Friday, 28 March 2014

Strip prejudice

One of the women I work with now used to be a stripper and a lapdancer. I love her honesty and she's a bright, brilliant woman. It would be easy for an old hag like me to say it was a terrible thing for her to do, but I don't feel that way. She's a beautiful woman and why not? I wish I'd had so much confidence in my looks and body when I was 21. If I'd ever had the "right" figure, I might have done it. I wouldn't have been so open about it, but I'm generally not an open person anyway.

The thing I've been most encouraged by is how the men in my work react to what she used to do. They have all been absolutely fine with it. None of them have done "that face" - you know the one, where they decide a woman's a slag and are equally repulsed and intrigued. None of the women she's told have been horrified either, and women are more than capable of doing "that face" too. It was a job, just like any other job. We all make our living how we can.

So this is compatible with my feminism how? Well, because she was in control. She knew exactly what was and wasn't acceptable to her. She knew where her boundaries were, expressed them, and enforced them. Every random man who approaches her and says "I know your face!" is a victory of sorts for her, because she would never know theirs. Her most amazing comeback: "Oh, did you get a hand from me? How would I know?" How would she know? She wasn't looking at you. She wasn't there for your benefit. She wasn't even thinking about you.

It's funny how some men can squirm when presented with a naked female body. It's so, so easy for them to view a female body as a piece of meat, as something they're entitled to, as something they can look at and call a "thing". Any man who would go and watch a stripper and call her a slag is a man who can't deal with any woman's sexuality, and is probably a man best avoided. I like looking at hot naked men - it's a thing. Nobody has to be ashamed of liking a hot individual of their choice attractive, so why the embarrassment? I don't think anyone can be a good sexual partner until they accept their own sexuality. I'm as straight as it gets, and I've possibly missed out on some really amazing experiences because of that, but I can't help it. It's just the way my sexuality goes.

It is amazing to have my theory about how many awesome men there are out there confirmed. The men I work with are so cool, and I haven't seen even a hint of disgust cross their faces at my ex-stripper colleague's admission. My only slight concern for her is that she's so beautiful, she may make herself suffer more for ageing than most of us would. But whatever else she does, she will always be bright, sharp and witty, and how many of us can say that? I'd give anything for a tenth of her confidence. I do have the privilege of being happy with my body, but I'm not very pretty and I've always had to use my brain to snare men. Not that too many men are looking to go to bed with a brain, but that's what they get.

And to the people at work asking how old I am - I'm the same age as Star Wars. If any man doesn't know how old Star Wars is, then we're fundamentally incompatible. I'll pass that on to my colleague who's determined to find me a boyfriend. This will be FUN.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Class Resentful

I started my new job on Wednesday. Hurrah for me! I'll be dealing with customers who are in financial difficulty. I know a bit about that myself.

What I have found interesting is the attitudes within my training group. People can be in financial difficulty for all sorts of reasons, but the colleague who admitted she loves Jeremy Kyle and Benefits Street worries me the most. In my previous job I dealt with a lot of people who were in genuinely shit situations. One disabled man I spoke to had all his benefits stopped for not attending an assessment he was never told about. His partner was also disabled and they didn't live together. He had no parents or kids, and his disability had isolated him so much he had few friends to turn to. I gave him £25 for both his gas and electricity, and sort of forgot to send it back to the meter as debt. I am very ditzy. It'll probably get picked up eventually, but hopefully he'll be in a better position by then. Hard to see how with the ConDems in charge, though.

What the resentful section of the middle class in this country always fail to realise is that the government is coming for them next. Unless you're independently wealthy, this government hates you too, and has no interest in your needs. I can understand the resentful middle classes being aggrieved that they're the main target for taxation, but they never seem to wonder "Well, if we made poorer people better off wouldn't that ease our burden a bit?" They'd rather resent the richer people's creative accountants, and kick down.

Historically, the working class made the middle class what they were. Now the resentful middle class see no value in them whatsoever. "Why should I pay for a woman who's had three kids by the time she's 20?" Not, "What educational opportunities can my taxation pay for to prevent people having three kids by the time they're 20?" There will always be women who want to have three kids by the time they're 20. I might think they're a bit insane to lumber themselves with such a jaw-dropping amount of responsibility at such a young age (although I can't imagine wanting that at ANY age), but it's their reproductive right. And never "Why are young men being allowed to shoot sperm into young women and then fuck off?" A eugenics debate is not something any civilised society should be having.

The resentful middle class also want to shelter their own children from the influence of these shabby ruffians. They mortgage themselves to the eyeballs to get their kids into good schools, without once acknowledging that if all schools were good they wouldn't have this problem, or employ private tutors to coach their kids into passing independent school exams. Or pretend to be religious to bump the Church of England lists. Then they work hard in well-paid 60-hour-a-week jobs where they never see their children anyway, without once wondering "Why has society put me in this position? Oh, yeah. I've got a mortgage that's six times my salary to pay off."

It is possible in the UK for a couple to work 40 hours a week each in a minimum wage job and still not make enough money to keep themselves, let alone children. The resentful middle class will say "They just don't work hard enough!" or "Why don't they just go and get a better job?" The question is never "How in the holy fuck have I found myself in a society where working people can't take care of themselves?" Never "Why don't employers pay people better?" Or "Why are the sociopaths running the country so keen to tell us that poor, sick and disabled people are the enemy?" It's an illusion trick Dynamo would be proud of.

So, it's kind of hypocritical of me to work for a bank now, isn't it? Except I've taken a job where I can actually help those at the bottom who are getting shafted. I can make a difference to their day. I can make their life a bit brighter, at least for a while, and point them to organisations who can help them. So I'm fine with my decision to accept the job I have.

I have very little patience for people who think the poor are poor because of their own lack of morality or work ethic or whatever else, or those who can't or won't understand what poverty, lack of prospects, and hopelessness can do to people. I find it hard to believe more people aren't criminals. Those at the top are showing this country that being honest, hard-working and ethical does you no good whatsoever. So if a few dodgy characters get past me, I don't really care. Plenty got past a ballot box.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

When Publishers Go Bad

Some of my very best writer friends, who are some of my very best friends in general, are struggling with a bad publisher just now. I won't name the publisher, because it seems in writing circles slagging off a publisher you're not personally affiliated with is Bad Form.

I get being professional - absolutely. Don't tweet, phone or write to agents or publishers to castigate them for not getting your genius, no matter how true you think it might be. It usually isn't. Coming across as unhinged isn't going to do you any favours no matter what business you want to go in to. But professionalism has to go both ways. And if I, as a writer, think a publishing model sucks I should be able to say so publicly without some kind of "difficult" label being dropped on my head.

There is more to being a publisher than putting out books. Shock, horror - publishers are supposed to do some WORK for their writers. Few writers these days will shun any kind of social networking, but naturally anti-social writers (of which I am one) may be unwilling or bemused by the whole thing. I've been on Twitter for a year and still have no idea how to work the damn thing. And that's where the publisher's marketing department comes in. Putting in an "I will tweet occasionally" clause is not an outrageous thing, but what's the point in tweeting to a yawning void?

If a publisher is going to insist on that, then they have to be actively tweeting and using social networks too. They should know the market your novel is aimed at inside out, who is following them, and tweet accordingly. They should have marketing avenues and possibilities in their head before they even think about accepting a manuscript. Publishing is supposed to be about what a publisher can sell, not how much a writer can spend on petrol, or how many hours a day they can spare to monitor a Twitter hashtag. If someone's following a publisher's science fiction/fantasy imprint there's a good chance they're going to want to read that science fiction book they've just released. If a publisher can't even be bothered to distinguish between their imprints then why would I bother submitting my work to them?

This publisher's case is more insidious, though. It involved snaring writers from a well-known writers' forum whilst claiming to be an angelic paragon of virtue. How they saved writers from another bad publisher. That was a genuinely horrific situation for all the writers caught up in it, but to my mind this is worse. I knew the owner of this particular publisher had a difficult personality long before any of my friends got involved with her, and I personally would never have worked with her on that basis. She is a fantastic editor and a very good writer, but she has no idea about marketing and refuses to either learn or delegate. In the interests of balance, on one occasion in a non-writing related way she was very kind to me, and I will always appreciate that. 

As writers, we can all warn someone but we can never warn everyone, and I know the people directly involved with this publisher are warning everyone they know. If anyone wants or needs the identity of this publisher, they're of course free to tweet me or ask via PM on Facebook.

My best unpublished advice is ALWAYS wait two years to submit to any start-up publisher, no matter who they are. Even if you're rejected, your multiply-drafted, headdesked-about, cried-over, beta-read-and-started-all-over-again work is ALWAYS worth more than a bad publisher. It's not necessarily worthy of a good publisher, but I guarantee you it's worth more than a bad one. Start up and work down. Always.

Monday, 3 March 2014

My White Straight Feminist Privilege

I do not hate men. Handsome men are my biggest weakness. Show me a handsome French-talkin' Frenchman and I'm there with bells on. I'm also a big fan of Scandinavian men. With good conversation, obviously. Line any and all of them up as far as I'm concerned.

Why am I even qualifying this? Fuck it, I'm a feminist.

I am a feminist mostly because I'm sick of straght white men being at the top of the tree in this world, regardless of whether their opinions, talents or qualifications have any relevance or not. But what really pisses me off is straight white men who refuse to acknowledge their privilege. What pisses me even more off is straight, white middle-class women who also refuse to acknowledge their privilege. I'm a straight white working-class woman - my parents don't have money and I have no trustafarian cause to align myself with in an attempt to act poor when I'm not. Can we leave off Jane Austen appearing on the tenner and work for the homeless single mothers councils are trying to dump on other local authorities instead? No? Fuck off then.

But I am still white. And that gives me far more advantages in life than most average white women like me would care to admit. Don't be ashamed of your privilege - we can't help that. It's been dealt to us. Just be ashamed of what your privilege causes. You can't be anything other than what you are, but I will and can use my position as a white straight woman to say it's not that easy for anyone else.

I know my white privilege is a thing. Even though in the patriarchal hierarchy I am still less than the white, straight male, I have a hell of a lot of power in this society. As the white straight female I'm second down the ladder, maybe even third behind the white gay man. And sorry to say that I have encountered more than one white gay man who has been horribly racist and/or misogynistic. I would be the last person to say that gay people have it easy but there is still a white male privilege there, especially if they're not out. Nobody is bound by any law or convention to be out, but finding bigotry within the confines of people who face a bigotry all of their own is the most depressing thing I can think of right now.

White, straight men who won't admit their privilege, or will even go on long and what they think are articulate, intelligent rants about how they're the lowest people in society now have no fucking idea what goes on with the rest of us. No fucking idea. Acknowlege your privilege. Otherwise you're going to look like an arsehole.

Why should I, an unpublished writer of urban fantasy who works in a bank when she's not being all kick-arse and awesome on this blog, have any more say in society than my black or Asian brothers and sisters who are doing exactly the same thing? There is no reason for my privilege, other than the fact that I am white and straight. I''ve done nothing to earn or deserve my privilege, and my non-white brothers and sisters fight all the time to be so accepted that their race doesn't matter. It still does, though.

You cannot be racist against white people. You can't. Nobody can. Racism is an exercise in feeling superior because it's not your problem. I may suffer sexism in my life but I will never suffer racism. Racism against white people does not exist.

I'm a feminist because I think the patriarchy is as damaging to men as it is to women. I'm a feminist because I want to stand up with a man and be his equal. I'm not interested in putting men down, or waving around a "man card", because I have no expectations from a man other than be my best friend and take sexual directions. In my experience, though, most men don't want a woman to be their equal. They want a woman they can control, just a wee bit. I am not that woman. And all the men I know who don't think that way found amazing wives, because they are men with high standards, and without exception their wives are beautiful, talented women with opinions and their own lives and friends and they are adored by their husbands, on an equal partnership level. I've never got that lucky yet. I'm a feminist because I want women to be the person they are, with or without a man, and whether they're gay/straight/lesbian/bi/trans* or any combination of sexuality or none. And I want them to be that woman, and have the men/women who would be interested in them to accept that task.

Women have far more to lose from not being themselves than they have to gain from acting the way society expects us to. Don't shave your legs for two weeks. Go on, do it. Does he or she still love you? They should.

In my mind, you are all my brothers and sisters. Work with me on that. We can do this. We can fight the white straight male patriarchy. I'm a white straight woman, and my privilege is part of the problem. We can change that. Let's go.