Women who eat on the tube

In the 18th century (don’t have to remember the date – benefits of writing on your own tumblr), Jonathan Swift wrote a poem called The Lady’s Dressing Room. It’s about a grubby little pervert called Strephon who sneaks into a posh bird called Celia’s bedroom and is horrified to discover evidence that she isn’t the delicate nymph she appears to be, but a sweating, smelling, defecating human being. Swift writes:

Thus finishing his grand survey,
Disgusted Strephon stole away
Repeating in his amorous fits,
Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!

I’m quite the Swiftophile, so perhaps I’m being generous when I say I think that poem is a satire on patriarchy above anything else (though perhaps Swift, a Church of Ireland minister, wouldn’t have used the word ‘patriarchy’). I like to think Swift is mocking the incongruity of a woman’s public appearance with her private body, rather than being misogynistic towards Celia herself. The joke is on society, for producing a situation where Strephon could legitimately be so shocked at the banal discovery that women do, in fact, shit.

Fast forward three hundred years, and after a few waves of feminism, you’d think we’d have made some advances. Alas, the tumblr “Women who eat on the tube” is here to correct us. This time, shitting has been replaced by eating as the non-consensual window into a woman’s bodily functions. When Strephon sneaks into Celia’s room, he expects to find fairy dust or fallen blossom, not excrement. He exposes her bodily functions by accident. For the men posting photos of women eating on the tube, the exposure is on purpose. In either case, the result is the same: the spell is broken, and no longer is the female subject an ephemeral beauty, but a slovenly, shitty thing. Swift concludes the poem with a comment on Celia’s artifice: “such gaudy tulips made from dung.”

Whatever Heston Blumenthal would have us believe, eating is ultimately just another bodily function. When we see someone eat, we are unconsciously reminded that they also shit. It’s not necessarily even that the end result of eating is shitting; just a reminder that the eater in question has a body which processes things. It removes us from high-minded images of ourselves and recalibrates us as functional, meaty machines. Pap a woman eating without her knowledge and you’re doing what Strephon does in Swift’s poem: you’re revealing the fact that her body eats and shits.

In a world where a lot of women’s social power is linked to how closely they emulate an inoffensive delicate, doll-like feminine ideal, this matters quite a lot. Of course it sucks that women should have pretend to be inhuman dolls the first place, but women need to address that fact themselves in a way that suits them. To have the façade yanked away from them by (mostly) men – without addressing any of the social structures that make it necessary – is humiliating, disempowering, and downright cruel. When you take a photo of a woman eating on the tube and put it up in a popular forum, you are capturing that woman at an intimate, vulnerable moment and making it public. You are saying to her “we know you’re not the inviolable angel you’re pretending to be. We know you’re dirty.” And if you don’t believe the tumblr has those undertones, just look at the comments beneath the photos, which refer to women as “fat pigs,” and talk of their “gaping orifices.” Once a woman has fallen from grace (or has been pulled from it by modern-day grubby Strephons), she forgoes the right to dignity.

Defenders of WWEOTT say the woman is in public anyway, but I think we all know these women are relying on the relative anonymity of London transport to allow them a private moment. These defenders might also say it’s all light-hearted fun, but given I’ve seen a lot women saying they’re too afraid to eat on the tube now, it doesn’t seem light-hearted. It seems shaming and embarrassing. It seems like another in the litany of ways in which women are not allowed to be human in public.

Death threat sent to opposition candidates and political activists in Colombia

I have just received this translation of a death threat which was sent out from the paramilitary cell Urban Commandos-Black Eagles yesterday:

“Your time has come pig whoreson communists, this is your only warning to get out of politics and save your pig lives: [opposition candidate] Ivan Cepeda who tries to get famous for persecuting and slandering the best president Colombia has ever had, Alvaro Uribe Velez, together with the terrorists of the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective – the CAFARC – who pose as human rights defenders, and now with their own candidate, the cynical M-19 terrorist Alirio Uribe Munoz, who asks to be called ‘the other Uribe’ so as to smear our real leader, poor sons of whores we are going to stick dynamite up your arses and with the leftover skin we’ll make wallets for the pigs to eat. All you Cafarians and those of MOVICE are warned. Let Cepeda remember the execution of his terrorist father, he’s condemned to follow his footsteps, let that slag [opposition candidate] Aida Abella go into exile, and if not, let her remember that we may have failed once, but we won’t fail twice. Also we will make those who are defending the terrorist Mayor Petro* and attacking the Procurator pay. Colombia is democratic, we will achieve peace without terrorists and without communists! Petro’s head will roll and we will play football with it. Colombia is democratic, we will achieve peace without terrorists and without communists.”

*Note: Mayor Petro is Bogota’s social democrat elected mayor who was recently removed from office by Colombia’s public office watchdog, who is an ally of former president Alvaro Uribe. Read about it here.

On the deportation of Isa Muazu

A friend who organised the vigil for Isa Muazu wrote this on his deportation this morning. Please read:

I feel utterly sick and ashamed.

Today is a precedent setting moment. Never before has a Govt intentionally allowed a death in immigration detention. This Govt have ignored medical opinion. They have ignored the call for an individual act of mercy for Isa and they have made it clear that this is now how it will continue to be for other people in detention.

The Home Office introduced an ‘end of life plan’ policy rather than release Isa for urgent medical help. Lawyers and campaigners agree that this part of a frightening new ultra hardline stance. The Home Office are clearly demonstrating their political will to see desperate hunger strikers die in detention/during deportation - rather than release them into hospitals to receive life saving medical attention (this was previous procedure).

But I don’t get it. Seeming proudly “tough on immigration” in front of voters isn’t dependent on refusing mercy for a suffering dying man. We all understand ‘mercy’ - we are taught this as kids.

Isa Muazu, after 95 days of hunger strike, is a 45 year old man who now cannot see and is too weak to stand. He is 5ft 11 and used to weigh 83 kilos. Now he weighs 50. He is too ill for surgery, and vomits and urinates blood.

This morning at 8am, the Home Office had him stretchered onto a plane and flown back to Nigeria, the country he needed to escape from (two members of his family were murdered by Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group, and he fears the same fate should he return).

Isa applied for asylum after a visa he was in the UK on ran out. His application was turned down in just seven days.

Despite never having been in trouble with the law he had this message for the government: “I need them to forgive me for anything I’ve done wrong. It happened without my intention. I want the government to temper justice with mercy.”

But seeking refuge is not a crime.

Kate Blagojevic from Detention Forum who helped explain how Isa ended up in this situation. “You declare yourself to the immigration authorities and say you want to claim asylum – they immediately lock you up in a centre where you don’t have any money, you might not have any phone credit, you might not have a lawyer and so you’ve lost your freedom and you have absolutely no way of getting out,” she told me. “It’s very difficult for you, while you’re sitting in your cell, to think about the evidence that you might need to claim asylum. The fast-track system allocates a solicitor to you, usually who you meet a few minutes before your interview with the Home Office officials. That’s the meeting when they decide if your asylum claim is credible or not. 99 percent of people on this fast-track system are refused.”

Earlier I said this was the first time the Govt have intentionally let someone die in detention. But it is important to know that people have died in detention and during deportation before. It is just that previously when a person gets so gravely ill, the courts get involved, and find that the individual should be released into hospital for medical help. ‘Our independent judiciary’. But what tends to happen is - if a person is released, the Home Office contacts the Daily Mail, and the judge overseeing the case is targeted in the press as being “soft on immigration” etc.

I’m not kidding. This is actually what happens.

Isa Muazu, despite independent medical assessment, and having not having eaten for ***95 days*** has -we understand -this morning been deported back to the country he had fled from.

He might die during the flight, he might die or be killed on return to Nigeria. We hope we might be able to hear how/where he is in the coming days.

All it would have taken is a simple act of mercy.

Just a little bit of mercy for a suffering, dying man.

We are feeling lost today. Despite efforts from so many (and many of you), they wouldn’t listen.

Please know that (if you feel the same as me) it would actually be really worthwhile thing to express that on social media and by contacting Theresa May/David Cameron/The Home Office/AirCharterScotland/Tailor Made Services by phone/email/tweeting.

Why? Because we have make this cost them politically.

Why? Because others like Isa, are on hunger strike, and they will also suffer and they might also die.

Why? Because it is the right thing to do and I don’t want to live in a country where people are treated like this. It is wrong wrong wrong.
(So many lies about immigration, so much political and media manipulation, fear mongering, scapegoating and racism)

We need to stop this.

There are now 3.500 people rotting in detention, and with another detention centre bring built there will be more. They are run by global multinational companies and run for profit. KERCHiiiiNG! G4S! Serco!Reliance!

Again. We need to stop this.

#ff @FreeIsaMuazuNow






Update on Isa Muazu

Yesterday I wrote a piece about hunger striker Isa Muazu. You can read it here, but the short version is the High Court has ruled he is to remain detained even though he is now close to death.

This morning I learned that the Home Office intends to deport Muazu, even though he is too weak to stand.

Below is an email sent to Theresa May from politicians and faith groups. You can send your own email to theresa.may.mp@parliament.uk


Rt. Hon. Theresa May PC MP

Secretary of State for the Home Department London SW1P 4DF

20th November 2013

Dear Mrs. May,


We are writing in relation to the case of Mr. Isa Muazu, a Nigerian national, who has been on a hunger strike for almost ninety days at Harmondsworth Detention Centre.

As he is unfit for detention, we ask that you immediately release him on bail so that he may be admitted to hospital and receive the urgent medical treatment he clearly requires.

We understand that he is now so near to death that there may not be enough time to appeal his case.

We hope that you will reconsider releasing him from detention as a matter of urgency.


Rev. Lord Roberts of Llandudno

Prof. Lord Alton of Liverpool

Dave Anderson MP

Baroness Bakewell DBE

Martin Caton MP

Jim Dobbin MP

Lord Dholakia PC OBE DL

George Galloway MP

Mike Hancock CBE MP

Baroness Hussein-Ece OBE

Lord Jones of Cheltenham

Baroness Lister of Burtersett CBE

Baroness Kidron OBE

Caroline Lucas MP

Lord Maclennan of Rogart PC

John McDonnell MP

Baroness O’Loan DBE

Adrian Sanders MP

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

Baroness Tonge

Lord Turnberg Kt

Baroness Williams of Crosby PC

Here are some photos I took in Colombia.

To find out more, visit Justice for Colombia’s website.

Twitter, feminism and me

This isn’t one of those dull pontifications that emerges every few weeks about feminism and privilege-checking and so on. This is just something I want to say.

I admit there was a time when I’d slate other women because their views of feminism didn’t match my own. I don’t think I was ever directly rude or cruel to other women whose views on feminism I disagreed with, but I certainly judged other women. I certainly bitched about other women indirectly (or ‘subtweeted’ if you prefer Twitter parlance).

Some months ago I stopped doing those things. I stopped because I realised those actions were hurtful, but also because they were totally counterproductive. They weren’t advancing the cause of feminism - in fact they were hindering it.

I didn’t announce I’d come to this decision because I wanted to avoid the arguments that would ensue. That was lazy at best, cowardly at worst.

After recent events, I want to make my position clear.

I will continue to voice disagreements with other feminists, but I will do so in a spirit of solidarity and respect, which recognises that ultimately our aims are shared.

I will not be rude. I will not be condescending. I will not turn debates into a kind of theatre by ensuring they are as public as possible.

I will be civil. I will be kind. I will approach debates remembering that all feminists want independence and equality, even if we disagree on how to get there. I will recognise that I don’t have all the answers myself.

I particularly want to offer an apology to Caitlin Moran. Recently I wrote a CiF piece on feminism where I critiqued the sort of feminism she represents. I didn’t intend it to be personal, but it was remiss of me not to anticipate that it would become personal anyway because Caitlin Moran was subject to so much personal criticism from others at the time. I regret not anticipating that, because it may have caused her hurt. It may have made her feel alienated. I don’t want to do that to another feminist, and I regret that I might have.

I have always believed that feminism should be a challenge, because ultimately it is trying to change assumptions most people have accepted as normal. I believe the struggle for women’s equality is necessarily a difficult, sometimes uncomfortable one. I believe intersectionality is an important tool to understand how oppression works.

But I also believe oppressed groups should know who they’re fighting. I’m fighting patriarchy. I’m not going to fight feminists anymore.

Some thoughts on reactions to press regulation

Press regulation is a funny one for me, because I often feel that when it comes to the media, I am in the centre of that great Venn diagram of ‘employee of newspaper,’ ‘reader’ and ‘subject of story.’ Like most people writing for national publications, I have spent ages on the phone negotiating words with lawyers, or feeling annoyed that I can’t say what everyone is obviously thinking, or slag off someone powerful because they also happen to be litigious as well. I have often thought the press is already regulated enough.

But through my involvement with activism, I’ve been the subject of stories as well. I’ve personally had reporters from the Daily Mail attempt to write hatchet jobs on me; I’ve been present at events that I know to be misreported by the press later, often to such an extent that lying can be the only explanation for it. I remember a certain scurrilous rag accusing a friend of mine of being involved in alleged criminal activity, and photoshopping a picture of him standing at the scene where it was all apparently taking place. They took it down after he made a PCC complaint, but not before his boss read it. I also remember how certain publications behaved after the anti-cuts march on March 26 2011. I know they lied about what happened at Fortnum & Mason. I know that because I read their articles and I was there.

So when you have these angsty hacks arguing that it’s impossible for journalists to lie because every word they say is verified by seventybillion conscientious editors, I know that’s not true. It simply can’t be – because half the stuff written about protests over the last two years just wouldn’t have been written if that were the case. I also know it’s not true because everyone who has a critical mass of friends in the MEEDJA has heard the stories of editors pressurising journalists into taking certain angles on things. And then there is the empirical evidence: Hillsborough being the most glaringly obvious here, but have a scroll through the blog Tabloid Watch, and you’ll find dozens more almost run-of-the-mill examples of newspapers apparently disregarding fact altogether.

I don’t write this to make any particular comment upon the press regulations that we’re likely to end up with following Leveson. I just want to address this idea that certain journalists are putting about now: that the British press is some kind of crusader for truth, that we have a free press in this country, and that any form of regulation will strangle democracy.

Our press is not free; it is highly regulated. It’s just not regulated by media law. It’s regulated by profit, like any other corporate industry would be. An unregulated press whose primary motivation is to make as much money as possible can be as damaging as any other unregulated capitalist institution, like banks or energy companies. Newspapers will and have destroyed democracy, lied, and ruined innocent lives in order to get their own way in the past - just like banks or oil companies have. It’s the nature of big business.

Anyone who even takes a cursory glance at the media can see that for a long time now, the British papers have been locked into a sort of arms race to get the most sensational, exclusive story they possibly can. And that often the stories within those papers represent the political interests of their owners. Who would ever think that a massive industry owned by a few billionaires looking for ever more money and influence could really exist for the good of the people? All that stuff about ‘if journalists can’t ask questions of the powerful, neither can you’ is just nonsense. Most journalists are employed by the powerful.

I suppose what I’m saying to those hacks who are suddenly feeling very defensive of their industry is that you’ve got to be a bit more honest about what the reality of your industry actually is. Journalism has achieved brilliant things – it’s changed the world – but it’s also destroyed the lives of many blameless people simply to sell papers. That’s why all of this is happening in the first place, remember? Pretending now that all along it’s been Clark Kent and Lois Lane just won’t cut it. And the public agree: only 21% of them trust you. More than half want regulation with legal backing.

I don’t think the proposals put forward today are perfect. The fact that so much of the media is owned by so few is the main issue for me, and that wasn’t touched upon at all. But it’s obvious to anyone capable of processing basic information that there is something very wrong with our media that needs to be fixed. And maybe if those working in it admitted that to themselves and to the public, they might find more people leaping to their defence the next time around.

In honour of St David’s Day, here are some photos of my home in Wales

A response to a response to a response or something. I lose count.

Yesterday I wrote a piece entitled: Feminists can be funny and sexy – but it’s anger that changes the world.

Today, it elicited two criticisms. Here and here.

It’s always nice when people take notice of you, but in this instance it’s actually rather annoying as I didn’t really want to talk about feminism and humour today. Also, isn’t it tedious when a small number of bloggers start nitpicking between themselves about some esoteric subject most people don’t give a fuck about?

But I did want to write something, if only to break in my new tumblr. And if I’m going to do that I should probably respond to these two blogs, as it seems remiss not to.

So in short:

No of course I wasn’t saying feminists can only be angry, and not sexy or funny. I mean, if I was saying that, I’d basically be saying that only unattractive miserable women can be feminists. And how weird would that be? Can you imagine me turning Tina Fey away from a feminist meet up: “NO! ONLY DOUR UGLIES ALLOWED.”

And as it happens I’m a fucking hoot.

I was, of course, arguing that we should not be so concerned about mass appeal that we sacrifice the integrity of our feminist message. I identified humour and sexiness as two methods prominent feminists are choosing to appeal to the masses. I wasn’t saying ‘IF I CAN’T BE AN UNSIGHTLY MISANTHROPE, I DON’T WANT TO BE PART OF YOUR REVOLUTION.”

See the fact is, you can’t change the status quo (or patriarchy, if you like) AND be totally accepted by it. It just won’t work. That’s not me dictating what sort of feminism is right – them’s just the facts.

For example, when the civil rights movement kicked off, all those rich men in power didn’t say ‘FINALLY black people are rising up. Well done guys. Seriously, we’re fully behind you.’ Civil rights campaigners were vilified, arrested, threatened and feared because they were trying challenging structures of power that were oppressing African Americans. Of COURSE they were demonised. That’s what power does to people who take it on.

Feminism that works will be demonised in the same way. The Suffragettes were, weren’t they? They were lied about in the media, force fed in jail and beaten by the police. I’m not saying ‘you can’t be a feminist unless you’re willing to go to jail,’ but I am saying that a certain level of unpopularity is required if you’re going to challenge power structures. Because the people in power have a monopoly over what is popular.

Unfortunately pissing people off is the only way to change shit. And yes, I know that inspires a few laments along the lines of “but HOW will my feminism appeal to teenage girls who only want boys to love them?” But perhaps we shouldn’t be saying to these girls “stick with us, and you’ll get to keep your lipstick,” but rather “stick with us, and together we can change the fucking world.”

I suppose my only regret with regards to that piece is the way I presented my comments on Caitlin Moran. I think I was fairly even-handed, but I should have been more aware of the fact that Moran seems to provoke this great divide in the feminist movement, where on one hand she’s seen as the worst thing to happen to feminism since the Republican party, and on the other she’s seen as the best thing to happen to feminism since the universal suffrage. Thus, my piece has been recast as a take-down of Caitlin Moran, which is really not what I intended. In fact, I think if I’d have written that about anyone else, it probably wouldn’t have even been commented upon. But I probably should have anticipated that reaction and spelled out my position ever so carefully, as apparently we must in these times of insta-comment and angry mobs. I feel that my piece was derailed somewhat by people trying to suss out where I stand on Caitlin Moran (and incidentally it’s neither of the two options I mention above), and that’s a shame.

So there you go. First tumblr piece and I waste it on this. But I suppose I did say it was for the stuff that was too shit for the Guardian, so at least it’s fulfilling its remit.

Welcome to my tumblr………….
For musings too trivial for the Guardian, and other chicanery. 
It’s going to be FETCH.

Welcome to my tumblr………….

For musings too trivial for the Guardian, and other chicanery.

It’s going to be FETCH.