FEMINIST CATFIGHT: TRANS* RIGHTS VS. MALE PRIVILEGE

 

Meow!  Controversial “debates” abound this week with the argument (mainly from radical feminists) that trans women can’t be “real” women because they experienced male privilege while growing up.  First off, this is a complete non-argument; it’s like saying I can’t identify as disabled because I was healthy up until my teens, or because I had a brain tumour that others couldn’t see, that I experienced “able privilege”.

So you’re probably able to summarise my thoughts on the matter quite succinctly.  I am: it’s utter bollocks.  But let’s delve a little deeper to highlight some of the errors, contradictions and downright fantasies that make up this viewpoint.

The male privilege argument

This is the most controversial of all the points, for me, because there is a grain of truth behind it.  We don’t choose to have privilege in any given situation.  It is as much about people’s perceptions of an individual as it is about the actual characteristic that is said to be responsible for the advantage.  So while a trans woman may have experienced terrible suffering and marginalisation as a child due to their gender identity, it doesn’t mean that they weren’t perceived as male, and therefore treated like a boy (and this will have added to their problems).

Privilege doesn’t cancel itself out

There isn’t a scorecard of oppression that we use to decide who gets the most points in any given situation.  Intersectionality is a wonderful frame to consider complex relationships between different axes of privilege.  And it’s for that reason that it’s not a totting-up exercise.  A trans woman who was once considered male doesn’t lose the trauma and dysphoria of her earlier years due to the concept of male privilege.  It’s not Top Trumps, people!

There is no universal standard of womanliness

You’ve often heard it said that there’s more variation within a population than between populations.  And it’s true in this case!  There’s so much variability in people’s experiences of childhood, that I couldn’t tell you what a typical childhood even is, let alone a typical “socialised female” childhood.  If we’re going to say that trans women never had the experience of growing up as a girl, we’re going to have to exclude a lot of “real” girls from that as well.

Trans women are women

There are so many different facets of what it means to be a woman.  we can pick and choose the criteria in whatever way we like, but they will never give a complete picture, and every single definition we choose is going to unjustly exclude somebody.  Perhaps the problem is that we are looking for too rigid a characterisation, like a Girls Only club with secret passwords and a ladies-only treehouse.  I feel that this is one of the failures of trans-exclusionary arguments: that because historically women have been oppressed as a class, we must protect the definition of “woman”.  But what then?  We have our perfect definition that can never be challenged, and this is going to help us to fight the patriarchy… how?  Isn’t it better to expand the definition of “woman” to reflect the entire female experience and to increase the number of allies?

Privilege works both ways

Transgender people are disadvantaged on just about every scale you can think of.  More likely to be unemployed, more likely to be the victim of  crime, more likely to attempt suicide, more likely to live in poverty, more likely to experience direct and indirect discrimination, etc, etc.  I could sit here listing these all night.  It makes the male privilege argument rather redundant when you consider the unending torrent of disadvantage many trans people have to wade through every single day of their lives.  And let’s not forget that those making the trans-exclusionary argument are almost always white, middle-class and wealthy.  Have they checked their privilege recently?

Men aren’t the problem, either

This “debate” inevitably ends up with someone claiming that trans women are men.  Well, that ain’t so, and even if it was, it’s a fallacious route to head down.  While it is true that the majority of gendered violence is perpetuated by men, it is by a minority of men.  We hear so much about them because they create a toxic culture that often goes unchallenged and causes numerous disadvantages for women.  There are feminists who believe that all men are a threat, and they are wrong.  There are plenty of things that we are all guilty of, like bias, stereotyping and sexist language, but they aren’t the same as rape and murder.  This is a bit like comparing all the arguments against Islam to terrorism – it’s just nonsense. [“You don’t want a bacon sandwich? You are worse than Bin Laden”]  Oh yeah, one more thing.  I’ll say it again: trans women are not men.

What about the (trans) men?

Oh, look, a huge f*cking elephant in the room.  Well, I suppose we’d better address it.  Trans-exclusionary arguments always, without fail, ignore not only the issues that trans men face, but that they exist at all*.  There’s no moral panic over where trans men go to do their business; it’s almost like it’s not really about bathrooms.  Shouldn’t we be going after these chaps with our pitchforks for betraying the sisterhood?  No? Why not?  Is it like Queen Victoria refusing to believe that lesbianism existed because she couldn’t imagine it?  How simple-minded the anti-trans brigade must be.

It’s not a zero-sum-game

I’m sure that if you’ve read this far, you don’t need this explaining to you, but here it is anyway: there’s not a finite amount of rights to go round.  In protecting the rights of one group, we don’t need to take rights away from someone else in case we run out of human decency.  There’s enough to go round for everyone.  And if we then come back to the idea that women are suffering because our society chooses to treat transgender people with dignity and respect, I’d really like to see some evidence to support that claim.  It’s ok, take as long as you need – the last 40 years or so haven’t yielded anything, so I’m in no rush.

So what am I allowed to debate then?

Well, you’ll have you consult your self-awareness guide for that one.  I’m not going to tell you what to think.  But I am going to tell you that you should think.  We can criticise gender roles, gender-based violence and discrimination, while still supporting equal rights for transgender people.  Indeed, many transgender people will have views on these topics, and they are worth listening to.  It’s not an either/or problem.  Yes, men in general start off from a more advantageous position than women in almost every area of life.  But that’s not a Get Out Of Jail Free card that we can whip out every time a new feminist topic comes up.  We didn’t just do feminism up until the 1970s and then it was job done.  The world is changing and it’s not going to wait for us.  Feminism isn’t simple, and nor should it be.

*NOTE: while trans men get conveniently hushed out of the room, some trans-exclusionary folk do have a problem with non-binary identities.  I’m not completely sure what their “academic” argument is, but it quite often descends into insults like “trans-trender”, and it’s really ugly.  I can only assume that they feel threatened by AMAB (assigned male at birth) people adopting identities that are more feminine, but at the end of the day it comes across as a dogmatic belief rather than anything backed up by evidence or a solid argument.

 

MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL, OR IT WILL BE…

 

BULLSHIT.  That’s right, if it ain’t inclusive, then it ain’t equal.  Intersectional feminism strives for equality for all genders, recognising that while gender oppression is a huge factor in an unequal society, it is also more complicated than that alone.  There are numerous other influences that are oppressive in their own way, or that combine with gender discrimination to create an even worse problem.  For example, a black woman is more likely to experience both racism and sexism, whereas a white woman is likely to only experience sexism, and a different expression of it.  Disabled and transgender women are at a similar junction – there are feminist issues specific to minority women that arise because of the traits that make them a minority.  It’s really not that difficult to understand, unless you’ve got your head stuck in the 1970s.

And you’d think, what with them being a switched-on feminist publication, that this would be easy-peasy for Jezebel (they’re often criticised, but the conversations they generate are usually important ones).  But they have really let themselves down today:

 

Did you really think this through, Jezebel?

 

The headline reads “The FBI, Which Still Won’t Address Online Threats Against Women, Arrested Someone For Tweeting a GIF at a Male Journalist”.  This is complete intellectual dishonesty.  That headline, while technically true, doesn’t talk about what actually happened.  The GIF was sent to the recipient, Kurt Eichenwald, specifically because the sender knew he has photosensitive epilepsy, and with the intention of causing him to experience a seizure.  Besides that, it’s possible for the FBI to concentrate on more than one problem at a time – they are a national government-backed organisation with plentiful resources.

This was investigated and prosecuted because there was enough evidence to bring a case, and because this crime crossed the line from threat to assault.  There is an issue of female journalists (and, generally, females) suffering disproportionate and gendered harassment online, and it needs to be taken seriously and investigated.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prosecute other crimes, and arguably this case works towards creating a safer online environment for women anyway, because there is now precedent for dealing with online abuse.

And then, back to the bullshit.  The article (click if you dare) and its headline are worded in such a way as to take a story about an individual, trivialise the main issue, turn it around and make it about women.  This is the exact derailing tactic used by the “what-about-the-men” trolls, and we shouldn’t be giving sexist knobheads any ammunition by behaving like sexist jerks ourselves.  Not to mention the intersectionality fail.  Mr Eichenwald was targeted for his disability (although it’s probably no coincidence that the person who did this had the Twitter handle @jew_goldstein).  It had nothing to do with his gender, until Jezebel decided to make it so by throwing the disabled under the bus.  Thanks a bunch, Jezebel.

 

UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE

 

When we speak of Intimate Partner Violence, we inevitably think of battered wives and outward signs of abuse.  Yet much of the control and domination is more difficult to see from the outside, and as a result it can be difficult to put a name to that type of violence.  Indeed, there are some who don’t believe it’s that serious at all.

Ironically enough, gaslighting falls into this abuse category, and it is perpetuated by doubters by making the victim question if they’re really sure it was abuse.  I’ve had a difficult past, and there are many things that have been left unresolved that affect me to this day.  A friend who works with survivors of abuse sent me some factsheets that are used in recovery programs, to help me make sense of what I experienced.  Links are available by clicking on the subheadings below.

Biderman’s Chart of Coercion

Biderman’s Chart of Coercion is a tool developed to explain the methods used to break the will or brainwash a prisoner of war.  Domestic violence experts believe that domestic abusers use these same techniques.

This second link contains the original language used by Biderman specifically regarding PoWs; I have included it here for context and comparison. Click Here

The Duluth Model

The Duluth Power and Control Wheel is a visual representation of the concept that Domestic Abuse involves a wide range of behaviours which are reinforced by actual or threatened physical/sexual violence with the purpose of having control over a victim [Source: Newcastle Women’s Aid].

Often, emotional abuse and control is a precursor to actual violence.  Even if it never reaches that point, it can break a person’s spirit and have profound & long-lasting consequences for their mental health & wellbeing.  It’s important that we take this form of abuse seriously, not just in its own right, but as an indicator of the likelihood of worse to come.

When I left, things had started to become violent.  I’m sure that I would have left sooner if I had the confidence to trust my instincts, and if I knew that there was a recognised pattern of abuse that I was experiencing.  When I was going through this, I just wasn’t sure how to describe what was going on, and because I’d only been hit once or twice, I thought “it wasn’t really proper violence, was it?”  Friends and relatives downplayed my worries, and put it down to arguments, or me being “difficult”.  We need to educate people on the reality of domestic abuse – that it takes many forms and it isn’t all physical.  Please share this post widely – the more knowledge available to ordinary citizens, the more we can take control of our own lives.

 

FUJIFILM: SEXISM FROM INNOVATION

 

Today was a Throwback Friday! Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?  This week, we’re going back to the 1970s, so get your tank tops and platform heels ready!  Fujifilm, somewhat unbelievably, ran a press conference with a product demo that included a semi-naked female body as a prop for “testing the camera’s performance on skin tone”.  Yeah right, pull the other one.  It was a thinly-veiled excuse to cover up that they brought out a topless model to titillate the all-male audience.

Fortunately, one of them spoke out.  Everyone listened to him because, well, he’s a man.  Women have been complaining about this sort of thing for decades, but are routinely mocked and silenced.

 https://twitter.com/dannynorthphoto

The Metro’s article on this is surprisingly good (usually The Metro’s only any good if the train toilet’s run out of bog roll on the morning commute) – you can read it by clicking here.

My thoughts on this aren’t as stereotypically righteous as you might imagine.  While I do find it offensive that this was deemed an appropriate marketing technique in 2017, I’m actually really embarrassed for Fujifilm.  Like, seriously, did no-one tell them it’s 2017?

When I first started working in engineering; design offices and site cabins had nude calendars everywhere, hardcore pornography was sent round the office by email, and corporate jollies involving strip clubs were commonplace (this was in the early 2000s).  There was very much an atmosphere of it being a “men’s space”.  I did not dare question this set-up, as those in charge were the same ones who were responsible for my progression and pay-packet.  Worse than that, I was frequently underestimated and was the brunt of every “dumb woman” or “feminazi” joke going.  If Bernard Manning had walked in one day, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

As more and more women enter professions that are traditionally male-dominated, there is a transition period where nasty behaviours get exposed and weeded out.  The first women through the doors have to bear the brunt of the sexism and complaints that they’re ruining everything, and it’s Political Correctness Gone Mad or Feminism Going Too Far.  There’s an element of this still in motoring and gaming (please, please, please, no-one mention GamerGate).

While I find it really childish that groups of grown men left to their own devices are only comfortable working in a playground environment, I also find it fascinating.  Why does this happen almost universally in male-dominated circles?  Given that I know a ton of men who aren’t rampant sexists, but who also wouldn’t complain about it either, here’s what I think is going on:

A few macho types at the top of the food chain proudly display their masculinity by creating an atmosphere in which overt manliness is the norm.  No-one is going to question it, as to be seen doing so would make one “less manly” (oh nooooooooooooooooo!).  And in not questioning it, all of the men get to enjoy the benefits: loads of pictures of boobs, and none of those pesky women hanging around telling them they can’t make poo jokes all day.  Outside of this environment, these men (including the ringleaders, most of the time) behave like civilised human beings – they wouldn’t want anyone behaving around their mothers or wives like that, right?  Trouble is, it perpetuates the problem, and makes it hard for women to succeed in these fields.  As well as being made to feel uncomfortable, it’s a lot easier to dismiss and ignore those that you openly hold in contempt.

Apparently photography is a male-dominated field (quelle surprise!).  I wonder how many other instances of this there are that we don’t hear about.  I doubt any of those Good Men Who Say Nothing will be opening their mouths about it any time soon.  Maybe it’s because they are embarrassed too.

 

SELF-WORTH

 

This isn’t a confidence-boosting, self-help load of waffle.  This is actually about something totally wrong-headed I heard from an acquaintance with, uh, clearly different aspirations to me.

More than a difference of opinion, this is about some seriously harmful and life-limiting stereotypes that are still with us even in the 21st Century.  Worryingly, this is just one occasion of many that I’ve heard a variation on this theme, and there seem to be social penalties for those who don’t comply.

So I was on my way to the water cooler, when I happened upon two colleagues discussing marriage (not to each other, but I have no problems with that – more in a future post).  These two individuals were a younger woman (late 20s-ish), and an older gentleman, with, ahem, traditional views.  The younger woman was engaged, but not looking to get married and have children just yet.  You might not agree with that attitude (it doesn’t entirely align with my thoughts), but that’s what she wants, and what she’s getting in her present relationship.  Good for her.

And literally everything that was said after this point was a cringe-inducing train wreck of a conversation.  So the older chap suggests that:

  1. She should hurry up and get married because all men are commitment-phobes (I will address the myriad contentions I have with this idea below, but for now let’s just celebrate that at least this guy is an equal-opportunities sexist)
  2. [I feel it necessary to point out here that these were his actual words, because this is just such a bizarre phrase to actually come out of someone’s mouth]  “A person hasn’t achieved anything in life until they’ve had children” (he literally said this, and again, detailed analysis of the blindingly obvious to follow below).

And then he starts to engage me in the conversation.  Now there are some people that I work with that I can be my passionate, political and skeptical self with.  This guy is not one of them.  But seriously, I’m not going to keep my mouth shut about this.

WEIRD BLOKE: “Don’t you agree, Science Lady, that our sole purpose is to pass on our genetic material?”

SCIENCE LADY: “Um, no, actually.  There are plenty of ways to live a meaningful life.”

WEIRD BLOKE: “But you’ve already achieved things with your offspring, haven’t you?”

[here I need to point out that for numerous reasons I do not talk about my children at work.  This guy knows it’s something I consider inappropriate, but decorum certainly isn’t his strong suit]

SCIENCE LADY: “It’s complicated.  I don’t like to talk about it.”

WEIRD BLOKE: “But you know, you’ve fulfilled your purpose in life.”

SCIENCE LADY: “I have lots of things to live for, and not everyone wants to be a parent.  Many people choose not to, or are unable to have kids.  And they provide a valuable role as caretakers.  If everyone is focused on nurturing children at the expense of everything else, how can we develop as a society?”

[older gentleman looks aghast]

WEIRD BLOKE: “I don’t know what you mean.”

SCIENCE LADY: “We need other people to perform tasks that benefit the community, so that the whole environment provides suitable conditions for children to flourish.  And for some people, that’s a role they’re better suited to than parenthood.”

WEIRD BLOKE: “Oh, well I think you’re wrong.”

[awkward silence]

So that was depressing.  It’s amazing what things you learn about the beliefs of others when they let their guard down.  Anyway, time for some Grade-A ranting:

  1. So men are all commitment-phobic? Well, that’s not true, although men may generally have different requirements for wishing to settle down that don’t match those of many women, thereby creating this impression.  I also think it’s a lot to do with maturity, and the notion that other things in a man’s life need to be sorted before he allows himself to be vulnerable.  And the unrealistic ideals society has about relationships (oooh, another post on this, too!).
  2. It doesn’t really say good things about him, given that he’s saying how fickle his own gender is. Doesn’t matter if he’s repeating society’s lie, it’s still bullshit.
  3. This young woman is clearly happy in her relationship choice, and she doesn’t need some weird bloke telling her that she should do it differently.
  4. If someone is living with a person, and they’re engaged to be married, there is a certain amount of commitment inherent in that situation.
  5. While I have “passed on my genetic material” (could we make it sound any more clinical?), I have many ambitions, dreams, and goals. I want to be successful, to be remembered as a contributor to society, to enhance the lives of others who aren’t necessarily blood relatives.
  6. Unfortunately, having children does pose some restrictions on one’s life, especially in a society that still leaves most of the child-rearing burden on one parent. And many people don’t like kids, don’t want the responsibility, and just want something else from life.  They don’t need anyone’s approval or opinions on whether their lifestyle is valid.
  7. Some people are unable to have children, for a huge variety of reasons. Some of them are OK with that; many of them aren’t.  Attaching moral value to a distressing situation that cannot be resolved is cruel and simplistic.
  8. The world has 7 billion inhabitants and rising at the time of writing this. Numerous studies have demonstrated that there are too many of us, consuming resources at too great a pace, for the planet to be able to support us.  Of course many people will want to have children of their own, but forcing people down this route is slowly killing us all (have a great day, but don’t forget the ever-looming reminder of your own mortality!).
  9. This statement shows that this individual views the child-free as less worthy. You may think, “oh, well that’s just one individual’s bigoted opinion”, but there is evidence that those who choose to stay single and/or childless are seen as less mature, stable, and with lower status (Career-wise, not having children penalises men, and having children disadvantages women. Talk about a zero-sum game.).
  10. Women in particular are the recipients of an inordinate amount of questioning regarding the status of their reproductive organs. Not only is this intrusive and downright inappropriate, the sexist expectation that all women are incubators-in-waiting needs to be sent back to the 1800s.

So that was my Tuesday.  Let’s see what pisses me off tomorrow!

WHAT ABOUT THE MEN PART 3: THE DIET COKE EFFECT

 

Who remembers the Diet Coke advert with a bunch of female office workers ogling a shirtless site worker? <pssst… it’s 11.30>  At the time, it was a pretty funny ad, subverting the idea that women’s bodies are visual currency for men.  It made its point, and was a wildly popular ad, but it was 20 years ago, and the world has moved on since then – or has it?

Some of the women I work with speak about men in the same way; like they are objects on display for our entertainment.  It’s worse when its about colleagues of ours – it makes me cringe.  I work around the corner from The Birdcage – which I would like to visit, but not for this – which regularly has male strip shows with “Full Monty Guaranteed!”.  Call me a prude (ha, ironically maybe), but I think it’s rather distasteful.  Not to mention that the hairless, chiselled male bodies that we’re supposed to find attractive, look like children to my sex brain.  Ew.

When men speak of women in this way, they are rightly criticised.  But in 2016, it’s apparently OK for women to treat the other half of the human race like pieces of meat.  Sure, it seemed empowering 20 years ago, but it’s just embarrassing now.  There’s hypocrisy in that the same people who salivate over male bodies would get angry at men doing the same to women.  But there’s a worse hypocrisy; that I’m scared to call people on it because this is a socially accepted behaviour – and I’d be the weirdo for complaining.  I don’t feel that it damages men as a whole, sexism still has a disproportionately worse impact on women, but it does affect the way individuals see the world, and how they behave in relationships.  It’s toxic for the ogler, and for the ogl-ee.

Here’s a cheerful article on the rise of eating disorders among men.  It’s far more common than we had allowed ourselves to think.  I’d love it for gender equality to not be a race to the bottom where everyone is marginalised to an equivalent degree – we can do so much better than this.

 

INTERNALISED MISOGYNY BY PROXY

 

As a child, I was brought up as a boy.  I’d be encouraged to do “boy stuff”, and I naturally gravitated towards stereotypically male interests, behaviours and clothing.  And my parents encouraged it.  Throughout my school and university career, I had always felt a stronger affinity with males than females, and I never really got along with girls.  It’s hard to describe in terms that don’t come across as essentialist or reductive, but growing up I felt that I was “more like” the boys than the girls.  I felt awkward in female company, and hated it when teachers and other parents would try to funnel me into “girly” activities.  Even now, I still feel this way, which sure is an education in the complexity of gender (Clue: it’s not a binary!).

But because it’s easier to explain in terms of what society deems “male” things, and “female” things, it can come across as sounding quite misogynistic.  I once was talking with a feminist friend about interactions with women (this started off as a discussion about women who are sexist towards other women), and they got quite angry about my assertion that I preferred male company.  Of course, you can be interested in whatever the hell you like.  You can work on a building site, and go home to watch Sex and the City and strut around in high heels – whatever gender you are.  Men and women can still be men and women whether they like things traditionally associated with their gender or not.  Many butch women are adamant that they are women, many “girly” girls may feel masculine on the inside.

But I do wonder about the way I see the world and the way I was socialised.  As I said above, I was raised like a boy, and it suited me just fine.  My brother got a bit of a rough deal, as he was actually very effeminate – but my parents were having none of it, as they didn’t want him to grow up to be a “sissy”.  So I was brought up in quite a macho environment, but my dad has a real bugbear about people who break gender rules.  Only men should do “men’s jobs”, and women should stay at home with the kids.  Which does make me wonder quite how he sees me.  Obviously he is pleased that I got a good education, and a decent job… but I’m an engineer.  In conversation, it regularly comes up that “men should be men” and “women should be women”, while I’m sat there with my metaphorical site hat on.  It’s almost as if “women are crap, but you’re different”, or “how can I be racist when I have a black friend?”.  And I feel uneasy because although I don’t like that attitude, I have benefitted from it.  And I have such a strong sense of self that if things were to change for me, I’d feel like I had lost something precious.

It’s great that the world is changing to be more inclusive and diverse.  That’s the way to do it, to raise standards of the disadvantaged while those at the top of the food chain stay still.  If only we could all buy into it without having our fragile identities threatened, eh?
 

CORPORATE FEMINISM PART 2

 

Ages ago (well, here, actually), I posted about successful women who reject feminism because they think they don’t need it any more.  Social changes have helped them to get to where they are, and they become blind to the problems that other women encounter. They buy in to the idea of a true meritocracy, where we are 100% responsible for our own successes and failures, and that your background, education, connections, wealth, etc. have nothing to do with it.

I’ve been in this situation myself, I grew up in a family that I hesitate to even call working-class (because they didn’t actually work), I left the dead-end town I grew up in, and went to University (against my parents wishes).  I now have a great job, I’m comfortably well-off, and my life is completely different (and better) to what I would have had if I’d followed in my family’s footsteps.  It feels like everything I’ve done, I did for myself.  But that’s not quite true.  I was very lucky to have received such a good education (my teachers were way better role models than my parents), and the drive to get more people attending Uni from lower social classes meant that my study was subsidised.  I wouldn’t have been able to access the same opportunities if steps hadn’t been made in the name of equality.

Which brings me back to one example of rampant internalised misogyny, so blatant it sounds like I must have made it up.  But no.  This was no satire or Poe, these were genuine actual successful women, lording it over the rest of us, as follows:

I was invited to attend a Women in Engineering event (it wasn’t run by one of the big engineering institutions, and I’m not telling you which one it is anyway, for self-preservation reasons), and I expected it to be fairly similar to most other evening do’s I attend professionally: a talk, networking, fancy canapés.  Well, it did have those three things, but some extra bonus items too!

A presentation on how women can become more successful and ascend the career ladder more easily, with literally no advice on answering that question.  It did, however, have plenty of snarky in-jokes about how men get all uppity if women start promoting themselves or demand recognition.

The networking post-presentation was part-good, part-bad.  There were some people there who were involved with Engineers Without Borders (like Medecins Sans Frontiers, but with bricks and steel beams), who talked about their work overseas, and how it can be a good way to advance your career (Yes! Solid, specific and useful career advice! At last!).  Those individuals were all women under 30, and they saw two important challenges that they could overcome with their projects:

1. There are places around the world that not only need investment and innovation, but they are also full of opportunities on a personal, industrial and political level;
2. Women and young people are under-represented in our sector, and they have found a niche to get around this problem.

Good work guys! This was definitely the most inspiring part of the evening (excluding the free wine). And then there were some other people, at director-level, who basically talked like a bunch of old, white men straight out of the 70’s. When I spoke about feeling limited and underestimated, they said that this was impossible, because they’d never experienced it. If we spoke about the problem of women being viewed as aggressive when they are assertive, that was a myth too, because they’d been doing fine for the last 30-odd years. Us silly girls must be over-sensitive or something.

And all of this hurts, not just me, but all of us. Because sexism and other prejudices and biases are very real. While my school education was genderless, I encountered a few strange attitudes when I arrived at university. Generally my tutors were 100% normal human beings with no discernible biases, but one in particular used to “compliment” me (repeatedly) for being a woman studying the subject. Yes, I was probably a bit of a novelty (er, twenty years previously, even then), but it wasn’t the only thing that defined me.

In the workplace it got even weirder, like some of my colleagues had been brought up in another epoch or something.  Things have come a l-o-n-g way over my short time in the industry (15 years).  And this is in part due to huge effort by the government, engineering institutions, and individual firms, to attract a more diverse workforce into the profession.

When we say that we’ve outgrown the support systems, or that they are no longer important because some individuals have achieved success against the odds,  we are dismissing the needs of those who aren’t as fortunate as us.  Because there are still real barriers in the way, for all sorts of reasons.  Empathy is important here, because in order to effect social change, you have to understand things from another’s perspective, and acknowledge that not everyone achieves success purely on merit.

Is it a protective mechanism? Like if we admit that the system helped us to get over hurdles, we’ll reveal that we didn’t do it all by ourselves and are some sort of fraud?  We need to be more honest about this, and not begrudge those who have been luckier in life, but accept and understand that their life took a different path to that of many others.  And that it’s ok to make up for it in other respects if you started off with less.  And that it’s our duty to support and advance each other for the success of humanity.

As an aside, the next event I was invited to by this group was a shoe-shopping trip.  No, I’m not making that up.  No matter how much I love shoes, I somehow don’t think I would have fitted in.  I declined their invitation.

 

NO SH*T, SHERLOCK

 

I’m not an avid viewer of the BBC series Sherlock. In fact, there are a lot of geeky series that I don’t follow, mainly due to time constraints. So I do feel a bit left out, especially when my mates are all talking about whatever episode had that controversial / exciting / conversation-starting plot device.

But on Boxing Day, I made an exception. Much like 2014’s Xmas Doctor Who special (the WWII themed-one), I allowed myself to just sit and absorb for a couple of hours, and it was wonderful. I really enjoyed the episode, for a lot of reasons (some of them outlined below), but I felt particularly compelled to write about it because of the inevitable Twitter furore. And I somehow managed to disagree with almost all of it, so maybe I should have joined in to shake it up a bit.

Overall, I thought it was a good story – as a non-viewer of said series, it really drew me in and was intriguing and fun. It was just complex enough to require 100% of the viewers attention, but not so complex as to exclude a large portion of the audience. But there seemed to be some issues that people had with it:

1. That it co-opted feminism as a plot device
Well, ok, that is one way of looking at it. But we have often based period dramas in times of turmoil, and used the events of the day as a backdrop for a more in-depth or even tangential story. Did Lady Chatterley’s Lover co-opt the decline of the landed gentry? Did Atonement co-opt the plight of soldiers in WWII? Did Doctor Zhivago co-opt the Russian Revolution (actually, some people did claim that, but then I guess there is no limit to what people will get offended by)? I don’t see why the suffragist or feminist movements should be immune to use in TV dramas. And if we “protect” them by not using their historical context to set the scene, then they become invisible and their importance diminished.

The main reason I take issue with this point is that everyone’s perspective is different, and this argument is framed through the lens of someone who is really clued-up about current feminist topics, and ignores the fact that a large number of viewers will not be so involved with that particular movement. I actually see it as a very positive thing that it featured the suffragettes. Their time is one that I do feel is neglected by the history books and lessons, even though it was a mere 100 years ago. So many people will just see the suffragists in the programme and be reminded of that part of our history. Others may analyse it further, but in terms of what we can reasonably fit into a two-hour drama that isn’t really about that topic, I think they did a bloody good job.

2. That the suffragists were the “bad guys”
Oh, good grief. Talk about missing the point. Sherlock clearly states that:
“Every great cause has martyrs. Every war has suicide missions and make no mistake, this is war. One half of the human race at war with the other. The invisible army hovering at our elbow, tending to our homes, raising our children. Ignored, patronised, disregarded. Not allowed so much as a vote. But an army nonetheless, ready to rise up in the best of causes. To put right an injustice as old as humanity itself. So you see, Watson, Mycroft was right. This is a war we must lose.”

On the one hand, this looks like an admission by a 19th-Century man that things need to change. He’s being honest about inequalities in that society, and accepting the violent acts committed by the suffragists as necessary and in pursuit of a noble and morally justified cause. Also, we need more female baddies. There’s no point getting more women on the screen if they’re inoffensive cardboard-cutouts. Give them agency, give them flaws.
And on the other hand, it looks like…

3. Sherlock basically explained feminism to a room full of women.
When I saw this quote on Twitter, my immediate thought was “Haha, that is well funny! He actually did do that!”. But I didn’t feel that it was patronising, and like in my first point, many of the audience will not hold a degree in gender studies, and so wouldn’t pick up on this point. Whether or not that is a bad thing (yeah, it kind of is) is a topic for another post, but you have to work with what you’ve got. Unfortunately, a lot of TV is made with the lowest common denominator in mind. Bearing this in mind, I actually think the episode was quite progressive.

4. That the main villain fitted the cliché of the jilted woman out for revenge
Yeah, they did. But there are plenty of cliches in entertainment, some stand as they are, some are mocked, some are challenged, and some are twisted to tell a bizarre time-hopping dream-sequence story. I don’t think this was a problem at all, and it follows the pattern of cheesy mystery novels – if you were feeling a bit postmodern, you could say it was done ironically (I’m not going to do this because I’m not a hipster twat).

5. That the suffragettes were wearing weird KKK-style hoods
Hmmm, yes. When I watched it I just interpreted it as them being a clandestine society revealing their true nature, to complete the story. But it is quite weird, I will admit that. One possible explanation, related to point 2; back then, the suffragists were seen as the bad guys by contemporary society. They were violent, unnatural, and an affront to decency, etc, etc, so portraying them as secretive and evil might be a good way of accurately representing their perceived threat to society. Still weird, though.

6. That it wasn’t feminist enough
Oh, come on. It might have been clumsy and controversial, but it was a very pro-feminist episode. Exemplified by Molly’s appearance as Dr. Hooper, disguised as a man. It’s the only way she would have been able to get “a man’s job” at that point in history. As Watson remarks, “Amazing… what one has to do to get ahead in a man’s world.”

7. That it was confusing and difficult to follow
Well, it was something that you needed to invest in. There was a lot going on, and the viewer needed to not just figure out the solution to the mystery, but why everything was suddenly set in the wrong era, with the regular characters in equivalent, past roles. I noticed something was up with Sherlock’s “virus in the code” line – such an obvious anachronism – but because I don’t usually watch it I didn’t know it’s normally set in the present day. I like my stories to be complex and engaging, maybe some people don’t. Their loss.

8. That it didn’t follow the Sherlock “formula”
I actually don’t have a reference point for this, because as I said, this is the first Sherlock I’ve ever seen. I get the impression that a lot of the haters don’t like Stephen Moffat’s style generally. I know plenty of people are relieved that he’s leaving Doctor Who (another series I have very little knowledge of), but given that I also liked the WWII 2014 Xmas special, which he wrote, I guess I’d be inclined to disagree. But it’s a matter of taste,

On the whole, I felt the episode did a great job. Holmes was simultaneously likeable and repugnant, Watson was likeable and provided a lighter counterpart, Mycroft was peculiar and Moriarty was delightfully creepy. Attention to detail was so precise that the odd time-switching things were noticeable as “errors”. The link to the suffragettes was done in a sensitive and interesting way, while still remaining true to the characters personas (so I am told ). The format was pretty cool, and, well, I sat still for two hours to watch it, so they must have got something right.