Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music & the transing of history

UnknownI love Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music: a fictionalised account of the unsolved murder of Jenny Bonnet in San Francisco in 1876. Donoghue’s strength as a writer is both the quality of her historical research and her ability to centre women within history. You can see this in her anthology Astray, Slammerkin, and The Sealed Letter.

Frog Music‘s heroine is Blanche Beunon – a former circus performer from France who became a ‘soiled dove’ in San Francisco working as a stripper and a prostitute.  Beunon is both the archetype capitalist in search of the American Dream and a mother of questionable ability (or desire). She only discovers the tension between these two competing ideologies due to a chance encounter with Jenny Bonnet – a woman who wore men’s clothing and tried to live outside the expected social constructions of working class women. We only see Bonnet through the eyes of Blanche, who is not the most aware character caught in an abusive relationship.

Frog Music is about women’s friendships, motherhood, male violence, women’s sexuality and survival. Donoghue ends Frog Music with this:

There is one myth I would like to put to rest. Jenny Bonnet shows up all over the Internet these days as a proto-trans outlaw: presenting as male, persuading women to give up the sex trade and forming them into a thieves’ gang. Attractive though this image is, it seems to derive from one highly colorful article that was not published until three years after [her] murder (“Jeanne Bonnett”, Morning Call, October 19, 1879) and an equally unsubstantiated popular history from 1933 (Ashbury’s The Barbary Coast), and I have found no evidence to substantiate it.

Frog Music is a powerful testament to the history of women’s gender non-conforming behaviour. There should be no need for these types of statements since there is no evidence for Jenny Bonnet (or Joan of Arc or Elizabeth I)  being ‘proto-trans’ because they predate the trans movement. This ‘transing’ of women’s history is ahistorical nonsense forcing a anti-feminist political agenda on the bodies of women who simply would not recognise queer theory or, indeed, see themselves as “men born in the wrong body”.

Queering history and literature can be quite fun – just take a look at the brilliant Lucy Allen’s breakdown of the new Anne of Green Gables films – but you can’t rewrite history in order to push a postmodern narrative of transgenderism onto women who have fought the gender straitjacket throughout history. Women have been gender non-conforming – at great personal risk – for centuries. And, we should be celebrating their accomplishments. Not erasing their activism or their bodies. After all, the Suffragettes learned JuJitsu not because they believed they were men – since fighting and self-defence was viewed as a male pursuit – but to protect themselves from male violence – sexual and physical.

The history of women’s gender non-conforming is an essential part of women’s history. Erasing women to claim them as ‘trans’ is misogyny. It is no different than the constant erasure of women from history by male historians.

 

 

Feminism is not a popularity contest & other exciting truths

As bell hooks says, feminists are made, not born. None of us are perfect and every single day is a challenged to address the internalised misogyny, racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, and disablism that we are taught from birth within a white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy . We all make mistakes and we all fuck up.

The problem is not in the mistakes we make. It’s in the refusal to reflect on the mistakes when someone raises the issue. Clearly, there is a real issue within online feminist communities on how issues are raised – abuse and bullying are not all that uncommon. But, someone pointing out your comment might be racist or classist or lesbophobic isn’t abusive behaviour. Nor is people disagreeing with you abuse.

Self-reflection is essential to feminism – both in theory and praxis. The following are all true:

You can support more than one campaign at once.

Refusing to support a campaign because you dislike the person who started it is childish and anti-feminist.

Refusing to support a campaign because the person who started was an ass to your mate once is also asinine.

Dismissing campaigns or petitions because you don’t like the way they are written is infantile – and usually involves elements of classism, racism and disablism.

It is perfectly possible to support a campaign even if the person who started it is an abusive bully.

Feminism is a political movement to liberate all women from the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. We don’t have to be friends. Hell, we can actively loathe one another as individuals without compromising our feminism or the goal of liberation.

We need to stop thinking of feminism as a popularity contest and start focusing on the issues of male violence, male entitlement, VAWG and a political and economic system predicated on the unpaid labour of women. This does not involve making decisions based on who is friends with who but on the individual campaigns themselves.

 

WE WILL NOT STAND BY WHEN UN SOLDIERS ABUSE, RAPE AND MURDER

#Womenwrites: Essential writing by women

Justin Trudeau is not a feminist superhero.

Justinjustin-trudeau-yoga_650x400_71459338988 Trudeau is a feminist. We all know this since he says it every single time he’s interviewed. The media is obsessed with this narrative and Trudeau is regularly accused of ‘trolling the internet’ for posting pictures which revel in hyper-masculinity.

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Much of Trudeau’s appeal is that he is a conventionally attractive white male who does yoga, charity boxing and loves kids. Almost as much as Barack Obama does. This is not ‘trolling the internet’. It is part of a deliberate campaign of image management – just like every other politician on the planet. David Cameron taking up yoga would not make him a better prime minister – nothing can compensate for the destructive and deeply misogynistic and racist policies that the Tory party has developed. Likewise, an attractive prime minister who enjoys a photo opportunities with babies – of the human and panda varieties – does not automatically guarantee good policies or even a commitment to feminism.

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It is a failing of our culture and lack if critical consumption of media that we are infatuated with a prime minister who is under the age of 60 and has all his hair. We’ve learned nothing from the debacle of Tony Blair and ‘Blair’s Babes’.

 

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Trudeau grew up in the public eye. He knows the value of a carefully cultivated media construction, which is both serious and playful. It’s clear he is willing to be silly in the public eye but posing in a pool with his family isn’t a policy document. Before he gets acclaimed as the greatest prime minister ever, it’s best to have a passing acquaintance with his policies before we repeat the embarrassment of Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize for promising nuclear non-proliferation only 9 months after being inaugurated – what with Obama’s record of military intervention in the following years not being exactly on the side of ensuring World Peace. At the rate the media is going with it’s coverage of Trudeau: Feminist Superhero, he’ll win Women of the Year 2016, which is only slightly less embarrassing than Glamour voting Caitlyn Jenner despite the fact that Jenner is a republican who does not support a single right of women, including reproductive justice,  and the feting of Kellie Maloney erasing pesky issues like homophobia, racism and domestic violence (it’s worth noting here that attempted strangulation is a huge risk factor for fatal intimate partner violence).

The fact that a Trudeau has gone on record claiming to be a feminist is a good thing. It is essential that world leaders understand that women are oppressed as a class, but saying the words ‘I’m a feminist’ aren’t enough. They have to be followed through with actions and Justin Trudeau has simply not done enough for women for him to celebrated yet. A commitment to access to abortion for all women should be a basic requirement in a politician – not a cause for celebration. I have yet to read any statements from Trudeau on reproductive justice – something Aboriginal women are consistently denied.

His tax breaks are currently aimed at middle class families with a commitment to increasing contributions from the wealthy 1% and not those living in poverty, which isn’t exactly a Brave New World in political promises. The 2014 Liberal conference pledged to research a basic minimum income for all residents with the promise of Ontario trialling it. There are also promises around prescription charges, which are incredibly expensive particularly if you have disabilities or a long-term illness and no health insurance. This is all under discussion with some of Trudeau’s tax reforms conflicting with the research proposals on a universal basic income. A universal basic income is an inherently feminist policy. If Trudeau’s government follows through with these recommendations it will have an immediate impact on poverty, which disproportionately impacts women and all Aboriginal Peoples (First Nation, Inuit, and Metis).

Aboriginal communities across Canada experience systemic poverty and the consequences of Colonial practises which continue to this day, with the final residential school not closing until 1996. Access to healthcare, education, employment, and support services are sub-standard in many communities. Aboriginal women experience domestic and sexual violence and abuse at much higher rates than other Canadian women – including that perpetrated by white men. Aboriginal women are more likely to have their children taken into foster care if they exhibit trauma-symptoms caused by male violence. They are less likely to be given access to support services and are far more likely to be blamed for their experiences of violence.

Substance use is common in Aboriginal communities and is directly linked to trauma and poverty.  Many communities have taken extreme measures to support young people, particularly alcohol consumption and huffing. It’s not unusual to hear of RCMP officers stationed in remote communities dealing in illegal substances, including alcohol in those where it is banned. Racist and misogynistic violence against Aboriginal peoples by police is common at the national, provincial and local levels. “Starlight tours”, the practise of dumping Aboriginal peoples outside of the city limits by Saskatoon police was common in the 1990s – there is little documented evidence of it happening at other times but even the chief of police in Saskatoon believes it happened(s). These “starlight tours” resulted in the deaths by hypothermia of a number of people including Rodney Naistus, Lawrence Wegner and Neil Stonechild. I’ve yet to have heard any policies from Trudeau which will deal with these issues.

One promise Trudeau has already instituted is holding an inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Estimates suggest more than 4000 women disappeared during the last 30 years – the police, of course, have a lower number of 1200. The police of Canada aren’t exactly trustworthy when it comes to recording crimes against Aboriginal people – and aren’t exactly free of perpetrators either. This inquiry is absolutely essential to address Canada’s current racist and misogynist polices which have resulted in the abuse, trauma, disappearance and murder of Aboriginal women. However, this is not Trudeau’s policy but the consequence of decades of activism by Aboriginal women and their families culminating in a very distressing report written by Human Rights Watch on the disappearance and murder of Aboriginal women along highway 16, or Highway of Tears, in British Columbia.

If this inquiry is undertaken appropriately, and avoids the incompetence and possibilities of corruption seen in the UK’s Chilcot Inquiry into the war in Iraq, it will fundamentally change the way we understand Canada both historically and currently. However, Trudeau announcing that an inquiry will take place is not a sign of his commitment to feminism. His commitment will be demonstrated by ensuring that the voices of Aboriginal peoples are given priority during it and when any recommendations are put into place.

The inquiry will also need to address the disproportionate number of Aboriginal women forced into prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation due to poverty, misogyny and racism. Trudeau supports the decriminalisation of the ‘sex industry’. This is not just the women, children and men forced into selling their bodies but includes decriminalising those who profit from the sexual exploitation of women.  There is nothing feminist about decriminalising pimps and there is nothing feminist about ignoring the fact that many of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women were vulnerable because they had no options other than prostitution. A decriminalisation policy which ignores systemic racism and misogyny within Canada is not feminist.

Before lauding Trudeau a feminist superhero, we need to see the following:

  • immediate investment in education and healthcare
  • a real commitment to reproductive justice ensuring that abortion and birth control are easily available across Canada, as well as recognition that poverty and racism impact on how women access reproductive justice. This requires an overhaul of the welfare system, foster care, and access to free prescriptions, dental, eyesore etc for all who need it.
  • Universal basic income
  • Federal control over child maintenance so that it is not a lottery sweepstakes for mothers
  • Fundamental overhaul of child contact to recognise the ways in which abusive fathers harm their children and former partners through contact starting with recognising that a man who abuses his partner is committing child abuse.
  • massive investment in women’s services including refuges, homeless accommodation, and rape crisis centres
  • Exiting services
  • massive investment in housing, particularly on reservations some of which still do not have access to appropriate clean water and energy.
  • Ensuring that his commitment to action on climate change recognises how it disproportionately impacts Aboriginal communities and that support for the Keystone XL pipeline does not address this.

As it stands, Trudeau has the potential to be a transformative prime minister dedicated to instituting feminist policies, but he isn’t there yet and the obsession with his looks is simply demeaning to us all.

 

 

Further reading:

 “Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada,” – Human Rights Watch

Red River Women – BBC

No more Stolen Sisters – Amnesty Canada

Missing and Murder Aboriginal Girls and Women – Native Women’s Association of Canada

Canada’s Missing: Thousands of Murdered or Missing Women – Al Jazeera

National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Images:

Image 1: Justin Trudeau – twitter

Image 2: Bespoke Films/ Daily Mail

Image 3:  Rachel J./Twitter

Image 4: Maude Chauvin

#WomenWrites: Essential Writing from March

More than just burnt toast: male privilege in action

This is another one of those highly stupid videos doing the rounds of Facebook.

Apparently, the key to a healthy relationship is a man eating burnt toast without comment because his wife is tired from working all day. As blogger Murder of Goths says:

So what we can gather is this man is so infuriatingly lazy that not only will he not take over when the woman is tired and struggling, but that he’ll eat burnt toast rather than step up and do his fair share.

And, we’re supposed to think he’s the most AMAZING HUSBAND EVER for eating burnt toast. As opposed to getting off his ass to make dinner himself. Because cooking is a woman’s responsibility. Even when she works full time in a stressful job.

When I read articles exhorting the right of men to paternity leave, I think about these situations and wonder just what the husband actually did around the house before the birth of children. Did he do 50% of the housework? the caring work? emotional labour? Did he do so during the pregnancy? Or do more since growing a human being actually takes a considerable amount of labour that a good father should be doing more than 50% of the wifework. Has he done 50% of the wifework after the birth of the child?

Or, is he just a lazy tosser who is so fucking entitled that he thinks eating burnt toast is actually the sign of a ‘healthy relationship”?

This is what male entitlement and privilege look like: a man who eats burnt toast thinking he deserves a medal for being a ‘good husband’ rather than a lazy jackass.

The only real benefit to videos like this is to show them to your potential partner. If he thinks the Dad sounds like a good man, dump his ass and find a man who is actually willing to recognise that men are capable of cooking dinner too. Without being asked. Repeatedly.

 

#womenwrites for February 2016

(Re)Writing the Margins: Radical Feminism and Reproductive Justice Book Call for Papers

There has been a plethora of feminist texts and anthologies published on motherhood and feminist mothering in the past ten years, but there has been very little published with a radical feminist perspective on feminist mothering, the patriarchal institution of motherhood, the advent of reproductive technology and the backlash on single mothers. Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born is the quintessential radical feminist text on motherhood and feminist mothering and its influence is clear in numerous modern texts, but not from within radical feminist communities. Radical feminist writing has been relegated to online communities – such as the powerful collective blog Motherhood is a Feminist Issue – where debates have raged over the question of mothers having more privilege over non-mothers and whether or not it is possible to be a radical feminist within a heterosexual relationship.

Much of these debates have become polarised into two camps: mothers vs. non-mothers reinforcing the very patriarchal systems radical feminism was created to overthrow by policing women’s bodies to reflect political positions. Even fewer of the numerous anthologies and online writing has examined the issue of reproductive justice from within a radical feminist framework.

(Re)Writing the Margins is a collection of radical feminist essays, personal experiences, poetry and short stories on reproductive justice and radical feminist mothering within a white supremacist capitalist-patriarchy. We welcome submissions from researchers, activists, artists, mothers, children, grandmothers, and community members; we encourage submissions of both scholarly chapters and creative works that explore radical feminist theory and practise in relation to reproductive justice.

The anthology will examine the following topics:

  • Compulsory heterosexuality, heteronormativity and child-rearing
  • Wifework
  • Reproductive Justice for Whom? The impacts of racism, classism, disablism, homophobia on abortion, birth control, miscarriage, caring, mental illness etc.
  • Male violence and the ‘children need fathers’ rhetoric
  • Infertility and Reproductive Technology
  • Remaining childless as a choice.
  • Raising sons as a radical feminist.
  • Raising children in a pornified world
  • Defining gender – on whose terms?

Abstracts: Please send a 250-word description of the proposed paper, including a tentative title to louisepennington@hotmail.com. Along with this, please include a 50-100 word biography and your full contact information.

Deadline for abstracts is April 30 2016

Full Manuscripts: Please ensure that the manuscript conforms to Chicago style, and is 15-20 pages (double-spaced) in length. Final acceptance of the manuscript for inclusion in the collection rests upon its fit with the rest.

Deadline for full manuscripts is July 30 1016

To Submit: Please direct all submissions and inquiries to Louise Pennington at louisepennington@hotmail.com

Lice Are a Feminist Issue

Lice – that loathsome insect that mentioning turns everyone into hysterical head scratchers. Just typing the word makes me want to shave my head. Whilst scratching and googling illegal pesticides. Just in case.

I can’t adequately express how much I loathe lice – the hours of my life I have wasted combing through my children’s hair in a desperate attempt to find that one last louse who is on a mission to repopulate the universe (or just my kid’s head).

I have done all the treatments: vinegar (made the kids scream and me hungry), gin (made the neighbours look askance), olive oil (went every where), and the full range of “essential” oils from tea tree to peppermint. Mostly, they made the kids smell like they’d been lost in a bubble gum factory. I’ve wandered around muttering: lice don’t care if your kid’s hair is clean or dirty. I’ve tried every lotion and spray. I have memorised the NHS advice on how to treat lice and bought every type of comb going including one that supposedly killed lice with an electric shock. I’ve done it all and the only thing that works is spending hours combing through wet hair.

I celebrated the Christmas holidays by chopping off all of my children’s hair. I became that mother – the one who lost the plot. The thought of spending hours combing my children’s hair in a desperate attempt to find that one super-fertile, camouflaged louse was too much. I actually hacked off my daughter’s ponytail rendering her once waist-length hair into a bob around her shoulders.

It was Christmas and everyone was scratching. I couldn’t bear the thought of getting out the nitty-gritty comb. Again. Now, we’re all sporting short hair (some of us with less grace than others and some of us with straighter edges than others).

Most children get lice at some point in their lives, but it doesn’t matter how many times I read those official NHS guidelines about how, I still feel embarrassed when my kids catch them. There is a shame involved in being the mother whose children have lice. And, this is why lice are a feminist issue. It doesn’t matter how often you hear about equal parenting, it’s always mothers who end up responsible for lice.

It is mothers who are responsible for spending hours every week combing their children’s hair. It is mothers who are responsible for taking their kids to the hairdressers with the inevitable embarrassment of being sent packing when one louse pops out from behind the kid’s ear to wave hello. (And, why is it normally impossible to see them on your kids head but they turn a shade of glow-in-the-dark lime green with a penchant for the Macarena when in proximity of a hairdresser?)

Lice are a mother’s shame: if only they were a better mother; a more observant mother; one with hours of free time to comb through their child’s hair (assuming the child would sit still through this process happy as a lark).

Lice are just another form of wifework – one which women are shamed for performing and are then shamed for missing. Combing hair for lice is time-consuming and excruciating for both mother and child. It is also used as a way of shaming poor mothers. You see, white middle class children only get lice from one of “those kids”. These children are always the victims of lice infestation and never responsible for sharing the blighters with other children. Instead, we sit in judgment of bad mothers who don’t own a microscope they can jam their kid’s head.

I have yet to meet a father who spends his evenings combing through his kid’s hair. Or, a father sent home from the hairdresser in disgrace. It is not father’s desperately trying to pretend they didn’t see the louse which just plunked an “I am here” flag in the middle of their kid’s head.

Lice are a feminist issue because it is mother’s who are blamed for an infestation that is a pretty normal part of a kid’s life: like chicken pox, skinned knees and nose-picking.

The next time you see a child with lice-infested hair spare a thought for the mother spending her precious time and money desperately trying to eradicate the lice. Don’t judge. Just give a quick thanks that this time it’s not you. Because lice are definitely one of the worst bits of mothering and mothering is always a feminist issue.

 

Originally published in the Huffington Post on 15.1.15

Violence Against Women, Domestic Violence and the Problem of Gender Identity (Huff Post)

Currently the Office for National Statistics cap the number of crimes that one person can report at five. The Office insist the cap is necessary as

“otherwise the sheer number of crimes committed by perpetrators against the same individual would skew the rest of the statistics.”

As research by Professor Sylvia Walby evidences, there is only one crime that would be impacted by lifting the cap: domestic violence. Lifting the cap would make the ubiquity of domestic violence and the consistent failure of successive governments and police forces to deal with the issue clear. It would have long-term consequences on financing of policing, housing, and healthcare and would make women’s secondary status in political life obvious. The cap disproportionately impacts women who experience the vast majority of domestic violence and erases the sex of the perpetrator: who are overwhelmingly male. The decision to create a cap was not to make it easier for statisticians, but a clear policy of eliding the reality of all forms of violence against women and girls from public awareness.

The cap also functions to inflate the number of men who experience domestic violence making the 1 in 6 men statistic a misnomer. It also includes incidences of retaliatory violence, aka self-defence, where a woman lashes out at the male partner who is physically harming her causing injury to his person, such as a woman scratching a man whilst he attempts to strangle her. The victim, therefore, becomes a perpetrator of domestic violence. In this case, the man’s one experience (caused by a woman defending herself which should not included in statistics) is given more credence than a woman who may have experienced 365 separate incidents of which only 5 count in official statistics. Conflating retaliatory violence with the pattern of coercive control that is domestic violence harms women as a class and makes it more difficult to campaign for specialist services for women. The cap makes domestic violence look ‘gender-neutral’. …

 

Read the rest of the article at the Huffington Post