Tuesday, May 20, 2014

This is what the Devil looks like.

We never take enough time to consider why tyrants are popular. Some of them, including Northern Europe's own mustachioed bogeyman, were elected by the people. Elsewhere in the world in recent years, people have voted for Putin, Morsi, Mugabe, al-Assad, even if the count is often rigged. But we’re not baffled, not really; these people who believed that the Devil was their best option either lived in the past, or they live in the developing world, which is as good as living in the past. They are vulnerable, gullible, much less sophisticated than us. The Devil walks in, horns polished to a shine, fork-tail swishing in the cloud of sulphurous gas that surrounds him and they have no idea at all.

Only this is what the Devil looks like. The Devil looks just fine. He can talk okay, is arguably charismatic, but his magnetism is not supernatural. He comes across as a decent sort of chap. He makes a few extreme statements - so sometimes he goes a little too far - but at least the man is honest, horns unpolished, refreshing in his candor. And he's funny. Charming rather than seductive. His blunders only prove that he is human.

He is nothing special, this Devil. I don't mean merely that he doesn't look that special, but if we’re honest (and we rarely are about this), evil is quite commonplace. The Devil has many guises; tyrannical regimes come in many bitter flavours. Yet there are three things all tyrants have in common:

  • They happen to have massive, massive power.
  • They use fear-mongering and scapegoating to maintain their power.
  • They are in love with their own reflection, with an anxious need to protect and manipulate their image, as they imagine it to be, in the eyes of the world.

The massive power is what makes all the difference. It's an external factor; something that other people, circumstances, history or brute force makes happen. Look around for a leader who merely meets the second and third criteria and you have three out of our last five Prime Ministers. We only point and say, "Look, it's the Devil!" when they've been completely let off their reigns. When hundreds or thousands of their own people are imprisoned or violently killed.

So this is what the Devil looks like; like so many other politicians with a suit and a sound bite. And that’s part of our trouble when discussing his rise. People called Thatcher a fascist. People have described Blair as a murderer and Cameron as a man with no conscience. We’re not talking about people you’d leave your pet goldfish with – not if you didn't want it be sold off, drowned or abandoned with nothing to eat.

Only none of them made a bid for power on a platform of socially-retrograde authoritarian nationalism (or, you know, Fascism), suggesting we be afraid of our neighbours, with fellow candidates advocating the execution of minorities and political opponents. Other sinister political figures of my lifetime had a far nicer image to preserve. That's part of the reigns I mentioned.

A lot of people can smell the sulphur just now.

There’s a now much-quoted blog post by poet Michael Rosen which includes the passage:
"Fascism arrives as your friend.
It will restore your honour,
make you feel proud,
protect your house,
give you a job,
clean up the neighbourhood,
remind you of how great you once were,
clear out the venal and the corrupt,
remove anything you feel is unlike you..."
On Twitter, Steve Graby objected: “Worth remembering fascism comes as your friend IF you are white, straight/cis and non-disabled. Otherwise it's pretty blatantly your enemy from the start.”

That would surely be the case if everyone knew what the Devil stands for. But it is not a civil duty to keep track of all the political goings on, to read the full manifesto rather than the single-page pamphlet. It is not morally irresponsible to zone out while the politicians bicker on the breakfast news. And many ordinary fallible people do. Most people who vote for the Devil care about one or two issues and see that guy as the guy who’s going to fix them.  A lot of people vote for the Devil just because they don’t like their other options. Evil is commonplace, but naivety is pandemic. It's part of our charm.

This is what the Devil looks like. The horns and the fork-tail? All that's in the small print. There’s good and bad news about all this:

The bad news is that ordinary and fallible people can be taken in by the Devil. They don't have to be very bad or stupid, just misguided. Worse news is that you are as ordinary and fallible as the next person. He would have to wear very different clothes to fool you, of course. And maybe you do read the small print, and maybe you’d never place your vote on anyone less than a saint (abstention again, is it?), but at some point, in some context, you may well shake the Devil’s hand.

The good news is that people who support the Devil, vote for the Devil, are not evil or beyond reason. There’s as little reason to despair of your neighbours as to fear them. Better news is that a population of ordinary, fallible people in a country not yet overwhelmed with despair due to famine, mass poverty, internal divisions and war are more than capable of keeping the Devil in his place.

Despair is always the danger. Right now, politicians are so despairing of their own people that they grit their teeth and flare their nostrils, trying not to gag on the sulphur and give away the fact they can smell it. Meanwhile, some of them are, themselves, a little bit evil and the presence of the Devil beside them can only improve their own precious image. But politicians aren't very important.

Last week, I was rolling round my village, looking at potential places to live. And the thought crossed my mind,
"What if people put party political posters in their front windows? What if we find somewhere perfect but we know, without meeting them, that the neighbours are a bunch of bastards who hate people like us, our friends and families?"
And I knew I was wrong at the time (and I saw just one poster, in the house of someone who always parks their sports car on the pavement so that my wheelchair is in danger of scraping the paintwork as I pass). Then this weekend, I hear that I should prefer not to live next door to Romanians and I felt even more guilty. It would be reasonable to assume that people with those posters in their windows are ordinary, fallible, just not paying so much attention, maybe with a little less to lose.

This is what the Devil looks like. His potential power lies in our despair at each other.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Peak Beard & The Universal Principles of Body-Shaming.

I began to write this post some weeks ago, when the world was shaken by the news that we (or at least white Westerners) had reached Peak Beard. I was busy and it got abandoned. Then this weekend was Eurovision and I decided to return to the subject.

We watched Eurovision with my folks this year, and thus were subject to my mother's beard commentary. My mother doesn't like facial hair. She seems particularly offended by a beard on a good-looking young man because it's such a waste. Eurovision featured lots of good-looking young people with beards; beards remain very fashionable. And thus we sat through two hours of

"I like this song but not the beard!"
"I'd vote for him if he'd only shave!"

and inevitably,

"But she'd be so beautiful if she didn't have that beard!"

Then yesterday, I heard of Russian male homophobes shaving their beards off in order to defend their fragile masculinity against the full-bearded influence of Eurovision victor Conchita Wurst.

One of several fascinating facts about men's facial hair (or lack thereof) is that the subject, when raised, provokes just as much alarm and disdain as discussion of women's grooming and appearance.

Every week, newspapers and magazines will have a news story or opinion piece about women's pubic, underarm or leg hair, women's body-shape, fitness or fatness, make-up, cosmetic surgery, bras, high-heels, corsetry and so forth. Every week, newspapers and magazines can guarantee a hoard of men and women clicking through to confirm and often share their opinions about the disgusting, unfeminine, unfeminist, shallow and lazy choices that women make about their appearance.

We've talked about this a lot - many of those articles talk about this, despite the fact that they often repeat the same messages (don't judge me for behaving as everyone should!) and play host to the same vitriol below the line. However, while there's no doubt that there's a massive gender imbalance in whose bodies and choices are being scrutinised, men's facial hair shows us that there's also something universal and ungendered going on.

Looking through the articles, comments and Twitter chat about Peak Beard (the idea that beardless men appear more attractive in a world of beard ubiquity and vice versa) we see that

1. Exactly the same arguments are used for and against facial hair as are used for and against any choice a woman might make about her own appearance. You'd think that that an argument about beards would be dynamically different from, for example, an argument about high heeled shoes. But they're not. The only difference is that there's no unfeminist choice to be made about beards, although feminism is blamed for men shaving - apparently, men who shave have been rendered fearful of their own masculinity (apart from Russian homophobes). Men who don't shave have the more rational fear of sharp objects.

2. The same arguments are made both for and against any given behaviour. Shaving isn't healthy; it causes rashes, nicks and dryness, whereas beards are breeding ground for deadly bacteria. Shaving is part of being a real man, a rite of passage to young men, the minimal requirement for smartness, whereas beards are a sign of masculinity; a real man is a bearded man and men who shave are afraid of growing up. See also women's pubic hair, dieting, bras etc..

3. Almost all arguments originate from a personal preference; I like my beard, I like my smooth face, I prefer a bearded man, I prefer a smooth face. But it has to be extrapolated to some universal truth; "Sorry guys, but women just don't fancy men with beards. None of the men I've dated in the past yea had beards. So if you ever want to get laid again, have a shave!"

And here, we begin to see what's going on. Folks are anxious. Folks are defensive about their own behaviour or preferences. There must be a right way. Newspaper columns, magazines and advertisers of all variety certainly suggest this: Do things the right way. Buy our products to avoid humiliationThe recent Veet advert suggested that if a thin female model has 24 hour's hair growth on her legs, she might as well be an overweight, hirsute bloke with a high-pitched feminine voice. Which brings me to

4. Cultural tropes around nature, gender and sexuality are then wheeled in as if they were facts. There are real men, and real women - all straight and cis gender. Real men and real women behave in a certain way and desire certain things in their partners. People who deviate are not real; women who don't fancy bearded men are lesbians, are afraid of real men and will die alone. Some men (with or without beards) talk with utter disdain about women who might not fancy them, as if any pognophobe is going to think, "Brian from Skegness thinks I'm a silly bitch for not fancying men like him. How could I have been so wrong?!"

Some straight women are compelled to share fairly graphic detail about how they like to tug on a beard during sex, or ask their boyfriends to shave mid-way because they can feel the hairs growing. Worse are the ones who are effectively negging; "Most women run screaming when they see a bearded man, but I'm able to see past that. What do looks matter? Leave all those scornful women who will laugh at you, humiliate you in front of your friends and be rude to your mother to those cleanly shaven men! Come here, beardy!"

Exactly the same thing happens with women's appearance. There's no shortage of straight men lining up for medals for their courageous tolerance of slight variations from our cultural model of conventional beauty (for a recent essay-length cringe-athon, see In Defence of Hairy Women).

It's quite easy for me to write about beards because (a) I cannot grow one, (b) nobody would expect me to and (c) I really have no particular opinion about them. Some beards look good, some not so much (a fashionable shape on an unfashionable face*) and some are quite funny (our Latin teacher, an eccentric and very skeletal-looking man had a long goatie beard that curved dramatically to one side, despite constant ponderous smoothing). People should do what they like - or what they can; some men cannot grow a beard, others struggle to shave.

It would be much harder for me to talk about female grooming. It shouldn't be too hard for me as a woman who, in being attracted to other women, knows that there are few universal turn-offs around these matters. It shouldn't be too hard for me as woman who, being a conscientious feminist hippie-type, has conducted long-term experiments in things like growing or removing leg, underarm and pubic hair. I have worn a lot of make-up and none at all for many years. I even stopped using any commercial products on my person (apart from soap for handwashing) for about eighteen months.

The only thing I've ever dismissed outright are those Spanx-type magic pants that squeeze everything together? I bought some, I put them on and then I cut them off. 

However, it is almost impossible to talk about these issues in complete neutrality. And in the absence of such neutrality, it seems that culture has primed us to get defensive (I wouldn't leave the house without my Spanx. But you can't expect miracles, you whale!). And I think the beard thing demonstrates that this is nothing inherent to women, or even women's conditioning. We all need to get over the fact that other people like, want and do different things to ourselves and it's all perfectly okay.

(yeah, but if I work harder on that last sentence, I'll never post this).

* By an unfashionable face, I don't mean an ugly face, just one that hasn't got this week's bone-structure and colouring. Vaguely related to this, here is a great piece about being a young brown guy whose now-fashionable beardedness has previously been a factor in his experience of racism.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2014Welcome to Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014!

Thanks very much to everyone who helped to spread the word and to everyone who has blogging against disablism, ableism and disability discrimination these last few days.

If you have a post for Blogging Against Disablism, please leave a comment including the URL (web address) of your post and the catergory your post fits best. Please also link back here, wherever possible (we're at http://tinyurl.com/BADday2014).

We'll carry on updating this post as any late-comers arrive. We've also been posting links to every blog using the Twitter stream @BADDtweets and these will automatically be posted onto our Facebook Page.

Blogging Against Disablism 2014

(Disability discrimination in the workplace, recruitment issues and unemployment). 

Benefit Scrounging Scum:  Hard Working Species, The 'Striver Scrounger'
EmsyBlog:  Access To…oh forget it
Murder of Goths:  Employ me? Work and disability hurdles
Random Happenings and Observations:  Attitudes towards Disabled People
Scope:  ‘You’ve got so much stacked against you’
This ain't livin':  Sheltered Workshops

(Attitudes and practical issues effecting disabled people and the discussion of disability in education, from preschool to university and workplace training.)

Friendly crips and our friends:  How ablism stopped me learning how to teach against ablism
Queen Cakeface:  Academic Ableism - How Formal Education is Failing the Disabled and Chronically Ill
Rolling with the Punches:  Academic Battles
That Crazy Crippled Chick:  One Year Ago - What Ableism Didn't Do
Yes, That Too:  Not what I was planning on but it's ableism and I'm against it

Other Access Issues
(Posts about any kind of access issue in the built environment, shops, services and various organisations. By "access issues" I mean anything which enables or disenables a person from doing what everyone else is able to do.)

Black Telephone:  The Prom Dress
A Blind Man's Journey:  Housing for All
Crippled, Queer, Anglo-European
Ranter: Product Packaging Problems & Solutions?)
Damn the Muse:  Service plans gone haywire
Planat Community Blog: Accessible travel - issues and solutions
World of Accessible Toilets:  Dignity Down the Pan

Definition and Analysis of Disablism/ Ableism

The Bardo Group:  Still Here
bottomfacedotcom:  Are you disablist/ableist? 
Low Visionary:  From disableism to human rights
Making rights make sense:  Blogging against ‘disablism’
pseudoliving:  Nothing About Us Without Us?

The Language of Disablism(Posts about the language which surrounds disability and the way that it may empower or disempower us.)

Murder of Goths:  Worst things you can say

Disablism Interacting with Other 'Isms'
(Posts about the way in which various discriminations interact; the way that the prejudice experienced as a disabled person may be compounded by race, gender, age, sexuality etc..)

Indigo Jo Blogs:  Dudes

Disablism in Literature, Culture and the Media

Bridgeanne art and writing:  Thoughts re writing ‘Girl with a White Dog’
Cracked Mirror in Shalott:  I'm Not a Side Story
Diary of a Goldfish:  Against "Awareness"
Funky Mango's Musings:  Writing semi-autobiographical fiction about disability
A Hot Bath Won't Cure It:  Invisible Disability – disablism from different perspectives
Kink Praxis:  Imagining Disabled Characters in Erotica
Maijan ilmestykset:  Nasevaa ableismia / Snappy ableism
Thoughts of a crinllys:  Rejection in a sci-fi world
Tsana's Reads and Reviews:  Blogging Against Disablism 
Visibility Fiction:  Getting it wrong – Writing disability in fiction
A Writer In A Wheelchair:  Not such an equal “ism”


Disability Studies, Temple U.:  Wikipedia Against Disablism

Relationships, Love and Sex

Journeymouse:  Teaching Someone Else to Live With An Invisible Disability
Living Disabled:  Peace, Anger, and Other (blasted) People


AthletesFirst:  A challenge to coaches
AthletesFirst:  Not quite visible


Feminist Sonar:  Valuing the Life Criptastic
I (heart symbol) the Phylum Chordata:  Repercussions
Philip Patston:  Blogging against blogging against disablism
Powerful Bitch:  The Big BADD Cripple
The Social Worker Who Became Disabled:  Are Social Workers Part of the Problem? 

Poetry and Fiction against Disablism

As Your World Changes:  Weary Words from a White Cane Warrior
Ballastexistenz:  When we died, we found each other
Diary of Mister Goldfish: Clippity Cloppity Goat and the Dragon
Here be Prose:  Someday
Same Difference:  Disablism is Everywhere
Untitled:  BADD14

General Thoughts on Disablism

Accessibility NZ:  Don’t use disability as the bogeyman
AZ is Amazing:  Don't put words in my mouth
Bigger on the Inside:  The fundamental interconnectedness of all things
The Chronic Chronicles:  Ignorance, Exclusion and Invisibility - the reality of being disabled in the UK
Dannilion.com:  Internalised Disablism
Diary of Mister Goldfish:  Need for Speed
The eGremlin:  Things are not always what they seem
The Haps:  The Question
Journeys:  Disability Stories - Resistance, Resilience, and Community
Meriannen Mielessä: Pyörätuolityttö | The Wheelchair Girl 
Minister of Propaganda for the Decepticon Empire:  Blogging Against Disablism Day
More Than Disorganised:  Internalised Disablism
Naked Vegan Cooking:  Special Blogging Against Disablism Day Post
Nightengalesknd:  Why it matters that "ablism" isn't in spell-check
Stand Tall Through Everything:  I’m A Reluctant Advocate
Sticking the Corners:  Tried and True Ways to Eliminate People with Disabilities
The Notes Which Do Not Fit:  That is such an obscure...
Rolling with the Punches:  Support and Independence
This Is My Blog:  Less hostility, please!
Words I Wheel By:  Dis/Ableism, Privilege, and Assumptions
yetanotherlefty:  In-between

Parenting Issues(whether disabled parents or the parents of a disabled child.)

Will Write for Tomato Pie:  Blogging Against Disablism

Impairment-Specific Prejudice

Blogging Astrid:  Mental Illness Is Real Illness Too
Brain under construction:  Monster in the Midst
Endocrine Gremlin:  Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014
The Eternal Pursuit of Love and Laughter:  Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014
The Hidden Village of Aspergers:  Crying On The Webcam
Life In Deep Water:  The Relationship Between Depression & Alcohol & Its Effects On Relationships
Mitäpä jos sä pelkäät turhaan:  Bloggaus vammaisuuden ennakkoluuloja vastaan
The Not-So-Simple Life:  It's Time To Talk 
Sticking the Corners:  Just Say No to Needy Busybodies

Personal Journeys

Posts about learning experiences and realisations authors have had about the nature of disability discrimination and the impact on their lives.

Ballastexistenz:  I am not your fairy tale miracle cure story
Katherine Hayward, my life with cerebral palsy:   Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014 
My thoughts. About me, and ME:  Help!
Never That Easy:  Hulking Out
People Aren't Broken:  An InConvenient Truth

Disablism and Politics
(For example, the political currency of disability, anti-discrimination legislation, etc.)

Write To Protest:  The Right to Life

Bullying, Harassment and Hate Crime

Ballastexistenz:  After this, I am never again putting up with bullies telling me that my medical conditions are imaginary
The F-Word:  Disablism and microaggressions
Radical Neurodivergence Speaking:  Parents are the worst ableists
That Crazy Crippled Chick:  Disability Is Not Your Get Out of Jail Free Card

Disability, Life and Death

Ange's blog:  Carers should act in solidarity - not martyrdom 
Ballastexistenz:  Love, Fear, Death, and Disability
The Voyage:  Stop Excusing Murder