Writing / Sex / Mistakes

headinhandsHaving got officially sick and tired of hearing myself think about blogs I might write complaining about not knowing what to write (having exhausted in reality the topic of complaining about being too afraid/too anxious/too busy to write), I am back and ready to write actual stuff.

Not that these topics aren’t important at all, but certainly I am hoping to develop my ideas into a conversation other than the one with other writers about the experience of writing. But you know, one day I will look back at the obstacles I faced from a distance (she says willing this to be true) and on that day I may well see something more interesting than what I’ve had to say on the subject so far.

I ought also to wonder whether the book I’ve written (but not published, or sent out very far) is ultimately a veiled account of what it feels like not to write. I wrote it precisely while I was supposed to be writing a PhD. It was an escape from a harder task, and it caught me up in its deeply satisfying mental-health-giving properties. My blog posts about writing itself have probably all popped out when I have not been at work on it for some time.

In fact the book is about a lot of things, a great many, and on my to-do list long before approaching publishers, is to re-read it expressly to find out what my themes were (sex, gender, justice?). I like to describe it as a philosophical stream of consciousness confessional, but hey, who likes them? Maybe lots of people would like it, but equally, maybe I wrote it just for me. When I say it’s philosophical, I mean it’s full of questions. Literally, it’s full of questions. When I re-read it, it will take me back to them all and maybe from there I can get some clarity about what it matters most to me to write about. (Sex, gender, difference.)

Because I am only just beginning to bring the strands of my life together to see that my obsessions actually matter. For instance, this week my work bit me hard in the personal-interests department. For that piece of code, read: my ‘boss’ called me ‘rather a strident feminist’ to a male colleague because I called out sexism. I reeled at the grilling I was given, though I should have expected it and, logically, it’s a fair cop; I tried hard not to name names and events, so my claims must have seemed pretty vague. But the real reeling is in the insane laziness of this characterisation. He was literally implying that if I’m a feminist then my view of sexism is inherently inflated. Worse, his emotional reaction (in a nice way) at being called out suggests that he thinks his workplace practices are feminist. He obviously doesn’t know that this is the right word for the things he is proud of in his workplace, not to mention in his personhood, but it is.

In fact I was really trying to call him out for his sexist positive treatment of arseholes. I suspected that a particular issue affecting two women colleagues would illustrate this weakness. In fact people thought that the guy in question was the root of the sexism I was calling out. What a fricking mess.

When I say sexist, I mean shockingly blind to an affection (weakness) for certain men who personify a brash confidence, but are rude or mad. Perhaps they got good results, but they were paid more than and treated with far more respect than the women whose jobs they made infinitely harder. It’s painful to throw another stereotypical judgement onto my own karmic log sheet but these guys are in marketing. The sex of an arsehole or an empty suit shouldn’t matter, and women should get employed for their skills and competencies, and men should not get employed when they lack these. And I should know better than to think I can fix a very old and entrenched psychological problem by flagging up how it disadvantages certain staff, using the method of professional observation and reporting. Apparently I have “a bee in my bonnet”.

Before I run screaming back into gainful relative unemployment (I’m freelance so it’s nicely vaguer than that), I need to reap some ‘lessons’ from this that are going to make me real goddamn happy but not smug. And I need to finish the work on my plate like a grown up, albeit a grown up in a team of grown ups with an overgrown child at the helm, calling the shots and giving me glare-eye.

Are there lessons? Hell yeah – you’re reading it now… I am coming to realise that, even if my report was strictly speaking true, my belief that it would work was in contradiction with the reality I know. Each time I tell myself that I don’t really know what I need to write about (sex, gender, sexism), I am making a temporary escape from dark shit that depresses and scares me. Then I go about my daily life thinking that all the tools we need to fix things are just there and we can use them and change things. Well they’re not. They need making. I need to remember that, much as I hugely value making discoveries through direct human contact, writing is a way to create some of these tools.



Long-haired privilege


Is it just me or is anyone else getting a bit overwhelmed with all the types of privilege we are now supposed to know we have (or not) and check? (As in ‘check your privilege’.) Thin privilege and white privilege and male privilege and of course, class privilege, which often (though not always) the others almost boil down to: this tapestry is a bit like saying that we are all unique, except that it calls on us to search the term intersectionality and learn what it means and why it matters.

Today I was feeling the wind in my hair for some time, having been forced to take the simple healthy step of going for a walk by the apparently terrible circumstances of having a stressful job. Do I have employment privilege because I am earning, or is it a sign of my underprivilege that I have to sell my labour to survive since I cannot live for free on the Earth which I was born on?

While feeling the wind in my hair I felt feminine, and this experience tapped me in to all the images of flowing hair you see in the movies, and music videos, and glamorous fashion photography. I had short hair for a while and was regularly assumed to be gay, which didn’t cause any problems but certainly made me realise how powerful a metaphor for straight femininity long hair is. I am very glad to be living in a time and place where women can easily choose to have a short haircut and men can, relatively easily, choose to have long hair even if not through a religious tradition, though this is much harder for men working in some contexts than others.

But why do I have to suffer the dilemma that I might be somehow capitalising on a privilege that others do not or cannot share, just because of what grows on my head (and choosing not to cut it off)? For the sake of full disclosure (I just love full disclosure), I can share that I don’t shave any part of my body any more, ever, and the bits I pluck are very small and I am very lazy about it.

While I mull over the pointlessness of my objection to how I am internally feeling about my hair, I realise that I am combining the urge to try and be clever about being bored hearing about privilege with an observation that there is a glaring and huge state of privilege that is rarely called out: feminine privilege. Okay, maybe I do live under a rock and there are raging twitter debates about feminine privilege, but I would rather write this in ignorance that trawl through men’s rights fora to absorb some stale brain-wincing dialogue about how men being expected to change is just cruel and a sign of a world gone mad. Feminine privilege is probably not discussed because of our collective fear of inadvertently encouraging these guys to talk more.

But it is real. All the tropes about men not knowing whether to hold the door open for a woman are insignificant compared to the real, embodied expectations of the opposite sexes that relate to different kinds of dangerous and unhealthy work, the taking of risks and responsibilities, and the endemic risk of violence from men. The taboo against violence against women, however much it is not strong enough yet, is far greater than any taboo that is yet to fully take root as such, against violence against men. Identifying men as the perps of the majority of violence does nothing to protect men from the threat of assault and neither does the extraordinary number of brutal deaths we clock up on screen each year – often of men given little or no identity but violently disposed of to add dramatic tension to a plot. While many men truly benefit from being neutral in society (male privilege), they are portrayed simultaneously, for our entertainment, as appearing in such numbers as to render them almost disposable. Being a woman is hard, and being discriminated against for being a woman is also hard, but there are many aspects of culture where it is a given that women should be treated with respect, just as, at the very same time, there are many aspects of culture where it is still easy to disregard and discriminate against women. The same is true of men, and this is why assigning privilege to adjectives (white, male, female, thin, long haired) is only one awkward step on the road to mutual respect of all regardless of identity markers, aka true human solidarity.

Before I sign off I want to throw another spanner at privilege discussions – because I once had to endure a white Canadian couple visiting the UK who were so expert at their own white settler guilt that a local low-income working class white male anarchist nearly killed them. How we would have secretly been relieved.

My point is that their consecrated guilt determined them to educate other whites in privilege, and cost them their ability to recognise difference when it stared them in the face. And they became self-righteous and patronising. And no-one had a productive conversation. No matter how long it takes us to educate everyone ignorant in the world about their discriminating practices, we are still soon going to need something more sophisticated than identity chastisement to forward our desires to be surrounded, on the whole, by increasingly humane and intelligent companions. What device comes next?