Thinking through and beyond ‘sexism’:

Thinking through and beyond ‘sexism’:

Reflections on the challenge for the ‘Left’ (and willing others).

 Val Walsh

This essay is a plea to give misogyny and heterosexism the boot: to give the same concerted attention our society (and latterly Liverpool) has rightly moved to give to racism and homophobia.[1] In Liverpool, these shifts have come on the back of violence, murder and grief: attacks on young black men and young gay men; for example, the racist murder of Anthony Walker in 2005 (b1987)[2] and the homophobic murder of Michael Causer in 2008 (b1989).[3] But the routine assault, rape and murder of girls and women in the city region, whether in their homes, in a taxi or on the street (notably between Friday evening and Sunday morning)[4] has failed to ignite the same widespread horror, revulsion or publicity.  And civic concern and action remains scattered through the various women’s groups and organisations that try to pick up the pieces after the violence.

Bonding rooted in misogyny and heterosexism.

Entrenched, all-male environments, whether football, the military, the City, the trade unions or Parliament, are sub-cultures that have variously institutionalised élitist, sexist, racist, homophobic language and behaviour, designed to perpetuate hierarchy, dominance and submission; and these practices have remained largely hidden, unscrutinised and unchallenged until relatively recently, in the wake of C20 and C21 anti-racism, the American Civil Rights Movement, post colonial theory and politics; and sexual politics (Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation movements).

In media and political circles, this largely remains the case, particularly for gender issues. For example, in a recent discussion chaired by Samira Ahmed[5] contributors were invited to compare the relative merits of the Olympics (feelgood fair play and harmony) and UK football (violence, sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. and inflated financial rewards). The discussion floundered and was ultimately superficial, being hampered by two (connected) factors: first, contributors seemed unaware they were not comparing like with like; second, there was no gender analysis brought to bear on the issues under discussion.

There was no reference to the fact that Olympic athletes are a collection of mixed and diverse people, regarding gender, class, culture, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc., whereas footballers constitute a sub culture made up of all male teams with a notably heterosexist vibe, a narrower social class base, and recurring problems with racism, amongst both players and fans. The key factor surely in addressing the phenomena of male violence, racism, misogyny, homophobia in British football, is the issue of masculinity  (NB working-class and/or celebrity) and the problem of a men-only players and managers institution sitting uneasily astride its working-class roots and contemporary neoliberal, for profit, celebrity culture, which has legitimised these attitudes and behaviours for too long and which continues to ‘protect its own’ when a public crisis blows up, and generally resist change (censure and/or regulation). Heterosexist masculinity and its misogyny have so far been kept off the agenda for change in UK football, as they were kept out of this TV debate.[6]

Meanwhile, another male-dominated institution is feeling the strain. Reflecting on the latest attempt by the General Synod of the Church of England to decide whether to allow women to become bishops, Dr. Giles Fraser, priest-in-charge at St Mary’s Newington in south London,[7]  reports that:

 The current bishops didn’t think the proposed new legislation as it stood afforded sufficient protection to              those who think a ‘”woman bishop is an ontological impossibility”’. [8]

This, he observes, is ‘commonly referred to as a “deep theological conviction” – though the difference between this conviction and common or garden misogyny has never fully been explained’.[9]

AndBea Campbell wrote recently, on the occasion of the election of the first ever woman leader of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, about the dismal track record of the trade unions in the UK: ‘wrought in the image of men’, where ‘institutionalized sexism has been part of the Labour movement’.[10] It is a history of resisting and containing women’s influence and opportunities (notably, working-class women and women of colour; and stigmatising middle-class women) in the world of paid employment; and worse.

This is the back story of many older men on the left (Freedland’s generational fault-line[11]); the culture within which their politics has been forged and their manliness exercised. Just like in the organisations and institutions the unions were set up to oppose, patriarchal relations within the trade union movement have entailed the subjugation of men by men, not just women by men. O’Grady’s unopposed election signifies a shift in attitudes and values, affording a moment of optimism. 

These examples further demonstrate the gendered continuity over time and across social class differences in the UK, with regard to the lack of value placed on women by men’s organisations and institutions, and the role of patriarchy and its twin engines, misogyny and heterosexism, in perpetuating gender-based exploitation and injustice: the resistance to allowing women to ‘get too close’ (beyond the bedroom) on our terms.

And while the examples of routine, extreme and overt sexism experienced and witnessed by writer and broadcaster Bidisha[12] on her first visit to Palestine in 2011, could be viewed as culturally specific evidence, they nonetheless face the western woman reader with both a sense of recognition of behaviours still familiar here in the public domain (p27, 57,91,93, 94/5), for example:

[A colleague] asks him a question about his work. He stares at her in loathing for five seconds Then he answers with one word and immediately goes back to talking to a man – any man’ (p91/2).

A sense of shock, at behaviours now thought to be removed from UK streets and workplaces (p17, 83, 84/5), for example:

I’m talking about the shouts, leers, stares, tongue-clicks, whistles, jeers, beeps and good old-fashioned hounding (p83).[13]  [Reminiscent of the UK Parliament?]

And, on reflection, some behaviours not yet uncommon enough:

The sloppy-lipped facial gestures, slimy handshake and unwanted touching (p85).

While it is true that, as Sara Khan[14] notes, following the murder of 17 year old Safilea Ahmed by her parents in Warrington, Cheshire, ‘ethnic minority women can face multiple barriers and injustices: racism in society, and misogyny within their homes and communities’,[15] as a society we must resist the desire of sections of the media, the political establishment and extra-parliamentary bigots (such as the BNP and the EDL[16]) to make racist capital from such shocking situations. Whatever the ethnicity or social class of the perpetrators, it is misogyny that drives predatory sexual and gender-based violence and abuse, including turning it into a business opportunity, such as the trafficking of girls and women, the grooming of girls, and lap dancing clubs. And the misogyny that Muslim women are subjected to will not (as Khan, perhaps inadvertently, seems to imply) be confined to their homes and community, but will also be encountered in the wider society.

‘Whore’, ‘slut’, ‘slag’, ‘bitch’ were among the insults secretly filmed on the streets in Brussels by Sofie Peeters.[17]  At the same time, the men’s sexual harassment included asking for sex. In other words, what is desired is sex with a ‘whore’ / ‘slut’ / ‘slag’ / ‘bitch’  (perhaps, in this case, white European or the woman whose head is not covered), thereby neatly combining racism and misogyny.  For these men, sex is ‘dirty’: both taboo and obsession; wielded as power and violence against girls and women.[18]

Stieg Larsson, pre-eminent Swedish anti-fascist writer and activist, and described by his biographer and former colleague, Jan-Erik Pettersson, as ‘a conscious feminist‘,[19] became convinced that ‘feminism and anti-racism were linked’.[20] He contrasted the media and political coverage of the murder in 2002 of Fadime Sahindal, a young, Swedish Kurdish woman, by her father, and the murder of 22 year old Melissa Nordell from Âkersberga, ‘who was ill-treated, tortured with a stun gun, subjected to sexual abuse and finally suffocated by her former boyfriend’.[21] Larsson wrote: ‘there was no attempt to explain this murder in cultural terms. Such reasoning is exclusively reserved for “immigrants”, “Kurds” or “Muslims”’.[22]

Pettersson’s account of Larsson’s public persona, his ‘conscious feminism’, relentless anti-fascist activism, investigative journalism and, finally, culminating in The Millennium Trilogy[23] and the creation of the unforgettable character of Lisbeth Salander, ‘a dream of omnipotence in the shape of a victim of violence’[24], conveys  Larsson’s holistic grasp of issues that others on the Left and Right preferred to keep apart; what I am here referring to as the hate-and-fear package of fascist ideology and its ‘claim’ on mainstream thinking. Pettersson mentions the impact of Theweleit’s two volumes about the Freikorps, and how extensively it was reviewed at the time, in the late 1970s (when Larsson would have been in his mid 20s). His summary (lucid, disturbing, poignant even) makes clear the relevance of Theweleit’s research and theorising of fascism and masculinity, for Larsson’s own political activism and (subsequently) the writing of TheMillennium Trilogy:

What Theweleit was chiefly interested in was men’s attitude to sex and their complex relationship with   women and women’s bodies. How their concepts of purity and motherhood were at odds with a      compelling and anxiety-ridden sexuality: everything that they cannot admit, cannot talk about, but that     bursts out in extreme situations of violence and lack of social inhibition in which these men find      themselves, expressed in abusive fantasies directed at those defined as the enemy, and most especially at women.[25]

It is a terrible indictment, over 40 years after Theweleit’s publications, that Pettersson’s statement stands as testimony to the extent that this analysis has remained ‘specialist’; and its consequences for mainstream society and politics largely ignored. But this could be about to change.

The mass murder perpetrated in the name of militant Norwegian nationalism by Anders Behring Breivik  (white and middle class) in Oslo and Utøya island in 2011, that left 77 mainly young Labour Party members dead, and had been five years in the planning, has culminated in a verdict of guilty, that has consequences beyond those of simple justice.[26]  Because the Court refused to allow a plea of insanity, ‘the Breivik verdict means the hard right cannot distance itself from his rhetoric of hate.’[27] (Emphasis added.) Psychiatrist Tad Tietze argues that this ‘clarifies the connection between his crimes and how rightwing ideologies have infiltrated an apparently “sane” mainstream discourse’ (drawing inspiration from, in the UK, the likes of Melanie Phillips, Mark Steyn, Pamela Geller and the EDL). As a consequence:

This is a problem that cannot be expunged simply by labelling it as mad, but must be tackled as the political threat it is.[28]

Stieg Larsson understood this as a young anti-fascist activist in the 1970s, and it fuelled his activism and his writing, including The Millennium Trilogy.Most people are likely to recognise that the social context of the Lisbeth Salander character is that ‘the defenceless trapped in the claws of the powerful have usually had no other choice than to submit’.[29] The cultural and political significance of Larsson’s creation is that she confronts and overturns this reality, and therein lies the personal/political subversive power and therapeutic imaginary of this character, especially for victims of violence and abuse, of whom there are many:[30]


             [But] for Salander the whole point is not to submit under any circumstances. Her story is a fantasy on how              the most oppressed and abused can become invincible if they do not allow themselves to be broken.[31]

This fierce moral and physical determination/desperation to survive and thrive[32] lies at the heart of all liberatory struggles, not least the feminist project. And avoiding being broken is not simply an individual effort, but a collective achievement.

John Harris points to the difference between politics and cutural action (and their relative strengths and purpose within social struggles):

             Politics is about increment and compromise; in the cultural sphere, you are free to be as exacting and       impossible as you please, and thereby say and do things that the moment actually demands.[33][Emphasis   added.]

This is what Larsson did in his work / activism, and in turn, he understood the power of crime fiction for his political purposes. Pettersson describes the Trilogy as:

             not least an exposition of female suppression as society’s permanent legacy, perpetuated by thosein        positions of respectability or authority. . . .  and of the everyday disparagement of women, which has the     potential to flare up into outbursts of raging hatred’.[34] [Emphasis added.]

In the home, on the street. . . . Or on stage.

At the internationally renown culturefest that is Edinburgh each August, Tanya Gold reports that at the Edinburgh comedy festival 2012 ‘there are rape and domestic violence jokes bouncing through the town (sic)’.[35]  As entertainment and tourist attraction for some; as sexual harassment and traumatic reminder for others. The examples she quotes are deeply shocking, and having conveyed the unrestrained intensity of these men’s misogynist ‘comedic’ material, she makes the well worn feminist point that:

             All this normalises and diminishes violence towards women: if it is easy to laugh about, it is hard take         seriously.[36]

‘Misogyny ‘ she argues, ‘has been a constant in standup, since the feminist revolution got shagged by Loaded.’[37] But it is doubly disturbing that many of these ‘comedians’ are young men, with famous, older role models, the likes of Russell Brand, Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle. (Now there’s a sexy line-up.) After describing one particularly gruesome standup act, Gold concludes: ‘This is not comedy, of course, but rage disguised as comedy’.[38]  This is street misogyny flaunted on stage for public approval and applause, and designed to render the audience complicit through laughter. These guys are just being themselves, and like football, nobody on the inside of the institution seems to be willing to stop them. Gold notes gloomily:

             Comedians that don’t do misogynist material are protective of those that do, because they are wary of    censorship and contemptuous of hecklers’.[39]

There’s that male bonding rooted in misogyny and heterosexism again, in yet another male-dominated area of public life. And like the others described here, this is definitely the personal as political. And ‘professional’. For without women in particular as their comedic ‘material’, through which they can give vent to their misogynist sexual fantasies and fears, they would lack a script: their ‘acts’ would be cut short. And at the risk of sounding like a footballer: ‘pricks’, unaroused, would droop.

Like the hecklers who attempt to challenge the misogyny of these UK standups, Pussy Riot, the anti Putin, young women’s punk band in Moscow,[40] has attracted virulent misogyny. One prominent pro Putin writer twittered:

             Not one normal (sic) Russian person would ever support the ‘acts’ of these cunts. Note that only emigrants, fags and kikes support them.[41]

There’s that hate-and-fear package again: the fascist mindset and language[42] neatly combining racism, homophobia and misogyny. He could do standup at the Edinburgh comedy festival…….. he’d fit right in.

But there are positive lessons for those of us despairing of mainstream UK politics:

             Putin may have more serous critics, but Pussy Riot have shown the west how artistic dissent can still          make a difference. . . . The trio are an object lesson in what cultural provocation can do, while orthodox               politics often remain           impotent.[43]

The evidence suggests that, like Hitler’s Freikorps, and the misogynists roaming the streets of Gaza, Brussels, Moscow or Liverpool, for example, for these men, women and sex are both taboo (shock value) and obsession. At this point, dear reader, we must surely conclude that societies are getting something badly wrong about the masculinity ‘scripts’ on offer for too many boys and men. Misogynist masculinity is not a side dish requiring some minor adjustment to its flavour or presentation; it is the famed but flawed main course, which is beyond salvage, and needs binning.

It is not class or cultural difference that is proven by these examples, but the sameness of certain men’s behaviour towards girls and women, across cultures, communities and societies, tracing the line of misogynist desire and violence across time and place. That Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Abuse (SGBVA), now an international term/category, is wholly unacceptable and illegal in UK society, is a message that has not been sufficiently promoted within all sections of our society.  As a society, we are therefore equally responsible for the murder of Safilea Ahmed, as we were for the murder of Anthony Walker (2005), Sophie Lancaster (2007)[44] and Michael Causer (2008). It’s 2012, but:

             While the UK has legislative recognition of domestic violence for women, public perception and universal              practice are yet to consistently demonstrate the same level of recognition. Two women are killed every week by a partner or ex-partner. The measure of domestic abuse experienced by younger women is yet to be quantified.[45]

The judge sentencing Elliot Turner, aged 20 (05 2012) to a minimum of 16 years for the murder of his girlfriend, Emily Longley, aged 17, had this to say:

             Loving someone is not telling them they are a whore, it is not trying to control them, it is not threatening              them . . . . You did not love her, she was your trophy.[46]

If living with misogyny, homophobia and/or racism, for example, doesn’t kill you, it will certainly make you ill. And this puts too many women in the hands of mental/health practitioners. This might not guarantee escape or even survival.

White UK taxi driver, John Warboys, was found guilty of 19 charges of drugging and sexually assaulting 12 women; linked to 85 sex crimes; and suspected of being responsible for more than 100 attacks.[47] The professional incompetence of police officers was acknowledged too late:

             Last year, an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) inquiry found Warboys remained free to               prey on women because officers made serious mistakes and failed to take victims seriously.[48]  [Emphasis        added.]

This contempt for women’s words as evidence, to be taken seriously, testifies to a combination of misogyny /racism / social class prejudice, that police officers bring to the job from their own personal lives. Have we learnt nothing from, for example, the long drawn out investigation of Yorkshire’s white serial killer of women, Peter Suttcliffe, who was allowed to escape arrest for years, largely because women identified as prostitutes neither counted as credible witnesses, nor mattered as dead victims?[49] This combination of sexual categorisation and contempt is also manifest in the high incidence of sexual attacks on women with disabilities, dementia and/or mental health issues. And most of this abuse takes place within the family or in residential accommodation at the hands of those with an institutional duty of care.[50]  Like prostitutes, or abused wives / partners / daughters, these vulnerable women are accessible fodder (their status as human beings/women annulled) for the abuser’s sexual fantasies, and his internalised sense of entitlement for sexual power/dominance as a man in this society.[51]  In line with their more famous counterparts, cited earlier: Assange, Boyle, Brand, Carr, Eriksen, Galloway, Suttcliffe, Warboys.

In UK society, we do not require girls to throw themselves on the funeral pyre following the death of a husband; nor do we publicly stone a woman to death if she has committed adultery (though individual men murder ‘their’ wives and girlfriends). No longer is a husband allowed to beat his wife with a stick, providing it is no thicker than his index finger; and rape within marriage is now legally recognised. Change has happened, largely as a result of concerted social and political struggle by victims and their supporters. But too many men humiliate, intimidate, violate, abuse, torture, rape and murder girls and women, because they are female (frequently intimates), and because, on the evidence, they see that men can get away with it. As we have seen, society lets it pass.

Stieg Larsson recognised that ‘there really were men who hate women (the title of the first volume of his trilogy in its original Swedish)[52]  far more than we think.’[53] And he argued that the debate on honour killing gave a free hand to Swedish men.[54] Rejecting cultural anthropological approaches, the explanation, he said, was much simpler: ‘The problem is that in male-dominated societies women are killed by men.’[55]

SGBVA is, shamefully, a feature of UK society, in Liverpool as elsewhere. Central to a feminist perspective is the belief that it can and should be stopped and prevented: as an urgent human rights abuse;a public health and well being issue; and as corrosive of both lives and democratic process. Ask yourself: do you agree or disagree with these definitions and with this goal?

As Egyptian novelist and activist, Ahdaf Soueif, observed in response to a question at a recent talk after her involvement in the Arab Spring uprising,[56] ‘I think today any decent man is a feminist’. And at a Liverpool Arab Arts Festival event,[57] after I had asked how women (as opposed to the male poets being showcased) were processing the Arab Spring events, a local activist present, Saad Alshukri, made a point of handing me a  postcard afterwards,[58] with the caption, in Arabic and English: ‘No spring without women’.  Such gestures of solidarity are deeply touching, make me smile, and keep hope alive.

Class and gender issues: the problem of ‘separation’ and political hierarchy.

As Steve Higginson notes, ‘in the post industrial city, the local economy becomes driven by the “service tourism” sector’,[59] and the implications for girls and women can be catastrophic. ‘Misogyny and patriarchy, having been central to industrial society, are now at the core of post industrial society as well.’[60] But local decision makers in Liverpool appear to be still in thrall to Marxist privileging of production as the sole human activity that can account for every form of social experience, a discourse that marginalises, stereotypes or disappears women’s social contributions into the domestic/familial ‘sphere’ . As a consequence, the development of ‘service tourism’ / the sex industry is categorised and promoted unproblematically as job creation, economic expansion. There is no gender analysis brought to bear, resulting in denial of the problem of VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls), and the urgent need, as recently advocated by the Liverpool Women’s Network[61] for the City Council to develop a coherent VAWG policy and practices (as has already been done in Bradford and Lambeth, for example), to make Liverpool a safer City for girls and women.

Lord Herman Ousley, Chair of UK football’s anti-racist campaign, ‘Kick It Out’, recently countered the suggestion that it is time to shift the focus in football from racism to homophobia and sexism, as if racism had been ‘sorted’/eliminated.[62] He is only part right, as well as more than part wrong: his words reiterate the view that homophobia, misogyny and racism occupy separate political ground, involve different sets of people, and are discrete items on a political list, which can be ranked (and by extension, used to divide and pit us against each other).


But the reality is that misogyny, heterosexism, homophobia, racism and male supremacist thinking generally, comprise a social, psychological and political conjunction: as exemplified by Hitler’s Freikorps (who were meant to epitomise the ‘perfected’ masculinity honed by Nazi ideology)[63] and their modern counterparts in Poland and elsewhere. The isolation of these attitudes and behaviours into separate compartments is both wrong (a category error) and dangerous (a strategic mistake): as Stieg Larsson recognised, it allows the far right to inflame tensions and hatred, and thereby claim political relevance.

Before the recent Race Liverpool event,[64] leaflets were being handed out by two white male activists, publicizing a march and demonstration planned for the weekend: ‘Working-class solidarity against racism’.  Asked whether black middle-class anti-racists would be allowed on the march, the first activist I spoke to just looked at me, seeming not to hear what I had said. The second, handing out the leaflet after the event, countered dismissively with: ‘Well, we’ve got to start somewhere’. This, after I had pointed out that the flier’s wording overtly excluded middle-class people’s participation, including women, whatever our ethnic identities. There are a number of problems with ’working-class solidarity against racism’ as a political project:

  • The campaign publicity explicitly privileged identity ([born] working-class) over political values and affiliation; thereby marginalisinganti-racists who do not identify as working-class, but share these social and political concerns. This stance reveals no recognition that different constituencies can identify with each other across social and cultural differences: so history itself is denied.
  • Committed political affiliations and activism, rooted in people’s social experience, and modern, hybrid identities, and forged by spiritual and/or political values, appear to carry no weight with the organizers of ‘working-class solidarity’, compared to the implied virtue, simplicity and ‘fixity’ attributed to being ‘born and bred’ working-class. 
  • This ideological stand positions everyone else as the ‘enemy’, while claiming inherent ‘radical’ credentials (in this case, anti-racist) for working-class identity per se.
  • Marx’s C19 analysis privileges working-class identity as ‘radical’. Yet it has been clear for a very long time that the experience of being black, Jewish, Muslim, working-class, gay, Catholic, a woman, etc., does not in and of itself constitute a ‘radical’/ ‘progressive’ political identity.

             Whilst personal experience undoubtedly influences one’s perspective and understanding, many current              references to it are determinist and essentialist. Experience / identity is substituted for, or deemed to be              equivalent to, politics, as if critical awareness and understanding are inscribed on a person through forms               of oppression, with an implicit or explicit presumption that such awareness is inaccessible to those who     have not ‘lived’ such experiences. Whilst not seeking to deny differences in experience, critical                consciousness involves developing a perspective on, a politics of experience.[65]

      The politics and class identity of many of these men have been forged within the crucible of Marxist analysis, with its emphasis on industrial relations and paid employment as the key determinants of social and political life, and class relations. But Marxist analysis provides no insights into or explanation of women’s lived experience or our lives. For these we had to wait to hear our own voices; in the UK that meant waiting on feminism in the 1970s. For many socialist women, feminist consciousness-raising, activism, research and theory problematised Marxism in ways that meant we could never return to that initial (youthful) theoretical /political position.

      The working-class solidarity discourse also offers no recognition of the resistance (aversion?) of many young women in 2012 to the idea of identifying themselves as ‘working-class’. This may not be an identity they wish to ‘claim’. It may feel too much of a victim status; neither aspirational nor ‘sexy’/‘cool’. Perhaps they fear it would deprive them of their ‘feminine’ identity/credentials, which they know have pre-eminent social and sexual currency in today’s consumerist / celebrity culture. (And this they do aspire to.)[66] For these young women,

there may be no profit in (class) politics (about which, given the role of the media and education, they probably know very little anyway).  And working-class men cannot (nor should they, even if they were interested) dictate the terms of young women’s political involvement. But ignoring them smacks of sexism: the ‘father’ not yet taking the ‘daughters’ seriously, as peers and potential comrades. Not noticing, not listening, not caring.

The sectarianism described above cannot transform society for the better, for at its heart is a classed, gendered and racist binary thinking (with generational overtones) that is content to dig in and look back all the time, refusing to imagine another way. This intransigence, and resistance to political dialogue and alliance as a living breathing process, promises further social and political defeat: no social and political partnerships; no transformation of society’s conditions and major institutions. No change to power relations. No elimination or further alleviation of poverty and other social inequalities and injustice: such as racism, misogyny, homophobia, heterosexism and class-based disadvantage.

Experiential learning is complex and hybrid, and is not just about sharing what we already know. As a creative, intellectual and therapeutic process, it takes us beyond our individuality, the ‘I’, towards a better understanding of the wider social structures and forces that frame and shape us as, for example, service users / activists / citizens / partners / parents / professionals. Experiential learning is therefore also potentially a highly political process, because it involves us in considering power relations and the exercise of power (including our own) in our lives. It opens up new human possibilities (not just intellectual).

This is what academics and activists mean when we cite the power and excitement of theory as part of this process of learning and understanding (feminist theory, post colonial theory, queer theory, disability theory,for example), which engenders new knowledge production, that empowers marginals to both articulate personal experience and work for social change. In other words, theory from the margins constitutes itself not just as intellectual work, but as politics. This critical self reflexive practice is neither a technical nor a ‘private’ matter, but part of a wider, social conversation.[67] Rather than embedding us within a designated, familiar identity group (anarchists, socialists, feminists, service users, working class, community activists, BAME, gay, academics, etc.) it is a process that propels us out into our society: re-equiped, renewed and revitalised.

Issues of social justice have been historically cast in terms of social class divisions and antagonisms in the UK, not least in Liverpool. The equality and social justice issues variously foregrounded by the liberation and identity politics and environmental politics of the period from the 1960s, have been seen as ‘single issue’ campaigns, marginal to ‘proper’ party politics, or as add-ons. Black women were told to ‘get to the back of the bus’ by their male comrades in the American Civil Rights movement, while the men took charge; and in the UK, men on the left have seen gender issues as separate and secondary to social class issues (as have many women on the left). The feminist slogan, ‘the personal is political’, was waiting in the wings…

But these liberation, social justice, environmental, peace and community movements, with their global / international embrace, while lacking coherent parliamentary representation, have changed politics, from a singular, established institution, to a social and political process: so we now talk about the politics of, for example: racism / gender / homophobia / the environment / education / literacy / lap dancing / development /globalisation / oil / food / the media, etc.. These approaches to power, control, ownership (dominance and subordination) have exposed the workings of society and political process (aided most recently by major financial, banking, media and political scandals, plus people’s use of the internet and social media)[68] in ways that go beyond conventional left/right politics and start to reconfigure the relations between previously disparate constituencies and campaigns (acknowledging interconnections); including asking and attempting to answer, ahead of politicians, two key questions:

First: What kind of society do we want to be?

One in which we ‘depend on co-operation, reciprocity and empathy, or one in which [children] learn that we are all rivals who must fend for themselves and not trust others’.[69]  The choice is that stark and straightforward.

Second, with Gary Younge: Who are we? And should it matter in [C21]?[70]

This could be described as a movement (a swarming?) from margin to centre, without abandoning those critical ‘margins’, those fertile, liminal spaces, where political discontent and social creativity well up and are enacted within communities. And without these social justice changes, environmental degradation and chaos will continue to go unchallenged.[71]  And that’s the scenario we will foist on our children and future generations, if we fail to come up with something radically different and fit for purpose: by building a ‘together’, a new ‘we’ that confounds the classic divide-and-rule of the far right: the Tories / UKIP / the BNP, and now the Coalition Lib Dems.. But the signs are not promising ‘at the top’. A new thinktank was launched in May 2012: Class, the Centre for Labour and Social Studies,[72]and there are a number of immediately visible problems with this initiative:

  • First, I counted seven men (mainly MPs and trade unionists) named as involved in its setting up and running; and one woman, journalist Polly Toynbee. (And it’s 2012.)
  • The Labour Party has a serious problem if its ‘thinktanks’, campaigns and policymaking continue to skirt gender issues and generally marginalise women as creative agents for change.
  • Faced with talk of the need to ‘take Labour back to its roots’,[73] the question is: which roots might these be? And which members of society does that automatically leave out in the cold?
  • For most marginals, the years since Labour’s roots have (with some help from Labour governments) afforded substantive changes and opportunities as a result of major social and political movements: anti-racist politics, the women’s liberation movement, lesbian and gay rights, human rights, disability politics, environmental politics, asylum issues.
  • We do not want to go back. That is the task the current ConDem government has set itself, in dismantling the public sector and its values, unravelling human dignity and any semblance of mutual respect and trust, as well as major attacks on democratic process itself. Returning people to squalor, indignity, despair.

We want to continue to expand and build on the changes made, which have helped forge a more diverse, less  

divided and more multicultural society than ever before. So when MP Jon Cruddas, appointed by Ed  

Miliband to shape Labour Party thinking in the run-up to the next general election, declares his stance as ‘Less    The Spirit Level, more what is England?’,[74] my feminist (and socialist) heart sinks. It sinks further, when I read

that Miliband believes that Cruddas has ‘identified key themes – patriotism and tradition – that will help Labour

reconnect with working-class voters’. (Old, male and white, presumably [no disrespect guys, some of you are

really ok]; or those inclined to vote for the BNP perhaps?) It’s as if the last 40+ years of social and political

history (Cruddas teaches Labour history!) never happened. Well it did, and the Labour Party needs to attract

and hold the votes of those who are living proof of those social changes and achievements.


It is clear from this summer-in-the-City scrutiny, that the elephant in the room is misogyny / gender issues / patriarchal masculinity, which have been consistently ignored and denied as party to the social and political conjunction of misogyny / racism / homophobia / heterosexism, suggested here as the fascist package.  


Owen Jones, the thinktank’s media adviser, says it will be ‘a thinktank rooted in the experiences of working people’.[75]  For politicians on all sides, ‘working people’ does not mean, for example: mothers and carers, or homemakers; the unemployed, those with mental/health problems (temporary, chronic or terminal); those with disabilities; anyone on benefits; students or children; or community volunteers.[76]


On the Left, the term ‘working people’ is a substitute for working-class, in an effort to sound more inclusive (and less Marxist), with an eye on the ‘squeezed middle class’. It belongs within the equally problematic rhetoric of ‘hardworking families’: and aside from the contentious issue of defining or debating what we mean by ‘hardworking’, there is also the ethical issue of affording social and political status only to those in a ‘family’ (and perhaps the right sort of family too): so the unattached, or single parent, or same sex parents, or child-free adults living together are overlooked: left out. And this, despite the fact that many of these willl have had to work especially hard over many years, to keep afloat and support loved-ones (whether partners, offspring, or elderly parents). Not to mention the emotional labour of dealing with prejudice, discrimination and abuse, for example.


      The thinktank’s declared ‘core agenda’ is ‘developing economic and industrial policies, and tackling the housing crisis and inequality’.[77] The influence of Marxist assumptions haunts this ‘technical fix’ list. While not denying the importance of economic and industrial policies or housing, aside from missing any reference to the questions raised earlier (what kind of society we want to be, and who we are), I am left in grave doubt about the actual meaning of the word ‘inequality’ here, as it hangs off the end of this list. It is probably a word that should be banned from political use, unless politicians can actually say and debate what it could or should mean, at any point in time. In 2012, it functions as a ‘free-floating’ bureaucratic box to tick: cut loose from the politics of oppression, disadvantage, social justice; poverty, violence and public health, for example, that informed its emergence as a core political category for so many of the C20 liberation and rights campaigns.


There is no excuse for this patronising, lack-lustre, ‘more-of -the-same’ approach, with not a whiff of the values and priorities of the social movements that have marked our society in the C20 and C21.


Mercifully (or elsewhere), UK-based philosopher, Julian Baggini, discerns a shift taking place in the importance attributed to and the understanding of ethics in society, arguing that ‘if ‘morality concerns the ways in which our social interactions affect the welfare of others’,[78] this renders morality ‘essentially social, not personal’,[79]  thereby opening up social, ethical and political possibilities, not as separate issues, but as a powerful conjunction.


And because it is social, that means the only way to deal with it is socially. So we shouldn’t be looking for new moral authorities to replace the church. Rather, we should see public moral issues [such as those raised by Steve Higginson’s research f98 above] as requiring a negotiation between all of us.[80] [Emphasis added.]


And that is pretty much the methodology adopted by American philosopher, Michael Sandel, in both his published writing[81] and his acclaimed (televised) teaching and public lectures, which combine group problem solving / learning / knowledge production, via a mix of: exposition, exploratory questioning, analysis, conversation, attentive listening, exchange and reflection. Instead of the parent-child model of authority (of Transactional Analysis) which limits behaviour to telling and instructing on the one side (Sandel as ‘parent’), and listening and obedience (or disobedience) on the other (the rest of us / students as ‘children’), Sandel proffers mutual and convivial thoughtfulness: a different kind of rigorous engagement with ideas and social and intellectual problems; and each other.[82]


This process echoes my own best relationships with women,[83]and it also shifts the emphasis from ‘experts’, towards the mutual development and sharing of expertise. Similarly, sociologist Richard Sennett identifies three essential elements of co-operation: listening skills, subjective expression and empathic skills.[84] The Labour Party needs a methodology that is fit for purpose, for now, rather than harking back to times gone by. To the feminist cry, ‘We don’t need another hero!’, we should perhaps add, in the light of recent political scandals, city fraud and other wide-ranging criminality: ‘We don’t need another (exorbitantly paid) “expert”!’


No going back.

We need a new politics, not a newer version of the old, rooted in traditional and fiercely defended social and political divisions and demarcations. We need a political culture infused with this holistic, syncretistic awareness and ethical purpose, which embodies, for example, knowledge honed by liberation movements, social justice movements and environmental campaigns of the previous 60 plus years; a politics which acknowledges complexity, but does not resort to prejudice, sectarianism or violence to cope with it. As Beresford, Sandel and Sennett demonstrate, it is not just about content, but process; and process as content. It happens that art and culture exemplify this, and perhaps most acutely in times of social turmoil and/or political authoritarianism.[85]


Only this will enable us to build the social and political alliances powerful enough to counter fascist values and behaviours, on the Right or Left; and to forestall economic, environmental and social meltdown (these being connected). This must be the politics of the 99%. Power sharing, not power play. And we need to get a move on, for time is not on our side, because Neo-liberalism and its turbo consumerism have engulfed society and masked the evasion, denial and lies that pass for political process and democracy.  And on the Left, as Ahdaf Soueif noted regretfully on her recent visit to Liverpool,[86] we are still too inclined to attack each other, instead of facing down the enemies of social justice, democracy and multiculturalism.


‘Keep your eyes on the prize!’ was the American Civil Rights invocation, which still serves to remind us of the conjoined political importance of both unity and strategy (even unity as strategy) in the struggle, for example, against the enemies of the Anthony Walker Foundation’s goals, shared by the Michael Causer Foundation and the Sophie Lancaster Foundation: ‘diversity, equality, harmony’.[87]  In contrast to the Class thinktank’s agenda, this is not a list or a slogan, but a conjunction felt on the nerve endings and in the heart. It is a qualitative statement that provides a conceptual and ethical framework for a social and political project that is neither unambitious nor simplistic. And necessary. It is both a what and a why: simultaneously politics and ethics.


The Liverpool Pride Official Finale this year (05 08 2012) was held in aid of the Michael Causer Foundation. It was the outcome of a working partnership between the union, UNITE North West, the Merseyside Police Gay and Lesbian Support Network, together with Hope [University] LGBT and Love Music Hate Homophobia. Now, if we can just extend that model of partnership a bit . . . .


With the advent of the ConDem government, we have ceded political discourse to a terrifying gang of privileged, over powerful, élitist fraudsters / smug bullies / thieves and thugs; and their PR campaigns and manipulations in the service of their own, longstanding, vested interests. In these two years, lives have been taken, mental/health broken, young people’s aspirations trashed, as the ConDems have set about dismantling the public sector and its values, bit by fast bit, and starting with the most vulnerable, the most fragile, the least well placed: turning society into a ‘war zone’ filling up with victims. While the environment and the economy are abandoned to greedy profiteers, the health and well being of the poorest and least educated is plummeting.[88]  None of this damage is incidental. 80 year old psychiatrist Suman Fernando ‘warns that the coalition has walked away from the vital issue of race in mental health treatment’.[89] And he links this to the wider themes of this essay, for example:


             You can’t mention equalities [within the Department of Health]. There is a sense that race is off the          agenda. It’s the idea of ‘post-race’. That is what they are saying.[90]


Fernando concludes his interview by suggesting that it is crucial for BME activists to build closer ties with service users and revise their campaigning approach. ‘Maybe we should be making more alliances.[91]  [Emphasis added.] Being, for example, BAME, gay, a woman. working-class, disabled, a carer, poor, uneducated, stigmatised, homeless, abused or violated, in a racist, homophobic, misogynist, class-prejudiced society, makes you ill (and/or maybe angry). So yes, it is time (and wise) to build those social and political alliances.


This summer in the City, thinking through and beyond ‘sexism’, has tracked the severity of the problem over a ten week ‘media slice’: demonstrating the extent to which violence and abuse in the name of racism / homophobia / heterosexism / misogyny pass unobserved and unchallenged: normalised by ignorance, apathy and indifference; and institutionalised by those in power. Heather Wood, the official investigator for the NHS, with extensive experience of monitoring failing organisations, points to the problem of organisations that are ‘hierarchical, closed and bullying’,[92] and where defensiveness results in only paying lip service to transparency.[93] In our efforts to organise for a better society, a better City, and to build alliances, we should be alert to this problem; another example of process as content: in this case, élitism and authoritarianism.


With so much information and evidence (too) readily available, we are justified in identifying public and political apathy and indifference as culpable complicity with wrongdoing of a high order. Fascist ideology and behaviour is a political threat to a diverse, liberal, multicultural society, as Norway’s recent tragedy made clear. Breivik, recognised by the Court as a far-Right-wing terrorist, intended to kill all the young Labour Party members at the two targetted sites, ‘whom he accused of spreading multiculturalism’.[94]


This summer trail over 8-10 weeks, has made clear that misogyny and heterosexism, as the twin engines of patriarchy, are embedded within our political economy and social institutions at every level, fuelling violence and abuse, delivering racism and homophobia, and trans and disability prejudice, in a society ruled by the same gendered privilege and muscle that busted the banks. Exposing the interconnections between oppressive social practices in this way provides a basis for rethinking our values and our politics before it is too late.


Identifying, challenging and eradicating misogyny and its related oppressor forces must be placed at the heart of any adequate and ethical politics capable of removing the current obstacles to a safer, more equal, and more sustainable multicultural society and economy. The immediate response of Norway’s leader, Jens Stoltenberg, after Breivik’s criminal attacks on Norwegian society, was to declare: ‘The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation’.[95]


No one constituency is capable of bringing down a/this Tory government. None of us can do it on our own, inside our preferred/primary communities of interest and identity. Our power will come from heartfelt and well organised alliance and cooperation (akin to the London Olympics and Paralympics 2012). This is not only a strategic necessity, it is also ‘the change we want to see in the world’ (Gandhi): engendering a process capable of repairing social damage and reconstituting what we mean by ‘the people’ (the 99%) in a multicultural, environmentally intelligent and fair society.


Our task and responsibility as humane citizens in the UK, in Liverpool, must be to build a ‘we’ that can take creative and political responsibility for the peace and reconciliation we, and the earth, need: in the name of diversity/dignity, equality/equity, harmony/sustainability.[96] And in honour of all the Anthonys, Michaels and Sophies, who, because of our negligence, lack of vigilance and complacency as a society, paid too high a price for being who they were: and for ‘standing out’.












Many thanks to those friends / colleagues / comrades / activists (sisters and brothers) who commented on earlier drafts of this essay, shared thoughts, made valuable suggestions, offered encouragement, and generally partook in the continuing conversation. . . .


                                                                                                                                                                10 10 2012 (a)
























[1] To quote gay American activist and San Francisco Mayor, Harvey Milk (1978): ‘At what point do we say Enough? At what point do we stand up, as a total group, and say we will not allow it to happen any more? Enough is Enough!’ [Emphasis added.] Used as part of Lesbian and Gay Foundation campaign, and by The Michael Causer Foundation, Liverpool.

[2]The Anthony Walker Foundation was set up after Anthony’s murder: ‘to promote equality and diversity through education, sport and arts events and to support law enforcement agencies and local communities to reduce hate crime and build cohesive communities’. Its message is: ‘diversity, equality, harmony’.

[3] The Michael Causer Foundation was set up after Michael’s murder: ‘to educate: challenging prejudice; to accommodate: creating a home; to motivate: making a difference, for vulnerable LGBT youth [homeless or at risk] in the North West of England’.

[4] This concentration of sexual violence is exposed by Steve Higginson (08 02 2012) Liverpool after dark: sexsumerism and misogyny in the party city. This was one of the 2011/2012 Critical Research Seminar Series convened by the Centre for the Study of Crime, Criminalisation & Social Exclusion, Liverpool John Moores University. His research powerfully combines local statistics with participant observation undertaken at various key sites around the City, and in theorising the evidence and the issues, he left his audience in no doubt as to the mounting vulnerability and exploitation of young women in the ‘party city’, as well as the question of society’s / the City’s role / responsibility.

[5]Sunday Morning Live(19 08 2012). BBC1.

[6]One of the 3 contributors was Owen Jones, author (2011) of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class. London: Verso. (More on Owen later.)Similarly, BBC2 Newsnight anchor, Emily Maitlis, chaired a discussion on sexual grooming and abuse via the internet (07 09 2012). The panel comprised two women (a Tory MP and a representative from Barnado’s), together with actor Dominic West, who had made a film report on the subject, using interviews with victims, which preceded discussion. The focus was on the girls and young women victims (apart from one boy).The children were seen as the ‘problem’: what could be done about them / for them? The problem of the new social media was discussed; and the dilemma of parents. The subject of the male perpetrators / abusers was ignored; there was no gender analysis; no analysis and/or critique of men and heterosexist masculinity; and certainly no mention of misogyny. No mention that all these men had started out as boys/children,as sons in this society. A gender-neutral approach to the issue of men’s sexual violence and abuse against girls and women has been tried. It is what has kept the grievous status quo ticking over: unchallenged and apparently getting worse.

[7]Famous for resigning in 2011 from St Paul’s Cathedral, London, in support of the presence of the Occupy movement camped on its steps.

[8]Giles Fraser (10 07 2012) Analysis. A mysterious gap between ‘deep conviction’ and plain misogyny. Guardian.  Emphasis added.

[9] Ibid.. [Emphasis added.]

[10]Bea Campbell (11 07 2012)  Frances O’Grady: the future of the TUC. Guardian.

[11]Jonathan Freedland (18 03 1998) Clinton is from a dying breed – the lecherous, male, middle-aged boss. The Guardian.

[12]Bidisha (2012) Beyond the Wall. Writing a path through Palestine. Calcutta: Seagull Books: 17, 27, 57, 83, 85, 91, 93, 95).

[13]See also Angelique Chrisafis reporting from Paris (04 08 2012) Gauntlet of sexism on Brussels streets. Hidden camera films daily harassment of women. Guardian. The film referred to, Femme de la Rue (made by film student Sofie Peeters after moving to Brussels to study) is described as ‘a shocking account of everyday sexist insults in the street’, and has provoked considerable response from women in France, and much sharing of experience by women in two hashtags: harcelementderue (street harassment) and harcelementdemetro (about harassment on the underground).

[14]Director of Inspire, a Muslim women’s human rights organisation.

[15]Sara Khan (04 08 2012) Turn a blind eye no more. The Guardian.

[16]The British National Party and the English Defence League, two UK fascist organisations with links to other far right groups in Europe.

[17]Chrisafis (04 08 2012).

[18]And if these men are not speaking in their first language, does it mean they have made a point of acquiring this foreign vocabulary (from other men) in order to sexually harass women on the streets of Brussels?

[19] Jan-Erik Pettersson (2012): Stieg: From Activist to Author. Translated from the Swedish by Tom Geddes. London: Quercus, p 280.

[20] Daniel Poohl, Expo’s editor in chief from 2006, cited Pettersson (2012): 203..

[21] Cited Pettersson (2012): 204.

[22] Ibid.. Larsson was also highly concerned that the ensuing public discussion ‘revealed some feminists as racists, and anti-racists were accused of being reluctant to oppose violence against women’. Pettersson (2012): 2004.

[23] Starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005); followed by The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2010). In the spring of 2010, six years after Larsson’s death, this last was the top-selling book in Britain and the trilogy had sold 5 million copies in total.

[24]Danish writer, Carsten Jensen, cited Pettersson (2012): 277.

[25]Pettersson (2012): 277.

[26]SeeTad Tietze (25 08 2012) Justice has been done. The Guardian. ‘


[28]Ibid. However, the Norwegian Court’s verdict does not bring closure of itself: see Dr Paul McMahon (27 08 2012) Flawed judgement in the Breivik case. Email to The Guardian. This UK-based Consultant psychiatrist was quick off the mark in his disagreement with the Court’s process and verdict, referring to Breivik as a ‘seriously deluded killer’ with ‘deranged beliefs’. He seemed to want to deny Norwegian society a role, preferring to defer to established medical definitions to explain Breivik’s violence, thereby removing his responsibility for his own actions.

[29]Pettersson (2012): 277.

[30]Compare the challenging but potentially empowering experience for women, of reading the book or watching the film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with being the butt of the misogynist standup acts described by Tanya Gold (18 08 2012). No contest.

[31]Pettersson (2012): ibid.. See also Suzanne Moore (02 08 2012) Pussy Riot, who face prison in Russia for their anti-Putin protest, are a reminder that revolution always begins in culture. The Guardian G2: 5.

[32]Maya Angelou quote from TV interview: ‘The question is not how to survive, but how to thrive with passion, compassion, humour and style’. Aids Action Worldwide.

[33] John Harris (20 08 2012) From Russia’s riot grrrls, a lesson in the power of punk. The Guardian.

[34]Pettersson (2012): 276.

[35] Tanya Gold (18 08 2012)

[36] Ibid.. See also Rachel Williams (25 08 2012) How latest outbursts on rape reflect and feed common myths. The Guardian.

[37]Gold (18 08 2012)

[38] Ibid.


[40]Three members were arrested for singing an anti-Putin ‘prayer’ in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, while         , dressed in bright clothes and balaclavas (to retain anonymity). They have been sentenced to 2 years imprisonment for ‘hooliganism’.

[41] Eduard Bagirov, cited Miriam Elder (18 08 2012) ‘What Putin wants, he gets.’ Verdict met with defiance. The Guardian. This kind of language and visceral hatred echo the sickening (and unrepeatable) islamophobia targetted at and reported by journalist Mehdi Hasan (08 08 2012) We mustn’t allow Muslims in public life to be silenced. The Guardian.

[42]See Theweleit (1987 & 1989).

[43]Harris (20 08 2012).

[44] Sophie Lancaster (1986-2007) was murdered on the street because she and her boyfriend looked ‘different’: they were Goths.

[45]Carlene Firmin, principal policy adviser at the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England, writing in a personal capacity (30 05 2012) Domestic violence has no age limit. The Guardian.

[46] Carlene Firmin (30 05 2012).

[47]Rachel Williams (21 07 2012) Women sue police over handling of assault and rape cases. Met police accused of violating human rights. The Guardian.


[49] See Nicole Ward-Jouve (1988) The Street Cleaner.The Yorkshire Ripper Case on Trial. London: Marion Boyars. Ward-Jouve provides a feminist analysis of the inadequacies and failures of both the police and media investigations at the time. She was herself living and working in the area throughout the period of the 14 murders.

[50]Julie Matthews (12 08 2012) in conversation.

[51]See Theweleit (1987 & 1989).

[52]Changed (and sexed up) to The Girl [sic] with the Dragon Tattoo for Europe and the international market. On the basis of the posters and publicity, I wouldn’t go near the film, until a feminist friend alerted me and lent me the book, and I saw who had written it.

[53]Larsson cited Pettersson (2012): 205.

[54] Ibid.

[55]Larssen cited Pettersson (2012): 205.

[56]The Arab Spring with Ahdaf Soueif & Bidisha. (30 05 2012) Liverpool’s annual WOW (Writing on the Wall) Festival. Kuumba Imani Millennium Centre.

[57] 3 Arab poets perform their work. (14 07 2012) The Bluecoat, Liverpool.

[58]Liz Gascoigne Postcards.

[59] Steve Higginson (08 02 2012).


[61]See Val Walsh, Hannah Ryan & Jackie Patiniotis (15 02 2012) Response of the Liverpool Women’s Network (LWN) to Liverpool City Council’s Single Equality Scheme (SES).

[62]Cited Simon Hattestone (14 07 2012) ‘This is football. It’s not war’. Mainly interviews with black players. The Guardian Weekend.

[63]See Theweleit (1987 & 1989).

[64]Convened by the Runnymede Trust and hosted by the Slavery Museum, Liverpool: 20 07 2012. Although there were plenty of women in attendance, including one of the four platform speakers and the panel Chair, for the entire meeting (more than two hours), discussion focussed exclusively on the plight of young blackmen. This went unremarked.

[65] Liz Kelly, Sheila Burton & Linda Regan (1995) Researching women’s lives or studying women’s oppression? in Mary Maynard & June Purvis (eds.) Researching Women’s Lives from a Feminist Perspective. London: Taylor & Francis.

[66]The differential positioning and experience of working-class women and men in relation to working-class identity and politics, was signalled by historian Carolyn Steedman (1986) in her landmark book, Landscape for a Good Woman. A story of two lives. London: Virago Press.  I was gifted a copy by an outstanding working-class student after her graduation in 1993, as she headed off to start her M.A. in Cultural Studies. Her inscription finished: ‘Hope the book speaks to you as I found it did to me’. How many (working-class) men have actually read this text? And then discussed it. . . .

[67]See later references to Michael Sandel and Julian Baggini.

[68]See Ulrike Guérot (11 04 2012) The Pirate Party rises as German politics is all at sea. Guardian Also article on Pirate Party in Germany (06 08 2012) Guardian.  And Mike Harris (17 07 2012) What can we learn from pirate politics? Guardian Professional / Public Leaders Network.  And for an eloquent outline of a way forward for a new participatory politics, one based on the wholesale reform of the media, see Dan Hind (2010) The Return of the Public. London: Verso.

[69]Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett (06 08 2012) The poison of inequality. A year on from the riots, the government is still failing to identify their underlying causes. Guardian. See also Wilkinson & Pickett (2010) The Spirit Level. Why Equality is Better for Everyone. London: Penguin Books.And Danny Dorling (2011) Injustice. Why Social Inequality Persists. Bristol: The Policy Press.In addition to those already quoted, also helping explain the recent past and present, as well as plot the way forward, is the critical journalism and writing of Ha-Joon Chang, Aditya Chakrabortty, Larry Elliot, Mehdi Hasan, Paul Mason, Seamus Milne, Peter Newsom, Peter Scott, Polly Toynbee and Peter Wilby, for example.

[70] Gary Younge (2010) Who Are We? And should it matter in C21? London: Viking.  Younge is a black British journalist currently based in the USA. See also, Janice Mirikitani (1995) We, the Dangerous. New and selected poems. London: Virago Press. Mirikitani is a 3rd generation Japanese American born in California, interned as an infant with her family in an American concentration camp in Rohwer, Arkansas during the Second World War.

[71]For a powerful, holistic analysis, see Susan George (2011) Whose Crisis, Whose Future?. Towards a greener, fairer, richer world. Cambridge: Polity Press.

[72]Cited Hélène Mulholland (17 08 2012) Unions back thinktank to take Labour back to its roots. The Guardian.


[74]Cited Nicholas Watt (18 05 2012) Fishing for votes: angling MP has the future of Labour policy in his hands. The Guardian.

[75] Cited Nicholas Watt.

[76]See Guy Standing (20 08 2012) The work we do after work. The Guardian.  Also Standing (2011) The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

[77]Mulholland (17 08 2012).

[78] Julian Baggini (25 07 2012) The return of morality. The Guardian G2.

[79] Ibid..

[80] Ibid..

[81] For example, Michael Sandel (2009) Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do? London: Allen Lane.

[82]There are signs of an emerging ‘values-based’ approach in an increasing number of schools in the UK. See Dorothy Lepkowska (07 08 2012) Witney family values. Education Guardian. A values-based educational ethos emphasises ‘mutual respect, courage, honesty, compassion and integrity among the school community, underpinned by high expectations’. The movement was set up by a former head teacher, Neil Hawkes, who maintains that ‘when children use the vocabulary of ethics they gain confidence and self respect, and respect for others.’ Emphasis added. This is not new, but the fact that it is emerging as a ‘movement’ at this point in time, is perhaps significant.

[83]Outlined in Val Walsh (1010 2012) Sexism and activism: What’s the problem?’ Companion discussion paper.

[84] Richard Sennett (2012) Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Co-operation. London: Penguin.

[85] Since his return to China 20 years ago, after living/studying/working in New York for ten years, there can be no better example of this than the interdisciplinary, multi-media practice of Chinese artist / dissident / activist, Ai Weiwei, whose aesthetic confounds the conventional western demarcation between art and politics, to achieve embodied, collaborative, public exhibits / events / interventions, not just in designated art/gallery spaces, but on the street and online (e.g. via twitter and uploaded documentary images and narrative fragments). See Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012), a film overview of Ai’s life and work, 2008-2011, directed by Alison Klayman, which demonstrates and illuminates his artistic/social/political praxis, as an embodied ethics. The issues raised by the film and by Ai’s work, are highly relevant to the themes of this essay. See also Walsh (08 06 2009) Intercultural  co-creativity: more than liminal adjustment..The Distinctive Contribution of the Arts to Intercultural Dialogue: A View from and on the Arts.  European Forum of the Platform for Intercultural Europe Conference, Brussels, Belgium.

[86] Ahdaf Soueif (30 05 2012).

[87]This essay started life on the day of the meeting at the Social Centre, Liverpool, about sexism in activism (08 07 2012). It is paused in the wake of the celebratory closing event (13 08 2012) of what has been an incredible London Olympics 2012: not because of the medal haul, but because, after the ambitious, diverse and meaningful opening ceremony, conceived by film maker Danny Boyle and his team (including Liverpool’s Frank Cottrell-Boyce), which took the UK by storm, and the final musical flourish at the end, what has distinguished these Olympics has been the sight (not just the vision) of the UK’s diversity, (improved) equality and harmony. Not just spectacle (sporting, technological, artistic, musical, organisational), for social and political meanings abounded everywhere you looked (both planned and unforeseen): the freedom fighters and social justice campaigners (including Doreen Lawrence, mother of murdered Stephen), who carried the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony; the stadium roar that went up at both opening and closing ceremonies, for the increased numbers of women athletes taking part, including Muslim first timers; and the resounding standing ovation for the thousands of volunteers involved. The BNP, the EDL, the Tories et al. were effectively routed by the quality and ethos of these two weeks; by what it showed we are already, and for future reference, what we are capable of becoming; what we can do next. This was knowledge production on a grand scale, not between the covers of a book, but broadcast widely. We must not throw this away, but use it as a springboard.

[88]Denis Campbell, Health correspondent (23 08 2012) Class divide in health is widening, thinktank warns. The Guardian.

[89]Cited Mary O’Hara (18 04 2012). ‘We keep coming back to racism.’ The Guardian.

[90] Ibid..


[92] Cited John Carvel (02 05 2012) ‘Hierarchical, closed and bullying’. The investigator who exposed catastrophic failings at Stafford hospital berates the Care Quality Commission regulator. The Guardian.


[94]Tony Paterson (25 08 2012) A clenched fist and a smirk as court declares Breivik sane. The Independent.

[95] Cited Owen Jones (25 08 2012) An admirable response to terrorism. The Independent.

[96]Read Ben Okri’s epic poem (2002) Mental fight. An anti-spell for the twenty-first century. London: Phoenix.


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