New Statesman | The anti-Trump toolkit: the new books on how to resist authoritarian rule

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After the shock of Donald Trump’s victory, the question for liberals is: what now? Two new books are offering answers.

The US president’s first weeks in power have been marked by resistance both on the streets and in the courts. The Women’s March on Washington, DC was one of the largest demonstrations in American history and was followed by protests against the “Muslim ban” executive order. The ban was challenged in more than 50 lawsuits.

The problem with using the law to constrain those in power is that those in power are able to define the law. Understanding how far Trump intends to reshape the state is crucial in deciding how to oppose him. The positive outlook is to see him as just a bad president: ignorant and hateful, but part of the system and therefore susceptible to being constrained by it. The pessimist’s take is that Trump is a strongman leader who will bend or break democratic institutions to serve his ends.

The latter view is extreme, apocalyptic and – based on the evidence so far – correct. But not all thinkers on the US left have grasped the point. That, at any rate, is the lesson of What We Do Now, a collection of essays published in response to the election result.

Read the full article at the New Statesman

First published New Statesman, 24 February-2 March 2017, under the headline “The anti-Trump toolkit”

Independent | The Lib Dem way of solving our prostitution problem is nothing more than an Orange Book for penis rights

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The old sexist joke about women and politics goes that the place of a woman in the movement is prone. For the Liberal Democrats, until 2015, the place of a woman was in an unsafe seat if she made it into parliament at all – of the three main parties, the Lib Dems had the fewest female MPs, and they were concentrated in the party’s most precarious constituencies.

When the Lib Dems collapsed at the polls, it became a party of men. And a party of men is exactly who you’d expect to come up with a policy of totally decriminalising prostitution, likely to be adopted at the Lib Dems’ spring conference.

Read the full post at the Independent

Independent | In Donald Trump’s America, women have no authority over their own bodies – Arkansas Act 45 proves this

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The heart of all moral and legal arguments about abortion is this: who owns a woman’s body? Is it the woman herself, or is it someone else? In the state of Arkansas, a new and brutal law has decided it’s the latter.

Arkansas Act 45, which was signed by the state’s governor Asa Hutchinson on Thursday, criminalises dilation and extraction, which is the surgical method used to perform most second trimester abortions. On its own, effectively banning abortion after 14 weeks would amount to a heinous attack on women, but Act 45 goes further.

It includes a provision for the pregnant woman’s husband, parent or guardian, or healthcare provider to block abortions by D&E – and there’s no exemption for cases of rape and incest. That means that a woman raped by her husband, or a girl raped by her father, has to go through her abuser to end any resulting pregnancy. And that means that Arkansas is siding with male coercion over women’s bodies. It means that women’s consent can be stolen from them twice: first in the act of rape, and again in the denial of abortion.

Read the full post at the Independent

New Statesman | Why I find the prospect of an apocalypse comforting

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“Cosy catastrophe” is the nickname the sci-fi writer and historian Brian Aldiss applied to the works of John Wyndham, author of The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids. Aldiss did not mean for it to be flattering: “The essence of cosy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off.”

In other words, the cosy catastrophe is a cop-out. It’s safe. Bad things happen, but they don’t happen to people like us. Whether it’s a fair way to describe Wyndham doesn’t really matter, because while the name caught on, the pejorative intent didn’t. Aldiss had reached for sick burn and accidentally struck deep truth: there is something comforting about the apocalypse.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

We can’t have a women’s movement if we don’t call ourselves women

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When National Geographic magazine put together the newsstand cover (above right) for its January 2017 “Gender Revolution” special edition, it left something out. The cover is a group shot designed to show the range of genders now available in the heralded revolution, a cluster of seven people each annotated with an identity: “intersex non-binary”, “transgender female”, “transgender female” (a second one), “bi-gender”, “transgender male”, “androgynous”, and “male”. What’s missing? As feminists noted once the cover was circulated – but as National Geographic either didn’t notice, or didn’t consider notable – there’s no “female” here.

There are females, of course (at a guess, I would say three of the models are natal females and three natal males), but “female” is not counted as a gender identity. Female is written out. Inside the magazine, you’ll find features which reveal that, actually, femaleness is a highly pertinent characteristic: you can read about the poverty and violence inflicted on girls in developing nations, the pressures of bullying and body-shaming on girls in America, and how the two-tiered market in children’s toys might be harming girls through pinkification. Being female is a matter of life and death, but, per the cover, “female” is not a label under which people may gather.

Here I suppose I should concede National Geographic’s good intentions. National Geographic did not, I assume, deliberately set out to produce an issue showing that female people are exploited and abused for being female, while also announcing that “female” does not exist. Nor is National Geographic doing anything particularly new or shocking by deleting women as a class: reproductive rights organisations now talk about “pregnant people” rather than women in order to be “inclusive”, and even references to vaginas can be damned as transphobic. But if it the express motivation of this cover had been to tauntingly depoliticise everything the inside pages have to tell about the place of women and girls in the world, the patriarchy would give it a 10/10 for threat neutralisation.

It’s often claimed that “the binary” is in and of itself a patriarchal tool, and the role of feminists should be to “disrupt the binary”, as if even to recognise the existence of sexual biology in humans is to give warrant to sex-based oppression. What this cover shows is that male dominance has nothing to fear at all from the splintering of “gender” into multifarious “gender identities”. On the cover, the “male” is simply and unrevealingly dressed. He stands with his whole body facing the camera. Other models dip their heads beguilingly, or pose in three-quarter profile with a becomingly flexed leg; there are flashes of midriff and clearly defined breasts; the “transgender male” (a natal female adolescent) wears a dandyish bow-tie. But “male” has unadorned authority. “Male” exists in simple relief against the contrasting background of all these other types. He is the one, and the rest are all “other”.

One of the most marked qualities of the “gender revolution” has been that, where transsexuality was predominantly about males transitioning to live as women (with transmen making up a very small proportion of transitioners), the more recent framing of transgender has involved a huge surge in female adolescents presenting for treatment. As Rosamund Urwin of the Evening Standard wrote in a report from May on the Tavistock gender identity clinic: “Last year, almost twice as many natal females (929) were referred to the centre as natal males (490) and yet, until six years ago, natal males used to be the majority.”

How can we explain this reversal? In a way, maybe the surprise is that there haven’t always been more females than males making the flit from their culturally sanctioned gender. “Woman” is a role marked by inferiority and destined for service. As the editorial in the January issue of National Geographic points out, being female means being subject to abuses on a global scale. It means child marriage, bleeding in a hut at the edge of your village during your period, being taunted with smartphone porn by boys in school, being paid less than men, doing more housework, being told you talk too much, talk wrong, that you’re either unfuckable or only there to be fucked.

In the circumstances, wanting out of the class “woman” is eminently rational. And being a woman is only going to get rougher in Trump’s America. Michelle Goldberg is correct in her bleak, eloquent Slate column when she writes that Trump’s presidency means the backlash is on. Abortion rights, protections against sexual discrimination, action against sexual violence – these things will be the first to go. Even if you don’t “feel female”, you will be exposed by being female. A label is no defense against male violence. You can disown your body, but your body is too valuable a commodity to be left alone. It can make babies. It can make dinners, mop floors. It can make a man orgasm. You are a resource to be colonised, and simply stating that you are not one by refusing the title “woman” will never function as a “keep out” sign.

To survive, to resist, we need to organise. To organise, we need to acknowledge what we hold in common. Throughout feminism’s waves and wanings, that’s been the basis of every success: identifying the oppressions imposed on us as women, and working together as women against them. Our female bodies are the battleground, and we can’t escape that even if we deny it by claiming some variant identity such as “non-binary” or “bi-gender”. We need a women’s movement. Even those of us who think we don’t need it, will need it. And for that, we need to call ourselves – our female selves – women, without compromise or qualification.

 

New Statesman | Why technology is no longer the left’s great hope

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Do you remember when it wasn’t going to be like this? Technology was the left’s great hope. It was going to enable rapid, low-cost organising and people power. There would be revolutions because of it. Through it, huge volumes of information could finally be gathered into analysable silos for better decision-making. Governments could no longer rely on secrecy to maintain their power: a new era of transparency was upon us, and Wikileaks would lead us there. News would be open. Paywalls were the enemy. Everything was going to get better.

Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody in 2008 was a cheery welcome for the wisdom of crowds. Yes, expertise was going to suffer – now anyone could be a journalist, journalists could no longer claim any special status or privileges – but this was just something to be accepted. And in any case, the same year saw Flat Earth News by Nick Davies, which suggested that journalists hadn’t been doing so much to deserve their esteemed social position anyway.

Read the full column at the New Statesman