I wrote about Turkey’s failed coup for the Guardian – thoughts 4 months on

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Four months ago today, an attempted coup devastated Turkey. It was one of the scariest and most bizarre nights of my life, my tweets about the fear, the explosions and passing F-16s were retweeted thousands of times resulting in constant phone calls from international press agencies and a very late night (and slightly drunken) appearance on Radio 5 Live. Later came international TV appearances, and being interviewed by George Galloway (of all people) for his show on RT, something I’ve still not been able to bring myself to watch. The coup was, thankfully, prevented but since then President Erdogan’s autocracy has gone from strength to strength and hardly a week goes past without the country taking a further dive into darkness in the name of weeding out enemies of the ‘state’. 

Almost a million people have been affected by widespread arrests and purges from state institutions. In the last few weeks alone, 370 NGOs have been shut down, more journalists arrested, a further 15 media organisations closed and the leaders of the pro-Kurdish opposition party were arrested, removing the only democratically elected voice that represented minorities as well as sought for greater moves towards womens’ and LGBTQI+ equality. Removing this voice will no doubt lead to more violence since the collapse of a ceasefire with the PKK last summer, violence that will play right into Erdogan’s hands as excuse enough for government forces to continue their operations in the southeast, razing cities to the floor in the name of counter-terror. And all the while the supposedly ceremonial president edges ever closer to securing the support he needs to rewrite the constitution, finally securing his ‘definitely-not-a-dictatorship’ new presidential system extending his grip on power. Needless to say, Turkey is not in a good place.

While accidentally finding yourself near-on in the epicentre of a coup that is going badly wrong is incredibly frightening, what scared me more was the nationalist frenzy it enabled. Nationalism so powerful, people laid down their lives to protect their country – a feeling that leaves people all too easily controlled and manipulated. I wrote about it for the Guardian, yet little did I know that by the time I would get around to posting it here, we would be living in a post-Trump, post-Brexit world. Despite mentioning both in my article, the West’s capacity to screw itself over, to also be blinded by whipped up nationalism, has taken me by surprise. Nationalism is now a global sickness, and in trouble too is the very nature of democracy. We are now bitterly, and in some cases irreconcilably divided. While it is common to look down on Turkey as somehow backwards, as trying to catch up, the post-truth politics and pointed insults of both the Brexit and the Trump campaigns looked very much like Erdogan tactics to me. It is the nationalism that has been unleashed everywhere that frightens me now. 

You can read the published version here, or the unedited version below. 

 

I was at a BBQ in the garden of the British embassy bar in Ankara on Friday night when F16s started roaring overhead. We soon heard the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul had been blocked off, too, and began hearing talk from various off-duty officials of an attempt at a military coup, but it seemed so unlikely at first.

A friend in Istanbul called and said state media institutions had been taken over by army and jandarma officers calling themselves a peace council and that the broadcaster TRT was showing endless weather reports. Then the explosions started and we were told we had to leave – we were turned out on to uncertain streets by an institution we thought was safe.

Some who were there had been informed by their places of work to go home immediately so we sheltered nearby at a friend’s place, close to the Prime Minister’s palace – ‘we’ were a Belgian, an Italian, a Syrian-born Jordanian and three Brits. I had been tweeting what was going on and was talking to various news agencies – before my phone battery predictably died – as the jets continued to fly low overhead. I heard an unfamiliar noise and stuck my head out of the window to see a stream of tanks going past. It seemed pretty serious at that point.

As the night crept on into Saturday morning, the gunshots drew close, it felt like they were metres away, and the bangs, too – a mix of bombs, aircraft fire and sonic booms that are not always easy to distinguish from one another. Some of the explosions were so close the vibrations shook in my chest. My friends were crying and regularly running for shelter in the hall and the TV blanked out. There were frantic messages to loved ones. “This is much worse than it was in Damascus,” the Syrian-born friend kept saying. I even tweeted “I love you mum!”.

“I am calling you into the streets,” president Erdogan texted everyone with a Turkish number at some point in the early hours. He wanted everyone to “stand up” for democracy and peace against the junta. I was disgusted to see on social media later what that meant – boys barely old enough to vote pulled from tanks and beaten, whipped with belts, people posing for pictures with their thumbs up next to the bodies of dead soldiers. The police looked on. What sort of democracy was this?

Much has been said about ‘democracy’ – it was fired out by the government as a motivational buzzword to mobilize people. The quashing of the coup was touted as a ‘victory for democracy’, but democrats don’t burn down the homes of Syrian migrants, they don’t threaten to rape the children of their enemies. The army claimed to be acting in the interests of democracy too. Yet they killed civilians in the street, civilians who should never have been there in the first place. These people were not motivated by democracy, on either side, but nationalism and sense of honour.

Erdogan was Turkey’s first democratically elected president, but what he represents is not democracy. There is little understanding, it seems, among his supporters of the difference between the presence of elections and a true democracy. Democracy is instead used in Turkey as an empty term to legitimise any mob mentality that works in the government’s favour.

For two days and nights, many got no sleep because the mosques regularly called for people to take to the streets. On Saturday, nationalist protests swelled in celebration of what they called democracy – there were flags everywhere, guns, chants of “Allahu Akbar” and nationalist songs. They were out again yesterday and it continued well into this morning. The gray wolf salute of those affiliated with the ultranationalist, arguably racist, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) were everywhere. My clothing has been disapproved of by passers by, something I have honestly not experienced much of in Turkey. This sort of nationalism scares me and Erdogan has asked for people to remain mobilised like this for a week.

While nationalism has become a global sickness – from Brexit to Donald Trump – as deglobulisation kicks in, Turkish society is crumbling under the weight of this growing tumour. Now an already polarized country will be further polarised and many silenced with the label of ‘traitor’. Erdogan and his party are whipping people into a nationalist frenzy to further their support and consolidate even more power.

While an impressive display of people power prevented the armed coup, it will likely now result in unleashing a further crackdown on dissent. Aside from thousands of arrests, many press outlets have already had their websites blocked. Friday’s events may well grant the government free rein to purge enemies while claiming they are the enemies of democracy – even the push to reinstate the death penalty is being touted as a democratic necessity.

When I finally got home on Saturday, I saw cars on my road squashed flat by tanks like they were little more than a Coke can in the name of democracy. I really hope Turkey’s democratic future won’t now suffer the same fate.

I wrote for the Guardian about the silly demonisation of Turkey by Brexiteers

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I was truly ashamed to be British in the run up to the Brexit vote. Living in Turkey, watching the Turkish people be used as a reason to leave the EU was, well, just really embarrassing. I wanted to show Britain how ridiculous it sounded, and incidentally soon after the vote it was admitted that most of the claims (including the Express headline) were false (shocker). The comments on this piece were also predictably awful (never look below the line!), xenophobic, nasty, but the guy who insisted on believing I was Polly Toynbee – as pointed out by several of my friends – did give me a chuckle. 

The unedited version is below or the shinyer finished product here.

 

The Brexit debate has become an all too real version of the time a woman turned a pro-EU leaflet into a game of Cards Against Humanity, accept every single one of Vote Leave’s answer cards say ‘Turkey’. What happens if we stay? Turkey. What is the biggest threat to the UK? Turkey. I drink to forget…? Turkey.

 While Turkey has had more than its fair share of troubles of late and has a long way to go, the vast majority of the ire from leave campaigners has been pointed directly at the Turkish people. The entire of Turkey’s 78 million population, who are mostly criminals, terrorists and gangsters, are preparing to relocate to the UK on the off chance we’ll stay and they will, by some miracle, achieve accession sometime soon. This is quite something considering fears of a Cyprus veto and when only 10% of the population even own a passport.

Turkey’s high birth rate will mean four million extra Turks by 2020 say Vote Leave, and “we can expect to see an additional million people added to the UK population from Turkey alone within eight years.” Within ten years this will cost maternity wards £400m they say, offering no clue as to their workings out. A statistic from a Vote Leave survey warned that 16% of Turks “would consider” moving to the UK on EU accession, but what that means is a whopping 84% wouldn’t even entertain the idea – that’s quite embarrassing when you think about it.

With Turkey considering its own feelings about the EU, imagine if they talked about the threat of us staying in the same way?

“Considering the rate at which Britain’s population is ageing,” they might say, “and based on the 2.5 million Brits who holidayed in Turkey last year, we expect to see our coastal regions destroyed by swarms of Britain’s elderly escaping their chronic bad weather problem. Since the EU will no doubt force us to join the European Health Insurance Card scheme, the strain on our free healthcare alone will be unbearable.

“A life of microwave meals and alcohol abuse means liver problems our health infrastructure just doesn’t have the resources to cope with. Within a year they’ll have eaten all of our biscuits. Are we really going to allow one of the fattest nations on earth have free reign of our hospitals? Their fat teenagers attend our free universities? Already some five million Brits live abroad and as anyone who’s ever been to the Costa del Sol will tell you, the problem is they just don’t assimilate.”

And who could blame them? A predominantly Christian Britain will bring forced Christmas with them. Our Islamphobia will, of course, push Turkey’s young people to becoming radicalised. Let’s not even get started on the threat of troubles starting up again with northern Ireland — if that flares up again, how do they know the 1.8 million residents won’s use it as an excuse to move to Turkey?

“Violent crime is up,” the newspapers might cry, “and they don’t have enough spaces for prisoners so they could ship them all here – they did it to AUSTRALIA.

“They will flock here, force women to wear high heels to work, if they wear anything at all, and the vast majority will expect wages so high they will force hardworking Turks out of the job market.

“We are talking about a people who not just eat pork, but whose prime minister engages in sexual activities with it. A country whose most famous entertainers are allowed to touch children. Whose royal family… who have a royal family.

“There is nothing but a ‘pourous’ ocean between them and the US – how can they protect us?

“They are rude, their men like to get drunk, put on dresses and fight each other. They will never speak the language.

“If the UK remain in Europe, there will simply be no Turkey left to enjoy the benefits the EU will bring.”

As someone who lives in Turkey and has been welcomed, even as that most threatening of all migrants: an economic one, I am ashamed. Brexit really has brought out the worst of British. Get over yourselves! During the eight months or so I taught English, I asked my students if they’d like to live in the UK. Without exception they said no — it’s expensive and racist.

Turkish people are not symbols of an approaching migrant apocalypse. Politicians, government figures from superior, everyone-wants-to-live-there Britain vilifying a whole people for political gain? Sounds like you have more in common with our Ottoman brethren than you thought.

I interviewed trainers from TV show Dogs Might Fly for the Guardian

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I interviewed the trainers from Dogs Might Fly, a TV show that aims to show how lovely rescue dogs can be with the right care and attention while, yeah, also teaching them TO FLY A PLANE, for the Guardian. Read it here or unedited version below.

 

Can a dog fly a plane? And, if it could, would you go as far as to, say, get in a plane that a dog was piloting? Probably not. However, Victoria Stilwell, one of eight dog experts on new six-part SKY 1 show Dogs Might Fly, would. Despite being a nervous flyer she can “confidently, 100% say yes.”

The show, presented by Jamie Theakston, will see 12 rescue dogs, handpicked from shelters across the country put through their paces in a series of challenges designed to highlight their extraordinary abilities before three luckily finalists graduate to doggy flight school.

So how in the name of dog do you attempt to train a canine for aviation? “A dog is a ground-based quadruped, so they’re not designed for flying – as humans aren’t,” understated Mark Vette, an animal psychologist on the show. Dogs “don’t have arms and hands – they’ve got four legs – so there were some issues with dexterity: how would they manipulate the yoke and the controls, and how they would sit up comfortably?”

“We went through some pretty challenging experimentation… The [Civil Aviation Authority] were adamant that we minimise changes to the plane. A big challenge was set, and that’s what the series is about.”

Although tight-lipped about the details of the process, the trainers did reveal the key attributes they looked for – confidence, a strong ability to read human signals and a dog who is, as Stilwell puts it in language more normally associated with City headhunters, “willing to go the extra mile, to problem solve and to investigate how to work something out for themselves – that’s the kind of dog you want flying a plane.” The muttley crew include Shadow, a Staffordshire bull terrier who was just hours away from being put down by the council when the team discovered him. He was, according to Stilwell, “really good at unlocking [doors] and then pretending he hadn’t done anything wrong.” He was such a top notch Houndini that during his audition he escaped twice before auditionbombing the other hopefuls.

“The crew were chanting ‘who let the dogs out’,” said Charlotte Wilde, a trainer who has supplied animals for Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean. “Shadow also found love at the airfield – hopefully you’ll see in episode six – and has already taken a small part in a shoot… Hollywood here he comes!”

Then there’s Wilf, a 22-month old collie cross, who Stilwell, star of dog behavioural show It’s Me or The Dog, said: “Loved eating water”. “He loved his paddling pool and would dive in trying to eat the water instead of drinking it.” Spike, a terrier-mix, was “brilliant at not doing any of the challenges set for him and instead was really intent on licking everybody’s faces, all the crew. You’re trying to get the shot and he’s just in your face having a fabulous time.” And, when working with dogs, there’s always one that “takes a dump somewhere right in the middle of the beautiful set.”

Challenges include an aviation-themed theatrical show with puppets (yes, really, really, really) – the dogs operated puppets through a series of specially designed platforms. We can also look forward to the “rock performance of a lifetime”.

“You’ve got to make sure that the dogs don’t mind sound,” said Stilwell. “You do these tests to see if the dog can be around a drum kit.” The dogs are rewarded for touching markers with their paws and noses before moving onto important things such as drum pedals. Not every dog, however, has the skills to be the next Ginger Barker or a Phil Collie. One of Stilwell’s favourites, Spot, a “wonderful” Beagle-mix, is “the funniest dog you’ll ever meet.” “She wasn’t that adept at playing the instruments so she was a backing vocalist. You teach the dog to sway, one paw to the other. It’s so cute.”

The dogs also had time to chill out in their luxury Sussex countryside pad, The Dog House, where it was no dog’s life. “As well as their very own Dog Studio,” said Wilde, “there were sofas and comfy dog beds. Although the dogs didn’t learn how to operate the Aga unfortunately. Or the bathroom.”

“They were treated like royalty,” added Stilwell. “They had the highest quality food, delicious treats, their own groomer and 24 hour vet care.” Bar the odd scuffle, the housemates got on too, which is refreshing for reality TV.

We’ve seen a pooch in space and now, just 59 years later, are we about to see the world’s first dog pilot? “I can’t tell you because I think it might be quite surprising,” said Stilwell. “Watch the show and you’ll see and you’ll go ‘wow’.”

– Dogs Might Fly goes out on Sky 1 at 19:00 on Sunday 28th February

– All of the dogs featured on the show have since found permanent loving homes.

I was shortlisted for The Columnist writing competition

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Back in September I was extremely chuffed to be shortlisted for The Columnist, a competition that used to be run by the much-missed arts charity IdeasTap but has now migrated to Hiive (a great network for creative professionals). I made the last ten, and seen as there were 490 entrants I was smiling for ages. This was my entry:

 

“Saturday.”

This is the last message I sent to my best friend before she turned into a ghost. She didn’t die, but our friendship did and now I wish I’d said something more meaningful.

Ghosting is when someone cuts you off dead – the ultimate silent treatment. Your calls are ignored, your texts left unread and, if you’re as unbearable as me, you might even find yourself full-on digitally blocked (even Linked in – I’m not going to late-night stalk your endorsements). Like the dad who goes out for cigarettes and never returns, my friend went full Houdini on me – poof, and she was gone.

There are times when disappearing into the ether is the only way to deal with a ghoul, I get that. Who could blame Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita for pulling an Irish goodbye on Humbert Humbert? It doesn’t get much more creepy than a 36-year old man who obsesses over a 12-year old girl, even before he starts bribing her for sexual favours.

Lolita escapes Humbert’s ever tightening-grip by doing a jib from a hospital and it worked, for a couple of years at least. Today, she’d probably instead have to delete her Snapchat and get damn busy with her location settings, but still, this is an extreme case. Most of us – and thankfully, I include myself in this – are not paedophile sex pests.

Bff or worst-date-ever, most people deserve a bit of explanation. Yet 11% of Americans admitted to ghosting someone they were dating in a YouGov survey last year. There is a sense that, through an illusion of exclusivity, ghosting is not just about ducking out quietly, but in fact a kind of self-elevation.

In Ali Smith’s book There But For The, reluctant dinner party guest Miles Garth slopes off upstairs between the main course and dessert. He locks himself in a spare room and refuses to come out. Ever. In doing so he becomes not just a source of desperate intrigue to the remaining guests, who gather around the door trying to find out what they can about Miles, but to the whole country. He becomes a minor celebrity, not just conspicuous in his absence, but tantalising in his mystery.

In short, unless someone poses you a serious threat, ghosting is all a bit look-at-me, don’t-look-at-me juvenile. How far can people-erasing go anyway? You can’t delete people from the real world or your brain. We’ve seen it in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in Black Mirror, even Red Dwarf, and it never ends well.

I was a good friend (honest) – the sort that always remembered to hold the tomato in sandwiches and to put wine in the fridge. Yet now I’m left picking over every word, every time I mentioned a day of the week, and wondering how it could’ve been taken the wrong way. Besides, there are few greater pleasures in life than calling an arsehole an arsehole. If we ghost everyone who pisses us off, what joy will be left?

I wrote about no platforming in UK universities (and why it sucks) for the Huffington Post

No platforming, Huffington Post

I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about no platforming in UK universities because in real life, students, you can’t just unfriend people who annoy you. It’s an update of an old blog post that you can read here, or the published version here

I started university when I was 24, almost 25. Having left school at 15 with no qualifications, I knew nothing about education and wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I had expected to be challenged. Not just academically, but politically. I had this notion – fuelled, no doubt, by various on-screen depictions of the political fervour of uni campuses of yore – that university was this feisty environment populated by politically passionate folk in whacky clothes, where radical debate and experimentation were high on the agenda.

What it turned out to be, however, was a place of wet sensitivity where girls – and boys – in Ugg(ly) boots experimented with baking. To put it frankly, after years of pining for higher-education my fellow students were boring and the only controversial debate that took place was about which canteen to buy lunch from.

It didn’t surprise me then, to see my university, Bath Spa, in the red-zone in Spiked magazine’s Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR). Spiked examined the policies and actions of British universities and students’ unions, ranking them on their commitment to free speech using a traffic-light system: red for universities or unions that have banned and actively censored ideas on campus, amber for “chilled free speech through intervention”, and green for institutes that have a hands-off approach.

 Just to preempt any snarky comments about ‘rubbishy’ universities, let me point out that Oxford was red too, and Cambridge amber. In fact, only one in five universities were ranked as green, meaning that they embrace an open approach to free speech, whereas more than double that figure were ranked as red. In red universities, the idea of “safe space” is deemed more important than freedom of speech.

Germaine Greer has found herself falling short of safe space policy, again, as a recent petition called for her to be banned from a women’s rights lecture at Cardiff University because of her views on transgender women. It’s the latest in a string of incidents banning outspoken people with controversial views from events. In February, comedian Kate Smurthwaite also ran into trouble at Goldsmiths University when her show, Lefty Cockwomble – which, ironically, was about free speech – was cancelled. Why? Because Smurthwaite believes in the Nordic model of legislation on sex work, which criminalises buying rather than selling sex. Goldsmiths’ feminist society is, however, “‘for’ [the full legalisation of] sex working”. Her show had nothing to do with prostitution.

The theory of safe space is that people of all identities and backgrounds have the freedom to express themselves in an environment that is tolerant – great. However, the current, rigorous enforcement of the concept is beginning to sound a lot like censorship. A set of ‘if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’ rules, it’s as though the Facebook generation can’t handle the analogue world unless it meets their community standards.

I don’t agree with Greer’s view that trans women are “not women”, and I don’t think that all opinions deserve a platform. I do believe, however, that in real life, you can’t just block people you don’t get on with. There is no ‘hide this content’ button. There is no network of sky-geeks, ready to remove material that violates life’s code of conduct. Learning to communicate with people who hold different views from your own is one of life’s biggest lessons and one that university plays a vital role in. It is there, after all, to prepare you for the world, not shield you from it.

It’s good to see students, who are increasingly known for their apathy, show some guts in their refusal to have their views challenged, at least. Is shying away from real debate the new radical though, or is it just a symptom of a world that seeks to shut down opinions that differ from mainstream, community approved thought?

It seems to me that building a community of like-minded people might give students the freedom of tolerance, but it doesn’t necessarily teach them to tolerate. Little value is placed, for instance, in the views of students that don’t match the ideal – what about their safe space? Just like Facebook, increasingly at universities you are only really expected to ‘like’, agree, or shut up. No wonder my peers preferred baking.

I wrote for the Independent about the Northfield Bully

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I wrote this a while ago (sorry!) for the Independent, because I was just so outraged and unsettled by the way people were behaving online. The video of the whole debacle kept popping up in my Facebook newsfeed and the bile that poured out adult’s mouths, and from national newspapers, towards a teenage girl was shocking. No one was saying anything and I really wanted to, well, tell them off in some way! We can’t beat bullying, with bullying: Edited version here

When it comes to bullying, we’re told to lead by example. Yet this week a vile and bile-filled witch-hunt against a 16-year old girl has proved that we’re not setting a very good one.

The girl – who can’t be named due to her age – was accused of bullying two 14-year old schoolgirls in a video that went viral. It shows a clash between two groups of teenagers in Northfield, near Birmingham, last Saturday. The accused is seen telling the two girls to “get on your knees and say sorry” for giving her a “dirty look”, before punching them and emptying their bags onto the floor.

The humiliating ordeal makes for uncomfortable viewing, although the video was seen more than 7 million times on Facebook before the police requested that users remove it. What was more uncomfortable, however, was the vitriolic hounding of the alleged ‘bully’ following its release.

Forget uncomfortable, what I mean is disgusting, gross, inexcusable. A cyber lynch mob smelled blood and they went after it with gusto. A stream of commenters, mostly adults, flooded social media. They wanted justice, closure for the alleged victims, but most of all they just wanted to hate.

The girl’s identity was uncovered through social media and released online along with her phone number. Nasty Facebook groups were set-up calling for ‘karma’ to be served. Insults were hurled at the girl’s behaviour, at her appearance and there were physical threats. Some even asked for her to ‘kill herself’.

The tirade got so bad that she had to be taken into police custody for safety and her phone was destroyed due to the number of death threats she was receiving. Later, she was forced to flee her home with her mother when an angry gang of vandals descended.

“A bunch of adults turned up and started spraying graffiti,” one eyewitness told The Sun after the words ‘scum’ and ’bully’ were left on her door. We’re talking about grown humans, intimidating a girl barely more than a child. Forget eye-for-an–eye, this kangaroo court were after a whole head.

I was bullied as a teenager and it can ruin people’s lives. According to charity Ditch the Label, as many as 43% of young people in the UK are thought to have suffered bullying of some kind and it has recently been linked to depression in adulthood. So why on earth did this army of supposed morality enforcers decide the answer to bullying was more bullying?

Internet vigilantism and high-profile online hate campaigns have become so commonplace that the equivalent of three people a day were convicted of trolling in the UK last year. This was just the latest in a long line of recent hate campaigns that started online. We’ve seen Reddit’s interim chief executive, Ellen Pao, hounded from her job by trolls. Beauty blogger Em Ford was branded “disgusting” for daring to show her naked, blemished skin online. Don’t even get me started on both corners of the Katie Hopkins debate. It’s normal now, sort of acceptable in some circles, even, to bay for blood at anything we don’t like online. We re legion, and our anger is magnified many, many times.

Yet what a confusing message we’re sending out to youngsters. The teen in the Northfield video broke the law, and she was dealt with accordingly. She pleaded guilty to assault and robbery at Birmingham Youth Court, but is yet to be sentenced. Although she claims no memory of the event due to drink, she was said to be “disgusted” by her actions when shown the video. Bullying is wrong, wrong, wrong. Unabashed group hatred from a distance, however? Why not.

Teens bully – it’s not right, but it happens and we work towards putting it right. Adults, however, we’re supposed to know better. Let she who is without sin write the first tweet, as some feller once almost said. Especially when we’re talking about teenagers.

I wrote a piece for the Guardian about man-shaming portmanteaus – they need to die

mansplaining

I wrote a thingy for the Guardian about man-shaming portmanteaus – mansplaining, manslamming, manterrupting, manspreading, etc. They’re stupid, stop it – men are people too, I suppose. Male entitlement is an issue. Derogatory words highlight the problem (and are fun, let’s be honest), but fuelling gender-squabbling isn’t doing equality any favours. Funnily enough, this seemed to be a popular piece with men-folk. Fancy version here, unedited version below. 

Men. If they’re not ‘mansplaining’ things to women they’re ‘manslamming’ us in the street, ‘manspreading’ on the tube or ‘manterrupting’ us during work meetings. Even as a hairy, sensible-shoe wearing man-hater – otherwise known as a feminist – the rise and rise of the man-shaming portmanteau has left me feeling a little uncomfortable.

First there was mansplaining, which was declared 2014’s Aussie word of the year by Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English this week. It refers to the very real tendency of some men to explain things to women, whether they need them explaining or not, because of an ingrained assumption that they’re too ignorant – their pretty little heads too full of boys and make-up, no doubt – to understand.

The term is thought to have been first coined by feminist commentators in 2008 following the publication of Rebecca Solnit’s scathing essay, Men Explain Things to Me. The piece recounted the painful tale of the time an over-confident and clueless man at a party explained her own book to her – an experience that many women can sympathise with to some degree.

One of the problems with simplistic terms like this however, is their ease of use and humour risk diluting any message. They become an easy-to-mouth solution for a more complicated problem, and this one quickly took on more pejorative meanings. It became a go-to phrase for mumbled or garbled explanations and the trump card in arguments, but this sort of overuse just desensitises us to the real issue which is that, yes, some men really do talk down to women.

More recently, manspreading reared it’s ugly, er… head. According to the New York Times, who announced a Metropolitan Transportation Authority campaign to banish it from the New York subway late last year, that’s when men “spread their legs wide, into a sort of V-shaped slouch, effectively occupying two, sometimes even three, seats” on crowded trains. Then New York Magazine hit us with manslamming: pedestrian collisions caused by the refusal of some men to make space for other people using the same pavement, especially women. They said of the two issues that “arguably, both are symptoms of a culture that teaches men to self-assuredly occupy any and all space available to them, regardless of who’s nearby.”

While a sense of entitlement certainly causes some people to behave inappropriately towards others, privilege is far more complicated than man versus woman. Aside from a few word derivatives – such as ‘whitesplaining’ – the man-shaming portmanteau ignores other socio-economic factors associated with entitlement like race, class or aesthetic values.

The most recent lexical blends to enter the fray are Time magazine’s manterrupt and ‘bropropriate’. The former blending ‘man’ and ‘interrupt’ to describe an unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man, often in the work place, and the later denoting the stealing of a woman’s ideas and taking credit for them. It puts me in mind of an old Fast Show sketch where three men are discussing how to break into a car, presumably one of them has accidentally locked his keys inside. Arabella Weir, who happens to be strolling past, suggests putting a half a tennis ball over the lock, “then smash it with the palm of your hand and the air pressure forces the lock up”. The men ignore her and then pass the idea of as their own while she looks on, horrified: “can any of you actually here me?”

While women are certainly not equal at work, a recent survey found that female employees felt they were held back by negative office politics, neologisms like manterrupt risk trivialising the problem and undermine feminism’s message of equality, not anti-male rhetoric. They serve to polarise people rather then unite us against gender-based social discrepancies and invite absolutism – “manterrupting? Never speak when a woman is speaking because she is a woman,” raged one Redditor.

It reeks of gender essentialism – the idea that specific physical, social and cultural traits are native to a particular gender. It may be satisfying, refreshing, even empowering, to give men a hard time, but I can’t help imagine how I would feel if faced with similar accusations – ‘womanterrupting’ or ‘womansplaining’ for example. It would be degrading.

Besides, bad behavior is not exclusive to the male half of the species. I’m guilty of at least a few of these terms. I’ve had the odd fracas with tortoise-paced members of the public during a frenzied morning commute. Not because of their gender, but because in the awful time-sparse world of a city dweller they were – and I’m not proud of this – collateral damage. On the tube, I find it comfortable to sit with one leg crossed over the other, despite the fact that it means accidentally kicking standing passengers sometimes. I have patronisingly explained the obvious to intelligent people on more occasions than I care to recount and, sometimes, on intercity trains, I leave my coat on the seat next to me so people think I have a friend in the toilet.

Entitlement is still a problem. However, before we go smooshing any more man-words together, it might be worth remembering that a prat is a prat, whatever their gender.

Censorship on campus: In real life, you can’t just unfriend people who annoy you

Free speech scribble wall

Facebook-style community standards are making our universities boring. Censorship doesn’t just give students the freedom of tolerance, it prevents them from learning to tolerate.

I started university when I was 24, almost 25. Having left school at 15 with no qualifications, I knew nothing about education and wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I had expected to be challenged. Not just academically, but politically. I had this notion – fuelled, no doubt, by various on-screen depictions of the political fervour of uni campuses of yore – that university was this feisty environment populated by politically passionate folk in whacky clothes, where controversial debate and experimentation were high on the agenda.

What it turned out to be, however, was a place of wet sensitivity where girls – and boys – in Ugg(ly) boots experimented with baking. To put it frankly, after years of pining for higher-education my fellow students were boring (not you, Anna) and the only controversial debate that took place was about which canteen to buy lunch from.

Bath spa university logoIt didn’t surprise me then, to see my university, Bath Spa, in the red-zone in Spiked magazine’s recent Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR). Spiked examined the policies and actions of British universities and students’ unions, ranking them on their commitment to free speech using a traffic-light system: red for universities or unions that have banned and actively censored ideas on campus, amber for “chilled free speech through intervention”, and green for institutes that have a hands-off approach. More worryingly though, Bath Spa was listed as one of five universities that actively prevented it.

Just to preempt any snarky comments about ‘rubbishy’ universities, let me tell you that Oxford was red too, and Cambridge amber. In fact, only one in five universities were ranked as green, meaning that they embrace an open approach to free speech, whereas more than double that figure were ranked as red.

In red universities, the idea of “safe space”, a commitment to provide a tolerant environment for students of all identities so that they are free to express who they are, is deemed more important than freedom of speech. The origins of safe space make sense – it was born out of US protests against military recruitment on campus in the 70s and the ‘no-platform’ policy against fascist groups later that decade. But the current, rigorous enforcement of the concept is beginning to sound a lot like censorship. It’s as though the Facebook generation can’t handle the analogue world unless it meets community standards.

Comedian Kate SmurthwaiteLast week, for example, comedian Kate Smurthwaite’s show, Lefty Cockwomble, was cancelled at red-ranked Goldsmiths University because her views on sex work were flagged as inappropriate. The comedian ‘likes’ the Nordic model of legislation on sex work – which criminalises buying, rather than selling, sex – while Goldsmiths’ feminist society is, according to one of the event’s organisers, “’for’ [the full legalisation of] sex working”.

The society voted 70:30 in favour of letting the event go ahead. However, Smurthwaite was branded ‘whorephobic” by a few vehement opposers who threatened to picket the event anyway so the community moderators pulled the plug. Ironically, the show was about free speech and had nothing to do with prostitution, but Smurthwaite is not alone. Both Julie Bindle and Germaine Greer have found themselves unfriended by unions too, for their controversial views on trans women.

A no-platform attitude to outlandishly degrading content or sexist, homophobic or racist hate speech is understandable. Yet Goldsmiths’ view on prostitution is too radical to sensibly enforce rules that exclude non-believers – their femsoc only has 220 likes on Facebook, but the Nordic Model Advocates have a whopping 815. Besides, in real life, you can’t just block people you don’t get on with. There is no ‘hide this content’ button. There is no network of sky-geeks, ready to remove material that violates life’s code of conduct. Learning to communicate with people who hold different views from your own is one of life’s biggest lessons and one that university plays a vital role in.

Supporters of safe space argue that while debate is important, there is a place for the discussion of opposing or potentially hurtful views and that place is not, as they see it, students’ homes. Providing a platform for ideas legitimises them, and broadcasting one’s opinion is not an absolute right. It’s good to see students, who are increasingly known for their apathy, show some guts. However, it’s all a bit ‘if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’. Building a community of like-minded people might give students the freedom of tolerance, but it doesn’t teach them to tolerate.

If the recent attacks on Parisian magazine Charlie Hebdo highlighted anything, it’s that we live in a diverse world where the inability to efficiently debate opposing views can have disastrous consequences. Sometimes in life, there are going to be people who don’t like you and university should help prepare us for that. I did learn one lesson in tolerance from my university, however – how not to deal with people who bore me.