Health Hell in a handcart

“Only the wealthy get to survive the pandemic unscathed”

Deb Perelman has written an interesting piece in the New York Times about working parents in the time of COVID-19.

Why am I, a food blogger best known for such hits as the All-Butter Really Flaky Pie Dough and The ‘I Want Chocolate Cake’ Cake, sounding the alarm on this? I think it’s because when you’re home schooling all day, and not performing the work you were hired to do until the wee hours of the morning, and do it on repeat for 106 days (not that anyone is counting), you might be a bit too fried to funnel your rage effectively.

…The consensus is that everyone agrees this is a catastrophe, but we are too bone-tired to raise our voices above a groan, let alone scream through a megaphone. Every single person confesses burnout, despair, feeling like they are losing their minds, knowing in their guts that this is untenable.

Of course there is an element of privilege here: there are many people who, long before COVID, were forced to work very long hours and sometimes multiple jobs just to scratch a living (and in America, get healthcare). They didn’t get to write about it in the NYT.

But that doesn’t mean Perelman doesn’t have a point. The response to COVID-19 means that in many parts of the world, many workers are now expected to do their jobs in the same hours from home. In addition to their full-time job they’re also expected to look after and teach their children, which is also a full-time job. And when politicians talk about re-opening the economy, those parents clearly aren’t being taken into consideration.

I’ve heard from parents who have the luck of a grandparent who can swoop in, or the deep pockets for a full-time nanny or a private tutor for their child when schools are closed. That all sounds enviable, but it would be absurd to let policy be guided by people with cushioning. If you have the privilege to opt out of the work force and wish to, enjoy it. But don’t wield it as a stick to poke others with because far more people are being forced to “opt out” this year and will never professionally or financially recover.

I resent articles that view the struggle of working parents this year as an emotional concern. We are not burned out because life is hard this year. We are burned out because we are being rolled over by the wheels of an economy that has bafflingly declared working parents inessential.

I’m one of the privileged ones (although I’m ineligible for the financial support the government ensures furloughed workers and some self-employed people get to keep the wolf from the door, so I’m not that privileged). I was already a home worker, I don’t have to work specific hours and because I co-parent I still have a few days when I can work in silence without also having to amuse or educate my children. But the effect on my productivity and availability has still been catastrophic: while I cannot be available for half of the usual working week, the people who employ me expect me to be. Trust me, it’s hard to write an accurate piece about something complicated, let alone broadcast live to the nation, when your six-year-old is bored senseless and loudly demanding entertainment.

Muddling through is doable for a short time. I’ve done it for four months, albeit four months that have wiped out all my savings. But what if the new normal is nothing like the old normal? What happens if your employer expects you to be back full-time but your kids’ school is only taking them part time? Given the horrendous cost of commercial childcare, the only solution for some couples will be for one of them to go part-time, assuming the employer allows it, or to quit. Most of the people expected to go part-time or quit will be women.

And of course, things are even more difficult for single parents.

Even those who found a short-term solution because they had the luxury to hit the pause button on their projects and careers this spring to manage the effects of the pandemic — predicated on the assumption that the fall would bring a return to school and child care — may now have no choice but to leave the work force. A friend just applied for a job and tells me she cannot even imagine how she would be able to take it if her children aren’t truly back in school. There’s an idea that people can walk away from careers and just pick them up where they left off, even though we know that women who drop out of the work force to take care of children often have trouble getting back in.

This isn’t really about COVID. It’s about a sudden economic shock making existing fault lines deeper, amplifying the existing inequalities so that they affect a wider group of people. It’s about the hypocrisy of a largely male political class who have the resources to pay for high quality childcare, education and healthcare for their own families but deny it to everybody else. Childcare, education and health are not costs to be avoided; they’re investments in – and insurance for – the future.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

Hateful words lead to hateful acts

The TIE Campaign is a wonderful organisation that campaigns for more inclusive education.

The TIE Campaign posted this yesterday:

We are a charity which works with schools, teachers, and educators to tackle prejudice-based bullying. We provide anti-bullying sessions and gender stereotypes/equalities workshops to schools, and produce resources to include LGBT people and history in the curriculum.

…For a number of months, we have been receiving the most hurtful – and dangerous – posts and messages from individuals who appear to be opposed to LGBT themes being included within education. We have never had to deal with anything like this before.

…We cannot continue to sit by as individuals do this to us. Trolling is one thing – but what they are doing is dangerous, prejudicial, and hateful. Please report tweets like this if you see them. We cannot address this alone.

LGBT people and charities are regularly called groomers, pedophiles, abusers. This is unacceptable and horrific.

…It’s not just us. Many LGBT organisations have been receiving this for months; as have national women’s charities, youth organisations, politicians. Lying like this about people or groups on social media is dangerous & can have serious consequences. It needs to stop.

Please do read the whole thing. It’s horrifying, and utterly typical of the abuse LGBT+ organisations and supporters of LGBT+ equality receive on social media. And it’s increased dramatically in the last two years.

Here’s Pink Saltire:

This type of abuse is commonplace towards LGBT+ groups and has a real impact on us all.

Sisters Scotland:

The online abuse, slander, misrepresentation and lies that the LGBT community face on the daily destroy lives. It bleeds from online toxicity in to abuse in the media, and straight into abuse in the workplace, at home, in the streets. These prejudiced narratives pushed influence the narratives lived by the LGBT+ community. Their voices and strength are crushed under the weight of this. It’s up to all of us to ensure we give that strength back, that we raise those voices, make them louder and challenge those that seek to silence them.

Dr Rebecca Crowther of LGBTI Scotland:

It claws in to our personal social media accounts too & of course our minds, our mental health, our bodies. I couldn’t & wouldn’t type some of the names I’ve been called. I could never share the mysognynistic homophobic bullying & gaslighting I’ve received. That all of us have.

And the worst part? Nothing I have received even compares remotely to the horrific bullying and abuse my trans siblings have been subject to.

SNP women’s convener and TIE Campaign chair Rhiannon Spear:

Constantly being called a pedophile or a child groomer because I support LGBT rights cannot become normal + I refuse to let it become normal.

We are seeking legal advice + will take action where we can.

The rhetoric needs to change.

Abuse against LGBT+ people is rising in the UK, and that rise corresponds to the increasingly violent rhetoric being used about us and our allies in print and on social media. The people calling LGBT+ people and charities paedophiles on the internet are just echoing what high-profile Twitter accounts and newspaper columnists are saying. Violent words ultimately lead to violent acts.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart Media

Super Size Media

Morgan Spurlock in a promotional image for Super Size Me (2004)

Have you ever wondered why so much news output is junk?

It’s because of the big board.

As journalist Mic Wright explains, the big board was popularised by Nick Denton of Gawker media. It’s a big screen that everybody in the newsroom can see, and it shows you in real time which stories are getting the most attention.

What Gawker did a decade ago is commonplace in newsrooms now, because most media outlets have become dependent on traffic-based advertising revenue. As a result every significant media outlet pays close attention to its traffic: “which reporters/writers/columnists are killing it and whose stuff is absolutely eating dirt,” as Wright puts it.

And sadly, it’s usually the lowest-quality content that’s killing it.  You can see that for yourself: while media outlets don’t let you see their big board, many of them do show you what content is the most read (and often, most shared and/or most commented on).

In 2011, Nick Denton explained that this system worked really well for everything but “the worthy topics”: “Nobody wants to eat the boring vegetables. Nor [do advertisers] want to pay to encourage people to eat their vegetables.”

He was right, and the food comparison is a good one: many of us would much rather eat Big Macs than broccoli, and the stats show that we are similarly drawn to unhealthy news output: the dogwhistling columnists, the manufactured outrage, the reinforcement of prejudice, idiocy rather than analysis.

But the downside is the same too. As Morgan Spurlock demonstrated in Super Size Me just before the big board became a newsroom staple, there are terrible consequences to consuming a diet made mainly of junk.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart

A tale of two cities

Something happened in Glasgow’s George Square last night.

Tale #1: two rival groups of protesters clashed. One group was there to “protect statues” from vandalism.

Tale #2: more than 200 far-right loyalist goons set out to attack a peaceful pro-immigration protest, assaulting protesters, passers-by and the police.

Both tales are true, but they’re framed very differently and effectively describe two different cities.

The first one has appeared in multiple media outlets.

The second description is the real one.

The far-right thugs shouting racist and sectarian slurs – “Fenian bastards” was a favourite, judging by the videos I’ve seen – and sieg-heiling in our streets, the people who just days ago assaulted non-white people and young women in similar scenes, were not counter-protesters and were not there to protect statues. They were coordinated by the National Defence League, the successor to the SDL, a group of fascist clowns who go out intending to inflict violence. Their social media is plastered with the Red Hand of Ulster and the Union Flag, acronyms such as FTP and all the usual far-right tropes.

To suggest, as some media outlets have done, that they were in any way equivalent to the gentle, joyful, anti-eviction protesters whose event they deliberately targeted isn’t balance. It’s false equivalence.

I joked on Twitter last night that the bigots “need to work on their messaging: if they claimed to have ‘reasonable concerns’ about ‘statue erasure’, The Herald would give them a column”. But there’s some truth in it. Whether it’s sectarian hooligans or more genteel bigotry, false equivalence is very dangerous.

False equivalence doesn’t just mislead people about the story. It prevents progress. How can you take action against vicious, violent bigots if you won’t admit that there are vicious, violent bigots in the first place?

Hell in a handcart Media Technology

“That is phenomenal engagement. What’s not to like?”

Alex Hern explores the tragic and frightening tale of one man’s descent into psychosis, a descent that was speeded up by online radicalisation.

There is no doubt that people have been radicalised by the internet, and by this particularly horrible corner of it. There are just too many cases like Slyman’s, where we can see, in the pattern of YouTube likes, Facebook groups and Twitter follows, someone entering the funnel at one end – watching Jordan Peterson videos, or listening to the Joe Rogan Experience – and then, six months or a year later, fully “red-pilled”, accusing Hilary Clinton of child murder or calling for a second civil-war in the US.

(One particularly curious thing about this as a Brit is that that’s even the journey of radicalisation of much of the UK far right. God knows we have our own pathways too – with Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins playing major parts – but the number of Trump t-shirts and MAGA hats at British fascist gatherings is wild.)

But in this case, six days just feels too quick for the normal radicalisation narrative to fit.

Hern asks a frightening question: what if the algorithms that push content to us can push us over the edge?

if YouTube’s recommendation algorithm had learned to recognise the signs of someone on the edge of a psychotic break, and had learned that if you show them a lot of QAnon videos at that stage in their life engagement goes through the roof, what would be different from the tale we’ve just heard?

We’re still not taking the problem of online radicalisation seriously enough. Part of it is human, where extremists use cult tactics to recruit people to their cause and create echo chambers of increasingly extreme ideology. But a great deal of it is automated, and that automation not only rewards extremism but promotes it to the people least able to sort fact from lurid fiction.

Five days after he watches his first Q video, he is live-streaming his belief that the local radio station is sending him coded messages from Q. Later that day, the song You Spin Me Round by Dead Or Alive convinces him the Deep State is coming to kill him, and he gets in the car with his wife and kids and begins his drive.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

Trans people are planning to escape the UK

Jane Fae in the Independent:

I spoke to a few trans folk: ordinary people trying to go about their daily routines as well as community leaders advocating on their behalf. The result was unanimous and shocking, and not just for the general level of abuse reported back. For this, in the end, is not so much about abuse or danger, but a growing fear that government, in yet another desperate populist lurch, will roll back the still limited place trans folk have been granted, making the UK a more hostile place for all.

…if rhetoric does turn to action – if the Tory party reverts to its longer-term status as “nasty party” in respect of LGBT+ people – who can blame trans people for seeking safety elsewhere. We have seen what is happening in Trump’s America. Seen, too, how quickly rights can be stripped away in places like Hungary or Brazil. And we know that without state protection, the violence that some would like to direct our way will swiftly escalate.

I do not wish to leave the UK. I am not going any time soon.

But if the UK lurches further right, descending further into desperate populism, the time may yet come when, like my father before me, I can no longer live safely in the country where I was born.

Some of us want to leave but can’t. I know because I’m one of them.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

Reaping, sowing

Apologies for the language, but there is an internet meme that’s become popular:

Me sowing: Haha fuck yeah!!! Yes!!
Me reaping: well this fucking sucks. What the fuck.

And another:

Well, well, well. If it isn’t the consequences of my own actions.

I was reminded of them yesterday when a British anti-trans group blogged about the US rollback of anti-discrimination protections for trans people, gay and lesbian people and women who have or need abortions.

it actively harms lesbians, women seeking abortions and women who defy gender norms… [the] religious right are waging a war on women and against the principle of health care as a human right.

Trans people and allies have been trying to warn anti-trans groups about this for years, which is why many, many people quoted this in response:

I can’t believe leopards are eating my face, says woman who voted for the “leopards eating your face” party.

It’s funny, but it isn’t remotely funny. The US’s anti-women legislation was initially presented as anti-trans legislation, but that was only ever a Trojan horse. And the same tactics are being used here.

In the UK, anti-trans groups have allied with the religious right to attack key legislation such as the Equality Act; yesterday’s government leak indicates that they’re being listened to. But the Equality Act doesn’t just protect trans women. It protects all women. Black women. Asian women. Lesbian women. Pregnant women. Religious women. Disabled women.

And it’s not just the Equality Act. Lawyers who previously represented anti-abortionists are now helming anti-trans test cases in an attempt to remove protections for LGBT+ kids at school. There is a concerted effort to remove the bodily autonomy of trans teenagers, something that would undermine the Gillick and Fraser competences that means teenage girls can get access to contraception.

What’s so frustrating about this is that the religious right has been very clear about it. They even put it in writing. The Family Research Council, one of the key drivers of anti-women legislation, published its master plan for attacking trans people in 2016. The FRC is part of the Hands Across The Aisle Coalition, which connects US evangelicals with British anti-trans activists.

As Brynn Tannehill wrote in 2018:

These right-wing organizations don’t try to hide their relationship with so-called feminists. Indeed, they proudly display it in order to create the illusion that both the left and the right oppose inclusion of trans people in society. In reality, only one side’s interests are being represented here ― the radical religious right.

Real feminists, lesbians, queers and bisexual woman should ask what sort of woman or feminist would align themselves with these right-wing organizations. They are all anti-choice. They all want to ban access to birth control. They universally want to overturn Lawrence v. Texas and allow states to make homosexuality illegal again. They want to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, and Roe v. Wade. They want to ban same-sex adoption. They all are hostile to fair-pay-for-women laws. They oppose women working outside the home. They are all hostile to the Women’s March and Me Too. They are fake medical organizations and anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice hate groups. They have cheered the assassinations of abortion providers. They are publications that have published horrible things about women, such as “Does Feminism Make Women Ugly?”

This isn’t a choice between transgender people and women. This is a choice between trans people and right-wing organizations pretending to represent women. And you are deluding yourself if you think these right-wing organizations will not be coming for queers and cisgender women next. They have said that’s exactly what they plan on doing.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

The nasty party has taken its mask off

As predicted, the UK government has abandoned its plans for gender recognition reform. Not only that, but instead of making life marginally better for trans people it has decided to make life much, much worse.

GRA reform isn’t the story here, although it’s worth noting in passing that, as in Scotland, around 70% of respondents were in favour; the government claims that the result was “skewed” by an “avalanche” of pro-reform submissions while ignoring the fact that every single anti-trans group in the UK, and many other organisations including religious groups and US conservatives, urged people to make anti-reform submissions. Apparently the will of the people only matters if they give you the result you want.

The real story is this. Months after the conservatives were asking focus groups whether trans rights were a culture war hot-button they could weaponise against Labour, they apparently intend to follow in the footsteps of the US and Hungary by attacking trans people’s existing rights.

According to the Sunday Times:

New protections will be offered to safeguard female-only spaces, including refuges and public lavatories, to stop them being used by those with male anatomy.

That’s a bathroom bill straight out of the US Republican playbook.

Trans women who haven’t had surgeries have been using the ladies for decades, as they should: presenting female in the gents is an invitation to get your head kicked in, or worse.

It’s also part of being able to get legal gender recognition. In order to get a Gender Recognition Certificate under the system the government will now not reform, you need to produce evidence that you have lived uninterrupted in your correct gender for at least two years. If you’re applying for a GRC, as I am, the gender recognition panel may ask you to produce evidence that you’ve been using the correct toilets, as the panel did with me.

You do not need to have had surgery to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate, and in fact such a requirement would be illegal under human rights legislation: legal gender recognition can’t be contingent on sterilisation.

I’m sure US-style bathroom bills would ultimately be defeated here, but that doesn’t mean the next few years are going to be easy for trans people and the wider LGBT+ community. The nasty party has taken its mask off.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

“The messaging does have an effect”

The Guardian on the Polish presidential election:

[The party] has often hit out at gay rights and what it calls “LGBT ideology”, in rhetoric that is popular with parts of its base and the Catholic church.

Among other things, Duda’s new charter pledges no support for gay marriage or adoption by gay couples, with Duda describing the latter as part of “a foreign ideology”. It also seeks to “ban the propagation of LGBT ideology” in schools and public institutions – language reminiscent of a notorious Russian law targeting so-called “gay propaganda”.

…The messaging does have an effect. In a survey last year, when asked to name the biggest threat to Poland, the most popular answer among men under 40 was “the LGBT movement and gender ideology”.

The messaging does have an effect. And yet the Guardian, and many other UK papers, happily and frequently platforms the very same arguments about trans people that the Polish far right perpetuate about the wider LGBT+ community. It’s usually worded more diplomatically than in Poland, but the message is the same: we need to protect our children from dangerous predators who do not deserve human rights.

The messaging does have an effect. In the US, the hitherto uncontroversial existence of trans people has been weaponised by the Christian Right and its supporters in the Republican Party. Yesterday, to mark the 4th anniversary of the most lethal massacre of LGBT+ people in US history, the US government formalised a new rule that removes anti-discrimination protection from LGBT people in healthcare. Unless state laws say otherwise, it is now perfectly legal for doctors to refuse to provide any medical treatment to LGBT+ people and women who have had abortions. Not just transition-related treatment, or abortions. Any medical treatment. 

This began with scaremongering about trans women in toilets. It does not end there.

The messaging does have an effect.

Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

“The problem with British transphobia: it sounds so reasonable”

June Tuesday, writing on Medium: JK Rowling and the Reasonable Bigotry.

The UK’s transphobia is many-pronged — our conservatives, religious fundamentalists, alt-right, ‘rational men’, and so all exist here, too. But virulent and aggressive anti-trans feminists have a culture and history specific to Britain, and their views trickle down into the respectable views of those with ‘reasonable concerns’.

Tuesday makes a point that many others have made about Rowling’s latest broadside: nothing in it is new. It’s just a collection of hackneyed anti-trans tropes, many of them reheated anti-gay and anti-lesbian tropes, beloved by Twitter bigots, the far right and religious conservatives. You could do a point by point explanation of why it’s wrong, as Andrew James Carter has done, but these points have been debunked again and again and again to virtually no effect. In some cases they were debunked fifty years ago.

The reason it’s had no effect is that it doesn’t get published. The UK media is overwhelmingly anti-trans. Papers that previously claimed AIDS was an invention of the “homosexual lobby” run sustained campaigns against the “trans Taliban”. Papers that presented Andrew Wakefield as a brave campaigner against a medical establishment pushing supposedly dangerous vaccines now present anti-semites, homophobes and racists as brave campaigners against a medical establishment pushing supposedly dangerous medical treatment. Papers that once traded in vicious homophobia have pivoted to equally vicious transphobia.

The information is out there, but there’s no interest in publishing it because it doesn’t drive traffic, reinforce the prejudices of readers or give those readers their daily two-minute hate. That’s because in the UK, there is an entire industry of columnists and commentators who pay their mortgages by punching down against one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in society.

To them, trans people aren’t people. They’re a magic money tree.