2014 has been a seminal year for It Ain’t Necessarily So. March witnessed its conception, May its inception, in July we hosted the University of Edinburgh Fieldwork Prize Competition, in October we ran a writers retreat with attendees from the University of Michigan and in November we were awarded the Sue Grant Service Award by the UoE School of Social Political Sciences. In the 6 months since our launch we have published over 45 posts written by individuals hailing from 6 different Schools, received over 16,000 views from readers in 85 different countries and achieved more than we ever imagined feasible. Absolutely none of this would have been possible without a bevy of committed writers and an absolutely marvelous readership. It is thus entirely proper that the IANS editorial staff take this opportunity to thank you from the bottom of our tender, earnest little hearts:
Thank you – each and everyone of you – for your unending support, kindness and attention. We are what we are because we have you, and we promise never to forget that.
Here at IANS central, we’re very much looking forward to 2015 and all that it may offer. We have a great deal planned, including a number of very exciting collaborations and projects, so we hope you will stay tuned for a year long tour de force of bloggy, bloggy goodness!
Before we bid adieu to 2014 and open our hearts to the mystery of the New Year, however, we would like to take a moment to reflect on what has been and gone. As such, in what follows, the brightest and best of IANS staff contemplate what made the past year great, what it made it awful and, above all, what made it memorable.
The Road to Equality
The F Bomb:
After receiving 45% of the vote in Time Magazines 2015 poll on words which should be banned, “feminism” may be the newest bleeped out word on television. Whilst Time did retract the word from the poll and apologised for its inclusion, there are some questions about how and why the word made it onto the list in the first place. After all, in 2014 we saw multiple celebrities ‘come out’ as feminists, including Taylor Swift, and Emma Watson. Arguably, introducing feminism to the younger generation through celebrities may not be a bad thing. If impressionable youngsters see their favourite singers or actresses unafraid to drop the f bomb, they might feel more inclined to explore the concept of gender equality themselves. It may even spark some to use profanity personally! However, while the concept of gender equality ought to be adopted by everyone, maybe the word itself should be banned. Like all political movements feminism means something different to everyone; unlike other political movements, however, feminism often invites comments such as, ‘I believe in gender equality….but I’m not a feminist’. Could it be that the word itself is too gender exclusive and is holding back the movement for gender equality? Should the word feminism be kept around in 2015? Perhaps not.
Victoria Masney, Staff Writer
Notes from an Angry Feminist:
I know it’s customary to be cheerful or cautiously optimistic when nostalgically reviewing months past, but I can’t bring myself to do it. In many ways, 2014 was a miserable wretch of a year, masterfully showcasing how far humanity must go before it can make a legitimate claim to the title ‘civilized’. For me, the murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and the subsequent legal omnishambles; the spree killings of Elliot Rodgers; the murder of Tugce Albayrak; “Gamersgate”; the 4chan leaks, etc. all evidence what so many refuse to accept: that legal equality in Western states has entirely failed to eradicate dangerous modes of oppression such as racism and sexism. Though it is now entirely illegal in these nations to discriminate against a person based on their race or gender, to pay them less or explicitly subject them to different regulatory standards, women and black people continue to be subjugated, impoverished, killed, humiliated and threatened because they aren’t white, (preferably heterosexual) men. Technologies of the state, private relationships, and representations in the symbolic/cultural sphere continue to serve large-scale oppressive social orders. Claims, therefore, that we live in a post-racial society or that Western feminism should be disbanded, and the word banned altogether, because we have been so damned successful are just ridiculous. 2014, if nothing else, has proven that the political orders of sexism and racism are still very much alive and kicking, and that we have never needed feminism (and not a watered down, toothless double that denies the feminized nature of subjugation) or anti-racist activism more.
Rebecca Hewer, Editor-in-Chief
Progress for the LGBT Community in Ireland:
In my homeland of Ireland, 2014 has been an amazing year for LGBT rights. Examples include:
- the Constitutional Convention overwhelmingly supporting a constitutional amendment for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage (a referendum for which will be held in May 2015);
- the swell of public support for same-sex marriage, rising to over 80% in favour (after undecided voters are removed);
- the public attendance of our Taoiseach (Prime Minister), for the first time ever, at a Christmas event at a gay bar;
- the imminent passage of legislation allowing for same-sex adoption;
- the review of a ban on gay men donating blood;
- a drag queen winning the ‘Person of the Year’ award;
- and the creation of the Gender Recognition Bill 2014, which is to become law in due course.
Arguably, one of the most important events that took place, however, was the debate on homophobia. Panti Bliss, the Queen of Ireland, sparked a public debate on what constitutes homophobia and what it means to be LGBT in modern Ireland.
Don’t get me wrong, things aren’t perfect. The Catholic Church still holds sway. However, for a country haunted by its Catholic past, where homosexuality was illegal until 1993, it has come a long way. Once completely controlled by the Catholic Church, it has moved toward a more inclusive and secular society.
Chris Crockford, Editor
This year’s most defining event is one we have almost forgotten. December 20th marked the 250th day since 273 Nigerian school girls were kidnapped by the terrorist organization Boko Haram. Approximately 230 of said girls are still missing. We got distracted by other serious humanitarian crises taking the form of ISIS and Ebola, and slowly forgot about women in developing countries who are at the most significant risk. In the same year that we engaged in polarizing debates regarding Emma Watsons’ HeforShe Campaign, and domestic abuse in the NFL, we stopped talking about the girls in Nigeria (who were among the less than 55% of girls in said country enrolled in primary and secondary school) who were taken from their school. Though the topic trended with the popular #bringbackourgirls, such passive activism was of little aid to those subjected to rape and forced marriages at the hands of Boko Haram. I don’t want this year to have been another one of a social media trend that found its place collecting dust on a shelf alongside #occupywallstreet, but this is where we are. This event was defining not in the revolution that followed, but the one that was we never had and the one we owe those girls.
Michal Shiminovich, Staff Writer
Reflections on Scotland’s Independence Referendum
The Vote: A personal reflection:
The Scottish referendum changed the nature of political engagement and for many caused a crisis of personal identity. During the debate, nationalism became a dirty word, and references to the previous wars of independence such as Bannockburn and Culloden were viewed by many as irrelevant. However, as a Scottish born woman with ancestral connections to the Scottish highlands dating back to the 13th century, I could not escape from the feeling that somehow this was just another step in the centuries long fight between the ‘Establishment’ and the common people of Scotland. As the referendum came closer the lyrics of songs such as the Skye Boat song ‘Burnt are our homes, exile and death, scattered our loyal men, yet o’er the sword, cold in the sheath, Charlie will rise again’ filled my heart with aching longing and pain for the families and communities purged by the highland clearances. Such feelings cannot be explained rationally, and I shied away from expressing them during the long chats on the pro’s and con’s of independence I engaged in, but it is ultimately why I voted yes. Since the referendum the Scottish people have engaged with the process of reclaiming the right of the common people through community groups, the SNP’s land reform policies and a monumental upsurge in political affiliation. We shall see if this momentum continues at such a pace however the seeds have been sown and a new kind of political participation is most definitely taking place across Scotland and the UK.
Anna Ross, Contributor
IndyRef: A Political Education:
Scotland changed this year. Or more to the point, Scottish politics changed this year. The decision at the independence referendum on 18th September was to answer ‘No’ to the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” After two years of discussing the possibilities and options that this question offered, 84.6% of the electorate turned out to have their say. We had seen “Yes” posters plastered all over the country (a few “No thanks” posters were visible if you looked hard enough). We experienced an education in how not to do political campaigning (step forward, Better Together campaign). We had the three musketeers(Cameron, Miliband, Clegg) flying in from London to attempt to tell us that they cared. We heard an ex-Prime Minister stepping in at the last minute, reminding us of the power of rhetoric and calling on the ‘silent majority’ to speak up. And we had a last minute ‘vow’ of “extensive new powers” for Scotland if we voted no (a vow that lasted about a minute, as David Cameron woke up not long after the rest of us had headed to bed on the day after the referendum, to attach conditions to that vow).
One question may have been answered, but many more are still being debated. After two years of discussing the pros and cons of possible independence, the Smith Commission had just two months to consult and put together a proposal for what those ‘new powers’ should be. And although the ‘No’ campaign won, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has recently seen its membership swell to over 100,000. Both the SNP and the Scottish Labour Party have new leaders and new cabinets. The UK General Election is less than five months away and it seems likely that the SNP could gain a substantial number of Scottish seats from Labour, potentially impacting both the election result and a possible coalition. The next Scottish Parliament election follows just a year later. The referendum may be over, but its impact continues.
For more information about the independence referendum and the ongoing constitutional debate visit: www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk.
Alice Hague, Staff Writer
A Year in Film:
As IANS’s resident film critic, I’ll keep this “on topic.” 2014 saw 12 Years A Slave win the Best Picture Oscar and the completion of the gold standard for career revival, the “McConaissance,” with Dallas Buyers Club, True Detectives, and Interstellar. This summer the world suffered through yet another Transformers movie, but after a $1.1 Billion box office haul, don’t expect civilization to stop collapsing. August gave us the ever-delightful Guardians of the Galaxy, which alongside The Lego Movie launched Chris Pratt onto the Hollywood A-list. Andy Serkis gave yet another mo-cap performance worth an Oscar nomination in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which will be overlooked, again. Overall 2014 was contemporarily forgettable for movies (remember Noah or Godzilla?), but will be remembered for the overlooked treasures that are Boyhood, Whiplash, Birdman, Mr. Turner, Nightcrawler, Only Lovers Left Alive, and Grand Budapest Hotel (All Must-Watches). While 2015 promises to be the biggest movie year in history [Star Wars, Bond, Avengers, Jurassic World, etc.], the biggest story of cinema 2014, and one that will continue into 2015, is Sony’s initial decision to shelve The Interview, and the backlash over the artistic precedent that such corporate cowardice sets.
George Lignon, Staff Writer and Columnist
Devolving Drug Policy: a discussion for Scotland:
The Scottish referendum stirred up many a hornets nest not least the idea that Scotland could gain control of all drug policy. Several submissions to the Smith Commission called for drugs policy to be devolved, including The Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations, experts from the University of the West of Scotland and myself. The reason for the increased interest in devolving drug policy is that many believe Scotland would take a different approach to the current prohibitive system of control, and set drugs policy within the wider context of health and social harm. This is not an unreasonable perception. Many within the drugs community have become increasingly frustrated at the lack of apparent evidence based decisions and the perceived ideologically driven responses to calls for different approaches, a frustration reinforced by the dismissal of a Home Office report in October recommending a review of current policy. Under devolved powers Scotland could implement health based drug policies and as it has shown a divergence from the UK (with a focus on recovery and harm reduction over criminalisation) it seems reasonable to assume they would take a different tact . Whether this liberal stance would be replicated if control over criminal sanctions were to be devolved remains to be seen, however the referendum opened the gates, and calls for the devolution of drug policy will not quietly disappear.
See www.ddpol.org to get informed and engage.
Anna Ross, Contributor
The Ebola Crisis:
2014 was a year in which the very best in people was exhibited by the Ebola crisis. Multiple countries have sent, and people have volunteered to be, health workers and experts to aid domestic workers in this ongoing crisis. These workers are willing to leave the comfort of their Ebola free nations to help others in need. But more should be said of domestic workers. Domestic health workers are not recognized in their selfless efforts to help patients. They are not properly compensated though they know that they have no country to escape to if they contract Ebola, no country with advanced healthcare and vaccines. They choose to work tirelessly to help their nations become more knowledgeable and Ebola free. The worst in people has been shown by ignorant responses to the crises, but the selfless efforts of health workers are overshadowing the negativity produced. Humans caring about their fellow humans is always worthy of note.
Abena Amparbeng, Staff Writer
The Death of Robin Williams:
In August of 2014, the beloved comedian and actor, Robin Williams, passed away. This was a great loss to entertainment and the world, as Williams was someone who could always be counted on to make people laugh. From the Genie in Aladdin, to dressing up as a nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire, to cheering up patients in Patch Adams, Williams always had a way of brightening our spirits and making us feel better about the world. However, during life, the seemingly sunny Robin Williams struggled with ongoing depression. In the aftermath of his death, the world struggled to understand how someone so kind, genuine, and funny could possibly be mentally ill. His death was a tragic reminder that, like so many physical illnesses, mental illness does not discriminate.
For those struggling with mental illness, the judgmental, critical, and obsessive media frenzy surrounding mental illness can cause even greater anguish. Williams, even in death, was not exempt from the stigma that those with mental illness experience on a regular basis. The hope is that these sad circumstances will eventually create greater understanding, awareness, and support for mental illness, so that more people feel comfortable accessing treatment and more deaths can be prevented.
Sarah Sultan, Contributor
Bidding Farewell to Tony Benn and Maya Angelou:
2014 witnessed the deaths of two towering heroes in my life: Tony Benn and Maya Angelou. Benn, who famously relinquished his peerage in order to become an elected Labour MP, was a left wing heavyweight, committed to a political philosophy grounded in a moral socialism. A vocal critic of the Iraq War, Blair and the neoliberal undertones of the New Labour regime, Benn often served as a dissenting socialist voice in an increasingly right wing political landscape. Though much loved by many, Benn was also much maligned: too left wing for the establishment, not left wing enough for the radicals (I once saw him booed during a speech at Marxist Weekend) and involved in an ill-fated Labour leadership battle – Benn ruffled many a feather. I personally, however, will always remember him fondly as the man who introduced me to a critical political activism executed with compassion, eloquence and style.
I initially read Angelou’s autobiographical work when I was a great deal too young (why do we insist on doing that to children?), and so spent many a year enjoying only her jazz-infused, evocative, beautiful poetry. “Still I Rise” – a poem of defiance, hope and passion – taught me how art could move you without having to resort to the kind of macabre invocations of misery my teenage-self embraced. It is a rhythmic fight song, with a cadence only given just deserts when spoken out loud:
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Then, more recently and as an adult, I revisited I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and fell in love anew with her clean, warm, and vulnerable prose. Through Angelou I – an ill-informed white girl from South-West London – became more conscious of the history of black oppression, of black struggle; and more intimately attuned with the subjugation suffered by women the world over. Surely art is at its best when it opens our eyes – to injustice, to beauty, to pain, to ourselves. In any event, as I draw this collaborative blog post to a close, I will leave you with some of Angelou’s immortal words and tentatively suggest that you keep them with you whilst you pledge your New Year’s Resolutions.
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style”
Rebecca Hewer, Editor-in-Chief