A patronising smile and a cup of coffee

by Guest Blogger // 22 November 2012, 17:56

Tags: cuts, refuge, ukuncut

empty coffee cup.jpg

This is a guest post by Lisa Ansell, in response to UKUncut's latest campaign, Refuge from the cuts.

Are you one of the entire generation of women for whom equality was rolled back to silence? Have you been forced to quit your job, lost your home, and watched the creeping web of privatisation swallow up the services that helped you exist in the world?

Can you no longer plan from week to week because poverty-related crisis and bureaucratic demands on your life remove any possibility of linear planning? Are you drifting closer to being criminalised for losing the ability to pay key bills? Are you watching your adult kids get angrier by the day as their futures are taken and they are forced to return to you? Is it your gender that was relied on to ensure you would absorb EMA cuts, social care cuts... cuts to what those around you need... is your house full of the sofa surfers austerity has created?

Are you missing meals so your kids can eat, perhaps one of those women who returned to an unsafe relationship because poverty was a bigger threat to your children's outcomes, than you living in a situation that isn't safe? Can you no longer get a social worker to see your teenage daughter, or the care that allows you to leave the house?

Did you watch as discussion of what was happening to you was swallowed by elite lefty activist nonsense and the egos of those who orbit our political media? Professional bodies of knowledge ignored because they were too dull for media hungry activists to concern themselves with.

Did you watch as you were reduced to 'the poor' while people with little life experience argued about what you would need in terms they could understand? Did you watch as welfare changes transferred autonomy over motherhood for working class women to the government and therefore the market, while people occasionally murmured 'women hit disproportionately hit by cuts'?

Did you watch as companies like Serco, Crapita and G4S extended their tentacles into your life, while people shouted about Vodafone and Topshop and Surestart? As local democracy was dismantled openly and control of your life handed to the market?

Worry ye not. Nip to Starbucks, UKUncut are taking over to reinstate the things YOU need. A women's refuge where domestic abuse survivors get their pictures taken with lefty activists while they drink lattes, bring your kids....

UKUncut have a long history of media-orbiting activism. Admittedly, rather than following the trail of the organisations slowly swallowing our public sector, they concentrated on Topshop and Vodafone, names they were familiar with. Their fundraising is largely confined to the legal fund their activists required after sitting down in Fortnum and Mason, but this time they are here for you. Admittedly their targets are functioning in a system, rather than individually breaking any laws. Admittedly your political invisibility to groups like UkUncut was rather the reason you could be hit so hard.

Be grateful and take your kids and your sleeping bags down to Starbucks and show you care enough to have your picture taken so they can get the 'authenticity' that comes with a downtrodden novelty pov turning up to be patronised, and feel good as they wear you like a badge to add to a collection. Its a refuge, how hard can it be? A patronising smile and a cup of coffee is what a refuge does. Isn't it?

[The image is a photograph of an empty coffee cup on a wooden picnic table. It was taken by @doug88888 and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Comments From You

sianmarie // Posted 23 November 2012 at 09:20

Although I do appreciate that there are problems with actions that have the potential to be divorced from women's day-to-day reality, I'm struggling to understand what answer this post proposes, if one at all.

Firstly because I think it's really positive that UK Uncut are working with feminists to raise awareness of how the cuts are impacting on women and women's services, in a way that still sticks to their own aims of highlighting businesses that don't pay their taxes.

Because I think this is an awareness-raising protest - to show that if big business paid their taxes the government would have more than enough cash to stop cuts to public services (ideological reasons for the cuts aside - that meaning they would prob still do it but they'd have less of this deficit excuse).

In Bristol, where I co co-ordinate the feminist network, we see the UK Uncut protest as just one part of a whole raft of work to ensure that no cuts are made to VAWG support services in our city. So as well as informing members about the UK Uncut action, our members will be flyering with info about the cuts and VAWG services, and lobbying the council through statements, meetings and letter writing to ensure that no cuts to these life saving services happen. It's about pooling all these (and more) different ways of protesting, making a statement, to try and do what we can with limited resources to stop the cuts.

I worry that posts like this, whilst making valid points about not being divorced from reality, contribute to a sense that there is simply nothing we can do to change the government agenda , or even to just say that we don't want these cuts. The cuts are so huge, their impact so devastating, that it can be easy to feel despair, to give up hope. And that leads to them being ignored, and the government thinking they can get away with it because no one is speaking out. Particularly because those who the cuts are hitting hardest are already some of the most marginalised in society.

We know that getting out on the streets and making a noise can make a difference. And we know that talking to councillors, sending statements and making that kind of noise can make a difference. Not always, but sometimes. So isn't it better to try and do something, than to think we can't do anything?

ssica3003 // Posted 23 November 2012 at 15:15

I would like to begin with respect for this post and its critique of any organisation using "women's issues" as a convenient soundbite rather than effecting change.

However, UKUncut has always impressed me by being sure to include the impacts of the cuts on women in its literature and campaigns, something every other organisation does poorly, if at all. I was present in the women's section at the street party protest outside Nick Clegg's house in May. UKUncut were also present at the most recent trade union protest on 20th October.

From my own observations, UKUncut is run by a very small number of people who are volunteers. Importantly, some (maybe most!) of these volunteers are women. This is an incredible fact given that activist organisations are famous for having few women (unless they are explicitly feminist and then the problem is reversed).

I believe the reason UKUncut mentions women at all is because of the women who are part of it, and there are only two or three of them sharing the burden of all the work. At the 20th October protest their organisation was the only one that had nice looking literature that also mentioned women. It was clear, concise, highlighted women's struggles and stood out from the other mounds of paper being given out that day, including the large unions who have funding and women as more than 50% of its members, yet focussed on the right to work rather than cuts effecting women in all aspects of their lives.

Since UKUncut is a small organisation run by volunteer women, perhaps a dialogue with them would have been more sisterly than a diatribe about them.

Tamara // Posted 23 November 2012 at 17:20

Thank you sianmarie and ssica

Having followed some links from here that seemed very hostile to anyone who didn't do feminism the way they wanted, I was concerned when I read this. Thank you for supporting the work of UKUncut. Why we have to infight I don't understand. We should be happy with anyone who helps to promote this important issue. The more voices, in the most places, expressing it in a variety of ways is all helping to create an environment where more people know about the cuts and might join in the fight.

Ms Ansell, if you don't like their way of protesting, don't join, but don't be rude about other feminists' work.

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