A hodgepodge approach to housing

Some unfortunate words about immigrants, the government's peculiar approach to green energy and the

Dear Marina,

I am very upset. I have always been a loyal socialist albeit in a slightly patrician and up myself kind of a way. I recently said British families should be given housing priorities over immigrants and now that ghastly Alan Johnson has compared my language (aspirational Islingtonian) with the BNP's (inarticulate and trashy). What does the dreadful little postie think he's up to?
 
Yours MH,
Barking/Islington

 
Stupid woman! Even the Tories under Michael Howard understood you could only ask: “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” No one expects a Labour luvvy to come out with a blatantly racist attitude to social welfare and justice.

All councils, as I understand it, operate a points system whereby one’s points increase with time on the waiting list and all other points are awarded for various aspects of deprivation. More points for children, being a single parent, having more adults than bedrooms, illness, disability and so forth.

I am not aware that any council takes into consideration the country of origin of those eligible for housing allocation. Indeed it’s probably a sackable offence to do so.

Allow me to enlighten you with a few facts.

Migrationwatch argues Government household projections are based on a "false assumption" that net immigration would be about 65,000 a year.
Between 1996 and 2004, however, it had averaged 140,000 annually, says the group, which spends much money fighting the false bogeyman that is “mass immigration.”

It concludes that 70% of the 370,000 housing shortfall - totalling 260,000 properties - had resulted from immigration above what had been anticipated.
So far so BNP friendly. Now consider rising demand for housing caused by people living alone.

The number of single person households increased from 2,977,000 in 1971 to 6,447,000 in 2006.

This trajectory is set to continue with people living alone accounting for 72% of annual housing growth by 2026. And no it’s not all single mums; it’s the elderly, professionals and divorcees too.

Meanwhile, over the last 30 years, the level of new house building has halved.

So yes Ms Hodge, we do face a housing crisis - caused by consecutive UK governments which not only failed to address, but have - through poor policy decisions - made worse the current housing shortage.

We can hardly blame the small-by-comparison number of people fleeing poverty and/or violence abroad – often as a result of our own foreign policies and increasingly our failure to act on climate change.

Since Alan’s message appears to have fallen on deaf ears, I suggest you send a note to self Mrs Hodge: engage brain before speaking. Otherwise your Hodgepodge approach to the facts leaves you vulnerable to accusations of being a bit of a BNP supporting idiot. And it’s a very poor look!

Dear Marina,

As a Christian I am concerned that we are not doing enough to combat climate change. My local parish council is keen to put solar panels on the church roof. But we’ve had no joy from the government whom it was assumed would want to help us. What do you suggest we do?

Green Worshiper

As a pagan, I agree. In a week when the government shows once again that its attitude to nuclear power, clearly, is a positive one it is obvious that all encouraging words on renewables have been nowt but piss and wind.

Example: Gordon Brown announces an extra £6 million funding for the Low Carbon Buildings Trust which provides grants for renewable energy projects. But two hours later the DTI closes down the scheme. It’s a case of talk global, postpone local, wouldn’t you say?

Grants are back on next week, but the drop in recent business for renewable companies of between 40 and 60% mean many already have their noses squashed up against the wall as their businesses collapse.

The DTI is obviously shagging the nuclear industry – in bed with is just too polite under the circumstances – and until that sorry department is abolished, we’ll have no positive way forward.

So why not launch a project to ensure every home in your parish is equipped with energy efficient light bulbs – a switch of 27 million bulbs would see this country’s energy needs reduced by two power stations.

If you still want to push ahead with a micro generation project, you now have to apply via the utilities companies, who frankly, have no interest in us switching power generation supplies, but have been tasked with the job anyway. God I’m depressed.

Dear Marina,

I can't believe it, the divorce (on hygiene grounds) was bad enough but now the ex has just robbed me – legally! Apparently as the homemaker she's entitled to part of my £131million beer money. What I want to know is how come she's the homemaker when we have a staff of 15 Filipino maids and the pile was built by Poles?

Ill-used of Belgravia or somewhere

Get over yourself. She’s only had 45% of the wealth you acquired as a married couple. I’m sure if life had been different – say after sixth form, where you met, you still got together but now found yourselves in debt. Then you wouldn’t be quibbling over her taking on board half the overdraft, now would you?
Given you left her for tax reasons (moving to Bermuda! Lucky you), there must be savings in the kitty. Give your ex her dues and move on.

Can’t give this any more thought – the Tories are trying to cancel our annual town fireworks display – I have some serious rebellion to organise. Not only that, but it’s the start of the festival season – so once I’ve got the local youths rioting, I’m off for a hot date round a campfire. Peace and love all. Will blog from a field next week – power supplied by renewable technologies OBVIOUSLY!!!!

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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Despite his “strong female leads”, Joss Whedon's feminism was never about real women

Many men in TV and film praised for their powerful women are still writing with the male gaze.

Kai Cole, the ex-wife of Joss Whedon, has written an essay alleging that the director isn’t quite the feminist he appears to be. Colour me unsurprised. There’s only so much good-guy posturing a feminist can take before she starts to become a little suspicious.

It’s not that I’ve any particular beef with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, nor that I think men shouldn’t speak out against sexism wherever possible. But I’ve long harboured a mistrust of male directors – Whedon, Woody Allen, Pedro Almodóvar – who gain a reputation of being “good at doing women”. Who are they, these magic woman-whisperers, who see through woman’s childlike, primitive exterior and coax out the inner complexity? How do they manage to present women, these blank, mysterious objects, as actual human beings?

True, these men are working against a backdrop of extreme sexism, in which film dialogue is dominated by males, while females become increasingly silent as they age. Perhaps one should be grateful to anyone who allows a female character to have some glimmer of an inner life, let alone exist beyond the age of 30.

All the same, I can’t help feeling this isn’t enough. We all know the joke about the male feminist who walks into a bar because it’s set so low. It’s all too easy to be “good at doing women” when all it takes is granting female characters the same desires and contradictions we’d grant to any other human being.

Women are not a specific type of puzzle for mankind to solve. The idea that it should take some noble, generous leap of imagination to empathise with us is an excuse men have been using to mistreat us for millennia. When responding to us as though we’re actual human beings – or at least, as though an interesting Real Woman subset of us are – becomes a USP, we should all be worried.

Whedon did go a little way to addressing this in his 2006 acceptance speech for an Equality Now award, in which he mocked the way in which he was constantly asked: “Why do you always write these strong women characters?”:

“Why aren't you asking a hundred other guys why they don't write strong women characters? I believe that what I'm doing should not be remarked upon, let alone honoured.”

If this sounds a little like a humblebrag, it can probably be excused. What’s harder to excuse is this idea that a man who boasts of surrounding himself with women like his mother – “an extraordinary, inspirational, tough, cool, sexy, funny woman” – is doing womankind a favour.

I’m glad you appreciate your mum, Joss, and that you apparently don’t feel threatened by other women like her. There’s a fine line, though, between valuing women and presenting them with a whole new list of impossible standards to live up to. This is why I could never quite buy into the liberatory potential of Buffy. There’s nothing impressive about a man failing to be intimidated by his own strong girl fantasy.

In E T A Hoffmann’s 1816 short story The Sandman, the hero Nathanael falls in love with Olimpia, a doll whom he believes to be a real woman. Once the truth is exposed, the men around him become concerned that they, too, may have unwittingly fallen for automata:

“Many lovers, to be quite convinced that they were not enamoured of wooden dolls, would request their mistresses to sing and dance a little out of time, to embroider and knit, and play with their lapdogs, while listening to reading, etc., and, above all, not merely to listen, but also sometimes to talk, in such a manner as presupposed actual thought and feeling.”

There’s something about the director who’s “good at doing women” that reminds me of this. There’s a recipe for dropping in just the right number of quirks, inconsistencies and imperfections to create a Real Woman Character, without making her so unsexy as to be instantly distinguishable from your Hollywood doll. It’s not that her actual thoughts and feelings matter; it’s all about where she’s positioned in relation to you.

As Sophia McDougall noted in her excellent essay on Strong Female Characters, male characters have complex personalities as a matter of course; female characters, meanwhile, are occasionally permitted to be strong, hence anomalous. The more nuance we see, the better. Even so, I’m tired of the veneration of men who fetishise Real Womanhood just as much as others fetishise the plastic variety.

According to Whedon’s ex-wife, the director’s declared feminist ideals never filtered through into real life. Whether this is true or not, this would be understandable. Real Women are not the same as real women. Equality isn’t a matter of men feeling “engaged and even attracted” to a more diverse range of females. It isn’t about the male gaze at all.

Whedon’s final response to the “why do you always write these strong women characters?” question – “because you’re still asking me that question” – has been seen by many as an explicitly feminist statement. But perhaps all it really meant was “because there’s still a gap in the market”. Because men will always find ways to benefit from other men’s sexism. If Real Women didn’t exist, some man out there would have to invent them. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.