly bad. Carol Vorderman was introduced as “the woman every man would love to take into dictionary corner and give a consonant-vowel-consonant-consonant”. An instance of sexual harassment is shown to audience laughter, which the panellists enjoy but proceed to make fun of the victim’s looks.

By the way, who remembers Lindsay Lohan on Alan Carr’s show repeatedly insisting “I’m not discussing this” as he badgered her “Are you Arthur or Martha? Are you back on the cock now?”

Mind that time on QI when Fry explained condescendingly that people just don’t find women funny, and in the same show held a discussion on how to spot a [transgender woman] (hint: not the term that was used. At all.)

Watch an episode of Mock The Week from 2008. Alternatively, don’t. There were probably more rape jokes in a series of that, than in a series of any seventies comedy show. (I might do some quantitative analysis about this later). Remember when rape was the hottest joke of the moment–well, second only perhaps to the sexual unattractiveness of famous women struggling with addiction?

Why am I mainly picking examples from the noughties rather than 2014? Well…honestly? I couldn’t think of many sexist jokes from the last few years that have passed without comment. I’m not saying they didn’t happen—but I can’t give you a big long list right off the bat the way I can with the latter half of last decade. I no longer feel like I can’t watch any comedy show without seeing blatant, proud misogyny, or like I’m the only one who isn’t comfortable with it when it is there. I can think of sexist jokes that have been shown (the Outnumbered thing, which is still tame in comparison to most of the comedy I grew up watching), but not many sexist jokes that haven’t already been called out in depth. There’s more and worse sexism in that quiz show I linked to than all the comedy shows I’ve watched in the last year put together, and yet I never encountered any criticism of it at the time.

In her piece, Lauren Laverne cites twitter as a possible factor behind changing attitudes towards sexist and harassing behaviour. It’s rare you’ll hear me singing the praises of twitter feminism, but if that is a factor it’s a definite upside. Maybe when a bit more time’s passed, we’ll have people looking at those 00’s clips saying “well they wouldn’t get away with that now.”

“All Right In The Seventies” Review, Part 1…/it-was-alright-in-the-1…/on-demand

I just watched this…documentary? Clip show? Hmm. I have very mixed feelings about it.

First things first, this show should come with a MASSIVE trigger/content warning, as should this post. DO NOT proceed if it won’t be safe for you—this post discusses some of the rape jokes and sexual assaults shown in the clips. 

This is a show about TV tropes that were considered all right in the seventies and are no longer—the kind of thing that people say “oh, you wouldn’t get away with that now”. It’s peppered with some highly disturbing clips portraying rape culture at its most explicit. In one clip, a woman declared “I want to be raped!” while in another, a man cries out “god, I want to rape her!” In another clip, a man chases a woman, grabs her, and kisses her as she actively tries to resist. In another, three male teachers discuss their desire to sexually assault the underage (we assume, mostly underage at least) girls in their care; in another, a girl’s uncle pictures her in sexy lingerie; in another, it’s a girl’s grandfather leering at her breasts and declaring “I like ‘em without bras”.

If you’re watching it with a feminist mindset and you’re sufficiently forewarned about the content, it’s not a bad rebuttal to well-meaning people who think political correctness achieves nothing. It displays how bad things used to be, it mentions the link between sexist attitudes and the actions of Jimmy Savile/other prominent rapists, and there are some good points about the appropriation of 60’s sexual liberation for patriarchal ends.

I find it a shame that a lot of the people making these good points were men while the women being interviewed seemed more likely to defend the clips. Unfortunately I think women (some of whom in this show were involved in seventies’ TV themselves) are afraid of suffering negative consequences if they speak against sexism in their industry, and are either still fearing that to this day or have got themselves into the habit of downplaying any concern they do feel. One of the seventies stars recounts a tale where a male colleague roamed around her breasts “looking for a pencil” for comic effect and she had to stand and let him. This reminded me of Lauren Laverne’s piece earlier this year about working in the television industry and having to accept the possibility of sexual harassment as a fact of life. An incredibly threatening environment, and I don’t blame them for trying to tell themselves it’s all fine.

However, I do think that, whether the creators of this show intended this to happen or not, some viewers are just going to watch it and enjoy it for a bit of shock humour. And the fact that they invited people who defended the clips wouldn’t help with that at all–especially not with arguments like “well more people like to see pretty girls” (not true, it’s just that straight men are given the loudest voice). The show genuinely asked whether we should have a sense of humour about it all and at some points, veered uncomfortably close to nostalgia. It was a strange have-your-cake-and-eat-it fest, in which they metaphorically shook their heads and muttered “dear god, that’s terrible…can we just rewind on those boobs again so I can be outraged properly”.

I do acknowledge that it would be very difficult to discuss sexist events in the media without actually showing people the events you’re talking about. I’m not totally opposed to them showing the clips and it’s good that the clips were presented as shocking. I’m just not sure everybody consumed them that way—and of course, there is a limited number of times you can present something as shocking before the shock factor is diminished by exposure. For this reason, I find it a bit questionable that these clips were all being aired again, one after the other, while a series of people alternately expressed disapproval and amusement and a voiceover mocked them in what often seemed too much like a spirit of affection. They could have done with a higher criticism:clips ratio.

I also really don’t like rape culture being featured along with the question of cider being shown on kiddies’ television as though the two issues were equivalent. They’re not. I don’t believe I would have been the slightest bit influenced by seeing a puppet drinking cider when i was a child given that I didn’t know what cider was—but adults do know what sexual assault is. This false equivalence adds to the implication that this is all some harmless outmoded humour that you couldn’t get away with since PC went mad.