Dear invisible men,
Who tweet women endless threats of rape,
Who are you?
Are you married fathers of two?
Are you teens crowded round a friend’s phone in a canteen or KFC?
Are you pausing between texting your first love,
To set yourself up as an egg,
And post fresh hate?
Where are you as you type this?
Is your girlfriend asleep in your arms,
As you peer over her shoulder at your phone?
How did this become your sport?
You are not proud of what you do;
If you were, you would not care who knew.
This is strange:
You loudly announce pride in your prejudice
But your invisibility suggests your shame.
There is such an anger in you
That it cannot be cloaked with jokes.
I pity the mirror that has to reflect your misery,
Since it must see so much.
Because the women are everywhere now,
They weren’t just content in your beds,
Now they’re not just in your clubs,
Or in the eyes and hearts of other men;
The women are in your classrooms, boardrooms and DJ booths,
They are obstructing you, or ignoring you,
Not needing you to improve.
Swiftly, they are sweeping you from every stage,
And the only place you feel safe
Is in one-hundred and forty characters of rage.
I doubt that, as you type, you will ever pause
To think that, while you promise terror,
The greatest fear is yours.
Archive for July 2013
Dear invisible men,
We pray to our smartphones,
Bending necks towards our tech:
“Our Father, who art in Windows Seven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Forgive us our drunken text messages
As we forgive those exes
Who send drunken text messages against us.
Lead us not into offline conversation
But deliver us from hanging out with people.
Let us only chat through apps,
And let us speak not in tongues but tweets;
For thine is the kingdom,
The rapidly decreasing battery power,
And the glory:
Forever and ever,
OK, so here’s the thing. I have this particularly visceral relationship with music. If I hear a new tune that I truly love, I am then so overwhelmed by its brilliance that I generally have to listen to it non-stop until it is thoroughly out of my system. There are particular beats which make me drunk with euphoria and as a result I have to rinse my ears out with them for the next few days, an aural form of “hair of the dog”.
At 1:48pm on Wednesday 3 July, the official Home Office account sent the following tweet, accompanied by the photo above:
“There will be no hiding place for illegal immigrants with the new #ImmigrationBill”.
They say that a picture does the work of a thousand words, but this image instead gives rise to a thousand questions.
Who within Government thought this tweet was a good idea? Who still thinks it’s a good idea? Why was it tweeted? Is it some sort of twisted focus group exercise to gauge the public’s hostility? How many people who see it will quietly nod in approval? How many of those people are people whom I work with or would regard as friends or casual acquaintances? Does this tweeter hate people? What’s with the gleeful tone of this tweet? Why does this image remind me of human trafficking? Does the Home Office see illegal immigrants as cattle? Is this really where we want to take this conversation about immigration? If this tweet were published by the BNP or the EDL, would there be far greater uproar? How many voters will forget the nastiness of this communication come election day? Will anyone in the Home Office ever come forward to explain it? Is this the beginning of a deliberate online strategy to whip up public anti-immigration sentiment? Will the Lib Dems distance themselves from it? Will Labour?
What unpleasantness does the Immigration Bill contain? Since when did controlling immigration go from being about the efficient management of resources to the naked and aggressive ostracism of foreigners? What is this tweet trying to distract us from? Where will this ideology lead if it goes unchecked? How many thugs will be emboldened in their hate by this tweet? Why aren’t more people angry about this? Why do people find it so easy to shrug it off? Is it really the case that illegal immigrants must be chased from house to house as if the Home Office were ratcatchers?
All these questions and more. But, in a time of rising economic inequality, with our communities still struggling with the brutal effects of the financial crisis and the subsequent array of cuts to public services, someone at the Home Office has chosen to post a tweet like this to 90,000 followers, and hasn’t seen fit to remove it. And in symbolic terms, that’s far more worrying, in itself, than the answers to any of the questions that I have posed above.
This weekend, I read Ivan Massow’s opinion piece in the Evening Standard, “This new gay hedonism is not what I fought for”, with a mixture of interest and concern. The article, published in somewhat bubble-bursting fashion on the eve of London Pride, bemoaned the fact – to quote the sub-heading – that an “obsession with drugs and sex is blighting the cause” for the equal rights of gay people. There are a few reasons why I took issue with this article, and I will deal with them in turn.
The first is that, though the article is accompanied by a photograph which includes pictures of gay black people and lesbians, the argument presented by Mr. Massow takes absolutely no account of the diversity of gay people in the UK. Time and again, we are reminded that he is writing exclusively from the perspective of gay white men. When he writes about gay people, this is the “we” to which he refers. For example:
“We accepted that some blacks, Jews and Christians alike had the right to hate us as part of their “culture.” A gay black person might contest that sweeping view. Elsewhere, when describing the hedonism of a certain section of the gay scene – which he is at curious pains to argue is representative of gay people as a whole – it is clear that, with his exclusive focus upon risky penetrative sex, he is referring to men and not women. Lesbians don’t get a look in. Of course, there’s no problem with writing about your own particular experiences as a gay white man. The problem arises when you try to paint those experiences as representative of an entire group of people with whom you have nothing in common but your sexual orientation.
Take this couple of sentences, where Mr. Massow writes “Don’t misunderstand me: I enjoy apps like Grindr (gay dating apps that supply you with a photo and precise distance of your nearest shag) as much as the next man. I admit to recreational drugs use in my distant past.” There are two untrue assumptions here: that every gay man indulges the ready availability of sex, and that every gay man has indulged in the use of recreational drugs, as if that were a habit to which gay men were uniquely predisposed. Again, many gay people would contest such a view.
“We, the gay community,” continues Mr. Massow, “are becoming a group of people who suddenly have everything and nothing, all at once.” (This concept of “community”, given his apparent blindness to the plight of anyone other than gay men, rings hollow.) He laments the lax approach that many gay men take to their sexual health, which is of course a concern that many people , gay or straight, will share with him. However, what I believe is dangerous – and not merely “provocative”, as the sub-editor has described this article – is his conclusion. Mr. Massow states that:
“we have been given a place at society’s table and we owe it to ourselves to behave like responsible members of that society. To be accountable, to contribute and, in our distinctive way, to be moral. If not, as has happened countless times in our history, there will be a backlash — and that place will be taken away.” [My italics.]
So there it is: if gay people don’t ‘behave themselves’, if they don’t conform to the sexual standards that heterosexual people apparently demand of them, then their rights will be taken away. The equal rights of gay people are apparently conditional on them being ‘good gays’ – or, rather, ‘examplary gays’ – who are “contemplating children and playing vital or heroically suburban roles in society.” Never mind that, with the insidious suburban homophobia that still persists in many places, it is more of a challenge for the average gay person to be a parent and/or community leader than it is for the average straight person. Why should gay people be held to a higher standard than straight people just so they can have continued access to these hard-won and fundamental freedoms?
There is another crucial flaw in Mr. Massow’s argument, which is that, throughout history, groups of both ethnic and sexual minorities have been oppressed no matter how compliant they were with the wishes of those who oppressed them. Plenty of law-abiding Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust. Plenty of monogamous women are harassed by men. Plenty of God-fearing black people are the victims of racism.
For what it’s worth, I share Mr. Massow’s concern about the self-destructive behaviour of a certain proportion of gay men – which is itself due in part to the prejudice many of them still face in our society, a chain of causation that (in my view) he does not sufficiently acknowledge. I just don’t see what it has to do with the right of gay people to be treated with equal protection under the law.