Theresa May’s Newest Attack on Humanity

This post explains things much better than I ever could.

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Banal, Dangerous Stupidity

Abu Qatada, once described as al-Qaeda’s leader in Europe, boards an aircraft at RAF Northolt in west London last July to be deported to Jordan Photo: PA

Abu Qatada, once described as al-Qaeda’s leader in Europe, boards an aircraft at RAF Northolt in west London last July to be deported to Jordan Photo: PA

Yesterday The Telegraph ran an article on the proposals to further block foreign criminals from having access to Art8 appeals, backed by over 100 MPs. I could go on about the many different ways in which this proposal is wrong and insidious, about the construction of the ‘foreign criminal’, about the vileness of the comments section.

But what made my blood boil the most was something else. A mistake so trivial, so banal, that it is no longer considered a mistake.

The above picture was used to illustrate the article, and I’ve reproduced the caption here in full.

That is Abu Qatada.

Abu Qatada was a terrorist suspect. The caption said he was described as al- Qaeda’s leader in Europe. That was never proven.

He was never charged with a crime in the UK.

His human rights appeals were entirely different from those of foreign criminals. His deportation was blocked several times first under Art3 (Freedom from Torture) and Art6 (Right to Fair Trial). At no point did he claim under Art 8 (Right to Family Life), which is the one the article (and the Bill in question) is about.

A national newspaper, has used the photo of a terrorist suspect to illustrate a story on immigration. A story which had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.

Linking immigration with terrorism is so commonplace, that no one bats an eyelid when it happens.

But it is wrong. And people should furiously bat their eyelids over this.

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Privilege, Privilege, Privilege. Part 2

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, on a speech today:

“I stress – I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”

Good grief.

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Privilege, Privilege, Privilege

Yesterday I left a seminar fuming. We were discussing a paper regarding the discrimination of the Roma minority in Europe, and some of the comments were really astounding. A lot of those present were quite happy to reinforce an erroneous narrative of self-exclusion, claiming that the Roma did not want to belong to society, so discrimination really was only one side of the story. They used examples of Roma not sending their children to school and not wanting to have official documents such as birth certificates and passports.

Shrugging your shoulders and claiming self-exclusion significantly fails to acknowledge how a lot of self-exclusion is a reaction to discrimination.

Plus, the question of Roma not wanting papers is also a crass generalisation. Moreover, would you blame them for no wanting to get authorities involved when just a few months ago a blond Roma child was removed from her parents because the authorities did not believe she was related to her dark-haired parents?

But it was the discussion of discrimination in schools that really made me fume. In certain countries in Eastern Europe, it is relatively common for Roma children to be segregated from mainstream schools and often sent to schools for those with mental disabilities just because they are Roma. Some of the students in the seminar had gone to school with Roman children and shared their experiences, talking about how those kids were severely bullied and sometimes even discriminated against by the staff.

One of the professors reacted to this by saying

Well, I went to a shit school and I managed to get here, so…

At that very second the bell rang and we had to vacate the room. Some of us were stunned that he had even said that out loud and checked with each other to make sure we weren’t hearing things.

We weren’t.

He is a white, middle-class man. How can someone be so terribly unaware of his own privilege?

The narrative of hard-work can overlook the often insurmountable barriers to equality that face people from certain backgrounds. Shrugging your shoulders and implying that people can change their circumstances if they simply work hard is to be blind to privilege and context.

It is very hard to do, but one should always be aware of the privileges they have encountered through life. I have been privileged because of my parents, my education, my scholarship and the fact that, due to the lack of sun in this country, I am not a visible minority. I am fully aware of and grateful for the circumstances that have helped me be where I am today.

Yes, I have worked hard. But I have also benefited from a system that is not immediately aware of my otherness.

I have no doubt that this professor worked hard to be where he is today, but he was also a beneficiary of  a system that was rigged in his favour from the start.

To acknowledge privilege is not to belittle achievement. Rather, it is to understand the power of context and the pervasiveness of structures of inequality that often make hard-work an insufficient condition for success.

 

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On The Value of a Life

A man is dying right now because of immigration rules. Ifa Muaza, a 45 year old Nigerian asylum seeker, has been on hunger strike at Harmondsworth Removal Centre for almost 3 months now. The High Court ruled last week that he must remain in custody, in spite of the fact that doctors have certified that he is unfit to remain in custody. The Home Office has now issued a ‘end of life’ plan for this man, and staff at Harmondsworth have been warned to expect a death in the next few weeks, if not sooner.

The general feeling from the government (and the public if you believe the responses in the comments section of several articles) is that Ifa is on hunger strike in order to manipulate the immigration system and obtain leave to remain, and as such, he should remain in custody, as no one is above the immigration system.

A man is willing to die in order not to be returned to his country of origin, and all you can think of is immigration control?

In my PhD, I argue that through different mechanisms such as immigration control and terrorism measures, the population of the British state is being stratified into a hierarchy of belonging and value. At the bottom, you have non-citizens, criminals, minorities,  benefits claimants etc. At the top, you have the rich and powerful. Different value is attached to individuals according to their position in the hierarchy, in a dialectic relationship (i.e the more value you have, the more you are perceived to belong to the national society).

The consequences of this stratification of society in terms of value is profound as the category of value (and consequently, belonging) you are assigned to determines how the government treats you. In other words, it determines your entitlement to rights in general, and human rights in particular.

Britain routinely detains asylum-seekers and other immigrants for an indefinite period. These are people who have committed no crime. Britain also routinely ignores the guideline that victims of torture should not be detained in immigration centres. Just in September, a report confirmed the allegations of sexual abuse at Yarl’s Wood immigration centre, where guards offered to assist in immigration claims in return for sexual favours. Gay asylum-seekers are being asked to ‘prove’ their homosexuality, some even handing in pictures and videos.

Ifa Muaza may be deported this Wednesday. He is only one of many hunger strikers now in immigration detention.

Last week, immigration barrister and editor of Free Movement  asked on twitter:

[tweet 403450967984984064]

The answer is easy, and disturbing: a government that places a lesser value on the life of non-citizens.

So the problem with immigration in this country is not what tabloids would have you think. Instead, it is about an inhumane government. A government that is using people’s lives to prove that it is tough on immigration. One that is ultimately unwilling to stop a death, and save a life.

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The (Not-so) Hidden Gender Inequality in Higher Education

The presence of gender inequality in universities is not news. Women make of over 50% of the student population on campuses, but this demographic is not represented in the echelons of academia. In in the classes I teach, where female students far outnumber their male counterparts. Acting as an invigilator during exam season, I see this gender split repeated in a wide variety of subjects.

But where are all the women Professors, Directors and Vice-chancellors?

Just a few months ago, Mary Ann Mason, Nicholas Wolfinger and Marc Goulden published an excellent, if thoroughly depressing, book called Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower. Their answer is basically that yes, they do

 family formation negatively affects women’s, but not men’s, academic careers. For men, having children is a career advantage; for women, it is a career killer.

Talk about discouraging. As a woman currently doing a PhD, this research resonates with me in a very personal level.

But today I wanted to talk about a deeper, hidden patriarchal layers that inform this wider gender inequality in higher education. I am talking about reading lists.

This was the first year I actively looked at a reading list for a course I was teaching. And I was procrastinating so stunned, I just had to do some maths. Out of the entire reading list (over 200 books an articles), only 10.8% were written or co-written by women. Out of the essential readings, that is the readings the students are required to do each week (about 80 books and articles), the percentage of readings written or co-written by women is 8%.

Obviously this is not a scientific measurement, but the results are shocking nonetheless. This is a field I am very familiar with, and the imbalance in the reading list does not represent the field as a whole. Out of a few key texts on the theoretical core of the course, which were written by men in the 1980s and 1990s, there is no reason not to include more women scholars in this reading list. This particular course needs an overhaul, and this gender imbalance is partly caused by an over-reliance on a previous generation of scholarship. There there is no excuse for not updating this course.

This reflects a wider, institutional root to gender inequality in higher education. Women are becoming students in overwhelming numbers, but their misrepresentation is not restricted to the lack of women in positions of authority in higher education. They are seldom properly represented in the course designs themselves. I know of one professor who mentioned in an introductory lecture that issues of gender in this particular topic were in the periphery. In the periphery!! I couldn’t believe my ears. Gender is never in the periphery in the social sciences. Others say that they are interested in gender and acknowledge its importance for their field, but there is just not enough time to teach everything.

But you make time. If you really want to teach something, you make time.

And this is not just a gender issue. Minorities are also misrepresented in higher education. I haven’t counted, but it is also clear that the majority of readings on this particular course are by white men. This percentage increases if you include the number of articles written by women. Readings by scholars from minorities are usually pigeonholed in the weeks in which we deal with a non-European topic. And the representation of minority women is even worse. I believe their presence in the reading list is almost 0.

I know that this is just one course, one reading list, one example. But I am willing to bet good money that this is not an isolated case.

And that just makes me very sad.

It is a duty of future academics to ensure that their future course designs are more representative, not just of women, but of everyone. This is not tokenism, but a recognition that the Ivory Tower is no longer the exclusive realm of an unrepresentative minority.

Something has got to change. And fast.

 

 

 

 

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Disney Princesses, Feminism and Reductionism

I wasn’t going to write about this, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it all week, so at least it will get it out of my system.

There was an article on the Telegraph last Monday called ‘I’d happily blow the brains out of a Disney Princess’. In this article, Beverly Turner connects the Disney Princesses to Miley Cyrus, Barbie Dolls, the sexualisation of women and girls and women’s lack of representation in high profile jobs. I don’t usually read the Telegraph, so this was brought to my attention by fellow bloggers. Katie Clark has a particularly good response to this article, and she summarises Turner’s argument brilliantly

The author fumes that ‘the cult of Disney’ brainwashes children into believing that women should do no more than wait around, doe-eyed and pathetic, for a charming Prince to come along and rescue them from whatever perilous circumstances they happen to find themselves in.  She argues that we should have more true-to-life characters because most women “prefer to do more than wait to marry a Prince, in a size 8 dress with hair down to their waist” and that the Disney princess image is damaging to young girls as it teaches them that they need to be aesthetically perfect and can’t do anything without a man.

Sadly, this argument is one that is repeated by many feminists, who only see in Disney Princesses the cult of beauty, standard femininity and the goal of finding a man. This is summarized in the much publicised photo

Image

This criticism of the Disney Princesses is a classic case of reductionism. It removes context and severely damages any feminist criticism against the Disney Princess brand.

My beef with this reductionism of the Disney princesses can be summarised as follows:

1. Removal of Agency

Boiling down the Princesses story as being solely about being pretty whilst finding a man completely removes the agency of the princesses. And agency is important. We live in a world where women in media are mostly ornamental, whilst men are instrumental. The princesses are not ornamental. Sure, they are pretty and have fabulous clothes, but they are the lead actors in their own story. They are not girlfriends, wives, or side-kicks, and are each involved in a deeply personal journey of growth. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Coming of Age Stories

The stories of the Disney princesses, save perhaps for Aurora, are primarily coming of age stories, not stories about finding a man. Sure, they are also love stories but time and time again, the princesses find it during their personal stories. Finding love is not the goal, but a happy by-product of their stories. Look at Ariel, Rapunzel, Belle, Mulan, Tianna, Pocahontas. None of them were concerned with finding love. People seem to forget that Ariel sings ‘Part of That World’ BEFORE she meets Eric. Ariel’s passion was the human world, she wanted to be human. And even after she met Eric, she did not run straight away to Ursula asking for legs. The catalyst to her transformation into human was her father’s rage in destroying all of her most precious possessions. Her deal with Ursula is much more about teenage rebellion and getting back at her dad than it is about Eric. Ariel’s story is about following her dreams, and the sacrifices, mistakes, and rewards one finds along the way. The princesses find love as a consequence of following their own paths through life.

3. Sexualisation and Distortion

The outfits that Ariel, Jasmine and even Pocahontas wear may be on the skimpy side, but I never saw them as sexualised. But maybe this is because the sexualisation of women in media is so overt, that I am a bit blurry in this issue. To sexualise is to make something sexual, and other than the relative skimpiness of the outfits of these three princesses, they are not made sexual in any way. They are not sex objects, ornamental, there to be looked at. As I said before, they have agency. Additionally, none of the stories, apart from maybe Snow White’s, are about their beauty. The Princesses are themselves quite unaware of their looks, and their stories do not revolve around this.

The argument that they are bad because of they distort what real women look has some merit. However, the merit does not lie solely in the fact that they have huge eyes, small noses, full lips and swishy hair. They are distorted because animation distorts. The distortion of women characters is rife in animation and cartoons. But the distortion alone is not the problem. Simba does not look like a real lion and Sebastian is the most expressive crab I have ever seen. The problem lies in what the distortion represents.

Real Problems

I do think that there is a problem in how they are drawn, and they stem from the Jessica Rabbit conundrum: ‘I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.’ The problem is not that they are sexualised and distorted, but that they were drawn as a heteronormative, white, European standard of beauty.

I recently watched a documentary called Waking Sleeping Beauty, a behind the scenes look at the Disney animation studio. The animators behind The Little Mermaid, Alladin etc are all overwhelmingly white men. So it is not surprising that most of the princesses are white, European, and drawn to appeal to a Western audience.

Most feminist critiques lack intersectionality, that is, an awareness of the  intersections between different disenfranchised groups. In feminism, this means feminists have to be aware not just of the oppression of white women, but of the specific racial dimensions of the patriarchy.

This is something that is lacking from the Disney criticism. By complaining that the princesses are only there to be looked at and find a man, they overlook the serious issue of the racial uniformity of the princesses. Additionally, the princesses are overwhelmingly from what is considered to be the ‘developed world’. None are from South America, South Asia or the Caucasus, for example. The Global South and the experience of those who inhabit it are never a part of the Disney Princesses story, most of which take place in a vague European setting (with notable exceptions of course). It was very disappointing to see that Disney’s new feature, Frozen, features zero characters from an ethnic minority and it is also set in that vague European world.

And when they are represented, the minority stories can be quite cartoonish. Aladdin is an exercise in Orientalism, and Pocahontas… Oh Pocahontas. I will leave Pocahontas to the amazing Native Appropriations, but suffice to say, its representation of American indigenous population is sorely lacking.

So what to do? Shall we stop watching Disney movies and stop our daughters from doing the same?

No. I don’t think so.

What is needed is a critical eye. I always tell my students never to accept what they see as a given. Look for the constructions behind the images, and what they try to tell us. Look for who is represented and excluded, and how these representations and exclusions are made. Be critical, not just in academia, but in everything. And children can be critical thinkers too. They need parents to watch what they are watching, to ask them questions and guide them to see things differently.

And in the end, there is nothing wrong with being a feminist and either hating, loving or being indifferent to the Disney princesses. Academia would not exist if people agreed on everything. Feminism should be broad enough to welcome dissenting opinions, as long as the commitment to equality remains. But beware reductionist arguments, because they more often than not create strawmen that are just yelling to be taken down. And more than anything, be aware of intersectionality, because true equality will only be achieved when no one is oppressed and excluded, and everyone is represented.

Wider Reading

Lissa at Critical Audacity has been defending individual Disney princesses. So far she has covered Aurora, Cinderella and Snow White

Feminist Disney

Native Appropriations

Sociological Images

** UPDATE**

Feminist Disney just raised my attention on Twitter that I appear to be dismissing some of the implications of the animation distortion. She highlights that we need to be aware how the princesses are drawn partakes in the wider distortion of the female form by other forms of animation such as Comics and Anime, all of which have a negative impact, reinforcing the perception that there is a single ideal body shape. This has serious implications for young girls and eating disorders.

She is absolutely right. In my effort to highlight the ethnic and geographical distortion of the princesses, I overlooked this issue.

I stand corrected!

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