Sunday, 29 April 2012

I am the luckiest boy ever

Got me bike didn't I? Yay. Someone at Mansfield College spotted it and called Hertford about it and Hertford called me and yaaaaaay there it is. With a flat tyre, but a bike with a flat tyre is better than no bike. Having reconciled myself to never seeing it again, it has come as something of a great shock to be reunited. It has made me re-evalute everything that is great about it.

1. It looks cool
2. It is pretty lightweight
3. It's just the right size
4. It's pretty damn fast
5. It has some sickass 80s or 90s design on the handlebar griptape

Unfortunately the scumbag what stole it also decided to rip a load of the grippytape stuff off the handlebars, but no matter as I will wait til it's not really wet from being in the rain and then tape it back on with hockey stick tape. Yeah. Man I love this bike.

As a token of my love for it, I bought it a sexy new lock. Gone is the slightly flimsy combination lock it had before, and in it's place is this badboy. Not only does the pink look absolutely dashing against the green, the colour combo has something wonderfully defiant about it. I am not one for subtlety. A big part of me wants to leave my bike out the front of my house all the time specifically so whoever stole it sees it and feels bad, but the more sensible part of my brain has learnt its lesson so from now on it's living in the shed.

Another milestone was reached as for the first time ever, I managed to change a tyre without direct supervision from my father. Woo. I think this means I am now 'a man'. And not just any man. I am 'the man'. Just to justify myself a bit here in terms of this not happening before, my dad knows a lot of stuff about bikes and putting them together and changing bits on them and stuff like that, and thus can change a tyre really quickly. I have changed tyres before but have always made a point of timing it so that he's nearby and able to give me a hand should I need it. Or decide that I'm being too slow and it's easier if he takes over. Until now I haven't got any punctures whilst at university so it was pretty scary to attempt it with no safety net but yay I managed it. It took me forever and my fingers still haven't recovered but yay managed it didn't I yay.

For those readers who have never changed a tyre, here's a Blue Peter-style how-to.

You will need:

One pain threshold
Twelve layers of skin on your thumbs.

Step 1: Push bit of tyre until your thumbs really hurt and have lost a layer of skin, eventually the tyre should come off
Step 2: Swap the inner tube
Step 3: Try to get the tyre back on the wheel
Step 4: Try again
Step 5: Keep trying
Step 6: Start bleeding from where your skin meets your thumbnail
Step 7: Push
Step 8: Push harder
Step 9: Have a brief out-of-body experience
Step 10: Finished. Stare at your mangled and blackened thumbs, catch your breath, wipe tears from your eyes using your sleeves

Easy as that.

Ridiculous happiness in all directions, I have my bikey back and thanks loads to the people who helped me get it back. I had a brief moment when I sort of believed this was good karma. Which is pathetic, as I should have just been grateful for what happened and not filled my head with thoughts about supernatural forces rewarding me for being the fantastic person I obviously am. That and the fact I definitely have not been building up much good karma recently, so I'm now really worried that I'm building up a good karma deficit and something really bad is going to happen to me. A bit like when you're playing monopoly and you get the Chance card that says 'bank error in your favour', this was an undeserved karma windfall and I am literally terrified of what's going to happen next. Cancer perhaps.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

I have been the victim of a crime

My bike got stolen from out the front of my house on Abingdon Road in Oxford at some point on Saturday.

Here is a picture of what it looks like:

I am literally devastated. I loved that bike so much, it was a perfect lovely little bike, one of the reasons I loved it so much was that despite being really good it looked kinda old and crappy so therefore I reasoned it was unlikely to get stolen.

Right now, I'm losing all sense of proportionality, fairness or human decency. I feel a strong urge to walk down the road and approach the first cyclist I see, steal their bike and then throw them under a bus. Then once the bus has moved avay, steal their wallet, phone and anything else of value that they might have in their pockets. It is so unfair that my bike's been stolen. So. Unfair.

I'm going to do my best to ignore the evil voices in my head, but I'm going to have a quick moan about everything that's wrong with my life right now. I just googled the word 'catharsis' and it turns out that I was right and this is the word I'm thinking of. Writing down a list of everything that's shit about my current situation will allow me to see it all in proportion and perhaps deal with it.

1. Some bastard stole my bike
2. I lost my passport
3. I lost my copy of The Blind Assassin
4. I lost my sketchbook
5. My gums keep bleeding all day every day
6. My wisdom teeth are at it again
7. The pack of satsumas I bough the other day are mostly rubbish and taste of bin. only one of them so far has been nice
8. It's been a good year of me not getting any taller which means I am probably never going to be six foot tall
9. My torso has not miraculously decided to form itself into a six-pack. Despite the fact that summer is coming
10. I have exams in seven weeks and I'm hideously unprepared
11. My computer deleted all my internet favourites
12. My iPod died and Apple won't give me a new one for free, I have to pay a hundred quid
13. I still haven't got unpacked fully despite moving in to my room on Thursday last week

My mother's always telling me and my siblings that it's good for you to count your blessings so I'm going to briefly write a few things that I have to be grateful for

1. I just found my nail scissors (thought I'd lost them too)
2. It's lunchtime and I'm going to make a tasty spaghetti
3. My hair's looking quite nice at the moment
4. I might be going to a drinks thing at the Randolph this week
5. I ate lobster for dinner on Saturday
6. I'm famous and read my name in a (student) newspaper

I know I should be trying to write a longer list of positives than negatives but I just can't do it right now. I want to wallow in misery for the time being. A really self-indulgent sort of misery. I'm going to spend all day avoiding human contact, or if forced to deal with people I will scowl at them until they ask me what the matter is, or if I'm feeling ill. (This is what happened yesterday, but today I'm going to do it on a conscious level.)

You try and be a nice person and happy and fun and caring but then someone steals your bike. I'm lowering my expectations from life. I'm going to grumble. I'm going to lie in bed and watch Jeremy Kyle. I'm going to eat lots of crisps, not shower, or get dressed properly. That's what I'm going to do.

Unless of course someone spots my bike anywhere - there is a really vague possibility that it wasn't actually stolen and that I went on a bike ride at some point on Saturday afternoon, locked up my bike and forgot where I left it. I've been racking my brains and talking to friends about what we did on Saturday and I'm 99% certain this isn't what happened (thus making someone stealing it in the middle of the night the more likely option) but if you see it anywhere around Oxford PLEASE LET ME KNOW.


/////EDIT: I just ate some lunch. The spaghetti was so good. And my friend Oscar is making a fish pie for dinner and it looks amazing. I'm feeling infinitely less miserable. Hooray. Now let's find that bike.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

I have entered a competition

To win an iPad. Mostly to wind up those of my friends who have iPads that they spent money on. There was something of a tricky question to answer first though.
Q: Which fruit would you associate with the makers of iPad?
a) Banana
b) Apple

Hello, I'm just a fool who's willing to sit around

T'other week I had a lovely evening with a couple of friends watching that film about the aliens where instead of the aliens being aggressive invaders they've crash landed in South Africa and they just wanna try and go home.

For some reason it  made me think a little bit about my stance on animal charities, which is pretty much that I do not care at all. This isn't because I have no compassion for retired donkeys or abandoned cats and dogs, it's just that I have a lot more compassion for charities trying to help people - when there's so much human suffering in the world I really don't know how people can choose to prioritise giving money to animal charities. I suppose in a utopian world where there isn't famine, homelessness or cancer or HIV and we've all got big enough pensions that we aren't going to freeze to death in our living rooms, and hospices are properly funded and women's refuges are properly staffed - then let's open up a greyhound sanctuary and pat ourselves on the back for doing so. For now - whenever someone gives money to an animal charity then that's money that they could have given to a people charity.

Yes, animal suffering is bad and we should do what we can to alleviate this. However, it's perfectly moral to say we should be selfish in terms of prioritising our own species above that of animals. Not because objectively we are more important, but because it makes sense. To me, human suffering is more important than donkey suffering, and I'd expect donkey suffering is a more important problem to donkeys.

I'm all about compassion and making the world a better place, but you've got to be objective and do a bit of cost-benefit analysis. Keeping hundreds of dogs alive - dogs that nobody wants to adopt because they're really vicious, and they're so vicious that they have to be kept in separate cages - or helping to build a school in a developing country. Which is going to do more good pound for pound?

I don't mean to act like I'm a massive philanthropist - as a student living entirely off government loans and university bursaries it's not as if the meagre amounts I give actually add up to a huge amount of income for charitable causes. But like how in an election you only get one vote, there's a finite amount of money that each person is likely/willing/able to give (delete as appropriate). We need to be shrewd about which causes we choose to support, and shouldn't let us ourselves think that as long as we're giving to charidee then it doesn't matter where our money's spent.

Animal charities are one sort that I think are rubbish, but you can cast a critical eye on plenty of others. When I was at school they had a non-uniform day where we all had to bring in a pound and go to an assembly about the charity it was raising money for. They'd bought a brand new PS2 to go in a London hospital wing where there were teenagers undergoing cancer treatment. Being a teenager and pumped full of chemo in a hospital does not sound like a lot of fun, and I don't begrudge them having a playstation. It must be mind-numbingly boring, not seeing your friends at school and not being able to go outside. A playstation game would help take your mind off this, and would stop you worrying about your health as much. In theory, I support the idea of playstations for teenage cancer patients.

But is this a charity I'd choose to give money to? No. For one thing, I wondered why the representative made such a big song and dance about them buying a "brand new" PS2 - it was 2004, and there were thousands of second-hand ones available for a fraction of the cost. But even if they had explained that they'd managed to get one for 40 quid off ebay, it would not be my chosen charity.

What would I choose? International development. Emergency aid. Clean water. Vaccinations. Disease research.

What wouldn't I choose? Playstations for kids who already have the NHS at their disposal. or Battersea Dogs Home.

This is of course ignoring the fact that my primary motive for giving money to charity is to keep the guilt I feel about being alive somewhat at bay. (For the sake of convenience we can blame this on my catholic upbringing.) Every now and then if I'm feeling ridiculously fortunate and privileged, the charity box might get a few pennies tipped its way, even if it's for something I wouldn't consider a priority usually. And of course, homeless people when it's raining. I know there might be people somewhere who could be less fortunate or more deserving of a quid, and maybe "they'll just spend it all on drugs". But when it's raining, and you're confronted by the realisation that unlike you, this person is not about to have access to a hot bath and a cup of tea, it's hard not to want to help.

I'm really, really worried that any of the above might sound like me showing off about me being such a caring spirit and how much money I give to noble causes. Let's be clear: that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying yeah we should give money to charity, but we should be picky about which ones ... unless it's a homeless person.

Or charity shops. I occasionally buy stuff I don't really need from charity shops, the kind of stuff I wouldn't dream of buying if it was from a normal shop, and I'm not all that picky about which ones I go to. Recently, I've been all about the CDs. I got this CD called 'Shirley Bassey Sings the Movies', where she sings her way through a load of songs from films. As in, songs by other people. Including 'Hopelessly Devoted to You' from the film Grease, which is really funny because the song just does not go with a Shirley Bassey-type voice, the production is awful and just about everything about it is god-awful. Which is what makes it so great, it came out in the mid-nighties while the Tories were still in power, it's got that really crappy optimism-on-a-budget plastic fantastic vibe to it. Some fool decided they didn't want it any more, and it was mine for 25p.

I really should shut up now, so I'll conclude. give money. Be picky. Unless to homeless people. Buy Shirley Bassey CDs. Yeah.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

I'm Famous!

The amazing non-story of a bunch of queers bickering on Facebook has made the front page of the Oxford Student - Oxford's very own trashy tabloid/village gazette/Take A Break magazine rip-off. Next to a picture of some alpacas. On the one hand, I'm very pleased about this, especially the fact that they've included a quote from me. But then I saw what they'd put and my blood began to boil. I have been misquoted.The article starts out sounding reasonably balanced, detailing one mini-episode
The dispute has intensified after a number of blog posts about the incident were posted online, including one by Alex Gabriel, an undergraduate studying English and German. Tom Oakley, a student at Hertford, posted a link to the blog post on the Facebook group on Monday, to which Webb, replied: “ Right, Tom, posting that here wasn’t in any way provocative….”
Which is all true. But then later in the article they forget about journalistic integrity and go absolutely nuts.
Oakley added: “Basically they’re acting like we’re naughty schoolboys and can’t be trusted with their precious internet… some people are being ridiculously oversensitive, for example pretending to be really offended by the fact that a female member of the group said something along the lines of ‘can we have more girls turning up to events’ and someone took huge offense to not being referred to as ‘women’.” He went on to say: “The person in question is lovely in person but she really needs to get a life when it comes to being offended about things on the internet.”

In the extremely long and unstructured email I sent to the OxStu, the bit I said about naughty schoolboys was definitely after the bit about people being oversensitive. Yet, in this article they have done the opposite. They put my sentence  about naughty schoolboys before the bit about people being oversensitive. I'm completely outraged. You can't just quote people in the wrong order. What would happen if journalists did that? Terrible things. For example, we could turn this passage:
Another student, Eli Keren, also posted: “I don’t think that it’s going to help anyone if we risk descending into another public tiff. That’s not what this group is for.”
into this:
Another student, Eli Keren, also posted: “I ... think ... this group is for ... descending into another public tiff ... not ... to help anyone.”
Student journalists, what do you think you're playing at? If the Oxford Student had reported the Monica Lewinsky scandal, they'd have probably come up with the following headline:
Clinton: I did ... have sexual relations with that woman
Clinton: I want to ... have sexual relations with ... the American people

I'm obviously very upset about this, I have sought legal counsel (spoken to my friend Charlie who studies law) and I'm hoping the Leveson Inquiry might be interested in me giving evidence. Apparently a second-law student isn't the same thing as a proper lawyer but I think we can do this. The Oxford Student must apologise for this.

Seeing as the non-Murdoch press took quite a big interest in all that phone-hacking stuff and apparently 'pointless online beefing' counts as news, I'm hoping this story might be picked up by a more serious publication, like The Cherwell or The Oxford Mail, or perhaps a national broadsheet. If you're a journalist and are looking to run this story, here's a few pictures of me and my lawyer going over some case notes that you could use to help illustrate the seriousness of the matter.

or not, as Charlie doesn't think I'm being funny by posting photos that are already in plain sight to all 664 of her facebook friends. Instead, I'll give a description. 

Me eating Charlie's hair

Me and Charlie dancing badly, dressed in white t-shirts with writing all over them (it was freshers' week)

Charlie ramming her tongue down my throat

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Not Again

Someone got upset that a female member of the LGBTQSoc page wrote something along the lines of 'let's have more girls turning up at events!'  - This was deemed offensive by some people, because she should have said 'women'. As if what was discouraging women from going to the events was they were all really upset about being called 'girls'.

I shit you not.

There's a really bizarre tendency some people have where they think that having an incredibly thin skin is somehow virtuous, and if they make a big song and dance about any minor infraction of what they consider to be politically correct then that somehow makes the world a better place. But here's the thing: they are wrong.

You've got to question their motives. Why must they be so boring? There is so much joy to be had in life. Yesterday I saw a crow pecking away at a Dairy Milk wrapper before carrying it off to its nest on the roof of a train station. A baby waved at me on a train. I waved back. Then the baby's sister, who was maybe two or three years old, waved at me. And then my mum picked me up from the train station and timed it so that I was waiting at the station for less than 30 seconds. These are a few tiny examples of good things in life that we can all be grateful for.

Here are a few bad things in life:

Sayeeda Warsi

James Ibori

Paul Dacre

Someone casually referring to female students as 'girls'

WAIT A MINUTE - That last one. Isn't really a big deal. Now, I'm not going to go along the derailment tactic of 'it isn't that much of a big deal so you should get over it' - nope. I'm going to explain why it is not any kind of deal.

When has anyone ever heard an undergraduate (of either gender) refer to one of their peers (of either gender) as a 'man' or a 'woman'? I'm sure it happens every now and then, but the answer is 'very rarely'. I, and just about everyone I know, would say 'some boy I know' or 'some girl I know'. It's a question of formality. Later in this post I delve into a slightly more serious tone and do use the word 'woman', but it's all about context. Making a massive hoo-ha just makes you look like you take yourself far too seriously. You sound like child who insists they're eight 'and a half' years old.

I'll refer to one of the comments I got about this post I wrote last week.
a big part of being a man involved in feminism is knowing when to listen to women telling you that they're offended or hurt
But is it really that feminist to kick up a fuss because another woman has written something you don't think is politically correct enough? Being a boy - or maybe I should write man at this point, I'm kinda confused - I don't have the right to decide what women collectively should or shouldn't find offensive. But women don't share one collective brain, and they won't all agree on what is isn't offensive.

This post isn't very well-written but I'm going to fail my degree if I devote as much time as I to making my thoughts clear. I'll refer you to the wise words of Latrice Royale: Five Gs, please.

Good God girl, get a grip.

Oh and one last thing before I forget (seeing as these are kinda linked in theme): in response to that other post of mine someone threw down the gauntlet over Facebook and she made a good point I think.
I think while we're all taught that making fun of women can be funny, and indeed women themselves are taught to self-effacingly laugh at their 'silliness', and dismiss their discomfort with particular social situations as merely an over-reaction, the reason feminists bristle at this is that this kind of humour doesn't permit the questioning of social norms and stereotypes. It's sexist because it allows the woman no space to explain herself, indeed it's 'laughing at' rather than 'laughing with' and brushes under the carpet someone's discomfort with a situation without allowing any examination of why they feel this. It's possible to have a lot of fun and have a great sense of humour while still being PC, and as people who have the benefit of a great education, among other things, I think we should try.
I'll really briefly say that though I did make a joke about women I don't think this was really about trying to belittle them - it was as much about women being a different species to men and men's inability to understand women as it was a 'LOL women'-type joke. This is an issue I intend to respond to in a bit more detail at some point but I really should get on with some revision now. Ciao.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Rambly blog post takes its cue from misguided article

I read this article by David Shariatmadari about Stonewall's 'Some people are gay. Get over it!' adverts and it raised a few good points, although I didn't arrive to the same conclusion as him. He wondered:
Who was it aimed at, I wondered? Was it a) homophobic people? Well, I'd be surprised if anyone actually believes it has the power to inspire Damascene conversions among the prejudiced. So that leaves b) gay people, who I'm confident don't need much convincing that they – we – exist and c) sympathetic straight people, who equally don't need to be persuaded. 
Well, is it as simple as dividing straight people into homophobes and sympathisers? Despite the fact that us gays like to imagine we are the centre of attention the whole time, there are lots of people who perhaps don't have any gay friends or acquaintances and haven't given a huge amount of thought to it either way. People like my grandparents who, upon hearing "Tom's news" have never had a bad word to say about it. One congratulated me on the fact that even though I was gay, at least I wasn't "like that Chinese chap". Their assertion that being gay wasn't a problem as long as I was slightly less camp than Gok Wan  was obviously meant with love, and despite the anti-Gok Wan overtones I'm sure if I was as camp as Gok Wan they'd have thought of something else supportive to say.

I nearly wrote: "He thought that the whole point of  campaign was about equal marriage rights (it isn't)". I'm wrong about this - the campaign is now all about marriage apparently. Or sort of. They've had the exact same campaign for a few years now, although currently on bus adverts instead of directing people to, it has the web address Great. A campaign about fighting equality and discrimination is now all about getting married. Even though we already have civil partnerships.

'Get over it!' could be viewed as kinda confrontational, although it makes a pretty good point. Some people are gay. So? It doesn't even really mean you have to like gay people, or condone the horrifying sex acts we get up to. It just asks you to leave us alone. Which is why I'm surprised they've bastardised this old campaign into being about marriage, when the slogan doesn't really fit. 'Some people are gay. Therefore we should change the law to allow same-sex marriages!' - would be more appropriate. 'Get over it!' vaguely implies that the only thing that needs to change is your attitude, and not a centuries-old law.

Saying that - I don't really approve of Stonewall banging on about marriage so I should be grateful that they've changed tack in a really half-arsed way. The campaign keeps its its original message intact, despite the url change.

Back to the 'who was it aimed at?' point. Well, not just people's grandparents. Basically, people are more impressionable than we think. Especially young people. As Judge Judy once said to a 16-year old girl who'd crashed her friend's car, "When you're 16, you're not fully cooked". Stonewall does a lot of important work fighting homophobia in schools, and seeing these ads all over buses probably hammers the point home a bit.

I take issue with this paragraph:
Being gay is still seen as fine in some contexts, but not all. It's acceptable in your proverbial Islington dining room (though perhaps not in the Islington registry office), fine according to the statute book, but not if you try kissing your same-sex partner in public. Or sit next to them on the bus. Or hold hands in the street.
You sure about that David? Not to say I've never had any problems with random members of the public, but is it sensible to let a few hate crimes intimidate us? Don't let the terrorists win. Letting random attacks deter us from holding hands in public seems a pretty defeatist attitude.
But when I saw the advert it occurred to me that it, and that supercilious exclamation mark in particular, could in fact give people an excuse to express their homophobia. Stonewall's good intentions might simply end up making gay people's lives more difficult.
And so it came to pass. The Core Issues Trust ("God's heart in sexual and relational brokenness") and Anglican Mainstream, a group of hyper-conservatives within a generally quite gay-friendly church, took the bait. They booked space on buses to display a different tagline: "Not gay! Post-gay, ex-gay and proud. Get over it!" Slightly baffling, but definitely homophobic, and obviously intended as a riposte to Stonewall.

Remember on that show Dead Ringers, how Jan Ravens took the piss out of Kirsty Wark, and deadpanned the lyrics to rubbish pop songs "don't be shy, touch my bum this is life"? Maybe just me then. These crazy gay-curing people already existed. The fact they somewhat unhilariously satirised a gay-rights campaign is not really going to make our lives any harder. And pointing out they copied Stonewall so it's Stonewall's fault this story even happened is a bit like saying If Kirsty Wark didn't present Newsnight that the first minute of Dead Ringers would have been that old BBC test card of the girl with the creepy clown.
Gay people have been pointlessly reminded, not that homophobia is unacceptable, but that there exist organised groups that detest them.
Thanks David. Yeah, gay people are that forgetful. We had no idea that there were some Christian groups who are jealous of our fabulousness until I heard about yesterday. I was so wrapped up in making myself margaritas and browsing the Ikea catalogue that I just forgot some people reckon they can cure me of my inherent deviance by electrocuting me whilst showing me slide after slide of gay pornography.

What he's trying to say is that we can blame homophobia on gay people. As long as we play nice and don't make too much noise, the homophobes will leave us alone. Basically, we should hide.

He makes one very good point though:
If that weren't enough it's now impinged on the mayoral race as a dream pseudo-controversy for Boris, an opportunity to flaunt his inclusivity and his modernising credentials just before polling day.
We really need to think what Ken would have done here, and it would have been the exact same. Ken Livingstone has an amazing record of fighting for gay rights and let's not let Boris use this as point-scoring to win the gay vote. (Btw: I have a few issues with Ken, but he's a better mayoral candidate than Boris).

Oh and because I'm feeling generous, let's pick one more issue with the article.
Stonewall could learn a thing or two about campaigning, and changing attitudes, from Dan Savage
Well no, Dan Savage isn't as great as you think. He thought of those 'It Gets Better' videos, good on him, but read this article where he comes across as a complete dick.
The tranny activists are going to jump down my throat for this, but it seems to me that your ex could’ve put off the sex change until after his son was out of high school. One of the things parents are supposed to do is make sacrifices, big and small, for the sake of their children. And while I think people have a right to do pretty much as they please (and parents are people), I also believe that children have a right to some stability and constancy from the adults in their lives. Perhaps I’m a transphobic bigot, but I honestly think waiting a measly 36 months to cut your dick is a sacrifice any father should be willing to make for his 15-year-old son. Call me old-fashioned.
Unfortunately, your ex wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice (selfish tranny!) or it never occurred to him to make that sacrifice (stupid tranny!). So what do you tell your son? Tell him his father can do what he likes—suck dick, flaunt it; get his dick cut off, flaunt that. If dear ol’ dad chooses to live as a woman, well, there’s not a lot you or your son can do. But guess what? Your son is old enough to do what he likes and if he chooses to live without seeing or speaking to his father, well, there’s not a whole lot his father can do. If your son can’t deal with having his dad/mom/whatever around right now, support your son and tell his dad/mom/whatever to leave the two of you alone for the time being.
Now I am sometimes tactless. But this? You've gotta admit this isn't nice. It's more of this 'I'm gay but discreet' bullshit.

People shouldn't be afraid to challenge homophobia. It's all about context I know (if a drunk stranger shouts something at me then I'll run away if it looks like there's the slightest chance they're good at punching) and it's not like the situation is all that terrible in this country when we compare it to other parts of the world - but this doesn't mean we should chastise people for trying to make a difference.

We don't hear about racism and say it's because there's too much anti-racism campaigning going on, or that the anti-racism campaigning is too aggressive. We shouldn't do the same for homophobia.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The downward spiral

Blogger has introduced a new layout. This blog might look the same as it did before, but deep in the inner workings of the site, in the 'create new post', 'edit posts', 'consider having a fuckload of adverts' sections it's all been re-jigged and made prettier. And they've also got some new features. One feature in particularly, particularly is particularly terrifying. Particularly.

I'm caught in a trap, and I can't walk out, because I love it too much baby. The trap in question is the new 'Stats' section, where you can find out how many views you have, where they're from and what links led them to your page. It's 98% from Facebook and Twitter, so presumably my own shameless self-promotion, 1% people typing the address of this blog into Google, and 1% someone in Russia typing the address of this blog into this Russian search engine. Coincidentally, the return result isn't "oh yeah here's that blog you were looking for", it looks more like the result is "did you mean to type that into the address bar?"

I've becoming hopelessly addicted to seeing how many views I have, and keeping the Stats tab open ready to refresh it at any second I suspect someone may have visited the blog. Some study recently warned that the internet was fuelling socially destructive and aggressive narcissism, and the rush of pure unadulterated joy I get from hitting F5 seeing that I've had nine more hits is definitely just that. I might delude myself that the fact I sometimes write in paragraphs means I'm practically Jean-Paul Sartre, but on a deep emotional level I'm the same as a 13-year-old girl taking a picture of herself in the mirror and putting it on her Myspace.

(Further proof I'm not Jean-Paul Sartre is the fact that I just had to Google him to be sure I was in fact referring to a writer and I wasn't getting his name mixed up with somebody else. And if you're wondering why not go for a writer you know a little bit more about or have possibly read at least one of the works of, then that's beside the point. Jean-Paul Sartre seemed to fit the sentence well.)

As a child I never managed to stick with writing a diary for longer than about three days, the thought of being incredibly emotionally honest and pouring all my hopes and fears and dreams into a little secret notebook used to terrify me. Not just because someone might read it, but more in case I read it a few months later and wanted to die of embarrassment at what a damn fool I was. The nice thing about broadcasting your thoughts over the interweb is that it might teach you to get better at writing. You also can forget about being emotionally honest if you don't particularly fancy it - everything I write is either a lie or a joke (if the joke isn't funny then it's because it's a joke I'm making to myself, and it's only intended to make me laugh. Or you're just humourless).

I've been enjoying myself so far and although I'm only writing about mundane nonsense (or, writing really badly about serious stuff) it feels like it's possibly good for my brain. There are lots of things I like looking at on the internet that definitely aren't good for my brain (admittedly a lot of what I write isn't exactly high art - but hey, I'm stringing sentences together) - I'm not just talking about staring at the Mail Online, no - I have another obsession, and that is tumblr blogs covered in loads of weird flashing gifs and 80s/90s nostalgia and loads of gay (occasionally straight) porn and pseudoporn - here's an example. *ADULT SUBJECT MATTER ALERT*

The word 'porn' is maybe a bit misleading as I wouldn't say these are 'porn blogs'. Despite the abundance of nudie pictures they're surrounded by other images and I'm now going to wander into pretentious art critic mode when I tell you that this tumblr blog is basically the internet living out the postmodern dream. Staring at it is like staring at a car crash, like the internet fell asleep at the wheel and this is what crawled out the wreckage. Flashing glitchy images reminiscent of broken vcr tapes, famous people from now and 20 years ago, really 80s-looking science-fiction illustrations, fashion editorials, etc.

It's like the curator of this blog is simultaneously saying something and nothing at the same time. It would be easy to sound really pompous and suggest that they're offering a critique of our sex-obsessed celebrity culture and the ridiculous levels of optimism expressed about new internet technology, but maybe they're just saying "hey look at this". What makes the whole tumblr philosophy seem especially nihilist is the way the platform works- users can 'reblog' anyone else's post, so you can end up with there being several blogs running really similar themes - this one seems to have almost exactly the same subject matter as the one I posted earlier, and here's one that's a bit more focussed on video games and Japanese cartoons.

I don't have any desire to make my own tumblr blog because there's already a million people doing it and I'd only end up spending more time staring at a computer screen, and I'd just be recycling the same pictures people had already posted - but I think this is supposed to be the point. But maybe once you start you just get addicted to it - this isn't something I approve of really, but I've spent enough time talking about tumblr blogs. It's definitely time I had a look at my stats page.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Just a quicky

Walked past this yesterday - Ricky and Nicki, advertising some sort of make-up product. Stuck on the window of Debenhams.

I'd forgotten who made it so googled and found this, for some reason I felt the need to watch 25 seconds of a clip in which Nicki Minaj says "When I was chosen by mac cosmetics to be the next viva glam spokesperson I wanted to hug everyone that worked at mac-" YOU GO GIRL, THAT'S WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT.

Sorry I digress too much into what might sound like a critique of celebrity advertising campaigns, I have one thing to say and one only - what's up with this choice of photo?

Ricky Martin is roaring at the camera and clearly planning to smash Nicki Minaj's skull in. A bit violent.

But what's his motivation?

You don't have to look particularly close to notice that Nicki Minaj is clearly signalling the word "wanker". You can practically see her saying the word out loud, somewhere between the n and the k sound as this picture was taken. Presumably they had some sort of altercation and she thought he'd minced off to get a latte, she leans over her motorbike and makes a rude hand gesture, not realising he's right behind her and about to drop a giant lipstick on her head.

Now I know the fashion industry loves using shock images to sell products (here's Lindsay Lohan in lingerie pretending to be murdered), I'm just a bit taken aback that old snakehips Ricky Martin is at it too.

Violence against women: not acceptable. Even if she says you're a wanker.

In defence of humour (and feminism)

I'm really sick of being told off for being funny when I'm actually being funny. There's this girl I know who's bisexual and reads this magazine called DIVA, which is the only national magazine for queer women in the UK. And she's always complaining about it, be it the fact that they fucked her over for an internship, or that they allegedly write articles hating on bisexual women. Actually, it might not be the only magazine catering to her demographic, but when I asked her why she reads the magazine despite always complaining about it, she replied somewhat sarcastically with the following:"Because there are just so many other magazines for queer women in the UK, yeah." (I love it when a chat happens on Facebook because you can quote them directly.)

Taken aback as I was by this (sarcasm is the lowest form of wit after all), it sort of amused me how her reply sort of took it for granted that she needed a magazine to read, as if it was somewhere on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Food, shelter, DIVA magazine. I thought it was funny, so I wrote "what is it with women and magazines".

This was clearly sexist. It was suggesting there's an unholy relationship between magazines and women that doesn't happen with men. It was also, shock horror, a joke. It was a comment so throwaway that it didn't even have any punctuation attached. This isn't actually because I typed it so fast that I forgot to properly complete the interrogative, it's more that recently in text messages or online communications I've developed a habit of 'forgetting' the question mark because I like the way it looks and it adds a slighlty gormless or exasperated tone of voice to otherwise boring questions - "where are you", "why are you 10 minutes late", "why can't you just be on time", for example. Omitting the punctuation adds little something extra to these ungrammatical sentences and I'm not entirely sure why.

The backlash I subsequently received was hardly severe enough to warrant as many paragraphs as I am thus devoting to it, but a word that struck me as out of place was 'misogynist'. This isn't fair. I was not being a misogynist. Another gem was "the point stands that he made an assumption and then used it to be prejudicial" - the he in question was me, and yes I made an assumption. The assumption I made was that the circulation figures for "women's magazines" are way higher than for "men's magazines" (unless you wanna include the sort of hobby magazine that might have a slightly more male-oriented audience, like a magazine about fishing). I've not actually done any research on this but if you look in any newsagents the women's magazines take up at least two-thirds of the space, and this is a conservative estimate (I'm ignoring the 80% figure that my heart tells me must be so - I don't want to risk exaggerating). And while I'm sure that a sizeable proportion of the people reading celebrity-focussed ones like Heat Magazine are in fact gay men, there's no way there's enough gay men in this country to make up the difference, unless perhaps if we all subscribed to every women's magazine there is.

As a gay man I am incredibly lucky to have a choice of two national magazines specifically targeted at me, the GT and Attitude. (There might be others but I've never heard of them.) But, ya know, I'd rather not read either. Personally I find magazines a bit frivolous and the kind of men who buy magazines tend to be a bit thick. If you hate me for this statement, then I would like to reassure you that I extend this condescending sentiment to the following categories of men as well: fans of spectator sports, fitness enthusiasts, tory voters. If you're a tory-voting football-watching magazine-reading gym nut, you're probably thick.

With women it seems like they're all it, buying magazines all over the place. And this of course is a sexist generalisation, and not actually true. But like I've said - I'm guessing it might have been somewhat obvious that I was making a joke. Another accusation levelled against me is that the joke wasn't funny, which is fair - you can't please all the people all the time and if someone says your joke isn't funny then this is the kind of situation where you have to respect that. When arguing with people on the internet you can enter a minefield of saying "that's your opinion" until anything that's deemed an "opinion" cannot be false. This doesn't ring true for a lot of topics, but when a joke is deemed unfunny you can't expect someone to change their mind by saying "YES IT IS FUNNY, IT WAS FUNNY, OH MY GOD ADMIT IT WAS FUNNY WHY WON'T YOU ADMIT IT WAS FUNNY".

The conversation then went like this:

HP: Oh god, Tom, really? Objecting to a sexist joke is having no humour?
AHP (Another humourless person): Question for the audience: why is it that people who accuse feminists of humourlessness are always the first and most egregious ones to flip their ever-loving, overly-defensive shit whenever we point out that it is in fact they who are unfunny?
Now, I realise I've decided to paint all these guys as humourless and have sorta presented this as a factual statement, but it's within the context of an opinion piece where I don't shy away from carpetbombing my words with my outrageous opinions. Or the occasional burst of caps lock. They, on the other hand, have said I'm unfunny like it's a fact. And this, dear readers, hurt me deeply. Also, they introduced the f-word to the conversation in such a way as if to suggest I am not a feminist. They tried to start a fight of Tom vs the feminists.

But that does not wash with me. I am a massive feminist. I can't be bothered to explain all the ways in which I support feminism, but I don't think 'being really humourless' is one of the principal axioms of feminist thought. I did a tiny bit of research on this matter and searched the Wikipedia page on feminism for the word "humourless", and I couldn't find a single result. Humourless people do not have a monopoly on feminism. Disagreeing with someone who identifies as feminist doesn't mean you're any less feminist. It's an umbrella term for a number of political movements, and not all feminists will agree on their beliefs and aims.

Is feminism about suggesting we can't poke a little fun at differences between genders? When women suggest men love football or golf or formula 1 racing is it gender hatred? Is saying 'women love shoes' or 'women love reading crappy chick lit novels' gender hatred?

It's all about context. If I worked in a bookshop and suggested with a straight face that a woman should stop looking at serious works of literature and instead browse in a section filled with books about fabulous thirtysomething women who have fabulous careers and buy lots of shoes and are looking for love, this would be sexist. If I worked in a newsagent and suggested to a woman trying to buy the New Statesman that she might prefer to read Take a Break magazine, that would be sexist. If I was a journalist writing an article about the new head of the IMF in which I talked mostly about her appearance and feminine charm, that would be sexist. All of these are sexist in a bad way.

If someone was to interpret what I said about women and magazines as suggesting that women are incredibly frivolous and would rather read magazines than a serious publication, I can see where the problem might lie. But they'd be making a quantum leap of reading between the line (line, not lines) to do so. This was a conversation about magazines. It wasn't as though I waded into a chat about newspapers and said "women don't read newspapers, they're more interested in magazines. Because woman is stupid."

The reason, AHP, as to why I'm feeling so defensive is that I think people should be able to take a joke. Within reason. There's obviously a line to be drawn somewhere, but was I really going too far? I think it's seriously lame when people want to cry discrimination at every corner. And when people suggest that having a sense of humour and being feminist are incompatible, it damages feminism.

There are loads and loads of people I know, male and female, who don't identify as feminist. And these are otherwise sensible people. Humourless feminists (not as in all feminists are humourless, I mean those feminists who are also humourless) have tarnished its name, and made out that being insanely politically correct and never having a laugh are what it's all about.

You can go pretty deep into any political/philosophical theory and after a while it can all start to sound like bullshit. Like on the Wikipedia page for misogyny there's this:

Feminist theorist Marilyn Frye claims that misogyny is phallogocentric and homoerotic at its root. In Politics of Reality, Frye analyzes the alleged misogyny characteristic of the fiction and Christian apologetics of C.S. Lewis. Frye argues that such misogyny privileges the masculine as a subject of erotic attention. She compares the alleged misogyny characteristic of Lewis' ideal of gender relations to underground male prostitution rings, which allegedly share the quality of men seeking to dominate subjects seen as less likely to take on submissive roles by a patriarchal society, but in both cases doing so as a theatrical mockery of women.

Right. I literally have no idea what that means. But this isn't really what it's all about.

For those of us who are into less wordy analysis of really old children's books, there are a few fundamental ideas of feminism. It's late so I'll shamelessly paraphrase Wikipedia again - it's about women having equal political, economic and social rights, and equal opportunities in education and employment. So this means women getting paid the same, women having the vote, women being equally represented on boardrooms and in government. If you believe in all of this then you're a feminist.

So how can I justify making a funny at the expense of women despite being feminist? Well, I'll give you an example of when 'LOL it's a joke' goes too far. There are a load of Facebook pages based on 'Lad' humour which seems to be all about encouraging young men to be really misogynist. Immature boys will make jokes about rape or repeatedly say 'make me a sandwich' or 'get back in the kitchen', all in aid of 'banter'. If I was to turn 'go read a magazine' into that sort of joke, and constantly interrupt every woman I know with this suggestion every time they try try to make a serious point, then I'd be being pretty misogynist.

But that's not what I did. I made one little joke. And in the context, it made sense. It seemed kinda funny at the time but once you write a million paragraphs defending yourself it seems a little less so.

I wrote a Facebook retort which was basically a shorter version of this, and AHP concluded:

As they say: if you have to explain the joke via multiple boring, tedious, self-righteous, rules-lawyering, inane probably wasn't that funny to begin with. Troll smarter next time. 
To which I'm tempted to retort with something so misogynist that it completely undermines my original argument and makes me sound like a sexist bully, but I'll bite my tongue. For now.


Quick disclaimer: I don't know this AHP in real life so haven't put any information up about them -cyberbullying is a real thing after all. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that once you write a sentence on Facebook then technically Mark Zuckerberg owns your words so I didn't have any qualms about ripping direct quotes. Also, AHP isn't the person whose blog I referred to at the beginning. (That's HP).

Saturday, 7 April 2012


So I gave paying attention the Oxford-Cambridge boat race a miss because at best I don't care about rowing but in my darker moments I actively resent it. This is because I was briefly persuaded to try rowing and actually persevered with about six outings before realising that not only was it giving me an achey back, it also wasn't about to start getting fun. Anyway, some guy decided to engage in a bit of civil disobedience via going for a swim and getting in the way so they had to stop the race. And then posted a rambly manifesto on the internet saying why he did it.
I have one question for him: how dare you? How dare you. There I am, minding my own business, assuming I am the uncrowned king of poorly structured paragraphs and occasional forays into SENTENCES WRITTEN ALL IN CAPITALS, and now I have a pretender to my throne. I intend to quash this rebellion. I shall smash him with an iron fist, use my iron crown as a sort of lethal metaphorical frisbee device and metaphorically behead him by writing the rambliest response ever. It will be so badly structured and incoherent that nobody will dare challenge me again. Am I being elitist? Yes. Take this rambly paragraph:
When hasn’t elitism lead to tyranny? When hasn’t the belief of being ‘more’ than another person led to tragedy? Who benefits from elitism? One won’t be surprised to learn the etymology of the word ‘elite’ derives from ‘the elected’ ... unfortunately not elected by democratic means, but rather, elected by god. Yup...‘elected’, ‘selected’, ‘chosen’ ... by god ... inherited. When has this understanding of oneself or by a group of people ever been a good thing? When has this understanding not resulted in tyranny? Is tyranny surely not the inevitable outcome? And in contrast, when hasn’t the pursuit of equality, not resulted in these long passages of tyranny being overcome, even if temporarily?  
So essentially he's using Oxbridge as the embodiment of everything wrong with this country. There are obviously serious problems with inequality in our society but it's a little bit simplistic to pin this all on our university system. When I applied to Oxford it wasn't intended as a political statement. I applied because I wanted to move out of my parent's house and spend four years getting drunk whilst occasionally applying myself towards learning to be an engineer. There are obviously other places I could have done this, but my decision to go here was an easy one. If you can push yourself to get into Oxford, why wouldn't you?

You're not automatically a smug cunt based on the fact you go to Oxford. Although I am sometimes guilty of that, and have been known to refer to it as the "best university IN THE WORLD!" But this is more to do with my relentlessly positive outlook on life and feeling the need to share the happiness with people. Example: "Hey [anonymous friend] I'm really sympathetic that you're on your period and really stressed and have loads of work to do but cheer up mate because you're at the best university IN THE WORLD! Turn that frown upside down and give me a high five!"

We're basically back in Samantha Brick land here - this guy resents Oxbridge for being 'elitist' and my counterargument is 'don't hate me for being Oxbridge'. I suppose my get-out clause is that me going to Oxford is pretty quantifiable (I'm not making this one up) as opposed to my perception of my own beauty. For the record, I would say I'm totally hot although wouldn't mind being a bit taller and more defined in the torso department. Hot with a few imperfections. I'm definitely an 8. On the offchance you, dearest reader, don't know me personally and am now looking at the picture of me on this site, it's a very flattering photo, and of course is relatively out of focus. The camera loves me.

In terms of an Oxford student's perception of themselves, I'd say most of us are well aware that we're lucky to be here. We got in through our performance at an interview, and for some of us there was literally only one interview deciding it. I personally know that I got in by a hair's breadth, and this is largely down to the fact that at my interview for Hertford (where I got in) they asked me a question that was very similar to one I'd had that morning when I was interviewed at Worcester (where I initially applied but didn't get in to). At my Worcester interview I had a question I got completely wrong and then a maths-based one that I managed to struggle through and eventually solved, but with quite some help. Hertford asked me almost the exact same maths question so I knew what to do, and then something about springs that I managed to make a decent go of.

I'm not under any illusions that I'm a million times more able than someone who didn't get in. I certainly wasn't chosen by God. There's a standard you need to reach in order to be considered but the rest is on-the-day luck and guesswork by the interviewers.

What started this ramble about the Oxford admissions process? Oh yeah. I take great offence to the way he's suggesting the University of Oxford and the conservative government are synonymous. We aint all tory scum. Yeah I'm surrounded by gorgeous old buildings but this is state education good and proper, just like any other university.

Regarding the stunt, I'm sort of impressed as it's the sort of civil disobedience I sometimes wish I had the balls to engage in myself, I'm just a little bit disappointed with the surrounding literature. I suppose in the interests of journalistic integrity, I should maybe point out that my view isn't shared by all of my peers. It's always lovely to see members of 'the elite' being as diplomatic with their facebook commentary as they were today. Here's a few quotes:
behead that little imbecile
They should have just carried on rowing over his fucking selfish head.
Apparently the oars could have cut his head off. I have no problem with this.
i hope he catches hepatitis from the dirty thames water  
This isn't a view that I share but I've never allowed myself to become too emotionally involved with watching people do a sport. I wouldn't say I've tried to make myself care, but I just find it hard to care. It is a specially structured contest that happens every year and will do so for years to come, and nothing will change because of it and it really shouldn't matter to anyone apart from the people in the race, their mums and their housemates. It's not like it's a war or something where the outcome will have any sort of quantifiable effect on anyone's life.

Saying that, I nearly was persuaded to actually go to London and watch a bit of the race, and I considered this (purely for social reasons). I might have been a bit annoyed when the race got stopped, but that would have been because stopping and restarting it would have meant I had to watch yet more boring sport.

It's hard to tell if we are dealing with a reasonably sensible activist who just isn't great at writing, or if we have a slightly unhinged guy who's repeating stock phrases . He compares himself to Emily Davison, which I suppose is a fair enough comparison based on today's stunt but somewhat ironically Emily herself was a student at St Hugh's College, Oxford, where she achieved first-class honours. She sounds a little bit like one of those 'elitists' to me.

The rambly manifesto concludes with suggestions of what normal people can do to engage in civil obedience - he suggests setting off fire alarms at work, bugging the homes of 'elitists' and setting off stink bombs at 'networking events'. Some of his suggestions verge on the ludicrous -

 If you work in audio-visuals for meetings/conferences could you put up the wrong slides, or turn the correct ones upside down and remove cables, rendering the equipment unusable?
I'm not sure how many people working in audio-visuals are going to read this and immediately think "Yes! I'll pretend to be incompetent at work! That will certainly bring down society."

He's achieved his aim of getting a moment in the spotlight and who knows - maybe we'll see a bit more of this sort of civil disobedience naughtiness. But he needs to step up his game. He's a ruggedly handsome sort of bloke and a naked protester is always going to be a bigger story than one in a wetsuit. Although actually I think the Thames is pretty cold this time of year, so it might have had the opposite effect ... if you get where I'm going with this.

I'm aware that in a few years it will probably be a criminal offence to incite peaceful protest, but for the time being when a newspaper is at least slightly distinguishable from a chapter of Nineteen Eighty-Four, let's all engage in some creative protests. Really minor ones, you know. If you work as a cleaner for an elistist, rearrange their cutlery draw. Apply for Tesco clubcards on behalf of elitists. Elitists who wouldn't even shop at Tesco. Use your imagination innit.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Anti-choice in Oxford

I wasn't exactly thrilled today to see in my college JCR bulletin (a weekly mailout to all the undergrads) the following item:

 Tuesday 1st May – 7.30pm – Ferrar Room (Hertford College) If you’re concerned about the issue of abortion, or would like to know more about the debate, then Students for Life Oxford would love to hear from you. We aim to raise awareness within the student body regarding topical issues related to the protection of life, by facilitating discussion on contemporary developments and social questions, and to take practical action by participating in local and national campaigns. We are a pro-life organisation with no religious affiliation, in favour of resisting attempts to legalise euthanasia, and of reducing the frequency of abortion within the United Kingdom.Whether you’d like to take part in the philosophical, legal and scientific debate (both in the public forum or just down the pub with us), or want to know about ways you can get involved with our work; from volunteering to help with the provision of support for women during and after pregnancy to joining a national campaign.Come along to the meeting to find out more! We’ll be discussing primarily the narrow approach of OUSU to the issue, given its affiliation to the controversial organisation Abortion Rights. Even if pro-life activism isn’t particularly your cup of tea, if you feel that the explicit support of a group that wishes to establish the provision of abortion up to birth, on demand, by a body that seeks to represent a diverse student population, is not something you are comfortable with, please join us on Tuesday of 2nd Week.

Yay. People trying to restrict women's reproductive rights. In my college. The item in the bulletin is decorated with words such as 'discussion' and 'debate', but it doesn't really look as if this will not be an open forum in which to discuss both sides of the argument regarding a woman's right to abortion. They present Abortion Rights as a “controversial” organisation, and suggest OUSU takes a “narrow approach” to the issue of abortion by being affiliated with it. Abortion Rights has the support of the NUS as well as the TUC. I also find their claim that Abortion Rights advocate extending the time limit for access to legal abortion from the current 24 weeks “up to birth” dubious at best, and I've written to Abortion Rights asking them to clarify their position on this.

Abortion Rights is clear on its website in what they aim to do:

Oppose any restrictions in women’s current rights and access to abortion.
Improve the current UK abortion law for women, to make abortion available on the request of the woman.
Improve women’s access to, and experience of , abortion – ensure all women in the UK have equal access to safe, legal, and free abortion.

So they're pretty unambiguous in their aims. Yes, they want to extend access to abortion, but there isn't any mention of extending the time limit. But you know, let's not let the truth get in the way of a good story or anything. Googling 'Students for Life Oxford' yielded no results, but if they're anything to do with the American Students for Life, then we are in problem territory.

I shared my concerns with the JCR (via our Facebook group) and a charge repeatedly levied against me was that I was trying to curtail this group's right to freedom of speech, just because I disagree with them. So I had a read of the university's freedom of speech guidelines and there's a few interesting points.

10. The Proctors will not seek to curtail or cancel a meeting or event unless in their considered opinion the meeting or event infringes on the legitimate rights and freedoms of others or poses a significant risk to health and safety or there is some other substantial and lawful ground for the curtailment or cancellation. The Proctors will consult as necessary with the Vice-Chancellor, or in his absence the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education, Academic Services and University Collections), and where necessary with the University Marshal and police about forthcoming meetings and events covered by the Code. In any case where serious disruption may be anticipated which may not be effectively addressed by any condition specified under paragraph 9 above, the Proctors shall have power, having taken into consideration any advice received from the Marshal and/or police, to order or to advise the cancellation, postponement, or relocation of the meeting.
14. It is the duty of every member, student, and employee of the University not to impede any person entitled to be present from entering or leaving a place where the right to freedom of speech is being or is to be exercised. This duty is subject only to such conditions as may have been specified in accordance with the terms of this Policy or any limitations imposed or directions given by the police or other relevant public authority.

Which seems to suggest that I should maybe just shut up and let them have their meeting, but  also that I'm allowed to go there, wearing a t-shirt with that photo of Gerri Santoro printed on it, and a few printouts of this news article pointing out that "a comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not".

 I suppose at this point I need to acknowledge the parallel between me being annoyed about this and the similar backlash surrounding Exeter College's recent decision to host the Christian Concern spring conference. One graduate decided to return his degree, which I reckon was a bit of a show-offy gesture but it garnered him enough attention that The Guardian asked him to write this article, from which I will quote the following:

To say, as some have, that the conference should go ahead on grounds of free speech is erroneous. This is not a debate in the Oxford Union, nor is it an academic conference in which the views of Christian Concern will be debated alongside opposing views from both within and outside the church, with repudiation from psychiatric bodies and academics. This is a private conference, hiring space, making full use of their prestigious association with Oxford University but going utterly unchallenged.
I, along with many others, would defend the freedom of people to speak out in the public sphere. But this is not the public sphere – it is a private community in which the consideration of its members and the defence of their rights should be paramount. It is the difference between defending the rights of the BNP to be heard while not wishing to invite them into my living room.
I realise I'm going a bit quote-heavy but here's what another Hertford undergraduate (a certain Adam Tyndall) had to say on the subject:

1) Is this the sort of event for which Hertford wishes to provide a room?
2) Is this the sort of event which Hertford JCR wishes to go unchallenged?
A few other thoughts on the issue. This is not primarily an issue of free speech. In providing a room for the event, Hertford is choosing to support it. This is especially true given that no charge is being levied. The issue is the access to the room, not whether I disagree with what is being said in it (although an informed prediction of the latter may play a part in any decision on the former).
Secondly, "free speech" is not an absolute ideal. We curtail it in all sorts of ways on a regular basis. We ban hate speech, for example, because there are other important considerations.
Thirdly, my concern is not that the debate shouldn't happen at all but about Hertford's involvement and what it says about the college. Consider a member of Hertford JCR inviting Nick Griffin to speak to a group of students. I, for one, would object to this. My primary objection is that Hertford should remain an open and inclusive college and the presence of such a vocally racist man might make many in the college (or thinking about applying to the college) feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. There are probably current members of Hertford college who have had abortions and I would hate for them to feel as though they were part of an institution that supported an organisation who believes that they should seem themselves as a "victim".

So I suppose the real question is: what sort of event is this? This is certainly not an Oxford Union-style independent debate, but it doesn't fall under the category of a private conference either. The freedom of speech policy statement tries to set out the jurisdiction for which it applies
4. In this part of the Code reference to a meeting or an event refers to meetings or other events where the nature of the meeting or event, the identity of the speaker or speakers or some other factor gives rise to reasonable concern on the part of the organisers, the Proctors or other individuals that the proposed meeting or event may be disrupted or may result in violence, disorder, harassment or any other unlawful activity.

I'm not threatening these pro-lifers with violence or harassment, but what about disruption? There's a very real chance that I might wish to correct someone if I feel they are spreading lies, like their unsubstantiated claim about Abortion Rights, and their attempts to misrepresent them as a fringe organisation that OUSU has an unusually close connection with. Would this render the meeting sufficiently 'disrupted'?

What I find particularly annoying about the freedom of speech argument is how it's being invoked by a group of people who are actively campaigning to restrict other people's freedom, and they have a room booked in my college, for free. The difference between being pro-choice and anti-choice is that pro-choice people are not actively campaigning to remove a woman's rights not to have an abortion. By all means be 'pro-life' in a personal capacity, nobody says you have to have an abortion. Just keep your hands off my uterus, okay?

By providing Students for Life with a room free of charge, Hertford is effectively sponsoring the event and making itself complicit in their activities - their American counterparts can be heard bragging about how they harass students ("I want to be in their faces about it, I want them to not have any choice but to think about it", one can be heard saying). This is not something I am willing to ignore. As it stands, Hertford does not appear to have a distinct set of guidelines regarding its policy on who can or cannot make use of its facilities  - currently any college member can book out a room for free. This could do with revision.

Basically, I would be a lot happier if these pro-lifers would make alternative arrangements. I don't spend my time picketing all the various groups I disagree with, but if they're going to rock up on my doorstep and tell lies to my fellow students then I think I have something of a legitimate grievance. There is no doubt in my mind that there isn't a catholic church hall (or similar) somewhere in Oxford where they'd be greeted with open arms, and I wouldn't have to see them hanging around in the quad. Please go away. Please.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A self-fulfilling prophecy

Woman writes article - I'm gonna paraphrase it but the rough gist was: women hate me for being beautiful. I am so beautiful. Women hate me for this. They are jealous. My friends don't trust me near their husbands. I am so hot. I'm hotter than you. Be jealous of my good looks, but pity me for how jealous ugly women treat me.

Here's a brief synopsis of what the general response was: You have a bizarrely inflated sense of how beautiful you are. You look slightly above average, but you're not in the top 10% even. You are not as exceptional looking as you think you are. If women hate you it could be because you aren't any good at hiding the fact that you think you're more beautiful than everyone else and that this somehow increases your inherent worth as a person.

Obviously there was a mix of reasoned 'oh my goodness look at this woman she's incredibly deluded, is this a joke?' to the standard internet hatefest. To quote a couple of comments from the Mail's site: "She has a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp!" and "a stick of TNT strapped to her mouth sounds like a magnificent idea!" Not particularly nice.

But of course this did not deter out heroine, who decided to silence her critics today with more nonsense.
The past 24 hours have been, to be blunt, among the most horrendous of my life. But then, the 4,510 (at the time of writing) people who have left comments on Mail Online, and the thousands who have done the same on Twitter, would probably say that it's all my own fault.Yesterday, I wrote an article in the Mail, posing the question: Why do women hate me for being beautiful? The response it provoked has been extraordinary in its volume and vitriol, and beyond anything I could have imagined when I first started work at my keyboard.Of course, I knew when I came up with the idea that it would provoke debate. I'd even prefaced the idea by explaining to the editor that I was fully aware I was setting myself up for a fall. I knew this was sensitive territory at which women would take umbrage — but I thought it was a taboo that needed shattering.Yet even I could never have imagined the fury my piece would spawn and the thousands  upon thousands of nasty comments I've been subjected to since it  was published.
She just doesn't seem to understand that if she says 'everyone hates me because I'm so beautiful' in such a way that makes people hate her, there is no way she won't arrive back where she started - thinking it's her looks that are the problem. It's always sort of scary to see someone reach adulthood without gaining a shred of self-awareness. It's obvious that she is not going to figure out why it is that people have responded so negatively, and at this stage I've started to feel sorry for her.

The Mail were pretty irresponsible for publishing this. Why do we cry 'cruel circus' when year on year there are swathes of deluded vulnerable people wheeled out to sing on the X Factor-type 'talent' shows, yet we don't bat an eyelid when they are given a platform to humiliate themselves in national newspapers?

They've made this woman the nation's laughing stock and we've all taken the bait. We can laugh at her for being stupid, we can sarcastically refer to the 'quality journalism' on offer, but all we're doing is driving more traffic to their site and/or helping them sell newspapers.

And I'm obviously part of the problem for writing this article, but someone had to say it.