Jul 10, 2011

Abortion rights and the tabloids (and a bit of Richard Dawkins, too)

Pro choice demo yesterday was super awesome! you can find some photos here and some videos here. The name Nadine Dorries came up a few times, in the chanting and the placards, because she has installed herself as the mouthpiece and media spokesperson of the anti-woman movement in the latter's campaign to inveigle itself into British society as it has into that of the US - with lies, with withholding medical facts from women, with exaggerating and inventing and constantly, constantly attacking non-existent straw men[1].

Nadine Dorries relies on a sympathetic media to spread her lies. And we know who the "sympathetic media" are, don't we? Tabloids. Red tops, who claim to be responding to public opinion but, because of the amount of sheer, well, lies and invention in them, can be doing nothing but leading/informing it. Pulling public opinion further and further to the right, against trade unions, against women, against progress, against fairness and justice and equality.

Well, tomorrow they will do so a little less than today - because one of them, one of the more pernicious and disgusting, is no more. And that, friends, is good news for a feminist like me, as well as for pretty much every other right thinking individual. Sure, Rupert Murdoch hates women maybe a little less than Paul Dacre has, but make no mistake - misogyny is one of the cornerstones of his empire, as it is one of the cornerstone of all patriarchy in its capitalist incarnation[2]. 

Henry Porter writes lucidly in the Observer about what this scandal means to the political system in the UK, the extent of the corruption revealed, the level of damage to public discourse and public trust. Read it, it's really good. He does say just one thing I'm not sure I can agree with though:
News of the World journalists ordered the hacking of as many as 4,000 people including grieving relatives of soldiers and of terror and murder victims because they thought their paper was untouchable. (emphasis mine)
D'you know, I don't think that's true? I can't believe that it is possible to be at the head of this kind of commercial empire and be complacent. On the contrary - you have to be paranoid, as Andy Grove of Intel would say. I think they did it because they were desperate, hungry for copy, sensationalism, scoops - at any cost. Because they were at the top and they were driven as if by the devil himself to stay at the top, or face the full consequences of the long fall.

But it's not impossible to become complacent when you're at the top, and for that complacency to lead to an occlusion of ethics. It's a well known dynamic, which is why Porter went for it of course. And it often happens to people who have been fêted, admired and encouraged in an area of public life that doesn't directly impact on what they really consider their professional life. Like, you know, politics, if you happen to be a linguist. Or atheism when you're, I dunno, a biologist or something.

We have a nice saying in Hebrew: "the urine has risen to his head". I have no idea what the etymology is this is, but it's kind of evocative: where there used to be common sense, arrogance and self importance have imbued with, well, piss. And without question, Richard Dawkins is taking the piss. So the urological metaphor does seem apt after all.

It's easy, when you've had a lifetime of people asking for your opinion, to be misled into thinking that you opinions matter just because they come from you. Noam Chomsky has that little problem. Martin Amis does, too. These are men (funny that) who think we should listen to them because they're them, and they've been listened to for a long time. And, you know, they're wrong.

As is Richard Dawkins. Oh, he's had a good run, with both evolutionary biology and atheism. But he knows sweet fuck all about feminism, and the toe-curlingly embarrassing spectacle of him sniping in the comment section of a blog like some aggrieved teenager must go no further. Enough, Professor Dawkins. You have nothing to say on this subject that will enrich the general discourse. You are speaking without any prior knowledge[3] on the issues.

And we know what we think in the sceptic community of people who expound their strident views without any prior knowledge of the subject, don't we? It's kind of similar to what we think of tabloids and right wing demagogue politicians, really.

[1] As in the "teach girls to say no" example. We do this already of course, where parents don't (paradoxically) opt their children out of SRE education, because the curriculum includes discussion of when to not have sex. But hey, if you can make yourself sound righteous, and make women's lives a little worse, at the expense of the pinko commie state education system, why not, right?

[2]Misogyny is the biggest theme in advertising; 70% of all purchasing decisions are made by women, and advertisers have met the challenge of convincing women to choose their products by playing on and enhancing the feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred. From the cosmetics industry to toilet bleach to scented candles, the message is the same: women are dirty and unacceptable unless they spend money on our products. And advertisers own the media. Its only currently viable model for distributing mass media at a profit, which is exactly why a) The New of the World could not continue once advertisers began to pull out, and b) Murdoch is desperate for control of BSkyB and its lucrative pay per view revenue stream (to break free of advertisers).

[3] Before anyone jumps up to accuse me of not knowing anything about Richard Dawkins' feminist educational credentials: nobody who's read more than a couple of blog posts about feminism in their life would employ either the "you haven't got it as bad as some other women, so shut up" or the "there are much more important topics to discuss than your piddling little problems, so shut up" gambits. Because feminists don't tell women to shut up, duh. He did both in one paragraph, so: stupid.

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