New Island Values: Attend Debate Society

Bonnie Greer at the UCLU Debating SocietyUniversity College London provides a brilliant debate series regularly focusing on political, social, and religious issues. The panellists themselves are usually recognisable too. Controversy magnet Katie Hopkins appeared back in February to argue that women were (paraphrasing here) stupid to think there was a glass ceiling, whilst the likes of Bonnie Greer and Chris Bryant MP have also made appearances this year.

So it was of no problem to add this to the New Island Values. It would serve to both enlighten my knowledge of certain subjects, whilst also helping refine my own debating style.

For one reason or another I never showed up. I’ll have more chances come this October, but by then I’m guaranteed a busier schedule. It would be a surprise if this particular objective will be achieved this year. Alas.

>> New Island Values

Feminism as a Dirty Word: Time to abandon the Political Extreme?

A rather interesting article crossed my path a while back. Kira Cochrane writes in The Guardian on the rise of Femen, a controversial feminist group adopting visual methods to condemn perceived female oppression in society. They confronted Silvio Berlusconi as he cast his vote in the Italian Elections last February – topless; chopped down a landmark wooden cross in Kiev to express support for Pussy Riot – topless; and protested outside the Vatican during Friday prayers in support of gay rights – topless. Sensing a theme here?

It got me thinking about the broader state of the feminist movement in the 21st century. Undoubtedly there has been true progress for women since the foundation of modern-day feminism, but is that really down to self-acclaimed feminists, or actually in spite of them?

How much does society change when a group of protesters exhibit their bare breasts in front of the world media? Intentions aside, the ensuing debate is inclined to focus on their tactics, rather than on what the tactics are meant to prompt. In fact, all it does is split the feminist movement ever greater – Femen coin their actions ‘Sextremism.’ 

Division would be the key word to associate with 21st century feminism. That’s not to say that Femen’s work is particularly wrong. It’s a ballsy experiment from a group of women who believe their cause has stagnated, and rightly so. Feminism is a dirty word within the mainstream. This is largely a result of failing to shake off an unflattering cliché.

Femen Protestors (Credit: Hillary, hellp!)

To find out why Feminism has stagnated as a cause I asked a middle-aged woman, 47, whether she would describe herself as a Feminist. The reaction was instantaneously a no. Yet she went on to list how patriarchy unfairly dominated society: the most passionate plea was how she is expected to take care of children to a larger extent than her partner even though they both work. Seemingly the eradication of these assumptions is exactly what the feminist movement is there to fight. So why not count herself as a feminist?

“The word has become associated too much with hard politics. It’s a political extreme to describe yourself as a feminist.”

On this point, I would urge Feminists to work harder in coordinating their efforts. This sort of political cohesiveness has worked for the global LGBT movement. Gay rights campaigners led efforts to educate people about AIDS in the 1980s, became increasingly active on promoting transgender issues during the 90s, and this century have led successful campaigns on intersectionality and same-sex marriage. Considering it took until 1990 for the World Health Organisation to remove homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases, the LGBT movement has progressed supremely well in the 21st century.

I can only aim to address this subject from my (male) point-of-view. From that perspective, it seems clear that Feminism doesn’t have to be particularly radical in 2013 and beyond. Laws concerning gender are well in reach of equality in the western world. The biggest hurdle left is tackling outdated thought and assumptions. For this task, Feminism doesn’t have to be the domain of woman.

Society and politics need strong factional movements in order for the norms of community to be challenged. Feminism is vital to the health of our long-term political dial. At the moment, it seems that Feminism itself is on life support.

>> Kate Nash – ‘Rap for Rejection’

Kate Nash – ‘Rap for Rejection’

“I’m a stupid whore and a frigid bitch / Will you make up your mind and tell me which is which”. No, I Used To Live In Notting Hill hasn’t been off its meds again, but it has been listening to the new Kate Nash album, and in particular the intriguing track “Rap for Rejection.”

The Kate Nash reinvention takes place right before our eyes on this track, which mixes grunge beats over Nash’s quirky voice. But of course, the history of pop stars going a bit rap ain’t pretty – anyone remember Robbie Williams’ “Rudebox”? Pleasingly this is far from a commercial exploit towards the genre of the moment (which if you’ve heard the radio recently, you would know is a watered-down eurotrashy type ‘R&B’). Actually, the track is an explicit rejection of commercialisation. It’s a rejection of almost everything, hence the name.

“Female castration / Go live demonstration! / Domestic violence, racist, homophobic / No time for the whole list.” It’s importance is underlined by these lyrics. Why do you have to be a bra-burning lesbian to be a feminist? Are they the only ones who can oppose female genital mutilation in the Middle East; bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan; or modern-day sexual slavery across Europe?

The song sounds like one of those that define a certain moment in time. Think of the songs that came to the fore amidst the collapse of the Soviet Union: Vladimir Vysotskii’s “Navodchitsa”; Boris Grebenshchikov’s “25 to 10”; Akvarium’s “A Generation of Janitors and Night-Watchmen.” All of them influenced youth culture at the time. It went against the official standard of what ‘music’ was. “Rap for Rejection” does all of this. But it will never be remembered in this way. Firstly because its Kate Nash, and secondly because feminism is hardly on top form, something I’ll be exploring later this week.

The song yields from Nash’s 2013 LP Girl Talk, her first independent release that further moves towards riot grrl territory without totally giving up on the jaunty indie pop of “Foundations” and Made of Bricks. She is currently on a worldwide tour and plays in London on 11th May at The Barfly.

Positive Discrimination: A Battle on Moral Grounds

High Rise Flats in Notting Hill

The definition of oneself is always a conflict waiting to happen. So much so that in 2001, 330,000 people described themselves as ‘Jedi Knights’ on the UK census in protest.

IUTLINH can claim to be of mixed heritage. But charting that heritage is nowhere near an easy thing. Half Jamaican, quarter white British and another quarter Dominican – yet this is only one fragment of the complete story, which includes Americans, Chinese and Irish. You could say that my family were never exactly discriminatory, which, oddly enough, segway’s onto the topic in question.

‘Positive discrimination’ (PD) is one of those double negatives that sounds rather pointless at first. Yet, as with many race issues, it finds itself centre of a storm in a teacup. Labour’s controversial All-Women Shortlists are an example, whilst Norway have a government directive forcing public companies to appoint women in at least 40% of non-executive board roles.

The for argument touts a number of statistics showing an obvious lack of representation for minorities (or that small proportion of females we have in our society) in higher professional employment.  Therefore a leg-up in job applications seems necessary for a foothold to be achieved.

On the other hand, people against affirmative action (as its also known), argue that its offensive for minorities to be recruited this way, whilst actively discriminating against qualified individuals because of their more privileged backgrounds.

The problem with the respective arguments is the lack of substantial hard evidence on either side. The debate for and against PD is being fought on absurd moral grounds, rather than on actual information. Companies who do recruit via positive discrimination wouldn’t reveal whether a black candidate has been chosen because he was the best candidate or because they were the best black candidate in order to fulfil a quota.

IUTLINH at WorkThis relates to the original idea for this post. Have I myself been the subject of ‘positive discrimination’, or indeed ‘active discrimination’ – being rejected from an application process on racial grounds? The truthful answer is that I don’t know, and jumping to conclusions will only lead to calls that I’m either a sore loser or ‘arbitrary’ winner.

I would think that I’ve had the average amount of successes and defeats in the employment process. I was rejected from one top university, only to be accepted by another; I’ve failed in some attempts to get a job whilst I was a part-time waiter, but did find employment the first time I actively went out and tried, rather than passively filling out online forms.

So if there can’t be a factual debate, is the moral debate justified? The thing that confuses me about this is how the opposition fails to address the issue at all. They accept that there is a gap between the proportion of minorities or women in society and their representation in top jobs, but fail to put forward any ways of solving this. Either it’s a non-issue, or they herald from the George Osborne school of people who aren’t doing well, just not trying enough.

Yet I don’t blindly support the reasoning for PD. The fact is, discrimination in the UK begins at birth. An overwhelming amount of minorities are brought up in areas and schools that don’t match that of their white British peers. On the most part they fail to get into the best universities and subsequently aren’t chosen for the best jobs. Even if they do, the existence of a glass celling is something to take into account. Maybe positive discrimination isn’t the way forward, but addressing inequality in our education system and creating greater opportunities in poorer communities would be a start.

Equality is a long time off. It will happen at a certain point, but that will only be when we address discrimination in our society at large, rather than battling chunks at a time. A rather big task, but someone must try; if for anything, to end the ‘moral’ debate that rages on.