My name is Em Dehaney, and I have never been to America.
I’ve never been to America, but I have walked the steam-vented mean streets of New York, ridden in the yellow taxis and tasted the mustard covered hotdogs. I have gambled with gangsters and seen a city grow from the blood of immigrants, all thanks to Martin Scorcese.
I’ve never been to America but I have stood under endless Yosemite skies and seen the moonrise through the lens of Ansell Adams.
I’ve never been to America but I’ve felt heat from the sunbaked alleys of Compton and learned the poetry of oppression and violence through the words of Tupac and NWA.
I’ve looked inside myself, understood my depression and my fears and anxieties through the prism of Sylvia Plath.
I’ve seen the beauty of street art through the eye of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
I’ve heard the rhythm of survival, courage and freedom in the writing of Maya Angelou.
I’ve listened to Motown and Lou Reed and Patti Smith and The Ramones and Nirvana and Hole and the whole soundtrack to my teenage years on cassette tapes recorded in basement studios in Seattle and New York and LA and Detroit.
America has given us blues, jazz, hip-hop, graffiti, punk, grunge. It has given us art through adversity, it has given us beauty through struggle.
And continues to give us Saturday Night Live, regularly lampooning the shit-show that is the Trump administration, and Teen Vogue, the surprise bastion of intelligent resistance, and thousands of voices on Twitter, and gives us Beyonce and Lady Gaga bringing race and gender politics into the homes of millions of Americans watching the Superbowl. Gives us the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests and The Pussy Power March. Gives us films like Get Out and Moonlight.
America has seen the darkest of times; colonialism, slavery, segregation, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy. America is the only nation to have used atomic weapons in war. America has a list of crimes against humanity as long as it’s troubled history. And now America seems to be run by an embarrassing coterie of ignorant bootlickers, Holocaust deniers, racists, bigots, misogynists and religious fundamentalists.
But there will always be American artists telling their stories through film, music, comedy and poetry. Fighting the power. Bringing the noise. Singing from inside the cage. Raging against the machine.
I’ve never been to America, but it will always be in my heart.
This is what perhaps would have once been characterised as a ‘summer story’. An irate mother, annoyed with the ludicrous names attached to some of the ranges of boys’ and girls’ shoes in Clarks, vented her feelings on social media and the story was picked up by the media and went viral. Plenty of politicians agreed, with Nicola Sturgeon and Sarah Ludford tweeting on the issue, and even Jacob Rees Mogg weighing in to say that calling girls’ shoes ‘Dolly Babe’ is ‘just really silly’. The retailer has been accused of ‘everyday sexism’ for calling one of range of new girls’ shoes this name, while the boys’ equivalent is called ‘Leader.’ The story was then linked back to an item from last year, when another mother complained about the poor choice and flimsiness of shoes available for her daughter in Clarks, when compared to the sturdy and practical equivalent available for boys in the same shop.
This story is being misrepresented in some quarters as being a big fuss over nothing; a load of women (middle class and privileged, no doubt,) with nothing better to do getting annoyed because there are different shoes available for boys and girls. This isn’t the issue, and I’m not sure if the misrepresentation is just lazy thinking or mischievous reporting. Or deliberately baiting of feminists, which is a popular pastime in some circles. Or possibly all three; a Venn diagram of lazy thinkers, feminist baiters and mischievous journalists would, in fact, just be a circle. A circle of jerks. A jerkle.
Anyway. There are two issues at play here
• What sort of message is intended by calling girls’ shoes things like ‘Dolly Babe’ while boys’ shoes are called ‘Leader’? If no message is actually intended, why choose these particular names?
• Why are girls’ shoes flimsy and impractical, while boys’ shoes are tough and hardwearing?
You might also wonder
• When the fuck did childrens’ shoes having a name become a thing? And
• How will Clarks ever recover from the reputational damage of being called ‘really silly’ by Jacob Rees Mogg?
The first is, I believe, unconscious sexism. I bet whoever thought of these names doesn’t actually believe that girls should be encouraged to grow up thinking their prime function in life is to be cute and decorative, while boys should be taught to see themselves as bold trailblazers. But that’s the stereotype they are reinforcing, unconsciously or not, and it really wouldn’t hurt to think a little harder when coming up with this sort of spurious marketing bullshit. If it has to be a thing at all. If you don’t see what I mean, imagine how absurd it would be if this nonsensical nomenclature were to be reversed. How would it be if boys’ shoes were called ‘Cute Rascal’ while girls’ shoes were called ‘Boudica’? Let’s either call all childrens’ shoes cutsie names, or none of them.
The second is just as dumb. Girls are every bit as active as boys – this was true hundreds of years ago when I was small, and I can’t imagine much has changed in the intervening centuries. They like to run and skip and chase and play football and climb trees and play on swings and whoop and shout and make noise and have noisy, mucky outdoor fun, much the same as boys do. (OK, so I never was a small boy, but I did have the privilege of observing one at very close quarters, which included buying him shoes). Why don’t the shoes sold for girls allow for this? Or even keep their feet warm? It doesn’t seem a lot to ask in a shoe…
Of course, some girls like flimsy, impractical shoes. Some of us never grow out of that phase, and no one is saying they (we) shouldn’t be allowed to make that choice. Leaving aside how much of this may or may not be down to societal conditioning (fecking insidious patriarchy), the shoes should still be fit for purpose. If I can buy hardwearing, practical shoes which are still pretty (and I can), why can’t the average 9-year-old girl? Mind you, if they were called anything approaching ‘Dolly Babe’, I’d likely vomit copiously and continuously before throwing them through the shop window, rather than buy them…
When a story like this breaks, at some point someone will inevitably say ‘aren’t there more important things in the world to be worrying about?’ ‘haven’t these women heard of Syria?’ or words to that effect. As if we can only be concerned with one thing at a time, in some ordered and sanctioned linear way. As if the ‘small’ things don’t matter, and we have to wait for concerns to reach some preordained critical mass before we are allowed to get exercised by them. As if there is some kind of central committee which carefully considers all issues, then creates a timetable of when it is appropriate for each one to be addressed. Well, of course there are bigger things wrong with the world which need fixing, but that doesn’t mean that petty irritations like this are given a free pass. Perhaps if we paid more attention to the little issues, there would be fewer big issues. Big problems generally don’t spring fully formed into an unsuspecting world. Look where refusing to take Nigel Farage and Donald Trump seriously has got us, for example.
Nice shoes for kids which let them play and don’t burden them with outdated adult stereotypes. And an end the intolerance and hatred which is fuelling the rise of neo Nazi organisations on both sides of the Atlantic. There, see? I can write about one while being prepared to take to the streets to combat the other. Easy.
Many of you may not be aware that the current wave of people standing up to struggle against the forces envincing to enslave them under absolute despotism and establish a system that serves the needs of the many rather than the greed of the few began not in the West, nor in North Africa, nor in the Levant, but in Iran.
Before the rise of the Corbynistas, before the Berniecrats, before the Occupy movements, before the indignados, before the Israeli social justice movement, before the Arab Spring, there was the Green Movement of Iran, which at the time the Arab Spring began was still ongoing, though winding down, even as the people of countries from the western end of the Maghreb to the eastern borders of the Levant began to stir. It was the movement which for a little while gave us the phrase “Going Iranian” to standing up to our oppressors and saying to them, “No more!”.
This is an abbreviated version of something I wrote back in December 2009 at the most intense period of the Green Movement.
At the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, I had been aware of events there on and off for the previous couple of years since I have always been an avid consumer of news. I watched the events of the revolution and its aftermath unfold, then like all Americans found myself riveted to the Hostage Crisis.
During this time, I got my first job, at Ponderosa Steakhouse on Brainerd Road. I was the dishwasher in the restaurant’s scullery, and was partnered with an Iranian college student from the city of Babol in the province of Mazandaran, who was the steak cook; every shift I worked he worked also. Even though most Americans were gleefully singing “Bomb bomb bomb, Bomb bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann”, I went out of my way to reach out to him.
Upon learning he was unable to return home due to the hostage crisis, I got him to teach me a few words of Farsi so that maybe hearing them would make him a little less homesick. Since we were working most of the time, the conversations were limited to just a few words but I always liked to see his face light up.
Of course, there were also the few occasions when he called me up drunk and depressed, speaking rapidly in Farsi. It was somewhat amusing but mostly heartbeaking. The friendship, by the way, was two-way; it was my first job and he went out of his way to make me feel welcome.
After he graduated from the community college in June, he moved away to continue his education and I never saw him again. Seven months later, the hostages were released, and I hoped he got to go home at least for a visit to see his family.
In the years that followed, hearing news about the Iranian Cultural Revolution, the harsh repression of dissent, the crushing of the Left, the imposition of sharia, the Iran-Iraq War, the Iran-Contra Affair, and the student movement of 1999, I often worried about my friend and hoped that he had managed to remain in the States.
I kept up casually with news from Iran in those and later years, the mass murder of the Tudeh, the Mojahedin-e Khalq, and other leftists, the displacement of Ayatollah Montazeri, the rise of Ayatollah Rafsanjani, and other events. But Iran did not really come back into focus for me until the events of 9/11.
Like many, I stayed glued to the TV for weeks. One report that stood out vividly for me was about one million people holding a vigil in Tehran in support of the victims and their families. I felt pride in the citizens of my friend’s homeland.
Then came Bush’s State of the Union address in January, and I was shocked and appalled to hear Iran named as one the the three members of the “axis of evil”. That was the beginning of the belligerent propaganda coming out the neocon White House that helped put the final nails in the coffin of President Khatami’s reform program and bring to office Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad with the illegal assistance of the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij in his first stolen election.
In 2006, I joined the now defunct Yahoo360. After not doing much with it at all, I logged on one day to find a comment left by Sarah, a college student in Iran. With an exchange of comments and mails on the Yahoo360 system, I’d made my first Iranian friend in over 25 years. Through her, more followed, never more than 25 on Yahoo360, all Iranian except two. With my new friends I discussed history, Iranian poetry, even facts about Shia Islam, but never politics. All were reluctant to discuss their daily lives. I could sense, however, their frustration, their isolation, their loneliness. It made me think of the words in the first stanza of Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”–You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much ’til you spend half your life just covering up. A sentiment all the Daniel Blakes of the world can relate to.
In the spring of 2009, most of them began expressing optimism, many being involved with Mir Hossein Moussavi’s campaign for president. I felt a sense of hope for change, a hope which they all expressed. With them I eagerly anticipated the outcome.
Watching the election be stolen on 12 June, I felt depressed and robbed. When media commentators, unaware of the deep levels of discontent across all levels of society in Iran, expressed surprise at the enormous number of demonstrators pouring out into the streets across the country that evening, my reaction was to shrug my shoulders as if to say, “What did you expect?”. Then came the harsh crackdowns on the night of 13 June and it was more like, “Holy shit…those are my friends! Oh my God…”.
For the next several weeks, my TV stayed tuned to CNN as I sat at the computer sending out messages of support to a growing number of connections and frantically searching out all across the internet for news and information. In addition to activities on Yahoo360, I emailed all the information I could to every Iranian contact in my address book. Upon learning that Yahoo360 would go ahead with its planned closure, I repeatedly warned and gave notice to all my friends on the network and told them to spread the word so that everyone could stay in contact with the outside world. The rest of the summer, I followed events all day long on a variety of sources including Youtube and Twitter. Once Yahoo360 shut down, I began posting to Facebook.
Regarding the nuclear issue, as much anti-nuke as I am, I couldn’t care less about it in the situation with Iran. It is a chimera, a façade, a St. Elmo’s Fire, shiny car keys jingled to distract the masses, the masses of every country involved. How about we deal with huge stockpile of nukes possessed by the State of Israel first? I don’t care about Iran for the sake of the U.S., or for the sake of the world; I only care about Iran for the sake of Iran, for the sake of its people.
Seven and a half years ago, I wrote, “Iranians need to know that they are not alone, that the world is paying attention. They need information about what is going on in their own country because they can’t get true information in their totalitarian regime. They need to know that the rest of us humans support them.” That goes for the Iranians then and now, and for the people in every country of the world suffering under plutocrats who look at them as if they are food and the oligarchs who enable their kleptocracy.
Since writing this back in December 2009, by the way, I discovered that my friend Mehdi, now using his first name Daniel, is alive and well, and living in the United States.
Why did I do it? Why was I so involved in the Iranian Green Movement? Because people should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people. I did it because I am a Terran, a citizen of Earth, and Iran is part of my home, and all Iranians are my brothers, sisters, and cousins.
Esteghlal! Azadi! Jomhuri-e Irani! Esteghlal! Azadi! Edalat-e Ejtemae-e! Rooz-e ma khahad amad, omidvaram. Our day will come, inshallah. Keep the faith. Peace out.
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“… Which brings me to what I wanted to speak about. One of my music heroes.
At the weekend, Sinead O’connor posted a really sad, video to Facebook. It was a cry for help. Her voice and image went out to millions,, and the positive response was inspiring.
People from across the world held out their hands and hoped they could catch the very fragile and desperately ill woman. Happily, it has been reported she is safe and with people who love her. But this sad event and the anniversary theme of this podcast reminded me of when I saw Sinead, live, in Belfast now nearly thirty years ago.
Not since I had watched the Ramones with their defiant “this is me, SO?” attitudes, smacking the frets with a string orchestra behind them on Top of the Pops in the early eighties had I noticed such societal twisting and bending till it broke. Norms we had been sold tangled, turned and thrown back at us to create new ground. New questions. New ways to see the world. Counter culture is always usurped and sold back to us, creating new counter cultures. This time it was a woman – a woman breaking the bonds of the patriarchal male gaze. A woman demanding people to listen. A woman demanding people to look, but judge for who she was, not how she was packaged.
Before her, there had been Blondie. Debbie unabashedly strutting across stages, but unmistakably an all American poster girl, selling clothes and style as well as records. An all american icon, albeit one with attitude.
The Irish were biting back. Political and personal statements of “we are here and we are more than the conservative Irish catholic/protestant at loggerheads about just whose unnatural, boxed up, disciplined ideology is supreme.”
In today’s global kiss arse neo-con context, Bono is called a wanker, but for a Northern Irish boy questioning all he experienced in his unionist town, Sunday Bloody Sunday and waving white flags and singing about dead American Civil Rights leaders was pretty radical. Civil rights were a threat in our bordered, walled, military world.
Teenaged visits to Dublin and partying across the wire in Belfast was my rebellion. I guess part of hers was singing in Belfast’s most bombed hotel.
The shock of Sinead; the appearance, defiance, rebelliousness -truthfulness- was like the buzz around Boy George after his first appearance on TOTP. He bent gender. He looked incredible. He raised questions, and consumerism jumped on board. The homophobic commentary from The Daily Mail and its nasty comrades bounced off his young, confident shell of self. Until it became too much. And until it was packaged and sold.
Sinead stood, self consciously, beautiful and strong. “This is me. I don’t do “Dana” nor am I Madonna. I am a woman with something to say. Listen or don’t.”
The shaved head. The subtle, if any, makeup. The lack of ra-ra, jewellry or shoulder pads immediately set her apart singing Mandinka without Legs and Co and their nonsense. She bent the Murdoch, BBC, Rothermere, ad-man, fashion world, socialised, schoolboy view of what a woman should be.
But something about her seemed fragile. Glass. Breakable. In need of a friend, as we all are at 21.
Excited by Mandinka, we wanted to go to the Belfast show. There were threats after some would say, unwise words about our war wounded walled province – or was that a local media creation? A sense of “punk” Irish republican hysteria created to sell newspapers? Tickets? And a hastily rearranged venue. The Europa Hotel- protected like almost no other hotel in the world seemed a wise new stage.
Gareth, in the know, got the tickets. I smuggled my SLR camera into the show. The tickets expressly said in those days, “no cameras,” but I would sidle up to the press corp and slip the camera out of my jacket.
This was well before the days of people watching live events through their phone screens. I used to watch through my camera eyepiece – trying not to waste expensive, valuable, finite film – waiting for the perfect shot. Hiding behind the camera; self conscious; not wanting to look someone so beautiful straight in the eye. I got few good shots that night – I was too mesmerised by this person.
And she took to the microphone, holding it tightly; looking around the small venue (most venues in Northern Ireland at that time were small). Her eyes scanned the crowd, and then, I felt, they rested on me. Or on my lense.
The music was immediate; I couldn’t place it into a box along with my Toyah’s, Debbie’s or Kate’s. This was music with lyrics as important as my Curtis’s, Morrissey’s and Burn’s. This wasn’t punk, but it shouted something. It challenged everything.
The atmosphere she created was electrifying. This was a woman with something to say, but who was saying it through her music. Even the band – made up of Smiths members, couldn’t divert our attention from this performer.
No grandstanding like Bono; no histrionics like The Jesus and Mary Chain.
I remember being disappointed the concert was so short – but this was a young woman with new songs. I longed to see her later in her career with more to say. But that was the last time I did.
This was a woman as I experienced women. This was no media creation. This was someone with opinions; with blood, flesh, colour and nervous, darting eyes. No mannequin. No wankers fetish.
This was someone who didn’t demand to be treated like a man – this was a woman who demanded to be treated as a human being. Valued as a human being, and fallible like every other human being I knew. And I was hooked. This woman of truth, but so delicate, so damaged. So aware.
Sinead cried on film; she sang about her lost children. She sang about her lost childhood and the lost generations and scars in her Ireland. She raged at the down presser man. She raged at the tendrils of organised religion. She revealed her inner battles and physical scars. She was hated by the American right and the religiously pompous and patriarchal. Frank Sinatra threatened to “kick her ass” for refusing to play a concert if the US national anthem was played at the start in her protest at US foreign policy.
And she gave Miley Cyrus advice – sound, motherly advice and was ridiculed in a dreadful way by the young woman whose rebellion has been packaged and sold back at her. A young woman sold as a commodity, but all the time, like lots of young people nowadays, told their rebellion is theirs while their money is spent or their bodies and minds are exploited, while corporations tell her do this; buy this- adults don’t like or “get” this. Miley’s rebellion has been packaged up and corporations make a mint. Sinead’s own advice, from her song the Emperor’s New Clothes, is thrown back at her.
“He thinks I just became famous
And that’s what messed me up
But he’s wrong
How could I possibly know what I want
When I was only twenty-one?
And there’s millions of people
To offer advice and say how I should be
But they’re twisted
And they will never be any influence on me…”
Some of Sinead’s songs reduce me to tears. (in privacy of course – this damaged male holds the baggage of role models foisted upon him by capitalist stiff upper colonialist lips and admen and consumerism and hierarchy).
Her song, My Special Child is my Danny boy.
She’s My Patsy Cline.
But unlike Danny, her songs are hopeful, educational and unlike Patsy, she *will* heal.”