Democracy · General

Talking Theresa May, a feminist’s inner debate

I have written a number of poems about Theresa May and her policies over the years. This included when I was a women’s worker heavily involved in grassroots and party politics myself and she was Home Secretary. I have grappled with myself many times over my feelings towards her. I analyze and judge myself because she is a visible representation of women in power, still such a rarity in the UK. Two British Prime Ministers have been assigned the same sex at birth as I have, and I’ve not been a fan of either. But, do I, as a longterm equalist and feminist pull her down? My answer, as someone who has been involved in politics and been a women’s worker, is complex.

I have done and will criticize her policies and question her moral compass, often passionately. I have queried her actions and even at times her basic ethics. I get angry when her womanhood is attacked but I wonder if I do it too. I’ve been involved in helping make harassment of women recognized as a hate crime in my county but I wonder where the line is when criticizing someone whose ethos as well as their actions often seem abhorrent to me.  Is it different because I am a woman and a feminist? Is it unbiased because my poems question the acts, ethics, and judgments of other politicians across genders, including the leader of the opposition? Or, does the volume and nature of my criticism veil a different or concurrent story? In all the poems I have written there is one controversial line from 2014 I still now wrestle with, but I will come to that.

Poems like Shoes? and The Poisoned Cup and A gender very clearly and firmly explore my anger at criticisms of her as a woman rather than a politician, whilst still raging against her policies and political acts. Too many talk about female politicians’ appearance, which is irrelevant to their politics. This is a kind of bating and belittling no heterosexual man in politics has to contend with. It morphs into analogies of sticking high heels in and other suggestions that certain behaviour is ‘unwomanly’, whatever that is, or because we have no children, or because we do. I’ve lived this toxic bias myself. Told as the only woman on a panel that I was talking too much, asked if I have children or what my husband thinks. Told I should not be standing because I have a man in my life. I was stalked and verbally abused. All this rubbish no politician from any party should have to contend with but they do, and they have to deal with far worse too. A diabetic heavily pregnant woman having to postpone a cesarian to vote in one of the most important parliament ballots in a century. Another pregnant woman receiving death threats for being Jewish. A serving MP stabbed to death. Straight white abled males that make up most of our parliament don’t experience this type of abuse.

I left my own political party citing discrimination, having been involved to some extent at local, regional and national level voluntarily in the years I was a member. No, I didn’t receive death threats or anything so horrific, but I left shaken, unwell and soul-weary, treated as a pariah despite having got some of the party’s best results in the 2015 elections. I was not alone in leaving. The party concerned is not remotely unique in this, but I had ploughed in everything I had and expected fairness for myself and others. All parties have discrimination in their ranks, politics and human society generally is full of it, but it’s what they do about it that counts. I’m not convinced either of the main political parties or many if not all of the smaller ones have yet developed enough self-awareness to tackle the different forms of racism, ableism and, for the main part gender bias within their membership and leaders. Do I have the self-awareness to recognize bias in myself? Perhaps. Hopefully.

I have written a lot of poems about Theresa May; more than any other single politician except perhaps Tony Blair many years ago. I’ve asked myself why and I do sense a bias in me; I think I expect higher morals from her because we have so few visible female leaders and those who would chain us in homogenous misogyny blame her womanhood and so in a way all women for her failures. In this, I have internalized the sexism and must be careful of that.  Will it stop me being angry and speaking out against burning injustices. No. Very, very no.

Dear Ministers, Lies in Old Westminster, What the Dickens? and The Big Riot (a political satire) are all pretty scathing about a number of politicians from across the house. There are many others. Yet I am often provoked by my emotions to writing about Theresa May. A large part of this is because she is Prime Minister during a time of steeply rising inequity, homelessness, hunger, and insecurity where acts of terror and racist policies hold hands. She is the Brexit PM and I have strong feelings about Brexit and the lies that warped the referendum and what came after. In The Poisoned Cup  I talk about her inheriting an unanswerable problem, but I think she helped create that problem too, long before the rise of calls for Brexit.

I’ve become aware that for me it is personal.  When I was an interfaith women’s worker active in politics in squeezed spare time, I saw for myself some of the affects of her Home Office policies. Just one example of this was a wonderful Malawian nurse who had been in this country and active in her community for 14 years snatched off the streets and taken to Yarlswood, where all the guards are white and all those detained are black or minority ethnicity. It was an oppressive place to even visit and they took visitors fingerprints. She was not given vital medicine and was in hospital when we finally managed to get her out. Getting her legal help – even getting clean underwear to her, felt like a battle. This is one of many stories I know, including of a woman, who when 14, having lived in this country since infancy, had to fight to stay. I was and am angry at this.

I feel this, together with David Cameron’s capitulation to other pressures, put in place the foundations for many present ills. The farcical process of Brexit spurred on by, amongst other things, spreading lies about immigration as a smokescreen for the real reasons too many are struggling. The racist policy of exiling citizens of the Windrush generations. The attacks on the wellbeing and security of those whose ill health or disability prevents them from being able to work. The undermining of women’s rights through the disproportionate effects of austerity. The failure to act as pledged in their 2017 election manifesto to handle the burning injustices of our time, including those linked to seriously tackling domestic violence and the exploitation of tenants and workers.

My experiences as a witness in 2014 of Theresa May as Home Secretary has placed her as one of the main authors of our current climate of insecurity. Furthermore, watching her undemocratically limiting parliamentary debating the shape of Brexit for nearly three years while the flames of burning injustices rise across the nation has not gentled my ire. Brexit, to my mind, was always going to be a vicious beast, but her actions are among those that have potentially sharpened its teeth – if it happens. May’s bad deal, created after years of negotiations with the EU but near none with Westminster until the eleventh hour, has put us at greater risk of a disastrous no deal Brexit.

My thoughts on her approach to governance can be found in poems such as Democracy, GoatskinAlternative ArrangementsContempt and in the 2014-2015 poems Dear Theresa and Securing A Bitter Future. Of all of them, it is only the last and Madame Dictator in which I question whether I have projected internalized misogynistic undertones. In my heart of hearts, I am ultimately unhappy with only one line in which I suggest she should be hushed up. It is in the context of her pushing a piece of legislation in 2014 that effectively hushed up everyone who had widely different opinions to her own. Legislation that potentially left millions voiceless, including myself and the women in the organizations I was working with.  The idea of hushing an outspoken woman up is deeply problematic. Mary Beard, in ‘Women and Power’ draws our attention to the fact that silencing of women in public life has been normalized in art and politics from the times the Classics were written. In this, I am a bad feminist.

Yet, where does my moral compass point when I am talking about someone who was with the non-violent extremism act hushing up others? It is a difficult one. Writing it I was thinking only of her as a politician not as a woman. Yet we live in a gendered society where that will be misused and / or misinterpreted by others. In that particular phrase and that particular poem I used gender-neutral phrasing to help distant it from gender rhetoric but I’m not sure, when the person is such a prominent figure, that this unpicks millennia of ‘hush hate’.

Never-the-less, I counter myself in this internal debate, the mirrored context of the others she was hushing up raged in my mind, with the knowledge I was not about to expect less from her as a politician or not say things, just because of her – and my assigned gender. I think it is telling that I would not choose to reuse the phrase, ever.

I feel Theresa May does actually believe she is doing the best for Britain. I feel more strongly than I have felt most things in my entire life that she is very dangerously wrong and misguided by prejudice, her own or other people’s . I do not believe this is because she was assigned female sex at birth, or because of her clothing choice as a woman. Most certainly May will have had a much tougher journey getting where she is now than her male colleagues and contemporaries. I do recognise that this places pressure on a person but it is no excuse for policies and processes that alienate, disenfranchise and impoverish millions while curbing parliamentary debate until there is no other option.  I will not let any person or administration singe democracy for fear of being impartial but I must choose the words I use wisely. Perhaps at times, I think unfairly she should be more astute because so few women have gained her level of influence as well as because the stakes are so high in the present political, social and environmental climate.

My fear and experience of being arbitrarily judged as a woman against a person I feel little affinity with does tint my own assessment of their actions. One woman’s social crimes become, in the eyes of many, the crimes of all women, and so we are taught to judge fellow females more harshly than males.  Yes, I’ve written critically about male MPs, No Discrimination, Making Progress? and Johnson & Drones being prime examples. However, I think I’ve ingested some of the shame poured on myself and others assigned the same sex at birth, regardless of how they identify. It is the mechanisms of misogyny, not Theresa May I should be furious at for that. Even when I take this into account, there is plenty to be angry at Theresa May about, but I should be equally angry at others. I am.

Now, to turn that anger into fuel for justice and the only way I can do that is to link it back to the love I have for those people, including myself, that I feel have been put at risk.  I must choose my words with both care and fire.

General · Personal

Inspiration Porn

This is a zanze I wrote, posted on my old blog. It’s about certain views on disability, chronic illness and women:

Antonia Sara Zenkevitch

I’m not your inspiration porn

For you to sensationalize

As your source of motivation

For your more abled-bodied lives,

Not your inspiration

Or measure of your skill,

A Paralympian

Nor life uncured to kill,

I’m not your porn,

Objectified

For you to own

Or criticize,

Not your

Provocation

Your stimulus or spur;

I’m not your inspiration porn.

Antonia Sara Zenkevitch

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General · Personal

48 Percent Life

into the loaded silence, I write

all about a 48 percent life,

while the globe spins on a knife

into the loaded silence, I write

as i watch, gross injustices ignite

my body immobile, thoughts in flight

into the loaded silence, I write

all about a 48 percent life.

 

Antonia Sara Zenkevitch

 

Democracy · General

A gender

One commentator expounds

On May digging in stiletto heels,

As he, on shaky and unlevel grounds

Blames a government’s historic failure;

To reach a workable deal

(With a gall that even now astounds)

On the Prime Minister’s gender,

 

The interviewer does not question assertions

Made with usual, casual, lethal sexism

As the commentator mentions a lack of children

As if that were a reason for derision;

Or cause of brinkmanship or inflexibility,

Equating female ambition

With a leader’s inability

Or unwillingness to seek

To engage constitutionally,

As if the issue was women in politics

Or in the monarchy,

As if there were the statistics

To back up such misogyny;

Too few women have led

To make such sweeping analogy,

It is not May’s womanhood

For which she owes apology.

Democracy · General

Two Poems of Hope for 2019

Hello All,

Hoping your year started peacefully. I started 2019 listening to ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance‘ by Irving Berlin, sung by the great Nat King Cole. The song for me captures the spirit of making merry no matter what troubles may be ahead and finding joy in life and love. I was not feeling well earlier in the evening – I have complex disabilities and chronic health conditions – but by the time we saw the fireworks from our open bedroom window and read out Tennison, I was warm and hopeful. The story about how we ended up reading the classic ‘Ring Out, Wild Bells‘ is shared in a new poem I wrote the next day. It centers on the story of a woman honouring a beautiful tradition her mother kept.wild bell echoes az I’ve submitted this poem together with one other and three art pieces into an International Mental Health & Wellbeing ‘Postcard’ Show. Another poem of hope is written today:

A January Morning

 

A January Sunday morning,

After my ritual of washing

Dan comes in with the Guardian,

While drinking tea I’m listening

To desired reports, hope glistening;

In the USA diverse representatives sworn in

In the UK, political rebellion against fracking

And I hear, deep inside, a caged bird sing

While doors with rusty iron locks are slowly opening.

 

Antonia Sara Zenkevitch

 

Meanwhile, a piece I wrote last year on disability and access has been published:

So, these are my offerings for hope and determination going into 2019.

 

Democracy · Festive Protest Songs · General

What the Dickens? – A Christmas Carol Revisited

 

What the Dickens is this?

As parliament breaks up for Christmas

We are visited by the ghosts of promises;

As Brexit consumes the policies

Once pledged to deal with ‘burning injustices’,

 

The ghost of past oaths and assurances

To tackle rouge bailiffs and rip-off leases

Are abandoned as inequality advances;

See the ghosts to be crouched on cold streets,

Lives, not just statistics in rising homelessness,

 

The ghost of past undertakings and vows

To confront domestic violence, here and now

With electronic tags for known offenders

And forced rehab for abusive substance users,

How many victims are no longer with us

Since broken pacts to protect survivors?

 

Ghosts of lawful guarantees to defend us

In the word they gave they’d shield workers

From still legal wage-theft by some businesses,

People treated like those caged wild creatures

Still allowed to be trapped in certain circuses,

 

As the cabinet prepares to sleep this December 24th,

May they hear the howling wind knocking at their doors

And see the ghost of now, shades of what came before

And the spectre of the future if they don’t change course.

 

Antonia Sara Zenkevitch

48% · Democracy · General · Remain

The Poisoned Cup

Passing the poisoned cup

One prime minister resigned,

Another crowned by tearing up

The security of Northern Ireland,

When Tory seats were not enough

To form a near-valid government,

 

The purulent chalice passes

Hand to hand, mouth to mouth,

As we hear gunfire in Alsace;

Blood on the streets of Strasburg

Where sits the EU parliament,

 

December, in Westminster Palace

The cabinet creates an adjournment

As their Brexit deal is met with malice,

Thus, the cup holder made the judgment

To postpone the parliamentary ballot

Until all debate becomes redundant,

In the hope MPs do what they are told

When later, a decision is even more urgent,

As if it was this or watch the world implode,

They say this really is the best Brexit,

Brim full of bitterness that corrodes

It’s Brexit itself a ‘no’ vote may prevent,

The grim fairy-tale half the UK was sold

Cannot manifest; it has no substance,

You can’t cross a rainbow for a pot of gold,

 

So, the PM makes deferments to quell insurgence

And, far more worryingly, to defeat debate,

Employing the terror and the turbulence

So, she can later say it is too late

To heed the union’s fate

Or the Good Friday Peace Agreement,

Using the fear of further delays

To rally support for this form

Of European abandonment,

That the continent views as

Foolish arrogance and scorn;

A circus of self-indulgence

As hardliner Brexiteers suffer from

Cognitive dissonance

At the death of their candyfloss unicorn,

 

Millions watch as Andy Serkis

Does his impression of Gollum

As May guarding her “precious”;

A dark pact become obsession

As ordinary people pay the cost,

She is not a lone politician –

But she is the cabinet’s boss,

 

This is perilous,

We would have been better off

If we had never taken this road,

Flattening the atlas,

Turning princes into desiccated toads,

Pulling down the Corona Borealis

To claim the constellations as our own,

 

Here in London,

A noose is carried at the crossroads,

What has our referendum imparted?

 

Parliament was not yet open

Before negotiations started,

Then, in the Commons, the withholding

Of vital legal documents;

Then, despite our constitution’s lack of coding,

The government found in contempt

Of its house in the attempt

To push through the deal

The vast majority resent,

Triggering calls

For a vote of no confidence

Which saves the premier from herself,

Giving a mass to her insistence,

While shedding doubt upon the doubts

About her proposed agreement,

They do not vote her out,

If they had, what then?

 

The limits of the entire cabinet

Fall on the shoulders of one woman

Who took up the festering goblet,

If the task passed to the fluff-headed man

To carry out his harsher-edged Brexit plan,

What then?

The Tory’s, faced with that deterrent,

Given assurance of May’s pre-term abdication,

Left her in power, merely weakened,

In committee room fourteen

They cheered the outcome,

But the PMs support remains slim,

 

This is not on the head of one human

But there will be an awesome reckoning

For all when all the posturing is done,

 

Will there be another election?

Or a second referendum

To hear the people speaking?

 

For Remainers, these were among

The many reasons for not leaving,

Forewarned and foreseen outcomes,

Beyond all the proposed tweaking

In every EU meeting,

For we are no longer the pater of imperialism

And this won’t alter by self-deceiving,

We cannot be lead by wistfulness, surrealism,

Or chest-thumping bleating,

 

This failure was set by the result of the referendum,

The dice thrown in June 2016,

The choice made was ever a loaded gun,

 

One thing is clear,

The 48% are no longer sovereign,

We are lost in this decision;

The representatives I see

No longer represent me,

 

As a lifelong British citizen

I grieve for my ailing country,

This broken union for our children,

The open gates of poverty

Bigotry and community division,

Bringing betrayal of heritage, ancestry

And lives yet to come,

 

If the Brexit of a small section

Of the half that won a victory

By two percent,

Continues, facilitated by

An administration with a weak mandate

And a disordered opposition,

Then any reclaimed sovereignty is fake;

A toxic proposition

Whose cuts will cut more deeply,

 

Future generations

Will blame all British, communally,

And we won’t be able to save them

From the poisoned cup we gave them.

 

Antonia Sara Zenkevitch

 

Culture · Democracy · General

Without Representation

Tax without representation equals tyranny;

This was a grievance in the seventeen-sixties

Across thirteen American Colonies

Whose governance came from across seas,

Remote, unresponsive to necessities

They could not heed, and so cried liberty,

For to pay yet be muzzled is to suffer cruelty,

 

This became a seed of the revolution;

For tax must be money taken from citizens

For the betterment of community and nation

Not a cyphering or selective elevation

Of one group requiring others’ humiliation,

 

To take taxes from persons with zero say

In how their money’s used is autocracy;

An absolutism keeping justice at bay

Until people cried, “We won’t pay

To have our voice or home taken away,

We won’t subsidise being silenced.”

 

Later, in another century, women cried this too;

Or at least the wealthy, unmarried or widowed

Women with means, numbering only a few,

Less than four decades since wedded women knew

The right to own any property or money; to accrue

Or keep inheritance or wages, never mind a view,

 

But although they had no say in how it was spent

They were legally bound to pay tax to a Parliament,

That might as well have been on another continent

For how much it heard, saw or represented them

Or any women, for it was a male ego Bastian

That sought to retain unilateral male dominance,

Where men owned wives’ bodies, owned children,

Where women’s sole fortune was a kind man,

Where the death of a cruel one was petty treason,

Where women were thought to have no sense or reason,

 

Those times are (mostly) gone,

In many but not all ways

We have moved on,

In others the patterns replay

On and on and on,

 

And yet always there is disenfranchisement;

Subjugation, marginalisation recurrent

For those who cannot vote for their government

But must pay taxes, amongst these are migrants

Who work and pay their way yet are censured

And scapegoated, all successes thrice earned

In economic downturn, less guarded by laws,

 

My thinking friends, take into consideration

Those with no vote still subject to taxation;

For those with no parliamentary representation

Are those who suffer the worst discrimination;

 

For policies are built for those who may elect

And those most represented get most respect,

 

So, when the powerful blame migrants again

Know it’s because politicians can cast blame

And shame on those with other national origins

Because at election time MPs only have to win

The approval of born or chosen British citizens,

 

It is the same with young people

Who may have sex, go into battle,

Be taxed, labour, work and toil

Years before their opinion counts at all

To those who’d label them criminal,

 

Tax but no vote from age sixteen

Then under-represented and side-lined

By those who chose to demean,

 

If you are white, male, heterosexual,

Born here, still fully abled,

Born well off, aligned to the sex assigned

At birth and forty or more

Then you are the ones they write policies for,

 

And, although this status quo is challenged

The more we are of this, the more we are privileged,

The more our likeness is, in Westminster, reflected,

The more our needs and interests are respected

And the more our right to thrive is protected,

 

But those who cannot elect or be elected

Still pay into the pot,

But when the going gets tough they’re neglected,

Their contribution denied, rights overlooked,

 

I look at anti-migrant rhetoric

Recalling slogans of regulators and suffragists,

All people just trying to live

Without being banished, alienated

Or slated for taking when they give,

The lies about them are practiced,

Expected, accepted, authoritative,

 

To those who believe them I ask them to think

About present and historic links

Between those who aren’t permitted a vote

And those in society who are scorned the most,

 

Because it is not democracy,

At times it smacks of tyranny,

It opens the gate to mockery,

Hate crimes, partiality, bigotry

 

And is a smoke screen shielding plutocracy;

A version of this played out in ancient Greece,

And to those who say it’s always been like this

I’d say we create more damage when we believe

Authorities when they accuse voteless minorities

And under-represented communities,

It is divide and rule policy based on demography,

Truth is more complex and harder to retrieve

When a nation enables its leaders to deceive

Then buys the bullshit on Brexit and votes ‘leave’.

General · Personal

In the Air

 

 

8am,

The grieving wind

And sirens in the air,

An icy 18th of December,

The future forecast

Still nebulous; unclear

As destitution stings

The atmosphere

And each gust calls

Like an anguished mother,

Where do we go from here?

 

Then, through the thin walls,

The chimes of a child’s laughter

And my heart hurdles to my throat

In that breath and beat of hope.

 

Antonia Sara Zenkevitch