Daniel Fletcher https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/22583/all cached version 17/01/2018 22:02:54 en Please don’t tie me down https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/daniel-fletcher/please-don-t-tie-me-down <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s time to let go of the Victorian idea that a ‘serious’ man should not be sensually open. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/DanielFletcher2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="http://www.pixabay.com/">www.pixabay.com</a>. CC0 Public Domain.</p> <p>Disclaimer: I’m a man who wears a tie to work every day. I work in a primary school, and a couple of years ago ties were made compulsory for both male and female pupils. Tie-wearing for boys and girls at school is pretty common in England so their introduction came as no great surprise, but it did produce a dilemma in my mind: I hadn’t worn a tie to work for years, but now that all the children had to wear one should I lead by example and follow suit? There was no school policy on staff wearing ties, but the pressure began to build and eventually I buckled.</p> <p>I’ve worn a tie to work ever since, yet this really bugs me, and not just because I find ties a little uncomfortable or unfashionable to wear: for me it’s also an issue of politics.</p> <p>My interest in the political significance of tie-wearing was pricked in June 2017 when John Bercow, the Speaker of the UK House of Commons, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40446102">clarified that MPs would not be required to wear ties to debates in Parliament</a> (he meant for men, not for women). Bercow’s decision was discussed <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04gvzmf/episodes/downloads">on BBC Radio Five Live’s news show <em>Good Week / Bad Week</em> on July 2nd 2017</a>. One of the guests was the Russian journalist and former Kremlin adviser <a href="http://www.politicalscrapbook.co.uk/alexandernekrassov/">Alexander Nekrassov</a>,<em> </em>who suggested that relaxing the rule on ties would be a “disaster.” He argued that a tie “reveals everything about a man,” and that ties “make men look smart…and smart has to come back.”</p> <p>Nekrassov defended the tie because it’s a symbol of the traditional masculinity he’s keen to preserve (or “bring back” as he put it on the programme), an image that still shapes our subconscious sense of what a man should be. What’s worrying is how broadly accepted this position seems to be. All four of the other panel members agreed with Nekrassov that a man looks smarter in a tie. <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/profiles/1rtmf0y9DWkzm3Pwb0cHP2g/jane-garvey">Jane Garvey</a>, one of the show’s co-hosts (who also presents <em><a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007qlvb">Woman’s Hour</a> </em>on BBC Radio Four) put it like this: “I tend to agree with the general view that men look smarter with ties.”</p> <p>It’s this idea of male ‘smartness’ that needs to be deconstructed and overturned.</p> <p>When we think about the smartness associated with a man in a suit and tie, we’re thinking about a form of masculinity that is rooted in late Victorian, bourgeois culture. During the Radio Five Live discussion, Garvey half-heartedly offered up the theory that the tie is a “silken arrow” that points towards a man’s “most treasured region” (she didn’t say whether this was his wallet or his penis). That’s a little too Freudian for me. Instead, I suspect that—as a critical accompaniment to the Victorian suit—ties are better understood as part of a wider form of ‘respectable’ expression that’s defined by male self-repression.</p> <p>After all, what does a tie do? It tightens, restricts and covers. It tightens around a man’s neck, restricts his movement just a little, and critically, it covers up the buttons of his shirt that provide the opening to bare flesh. The late Victorian man in his suit and tie is defined by his discipline. He must display his ability to control his raw bodily urges, raising himself above a state of nature with the power of his rational thought and the strength of his hardnosed convictions. The tie helps to communicate this level of control and discipline to the world, literally tying up the top button—the first to be undone in revealing the body—and covering the rest with that “silken arrow.”</p> <p>The modern suit jacket, the surviving descendent of an array of Victorian coats and jackets, completes the look. It adds another thick ‘professional’ layer over the body of sensuality and emotion. To this day, many professional men will wear their jackets and ties at virtually all times when they enter into ‘serious business,’ even when they work in horribly hot and sticky environments. They must bear the discomfort, keep the body well covered up, and ‘be a man.’</p> <p>As Garvey’s fellow co-host <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/profiles/14g3BwZXDqxNgqwp2GfqbFp/peter-allen">Peter Allen</a> suggested during the Radio Five Live discussion, there’s a perception that a man without a tie looks ‘untidy,’ but what does that mean? It means a little too free—<em>for</em> <em>a man. </em>If so, a senior professional man with an open-necked shirt and<em> two whole buttons</em> undone might well create complete consternation among his staff. To many people, an un-tied shirt is worrying enough as an indicator of openness to the sensual body, so how about a CEO or Prime Minister in shorts, revealing his bare legs to the world? <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jun/22/teenage-boys-wear-skirts-to-school-protest-no-shorts-uniform-policy">Even the notion of teenage boys in short trousers makes us think twice.</a> The truth is, we haven’t let go of the Victorian idea that a ‘serious’ male should not be sensually open. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>Given that we still readily accept a man in a suit and tie as the gold standard for ‘smartness’ in multiple senses, is it any wonder that we still live in societies that are defined by the emotionally stunted nature of traditional masculinity? These are societies where ‘smart’ men in suits and ties go about their business, putting profits above our welfare, self-interest above empathy, and ‘tough decisions’ above human dignity—men &nbsp;who have been taught that raw power is more valuable than emotional sensitivity.</p> <p>In Western societies, ruthless strength in the face of ‘emotional wavering’ is still one of the most prized traits in industry and politics. We should not be surprised, then, to find a man like Donald Trump stepping up from the world of business to claim political power. While he may be clueless, he looks kind of smart in his suits and red ties. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/07/putin-trump-meeting-g20-russia-election-hacking">When Trump met Putin at the G20 summit</a> in Hamburg, he found his kindred spirit on the global stage. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/07/trump-putin-meeting-g20-russia">As the journalist Richard Wolffe puts it, the two men are “cut from the same cloth.”</a> Wolffe used that phrase metaphorically, but he might just as well have meant it literally, because when they sat down together to bond over their status as fellow strongmen, they reflected the image of each other in their immaculate suits and ties.</p> <p>While we may think of men like Trump and Putin as aggressive and hot headed as they bludgeon their way to the top, they strive to give off the impression of being cool and collected during the ‘big’ occasions and the ‘tough’ decision making that follows. Whenever it‘s time for serious business, they will be ready in all their professional layers, looking neat, tidy and <em>tightened up</em>. They will make sure that the sensual body is well restricted when it ‘really matters.’ &nbsp;</p> <p>The irony, of course, is that strongmen who are so keen to express control over their emotions are the same people who are so <em>out of control</em> in their insatiable lust for power. As they drain human sentiment out of their decision making they are left with the most basic compulsion <em>for more.</em> Indeed, modern strongmen drop the token Victorian ideal of the rational overcoming the natural in order to reveal traditional masculinity in its bare form. What matters most to them is not the strong mind but the strong gut—men like Trump like to trust in their ‘gut instinct.’ And here’s the final irony: the ‘smart’ suit and tie of the strongman ultimately hints at the primitive gut of self-interest. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>If we want to progress beyond a world defined by this culture, then perhaps it’s time to reflect more critically on supposedly ‘trivial’ symbols of Western masculinity like suits and ties. Deep down, they carry a powerful mix of traditionalist associations that underpins the conservative ideologies from which we’re struggling to break free.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/daniel-fletcher/spectre-of-female-otherness-is-haunting-athletics">The spectre of female otherness is haunting athletics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/mark-greene/why-manning-up-is-worst-thing-we-can-do">Why manning up is the worst thing we can do</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/amit-singh/washboard-abs-and-crash-diets-how-beauty-industry-is-hurting-men">Washboard abs and crash diets: how the beauty industry is hurting men</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/michael-weatherhead-richard-bartlett-ashish-ghadiali-david-mallery-rui-tavares/parenting-planet">Politics and patriarchy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Daniel Fletcher Liberation Culture Intersectionality Wed, 19 Jul 2017 00:09:09 +0000 Daniel Fletcher 112290 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The spectre of female otherness is haunting athletics https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/daniel-fletcher/spectre-of-female-otherness-is-haunting-athletics <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Hyperandrogenic competitors are not men, and exceptional women shouldn’t be excluded on the grounds that ‘normal’ women feel threatened by their masculine traits.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/DanielFletcher.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: By Tab59 from Düsseldorf, Allemagne. CC BY-SA 2.0 via <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caster_Semenya_London_2012.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</a>.</p> <p>When <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caster_Semenya">Caster Semenya</a> eased to victory in the women's Olympic 800 metres final in Rio de Janeiro on August 20 2016, the debate on <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperandrogenism">hyperandrogenism</a> was reopened. Semenya burst onto the world scene as an 18-year-old phenomenon at the World Athletics Championships in 2009, comfortably winning the 800 metres. </p> <p>Incredibly muscular,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/20/sports/caster-semenya-800-meters.html?_r=0">suspicions about her gender were immediately raised</a>. With the gossip mill in full force, it was leaked to the media that the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2009/aug/19/caster-semenya-gender-verification-test">International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had requested</a> that Semenya undergo sex tests, and she was suspended from competing until a decision had been made. The results remain confidential, but she was cleared to begin competing in women's competitions again in mid-2010.</p> <p>However, as a direct result of the Semenya case, the IAAF began developing new rules that set out acceptable natural levels of masculinizing hormones in female athletes. The IAAF's working group decided that female competitors could not have <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-sport-testosterone-women-idUSKBN0L22IN20150129">levels of testosterone above 10 nanomoles per litre of blood,</a> which is supposedly at the bottom of the male range of testosterone levels. The IAAF’s ruling, however, along with the ‘effective therapeutic strategies’ offered to athletes deemed too masculine to compete in female competition, was highly controversial, and was eventually challenged in the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Court_of_Arbitration_for_Sport">Court of Arbitration for Sport</a> (CAS). </p> <p>The case against the new rules <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/28/sports/international/dutee-chand-female-sprinter-with-high-male-hormone-level-wins-right-to-compete.html">was brought by Indian sprinter Dutee Chand</a>, who was banned from competing in women's events prior to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 because of her naturally-occurring (but supposedly male levels) of testosterone. Refusing hormone therapy and ‘corrective’ surgery, Chand won, and the court suspended the IAAF's limits on testosterone, giving the governing body two years to produce more conclusive evidence that females with androgen hormones within the “male range” have an overriding competitive advantage over other females. This ruling paved the way for Chand and other athletes with hyperandrogenism, including, perhaps, Caster Semenya, to compete without hormone therapy.&nbsp;</p> <p>After the Olympic final, Britain's Lynsey Sharp, who finished 6th, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/aug/21/lynsey-sharp-caster-semenya-rio-2016-olympics">was interviewed by Phil Jones on the BBC</a>. Sharp spoke of the emotional connection between herself and fellow athletes Melissa Bishop and Joanna Jóźwik, who finished fourth and fifth respectively. All three are slender athletes with what might be described as feminine features. Jóźwik, Jones and Bishop hugged at the end of the race, with Jones adding, “we know how each-other feels.”</p> <p><strong>Insiders and outsiders. &nbsp;</strong><strong></strong></p> <p>It’s very common for human beings to group together and bond over similar interests and characteristics, thereby forging a sense of right, acceptable, or normal limits and identities. One of the consequences of this tendency is for individuals in one group to be disconcerted by those in another. This is what is happening in athletics, where even competitors who have nothing to do with the 800 metres are weighing in with their opinions.</p> <p>The British athlete Paula Radcliffe, for example, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0425m52">has noted that</a> some female athletes may have testosterone levels that are three or more times “the normal level” for females, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0425m52">stating that</a> “’99 per cent of women will be less than three” nanomoles of testosterone per litre of blood. Nevertheless, because the IAAF's ruling only excluded females with testosterone levels in the supposedly male range of ten or greater nanomoles per litre, Radcliffe seems willing to tolerate what she might define as ‘abnormal’ females with readings up to this level. But those <em>over</em> ten are too<em> </em>abnormal for Radcliffe to tolerate as competitors.</p> <p>In her criticisms of the CAS ruling, Radcliffe overlooks a key point, namely that the court was not ruling on whether elevated levels of testosterone give a performance improvement, but on whether any performance improvement constitutes “such a significant performance advantage” that it lifts hyperandrogenic female athletes out of the competitive range of other females. The court concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to demonstrate that any performance improvement gained through naturally high levels of testosterone is significantly greater than improvements gained through other factors, such as other natural physical or physiological features and/or access to elite training programmes and coaching. </p> <p>So even if we could say with confidence that a natural testosterone level of around ten nanomoles per litre of blood gives a performance advantage of up to three per cent as Radcliffe suggests, we would still need to quantify the advantage gained through a whole host of other performance factors to make a judgment on whether relatively high testosterone levels provide an&nbsp;<em>overriding</em>&nbsp;competitive advantage. How would we quantify, for example, the advantage Radcliffe herself gained through highly supportive parents and access to elite Western coaching from a young age? Might this have given her, say, a six per cent performance advantage over athletes who didn't have such highly supportive parents or were from countries with fewer resources?</p> <p>Comments Radcliffe made in the BBC discussion and elsewhere suggest that she fears women’s athletics will be overrun by hyperandrogenic athletes. Here she seems to display a fear reminiscent of the fear stoked up by the likes of Donald Trump—the fear that foreign ‘others’ with threatening differences will swamp the established group. What Radcliffe and other ‘normal’ female athletes must face up to is that, however ‘abnormal’ such athletes appear to be, they are still in some basic sense female, and therefore have a right to compete. Their exceptional qualities may be reminiscent of the features associated with the group excluded from female competition—men—but hyperandrogenic competitors are not men, and exceptional females cannot be excluded on the grounds that ‘normal’ females feel threatened by their masculine traits.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>What is a female?&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>How, then, are we to decide what constitutes a level of masculinity beyond the realms of the female if we want to maintain the existence of separate female competition? A divide based solely on physiological characteristics will never be adequate. What we do know, however, is that there is a quantifiable performance gap between elite male and elite female athletes. </p> <p>So is it possible to demonstrate that a female athlete with a series of ‘male’ traits is performing ‘beyond the scope of female performance?’ Well, yes, it probably is.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/08/we-thought-female-athletes-were-catching-up-to-men-but-theyre-not/260927/">A fascinating study by Israeli physicist Ira Hammerman</a>&nbsp;suggests that over the last 50 years, a performance gap of around ten per cent has existed between elite male and elite female competitors in a range of speed sports and events. Despite small fluctuations, there is remarkable consistency to this gap, with little evidence that it is narrowing. In fact <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/athletics/29446276">according to David Epstein</a> the gap in running events now stands at around 11 per cent.&nbsp; </p> <p>What we can say, then, is that in the modern sporting epoch, elite male runners tend to outperform elite female runners by around 10-11per cent whatever the combination of social and biological factors involved. An elite hyperandrogenic athlete who can close that gap may well be beyond the scope of female performance.</p> <p>The question then becomes, is Caster Semenya the exception? &nbsp;It seems not, since Semenya is ‘only’ <a href="https://www.iaaf.org/records/toplists/middlelong/800-metres/outdoor/women/senior">the 11th fastest woman in history</a>. Even if Eastern-bloc athletes are excluded because of doping allegations, <a href="https://www.iaaf.org/records/toplists/middlelong/800-metres/outdoor/women/senior">there are still four athletes with faster times than her</a>. In any case, even if Semenya's time was the fastest time, it would still not meet the criteria for being ‘beyond the scope of female performance.’ In fact her personal best is more than ten per cent slower than the best men's time in the 800 metres. A fascinating fact here is that Paula Radcliffe&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/20/sports/caster-semenya-800-meters.html?_r=0">proves to be an even more exceptional athlete than Semenya</a>: while Semenya’s best time is around 14 per cent slower than the best male athlete in her event, Radcliffe's world record time in the women's marathon is about only ten per cent slower than the world record time in the men's event. </p> <p>Semenya, of course, is still in her prime and may go faster, but she will have to improve very significantly to move beyond the scope of female performance. She is, without doubt, an exceptional performer—a once-in-a-generation athlete perhaps—but at the moment she is not an athlete whose level of performance is unprecedented in female competition.</p> <p>Caster Semenya has exceptional natural capacities. We should celebrate the fact that—while she may have faced discrimination or ostracisation in other walks of life because of her inability to fit into the standard range of normality—she has a chance to shine as a superstar in the athletic arena. We should not, as some groups of athletes and the IAAF seem intent on doing, attempt to medicalise and control the hyperandrogenic ‘condition’, which is not really a condition at all.</p> <p>Hyperandrogenic females are not suffering from an affliction, because they don’t have ‘excessive’ or ‘unnatural’ testosterone levels. Their testosterone levels do them no harm, and are unnatural only for the tastes of the majority. Those with potentially advantageous natural capacities will always be looked on with suspicion by their rivals, who will group together from a sense of vulnerability, bemoaning, despite all their hard work and endeavour, their natural misfortune, or their lack of natural fortune. </p> <p>But hopefully, now or in the future, they will also look on in admiration, and think to themselves ‘just imagine what I could achieve if I was endowed with what they have.’</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/mark-greene/ugly-and-violent-death-of-gender-conformity">The ugly and violent death of gender conformity</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/cole/they-pronoun-why-it-is-important-emotional-weight-words">This is why using &#039;they&#039; as a gender pronoun is so important</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/josefin-hedlund/revolutionary-love">How to make love revolutionary</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Daniel Fletcher Liberation Intersectionality Wed, 21 Sep 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Daniel Fletcher 105486 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Daniel Fletcher https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/daniel-fletcher <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Daniel Fletcher </div> </div> </div> <p>Daniel Fletcher is a teaching assistant and independent researcher living in the West Midlands, England. His first book, <em>The Cultural Contradictions of Anti-Capitalism</em>, will be published by Routledge in September.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Daniel Fletcher completed a PhD in sociology at Keele University in December 2015. He is currently developing a book for Routledge based on his PhD thesis, which proposes a revised conceptual framework for understanding Western radicalism. Daniel Fletcher completed a PhD in sociology at Keele University in December 2015. He is currently developing a book for Routledge based on his PhD thesis, which proposes a revised conceptual framework for understanding Western radicalism. </div> </div> </div> Daniel Fletcher Tue, 20 Sep 2016 11:36:39 +0000 Daniel Fletcher 105487 at https://www.opendemocracy.net