August review – ticking it off

Highlight: I completed the final revisions of my book, developed an online course (for someone else), worked on the action plan for the Open Programme following our recent review, worked on GO-GN outputs and ran a research session. In short I did a lot of stuff that I don’t normally get to do because I’m in meetings about doing stuff.

Theme: Get stuff done. I feel I can start the busy September to December period now with a relatively clean slate. It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have meetings all the time. I know I am guilty of arranging meetings myself and they’re often necessary to progress work, but because most people were on leave this month, I really noticed what is achieved in their absence.

Lowlight: Seeing all the “Lectures are the only way to do education” headlines (from the same people who bemoan that higher education hasn’t changed since the Victorian era) was depressingly predictable.

Vinyl highlight: Some good summer vibes vinyl this month with the new Villagers album, and Big Red Machine continuing the Taylor Swift/Aaron Dessner/Bon Iver collaboration. But I’m going for Dry Cleaning’s New Long Leg. It features the droll, bored vocals of Florence Shaw over Stoogesesque bass lines and discordant guitar. She sounds like she might die of ennui as she intones about the Antiques Roadshow and eating hotdogs. When she does occasionally sing it’s slightly off key as if singing is for losers. Dry Cleaning would probably be mean to you at a party but they’re so cool you’d want to be their friends anyway.

Book: I’ve been reading Laura Bates’s Men Who Hate Women this month, which has been particularly relevant given the Plymouth shooting. I like to think I’m a good feminist and I know a lot of this stuff about online misogyny, but Bates’s deep dive into the manosphere is an insightful shocking, and at times, gruelling read. She is a fantastically precise and careful writer, and from incels to men’s rights activism she delineates the core aspects of each group, how they overlap and how their ideas bleed into the mainstream. She is also a very sympathetic writer, and understands that confused adolescents can be pulled into this world. Indeed, she points out with heartbreaking clarity that these groups are often self-defeating – wanting to promote men’s wellbeing while clinging to the toxic definitions of masculinity that lead to problems such as suicide and failure to seek help.

Bates appeared on TV in the UK explaining some of these terms and the sort of language parents might want to look out for (eg “redpilling”). She was of course attacked for this on social media, (I saw one person refer to her as “pure evil”). This was in itself a perfect example of a feature she talks about in the book – it doesn’t matter how well evidenced your argument is or how reasonable you are, any criticism of (white) men is interpreted as a vicious attack which must be repelled. It’s a tough read in places (I have no idea how women like Bates have the strength to continue given the constant violent threats made against her), but pretty much an essential one.

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