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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Tech-mentality, feminism and the etiquette of calling out.

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Quick, probable, apology for the prose here, I’m in the middle of Work Writing, which means my head’s all full so I thought I’d get this down before it goes.

I’ve just read this really great article about Femen, and the importance of understanding them in their Ukrainian context when we’re criticising them for maybe not hitting all the right notes in intersectionality. The only criticism I’d have of this article is that it’s maybe over-praiseful of “intersectional, progressive western feminists” but that’s probably just because I’m innately distrustful of the word “progressive”; besides which, that’s a group that probably includes me, and certainly includes nearly all of the New Statesman’s readership for this piece, so fair cop.

All of the conversation around Femen here on your Friendly Neighbourhood Internet is feeding into another conversation that I actually think blogger/ tech-head/ regular tech-addicts need to have REALLY FAST and this is coming from a massive “mea culpa” position on my part.

Intersectional feminism, and a politics based in privilege analysis* operate on a “calling out” system, under the slogan “check your privilege.” The deal is, I’ll call you on your shit, you call me on mine. Now, that’s a hard thing to do, calling someone on their shit, and it’s hard to be called. Jesus, I fucked up this week and a lot of people did, in the way we attacked Helen Lewis, and I was brought pretty low when my friend called me out on it. So, when Femen have taken an approach to muslim women that we (us! Over here! White, cis-gendered, All The University Degrees – you’re the people I’m addressing) that we don’t like, we’ve denounced them really really loudly. Made fun of them, sent them up, posted, blogged, re-blogged, tweeted and re-tweeted pictures of muslim women who oppose them. Those pictures are FINE, but there’s a crowing delight, really, to the way that we’ve used them.

And I gotta ask: are you really as PISSED OFF as you sound? You really so mad you have to tweet ten times and post three pictures, and swear and attack Ukrainian women demonstrating in a culture that is ravaged by an intersection of poverty and patriarchy that, actually, our liberal sisters running big-money anti-trafficking charities are maybe more constantly aware of than we are.

Because, the internet’s a really great place for angry and sad people to find matching voices and support, and like minds maybe, or even just minds that are currently paying attention – which is pretty major for a lot of us over here on Team Dodgy Mental Health.

But it’s also a place in which, for exactly those reasons, we can become braying attack dogs, performing our radicalness as anger for one another, egging each other on to say angrier things, be more disparaging, safe behind our keyboards and yet, exultant in that feeling of Having A Gang! At long fucking last, right?

And we DO have a gang now, and that’s really great. And we’ve got to be able to call people out and have conversations. But there’s something troubling me about the current buzz on “intersectionality” and specificity all round – I haven’t figured out what it is yet, and obviously I do fundamentally believe that my feminism WILL be intersectional, or it will be bullshit. But I’ve gotta be really careful: when I attack Helen Lewis, Femen, others in the past: I’m attacking people with varying degrees of vulnerability who are varying distances from Getting It Right. We attack other women much louder and with more vitriol than we do men – this is weird. It’s weird and it’s not right, and it’s related to feelings of betrayal and in some places probably jealousy. All of those patriarchal constraints that we’re SO AWARE OF.

Like, on the Helen Lewis thing, by the way: there was such an awful lot of reason for criticism. But it was mainly I think criticism of carelessness, of callousness. We need to use the right language for the thing we’re actually feeling, at the particular time. Read the article twice, you know? And maybe start with, “hey does anyone wanna talk about this thing.” Especially if you’re not totally clear on the background of the people you want to call/ attack. There are plenty of invisible things that de-privilege people.

So I’m just saying, really: we’ve got a community of intelligent, angry people here. And critical faculties most other groups can only dream of. So, I want to be more careful. And I want the space for debate WIDER open, not with more locked-down profiles and people blocked and all that. It’s actually just causing festering and frustration.

And when the bad guys show their colours, shoot from the hip.

*(I say based: my politics are still fundamentally based in Marxist theories, but privilege is such a massive part of the stuff we interact with day-to-day over here in The Land of Much Privilege, where we can see it clearly and define it exactly).

A letter to lonely and anxious women.

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We’re all sitting at or near our desks late at night.

The ones who have gone somewhere else are enormously aware of the tension between them, and where their desk is.
Some of us are working more than one job.
I should not be taking the time to write this

We feel stupid until what we have written has been rubber-stamped.
Then we assume that we’ve got away with it and they hadn’t really read our work.
We feel like we’re cheating.
We’re waiting to be found out.

We feel like we’re ugly because we’re single.
We feel like we’re ugly because we’re fat.
We feel like we’re unloved because we’re ugly.
We feel unkind because we’re jealous.
We feel uneasy because we never admit to any of that.

Maybe we’re still poor because we’re unsuccessful –
Even though we don’t define success by cash,
There must be some reason
That everything is harder
and the reason must be because what we’re doing
is worse than what everyone else is doing.

Half of us are looking in the mirror to that rationale whilst working on Marxisms.
We feel bad because we ought to know better.
I feel bad because I’m not thin enough, not bright enough, not femme enough, not quiet enough,

and not radical enough not to care.

I don’t think of this as a poem and didn’t intend it as such, but it has come out in fragments, because we are constantly expressing support for one another,

and then turning the false standards we have disavowed inward onto ourselves.
We’ve torn ourselves out of our pattern for systems in the Outside World.

I don’t have any idea how to stop it or how to change it,
but I thought it might be some kind of a start to put a voice to it.

We are all doing this all of the time.
All at our desks, with our books and our computers,
And we’re all feeling the same.

Just… FYI.

Reckless. x x x

The Death of Thatcher: Violence and Delight.

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This will tend to the declamatory, and I don’t care because I have been waiting for Thatcher to die my whole life.

Because I was raised by people who care, because I was raised by people who are informed, because I was raised by people who didn’t shield their children from the ugly/ beautiful moments in history. I don’t remember it all but I watched the Berlin Wall come down, watched Mandela get elected, watched Thatcher leave.

People keep saying “we don’t remember” and “it’s not our fight”, and we’ve no reason to be happy or to crow. But I’ve been angry for YEARS. So angry. And trained to run on empathy and compassion and finding that extending those principles as far as I could meant enountering walls raised to shut people out and keep people in, and that empathy and compassion and ideas of liberty and equality meant developing an increasingly systematic analysis of what was wrong in the world and getting this godawful rage and sadness in my gut that, really, does feel physical – and if it weren’t for the weight of all that education, it would probably be violent. It’s what Juliana Spahr called “That police feeling”: the feeling when you’re face to face against a line of cops, and they’re hitting you, and the people you love, because, usually, you went for a walk all together down public streets. The blind rage that wells up when things are unfair, when you are made impotent, when you are crushed without rationality.

So when I see pictures of the front lines at Orgreaves I’ve got at least some idea of what that felt like, albeit on a tiny scale – and my family’s home community is still visibly devastated by Thatcher’s industrial decisions: I’m not ignorant of the long-term effects either. Furthermore, don’t you DARE say I don’t remember something that is still going on. We can’t use our unions because of her. In fact, the NUS has just elected a leader who “doesn’t believe in universities”: it was Thatcher’s gutting and de-naturing of the unions that made this possible.

I’ve been celebrating since Monday, but I’ve also been battling the very unpleasant feelings that go with having to review everything that she did, and our failure to resist her and her successors – among whom of course I number Milliband and Blair. And I’m not violent. I’m too cerebral to raise my hand to another body – the impact would be puny anyway. I don’t believe that property damage is violence, but I’m not planning on committing that, either.

But she made me this angry. She was one of the major cultural forces in shaping the present British left, such as it is. She and those like her have put hurdle after hurdle after hurdle in our way and I understand the hate with which she acted in her lifetime and I understand the hate she endemicised and the legacy that she has left us with and I HATE HER RIGHT BACK. And I am glad she’s gone and I’m going to drink to it. I never wanted to be filled with rage at every turn but I believe it is the only morally appropriate way to feel – and to be joyful in victory, to love people and to celebrate with them, and to be critical and understand the system,  and to be angry and angry and angry and to tramp the damned dirt down so she cannot get back out even if it turns out that she’s by some freak chance still breathing. We did not take revenge on her body the way that she acted against ours. We are not harming a human. But a death is a historical moment, and it transfroms an ongoing narrative into a history: Thatcher is gone, and we should treat her memory as it deserves to be treated: with anger, disgust and sadness.

Sadness that we couldn’t stop her in her tracks. Sadness that we didn’t beat her. And the anger and resolve to stand against the tide of her legacy now. If the assault would only stop long enough to let us recover a little and draw breath.

Consensus Decision Making: Guide to Facilitation.

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This is from the archives. I don’t know if it’s been superannuated, but a while ago I merged a few different facilitation guides into something shorter but hopefully still relatively comprehensive: for people who want to have a meeting where everyone gets to talk, but which still RUNS TO TIME.

Facilitating A Meeting! Consensus Process and Basic Principles.

Consensus Decision Making: CDM.

CDM is a particular process that is favoured by non-hierarchical organisations and many feminist groups. The idea is that a) it fosters an inclusive environment, where everybody feels equally able to contribute and it is possible (via the hand signals) to see how people are feeling even if they wouldn’t feel particularly confident jumping in and speaking straight away ; and b) it allows groups to come to a decision that everyone is *actively* happy with – particularly important in direct action situations, when everyone needs to be committed to the actions on hand.

Hand Signals

Consensus hand signals are based in British sign-language.

  1. Indication. If somebody wants to contribute to the meeting, they raise one hand or one finger.
  2. Point of Clarification. *This is the most abused hand signal!* If somebody can provide FACTUAL CLARIFICATION on a point, and so move the discussion forward, they can raise two fingers, and jump the queue. Can also be used to ask a clarifying question. This must not be used for political contributions or voicing opinions.
  3. Positive consensus and agreement.  Indicated by waving both hands (“Wavy hands”, “Jazz Hands”).This is how you indicate agreement with another speaker or, at the point of making a decision, positive consensus.
  4. No consensus and disagreement. Indicated with an inversion of the above agreement hand-signal, with hands pointing towards the floor (“Downward hands”). This is used to indicate disagreement, or no consensus at the point of making a decision. Facilitators should caution people to be respectful when employing this gesture in meetings, and not to combine it with other emphatic indications of dissent.
  5. Process. Indicated by making a triangle out of index fingers and thumbs, this is used to make a proposal about the way that the meeting is being run, for example to suggest that it might make sense to take a decision on one aspect of an issue before moving on with discussing the rest of it. This hand-signal also jumps the queue.
  6. Technical Point. This is an issue external to the meeting: for example, if time is running out and the group will have to leave the space and re-convene, or if there is a problem with the space, like a fire (in direct action situations, technical points often relate to the proximity of the police or other hostile elements). Indicated by forming a ‘T’ shape with both arms. This hand signal also jumps the queue.
  7. Proposal. The facilitator can call for proposals for action, or try to put them together themself from the way that the meeting is going. A proposal is indicated by using both hands to make a letter ‘P’.
  8. Amendment. If a proposal covers nearly all of what someone feels needs to be done, or if they want to alter it slightly, but not so substantially that they think it should be an entirely different proposal, then they can offer a “friendly amendment”. This is indicated by using both thumbs and fore-fingers to make a letter ‘A’. This looks a bit like the ‘process’ signal but such confusion can be quickly resolved.

 Meeting Process.

In small group meetings, people will be sitting in a circle.

  1. At the beginning of the meeting, do a “go round”. This is where everyone in the circle gives their name, and “checks in”: tells the group something about what they want to get from the discussion, so that everyone knows what page people are on; this is a good way of focussing meetings. During the check-in, some activist groups also ask everybody to give their preferred personal pronouns (e.g. “She and Her”, “He and Him”, “They” or “Zhe” – there are other variations too). This is in order to make the group environment trans-inclusive, so that nobody has to go through the meeting being addressed in the wrong way.
  2. Set out the basic aims of the meeting. In a planning or organising meeting, this should be about what the group is for and what it aims to decide, e.g., how the group is going to build for its next event. In a theoretical or political discussion, this should be about what is going to be discussed, where those ideas have come from and so on. This section will vary for theoretical workshops and other meetings of different kinds.

At this point in the meeting, the facilitator should call for agenda points, or put them together out of what people have contributed during the check-in. It is sensible to put a time-cap on each agenda point – usually slightly shorter than this section will really take, to allow for over running.

  1. Temperature check. When discussion has been going on for a while, the facilitator should do a temperature check to find out if people are ready to move towards a decision. It works on a sliding scale, so that people in the meeting can indicate how strongly they feel about it. Those in complete agreement raise their hands up high and indicate positive consensus. Those in complete disagreement use the “downward hands” gesture, low down towards the ground/their lap. Those who are less certain can show their conviction by indicating consensus somewhere in between.




  1. Taking a decision. First, the facilitator offers or calls for proposals. Then, the facilitator calls for amendments. The facilitator then repeats the amended proposal very clearly, and asks for a show of consensus. This runs as follows:

a)      Please indicate consensus (people in support of the proposal indicate positive consensus).

b)      Please indicate if you have any strong reservations (people opposed to the proposal indicate negative consensus).

c)       At this point, if there is a good deal of disagreement, the facilitator calls for one of the dissenting voices to be heard, and then for somebody in support of the original proposal to respond to them.

d)      If there is NO strong opposition to the proposal, the facilitator should call for “stand asides”: this is a chance for people to indicate that they have no particular objection to the proposal, but neither do they feel strongly enough to agree with it out right.

e)      Call for BLOCKS to the decision. This is an opportunity for people to say that, if the decision goes ahead, they will leave the group and have no further part in the activity for the time being.

f)       Re-iterate every decision that is made, and ask whoever is taking minutes to confirm that it has been recorded. If action points come up, make sure somebody volunteers to bottom-line them, and that their name goes down in the minutes too!

Guiding Principles for Facilitators.

  • Throughout the meeting, keep in mind the relative privilege of different people in the group – there are a lot of factors that make people less confident in group discussions, and you should try to make sure that the meeting is not dominated by one group of people. If for example a lot of men have been speaking and a woman is indicating, it is okay for her to jump the queue, although you should make what you are doing clear. Say, “I am going to take this speaker next in order to address the gender balance of the discussion”.
  • Call for more voices regularly – if the same few people keep indicating and speaking time and again, ask if anyone who hasn’t spoken before wants to speak.
  • Keep the stack short. The stack is the list of people who are going to speak; if there are more than five people in the stack at one time, it is likely that the discussion will have changed tack considerably by the time you reach the end of it. People can always return to points that have been made earlier on. Furthermore, the longer the stack is, the more likely you are to forget who was in it!
  • Take a co-pilot. Further to that point, it’s always worth asking somebody else if they’re willing to co-facilitate at the beginning of a meeting – particularly in a large group discussion. This can mean anything from knowing that there’s someone you can call on to keep the stack if it must necessarily be long, to dividing up the session into sections between you or having them take over proceedings at a certain point. You should also make sure that someone else is acting as scribe – it is impossible to facilitate effectively if you are also taking minutes.
  • If somebody does abuse the direct response or any of the other “queue jump” hand signals, make it clear to them the first time they do it that they have used the wrong form of indication. If they do the same thing again, tell them that you will think twice about calling on them in future. It’s okay to sound slightly tough; if all of the processes are enforced then the meeting will run smoothly.
  • Be calm, and take your time. Do not let people make you feel rushed! Meetings can be stressful and your role is the most stressful one of all. If people are speaking at the same time, then loudly and clearly ask for everybody to be quiet, pause for a moment and then open the stack again. Meetings that seem to start off quite slowly are usually the most efficient, as they take the time to make sure that every voice is heard, and that decisions are underlined when they are made so that they are not forgotten and the same discussion doesn’t have to start again.

Have a happy and efficient meeting!

❤ Reckless.