Sunday, July 3, 2016

A response to 'Feminists treat men badly. It's bad for feminism'

An article from the Washington Post was shared into my twitter timeline this morning. It made me ANGRY. I went on a twitter rant about, which I've storified here:

But I wanted to expand on my criticisms a bit. Because actually this kind of article is really damaging. It undermines the feminist cause, it tells women we need to be 'polite' when we talk about our oppression and demands that we centre men's feelings when fighting our oppression. So, I'm going to break down my objections point by point, answering the accusations made in this article.

FEMINISM IS NOT A FIGHT FOR EQUALITY!!! I get so damned tired of hearing this argument. As a feminist I want women to be liberated from the oppression they face under a White-Supremacist, Cis-Hetero, Capitalist Patriarchy (from here on out referred to as 'patriarchy' to save time). I don't want 'equality' under an unfair system. I'm not fighting for membership of an unfair club for women. I want to burn the club to the ground and a build a new one. Women (and here I mean ALL women) cannot have any kind of 'equality' under the current system, without that 'equality' coming at someone else's expense. We need to smash the system and build a new one. FEMINISM IS THE FIGHT FOR WOMEN'S LIBERATION.

Men's individual actions contribute to a system of oppression for women. As feminists we critique and analyse men's individual behaviours to explain how the system operates. To demonstrate the effect of Patriarchy on women's day to day lives. And, can I just point out that attacking someone's behaviour is far from attacking them as a person. A distinction I've always made as a mother is to chastize my child for his bad behaviour and not call him 'naughty'/'bad'; because behaviour can be changed. We criticise these behaviours in the hopes that men will change them. Because we believe that men can change them.

Again, an analysis of individual behaviour helps us to highlight how the system operates at a very basic level. And, we can totally talk about how men sit on public transport at the same time as fighting for work-place changes. I LITERALLY do this. I work in Equality and Diversity at a university. My day to day job is about addressing gender and race imbalance in Higher Education. And yet, I'm as likely to tweet about men taking up too much space on public transport. Funny, hey? Maybe I'm just some kind of weird freak and other feminists can't do this (sarcasm).

Additionally, if critiquing their behaviours 'sours many men' to the feminist cause, then I'd say they're not really very committed to it anyway.

*screams* *takes deep breath* OK. That's better. Right. So yes, I will acknowledge that Patriarchy is damaging for men. As the mother of a sweet, caring, gender non-conforming son I see first hand the damage Patriarchy does to boys. But, see, despite this I know (and so does my son) that as a white, middle-class male he's always going to have it easier than anyone else. I think, that since men are currently the one's with all the power, if they're unhappy with the system perhaps THEY should do something to change it.

Oh, and attacking Andrea Dworkin as a man-hater, how original! *rolls eyes FOREVER*

HAVE YOU EVEN LOOKED AT 'STRAIGHT WHITE BOYS TEXTING'? It is a blog about men starting 'conversations' with women by demanding sex from the very first contact. It's full of men who get angry and nasty when women refuse these 'advances'. This is not 'jerky attempts at flirting'. This is male entitlement. The idea that they can see a woman they like and immediately ask for sex, and expect her to say 'why, yes, you wonderful man! Where have you been all my life?'

And, yes it has a disclaimer that it's not racist or sexist. BECAUSE IT IS NOT. Racism/sexism require POWER. They are expressions which refer to the prejudicial way in which power in interactions privileges oppressors over the oppressed. White men CANNOT be the victims, since they have all the damned power.

OK, misandry is a word. I'll give you that. And it does exist. But it's completely justified. I mean is it really unreasonable to have a dislike/hatred of people who have been/are raping, killing, torturing people like you for millennia? It's a reasonable response to oppression.

As for words like 'manspreading' and 'mansplaining': well these words help women to describe the effects of Patriarchy on our day to day lives. Let me break it down for you, first with 'manspalining'. I'm a working-class girl, who was always very bright. I read LOTS. I learned everything I could. Got an education and managed some social mobility. But as a working-class girl I have never 'known my place'. I'm gobby, balshy and in your face. I'll happily enter into an intellectual debate (or any other debate) with ANYONE. That's not to say that I think I'm always right, often I enter these discourses to learn more about something. But when I am right, I won't bloody back down. I cannot tell you the number of times in my life men have assumed that I cannot possibly know more than them about a given topic. The number of times I've been dismissed, both because I'm a woman and because I'm working-class (hello, intersectionality). I went through most of my life thinking this was something unique to me. That something in the way I interacted with these men, how I spoke, how I carried myself, something about ME made them make these assumptions. Then I came across the term 'mansplaining' and freaking neon sign lit up. Suddenly I understood that this was not about me. I wasn't to blame for the way these men acted. That this is an experience common to all women, even flipping PROFESSORS!! This word gave me a way to describe and understand just one small part of how Patriarchy affected me personally and women in general. It's an important word.

Secondly, 'manspreading' - again the neon flash when I came across this word. But more importantly it is a way for us to describe an aspect of male entitlement. Manspreading is used to describe the way that men feel entitled to take up much more than their fair share of space in public (often at the expense of women). Yes, it usually refers to the specific example of this happening on public transport; but it describes a much deeper issue, As a girl I used to sit like that all the time, until people started telling me off for it. It was 'unlady-like' for a girl to sit like that (and flashing my knickers was not a concern because I NEVER wore skirts and dresses as a child). I (as all girls are) was taught to shrink myself in public space, To make myself small. To be unobtrusive, unnoticable. Whilst boys and men are taught/allowed to spread out. Again this is a small, insidious way that Patriarchy operates to diminish women and girls.

As for the comment about women and their bags: I used public transport exclusively when my son was a baby. Every time a woman had her bag on the seat it was moved when that seat was needed by someone else. Manspreaders however, will often allow others to stand whilst they sit taking up two, sometimes three seats. There is no equivalence here.

Erm, OK. So advising women that it's better to be single than accept relationships with men who are selfish, perhaps abusive is equivalent to men who complain because women are too 'uppity' now-a-days? It may seem to be equivalent on the surface but if you interrogate the reasons given for advocating avoiding relationships you'll see that men's reasons are often (though, admittedly not always) routed in misogyny, whilst women's are routed in self-protection and self-respect.

OMFG!! This is the most blatant misrepresentation of 'friend-zone' critiques I have EVER come across. The 'friend-zone' is exclusively used by men who feel upset that a woman won't enter into a sexual/romantic relationship with them, EVEN THOUGH they have been nice to her. It treats women's friendship as being some kind of punishment. And argues that every man should be entitled to a sexual/romantic relationship with any woman he is nice to. The 'friend-zone' is inherently misogynistic. There are so many good critiques of this on the web, like really, read some. Just google.

Oh, my heart bleeds. Women are finally starting to make inroads to liberation from male domination and we're supposed to feel sorry that men no longer have privilege? Give me a break!

FEMINISM IS NOT ABOUT EQUALITY!!!! FEMINISM IS NOT ABOUT MEN!!!! FEMINISM IS THE FIGHT FOR WOMEN'S LIBERATION FROM MALE DOMINATION!!! Men have all the power, perhaps they should use that power to address some of the issues that face them? Why should feminists do the work of looking after men? I mean, I know we live in a Patriarchy and women are supposed to look after men, to put men first and foremost in everything they do. But this is LITERALLY what feminists are fighting against.

And if men will not support us because we speak the truth about how their behaviour affects us? Well, sod them. If you're a man, and you can listen to me (and other feminists) talking about how Patriarchy affects us, how we are abused and oppressed in this system and your first thought is 'Oh, what you're saying about men hurts my feelings, so I'm not going to support you' then YOU ARE THE PROBLEM!

*screams forever*

Right, I have one thing to say to this: Brock Turner, Bill Cosby, Ched Evens, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen..... the list goes on and on and on.


And, sure feminists are to blame for the rise of Donald Trump, It has nothing to do with racism, xenophobia and sexism. Nope. It's all the feminists fault.








Sunday, April 17, 2016

On (finally) getting a diagnonsis

As most of you know, I've been ill for some time now. Roughly two years in fact. For the first few months I thought I was just over-worked, burned out. But when my physical symptoms didn't improve, even after taking some months for self-care I realised something was actually wrong.

I was tired all the time. No, tired isn't the right word - I was bone weary exhausted. The slightest exertion would put me in bed for days. And no matter how much I slept, it was never enough. My body felt like it had been filled with concrete and I felt like I was moving through treacle rather than air. But possibly the worst for me was the constant brain fog. An inability to concentrate, to think clearly, to rationalise. Sometimes, even putting together a sentence was too much. Gary and Cas have become adept at interpreting my random mumblings and arm wavings.

After roughly 6 months of these symptoms I went to my doctor and discussed a few things. I had friends with ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia, so these were the first things I thought about. The doctor agreed that it could be ME/CFS, but we needed to rule out other things first. So, I had blood tests taken.

When the results came back, the GP asked if I'd had a cold or something when I went to have the blood taken. Nope. Well, my T-Cell Count was elevated, indicating my immune system was doing something. So, we repeated the tests. This time I had some inflammation markers and the GP wanted to rule out Rheumatological disease. So he sent a referral letter to the Rheum department at our local hospital. And I waited. And waited. And waited.

It took about 6 months. During which time my condition got worse. I couldn't walk any kind of distance (even walking around the supermarket to do the shopping was too much). We'd become trapped by my illness, because a day out was out of the question. Finally, after much discussion and hesitation we decided that we'd buy a wheelchair. We figured it would give us back some of our quality of life, we'd be able to have days out again.

I saw another GP around this time, He was quite young, and obviously VERY misinformed about ME/CFS. I had gone in because I was starting to experience a lot of pain, and I wanted to get some stronger painkillers. He was not nice. He treated me as though I was 'drug seeking'. And when I mentioned about the wheelchair he told me that I shouldn't get one because, "that's giving up". What I needed to do was "buy a cross-trainer and do some exercise everyday. Start with 10 minutes, and don't stop when you get tired. And build up. You just need to build up your stamina".

Needless to say, I came out of this appointment got into my car in the car-park and rang Gary sobbing hysterically.

This GPs advice stems from the Graded Exercise Therapy treatment for ME/CFS. But it is a complete bastardisation of this therapy - even the NICE guidelines state that this type of treatment should only be done under the supervision of a trained professional. And that's before you even begin to examine the literature around it's effectiveness - which seems to indicate that it makes many patients MUCH worse.

I didn't listen to this GP. In fact, once I'd calmed down, I was furious. I still am. I wonder what he'd say now, with my new diagnosis?

So, anyway. My rheumatology appointment finally came around in mid-December last year. The Rheumatologist I saw was really thorough and at the end of the appointment he told me that he suspected I have Lupus. The only time I'd heard about Lupus was through it being mentioned on House, so I had no idea what the diagnosis meant. However, it did seem to make sense, because instead of suffering from several different conditions (chronic migraine, skin condition, ME/CFS) all of these things were part of the Lupus. And most importantly, there was a treatment. A pill that I could take that should make me feel better. I left that appointment feeling the first bit of hope I had felt in about 18 months.

I know that may seem strange, that I was happy to be told I probably had a serious medical condition; but I'd had 18 months of trying to get people to believe me when I told them how sick I was. Months dealing with the 'yuppie flu' label thrown at those with ME/CFS. And months of my health just getting worse and worse. Finally, someone was agreeing with me that my body wasn't working right. And more importantly telling me they could fix it.

The Rheumatologist ordered more blood tests, and I had these done between Christmas and New Year.

Over Christmas my health got worse again, Much worse. I was in constant agony. My hands, feet, knees and hips stiffened and HURT. Like lying in bed crying, hurt. Like, take all the painkillers you can, get maybe an hours reprieve (where the pain lessens, becomes bearable, but doesn't completely go) and then back to crippling agony again. When it came time to go back to work after the New Year, I couldn't get out of bed.

You know, I'm still not making clear how sick I have been - I haven't been able to bath or shower myself in over a year. Even when I was feeling 'good' and going to work, I'd come home and collapse. I couldn't move, couldn't make food. So Gary has been bathing me for all that time. Most days I can't get dressed, because if I did I'd be too tired to do anything else or I'm in too much pain. Often, Gary has to carry me up and down the stairs because my knees and hips hurt to much to carry my own weight up them. I lost all of my independence. Since Christmas, I've left the house maybe a handful of times (and that includes trips to the Doctors/hospital).

So, come mid-January I'm starting to get frustrated. I'm waiting on the results from the Rheumatologist's blood tests. So, I ring the hospital and get put through to his secretary. She tells me that I was Vitamin D deficient, and my GP should treat me for that. And that the immunology results haven't come back yet. I get the Vitamin D from my GP, it makes no difference to my symptoms. So at the end of January I chase the Rheumatology dept again. I speak to the Secretary and she tells me that my results have come back, but won't tell me what they are. She assures me that if I needed to be on treatment I would be, and that I'm 'on a list' waiting for new clinic appointments to see the Rheum.

After this phone call I was devastated. I believed what she told me about the treatment. Which meant the blood tests had to be clear and it wasn't Lupus. I saw my dreams of an easy treatment, and improvement in my health, vanishing. I cried, sobbed on the phone to Gary.

But, the more we talked about it, the less sense it made: if my blood tests were clear, why did he need to see me again? The Rheum knew I had been sent to him to rule out other diagnoses before being referred to the ME clinic. So why would he waste my time and his to see me again if the results were clear? Why not just write to me/ my GP and say there's nothing Rheumatological wrong.

In early February I had another appointment with my GP, and I discussed this with her (my original GP retired in December, and I am still heartbroken, coz he was awesome). She agreed that what the secretary was saying didn't make sense, and said that they would chase it up.

Around a week later, I got a call from the GP surgery, in which they told me EXACTLY what I had already been told by the Rheum Secretary. I was fuming. They hadn't gotten any further than I had, and when I challenged this I was told to ring the Rheum secretary myself and 'explain it all to her'. Like I hadn't done this several times already.

By this point work were beginning to get a little antsy and I was starting to get really worried about keeping my job, I had nothing new that I could tell them, no idea if I was going to get better or when I might be able to return to work.

So, I waited for my appointment. In constant agony. Unable to care for myself. Unable to leave the house. Pretty much bed ridden. Until the beginning of April.

I made Gary take the day off work to come to the appointment with me. I'd done some research, and now believed that Lupus is the correct diagnosis. There were other symptoms, that I'd not really thought about, that were explained by this diagnosis. And I also knew at this point that blood tests alone could not diagnose/rule out Lupus. So Gary and I went to that appointment ready to battle for a diagnosis of Lupus and treatment.

At this appointment we were called in to see a nurse, we thought initially for a chat before seeing the Rheumatologist but it became apparent quite quickly that this wasn't the case. I explained that I was experiencing worsening symptoms and that the Vitamin D hadn't helped (I mean, really?! Did they actually think a vitamin D deficiency could explain how poor my health had been for over a year?!)

After a few minutes the nurse explained that my blood tests had been inconclusive. My double stranded DNA test was positive (I'm not really clear what this test is, but it's something to do with anti-bodies and break down of proteins, I think) but none of the others were. This is apparently 'unusual' (yeah, typical of my body to be weird). So the nurse said that she wanted to repeat some of the tests. She went off for a chat with the Rheumatologist and came back saying that my diagnosis is 'Mixed Connective Tissue Disease or Lupus'. She said I don't have enough of the symptoms of Lupus for a diagnosis without a positive blood test (I disagree, and actually the Rheum pretty much told me I had enough for a Lupus diagnosis in the first appointment. He ordered the blood tests to confirm the diagnosis). But, she said the treatment for both conditions is the same, and she gave me a prescription. She also told me it would take about 8 weeks for the medication to have an effect.

At this point Gary was furious (though he was polite and civil about it). Why hadn't they told us this when they got those blood test results on the 29th January? Why had I spent two months in complete agony when I could have been on the treatment? Her response was 'you should have rung us', to which I replied 'I did and so did my GP'. Rather than offering an apology or attempting to understand our point of view the nurse got defensive. She told us that whoever had reviewed my results had seen that I was being called back in to the clinic and decided that the diagnosis and treatment could wait until I came back in. I could almost see the steam coming out of Gary's ears. He asked if someone would contact me this time about the results of the blood tests and the nurse replied that, no they wouldn't, but 'it doesn't matter anyway because you're on the treatment now'. So apparently having a name for my disease is completely unimportant!

I've been on the medication for 12 days now, and although they told me I wouldn't feel any different, I do. I've had less pain, and the fog has lifted. Some of this may be placebo effect, but whatever, I don't care. I'm just glad that I feel better. Over the last twelve days we've alternated between being furious with how I have been treated, by my blood test results and diagnosis being withheld; and being excited and hopeful about how much better I'm going to get now I have treatment.

It's been a long and hard journey. It's taken 2 years. During which time Gary and Cassius have had to care for me. They've been amazing and I couldn't have asked either of them to be more understanding or supportive. But we finally have a light at the end of this very long, very dark tunnel.

This post may meander a little, it may seem unfocused and not have a clear point or path, but that's because that's what this journey to a diagnosis has been like, It's been a confusing and frustrating mess, filled with pain and exhaustion. But, hopefully, we're through the worst of it now.

Friday, October 9, 2015

I'm coming Working Class

There has been a lot of talk on my twitter timeline recently about class. Specifically the tensions of negotiating Middle Class spaces as a Working Class woman; and whilst I don't intend to add my comments to what's been happening it has given me the impetus to write this post.

So, this is me, coming out as Working Class: I'm a working class woman, trying to negotiate the very foreign world of academia and I have some thoughts I want to share on this experience.

I grew up on council estates, after my family home was repossessed in the recession in the 1980s because my parents could no longer afford the mortgage. I watched from an upstairs window as my dad argued with the bailiffs when they came to repossess the car. We didn't have much money when I was growing up. My parents worked in low income jobs and life was tough. At birthdays and Christmas I grew so used to being told "We can't afford that" that I stopped asking for expensive gifts. I remember one year when I wanted a Ghettoblaster for my birthday, and it nearly broke my parents paying for it.

I'm the first of my family to get a degree. So when I returned to university as a mature student, I had no frame of reference. Despite this I fell in love with it. I felt at home at university, like I'd found my place. For me academia is a world full of learning, challenge, debate and knowledge sharing. But, from day one I glossed over my past. I VERY quickly realised that being working class made me different, made me other. So I just didn't talk about my childhood. I nodded and smiled as others talked of the help they got from parents and the family holiday's they'd had to far off countries.

As I moved from being a student to working in academia this feeling of not belonging deepened. My colleagues are overwhelmingly middle class, and this is difficult, because I don't know the rules of the game. I can't do the academic politics thing, I have no idea how. And this has led to me being scapegoated and shit upon on more than one occasion. I wish I could say that this was by academic men, but unfortunately it's been by middle class women.

When the shit hits the fan, working class people band together, they close ranks. The middle-classes however, are out solely to protect themselves, even if this comes at someone else's expense. And in a middle class world a working class woman is very exposed to this. I expect that people will stick with me, but they don't. And every time it has happened I've been deeply hurt and shocked. This is not how people behave.

When I was a young mum, living in my own council house with an abusive husband it was my working class friends that helped me survive. We shared food, lent money to each other, shared baby formula and nappies. We kept each other going. This is what I expect from other women, this sisterhood. So it's completely alien to me when other women have used me to forward their own agendas and discarded me when things got difficult.

Negotiating the world of academia as a working class woman is hard. Everyone understands my marginalisation for being a woman, but no-one seems able or willing to even talk about how I am marginalised by my class (not even me, up until now). I don't know the rules, the codes, for how to behave. And honestly, from what I've experienced of them, I don't want to play the game by those rules.

My experience has been that in academia there is a very individualised culture. Everyone looks out for themselves, others be damned. But I come from a collectivistic culture, where the survival of everyone is more important than any one individual. It's almost impossible to square this circle.

(I was going to say that it's 'not all middle class academic women', but come to think of it, the women I know in academia who have been helpful and supportive come from working class backgrounds).

I've spent the last 7 years trying to pass as middle class, and I've been fairly successful. I'm smart, articulate and educated, so I can ape it, sometimes. But it's an added workload and I'm tired of wasting my energy pretending to be something I'm not. I'm tired of trying to be smaller, of trying not to be too loud, too sweary, too balshy. Of doing everything I can to disguise my working class roots.

There's a big push in academia at the moment around diversity and inclusion, but still no-one is talking about class. Oh, there's the 'widening participation' agenda aimed at getting more 'poor' students to university, but no-one is talking about what happens to them once they're in. And we should be, we need to be, because academia is a hostile environment for the working class.

So this is me, coming out as working class. Saying I'm proud of my roots and what I've achieved. And also saying, you need to take a long, hard look at yourself academia. A really good look. Recognise the class privilege that drips off almost every one of you and how your thoughtless, self-serving actions can ruin the life of someone like me. If you really want to be inclusive you've got to start thinking about including the working classes in your precious ivory tower.

EDIT: I went on a bit of a twitter rant with some more things I had to say, storify here