Always read Natalie Reed. <3
Of the various reservations people express about transgender discourse and trans-feminism, or the justifications they provide as to their resistance to such conversations, one that I find notably frustrating is the idea that it’s primarily just sophistry, jockeying for relative intellectual status and empty debate over semantics and terminology.
I understand where that perception comes from. Admittedly, a great deal of the discussion in trans-feminism centers on terminologies and narratives, the means by which we articulate our identities and stories, and which identities and stories are given the greatest degree of visibility and “legitimacy”. But this isn’t empty debate of semantics. It’s very meaningful debate of terminology, voice, representation and narrative.
There’s frequently an element hypocrisy to it as well: the same people being so dismissive of trans-feminist discussion of the problems inherent to terms like “passing”, “en femme” or “post-transition” would likely be infuriated if someone were to describe their pronoun preference and gender identification as “mere semantics”, after all. Is there a difference there? Even a difference of degree of importance? And who are any of us to externally say which terminologies are “legitimate” for someone to discuss or prefer or reject, and which issues are to be dismissed as “mere semantics”?
I also reserve a very special and private fury for those who describe trans-feminist discourse as “academic”. Trans people have never been meaningfully included in academia. We’ve historically only ever been present in academic space, feminist or otherwise, “progressive” or “conservative”, as the subject of theory and text and debate. Never the agents. This is also very much our ongoing relationship to academia. Trans-feminism occurs primarily in online, activist and informal space largely because there’s never been room for us to speak for ourselves in the “established” and “legitimate” venues like academia or media. Your refusal to understand something, or the fact that it goes against your received notions of “common sense”, is not enough to disregard something as “academic”.
Trans isn’t academic. It isn’t theoretical. It is the lived experiences of actual human beings. And those lived experiences are very meaningfully, very directly, affected by the terminologies we have available to articulate ourselves, the assumptions made about our histories, the prevailing narratives that are seen as “legitimate”, that are granted visibility, that are connected to the assumed histories and assumed bodies, or that are simply “comprehensible” to the people around us and the people who are in a position to grant or deny us access to healthcare, housing, employment, social services, legal protections, or any other resources. Our lives are shaped by who amongst us gets to have a voice, and by how those voices are constrained by the available terms and concepts.
As an example of the very real significance that terminologies, and their concepts and definitions, have for the immediate, “street-level” realities and experiences of trans people, I’d like to mention Bill C-279, the “Canadian Trans Rights Bill”, that will grant explicit protection to transgender Canadians under our country’s federal human rights laws. Today, right now, in Ottawa, this bill is in committee, with various (cisgender, of course) politicians attempting to “iron out” their disagreements about perceived flaws in the bill and its phrasing. One of the principal disagreements, upon which the ability of the bill to move forward toward becoming actual law, is the inclusion of the term “gender expression” and its alleged vagueness, or level of flexibility impractical for federal human rights law.
The bill, as originally written, offered protection against discrimination on the basis of “gender identity” and “gender expression”. Despite the manner in which these terms have been popularly accepted as useful and meaningful within the dominant trans community and dominant trans discourse, those terms do have numerous problematic aspects, and the implied boundaries and specificities of these terms aren’t necessarily going to comphrensible for people who aren’t already “in the club” of the dominant trans community (I remember once describing “transgender” to my Dad as “anyone who significantly falls outside assumed cultural standards of the male and female binary” and he replied, in earnest, “so I’m transgender? Because I like to cook?”. Obviously no, he’s not, but the line between a very slight, insignificant deviation from a cultural archetype of perfect masculinity and a majour transgression from assigned gender role isn’t always going to be clear, and good luck defining it). As terrified as I am of this bill not passing, I think we (transgender Canadians, specifically those with enough political power to have pushed this bill and shaped its terms), need to accept accountability for the mess we’ve created by not suitably interrogated our own terminologies before gambling our rights, and the rights of every other trans person in our country, and those yet to come, on those terms.
There was a time where I happily accepted “gender identity” and “gender expression” as useful terms and concepts, and went along with the assumed definitions thereof. That’s no longer the case. I’ve since come to perceive a great deal of problems and failures in those terms and the concepts that prop them up: the bizarre insistence on clinging to an essentialism-without-conventional-essentialism that serves as scaffolding for “gender identity”, the inherent belief in codifiably gendered clothing or fashion intrinsic to “gender expression”, and the ultimate necessity of falling back on cissexist, oppositional conceptual frameworks whenever you push the definitions of both terms to the lines that eventually need to be drawn.
How much more useful might C-279 have been if we simply said “gender”, and then defined that? Simply in opposition to “sex”?
Right now my human rights hinge on a bunch of cisgender politicians coming up with workable definitions of “gender identity” and “gender expression” in the space of a few hours. In a committee somewhere in Ottawa. Two words I’d rather see buried anyway. There’s no way they can define “gender expression” within the narrow range necessary for legal definition without hurting and excluding a lot of people. There’s no way they can drop “gender expression” and leave the bill simply protecting “gender identity” without hurting and excluding a lot of people. And even if a successful negotiation is reached, it will irrevocably bind our rights to those terms, rendering them utterly dependent on their long-term efficacy… an efficacy I don’t believe they have. If it negotiation isn’t successful, I don’t even dare speculate on how many trans Canadians will be hurt between now and the next opportunity for such a bill to be passed.
But it’s just semantics, right?
Admittedly, C-279 is an unusually
extreme obvious instance of the degree to which terms and their attendant concepts and definitions have a meaningful impact on the lives of trans people, there are far wider and subtler aspects of this as well, that are the typical subject of our debate and why it’s relevant. Aspects that are very comparable to questions of “semantics” like pronoun preference and misgendering. These are mostly about gender, identity, and voice (those commas are important!).
Gender is nothing if not the need to express and understand oneself, in relation to sex and sexuality. It’s nothing if not a system of communication. Whether it’s immediately obvious to you or not, every term related to gender, even those related to gender variance and gender minorities, carry baggage and assumptions. “Trans woman” implies numerous assumptions: designated-male-at-birth, XY, not intersex, “socialized as male”, linearly “transitioned”, through “social transition” and “physical transition”, from a Point A (“male”) to a Point B (“female”), etc. These assumptions are rendered a bit more obvious in the way that “trans woman” is considered synonymous with (though perhaps less crass than) “Male-to-female transsexual”. But those assumptions of history, of narrative, of linearity, of biology… those aren’t universally applicable to everyone for whom the concept of “trans woman” is meaningful, useful or significant. Just like how not everyone who feels the term “woman” is a useful, meaningful and important self-descriptor necessarily has the assumptions that often go with that term, such as a vagina, a 46-XX karyotype, and a “female socialization”.
What we are attempting to do through our genders is have ourselves be understood, voiced, asserted, actualized… ideally to have that voice and actualization as true to our own sense of ourselves as it possibly can be. While the terminologies that trans communities have developed are at least superfically accurate and comfortable for most of us, they also carry with them a whole lot of baggage, associations and limitations, and many people are simply left without any terms through which to truly honestly describe, assert and actualize themselves…at least not without taking on an uncomfortable heap of unwanted associations. To be left only able to express one’s gender through terms and concepts that don’t feel genuine is to be left unable to truly express one’s gender at all. It’s very much an extension of precisely the same circumstance, and same tragedy, as a woman being forced through cultural convention to present herself, describe herself, and be described and understood, as a man. The fight for concepts through which one’s gender can be accurately described and reflected, free from unwanted associations or assumptions, is the fight for self-determination and expression of one’s gender itself: the fight that underscores almost everything that it is and means to be trans.
Beyond the fundamental question of being able to determine and assert one’s gender, there is also the question of voice and visibility: who amongst us gets heard and seen, who amongst us is silenced and erased, and how our visibility is seen by our culture. If the only terminologies and concepts that are understood by our culture (understanding being a pretty essential aspect of communication, obviously), and the only terms and concepts given to them to understand, the only terms and concepts included in our little glossaries (I’m more than a little embarassed by my own) are ones that only apply to certain genders, certain narratives, and certain experiences, we are very directly excluding significant portions of our community from being able to engage in the cultural discourse at all. We’re consigning them to remaining unnoticed, unable to speak their own perspectives and advocate on their own behalf, and remaining incomprehensible, anomalous and monstrous for the culture as a whole.
Alternately, we oblige people to speak through means that don’t and can’t reflect their actual perspectives, lives and experiences. They end up having to present a version of themselves and their ideas distorted by the limited tools available with which to have a voice at all. Even harder is how often we end up being put in the position of only being able to speak and advocate through terms we consider destructive and problematic themselves, ending up having to make the choice between speaking through terms that reinforce the very concepts that constrain and oppress us, or not speaking at all, and having everyone else speak over us.
Do you speak through your oppressor’s voice and language, lending him legitimacy, or do you remain silent as he and others continue to speak for you, against your actual wishes and interests?
Developing ways of articulating transgender experience and perspectives that can genuinely reflect the full breadth of those experiences and perspectives, and that can do so without relying upon or reinforcing the cissexist, binarist, misogynistic or heteronormative worldviews that oppressed us in the first place, is not simply a question of trying to out-sophisticate one another. It is an issue that sits at the fundamental core of who we are, and how and why we are oppressed. The fact that certain very simple linguistic concessions may be enough for one trans person to feel validated and actualized, such as being granted female pronouns, the word “woman”, and the title “Ms.”, does not by any means grant them the right to scoff at those for whom the language we presently have is not sufficient to see themselves genuinely reflected or understood within it.
We have to be careful in how we approach the present lexicon, and attempt to improve it and make room for us all to find our voices and stories within it. Some terms are imposed upon us externally, and function as tools of cis-patriarchy (“biologically male”). Some terms are used to directly dehumanize, denigrate, sexually objectify or other us (“trannies”, “shemales”, “chicks-with-dicks”, “constructed female” etc.) We don’t have a whole lot of say in what terms others impose on us or use to subjugate us. But some terms “of our own” are also overtly problematic and oppressive… “passing”, for instance, directly and inherently reinforces cisnormativity, cissexism, narrow and heirarchially codified standards of female appearance, positions our existence as inherently deceptive, positions us as not “really” being whomever we are or appear to be, and places responsibility for how we are read unfairly on the shoulders of whomsoever is read- regardless of fact that they have almost no control over it at all. It is also utterly fucking meaningless for any non-binary trans people, and denigrates them regardless of what their appearance or choices are, no matter what. “En femme”, “boymode”, “girlmode”; these terms codify forms of clothing and presentation as somehow inherently male or female, “boy clothes” and “girlclothes”, and covers up the truth that presentation and the gendering of a person, a body, a fashion, is always a negotiation between the individual, those around them, and a complex, nuanced range of cultural context. Those terms we could (and maybe should?) just make an effort to get rid of, even though some of the related concepts (presentation, conditional cis privilege, gendering, etc.) are necessary to our discourse.
But some terms are only problematic in certain usage. “Designated-male-at-birth”/DMAB and “designated-female-at-birth”/DFAB can certainly be problematic, wheresoever these are used as simply stand-ins for the binary, an excuse to continue seeing the world in the same old cissexist ways, but with just a slight tweak to keep people from noticing and give you an excuse in the event that they do (much like how “gender identity” is often just an excuse to continue looking at people as being somehow intrinsically a man or a woman or something else, without having to interrogate what those concepts actually mean, while insulating oneself from questions of essentialism). They can also be highly problematic whenever we treat them as internally consistent, like “DMAB experiences include such-and-such events and blahblahblah” or “DFAB people often had issues with thing-a-ma-jingy during swithinsdays”). However, these terms can be very valid and useful when and where we treat them as meaningful in relation and contrast to one another. DMAB identities, bodies and experiences aren’t consistent, and DFAB identities, bodies and experiences aren’t consistent either… but DMAB and DFAB are consistently different relative to each other. A bit like “warm” and “cool”. Warm isn’t any one specific temperature, nor is cool, but the two terms have meaning in their contrast from one another. It means something different to be designated male as an infant than it does to be designated female.
And some terms, while failing to accommodate all identities, experiences and narratives are not only meaningful, but essential, to articulating those of some of us. Some people did experience a meaningful difference between their “pre-transition” and “post-transition” lives (but not all of us). Some people can describe a moment at which they went “full-time” in making a deliberate effort to express their gender differently (but not all of us). Some people lived “transitions” that they feel can be best and most meaningfully described as “male-to-female” (but not all of us). Most of us feel that we “transitioned”, that we are “transgender” or “transsexual” (but not all of us).
We don’t need to dismantle those terms, but we do need to create more space and diversity. Of the terms we do need to dismantle, we can’t do so with a sledgehammer. And we can’t risk condemning ourselves collectively to silence. But those of us who aren’t most of us need voices too. We need words. We need language. We need means to articulate, express, define and determine our identities and genders and lives, and to have those be understood. We need means to tell our stories… not simply tell someone else’s story as a close approximation, or define ourselves by someone else’s gender that happens to be “close enough”. We need to be able to shout and sing and scream and assert and demand these things.
And we need to be able to do so in our own words.
That any trans person… with hir chosen name, hir chosen pronouns, hir chosen title, hir chosen identity… could dismiss this need, both deeply personal and immediately political, as “mere sophistry and semantics”, is as incomprehensible to me as the unspoken genders and stories of our community remain to our wider culture.
This story is horrific. I've been shuddering whenever this pops up on my dash.
This is a guest post by Laurie and Debbie. Debbie Notkin is a body image activist, a feminist science fiction advocate, and a publishing professional. She is chair of the motherboard of the Tiptree Award and will be one of the two guests of honor at the next WisCon in May 2012. Laurie is a photographer whose photos make up the books Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes (edited and text by Debbie Notkin) and Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes (edited by Debbie Notkin, text by Debbie Notkin and Richard F. Dutcher). Her photographs have been exhibited in many cities, including New York, Tokyo, Kyoto, Toronto, Boston, London, Shanghai and San Francisco. Her solo exhibition “Meditations on the Body” at the National Museum of Art in Osaka featured 100 photographs. Her most recent project is Women of Japan, clothed portraits of women from many cultures and backgrounds. Laurie and Debbie blog together at Body Impolitic, talking about body image, photography, art and related issues. This post originally appeared on Body Impolitic.
Laurie and Debbie say:
Last week, a defense attorney in Cleveland, Texas, described an 11-year-old girl who was gang-raped by as many as 18 men as a “spider” luring men into her web:
Like the spider and the fly. Wasn’t she saying, ‘Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly?’ ” Taylor asked.
At roughly the same time, the Moraga school district in the San Francisco Bay Area, was faced with enough pressure to make them step back from their outrageous allegation that Kristen Cunnane, who was sexually abused in that school when she was 12, was responsible for the abuse:
Plaintiff was herself careless and negligent in and about the matters alleged in the complaint, and that said carelessness and negligence on said Plaintiff’s part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident and to the injuries, loss and damages complained of, if any there were
Although the Moraga school district has apologized, this can’t affect the impact of what their lawyers said on their behalf. Cunnane’s response was:
“It is beyond devastating that the District would blame me for the years of horrific sexual abuse I was subjected to when I was just a child. There is a critical need for a culture shift in Moraga and elsewhere when it comes to tolerance of child abuse in schools, and this just underscores that we have further to go than I even thought. I can only hope that this lawsuit will move us one step closer to zero tolerance, while also going some way to compensate me for the years of abuse I suffered.”
Accusing pre-pubescent girls of being guilty temptresses has been around forever. Sigmund Freud built it into his theory of psychosexual development. Since the testimony of survivors in the 1970s and 1980s revealed the enormity of child abuse in our society, it had largely fallen out of American public discourse. Women’s and children’s allegations have been taken more seriously, and some of the old standard men’s defenses (“she had sex with other people, so I can’t have raped her”) have been taken less seriously. The concepts persisted in people’s minds, but became far less acceptable to say in public or use in court. Just last year, the United States FBI redefined “rape” in much more appropriate way (so, much more sympathetic to rape victims).
Now this rhetoric is clearly back, and the Republican rape apologists (such as Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, and their ilk) carry part of the guilt. By bringing myths about rape, victim-blaming, and outright misogynist lies into the mainstream discourse, these men and the people who support them are giving permission to other people everywhere to say the same things out loud. Yes, the prominent ones running for office all lost their elections, but while they were doing so, they pushed the envelope in the wrong direction. Every time someone with any kind of power or authority says “some girls rape easy” in public, millions of people see and hear it, and permission to blame the victim is reinforced.
In fact, just calling women “girls” makes it easier to forget that an 11-year-old or 12-year-old girl has a different kind of agency, sexuality, and ability to protect herself than a 25-year-old (or 50-year-old) “girl,” and easier to conflate them all into a group that deserves no protection.
The way we talk about victims and rapists after the fact percolates back to how we fail to protect people in the first place.
Go Edmonton (again)!
Between Edmonton’s efforts, the recent ads from Men Can Stop Rape, and those Scottish ads from a couple years ago, there are plenty of examples of how to create an anti-rape campaign that doesn’t actively support rape culture–and may actually help prevent sexual assaults.
As the Edmonton campaign website explains, “Research is telling us that targeting the behavior of victims is not only ineffective, but also contributes to and increases self-blame in survivors. Instead, the SAVE campaigns targets potential offenders – ultimately the ones who hold the power and responsibility to end sexual assault.”
This campaign should serve as a model for everyone. If you’re considering creating rape prevention ads remotely like this one, think again, and please follow Edmonton’s lead instead.
Hey, Alain! This one's for you. :)
Today we have an important public service announcement for you from Radi-Aid: Africa for Norway. The campaign has released a song and accompanying music video, imploring Africans to donate radiators to help Norwegians survive the difficult conditions in their country:
The real point of the video, of course, is to point out some of the problems with the images of Africa that are often presented in humanitarian fundraising drives by using a “We Are the World”-style song to turn the tables. The video’s creators argue that the constant depiction of Africa as a place of violence and misery is both counter-productive and generally obscures the actual cause of many of the problems, presenting the West as benevolent saviors while ignoring any role they might have in actually creating the conditions the fundraising campaigns are meant to address.
From the Radi-Aid website:
The pictures we usually see in fundraisers are of poor African children. Hunger and poverty is ugly, and it calls for action. But while these images can engage people in the short term, we are concerned that many people simply give up because it seems like nothing is getting better. Africa should not just be something that people either give to, or give up on…We need to change the simplistic explanations of problems in Africa. We need to educate ourselves on the complex issues and get more focus on how western countries have a negative impact on Africa’s development. If we want to address the problems the world is facing we need to do it based on knowledge and respect.
Erik Evans, one of the people behind the video, spoke to NPR about the video and the intent. You can listen to the segment here.
Thanks to Erin A., Amy H., Katrin, and Autumn S. for sending it in!
Also see this video in which four African men awesomely poke a little fun at stereotypes of African men in U.S. pop culture, Chimamanda Adichie on the “single story of Africa,” and how not to write about Africa.Gwen Sharp is an assistant professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter.
I love these pictures. And the commentary is spot on.
Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.
Anjan G. alerted us to an internet sensation, Liu Xianping. The 72-year-old man in China has risen to fame modeling for his granddaughter’s clothing store, Yuekou. The clothes are designed for teen girls:
Commenters are impressed about Xianping’s ability to “pull off” this look, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Masculinity and femininity are performances, and so is age.
While the idea that we “do” gender is no surprise to SocImages regulars, we also “do” age. In fact, we have a whole language of age-related chiding that serves to get people to act in ways that we deem suitable for their number of birthdays. Says sociologist Cheryl Laz:
“Act your age. You’re a big kid now,” we say to children to encourage independence (or obedience). “Act your age. Stop being so childish,” we say to other adults when we think they are being irresponsible. “Act your age; you’re not as young as you used to be,” we say to an old person pursuing “youthful” activities.
Age, then, is a social construction too.
Accordingly, Xianping’s adoption of feminine poses and youthful fashions makes him appear younger and more girly than we think he should look. Importantly, though, he is no more an actor here than are actual teen girls. Each is playing a part, both with the help of just the right accessories.
Source: Laz, Cheryl. 1998. Act Your Age. Sociological Forum 13, 1: 85-113. (link)Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
της Σίσσυς Βωβού
Έχουμε πει και κάνει πολλά για την αποφυλάκιση των οροθετικών γυναικών, για την νομική τους στήριξη και για την ικανοποίηση άλλων αναγκών τους, στο πλαίσιο της «Πρωτοβουλίας Αλληλεγγύης στις διωκόμενες οροθετικές», από τις αρχές Μαίου έως σήμερα. Έχουμε βγάλει δελτία τύπου και έχουμε γράψει άρθρα, έχουμε δώσει συνεντεύξεις για να δημοσιοποιήσουμε και να καταγγείλουμε αυτό το σκάνδαλο, έχουμε οργανώσει δύο δημόσιες μαζικές διαμαρτυρίες. Ήδη παραμένουν 12 από τις αρχικές 27 κρατούμενες, και θα αγωνιστούμε μέχρι να βγει και η τελευταία και μέχρι να καταδικαστούν οι πολιτικά υπεύθυνοι για την βαρύτατη παραβίαση των ανθρωπίνων δικαιωμάτων αυτών των γυναικών.
Απ’ όλα τα κακουργήματα εναντίον τους, ένα είναι το χειρότερο. Η διαπόμπευσή τους. Σήμερα δημοσιεύουμε προσωπικές μαρτυρίες τριών από τις φυλακισμένες, για την επίδραση της διαπόμπευσης στη ζωή τους. Δυστυχώς, είναι τραγικές.
Είμαι χρήστρια 20 χρόνια. Είμαι 34 χρονών και πίνω από τα 14 μου. Ενώ όμως είμουνα μέσα στη χρήση μπορούσα να περπατάω και να μη νιώθω άσχημα ανάμεσα στον κόσμο. Με πήρανε για μια απλή εξακρίβωση στοιχείων. Από την κλούβα με οδηγήσανε σε ένα υπόγειο όπου μου κάνανε τεστ αίματος χωρίς τη θέληση μου. Με βρήκανε θετική. Δημοσίευσαν το όνομα μου και τη φωτογραφία μου παντού, στην τηλεόραση, στο internet, όπου ήταν δυνατό. Είμαι από μια μικρή επαρχιακή πόλη, τη φωτογραφία μου έδειξαν και όλα τα τοπικά κανάλια, με είδαν σε κάθε σπίτι, τώρα όποια πέτρα και να σηκώσεις ξέρουνε για μένα. Αυτό είναι μεγάλο πρόβλημα για την οικογένεια μου. Είμαι από πολύτεκνη οικογένεια. Ο αδερφός μου ήταν φαντάρος εκείνη την περίοδο. Μπήκε στο internet να μιλήσει με την μικρότερη αδερφή μου και είδε το πρόσωπο μου παντού. Δεν ξέρω πραγματικά πως να αντιμετωπίσω τους δικούς μου και τους γνωστούς μου, πως να αντικρύσω τον κοινωνικό, οικογενειακό και φιλικό μου περίγυρο. Όλα έγιναν από προεκλογικό συμφέρον. Πως μπορεί να πιστεύει κάποιος ότι μπορεί να είναι υπεύθυνες οι κοπέλες, και για τους άντρες που δεν υπολογίζουν τίποτα, ούτε τις ίδιες τις οικογένειες τους να μην λένε τίποτα. Θέλω να καταδικάσω το κράτος, το σύστημα, το ΚΕΕΛΠΝΟ που μας έκανε τεστ χωρίς τη θέληση μας, το Υπουργείο Υγείας, το Υπουργείο Δικαιοσύνης, το Υπουργείο Δημόσιας Τάξης, θεωρώ ότι δεν έχουν κάνει τα απαραίτητα. Από τη στιγμή που ξεκινήσανε κάτι τέτοιο θα πρέπει να το διορθώσουνε, να δώσουνε ευκαιρίες σε αυτά τα κορίτσια. Να δείξουν ενδιαφέρον και φροντίδα για τα άτομα που είναι χρήστες και είναι στο δρόμο.
Πήγε το ΚΕΕΛΠΝΟ στο σχολείο της κόρης μου παράνομα και της έκανε εξετάσεις για μια εβδομάδα. Τελικά την έδιωξαν από το σχολείο. Τα προβλήματα που δημιούργησαν στην οικογένεια μου είναι τεράστια, τους δύο αδερφούς μου τους έδιωξαν από τις δουλειές τους και δεν βρίσκουν άλλη δουλειά. Εμένα με δείχνουν με το δάκτυλο. Φοβάμαι πως όταν βγω έξω θα με λιντσάρουν. Είμαι από μια μικρή πόλη, σαν χωριό, έχει γίνει μεγάλο σούσουρο και πραγματικά φοβάμαι να πάω να δω το παιδί μου. Από 8 χρονών είδε τη μάνα της σε όλες τις τηλεοράσεις. Της μίλησα στο τηλέφωνο και μου είπε πως δεν θέλει να έχει μία μαμά που είναι άρρωστη και πάει με πολλούς άντρες.
Θέλω να πληρώσουν όσοι το έκαναν αυτό, γιατί δεν έχω μούτρα να αντικρύσω την οικογένεια μου και δεν μπορώ να αντικρύσω και το παιδί μου, παρόλο που είναι ακόμα πολύ μικρό και δεν καταλαβαίνει. Φαντάζομαι πόσα λένε για μένα στην πόλη μου. Βγάλανε τις φωτογραφίες μας παντού. Με αυτό τον τρόπο ξεφτίλισαν το γυναικείο φύλο, πρώτα μας ξεφτιλίσανε σαν γυναίκες και μετά σαν ανθρώπους. Ζητάω από το Υπουργείο Δικαιοσύνης και το Υπουργείο Δημόσιας Τάξης να μην μας μεταχειρίζονται σαν αντικείμενα και ζώα, να μας βλέπουνε σαν ανθρώπους και μέσα αλλά και έξω από τη φυλακή.
Good thing that kitten link was there at the end.
Seriously, if you’re feeling depressed, don’t read these.
Remember the guy behind the revenge porn site Is Anyone Up, which enabled assholes to post nude pictures of their exes for a worldwide audience to see? That site’s down, but he’s got a new one about to go up, with a new feature:
Scorned lovers who submit photos of their exes for revenge can now also enable others to physically stalk them by including their addresses along with the photos. HunterMoore.TV will then display the photos on a map. …
“We’re gonna introduce the mapping stuff so you can stalk people,” Mr. Moore gleefully told Betabeat, adding, “I know–it’s scary as shit.”
This isn’t a new story, but Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan has written a horrifying overview of the case of Dr. James C. Burt, a gynecologist who maimed countless women by performing weird, unnecessary, and often quite damaging “vagina tightening” surgery on them without their knowledge or consent over the course of several decades.
Burt’s “Love Surgery” was based on the doctor’s cockamamie idea that women are “structurally inadequate for intercourse” and that the only way to fix their “pathological condition” was through surgery that made the vagina and vulva more penis friendly. He also believed that Love Surgery would turn women into “horny little mice.” In his 1975 book, entitled “Surgery of Love,” Burt … says that “hundreds and hundreds” of women were treated this way, but other sources estimate that the number is actually in the thousands. …
In his tireless efforts to make women more fuckable, he actually ended up causing his patients serious, irreversible damage.
Perhaps most astonishing:
[O]ther doctors and medical professionals knew what Dr. Burt was up to, but did nothing. St. Elizabeth Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, where Dr. Burt practiced, didn’t require medical consent forms for the procedure for the first 12 years it was being performed.
Amanda Marcotte writes about a sad story related to Slate’s Dear Prudence in which a man stalked and killed his ex and one of her children – after being alerted to her location by a sympathetic friend, who is now “haunted” by this terrible mistake and its horrifying consequences. As Marcotte notes,
The so-called “men’s rights” movement is very intent on convincing the public that domestic violence is overblown by feminists, and that many to most victims are lying to the police and the courts, who take them at their word because the justice system is supposedly in the thrall of the all-powerful feminist regime. This narrative tends to have a lot of power, because it feeds off long-standing stereotypes of women as deceitful, manipulative gold diggers. Unfortunately, the widespread credulity for anti-feminist ravings about lying women in cahoots with the police does lead to tragedy … .
If you are not already depressed enough by this story, take a look at Domestic Violence Crime Watch, a site that chronicles cases in which domestic violence leads to murder and other violent crimes. While women account for some of the violence, the overwhelming majority of the cases on the site involve male perps and female victims; sometimes children and other family members are harmed or killed as well. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows clearly that women are far more likely to be murdered by intimates (and exes) than men. (The one bit of good news in all this: the number of such murders has been declining for some time.)
If this is all a bit much, here’s a live stream of kittens in action. (Or, at the moment at least, napping.)
Back in 2009, Lisa posted about microscopes and telescopes in a Toys’R'Us catalog. In both cases, the pink version was the least powerful option.
Reader Claudia, who lives in Ireland, found a similar example. Back in October, a supermarket outside Dublin sent out a mailer that advertised boys’ and girls’ laptops. The boys’ version has 50 functions; the girls get just half as many:
Also, it looks more like a packet of birth control pills than a laptop.Gwen Sharp is an assistant professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter.
Oh, ffs... -_-
Cross-posted at Jezebel.
I’d love to draw your attention to The Alpha Parent, a blogger who has collected a stunningly large number of toys for infants that socialize girls into preening.
Some of the toys are purses/handbags that include pretend lipsticks, compacts, and related-items. My Pretty Learning Purse includes a toy lipstick and a mirror; the Gund Sesame Street Abbey Purse Playset includes a compact and powder brush; the Lilliputiens Liz Handbag includes an eye shadow compact complete with three shades and an eye shadow applicator.
It also includes examples of toy make-up bags. Going beyond the inclusion of beauty items in infant toys, these make beauty the sole point of the play. Here are just two of the NINE pretend make-up bags she collected, the Oskar & Ellen Beauty Box and the Learn and Go Make-Up and Go:
Since we wouldn’t want a baby to miss the point, companies also produce and sell vanities for infants. The Alpha Parent’s post included FOUR; here’s two, the Perfectly Pink Tummy Time Vanity Mirror and the Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Magical Musical Mirror:
The Alpha Parent goes on to cover real nail polish made for infants, beauty-themed clothes for little girls, and a common category of dress up: beautician outfits. I counted a surprising ELEVEN of these:
The latter reverses into a nurse’s uniform.
The Alpha Parent concludes:
Makeup toys prime girls for a lifetime of chasing rigid norms of physical attractiveness through the consumption of cosmetics and fashionable accessories.
They are also generally non-sex-transferable, meaning that parents are often loath to allow their boys to play with girl toys. Gendered toys, then, increase the rate of toy purchasing, since parents of a boy and a girl have to buy special toys for each.
It’s a win-win for corporate capitalism. Socialize the girls into beauty commodities by buying these toys now, plan on reaping the benefits with the real thing later. Brainwash the boys in an entirely different way (the Alpha Parent notes tools and electronics), do the same with them simultaneously.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
I have been following this story since it happened and every time I think this can’t get worse… well, it gets worse. It profoundly sickens me. I really do feel like I’m going to throw up.
Two years ago, an 11-year-old Cleveland, Texas girl was gang-raped by 20 young men. The crime was recorded on cellphones and circulated amongst students at the local school before finally coming to the attention of the police. And since then plenty of allies have stepped forward to rally around the “real victims”: the rapists.
First the New York Times ran an article focused on the terrible strain the investigation had on the community. Forget about the survivor’s trauma: “The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core” and, as one concerned neighbor pointed out, “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.” The paper was also criticized for its focus on the young girl’s appearance and friends. Author James C. McKinley, Jr. wrote, based on local gossip, that “she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground.”
Former Cleveland Police Department Sgt. Chad Langdon, who was the lead investigator on the case, also testified that an 11-year-old – due to her emotional immaturity – legally cannot give consent for a sexual encounter.
Taylor questioned why the underage girl had not been charged with anything for choosing to violate that rule, indicating that she was “the reason” that the encounters happened.
“Like the spider and the fly. Wasn’t she saying, ‘Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly?’ ” Taylor asked.
Luckily Taylor isn’t representative of the Texas court system at large. Langdon called the defense attorney out on his rape apologia, replying “I wouldn’t call her a spider. I’d say she’s just an 11-year-old girl.” Given what we know about Texas prisons (and, well, prisons in general) it’s hard to cheer for a criminal prosecutor. But I have to hope that the court sees through this victim-blaming BS.
Taylor and his fellow champions of rape culture need to know that–however many have rushed forward to protect the poor, poor gang-rapists–reason, morality, and the law are not on their side.
«Η ελευθερία φέρνει μαζί και ευθύνες. Ο δρόμος που έχω να κάνω είναι μακρύς –δεν έχει ολοκληρωθεί ακόμα. Το αποτύπωμα που αφήνουμε στη χώρα μας, εξαρτάται απ ΄τη μάχη που θα χάσουμε και απ’ την αφοσίωσή μας σ’ αυτήν.» Μ.Σ. Γκοροστιέτα
Η 36χρονη δήμαρχος της πόλης Τικιτσέο Μαρία Σάντος Γκοροστιέτα, που έγινε γνωστή για τις μάχες της κατά των καρτέλ των ναρκωτικών, βρέθηκε νεκρή. Γιατρός στο επάγγελμα, διετέλεσε δήμαρχος από το 2008, ενώ από το 2009 άρχισαν οι απόπειρες εναντίον της. Η πρώτη απόπειρα δολοφονίας της έγινε τον Οκτώβριο του 2009 όταν άγνωστοι γάζωσαν το αυτοκίνητό της στην πόλη Ελ Λιμόνε, με αποτέλεσμα να σκοτωθεί ο άντρας της. Λίγους μήνες αργότερα κουκουλοφόροι γάζωσαν και πάλι το αυτοκίνητο στο οποίο επέβαινε. Η ίδια φωτογραφήθηκε επιδεικνύοντας τα σημάδια από την απόπειρα.
Το πρωί της 12ης Νοεμβρίου η Γκοροστιέτα έπεσε θύμα ενέδρας, καθώς οδηγούσε το παιδί της στο σχολείο. Σύμφωνα με τους μάρτυρες, οι απαγωγείς την έσυραν έξω απ’ το αυτοκίνητο και την χτύπησαν, ενώ εκείνη τους ακολούθησε με την θέλησή της ώστε να μην πειράξουν το παιδί. Για μια ολόκληρη εβδομάδα η οικογένειά της περίμενε ένα τηλεφώνημα για λύτρα, που ποτέ δεν έγινε. Οκτώ μέρες μετά την απαγωγή, αγρότες βρήκαν το νεκρό σώμα της πρώην δημάρχου, πεταμένο σε δρόμο της περιοχής, με σημάδια από καψίματα και μαχαιριές και δεμένο χειροπόδαρα. Σύμφωνα με την Αστυνομία, επίσημη αιτία θανάτου ήταν ένα χτύπημα στο κεφάλι.
«Σε άλλη φάση της ζωής μου, μπορεί να είχα παραιτηθεί απ’ τη θέση και τις ευθύνες μου. Σήμερα όμως, όχι. Δε γίνεται να παραδοθώ –έχω 3 παιδιά τα οποία πρέπει να μεγαλώσω με σωστά παραδείγματα, αλλά και στη μνήμη του άντρα της ζωής μου: Τον πατέρα των παιδιών μου απ’ τον οποίο έμαθα να αγωνίζομαι για ότι έχει αξία. Αν και δεν είναι πια μαζί μας, εξακολουθεί να είναι το φως που καθοδηγεί τις αποφάσεις μου», ανέφερε σε παλαιότερες δηλώσεις της η Γκοροστιέτα.
Το Μεξικό εδώ και δεκαετίες είναι στα χέρια των μεγάλων καρτέλ ναρκωτικών. Από το 2006 που ο Πρόεδρος Φελίπε Καλντερόν κήρυξε τον πόλεμο στους εμπόρους ναρκωτικών έχουν χάσει την ζωή τους πάνω από 50.000 άνθρωποι μεταξύ των οποίων και δεκάδες δήμαρχοι.
Sometimes a paranoid, to paraphrase William Burroughs, is just a person in possession of all the facts. There is no one on earth for whom this description is more accurate than the WikiLeaks founder, dubious hacker messiah and noted cop-dodger Julian Assange, currently holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy evading extradition on rape allegations in Sweden. Assange knows more than almost anyone about the surveillance and security issues that affect every internet user; that he writes like a jaw-gnawing conspiracy theorist with crippling delusional narcissism doesn’t mean he’s wrong.
Assange’s new book, Cypherpunks, is an edited transcription of conversations he had with some of his most devoted followers, all hackers, while under curfew in a house in England. It’s an urgent exploration of the ways in which world governments track the movements and store the data of any and all of us who use Facebook, Google, Twitter and other social networking sites. It is almost impossible to discuss the bare facts of this very real crisis without sounding a little bonkers – the government can read your emails! Big corporations are looking through your drunk party pictures! – and bombastic manifestos such as Cypherpunks only make it seem less credible.
Assange predicts, with all the subtle persuasive rhetoric of a placard-banging street-corner doomsayer, that the “universality of the internet will merge global humanity into one giant grid of mass surveillance and mass control”. He adds: “This book is a watchman’s shout in the night.” It’s a shout that desperately needs to be heard. What worries me is that the warning cry is being raised so poorly and with such little understanding of what makes people change their behaviour that the rest of us might dismiss it as background noise.
This is not an article about Assange’s sex life and alleged sex crimes. I’ve already written several of those, as have many others, and the most salient point there is that those who believe in freedom should not be forced to choose between censorship and misogyny. It should be possible for us to defend whistleblowers’ rights to freedom from prosecution and women’s rights to freedom from abuse at the same time.
The truth is that sexual assault is so horrifically commonplace that it should be possible to imagine that a man might be an important thinker, a heroic freedom fighter and also a rapist. Recent history is a litany of brave and distinguished writers, from Tom Paine to Leo Tolstoy to T S Eliot, who were physical or psychological abusers of women. That does not disqualify them from making contributions to human progress but it does cast those contributions in a harsher light than they perhaps intended.
Cypherpunks is a book about four brave, smart, innovative men, one of whom is wanted for questioning on rape allegations, sitting in a room telling each other how brave and smart they are and expecting everyone else to agree with them. That is not and never has been a way to make a revolution happen. Hacker orthodoxy holds that the facts alone should be sufficient to stop people signing over their social universe to shady corporations, but if you want to change the world it isn’t enough just to be right.
If you want to change the world, you need to sketch out the possibility of a life without the shackles that you see and others can’t, invite everyone else to join you there and make it convenient for them to do so, even if you don’t like them, even if they aren’t as clever as you are.
At present, the only solution from Assange and his cypherpunks seems to be for everyone to become competent at digital encryption, which is not going to happen any time soon. We know this because, even though there’s free software out there that allows anyone with moderate computer skills to make their data secure, the head of the CIA, for God’s sake, still uses Gmail to drop messages to his mistress.
Assange and his acolytes have failed to understand something fundamental about the internet because they have failed to understand something fundamental about people. The internet isn’t just a matrix of a squillion numbers meshed in fibre optics; it’s a network of billions of human beings, most of whom spend a lot of time terribly frightened of being lonely and left out and who are prepared to do a lot of things they aren’t proud of to allay those fears. That’s the terrifying power of the social network.
People don’t need to be told that Facebook is a juddering behemoth that probably knows where you live, your food and music preferences and the weight and idiosyncracies of your genitals – and has the right to sell that information to any third party it deems worthy. People don’t need to be told that every single dirty or idiotic thing they searched for on Google three years ago is recorded on a giant corporate server somewhere in the American Midwest. We already know or suspect all of those things and more and we may not be happy to be a part of it, but the vast majority of us have chosen to join the crowd rather than be cut off from social influence, because that’s what people do.
This is how totalitarianism works. It’s not just the threat of violence, in the cypherpunks’ words – it’s also the threat of exclusion.
You aren’t stupid. You knew what you were doing when you ticked the little box signing over your personal information, your intimate photographs and the history of your private heartbreak that you can now read in a cold text-and-picture box that isn’t yours, displayed next to adverts optimised to suit whatever products an algorithm thinks you might buy.
Nobody was holding a knife to your throat. You gave those parts of yourself freely, because you were afraid that if you didn’t you would be left behind, and unless someone comes along and puts a gentle, understanding hand on your wrist you may very well continue to give and give until there’s no part of your private self that can’t be sold.
If the “global totalitarian surveillance society” that Assange envisages comes about, that impulse will be what brings it into being: not just fear of violence, but a creeping conformism that is as violent as any gunshot in the night.
Laurie Penny is a contributing editor of the NS
Κλαμένη και παραπονεμένη η άλλη μισή Αθήνα, ψάχνει το μεγάλο πέος για να βρει τη χαρά της. Αλλά αυτό όλο της ξεφεύγει, την αφήνει απήδηχτη γιατί έχει σοβαρές υποθέσεις, να καταψηφίσει τα αντιλαϊκά μέτρα και συνωστίζεται στον γνωστό Οίκο Ανοχής κάθε πικραμένου διασώστη του ελληνικού λαού. Αλλά υπάρχουν και άλλες λύσεις. Να θέλεις να σε βιάσει ο Κουμανταρέας και αυτός να στο αρνείται γιατί δεν πήρε το βιάγκρα του. Έτσι που κλείνουν τα φαρμακεία, βασικά φάρμακα είναι σε έλλειψη, ως γνωστόν. Με τέτοιες ελλείψεις και τέτοιες υποχρεώσεις, θα μείνει η μισή Αθήνα απήδηχτη και οι μισές βιασμένες αβίαστες. Και θα λένε κιόλας κάποια απομεινάρια του φεμινισμού για τη βία κατά των γυναικών, που είναι κακούργημα, αλλά δεν πειράζει, γιατί όταν τις πηδάνε ή τις βιάζουν σωπαίνουν. Και θα έρθουν και οι αναρχικοί και θα ρίχνουν μολότοφ στους μπάτσους που φυλάνε τον Οίκο Ανοχής, και θα τους λένε «μουνιά», δηλαδή ό,τι χειρότερο. Και θα εξεγείρονται οι μπάτσοι και θα την βγάζουν έξω για να δείξουν ότι δεν είναι «μουνιά» και την έχουν μεγάλη. Και τέλος θα έρθουν κι οι φασίστες και θα βγάλουν τα πέη τους για να τα συγκρίνουν με τους ΣΥΡΙΖαίους να δούνε ποιών είναι το μεγαλύτερο, ενώ οι αναρχικοί θα κρατάνε τη μεζούρα και οι μπάτσοι τα «μουνιά» θα κάθονται στην άκρη και θα παρακολουθούν. Χάος. Στο μεταξύ οι αδερφές την βρίσκουν μεταξύ τους, και σερβίρουν κα θεωρίες για το σεξουαλικό προσανατολισμό, ενώ το τμήμα δικαιωμάτων του ΣΥΡΙΖΑ βγάζει ανακοίνωση για να πει ότι οι αδερφές δεν πειράζει να είναι αδερφές αν τη βρίσκουν έτσι, και θα χαλάσουν το σενάριο και δεν θα μπορέσουν οι φασίστες και ο Τατσόπουλος να μετρήσουν να δούμε τέλος πάντων ποιος την έχει μακρύτερη. Γιατί είναι σοβαρό το ερώτημα, πρέπει ο λαός να ξέρει, δεν μπορεί να ψηφίζει ο,τιδήποτε. Διαφάνεια πάνω απ’ όλα.
Και μαζί με τον γλίτσα τον Τατσόπουλο, έχουμε πατριαρχικό μπίνγκο.
της Συντακτικής Ομάδας
Νέο κρούσμα απενοχοποίησης του βιασμού, από πνευματικούς ανθρώπους, που αποδίδουν το γυναικείο σώμα βορά στις σεξουαλικές ορέξεις των ανδρών, και αρνούνται την αυτονομία του. Ο κύριος Κουμανταρέας, την ίδια ώρα που στηλιτεύει το φασισμό και την επίθεση που ο ίδιος δέχθηκε από όντα με ξυρισμένα κεφάλια, χωρίς αναπνοή συνεχίζει «…κάποιες φορές το κράτος βιάζει τον ανυπεράσπιστο πολίτη παρά τη θέλησή του. Ενώ άμα βιάσεις μια γυναίκα μπορεί και να το θέλει…», αναπαράγοντας έτσι μια άλλη, διαχρονική μάλιστα και πανάρχαια επιθετικότητα εναντίον των γυναικών, στην εκπομπή της ΝΕΤ για την πολιτική και ρατσιστική βία. Παρά την αντίδραση της δημοσιογράφου Έλλης Στάη, ο ίδιος αρνήθηκε έστω και να ζητήσει συγνώμη για τη δήλωσή του.
Δηλαδή ο βιασμός «μπορεί» κάποιες φορές να είναι παρά τη θέληση, είτε του πολίτη είτε της γυναίκας, αλλά μπορεί και να μην είναι. Τι οξύμωρο σχήμα! Και εις ανώτερα λοιπόν, αυτά λένε και οι φασίστες που θεωρούν ότι «μπορεί» ο κάθε ένας που του ανοίγουν το κεφάλι και να το θέλει, όπως «μπορεί» επίσης και η γυναίκα. Τέτοια στηλίτευση του φασισμού!!!!!!!!!
Έτσι, μαζί με τον κ. Τσόκλη που πριν κάτι χρόνια είχε κάνει δηλώσεις, επίσης σε συζήτηση στην κρατική τηλεόραση, που απενοχοποιούσαν τον βιασμό, ωθούσαν σ’ αυτόν και καλούσε να καταδικάζεται όχι ο βιαστής, αλλά η κοπέλα που «ντύνεται προκλητικά», μπαίνει στο πάνθεον των «πνευματικών ανθρώπων» που διαπλάθουν τις συνειδήσεις των Ελλήνων με τις πιο επιθετικές επιταγές της πατριαρχίας.
ολόκληρο το βιντεάκι στο σάιτ της εκπομπής
η ομιλία του ξεκινάει στο 33΄ ενώ η επίμαχη ατάκα ακούγεται περίπου στο 37.΄
Dr Jen Gunter has a terrific post today on Savita Halappanavar – yes, another one. It starts with the fact that the hospital was checking fetal heart tones, not once, but several times a day. That’s a tell.
Fetal heart tones are not checked with any medical purpose in mind until viability (around 23-24 weeks). The presence of fetal heart tones was irrelevant because survival of a baby at 17 weeks with ruptured membranes and/or advanced cervical dilation is impossible. Ms. Halappanavar was not 22 weeks pregnant where there might be a 3% chance of survival (depending on weight, sex of the baby, gestational age, whether it is a singleton or a multiple gestation etc). At 17 weeks with ruptured membranes, regardless of cervical dilation, this pregnancy could only end in with a fetal demise. In a study from 2006, when membranes ruptured at 21 weeks or less the outcome was “dismal.” In fact, in this study there were no survivors when membranes ruptured between 18 and 19 weeks. Whether a fetus has cardiac activity at 17 weeks with ruptured membranes and a dilated cervix is simply not part of the medical decision making tree.
And then there’s the risk of infection. The hospital was checking the fetal heart when that was completely futile, while not doing what needed to be done about the infection that developed.
We know why. Catholic hospitals in the US do the same thing.
Jen Gunter continues.
I’m told that while Irish law technically allows abortion to save the life of the mother, many practitioners fear recrimination and exactly when the life of the mother is “at risk” is a murky question. I can easily argue that Savita’s life was at risk the moment her membranes ruptured at 17 weeks. However, does Irish law mean a different kind of risk? And if so, how would doctors judge that risk to be present? Ruptured membranes and fever? Shaking chills? Bacteria in the amniotic fluid? Positive blood cultures? Sepsis? Cardiovascular collapse? How sick must a pregnant woman be in Ireland be for a doctor to state that her life is at risk?
Whether the delay in Ms. Halappanavar’s care was fear of criminal repercussions or personal dogma, both of these scenarios are permitted to exist because of laws that trounce evidence based medicine. Her husband’s claim that Irish law played a role rings true because the team was checking for fetal heart tones when the only vital signs that mattered were Savita’s.
And it’s not just Irish law that does this. It’s the ”Ethical and Religious Directives” governing Catholic health care that do it in the US.
Hospitals are Required by Law to provide the Standard of Care,  Yet Hospitals Fail to do so Because of their Adherence to the Directives.
In some of the miscarriage cases described in the Ibis Study, the standard of care requires immediate treatment. Yet doctors practicing at Catholic-affiliated hospitals were forced to delay treatment while performing medically unnecessary tests. Even though these miscarriages were inevitable and no medical treatment was available to save the fetus, some patients were transferred because doctors could still detect a fetal heartbeat or required to wait until there was no longer a fetal heartbeat to provide the needed medical care.
Italics added. That’s not Ireland, that’s the US.
I'm waiting to see the results of this inquiry.
This is the whole article. I shared it before in part. Just read it.
I’m sitting in a café on Salisbury high street and a frail old man in a big black hat has just told me that he is going to die. “No medicine can prevent it,” says Sir Terry Pratchett, 64, national treasure, author of 54 books and counting, campaigner for assisted dying and professional morbid bastard. “Knowing that you are going to die is, I suspect, the beginning of wisdom,” he explains.
This is a story about death. Not Death with a capital “D”, that bony guy with the scythe and the sparkling blue eyes who shows up in nearly every one of Pratchett’s 30-plus novels in the Discworld series, swearing and smiling ineffably and being kind to cats. This is a story about death with a small “d” – the inconvenient little fact, the “embuggerance” that has been an implicit feature of Pratchett’s life and work since the author was diagnosed with posterior cortical atrophy, a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s, in 2007.
Pratchett’s writing career spans 45 years. He is Britain’s second-best-read author, having sold more than 80 million books worldwide. His Discworld series began as a pure comic fantasy with The Colour of Magic in 1983. It is the story of a lacklustre wizard tearing haplessly arounda flat world that travels through space on the back of a giant turtle. The books that followed have proved to be something more complicated, something deeper. A terse and bitingly moral satirical voice developed over the series. Most science-fiction and fantasy authors who become successful must confront their own politics sooner or later, because inventing a universe from scratch and inviting millions of readers to join you there demands a certain moral responsibility. Writers from Ursula K Le Guin and Robert Heinlein to China Miéville have used the fantastic as an explicitly political space, imagining other worlds where humanity might organise itself differently.
Pratchett went in precisely the opposite direction. He began to write like a man who knows that the most fascinating place in the known and imagined universe is this one, right here. Pratchett uses nerdy fantasy and slapstick comedy as tools to tell stories about racism and religious hatred, war and the nature of bigotry, love and sin and sex and death, always death, knotted into the ersatz adventures of talking dogs, zombie revolutionaries, crime-fighting werewolves, tooth fairies, crocodile gods and funny little men who sell suspicious sausages on street corners.
The stranger his books become, the more they look and sound like Britain in the late 20th and early 21st centuries: girls meet boys meet gender-bending dwarves; decent people are destroyed by their own cowardice; priests tell lies and blood-sucking lawyers run everything, although in the Discworld they truly are vampires.
“Terry is just really good at human beings,” says the author Neil Gaiman, a collaborator and close friend of Pratchett’s. The two co-wrote the 1990 bestseller Good Omens. “He’s good at genuine human emotions, in the tradition of English humour writing.
“You can point to classic P G Wodehouse, you can point to Alan Coren – these people who define the style of English humorous writing – and Terry is a master of it. He also understands all of the tropes of various different genres and can deploy them. When Terry began, people pointed to Douglas Adams, because he also wrote stuff set on different worlds, but Wodehouse is the closest person out there – although Terry’s range is wider.”
Like many friends of Pratchett’s, Gaiman finds it difficult to discuss his illness, so much so, that he agrees to speak about it only over Skype, email being too cold and stark. “I love the fact that Terry fucking embraced his Alzheimer’s,” Gaiman says. “I love that he took it and used it to raise the profile of the ‘dignity in dying’ campaign.”
Alzheimer’s is always cruel, but the form of the disease with which Pratchett has been diagnosed has a peculiarly savage irony. He has lost the ability to use a keyboard altogether and can do very little with a pen. His most recent four books have been written entirely by dictation, and with the help of his assistant of 12 years, Rob Wilkins.
“I can no longer type, so I use TalkingPoint and Dragon Dictate,” Pratchett says, as Rob drives us to the café in a rather unexpected large gold Jaguar. “It’s a speech-to-text program,” he explains, “and there’s an add-on for talking which some guys came up with.”
So, how does that differ from using his hands to write?
“Actually, it’s much, much better,” he says. I hesitate, and he senses scepticism.
“Think about it! We are monkeys,” says Pratchett. “We talk. We like talking. We are not born to go . . .” He turns and makes click-clack motions, like somebody’s fusty grandfather disapproving of the internet. Indeed, Pratchett is as passionate about technology as any fantasy writer should be. Decades ago, when the internet first opened up to non-specialists, com - munities such as alt.fan.pratchett quickly eveloped for readers of his books to share stories and meet each other. “You have to have a bit of nerd in you to get used to it, of course,” he says. He sizes me up suspiciously. “If you’re not a nerd I don’t want to speak to you. You must at least have taken the lid off your computer at some point?”
I don’t dare say no, because I suspect if I admitted that I work on a Mac and am worried about voiding the warranty, the interview really would be over. “Anyway, the algorithms are amazing,” he says. “I gave them everything I’d ever written that was electronic, and overnight it stewed it all up and worked out how the words would, should, sound.”
“We’ve got workarounds,” Rob says. “We’ve built the system so once the alarm goes off [in the morning] the computer switches on, so Terry doesn’t need to find the switch to turn on the computer.”
Pratchett’s assistant juggles the smartphone and pulls in to the café where we’re due to have our meeting. You can’t really understand Terry Pratchett without understanding Rob Wilkins, whose name I keep accidentally writing down as Willikins, a loyal butler-character with hidden depths who turns up in many of the Discworld books.
Rob is, in many ways, the archetypal Terry Pratchett fan. He’s big-hearted, fizzing with all the nerdy energy of a first-generation immigrant to the digital universe, crammed into a badly fitting black T-shirt, and utterly devoted. If there is a reason why Pratchett’s debilitating illness has had so little effect on his output to date, Rob is it. He’s the one who turns up at the house at any time of day or night to take dictation or fix a problem, and Terry’s wife has resigned herself to the fact that this is part of the job.
“If we create a workaround, that’s great, because we’ve got something to beat the disease,” he says, hurrying off to order the drinks. Both of them use the plural “we” to describe their work; the author’s Twitter feed is @terryandrob. Together, they are like boyhood friends, chatting about Alzheimer’s as if it were a particularly difficult video-game level they are determined to conquer. “We’ll soon have a system where Terry will be able to turn the lights on, open the curtains and all of those things just by talking,” says Rob. “It’s good fun. It means that we’re beating the disease every day.” He nods. “We like doing that.”
Where Pratchett is gruff and practical, Rob is expansive, the sort of man who gives a reporter he’s just met a great big hug when he recognises a fellow fan. In Choosing to Die, the Bafta award winning BBC documentary about the work of the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland that Pratchett presented last year, the writer is terse and solemn as he watches two men with terminal illness end their lives by choice. Rob is the one who rages about how unfair it all is.
Since his diagnosis, Pratchett has become a campaigner for the cause of dignity in dying. He spends all the energy he can on giving talks and making programmes to raise awareness of the condition. “We have a problem now that people think they are not going to die,” he says. “Previous generations understood about death, and undoubtedly would have seen a reasonable amount of death. Once you get into the Victorian era, you might well have seen the funerals of many of your siblings before you were very old.
“When people go to funerals these days, they don’t really know what to do. They don’t go to church anyway – that’s because they’re sensible – but they don’t know what to sing or when to go up or where to stand.”
Rituals are important in Pratchett’s world. He isn’t the sort of writer who was ever going to refuse a knighthood when offered it, but he did arrange to have a sword of his own forged using a lump of meteorite metal, reasoning that if one is to be a knight one should do the thing properly.
Terry Pratchett grew up in Buckinghamshire and Somerset in the 1950s, an only child. Songs and stories were part of that rural upbringing from the outset – stories about aliens and space travel alongside traditional tales of the dubious doings of maidens fair and their mates.
“I got into science fiction by being interested in astronomy first,” he says. “My mum used to tell me lots of stories as she took me to school – she’d take me all the way to school, which would be about a mile and a half, and then she’d go to work.
“I was a kid from the council houses. The house I was born into was one which anyone on the dole would not set foot in because when you’re poorer in a rural area you’re really poor. My dad got the occasional rabbit here or there, mushrooms and stuff, and because he was a good mechanic he could keep a car down.
“They didn’t know they were incredibly good parents and I didn’t realise they were incredibly good parents until I grew up. Parents that stick kids in front of the television by themselves should be shot in the head.” He reserves the elderly curmudgeon’s privilege of wishing a good death on everyone, and an early one on anyone who disagrees with him.
When he began writing novels, more than 40 years ago, he and his wife, Lyn, were “hippies, but hippies with jobs”, he says. “I had a beard that Darwin would have got lost in, but I worked as a sub-editor on a paper, and we just had about enough room in our small cottage to have one child. Rhianna’s an only child, which is probably a good thing. You either go under when you’re an only child or you become a fighter. Rhianna is a fighter.”
Rhianna Pratchett is already a respected games writer in her own right. It was recently revealed that she is the creative mind behind the new Lara Croft franchise reboot, and she will be a co-writer on the BBC Discworld series The Watch, news of which has had fans like me chewing their cheeks in excitement. Mine may never recover after hearing some particularly exciting casting details that I’m absolutely not allowed to tell you about.
Run by Pratchett’s new production company, Narrativia, The Watch will continue the wellloved City Watch saga where the books left off, and Rhianna will be an important member of the writing team. The author tells me that he will be happy for her to continue writing the Discworld books when he is no longer able to do so. “The Discworld is safe in my daughter’s hands,” Pratchett assures me.
Rhianna has grown up immersed in her father’s universe and knows it inside out. Listening to him talking about his daughter, I realise it is the first time I’ve heard him acknowledge the possibility of not being able to write any more.
“The biggest thing about Terry for me, the thing that I’ve always found fascinating, is how much he loves writing,” Neil Gaiman says. “Not every writer does –we go from one end of the scale to the other. With Douglas Adams, novels had to be squeezed out of him like the last bit of toothpaste out of a tube, but then you have people like Terry; he would rather write than anything. As long as I’ve known him, since I met him when he worked [at the Central Electricity Generating Board] as a publicist, he would get home every night and write his 400 words.”
Right now the books are still coming out, rapidly but erratically – as if there’s wrapping up to be done. Stories that were waiting to be told are emerging haphazardly. Last summer, Pratchett published The Long Earth, a hard-sci-fi epic about alternative universes and resource allocation set in the near future; this winter it’s Dodger, a historical-fantastical story of Victorian London starring Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew and a fistful of stock Dickensian characters brought stinkily to life. Though they are marketed to teenage readers, the stories have grown increasingly bleak, with resource wars, human cruelty and rivers of shit floating with corpses.
“What do you tell kids?” Pratchett asks, while we are still in the café. “ ‘Prepare for a short life,’ ” he says, before taking a sip of his tea. “We are going to end up fighting each other for resources. And waste most of those resources fighting with one another.
“I was in Indonesia a little while ago, and you can see the palm oil plantations. We went up in a helicopter, and they go from horizon to horizon. And once the palm oil has been taken away what you’ve got left is desert. And I mean desert – desert which is stone. We’re not going to get out of this one alive.”
It is at this point that he breaks into song. I don’t mean this figuratively. I mean that he calmly and decisively starts singing the old English folk tune “The Larks They Sang Melodious”. He has a good voice, a quavering baritone that has lost none of its strength, and he doesn’t give a damn that half of the café has turned to look.
Pratchett sings two whole verses. The song is full of firelight and longing and nostalgia for warmer, younger days, and if you half-close your eyes you could be sitting around a country fire, listening to some elderly relative tell you stories about love and death that are no less true for being ever so slightly made up. Except that that’s not where we are – we’re in a branch of Starbucks, drinking slightly stale tea, and “The Larks They Sang Melodious” was not written to be sung over piped-in Brazilian jazz.
“When you’re all singing together, it brings things together,” he says. “I know the songs that my grandfather and my father sang. Rhianna knows the songs that I sang, ’cause these days just about any songs that have ever been written are available somewhere.”
He is a raving fan of traditional music, and tells me with pride that he once “got a kiss from Maddy Prior. No, no, I won’t get in trouble if you write that down. Have you ever heard of Thomas Tallis?” he asks. Without waiting for an answer, he says: “Well, I was walking through the kitchen one day recently and we’d got the radio on, and ‘Spem in alium’ was on, and I went down on my knees. I wouldn’t give you tuppence to go to church, but I really did.”
I don’t mention that the reason everybody now knows about Tallis’s harmonies and 40- part canticle is that they feature in the bonkbuster Fifty Shades of Grey.
“Of course, that song I just sang, it’s all about sex, really,” he says, grinning.
Sex and death and nature red in tooth and claw. Humour black as a fantasy writer’s hat. Dumping uncomfortable human truths on the table and sprinkling them with a little bit of fairy dust. That is what has been in Pratchett’s work from the start, steeping the nasty stuff in music and magic to make it bearable without ever lying to the kids, not for an instant. The campaign for assisted dying just takes that sentiment to its logical, practical conclusion.
“Let’s start with Harold Shipman,” he says, and that’s when I know Pratchett is trolling me. Because I’m not the first to notice that, with his bristly white beard and sharp features, the fantasy author bears an uncanny resemblance to . . . Harold Shipman, aka “Dr Death”, the GP who hanged himself in 2004 after he was exposed as a man who had murdered countless patients in their beds.
“What [Shipman] did was terrible . . . it knocked all the moxy out of all the doctors. It means that these days everyone has to fight like hell to keep some poor bugger alive even though he’s struggling. The difference is that Shipman was killing people that weren’t ill!” Talking about death with a man who is, in all likelihood, significantly closer to it than you are is terrifically uncomfortable, especially when you start getting into the particulars of the disease that will, one way or another, end his life. But Pratchett’s gruff matter-of-factitude makes the whole thing much easier, like a plaster being ripped off all at once.
I start to ask, “Have the doctors told you – I mean —” He intercepts before I can work through the knot in my tongue. “Have they told me when I’m going to die?” he finishes. Suddenly I suspect that in recent months he has often had to finish difficult sentences for relatives and reporters.
No, he hasn’t had the date yet. “If you didn’t know I had anything like this, you wouldn’t know,” he says quietly. That’s not quite true: Pratchett is whip-sharp, and talking to him makes you want to sit up straight and make sure your shoelaces are tied, yet he is noticeably frailer than his 64 years might lead you to expect, and occasionally he drifts off at the end of a sentence.
In fact, just before this interview went to press, Rob contacted me to say that Pratchett had almost died of what they had thought was a heart attack, in early November, while in New York on a book signing tour. The pair were on the way back to their hotel from a visit to Ground Zero, Rob says, when Pratchett “took a very bad turn. We were sitting in the back of a taxi when I noticed his breathing had become laboured.” A few minutes later, Pratchett passed out.
In a written account of the incident, which he plans to publish, he claims not to remember much, other than feeling “simply dreadful, and very cold, although sweat was pouring down my face, and I couldn’t even focus and just seemed to be slipping away. Rob kept asking me if I was OK and telling me we didn’t have far to go . . . I have to take his word for what happened next.”
What happened next is that Pratchett collapsed. “I had to kneel on the back seat of the taxi and give him CPR,” Rob says. “It was fingers down throat stuff. He nearly died.”
The author was rushed to hospital, but recovered swiftly. Doctors told him that he had suffered an atrial fibrillation, caused by the cumulative effect of drugs he had been prescribed for high blood pressure and made worse by his busy touring schedule. He now downplays the incident. “I once heard it mentioned that signing tours can kill you quicker than drugs, booze and fast women,” he tells the New Statesman. “Some of which I haven’t tried.” It’s made him wonder if he should slow down and devote more time to writing and his family, but he enjoys life on the road too much to give it up.
Earlier, when we met, I had asked Pratchett how his health affected his outlook on life.
“Mostly, I’m incredibly angry. Anger is wonderful. It keeps you going. I’m angry about bankers. About the government. They’re fecking useless.” He really does say “fecking”. “I know what Granny Weatherwax [a no-nonsense witch who crops up in several Discworld novels] would say to David Cameron. She’d push him to one side and say, ‘I can’t be having with you.’ [His sort] don’t do anything but suck up to the lawyers. Why isn’t someone hanged?”
There is a starkness here that runs throughout the Discworld books. Isn’t he worried that he might be scaring the kids with all this discussion of death? Not at all – in fact, if there’s one thing that distinguishes Pratchett’s contributions to the young adult section of bookshops, it is his willingness to bring young people face to face with some of the more gruesome facts of human existence, with the silly seriousnessness you would expect of a dying comedy writer who’d had a personal coat of arms made up with a Latin motto that features in his own books. The motto is “Noli timere messorem” – don’t fear the reaper.
His latest children’s book, I Shall Wear Midnight, features a set piece in which the young heroine has to prevent the suicide of a man who has recently beaten his unmarried, pregnant, 13-year-old daughter so badly that she has miscarried – and bury the foetus. Harry Potter it ain’t. Yet the kids gobble it up, because one thing that Pratchett understands is that just because kids like stories doesn’t mean they like to be lied to.
So, the possibility of young readers seeing their favourite author on television talking frankly about his own death worries him not a whit. “Scaring the kids is a fine and noble thing to do,” he says. “I’m happy to tell kids to prepare for a short life. But it works like this – you can take them through the dark forest, but you must bring them out into the light.”
Laurie Penny joins the New Statesman this week as a contributing editor.