Category Archives: The quiet revolution

Creativity without gatekeepers

When I was young, I imagined that publishers and record labels and people picking content for TV, and taking on film scripts all had one basic agenda – that they wanted to put the best things out there. In reality, the bigger a company is, the less likely this is to be true. What creative industries want are sure fire hits that will sell a lot of copies. This means that they are all incredibly risk averse. Things that are easy to market because they look like things that were already successful always have a better shot.

It’s difficult to get anything radical into the mix on these terms. A groundbreaking, original piece of work, is by definition an unknown quantity and no large company will be easily persuaded to gamble vast sums getting it out there. This is part of why films with female leads, or multiple female characters are rarer – it’s not what happens so there’s been little belief it could work. That it does work and is then ignored is because of the sexism inherent in the system. There’s also an assumption that white western folk, for example, are the main audience for film and need to see other white western folk on the screen in order to engage. That this is not true and is ignored is because there’s inherent racism in the system.

For many of us, the over-arching company acts as quality control. We believe that the publishers, movie studio etc will weed out the rubbish and give us the best stuff. (like Twilight… umm… ) Many people still mistrust self-publishing because there are no gatekeepers keeping out the ‘rubbish’. As a habitual reader of self published work, I can honestly say that it is easy to find good, innovative stuff.

There have always been many ways of doing things. Self publishing isn’t new. Jane Austen self published. John Aubrey’s ground breaking work on Avebury was published by subscription. Getting a wealthy patron to fund your project was also an option.

I like subscription publishing as a model because it reduces the risk all round. If a small publisher takes on a wild book, and it doesn’t work out, it can finish them. That’s not good for the author, either. A subscription model allows you to raise the idea of a book and see if people like it enough to get in there and buy on in advance. If enough people do, you publish the book. A publishing company working this way has to ask ‘is this a good book, is it exciting in some way?’ and does not have to ask ‘how do we sell it?’.

Subscription publishing can make publishing poetry and short stories viable – these are generally considered the hardest sells and many houses won’t touch them unless you’re already Neil Gaiman.

So, if you’re looking for something different, something where the gatekeeping isn’t about the bean counting… if you’re looking for a publishing house that does things that aren’t tried and tested, do check out Unbound. https://unbound.com/

And while you’re over there, check out a mind bending, dark science fiction novel Kevan Manwaring is collecting subscriptions for. https://unbound.com/books/black-box/

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Taking the politics out of art

It happens a lot on twitter; that fans will tell creators to shut up about the politics and get back to the art. From what I see, the politics are usually left wing. It seems a very odd idea to me, for all kinds of reasons.

Firstly, any creativity happens in a context. Artists and writers and musicians aren’t kept in little boxes where the rest of the world can’t affect us. We may be talking about politics because they impact on us – changes to working tax credits, national insurance the VAT put on electronic content in the EU – these things all affect creators directly, to give some recent examples. In America, lack of money for healthcare is a very big problem and one that kills creative people. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the politics that affect our everyday lives any more than anyone else does.

Most of us do not sit in high towers imagining how the world is. We have friends and families, neighbours, communities. Things that may not impact on us directly may well be impacting on them and we may need to speak up for them – and when you’ve got a following, of course you want to use it for good, and sometimes that means saying something about foodbanks, child homelessness, or environmental destruction.

To be a good creator, you have to care about your creative form. To make up stories, or to reflect the world through song, or visual art, you need to be interested in the world and to care about it. Good art is rooted in the world. Yes, there’s a lot of imagination involved, but imagination that isn’t informed by experience doesn’t tend to work. It is a creator’s empathy and insight, their ability to speak meaningfully to people that makes the work good and gives it substance. You can’t ask people to care about the world as part of what makes their profession function, but never say anything about it to avoid causing discomfort to people who just wanted escapism. You can’t ask people not to put politics in their work – to only have irrelevance and silliness that has no relation to the rest of culture or human experience is preposterous.

Last but by no means least, silence is also a political choice with political consequences. To say nothing, is to support whatever’s going on. It is to enable, and allow. Silence leaves the voiceless unheard. It leaves questions unasked, and mistakes, and abuses unchallenged. Silence is often taken as tacit consent. And it allows people who can’t be bothered to engage with real issues, people who are comfortable and privileged, able to carry on in their untroubled bubbles. Which is what is being asked for when creators are told to shut up and stick to the art. Do we exist to supply amusement to people who only wish to be amused? No we don’t.

This post was inspired by something Professor Elemental wrote this week about politics and steampunk – you can read that here – https://www.patreon.com/posts/18350074


Who are we trying to help?

Here in the UK, it seems to me that we design our social structures, systems and paperwork in exactly the wrong way. To give an example – I’ve been married twice. Ahead of marriage you are asked questions to establish that you are allowed to marry – not related, too young, here illegally and suchlike. There is nothing in this about your legal consequences. There is nothing for people who are entitled to marry, really. Pre-marriage bureaucracy is about stopping people who aren’t allowed to marry.

Moving to the UK to marry has similar issues – the paperwork and process takes a long time and is incredibly stressful. The whole system revolves around keeping out those deemed not entitled, or marrying under false pretences. The system has not been designed to serve people who are apart and want to be together.

Welfare systems are designed in the same way – the emphasis is on keeping out those who aren’t entitled, not helping those who are. These are systems that leave people hungry for weeks – and that apparently is less of a problem than the idea that a few people get a pittance they weren’t supposed to have.

We build our systems to try and keep people out. We build our systems with more eye to fraud than to need. As a consequence, we have systems that are unkind and that do not help the people they are ostensibly there to help. It is a case of priority. Our leaders, and certainly some percentage of our population is more interested in punishing than helping. We pile stress and misery onto people who are in trouble and we treat them like we assume they are faking it. This is neither good nor kind, and I do not believe it is in any way necessary.

Imagine how different the world would look if we all organised differently. Imagine systems whose priority is to get help to people who need it, with as much speed and inherent dignity as possible.

Imagine a world in which we did not obsess over the small scale frauds that might be possible for the poor and instead cared more about massive scale tax avoidance and the crimes and abuses of power carried out by the rich. In terms of cost to the economy, benefit fraud and things of that ilk are tiny considerations. Tax avoidance is massive. However, poor people with no power are much easier to go after for crimes of any sort, and they are seldom the people responsible for creating the systems and priorities in the first place.


Inefficient efficiency

‘Efficiency’ is one of those words politicians like to use. They talk about cutting back on wasteful, needless spending, trimming the fat out of the system, making everything streamlined and cost effective.

Efficient hospitals have no spare beds to deal with entirely predictable winter flu crises.

Efficient councils have no resources or workforce ready to deal with unexpected problems, be that flooding, heavy snow, trees brought down in gales, power cuts, lack of drinking water and so forth.

Efficient schools can’t cope in the years when there are more children than expected needing school places.

Efficient work places can’t cope with employee illness. They have far less scope for resilience when faced with unexpected challenges or setbacks.

Life seldom goes entirely as predicted. People get ill and a system that assumes it needs no slack in it to offset against sick days and people not being able to deliver, is a system bound to fail. Systems that don’t have anything to spare for the unexpected have no choice but to squeeze people harder in order to get the same results. Squeezed, pressured people get sick and ill – and the efficient system isn’t equipped to deal with that and can only respond by squeezing harder and making everything worse. Stress related sickness costs economies a fortune.

Paring everything back to the bare minimum to cut costs and avoid ‘waste’ is often a really inefficient choice. Any system working this way is incredibly vulnerable to the slightest problem.

In a crisis, efficiency kills people. Cuts to the NHS in the UK led to an estimated 10,000 deaths this winter. That’s a very high price to pay for saving money. Why on earth would be let ourselves be persuaded that saving money is more important than saving lives?

When a pared to the bone system hits an inevitable crisis, it costs a lot of money. One way or another. It may not be an immediately obvious cost. It may be a long term cost in health, skills, social engagement. It may be a long term cost that will increase crime, or violence, or abuse. Efficiency is incredibly costly when it falls apart.

To cope with life’s variables and uncertainties, we don’t need to be efficient. We need to be flexible. We need to have options. Take a long term look at the cost/benefit analysis, and slashing everything back turns out not to be even slightly cost effective. Flexibility and adaptability are key survival skills for all things in all contexts. Efficiency can deprive us of scope to adapt, and room for innovation.


How women talk to other women about men

In this blog what I specifically want to look at is the kinds of unhelpful stories women tell other women about men. I suspect this won’t be an exhaustive list. Some of these stories I suspect women tell to male children as well as female children, but I’m not well placed to comment on how that might play out.

He hits you because he likes you. He hits me because he loves me. We turn experiences of actual violence into stories about how this is an expression of affection. It keeps us accepting abuse, letting abusers off the hook, and setting each other up to be victims.

We tell each other that bad boys are sexy. We do this especially through the medium of romance and erotica fiction. We treat rude, demanding, unreasonable, controlling and violent men as desirable. We perpetrate the fantasy that magically, for us, they will become better people because they just need to be loved. We do not tell each other to run away and never look back, to find someone kinder and more cooperative. We imagine saving them when what we need to do is save ourselves.

We excuse male acting out, we tell other mums that this is just what normal boys do. We say ‘boys will be boys’ and then we teach each other how to stay safe and what to wear. We tell each other stories that the men who perpetrate violence just can’t help their bad behaviour. We say ‘he’s a good man really’, and we disbelieve the stories other women tell us to the contrary.

We bring up our daughters to feel responsible – the buck stops with us domestically. Women who find themselves living with overgrown man-babies who can’t or won’t take responsibility for home or children may tell each other how tough it is, but don’t reliably tell each other how to call said man-baby out and get him to do his fair share. Instead we tell each other that of course they don’t notice, remember, keep track, feel it’s their job and thus it continues not to be their job and stays wholly as ours. We make excuses based on how busy they are, or their upbringing. We accept that they can learn how to do a paid job, but not how to wash a nappy or cook a meal. We accept the role of mother and let them carry on being indulged boys when they’re at home.

We participate in the stories that work men do, or work done by men is more valuable than traditional female work, or work done by women. We accept that work done on the home front isn’t as valued as work done in public places. We accept that domestic arts aren’t as important as ‘fine’ arts. Women’s work is craft, not as valued as art. It’s cooking, and not valued like being a chef. It’s only interior decorating when you pay someone else to do it.

We use magazines to tell each other how we should look, in order to appeal to the male gaze. We share those magazine stories with each other.

In my family there were stories about boys being better treated than girls and stories about men who really didn’t make an effort. There were no stories about how to fix this. There were stories about how a mother can except to be judged over how clean and tidy her child is, but no sense that a father would be judged the same way. The kinds of stories women tell women about men go back to our grandmothers and great grandmothers and beyond. Expectations and beliefs are passed from one generation to the next. Changing the stories that are part of your fabric of reality is not easy, but change them we must.

Whatever stories you have, it pays to start by identifying them and trying to remember who told you these tales in the first place. Some stories aren’t spoken, they just underlie the way a family treats its men and the differences between that and how it treats its women. The stories are there in expectations and criticisms, in what we were allowed and what we were told was not for us.


Minimising with Liam Neeson

Trigger warnings – sexual assault.

Minimising is a tactic used by abusers, and apologists for abusers to facilitate abuse. It’s a simple method, and involves downplaying what’s going on. You’re making a fuss. It was just a little push. Recently, actor Liam Neeson has put himself forward to minimise the accusations of sexual abuse in the film industry. He’s quoted as saying “there’s some people, famous people, being suddenly accused of touching some girl’s knee, or something, and suddenly they’re being dropped from their program, or something.” He also called unwanted breast touching “childhood stuff”.

There are many accusations out there of serious sexual misconduct. So, by reducing it to ‘touching some girl’s knee’ Neeson dismisses the nastier stuff without even mentioning them. That doesn’t exist in his world. We are also to note that the victim is ‘some girl’ while ‘famous people’ are important men. People are men. Women are non-people in this quote. The victim is of no consequence, the perpetrator matters. That a ‘person’ is dropped from their program is presented to us as more important than that the non-person, the woman, has been assaulted.

The idea that unwanted touching of knees or breasts is no big deal also acts to minimise. As though the female body is something that doesn’t merit protection from minor infringements. It was just a knee, just a breast. Nothing that mattered. Once you’ve made most of a person’s body irrelevant, it gets a lot easier to say ‘it was just your ass, what’s the big deal?’ It was only a quick hand up her skirt. It was only, it was just. She’s only an irrelevant girl after all.

There’s a gaslighting aspect to all this. If you assault someone and then tell them, and everyone else that it definitely wasn’t an assault, it was a small, insignificant thing, that’s really disorientating. If you tell your victim that they’re being silly, over reacting, making a fuss, blowing it out of all proportion, it makes it harder for them to protest. If you have the power to get the message to victims and potential victims that touching a girl or woman without consent is no big deal, you make it harder for them to speak up in the first place. You make them feel crazy and to blame if they take issue with what’s being done to their bodies.

People who touch without consent, and keep doing it, are invasive and disturbing. It is an act of power over someone to be able to force contact onto them that they do not want. Even ‘little’ acts of knee touching fall into this category. If you are not allowed to say no, if you are not allowed to decide who can touch you and who can’t, then you don’t own your body. The person touching it owns it. That’s an awful, awful place to be.

Watch out for how people use ‘just’ and ‘only’ to try and underplay what’s going on. Watch for the flow of power in a situation. And watch out for the people – usually men – who do this kind of shit, and who defend it, because they are not good people. People who minimise abuse are defending abusers and facilitating abuse, and you certainly can’t trust them to respect anyone else’s body, either.


Building a better world – art and activism

Last week someone responded to my blog about what’s happening in modern Druidry by saying that we don’t need more books, we need more activism. My knee jerk reaction (as someone who writes books and gets involved with activism) is that of course we need both.

I’ve seen comments from people who are far more involved with activism than I will ever be, saying how much they appreciate good books to escape into, and other nourishing forms of art. I’ve done enough campaigning to know that it is gruelling, it wears you down emotionally, you get exhausted. If all you do is fight, you can lose track of the good things that you were fighting for, becoming totally focused on what you’re fighting against. That makes it really hard to stay motivated and keep going. Sometimes it means becoming the thing you were trying to replace.

One of the big questions when dealing with any cause, is how to get more people involved. How do you make them care enough to take action? How do you get them to change day to day life choices if you are an environmental campaigner? How do you persuade them that your cause is the one they should give their money to? Hard hitting, emotionally affecting campaigns can have the effect of shutting people down and driving them away. Who can face looking at another lost and starving child, another brutalised animal, another grim and traumatic outcome of human behaviour? How many of those can you bear to see before you start tuning out?

To make change, you have to believe that change is possible. You need hope, optimism and a sense of the possible good outcomes that can be achieved through your actions. It is better to inspire and uplift people into action than to frighten or depress them. People who believe in their own power can and will act. People who feel powerless in the face of all that is wrong, give up. Stories, songs, art – expressions of hope and possibility – help people to change things.

We need stories. We need stories about things that worked out ok, or better. We need stories about how much better things could be. We need things that feed our souls so that we are fighting for something, not merely grinding ourselves down against the vastness of all that is wrong. For some people, the comfort of a spiritual book is a real boon in this context as well. Guidance on how to uphold the spiritual side of your life, and the inspiration to do so, can be a real blessing. Something to hang on to when the world is breaking your heart, something to bring your grief to, and somewhere to seek sustenance.

For some people, spiritual practice is what makes it all bearable and possible. For some people, it’s escapist fantasy fiction. For some of us, it’s music, dancing, or walking, or bird watching or any number of other things. It is important to stay human, and to do the things that fill us with joy and hope.

If you want to do your art and activism at the same time, watch out for Share the Love in February – raising awareness of climate change.


Toxic female – asking for it

I’m exploring the things that women do to other women that hold us all back and keep us down. Today I want to talk about body shaming, slut shaming and how we give each other toxic ideas about consent.

Women can be very quick to blame other women for sexual abuse and harassment. Choices of clothes, makeup, shoes and how a woman presents are long standing targets. There’s a long history on calling a women ‘no better than she should be’ – being a roundabout way to slut shame another woman. It has been women, historically, who have particularly alienated from their social circles the ‘fallen’ women, where men with mistresses and illegitimate children never faced the same consequences.

Clothing, hair, shoes and makeup are never a person’s consent. No one gives sexual consent to a total stranger or a passing acquaintance, or even a friend or a boyfriend by wearing clothes. Or not wearing clothes. No one is asking for it. And yet, I saw only last week a whole bunch of women on facebook agreeing that a topless woman was just asking to be groped by a stranger and that it was her fault for not covering up.

When we make male behaviour about female clothes choices, what we tell each other is that men can’t control themselves. It’s a pretty shitty attitude to men. We teach our daughters to cover up, look demure and not act sexy so as to avoid rape and other assaults, when we do not tell our sons not to assault women. If a woman is sexy, we blame her for any negative consequences that can be associated with that. I think this is because there can be a tendency to give jealousy a lot of room in these situations. So often it seems to be women who do not suit the conventional male gaze shaming and blaming women who do. But that keeps it all about the male gaze, and doesn’t get us talking about healthier and broader takes on beauty and not making invisible women who are not young and curvy.

We tell stories about women who we think have slept their way to career advances. We haven’t told stories about male abuses of power, but about women using their sexuality to get results. Those stories need to change, and I think they are changing.

We tell stories that suggest we don’t have the right to own our own bodies.

The thing about covering up is, remember what happened with the Victorians. Swathe a woman in fabric, and suddenly a flash of ankle becomes the erotic focus of the male gaze, and the woman who shows too much ankle is just asking for it and is no better than she should be. The problem is not what we wear – no matter what we wear. The problem is that the female body is sexualised, and treated as an object. So long as we keep telling each other that women who get attacked were asking for it, we let this sort of thing continue unchallenged.


Hate speech and activism

Here’s a thing I’ve seen too often. A woman does or says something unacceptable. She is rightly called out for it. But then the tone changes and it becomes an opportunity for anti-female hate. Rather than talking about the issues, words like bitch, witch, and cunt enter the mix. We will hear that she’s old, fat, ugly, unshaggable. In the worst cases, there will be threats of rape, violence and even death. This has got to stop, because there is nothing, nothing a person can say that makes it ok to threaten them.

There are a number of things that happen when this occurs. Firstly, it derails the actual issue. Whatever we should have been talking about gets lost in the noise of hate speech. That’s not good activism. Tory women subject to threats online became a bigger story last year than the shit they had been dealing out. That’s not a win for your cause. Hate speech justifies more hate back at you. That’s not a win for your cause. There isn’t a good cause out there well served by directing hate towards women. Nor is there a good cause well served by perpetuating rape culture.

Last time I did a stall in the street, and old Labour supporter- a guy – explained to me that this kind of political situation is what you get when women are allowed power, because women are basically awful. I’m not prepared to accept that. I’m not prepared to let Theresa May be judged for her gender rather than her actions. It’s her actions, and lethal inaction we should be calling out, for as long as it takes to get real change. Hating her for being a woman doesn’t actually help.

It’s all too tempting to give the person holding your banner a free pass. They are on your side, apparently, they turned up to support your cause and bash your enemies and so we accept them and even welcome them. It doesn’t help that we treat so many issues as fights, us and them, my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Except they aren’t, and what we’re doing is giving room for haters and people who are totally at odds with our causes and values.

If your allies are using hate speech and making threats of death and rape, they are not your allies. They just happen to hate your opponent more than they hate you. They find your banner a convenient thing to hide behind. They may even be there for the harm they can do to your cause. I’ve seen it so many times online this year – people on the right complaining about the vile hate speech and threats coming from the left. Making death threats to Tory women does not advance any cause for the common good, it harms it.

Do we trust everyone who turns up and says they are with us? Do we trust everyone who claims to be our ally that they really are that? It seems rather naive to me. The people holding your banner have the most power to destroy your credibility, especially if you stand by and let them do it.

We have to stop giving free passes to anyone who claims to be ‘on our side’. When you’re working for cultural change, the ends do not justify the means. If the means take you in exactly the wrong direction, then what you’re doing is creating a cultural change that goes in exactly the wrong direction. You don’t make people safer by making death threats. You don’t further your cause by letting people with a hate agenda speak loudly on its behalf.

We have to start dealing with each other based on how we behave, not based on whose side anyone says they are on. If we see our ‘enemies’ as inhuman and deserving the worst we can do to them, we have lost already. To win at radical cultural change, we have to persuade. We have to argue over the ideas and the methods. We have to deal with the issues. Hate speech doesn’t do that. Ever. We have to be the change we want to see and our methods matter, which means we have to speak up against hate no matter where it comes from. We have to say no, this person does not speak for me. No, this behaviour is not acceptable.


Toxic femininity

I am cheered by the work many men are doing to expose and deconstruct toxic masculinity. I’m also starting to see women talking about the need to do the same thing. It’s not like being female makes you naturally non-patriarchal, non-feudal, non-hierarchical, not into power over. There are a great many ways in which women actively contribute to toxic social constructs of femininity, and a lot of things women do to keep women powerless. It’s worth remembering that not all women were suffragettes back in the day – there were plenty who were very keen that women should not get the vote.

One of the things that bothers me particularly is how we define what constitutes a ‘real woman’ and thus who is excluded. While this can be an issue for trans women, it often also means a subset of women who were born women. If ‘real’ women have wombs, where does that leave a women who has been medically obliged to have hers removed? Where does that leave a woman who was born without a womb? I’ve heard a lot of really toxic things from radical feminists in the last few months that narrow the definition of women to something far too womb-centric.

Women who are anti-trans are currently doing a massive disservice to cis women who don’t fit their ideas of ‘real’ womanhood. Those of us who are taller, broader, have more facial hair, larger hands and feet – those of us who look like we could have started out as men, will also be subject to the suspicions, and worse, whipped up against trans women. I’m no fan of transphobia, and I wonder if the radical feminists out there realise how much they are trying to make femininity about being able to pass, and looking certain ways. Toxic notions of femininity that define us as small, weak, without muscle, delicate and so forth. ‘Biologically’ based feminism will exclude a significant number of ‘biological’ women. I don’t think much of a strand of feminism that rejects so much of the breadth of female appearance and experience.

I’ve seen the ‘real women have curves’ meme go past on social media plenty of times. There are plenty of women who do not have curves – not because of diets or surgery or being born male, but because they have a body shape that isn’t curvy. There should be no shame in the accident of your body shape. There should be no de-feminising of women who aren’t the currently fashionable shape. It bothers me immensely that we still encourage women to be thin, not to be fit or healthy. That’s a really toxic notion. Thin and curvy is difficult to achieve without surgery, which is also incredibly toxic as a way to define what we should aspire to.

We’re still too quick to make motherhood the definition of womanhood. Again, this excludes a lot of women – those who are unable to have children, and those who do not want to have children. As the human population becomes ever more unsustainable, we really, really should not be shaming women who don’t want to breed. Motherhood should not be the end goal of being female, nor the defining experience of being female. We’ve had far too much of that historically, it’s a notion that ties us to domestic roles. There is no urgent need for more people right now.

Defining womanhood in relation to domestic roles is another big problem. Historically, we’ve had very narrow options. There are still women who hold other women back by saying these are not the jobs for you, this is not what you should do or aspire to. We still give our daughters shiny glittery pink things and tell our boys they can be scientists and astronauts. We need more room in terms what we think women can do. I’m so tired of seeing men online trying to tell the world that women do nothing important and can’t do anything important. There’s a lot of work to do to deconstruct this one.

When we think about identities, the urge always seems to be to draw a circle around something – be that about gender, Paganism, political affiliation or anything else. We draw the line that says these people are in and those others are out. Toxic gender ideas draw circles that say only certain kinds of men and women are real men and women. The rest of us, the ones who don’t fit inside the circle are non-people. We don’t matter, are excluded from things, are shamed, ridiculed, harassed – and this has to stop. If we all stopped trying to decide who isn’t a real (insert term of preference here) and invested that time and energy in being better versions of ourselves, we’d very easily get rid of a lot of toxic ideas and all that follows from them.