Monday, May 25, 2015

Equal Marriage is a Feminist Victory

For those of us who remember the power of the Catholic Church in Ireland before the last 20 years, the Yes vote for equal marriage can't be anything but astonishing.

In a secularising society accustomed to a slew of Church scandals, it's hard to remember how unusual it was a generation ago for anyone Irish not to go to mass. The country was effectively a theocracy, with Church representatives checking on you from the highest levels of government to your own living room.

Whereas now, the referendum emboldens LGBTQ status in Ireland. It helps make homophobia the thing to be ashamed of rather than homosexuality. In a generation's time, when most people have had out LGBTQ people running their pubs, on their board of school governors or whatever, people will be incredulous that it was ever criminalised.

It's a reaction already to be found among young adults in England, where homosexuality was decriminalised a generation earlier. It was still criminal in Ireland until 1993, a mere 22 years before Friday's equal marriage vote.

Complaints from the No campaign that they lost because Yes was well funded are risible. You guys have the backing of the Catholic fucking church. You are never in need of a fiver until Friday. This wasn't about publicity campaigns. This is about a huge change in social values far beyond marriage.


'We're getting married because we love each other' is a non-sequitur. What is romantic about saying 'I want you to sign a contract with the state so if you ever leave me it'll be an expensive process involving lawyers and stuff'?

But nonetheless, the institution of marriage continues to have great social significance. To exclude any group is not just to ban them from marriage, it demonstrates and entrenches the fact that they are not allowed autonomy or equality. So, even for those who don't merely choose not to get married but actively oppose it, the advent of equal marriage is something to be welcomed.

I fucking hate Fleetwood Mac. Their mogadon music is a waste of ears. But I wouldn't ban their gigs, and if there were laws preventing non-whites from going to Fleetwood Mac gigs then, even though it reduced the number of people hearing that execrable twaddle, we should oppose such legislation. In the same way, even those who challenge marriage can support the Yes vote.


Musical comedian is a profession teeming with mediocrity. It is a real challenge to be anything more than a passing chuckle-raiser. Whilst Mitch Benn - perhaps best known for his songs on Radio 4's Now Show -  is consistently worthwhile and puts social comment into his material, it's still nonetheless a largely superficial trade.

But social media changes our understanding of public figures. For every Billy Bragg who disappoints with their conservatism, there is a Mitch Benn who's actually even better on Twitter than the stuff they get paid for. He's not only a savvy thinker but his comic training gives him the pithiness needed to make Twitter come alive.

His series of tweets on Saturday as Ireland counted its votes were frankly the most insightful thing I read all day.

It's amazing just HOW much of the misery in the world, on every scale from personal to international, is all about men's need to OWN women.

When you unpack most religions, that's what you find; the codification and justification of the ownership by men of women.

It's no good blaming "religion" for everything; they're all human inventions. We created our gods in our own image. WE did it to ourselves.

Oppressive religious rules aren't the work of cruel gods; men wrote the rules and invented cruel gods to blame them on.

And it's not just religious cultures; every society finds ways to justify misogyny, whether it's women's "vulnerability" or "emotionality".

This is why feminism might actually be the most important movement ever; breaking that ONE bad idea would solve so many problems.

I think a lot of homophobia's tied up with misogyny; the idea that a man who has sex with a man is feminising - ie DEGRADING - himself.

Anyway, fuck all that today. Go Ireland!

This idea - that once you act on feminism then the patriarchal religions and associated values like homophobia inevitably start to crumble - is startling, huge, and rings true. It points to the victories we are heading towards, it acknowledges that the equal marriage referendum is a key milestone on that road, but also says that rather than letting this victory make us sit back, it should spur us onward.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Bringing Englishness to the English

I usually love Paul Mason's stuff, he's both radical and reasonable, credible enough to be given a job on Newsnight and, latterly, Channel 4 News.

In the wake of the SNP's march on Westminster, he's written about the lack of an English identity beyond the things that connect it to the wider world. His failure to see anything in English culture beyond 'public schools and the officers class... the tennis club belt around London' is frankly baffling.

Billy Bragg picked him up on it on Twitter and Mason replied that he felt

northern, British and proletarian [rather] than English. It has no resonance for me.

There's something of an irony there as he's from the Wigan area. The 'northern' he identifies with is northern England. If you look at Britain instead, as Mason says he does, that area is central.

People in socially oppressed groups are forced to be conscious of that part of their identity. Those in the privileged groups often don't even see the existence of their group, let alone the myriad mechanisms of oppression it foists on the rest. To them, they inhabit an unbordered blank, normal space that lets them act as they wish. A lack of consciously seeing yourself as English is, in some ways, a very English trait.

Someone may not think about, say, their cis-maleness and so would say it isn't part of their identity, but it has provided the norms that they embody, the behaviours they use every day. They are granted treatment and opportunities denied to people of other gender identity. They're playing the computer game on the easiest difficulty setting.

The three things Mason cites aren't English, they're class based. He sees them as salient because he's from the lower classes who are disadvantaged. Those actually in the tennis club, public school officer class are as likely to think of themselves as 'just normal' as any other socially dominating group. Seems implausible from down here, doesn't it? But remember the time when David Cameron said his wife was unusual for not going to boarding school? That.

The fact that English people tend not to see their cultural identity is a measure of its long-standing, unchallenged superior social position. As our immediate neighbours move towards terms of equality, we will start to see ourselves with the kind of depth that they have always had. We will begin to understand what we've been. And that's a lot more than public schools and tennis clubs.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Repealing Our Humanity

Six months ago it would have been quite a funny joke - if the Tories get a majority they'll repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a bill of rights drawn up by Michael Gove.

As axeman Education Secretary, Gove tore through at such a pace that by the time the opposition had mobilised his plans were all inked and in train. We can expect the same style in his new role as Justice Secretary. Already the Tories are making loud noises about prioritising their manifesto promise to repeal the Human Rights Act (except in Scotland) and having it in the forthcoming Queen's speech.

The tabloid press hate human rights because they protect us from the kind of breaches of privacy that make stories that editors salivate over.

Despite Tories, Ukippers and other right wingers using the blanket term 'Europe', the rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights are nothing to do with the EU. Leaving the EU wouldn't affect our human rights at all.

It's part of being a member of the larger, older Council of Europe. It was formed by the Treaty of London in 1949 as part of the rebuilding of Europe after the war and the effort to create stable structures that prevented such legal state horrors from being perpetrated again.

Far from being something imposed on us from outside, the UK was the first country to ratify the ECHR after years of enthusiastic input from someone who features on Tory and UKIP leaflets to this day.

Then there is the question of human rights… We attach great importance to this… we hope that a European Court might be set up, before which cases of the violation of rights in our own body of twelve nations might be brought to the judgement of the civilized world.

- Winston Churchill, Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, 17 August 1949

The court came ten years later, in Strasbourg. It cost a lot of money to bring a case there. But in 1998 Labour brought in the Human Rights Act, which made the Convention enforceable in UK courts (and obliged government to ensure new legislation is compatible with the ECHR).

Repealing the Act doesn't actually remove our rights. It means that once again, you'll have to have the greater levels of time and money required to take a case to Strasbourg. So human rights will only effectively exist for the rich. The rest of us become not human, the rest of us become untermensch.