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“It’s not even casual misogyny at this point… it’s complete disrespect.” -Sherlock Xmas Special Review.

TW – Racism, Sexism. -Also, spoilers.

Steven Moffat’s casual misogyny is hardly a secret anymore for fans of Sherlock and Dr Who – but until now, it had the merit of being relatively subtle. Compensated by a deep female character dropped here and there, justified by some poorly made excuses… Enough for this sexism to be debated, at least. The way it exploded onto our screens during the Sherlock Christmas Special, however, left even the fiercest defenders of Moffat’s integrity at a loss for words.

Despite the known flaws of the show, my friends and I were quite excited about the episode, I’d even say optimistic. The preview had looked promising, and as the opening theme started playing, we doubted that anything could possibly lower our spirits.

Needless to say, we were wrong.

A few minutes in and already, some references to the misogyny of our sweet Victorian era started to appear – Mrs Hudson complaining about Watson never making her speak in his writings, Mary Watson eager to come with her husband in his adventures but silenced and basically told the victorian version of “Get back to the kitchen.”

But all in all, these allusions were not too terrible – in fact they came across as satyrical more than anything else, and we took them as criticism of the original work’s known sexism. When Lestrade answers Mary’s desire to join a political movement about women’s votes by asking “For or against?” he is the one made fun of, and Watson’s sexism is also used as comic relief at more than one occasion. A slightly irritating way of saying ‘hey, look at how sexist Sherlock characters were back then, our version is so much more open-minded!’ But it was manageable.

What made it a lot less manageable, however, was the ending. On top of being messy and poorly realized in itself, the blatant misogyny of the resolution scene was absolutely appalling.

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If you haven’t seen the episode, you might ask – what is this purple version of the KKK, passively listening to Holmes’s inspiring speech? This, my friend, is Sherlock’s take on the Suffragettes movement.

Women choosing to murder their husbands and blaming it on the ghost of a crazy bride.

Women associated to a racist cult who battled against the progress of civil rights.

Women silent and dutifully listening as Sherlock explains their struggle to them (how kind, how brilliant) and to the audience.

It’s not even casual misogyny at this point, it’s a complete disrespect of one of the most important feminist battles in recent western history. It’s inaccurate. It’s hateful. It’s sexist. And no, Steven – making Mycroft say that “we have to let them win” does not make it ok. It’s not even the start of ok, it makes it even worse, in fact.

Was it necessary? No. Even my ten-year-old cousin could have thought of a better plot-twist. Was it linked to something in the original Sherlock novels? Neither. Conan Doyle’s writings may have held the sexism of his time, but never did he write something as outrageous as this.

I am sincerely baffled as to what Moffat was trying to achieve here. Was it a horrendous attempt to appear concerned about feminism, responding to the accusions of misogyny he had received, was he trying to be en vogue with the Suffragettes movie that came out recently? And if so – did no one, of all of his team of advisors, did really no one at all point out that this was quite possibly the worse idea of his career?

Whatever the purpose, the result is sickening. If the historical inaccuracies of the Suffragettes movie made you cringe, save yourself an evening of burning indignation and bitterness – do not watch the Sherlock Christmas Special.

This review was written by Julia Lascar, an iFemSoc member. 

If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page

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Helping International Students Navigate London: the fantastic work done by the Mexican Society.

 

Being an international student at any British University is not an easy deal, between increased fees, bureaucratic visa hurdles, and being treated as a cash cow by the institution, it is unsurprising that so many student unions have turned their focus to international students issues.

At King’s one of the front runners in providing support is the Mexican Society. In the past year they have created countless guides and support for students, work completed on their own time and focusing on the needs they have learnt through lived experience as international students at King’s.

This blog post’s aim is two fold: 1. To highlight the commitment intersectional feminists should make to our international siblings at University, as they are often hit hardest by the financial and bureaucratic burdens leveled at students. 2. Point you in the direction of two fantastic guides written by our own iFemSoc member Paulina on how to navigate living in London & being an international student.

Navigating the NHS: All-in-One Guide for International Students

The first is a fantastic break down of British healthcare and the NHS. The guide is incredibly comprehensive, stressing the importance of registering with the NHS, as well as many of the questions that are specific two being an international student here in the UK.

“Given that most students are relatively young people, it is frequent for us not to worry too much about our health. However, this is a mistake. One of the first things that you should do when you arrive to the UK is to register with the National Health Service (NHS), the British “public and free” healthcare system, even if it is just to be on the safe side. It is important to register soon for two reasons: many universities and dorms require it and private healthcare is extremely expensive. The lowest fees that a private doctor will charge you will be £80-100 per appointment, if you’re lucky and don’t need any additional test or procedure. Finally, in case of an emergency – yes, we all say it won’t happen – everything will be speedier and better if you know how to use the system.

Just as any other public healthcare system, the NHS is bureaucratic, complicated, and sometimes exasperatingly slow. However, if you know how to navigate it and use it smartly, you’ll get exceptional, quality care which will be nearly or completely free. This is something students in the US can’t say, having to subject themselves to expensive, private health-insurance companies that don’t necessarily cover everything, even if they can be tax-deductible.”

*hit the link above, and on that page will be a gateway to a Spanish version of the guide if that is more useful for you.

I’m an international student moving to London! How do I find a flat?

Housing in London is incredibly difficult for all students, however most home students don’t realise that added loop holes that international students are forced to jump to just to find somewhere safe to life while studying. The guide follows a step-by-step procedure of what Paulina & her housemate did to find an apartment, noting complicating factors & useful sites that they found on the way.

It’s important to note that this guide is slightly more geared towards Mexican students, however in general the advice is very useful for all students.

*The second half of the article is in Spanish, this is just a duplicate translation.


 

To sum up: for feminist societies to truly be considered intersectional they must redouble their efforts to include and cater for international students. In this mind, KCL iFemSoc will aim to be hosting some international students feminist meet ups this semester, and maintain our support of student campaigns that hope to better the experiences of international students here at King’s.

If you have any worries or advice that the society can do to aid international students, do get in touch.

This blog post was written by kcl iFemSoc blog editor Natalie Faber, and references articles written by Paulina Guerrero Gutiérrez, KCL Mexican Society President and iFemSoc member. 

If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page

 

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Article, Guest Post, Mental Health and Disabilities, Reviews, Uncategorized

It’s not manly to be gravely ill – ‘Fake it Till You Make It’ review

 

Depression cuts across the genders, let’s get that straight first of all. But our society has shut off for men many of the methods and opportunities to seek help that are more readily available to women. It is not manly, apparently, to be gravely ill. Sharing with others your personal struggles and anxieties is not something that men can do easily, at least not without feeling that they are compromising themselves in the eyes of their peers.

Fake it Till you Make It (Soho Theatre, 23 September – 17 October) explored this problem. Written and staged by the performance artist Bryony Kimmings alongside her partner Tim Grayburn, a marketing consultant. The play is a biographical performance piece about Bryony and Tim, or perhaps about their relationship. Instead of viewing depression through the individual fighting an illness, the depression is seen in the shape through the destructive effect it can have on a relationship with family, friends, and in this case, partners. Bryony does not ‘take care’ of Tim as a pseudo-nurse, neither does she try to push him to get better one way or another. Instead, the play shows her struggling to keep on living as a mentally healthy individual in a relationship buckling under her partner’s illness, and for them to function normally as a couple without hurting Tim more than the depression already is.

Bryony offers the opposite experience. Raised with the cultural encouragement to open up and talk, combined with her career as performance artist, Bryony made a performance piece aimed to translate Tim’s feelings and for her, as well as an audience, to understand his illness better.

For those who feel like this might be, again, a story about a man and his various problems, perhaps it is important to consider that the narrative is a lesson in the harmful aspects of the stereotypical behaviour that men are pushed into. The main criticism on our culture’s treatment of depressed men comes in the lyrics of a song, “tell him never to talk about his feelings”.

Luckily, there were no stereotypical gender roles in this play. Both Bryony and Tim have full time careers, both carry on, for worse or for better, in those careers as the illness takes its toll.

Even so, I have to agree that it is a pity there is no counterpart to this play where a woman can narrate the effects of her depression. Although I do  agree with the observation made in the play that women have an easier time getting help. But then again, maybe getting help itself has a different impact on the life of women than on men: A woman taking time of work to take her mental health seriously could be at risk of losing a lot more momentum in her career, and damage to her reputation, than a man might. Taking time off from work is in general more harmful for a woman’s career. Also, women are taken less seriously in their ambitions.

The flip-side to the idea of people caring less if a woman gets ill and needs help, is how it shows that people care less if a woman gets ill and needs help. It illustrates how society underestimates the opportunities that are missed for any woman’s life and career to the time and energy spent on getting well again. A play looking at how a someone deals with this situation, maybe with the help of a caring and supportive partner of her own, would be interesting.

Mental health is increasingly becoming more of a point on the public agenda, and hopefully we will see more artistic attention to this issue from both male and female creatives.

This review was written by Saskia Rombach, an ex-King’s student in politics & an avid iFemSoc contributer. Fake It Until You Make It was shown at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well Soho theatre, and has plans to return to the stage again this year. 

If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page

 

 

 

 

 

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Uncategorized

Getting to Know Our Trans Officer

Hello, do you feel like introducing yourself?

 Hi! So, I’m Lexi: I’m in my third year of Film Studies BA, with my fingers crossed to carry on here at MA level, and I’m the Trans Rep for the Intersectional Feminist Society here at King’s.

Gender-wise: I identify myself as a transfeminine genderqueer person with ze/hir pronouns (pronounced as in “nothing to ze hir”) when in a space in which I can expect the majority of people to understand the language, and I identify myself as a girl with she/her pronouns in every other space.

Non-gender wise: I identify myself as an ex-goth, as a musician and DJ, as a person in recovery from – but not in absence of – mental illnesses, as an anarcha-queer feminist, as a fur -parent and as a raccoon enthusiast, to name but a few.

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(Lexi’s hair colour can change a lot but is at present this colour if you’re looking for hir on campus!)

There is absolutely no doubt that iFemSoc – and any society really – should have a Trans Rep. However, I’d like to know what the iFemSoc having a Trans Rep means to you.

 Perhaps one of the most depressing things I’ve come to realise over the past few months is how wary I often find myself whilst entering self-advertised “Feminist” spaces. For example: a friend and I recently went to an event that was part of the London Feminist Film Festival and then immediately afterwards went to a club, the majority of the space dominated by cis-het men. I realised that I was actually much more comfortable in the latter situation, and the night bus home, than the former. Largely because Feminism as a movement to this day retains some ugly and unaddressed skeletons in its closet, relating to issues of class, race, and gender status, to name but three. In this event, as in many others, I saw deference shown to perpetrators of hate speech and allies of those who have incited violence against children. Both the film shown and the panel discussion that followed gave an insight into a selective memory and a blinkered perspective that we as modern Feminists just cannot afford.

For many minorities – including but not limited to trans people – a space being labeled as Feminist is not enough to allow them to relax their guard in the knowledge they are safe. I certainly hope that seeing an increased number of people who share something of their experience on their society’s committee, striving to represent their community’s interests first and foremost, and ensure that the discourse within and without that society is inclusive and welcoming to them will allow trans students the ability to feel safe in these spaces.

Having spent 2 years at King’s already, I can without hesitation attest to the fact that the KCL Intersectional Feminist Society is a fantastic and safe space, committed to diversity and I consider it a privilege to be part of its committee. When I first came to King’s, even before joining the Film Society – in fact, quite possibly, even before enrolling – I joined the LGBT Society and the Intersectional Feminist Society. It is not inconceivable that the Trans Reps of these two societies in particular may be the first (out) trans people many students will have met. Considering just how isolating and insular being trans can feel sometimes, there simply being a name next to the words “Trans Rep” in the “About” section of a society can be a huge deal in and of itself.

 

How then do you see your role as the iFemSoc’s Trans Rep?

 Put most simply: I am here to be whatever any trans kid walking through the doors of the KCL campus (all my classes are on Strand campus, but I’m always willing to travel!) need me to be. Whether that is as the first port of call following a transphobic incident, or advice needed regarding informing the university of detail changes as they progress through transition, or simply introducing them to more people and spaces, I’m anxious to help. Being a little older than some other 3rdyears, with over ten years of experience as a born-and-bred London queer, I certainly like to think I have enough resources near hand to help out with any issue a student might have.

We create the events we need and I’m currently in the process of asking trans and gender variant / non-conforming peers what they would like to see in the coming year, and I am yearning to hear any ideas! In the autumn semester, I was proud to host a successful, albeit intensely ad hoc and last minute multi-faith alternative to the official London service for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, when I and others grew concerned about its apparent liberalism/commercialism. That was an exceptionally moving moment for me as I saw both  trans and cisgender people of faith step up to the plate when asked a matter of hours before the service if they’d be willing to say the most poignant and beautiful of prayers for our lost.

I was also super happy to be able to host the London date of independent by/with/for transgender publishing house Topside Press‘ first ever UK tour, “Never Mind the Hormones,” with international names like Casey Plett, Imogen Binnie and Aisling Fae reading their material to an almost exclusively trans and/or queer crowd of students and non-students.

On a more daily basis, though, I check in with the iFemSoc facebook page and, where necessary, assist the tireless moderators ensure that trans voices and perspectives are heard on relevant topics, that language used in discussions is inclusive and the general tone within the page and the society consistently avoids cis-centric and/or transphobic bias.

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Other than having a trans rep, what do you think societies can do to make their spaces safer for trans individuals?

 Trans liberation is only going to get so far if the discourse is consistently informed by the belief that there is a thick line drawn between cis people and trans people, and the best we can all do is afford trans people rights to establish equality between the two parties. Gender identity, gender roles, gender stereotypes, gender oppression are phenomena in which we all of us participate and, from whatever side, we all of us experience. Thus, when we discuss an abstract concept like safety, we need to realize that we can put as many trigger warnings in front of posts and advise against whatever slurs or outdated terminology we want, but if the foundation layer’s ideology remains “these are weird people, but we have to treat them nicely,” we’ll have failed before we begin. Viewing transness as being inextricably and eternally linked to dysphoria, depression and victimhood will forever be a self-fulfilling prophecy. A uni society is a small community and, as such, it behooves any society to show its community spirit when a member’s gender, or right to a space, due to a perceived disconnect between their gender and their assigned-gender-at-birth, is challenged. Honestly, extending common courtesy and allowing the dignity of all your members, including the trans ones, is generally all it takes.

 

What would you say to (or, what advice would you have for) new students who are at uni and just starting to explore their gender identity?

Most importantly the nature of gender is not a journey from A->B. There should be no goals with the exception of self-acceptance. There is no need for pronouns that don’t sit right with you, dress styles that don’t best express who you are, or tailoring yourself to meet society’s expectations of how your gender should be expressed; doubtless, you’ve already done that, plenty long enough, again. Your transition is first and foremost about becoming your own true self. There is no original “man” or “woman” model upon which you need to model yourself, and there is no such thing as “failure” in this situation. Your true self is worth working towards and becoming, and your gender or lack thereof is as big or small a deal as you want it to be.

 

This interview was carried out by Natalie (our online welfare officer) & Lexi (our trans rep) with the aim to improve visibility of iFemSoc having a Trans Rep and for Natalie to pick Lexi’s wonderful brain. We are both available to message via the iFemSoc Facebook group or via our personal Facebooks. 

If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page

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Article, Guest Post, Sex Work, sexuality, Worker's Rights

I Criticised the Porn Laws – and Was Targeted For Censorship.

Pandora Blake is an award-winning feminist pornographer, sex worker, activist and sexual freedom advocate.

[Discussion of consensual kink/BDSM activity and the efforts our government has gone to suppress it]

Last November my friend Nimue Allen and I got together with our partners for a week to shoot some porn. We’ve both worked in the BDSM porn industry for years as performers and producers, and we were ready to delve deeper. We spent three days shooting a feature-length explicit documentary about our queer, kinky, polyamorous sex lives. We filmed interviews, video portraits, narrative sequences and hardcore sex scenes, capturing the intimacy and affection of BDSM play between people who love each other. The scenes were spontaneous and unscripted, a natural representation of the sex we have in private, and in the natural course of events they ended up including facesitting, fisting, squirting, caning, needles, breath play, dominance and submission and plenty of hardcore sex. It was authentic, caring and beautiful.

A week later, full of happy excitement about our new project, we learned that every scene we had filmed had just been criminalised under new UK porn laws. It would now be illegal for us to publish any of them. These honest depictions of our sex, pleasure and intimacy had been deemed so extreme that even informed, paying adults couldn’t legally watch them.

Furious, Nimue and I both decided that we wouldn’t do the censors’ work for them. We refused to change the content on our existing sites, Dreams of Spanking and Nimue’s World, to comply with the regulations. Instead we spoke out about the unjust and regressive nature of the new laws; particularly the way they disproportionately target marginalised forms of sexual expression, including fetish play, female sexual dominance, queer sex and unfakeable female pleasure. I debated porn censorship on Newsnight, and gave interviews to every journalist who asked.

In January, sensing the need to strengthen our stance with some cold hard cash, I a organised fundraiser to raise money for Backlash, the non-profit organisation doing invaluable work to defend sexual freedom in the UK.

Nimue and I put our bottoms on the line and volunteered to take one hard cane stroke for every ten pounds raised, to a maximum of 50 strokes each. The pledges poured in. In the end we had to recruit eight additional bottoms to take a total of 383 cane strokes, raising £3836 for Backlash. Each of the canings was filmed, and the video released online under Creative Commons, including interviews and statements from the performers about how why they felt it was important to take a stand against the new laws. Publishing protest films of banned acts, and raising money to fight censorship in the process, was a deeply satisfying act of resistance.

In February at the Women of the World Festival, I debated the social impact of porn on BBC Woman’s Hour in front of a large live audience. That same month I received a letter from ATVOD – the new UK internet porn regulator – regarding my website Dreams of Spanking. None of the other UK spanking paysites – all clearly linked from my site – received a similar letter. It was clear that my outspoken criticism of the new regulations had singled me out as a target. ATVOD CEO Peter Johnson, speaking to The Independent, said quite clearly that sites are more likely to be investigated if they appear in press reports. Does this mean that speaking out against the laws makes you ripe for censorship?

“Peter Johnson, the CEO of ATVOD, said that the organisation has published “clear guidance” on how to comply with the rules. He added that most services are investigated after complaints or “if a service comes to our attention through other means – for example through press reports.”

Let that sink in for a moment: I talked about the porn regulations, and I was singled out for censorship.

My spanking site Dreams of Spanking is unlike any other. It centres female fantasies and the female erotic gaze, shooting performers of all genders without prejudicing one type of body as more deserving of sexual attention than another. The site includes all gender pairings – including male/male scenes, which are often ghettoised into separate physical and virtual spaces by the heteronormative BDSM community. My cast includes trans and non-binary performers, and my films show people of all genders as equally capable of consensual dominance or submission, removing any sexist or misogynistic implications from erotic power exchange.

All of this is underwritten by a strong ethos of fairtrade production, including equal pay for all performers (regardless of gender or body type), and a performer-driven shoot process that centers the preferences, sexualities and informed consent of the participants; particularly of those playing a submissive role. Communication with performers is my first priority on set, limits are always respected, and no-one is pressured to do anything they don’t want to. I started out as a performer, and I still love to get in front of the camera, so I know what it’s like.

I’m constantly aiming to learn and improve my process. I also urge viewers not to take my word for it – I’m only the director – and, if they want to check out my production ethics, ask the performers themselves, or check out their blogs, twitter feeds, unscripted video interviews and out-of-character behind the scenes videos, which are published alongside every scene. Dreams of Spanking aims to be a safe space and an online community promoting acceptance, self-expression and inclusiveness, which affirms and empowers performers and members alike.

So it’s interesting that this site is the one ATVOD targeted for censorship, under the guise of cracking down on “harmful” porn and making society “safer”. It’s interesting that this site – which was doing visible and innovative work to raise the standard of ethical porn production in the UK BDSM industry – was the one ATVOD decided to make an example of. Is their aim to reduce harm – or to stifle free speech?

After a gruelling seven month investigation, ATVOD ruled that Dreams of Spanking was in breach of the new regulations. Firstly, they objected to the transparent site structure, which aimed to destigmatise my kink by making certain materials visible to non-members (behind clearly signposted links) and therefore did not put all explicit content behind a credit card paywall. Secondly, they found me in breach of the regulation against publishing material that is too ‘extreme’ to be classifiable, even as R18, by the BBFC.

Personally I love receiving a hard spanking from the right person, and I fantasise about it even more. As such the majority of my videos include spanking or whipping that leaves welts, bruises or red marks. However, the new regulations ban any material showing BDSM that results in marks that are not “transient and trifling”. It was impossible for me to comply with this rule without removing the vast majority of material on the site; and attempting to do so would go against the core principles of honesty, self-acceptance and kink positivity that underpin my work.

As a feminist pornographer, I aim to make films that authentically depict consensual adult sexuality, with an emphasis on female pleasure and desire. To comply with these regulations would be to become fake. I couldn’t do it while remaining true to myself.

So I didn’t comply, and with the help of Backlash and the inimitable Myles Jackman, I fought ATVOD every step of the way. They made their final decision regardless, and on 27 August I was obliged to take Dreams of Spanking offline. I appealed to Ofcom, and will be waiting many months before they make a decision.

Meanwhile in Europe, the Berlin Porn Film Festival awarded a Dreams of Spanking film which is banned in the UK the first prize in their Short Film Competition – showing that in some EU countries at least, BDSM porn that includes welts and bruises can be held to have have artistic and cultural value.

I still can’t publish the beautiful, intimate film I shot with Nimue a year ago. We have recently learned that ATVOD will be folding next year, and Ofcom will be taking over primary regulatory oversight. So now ATVOD are stepping it up while they still have the chance. More and more brave, beautiful, authentic erotic projects, such as husband-and-wife owned bondage site Restrained Elegance, are coming under investigation. It seems that ATVOD intends to go out with a bang, and Ofcom shows no sign of calling for the regulations themselves to be overturned.

The AVMS guidelines ultimately derive from the Obscene Publications Act, a 56 year old piece of legislation that dates from a time when it was illegal to have homosexual sex, or depict any explicit sex on film. The new list of banned acts isn’t even up to date with the case law on the OPA. It’s a lazy and arguably illegitimate piece of lawmaking that doesn’t affect current social standards in the UK. British consumers can still access material banned under the AVMS by viewing porn published offshore, and so these regulations have no impact on UK society except to close down UK independent businesses, stifle free trade and halt the flow of funds from overseas customers into the UK economy.

We must not give up this fight. The internet has been an invaluable resource in helping my generation come to a more open and accepting view of our own sexuality, and feel more empowered to seek out pleasurable experiences that affirm and fulfil our natural erotic desires. Let’s not undo that good work by accepting these out-of-date regulations that stigmatise sexual expression and stifle free speech.

We must continue to fight for our right to express ourselves sexuality, to enjoy kinky play between consenting adults, and to make porn that reflects our authentic erotic selves. Censorship never succeeds: it only serves to make the banned material more exciting, and young people know better than any of us how to get around online age controls. Instead of censorship, we need age-appropriate sex education that teaches young people about consent, pleasure and porn literacy.

Please write to your MP, write to your local paper, support Backlash and Myles Jackman, and continue being your sexy, kinky, uncensored selves as visibly as you can – until our legislators realise the tide of public opinion is against them, and these regressive, unjust and draconian laws are overturned.

 

 

If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page

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Uncategorized

Do You Want to Write For Us?

Blog Article Topics/Ideas.

 

Introduction: These are topics that are two parts supposed to inspire you to write your own ideas, but also one part really important perspectives on intersectional feminism that we would appreciate being written about.

If you want to tackle any of these topics, or need help/advice on how to approach them, please get in touch with one of the committee members.

General guide for length: Our blog is long-form, so 500-1,500 words is where most posts fall. If you think you can write an insightful article in less, give it a go, you may have the editor return it to you asking for more depth, but there’s no penalty for submitting something short. There is no official upper limit, if you feel like you can keep readers hooked, keep writing!

 

On disability, dyslexia and writing standards: Our primary concern is getting your writing out there, and creating a space for you. If you have any worries about your level of English, or communication abilities, I am happy to work with you to create a piece of work you’re happy with. On our side of things: it’s the message communicated that we’re interested in, not the oxford comma.

  • What is intersectional feminism to me?
    • I am happy for literally 1,000 different versions of this article being written. For this article, you’d be expected to really investigate your own conception of feminism, who you are and how that affects your relationship with feminism, and the learning curve it was to meet people with differing perspectives. Anyone can write this article, and the more you put into it, the richer it will be. Put yourself and your feminism under the microscope, challenge yourself, but also challenge others to make space for who you are in feminism. 
  • iFemSoc event review.
    • This is one of the most important articles you can write, and it’s probably also the easiest. All you have to do is attend an iFemSoc event and then write about the experience. Use your favourite bits, what you wish could have been included, and even suggestions for future events. Many people can’t get to our events, so you reporting back is incredibly important. It also helps us know what’s working and how to make the society better.
  • Reading “X”.
  • Anonymous Posts.
    • KCLiFemSoc aims to provide a platform for women and non-binary individuals in whatever way they need. Sometimes this includes a safe – anonymous – space to post anecdotes and survivor stories about their lives. If you wish to use this space to speak out about situations while ensuring your privacy and safety there are two ways you can do this: 1. email us from your private account, and I can ensure personal discretion. or 2. create a new/throwaway email account, and communicate solely through those messages. For more information/support, please do get in touch.
  • Fashion/Style/Beauty – Reclaiming Feminine Tropes.
    • Articles on reclaiming – and rejoicing – in fashion, style and beauty is important to us as it breaks the limitations others put on “feminists” on what they should look like, sound like, and enjoy. When writing an article under this topic, there are something you should consider yourself aware of:
    • Appropriation theory. iFemSoc enshrines intersectionality and this is done by ensuring that appropriation is called out. If you’re covering a topic that falls under this, please do so with appropriation theory in mind.
    • Thinking outside the fashion binary. Posts which explore queer fashion, and/or fashion that challenges typical notions of the gender binary, are always going to be far more interesting. But most importantly, when writing fashion/style posts, stay clear from transphobic language that excludes trans and non-binary individuals. If you personally have no experience in that area – that’s fine, you’re not expected to talk for people, just don’t exclude them.
    • Remember, articles which challenge the status quo are always more interesting to read, and most importantly, more politically dissonant.
  • Current Events.
    • There are two ways of approaching these articles. The first is a rapid-fire response to something you read/saw on the news in the past day or so. The main aim of this style is to bring a recent news story to the attention of fellow iFems & does not need to be heavily editorialised (although, that is welcome.) The second is a weightier post where you investigate a theme or event that has happened, perhaps you have a personal connection to the story, or can provide people with a better understanding of the situation. We’d expect the latter posts to be longer, and far more intimate. As always, get in touch if you need some support when approaching this topic.
  • What’s Going on at King’s.
    • Do you have a campaign idea that you want others to hear? Are you feeling isolated by the pale, male & stale academic atmosphere? Did you see something awful/great/worrying, and want to share the experience? Seeing how The Tab is trash, use kcl iFemSoc as a space to express yourself instead. We’re not selling your words for clickbait, so you know your musings are not being used to support the patriarchy.
  • Dear Freshers.
    • For the 2nd years, 3rd years, and those of you who have stayed on to do a masters here at King’s. There are many things you wished you knew when you started University, especially when it comes to liberation, politics and safe spaces. Pass on that knowledge in any way you see fit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will update this list as it goes, as mentioned earlier, if you have your own idea 99% of the time, that’s best thing to go with! If you have any ideas to add to this list, that is also definitely welcome.

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#BWWU Interviews: Dr Shubulade Smith

Here is the next interview from in our BME Women, White Uni series. Last year, Shruti Iyer went to interview Dr Shubulade Smith, Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s. 

12190443_10153121185047233_1570394902_oSI: Hi! I’m Shruti, President of the KCL Intersectional Feminist Society, and I am with Dr Shubulade Smith, and yeah, hi!

SS: Hi, Shruti.

SI: So, tell us something about your work?

SS: I’m a Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), as we are as of a few weeks ago. I also run a Clinical Service at the South London and the Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLAM). I work in the Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Science at the IoPPN, and run the Forensic Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit which is also the main admissions unit for the Forensic Service of SLAM. And that’s the main psychiatric hospital that’s affiliated to King’s. So I have various roles, and my main job at the Institute is that I run an MSc in Clinical Forensic Psychiatry, and I also do bits of research. My research interests are mainly around physical health in severe illness, so things like schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar illness, and also trying to help improve and reduce violence rates in severe mental illness. I also have a research interest in the mental health of Black and Minority Ethnic people, and also have done some work, book chapters, and reviews around women with mental health problems. And in my clinical work, I run the Forensic Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit, it’s… quite full-on. Quite a busy ward. And I look at people who are acutely disturbed, and or violent, and or who have offended quite seriously against other people. So they’re very unusual, actually. Most people with severe mental illness don’t hurt anybody else. They usually – the biggest risk that they pose is to themselves. But I look at that small minority of people who have, unfortunately, behaved in violent or aggressive ways towards others and what we try and do is help them in various ways. It’s a very holistic approach, we use some medication but also psychological therapy, a lot of occupational therapy, to try and get people well. When they come in they’re usually very acutely unwell. They do get better, and then it’s also about keeping them well. But for the most part, they’ve all had really horrendous backgrounds. So what makes them risky and violent and dangerous is usually not their illnesses, it’s more to do with them with them having awful, disruptive, traumatic experiences growing up. So they’ve become people who’ve learned to use violence as a coping mechanism. And they’ve often got into drugs when they were quite young, which has increased the risk of getting involved in criminality and violent behaviour.

SI: That’s really cool. I’m doing a criminology class right now, and I’m just interested – because obviously, we know that Britain is incarcerating more people, often disproportionately black men. So a bit of a digression, but what do you think is the correlation is between mental illness, race, and what that has to do with incapacitating measures taken by the state, i.e., just putting everyone in prison?

SS: Yeah, yeah.

SI: And is there a difference in care provision given to black people who happen to be mentally unwell?

SS: That’s a big question! And a lot of questions. I think probably the first thing to say is that it’s not a simple process. Certainly, when I came to psychiatry, there were a lot of black people and in particular, black men, who were in mental health institution. And I thought, “this is simply about racism, clearly.” When you go into the units and you meet people – and I’ve been doing psychiatry now for 22 years – you find that, “actually, this guy is really ill.” He is really ill. And what you realise over time is that a lot of the problem here is that this person has been ill for a long time but they haven’t been treated earlier. Over time, research has been done and found that, guess what, there are higher rates of black people, particularly black men, coming into the services at a much later stage.

SI: Yeah, they kind of slip through that net, maybe.

SS: Well, it’s not only slipping through the net. Because that implies that there’s a net to be slipped through. But I think there’s something about – so black people don’t access the opportunities and the services that are available to them that other people would do. Black men in particular. Especially when it comes to health – all types of health, physical and mental. Black men aren’t as likely to present, full stop.

SI: We talked about this with Dr. Hatch as well, but do you think that has to do with the anticipation of racism? That they’re socialised into anticipating discrimination?

SS: Yeah, no, it’s interesting. I actually think it’s deeper than that. I think it’s not simply about thinking that people are going to be racist. I don’t even think it gets that far. I think, it’s literally just thinking that “this isn’t for me.” This is something that isn’t available for me. It has to do with people feeling that they don’t quite belong. They’re not quite citizen. And that’s a very unconscious, a very subconscious thing. So if you don’t feel that – it’s a bit like being on holiday somewhere. And not feeling – more than being on holiday somewhere. You’re on a holiday, but you’re on a prolonged holiday. Say you’re somewhere for four weeks. And in that time, you’ve got over the usual two-week, you know, just my little beach holiday thing. And you are more involved in the society of the place. But because you don’t feel like you’re part of the local populace, the rules don’t apply to you in the same way. You might know what they are, but in fact, everyone else lets you off too. So they won’t expect that you’ll know all the customs and everything else in the same way. So you don’t quite feel like you belong. People are friendly enough to you, but you don’t feel like all the things apply to you. And I think there’s something of that for all black people. All people who aren’t the majority, indigenous white population may well feel that. And I suspect that even – and I grew up in Britain. And I think about how things have changed over my lifetime. And how my children feel much more a sense of belonging than I would ever have felt actually. It doesn’t occur to them that they might be anything else other than British. Whereas I grew up and still considered myself to be – and people say, “where are you from?” and I say I’m Nigerian-descent. And that’s a bit of a fudge in some way. It doesn’t tell you anything about where I’m from. And I belong to this group of people who were born in Britain, whose parents are West African, who’ve been to West Africa a bit, and always felt that they might one day go back, but actually didn’t, and stayed here. And so, although, really, my accent and my customs are very British, I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself as British.

SI: Yeah. I think there’s always something other.

SS: Yeah.

SI: I thought it was really profound when you said “not quite citizen.” That really encapsulates it for me.

SS: Yeah, I think that’s really important. Because if you’re not quite citizen, it not only means that you don’t feel that you can access these things legitimately. It also means that you don’t necessarily feel like you can get involved in all the other things that enhance the community. A good example is say, bone marrow or kidney transplantations. Black people, ageing people, often have major problems with kidneys because of diabetes and hypertension. Which are diseases that affect black and ageing people more commonly. But if you look at the kidney transplant list, the percentage of people who are black or ageing is really, really low. But the percentage of people who require the transplant is really high. And many people who are black as they get older will know somebody who’s on dialysis. But you can ask these people, and it probably wouldn’t have even occurred to them that they could put their name down on the list for transplantation. Coming away from the cultural thing of giving organs. But at the same time, there’s also something about it’s not something that’s available to you.

SI: That you would partake in. Yeah.

SS: And that, I think, is interesting. It’s a very British thing – an Anglo-British thing – to put your name down on the donor list and to help out with charity, to do runs, things like that ––

[laughter]

SS: –– it’s not necessarily something black people would think that they could do. I remember growing up, and I consider myself lucky that I used to go to Nigeria quite a bit. But I remember growing up and my neighbours at the time, they were West Indian. And I’d come back from Nigeria, the summer I was 11, and my friend from next door said, “how’d you get there?” And I said, “oh, we got on the plane.” And they said, “what airlines was it, British Airways?” And I said, “no, no, it was a Nigerian airlines.” And they said, “oh! Who flew the plane?” And I said, the pilot. And they said “no, no, like a British pilot?” And I said, “what do you mean? No, it was a Nigerian pilot, a black guy.” And she just couldn’t believe it. The idea that a pilot could be a black man, she just couldn’t believe it. She went and told her mum!

[laughs]

SS: So the reason I said I consider myself lucky is because we grew up in the same area. And where we grew up was a relatively poor bit of Manchester, though I didn’t realise it at the time. And I suspect that if it wasn’t for me going to Nigeria and seeing people doing all the jobs that everyone does – being doctors, lawyers, flying planes, being pilots, things like that. Just like my friend next door, I wouldn’t have thought that it was possible. She just thought that black people could be bus drivers. Her mum was a nurse, her dad was a labourer, handyman type of person. She didn’t know it was possible. And that’s actually more to do with the class system and the people she was around. But there’s lots of people like that. And I remember growing up, and I was in an art gallery. Probably the Tate, actually. Swanning around the Tate! And I saw another black guy there. And I saw him, and he saw me. And at some point our paths crossed. And he said something like, “I can’t believe you’re here!” But what he was saying was, this was about twenty odd years ago. But I understood what he was saying. Which was, isn’t it amazing that black people can come to an art gallery.

SI: Ahhh. Yeah, definitely that sense of –––

SS: That sense of limiting yourself. And I’m not saying that happens all the time, and it happens much less. But it does happen to a certain extent. And I think that now, what allows people to be out of that, to feel that they can be citizen just as much as anyone else, is because there is less racism. There’s a lot less than there used to be. Well, everyone’s prejudiced. We have it inside. But it’s not as acceptable anymore the way it was when I grew up. It’s unacceptable. If I walk down the street now, and someone started making monkey noises at me like they did when I was little; then someone else on the street, and not a black person, for sure, someone else on the street, certainly in London anyway, would say, “what the hell! I don’t like that at all, I don’t feel comfortable with it.” Someone else would tell them off, tell them it wasn’t acceptable. Which is not how it was when I was younger. Things are better in that respect. And also, it’s not okay if you’re somewhere like London which is quite multicultural, for your institution to be completely white. That’s odd. One of the things that’s odd about the Institute is that if you walk down the corridor of the Maudsley which is linked to the Institute, you’ll see lots of black people. In the wards, yes. But also amongst the staff. Lots of nurses, doctors – well, not lots of doctors, but at least some of the doctors – some of the senior managers and managers. Lots of representation. Not so at the Institute, to be perfectly honest with you. It’s strikingly different.

SI: So this is the Institute of Psychiatry?

SS: This is the Institute of Psychiatry. It is strikingly different in that it’s a much more white place. It’s funny because people are doing – it’s two sides of the same coin. Everyone’s interested in mental health and trying to improve it. On this side there are lots of people working who are black, and the other side is –

SI: And this side is ––?

SS: The Institute of Psychiatry, which is much whiter. The clinical side, the Maudsley, has much more representation. And I think probably that’s something to do again with people feeling that, I don’t know if I can be an academic.

SI: Yeah. I definitely feel like we’ve hit upon this throughout the course of the conversations that we’ve been having. There is a huge drop-out with black students going into academia, and attainment at university.

SS: There’s also something which I’ve felt. So sometimes I meet people, and tell them what I do, and they say, “wow, you’ve done really well!” And I say, thank you. But I also think, yeah, but I haven’t done quite as well as I think I ought to have done for my level of intellect. The difficulty is that I’m quite a capable individual, obviously. If you end up a doctor or a consultant, you’re relatively capable. And I think that means that people think that I therefore don’t need anything. People say, “oh, she’s doing really well, she knows what she’s doing.” I think if I were a white male, all the way through, there would have been someone saying, “oh you should think about doing this.” I would have got a lot more guidance. And I can understand that people feel it’s easier to guide someone that they feel more familiar with. And I won’t say I didn’t get any guidance, I was lucky and did get some. But there aren’t any transparent support systems. And if you’re doing okay, people felt certainly for me that they didn’t need to support me in any way. Yet I would see my male counterparts being offered this, offered that. Come and meet this person, etc. People didn’t think I needed that. Two things: people didn’t think I needed it, I was doing okay. But that was their version of what me being okay was. Does that make sense?

SI: Yeah.

SS: So in some ways, although I did say before about black people limiting ourselves, there is something about other people’s expectations of you as an individual are actually lower than they might be otherwise. So you are also limited by other people’s expectations. So I might say, “well, I might quite like to be in an academic position, and I want you to support me to do that. What are you going to do to help me?” I am now an appraiser of other people, and I supervise them. And I know what I do for them, and I think, well, I never had any of that. Not that I resent it necessarily, but I only recognise now that I’m in a position of ––

SI: Being able to do that for other people.

SS: Yeah, to supervise, mentor, etc. And it’s often – information you can get from the Internet that you couldn’t before. But there are things that you can do, little things, that you get told at the lunch table that would never be told anywhere else. It’s not that people are hiding information. Just that it doesn’t come out there because they wouldn’t think of saying it in a different forum as it’s informal, but turns out, it could be the biggest, most important opportunity. And also, people pigeonhole you. So people would say, “Lade’s in a good condition.” They wouldn’t think of me to say, “Lade’s got an interest in getting that kind of funding.” And they’ll get someone else to do it, because they know somebody else doing it because they mentor them. Does that make sense?

SI: Yeah. So racism in academia isn’t so much the overt, “we’re not going to let you in” that it was in the past. But kind of more subtle stuff that’s unconscious. The stuff that you might not even realise is happening.

SS: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s funny because it’s hard to call it racism. Because these are people who are kindly and helpful ––

SI: –- and you don’t want to use that word –

SS: Because they’ll say, “well I’m not a racist!” And actually, they’re not a racist.

SI: But it’s the unconscious stuff that we grow up with.

SS: It’s very unconscious. This thing about people finding it a bit difficult. I wonder what it must be to be a white male who’s worked really really hard and done really really well, become Professor and Head of his department and whatever. And if you see some black person, black female in particular, coming along and doing the same thing, maybe even doing it better, how does that feel? Does it undermine you? Or do you feel “great, I’ve been part of that and I can nurture them”? Do you see what I mean? And I wonder sometimes about whether there is a very unconscious thing going on. About hierarchies, and it not feeling “quite right.” You know. Like, “this person’s all right but they’re not that brilliant”!

SI: Yeah! I think also it becomes about your race and your gender.

SS: Yeah. I always think of George W Bush and Barack Obama. Look at George Bush – a guy who had major alcohol problems (yeah, he got over them), not massively clever, really quite lazy, often took holidays, made some really poor decisions ––

SI: To say the least!

[laughter]

SS: –– he wasn’t incredibly debonair, he wasn’t incredibly engaging as a speaker. In order for Barack Obama to be President, he had to be tall, handsome, incredibly clever, brilliant at what he does, fantastic orator. You know, he had to be so much better as a person! To get to the same position. Do you understand what I mean?

SI: Yeah, yeah, completely! The standards that are expected of us to prove ourselves are so much higher. It’s not just people underestimating you, but you have to surpass their expectations by miles and miles. There’s a comedy, is it Chris Rock? He says something about living in one of the most expensive places in New Jersey, but his neighbours are white dentists that can afford the same neighbourhood. And he says, “man, if I were white, I’d be living next to the White House!” I think that’s really telling. That has massive implications for spatial segregation within cities – which areas tend to be black and minority ethnic, and which areas tend to earmarked as unsafe or dangerous.

SS: Absolutely right. So positive things are that things are definitely better. Things are better. Things are improving. There is something else I may not have touched on, though this is definitely changing – as time has gone on, some of the worst racism I’ve encountered has actually been from other black people. And there is that thing of, it’s also almost like Little Britain, you know, “I am the only gay in the village!” I’m the only black person here, what are you doing here?! And people – it makes you special if you’re the only black person there until someone else comes along.

SI: Yeah. I think these are conversations our communities definitely need to have, because I feel that I’ve experienced this as an Indian woman and possibly have been that way to other Indian women, though I hope not. I think that these are conversations we need to be having that we’re not having because when we start talking about how my community has internalised racism or if I am racist to another Indian woman, white people will listen to that and say, “my racism isn’t a problem, because they’re racist to each other!”

[laughs]

SS: Yeah! That is what people say, it’s amazing!

SI: So, it’s hard. Because you want to have this conversation within our communities, but then you also don’t want that narrative to be used by white people to excuse their racism.

SS: Exactly, exactly. I know, I know. And that’s a real shame, actually, because people do do that. And it’s like, you really don’t understand that this is about power and about the way in which people have been culturally institutionalised to have a low self-esteem. And if you’re in that position – it’s literally like a pile of bodies. And you want to climb to the top of the pile of bodies.

[laughter]

SI: Such a morbid way of putting it.

SS: But it is, it is like that. I also remember seeing a patient, an out-patient, and she’s doing really well actually. And she came with her mum one day, her mum’s from an older generation, a black woman. And her mum said, “she’s not happy. It’s just that you know, she feels that she’s not getting everything she should be getting. She wants a different doctor.” And I said, “okay, which doctor?” And she says, “well, maybe she’d like a male.” Well, okay, okay, I’ll refer you to my colleague. Her issue though, was really that she thought that she can’t be getting good service if it’s a black female doctor.

SI: Wow.

SS: Yeah. It really – that was really like, “okay, fine.”

SI: I think it’s telling, the race of the patient. Because I certainly feel more comfortable when I’m treated by a BME female doctor. I feel that way when I’m around BME female professors. Definitely much more a connection, and the ability to talk about race, and “make it about race and gender.” If I was around a white male, it’s not that they would shut that down but –

SS: Yeah, yeah, they’d get more anxious about it, wouldn’t they?

SI: It’s like you’re introducing something that’s inconvenient. But maybe if I wasn’t aware of my race and gender in the way that I am, maybe I’d want a white male doctor too. Because of the images that we’re constantly fed, about competence and efficiency being a white man. So. I think that my awareness now makes me feel more solidarity with women of colour than before. I’m interested though, in what you think King’s is doing about race and gender? And if you think the levels of representation that you’re seeing are adequate – amongst your students and amongst staff?

SS: What are King’s doing… well, there is a BME Race and Equality group. It’s difficult because recently I’ve been bombarded with lots of emails.

[laughter]

SS: So it feels like, “oh look, they are doing something!” And it’s good that it’s being mentioned. I’ll be completely honest with you – until a few years ago, I’d say that it was a completely colourblind place. In a rather old-fashioned way.

SI: How many years have you been at King’s?

SS: Well, I trained at the Maudsley in 1992. And what used to happen was that you worked at the Maudsley but you were always at the Institute. The two places were like this [clasps hands together] So you had your academic training at the Institute, so it was always linked that way. Then I did my research degree at the Institute and my clinical work as an honorary at the Maudsley. Then I got my consultant post, and then I worked at the Maudsley and had an honorary position at the Institute but I didn’t do much Institute stuff. And then I got a substantive post at the Institute, which is the forensic job I have now, and then did some honorary work at the Maudsley, but then I –– got a substantive post at SLAM and a couple of sessions at the Institute. So, well. It’s been a long time.

SI: So it’s been twelve years ––?

SS: No, no! Twenty two years.

SI: Wow. I thought you said 2002.

SS: I’ve had an affiliation with the Institute – though the Institute wasn’t subsumed under King’s until 2002 or 4, I think. But I actually trained at Guy’s Hospital. Which has also now been subsumed under King’s.

SI: So what do you have to say about the levels of representation of BME women and what King’s is doing?

SS: Recently, much more initiative. There aren’t that many black women academics full stop, and that hasn’t changed significantly, really, in all the years. I’ve seen people come and go very quickly. And I think particularly for students, it was quite hard for them to come along. There’s something about being at the Institute anyway. It’s a place of clever people. And it was a real – it used to be a real ivory tower, the Institute and the Maudsley. Often Oxbridge graduates and everything. You had to really have a sense of your own self-worth to say, “yes, I am clever enough to be here.” People always ask themselves that question. And I have seen a couple of people come, being clever kids, and finding it kind of overwhelming. Coming back to not feeling supported in that environment.

SI: But also, you’ve got a culture that won’t let you value yourself and have that sense of self-worth, so why would you believe that you belong?

SS: Yeah. And then, so these people, unfortunately, didn’t stay. But they tended to be people who were doing an MSc or that kind of thing, and then disappeared. The thing I also was struck by – at least in psychiatry, there are black people, medics who are black or Asian. But in psychology, psychology is just a place of white people. White women, actually, psychology. [laughs] So  deep inside, there are very few black people. And that’s been a problem for years in psychology. And I was involved in this thing called the Schizophrenia Commission, we wrote a big report about the state of mental health services for people with psychosis. It made quite a big splash. And I wrote the bit about black people and mental health. The fact that there – although representation was improving in the staff groups, the one staff group where it hadn’t changed at all was psychology. What’s interesting, and what we talked about before, is that black men who have the worst outcomes in terms of mental health, don’t present till far too late down the line. Till they’re running around and the police pick them up, their families end up sending them in via the police instead of taking them to the GP. And they’ve usually been ill for a year or two before you see them at all. And maybe if someone had picked up that things weren’t quite so good and took them to a psychologist or a counsellor, maybe some of this could have been averted. But of course, if you’re a black male, and you walk in and there’s a tiny little skinny [laugh] white girl sitting there ––

SI: Yeah, our cultural images ––

SS: –– that encounter could be one where she’s scared of you because you’re so big, you know. Where to start.

SI: Also because, often, mental illness in men manifests in violence. So if black men are pathologised as being violent, it’s difficult to see that as something that might need to be fixed.

SS: Yeah, that’s interesting. I’m not completely sure that mental illness often presents as violence. It doesn’t, really. When men are not feeling right, they abuse substances. They abuse drugs and alcohol. And they’re disinhibitors, and they’re mediators to violence. So there is an increased risk, definitely, “it’s Friday night, there’ll be fights tonight!”

[laughter]

SS: The drugs and alcohol mediate the risk. And then there’s the separate group, like the guys I look after, who’ve just had horrendous upbringings. It’s funny actually, in my ward, there’s not a lot of black people. They’re from all over. Afghans, Iranian. Any country there’s been a conflict.

SI: I also wanted to ask, because you’ve been at King’s for a long time but were also a student – do you think it’s important to have BME women represented around you as role models? Because that’s kind of what our campaign is about, celebrating the histories of the black women who are and have been at King’s, but also it’s about trying to get our faces up there.

SS: It would have made it a lot easier for me, I think. It depends on who the person is, and whether they were nurturing and happy to nurture other people. Would it have made it easier for me? I hope so. I don’t know! Because there weren’t any. I don’t know. I do know though that knowing that it was possible to be a black person who was a doctor was very important. But I didn’t know that from my experiences in Britain. I knew that from my experiences in Nigeria. Do you understand?

SI: Yeah, I get it. Because you didn’t see it here, so you wouldn’t have known.

SS: No. And also, the images here were that that sort of thing didn’t happen. And also, obviously, I had parents who were keen on my education so I was supported in that. And also, I was clever! I was a clever kid! And what’s quite good – I was lucky, because even though the school I went to was a predominantly white school, it was widely acknowledged that I was a clever kid. As opposed to people saying I couldn’t be clever because I was black. Which I think, did happen to some people that I met.

SI: So the things that you get told as a child have a big impact on what you go on to do.

SS: They do, they do. And I was repeatedly told that I was clever. So I knew I was clever. And that helped. But, interestingly, there were still things like I couldn’t have certain parts in the school play because I was black. But I thought that too though!

SI: And also, how did you get interested in issues around race and gender? Because you obviously had your lived experiences, but around mental health?

SS: I think in terms of mental health, it was only as a medical student, discovering that there were so many black people in mental institutions. Thinking, “this can’t be right! This has just simply got to be racism!” surely. And then going into it more. Especially because I kept thinking, “I’ve met loads of black people who aren’t mentally ill! This has just got to be rubbish.”

[laughter]

SS: Obviously, a very childish way of looking at things. And then I did naively think that when I started to do psychiatry I would find that actually they were fine and, you know, that’s not true. It really isn’t true. I still meet lots of people who think that now. And I think “mmmm, nah, you haven’t met a lot of the patients I see actually.” Frankly, we have so few beds now. If you don’t have to be in hospital, we will chuck you out. We’re not looking for black men to put in hospital. You know? There’s all sorts of things. My patients who are black, they’ve often had relatively difficult upbringings. A traumatic aspect of that. Harsh parenting, sometimes. Frankly, sometimes, abusive parenting. And all too often they started smoking cannabis from too young an age. And if you start smoking cannabis when you are in your early to mid teens, and you smoke it regularly, then you are more likely to develop psychosis by the time you’re in your mid-twenties. And that’s that, full stop. And that’s been proven now, and for some people, there’s a cultural acceptance of smoking cannabis. And not one person on my ward doesn’t abuse cannabis and other drugs. That’s what makes them my patients.

SI: Wow. This is really interesting, I’m learning so much! I guess that’s quite telling as well, of the expectations that you have, “it has to just be racism” ––

SS: –– yeah, not so simple as that. The racism that does exist comes in the expectations that you have, and the expectations that you have of your patients. And once you get to a certain stage of your patient career, people may not expect too much from you. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because once you’ve got to that stage, you can’t expect them to get right back on their feet. But perhaps we have lower expectations of people than we ought to. And I suspect that there’s a little bit of – the person’s ethnicity is mixed up in there somewhere.

SI: Well, okay, it’s almost 7! So last question – if you had to give one piece of advice to people listening, what do you have to say?

SS: I’d say… don’t simply believe in yourself. People say, “believe in yourself, you’ll be fine!” Don’t do that, because it’s not enough. Believe that you can do much more than either you or other people think you can do. Instead of just aiming to be okay at something, aim to be good at something, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.

SI: Thank you, it was really good to speak to you.

If you’d like to attend the conference on Saturday, there are only a very limited amount of tickets left, so pick them up here!

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