12 November, 2010

London Council cuts

Councils in London are considering cutting £3.3million per year that is currently spent on supporting women and children who are victims of domestic abuse.

Whether you're in London or not, please sign this petition against the cuts:

11 November, 2010

Femininity and Male Entitlement

People ask me a lot why I'm a feminist and/or what sort of issues I'm concerned with. I always find it tough to answer, because there are so many things that raise my feminist hackles, and they're often things that people not sympathetic towards feminism just can't wrap their heads around. So I thought I'd try and demonstrate through examples, from time to time.

Now, I never expected Emma Watson's hair to turn into a feminist issue, believe me. I've been looking at the articles about her haircut (lot of slow news days recently, I'm guessing. When I was a reporter and there wasn't much going on I had to ring the local fire brigade to ask if they'd rescued any kittens/children/grannies/other newsworthy characters recently, but each to their own), out of my own masochistic curiosity; since I have very short hair myself I have a morbid disposition towards reading comments about how she'll now never get a man, because only girls with long hair get laid - if anything, it's nice to finally be given a reason.

Anyway, I'm well-accustomed enough to these sorts of remarks now to have developed a kind of immunity, but this one was different:

"Why are there just pictures of a 10 year old boy in this article?

Im really sorry but she was like the hottest girl on the internet, in the world to be honest, i can promise that MILLIONS AND MILLIONS on guys are just crying and weaping because she decided to do this to her hair...

she is not Hermione anymore, if i was going out with her i would dump her, i really would, she went from crazy hot girl, to 10 year old boy overnight..

i am distraught, she looks awful, just awful ( if you disagree you are likely to have short hair yourself or think its ok but you are wrong because hair like this is reserved for cancer patients and 10 year old boys)"

- James D, Cambridge, 13/9/2010 1:41

I could point out that he has clearly been judging this woman solely on her appearance, and evaluating her worth as human being based on how "hot" he judges her to be, but that's feminism 101, you guys are smarter than to need that explained, right? (I could write a separate article on the Fail's strange obsession with this young woman, but it's not that tough to work out - it's partially owing to her good looks, partially owing to the fact that they prefer their lust-objects to be barely legal - less likely to back-chat, one would imagine - and largely owing to the fact that she's very middle class and moneyed, dontchaknow.)

No, it's the utter sense of entitlement that gets to the feminist in me. He's managed to make *her* haircut all about *him* (in specific, and men in general). The whole tone suggests he thinks she should have been made to run this idea by the male population first. Skipping gleefully past the part where he bemoans that she's "not Hermione anymore" before one of you bright sparks points out that Hermione is a fictional character from a book and TV series, and as such she has never actually *been* her, we get to the part which has been more and more of a regular feature on Fail article comments these days - the classic "well, I'm sorry, but I just don't fancy her!". Like she's actually going to care that some wanker (both literally and figuratively) from Cambridge doesn't want to fuck her; but the intention of the statement is to say "male opinion is more important than your autonomy over your own body, I must be heard and you WILL listen". I don't doubt he also intends his little fantasy dumping of Watson as a warning to other women that they can expect similar treatment from Mr D should they think of trying the same (I'll be crying into the pile of money I get paid to have a short haircut over the loss).

Finally, the most clear example of the expression of male entitlement over female sexuality (because let's face it, that is what this boils down to, sex), his dismissal of the opinion of anyone who "thinks having short hair is ok" - ie, "having short hair is not ok, women do not have autonomy over their own bodies, and must look sexually available (by adhering to male standards of female beauty) at all times".

And all this is further to the nastiness of just leaving the comment in the first place. People don't write nasty comments about men's appearance just for the sake of it, but women are served up by the press on a platter as objects to look at and either praise or destroy as appropriate. Both options being just as creepy and reprehensible as the other.

I sometimes wonder why some men have such a problem with short hair. I think that's a post for another day. With Ms Watson, I can't work out what is pissing the Fail readers off more, the fact that she has defied societal norms and as such has made herself supposedly sexually unattractive and unavailable, or that their favourite fuck-piece has disappointed them all by proving to have a mind of her own. Whichever it is, I do hope she keeps up the good work.

23 October, 2010

Hello all, it's been a while...

...you can thank work and the Bar course for that one. I think I may be going into meltdown.

But this isn't about that. I'm growing a moustache from now until the end of November to raise awareness for both testicular and prostate cancer, two of the most diagnosed cancers of men in the UK, but with so little awareness, and raise funds for the Everyman Male Cancer Campaign. If you want to help me out, please donate a quid minimum here:
Thanks for your help!

30 September, 2010

My Day of Misogyny

A little backstory - after returning from a lengthy stint abroad, I haven't yet fallen into a regular work pattern. So I've been at home a lot with only daytime TV to entertain me (there's only so much time one can spend on Facebook). Having cable at my disposal that shouldn't be so bad (although Diagnosis Murder on BBC1 remains unmatched so far as shows involving crime-fighting physicians go) but I discovered a large part of what's on offer is a veritable visual feast of sexism.

I like comedy, so these last few days I settled on Comedy Central to soundtrack my post-morning paper day:

9am - 10am Frasier

I like Frasier. I used to watch it when it was originally shown in the nineties/noughties. However, revisiting it with more mature, feminist eyes, does diminish its legend somewhat.

The main female characters are Daphne, a live-in carer come housemaid, and Roz, Fraiser's radio show producer. Daphne is a Benny Hill type female cliche (ironically the actress, Jane Leeves, made her name as a Benny Hill girl, so that's possibly why she didn't flinch at taking on such a sexist role) - dizzy and distinctly unintelligent, she is continually mocked for being too talkative and her supposedly terrible cooking - not generally in a physical therapist's remit, so far as I'm aware - is a running joke. Her main part in the show is to serve as the love interest for Frasier's brother. Unrelatedly, her Mancunian accent is the worst I've heard this side Peru.

Roz is a more impressive character in that she has a successful career in radio. There the feminist glories end. The running gag with Roz is that she's promiscuous. Needless to say this is not presented as a liberated, modern choice, but rather makes her the subject of regular lewd jokes about her sex life. This is, somewhat confusingly, paired with the decision to gradually turn her into a Bridget Jones type. She is also desperate to find a husband and often frets about her age (she has passed that golden threshold of 30). She eventually finds redemption in motherhood.

The more peripheral female characters come in the form of girlfriends for our protagonist, Frasier, and his father, Martin. Frasier in his mid forties, is also on the lookout for romance; I have a theory that his failure to find a long term partner is based on the fact that he rarely dates women out of their late twenties to early thirties. Confusingly there are lots of women in their forties around - they are the love interests of his 60-something-year-old father. In the course of the series he is engaged twice to women two decades his junior. Only Niles, the younger brother, ends up with a woman closeish to his own age when he eventually marries Daphne.

Special mention also to Lillith, Frasier's ex-wife. She is the typical bitch ex wife, and stereotypical frigid "ice queen" type. Niles' estranged first wife, Maris is never seen on camera, but jokes are made about her obsession with food and her weight; she is constantly on the most ridiculous of diets and is so insecure about her appearance that she often refuses to be seen in public. As a psychiatrist you'd think her husband would recognise probable body dismorphic disorder and a large dose of agoraphobia, but instead the character is just written off a high maintenance, nagging harridan.

10-am - 11am Everybody Loves Raymond

I've also been aware of this long-running American sitcom for quite some time; I remember watching it in the mornings when I was at university.

It's a family set-up, our protagonist Raymond, along with his wife and children, parents and brother. His wife, Deborah, is again stereotype wife. Her terrible cooking is again a running gag, her housekeeping is poor, she denies her hapless husband sex and not an episode goes past where she isn't shown nagging him (not surprising when they have three children and he makes no contribution to the chores). The other main female character is Raymond's mother, a shrill harpy who constantly nags her husband (to be fair, he is also portrayed as a fairly unpleasant character) and exists mainly to fill the snooty mother in law cliche and make her daughter in law's life hell. The only other recurring character is Amy, Raymond's brother Robert's on-off girlfriend. A wet dishcloth of a girl, her main goal in life is to get married and her main function in the show is to quietly wait for Robert to propose, despite him cheating on her more than one and dumping her several times before eventually committing.

11am-12pm King of Queens:

King of Queens employs a device beloved of US comedy - pairing an overweight, under-achieving, slobby, "loveable rogue" character with a somewhat unrealistically beautiful, slim, successful and intelligent wife (see also Family Guy and any film involving Seth Rowland). Not so much of a problem in itself, you may say, but imagine the scenario the other way around - doesn't happen, does it?

Carrie, and I feel wearied typing the same words again, is a stereotype wife - she constantly nags her husband, doesn't like him spending time with his friends, doesn't want sex as often as he feels is appropriate. There are mercifully no jokes about her cooking, though needless to say she does all of it, along with the shopping; but there was an extra dose of misogyny in one episode I saw where the husband, Doug, bullied the beautiful, slim Carrie into going on a diet because he thought she was getting plump, all the while making no reference to the fact that he himself is grossly obese, despite the fact that the disparity between he and his wife's weights and general physical attractiveness is something he is shown to be aware of.

12pm-1pm Scrubs:

A shining light in my day. Maybe it's because it doesn't revolve around a traditional family/household set up, but there's no sexism that I can see in this programme. And it's very funny. YAY.

1pm-3pm Frasier and King of Queens repeated.

3pm - 4pm Two and a Half Men:

The misogyny of this inexplicably popular contemporary US sitcom is so legendary I barely need to revisit it. The set up sees two middle aged brothers living together, one having occasional custody of his young son. The elder brother, Charlie (played by Charlie Sheen - not himself known for showing a great deal of respect for women) is a notorious womaniser. the male equivalent of Roz in Fraiser, if you like, but instead of censure, his almost heroic promiscuity is rewarded with praise, luckless younger brother Alan referring to him once as an episode as a "lucky, lucky bastard" as he's seen ascending the stairs accompanied by two giggling pneumatic blondes.

Charlie is in his forties but shamelessly dates women two decades his junior. He has rules about not dating women over the age of 25 and devotes a large portion of one episode I saw this week to explaining why he could never date a woman of 40 (still significantly younger than him, by this point) - because they all have big ears, apparently. He treats the women he briefly knows with nothing short of contempt - the running "joke" in this series is that he pretends to be romantically interested in women to convince them to sleep with him, then sends them away with a fake phone number. Women who attempt to pursue a relationship with him are portrayed as pathetic, clingy, boderline stalkers. One early recurring character who disappears in later series, Rose, actually IS a stalker.

Younger brother Alan is a loser in love, and clearly supposed to be a sympathetic character, with more open minded views on women than his brother. He dates women in his own age group, and generally more bookish types than the stereotyped "bimbos" his brother brings home, but his ultimate goal is also casual sex, and through his eyes women are shown as little more than receptacles to fit this purpose. One episode focussed on the absolutely "hilarious" consequences of both brothers openly lusting after a 17-year-old child. It's ok though, it is made known several times, that she is, in fact "asking for it". From two paunchy middle-aged men. Obviously.

Alan is also the link to one of the shows female leads - his ex-wife Judith. Judith is clearly modelled on Lillith from Frasier; a frigid "ice queen", who never wanted sex with her husband when they were married, continues to nag him despite their divorce, and is a "ball breaker" who continually harasses and emasculates her ex-husband. She "screwed" him in their divorce settlement and Alan always being broke because he has to pay Judith alimony - presumably to finance raising their child - is a regular joke. Alan also has a second ex-wife after a brief failed married to a 22-year-old woman so deficient in intelligence that in real life sleeping with her would probably be regarded as abuse. She also somehow "made" him pay for everything during their courtship and marriage, including her cosmetic surgery and car (despite being so thick that realistically she would have choked to death brushing her teeth before the age of 16) and he has to pay her alimony after their divorce; she too is subsequently shown as a millstone around Alan's neck.

The other recurring female character is the mens' mother. She is - wait for it - a shrill, nagging harridan who the pair do their best to avoid at all costs. They make jokes about the number of sexual partners she had in their youth (their own mother!).

Berta, Charlie's housekeeper, is butch, bullish and rude.

One storyline saw Charlie break the habit of a lifetime and fall for one of his throwaway dates. They become engaged, but when she, eminently sensibly, has misgivings about marrying him, she becomes the evil bitch who ruined his life.

There is literally not one, single female character on that show, whoever brief her appearance, who comes out of it looking good.

And so concludes my day of sexist "comedy". The evening gives way to more highbrow legal dramas such as Law and Order; even this franchise, one of my favourites, is guilty of sticking to the senior partner = male, junior partner = female set up. If I didn't watch anything that was sexist I'd probably spend a lot more time doing things more constructive than watching television. Like writing blogs about television, for example.

Thank goodness I'm working tomorrow.

24 September, 2010

Feminism burnt my toast

First there was the article in the Daily Fail.

Then Humphreys had Rose Prince and Rosie Boycott (Spare Rib founder turned Fail writer) on the Today Programme. The issue:


Germaine Greer has spent the last 30-odd years running around force-feeding cakes to children, and because Betty Friedan has personally kicked all women out of the kitchen and into the workplace, and forced them to feed their children ready meals (Susan Faludi was preventing all the men from lifting a finger, obviously) - your children are fat.

On R4, both Prince and Boycott seemed quite happy to point the finger of blame at women - even though Boycott was ostensibly there to argue against Prince's feminist-killed-healthy-eating rubbish - to the point where Humphreys ended up taking her part, saying
"I'm going to have to defend women here... because neither of you are doing it. You treat women as though they're incredibly gulible and vulnerable to all these pressures"
At the same time, both women agreed that it is difficult to criticise families; what they do instead is criticise women, saying that as women are the primary caregivers, it is up to them to make sure their children eat well. Women are the scapegoat. The problem is not that women don't give a shit about their children eating healthily, but that modern capitalism requires women to work - there is no married man's wage, and most people would agree that for an average family, two average wages are needed. And if both parents are working full time - or the family has only one parent - they may not have time to cook from scratch each and every day. They may not be able to afford lots of vegetables; hell, I find vegetables expensive enough and I live in a household with two (admittedly low) incomes and no kids.

In her Daily Fail article, Prince laments that
"The way we cook has to change if the gentle art of feminine food is to be revived."
As opposed to what - the tough art of masculine food? Cooking isn't gentle, it's hard bloody work, taking time and effort - even if, like me, you enjoy cooking. No doubt Prince wouldn't consider sweating, swearing when I drop a potato, or getting flour on my jeans particularly feminine - but cooking can and does involve all of those things. And I guess if my partner cooks, then what he makes is masculine food - even if it's cupcakes.

Both Crumbs and Jessica Reid on CiF have excellent rebuttals to Prince's (and Boycott's) nonsense as well, albeit from different angles.


In other Daily Fail news: send your sons to private schools, girls will get enough education to marry well at the local state school - because everyone knows that private schools are always better, state schools fail boys, boys need special treatment, and girls get on with it, and don't need an education anyway because all girls are fit for is marrying, having babies, and cooking (in a gentle, feminine way). No doubt "they will both go to university and everything will work out", so that's ok then.

The article quotes "social commentator"James Delingpole - climate change denier, he of the "men don't want paternity leave" and "gays aren't normal" bullshit, who writes for the Mail and the Torygraph - saying,
"Girls can always marry a rich man, ... If a girl is middle-class and reasonably educated in the state system, the chances are she will marry well anyway.

"Boys, like it or not, are much more likely to end up earning their family’s crust as the breadwinner. Girls, being more sophisticated, socially adept and devious, are much more capable of negotiating the complexities of the state system than boys. It may not be liberated or politically correct, but it’s true.’

"... the state system is woefully geared against boys. Almost all the teachers are female, and a kind of ideological feminisation has crept into the system.

‘Boys aren’t built to sit still and conform in class. They are boisterous - they need to run about and they need to be challenged. "

Oh, fuck off you tit.

13 September, 2010

Indefensible (trigger in paragraph 5)

Having a slightly masochistic streak I'm occasionally compelled to pick up the Metro, the Daily Mail's ugly little sister, on the train into work. This rag usually offers a bit of bile to start your week with and this morning's edition was no exception, with the story of a woman who neglected her children and let her dogs starve to death while playing a computer game as its front page offering. (The story is covered in even more gory detail in the Fail itself). By the time I'd finished reading I was shaking with rage, but possibly not for quite the reasons the editors intended.

This seems at first reading to be a continuation of the Fails' bizarre crusade against the evil interwebs: the addictive game in question is called Smallworld, to which "she received an invitation from a friend on Facebook", and is "an online boardgame featuring characters such as wizards, dwarves, orcs and giants" – clearly such a tempting prospect it can turn an ordinary mother into a neglectful monster. Look a bit closer though and the story gets rather more complicated.

It seems the problems started when she lost her husband to a heart attack, after which she stopped taking care of her dogs and her house, barely managed to feed her children and started obsessively playing the game. That doesn't sound to me like an addictive game ruining someone's life, it sounds to me like someone with severe depression taking refuge in a virtual world from a life that's become unbearable. It sounds to me like turning someone with a severe mental illness into a hate figure in order to fit with their anti-Facebook agenda.

Apparently she got a ban on using the internet and keeping animals and a suspended custodial sentence. What I hope she also got is counselling, a lot of hot cups of tea and a lot of friends reassuring her that whatever she's done they still care about her. What she certainly doesn't need is a media-maddened mob who can't imagine themselves ever ending up in that position to tell her what she did is inexcusable, I'm pretty sure she already feels bad about it.

Honestly, in my more tinfoil-hatted moments I sometimes wonder why the Daily Mail puts so much effort into making sure we hate each other. Do they want us to be too busy squabbling amongst ourselves and bitching over biweekly bin collections that we won't notice when Paul Dacre peels off his fleshmask and leads his army of Martian Lizardmen to victory or something? Maybe it's meant to be reassuring. We're not like those people, the narrative goes. We're not workshy scroungers sponging off honest taxpayers, or underdressed sluts who go out and get themselves raped (or probably make it up anyway) or foreigners inventing tales of persecution to leech off the public services we pay for. We'd never get addicted to an absurd game "featuring characters such as wizards, dwarves, orcs and giants". And we're certainly not the sort of weak, pathetic people who get depression.

Only it's a lie of course. It's hard to find a firm figure but it's widely accepted that about a quarter of us will experience some sort of mental illness at some point in our lives. No matter who we are or how strong our work ethic may be, we can find ourselves sick or unemployed, we may even be assaulted whatever precautions we take. And sometimes, maybe in response to bereavement, maybe because of something else, our brains can do things we don't like and can't control. Life can be touch, and possibly the one thing I'd agree with the Daily Mail on is the need to look out for each other – this story probably wouldn't have ended so tragically if this woman's friends or family had noticed she wasn't coping and offered to help at the beginning. But a little understanding and compassion is what would promote that sort of society, not the judgement, mistrust and condemnation peddled by this paper.

In short, there's some indefensible behaviour here, but it's on behalf of the writers of this article, not its subject.

P.S. I should probably point out that I'm a dog lover (currently dogless due to circumstances rather than choice), and while the idea of letting your dogs starve to death makes me feel sick, I'm not so self-righteous that I can't see how someone with depression could let that happen.

11 August, 2010

Sons and Daughters

I've just finished watching a documentary on Channel 4 called "Cutting Edge: Four Sons versus Four Daughters". I'm not sure it was quite as cutting edge as it appeared, although it did give some food for thought.

The opening mark that struck me was the mother of four girls saying people often asked her, on seeing she had four girls, "Are you trying for a boy?"; the documentary started as if it were about to start exploring gender attitudes and nature vs nurture debates. However, the producers chose conventional families - the daughters liked pink, took dancing lessons, and arranged flowers with their mother; the sons were competitive, played football with their father, and had toy guns.

Both families were, again, “ideal”; the mother was a SAHM (although the mother of four boys briefly mentioned a part-time job, it was made obvious that she was the primary caretaker) while the father worked in a masculine industry. Both families appeared affluent; they kept the de-rigeur middle-class chickens; the eldest son had his own car. Both were white.

These aspects of the families situations was not the main focus of the documentary, but it is important to remember the other aspects of social inequalities when examining one - their middle-class affluence undoubtedly affected the girls' access to ballet lessons and pony-owning, and the boys' access to after-school sports. As a result, their "girliness" or "boyishness" is affected by more than just their biological sex - which in turn affects how their parents relate to them, and nurture their children to fit a certain ideology.

The documentary's use of gender stereotypes is consistent; the father in the all-girl family (John) is henpecked and feels outnumbered, while the boys' father would want to have “sporty girls”. The boys’ mother (Karen) is looking forward to a “girlier” house, and being with other women. Women want the company of women; Men want sons to relive their boyhood through.

Karen & Steve – have sons

John & Marianne – have daughters

Both sets of parents equally uncomfortable with their "new" families; idea that boys much more rough-and-tumble is enforced from the outset as the sons put John through an obstacle course involving a trampoline and water guns. The girls, in direct contrast, give makeovers to both Karen and Steve (they are shown earlier giving their father, John, a makeover, which he calmly endures while being asked leading questions about whether or not he'd prefer to have sons). The girls help with cooking the evening meal – the boys don’t (though they do barbecue). Both mothers do the main bulk of the cooking and caring. The stereotypes continue - girls like shopping; boys like go-karting. Fathers like boys, Mothers like girls. A father is only one who can teach “a boy to become a man”.

Karen, mother to the four boys, comments to her new daughters “I think mums do too much for boys… I think girls want to do it, that’s the difference”; she is pleased that the girls help out in the kitchen, but instead of putting it down to routine, she appears to attribute their assistance to their innate femininity.

The documentary did raise some points – are parents creating their children to be what they expect children of that gender to be like? Do they see children of their own gender as a conduit to relive their own experiences? Would the outcome have been different if the gender stereotypes had not been so clearly defined between families, with tomboys and boys playing with dolls? Or if the gender roles of the parents had been less clearly defined.

At the end of their three days of family-swapping, the parents were urged to reflect on gender differences – but not about whether the behaviour of the children is down to personality or their own expectations of sons or daughters. They do not question whether girls require a mother, or if a male-identified parent is able to parent a girly-girl. The personality of the adults and their rediscovery of their masculinity or femininity - in relation to their family standing, their children's personalities in particular - is considered, again raising further questions as to the effects of nature or nurture on children's development.

Had the programme not reinforced gender roles so determinedly, the documentary could have explored a great deal more in terms of gender and children's gender roles; instead it raised more questions than it answered, and served to repeat the ideal of SAHM, breadwinner father, daughters who do ballet and sons who play football.

07 August, 2010

Warning: contains no Daily Mail.

This irritates the hell out of me. I'm arranging a mail redelivery, so that if I have forgotten to tell anywhere that sends me bills, the bills go to the new house. It's handy.

But the Royal Mail website asks me to not only provide a title (thankfully it now includes "Ms" as a choice) as well as my full name - but it asks for my gender. Why on earth, especially considering that there is a first name and a title, does it require me to state whether I am male or female. Why is there no other choice? Does the Royal Mail really need to know the contents of my pants in order to redirect a letter?

04 August, 2010

Christina Hendricks is not my role model

It's nothing personal, it's just that "have big breasts" is not high up on my to do list. You'll have noticed last week the fuss over Lynne Featherstone, the equalities minister's comments on Hendricks and what a fantastic role model she is. The poor woman has been misquoted to a degree, with the Fail attributing to her "All women should aspire to be a size 14" (I can find no independent verification of her saying this and no other article uses this quote). Nonetheless, here's yet another minister/celebrity/journalist, no doubt well meaning, completely missing the point.

For a start, Christina Hendricks does not, as Featherstone claims, have any more of a realistic or attainable figure than Kate Moss/Victoria Beckham/latest popular target of skinny bashing. Yes she's a size 14. That's the average in this country. That's where any similarities with the average woman in this country ends. Hendricks might be a size 14, but there is not an ounce of fat on her. She's a size 14 because she's one of the few people out there who is genuinely "curvy" - she's got a generous chest and wide hips, coupled with a trim waist and long, lean limbs. In other words, she has an hourglass figure. Something around 8% of the female population is born with, and that cannot be achieved through any amount of diet, exercise or even surgery. Yeah, REAL attainable.

Secondly, as I've argued before, and hence will not give over too much attention to now, replacing one ideal of female physical perfection with another does not help. I couldn't be a size 14 if I ate nothing but lard for a month (and even if I could, I still wouldn't look like Christina Hendricks because I've got narrow hips and a small ribcage). All that achieves is shifting the pressure to conform from one group of women to another.

But thirdly, and more importantly, if we're going to start talking about role models, and what what women had ought to be "aspiring" to, could we leave the physical appearance out of it? Might we try aspiring towards academic and professional success? I know it's "out there" as an idea, but maybe Diane Abbott or even Featherstone herself are better role models than Hendricks, or that other cultural zeitgeist, Kelly Brook? Just a thought.

30 July, 2010

This post is about sex.

It's true.

What kind of warped world do we live in when girls who don't sleep around are mocked? asks the Fail, referring to the earlier 'revelation' that some woman from Girls Aloud has only slept with two people.

Well now. I'm in two minds about this. Firstly, as far as I can see, there hasn't been any mockery. The news sources I've checked out have been fairly neutral (and most newspapers haven't mentioned it at all) so the article seems like an exercise in pointless hysteria. The way the article is presented is frustratingly puritan at times, bandying meaningless statistics about ("Research shows that promiscuity among the young is on the rise. People in the 16-24 age group have already clocked up an average of nine partners.")

"Promiscuity certainly isn't what feminism set out to achieve" says Rosie Boycott, one of the co-founders of Spare Rib magazine. And I find this a really interesting sentence: surely feminism set out to achieve sexual freedom? And doesn't sexual freedom include promiscuity?

See, I don't think sexual freedom is quite with us yet, not if this article is anything to go by. Because although the media has been uncharacteristically restrained about commenting on Ms Walsh's sex life, I have encountered an attitude (even among some feminists) suggesting that a woman who has had only a few partners is somehow missing out, or is sexually repressed. I know this because I have had the same number of partners as Ms Walsh: 2. Only one of those was a man. I am now married to him. I have been asked, on more than one occasion, whether I think I'll regret limiting my sexual activity to just one man.

Why would I? The interesting thing about human sexuality is how diverse we are in terms of our kinks and proclivities, our turn ons and offs. I've never felt compelled to have a large number of partners; I don't particularly want to go into detail but I'm perfectly happy with the partner I have, ta. I think the whole point of feminism as liberation is to give us this choice: to have as many or as few partners as we choose, to indulge our wildest kinky leather-clad fantasies or to make sweet love in a field of roses or whatever point of the sex/romance spectrum we find ourselves inclined towards. Hell, what about those people who just don't like sex? I've met a few asexual people who are perfectly happy not to fondle other people's floppy bits, and that's as valid a sexual choice as anything else.

So while the fearful puritanism that leads to the idea that more than four partners makes you an incurable slut, or the idea that a one night stand has to be unfulfilling and emotionally empty (and why should emotion come into it at all? What if you just want to fuck?) strikes me as weird and repressive, I'm also wary of the attitude that we should all have a few notches on our bedposts, and less than four partners means you're a frigid, priggish prude. We can't win, can we? We're either madonnas or whores, eternally.

That said, I really take umbrage with this:
Young women today want the same fundamental thing I did: a loving relationship of the kind Kimberley Walsh is lucky enough to enjoy.

How fucking patronising is that? "Now then dears, you might think all you want is a good fuck with no strings attached, but what you REALLY want is a nice charming prince to sweep you off your feet and make you his bride!"

Ms Boycott, I say this as a married woman: Kindly fuck off.

26 June, 2010

All Women Are Ugly (Except Kelly Brook)

Can you conceive of a world in which any woman can leave the house without fear of a photographer in the bushes, crouched like a predator, waiting to photograph them without their permission and sell those photographs to tabloids, who will ensure that even her most minor flaw is highlighted for the world to see and ridicule?

No? Neither can the Mail, apparently, because approximately 30% of their articles are based on the above formula.

This week, it's Peaches Geldof in the firing line. Now, I'm no real fan of Peaches but the Mail's obsession with is really quite inappropriate. Take this week's slew of articles for example. Starting with a creepy article about her 'extra curves' which features no less than seven pictures of her in a bikini. It would be bad enough, but it's also astonishingly hypocritical: "Last week, Peaches was the subject of cruel internet jibes when she was pictured looking bloated and out of shape at a water park in the city" the article simpers, quasi-sympathetic. And yet which paper ran the story originally? Interestingly, I can't seem to find the article online anymore, but the Mail reported on her 'unflattering' bikini, 'tacky' tattoos and 'bloated' abdomen with almost masturbatory glee.

And even though I can't find the original article, the Mail has kindly provided me with two more examples: This one, which insinuates that since Ms Geldof is wearing a loose-fitting black dress, she must secretly despise her body despite stating several times that she's quite happy the way she is, thanks, and is a lying liar whose pants are on fire. And this one, which rips into her 'unflattering' outfit and snidely points out that she 'drew attention for all the wrong reasons'

But! If you thought you could evade Fail scrutiny by being slimmer than Ms Geldof (who, being at LEAST a size 10, is the Mail equivalent of a pygmy hippo) think again! Two nobodies from an American TV show were this week criticised for being 'painfully thin'. How dare they assume they have the right to show off their bodies when it's quite clear they are imperfect? Everyone knows there's no such thing as naturally skinny people.

In fact, unless you're Kelly Brook, you may as well not even step out of the house. The Mail loves Kelly Brook. As the sheer abundance of non-stories about her wearing clothes, or not wearing clothes, can attest. And let's not forget that she's the only woman over the age of 21 who is allowed to wear a short skirt. Put that minidress away, old crones!

Mind you, is any of this remotely surprising coming from a paper which suggests that a 5'4 woman 'ballooned' to 9st?

24 June, 2010

Don't Lie To Me

Don’t lie to me. But that is what the Daily Mail does best. But worse, it does it with Science. I’m an engineer (hopefully, results not through yet) which means I’m not quite a scientist but also not a science fan. This means that I can recognise basic stats, scientific method and the role of experiments and analysis. And well as is often pointed out the Daily Mail is one of the worst papers for reporting anything science related. And by doing this it ruins science, the image of science, and the role science has in society.

Take for example this article on the relationship between abortion and breast cancer. After googling around for the original paper I found this abstract (linked, might I add, from a pro-life website). Now what do you see? The paper is about how breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer by two thirds. The Daily Fail uses the spin done by a pro-life website to suggest that aborting the child increases the risk of breast cancer. The paper does mention abortion; it mentions it as a factor in the findings along with the menopause and exposure to passive smoking. But the main conclusion is that prolonged breastfeeding reduces risk of breast cancer. Which isn’t really about abortion is it. The whole ‘triple risk’ factor was in fact just a twist of the two-thirds decrease. So... the Daily Fail uses the spin by a pro-life website to warp the findings of a paper that has little to do with what the headline is about. This means that I can only conclude one thing; that the Daily Mail has a pro-life agenda.

But this is not the only thing dodgy about this article. The medical survey was of only 300 women, Sparta my film geek mind cries, and from that this graph was the conclusion. Now this is a research support study which is designed to aid major studies rather than be something that can be the basis of medical practice. But the whole point was that it wasn’t a major conclusion. It was a significant find, no doubt, but it wasn’t a major conclusion.

The last point I wish to make, is that the tail end of the article goes for the whole balanced approach by not being balanced with a view from both sides. The way the article goes it starts of quoting a scientific paper, it then has a sound bite from Cancer Research UK about how the study might be flawed and that there have been other studies that have claimed otherwise to be true. From this the article then elbows in this wonderful quote from what can only be described as a quack from a pro-life counselling service.

We have encountered from the pro-abortion lobby manipulation of the evidence on a truly disgraceful scale. This study is further evidence that has been gathering from all around the world that abortion is a major risk factor for breast cancer. When will the establishment face up to this fact and pull its head out of the sand?

You can almost see the specks of foam can’t you, and note that the pro-life guy is male. These two opposing viewpoints have clearly been conducted by phone or email as well as the former latches onto the whole 300 women part and the latter that it is a scientific study but neither seem to give a full description of the main flaw, that it wasn’t a study into the link between abortion and breast cancer.

But the final part of the article, the cherry on the sundae or the dead rat on the garbage heap if you will, is trying to link in the rise in breast cancer to the rise in abortions. Yeah that’s right correlation and causation being one and the same thing. Now it may well be in future that there might be a link just as there is a link between reading the Daily Mail and wanting to punch Richard Littlejohn or there might not be a link at all, such as there not being a link between reading the Daily Mail but still wanting to punch Richard Littlejohn. But either way stating to rises does not mean that they are related.

To draw this post to a close, it is difficult to determine the causes of cancer and anything we do towards finding something that might help us live healthier lives is all well and good. But what the Daily Mail has done here is taken a report, filtered and spun the information until it says something that appeases their rather aggressive anti-woman agenda and then spat out some disinformation to throw off anything that might be useful. Effectively it neuters scientific method and rigour and then uses the scepticism to fuel its own machinations.

15 June, 2010

The Daily Misogyny

I fucking hate the Mail. I would happily pulp all known copies of the Mail and turn them into papier-mache sculptures of Germaine Greer and Emmeline Pankhurst sticking their middle fingers up at Piers Hernu (in fact, I might do that anyway)
In this case, I think the swear word is justified; I know they say that profanity is the last resort of the barely literate (or something) but bollocks, sometimes a well-time f bomb is the most effective way of emphasising just how godawful something is.

‘Non-stories’, usually involving celebrities appearing in various states of undress seem to be on the increase recently, pushing their body-fascist agenda.

Skim across the Mail’s website today (I did it, so you don’t have to) and the following articles appear at various points on the Sidebar of Doom:

Sarah Jessica Parker has ’sinewy, bony legs’
Elle McPherson ‘has lumpy foot’
Natalie Imbruglia ‘wears same dress twice’
Estelle ‘has new teeth, looks better’

It’s fairly standard dross and typifies the kind of judgemental non-story the Mail specialises in. There is no story in these articles; they are not in the least bit newsworthy. Just a couple of pictures of an invariably female celebrity not conforming to the rigorous aesthetic standards the paper sets. However small their deviation (and really, who gives a shiny shite whether Natalie Imbruglia wears a dress twice) it’s written as if the celeb has left the house in, say, full Nazi regalia (they'd probably quite like that) or perhaps with a strap-on and nipple clamps.

The really unpleasant thing about it all, though, is that it encourages us to pass judgement on anyone who is in any way different – be it because they dress in an unorthodox way (or perhaps dare to wear clothes they spent good money on more than once) or because parts of their body are ‘imperfect’. It is symptomatic of a society obsessed with criticising women who have not spent every hour of their life moulding themselves to fit the current image of perfection. So Sarah Jessica Parker has muscly legs and is a bit on the slender side. Who out there thinks this is significant? Who out there cares?

It might be fluff, but it’s also becoming the norm; where once we might have brushed these things aside as just a symbol of the incredible diversity of the human body, or a celebration of freedom of choice, they are now held up as fodder for mockery. Not only is it extraordinarily rude, it’s pretty depressing too.

18 May, 2010

A Brief History Of The Hourglass (Or 'Work Will Make You Fat')

Did you know that the hourglass shape is under threat (despite being a figure possessed naturally by only around 8% of women?)

There's a problem with the fetishism of the hourglass figure, and it's that so much of it is based around this mythological assumption that women pre-20th century were all possessed of 36-24-36 figures, with bountiful bosoms and waists you could wrap a hamster round. The Fail, perhaps due to its obsession with women of 'a certain era' (i.e, pre Women's Lib, when good little women were seen and not heard and spent their days making their husbands dinner and not enjoying sex) is particularly fond of flying the hourglass flag. The article linked to bemoans the impending doom of this body type, despite the fact that very few women are fortunate enough to be blessed naturally with this Holy Grail of shapes.

You don't have to be a historian to know that women have always come in a wide variety of shapes, and these shapes have all been immortalised, at some time or another, by painters and sculptors - from the abundant curves of Ruben's women to the full busts of Amadeo Modigliani's nudes and everything in between, women have always been varied. It's not a modern phenomenon - Boticelli's Venus has little waist definition in comparison to Velazquez's depiction: the beauty ideal has changed with the centuries.

The hourglass figure was particularly coveted during the Edwardian period. Much is made nowadays of the detrimental effect the modelling industry has on young girls; how the 'thin is in' ideal has provoked anorexia among so many, and how celebrating the hourglass, as the Mail article seems to suggest, is somehow a remedy to the crushing self-doubt perpetuated by the unrealistic ideals of 'size zero'. And yet the hourglass figure has proven itself to be terribly oppressive.

You see, the hourglass is determined by a woman's genetics. Being a size 10 does not guarantee you hourglass credentials; your hips and bust must be proportionate, your waist markedly slimmer. It's a matter of shape, not of size, and of fat distribution rather than content. I'm a classic pear shape (slim ribcage, small waist, large hips and bottom) and have been despite ranging from a size 6 to a size 10; as my weight has changed, my shape has not. My bone structure is such that I will always have proportionally larger hips than waist. And breasts? Fuhgeddaboudit. (As my dear mother once told me, "From the back, you're like Lara Croft. Then you turn around...")

The hourglass shape, for those women not born to it, was obtained through punishing, restrictive corsets; the damage to bones and bodily organs was torturous. Some women became unable to support their own upper bodies without the corset as their ribs and spine had become so distorted. The desire for a body shape that was not their own so damaged some women that their bodily organs became permanently displaced.

These days, we have our own instruments of torture; the push-up bra, squashing breasts into a shape nature clearly did not intend. The magic knickers, sucking us in. They may be more subtle, but the point clearly remains; if the hourglass shape is so healthy and natural, how come we're going to increasing lengths to fake it? Liposuction, breast and bum implants, all creating the illusion of a shape fetishised despite its rarity. The Mail article suggests the hourglass is worshipped now precisely due to its rarity but let's face it; it's always been rare. We have just forsaken the painful, restrictive methods favoured by our forebears to create it. And rightly so.

The article ought to be take with a pinch of salt, as always; it can't be a coincidence that in a survey sponsored by Triumph (an underwear company whose sizes start at B cup) has the hourglass figure projected as the ideal. But if the Mail thinks the hourglass figure is somehow a healthier, more attainable ideal, it's just kidding itself - only through the luck of genetics or surgery can a woman become a hourglass. Body facism comes in all shapes and sizes, and writing disparaging remarks about Agyness Deyn in a bikini is just plain nasty (and the writer dares to call herself a feminist!) "I'm rather enjoying sitting back and watching other women struggle to attain the shape I've had since my teen years" she writes, perhaps missing the point so many feminists have been trying to hammer home for so long; championing one shape over another is inherently oppressive and exclusive. Since art across the centuries has celebrated a vast variety of female shapes, perhaps we modern, enlightened types might think to do the same....?

(Oh, and as an infuriating post-script: the article actually suggests that women's waists are becoming fatter in countries where 'women are more economically independant' - Work will make you fat! You heard it here first)

17 May, 2010

Why am I a male feminist?

In response to V's candid and thoughtful post below, in particular the invitation for the male feminists amongst us to post something of our thoughts, I thought I'd get the ball rolling. Hopefully there'll be a couple more posts, naturally more eloquent and thoughtful than mine, from similarly-gendered peers with their own insight into being a male feminist.

* * * *

Why did I become a male feminist?

I mean, I have it pretty sweet as a guy, right? I’m always going to be on top, no matter what, because of being a man. Hell, I’m likely to be paid better, more likely to be considered for the job.

So what’s the big idea? Why am I – in some people’s eyes – irrationally going against the advantages I’ve got? Hell, let's call a soil relocation implement a spade - why am I being, horror of horrors, a "gender traitor"?

Part of it’s down to being Asian, and the racism I suffered as a kid, covert and overt. Incidents like a ball rebounding off your bike and a girl yelling, “Get lost, you Paki”, or cycling up the hill one minute, next minute a car speeds by with three chavs yelling, “YOU PAKI BASTARD!"
Maybe I should just stop cycling?
Hang on, I said covert, right? The odd cultural jibe I’d get at school about having a wife fixed up for me in Bangladesh, and the crap I’d get about the cricket team and corrupt governments.
Call it schoolboy joking if you want, I’d say that amounts to hurtful behaviour based on my cultural and racial background.

Racism, in short.

Now, why am I talking about racism on a feminist blog? When you have griefers giving you the verbal cosh for something you were born with and therefore can’t change like your skin colour (no MJ jokes or references please), you see the way prejudice blinds those who hold it.
And it’s the same for women – what I had to endure in racist taunts and the occasional bash-up in school, women have to endure in terms of wolf-whistles and touchings-up on the Tube, comments on their bodies and rape.

Sexism, in short.

The prejudices have their manifestations, and it seems to me that what’s been done to combat racism must be also be done to combat sexism. Women are 50% of the human race, yet they get treated in less than human ways. Lower pay, lower likelihood of the top job. Close to my own skin as an Asian, we have the spectres of “honour” killings and forced marriages to deal with. Why should women have to deal with this crap for being born with the XX chromosome? It makes as little sense as declaring an African person a slave just by virtue of his skin colour.

Why did I become a male feminist?

Look around you and tell me if this is a world where women have an even standing with men. A WORLD, not just the confines of whichever country you’re in, where the right-wing sections of the Press go on about the redundancy of feminism and the lack of requirement for it, glossing over what I mentioned above.
When you’re done trying to take in the poor conviction rates for rape, the difficulties created for women in trying to balance work and children, the fact that the right treats children as an obligation, rather than a choice, think about the other countries where feminism HASN’T taken off, where women have to marry whoever their parents tell them to, where acid attacks await as retribution, where women are treated as second class in a manner not too dissimilar to how women were treated here in the UK only 200-odd years ago.
And then you tell me that we don’t need feminism.

I became a male feminist because no-one should be abused for what they are born with.
Man, Woman. White, Brown, Black. Straight, Bi, Gay.
We’re all born different, but it doesn’t mean we have to be treated different.