Notes and Comment Blog

Oh but the Yanks might not like it

Oct 6th, 2015 5:48 pm | By

Facebook told me Meryl Streep and the Pankhurst slogan is trending, so I took a look at the trending…and was embarrassed. It’s so creepily and narcissistically US-centric that it makes me cringe. Apparently everyone everywhere is supposed to be alert to what Americans Might Think About This and act accordingly. And that’s supposed to be a progressive view? Please.

This piece by Yohana Desta at Mashable for instance –

Some quotes are timeless. Others are ill-timed.

The hive mind behind the film Suffragette, a biopic about the women’s suffrage movement in England, is learning that lesson the hard way after a recent gaffe that shows the film’s stars wearing shirts with an ill-advised quote spoken by suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst in 1913. Meryl Streep plays Pankhurst in the film.

Cringe. It wasn’t an ill-advised quote for Pankhurst! And the film is about Pankhurst, and her context. It’s not about Americans and their contemporary context.

In a photo shoot for Time Out London, Streep, Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff and Romola Garai all sported shirts with the quote: “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.”

While it’s safe to assume that British activist Pankhurst didn’t mean to evoke the American Confederacy —which adopted “rebel” as its descriptor of choice — her quote has unfortunate implications when read by U.S. audiences. It may have made sense in 1913, but that phrasing has a different connotation in 21st century America — and the quote also reads as though its speaker is implying that being a “slave” is somehow a choice.

So what? The movie is not about 21st century America, Time Out is not an American magazine – why is the whole world expected to worry about what the connotation might be in the 21st century United States? The US is just one country, it doesn’t get to veto what other countries say about their own history. Fucking hell – this is “social justice” as sheer narcissism.

To be fair, the film is thoroughly British and is catering to its home-turf audience; that may be why the quote didn’t initially raise any eyebrows across the pond. Still, it’s hard not to cringe when you see it splashed onto a shirt worn by arguably the most famous actress alive.

Not at all. On the contrary. The slogan resonates with other, similar slogans, such as La Pasionaria’s “It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” It doesn’t even slightly suggest “the Confederacy.” The word “rebel” does not suggest that to the rest of the world, and it’s incredibly US-centric to assume that it does and should.

In an era where celebrities are quickly being called out every time they put their feet in their mouths (Matt Damon, for example), someone should have thought twice about that particular quote being singled out and emblazoned on a magazine cover.

Bullshit. It’s none of our business. In fact now I feel peeved that they didn’t get a UK actor to play Emmeline Pankhurst. Francesca Annis? Helen Mirren? Penelope Wilton?

It’s appropriation, that’s what it is.

Purity and absolutism

Oct 6th, 2015 4:59 pm | By

Jane Fae has thoughts on the no-platforming of Julie Bindel.

It was a feminist conference that did for me. I was due to speak at Feminism in London this month, but have now agreed not to, apparently because my views veer too far from accepted doctrine.

The topic of the talk in question was “speech and space”: my view is that the demand for absolute freedom of speech emerges from privilege; and that virtual spaces should be policed and protected in ways similar to physical space. I have watched over the last couple of years as various mobs have attacked women online – Caroline Criado-Perez, Stella Creasy, Mary Beard. The list is endless, and more must be done to address this online abuse.

Me, in a smaller way. Many women I know, in a smaller way.

But on other topics – the regulation of porn, for one – I have contrarian views, and this was enough for those who were concerned at my presence at the conference to cry havoc. Suddenly, every last word I have written over the years – and I write a lot, maybe 300,000-400,000 words a year – was up for scrutiny, every slightest deviation from the true way magnified to make me the enemy.

Ooh yeah! Isn’t it fun when they do that? When they literally comb through Facebook groups to find comments of yours, and not just comments but even when you’ve clicked the “like” button on something? Isn’t it wonderful to discover that people can be that obsessive and filthy in their hatred of little you? It’s like finding them sniffing at your dirty clothes hamper.

Behind the scenes, individuals whispered that my presence made the space “unsafe” for some women. Perhaps this was because of my supposed views on porn, but more likely it’s because I am a trans woman, since others holding similar views do not seem to have been briefed against. A situation was created in which, if I had insisted on speaking, I would have undermined both the event and my own thesis. There was no good or right option: it felt kinder to walk away; to collude, if you wish, in my own silencing.

Yes…I did that too, but not because it felt kinder. I did it because it felt cleaner; less contaminating; less like being trapped in a small room with a group of twisted vengeful fanatics. I did it because I wanted to get far away from them. It’s worked a treat.

Just days later, the feminist writer and activist Julie Bindel has been “no-platformed”. She supported me in my own time of difficulty, and was this week barred from a debate at Manchester University on whether modern feminism has a problem with free speech.

Again, it is safety that is the supposed issue, although bizarrely, that same institution seems to have no difficulty in inviting Milo Yiannopoulos to speak, a rightwing commentator who has publicly argued that trans people are mentally ill, and suggested that rape culture does not exist.

This situation is not specifically about feminism, but something else, something dangerous in current discourse. It is about absolutism: feminist, trans, Green, Corbynista; every fashionable fraction of progressive thought.

I think of it as being more to do with purity than absolutism, but it’s both, and they’re closely related anyway. People who don’t want to keep all the things clean and separate, but instead are happy with mixing and slopping the juices around and morgrelism of all sorts, are much less likely to be absolutists too.

It is, too, the forced syllogism: the idea that knowing one or two things about a person, one therefore knows all, and can extrapolate the whole.

Or else that the one or two things are so radioactive that they pollute everything else about a person. There was this Facebook “like” once, so everything else is garbage.

And in the end, it is about silencing. This happens only occasionally through the formality of the “no platform”. Far more often, as in this instance, an impossible situation is created, which forces a person to step down from speaking.

Which is great, because it means the creators of the impossible situation can blame the whole thing on the person who steps down from speaking. It’s all her fault, the hysterical bitch – we were just having a nice re-education session in which we made lists of everything we hate about her, and she had to go and ruin it by leaving. But what do you expect from a hysterical bitch like her? It’s just typical.

We need safe spaces. We also need mutual tolerance. Without it, debate will end, not just formally, by individuals being denied a platform, but totally, through a far more dangerous rush to self-censor. In too many places, too many spaces, we are there already.

I hope the zealots of the Manchester Student Union will read Jane Fae’s article.

12 MSF staff and 10 patients

Oct 6th, 2015 12:23 pm | By

The Guardian reports that the US keeps changing its story on how we happened to bomb that MSF hospital in Kunduz.

US special operations forces – not their Afghan allies – called in the deadly airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, the US commander has conceded.

Shortly before General John Campbell, the commander of the US and Nato war in Afghanistan, testified to a Senate panel, the president of Doctors Without Borders – also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) – said the US and Afghanistanhad made an “admission of a war crime”.

Shifting the US account of the Saturday morning airstrike for the fourth time in as many days, Campbell reiterated that Afghan forces had requested US air cover after being engaged in a “tenacious fight” to retake the northern city of Kunduz from the Taliban. But, modifying the account he gave at a press conference on Monday, Campbell said those Afghan forces had not directly communicated with the US pilots of an AC-130 gunship overhead.

So, what, then – the pilots read their minds? Made a wild guess?

The airstrike on the hospital is among the worst and most visible cases of civilian deaths caused by US forces during the 14-year Afghanistan war that Barack Obama has declared all but over. It killed 12 MSF staff and 10 patients, who had sought medical treatment after the Taliban overran Kunduz last weekend. Three children died in the airstrike that came in multiple waves and burned patients alive in their beds.

On Tuesday, MSF denounced Campbell’s press conference as an attempt to shift blame to the Afghans.

22 people killed – 12 more than were killed in Roseburg.

The wrong kind of union

Oct 6th, 2015 11:34 am | By

The Mancunion reports on the censorious Student Union, quoting from a public Facebook post that is no longer available on Facebook:

In a blog post on her official Facebook page, Women’s Officer Jess Lishak said: “The proposed society event requested to invite two highly controversial and offensive speakers; radical feminist and famous transphobe Julie Bindel, and journalist and ‘men’s rights activist’ Milo Yiannopoulos.”

What a foul way to talk – “famous transphobe.”

“We unanimously decided to not allow Julie Bindel to be invited to speak at an official SU event. We also approved the request for Milo Yiannopoulos on the provisos that, should the event go ahead, there will be extra security put in place for everyone’s safety.

“Julie Bindel is a journalist and activist who’s been on a crusade against the trans community, and trans women in particular, for many years. She abhorrently argues that trans women should be excluded from women-only spaces, whether that be through feminist organising or women’s sexual and domestic violence services.”

She says she “refuse[s] to allow our campus to be poisoned by this woman’s tireless campaign to deny trans people their basic human rights and… to subject our students to a campus that puts Bindel’s wish to spread and incite hatred above the safety and inclusion of our trans members.

“This is not about shutting down conversations or denying free speech; this is about keeping our students safe,” she says. “If this were about silencing people we happen to disagree with or avoiding uncomfortable conversations, we would be denying the application for Milo Yiannopoulos to speak.

“The difference in these two cases is inciting harm to a group of our students. Yiannopoulos is very careful to criticise feminist thoughts, theories and methods of research or statistics rather than calling for active discrimination against women like Bindel does to trans women.”

You have got to be kidding. Yiannopoulos incites actual harassment of actual women on Twitter every day. Julie Bindel doesn’t do anything resembling that.

In 2013, Bindel dropped out of an event organised by the Manchester Debating Union on pornography after receiving a number of death threats.

She came under continual fire after writing an article in 2004 expressing doubt about the experiences of trans individuals titled ‘Gender benders, beware‘.

She is included on the NUS’s no platform list, alongside George Galloway, Julian Assange, and any member of the BNP.

So the national Student Union has an official list? And Bindel is on it?

That’s appalling.

A trans woman commented on the Manchester SU post in support of Bindel.

I’m going to go out on a limb as a transwoman. I’ve met Julie at an event and engaged with her at length and I’m totally comfortable and happy doing so. I actually don’t find her views transphobic at all – women centred, and gender critical of course, but not transphobic. I’ve learnt a lot from Julie and women like her, and this no-platforming, i.e. censorship is totally Orwellian.

So is that comment also “abhorrent”?


Oct 6th, 2015 10:17 am | By

Julie Bindel on Twitter:

Julie Bindel ‏@bindelj
I wouldn’t mind, I was looking forward to wiping the floor with @Nero then necking a bucket of martinis with him. And making him pay for it.

Nero (Milo Yiannopoulos) in reply:

Milo Yiannopoulos ‏@Nero 16 hours ago West Hollywood, CA
You didn’t stand a chance you batty old dyke. But yeah I’d have picked up the tab. I know how low-income lezzer households are xxx

Notice a difference?

Yet she was banned, and he was not.

Thus diminished as people and as students

Oct 6th, 2015 9:57 am | By

There’s a petition you can sign:

Petitioning University of Manchester Student Union: Let Julie Bindel speak at the University of Manchester!

The University of Manchester’s Students’ Union has banned Julie Bindel from speaking at an event called “From Liberation to Censorship: does Modern Feminism have a Problem with Free Speech?” to be held on University premises on 15 October.

Credit: Elena Heatherwick

Her presence “was flagged as potentially in breach of our safe space policy. After reviewing the request in more detail, the Students’ Union has decided to deny this request based on Bindel’s views and comments towards trans people, which we believe could incite hatred towards and exclusion of our trans students.”
We reject this on the following grounds:
1) Julie Bindel was allowed by the Students’ Union to speak at the University of Manchester in 2013 for a debate hosted by the Manchester Debating Union. She dropped out because of threats, but the Students’ Union did not ban her at the time. We don’t understand why this time should be different.

2) The Free Speech and Secular Society was at no point consulted or involved in the vetting procedure. No attempts to mediate have been made by the Students’ Union.

3) The position on trans issues of Julie Bindel are of no interest in these circumstances, as the debate is not intended to touch upon trans issues.

4) Julie Bindel has apologised for some of her most controversial articles (…/julie-bindel…/) highlighting how a free and open debate can change minds and hearts.

5) The ban is clearly in breach of with the University of Manchester’s Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech, in particular sections 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.3.5, and 3.4. The breach of such regulation may be deemed an offence under section (8.i) of the University of Manchester’s Regulation XVII (Student Conduct and Discipline).
Speakers far more controversial and “offensive” than Julie have been permitted and even suggested by the SU on previous occasions. Yet they have decided to apply the principles of the safe space policy now and on us. We feel that the manner in which it has been done is at best sloppy on their part, and at worst inconsistent to the point that it suggests an abuse of power.

Bindel is being banned from speaking on feminism and censorship because of views she expressed in the past on trans issues, a completely unrelated topic, which might [have] “incited hatred towards trans-people”. In the view of the Students’ Union, the mere presence on campus of someone who once expressed “bad” opinions is enough to incite hatred. It is hard to see who could not be banned on such grounds.
We demand that the event be allowed on campus in its original format and a full apology to be promptly made to Julie Bindel and to the Free Speech and Secular Society.
The freedom to express a controversial or challenging opinion is held equally and by all. Without this freedom we are robbed of the ability to refute or confirm the views that we have formed, and are thus diminished as people and as students.

Please, support us!
Leonardo Carella
Free Speech and Secular Society

One reason the petition doesn’t mention is the fact that Milo Yiannopoulos, who is far more likely to “incite hatred” than Julie Bindel has ever been, even before she apologized for the 2004 article, was not no-platformed. Why did the SU ban a radical feminist lesbian while not banning a radical anti-feminist misogynist straight guy? Why does the SU consider Julie Bindel some kind of threat while it considers Milo Yiannopoulos safe enough to be allowed to speak?

Fight back

Oct 5th, 2015 5:54 pm | By

So poking around on Google and Facebook for more information about this ridiculous and illiberal no-platforming of Julie Bindel by the University of Manchester Student Union, I found that the group putting on the event has postponed it in order to fight the no-platforming. This isn’t over.

The University of Manchester Student’s Union informed us this afternoon that they are banning Julie Bindel from speaking in a panel discussion on feminism and censorship. The reason for banning her is given as “based on Bindel’s views and comments towards trans people, which we believe could incite hatred towards and exclusion of our trans students.”. The full statement can be found here.

We were very sad, though in no way surprised, to be notified today that our Students’ Union is seeking to censor our upcoming of event. Once again those residing at the top of our SU are making a joke of free expression and the university ideal. Our event, “From liberation to censorship: does modern feminism have a problem with free speech?”was one that had received significant attention on campus. We were expecting a good turnout from pre-existing and new students alike, and as such are sad and frustrated to delay the event for the time being. They have banned Julie Bindel from speaking outright, and deemed Milo Yiannopoulos sufficiently dangerous to warrant a closed event, where admissions will be limited. The reason being for the former speaker centres around the safe space policy and her falling foul of it. We have always argued that this flimsy bit of legislature is nothing more than an insidious piece of weaponry used by our SU leadership to fashion the university in their own image, and this current act of censorship proves it. Speakers far more controversial and “offensive” than Julie have been permitted and even suggested by the SU on previous occasions. Yet they have decided to apply the principles of the safe space policy now and on us. We feel that the manner in which it has been done is at best sloppy on their part, and at worst inconsistent to the point that it suggests an abuse of power.

It was supposed to be on Thursday October 15. Now it’s postponed.

Let us gather our pens and microphones and keyboards all in a row. Ready? Commence.


But why didn’t you say this at the time?

Oct 5th, 2015 12:16 pm | By

Robert Reich on Facebook:

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in an interview published today that individual Wall Street executives should have been prosecuted for their actions leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, but that the U.S. Justice Department and other law-enforcement agencies focused instead on investigating or indicting entire firms. “A financial firm is of course a legal fiction; it’s not a person. You can’t put a financial firm in jail,” he said. “It would have been my preference to have more investigation of individual action, since obviously everything that went wrong or was illegal was done by some individual, not by an abstract firm.”

Well, thank you Ben. But why didn’t you say this at the time? (Are you saying it now because you have a memoir coming out?) You were chairman of the Fed, for crying out loud. The Fed is a major bank regulator. Your voice would have put enormous pressure on the Justice Department to go after the individuals responsible. Yet you chose to remain silent. It’s been the silence of people in positions like yours that allowed Wall Street executives to escape all responsibility for the frauds they committed, which led to millions of people losing their jobs, homes, and savings. And now that the big banks are far bigger than they were then (in 2007 they had 25% of total bank assets, now they have 44%), it’s likely we’ll have another near meltdown because no one was held responsible for the last one.

I think Ben Bernanke had a responsibility when he was Fed chair to say publicly that bank executives should be held personally responsible for what occurred.

Well if he had said it at the time, it might have had consequences.

Fairness? What’s that?

Oct 5th, 2015 12:02 pm | By

Last week, there was this: Julie Bindel Statement on Withdrawing from Feminism In London

Julie’s blog is down, so she’s asked me to host her statement here — I think it’s brilliant and am honoured to publish it.


I am very sorry that I feel I have no choice but to withdraw my contribution to the Feminism in London conference this year. It is particularly difficult for me to do so because FiL is one of the few feminist conferences that dare include me on their programme (in case of disruption from anti-feminists claiming I am transphobic, biphobic, Islamophobic and whorephobic). In fact, FiL had, in previous years, left me off the programme (but had me speak) in case the smooth-running of the conference suffered as a result. This year I told the organisers that I would only agree to speak at the event if my name were included in the programme, to which they agreed. It therefore feels particularly upsetting to find that the organisers are once again being bullied about one of their speakers, Jane Fae, this time on the grounds that she has expressed and still holds some pro-pornography views.

I am very clear in my stance about the sex trade. I am an active and passionate member of the feminist abolitionist movement, and would never invite someone with Jane Fae’s views to speak on the topic at any event I were to organise, and would not debate whether or not the sex trade harms women and girls. But Jane was not invited to speak on any aspect of this topic.

I have shared panels with other feminist abolitionists that have differing views to me on a range of feminist issues, and regularly attend events at which there may be delegates or speakers who would take opposing views on important issues such as reproductive rights and sexual identity. But I would hope we all share core values, and can work together on single issues, such as ending men’s violence towards women.

If we were to scrutinise each others’ political standpoints on everything prior to deciding whether a speaking invite should be proffered, I would imagine our movement would be somewhat smaller than it already is.

I cannot possibly reconcile my position on the no-platforming of feminists for holding contrary views  on topics they are not even planning on speaking about, and stand aside whilst Jane Fae is handed out similar treatment.

This week, there is this from the University of Manchester SU:

Statement from the Students’ Union 05.10.2015

Last week we received a visiting speaker request form for Julie Bindel to be invited to speak at a society event.

As per our external speaker processes, it was flagged as potentially in breach of our safe space policy.

After reviewing the request in more detail, the Students’ Union has decided to deny this request based on Bindel’s views and comments towards trans people, which we believe could incite hatred towards and exclusion of our trans students.

You can read the full safe space policy here.

The Executive Committee

Peak disgust reached.

The new normal

Oct 5th, 2015 11:43 am | By

Nick Cohen is appalled by the way some on the left go after liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims who campaign against Islamism.

I have enjoyed the Guardian for decades. But too many of its contributors have lost their wits and abandoned their principles over radical Islam. They show no signs of finding either soon. As a matter of course, they publish a defence of the silencing of Maryam Namazie, an ex-Muslim feminist, or a piece denouncing Maajid Nawaz, the Muslim leader of the anti-extremist Quilliam Foundation.

In academia, speakers at Bath University, surely the most malign[ed] higher education institution in Britain, call ex-Muslims “native informants”, as if the decision of free men and women to decide for themselves what they should believe is the equivalent of collaborating with a colonial oppressor. For the religious right and the political and academic left, a liberal Muslim is their trussed-up version of the enemy, the alien, the “other”.

None of the above is astonishing. It’s been going on so long that we accept it as the “new normal”.

It’s not astonishing but it is reprehensible.

Get a wider lens

Oct 5th, 2015 10:27 am | By

If you search “Meryl Streep feminism” on Twitter you will find an absurd controversy in action: people expressing shock and horror that Streep wore, for the cover of Time Out, a t shirt that says


The cover story is about a new movie in which Streep plays Emmeline Pankhurst. The movie is titled Suffragette. It’s about the suffragettes. The slogan was coined by Emmeline Pankhurst.

Tweeters are freaking out because omg Streep is white, that’s appropriation, doesn’t anybody know any history?!

History. Slavery has been a thing throughout human history. It has been used as a metaphor throughout human history. It is not the exclusive property of Americans, not even Americans whose grandparents were slaves. Another widely used and related metaphor is the one about being in chains (Rousseau, Marx); that too is universal, not parochial.

End of morning history lesson.

ACLU v Trinity Health Corporation

Oct 4th, 2015 6:02 pm | By

The ACLU and ACLU Michigan have opened a second front against the bishops and their stinkin’ “ethical directives.”

DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan announced a federal lawsuit today filed on behalf of their members against Trinity Health Corporation, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country,  for its repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.

Yes. Yes yes yes.

“We’re taking a stand today to fight for pregnant women who are denied potentially life-saving care because doctors are forced to follow religious directives rather than best medical practices,” said ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney Brooke A. Tucker. “Catholic bishops are not licensed medical professionals and have no place dictating how doctors practice medicine, especially when it violates federal law.”

Trinity Health Corporation, which is headquartered in Michigan and owns and operates more than 80 hospitals around the country, and receives public funding, requires that all of its facilities abide by the Ethical and Religious Directives promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.   These directives prohibit a doctor working at a Catholic hospital from terminating a woman’s pregnancy even when the failure to do so puts her health or life at risk.

The way Galway University hospital in Ireland did to Savita Halappanavar, with the result that she died of a massive infection. That became public because her husband went to the press, and had the medical knowledge to realize her death wasn’t just one of those sad things that happen. It’s a safe bet that there have been many such cases in Ireland that did not become news. And the same is true here.

“A hospital policy like the Directives that limits what physicians can tell and offer our patients and prohibits us from providing our patients with the best possible care is extremely dangerous,” said Timothy R B  Johnson MD FACOG, Chair of OB/GYN at University of Michigan. “The ACLU’s suit is based on a simple principle that medical decisions should be between doctors and our patients.”

A hospital’s failure to provide pregnant women appropriate emergency care, including an abortion when the circumstances warrant, violates a federal law called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, known as EMTALA.  A public health educator in Michigan discovered that at one of Trinity’s hospitals alone, at least five women who were suffering from miscarriages and needed urgent care were denied that care because of the Catholic directives.

We don’t have to let Catholic bishops tell doctors what to do. We can tell Catholic bishops to stay in their churches and mind their own business – but it will take a lot of work.

“To put it simply and humanely, patient welfare must be the number one concern of health care professionals,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas. “Every pregnant woman who enters an emergency room should be guaranteed that she will get the care she needs, and should not have to worry that she won’t get appropriate care because of the hospital’s religious affiliation.”

Catholic hospitals receive public money and ten of the 25 largest hospital systems in the U.S. are Catholic-sponsored.  Nearly one of nine hospital beds in the country is in a Catholic facility. The directives bar doctors at those hospitals from offering — or even discussing — certain reproductive health care services, even when those services are necessary to protect a woman’ s health. As U.S. hospitals becomeincreasingly affiliated with religious organizations, the health of American women is threatened by the refusal to provide medically appropriate and often times lifesaving services.

They mention the Tamesha Means suit, which is currently being appealed.

Earlier this month, the ACLU of Michigan sent a demand letter to Genesys Hospital run by Ascension Health in Grand Blanc, Michigan, on behalf of Jessica Mann, a pregnant woman with a life-threatening brain tumor who was denied a request for a tubal ligation at the time of her scheduled cesarean section delivery next month.  Ms.  Mann’s doctors have advised her to have the tubal ligation at the time of her delivery because another pregnancy would increase the risks to her posed by her tumors, as would forcing her to undergo an additional procedure after the delivery.  The hospital has continued to refuse to provide the medically necessary treatment. Instead, Ms. Mann has been forced to switch hospitals to a new doctor — one who has no relationship with her and no experience treating her serious medical condition — with less than a month left in her pregnancy.

The bishops are hindering the best treatment for a woman with a life-threatening brain tumor, for bad bogus wrong religious reasons. It’s a god damn outrage.

Good luck to the ACLU.

Keep looking for alternatives

Oct 4th, 2015 12:16 pm | By

Pema Chodron said a thing on Facebook on March 13, 2013. That thing has 3,637 likes and 1,976 shares. I think that’s 3,637 and 1,976 too many.


Hope and fear is a feeling with two sides. As long as there’s one, there’s always the other. This is the root of our pain. In the world of hope and fear, we always have to change the channel, change the temperature, change the music, because something is getting uneasy, something is getting restless, something is beginning to hurt, and we keep looking for alternatives.

In a nontheistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put “Abandon hope” on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.”
(From Pema’s book When Things Fall Apart.)

Thank you Shambhala Publications for our Weekly Heart Advice. To receive yours, sign up at

I get it. I get that attachment entails suffering. I get that sometimes – in some circs, for some people – getting rid of attachment is worth it, to lessen the suffering. But as a general guide to life? I reject it.

A figure of gothic melodrama

Oct 4th, 2015 11:36 am | By

Deborah Orr did a nicely blistering piece about the Women-Murderer “museum” in August.

Mark the Ripp-Off, otherwise known as Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, is the man behind a new museum in Cable Street in the East End of London. Except he isn’t. He’s behind a lurid new tourist attraction in Cable Street in the East End of London, which is dedicated to exploiting an already much-cultivated fascination with the unknown killer of five women between 1888 and 1891.

I hadn’t properly taken in the extent and grotesquery of the fascination until this “museum” came along. What is this sick shit? There’s nothing cool or nostalgic or fun about the serial murders of desperately poor prostitutes in late 19th century London. We don’t consider Willy Pickton cool or dapper or interesting, so why is there this idea that the X who killed those women in Whitechapel was? Is it just because it was late-Victorian London so we think “oh hey, Sherlock Holmes and fog and hansoms, must be cool”?

This joint is called the Jack the Ripper Museum, from which one can deduce that it exists to commemorate a crude and ugly piece of invented nomenclature that surely has already proved itself to be quite enduring enough, thank you very much. Certainly, someone killed five women, with extreme savagery. But that person was not Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper is an invented villain, a figure of gothic melodrama who serves the purpose of making five murdered women also seem like inventions, mere accessories after the fiction.

Like something out of a movie – Norman Bates or Hannibal Lecter.

Mark the Ripp-Off says otherwise. He seems to be suggesting that that the name of the “museum” is a clever ploy, aimed at reeling in customers. They will turn up expecting gory details about a misogynistic serial eviscerator, only to discover – delightedly, I’m sure – that the “museum” instead offers a meditation on the condition of women in the East End of London during the Victorian era, using the situation of the women who were slaughtered as a “starting point”. They’ll all be stampeding past the promised crime-scene tableau to get to that stuff, I’m sure.

Well now that the “museum” is open and Fern Riddell has reviewed it, we know there is no “that stuff” to get to.

Does this guy think it’s funny to say that he’s going to open a museum celebrating women’s history, then actually open one celebrating a notorious killer of women? Does he think it’s funny that people are up in arms against his new project, having believed that something more serious and useful was going to be sited in the area instead? Somehow, either of these is not as bad as imagining that he really believes that his exploitation of the murder of women isn’t part of the problem, but instead is part of the solution.

How can anyone think that the way to understand the social existence of women is by speculating about why some unknown killer annihilated them, or detailing how their situations made them vulnerable to him?

Oh, he doesn’t think that. He just pretends to, for the look of the thing.

Tasteful Jack the Ripper souvenir items for your collecting pleasure

Oct 4th, 2015 10:20 am | By

Or you could just take a shortcut and go to the Jack the Mutilating Murderer of Women “museum” shop’s page. That tells you all you need to know about this “museum.”


There’s a wine glass for £8.00, the shot glass we’ve already seen for £6.00, a “latte glass” for £7.00, a mug gold-rimmed for £10.00, and the poshest of all –

That’s an investment, that is.

There’s a t shirt for £14.00 and a top hat for 45. Oddly, I don’t see any shawls or ragged dresses or women’s shoes with holes in them.

There are keyfobs (key rings to us Yanks) and a pen, but there’s no long knife. We know the murderer used a long knife, because of the way the uterus was removed with one deep slice, so why isn’t there a Jack the Ripper long knife for sale?

There is a whistle though. That’s appropriate.


Yet more dapper laughs

Oct 4th, 2015 9:30 am | By

For more on the horrifying Jack the Ripper “museum” check out the historian Fern Riddell on Twitter, starting with her Storify of her visit to the “museum” itself.

I’m in the middle of doing that now, so I’ve just encountered this tweet:

Fern Riddell ‏@FernRiddell Sep 30
@tkingdoll no, they’ve made a change apparently, just not on any of the shop stuff…

Embedded image permalink

Because there’s just nothing funnier than the murder and mutilation of women.

Always revolting

Oct 3rd, 2015 5:54 pm | By

Linda Cox

Stealthy freedom

Oct 3rd, 2015 5:33 pm | By

Remember the captain of Iran’s women’s football team, Niloufar Ardalan, whose husband wouldn’t let her travel to the match in Malaysia? The BBC reports on the aftermath:

The standard marriage contract signed by all newlyweds in Iran allows the husband to decide whether his wife can travel abroad, where the family will live, whether she can go to work, and whether she can ask for a divorce. In this instance, Ardalan says her husband, prominent sports journalist Mehdi Toutounchi, wanted her to be present for their son’s first day at school.

But husbands can choose to waive the provisions of the marriage contract, and now, inspired by Ardalan’s story, dozens of Iranian men who’ve done just that are sharing pictures on social media to advocate gender equality.

They are sending the images to Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist now living in the US, and creator of the “My Stealthy Freedom” Facebook page.

It’s true; you can click on that link and see them.

Alinejad tells BBC Trending that many women “simply don’t know” they can request amendments to their marriage contract, even after they’ve signed it. “They need to be aware of what they’re signing, and that they can ask for their rights to be returned,” she explains. Alinejad believes there are “a lot of open-minded Iranian men who support women’s rights,” in spite of the country’s conservative laws, although exactly what proportion of Iranian men would support the project is unclear.

The campaign initially called on men to declare that they wouldn’t restrict their wives’ ability to travel abroad, but most men posted statements saying they had passed all rights back to their wives, including the right to work and the right to request a divorce. “I return all rights… to my life partner,” read one man’s statement. “I’m not an owner but a partner for my wife,” said another. “As a human I feel ashamed to have these rights,” wrote a third.

Here’s one:

And another:

I, an iranian man, am ashamed of the article 18 of the passport law, my wife! you are free.

Dapper Jack

Oct 3rd, 2015 4:49 pm | By

Sian Norris had a Twitter exchange with the PR guy for the shiny new Jack the Ripper museum in east London the other day.

Today, on Twitter, the museum’s PR representative attempted to defend the tourist attraction from charges that Jack the Ripper’s murders were sexually violent. In a clumsy attempt to prove that the museum was not condoning sexual violence, he instead denied that the murders had anything to do with sexual violence at all.

When I suggested that he was wrong to ignore the sexually violent aspect of these murders, he accused me of “sensationalising” – arguing that it isn’t known what Jack the Ripper’s motives were.

Disregard the fact that the victims were all prostitutes. It would be sensationalistic to draw any conclusions from that.

It’s true that there are many things we don’t know about Jack the Ripper. We don’t know his name and, on some level, we don’t know his reasons for killing women. However, the one thing we do know is that he targeted women in prostitution and that after he cut their throats he deliberately ripped out their wombs. From those facts, we can make a pretty good guess at at least one of his motivations. He was a man who hated women. He was a misogynistic killer who targeted women’s bodies in a highly gendered way.

My, what a sensationalistic thing to say. Feminists are so dramatic.

The Ripper Museum, and the defence of its existence, would perhaps matter less if such crimes were confined to the past. But the simple truth is that male violence against women is not a historical curiosity. It is not a mystery to be explored via an audio tour and a few exhibition boards. It is happening to women today all over the UK and all over the world.

In the UK, between January and August this year, an estimated 85 women have been killed by men. That’s one woman every 2.8 days. Many of these women will have been killed by current or former partners – in fact, on average, two every week. At the same time as the Ripper museum opens its doors, government cuts mean the refuges which save women’s lives are closing theirs.

But we don’t know that they are killed because they’re women. Maybe it’s because they burned the potatoes.

When the museum’s PR tries to deny that sexual violence had a part to play in these murders, when newspapers look to the nagging or cheating wife in spousal homicide cases, they are ignoring the stark and frightening reality of male violence against women. As a society we are all too quick to ignore the fact that Jack the Ripper, and violent men throughout history, choose to abuse and kill women. In Jack’s case, our decision to ignore that has led to him becoming a cult figure who exerts a grotesque fascination over the public imagination.

On the museum’s merchandise, Jack the Cult Figure stands tall and menacing under the lamppost.

The women he killed are reduced to a smudge of blood at his feet.

Really? So I clicked on the link, and saw how the “museum” is advertising their lad Jack.

That is one very romanticized image. He looks Byronic and dashing. His victims? Oh nobody wants to look at them, they were poor and lumpen and female and whorey.

I just read some of the autopsy reports. They’re not very glamorous.

Updating to add:

I forgot to point out the ad copy on the page for the Jack the Ripper shot glass £6.00.

We can neither confirm nor deny that Jack The Ripper did shots. But if he did, he probably had a neat looking shot glass.

Isn’t that just adorable?

A fundamental understanding that disagreement is not the same as oppression

Oct 3rd, 2015 11:10 am | By

It’s Cindy Sheehan’s turn. Mickey Z at World News Trust talked to her:

Activism often makes for strange bedfellows. The arduous work of coalition-building involves strategic compromises and trade-offs. Most importantly, solidarity necessitates an agreement to disagree… with minimal malice. 

Being an ally, accomplice, or fellow traveler requires a fundamental understanding that disagreement is not the same as oppression or violence. If a particular activist contingent will tolerate nothing less than marching in lockstep, well, that’s not solidarity or ally-ship. It’s thought policing. 

Which brings me to a situation involving my friend and comrade, Cindy Sheehan — someone who has connected with an astonishing array of dissident individuals and groups.

But then…

CS: It started when this letter by the Women’s Alliance was brought to my attention. In it, the authors declare: “Veterans for Peace is aligning itself with a belief system that says that we, as women, are the bigots. VFP is rising up against ‘transmisogyny’ (a term not defined in your statement), but ignores male on female hate speech and violence completely bypassing the matter of misogyny.”

It was based on a new statement by Veterans for Peace on transgender politics in which VFP “affirms the rights, humanity and identity of trans and gender diverse people and will not accept trans-phobic or trans-misogyny behavior or remarks.”

I made a comment supporting the writers of the Women’s Alliance letter, and immediately began to be attacked for my mild support. So, I had the authors of the letter on Cindy Sheehan’s Soapboxand got the most hits for any show I have done recently. To be fair, most of the response has been positive and grateful for the show.

MZ: Have other women reached out to you?

Yes, for example, I was asked to sign a letter of midwives to the licensing org which has changed all of its materials at the bullying of the trans community to exclude the words: breastfeeding, mother, and woman.

Breastfeeding has to now be called “chestfeeding” because the other term that’s been around for centuries offends women transitioning to male who have had mastectomies yet get pregnant. Women, woman, or pregnant must now be called: Pregnant partner and birthing individual.

Incredibly misogynistic to deny women the very thing that our biology makes us uniquely suited for.

MZ: I’ll assume your stance has inspired more than a few personal attacks in response.

CS: Once I supported Lisa Blank, Cheryl Biren, and Anita Stewart in their quest to get answers from Veterans for Peace as to their transgender-related rules and to define some terms it used, I was immediately attacked.

I have been told many times that I am “on the wrong side” of this issue, that I am “transphobic,” that I am a “TERF,” that my support for my three friends means that I have made the entire “antiwar movement” irrelevant and anything I did for Private Manning is also irrelevant because I deny Private Manning her “womanhood.” 

I have also been told that Caitlyn Jenner is more of a woman than I am. The trans-bullies (as I call them) obviously only support the “ideal” of a woman in this culture and can’t even wrap their minds around being gender abolitionists nor around male supremacyand why that prevailing paradigm is so dangerous.

MZ: In other aspects of social justice activism, comrades can agree to disagree but in this case, you are being smeared and ex-communicated for owning a differing opinion. But, to state what should be obvious, let’s be clear: It’s quite possible, of course, to support transgender issues while not agreeing with every aspect of trans politics/queer theory.

CS: I fully support each and every individual’s right to be whomever they want to be. To be with whomever they want to be with. As long as there is no exploitation or anyone else is being harmed. 

MZ: How do you believe we can join together to fight for social justice, educate about the upcoming elections, work to save the environment, struggle against militarism, and expose patriarchy while under threat of silencing and thought policing?

CS: I don’t know if I have shared this with you, but everyone I have come into contact with lately (those doing real, revolutionary grass-roots work) are all having the experience of being bullied by transgender activists. From struggles in small southern towns to Black Lives Matter movements around the country, transgender bullies are moving in with their “our way or the highway” approach.

To bully people who would stand with them in their right to safety and to be whoever they wants to be and to tear apart movements for their own narrow identity politics ends is counter-revolutionary.

Well maybe if it’s counter-revolutionary enough it will eventually make its way back around to revolutionary again. Some day.