26 January, 2010

Visible Disabilities, Clothing, Advertising, and Gok Wan

I originally wrote this for my own blog, but this is an edited version.

Isabel on the DMHFfH facebook group raised a question about Gok Wan's new series of How To Look Good Naked, which started on Channel 4 in the UK last week. It is devoted to women with visible disabilities (Tracy, who is in a wheelchair, was the focus last week - the other women are blind and an amputee) who want to have a makeover and feel more confident in their bodies. MsKitton (she of our twitter feed) linked to this blog, and which point I decided I wanted to have a look at it.

I hadn't heard about this particular series, as I don't watch an awful lot of TV, but the idea struck a chord with me. After going to see a gig on Sunday, I decided that I needed an extra leg getting home and got my walking stick out (I have fibromyalgia, a chronic illness, that affects my mobility, co-ordination and ability to think clearly; I use a stick occasionally to help keep my balance - otherwise, I am not visibly disabled). I was wearing a miniskirt (with mini bustle bum-ruffles) and pink tights and boots, and I thought I looked alright. Apparently, however, I was accessorizing with a second head the way I was being stared at once I got my stick out. Attention people: just because a person has a walking stick, doesn't mean they immediately lose all interest in clothing, or mutate into an old lady. If you don't stop staring I'll shove said stick so far up your arse you'll be able to taste it.

So, yes, anyway. How to Look Good Naked... with a Difference was on Channel 4 last week, but I watched it on 4OD earlier (I fucking love internet tv catch up stuff, despite what I said about not watching a lot of tv). I don't usually watch HtLGN, mostly because I'm not a massive fan of makeover shows - I'm uncomfortable with the public critiquing of women's appearance, although at the same time I can see how it can help women become more open with each other about their body issues. I do like that HtLGN encourages body-acceptance over surgery or diets to change the women's physical appearance - it's message of confidence in one's self is a good one, at heart. That and I find Gok Wan a bit much a lot of the time. Ah well.

Like Sadie Stein at Jezebel, though, my biggest issue is that they feel they need to devote a whole series to disabled women - in a way, it is still excluding a group by virtue of circling them out for "special attention". To me, it shouldn't be a special attention thing - there should just be disabled women involved in the "regular" HtLGN series without a big thing being made about it. However, because disabled women (and men, for that matter) are so rarely seen outside of alternative and fetish modeling, perhaps drawing a big red circle and screaming "oi, dickheads, pay attention" is the way forward; we have to increase the visibility of disabled persons in shows like HtLGN (and not Britan's Missing Top Model, which was just endless rounds of trying to make typically-attractive girls who happened to be disabled look like able-bodied models while still screaming "no, they're disabled, see, they're different, we're being inclusive") before they can be seen as a normal part of the advertising and fashion industry.

I liked Tracy (the first participant) for her honesty - and her bravery - in admitting that she didn't like her body. I understand her anger at having a body that doesn't quite work "right", at being that one step further away from being "perfect". I admire her confidence, and how much she did change (while I might get almost-naked for LSG's charity drive for Haiti, total strangers in a very public place is not happening). While I don't think being confident in one's body requires the ability to get naked in front of a crowd of strangers, or that it's particularly feminist to do so, at the same time I do like that HtLGN does not require the women taking part to be typically beautiful to do so - there is a part of my feminist side that sees nudity of all forms as an important move away from restrictive bodily ideals.

It is important that disabled women and men have the same access to fashion as able-bodied people; while Tracy showed that there are sometimes clothing has to be adapted to meet the needs of a disabled person - elasticated panels in the waistband of jeans, for example - there is no real difference between asking yourself "will the sleeves catch in my wheels?" or "how long can I wear these heels for before I won't be able to walk any more?" and "will this top be too big in the chest?". They're just bodies, different sorts of bodies with different needs - but the people who inhabit them want - and deserve - the same access to and enjoyment of clothes.

The Torygraph article on the show, which is quite good.

Next step: realising just because someone isn't in a wheelchair or using a stick, doesn't mean they're not disabled.

20 January, 2010

Don't Be A Silent Witness

Could I please talk to you about this?

"A number of people witnessed the start of the incident but mistakenly thought the boy and girl were just a young couple arguing.

The court heard the girl ran away from Tappin, but he pursued and caught her, forcing her to the ground. She was shouting at him to get off her but witnesses still did not realise they were witnessing an attack rather than a domestic row.

Mr Gioserano said Tappin marched the girl away with his arm around her shoulder. He took her to a secluded area, tore her top and raped her at least twice."


Do me a favour please? Next time you see a woman being brutally attacked in the street would you mind calling the police quickly? And remembering that even if it turns out to be "just" (snark) a "domestic" it's still sort of bad to beat your girlfriend/wife to a bloody pulp too, not to mention raping her? Kthanxbai.

19 January, 2010

Your handy round-up of Daily Fail sexism

This week, I've mostly been frothing at the mouth about the following choice cuts of sexism, misogyny and good old fashioned stupidity.

Woman in "Natural State" shocker! Mo'Nique, star of movie Precious, dared to show her face at the Golden Globes knowing she had not depilated her legs, as is required of any and all women over the age of...well, birth. To add insult to injury, the brazen hussy proceeded to show off her legs, as if hairy legs weren't something she ought to be ashamed of! Men across the world recoil in horror at this hideous sight, and women are warned not to follow her example lest they be cast out of civilised society.

Woman wears tracksuit, eats takeaway! Kerry Katona, a notoriously vile human being, has been spotted both wearing a tracksuit AND, horror of horrors, purchasing and indulging in FISH AND CHIPS. Yes, you read correctly. Fish and chips. When will this waste of skin realise that she isn't permitted to choose her own clothing and certainly not what she eats? Disgusting.

In similar news, everyone's favourite washed-up pop star Britney Spears ignored a court date. But that's a mere detail: the real story here is her ill-fitting underwear! An eagle-eyed photographer, zooming in on her bust, revealed Britney's boobs to be spilling over her bra! When will these women learn that it's their duty to appear neat, pretty and well-dressed at all times?

Footballer's wife takes clothes off!
It doesn't matter that nobody knows who she is. Look at her tits! Look at them!

And finally: Woman stalked and harrassed by man for years - but I'll let the comments do the talking.

You'd think he would have chosen someone prettier.

But I thought we lived in a free country, he didnt threaten her, or are we now a police state where people can be barred from being in public areas at the whim of another person?
And here's a piece of advice from the ever-astute E Jawed:

What is it with some guys, they can never accept rejection. She's not even good looking, so why doesn't he get a life. He's probably lost his job, ruined his career, gone to jail and made a fool of himself for nothing. What a silly plum.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to rub my arms and legs vigorously with a cheese grater, then apply vinegar to the wounds. It'll be by far a less painful experience than reading the Fail.

17 January, 2010

We've added a picture link to the sidebar over there ====>

Because we feel it's important.

And because our twitter friend @jamiesport has been working so damned hard for the DEC this last week that we want to show our support for his work.

Please give what you can, even if it's only a couple of quid. Or text "GIVE" to 70077 if you're in the UK, to give a fiver to the DEC (it's added to your phone bill). If you're in the US, text "HAITI" to 90999 to charge $10 to your phone bill for the Red Cross.

There is also this option - Non-Believers Giving Aid - which uses paypal. And obviously doesn't include any religiously-affiliated organisations.

13 January, 2010

I think I am going to be sick

This fucking disgusts me.

Basically, to summarise: Woman discusses her sexual fantasies, which include group sex, with a potential partner. I repeat: fantasies. Not "I desperately want to do this before the end of the week" needs, but "the thought of this turns me on" fantasies. Got that bit? Right.

Woman goes to meet potential partner for sex. Man brings several friends, who then proceed to rape her.

As in have non-consensual sex with her.

Woman, rightly so, goes to the police, and the men are arrested and it all goes to court. When her fantasies, which she discussed with the man, are brought to court, the prosecution asks for the case to be thrown out, and the judge instructs the jury to return a not guilty verdict.

Therefore: if a woman has ever entertained the thought of group sex, gang rape is perfectly acceptable. We can construe then, perhaps, that if a woman has entertained thoughts of having sex with a man, and discussed with a man that she would one day like to have sex with a man, then rape is perfectly ok.


Really? Gang rape is ok if a woman has entertained group sex fantasies? Would slitting my throat because I once had a dream that I talked about with a friend that I was being murdered be ok? Really? Would it be ok to burgle my house if I said I wondered what it would be like to be burgled?


Fuck you, Judge Robert Brown. Fuck you, Prosecutor Michael Leeming. You are worthless sacks of donkey gobbling pond scum and right now I am entertaining fantasies about smacking you round the head with a large bit of wood marked "clue-by-four".

Therefore it's perfectly ok if I head up to Liverpool and do this, yes?

Edit to add a further thought/clarification following a discussion with some friends: The woman in the case may have said, at some point in the conversation "yes, I would like to have group sex". This does not translate to "invite your mates round and I'll be fucked by them too". Saying "I would like to go to France" doesn't mean you can kidnap me and take me to France against my will, does it now? We don't know all the facts (we can't - we weren't there) and there is a miniscule chance that the chat log may have said "I will willingly have sex with you, and several other men, at your flat, on a given date, and you can surprise me with the presence of your friends too". But seriously - would you then go through the courts, knowing the low rape conviction rates, how the courts tend to view victims? Really?

The Bolton News reports that the woman entertained ideas of group sex, and may have had group sex before. Doesn't mean she can't be gang raped.

Other posts:
Diary of A London Catgirl: Woman's fantasies end rape case (heads up to Gothi for the original link)

10 January, 2010

Protecting women's rights - by removing their freedom of choice

I'm referring, of course, to France's 'progressive' proposition to fine Muslim women £700 for wearing the veil in public. The president of the ruling party claims that the new ruling is "intended to protect the ‘dignity’ and ‘security’ of women." It's a move for sexual equality, says Jean-François Copé, and nothing to do with religion (to which anyone with a modicum of intelligence will likely reply "Pull the other one!")

A nice thought, but let's look at what is really being suggested here. We make the assumption, first and foremost, that women do not choose to wear the veil. This is a very dangerous assumption, and is based primarily in ignorance and in the patronising Western idea that all Muslim women are victims of an oppressive patriarchal religion - as India Knight points out in her recent Times article, '....basically that they are all tragically mute victims of an especially monstrous patriarchy and are probably beaten or set fire to if they don’t cook supper nicely'.

Now there's an element of truth to this. Certainly some Muslim women do wear the veil because it is forced upon them; because their culture states it is what 'good' Muslim women do, or because their husbands demand it of them. And that's an unsavoury thought. But what I take umbrage with it the great white assumption that our way of life is somehow superior - that by 'freeing' a woman from the bonds of the Burqa and integrating her into our society we are somehow rescuing her, awakening her to a whole new world of feminine freedoms.

The problem is, that's largely a falsitude. Can we really talk about women's liberation from a country with the lowest rape conviction rape in Europe? When we penalise women in rape cases for utilising that "freedom of choice" and wearing a miniskirt? "She was asking for it" is still a valid criticism in our society. We are free to brand women 'sluts' and 'whores' when we consider them underdressed by our superior Western standards, or alternatively we objectify them - a woman in a tight pair of jeans is obviously asking to be leered at! Of course, the freedom to choose what we wear is only afforded to us if we fit the current 'body beautiful' - the fat woman who dares to bare is as public an enemy as the niqab-wearer. So much for freedom...
The Daily Mail, tellingly, is particularly critical and at times downright lecherous when women step out in public showing any amount of flesh. The Sun, Britain's most popular newspaper, is practically built on the "Phwoar" factor. How is any of this any less oppressive than feeling bound to the niqab? I don't doubt there are many women out there who long for the privacy and invisibility afforded by such a garment, if only to hide occasionally from the judgemental gaze of a society which rates us as bodies first, human beings second.

The biggest fallacy of all, though, is pretending that forcibly preventing women from exercising their free will (and let's not kid ourselves here that all burqa-clad women are forced into it - choice informed by religion is still choice) is somehow liberating. It is, at the end of the day, a garment like any other - no less oppressive than the push-up bra, which some women wear with gusto and others wear out of a sense of having to conform to the "maximum cleavage" type of cheap sexiness thrust upon us by 'Nuts' and 'Zoo'.

In an ideal world, Muslim women would truly have the freedom to really choose whether the veil brings them closer to Allah or serves as an obstacle to the outside world, and that's an aim worth working towards - our Muslim sisters ought to have the right to express their religion in whichever way they see fit. But taking the veil away from them means that France is no better than, say, Saudi Arabia. Oppression is oppression, whether you're forcing a woman to cover up, or forcing her to expose herself for no better reason than 'to be more like us'.

08 January, 2010

Attention middle-aged perverts, GREAT NEWS: Having sex with 13-year-old girls is now FINE.

At least, this judge seems to think so:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1241635/Soldier-41-sex-girl-13-spared-jail-woman-judge-says-did-running.html

If you'll indulge me, I'd like to point out some fatal flaws in this choice statement:"Judge Mowat continued: 'It was clear from the evidence that she was a disturbed girl, that her behaviour was precocious in several respects, that she looked and acted older than her age and she made most of the running in this action.'"

1.) She was "disturbed". Not only was she "disturbed" but "clearly" so. What kind of fucked up monstrosity of a man wants to have sex with anyone who is clearly disturbed and thus obviously not thinking straight, regardless of their age? At a guess, a child rapist maybe...

2.) "Her behaviour was precocious in many respects". Yes and she was 13, and he was 45 and aware that was 13. I fail to see what her "precociousness has to do with anything.

3.) "She looked and acted older than her age" Yes and (please forgive me for repeating myself) she was 13, and he was 45 and aware that she was 13. I don't care if she looked 30, YOU DON'T HAVE SEX WITH A 13-YEAR-OLD CHILD. Simples!

4.) "She made most of the running". It doesn't matter if she turned up unnanouced in his bedroom, naked but for a sign saying "Take me big boy, I'm yours" - SHE WAS 13. A 13-year-old girl cannot consent to sex and you, sir, are a rapist. End of discussion.

What is so awful is that the judge doesn't realise that the most dangerous person involved in this whole case is herself. She says she gave the guy a light sentence because he is unlikely offend again and for what it's worth I agree with her; but the hugely ill-advised statement she made, seemingly in his defence, is likely to cause many, many other men to offend, because she's basically just said it's ok if she looks a bit older than her age.

07 January, 2010

I’m wearing a silky leopard-print pushup number with apricot lace trim and peepholes

Bollocks I am, and if I were I wouldn't be telling the world about it but would be keeping it as a nice surprise for someone with the patience to find it under the twenty six layers of woven sheep currently protecting me from the snowpocalypse engulfing London. The following message just landed in my Facebook inbox however, suggesting that someone thinks that broadcasting details of your unmachinewashables to the entire internet is a rather good idea:

"Hi gals........had this sent to me ......some fun for us only...just write in ya status the color of ya bra nothing else just the color. and send this on by inbox only to all ya female friends NO MALES it will be neat to see if this spreads the wings of breast cancer awareness. it will also be fun to see how long it takes all the men to wonder why all the girls have a color as their status"
This message could be criticised for a number of reasons – I'm going to let the application of the word girls to my peer group of betrothed, bemortgaged and bePhD'd women slide as the writer of the original message was clearly around fourteen but seriously, how much time do you really save by turning "you" into a two letter word? – but the main problem I have with it is the idea that it will somehow raise awareness of breast cancer. It makes no mention of how you can check for breast cancer or how you can donate to breast cancer research. All it raises awareness of is the fact that around 50% of the UK population uses fragments of fabric and wire to cover the front part of their thoraces.

Truth is, breast cancer is always going to be the easiest cancer to talk about because the majority of the human population will either possess boobies or become very fond of them indeed at some stage of their existence. I think that most people are by now very much aware of the existence of breast cancer, possibly because events like this make good headlines and better pictures. You know which cancer needs a little awareness raised? Bowel cancer, that's which. Thirty seven and a half thousand people are diagnosed with it in the UK every year, making it the second most common cancer in women and the third most common in men (ref), but we don't have a whole industry selling poo-coloured t-shirts and shit-scented candles to publicise it and few people know which symptoms to watch out for.

Call me a humourless Feminazi if you like, but this email is not about raising awareness of breast cancer. It's about using a disease that has a devasting impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people as a spurious justification for discussing saucy undies. It's about women trying to show that they're uninhibited and up for a laugh by inviting their friends to speculate about them in their underwear rather than to think about them as sentient, intelligent human beings. It's about women objectifying themselves. And for anyone who believes that the updates are really only for us gals I'd invite you to compare the number of updates saying "red satin w little bows" with the number saying "grey cotton (orig. white), straps frayed, bought Bhs 2001".

I have a couple of dozen friends on Facebook - colleagues and ex-colleagues, my friends' Mums, my family, my brother's girlfriend, my supervisor - who I'd rather not have wondering about what the colour in my status meant about my underwear thank you very much, and I'd rather the rest of themwere thinking about me in the context of how I write or the music I like or how good I am at throwing fireworks parties than what I'd look like with my t-shirt off (currently goosepimply and a delicate blueish colour). I leave you with an example of the only dignified way to respond to enquiries about one's undercrackers, as demonstrated by President Obama who when asked whether he wore briefs or boxers replied:

"I don't answer those humiliating questions. But whichever one it is, I look good in 'em!"

04 January, 2010

The New Body Facism

"Real women have curves!" "Men prefer curves!" "Curvy is in, skinny is out!"

How many times have we all heard those phrases in the past 12 months or so? Facebook is awash with groups titled "Curves are beautiful, size zero should be illegal", "Real Women Have Curves", "F**K Size Zero, I love my curves". Channel 4's documentary series, Battlefront, has even commissioned a campaign against size zero (http://battlefront.co.uk/campaign/who-wants-to-be-a-size-zero-anyway/) From the national press, Cosmopolitan to the blogosphere, the seachange in public opinion is clear to see - skinny is out and a more attainable, more "womanly" figure is in. Great - right?

Wrong. Indulge me, if you will, fellow feminazis, and I shall explain why the rise of "curves" is just as pernicious as so-called "skinny culture".

First off, this new culture of curves is NOT about celebrating fuller figures, it is about denigrating slender women. How many more screaming "So Skinny She Looks Like She'll Break!!!" headlines on the frontpage of Heat Magazine, how many more paparazzi shots of "Worryingly thin Lindsay" in the Dail Fail, how many more scare-mongering ITV documentaries on the "dangers of size zero" before people realise that there is no new culture? The culture is exactly the same, it's just that the target has changed. We've swopped fat-bashing for skinny-bashing and exchanging one prejudice for another isn't an advancement in women's rights, it's a step sideways.

Secondly, to the "more attainable, more womanly" part. Who is to say what is "womanly"? Women come in all different shapes and sizes and only a fool would try to attribute a higher level of feminity to one over the other. Really this argument belongs to the first point I made - it's not about celebrating so-called "womanly" figures, it's about taking a dig at slimmer women, saying they're "manly", less "real". Who cares which women we're picking on, as long as we can still pick on women, hey?

As for "more attainable", let's investigate this, shall we? In the last week two websites; MSN Lifestyle and the Daily Fail have run articles on the "most desirable" body shapes, with an emphasis on "curvy" woman such as Kate Winslet, Halle Berry and eponymous Kelly Brook. The Fail, in particular claims this as a great victory for women, because such figures are supposedly more realistic a goal for the average woman. Really? Neither Winslet, Berry nor Brook can be more than a size 10 at most, and with the average dress size in the UK now up to a 16, that's quite a gap. More pertinently though, "curves" of the type that these women have are not something you can ever achieve. They have big breasts, and wide-set hips, set off by tiny waists. No matter how much you diet you can't change the width of your pelvis, you can't grow your breasts without implants - you're either born an hourglass shape or you're not. Don't get me wrong, I think Winslet, Brook et al have fantastic figures (as do Kate Moss, Cheryl Cole and Victoria Beckham) but promoting them as "better" role models than your average supermodel because their figures are "more attainable" is ludicrious because a girl with a straight-up-and-down body type has as much chance as naturally growing a second head as she has of ever looking like Kelly Brook.

What I'm trying to say, in my tired, rambling way, is that despite the rhetoric, we are still being sold an unachievable dream. All this adds up to is a continuation of the body facism we all know and hate, which tells women they should look a certain way and chastises those who fail. All switching the hatred from large women to thin women achieves is to alienate one group of women, to make one lot of women feel good at another lot's expense - in short, it is turning women against each other. I've said it before on this blog and I'll say it again: divide and conquer is a tool to keep women down - we'll never beat sexism if we're too busy being at each other's throats.

The moral of this story is, body facism is alive and well, and women, more than ever before are encouraging it. The aforementioned Facebook groups are almost all founded by women, and boast an almost all-female membership. Women have grabbed onto this trend with both hands. Your mission, should you choose to accept it? Stop it. Revoke your membership to "Real women have curves", write to Heat and ask them to stop demonising women who happen to naturally be less than a size 10 and even more so the ones who are unnaturally thin, because last time I checked, laughing at women with eating disorders wasn't helpful, just cruel. If you're a man, write to women's magazines and tell them that actually men don't "prefer curves" but that different people have wildly differing tastes. If you're a woman, write to women's magazines and tell them to stop insulting your intelligence, and that implying slim women are unnattractive to men is no friendlier than shouting "you're going to die alone, fatty!", and no better for the female pysche as a whole. Hug a skinny girl.

Who Wants To Be A Size Zero Anyway? I do, actually, because that's the way I was born, and it's impossible for me to be anything else.