Tottenham riots: the morning after

A shocking night of anger, violence and looting on the streets of north London.

From the BBC website:

Emergency crews remain on the streets of Tottenham, in north London, after rioting saw police attacked and buildings and vehicles set alight.

Overnight, eight officers were injured in the violence which erupted following a protest over the fatal shooting by police of Mark Duggan on Thursday.

Police said there were still "pockets of criminality" on Sunday morning and residents reported more looting.

The Guardian's award-winning Paul Lewis was on the ground in Tottenham last night and filed a report in which he wrote:

Looters turned up with cars and shopping trolleys to carry away stolen goods. Nearby, large groups of youths congregated in the surrounding streets with sticks, bottles and hammers.

Some wore balaclava masks, preventing cars from accessing streets as buildings were broken into. Others used large rubbish bins to form burning barricades across the road.

However some of most dramatic looting took place further west, in Wood Green, and continued into the early hours of the morning.

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. . .there was still no police presence at Wood Green high street at 4am, even after dozens of stores had been smashed and raided, setting of multiple alarms.

Around 100 youths sprinted around the highstreet, targeting game shops, electrical stores and high-street clothe chains such as H & M.

Glass windows were smashed and the looters, mostly young men masking their faces, swarmed in.

They emerged with handfuls of stolen goods. "I've got loads of G-Star," said one teenager, emerging from a clothes shop. Others came out clasping shopping bags stuffed with goods.

Three teenagers ran down the street with suitcases filled with stolen clothes. Around ten young men stood outside a smouldering Carphone Warehouse, the windows smashed. The theft was casual and brazen, with looters peering into broken shop windows to see if items of value remained.

There were shocking scenes in the suburban back-streets, where residential front-gardens were used to frantically sort and swap stolen goods.

A teenage boy, who looked aged around 14, drove an stolen minicab erratically down a side-street. On the adjacent street, a man who emerged from his home to find his car burnt-out remonstrated with other young men, who ran past carrying clothes.

Passersby, including people returning home in the early hours from nights out, were stunned to discover the lawless mayhem on the streets.

Official Responses

A Downing Street spokesman said:

The rioting in Tottenham last night was utterly unacceptable. There is no justification for the aggression the police and the public faced, or for the damage to property.

Home Secretary Theresa May said:

I condemn utterly the violence in Tottenham last night.Such disregard for public safety and property will not be tolerated, and the Metropolitan Police have my full support in restoring order.

David Lammy, the local Labour MP, said:

The Tottenham community and Mark Duggan's family and friends need to understand what happened on Thursday evening when Mark lost his life. To understand those facts, we must have calm.

Kit Malthouse, London's deputy mayor, said:

I cant see any excuse for the kind of behaviour we saw last night. It's absolutely outrageous to see it on the streets of London.

Commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne, of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), said:

I understand the distress that the shooting of Mark Duggan has caused to his family and in the community and that people need answers about what happened to him.

And a local resident, examining the gutted interiors of a betting shop and post office, remarked:

They are shells, it's like the Blitz.

Photo: Getty
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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.