“Abominable” isn’t

I took the kids to see Abominable yesterday. I didn’t have high hopes: the marketing made it look like another school-holiday by-the-numbers animation, and I already knew it made extensive use of one of Coldplay’s worst songs. But it turned out to be a wee gem of a film, and my two loved it.

It struck me while I was watching it that kids’ movies, especially animated ones, are often much more diverse than adult ones. One of the best cartoons I’ve seen with the kids, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, featured a black hero, a black villain and a multi-gendered, multi-racial supporting cast; Ralph Breaks The Internet was a two-hander with a strong young female character; Abominable’s hero is a young Chinese girl and the characters are also primarily Chinese, albeit in a westernised cartoon form.

That diversity is a good thing, of course. Kids come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and films should reflect that – and they often do, even if studios aren’t quite ready to give Elsa from Frozen a girlfriend. And films for older audiences are becoming more diverse too. Last year’s top-grossing US films featured more diverse casts and lead characters– although as Deadline reported, “the only way to go is up when the numbers have been so low for over a decade.”


Listen to this: Marian Keyes on Radio 4

I caught this by accident today and absolutely adored it: the final episode of Between Ourselves With Marian Keyes, featuring the author reading some of her non-fiction and chatting with Tara Flynn. Some of it was deadly serious, some of it had me laughing like a drain, some of it was the sound of nails being hit firmly on the head (such as, “You’re not being ‘edgy’ if you’re not the one on the edge”). The whole thing was beautifully warm and emotional and human.

Highly recommended: it’s available online until the end of October.


“A shill like you”

Frankie Boyle went viral again yesterday for suggesting that there were “perfectly legitimate reasons” for being suspicious of Greta Thunberg. “For example, the fact that you’re a big stupid man-baby, tricked by an algorithm into taking your opinions from corporate power.”

Inevitably, some people on the internet disagreed and thought it was a great idea to pick a fight about “the climate hoax” with someone who spends most of their time insulting people in ever more elaborate ways.

You’ll never guess what happened next.



Never in their wildest dreams could elites have imagined they would have a shill like you. They thought they’d have to pay for people like you. Here you are, on your own time, fighting for corporate interests, against the literal survival of your own species. Because you fell down a YouTube hole. Because you grew up in a stupid post colonial society that encouraged your delusions of superiority. When you eventually burst into flames, or are torn to pieces by dogs in an abandoned ASDA, you can take comfort in the fact that at least you redefined the word “moron”, just when we thought we’d seen it all.

As we say in Scotland, telt.


The rescue industry for women who don’t want to be rescued

One of the things I love about the internet is that it can bring you stories from voices you wouldn’t otherwise hear. This is a good example: it’s a long and interesting piece about sex work by Lorelei Lee. It’s a great article about something I know very little about, a series of pictures from a life that’s very different from mine.

Sex work, whether prostitution or pornography, is a controversial topic. But as Lee notes, in most cases the people debating the topic don’t seek the views of the people who actually do the work. People on both sides of any debate presume to know what’s best for women without actually asking what the women want.

Neither liberal feminists nor libertarians, radical feminists nor the religious right, can hear us speak in our own words. They do not want to hear us; they want to collect the scraped-bare “facts” of our lives and call them data.

…When feminists call for the criminalization and delegitimization of sex work, they do not ally themselves with sex-working women. They actively create and cultivate a world in which sex-working women are culturally, legally, and visibly separated from women who do not trade sex. They make sure that they will not be mistaken for one of us, and they do so by telling a story about our lives that is about predators and not about work. A story in which the power dynamics are utterly uncomplicated and so are the solutions.

This is something we’ve seen recently in the UK, where groups have demanded the closure of strip clubs and simply ignored the views of the women who work in them. Not only that, but they used concealed cameras to film the women without their consent.

Kuba Shand-Baptiste writes in The Independent:

The “campaigning” here was at the expense of, not in support of, the women working at the clubs. Dr Sasha Rakoff, the chief executive of Not Buying It, maintains that the sting was “not about exposing lap dancers”. Yet one of the women who was filmed working at a strip club in Manchester, identified as Daisy, said the sting had violated her privacy. “I consent to being on CCTV,” she said. “I consent to it every night when I go to work [because it keeps me safe] but I don’t consent to them [the campaigners] filming me.

“We have a right to our body, despite what we do for a job, and they’ve taken that right completely away from us.”

…These groups say that it’s impossible to accept both that sex work can be exploitative (which, of course, it can) and also that sex workers have the right to demand better safety and fairer conditions in their workplace. It’s all or nothing: strip clubs should be abolished; strippers should be filmed without their consent for their own good; sex workers as well as their clients should be locked up; porn should be banned.

The reality is much messier. Lee:

How do we describe our lives without neglecting the fact that we have experienced both violence and joy at work? How do we talk about those extremes without ignoring the pragmatic day-to-day of it all, the profound boredom of washing and folding sheets between sessions, of listening to wealthy middle-aged men boast, of surreptitiously checking our watches while fucking, of all the tasks that we are paid for that have nothing to do with sex and have so much in common with other forms of service work? How do we talk about our experiences without letting their meaning be stolen?

The perspectives of women in the sex industry are often inconvenient for the people who want to “save” them. Kate Lister in The Guardian:

…the sex workers at the centre of these debates are finally being allowed to speak for themselves. And to the surprise of many feminist groups, it turns out that they do not want saving. Nor do they seem particularly grateful to their would-be saviours for campaigning on their behalf to do them out of a job. In fact, they appear to be downright angry about have-a-go rescue missions that involve secretly filming them naked, then outing them to members of local licensing committees.

There’s nothing new about the rescue dynamic. Sympathy for the plight of the “fallen woman”, and a need to save her, was endemic in Victorian newspapers. Hundreds of charitable organisations were established throughout the 19th century to rescue and reform such women.

The voice of the sex worker is noticeably absent in much of this historical debate, but on the rare occasion it is heard, it frequently offered a very different perspective, as it does today.

Do read the whole thing, it’s fascinating.

As Shand-Baptiste points out, the same narrative of women who must be saved from themselves plays out with regard to other groups of women.

There are some campaigners, and particularly some feminists, who seem to believe that in order to achieve a more equal society there are people out there who need saving from themselves. We see it in conversations about black women (”How, exactly, does twerking ‘empower’ us?“); about Muslim women (”Wearing a hijab contributes to your own oppression“); about fat women (”Self-hatred and subscribing to beauty norms is the only way you’ll save yourself“), and about trans women too (”Your personal suffering at the hands of people like me is mythical“).

The overarching message is that these women can’t possibly know what’s good for them. They need a self-appointed, morally upstanding woman to tell them what to do – and to silence them in the process.

Lee describes “the rescue industry”, where self-appointed saviours do their self-professed good works for the benefit of TV cameras.

Nicholas Kristof live-tweets brothel raids and gets paid by the New York Times to write about it. The former police officer and pastor Kevin Brown leveraged his “rescue missions” into a reality TV show on A&E called 8 Minutes, for how long he believed it would take him to “liberate” sex workers from “a life of servitude.” On the show, Brown pretended to be a client and then ambushed women with TV cameras when they arrived for work. The ambushes were staged, but the exploitation of vulnerable workers was not. In 2015, sex workers and writers Alana Massey and Bubbles described how Brown and A&E failed to provide the support they promised the women they’d convinced to go on the show.

Lee continues:

Rescuing women from the sex trades is an old business. In San Francisco in 1910, a woman named Donaldina Cameron made it her job to join police on brothel raids to “rescue” Chinese immigrant sex workers and take them into her mission home, called Nine-twenty. At Nine-twenty, the women were made to cook and clean and sew in preparation for being good Christian wives. Staff read all incoming and outgoing mail. Many of the rescued women escaped their rescuers.

Seven years later, the Methodist reverend Paul Smith delivered a series of sermons calling for a shutdown of the red-light district in the uptown Tenderloin neighborhood. In response, three hundred brothel workers marched to the Central Methodist church to confront him. Reverend Smith told the women they could make $10 a week working as domestics. The women told him $10 would buy a single pair of shoes. He asked how many would be willing to do housework. They said, “What woman wants to work in a kitchen?”

I realise this is a long post, but it’s just scratching the surface of the issues Lee raises. She’s written an extremely interesting and thought-provoking piece that respects the readers’ intelligence – a courtesy, I suspect, that hasn’t always been extended to her.

Songs to learn and sing

My band’s debut EP is released today. Unless I’ve mucked something up, Some People Are Inconvenient by Stadium* should be available on Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music, Amazon Music and even TikTok. It’s also available on Bandcamp, where you can order it on CD or as digital downloads in the format of your choice.

It’s also streaming on SoundCloud:

We’re very proud of the songs here. Bonesaw is the first song we ever wrote together, while A Moment of Clarity and Voodoo are hits at the various open mics I’ve been performing at. Safe Space would be too, I’m sure, but I haven’t worked out a way to do it on acoustic guitar yet.

When whispers have to become shouts

When some people – and sorry guys, but I mean primarily men people – talk about how #MeToo and related anti-abuse movements have gone too far, I do tend to wonder: what, or who, are you hiding?

There’s been a good illustration of that this week, when multiple unconnected women in the video games industry have named men who’ve attacked, sexually abused and gaslit them. It began with a blog post by Nathalie Lawhead, a brave act that encouraged other women to speak out.

As the award-winning writer Leigh Alexander commented:

for each abuser you heard about today there are like 10 more we can’t talk about because of the retaliatory threats they’ve made to their victims, for whom it would be inappropriate to speak

Today it’s video games. Maybe tomorrow it’ll be music, or publishing, or civil engineering, or education, or bar work, or anywhere else men in positions of authority, formal or informal, are in a position to abuse their power.

I know it’s not all men. But it’s too many men. And one of the reasons they get away with this is power.

Power is partly because of the lack of diversity that’s still prevalent in too many industries. When you’re a member of a minority group, you have very little power. Who’s going to believe you? Who’s going to take your side?

This week’s exposé of abuse in video games is an example of that. Nathalie Lawhead didn’t speak out, because who would she speak to? Her abuser threatened to destroy her career, telling her “it’s me or bust”. And then he raped her.

Many of these men’s behaviour is an open secret. Women in many industries operate “whisper networks”, where they can privately warn one another of predatory men. But the behaviour is often well known to other men too: the men they work with, the men they socialise with, the men who laugh along when they describe something awful.

Earlier this week, a woman who works for a law firm shared a message her boss had intended for one of her co-workers but accidentally sent to her. The message said that he “hopes Sarah has her tits out” and that “one day I’m just gonna have to fuck her.”

Most people are rightly appalled by the content of the message (but not everyone, because it’s the internet: some are piling on the woman for daring to shame her unnamed boss). But one question I haven’t seen anybody asking is pretty important.

Why did the boss think it was okay to send that message to anyone?

“Anger is a second emotion”

There’s a fascinating piece in the Huffington Post about a programme in Californian prisons that aims to cut the reoffending rate. Its focus? Toxic masculinity.

The former inmate is a facilitator of a prison rehabilitation program that teaches men about gender roles and how ingrained ideas of masculinity have contributed to their violent crimes. GRIP, or Guiding Rage into Power, started at San Quentin State Prison in 2013 and has expanded to five state prisons across California.

The programme works on a simple assumption: criminal behaviour, especially violent behaviour, is often the result of trauma.

This bit really jumped out at me.

“Anger is a second emotion. Fear, shame or sadness are underneath it. Violence is learned. No one is born armed and dangerous. We can unlearn it.”

Does the programme work? One-third of the programme’s graduates have been out on parole and only one inmate has returned. California’s usual rate of recidivism is 65%.


Are we the gullible ones?

Yesterday I linked to a story about a man and a very strange sequence of events – please read it before reading this, or it’ll spoil the story for you.

The story asked, “Is this the most gullible man in America?” but some readers are wondering if perhaps we’re the gullible ones too.

The story, which is about a law professor who appears to be the victim of a bizarre fraud campaign involving harassment and fake paternity claims, is based entirely on his recollections and claims. It puts forward his account of events that are still under investigation and/or the subject of lawsuits, something that could be considered as an attempt to influence the outcome of those investigations and lawsuits. That’s mentioned in the piece:

Harvard has yet to decide Hay’s fate, but according to multiple off-the-record sources, Hay has already run afoul of investigators for reaching out to journalists (namely me), which they view as an act of retaliation. Harvard has also required Hay to undergo “coaching” for boundary issues.

There are also some odd details in the piece, such as this one:

“[My wife] says my women friends always have ulterior motives, and my response has been that my best friends have been women for my entire adult life,” he says.

The piece moves on from there, but I’m intrigued by that quote. Why doesn’t his ex-wife trust women to be friends with him?

The piece goes into a lot of detail about who said what and where, but misses at least one bizarre event:

One incident between the graduate student and Hay took place on 10th August 2017. At 8.35 PM, Cambridge police responded to a 911 call at her address and said they found the professor hiding outside.

“[Detectives] arrived on scene and located Bruce Hay hiding in the bushes two houses away from [the graduate student’s residence],” a police report says. The report adds that Hay was briefly detained outside the house, and was then served with a restraining order and warned not to contact the graduate student and stay 100 yards away from her at all times.

Douglas Brooks, Hay’s attorney, told babe the restraining order was dismissed a week later. He said that Hay owned the house the graduate student and her family were “illegally occupying,” and that he was hiding outside because he was trying to retrieve his children’s cat, which they were “effectively holding hostage.” These claims are disputed by the graduate student.

You’d think that’s the kind of event a journalist wouldn’t be able to resist, but presumably the professor didn’t provide that story.

That’s not to say the article isn’t true or the events described didn’t happen exactly as the story says. And of course, victims are victims whether they’re saints or sinners. But as some commenters on MetaFilter have pointed out, it does feel like there’s much more to this strange, deeply unpleasant story than made it to the page.

The most gullible man in America

I read this at the weekend in New York magazine, and I was open-mouthed for most of it. It’s a story that starts bad, gets worse and then goes rapidly downhill from there.

On March 7, 2015, Harvard Law professor Bruce Hay, then 52, was in Tags Hardware in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near his home, when a young woman with long reddish-brown hair approached him to ask where she could find batteries. It was still very much winter, and, once the woman got his attention, he saw that underneath her dark woolen coat and perfectly tied scarf she was wearing a dress and a chic pair of boots — hardly typical weekend-errand attire in the New England college town. When he directed her to another part of the store, she changed the subject. “By the way, you’re very attractive,” he remembers her saying.

I don’t want to give anything away. You’ll read it from behind your fingers.