A post-colognial letter to white Western men

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See what I did there? Post-colognial as in post-colonial…

Cologne, Cologne, Cologne. Something happened in Cologne on New Year´s Eve. All of a sudden, after years of indifference and internet trolling, the white Western man started showing a keen interest and downright enthusiasm for women´s rights. He raised his voice for our right to our own bodies, our right to walk the streets without being harassed, our right not to have our bodies commented upon, our right to exist without being sexualised, objectified and pornified and for our right as persons not to be addressed to and considered as mere pieces of meat.

Suddenly, in the public discourse, our personal space and dignity came to be described as the very cornerstone of Western society. Women´s status in society! Not only is it important, it´s the quintessential difference between Middle Eastern barbarism and Western liberalism!

After Cologne, women´s rights mattered. Does this mean we´ll have more brothers on our side on the 8th March when we march the streets for global rights for women? Or for the rest of the year for that matter?

Sadly, the answer might be no. One is tempted to speculate as to the agenda behind the sudden interest in “women´s rights.” Personally, I have a sneaking suspicion that the only reason the white, Western male-next-door got so upset about what happened (what, indeed, did happen?) in Cologne on New Year´s Eve was that the sexual assaults and degradation of the white, Western woman happened on his turf. Or, as a nature documentary narrator might say, here we can observe how the alpha male homo sapiens engages in territorial pissings in his 21st century habitat.

The Western male-next-door begs to disagree with this analysis. According to him, Cologne was a clash of cultures and he is here to defend us from the spread of Islam and the cultures of Other Men. He is a knight in shining armour and we should thank him for his engagement in social justice. Hey girl, let me explain how it is, he says.

And so He speaketh to us:

In our civilised, secular and gender equal West we respect our women and we like our women free and sexually independent. We like your hair flowing in public view so that we can see it, rate it and give compliments about it. We do not like hair that is hidden under a hijab because that´s private and therefore suspicious.

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He goes on:

In advertising, we like your skin pale and hairless and we like your menstrual blood unrealistic, fresh and blue-coloured. In fact, do not mention or show us your real blood, your body hair or talk about the actual experience of how it really feels like to have a female body, or else we will strike down upon thee with furious vengeance and the cruelest form of punishment known to womankind: we shall not find you fuckable.

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We like your face flawless on smartphone selfies, your butt cheeks well-toned in internet memes, we like your nipples pink and soft in our photo-shopped centerfolds but what we do not like is you right next to us feeding a child because natural biology just makes us inexplicably uncomfortable. Probably something to do with the patriarchal Christian value system, still lingering within us no matter how hard we keep telling ourselves that we are “secular atheists”, that has convinced us that motherhood and sexuality should be kept far apart. Apart from MILFs, that is! Mothers who are so hot that we´d like to have sex with them are such an exception to this rule that we had to invent a whole new slang abbreviation for them.

He continues:

We like your personality pleasant and calm, your mood happy and satisfied, but not quite so satisfied that you might start loving and respecting yourself and stop asking for our approval and for our compliments and buying all the over-priced products that our companies keep pushing on the female-oriented consumer market. As to your behaviour? We do not want you to have political opinions, but if you must, it´s best not to be too passionate about them and just calm down, dear. We like you self-assured and flirtatious but, hey hey hey take it easy now, not too much, not too in-your-face and we definitely like you to stay within the confines of heterosexual allure and Instagram-filtered feminine mystique. As to your looks, well it´s quite simple, we like you petite yet muscular, curvy yet slim, natural yet made up, unattainable yet at our command.

This is what the white Western male explains to us day in, day out, on the lines and in-between them. The Western white knight tells us that, unlike our Muslim and “ethnic” sisters, the white Western woman is free because she is sexual and public, independent, she drives a car, she can be Hannah Montana, she can be Miley Cyrus, she can be a mother or she can be President. In Western Liberal Freedom, women´s options are limitless!

Western freedom means everything to the Western male, but when asked who is behind the terms and conditions of this freedom, with whose words is this freedom defined, and who is this freedom really for, he yawns and says he finds the question irrelevant. Freedom is a tautology, it just is. Shut up and take it, he says. Maybe he honestly does not know the answer. After all, why should he? When everything you see on the screen is the P.O.V of the protagonist, why should you care about the other characters´ view or how the landscape unfolds? Besides, many Western women agree with him about the camera angle and even enjoy their close-ups. However, there are some who do not and instead insist on a panorama. These people are also known as feminists.

Feminism has gone too far, the white Western male sighs. Women have started to say no from time to time. Suddenly, women have gone gay and bi and everything in-between and some have started to have the cheek to reject his advances, ridicule him and psychologically castrate him. A woman owes him romantic affection but these days she refuses to pay up; to the 21st century white male, mutual trust and platonic friendship is such an insulting slap in the face that he´s invented a new term for it. “Friendzone” is the horrifying end of traditional roles, an asexual state where he is ridiculed and robbed of his manhood.

And speaking of manhood, we arrive at Cologne. In a civilised, secular, gender equal and fantastically free Western city like Cologne, the freedom-loving Western male can walk into a brothel and ask how much a woman costs, buy her for himself, do whatever he pleases with her body, penetrate her without a condom, impregnate her and leave her with the consequences, ejaculate on her face and then walk out back into his civilised, secular and gender equal Western society and still be respected. Because he felt lonely, because he gets “friendzoned” by women, because he is handicapped, because he didn´t get laid last weekend, because whatever and because he paid for his product. It´s OK, he does not need to explain. High five, bro.

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Or, he may abstain from the above. Either way, he has a choice.

It takes a “mass invasion” of males of a North African or any other non-Western origin for him to start showing any interest in what he for some reason refuses to call feminism but instead chooses to call “women´s rights” but what in actual fact is nothing but fear of losing his freedom, his sense of self and above all his masculinity to the invading foreign males who dare to come and piss on his territory.

Disappointingly, his interest in women´s rights is therefore temporary and hollow; an alpha male who simply defends his herd and then returns to business as usual. When the hype over immigrants dies out and the dust settles and the words “sexual assaults by immigrants” fade out in the social media, all that is left of his engagement in social justice for women is the continual search for more excuses to close barriers and brood his racial prejudices.

Come the 8th March and he buys a rose for his wife, girlfriend and favourite prostitute and writes a status update on Facebook congratulating all the wonderful women in his life for being born women.

Meanwhile, the daily grind of patriarchy goes on and on. Sexual assault, rape that goes unpunished, rape that is deemed not so bad since she was drunk and did not say no, rape that is deemed not so bad since she has an active sexual past, rape that is deemed not so bad since she is married to the rapist, verbal abuse of women, girls, boys and men as sluts, whores, weaklings and Mummy´s boys, sexual objectification and degradation of women in the cinema, TV, media, advertising, classroom, office, out there somewhere in other people´s homes but never in his own bedroom or backyard, goes on, organised as usual. And, as usual, the interest of the Western alpha male turns elsewhere.

From all this, one is tempted to draw the conclusion that the interest shown by the white Western male in women´s rights after what happened in Cologne is quite simply racist hypocrisy veiled as honest inquiry, self-interested misogyny veiled as brotherly love.

In other words, it seems that the same Western men who so loudly proclaimed that whatever happened in Cologne was an injustice do not in actual fact have our back when it comes to our rights and women´s human rights issues in general… that they are only interested in women´s rights as long as those women are white and as long as the rights are violated by men who have a darker skin, men who come from non-Western countries and men who have Arabic sounding names.

So a question remains. The question is for all you white, Western, secular, liberal, freethinking men who might still be reading this text. Some of you might still be reading, despite resenting the tone and the fact that your individuality is being overlooked and you´re without permission categorised as white, Western and male. Feeling annoyed at yet another female opinion on women´s rights, many of you probably already stopped reading somewhere around the second paragraph.

But just by the off chance that one of you is still lingering on out there, against the odds, against the grain, awake, interested, not offended, not annoyed by female sarcasm, not feeling aggressively defensive, just by the off chance that one of you is still reading these last lines with an open and humble and curious mind intact,

my most humble and curious question to you is:

are you listening?

 

 

 

Titties and Beer

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About a week ago, a band played a gig in a pub here in Gothenburg, Sweden. This in not particularly shocking, considering that bands, gigs and pubs are a rather common occurrence here. People pay to see musicians play onstage. What happens is that musicians play and people listen. The musicians play such instruments as guitar, bass and drums. The music tends to be rather loud, and people jump around in a funny way and move their bodies to the music. It might get a bit sweaty at times. It might get a bit chaotic. This is all rather normal and it’s expected when a band plays onstage. It’s called “rock’n’roll”, and it’s been around a few years. It’s a bit wild, it’s a bit naughty, it’s often also kinda angry.

99.9% of rock’n’roll gigs in Western democracies do not end up in musicians and members of the public being dragged out of the venue by personnel and questioned or arrested by the police.

But, about a week ago, this very scenario actually happened. The gig was interrupted, chaos ensued, police were called. First, one of the musicians was forcibly dragged offstage, followed by some individuals in the public. What the hell happened? Did the naughty rock’n’roll rascals rebel against the non-smoking law and light up a ciggie? Or did they perhaps do something more sinister? Tell a politically incorrect joke? Worship Satan? Strangle an innocent bat?

No. On this particular night, none of the regular rock’n’roll sins was in fact committed. What dark and evil sin could have resulted in chaos, confusion, violence and no less than four (4) police units rushing off to the little pub to round up the suspects?

Well, one of the band members got sweaty.

So she took off her T shirt.

She chose to take off her T shirt and stand onstage with her breasts exposed.

Some individuals in the audience then followed suit.

First, the musician was dragged off the stage by the personnel.

Then, some (note: some) of the topless individuals in the audience were dragged off the venue. Can you guess which individuals?

I’ve been to a few gigs in my life time; I’ve never once seen a male band or male audience members being dragged off the venue for daring to expose their upper body. In actual fact, sweaty male upper bodies are a rather common sight at rock gigs. The only time one tends to see female breasts at rock gigs is when someone from the stage yells “show us your tits honey”, and someone in the audience meekly obeys.

But, when women take off their clothes not as sexual objects but instead as active subjects (and sweaty individuals), and female nakedness is presented not as an erotic aesthetic but as an individual right, when women are women by women’s own terms, the misogynist society reacts with anger, nervousness and ridicule. In the case of the now infamous gig about a week ago here in Gothenburg, the pub in question reacted by wanting to stop the terrible female nakedness by not only manhandling the musicians and the audience members, but by calling the police. In the media aftermath, some people defended the pub by referring to “common decency” and the fact that when it comes to women, “it’s just not the same thing.” Funnily enough, the same people do not say a word about decency when the topless woman onstage happens to be a stripper. In fact, the pub in question, the pub which so courageously fought to save their clientele from female nakedness and indecency, actually held a strip night only a few days after the chaotic evening. Needless to say, the strippers were female.

In 1949, Simone de Beauvoir wrote: “… when woman is given to man as his property, he demands that her body shall appear as pure facticity. Her body is not considered as something which emanates subjectivity, but rather as a thing embedded in its immanence; this body is not allowed to give its surroundings an impression that it might be something other than a promise of itself: it has to consolidate this demand.”

Unfortunately, even in 2014 Sweden, de Beauvoir’s words are as relevant as ever. In the 21st century Western democracy, when the female body refuses to consolidate the demand of patriarchy, it gets dragged off stage.

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Sources:

Article in GP (Göteborgs-Posten) (in Swedish): http://www.gp.se/nyheter/goteborg/1.2366828-bara-brost-stangde-goteborgskrog

Article by Kajsa Poidnak describing the events (in Swedish): http://www.svt.se/opinion/nar-kvinnokroppen-sjalvmant-star-naken-kommer-polisen

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Live Through This, 20 Years On

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Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of an album which in many ways changed my life. I thought I’d write a little bit about it, as I think it has a certain cultural weight to it that goes beyond my own personal experience and so it’s therefore relevant for a blog which is supposed to be about the “personal and the political.” The album in question happens to be both.

Hole’s Live Through This, with its 12 tracks of primal punk rock energy from an unapologetically female perspective, was released 20 years ago. It was like a shot of adrenaline to countless of young girls such as myself who were at the time too young to know the potency of Patti Smith, too angry to understand the esotericism of Kate Bush – and too misplaced and politically aware to buy into the mainstream body politics of Madonna.

For us who grew up into our early puberty witnessing 80’s hair bands and their mute bimbo groupies, the onset of punk rock and grunge was a liberating force. Courtney Love’s Hole was an invigorating reality check for us little girls who up until then had been told again and again that anger is a thing that’s best left for boys to do, and that our “place” in rock is, literally and metaphorically, backstage. In fact, before Hole came along, things were so bad that Madonna was able to go around giving quotes such as “I think I have a dick in my brain so I don’t need to have one between my legs” and still be considered an icon of strong womanhood. Hole changed all that by validating the lack of “dick” and stating that not only do girls not need one but they should stop defining themselves by referring to it in the first place. That is, not even in a metaphorical way: the message of Hole’s music was that girls don’t need to adapt into any pre-described male norms in order to succeed. They can do so by their own terms.

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Which is where Live Through This comes in. The album has 12 tracks, every single one of them being incredibly catchy and at the same time powerful in their emotional rawness. With their debut Pretty On the Inside a couple of years earlier, the band had already proved their ability to tap into the direct source of psychological darkness. The genius of Live Through This lied in the way it continued on the path of that darkness while pulling it up to the pop surface. Issues such as rape, masochism, anorexia and suicide are all backed up by power chords and clear, ringing guitar sounds. The pop sensibility of the musicians make for a powerful contrast, and the emotional punch is made all the more poignant by the very pop framework it’s delivered in. Love’s vocal work wins over due to her impressive and sincere emotional range rather than neat technical precision. In fact, it is precisely the punky indifference to rulebooks which make Love’s vocal presence on the album so charismatic and timeless.

What makes a great album great and, more to the point, still relevant after several decades, is not just the music. The chords and lyrics need to be backed up by a larger cultural value of the work. And if there is one album from the 90s which fits the criteria for timeless cultural value, then Live Through This is it.

What made Courtney Love such a fascinating persona in rock’n’roll back in 1994 was that she was projecting something new and fresh, something which quite simply had not been witnessed before. This very unfamiliarity was (and still is!) the reason the woman manages to cause so much animosity and confusion amongst people. Back in the 90s, some tried to defend her by comparing her to the unashamed sexual and druggy chaos of Morrison or Hendrix (to name just a couple from the ongoing litany of male rock stars). What these comparisons failed to grasp, however, is the non-compromising femaleness and femininity expressed in the music and the whole visual package of Hole as a band.

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“I’m the undefined archetype”, as Love herself put it at the time. Drugs, darkness, chaos, motherhood and femininity all in one entity is considered queer in the way that drugs, darkness, chaos, fatherhood and masculinity within one individual man is not. Just ask any male rock star who has battled depression and drugs and also happens to be a father. The roles offered to girls are limiting and mutually exclusive: by all means be saint, mother, wife, whore, victim or perpetrator – but never all of them. To be a fully realised individual, or even toying with the idea of it, comes at the price of social exclusion, suspicion and fear disguised as concern and pity from the rest of society. This is the very battle described in Live Through This. The album describes the world from the perspective of someone who refuses to fit into any ready-made descriptions of “what it means to be a woman” and pays the full price for her individuality.

Punk rock anger being channeled by a screaming woman in high heels was too disturbing an archetype for many to come to grips with. But to some of us, it not only made sense. It was revolutionary and life-affirming.

Astonishingly, the sarcastic exaggeration of Love’s visual output gets often completely ignored and is at times not even recognised, even though it’s right there staring at us. The baby doll dresses, peroxide blonde hair and badly applied lipstick were Love’s trademark for most of the 90s. Contrary to a surprisingly widespread and perhaps to a certain degree deliberate misinterpretation, they were anything but an accident or a result of poor taste. Love was taking a certain archetype and giving it a deliberate, macabre twist. As a well-read pop culture geek, she was fully aware of each name-drop and visual reference and was in fact giving a nod to Hollywood years before she “re-invented” herself as a film star. The 90s mad baby-doll image was a carefully planned and direct reference to Bette Davis’ character in the 1962 dark comedy “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” To drive the point home, Love even referred openly and often in interviews to her fondness of twisting meanings and symbols: “I’m not checking my sexuality at the door… I’m shoving semiotically all of this female sexuality, all of these things that symbolise historically what we are supposed to aspire to. Lipstick, pair, legs, tits…”

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And if that wasn’t enough, the very cover art of Live Through This shows the model Leilani Bishop posing as a beauty queen, ecstatic over her victory, mascara running down her photogenic all-American face.

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Can sarcastic social commentary get any clearer? To me, and countless others of my generation, the answer was “no, it really cannot” already 20 years ago. Live Through This remains a ground-breaking work and is still as culturally relevant as it ever was. Because sarcasm, anger, great hooks, pop sensibility and punk rock, whatever archetypal shape or form they take, never do go out of fashion.

Fit Is a Feminist Issue – or how I learned to love the gym

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“In this respect the woman’s mind exactly resembles her body; far from being ashamed of her weakness, she is proud of it; her soft muscles offer no resistance, she professes that she cannot lift the lightest weight; she would be ashamed to be strong. And why? Not only to gain an appearance of refinement; she is too clever for that; she is providing herself beforehand with excuses, with the right to be weak if she chooses.”
-Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Emile” (1762)

Once, in my teens, I went to the gym.

Which is funny considering that I have always, or at least from an early adolescence, hated exercise with a vengeance.

But, going to the gym was something you had to do if you wanted to fit in and be one of the cool, pretty girls. Cool, pretty girls were “fit” and “toned.” They also had flawless white matte skin because they were worth it, and they always looked and acted cool, calm and collected. They were never angry, frustrated or socially awkward. Most importantly, though, cool girls were pretty. You don’t get a boyfriend by being fat. Besides, ugly geek girls are “just jealous coz they never get asked.”

Not that anyone admitted at the time that in fact the main reason for going to the gym was to become more sexually attractive in the eyes of the opposite sex. All we knew was that Jimmy in 9 C had started running around in the classroom in the middle of history lesson running his curious little fingers across the backs of girls to see who had started wearing a bra and who hadn’t. Who had attained womanhood, and who had not. Who had attained desirability and who had not, in other words, who had attained social acceptability and who had not. The teacher hadn’t stopped Jimmy because hey, you are 12 after all. It’s time you get used to male curiosity! Boys will be boys!

We were not equipped with fully evolved conceptualisation of body image or the male gaze. The only thing fully evolved were our mammary glands and the pressure to fit into the womanly ideal perpetuated by the TV shows we watched, the advertisements we were bombarded with and the socially encouraged curiosity of all the little Jimmies in 9 C’s and all the teachers and parents who kept their mouths shut about our side of things, our experiences, our curiosities. We couldn’t explain “male gaze” as a theory, but we knew someone was watching. And soon enough, we joined the watching game and started watching, too. Ourselves in the mirror, that is. Because we’re worth it.

My problem was of course that I never did want to fit in and I never did want to be pretty, or cool for that matter. I was a geek, I played violin, I was into music and reading. I therefore hated exercise almost by definition, by a natural social necessity. The kids who were into sports were pretty, thin, cool and popular. I was none of those things, and as I grew older, I realised that I was not particularly keen on becoming any of those things, either. Also, our PE teacher was a woman with no sense of humour who hated me because I was scared shitless of the balance beam in gymnastics. Who wouldn’t be? I still wonder about this, actually. That thing was very high up and much narrower than the trees and rooftops I was used to climbing on. It doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to see that for a clumsy 12-year-old, the balance beam is not a pleasant prospect.

A couple of years later, in orienteering, me and the other ugly, fat and/or angry girls would light up a ciggie behind the safety of some bushes while the pretty and/or happy girls were busy trying to follow some map and some yellow ribbons tied to some trees.

So when I made my way to the gym in my teens, I’d already developed a strong dislike for all things considered “healthy” and “sporty.” I remember it was a female-only gym and there was a TV in one of the corners of the room. I remember sitting on the rowing machine trying to figure it all out while glancing at some chat show above me, pretending to exercise, feeling like a complete idiot.

It all felt so pointless. I never returned to the gym after that one time. To sum it all up, I guess I would say that the whole thing with sports and exercise was an utter mystery to me. An absurd, pointless and infinitely boring mystery to boot.

Now, let’s fast forward to this day. I am 33 years old. Last year, I went to the gym for the first time in almost two decades. Two decades. That’s a long time, and it’s safe to say that during twenty years you learn a thing or even two. One of the first things you learn between the ages of 19 and, say, 30 (I’m a slow learner!) is that you don’t need to worry about how other people view you.

These days, I couldn’t care less. Despite my indifference, and precisely because of it, I go to the gym about 3-4 times a week. I do weight training as well as aerobic exercise. I have a little training diary where I write down my goals and progress. I even bought little gloves so as to have a better grip on the weights.

I’ve learned that the dividing of people into “artists and bohemians” on one side and “popular sporty types” on the other, the old division we all know from our school days, is about as dumb as the whole dualist mind/body split in the first place. I used to use this division as some kind of a romantic justification for my self-righteousness; that somehow, being the very clever intellectual bohemian that I am, I am under some ancient, universal obligation to treat everything bodily with open contempt. I must avoid all kinds of exercise, smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, drink hefty amounts of beer and wheeze and cough my way into some kind of a romantic notion of street credibility amongst my self-righteous intellectuals friends. So that we can pat each other on the back and discuss poetry while the silly sport people waste their time on material things like (yawn!) physical health.

Also, I’ve learned that, despite what all the boys in school said about “fit girls” versus “ugly girls”, going to the gym is in fact a feminist issue and a direct antidote to sexism. I’ll give a little anecdote to explain why.

Once I had a sore on my palm, and the sore managed to open up inside my little gym glove. Eventually, I noticed that something around me stank really quite bad. The pus had spread through the fabric onto the surface of the glove while I was busy lifting some weight or another. I looked down at my hand and found myself literally covered in sweat, blood and pus. The yellow pus, mixed with blood and the sweaty fabric of my gym glove, made me reek. My hand stank of the yellow blood-pus mixture while my neck, armpits and back were covered in sweat. It all mixed up together into rather off-putting eau de Shit.

The moral of this story is that when you’re trying to lift up a heavy bastard of a thing with your back thighs, or whatever part of your body it is you happen to be using to lift some bastard of a weight, it’s impossible to pay any attention to smelly pus, blood, sweat or even tears. You don’t care about a bit of stink and sweat. You just keep at it, and you pant and grunt and become red in the face and you probably look hideous or at the very least completely ridiculous – but you’re too liberated from the bullshit sexist beauty paradigm to give a damn. You really can’t afford to give a shit about the male gaze when 50 kg of steel is about to drop on your pinkie toe.

By going to the gym, I feel I am taking what is rightfully mine and becoming part of a sociocultural space which for too many years was occupied by sexist attitudes: a space in which strength was mainly understood in terms of masculinity and women were ornamental objects to be evaluated and gazed at according to their physical appearance, softness and frailty. Crucially, I have not seen any female-only gyms here in Sweden. Before I started my gym hobby, I was looking for one, as I presumed I would feel “better” and “more free” in a women-only environment. A little over a year later, the idea of a gym where women and girls work on their primal strength tucked away and hidden from men and boys, is rather strange and sad in its paranoid separatism.

For me, then, going to the gym is an active and conscious affirmation of my feminism. I affirm my physicality and my body in my own pace and in my own terms. I do squats, deadlifts and bench presses while listening to Deicide not because I want to fit into some beauty ideal of Jimmy in 9 C and his big bros, but because I enjoy the creative aspect of my innate aggression and the multiple possibilities of my own body.

No point trying to be holier-than-thou about it, though. Vanity is admittedly at least part of the reason for anyone to start an exercise hobby. It feels nice to notice changes in one’s body. The main reason for me personally, though, is that I have realised how much the mind / body dichotomy, the good old Platonian dichotomy of “ideas” and “materia” (“I am an artist, therefore I despise sports”) is just a waste of time.

My mind is my body, the two are absolutely parts of one whole. Why would anyone want to abandon yin over yang? Of course, ironically enough, one doesn’t really understand the great thing about physical health until one starts to live more healthily. I should know, I spent most of my 20s smoking cigarettes and drinking copious amounts of beer because I thought it was somehow part of my “identity.”

But, let’s not exaggerate. The fact that I have realised my love for physical exercise does not in any way change the fact that the “lifestyle trend” of going to the gym and “looking fit” is incredibly annoying for a violin playing geek feminist such as myself. Just because some beefcake “hits the gym” 6 days a week and graces the social media with “selfies” taken at the changing room, obviously doesn’t mean that he becomes Marcus Aurelius all of a sudden. He’d need to leave a bit of time for some reading and thinking, too.

It’s taken me two decades to come to believe that the boring-sounding “golden middle-way” may in fact be a pearl of wisdom and not the gutless platitude I once, in my immature rebellion, thought it was.

In fact, I am in no doubt that good old Epicurus himself would have had nothing whatsoever against a bit of deadlifting in his garden. Every now and then, that is. And with a sturdy meal and a cold beer afterwards, of course.

Alliansens kvävande röda tråd

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Regeringen och skolminister Jan Björklund (FP) har tvingats att ta ett steg tillbaka och vidareutreda sitt förslag om stiftelsereformen av högskolorna. I dagsläget får nya stiftelser för statliga lärosäten inte bildas enligt stiftelselagen som genomfördes 1996. Regeringens förslag är att ändra lagen så att lärosäten skall kunna omvandlas till privata stiftelser. I nuvarande läge är förslaget på remiss och ska återpresenteras om några månader, i juni 2014.

Anledningen till att förslaget inte har lyckats förverkligas än, utan blivit utsatt för kritik, är att tydliga planer och förklaringar om bland annat studenternas och de anställdas rättigheter saknades, samt detaljer om hur den statliga finansieringen skall hanteras. Enligt Sveriges universitets- och högskoleförbund (SUHF) var förslaget varken välanalyserat eller tillräckligt omfattande.

Vad gäller förslaget har Björklund tyvärr valt att tiga. Det har därför varit upp till hans pressekreterare Elin Boberg att försöka försvara den planerade reformen genom några noga valda och vilseledande ord om ”universitetens självständighet och autonomi från staten.”

Trots tystnaden från Rosenbad kan man dock dra slutsatser om regeringens ideologiska prioriteringar och om vad utbildningsministern anser vara väsentligt. Redan i september 2008 beskrev Björklund regeringens ambition kring kommersialiseringen av vetenskapliga upptäcker och entreprenörskap, vilka skall ”löpa som en röd tråd genom hela utbildningsväsendet.” Dessutom bekymrade han redan då över en klyfta mellan ”akademi och affärer” och hävdade tydligt att ”de två världarna” borde förenas.

Efter reformerna i grund- och gymnasieskolan är det alltså nu dags att omvandla högskolorna. Som om friskolereformen samt möjlighteten att ta ut vinst i skolväsendet inte räckte till, planerar regeringen nu att ta ytterligare steg mot decentraliseringen och privatiseringen av hela utbildningsväsendet.

Att det finns problem i svenska skolan går inte att förneka. Internationella kunskapsmätningar pratar sitt tydliga språk om hur det går för svenska skolan och hur de svenska eleverna presterar i såväl nationella som internationella sammanhang. Lärarnas berättelser om vad som pågår i den lokala vardagen i skolan stämmer överens med resultaten från PISAs undersökning där svenska elevers försämrade läsförståelse är ett av flera problemområden.

De uppenbara problem som finns är dock inte lösbara genom ett populistiskt och ensidigt hävdande om påhittade nyttor av privatiseringen, vilket alliansregeringen och utbildningsministern Björklund gång på gång fortsätter att göra sig skyldiga till. Privatisering av utbildning påstås envist vara nyckeln till hela samhällsekonomins framgång. Dessutom används skolväsendet i sig som ett politiskt verktyg för att framhävda ett nyliberalt marknadstänkade.

Samtidigt som regeringen påstår sig prioritera kvaliteten i utbildningen väljer den ändå att blunda för statistik och forskning som tydligt pekar på de minst sagt problematiska följderna av den decentraliserade styrningen av skolväsendet. Regeringens ambition kring kommersialiseringen av vetenskapliga upptäcker och entreprenörskap speglar dessutom en ensidig och begränsad syn på kunskap och lärande.

Marknadsanpassning av utbildning och en alltmer växande betoning på individens kompetens- och konkurrensförmåga i samhället tar plats på bekostnad av analytiskt tänkande, fördjupade kunskaper och likvärdiga möjligheter för alla. Universitet som en tillgänglig samhällsinstitution för alla medborgare, där sökande och livslångt lärande uppmuntras, omvandlas till en företagsmodell där vinstdrivande ägare bestämmer över vad som anses vara relevant kunskap.

Både läraryrket och lärarutbildningen är oerhört viktiga i förändringen och förbättrandet av såväl den svenska skolan som framtidens samhälle. För att försäkra kvaliteten på lärare och deras engagemang i sitt yrke är det väsentligt att satsa på kvaliteten på lärarutbildningen och humanistiska ämnen.

Den nuvarande regeringen med sin blinda förtjusning i vidare marknadsanpassning av det svenska skolväsendet sviker dock de som valt läraryrket för att uppmuntra dialog och sprida kunskap, samt alla barn och ungdomar som förväntas att växa upp till framgångsrika, ansvarsfulla och fritänkande individer och medborgare.

Den planerade stiftelsereformen kväver det kulturella kapitalet av en nation genom att reducera en kontinuerlig process av lärande och omfattande kunskap till färdigproducerade varor.

Därför måste den stoppas.

Don’t Hate Him ‘Cause He’s Beautiful

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When I was asked to write this blog I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me.

JUST KIDDING. That was a JOKE. I DIDN’T LITERALLY MEAN THAT.

In actual fact nobody asked me to write this blog but I am doing so because I want to say something about Russell Brand and revolution.

“Russell Brand and revolution.” Now there’s two, well, brands I never thought I’d see in the same sentence. Who did? I am sure I’m not the only one thinking this is all rather weird and strange. But hey, I personally tend to like weird things so I have reason to be pretty excited.

As weird, absurd and downright Monty Python-esque it all may seem, Mr Russell “I like to fuck models” Brand not only wrote an article but guest-edited the whole October issue of a British political magazine called New Statesman. His 4,500 word editorial-turned-political manifesto begins with this sentence:

“When I was asked to edit an issue of the New Statesman I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me.”

He is referring to Jemima Khan, the human rights campaigner and associate editor at the magazine. Some folks on the “Left” got so upset about a “sexist pig” calling for a revolution that they wrote a petty character assassination and shot him down because he’s a dirty rich white guy and that’s all he deserves. An internet front of red comrades attacked Brand and his call for revolution because he is neither red or a comrade.

All this negative animosity despite the fact that the sentence which followed his (rather silly and dare I suggest tongue-in-cheek) opening line was more to-the-point and, most importantly, more widespread than anything Tony Benn has managed to say in years:

“I chose the subject of revolution because the New Statesman is a political magazine and imagining the overthrow of the current political system is the only way I can be enthused about politics.”

“Imagining the overthrow of the current political system.”

That’s all he is doing. He’s imagining alternatives in a country in which democracy and party politics and a sense of real political empowerment (on the Right and particularly on the Left) are long gone and he’s simply calling for another way of thinking, to think outside the box of Right-Left party politics.

He’s not a political expert, he’s not an academic, he’s certainly not poor, immigrant or a woman. He’s a white male celebrity and he’s talking about revolution as if he’s Tracy Chapman. Except, of course, he’s not. He’s Russell Brand.

Let me be clear: I’ve always despised the guy. He’s always seemed like a slightly dumb, self-obsessed narcissist, slimy, arrogant idiot not to mention a bad actor. They say he’s a comedian, but I wouldn’t know, I’ve never seen his stand up. I once saw about ten minutes of some terrible Hollywood film in which he seemed to play himself. I concluded he can’t act and changed the channel. Many years ago I bumped into him in Hampstead, North London. He was coming out of Boots with some tall woman who looked like a model. They both looked like yuppie scum to me.

I wasn’t a fan of his then, and I’m not a fan of his now. He sums up a lot of things that are wrong about sexist pig celebrity culture.

However! My view altered slightly when I saw him on the Newsnight clip last week. It gave me a sense of pleasure to see someone take on Jeremy Paxman. I’ve always been more of a Jon Snow-fan myself so I’ve never been too keen on Paxman.

Jon Snow and his rebellious bad boy-socks are pretty much anarchy in the UK (or Channel 4, anyway) whereas Paxman is just a face for the British political media establishment. To see Paxman lose a verbal duel to a trash celebrity like Russell Brand satisfied the little anarchist in me. It was like Theatre of the Absurd, except on British telly.

What’s actually more absurd than the interview itself, is that some British (?) Leftists seem to feel the need to defend Paxman, a white privileged very male representative of the rigid system that is mainstream British political media. Then again, I guess the whole concept of “British Left” needs that rigid system for its own survival. If Russell Brand’s utopia had its way, there would be no Paxman, no current political establishment and therefore no Right and no Left. A revolutionary idea, indeed.

Anyway, back to Brand. A few days after seeing him giggle at Paxman, I read his editorial in New Statesman and had the pleasure to conclude that even though the guy may not be able to act, he sure makes up for it when he puts down the script and starts typing.

I am not ashamed to admit that the 4,500 word manifesto by Russell “I fuck models” Brand is the most exhilarating and witty political article I’ve read in a long time.

And here’s the thing: I don’t agree with all his points. As an atheist, I find his New Age idea of “spirituality” and insistence on “utopia” a bit too vague. Furthermore, as someone living in Scandinavia, I still have a shred of faith left for the system of voting. His call for everyone to stop voting is therefore, as emotionally true in the context of Britain as it may be, still a tad too romantic for my taste. Thirdly, as a woman, I find his clumsy jokes about beautiful long female models alienating and too tongue-in-cheek.

He ain’t no Tracy Chapman, that’s for sure. But then again, Tracy Chapman never wrote such a good editorial and I’m a sucker for good editorials.

Here we are in 2013 and we have a household celebrity who, like it or not, has millions of fans and who for years gets attention in the media by snorting coke in Soho and popping out of Boots with supermodels. And who then, instead of doing yet another Fashion Week, opts instead to hit some nails on the head on Newsnight in front of a stupefied Jeremy Paxman, guest-edit New Statesman, travel to Kenya to witness the environmental effects of Western corporate policies, report about them in the media, mock himself, mock his own sexist celebrity idiot status, mock the rich white guys who fuck models and ease their conscience by giving to charity, set himself out for ridicule and writes a 4,500 word call for a revolution in Britain in one of the leading Leftist political and cultural magazines in the country.

That, I do like.

For some people this is just not enough. A sexist pig is a sexist pig is a sexist pig. We don’t care how many people you engage, how many millions of politically disenfranchised British people you may actually encourage to think differently, we don’t care how many internet hits you may reach with your celebrity – we don’t care because you are a dodgy comedian who dumped Katy Perry by text message (tut, tut!) and you’ve behaved in a rude manner on MTV.

Does it help to know that the October issue of New Statesman has contributions from such opinionated, respected women as Naomi Klein, Amanda Palmer and Laurie Penny and that the five out nine journalists in the editorial team are women?

According to some disgruntled arm chair revolutionaries to our left, the answer is a grumpy no. Because a sexist pig is a sexist pig is a sexist pig, they repeat and stamp their feet like someone has taken their candy. And, in a way, someone has.

While the Left insists that the revolution will not be televised, it forgets about the ending line of the Gil Scot-Heron track they’re so keen on quoting: “the revolution will be live.” In today’s world, “live” means not only reclaiming the street but also internet shares and tweets and maybe even a celebrity endorsement in the shape of a silly comedian.

It might mean that someone like Russell Brand will stand next to you at the next protest and help you carry your banner.

I say more the merrier. Personally, I like my revolution non-elitist, open and free with no politically correct secret handshake required. Anyone who hates what the current system is doing to our lives and our planet, anyone who encourages critical thinking, anyone who is intelligent enough to laugh at themselves and not take themselves too seriously, anyone who appreciates the old carnival spirit of political and intellectual anarchy, is welcome to join the ranks of those I respect and admire and is qualified to present a blueprint, no matter how romantic or vague, for revolution.

The Left has no exclusive right on said blueprint. We’ve known this since about 1989. Come to think of it, who does have an exclusive right on revolution?

Socialists? Celebrities? Immigrants? Poor people? Middle-class people? Black people? White people? Women? Men? Anarchists? Communists? Feminists? Working class people? Students? Small to medium sized businesses? Mothers? Fathers? Politicians? Pop stars? Pussy Riot? You?

How about all of the above and then some?

The first steps of a revolution are not taken in the headquarters of any political establishment but in the minds of the people.

So, Dear Left, stop attacking Russell “yes I am a sexist pig” Brand. It’s an easy target which he’s already aiming himself and besides it’s a complete waste of time.

Instead of attacking, just thank the nice man in the mainstream and… here’s a revolutionary thought… do something with the huge momentum he’s managed to create.

Dr Strange Life – Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Google

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Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Wyndorf from the psychedelic rock’n’roll group Monster Magnet. Dave is an old-fashioned kind of guy, the kind of guy who likes his rock dirty, his guitars fuzzy and his art pure.
A man who learned to expose his soul by playing guitar alone in his bedroom with a 4 track tape recorder is not the kind of man who is too keen on bouncing happily on the ride of the modern civilisation, which coincidentally makes him a very pleasant interviewee. He wasn’t marketing his latest product but instead, he reached out. And so, in addition to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, we ended up talking about sarcasm, life, emotions and the dignity in growing old.

Growing old is not cool in our youth obsessed civilisation and its endless encouragement to tune in to a stream of soft focus images and pictures of life instead of life itself. Growing old is ugly, it doesn’t make for a good profile picture or get you many “likes” because it’s not instant but happens quietly and gradually inside your own mind.
On the outside, it means wrinkles, aches, pains, worse hangovers and more life experience. It means realising that there is more to life than passive aggressive futile anger and your own sense of entitlement and illusions of grandeur, it means realising that you and your self-worth are but specks in vast space, and most of all, it means a growing awareness of the fact that one day you will die. That all this other stuff, the stuff we call living, is temporary and therefore all that matters is making the most out of the here and now, while we’re still here.

Old age is too slow and subtle for a civilisation of soundbites and slogans. A world in which true meaning is too heavy when weighed against the unbearable lightness of instant gratification and the eternal, on-going, non-stop strive to become better, to update, to keep reaching for perfection, so hey, why even bother. Anyway, here, have some tits. Click, click, Esc, Save File and enjoy your own custom-made Reality© where no meaning can hurt you, my dear, because no meaning is real.

You are, right now, in this moment of time, nothing but an incomplete potential that must somehow be perfected. You should therefore never stop striving to become better. And don’t forget, by “better” we do not mean getting older and gaining life experience. Quite the opposite. Old age is an embarrassing weakness and a burden on tax payers to boot; life experience is only temporary anyway and besides it doesn’t get you laid.

The younger you look and act, the better. That’s what we mean by “progress.” And the longer you manage to look and act younger, the closer you are to Perfection.

There is not one person who illustrates this brave new mentality and constant craving for perfection quite so clearly as a gentleman by the name of Ray Kurzweil. Ray is not satisfied with the average survival instinct. He goes as far as looking forward to becoming a “software based” upgrade of his current self.

Don’t mind Ray, he’s just a scientist expressing his hope of what will become of you and your children in the near future.

Here is a man who refers to his own flesh as “Body 1.0” and is so afraid of dying that he is set on completely re-designing the human body with biomechanical engineering in order to be able to merge in with the machines and live through robots even after the biological body gives up.

Here is someone who apparently pops 250 supplement pills per day in order to keep his body in shape and fully prepared for computer-aided immortality which is, according to him, just around the corner.

Back in 2005, Ray wrote a book entitled “The Singularity is Near” in which he makes seemingly whacky yet apparently scientifically valid predictions about the near future of our bodies and our lives. He writes very excitedly about the new updated version of humanity, a humanity which will finally be so entwined with technology that its very existence is literally comprised of codes, chips and computer programming with a few analogue parts such as brain and blood cells kept temporarily intact in the wait of an even better upgrade.

Sounds a bit nutty, I know. But hey, don’t worry. Even though Ray may sound a bit like an utterly insane egomaniac, he’s actually completely legit, a successful author and, since last December, the new Director of Engineering at Google. There there, it all feels so much better now, doesn’t it?

As it happens, hiring Ray is just one detail in the bigger picture of the recent rise and rise of Google’s whacky ambition. This year, it invested a large amount of money into a new company by the name of Calico which, unlike Google X, is an altogether separate branch of business but which nonetheless now acts essentially as Google’s Research and Development department.

Also unlike Google X, Calico is not satisfied with developing fun gadgets like computer glasses or self-driving cars. As fun as those things are, they’re not quite the ultimate upgrade in human potential. Instead of developing shiny and colourful blinking things, Calico embraces a more serious approach and sets its sights on no less than the human life and body itself and the very process of aging, thereby very much echoing the thought processes of Ray Kurzweil himself.

The aim of Google’s new project is to find biomechanical solutions to diseases and ailments, particularly to the symptoms of aging and to exploring the possibilities of the science of so-called “longevity.”

In other words, your email provider is now in the business of health care with the intention of curing mortality and extending the human life span. It all feels so much safer now, doesn’t it?

The very fact that death is considered nothing but an ailment, an obstacle in the way of immortality, makes Calico an ambitious project to say the least. Not to mention what it says about the value system and priority list of the folks at Google.

In a world in which millions of people lack proper access to even the most basic form of health care, and where the over-population of the planet is widely discussed along with the limited nature of living space and natural resources, these people choose to close their eyes and instead pick out such facts as “aging” and “dying” as the biggest obstacles which absolutely must be defeated.

Their “perfect upgrade” does not mean deepening the experience of living or creating the best possible living standards to as many people as possible or indeed even appreciating such things as growing old and gaining life experience. According to them, the perfect upgrade of Life is to make it longer by whatever means necessary. Quality gets eaten up by quantity and form finally conquers its own substance.

Ray Kurzweil and the likes of him may well consider it a real treat for the human ego to continue life after the body dies by means of a computerised surrogate robot – but do the rest of us have to share his idea of the “good life”? Do we have a say in this little project of theirs? And who gave Google the permission to determine over the quality of life anyway? I don’t know about you but all I wanted was a damn email account.

Furthermore, I wonder what happens to those of us who do not share Google’s grand ideas of the meaning of life. Those who, for one reason or another, do not manage to update their systems to “Humanity 2.0” will have to wither away and disappear into the shadows like the ugly and scary remnants of an old and primitive world that they are.

I may sound paranoid, but in a world run by youth-obsessed sociopaths, who doesn’t feel a tinge of fear? Might as well be paranoid while it’s still possible: a world of singularity does not, by its very definition, allow space for individual thought, let alone dissent. You will either be a part of it, or you’ll simply not be.

Whether Google will succeed in defeating death and creating eternal life is, at this point, almost beside the point. The fact that they are trying in the first place should be enough to start a wider public discussion on the future of the human race and the way we choose to live our lives.

Because the sad fact is that Ray Kurzweil and the likes of him are merely reflecting a current state of humanity which is characterised by an obsessive submission to constant and blind craving for more, more, more in a world where we mistake our computer screen for the mirror of our soul and the screams of our own egos for the voices of gods.

A world in which human beings are obsessed with idealised perfection which it is told exists just around the corner, behind just one more upgrade, one more correction, one more session at the gym, one more pill, one more sex partner, one more dose of Botox, one more purchase, one more scientific study, one more ego trip and one more chance at Life.

A world in which nobody cares about passion, 4 track tape recorders, fuzzy guitars, dirty rock’n’roll, pure art or growing old.

Thanks but no thanks, I’ll rather die.

The Gospel of Marys – or why I have not become a feminist

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I thought I would sit down and write a little bit about feminism and why I have not become a feminist. However, there is a slight problem. As soon as I sit down and write down the word “feminist”, the mind turns to associations of futile anger and bitter narrow-mindedness.

Furthermore, it’s not even a word invented by me or the likes of me. It’s a word that binds, it’s a word that crams me into yet another stereotype.

What stereotypes, I hear you say.

Let’s start with the first one. In the English language, the word “feminist” cropped up towards the end of the 19th century during the Victorian era. This was a time in which the term “female hysteria” was something else than a harmless little sarcastic joke referring to your girlfriend’s “that time of the month.”

This was a time in which hysteria was in fact a wide-spread phenomenon categorised as an official illness. The word “feminist” began to be used as an insult to any individual attempting to question the natural order of things and who, quite hilariously, suggested that there might actually be more to women than that thing they have instead of a penis and their ability to give birth to people. That they might actually be more than their sex.

Crazy perhaps, but such things were indeed claimed by some strange and stubborn individuals for whom there was no specific word. It was therefore becoming increasingly difficult to ridicule them and refute their arguments. Based on their obsession with the human rights of wives and other feminine creatures, some clever chap started referring to this odd bunch as “the feminists.” This worked pretty well, because giving the negative connotations of anything feminine, it would be bloody hard for any chaps to buy into the madness and join the ranks, as he would then be associated with being feminine. Or queer, or eunuch, or just plain freak. And so the word “feminist” was introduced to political debates.

When it came to the negative connotations of femininity, The Church had already been doing a splendid job for the last couple of thousands of years. Sexually frustrated virgin monks in isolated monasteries had, over the centuries, developed a rather warped and confused view on sexual intercourse, which allowed fear to take over to such an extent that by the time we got to the 20th century, the very concept of “woman” was shrouded in erotic mystery, fascination and, most of all, Great Fear.

This worked, because if you made a mistake, you had a scapegoat. And the Church was kind enough to provide you with her. Without Eve’s curiosity and active search for wisdom and the nature of reality we would still be rolling around in the garden of ignorance and not even be in this mess. What a bitch.

All women are of course descendants of the primal bitch. Except if the individual woman in question is in fact one’s mother. In which case, according to logic, she isn’t really a “woman” at all. Or, rather, mother is not a woman, she is the woman. Mother is the pure woman, the highest type of woman. Ideally a mother would of course be a virgin, but since biology doesn’t work that way we’ll let Mary (the mother, not the Magdalena one) work as an example of female purity quite impossible to imitate, of course, but that’s exactly the point. She is the perfection which ordinary bitches will never obtain.

These, if you didn’t guess, are the stereotypes of the flawless mother and Eve, the original dumb blonde.

But wait, there’s more.

A woman who has not yet attained the status of motherhood is what we call a mother-in-waiting, or a vase waiting to be filled. She is a pause or a comma in a sentence – and she is in a state of perpetual anticipation. It’s OK if she likes the sentence, but if she happens to think that the sentence doesn’t even make any sense, she’s in a bit of a tricky spot… until becoming a mother sets her free and she may finally serve her sentence. So to speak.

But sometimes things aren’t that simple. A married woman who keeps having sex for years but still does not manage to give birth, is somewhere between a prostitute and a table without legs: useful yet useless at the same time, and ultimately without any deeper meaning. There’s not much point to her existence and she causes unnecessary confusion.

Until menopause sets her free, of course. After that, she becomes an old woman with no obligations, someone who can’t get pregnant but is no longer sexually desirable, so no one really cares anymore anyway. It’s pretty much a win-win.

Confused? So am I! But hang in there, there’s more.

In some marriages, a certain unhappiness between husbands and wives may arise as the inevitable consequence of sexual ignorance and the suffocation of the sexual desire in women which itself is the direct result of denying women the right to determine over and enjoy their own bodies. After all, she who does not know her own body is not very likely to want to explore someone else’s.

This is where the prostitute comes in quite handy. If a woman is a prostitute, she is very useful for the purpose of (male) satisfaction and for acting as a voluntary bridge between the unhappy and divided men and women who cannot satisfy each other out of deep seated shame and fear of a suppressed sexuality and a lack of mutual respect.

Thanks to the prostitute, the wife may now focus on the child bearing and rearing and simply just enjoy being mum, while the prostitute takes care of the natural needs of the husband. The prostitute saves the wife from the sexual task which is too much to handle for someone already stressed by having to look after the children all by herself while trying to “break the glass ceiling” and dreaming of “having it all.”

In case you were wondering; when it comes to the sexual needs of the wife, it’s quite simple, because she doesn’t have any. This is because a woman’s sexuality is by its very nature rather passive. She doesn’t really get turned on by looking at the male body, but prefers instead to gaze at her own breasts in the mirror and imagining what it would be like to have a penis and have sex with a woman. This is why all women are secretly bisexual, you see, and the male body is in fact nothing much to be looked at and certainly not a thing of beauty.

In fact it is male sexuality which is the more visual of the two, so the female body is by definition prettier and more object-like. This is why pornography and sexual exploitation of women and girls are actually based on biology, by the way. They certainly have nothing to do with anything as vague as “patriarchy”, “capitalism” or “the history of the Christian church”, that’s for sure!

Young man, we may go as far as to say that if you are not utterly obsessed by copulation and if you have never had sex with prostitutes and if you seriously think that women in short skirts are not in fact asking to be ravaged by the primal animal that you really are, there might just be something wrong with your testosterone levels and I’d get that checked out if I were you.

You know, those stereotypes.

In the beginning, I wrote that “feminism” is a word not invented by the likes of me.

That it’s a word that crams me into yet another stereotype.

It’s true.

Feminism brings to mind nothing but futile anger and bitter narrow-mindedness, but the anger and bitterness are not mine or ours. It is the anger and bitterness of 2000 years of fear perpetuated by a value system whose first job was to hide the Gospel of Mary, cover the female body, silence her voice and by doing so lead both women and men into a paranoid war of the sexes in which each battle brings us further and further away from each other.

It does everything in its power to keep us apart so we will not be able to break through those 2000 years of lies and embrace each other fully and absolutely, without fear. Because if we did that, we would be free and their world would crumble.

Why I never became a feminist?

Because I was born one. That’s why.

Sex, Drugs and Socialism

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Let me start by saying that I like reading. This does not prevent me from admitting the brutal fact that some books are terrible and some people are very bad at expressing themselves on paper. So bad, in fact, that no matter how much I try, no matter how many times I sit down and open the book with the intention of reading it chapter at a time, convinced of its intellectual mightiness and ability to shake my world, explode my mind and revolutionalise my life… well, no matter how many times I try this, there are some books which are simply too much and I fail every time.

Sometimes I try reading books I know I’ll disagree with, just to have a peek to the other side. The Bible is one, “Mein Kampf” by Adolf Hitler is another (The Bible is brilliant in parts but I’ve given up on reading it in chronological order, the family tree is seriously not a gripping first chapter, and with Hitler I never did get past the first 20 pages or so), but there are also other books I fail with. Books by people who are not utterly insane and lived less than 2000 years ago, by people who are actually respected as critical thinkers. People like philosophers, for instance.

When I say “philosophers”, I mean those of the post-modern category. And when I say “those of the post-modern category”, I am mainly referring to one particular postmodern bad boy, the naughty commie from Ljubljana himself, Mr Slavoj Žižek.

I’ve had Žižek’s book “The Parallax View” on my bookshelf since it was published back in the day, around 2006. In fact I’m looking at it right now, there it is right next to me. I just checked how much I’ve managed to read of it and the answer is that back in 2006 I seem to have gotten stuck on page 5. I haven’t managed to plough through a single paragraph since.

There is your regular slow reading, then there is the lazy person’s slow reading, then there is of course the learning difficulty-type of slow reading… and then there is five pages in seven years-kind of slow. Admittedly, I may be a bit slow and even lazy at times, but five pages in nearly a decade makes me suspect that at least some of the responsibility may in fact lie with the author.

Žižek has written and published an extensive amount of books since the 70s and is, despite strong criticism from some, extremely and in fact increasingly popular, especially amongst us “leftist intellectuals” who are keen to find structure and order, some sort of sense and justice in the post-modern matrix of a world in which right wing populism, free market liberalism and other stuff of nightmares are (or at least seem to be?) on the rise. In this context Žižek is very refreshing; a slightly crazy old boy who speaks about Communism in a funny accent and says “fuck” a lot. He says fuck! Ooh Sir, the cheek. He doesn’t care about common manners! Fuck, he must be smart.

And then you open the book, on page 5, and you read the following sentence:

“That, philosophically speaking, Stalinist “dialectical materialism” is imbecility incarnate, is not so much beyond the point as, rather the point itself, since my point is precisely to conceive the identity of my Hegelian-Lacanian position and the philosophy of dialectical materialism as a Hegelian infinite judgment, that is, as the speculative identity of the highest and lowest, like the formula of phrenology “The Spirit is a Bone.””

Say that again?

There are 385 pages in “The Parallax View.” I’ll get back to you when I’ve read the whole thing. Feel free to exhale, though, as I may be a while. Being a bit of a slow reader and all.

I am of course mocking somebody who obviously is a lot smarter than me, which I realise to be very childish and immature. Žižek’s brain must be so huge that the concepts buzzing around in there are simply too, well, complex, to be put into readable sentences. Either that, or he is a terrible writer. What do we know, eh? We’re just readers.

I’ve read whole chapters and even managed to finish whole books (!) by the old boys and girls of philosophy, the mind-bending Schopenhauer , the hallucinations of Baudrillard and the poetic politics of Weil. I’ve managed to get through the manic depressive fevered rants of Nietzsche, and yes, I even got something out of them. I’ve devoured the words of Aleister Crowley who, although not strictly speaking a “philosopher”, has managed to push through my intellectual as well as psychological barriers which is after all the job of philosophers.

With Žižek, it’s been five pages in nearly a decade and instead of intellectual mind explosions, my reaction has been one confused thought along the lines of, “this seems interesting, I wish I could understand it, but what the hell is he on about?”

That is, until I went to see him live. Sounds like a band; “Žižek is a bit difficult to get into but he’s great live…”

The rock parallels are not completely pointless. The atmosphere in the old theatre in Gothenburg was akin to that of a rock concert. I know, because I’ve seen footage of Ike and Tina in the 70s. With the red velvet of the stage curtains and people excitedly leaning over the balconies, clapping and cheering, the comparisons are not that far fetched.

Instead of Tina Turner’s legs, however, we get a grey middle-aged, slightly overweight man who saunters onstage and slouches on the interviewee chair. There is a table, two glasses of water, and an interviewer sitting opposite the philosopher. The latter coughs compulsively, pulls nervously on his dirt-white stained looking T shirt and by way of introducing himself says something about how he “fucking hates” people. We all laugh. He looks like a bum! He hates people! He said the f-word! What a hero!

Listening to Žižek ramble on about a variety of subjects (including Judeo-Christianity, multiculturalism, capitalism, communism, ethics, the Bible, crucifixion, Hitchcock and hardcore pornography, to name a few) is the total antidote to the utter maze that is his writing. His verbal diarrhea is, too, like a labyrinth. At times it is a confusing maze, into whose depths he leads the audience in such relentless pace that one can’t help wondering if it’s all just smoke and mirrors.

However, his enthusiasm and confidence in his own theories are pleasant and positive to bear witness to; it feels contagious, you nod along, and you think “aah that’s interesting, I’ve never thought of it that way, I see his point”, and by the end of the 2,5 hour gig, once the applaud has died and people stream out onto the street to the warm summer evening, the first thing your friend says is, “…but he doesn’t provide any answers.”

And that makes you think. Should he provide answers?

Should philosophers in general provide answers?

Personally, I think not. Seeing Žižek “live” redeemed him in my eyes, and I can now look at “The Parallax View” which is right in front of me, still opened on page 5, without completely giving up on him. I know that, even though he has some serious issues when it comes to expressing himself on paper, he is actually out there and seems to be posing some questions that should be asked, which is all that any philosopher is expected to do, I guess. The young, “leftist intellectual” audience in the Gothenburg theatre might have been disappointed in the great hero because he presented a world full of question marks, uncertainty and one problematic after another instead of offering neat solutions on a silver tray.

But, surely it’s not up to the philosopher to help the Left (or the Right, or the Centre, or any political entity) from its political confusion and the ideological traps hidden in humanism (or anti-humanism, or any thought process, for that matter). The philosopher merely shows us the traps; it is then our responsibility to avoid them.

With this in mind, it would help if our so-called philosophers of the postmodern and post-this-and-that world would finally climb down from their cozy ivory towers and actually engage in conversations with dock workers, the unemployed, women, men, and everyone else they talk about amongst themselves in their university rooms and in their badly written books which people get stuck with on page 5.

And no, it’s not enough to climb onstage, say “fuck” and play a rock star.

You’ve got to climb down the stage and be able to write a readable sentence so we can all read the rest of your 385 pages without needing a PhD degree in Bullshit.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

The Musical Adventure of a Hello Kitty Metalhead

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Last winter I had the pleasure of having a conversation about music with a young woman called Anna von Hauswolff. I will come back to who she is in more detail a bit later, but the main reason the conversation was very pleasant, is because it turned out that we shared a similar attitude towards music as a form of art.

Not only that, but during our little chat at we also realised that we come from pretty much the same generation (even though she is a bit younger than moi!) of music fans. This made me reflect back on my own relationship with so-called popular music and the journey I’ve made as a music fan from an early adolescent to adulthood.

I’m of a generation who grew up with MTV when it still literally stood for music television and they had programmes like 120 minutes and Headbanger’s Ball and the channel as a whole actually had some credibility and authority. I used to sit by the TV when 120 minutes was on, VHS recorder ready, eager to press “rec” when the nice English man would announce the name of my favourite band or artist.

120 Minutes was a shrine of sorts, for those of us not-quite-yet-old-enough for the brutality of Headbanger’s Ball, but who were already discovering the world of “alternative music” and getting excited by the freedom and seemingly endless possibilities it had to offer.

When I was 14, I was in no doubt whatsoever that one day I would become a rock star and meet my sources of courage and inspiration …who were not Kate Bush, or Siouxsie, or Nina Hagen, by the way… but Courtney Love, P.J. Harvey and Tori Amos. They still are, to an extent. Well, I’ve kind of lost track of Tori since she had plastic surgery and retreated to Devon… and the P.J. bubble half burst when I met her for an interview and found her to be scarier than any “devil worshipping” metal dude I’ve had the pleasure of confronting (and there’s been a few). P.J., the crazy lipstick androgynous avant-garde big sister from the posters of your youth, talking softly and sipping tea in front you, now that is ten times more terrifying than Deicide, trust me.

Terrifying maybe , but not nearly as nerve wracking as it would be to meet Courtney Love face to face. The woman’s been my personal Jungian alter ego and idol of almost, no, utterly religious proportions since I turned 14 and discovered that one doesn’t necessarily have to wear jeans, look like a boy or be a pale anorexic goth in order to express angry and dark things. Courtney was the perfect punk antidote to the mainstream definition of (female) anger.

Most girls in school liked some disco dancer who sang about “vogue” and Hollywood film stars. As much as people still like to put her on some kind of a feminist pedestal, the fact is that Madonna has never empowered a single girl who was teased in school, hated P.E. but liked reading books or generally felt like an outsider in the world of cheerleaders and ballet dancers. Madonna’s strength as a “woman artist” was based on her ruthless commercial ambition, the fact that she dyed her hair, showed her tits, confused commercial soft porn with erotic literature (managing to downgrade the mighty Anais Nin in the process), sounded like Minnie Mouse on helium and sold in the thousands. Still does, in fact. Fantastic.

Meanwhile, the geek girls and the pissed off lot, the ones smoking by the school gates and skipping class to pop in the library or record shop, we discovered Courtney. She was an angel, or a Greek goddess rather, a bloody Carrie seeking revenge, who landed on the high school corridors and winked to us, wearing a torn dress and a tiara (a tiara!), effortlessly embodying the sarcasm and anger we all felt towards the world, and she made us realise that hey ho, we can wear a nice dress, we can have fun with lipstick and still speak our minds. In fact we can take womanhood© as described by the corporate machine, chew it up, swallow it and then puke it out upside down. How’s that for a Miss World.

It was, to myself and many others of my generation, nothing short of a revolution.

So, no, my generation is not a generation of Kate Bush running up some hill with Peter Gabriel. We rather watched Courtney running up the stairs of MTV throwing make-up at Madonna.

This is another aspect me and von Hauswolff agreed on: the indifference towards Kate Bush. I have never quite understood the appeal and fascination there to be perfectly honest. Bush who? The insane president? We’d rather have Jeff Buckley, thanks.

…and now that we are on the subject of men, it wasn’t only Jeff that stole our teenage hearts. It was men like Ian McKaye, Page Hamilton, Thurston Moore and Henry Rollins who opened up the door to new musical (and political) discoveries. I read about the Fugazi singer staying behind after his own gigs to help clean out the venues, then turned the page to see… Page describing his love for jazz guitar, Thurston speaking out against the beauty industry and Henry just generally speaking out, all to the tunes of DIY, punk and heavy distortion, and I realised there was no need to pay attention to the twats in Guns’n’Roses and Metallica.

Only a few years later did I discover metal; there were a few years in-between during which I abandoned music altogether for reasons which I still cannot fully explain. Partly because by the time I reached my early 20s, I felt like all the relevant musical avenues had already been plodded on. As so often in life, I was of course completely wrong, as bands like Opeth, Emperor and Dissection and countless other doom, death, black, hard rock, sludge and what-have-you bands would soon prove.

Dissection was first introduced upon me by an ex-boyfriend. I hated the screaming vocals and ordered him to turn it off so I could put on some more Jeff Buckley. These things take time sometimes I guess; I was not in the place to receive the wisdom yet. When I finally was, a few years later, I was to experience another revolution of the Mind, this time of a more philosophical nature than the teenage feminism of high school corridors… not more important, just of a totally different kind.

This time, thanks to Dissection kindly providing me with an appropriate soundtrack to esoteric and gnostic literature, I realised that hey ho, we can wear a nice dress, we can have fun with lipstick and still listen to satanic metal. In fact we can take the whole false concept of womanhood© as described by the middle-of-the-road metallers, chew it up, swallow it and then puke it out upside down. How’s that for Miss Wacken Open Air.

Of course, the middle-of-the road metallers and weekend Satanists are really quite a conservative bunch, as I was to find out during my years as a Hello Kitty metalhead. There are only two places in the world from which I have been thrown out of for wearing my favourite pink summer top: first, from a Catholic church in Warsaw, and second, from an Aleister Crowley poetry night at the old Devonshire Arms in London. Need I say more.

As to Anna von Hauswolff who I mentioned in the beginning – she is a female singer songwriter from Sweden, currently residing in Denmark, and she is doing her bit to shake and destroy the sentiments promoted by the current so called “music television” by bringing “doom” back to the “womb” and letting some dark female energy trickle back into the collective consciousness of mankind. In an almost, but not quite, commercial sort of way.

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