I dream of Christine: Mme Lagarde at the IMF headquarters in Washington. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

“So much love for Christine Lagarde”: why girl crushes are a straight thing

Girl crushes are 75 per cent respect, 24.999 per cent idolatry and 0.001 per cent something nebulously sexual. It’s more about wanting to be someone than wanting to do them.

Girl crushes. Straight women have them; gay ones don’t. Confusing? Let me attempt to explain the ubiquitous “girl crush”. Women as various as Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton have been “crushed” on by straight women, somewhere. The first known girl crush was had by Eleanor of Aquitaine and it was on the lesser-known Brenda of Marseilles. Possibly.

“ZOMG,” announces @StraightChick77, on Twitter, “so much love for Christine Lagarde #GirlCrush.”

What you have to understand is that @StraightChick77 isn’t romantically interested in the besuited IMF doyenne. She wants to have skinny lattes with her and effuse about what a role model she is to all the women, ever.

Girl crushes are 75 per cent respect, 24.999 per cent idolatry and 0.001 per cent something nebulously sexual. It’s more about wanting to be someone than wanting to do them.

Girl crush recipients are usually formidable women, the kind of grandes dames who’d look at home riding panthers into battle against an army of patriarchs. Lindsey Hilsum, Oprah, Mary Beard. Either them or Cara Delevingne.

Formidable Woman transcends the world of glass ceilings and economic woe. Formidable Woman is so awesome that a small part of Straight Woman wants to achieve congress with her in the hope that she’ll consume her essence, quadruple in size and become an unfettered feminist giant. So why doesn’t @StraightChick77 just tweet “I think Christine Lagarde is extremely good”? The answer is simple: girl crushes are all about being a lesbian ironically.

We’re at a point in time and space where we do things ironically without even realising. We love Bonnie Tyler and dance furiously to “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. We eat ironically in bathos-themed restaurants such as Burger and Lobster and Bubbledogs (the one that serves champagne and hot dogs).

Sorting the lesbians from the “lesbians” does require some level of expertise. @StraightChick77 returns home from a gruelling day of doing whatever it is that heterosexuals do, to find Christine Lagarde in her bed, wearing nothing but a document on public expenditure reform and a string of pearls.

@StraightChick77 needs to clarify to her the nuances of the girl crush – and fast.

“I see,” says Christine Lagarde, putting on her clothes. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m delivering a speech on sub-national credit risk in Geneva, in 15 minutes. Maybe you should think before you use the word ‘crush’, non?”

“Wait!”@StraightChick77 cries: “Let’s do coffee! Tweet me! Christiiiiiiiiine!”

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

This article first appeared in the 01 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The Islam issue

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.