Independent | Amal Clooney is fighting Isis – but thankfully we’re discussing more important matters like her pregnancy

amal-clooney

Amal Clooney is pregnant! Did you know that? Pregnant! Enriched with the Hollywood sperm of her husband George, Clooney is currently in the process of growing not one but two – two! – babies. And she is “blossoming”, says the Sun. Also, she wore yellow, which is a “brave colour” in which to “show off” her bump (the Mirror). Brave Amal Clooney. But also, oh dear, reckless Amal Clooney, because what has she got on her feet? Heels. Not one, not two, not three, but four inch heels. “Towering heels”, in fact, the Daily Mail reports.

As we all know this is a very unwise thing for a pregnant woman to do. Although given that only weeks ago the Mail was engaging in important investigative journalism revealing that: “A flat shoe may be comfortable, but it can have the effect of making any saddlebags more evident.” Perhaps we should instead be saying “sensible Amal Clooney”? After all, when the world’s media is looking at, scrutinising and inspecting every portion of your body, it would be unfortunate to draw attention to the wrong kind of bumps.

Read the full post at the Independent

Guardian Review | The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy

3000

Some opening lines are so good, you worry that what comes after will disappoint. This is how The Possessions starts: “The first time I meet Patrick Braddock, I’m wearing his wife’s lipstick.” It’s a perfect mystery in miniature. Who is Patrick? Who is speaking? Why is she wearing another woman’s lipstick? Is it all as sleazy as it sounds? The answer to that last question is yes, but not in the way you’d expect, as Sara Flannery Murphy unspools a creepingly clever ghost story that encompasses thriller, horror and literary fiction with seductive swagger.

Our narrator is Edie, short for Eurydice. She is an employee of the Elysian Society, which is a kind of bordello for mediums. The Possessions’ universe is, fundamentally, our universe, with one tweak: the spirits of the dead persist and can be channelled, with the help of a pill called “lotus”. The class of professionals who do this work are referred to as “bodies”, and all of them seem to be on the run from their own identities, lending their physical selves to roaming souls at least in part for the temporary relief of vacancy.

Read the full review at the Guardian

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

gettyimages-643223318

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 | I’m not surprised that the BBC chastised Jenni Murray over her transgender comments – this is what institutional sexism looks like

pg-50-radio-rex

Impartiality is the necessary fiction that allows the BBC to exist. A public service broadcaster that didn’t attempt to hold its head above bias would be untenable, and this is why the BBC’s editorial guidelines make it clear that news and current affairs presenters are not to publish their personal views on “controversial subjects”.

But what do you do when the controversy comes for you? When, however much you’d rather not be the object of dispute, you become the frontier in an ideological war? When what you are – and how you name yourself – slips from neutral to contentious, without you doing anything?

Jenni Murray has presented the BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour for 30 years, and she’s been a woman for even longer than that. At the weekend, the Sunday Times published an article by her titled “Be trans, be proud — but don’t call yourself a ‘real woman’”. Under that headline, Murray criticised some claims of trans activism (and she was careful to say she was talking about the extreme of the debate): that anyone who identifies as a woman has “always been a woman” no matter the age at which they transition, and that references to the female body should be censored in the interests of inclusion.

Read the full post at the Independent

Guardian Review | Mr Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

5100.jpg

I want a good gothic. A novel that smells of blood and old Bibles and sex, ripe as a walled-up corpse, but stays the right side of self-parody by sheer commitment. Sadly, Mr Splitfoot is not that book. Although Samantha Hunt turns out the creepy imagery and Christianity, suspense runs short and horror is too often undercut by an infuriating structure that serves symbolism over story.

Read the full review at the Guardian

New Humanist | Beatlebone by Kevin Barry

blog_beatlebone

This has been a big year for literary resurrections of famous men. The Booker Prize went to Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, an epic that centres on the 1976 attempt to assassinate Bob Marley, while the shortlist for the Goldsmiths’ Prize, which recognises experimental fiction, includes Max Porter’s Ted Hughes-conjuring novella Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, and Beatlebone, which summons John Lennon circa 1978.

Of the three, Beatlebone is the most fearless in its advance on an icon. James and Porter keep their daunting subjects at something of a distance, a vortex around which events circle (James), or safely refracted through artfulness (Porter). Kevin Barry, though, storms headlong into the psyche of Lennon. It’s a curious place: Lennon at this point in his history is in retirement, reconciled with Yoko Ono and a full-time father to their son Sean. He is famous, but no longer doing the thing he’s famous for – he simply is a celebrity, on the run from his public and from himself.

Read the full review at the New Humanist

Statement in response to London Young Labour Summer Conference Motion 8 supporting the decriminalisation of sex work

The London Young Labour summer conference takes place this Sunday. Among the motions to be voted on, motion 8 deserves particular scrutiny from feminists: it is titled “Standing up for sex workers’ rights, supporting the decriminalisation of sex work.” It is principally concerned with committing LYL to opposing the Nordic model. A number of feminist activists, academics and frontline service providers have collaborated to critique the claims and evidence offered in this motion.

As a feminist and a Labour Party member, I am publishing the full document below and hope that any delegates attending the LYL conference will consider it carefully before voting. It is a detailed and thorough rebuttal of motion 8, and very much worth reading in full. However, the conclusion is a particularly powerful explanation of why the Labour movement should never legitimise an industry founded in exploitative power relations:

as feminists we believe that women who sell sex are fellow human beings who operate under the constraints and limitations of all human life. Most of them are neither superior, sexually liberated entrepreneurs, nor weak and defenceless victims. They are responding to the demand created by men and catered to by pimps and traffickers (among others), a demand which can and should be delegitimised through the introduction of legislation that signals that sexual exploitation is not an acceptable “service” to purchase, even if the money exchanging hands seems to make it a “free” transaction on behalf of the class of people thus being exploited. The protection of those who sell should not be conflated with the legitimisation of those who buy. Those within the Labour movement who fail to distinguish or even acknowledge these two very different constituent elements of the sex industry, and who do not identify which holds the power, should explain their position better and more honestly than they have done in this motion.

StandingUpforAllWomen.docx