Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Dawson's Heights

A few weeks ago my friend Pablo and I wandered through Dawson's Heights estate in Dulwich and got chatting to three boys called Orien, Neo and Joe Joe. The boys were super sweet and chatty and wanted to show us around all of their favourite spots, here are some photos that Pablo took from that day.

Standing on the highest floor of the estate you really get a sense of being on top of the world, simultaneously connected to and really far away from the rest of the city, surveying the landscape like a king - in the words of Orien (in the middle): “Sometimes I feel like I should have a crown!”.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Redevelopment - a poem

Balloon Woods estate in Nottingham (now demolished)

The below poem was written by my gran, Ruth Johns, in the 70s. It’s based on her experience of helping lonely mums (displaced from Birmingham to a high rise estate in Lichfield) to get the local council to approve the setting up of a playgroup for young children in what was the only possible venue - a disused army nissen hut. She says that there were no play spaces designed for the estate children when it was built, despite young families making up the majority of people being housed there.


Concrete and glass

tower in the sky:

Warning of man's

failure to see

-- reality

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A leap of faith

At the end of WWII, Britain had been decimated by the blitz, the population had increased by almost a million people in 6 years (all of which needed somewhere to live) and the country was knee deep in debt. If the country has ever really needed ‘strong and stable’ leadership, it was then. No one expected The Labour Party to win by a landslide in 1945, least of all Winston Churchill, but win they did - as the people voted on a limb on a promise of change and the possibilty of a more equal society. It was the biggest national shift in voting behaviour in history, and the first time The Labour Party had ever had a majority in parliament.

It certainly wasn’t all perfect, but between 1935-1941 one million council houses were built, a tax-funded system of benefits for the poor, sick and disabled was set up and the NHS was established as a pioneering project in nationalised healthcare. By 1979 (with Margaret Thatcher in number 10) 42% of the population were living in council-owned homes, but more often than not these were badly designed, poorly constructed and in sore need of attention.

Lynsey Hanley’s book Estates: An intimate history explores how politics and policies have shaped our attitudes to social housing over the last 70 years and asks the question: when so many people today will happily rely on the state for health care and education, why has the social housing project been such a failure?

Finishing this book last night,on the eve of election day, reminded me again why it is that I’m voting Labour. There’s no point wading deep into the metrics of inequality here when so many have done it before. We all know that the housing crisis is one of the biggest dilemmas facing whichever government is in power. House prices are skyrocketing as homelessness is increasing. Right now there are over a million people on the waiting list for a council or housing association home, but the government aren’t building homes: they’re letting private developers do it and flogging the lot on the international market to investors.

A lot has happened between 1945 and 2017, but with the country heading to the polling booths today, it’s hard not to draw parallels between then and now. Austerity measures, climate change, the housing crisis, Brexit and the recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester has many people, myself included, feeling worried and uncertain about both our own security and the future of Britain (and the world) generally. The wave of populism that has seen Jeremy Corbyn exceed expectations during the campaign means that the polls are showing a tantalising diminished Tory lead. Like how the actions of the government in the mid 20th century are still shaping our society now, Brexit and the decisions made when it comes to housing need and the NHS could shape the economy and society for generations.

Finding ourselves at this crossroads, it almost seems too dangerous to hope that once again the public might take a leap of faith, but whilst the future is being decided it’s nice to revel in it for a little while.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Quitting my feminist Facebook group addiction

It's International Women's Day, and so it might seem contradictory that my resolution is (on the surface at least) to become less of a feminist.

My favourite feminist Facebook groups have been an amazing source of support and inspiration over the past few years. Just a few weeks ago I posted after a debate with a male friend of a friend during which I'd felt like the proverbial 'hysterical feminist' and received an outpouring of support and encouragement. Being able to be part of a community of women of all backgrounds who think just like me has been quite honestly an endless source of joy.

Until recently. Whilst the Emma Watson/Beyoncé debate rages on feminist groups throughout the country I realised that it's not healthy for me anymore. When the video of Emma Watson defending her Vanity Fair shoot went viral, it was posted several times by different people. Each time, someone would politely comment that they thought Emma Watson was being hypocritical due to comments she had made about Beyoncé three years ago. This is a very valid point, and Emma Watson - just like any other feminist - should be held to account if her feminist values are failing to be intersectional.

But the debate went on, and on with no real progress in the discussion, the same points were made over and over again with both sides getting increasingly agitated, 'Emma Watson should be given the benefit of the doubt' 'Emma Watson is a hypocrite' 'Emma Watson does not stand for all women' etc etc etc. The debate was thankfully not always divided along racial lines but it was completely circular, it was clear that as both Beyoncé and Emma Watson are inspirational figures to a lot of women that neither was going to stop defending their side.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A walk down Regent's canal

My brother and his friends outside the lock keeper's cottage (photo not mine)

I first discovered London’s canal network when I moved to east London in June 2016. I grew up in the south of the city, where the canal networks have largely been filled in but I was still surprised to discover this rather large stone left unturned. That summer, my brother was also living east, renting the lock-keeper’s cottage on Regent’s Canal next to Broadway Market, and I spent several sunny afternoons sitting on the lock — East London’s beach — greeting passing narrowboats and doing what English people do best in the sun: smoking roll-ups and drinking cheap beer.

The canals once spread over London and the rest of the UK like watery veins, extending the naturally existing river networks and linking supply and demand in the years before the industrial revolution. Narrowboats were pulled by horses walking on the towpaths adjacent to the canals. Now there are over 10,000 people living on narrowboats on London’s canals and many land-locked Londoners enjoy the scenic towpaths all year round.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Piers Morgan and the genderization of protest

Today on Good Morning Britain Owen Jones and Piers Morgan debated the recent petition to cancel Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK. The Huff Post transcribed the exchanged here.

The gist of the argument is that Piers Morgan, like Trump and the rest of the right wing press, thinks that protestors are being hysterical. Everywhere you look at the moment the word is being evoked, 'hysterical protestors', 'hysterical reaction to the Trump administration', 'hysterical rhetoric' etc. etc. etc.

The intention behind the use of this word is curiously gendered. After all, it’s manly not to care. Too much emotion is distasteful, and worse, it makes you ‘hysterical’ - a term which literally stems from the Greek for uterus. Hysteria has a long, dark history of being used against women - in the 16th, 17th and 18th century women were thrown into asylums en masse, 'hysteria' was the catch all term for women who exhibited pretty much any behaviour that was considered threatening to normal order. 

Today, branding a person or a movement as hysterical is a way to pathologize emotion. What's more, by applying ‘hysteria’ to Owen Jones and other male protestors, Piers is attempting an attack on their masculinity. He’s the bully in the playground who’s just called the other guy a pussy.

Of course, feminising someone or something you don’t like as an insult is not exactly new, but what’s interesting about this particular example is the insidiousness of it. My old French teacher once joked that when it came to gendering nouns “the bad things are usually feminine” and like gendered nouns, the sexism at play here is of the unembodied, 'read between the lines' variety. Accusing protestors of hysteria is a way of devaluing righteous anger along gendered lines.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is is possible to be a pro-life feminist?

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Abortion has been on my mind a lot recently, as I’m sure it has with the tens of thousands of other women who marched on Washington, London, Toronto, Delhi and all over the world last weekend, demanding for the rights of women, including the right to safe abortion, to be protected. The news that a ‘pro-life’ feminist group New Wave Feminists were removed from the list of official partners of the march raised an interesting question. Can you be a feminist and be against abortion?

New Wave Feminists argue that women wouldn’t need to turn to abortion if we had a culture that was more supportive of motherhood generally. In some ways, their vision of the world is far more ambitious because what they are striving for is essentially a matriarchal society where motherhood receives the respect it deserves and fertility is treated as a “superpower”. They don’t want to deny women abortions, they want to create a world where women don’t feel like they need to have them. It’s almost a Herland level of utopia, and I admire them for it.

But in this world, the real world, access to safe and legal abortion is central to women’s equal rights - there’s just no getting around it. And here’s why.

A few days after the march the world was informed that as his first act as President, Donald Trump was reinstating a gagging order on NGOs, preventing them for discussing abortion with women without losing their right to US foreign aid. The effects of this could be devastating, especially to teenage girls in developing countries, and it’s predicted that thousands of women across the world could die as a result.

I believe that the fact that a man like Trump was charged with making a decision like this highlights just how integral pro-choice is to the feminist agenda. Because regardless of whether you as a woman feel personally comfortable with it or not, restricting abortion has been, and will continue to be a means to exert control over women’s behaviour and lives.

I tweeted New Wave Feminists to ask what they think about the gagging order and here’s the reply I received: