I’ve decided to blog today on the subject of competitiveness. As anyone who know me will testify, I am a highly competitive person. For me, it’s not the winning but the taking part. Yesterday I got terribly excited about the Manchester Blog Awards 2009 and nominated my own blog! My daughter also nominated me and I tweeted about it. The blog awards twitter account tweeted back to tell me I was already nominated and that it wasn’t a vote! Gulp! After I stopped feeling a little silly, it made me pause for thought about how this competitive edge makes me look to the outside world.
To illustrate this, I’ll take three current news pieces. Fay Weldon is in the Guardian today telling us that she is ‘the only feminist there is’. I read the article sort of hoping that she was saying this tongue in cheek, and that her foray in the sex industry had grounded her. What I actually got from this interview was a sense of superiority, a feeling that she thinks, because she has been alive a long time and been married several times, she is some kind of authority on equality. The whole piece came over as a personal opinion piece from someone who was desperate to tell us that her books are not ‘women’s fiction’ as the women’s fiction market deteriorates. Feminist? Well she’s as equally entitled to her opinion as much as anyone is, but telling us that her opinion is worth more than anyone elses, without a shred of published evidence, is using feminism as a cheap marketing trick to sell books in an ever-competitive market.
Next, the Duchess of York. She strode forthrightly onto our screen this week as she apparently singlehandedly attempted to regenerate Wythenshaw in Manchester. Having worked with community members who are trying desperately to get their living environment improved and having seen them in tears when their attempts gratuitously hijacked by commercialism or bureaucracy, I watched through my fingers. Unfortunately it’s the same old story. No one was fooled for a minute. The members of the ‘Shameless’ community would have grasped this opportunity with both hands, thinking that it would attract attention, funding and raise the profile of their plight. But does anyone really think that they didn’t realise that Sarah was returning home after final filming to her expensive home, expensive cars and lifestyle that never, ever included going to a cashpoint and worrying about withdrawing a tenner? In this case, the competition was between a set of community activists and Sarah as to who could extract the most money and publicity for their individual plight out of this. Sarah wins hands down. Her simpering, cliched acting had gained many more column inches this week, Northern Moor estate mentioned only in passing as Sarah promotes herself around Manchester.
Finally, in another sort of competition, Caster Semenya. My heart went out to this young woman as she ran her heart out, won gold and faced the world’s press. I admire her. She has been the subject of the worst kind of misogynistic abuse, personal critique. The most puzzling aspect of this is that this is being played out as a gender issue. In fact, if there is an issue in the first place, the question is about sex differences. Gender is a social construction. It is an assignation of identity which can change over time. Penny Red describes this perfectly in her blog. Sex differences are to do with the material embodiment of the self, a completely different issue, and again fluid. Despite patriarchal attempts to shape women both bodily and socially, nature will take it’s course and we will become who we are. The true competition here is that between the male dominated sporting world and an identity concept which, although they consider it to be black and white in terms of sex and gender assignment, is really many, many shades of grey. Who will win? Even if the ‘tests’ (probably with a normality baseline originated, like the IQ test, in outdated and horrific eugenics to ‘prove the point’ of the oppressors) Caster Semenya has to now endure do not ‘assign’ her as a woman, this whole issue had made many more people think about gender and transgender, including those involved in the cut-and-dried sporting world where women have never been considered equal to men, rather inferior and weaker. Semenya’s name means ‘from nature’ and I sincerely hope that her competitive spirit continues and she feels the pride of achievement despite the being heckled by the whole world.
So, competitiveness – is it good or bad? Well there’s the old adage ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’ – but if it’s at a moral cost to another person then it isn’t competitiveness but oppression. Fay Weldon – shameless self promotion at our expense (the cost of a newspaper and the insult to our intelligence) or a lesson for us all? Sarah Ferguson – ‘Shameless’ estate regeneration or self promotion at the cost of a community’s hopes and dreams? Cater Semenya – shameless discrimination and oppression of a talented women who ran for the glass ceiling at record speed or? There isn’t really another option. Finally, me. Shameless self-promotion or attempting to promote the cause of stopping domestic violence and inequality through my writing? You decide!