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.

07 May, 2010

Sometimes it's hard being a woman...

Or rather, sometimes it's hard being a woman and a feminist at the same time. Don't get me wrong, obviously being a male feminist obviously brings it's own problems but that's possibly a post one of our lovely male femis would be better placed to write, so let me have my moment.

Anyway, being a woman, and a feminist, I feel like I'm swimming against the tide. Not only against the tide of opinion, but of my own emotions. It's like being constantly caught in the middle; being caught between knowing that the beauty ideal is a sexist myth perpetuated and sustained by the patriarchy and wanting SO badly to live up to that ideal. For me, feminism is a constant source of conflict with myself.

I'm trying hard to articulate this and I'm not sure I'm doing it all that well, so rather than writing this as a fluent post, I want to share with you some of the random some of the internal contradictions that have been troubling me, which will probably explain it better.

For example, I hate our society's simultaneous obsession with youth and fear of ageing. I hate that women are taught to be terrified of growing older, bullied into spending a small fortune on dubious anti-ageing creams which almost certainly have little, if any effect. And I know these twin obsessions are ridiculous, and I rage against them with everyone else, but at the same time, I'm unable to rise above them. For all my smug dismissal of the supposed qualities of anti-wrinkle creams, I still buy them. Last weekend I cried because I'm getting fine lines around my eyes, and as I write this I'm crying because I fucking hate myself for caring when I know I shouldn't, because by being sucked into the beauty myth I'm only helping to perpetuate it.

I hate the whole Bridget Jones thing, how the media would have us believe that if a woman isn't married by the time she's 30 she will be/should be a neurotic mess, desperate to find a man before it's "too late" and I hate that I'm in my twenties and live in a near constant state of panic about the fact that I'm single, that I'm genuinely terrified that I won't find anyone.

I hate myself for knowing that women come in all shapes and sizes, so many shapes and sizes that it's impossible for any one to be "right", and still being unhappy with my body because it's not "right".

I hate that people are so shallow that we value looks over everything else, and elevate people with no talent to the level of royalty because they're beautiful and sometimes I hate my face because it doesn't look like Cheryl Cole's.

I'm not saying I wish I wasn't a feminist, but sometimes the constant contradiction all just feels a bit much. Does anyone else understand?

03 May, 2010

Woman Does Something Involving Posting Links

After the delight that was the news that a woman buys underpants, and has a broken elbow (I'm not going to go into the insinuation that she was injured smacking her husband around), the Daily Mail bring you further news....

Mind you, she's dating a baseball so the brazen hussy will clearly do anything.

Dear Daily Mail writers and editors:
If you can hear me over the frothing fury at a famous young singer having a sex life, let alone one that might actually involve her being an active participant, do you think you could stop masturbating long enough to actually check what you're writing?

Tip of the hat to Dr Petra for that link, via twitter.

And links:
Feminism 101: What's wrong with suggesting that women take precautions to prevent being raped? This. Read it. It says much.
A great post on disability and blogging at the F-Word
Don't Judge My Family - against David Shiny-faced Scum Cameron's tax breaks for married couples
Anna Arrowsmith's essay Ideas on Sexual Politics - and slightly related to that, two blogs I've been reading, mostly on feminist sex work: Quiet Riot Girl and Spanked, Not Silenced (nsfw).
Responses from Iran to Boobquake at Blag Hag
A project illustrating the Othering of transgender people from Sociological Images