London, innit

London innit.

So, yes, I thought I’d save my next blog entry for after my first foray into the world of London and the Royal Court, so here I am! Fresh from the big smoke (or whatever). This was actually my very first time in London on my own, I’ve been a couple of times before, for a week theatre trip in sixth form, and trips on coaches to a museum or two, but never actually had to navigate the tube and stuff on my own! I spent the afternoon trying to find the Tate Modern, and then realising that I actually don’t really like much modern art beyond Picasso (I don’t deny its worth, just not a fan). Then it got to about 6, and so I made my perilous journey to Sloane Square. Very pleased that the Royal Court is literally just next to the tube station and no map reading in the dimming light and rain was necessary. So I waited, met people, and was ushered backstage to begin things. We got a free play script, and a few handouts, did a getting-to know you warm-up, some exercises about ‘home’ (people, places, memories, things etc.) which I think were to do with ‘finding your voice’ – like where you originate from your voice does too. We were then set a writing exercise to do with ‘home’ for the next week. That was it- all very pleasant, lots of very nice people, and quite exciting really. The rest of this post now diverts slightly, but do read on…

The warm up was a good one; ‘White Socks’. If you don’t know it , here’s how it goes: you have a circle of chairs with one less than there are people, and one person in the middle. The person in the middle says ‘anyone wearing white socks’ then anyone of whom that statement is true has to change seats, and the person in the middle tries to sit down too, another person is thus left standing, and must make another statement, etc. etc. The game was altered slightly to emphasise the idea that all plays pose questions, and we were encouraged to ask quite difficult and ‘political’ questions. Very revealing, not least in the kind of people who are selected by the RC! Out of the 14 of us, no one was religious, more than half had voted Labour at some point, no one had voted conservative, 25% or so couldn’t count a black person among their close personal friends (myself included, coming from a county almost 98% white I hope this doesn’t reflect too badly, though inevitably it does! having said that, there were no black people in any of my uni courses or clubs, or where I work… worrying?). However, slightly worryingly, and glaringly obvious before the ‘white socks game’ was that out of the group of 14, only two (including myself) were of the female persuasion, and all white. I do know the Court has a specific programme for Black/Ethnic Minority young writers, but the small number of girls was definitely a surprise. Both the Mphil and the Theatre Writing Partnership work I’ve been involved in has been quite balanced in terms of gender, so I don’t know if this is an anomaly, or specific to the Royal Court, but if one is to believe received wisdom, the RC numbers are much more representative of the industry than my previous experiences… Plus, I have often been accused of writing very ‘male’ plays (a thesis long debate if I ever heard one) and, after advice given by several female writers, I send my work off under the gender-neutral H. K. Nicklin… I’m not going to draw any conclusions from such a small amount of experience, but food for thought, yes? When I got up and into the circle posed the statement ‘anyone who is proud to call themselves feminist’ and all the girls and a couple of guys got up, encouraging that at least some guys did, but that left at least 8-10 still sitting down.

I wish, wish, wish, ‘Feminist’ wasn’t such a dirty word. It’s about justice. It’s about equality. It’s a human rights issue. Women are not equal. The UN recently published a damning report about the treatment of women in the UK;

“British women are under-represented in Parliament, paid less than men at work and increasingly being sent to prison for committing minor offences, a report on sex discrimination has found. The report, which was published by an influential committee of the United Nations, paints a damning picture of daily life for women living in the UK who continue to fight for a fairer deal in society.

Calling on Britain to do more to improve the standing of women, the committee argues for “benchmarks and concrete timetables” to increase the number of women in political and public life and to use “special measures” to promote women to positions of leadership. Only one in five members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords is a woman.

The UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is also critical of what it describes as “gender segregation” in the workplace. In its report it says that its members are concerned about the “persistence of occupational segregation between women and men in the labour market and the continuing pay gap, one of the highest in Europe”.

The average hourly earnings of full-time female employees amount to approximately 83 per cent of men’s earnings, according to the findings. In its report, the UN also highlights the need for greater measures to tackle violence against women and the practice of forced marriages.”
(Taken from a report in The Independant By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor, on Tuesday, 2 September 2008)

I feel completely at a loss that even people very close to me , my close friends, my boyfriends, just don’t get it, they would never stand for a racist joke, or an anti-Semitic one, or a homophobic one, but put a sexist joke in front of them and they wouldn’t say a thing. This is dangerous territory – one of the big put downs of feminism and feminists is a ‘lack of a sense of humour’ and if you ask me it’s one of the most dangerous, because if you can pass your prejudices off as humour, then you can very easily dismiss people who disagree as ‘not getting it’. Humour often walks the line between acceptable and unacceptable, but I believe some things should be too hot to touch –at least until the damage and hurt done begins to heal.

When my 13.05 Virgin train from Wolverhampton to London Euston was pulling in, the announcer-guy came over the tannoy, and made the usual ‘we are arriving in London’ announcement. He then finished this speech with a quote “Barbara Cartland said that “Unless she is ill, a woman should get up and cook her husband’s breakfast before he goes to work in the morning”. She said it – not me!”

The men in the carriage laughed, or looked smug, the women reflected what I think I looked like- a combination of shock and humiliation. This was humiliating. In a public space. I have no method of public redress. I can write a letter of complaint, but nothing that will likely produce more than a slap-on-the-wrist, and some more sexist jokes about me and ‘my type’.

If you found a racist quote by a black person would you read it out over a train tannoy? No. Am I over-reacting? I don’t know, I know how it made me feel, that may be just me, but I count right?

In the script for the well known ‘Life on Mars‘ the character Gene Hunt’s attitudes we substantially censored: “Mr Pharoah [co-creator of Life on Mars] described it as a slightly “bizarre conclusion” that the sexist and homophobic elements of the character were found to be acceptable while only racism was “a step too far”.” (source = The Guardian ‘Organ Grinder’ blog by Mark Sweney Saturday August 25 2007). The co-creator suggests that “this may have been because “two wars had been won” – meaning homophobia and sexism are at a point in UK culture that they can be featured, albeit carefully, in TV drama – but that racism is still a taboo subject.”.

However, I find this difficult, I think both sexism and homophobia are just as much a problem than racism. Racism, is widely held up to be ‘wrong’, people get that, where as homophobia is quietly still very prevalent, and sexism ingrained in a supreme form of cultural hegemony; ‘the battle is done’ people tell you,’we are equal now’. And certainly, many victories have been had; reproductive rights, the vote, education rights, the right to be a member of parliament or a judge, however many, many more battles are ahead of us, just as shoring up the battlements of old successes. The key to the problem is that legislation only has the power to affect the public face of discrimination – the biggest problems that now face feminists (loosely speaking, not taking into account all feminisms) all stem from the prejudices that are still rife in the ‘private’ arena. A pitiful rape conviction rate that has dropped from more than 33% in 1977 to only 5.3% now (source) is down to the appalling attitudes of most people to the culpability of women, and the ‘animal’ nature of men. It’s very nice to be able to have a job after being married, and to be an MP (albeit only 18% of MPs), but this is simply untenable as long as women continue to be portrayed as less ‘strong’ constitutionally than men, and as volatile baby bombs, liable to start ‘ticking’ at any minute. Likewise the sexualisation of young girls, and fewer women being interested in sciences and maths is entirely down to the role models society provides them with, the toys and magazines they are given, and the continue objectification of women in the media. Even if, despite being given less attention in schools (source), girls are now out-performing boys, it prompts David Willets (shadow education man) at the latest Conservative party conference, to complain that men are being ‘prevented from being the breadwinners’ by ‘Bridget Joneses’ – university educated women who are destroying the ‘modern family’ (paraphrasing). Kira Cochrane in the Guardian has it right when she responds that:

“The interesting thing about Willetts‘ speech is this notion that men are being prevented from “bringing home the bacon”. In fact, women still earn 17% less for full-time work than men, and, of all groups, mothers face the most discrimination in the workplace. If there’s a crisis in the modern family – and I’m not convinced that there is – women’s academic excellence isn’t to blame any more than Bridget Jones is. The true problem is that equality is still a long way off.” (Source)

Although many more women go out to work, the majority of chores are still done by women. And just when is the ‘modern family’ going to get a genuinely modern revision beyond the current 1950s (which in turn harked back to the ‘angel of the house’ Victorian ideal) values, which didn’t work in either time (see the two feminist movements that accompanied both!). When is the word ‘family’ going be used to accept a family that takes in step brothers and step parents, extended family, and all the other myriad of changes that are considered ‘abnormal’ or ‘bad’? (another thesis long debate I feel)

Do people know these things? Do people, men and women, know that these things are true? I believe that people are essentially decent. I cannot believe that people would say that feminism is ‘done with’ if they knew these things.

Changing the ongoing disgusting injustices against women is no longer solely the responsibility of women, men’s attitudes and lives need to change also.

It is imperative that both women and men be able to unashamedly say ‘yes I believe in human rights, I am a feminist’.

It’s best put by Ani DiFranco (If you’ve never heard an album, do so, amazing stuff.)

Shocked to tears by each new vision
Of all that my ancestors have done

Like, say, the women who gave their lives
So that I could have one

People, we are standing at ground zero
Of the feminist revolution
Yeah, it was an inside job
Stoic and sly
One we’re supposed to forget
And downplay and deny
But I think the time is nothing
If not nigh
To let the truth out
Coolest f-word ever deserves a fucking shout!
I mean
Why can’t all decent men and women
Call themselves feminists?
Out of respect
For those who fought for this
I mean, look around
We have this

(Ani DiFranco– Grand Canyon)

So what am I saying? That so called ‘post feminist’ comedy of the ilk of men driving trains, and comedians like Jimmy Carr is dangerous, I don’t believe enough people see the sexism in society, see the enough of the ‘irony’ (if it does exist) for it to be ok right now. There are, of course kinds of humour that surpass the danger, subversion that is clear in intention- comedy by people like Sarah Silverman and Jo Brand. However the traditional ‘sexist joke’ (just as the traditional ‘racist joke’) dug up from a time long past still smacks mainly of injustice, and of the attitudes of those times, and it hurts.


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