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The day after our nocturnal traipse around London's gristly but sadly amber-free sites-of-historic-horror-cum-tourist-attractions and equally livestock-free Tower Bridge, your humble scribe awoke and, after tea and eggs (marred only by the horrifying sight of seinneann_ceoil's flatmate digging into black pudding with gusto) travelled to the House of Joy, the domicile of emanix and company, for a stretch.

The House of Joy has since, I'm told, relocated to a different house, and seinneann_ceoil is now a resident therein, so it would be rather an easier journey to make now. As it was, it required some faffing about on the London Underground, which is interesting from a Yankee perspective on account of its efficiency (relative, at least, to Portland's public transportation system) and for its maniacal and almost reckless disregard for the safety, well-being, and limbs of its many passengers.

Here in the US, where we prefer not to dismember the public in public (but prefer instead to starve them to death and deny them medical care so that they die in private instead), we build subways that have little folding stair-step things that extend when the cars stop, so that folks don't fall down between the car and the landing and end up getting run over on the tracks or something. On the Underground, they will have one of that highfalutin' engineering; instead, they leave a gap between each car and the subway platform that's just about the perfect size to devour one's leg, one's child, or one's Jack Russell terrier, and play a recording of an English gentleman saying "Mind the gap. Mind the gap." over and over again as the train arrives. Presumably, folks who don't heed the warning and fail to mind the gap are removed from the gene pool, for the greater good of the Kingdom or something.

Along the way, I passed the long-disused Battersea Power Station, an old decommissioned coal-fired power plant that was the inspiration for the design of Allied Advanced Power PLats in the real-time strategy game Command & Conquer: Red Alert. It was a beautiful sight to behold, and made me long for the days when I would hear the oh-so-British computer tell me "New Construction Options" or "A-Bomb Ready."

Once at the House of Joy, seinneann_ceoil left me in the tender merciless hands of emanix for a time.

Her bedroom is, or rather was (in the old house) on the top floor, rightly lit by large skylights. I say this because I quite like skylights, and I have been lobbying zaiah to install some in our house, which we are currently remodeling into a dungeon (as those of you who read my Twitter know). zaiah believes that skylights inevitably leak in rainy climates--something that the skylights in emanix's room do not. Apparently, it's all about the engineering, or something.

We spent the day lounging around, having slinky hex and faffing on the Internet. I got to learn what it's like to be the object rather than the perpetrator of needle play, which was...interesting. Interesting, and more than a bit scary.

Which reminds me, I still have the story of the lemon drop at the lesbian Halloween party to write about at some point. I'm not quite sure why I tend to end up surrounded by women who enjoy scaring me, but it seems to happen quite a lot.

I also met emanix's tiny stuffed unicorn Herbert.

I'm not quite sure exactly how it happened, but we ended up talking about creating a cartoon character based on Herbert, named Herbert the Rape Unicorn. The original conception involved creating a Web site that would mock common rape-culture ideas (like "if she dressed that way, she obviously must have wanted it" or "If she led him on, then it's her fault"), but we quickly realized that no matter how obvious or over-the-top the mocking was, someone somewhere would probably take it seriously and walk away with precisely the opposite of the intended message.

emanix drew this cartoon on my arm, which is quite likely the only Herbert the Rape Unicorn comic that will ever see the Web.

Every city has That District. You know, the one where all the cool happening stuff...err, happens. In Atlanta, it's Little Five Points. In Tampa, it's Ybor. In San Francisco, it's San Francisco. In London, apparently, it's Camden.

After the slinky hex, needle play, and other miscellaneous goings-on which involved sounding and you probably don't want to know the details of, seinneann_ceoil rescued me and whisked me back to her flat. Some amount of slinky hex, a great deal of cuddling, some British television, and another meal in which her flatmate put something horrifying beyond the measure of man into his mouth later, we opted to venture to Camden.

Which was pretty damn cool, really.

We met up with emanix in Camden, in a sort of Gibsonesque ramshackle assortment of repurposed shops offering T-shirts with political slogans, cheap sunglasses, jewelry, posters, and the opportunity to have your feet nibbled by fish in large tanks of water.

I'm serious about that bit about the fish, by the way. One of the shops we passed had big tanks filled with small fish similar to the ones that tend to cling to the undersides of sharks. For a few pounds Sterling, you could stick your feet in the water and let the fish "exfoliate" your skin. Apparently, it's all the rage amongst people for whom it's all the rage.

The place is a weird mix of Victorian-ish sculpture, most of which seems to concern itself with maidens and horses, and neon signs...making it, really, quite like a perpetual steampunk science fiction convention.

She has a gaze that suggests she's seen it all, and a complexion that suggests quite a lot of it involves pigeons.

Or maybe those are tears, one for each pigeon she has KILLED AND DEVOURED DURING HER UNHOLY ANIMATED RAMPAGES IN SEARCH OF THE SECRET TO ETERNAL LIFE. I don't know.

The horse sculpture is kind of cool.

It's always nice to see some commemoration of the life and toil of the essential working man. The working man depicted here would probably have preferred a pay raise to a bug relief erected in his honor, but one takes what one can get.

Maybe I used...

...but isn't it enough to know that I ruined a pony making a gift for you?

At one little booth, we found a series of prints of grafitti art by the British artist Banksy, who does some really mind-bogglingly amazing stuff. seinneann_ceoil bought me a print of his "There Is Always Hope" piece, on account of 'cause it totally makes me cry.

Exploration of Camden complete, we went off to a university in London-town which was evidently hosting a series of lectures on sexuality and society called Critical Sexuality, or CritSex for short, which sounded like quite an interesting way to spend an afternoon.

The timing of my visit was fortuitous, as it turned out, because apparently they host these things only once or twice a year or something.

We traveled to the university (mind the gap!), whereupon I saw two things that struck my attention.

The first was in the foyer of the lecture hall, before we'd actually got as far as the room where the CritSex lectures were to take place. I saw, for the first time, a woman wearing a full burqa. Not just the head shawl and cloak, but the whole, top-to-toe deal, that even included the chadri that totally obscures the face, including the eyes.

And it was, if I may put it delicately, profoundly fucked up. Seriously, deeply fucked up beyond any rhyme or reason.

Now, I have heard it argued that one can not impose the value system from one culture on another culture. I have also heard that the burqa is ennobling and liberating to women, because it frees them from having to compete in the arms race of sexualization in order to feel that they have value.

To both of those things, I say bullshit. Absolute, unmitigated piles of fresh, steaming bullshit.

First, to the cultural argument: The notion that human beings are persons inherently worthy of being treated with dignity and respect is not a cultural artifact, like a style of watch or the design of a sofa. It is absolutely possible, without resorting to appeals of invisible sky-beings or the trappings of tradition, to construct a rigorous moral framework that demonstrates the benefit of this idea. One need only look at history, at the fact that people of all kinds have tangibly and materially improved the lot of the human race as a whole, to see that any society which deprives itself of the contributions of entire classes of its members harms not only the groups so discrimated against, but itself as a whole as well.

The first surgeon ever to perform open-heart surgery, Dr. Daniel H. Williams, was black. Alan Turing, the man who arguably won WWII for the Allies, was gay. Double Nobel Prize-winning physicist Marie Curie, who not only developed the first understanding of radioactivity but also pioneered radiation treatment of cancer, was a woman.

Any society that cuts itself off from some portion of its members, deprives itself of the benefits, innovations, and discoveries those people might make. Women can fly fighter jets, lead nations, explore space, build buildings, design bridges, fight fires, create art, and discover new medical techniques. The notion that one society can utterly quash the most basic and essential of all human liberties for half its population, ad then claim it to be merely a "cultural value" neither better than nor worse than any other society's values, is absolute rubbish of the highest order. "Cultural values" are not and can not be the excuse for atrocity, the justification for oppression.

The same goes for the notion that wearing the burqa is somehow empowering or liberating to women. Leaving aside for the moment that the whole purpose of this garment is to dehumanize women, on the grounds that the sight of a woman will drive men to sin (and how many shades of fucked up is THAT notion?), let's be perfectly clear on one very important key point here:

You do not, BY DEFINITION, empower someone by saying 'If you don't do what I tell you to do I will stone you to death.'

That is, in fact, precisely the opposite of empowerment. Empowerment lies in giving people greater control and more choices in their lives, not in killing them if they fail to wear what you want them to wear. Remember that should anyone try to argue that the burqa represents empowerment; You do not, BY DEFINITION, empower someone by saying 'If you don't do what I tell you to do I will stone you to death.' That includes any rationalization of the 'do what I tell you to do' part whatsoever, whether supposedly handed down by an invisible sky-being or not. It certainly applies to any reasoning that concludes with "No man should see a woman nor hear a woman’s footsteps lest it excite him. Women must not speak loudly in public as no stranger should hear a woman's voice."

It's difficult for your humble scribe to even conceptualize in the wildest flights of fantasy the sort of topsy-turvy, up-is-down universe in which any of this could be called 'empowering' by any person with even the slightest modicum, however small or insignificant, of sense.

The other bit was cooler. One of the presenters that the CritSex lectures we attended used my map of human sexuality in her presentation. So, yeah.

And that, save for a flight out of London the next day and a miserable 20-hour layover at the airport in Copenhagen, brings me to the end of my travels in Eastern and Western Europe. I arrived, after a total of eighteen hours' travel time, back in my home town of Portland, on a cramped flight with my knees in my nose and no power outlet at my seat for my laptop; my luggage, which had somehow ended up flagged for a hand search at customs in Atlanta, arrived approximately seven hours later. (It was, according to a Delta representative, somewhere over Wyoming as I was arriving at my house, having opted after being searched to take entirely a different route home.)


( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 17th, 2011 11:19 am (UTC)
I have enjoyed following this series of essays and photo logs very much. Thank you for creating and sharing them.
Feb. 17th, 2011 01:09 pm (UTC)
seinneann_ceoil bought me a print of his "There Is Always Hope" piece, on account of 'cause it totally makes me cry.

Me, too. <3
Feb. 17th, 2011 02:27 pm (UTC)

To paraphrase something I read a while ago - Dawkins has said he feels a sense of visceral disgust upon seeing a woman in a burqa, much like the feeling I get when I see a white Oxonian man telling women that what they wear disgusts him.

How many people who wear the burqa have you spoken to? Do you think it's entirely about being stoned to death otherwise? This is rubbish, and I'm disappointed in you.

I am not defending the burqa or the systems involved. I know breathtakingly little about it, as do you. Any opinion either of us form should be based on the expert knowledge of women personally involved. Anything else is irrelevant.

Call yourself a feminist ally? The first thing allies do is *listen.*
Feb. 17th, 2011 02:34 pm (UTC)
Meta: I don't hate you. I'm telling you off because I like and trust you. If this is something you'd like to have a discussion about, I'm willing to. (Know that I absolutely, utterly hate arguing, though. I only do so where it's important and I trust the people involved lots. It would also be entirely a meta argument :D as I say, it's not for either of us to comment on the burqa. Fyi, I won't be on LJ much til Monday: I'm not ignoring any responses you make.)
Feb. 17th, 2011 05:36 pm (UTC)
I don't have a sense of visceral disgust at the burqa, or for that matter any article of clothing with perhaps the exception of plaid golf pants.

I do, however, have a sense of visceral disgust at cultures that treat women as subhuman, and at the idea that a burqa is a necessary measure to prevent the sight of a woman from corrupting men into sin, which is the justification behind mandating its use in places like Afghanistan.

I have actually spoken to women forced to wear them on penalty of death, as part of two years of college-level Islamic studies (History of Islam and Arabic Language, Culture, and Society) in my misspent college youth. The bit about being stoned to death for refusing to wear one is, sadly, not an exaggeration in some parts of the world, even today.

I'm not saying "no woman should be allowed to wear one of these things;" that seems as silly as saying "all women should be forced to wear them." I'm saying when the Taliban beats or executes any woman who doesn't wear one, and then some Taliban spokesman like Zabiullah Mujahid gets up on CNN and says with a straight face that this is for women's benefit, I call bullshit. :)
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Feb. 17th, 2011 02:40 pm (UTC)
My favorite coffee mug that we have is for the London Underground. It, of course, says "Mind the gap" on one side and "London Underground" on the other. It makes me giggle whilst drinking my coffee in the morning (side note: I just realized that the mug may well be pissed @ me for putting coffee in it instead of tea, hmmm, or it may be VERY glad and tired of tea, so I guess one never knows).

I am also sad that we may never see Herbert again. I found the comic hilarious, sad, and angry-making @ the same time (which I think was the intent). Ah vell, such is life.

I've also really enjoyed your Adventures in Europe, thank you for all the wonderful sharing!
Feb. 17th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC)
Did you let the speaker know that he used your map? Because I just love how the internet make the world smaller. I used your map in a brief presentation I gave in an english class last semester ^.^
Feb. 17th, 2011 09:00 pm (UTC)
I did let her know! Didn't have much of a chance to talk to her afterward, though.

In an English class? Now I'm curious!
Feb. 18th, 2011 03:23 am (UTC)
It was part of our final. The final paper we wrote had to take on a social issue. I covered sex education. Then we had to give a presentation on the paper. So I focused on sex education in the cyber age. I talked about how parents needed to be aware of what was online. I used a friends child who got busted looking at porn after he'd done a search for Sonic the Hedgehog. I talked about this guy I met at DragonCon who seemed nice enough but like a month later was busted for texting explicit messsages to a 12 year old and trying to lure her into sex. Some of the resources I pointed out was an online slang dictionary and I pointed out your map.

I think my presentation got the most giggles *smirk*
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Feb. 18th, 2011 02:14 am (UTC)
I wonder if herbert could become a BDSM based rapist (or would that be like a lion changing his spots?) that drawing would be a great @BDSMBadAdvice type cartoon.

Also, your map...I am dangerously close to showing it to my offspring...(or "letting" him find it)

15yr old son, who is dealing with his gender identity issues though is not sexually active (we have had discussions, I ask him jokingly and not and he never shows any of his "I'm lying" tells when he says he is still a virgin)

He is out with myself and my family as Bi, but is scared to tell his dads side of the family.

I just don't want to scare him with ALL of it yet but i think it would be great for him to see how many variations there are in life.

I do thank you for making it.
May. 24th, 2011 04:10 am (UTC)
Have you ever read anything by Dr. Fatema Mernissi? It was very interesting to me to read a feminist perspective out of the middle east, especially concerning her views on female oppression in the east vs. west.
Needless to say, though, Dr. Mernissi doesn't wear a head scarf, much less a burqa.
May. 24th, 2011 04:16 am (UTC)
I haven't! Any recommendations?
May. 24th, 2011 04:22 am (UTC)
Start with Dreams of Trespass. It's her autobiographical account of growing up in a domestic harem in Morocco.
After you're done with that, you'll want to read Scheherezade Goes West. During her book tour for Dreams of Tresspass, Mernissi got asked a lot of questions which displayed that many westerners had somehow managed to read her book and not get that harems didn't necessarily entail a bunch of scantily clad sex slaves milling about. She decided to publish further. Scheherezade Goes West is concerned largely with concepts of beauty and gender roles, exploring how Scheherezade changed as it moved from the middle east to the west.
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