A Feminist? Wash your mouth out with soap.

My housemate has got a massive pink box of cosmetic soap stuff.  It makes me see red every time I go into the bathroom.  First, there’s the environmental aspect:  the packaging (all that plastic), and the synthetic, petro-chemical-based nastiness that goes into this stuff.  (What’s wrong with soap?  If you didn’t wash yourself with all of that crap, you wouldn’t need to re-condition your skin and hair.)  But then there’s the depressing underlying sexism.



Let’s unpack the box.  It’s got a real 1950s retro feel to it.  Remember, girls, that in the 1950s, women didn’t have equal pay, couldn’t get mortgages, were not equal in property rights in marriage, abortion was illegal, and so on.  Women were supposed to be in the kitchen.  The 1950s ain’t all bubbles.

Then there’s the pink.  Oh yes, that colour which all women are genetically programmed to love.

Then there’s the slogan:  “You’re irresistible, Glamazing and Incredibubble!”.  Leaving aside the naff puns (couldn’t they have done better?), these words are all to do with looks.  Obvious, you say – this is a cosmetic package.  But the first word ‘irresistible’ shows that women’s chief function still is to attract men.  Nothing has changed since Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her Vindication in the 1790s. ‘Glamazing’:  you can only be a proper woman if you look good.

This pack is for a ‘top to toe body treat’.  Women can only feel whole if they wallow in a bath with lots of foam and look at their skin the whole time.  In the 1950s, women didn’t work – they were housewives (an easy lot) with time on their hands to wallow luxuriantly in a bath paid for by their menfolk.  As Wollstonecraft said,

“I once knew a weak woman of fashion, who was more than commonly proud of her delicacy and sensibility. She thought a distinguishing taste and puny appetite the height of all human perfection, and acted accordingly. I have seen this weak sophisticated being neglect all the duties of life, yet recline with self-complacency on a sofa, and boast of her want of appetite as a proof of delicacy that extended to, or, perhaps, arose from, her exquisite sensibility: for it is difficult to render intelligible such ridiculous jargon. Yet, at the moment, I have seen her insult a worthy old gentlewoman, whom unexpected misfortunes had made dependent on her ostentatious bounty, and who, in better days, had claims on her gratitude. Is it possible that a human creature should have become such a weak and depraved being, if, like the Sybarites, dissolved in luxury, every thing like virtue had not been worn away, or never impressed by precept, a poor substitute it is true, for cultivation of mind, though it serves as a fence against vice?

Such a woman is not a more irrational monster than some of the Roman emperors, who were depraved by lawless power.”

The final item on the list of contents is ‘Sexy Mother Pucker’.  Again, a woeful pun, on a truly horrific phrase.  ‘Motherfucker’, more common in the States, where sexism is more pronounced, is a disgracefully sexist form of abuse.  Do NOT refer to it in a product aimed at women.  This is part of that new strain of ‘feminism’ that says you can embrace your sexy, made-up side and be a feminist.  No, you really can’t.  Feminism is about challenging society’s ideas of what a woman is (and what a man is, come to that).  Not embracing the chains that have shackled women for so many centuries, and painting them pink.

Let’s return to Mary Wollstonecraft.  She lambasted the appalling Rousseau for his comment that “Boys love sports of noise and activity; to beat the drum, to whip the top, and to drag about their little carts: girls, on the other hand, are fonder of things of show and ornament; such as mirrors, trinkets, and dolls; the doll is the peculiar amusement of the females; from whence we see their taste plainly adapted to their destination.”

Wollstonecraft pointed out that girls are

“forced to sit still, play with dolls, and listen to foolish conversations; the effect of habit is insisted upon as an undoubted indication of nature.

In France, boys and girls, particularly the latter, are only educated to please, to manage their persons, and regulate their exterior behaviour; and their minds are corrupted at a very early age, by the worldly and pious cautions they receive, to guard them against immodesty. The very confessions which mere children are obliged to make, and the questions asked by the holy men I assert these facts on good authority, were sufficient to impress a sexual character; and the education of society was a school of coquetry and art. At the age of ten or eleven; nay, often much sooner, girls began to coquet, and talked, unreproved, of establishing themselves in the world by marriage.”

By producing pink, bubbly gifts for girls, we are still educating them only to please, to coquet and to think only of their bodies.


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Brexit: a Jacobite Problem

Brexit is irrational.  Not wholly, of course:  the EU is not without problems (especially its predilection for big business).  But it is based on the fears of Popery and invasion from the Continent that have been in the English mentality since 1588.

‘Let’s take back control’ screamed the Faragistas:  the EU is anti-democratic, protectionist, bureaucratic, and into Big Government.  For the moment, we will leave aside the whole immigration problem, although it should be pointed out to the less welcoming populations of the poorer parts of this nation that Brexit will not stop immigration:  it will merely see the exchange of white skins for brown, as we fill the gaps with more Asians and Africans.  We will, instead, ‘unpack’ the above charges, and, hopefully, I will prove to you that these charges are not based on reasonable discourse, but on centuries-old prejudices.

  1. Big, Bureaucratic Government:  yes, the EU is bureaucratic and technocratic.  Modern democracies are, because there has for a couple of centuries now been a general consensus that liberal democracies need governments to look after their people, and not just be a classical-liberal night watchman – although lots of Americans may disagree.  Indeed, we can see our relationship with the Americans on this one:  the British founders of the USA were the ones who didn’t like even the hands-off government of 17th- and 18th-century Britain; their anti-governmentalism is rabid.  Brexiteers are perhaps the descendants of those who were, er, left behind.  For anti-governmental thought, see Robert Nozick.  The modern American Tea Party takes its name from the 18th-century incident that saw tea (an expensive commodity) thrown into the sea in protest at the British government’s taxation policy.  US political thought and behaviour are still stuck in the 18th-century.  So are the Brexiteers’.  As for bureaucracies, the up side is that there are lots of experts working on matters.  I have bureaucrat friends of various sorts, and I’m jolly glad they are there to mitigate the idiocies of short-termist politicians.
  2. Protectionist:  well, yes, that’s a fair-enough charge.  The EU is occasional protectionist.  The protectionist/ free-trade debate was rife in British politics throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and is why Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations; the 19th-century Corn Laws showed how damaging protectionism could be – they helped cause the Irish Potato Famine.  But some sort of protectionism is not always a bad thing.  Take the ‘banana wars’, where the EU gave Caribbean growers a premium price in order to support small businesses in the face of huge, US-owned South American banana farms.  Those American banana-growers took the EU to the WTO (yes, that’s the WTO that the Brexiteers have so much faith in), and the WTO ruled in favour of the Americans.  Stuff small business – let’s have multi-nationals all the time.  Free trade is a good thing, but not at the expense of the environment – human and more general; thank goodness for EU rules on work and time and rights and environment.  As for protectionism, since the Brexiteers look to the USA for inspiration, let’s see what their President says:  let’s make America great again by imposing all sorts of trade tariffs.  Protectionism comes from the mentalities of the far right and left; I am willing to bet that there are tons of Ukippers who are, at least in private, massive protectionists.
  3. Anti-democratic:  ah yes, this old chestnut.  (See also comments about civil servants above.)  In 1588, British weather defeated the Spanish Armada.  In 1605, Guy Fawkes was found out before he could barbecue MPs.  By the time that James II announced his conversion to Catholicism, Britain (particularly England) was rabidly anti-Catholic.  I write this, by the way, in Lewes, where  ‘No Popery’ is still a slogan once a year (delightfully subverted by the local Catholic church into a series of lectures called ‘Know Popery’).  Catholicism was associated not just with superstition and un-English religion, but with tyranny.  The Reformation had let those middle-Englanders who wanted to be able to read the Bible themselves and make up there own rules about sin do so; they were not to be told by some foreign dignitary how they should worship, in some foreign tongue.  Allied to the Pope were the secular powers of the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and France.  The old antagonism with France, which stretched back to the Norman Conquest, or at least to the time of Henry II, now mixed with the new anti-Catholic strain and became a superbug.  Spain, since 1588, had become a bit of a bogeyman, too.  So when James II ‘came out’, having already married an Italian (Catholic) noblewoman, the British had no choice but to boot him out, for a Catholic monarch would be a tyrant (Charles I was almost a Catholic, and look at him).  During the 18th century, Britain was involved in various wars against the French and the Spanish, and the Franco-Spanish threat to Britain was real enough.  Take the Jacobite rebellion, funded by France.  In 1745, the Archbishop of York told his congregation:  “If these designs should succeed, and Popery and arbitrary power come in upon us, under the influence and direction of these two tyrannical and corrupted Courts [France and Spain], I leave you to reflect what would become of everything that is valuable to us.  We are now blessed under the mild administration of a just and protestant King,” ruling, he continued, within the laws of the British land.  The Archbishop’s words are unquestionable ancestors to Faragism.  Brexiteers have not used the great English slogan of ‘liberty’, but their arguments are based on innate, 18th-century ideals of ‘liberty.’

Brexiteers don’t just hark back to the Land of Hope and Glory, when Britannia ruled the waves and the sun never set on the British Empire.  The Brexiteers’ attitude is full of 18th-century anti-Catholic and anti-Franco-Spanish hysteria.  It is also full of pre-1770s fondness for the American colonies (they would do well to remember that America rebelled against Britain in 1776, and it has been a thorn in Britain’s flesh ever since).  Countries’ mentalities are based on very long-term memories.  Perhaps this is also why Scotland’s majority voted to Remain:  they still remember the Auld Alliance.

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While Women still exist, we’ll still have sexism

MPs in sleaze scandal.  Surely not.

I’m fed up with seeing females clad in cocktail dresses, slavered in make-up, with the torture instruments that are popularly know as high heels on their feet, saying how unfair and outrageous it is that men feel that they can grope parts of women’s bodies.  Sisters, how can you not see the irony?  As long as you look like a ‘Woman’, you will be a ‘Woman’, i.e. a second-class human, a weak vessel, a sex-toy.

M-to-F ‘transgender’ beings say they feel like women.  What do they mean by women?  Oh, yes, lo-and-behold:  creatures with make-up, heels, tight dresses and prominent tits.  Are there any M-to-F transgender people who dress in frumpy shoes (those genderless lace-ups which are just called shoes in male-speak), trousers, a shirt and a jacket?  Oh, and short hair and no make-up?  Or, for that matter, any F-to-M transgender types who wear skirts still?  No, because it’s not the fact that we’ve got the wrong dangly bits – it’s the fact that society is still grossly unfair and still discriminates hugely against women.  But we women help it.  Why the hell does T May go about in ridiculous kitten heels?  Why does Clare Balding wear make-up?  Why does the England cricket team wear perfectly normal, neutral, practical clothes on the field and then look like some parody of air-hostesses circa 1980 when off it?  Actually, is the second-to-left a woman?  It’s got short hair and square shoulders.  Maybe it’s a man.  Maybe it was once a man.  Or maybe she’s the most sensible and honest of the lot, who tries to mitigate this hideousness by wearing flat shoes and looking desperately uncomfortable is sexist clothing.  Why the hell are they wearing skirts?  Why aren’t the men’s team?

Image result for england women's cricket

Please can some scandal come out about Theresa May fondling some nice young Spad’s balls, or Amber Rudd’s outrageously long list of (young) male lovers?  Or Ruth Davidson’s Wall of Steamy Lesbian Conquests?

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Bankers, Hayek, and Envy

Hayek separates, in his Constitution of Liberty, value from merit.  Value is the worth of a good or service for that community (set, in Hayek’s free market world, by that community), and merit is the moral worth of an action.  It doesn’t matter whether I have packed a loaf of bread beautifully or just adequately:  the value of the packed loaf of bread will be the same, and I will get the same wage as the perfectionist beside me.  Companies that produce things people don’t want will not make as much money as companies that produce things people do want, even though they may be wonderful employers.

Hayek says that “in a free system it is neither desirable nor practicable that material rewards should be made generally to correspond to what men recognize as merit and that it is an essential characteristic of a free society that an individual’s position should not necessarily depend on the views that his fellows hold about the merit he has acquired.”  Freedom, or liberty, comes from the markets sorting out value, not on someone or collection of people in government deciding on what jobs or products or whatever are morally meritorious – for that gives them the power of value-judgement, and it’s but a short step to totalitarianism.

Furthermore, Hayek argues, attempts to equalise society based on merit, or to insist that “all must be assured an equal start and the same prospects”, are based on envy (and here he dismisses Crosland’s Future of Socialism).

Finally, Hayek discusses “another argument on which the demands for a more equal distribution are frequently based”:  “membership in a particular community or nation entitles the individual to a particular material standard that is determined by the general wealth of the group to which he belongs.”  As there is no merit in being born into a society, group or class, there is no justice in being rewarded thus.  Being poor in Britain is very different to being poor in Sierra Leone – and “few people would be prepared to recognize the justice of these demands on a world scale.”  Of course, he says, we should protect our citizens against the risks of life (infirmity etc), but “it is an entirely different matter, however, to suggest that those who are poor, merely in the sense that there are those in the same community who are richer, are entitle to a share in the wealth of the latter”.  (He goes on to say that “rather than admit people to the advantages that living in their country offers, a nation will prefer to keep them out altogether” – prescient, but a subject for another post.)

For someone who sits on the fence between liberalism and socialism, these arguments provide much food for thought.  I often wonder at the wealth of bankers, or of top accountants or CEOs, especially in relation to the relative un-wealth of teachers or nurses.  According to an article by the Independent a couple of years ago, “the best paid full-time workers are all in the City of London, where average earnings were £921 a week. That’s nearly two-and-a-half times more than the lowest average UK wage of £389 in Derbyshire.”  Now, the markets dictate that someone who gambles on derivatives is of more value than someone who picks peas.  The liberal in me shrugs and says, ‘while that’s not the relative value I’d place on these, being a liberal means letting things happen, and not imposing one’s own value-judgements, for what we need is liberty over everything, even equality’.

But value is a funny thing.  We see things in terms of monetary value; Hayek himself was an economist who believed that liberty sprang from economic liberalism.  However, it’s more and more clear that our pursuit of monetary profit and gain is destroying the world:  our consumerism is environmentally deleterious.  The CEOs of multi-national mining or petrochemical firms are raking it in while their companies rape the earth; their ill-gotten gains are spent on cars and foreign holidays and all the material things that it behoves rich people to have.  The markets are geared towards consumerism and a growth economy, but these are, in the long-run, unsustainable:  the values of today will have, at some point, to change.

And I am not sure that one can separate value and merit quite so finally, and that redistribution of wealth is based on envy.  To take the latter first, redistribution of wealth perhaps recognises that the value put on things by the markets are not necessarily the value put on things by society – the value, not the wealth.  Let us take a CEO, on £100K a year.  His (for he is probably a he) mother, whom he loves, and who gave him his unmeritoriously fine and privileged start in life, is infirm and in a nursing home.  She is cared for by a female carer (of African origin) who earns £10K a year.  The value to the CEO – or his company – of the carer is immense:  his looking after his mother would, on his estimated hourly rate, cost £50 rather than the £5-an-hour paid to Flora the carer.  He might argue that his salary is because he generates lots of wealth, but surely we have to question what that wealth is for.  If it is for providing us, individually, with a nice life, then surely carers ought to be rewarded for providing us with care which affects us profoundly, but which we are loath to think about because the healthy never do want to contemplate being unhealthy, as the living rarely contemplate dying.  Following Hayek’s argument, the carer has a job worthy of merit, but not of value.  However, perhaps we’ve got value wrong:  perhaps it cannot be just up to the markets to establish value, and perhaps the setting-aside of value-judgements by liberals is itself a value-based judgement.

Is it possible to be an environmentally-friendly liberal?  Possibly not, in that putting the environment first necessarily means curbing some of our consumerist freedoms.  But can we not have a ‘green’ framework, just as now we have a free(ish) market framework?  If we placed environmental value on things, then mining would decrease, travelling would decrease, consumerism would decrease.  It’s an interesting world to consider, but probably far too frightening for most people to do so.

(By the way, there’s an excellent radio article on the value and merit of CEOs here.)

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Foreign Aid

I never usually watch such things, but I quite enjoyed watching the ITV Leaders’ Debate, and Question Time.  One topic which came up in both was the perceived need to cut the foreign aid budget.  It’s UKIP policy, and seems to have found a real resonance in the elderly population of Norfolk, where QT came from.  Nuttall (OMG, I’m reaching that age when these people are my contemporaries – how does he feel he’s got the maturity to govern?) said that the £12.1 bn spent on foreign aid would be much better spent on, well, almost anything.

Except he’s wrong.  Yes, of course there’s inefficiency, and even corruption, in foreign aid.  But the principle of foreign aid is sound.  Apart from Jonathan Bartley’s point that it’s a disgrace that the world’s fifth-largest economy can’t spare actually what is only a little of its income on some of the world’s poorer parts, there’s no logic to the cut-foreign-aid argument.

In fact, logic surely dictates the opposite:  if we help other countries develop well (fairly and sustainably), then we will de facto discourage emigration from those countries and immigration to our own.  Is this not obvious?

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A Taxing Problem

Listening to David Aaronovitch on the Beeb has made me think yet again about taxation.  According to a number-cruncher, we spend 30p of every £1 on social security, health 20p, education 10p, defence 5p, interest on national debt 5p, police 5p.  Of the rest comes everything else – including environmental stuff (it’ll be interesting to see this in thirty years’ time, when we’ve so screwed the environment that it’ll be our biggest expenditure).

Another number-cruncher said that 78% tax is paid by the highest household earners.  The top 1% of income tax payers pays 27% of tax.  That’s very generous of them.  However, they earn over £160,000.  At that gross salary (according to moneysavingexpert.com), you’d pay £57,800, which seems like a whack-loada-tax – and you have £6,724 NICs.  However, that still leaves a nice net pay of £94,476.  Leaving aside the fact that that is more money than I’ll ever earn gross (I’m not envious…), that is more than any individual actually needs to live a comfortable life on.

But we need to do something to plug the widening gap between tax revenues and expenditure.  Not house-based taxes, perhaps.  The last valuation was in 1991 – but to re-evaluate house prices would cripple lots of people (yes, including me) whose houses are in the South-East and who can only just about afford the mortgage.

The parties all have their suggestions for improvements.  My alignment, of course, is with the Greens.  But we need to go further – even to have a change of attitude.  We need a two-pronged attack on the problem of taxation.  First, we need to make taxation not something to avoid (or evade), but something to be enthusiastic about and proud of paying.   Secondly, we need to make how our taxes are being spent much more open.  Both of these things are possible with the internet.

A friend suggested that we could publish “taxpayer-of-the-week” – we could look on those who pay the most taxes as philanthropists, not fat cats; benefactors, not bankers.

Councils could also publish easy-reading version of their budgets and accounts, so we know how much they’ve spent on the police, the local schools etc.  The NHS ditto.

Here are some possibilities and problems from the Open Knowledge Foundation:

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Hard [sic] by a mighty pine tree

Hurrah for olde smutte.  (I heard this performed by TSSAI to the tune of the Friar and the Nun.)
It was my chance, not long ago,
by a pleasant wood to walk,
where I unseen of any one
did hear two lovers talk;
& as these lovers forth did pass,
hard by a pleasant shade,
hard by a mighty Pine tree there,
their resting place they made.

” In sooth,” then did this young man say,
” I think this fragrant place
was only made for lovers true
each others to embrace.”
he took her by the middle small,—
good sooth I do not mock, —
not meaning to do any thing
but to pull up her [smo..] block

whereon she sate, poor silly soul,
to rest her weary bones,
this maid she was no whit afraid,
but she caught him fast by the [stones] thumbs ;
whereat he vexed and grieved was,
so thai his flesh did wrinkle;
this maid she was no whit afraid,
but caught him fast hold by the [pintle – you can guess] pimple

which he had on his chin likewise; —
but let the pimple pass;—
there is no man hear but he may suppose
she wee]re a merry lass.
he boldly ventured, being tall,
yet in his speech but blunt,
he never ceased, but took up all,
and caught her by the [c***] plump.

And red rose lips he kissed full sweet :
quoth she, “I crave no succour.”
which made him to have a mighty mind
to clip, kiss, & to [f***] pluck her
into his arms. “nay! soft!” quoth she,
” what needeth all this doing ?
for if you will be ruled by me,
you shall use small time in wooing.

“for I will lay me down,” quoth she,
“upon the slippery segs,
& all my clothes I’ll truss up round,
and spread about my [legs] eggs,
which I have in my apron here
under my girdle tucked;
so shall I be most fine and brave,
most ready to be [f-] ducked

unto some pleasant springing well;
for now its time of the year
to deck, & bath, & trim ourselves
both head, hands, feet & gear.”

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