Category Archives: The quiet revolution

Value Powerful Women

This is the final blog post inspired by Molly Scott Cato’s suggestions for resisting fascism.

How we treat powerful women is an interesting question. Unpopular powerful women tend to be the targets of a great deal of sexist language. There’s also often an assumption that women are supposed to be kind, tender, gentle and that women who aren’t that, have something wrong with them. When it comes to politics, there are a lot of women who are no kinder or nicer than their male counterparts. If you don’t like the politics, that’s fine, but it is important not to attack women whose policies you disagree with on the basis of their gender.

One of the things that fascism does, is try to narrow everyone’s options. Where women are concerned, what it tends to celebrate is staying at home to have lots of babies and raise them. Now, for some women, that’s the life choice of preference, but certainly not for all of us. Any woman who wants to be a domestic goddess should have the freedom to follow that life path. No woman should be obliged to do it. It’s worth remembering that the Nazis had no space for queer folk, and that gay people also ended their lives in concentration camps.

In a partial democracy, the people who can vote and the people who can be elected get their concerns taken seriously while everyone is considered far less relevant. People without representation can be easily reduced to the status of property. They can be scapegoated, ignored, oppressed, and there’s nothing they can do about it unless the people who have all the power can be persuaded to include them. We need diversity in politics because a narrow selection of backgrounds makes for very limited views of how the world works.

It may be worth pausing to remember that the time in history that defined modern economic thinking was a time dominated by men. We have economic models still in use that hark back to then, and that fail to recognise the value of unpaid work to the economy as a whole. The things that women were doing weren’t considered important, and we’re still dealing with the consequences of that.

Value powerful women. Let’s overthrow the old fashioned idea that women are less able to wield power than men. Let’s have room for everyone in the domestic sphere, and room for everyone in the workplace, and political representation for everyone.

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I’ve experienced oppression and that means…

One of the reliable mistakes well meaning people make is to assume that knowledge of one thing means understanding of another: I have endured sexism so I understand racism. I have endured workplace bullying so I understand domestic abuse. I’m a lesbian so I understand the problems of gay men. And so on and so forth. Less well meaning people take it a step further: I have experienced sexual oppression and therefore I cannot be racist. I have been a victim of abuse so I cannot be a bully. It’s easy to see how we get there, and the consequences are unhelpful through to harmful.

One of the things this does is let us not consider where we may be going wrong. A lifetime of dealing with sexual discrimination gives you pretty much no insight into the mechanics of race. If you are a white woman, a lifetime of sexual discrimination does not actually mean you are incapable of racism. The uncomfortable truth is that to be white is to be part of a system that upholds racial discrimination. If you want to change that, you have to find ways to be active about it. Imagining reasons it does not apply to you doesn’t help anyone.

Granted, experiences of oppression can give one group the scope to empathise with the sufferings of another group. That can be a productive base for mutual support. But it can also be a way of erasing the differences in power that exist. It can be a way of minimising your role in the other group’s problems. Sometimes it can leave people feeling entitled to speak for, and speak over those they claim to be helping. Speaking for other people is something to do with caution, because so often it turns out to be speaking over. Believing that you are qualified to speak for someone else is an impulse that needs scrutiny.

Suffering does not make you incapable of being an ass-hat. Experience of discrimination does not make you incapable of discriminating against others. Experiencing challenges does not mean that in some situations you don’t also have privilege. Thinking about this may be uncomfortable. You may feel a knee-jerk defensive reaction that wants to say ‘no, because I…’ and it’s ok to feel that if it’s what you’ve got. Feel it, sit with it, unpick it, understand it. Look at where those protective feelings come from. Do it privately where no one else can see. Own what you find there. It’s not an easy process, but if you do this quietly and alone, everyone benefits.


Join a Trade Union

One of the methods Molly Scott Cato suggests you can use to resist fascism, is joining a trade union. It is certainly a good way of resisting exploitation, upholding workers’ rights and connecting with something bigger than yourself. For many of us it’s also not an option. If you’re in the gig economy, working handfuls of hours here and there wherever you can get work, there is no union to protect you. This is no doubt why such work is on the rise. If you’re in the illegal side of the economy as a trafficked person or illegal immigrant, you are unprotected and likely to be massively exploited – sometimes in ways that will kill you.

As an author, and someone working in the comics industry, I have no union to join. I joined The Society of Authors because it’s the next best thing – they offer legal advice and they lobby on behalf of writers.

In the arts, there is always someone who will do it for less, or do it for free. You’re paid for the finished product (if you are paid at all) and not for your time, so the scope for even making the minimum wage often isn’t that good. There are always people trying to break into the industry who are persuaded that working for free, for exposure, for the portfolio, for a shot at a paying gig next time, is worth it. And why would anyone pay for what they can just take?

Online, our work is pirated and given away, or even sold by others who never pay a penny to the original creator. New laws against piracy look to be more for the big corporations, not for the indie creators. We may be hurt by the ‘protections’ coming in. If we can’t afford to sue, we have little scope to protect our work, and we can’t get a fair share of the worth, often.

More than anything else, what creative people need (I think) is solidarity from other working people. That means recognition that we are also working people, doing work that is just as real as anyone else’s and for which we deserve to be paid. We need other working people to stop telling us to do it for love, or that it’s just a hobby, or that them giving away our work is somehow doing us a favour, or that we should be grateful to the people who pirate our books to read them because at least someone is reading them.

This goes further than creative industries, too. Our economy depends on unpaid work – usually domestic, but also volunteers in other spheres. There are no unions for carers, for child raisers, for people who provide the domestic underpinnings that give others the freedom to get educated and to pursue careers. There are no unions for the grandparents who take on the childcare. No one is lobbying government on their behalf. This work is essential and without it many other things would be unfeasible. If you are interested in worker’s rights, it is important to include the people whose work is often both invisible and unpaid.

Don’t marginalise people who are not working, either. There is no trade union to join if you are out of work. There is also no trade union to join if you are too ill to work, or if keeping yourself functioning is such a big job that it doesn’t allow you the time and energy to be economically active. Being chronically ill is incredibly hard work.

Join a trade union if you can. Whether you can or not, stand in solidarity with workers who are vulnerable, marginalised and exploited. Don’t see migrants – even the illegal immigrants as your enemy – question the people who use and abuse them. Question the poverty that has driven them to migrate, and ask who caused it. Don’t see underpaid work as ‘fun’ or a calling and assume that makes it ok somehow. Don’t ignore the work of people who are not paid for what they do. We’re all workers. Poverty and desperation make people more vulnerable to fascist politics. A climate of exploitation makes us all more vulnerable. Solidarity and mutual respect are essential.


Enjoy your community life

In this blog, I’m picking upon Molly Scott Cato’s advice for resisting fascism.

Far right politics works to divide us. When we see everyone else as a competitor, and when we feel that giving anyone else rights undermines our own, there is no community. When we think in terms of maximising our profits and benefits and never mind everyone else, we create fragmented cultures full of cracks for people to fall through as soon as anything goes wrong. In this kind of environment, fearing each other is normal. Greed, jealousy, resentment, and the capacity to harm others are all cultivated.

A culture based on care, cooperation and mutual support is one in which we all see each other as valuable. One way in which we can resist fragmentation, fear and hatred, is to actively invest in community life. All you have to do to take up this method of resisting fascism, is to join a group of people. If you can, join a group that meets up in the real world and does something. That could be a fitness class, a volunteering group, people who cycle together, a film club, a political party, a union, or anything else you can think of that gives you a warm community space.

We’re social creatures, most of us. We are happier and our lives are richer and more fulfilling when we have meaningful relationships with other people. When we are enjoying life, we’re less easily persuaded towards hatred and resentment of others. We’re less likely to fear other people if we spend time with other people. If we isolate ourselves, we become vulnerable. The little voices that talk to us from the corner of the room aren’t always on our side. News tends to focus on misery and drama, and if your sense of other people is derived mostly from that, you’ll have a sense that people are mostly awful. If your sense of people comes from your mates at the skateboard park and the book club at the library, you will likely feel a lot better about other humans.

Community life takes us beyond economic life, too. If our interactions with other humans are mostly in the workplace, our relationships will be coloured by hierarchies and economic activity. It’s good to connect with people without paying to do so. It’s good to talk to people who aren’t there purely because they want you to do something for them. People who live in the work sphere and don’t connect with people who aren’t in paid employment can get some deeply skewed ideas about what not working means.

Show up somewhere. Do it for fun. Go forth into your community and find things that enrich your life and make you happy. Surrounded as we are by political and environmental crisis, it can feel hard to justify time spent on joyful things. But, to be happy with other humans is to be politically radical. To be social is to be radical. To find joy without spending vast sums of money on it, is radical. To connect with people who are not at the same life stage or of the same economic background, is radical. Increasingly, happiness is a radical thing to embrace. Fight fascism with joy by making real connections with other people.


Stand out from the crowd

Standing out from the crowd is on Molly Scott Cato’s list of things to do to resist fascism. I think this is a particularly interesting one for Pagans. For a person who feels afraid, blending in and not drawing attention is a very natural approach to take. To make yourself visible can feel, in hostile environments, like making yourself into a target. However, if we all try to protect ourselves by conforming, what we get is an even narrower range of safe ways of being, ever more pressure to conform and ever more vulnerability for the people who can’t.

Fascism doesn’t like diversity. It doesn’t like there being many different faiths and philosophies, and ways of living and being. Diversity makes people harder to control. It’s worth noting that tyranny generally doesn’t like diversity – you only have to think of the clothing restrictions in Maoist China. Tyranny loves uniforms.

By undertaking to stand out, a person upholds visible diversity. It is an expression of freedom and choice, and if you have enough privilege to be reasonably safe doing that, it is a way of helping everyone else. Visible expressions of diversity, and visible expressions of creativity and alternate ways of thinking help empower other people to live on their own terms and not try to blend safely into the background.

The pressure to conform isn’t something we necessarily experience in a conscious way. We can absorb a feeling that we need to fit in from our surroundings, media, and environment, without ever having deliberately decided to go that way. This is why the decision to be visible and different is an important one. Everyone who manifests their own creativity, individuality, and different ways of being in the world helps reduce that pressure on the people around them to conform. Everyone who offers an alternative helps stop the people around them from feeling there is only one right way of being.

Fascism is a cheerless sort of project. There’s no joy in it, no colour or delight. Tyranny of all forms pushes people towards being drab, conformist, unimaginative, and inexpressive. To be colourful, flamboyant, original, and inspired is to be working against tyranny.


Gender identity questions

On plenty of occasions, I’ve encountered people saying they have legitimate questions about trans issues. Most often, these come down to fears for female safety. There is certainly an issue around the scope for predatory men to temporarily adopt trans identities to invade female space. Toby Young – an infamous and vile creature who for reasons that make no sense to me has had some high profile UK jobs – admitted to dressing up as a woman to go after lesbians. However, there are a great many questions I don’t think we are asking, and should be.

Are we doing enough to support diversity in sexual expression? Are we looking after our effeminate boys and butch girls and allowing them to express that way, or are they under pressure to conform to hetranormative standards?

How much gender normalising do we do with children? Are girls who don’t like pink and passive toys being told they are boys? Are boys who like sparkly things being told they are girls? If some young people are being pushed towards trans identities it isn’t trans folk doing this, it is hetranormative pressures from the adults nearest to them and I think we should be talking about it. Historically, telling a child they were behaving like someone of the opposite gender was a scare tool designed to bring them back in line. How many people have been persuaded they don’t belong as one gender because others have told them they’re not acting like a ‘real boy or ‘real girl’?

Pushing people towards a gender change can be a way of pushing them towards heterosexual conformity. I’ve seen it suggested that in some countries, trans is considered preferable to queer because it holds up cultural beliefs about gender. We should be questioning this.

I’ve seen people question the kinds of gender stereotyping trans women seem to go in for. I’m not seeing enough people asking why that might be the case, and what the link might be between performative femininity, and access to support. I am seeing a lot of trans women talking about the pressure to perform femininity in these narrow ways. I think we should be asking questions of what kinds of hoops trans folk have to jump through, who the gatekeepers are, and what kinds of ideas about gender are in the mix here.

If you believe the right wing media, a person, even a child, merely has to suggest that they might be trans to be rapidly operated on and plied with hormones. We don’t spend enough time asking trans people what their experiences are, or listening to the answers. How long does it take to get an appointment at a trans clinic? How many clinics are there and how far do you have to travel to be seen?  What do you have to demonstrate to be taken seriously? To transition, a person has to live as the gender they consider themselves to be, for several years. This includes using a name that is not their birth name, and all the technical problems you can imagine might go with this. What support is there? What help? What legal protections? We’re not asking enough of these questions.

One of the key issues with transitioning is that it reduces suicide rates. The one question I don’t see anyone asking is what else we could do that would help reduce suicide rates. Surgery is not attained quickly. It’s not available on demand. There’s years of process here. What could we be doing in other ways to reduce the suicide rate for trans people? What is it, specifically about the experience of being transgender that has people wanting to kill themselves? How much of it comes down to the behaviour and attitudes of the rest of us? What can we do, individually, to help the people around us be as comfortable as they can be with themselves?

How many people could have happier, more comfortable and viable lives if the people they dealt with simply accepted them as they are?


Champion Peace Making

This is another blog post in which I consider ideas raised by Molly Scott Cato about how we defend democracy and resist fascism.

Peace is essential for the good functioning of a community, and for the safety of all its members. This does not mean freedom from conflict, it means having the mechanisms to resolve conflict without violence.

Too often, what we mean by peace, is only superficial. Apparent peace can mean the silencing of dissent, the disempowering of minorities and a lack of space for difference – this is not real peace. Peace-making is not the process of normalising us all to fit in small boxes, it is the process of learning to live with our differences.

Peace is not the tolerance of intolerance, either. Those who are invested in hatred and violence will try to manipulate others by demanding that they too should be shown tolerance. This simply doesn’t work, it creates situations in which peace is bound to break down.

Real peace is achieved through dialogue, real listening, respect and open-mindedness. It means recognising that difference and threat are not the same things. But then it raises the questions of what we do with the haters, and the people who delight in violence.

Education is key. If what people mostly hear are the voices of other haters and violence-pedlars, some will be persuaded that violence makes sense and hate is justified. The media is also key here. It is difficult to build peace when sections of your media are running an agenda of hatred. It is difficult to build peace when real fears, and real feelings of scarcity are harnessed to power that agenda. However, the more we can do to tackle inequality, poverty of opportunity, lack of hope, and lack of education about difference, the fewer people will find hate persuasive. There are no quick fixes here.

We have to call out those whose behaviour is unpeaceful. It may seem at odds with the work of creating peace, but it isn’t. Ignoring abuse, bullying, harassment, prejudice, and violence towards others does not lead to peace, it leads to conflict. To call out behaviour without resorting to the same methods isn’t easy, but it is possible. We have to let go of ideas of revenge, and point scoring, and focus on moving people forward.

We can support work of this nature by sharing stories of peace making, inclusion, and co-operation. We can call out hate where we see it, and gently disagree. (That may sound like a weak response, but trust me, if you want to impact on haters this is more effective than playing them at their own game). We can refuse to get into arguments with people who feed on arguing. We can avoid the behaviours that leave some people saying that all sides of the ‘debate’ are equally horrible and aggressive. We can resist violent solutions wherever they come up – both the real ones, and the ones we put in our fictions.

I think we also need to treat hate-driven behaviour as shameful. Perhaps the best way of tackling this, is with humour. Aggression simply fuels more aggression, but if your hate makes you the butt of jokes, responding with more of the same just proves the point. Laughter can be a powerful tool for deflating aggression and undermining feelings of entitlement. It does disempower people, and if the hate is coming from feelings of lack of power, that won’t help. But often it isn’t. The architects of hate in our society are people with plenty of power. By laughing at them, we can undermine that and make them less attractive. Satire, used well, can be a very effective tool for peace.

More about Molly Scott Cato’s work here – http://mollymep.org.uk/molly-at-work/campaigns/fight-fascism/


Show the Love 2019

Every February brings the Show the Love campaign where we make and share green hearts and raise awareness of all the things we love that need protecting from climate change. You can get involved online by using #showthlove and find out more at https://www.theclimatecoalition.org/show-the-love/

I came to the Show The Love campaign through The Woodland Trust. I came to The Woodland Trust through my love for trees and my desire to help protect them. The Woodland trust campaigns to protect trees, plants trees and also buys areas of woodland to keep it safe from development.

I’ve made this year’s heart as a collage, and it’s more overtly Pagan than any of my previous hearts. Some of the images used here came from Woodland Trust material, some came from Spirit and Destiny’s zodiac signs, the labyrinth image also came from them. Other material came from magazine copy of The Shamanic Oracle deck.

During February I’ll be talking about what I love, and also about what we can do to protect what we love.


Cherish Diversity

One of the ways Molly Scott Cato identifies to resist fascism, is by cherishing diversity. Within the Pagan community, how we do and don’t do this is rather interesting. We like diversity in so far as it applies to us – as a minority community, our safety depends on an inclusive majority that embraces difference. Many of us are old enough to remember what it was like before EU laws gave us some legal protection.

On the whole we’re pretty good at diversity within Paganism as well. We’re good at accepting the idea of polytheists and animists, we’re doing better with our atheists too. We cope just fine with people following pantheons other than our own, or following paths other than our own. Put a God and Goddess honouring traditional Witch in a room with an animist Druid and a polytheist Heathen, and an ancestor honouring Shaman, and the odds are all will be well.

We are at our least good with diversity when the differences are at their smallest. It’s people who identify as being on the same path or honouring the same deity who are most likely to get into arguments about the right way of doing things and who is really real. It is at this point precisely that we find diversity threatening. This kind of diversity suggests that our personal gnosis about a deity might not be absolute truth, or the only truth. Our vision may not be for everyone. We are validated when other people back this stuff up, but if someone else has been chosen by the same God and told something different, we struggle to embrace that. It inclines us to try and invalidate each other, or prove that our way is better.

Key to cherishing diversity, is to understand why we, and other people find diversity threatening. The problems come when you need the validation of everyone else to feel ok with your thing. With straight people who need to make everyone straight it’s easy to wonder if fear of personal queer feelings may be the root issue here. With monotheists who want to make everyone follow their religion, it is clear that their religion has no room for the idea of other Gods. We are no different. We argue most with those closest to our beliefs because we also need validation and reassurance.

It’s not irrational. When you are the only person who believes something, or experiences something in a particular way, you may feel mad. Everyone else may decide you are mad. Solitary belief can be dangerous. Belief shared with others feels safer. We all want to feel safe and none of us want to feel mad. Owning that fear, it becomes easier to look at personal discomfort with diversity. We are afraid of being isolated and socially shunned. We can deal with that by trying to make everyone more like us, or we can deal with it by undertaking to accept each other regardless of difference. The first option is impossible and can only create tension, resentment and conflict. The second option is perfectly doable if we can square up to our own fears.


Defending Democracy

Last night I heard Green MEP Molly Scott Cato talking, as part of a panel, about how we defend democracy. A significant part of it was about identifying fascism and talking about the cultural context that allows fascism to flourish. The rest was about what we can do, individually and collectively, to resist fascist and authoritarian urges and to create a better sort of society.

There were beer mats available for people to take away and deploy. I’ve found those beer mats online so am sharing both sides of them. You can find them here – http://mollymep.org.uk/molly-at-work/campaigns/fight-fascism/