Cheesecake.

cheese-platter01-lg

Bread. Cake. Cheese. Tacos. Hunger

Unruly politics is intimate politics.

“Let them eat cake”—A comment some say sparked the French Revolution, a movement that has been idealistically portrayed as the uprising of a downtrodden people against an unjust and frivolous monarchy. Most people remember the guillotine and beheaded nobles and forget that Revolution began with bread.

One version of the story goes that peasants, starving after multiple failed harvests, marched on the royal palace of Versailles, and demanded bread. To which the notoriously extravagant Queen Marie Antoinette leaned out the window and declared, “Let them eat cake”. Other retelling says that the comment came after a mob of bloodthirsty peasants with pitchforks led a frantic chase after the Queen through the palace. I prefer this version.

Either way, the events reflect a period in which individuals could make claims of the government to care for them and demand recompense face-to-face. A time when kings/queens held court and invited their subjects to voice their grievances. A time when William Wallace fought and died for the independence of his people. This intimacy between governor and governed has since faded  in many parts of the world. The last time a major European ruler (I apologize for the Western focus of this paper) died in battle was in World War II. Now, most military duty is more of a publicity stunt than an actual military tour (e.g. Prince Harry). The last commander-in-chief of the USA military forces who served abroad was George W. Bush Senior in World War II.  I don’t mean to equate military duty with intimate governance but I do think it reflects a change in the role of subject and ruler.

If people are starving today, there are complicated technocractic and bureaucratic mechanisms for determining which child is malnourished enough to receive aid and which child needs to go hungry for a few more days to qualify. In the USA, Donald Trump wants to cut funding to the food stamp program which provides critical assistance to the poorest subset of the population. Going hungry is no longer seen as a crime of the government but one of the individual and your hungry and poverty must be extensively proven before you can qualify.

Today we see still see hunger in a world where is it possible to feed everyone. On a comedy radio news program (they tell the funniest and most ridiculous news) I heard a story about how there is a cheese surplus in the USA. To help dairy farmers, the USDA is going to buy $20 billion dollars worth of cheese and distribute it to food banks across the country so that they can provide “high-protein food to the tables of those most in need” (even though they are cutting access to these programs simultaneously) and subsize the continued over production of cheese.

If we have moved from a moral economy to a market economy, why are there such huge surpluses—11 million POUNDS (the weight not the currency) of cheese sitting in warehouses when people are hungry but cannot afford to buy it and aren’t being given food stamps to exchange for it?

While talking about cheese surpluses is comical it is also depressing and infuriating.

 But the pattern continues and involves.

They are designing tacos in Mexico City that cost $25,000 EACH just because they can and because someone will pay for it. Literally the entire point of this taco was to make it the most expensive possible. Apart from kobe beef and truffles it also has gold flakes. GOLD FLAKES. TO EAT. Just in case you were wondering, gold flakes have zero nutritional value and probably aren’t exactly pleasant to digest. So the only purpose to add them was to make the taco even MORE EXPENSIVE.

I find this as disgusting as I am sure the taco tastes. I forgot to say that it has civet POOP coffee in the salsa. Why? BECAUSE CIVET POOP COFFEE IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE.

I can’t claim moral perfection in this area or any other because I do throw away food that goes bad because I bought too much and I eat luxury items, like chocolate and ice cream, but I am frustrated by the lack of disgust expressed by others when they hear about 11 million pound surpluses of cheese or $25,000 dollar tacos. Instead, it is seen as something comedic. It’s not.

Returning to the French Revolution, I see two intersecting ideas: hunger and intimacy in political relations. We still have hunger but lack the political intimacy to storm palace gates and raise our pitchforks and I wonder if this breeds a sort of apathy. We are so far removed from the decision-makers that we feel we cannot make claims of them or that we won’t be heard. Yes, we sign petitions and we go to marches and we call our local representatives but I think a few more pitchforks might be more effective.

Unruly politics is intimate politics.

 

Sources:

Farber, M. (2016) “USDA to Buy 11 Million Pounds of Cheese to Combat Surplus | Fortune.com,” http://fortune.com/2016/08/24/usda-buy-cheese-surplus/ (accessed June 1, 2017)

Martin, J. (2017) “A resort in Mexico is selling a $25,000 taco that features Kobe beef, caviar and gold leaf,” https://www.lonelyplanet.com/2017/03/02/resort-mexico-25k-taco-kobe-beef-caviar-gold-leaf (accessed June 1, 2017)

Thompson, E.P. (1971) “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century on JSTOR,” Past & Present 50: 76–136

To listen. To learn. To speak. To listen.

IMG_7660I feel uncomfortable at protests.

It’s not the only emotion I experience, but it is often a strong one.

This discomfort stems from the fact that I do not feel like I have a right to speak or that I can authentically speak from my own experience.

In the march for Syria and Aleppo, I felt that I, as a foreigner in the UK, could not be making demands of the UK government to shelter refugees or send aid to Aleppo. More importantly, I have no experience of being a refugee or migrant or living in and escaping from a war zone. In fact, my most unpleasant journey was one I chose to take to experience an ‘authentic’ train journey in Myanmar—my friend and I had our own sleeper carriage. Who am I to demand justice for the horrors of a sea voyage you might not survive to a country that sees you as a ‘problem’ to be solved rather than a human?

At the women’s march, at which I perhaps felt most relevant, I still could not represent all women and I certainly could not represent those that have been most oppressed by our patriarchial system. I have begun to more fully realize the privilege of my position as an educated, caucasian, heterosexual, cis-female from a middle income, liberal family, eventhough at times I need to be reminded. Furthermore, the fact that I can easily identify with the term ‘woman’ further demonstrates my privilege. Who am I to speak for the person who has been oppressed by their gender, sexuality and/or race?

At the march against Donald Trump here in Brighton, I again had the privilege of being one of the least affected by his policies. I will still have health care and my family won’t be held in limbo at the airport.

At the march against racism, I was in a sea of mostly white faces. I have never experienced racism and I cannot fathom the effects that this has on an individual. As said so well by msbentry on this unruly blog, “you are immersed in privilege and have never walked in my shoes”. You are right. I have not and never will.

Uncomfortable and rightly so.

Though I would like to clarify here: I am not uncomfortable for fault of those that I attempt to add my voice to, but rather uncomfortable because I feel that I cannot authentically do so.

However, rather than thinking that this emotion is negative, perhaps it is what I should be feeling. Being uncomfortable is being brought to awareness. It is confronting things that I have either taken for granted or just ignored. And so I begin to change (at least, that’s the hope).

If I look at these protests again from a different perspective, one in which change is happening in me, being uncomfortable is perhaps the mechanism to be embraced. Perhaps I cannot stand in solidarity without first being made aware of my position and the disadvantages my voice brings to those I believe I am ‘helping’. It is easy to recognize privilege, but to accept it and its implications is an uncomfortable process. We often speak of empathy, but I cannot genuinely feel or know what another has experienced.

I wish to lend my voice to amplify yours, not drown it out. How to do this I am not quite sure. As Spivak (1988) argues in her essay Can the subaltern speak?, attempts to “speak for” another rather than allowing them to speak for themselves is just another form of oppression, albeit an unintentional one.

So when I go to marches or demonstrations or sign petitions I hope that I am not speaking for someone else but rather functioning as a megaphone. Which brings us again to the reason why we/I join marches at all, because despite these misgivings I will continue to attend and lend my voice in solidarity. I hope that my voice will be one of the many. By embracing the heterogeneity of those that experience oppression and injustice and of the forms it takes, we can also embrace the diversity of voices and causes represented. Rights for women affect everyone, as does Trump’s policies, as does racism. Going to a protest also brings awareness to the multiple factions and groups that create a critical mass. As much as I am different from the person walking next to me, they are also different from those walking in front and behind them. We each have our own personal reasons for joining together at that time and place. My discomfort at knowing I am not like them, has helped me to realize that they are not all like each other either, and yet we are together.

Sources:

Spivak, G.C., 1988. Can the subaltern speak?. Can the subaltern speak? Reflections on the history of an idea, pp.21-78.

As I walk alone ‘I’ cease to be

PREFACE

Let me preface this blog by explaining that I wrote it after finishing an entire bottle of wine and binge watching Bridget Jones Baby and The To Do List.

Neither of these films is particularly serious or radically feminist (depending on how you define this) but they have a couple aspects in common. The leading characters are female, both women are going through periods of transition, and both are dealing with stereotyped perceptions of what it is to be a female (in certain contexts and locations) at different periods of a woman’s life. While a more nuanced and lengthy analysis of these films is perhaps warranted, I hope this brief list of characteristics will give adequate explanation for my reflections on being female as I walked home and my experience of transition from ’empowered’ female to victim.

So here is the (only very, very slightly edited) rant:

RANT

It’s 1:46 AM and I’ve just walked home alone as a female. And I’m sick and I’m tired and I’m angry and I’m frustrated that I cannot walk for 15 minutes at night without being in fear or anxious or looking over my shoulder or behind my back, worried that at every intersection I am going to encounter someone who doesn’t respect wants to harm (mental, physical) me.

Maybe they don’t respect my space, or my body or way of walking. I’m not saying don’t interact with me. Or ignore me. Or pretend that I don’t exist. But please, treat me like a human, not just a body.

It’s not okay for you to comment on my body, on my accent, on the way I walk. You don’t know me. You haven’t even made the effort to get to know me. You are a stranger and you have no right to my body.

I am angry.

Tonight I was walking home alone. I was coming from my friend’s house after a bottle of wine and a nice meal. These are the emotions I encountered as I walked.

Put your hood up. You don’t want people to see your face or your hair it will give them something to comment on.

Walk with purpose. If you’re confident you’re not an easy target.

Walk quickly past this intersection. You’ve been shouted out before from a car window.

Be careful walking through this park. A couple months ago an under-aged girl was raped in this park (http://metro.co.uk/2016/11/16/girl-14-raped-by-man-in-brighton-play-area-6261656/). Don’t be the next victim.

There is a group a men talking loudly…possibly drunk. Put your head down and walk quickly past them as to not attract attention.

“Hey (unsavoury adjective)!…You’re legs must be really sore after walking up that hill” – A stranger.

Yes, the words are seemingly innocent. They are not overtly sexual. They aren’t obviously threatening. BUT they put me on edge, especially when there are five males, a deserted road and only one of me.

WHY DO I HAVE TO BE SCARED TO WALK HOME ALONE AT NIGHT?

“Please don’t speak to me like that”.

“Why not?” – Same stranger.

His comment was followed by laughter and scoffs of disbelief from his friends.

What did they think I would do/say?

“Because it’s not respectful”.

“Where’s your accent from?” – A Stranger

(HELLO!!!! We were talking about respect! Not accents)

“(Why does it f(*(^%*$ matter where my accent is from?)” – I didn’t say this but I wanted to.

“HAHAHA. Make American Great Again” – An other stranger

I walked away because I didn’t feel safe.

I went home and I am writing this now because I am angry.

TELL ME, WHY CAN’T I WALK HOME ALONE AT NIGHT WITHOUT FEAR?

End of rant.

REFLECTIONS

While I cannot call my actions unruly I think this experience underscored some of the ideas surrounding the body that we discussed and perhaps connects with some of the discussions we’ve had on using the body to be unruly.

I would like to argue that a body, especially a female body, walking home alone at night takes on aspects of the ‘bare life’. While this is an extreme extension of Agamben’s concept, and not on the same scale as the Holocaust, for me it is relevant. A female body walking alone at night ceases to be a bios, the way life is lived, and becomes only zoĕ, the biological aspect of life. This body can then be killed with impunity. I use the word ‘killed’ because verbal assault can mortally wound humanity. It can make a person begin to lose their own conception of personal bios, by making them questions their own worth. Being reduced to a body or an accent or a skin color or a sex indicates that your bios is no longer relevant or even exists. At the first comment I was reduced to zoê. When I challenged that categorization, I was then reduced to an accent/nationality. When do I get to be a PERSON?

Night, in its darkness and emptiness, creates a micro ‘state of exception’ out of my path home, suspending my bios and exposing me to actions, which when placed in another space or time, would be condemned. Night challenges/changes sovereignty. The rights to my body become public, free to comment, judge, harm, kill. As Agamben states, “The sovereign sphere is the sphere in which it is permitted to kill without committing homicide”; interpolating, we also get other less serious crimes that fall into this category. The right to comment on my body. The right to harm my body. The right to violate.

So, who was the sovereign this night?

It was not me.

But was it the men? Were they the sovereign to claim power over my body?

I don’t think so either. For they are just as affected by the state of exception as I am. Unequal victims within a system of dehumanization.

When sovereign is so esoteric and surreptitious, what actions can I take to reclaim sovereignty over my body?

SOURCES

  1. Agamben, G. (1998) ‘Part two: Homo Sacer’, in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp.71-115.
  1. Mbembe, A. (2003) ‘Necropolitics’, Public Culture, 15(1), pp. 11-40.