This uproar about the government charging for the NHS and not telling anyone

This article has been shared a lot on social media today:

https://opendemocracy.net/ournhs/richard-grimes/government-moves-to-consider-nhs-user-charges

It says the government has launched an inquiry into whether the NHS should have an upfront cost, or user charge, at the « point of delivery », which is where it is currently free. It also says this was decided in the House of Lords, making it completely undemocratic.

If this was true, I’d be outraged. As it is, the fact that it has even been mentioned is fairly outrageous, along with the concept that the unelected Lords can have any say in anything. (Although a lot of them have a lot more expertise than many politicians, though they also have no concept of real life for a lot of people. And it’s not democratic).

What actually happened, if you refer to the Parliamentary transcript, is a bit different. I appreciate that not everyone wants to spend their morning reading through pages of Parliamentary transcript and the supporting notes, so I am going to do a brief summary here. I’m not telling you not to care about this, just asking you to be a bit more informed about exactly what was said as the article being shared is a bit loaded…

The initial debate was one requested by a Lord to look at the sustainability of the NHS as a free service at the point of need, so yes, whether the NHS should remain free to users was asked to be debated at the House of Lords. Depending on how much influence the outcome of the debate was allowed to have (and I’m fairly openly anti-Tory so I think far too much), this is pretty poor from the government.

A note was issued to members, available here: http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/LLN-2015-0019

which refers to an NHS report, also available through a reference in the document, stating the following:
« Preserving the values that underpin a universal health service, free at the point of use, will mean fundamental changes to how we deliver and use health and care services….[W]ithout bold and transformative change to how services are delivered, a high quality yet free at the point of use health service will not be available to future generations. Not only will the NHS become financially unsustainable, the safety and quality of patient care will decline ».

This is where the reference to free at the point of use comes from. The report (and note provided to Lords) does not say that the answer is to stop it being free; it is more in the way of a threat, that unless we get our act together we can’t go on as we are. To me, the intention to keep it free is maintained, at least in the NHS report and subsequent Library note.

Then onto the Lords debate. In a very quick summary, I will outline exactly who spoke on the issue and what they said about user charges in particular – there are 17 participants so it isn’t incredibly brief but it’s a lot shorter than the original transcript.

1. Lord Patel (CB): Lord Patel introduced the issue, outlined issues with the increasing use of the NHS, and then with regards cost to users had the following to say
« If we persist in the same way as we have done for the last 20 years we will see a gradual shift to a two-tier system: those who can pay will get care; those who cannot will not. The variations in care will get wider. »

(Obviously I am now doing what I criticised the original article for and only giving a part of what was said and giving it out of context, but I’m trying to be a bit more balanced and give exactly what was actually said on user charges).

2. Lord Fowler (Con) then spoke also acknowledging the increasing demand on the NHS. He has a bit of a push for charging at the point of service:
« what is required at the start of the new Parliament is a thorough, independent and authoritative review of the financial pressures that the health service will come under, and at the same time to set out the options for financing healthcare. We may find that funding it out of general taxation is the best and most cost-effective method—I certainly argued that it was a cost-effective service when I was Secretary of State—but we cannot have a sensible debate on the way forward without examining the other issues. We could have a ring-fenced health tax, or look at a potential system of health insurance. We should explore the part that charges could play: I always found it extraordinary that, for example, prescription charges caused so much upset, given that about 70% were prescribed absolutely free. »
This acknowledges the idea of it, and could be a sneaky way to bring it in. Or it could just be not ignoring the elephant in the room. It certainly doesn’t seem to be fully in favour of it without more information, but again it depends how that information is obtained.

3. Next was Lord Turnberg (Lab), who backed up suggestions for a Royal Commission to look into the issue. He gave a few examples of inefficiencies in the current NHS system, particularly around Acute Trusts and middle management, but argued the NHS should be sustainable with some reform. He made a bit of a dig at the government for reducing NHS spending in the name of austerity measures, argued for better integration within the NHS, and ended with « The question is not whether we can afford a health service free at the point of delivery but whether we can afford one that is hidebound by disincentives in the way I have described. »

4. Baroness Emerton (CB) defended the work of nurses and midwives, hailing them as heroes and heroines. She stressed the importance of high quality nursing, then had this to say about costs « If the outcome is unaffordable then difficult decisions have to be made as to the level of service that can be provided, or money found to meet the costs. »

5. Baroness Gardner (Con) was big on dentistry and, unrelated to the costs debate, had this to say which I took a bit to heart:
« I want to make one other point about Manchester. When the city gets all these new powers, I hope that it also gets a bit of sense. »
But back on topic: the only comment made about costs was still linked to dentistry:
« I would like to have retained free dental examinations. In your Lordships’ House, I won a vote on an amendment on that which then went to the Commons, where they attached financial privilege and we were not allowed to debate it again. »
This also highlights that the House of Commons may still ignore recommendations from the House of Lords, though of course it depends on if they say what they want to hear.

6. Baroness Masham (CB) listed a lot of things that could be done to save money and said it was important to sustain the NHS but made no mention of up front fees or anything that could have been disguised as such.

7. Lord Warner (Lab) says mass NHS reform is needed before more money is « pumped » into it, but then says the following:
« If the NHS fails, as I think it will, do the Government increase borrowing, cut other public services further or raise taxes? Without any of these, they will have to face up to finding new streams of revenue or reducing the NHS service offer. Those are the hard facts of economic life. »
This could be taken as a nod to the need for upfront costs, or it could be a simple statement of fact, though the former seems more likely given a later quote: « Our tax-funded, largely free at the point of clinical need NHS is rapidly approaching an existential moment ».

8. Lord Kakkar (CB) pointed out contradictions between different sources of information, and with regards funding, questioned « What analysis have Her Majesty’s Government made of other healthcare systems that are committed to equity of access and universal coverage—such as those in Germany and the Netherlands—but which use different models of funding that care, and what can we learn from those models? Have they addressed similar challenges in a more effective fashion? ».

9. Lord Mawhinney (Con) starts with « Anyone who has been through what I have has to be an NHS fan. Secondly, for the record, apart from the years when I lived and worked in the United States, I have never had any private health insurance; I have been an NHS man all my life. » then goes on to say « It is time for an independent national commission to recommend how we should move from unsustainability to sustainability ».

10. Lord Crisp (CB)’s views can be summarised with « I will not talk about co-payments—that is, getting people to pay as well—other than to say that all the studies show that if they are to be big enough, they will affect both the poor and the rich: they affect the behaviour of the rich, who then go elsewhere, while the poor cannot afford to pay for services. You can have small co-payments, but large ones have those impacts ».

11. Lord Cormack (Con) worryingly said « Whether the extra funding comes from compulsory insurances or certain charges matters not, but it has to come » which is the main alarm bell being rung in the article I’m disparaging, along with « Let us now, freed from the constraints of coalition government, have the sort of boldness that the Chancellor expressed in the Budget speech yesterday. »

12. Lord Desai (Lab) suggested « He is quite right to say that there ought to be a royal commission, but I expect that the Government will pour cold water on that. » which is perhaps more reassuring as a reminder that the House of Lords can make recommendations but they can be ignored. He made an interesting suggestion of « There is no reason why the Chancellor should not tax sugar and salt and link the tax quite explicitly to the health service—even though it would finance only a very small proportion of the costs. »
It was also in his speech that the « Oyster card » idea was raised. This is not a suggestion to charge for the NHS via an oyster card. It is in line with the suggestion to put the price of prescription drugs on the boxes to raise awareness of the costs of the NHS and to try to challenge behaviours in people who are perceived as unnecessarily costing the NHS money (I am not saying whether that is true, just that it is a perception). Regardless of whether it is a good idea or not, it isn’t a suggestion to charge for the NHS. The full context is as follows:
« Another suggestion that I have made before in your Lordships’ House is that, although we do not want anyone to feel that they are being charged for using the health service, we ought to make clear to people the cost of providing it. People think that because it is free, it is costless—but it is not. »

13. Lord Ramsbotham (CB) makes no reference to introducing charges but instead asks to reduce inefficiencies in the NHS, summarised as follows: « My first point is that affordability requires the ruthless elimination of anything unnecessary or wasteful, such as silo working when more than one ministry is involved. »… »[M]y second wish, in the interests of stability and sustainability, is that in addition to the independent commission called for by my noble friend and many others, the future of the NHS should be subject to cross-party consensus. »

14. Viscount Bridgeman (Con) gets straight to the point with « I suggest that its brief should address, among other things, the question of free at the point of delivery…[T]here appears to me to be a once in a lifetime opportunity to address this issue. I suggest to your Lordships that such a commission would have the unbiased authority that would enable it to address the unthinkable of some form of selective contribution by patients for treatment »
This isn’t great.

15. Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab): « I do not believe that the solution lies in an insurance-based system. » Again, he outlines several examples of inefficiencies and argues for tackling these to improve the funding gap.

16. Baroness Walmsley (LD) fairly crucially says « The principle that it is free at the point of need is something that all political parties continue rightly to support. ». Then as a bonus adds « I start by asking the Minister whether he will work to persuade the Home Secretary that her determination to send home some foreign nurses who earn less than £35,000 per year is unjust and detrimental to the NHS and the people of this country. » She also lists several inefficiencies to be tackled.

17. Lord Hunt of King’s Heath (Lab) refers to previous research done on the topic which states « the claimed advantages of insurance, finance or substantial increases in charges—or co-payments, as we now call them—would outweigh the disadvantages in terms of equity and administrative cost ».
Then, a point that is positive for fears of user charges but negative for hopes of actual improvements if the Lords recommendations are followed: « My experience of the NHS is that the moment you set up a committee of inquiry, it is always used as an excuse to put off difficult decisions. »

Finally, Lord Prior, the Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Health responsible for the area, responds. He quotes research with the following findings
« Private funding mechanisms tend to be inequitable, regressive … have weak incentives for cost control, high administration costs and can deter appropriate use »
« There is at least no evidence to suggest that a tax-funded system is less effective or efficient than any other system. Indeed, tax funding allows the collective pooling of financial risk across the whole population for collective benefit. »
Accusations of him being overly pro-marketisation seem quashed by his quote « The market does not work so well in healthcare—in any country—because there is information asymmetry in the market: the patient will always be less well-informed than the professionals in the system. »
He addresses the charges debate as follows: « It is one of the only institutions we have that provides the same care—or service—to rich and poor, the lucky and the unlucky, to people born with a good genetic inheritance and those who are not. It is part of the glue that holds our society together, and I would not wish to be responsible for weakening those links…I am personally convinced, having looked at many other funding systems around the world, that a tax-funded system is the right one. »
He agrees some form of review is needed, which may or may not be heeded by the House of Commons.

Finally, it is worth noting that this was initiated by Lords, so Jeremy Hunt saying there are no Conservative plans to charge for the NHS could well be true as this hasn’t come from him or from Cameron etc. But equally, never trust a Tory 😉

In conclusion, I’m not saying whether I think the House of Lords was overwhelmingly for or against user charges. I’m not saying whether their recommendations will be accepted. I’m just trying to offer a slightly more comprehensive but readable summary than the article referenced at the start.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing: a quick lesson in oppression

I have deliberately gone straight from IWD to this post because I didn’t want to say ANYTHING about the UK general election, I don’t really know what I could say that various journalists and politicians haven’t said better so as I didn’t have anything useful to add I haven’t said anything at all.

What I am going to add to however is something I wanted to write about weeks ago and am only just getting round to doing it now.

A lot of people seem to have seen the uproar around Bahar Mustafa and her apparent racism and sexism. I’m not going to talk about what she’s done or whether she’s a good Diversity Officer because I don’t know and it’s not really my place to comment.  Yeah she might be terrible at using social media appropriately, I don’t know. More specifically, though, I think she really missed an opportunity, and I’m going to go into why.

First of all, the incident in question. If an event is for BME (Black and Ethnic Minority) women, a white male has NO PLACE there. I’m not going to go into this in too much detail but having space where everyone understands you is incredibly important. Look at support groups. If you have a group of people who have all suffered from cancer, rape, or systemic social oppression, it’s inevitably going to be comforting to know that others have gone through it and survived and to share tips and experiences. It’s difficult to imagine if you haven’t been in a minority or been oppressed. I had one striking incident during my year as VP Welfare where I was the only white person in a room – during the first meeting of the Race Equality Group I’d set up. I wasn’t even entirely sure I should be there but in the end was asked to go by our (amazing) black students’ rep who ran the whole thing and I just provided admin support and answered practical questions. Having been in a society where white people are privileged my whole life, even just being in a representative minority for two short hours was almost uncomfortable, and this was with a respectful group of students. Similarly, while I am not a shy, reserved person, if I am the only woman in a room, I am aware of it. I may not hold back because of it but trust me, I notice. That’s why it’s so important to give groups who are so often in a minority the chance to be the majority and discuss shared experiences. Like come on, white people and men don’t need it so why rain on someone’s parade. That’s the part that should be obvious.

The part I really want to talk about however is this « Can she be racist or sexist ». From an external point of view, I think the way Bahar Mustafa responded to these attacks wasn’t great.
Intersectionality is hard. It is so damn hard. For the first three months of my sabb year I had to keep googling it to make sure I had the definition straight in my head, and 2 years on I’m still learning every day, and I’m an intersectional working class feminist. I don’t think every woman should have to teach every man how they are oppressed, the same as I don’t think every BME person should teach me how they experience racism – the onus shouldn’t be on them, it should be on those who perpetuate it, you shouldn’t have to over-explain things and go out of your way. However, pragmatically speaking, the movement NEEDS people to go out of their way to explain things, so that people can understand, and while I don’t ever want to tone police someone or make them guide ignorant people through their own struggles, I do feel as an SU officer you have agreed to take up this challenge of educating and informing, so from that angle Bahar Mustafa’s video response was perhaps too alienating for people who were already inclined against her. Although her response was eloquent, precise, and informative, the phrase « white supremacist capitalist patriarchy » is something even I struggle to pronounce in full flow, and is something that anyone you’re trying to persuade will immediately be turned off by.

Again, perhaps Bahar Mustafa doesn’t need to persuade anyone. BME women should not have to wheedle their liberation from white men by being liberated by white men. But should not have to, and may gain results by, are different things, so I am going to concede to an extent and explain, in a way I hope will reach even just a few more people, why I am fully behind her. This is not supposed to be a criticism of her actions; just a perspective on how I would have done it and what I would want people to take from it.

Racism is a real issue. BME members of our community are underrepresented and disadvantaged. Just have a look at http://mediadiversified.org/ or Black British Bulletin on Facebook. Spend a month reading one of their articles every day, and you will start to see just how prevalent it is. I did this a few months ago and started to understand the full extent of my privilege. Anyone living in the US may have a better understanding of this, if you have your eyes open.

I was brought up in a white, British, Christian community. There are not many groups in the world who haven’t been oppressed by white British Christians. It took me a long time to realise just how deeply that ran. If you look at the USA, Australia, South Africa, you can always be reminded of the historic racial discrimination that happened, and if you keep your eyes open you can see the way it is perpetuated today, whether through police brutality; or through Annie Lennox’s white washing of a black protest song (http://mediadiversified.org/2014/12/18/the-unbearable-white-ignorance-of-annie-lennox/); or through the way BME students tell us they do not see themselves represented in their professors, in their career ambitions, or on their TVs. As a white person, I do not expect to be stopped by police or airport security, or if I am, it makes me feel safe to know they are randomly checking for things. As a white person, I know that there are people like me working in my chosen career path. As a white person, I know that when I look at fashion magazines for a new hairstyle, whatever is in fashion will be totally appropriate for my natural hair, and I will not have to go through extensive treatment to be able to adopt a trend. These things may not be what you have in mind when you think of racism, but they are all ways in which white people continue to oppress anyone of an ethnic minority, even if the people who came up with « rich girl hair » didn’t mean to cut out anyone with an afro from ever being able to adopt this trend.

Tell me now, then, when racism is so systemically ingrained into our society, into our media, into our culture, how BME people can really do it back? How, when Native American and Hindu culture has been appropriated by young white girls after it was forcibly taken away from the very people who lived it for centuries, can a black girl criticising a white girl twerking really be « reverse racism »? Culture is not a buffet that white people can go along to when they’re peckish and take a bindi from here and a headdress from there and a dance move from the next part along, while the people who created these things are objectified and told « not to dress so ethnic » and that « they should adopt the values of the country they’re in ».

I’m not going to say black people don’t commit any crimes. If a white person is attacked by a black person, and it is because of race, then that is a racially motivated crime. However it is not « racism », because « racism » refers to what is pervading through our entire society. « Racism » is not the same as a « racially motivated bad thing to do ». Racism refers to white people treating BME people differently and oppressing them.

This post is already very long, and I’ve said a hell of a lot about sexism in other posts (and every day of my life) so please just fill in the gaps and understand that it’s the same basic principle. Sexism is a privileged group taking what they want and oppressing anything that is « other ». The privileged group is inevitably men (unless you want to pick out an obscure isolated matriarchal culture, in which case, get me over there now).

So basically, no, Bahar Mustafa cannot be racist or sexist. She might not be a very patient Welfare Officer, but I of all people can’t criticise that. That job is HARD, guys. I think I called a fresher a dickhead on 3 separate occasions (different freshers). I don’t know how many times I shouted at students (and staff) who JUST DIDN’T UNDERSTAND. It may be that she has alienated people and failed to reach out to the very people who misunderstood her actions, but she is entitled to her own approach, and her students are entitled to feedback on it. But when the country decides that a welfare officer creating a safe space for BME women (just like I did when I created the Race Equality Group and only went to the initial meeting) is being racist, I feel like I’m entitled to feed back too and say that no, guys, if you think she is racist and sexist, then please please please spend a month listening to people who are more oppressed than you, be open minded, readdress your understanding of racism and sexism, and come back with a more informed opinion.

though, I think

International Women’s Day

First off, I haven’t posted anything in a while because I wasn’t sure about what I really wanted to say on this blog. I’ve made this point a few times but basically I know the kinds of issues I want to write about, but I often feel like I don’t have the right to share my white, westernised, entitled opinion on them, and that is the issue I have with a lot of blogs – while everyone has the right to say what they think I often feel like they drown out people who deserve to be listened to a lot more. The solution I have come to for this is that I’m going to carry on trying to just promote what people should be reading, and also to try to raise awareness of issues so you can find out more about them from people who have something truly worthwhile to say about them.

Leading on from that: today is International Women’s Day! woohoo. My Facebook news feed has been filled with stories about inspirational women all day, it’s fantastic. It’s absolutely a day to let the women around you know how great they are, but it’s also worthwhile taking a minute to look at the real reason for the day. There are still people who say we don’t need feminism anymore, that women are equal to men, etc, and I find it absolutely astounding. Even in the UK that isn’t true, but if you look abroad it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Obviously as a feminist I believe in equality. A lot of the issues around gender inequality are things that impact negatively on everyone – eg gender roles harm men just as much as women – but I still think it’s incredibly important that we have this one day where we do celebrate the amazing things women can and have achieved, but also to look at the ways there’s a lot more to do.

International Women’s Day was originally International Working Women’s Day, and was started in the early years of the 20th century in honour of women workers and their unions in America and in various countries around the world. As women fought for the vote and other fundamental human rights in the workplace, strikes, marches, and events were held to promote the concept of equal rights. Women in Russia protested against hunger and war, women in America protested against working conditions, the most oppressed women in the worst working conditions, who were normally in the textile industry, came together to protest their situation. On the 8th March 1914, Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in London during a march for women’s suffrage. In 1922, March 8th was officially noted as the date to be used for the cause; and it was particularly honoured in communist countries, with women in China, the USSR, and Spain celebrating the day.

It officially spread to the capitalist Western countries in 1977 when the UN adopted it. So it really is an International event – it isn’t something for white western feminists to wave about as a sign of their generosity and altruism. If that sentence suddenly sounded a bit angry and aggressive then please bookmark the following post and read it at some point in your life:
http://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/an-intersectional-feminist-against-imperial-feminism/

For an interesting (and brief) summary of where the main issues that are being addressed are today, TIME magazine has the following article:
http://time.com/3734862/international-womens-day-progress-action/
Essentially, women around the world do not receive the same standards of education; are in more danger of being attacked and at risk of domestic violence; and are simply not sufficiently represented in leadership positions. There’s also a cool list of 17 badass women at the bottom if you really want some inspiration.

The UN’s theme for this year is based on the Beijing Platform for Action 20 years ago, where 5000 delegates from 189 countries developed a global policy framework and action plan to realise gender equality. 20 years on, this has still not been realised and in fact no country has reached what was envisioned. IWD 2015 is being taken as an opportunity to review progress so far, celebrate it! (justifiably!), and look forward at the next steps. A more in-depth review of this (and an easier to read one than the official UN documents) can be found here:
https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/17385-where-are-we-on-womens-rights-20-years-after-beijing-platform-for-action

Finally, there are a few things that either I would love to see made a priority today and every day (god that sentence sounds arsey) or that maybe just aren’t getting the attention I think they deserve so I’ve made a brief(!) list of them along with links to articles that go into more depth because don’t let me tell you about it, hear it from the women experiencing it:

Civilians in Syria are living in constant fear for their lives, and are facing daily oppression, but celebrations of the day continued there regardless to honour the women at the front of the protests against the government:
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2015/03/syrians-mark-women-day-underground-idlib-cellar-150308152423873.html

Women asylum seekers in the UK, fleeing rape, torture, and oppression in their own countries, are held in Yarl’s Wood detention centre where they face yet more abuse. A lot of media attention has recently highlighted their experiences, and there’s a petition calling for their freedom here:
https://www.change.org/p/theresa-may-british-home-secretary-end-the-detention-of-women-who-seek-asylum

Australia has received a lot of criticism recently for its human rights record, particularly with regards indigenous populations. Non-indigenous women in Australia were given the vote in 1902. Indigenous women were not allowed this right for another 60 years. A short article with a bit more info is here:
http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2015/03/06/indigenous-australian-women-still-fighting-discrimination

Women around the world are viewed by men as objects or property that they are entitled to. While cases such as the Santa Monica shootings and the more recent case in Portsmouth are rare and carried out by individuals with more serious mental health issues, the fact is that it is all too common for men to believe they have the right to comment on, touch, and use a woman’s body for their own gratification.

Similarly, women’s bodies are often taken away from them, either through anti-choice abortion laws (usually passed by men) or through FGM – 30 countries in Africa are thought to have routine FGM practices. I don’t need to link this because I think? most people now know what’s going on with that and a really good amount of media attention has gone to it, I just don’t want it to be forgotten!

Women in Afghanistan, though they have come a long way, are still massively underrepresented. There’s a video on Al Jazeera here:
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2015/03/afghan-women-demand-greater-politics-150306232210801.html

Intersectionality is needed at the heart of feminism more than ever. When feminism only benefits middle class cis straight white women, it is totally useless.
A heartfelt article about this is here:
http://mediadiversified.org/2015/03/08/self-love-amidst-marginalisation/
and this is one of my all-time favourite images

I’m currently reading something by Angela Y Davis – Women Race & Class. It’s around the women’s rights movement in the context of the anti-slavery movement, and is quite a hard read at times, but really really eye-opening. I definitely recommend it, and there’s a bit of an overview about it here:
https://disquietblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/angela-davis-women-race-and-class-part-1/

And last but not least, there’s been a lot recently around gamergate and women both playing and portrayed in video games and comic book cultures, and there’s a really cool project where women in science fiction and comic books were redesigned by actual women here (spoiler: they all look awesome):
http://io9.com/fantastic-redesigns-of-women-characters-by-women-scienc-1689503485

PS: for a bit of a feel good end, here’s some awesome pictures from the Guardian’s summary of the day showing celebrations around the world, in countries where women are fearlessly shouting against their oppression:
http://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2015/mar/08/international-womens-day-in-pictures

On 50 Shades of Grey, and it’s « sexy » soundtrack…

50 Shades of Grey comes out in about a week in the cinemas, with a wildly inappropriate release date of Valentine’s Day. I can’t think of a worse way to spend the day, and I hate Valentine’s Day.

First of all, a lot has been written criticising 50 shades. I’m not even going to start on how poorly written it is because I’m not a literary critic and also if people want to read poorly worded trash that’s their prerogative. I’m not surprised that it’s sold a lot of books in spite of being poorly written, because well someone is buying the daily mail on a regular basis. I’m surprised that it’s sold a lot of copies, in a non-ironic way, where women are genuinely enticed to this relationship.

This isn’t the main point of this post, but Anna and Christian do not have a healthy relationship. BDSM between two consensual adults is great first of all, but the fact is I suspect more people have bought that book than would actually be interested in such a relationship. This is fine; whether they don’t really have an interest in it or are using it as an escape to fulfil desires they’d never enact in real life, it’s their life, that’s fine. However, as has been pointed out repeatedly, Anna and Christian are not engaging in happy fun consensual BDSM. It is abuse. It is a physically and emotionally abusive relationship and to act like this is appealing makes light of situations where this happens every day in the real world.

Again, this isn’t automatically negative – people read violent books and it doesn’t make them violent. People can live this relationship vicariously through these books knowing that in real life they are still safe and it’s only a book, and maybe that’s even healthier – I don’t know, I’m not a psychologist. It does seem thought that people – mostly women – genuinely want a man like Christian Grey, which first off is quite damaging but also again statistically surprising. I didn’t think that many women were interested in constantly playing that role in a relationship – which leads me onto the next point in this.

I bloody love Beyonce. She is absolutely my idol. She is confident and loud and sure of herself and she is openly in control and is aware of her sexuality as an aspect of her life, AND she danced in front of the word Feminist in giant flashing letters, as if she wasn’t perfect enough. I have listened to her fifth studio album on repeat more times than I can even imagine. She represents the kind of woman I would love to be, who is bold and confident and unashamed of everything she stands for. She wrote songs about being single, she wrote songs about being married, she wrote songs about being sexy and fierce and angry and jealous and sad. She even wrote a song criticising the music industry, describing the temptation it can represent and how crazy it can drive you, which I would like to think was something she really felt and believed at the time.

This is why I’m so disappointed that this song, along with Crazy In Love, have been slowed down and made « sexy » for the soundtrack to this film. As far as I’m concerned, Beyonce is sexy. Already. Her confidence and power and attitude are sexy. It might not be for everyone but that’s OK. For her to fit to this idea of sexy and to even allow one of her songs to be interpreted differently is quite disappointing to someone who held her up to represent totally different ideals in what should be viewed as « sexy ». I don’t think everyone should be expected to be confident in the same way not everyone wants to be submissive but I do think if someone is happy and a role model in one it’s a massive shame for them to suddenly abandon it and conform to another.

Plus, 50 shades is just messed up, don’t ever settle for that xo

The world was silent when we died

I’ve written a short poem, inspired by (plagiarised from) the amazing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her book Half of a Yellow Sun.
You can read a nice contextualised overview (with spoilers) here:
http://www.damaris.org/film-and-bible-blog/656

I’ve been thinking and rethinking how to make this point: I want to make it clear that I’m not giving an opinion here. I have no right to give an opinion on Nigeria or on any of the horrific things happening around the world when they aren’t happening to me. I’m trying to channel my reaction to them, and at least urge people to give a platform to those who do have really valid opinions, ie those who are experiencing these things. I can sit here with my hash tags and my unlimited unrestricted internet shouting about how free speech is best used to call out atrocities but I’m not the one who should be speaking about these atrocities, we should all be trying to hear what those who are experiencing them are trying to tell us.
One relevant one to Nigeria is here:
https://fakhuus.wordpress.com/2015/01/12/african-lives-dont-matter/
but there are so many for so many issues, and so many more that don’t have the same resources and are going unheard. And so my recurring theme of selective social media use continues.

I don’t feel I have the right to describe how bad the situation is without being there, but I do have the right to ask people to find out, and I also have the right to write a poem about it, though you very much have the right to tell me it’s crappy.

Essentially I’m trying to put all these things I write and think somewhere other than my notepad, so here goes.


The world was silent when we died
Nobody screamed, nobody cried
Nobody stood to protest the crimes
They keep their quiet to keep their lives

The river gushed, the trees creaked
The winds did howl and the black clouds weep
But when nature grieved, the world stood still
Frozen in time by a shivering chill

You cannot forget what you do not note
You cannot « share » what has been forsook
While the world stood silent and held its tongue
The war continued invisibly on

En fait, je ne suis pas Charlie.

Last year, I spent a lot of my time (I was working full time in Equality and Diversity) debating the line between freedom of speech and safe space.

The recent atrocity in Paris has helped me come to a conclusion.

Before I continue, I want to make a point that I shouldn’t have to make but want to just in case. What happened to the Charlie Hebdo staff was an atrocity. It was appalling. No one has the right to take the life of another, and to slaughter a group of people as they worked at something they loved is an abomination.

What I want to talk about is what has happened in the wake of it.

Now as I’ve said before, I love the power of social media. The #illridewithyou in Australia made me cry, and the posts of solidarity for #jesuisCharlie show the impact a campaign and a passion can have, and that’s a brilliant thing. However it also shows a real vindication of « free speech », that holy grail of rights.
I’m not going to talk about free speech in the context of Charlie Hebdo, because I think it’s too loaded an issue. I’m not going to refer to this example or give my opinion on it because my opinion is simply that the murder of those staff was awful. That has to an extent ruled out anything else. However it has not ruled out what has happened in the wake of it, which is what I am going to talk about.

Freedom of speech is important, don’t get me wrong. In calling out a government. In decrying a dictatorship or a Big Brother nation or even just a Tory government making some terrible decisions re: privatisation for the benefit of their sponsors. (what?)
Freedom of speech is something everyone should have, to be able to say what they really feel. Then face the consequences.

In an ideal world, we would be able to mock other groups and political correctness would not have been driven mad. We would be able to make stereotypes gently laughing at the possibility that anyone would believe it or act based on them. But of course we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where certain groups are very much oppressed, and that, I think, is where the line is.
Freedom of speech to speak out against a privileged group is important. Freedom of speech to criticise an oppressed group for the thing that society oppresses them for is dangerous. Satire against anyone with a disability or a non-cis gender identity or a non-hetero sexual preference or minority religion is a lot more damaging than satire taking the piss out of Eton Bullingdon boys with silly hairlines, because the fact is those boys were not stopped from getting to power because of their hairlines. Disabled or non straight or non-cis people are not in power because of the fact that for whichever reason, there are still social barriers standing in their way.

Freedom of speech needs to be carefully considered. Until we live in an ideal world, where people can be expected to laugh it off because it doesn’t represent centuries of oppression, your words will still have a massive consequence, and a reckless support of your right to say whatever the hell you want only reinforces existing privileges.

Note: if you are reading this and are outraged that I am suggesting that actually you don’t have the right to say whatever the hell you want then maybe stop and check whether you are two or more of the following: white, male, middle class, abled, straight, cis, young, etc…

The real problem with parents on Facebook

OK that title is a massive misnomer as the issue I’m about to write about actually has nothing to do with parents, I’m knowingly mixing correlation with causation here. I’m also going to use « Gen X » and « Gen Y » when it may be a massive generalisation but I think it’s the least offensive way of referring to these demographics 😉

Facebook is the reason I define as a feminist and an activist in so many ways. In spite of how uncomfortable I feel with the role a public entity holds in my life, it allows me to connect with people all over the world, to share images and posts and opinions and facts, to see what thousands of people are thinking and to see what their friends are sharing too. Exposure to this much thought, I think, is a really good thing – you have to be aware of what other people’s opinions are to help you form your own.
Every time someone shares a post about a cause, it normalises it a bit, and makes it OK to care and to talk about it. It makes it « cool ». It helps you learn about things, especially things that wouldn’t necessarily come up on BBC news (no comment!) but if you’re like me things you wouldn’t necessarily take the time to search through Al Jazeera to find. I don’t necessarily recommend getting your news update from Facebook and Buzzfeed, but if it at least raises awareness, it’s useful. Raising awareness can sometimes be a bit of a waste of time but in this case I think it’s making a huge difference.

It can also give you a bubble. I’m very aware that if I see something posted 100 times by my friends on Facebook, I assume everyone knows about it. I have over 1000 connections on Facebook so it may be that actually only 10% of them know about it, and it’s the 10% that know each other, and the other 90% don’t see these posts.
Similarly, Facebook only shows you what it thinks you want to see, so you can hide the Daily Mail and Britain First and UniLad and Russell Brand from your timeline so you never see people who share them. You can unfriend anyone who regularly shares these opinions. And that’s from someone who has a large group of connections to start with.

What, then, about the people who have only 20-100 or so connections? Generation X and before who add their children, their siblings, and a few people from school or work?
10 years ago it was normal to only have a small friendship group on something like Facebook. It shows your real name! You put pictures of yourself on there! You wouldn’t describe them as a « friend » in real life so why do it on Facebook?
Maybe that’s why I find myself using the phrase « connections ». No, I don’t have 1200 « friends ». But I have 1200 « connections » on Facebook and I am exposed to 1200 opinions that might differ from my own, and because of that my views become more empathetic and progressive and I can learn about my own privilege and the struggles of others. I can learn why the fact that I am white and young but not unluckily young (sorry £9k fees) and living in a developed wealthy country with open internet and free speech is a really big deal. I can also learn why what the government is doing is stupid without just saying it is and I can see corruption when it is exposed.

If you only have 40 connections, and 25% of them spent all their life with you, their views probably don’t differ from yours very much.
You may not see why people are so angry, why there is so much activism, why people take to social media to share their opinions.
I mean equally if I used the Facebook account of someone else for a day I may find that there isn’t much activism and people don’t share opinions and most of the world is still in the « had a great day today lol xox » stage of Facebook, it’s just my bubble that does it, because even though my bubble is SLIGHTLY larger it’s still a bubble.
But it may be that that will hold us back. We know that Generation Y-onwards are angrier, and they apparently have a strong sense of community but also a small sense of entitlement. We also know that demographically it is more likely to be Gen X and before who will disagree with progressive views, and will fight against them. But if these people have no perspective of these opinions, it’s going to be impossible to fight back.

I am approaching this from the point of view that « change is good ». I also know that many of the group I’m talking about wouldn’t necessarily say the same thing. I’m talking about people who say « If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all » when workers complain about earning below the living wage. People who say « if you don’t like (this content) don’t look » when a left-wing tabloid posts in praise of a right-wing action.
I think people should look, and they should comment, and they should complain if they want, and they should voice their opinion. Yeah be respectful, be factual, but don’t tell us to calm down and don’t tell us to keep our mouths shut. Facebook can be a bubble, it can be pictures of nightclubs and nandos and nothing else if you so choose, but it can also be a platform to share your opinions and discuss and learn from the experiences of others who put their opinions out there. I am a complete advocate of change and of learning from others and I think the way social media (Twitter too, sorry) is making the world smaller and that this is only a good thing.
Sorry if that offends you put I’m putting it on Facebook anyway.