08 May, 2011

Marriage, expectation and Pippa Middleton's bum

Okay, so this blog post isn't actually about Pippa Middleton's bum but good cod, you'd think it was made of solid gold the way people have been harping on about it. Not bad for a 'passably attractive arts graduate' (thank you, Daily Mail, for that most backhanded of compliments)

No, this is about marriage. You see, the recent royal nuptials got me to thinking. No sooner had they tied the knot than tongues started wagging about when their first child would be born. Now, either there's some seriously dodgy sex education floating about, or there's a very real expectation that a young couple getting married must be planning kids, and sharpish.

I've experienced this. I married at 21 (yes, it's young, no, I don't regret it, and no, I don't have to justify my reasons - just take it from me, I'm a married feminist) and the number of people who admitted, on seeing how utterly un-pregnant I looked on my wedding day, that they thought it was a shotgun deal was kind of astonishing. We're in the 21st century, I thought, surely we're past all of that?

Except that we're not. And it's one of those things I wish I'd known before getting married, because I would love to have had the opportunity to state my case. I didn't want kids. The idea of being pregnant, giving birth, raising a child...it all makes my flesh crawl. That's not to detract from those women who do have kids, and who are very happy about it; in fact, I sometimes question how normal it is to have such a visceral reaction to such a natural thing.

It's been three years since I married and I still don't want kids, which is a source of bafflement from some quarters. It's almost as if the ring on my finger means 'baby factory: opening soon!'

And so I react to this Royal Baby sweepstake bobbins with a measure of anger, because surely it's nobody's business but Will and Kate's? I wonder what would happen if they decided not to have children? It's almost a non-option really. The vows are exchanged, the ring's on the finger, ready, set, reproduce!

I've been very secure in my decision to marry, and I have never felt that it conflicts overly with my feminist ideals; my wedding was very egalitarian. We wrote our own vows (and 'obey' was nowhere in sight) My mum, dad and stepdad walked me down the aisle; his mum and dad stood with him. I took his surname, but only because my 'maiden' name was bloody horrible. I felt like I'd done my best to remove it all from its patriarchal roots.

And yet, I worry now that there is that piece of antifeminist baggage I can't shed; the expectation that I must, at some point, want children. There are only so many times I can smile and say 'no, I don't want children', and only so many times I can politely ignore the shocked reaction that follows. Is marriage, no matter how hard we try to ascribe new meaning to it, inevitably the shackle that ties us to the Bad Old Days? Is it impossible to remove it from the institution that created it?

I feel sorry for Kate. Whether she wants children or not, she will have to have them. At least I can make that choice.

21 March, 2011

The Daily Mail knows what's important

With all the trouble and tragedy in the world at the moment, you'd be forgiven for thinking the Daily Mail might lose sight of the most important news stories.

Fret not, dear reader.

EXCLUSIVE: Woman leaves home, eats lunch

BREAKING NEWS: Woman wears dress, has breasts

DON'T MISS: Woman goes on holiday, wears bikini

SHOCKER: Woman wears same coat as other woman

LIFE-CHANGING: Woman wears green dress, orange cardigan

APPALLING: Woman wears clothes, is old

UNMISSABLE: Woman wears coat, has hood up

It's nice to know you can rely on them to keep you up to date on the really important stuff.

22 February, 2011

Lingerie shop to staff: wear make-up or else.

I still remember the moment when I realised that Virgin's female air crew didn't all co-incidentally choose to wear bright red lipstick and high heels. I was crushed. As if that weren't shocking enough, in 2009 the Bank of England (whom you would expect to have a little more class) issued an edict demanding female employees wear make-up and stilettos. Sadly, this is just another in a long line of such stories.

It has been brought to my attention that at least one branch of a popular lingerie chain, which shall remain nameless to protect the identities of whistle-blowing staff, has instructed its female staff that they must wear "at least" light make-up every day or face disciplinary action.

One staff member, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that she had been criticised for looking "tired" when she arrived at work one day without make-up on, was advised to rectify the "problem" the next day. The same employee also pointed out that the majority of junior staff - who had been given the same advice - are very young women, with many still in their teens. Is it responsible, my informant wondered, to tell young women and girls that their natural appearance is not acceptable, and that they must alter their looks with make-up before they are fit to be seen in public? I'd say that's a no-brainer.

At the moment I do not know if this is a chain-wide policy or merely one shop manager getting a little to big for their boots, either way, it's a sad indictment of our superficial misogynistic society, which only reinforces the idea that a woman's worth is linked intrinsically to har physical appearance. Nameless underwear shop: FAIL.

28 January, 2011

Loose Women Is Not A Valid Argument

It occured to me that it's actually a crying shame that Giles Coren's recent piece of obvious flamebaitery (and if it isn't flamebait, well...I don't know what to say except that I know a really nice anger management chap) didn't really have anything constructive to say about misandry. And it's even more of a shame that what he did say about misandry wasn't in the form of a clear, concise argument, but rather a slightly pitiful attempt to deflect attention from the wanton stupidity uttered by Messrs Gray and Keys re: silly wimmins not knowing football.

The argument, in a nutshell: but women are mean about men too. In fact, they have an entire TV show dedicated to talking about how stupid men are, and they don't get taken off the air, so therefore what Gray and Keys said doesn't seem quite so bad.

Okay. I may be taking creative liberties with my paraphrasing but certainly, that was the gist of it. And it really is a shame, because I'd love to see Loose Women taken to task. Loose Women represents a stereotype of modern feminism that really ought to be dumped in a skip and left there - the derisive giggling at silly men, the better-than-thou attitude, not so much "I am woman, hear me roar!" as "I am woman, hear me knock off yet another mildly amusing anecdote about the time my husband was unable to perform [insert mundane domestic duty here]"

That, my friends, is not liberation. How can it be? Is liberation sticking a bunch of women around a table and inviting them to be insulting? Are we supposed to be proud of this? I'm not; I don't want to be represented, as a feminist or a woman, by this kind of playground-level nonsense.

But I digress; the point at hand here is simply this: the fact that Loose Women exists, and is bobbins, does not diminish the fact that Gray and Keys were caught saying sexist, stupid things.

Okay? It's quite simple. Misandry exists, absolutely - although it is not as overtly ingrained into societal consciousness as misogyny, and certainly lacks its centuries long pedigree - and as feminists we ought to discuss it. The much lamented Ovenpride adverts are a pertinent example. A product of the same culture which tells us women belong in the kitchen, with a none-too-subtle nod to the logical extension of this unpleasant gender stereotype - that men, having spent less time in the kitchen than their dutiful wives, are inept in the ways of domestic drudgery. Why shouldn't we be interested in wiping out this stupid, insulting stereotype? It comes from the same place as those we rage about - the domestic goddess, barefoot and pregnant, with hands that do dishes & are as soft as her face, and on the flipside, her useless husband, who creates mess for her to clean.

Where sexism against men exists, it is often as a result of the same antiquated gender rules which keep ‘teh wimmins’ in their place. Divorce courts, for example, which often rule that the mother should get custody, seem to be operating under the attitude that it is the mother’s job to care for the kids, not the father’s, which in 21st century Britain ought to be considered a highly suspect attitude.
Even odder is the backlash that occurs whenever measures are put in place to ensure father’s rights – the recent move for paternity leave was met with outrage in many circles, and I still hear snorts of derision when it’s suggested that men should be encouraged to spend more time caring for their kids - why shouldn't they? The father's role is diminished in exactly the same way that the mother's role is elevated, to an extent which traps women - we must stay at home with our children, lest we ruin their childhood forever, career be damned, and the father is simply not a viable alternative, because children need their mummy. (Just read the Daily Mail's 'Femail' section for reams of this kind of steaming bullshit)

Unpleasant male stereotypes come from the same place as those that affect women. The drooling potential rapist is extrapolated from the idea, as supported by Nuts and Zoo and their ilk, that men are mad for sex and think about it all the time. The beer-swilling buffoon comes from a similar place: ‘lad’ culture, as perpetuated by the abovementioned mags, and The Sun et al, in which going out, getting smashed and getting into a fight is a good, blokey way of passing the time. I suppose there are men that are like this, but the gleeful acceptance and elevation to 'blokey role model' status makes it almost impossible for men to be otherwise. Boys don't cry; they drink until they puke, and gawp at tits, because that's what makes them men!

It is in the interest of all genders that we smash these assertions, these rigid gender roles, confining us to a small selection of life choices, and haranguing us - men, women, trans - if we do not conform.

This is a legitimate argument. Unfortunately, it's an argument diminished by Coren. His piece smacks of whataboutery, and fails to actually make any kind of pertinent point, besides complaining about how mean women can be. If Keys and Gray were wrong, then they were wrong regardless of what Loose Women or the Ovenpride ads say about men. Why must it be an either/or situation? Can't the sexism of Loose Women and the sexism of Gray and Keys both be considered offensive without being pitted against each other in a neverending war of more-offensive-than-thou?

"Whataboutthemenz?" is a phenomenon in which a debate about sexism against women is opposed with "but it happens to men too". It's equivalent to a debate about racism being derailed by a white person saying "but what about white people? People are racist to us too." I mean, sure, that may well be so, but what does it have to do with the actual point at hand? And is it not massively patronising to suggest that thousands of years of oppression and hardship are equivalent to someone calling you 'cracker'? The same is true of gender whataboutery. Yes, men suffer sexism too, but can it honestly be comparable to the sheer level of institutionalised, state-approved (thanks, religion) sexism that has kept women (and indeed, trans people) firmly in the 'second class citizens' category? It doesn't mean that misandry shouldn't be combatted. Indeed, I think us feminists should consciously avoid lowering ourselves to insults and stereotypes - the very things we are fighting against. Nonetheless, how can there be an intelligent discourse about misandry when most of the people complaining about it are doing so in response to arguments against misogyny?

Loose Women may be cack, but it's not the same as being told you cannot be good at your job because you have a vagina. If Coren hates it so much, may I politely suggest he petition to get it off the air. Christ knows I'll even sign it.

13 January, 2011

News flash - women not people, do not have feelings

Or at least, that's what you'd think if you spent more than a millisecond in most internet forums.

Allow me to elaborate. On New Year's Eve a group of friends and I went to see one of our favourite bands play in Camden. Not only was it a great gig, but by some turn of co-incidence we ended up backstage afterwards, drinking, chatting with the band, generally having a lot of fun. All in all, it was a brilliant night.

While we were backstage, a photographer asked if he could take some photos of us, and we happily obliged. Then tonight, we happened across his blog where he had posted one of the pictures. The reason we found the blog is because is someone had posted a link to it on the band's forum. And later, in the same thread, someone posted the photograph of my friends and I.

And that's when we ceased to be people. Because we were women, and we'd dared to go out in public we'd surrendered our humanity and become objects to be stared at, jeered at, rated and ridiculed.

Some of the men (boys?) on the forum took it upon themselves to start commenting on the photo, reposting it several times, making comments about our appearance and ranking us in order of who they wanted to have sex with first.

I have never felt so degraded and dehumanised in my life and I'm a model for fuck's sake, it's practically in my job description. Who the hell do they think they are, literally treating us like pieces of meat on a restaurant trolley? They don't know who we are, they don't know a thing about us, yet they feel OK openly judging us, on a public forum? FUCK THEM.

Did they really think we wouldn't see? Given that we're fans of the band it's hardly unlikely that we'd occasionally go on their official website. More likely they just didn't think at all. They didn't think about the consequences of their actions, they didn't think that we're real people with real feelings that might get hurt. They didn't think about how they would feel if they found people doing the same to a photograph of their mothers or sisters. Let alone themselves. It'll be a thousand years in the future before men find their bodies viewed as public property in the same way that women do now.

No, they didn't think at all, because it's just a joke to them. And that's the saddest thing. That in our supposedly enlightened society, where I'm constantly told there 's no longer a need for feminism because "men and women are treated equally now" people still think this is completely normal, acceptable behaviour. It's just such a shame, too, because the band themselves are genuinely lovely, intelligent people; you would think they would attract like-minded people as fans, but clearly that's not always the case.

The only good thing about it is that the sexists are identifying themselves, so in future women will know not to approach them with a ten foot pole. It's hypocritical really, these pathetic little creeps, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet talking about who they'd most like to fuck, when in reality they're clearly such horrible human beings that staring at a photograph is as close as they're likely to get to a real woman without paying her.

So thanks, random internet misogynists, for ruining my memories of a great night. By way of equality, I tried to rank you in order of who's most Troglodyte, but it was a tie - you're all losers.

Update: I am genuinely touched by the kindness I have received from people who have read this and got in touch. Thanks especially to the lovely photographer whose innocent photo got mixed up in this for his support and to the moderators and others from the forum for deleting the offensive stuff and for general awesomeness. Consider my faith in humanity and music restored.

08 January, 2011

So, there is this horrible little man on Twitter

I'm not going to name him, because I'm sure you know by now who it is, and doing so would rather undermine my message. He is telling women that it is their "duty" to be size zero, that to be overweight is "a sin" (interestingly/disturbingly he seems to equate anything over size zero with overweight).

This man is only after one thing, and that is publicity. He quite clearly does not believe what he is saying, no one could, and he is doing it purely for the attention only an ex Big Brother contestant craves. I have watched his follower count rise from a few thousand, to ten thousand, to nearly 20 thousand in the three or so days that he has been trending.

I imagine I am shouting into the wind here, as other people have been giving similar advice, but I thought I'd at least try. Do not feed the troll. Don't @ reply him, don't mention him by name, don't retweet him, STOP GIVING HIM THE BLOODY OXYGEN OF PUBLICITY.

The man is wanking in delight at every new follower. Ignoring the outside chance that he may actually pleasure himself to death, it's really better to just ignore the bloody idiot and then he will go away, I promise.

04 January, 2011


The Daily Fail can fuck off.

Well, ok, we knew that. But in this case, they can fuck right off, the fucking douchecanoes. He's five. And you know what - IF HE WANTS TO WEAR A DRESS HE CAN FUCKING WELL WEAR A FUCKING DRESS YOU FUCKING PRICKS.

The bit that really fucked me off is this -

"What young Dyson will make of this very public story of acceptance when he is older remains to be seen - most teenagers cringe when their mother brings out the baby photos, and such a widely available book will mean he has nowhere to hide."

Firstly, they're assuming that this is embarassing, that this kid who likes wearing clothing that doesn't fit with what "society" says kids of his gender "should" wear will not want to wear "girl's" clothing when he's older. Bollocks to that.

Secondly, they're assuming that he is going through a phase. He might not want to wear dresses when he's older - societal pressure might have made him decide he "should" wear trousers. He might decide that he wants to wear dresses when he's older, and decide to be a transvestite. He might be trans, and decide he wishes to become a woman. He might be trans already. Who gives a flying fuck? He's chosen one type of gendered clothing over another.

And you know what, Daily Fail? That's ok. His parents, and his sibling, are accepting of him as he is right now. That they're supporting him right now, and trying to change others' perceptions of this as "weird", is a good thing. That he's growing up wearing what he wants to wear, not what society says he should wear, is a good thing.

Dyson's mother Cheryl has it right -

"We need to start asking ourselves why we are condemning people and things just because they are different and make us feel uncomfortable."

If her son is transgender, and decides to transition, he will have a supportive family. He'll be very lucky. But he shouldn't just have a supportive family. He should have a supportive society - he should grow up in a culture that doesn't demand that boys wear trousers and play with guns and girls wear dresses and play with dolls - instead he should grow up in a culture where the clothes a person wears aren't invested with ideas of gender, and right and wrong. There are no "wrong" clothes for a child (push-up bras for seven year olds excepted). There are no "wrong" clothes for an adult, for that matter. Especially not predicated on ideas of gender.

[crossposted at Sensible Susan & The Ladylike Punk]