March 2013


Parents! Ever felt that a long bank holiday weekend in the company of small children just isn’t tiring and stressful enough? Why not set yourself a hugely ambitious and unnecessary project such as building a massive castle for some little plastic knights? Look at me – I did it! And after much swearing and “not now, kids, Mummy’s wielding a lethal piece of DIY equipment” look what I’ve ended up with:

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A castle fit for a Playmobil king! (Not that the ones Playmobil make aren’t and I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy one of those, too. This is purely a supplementary play resource *crosses fingers that this covers any legal issues*) (more…)

I wrote this post in a fit of rage-fuelled inspiration. Only kidding. I am, after all, a mere woman. What I actually did was take hours, nay, days to plod diligently through several drafts, listening to the creaks and groans of the slow-moving cogs that drive the female brain. Hopefully it’s therefore an okay piece. I mean, I’ve tried my best. What more can we women do, given that pure unadulterated genius – or failing that, just the ability to think quickly – is way beyond our reach?

I am a well-educated person – possibly over-educated, given that a) I’m a woman and b) I have kids. I have lots of qualifications, partly due to my class background, partly due to luck – but mostly, it could be argued, due to fortunate timing. After all, I took my GCSEs in 1991, only shortly after the introduction of the exam. As we all know, GCSEs favour girls. Had I been born a few years earlier I’d have had to take O-levels and we all know that boys, being innately clever as opposed to innately arsed to do coursework, consistently outperformed girls when it came to these. We all know that, and yet it’s actually total bollocks.
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Unless you are an MRA and therefore hate all feminists, you’re probably amendable to the idea that some of them are nice and some of them aren’t. But how can you tell who’s who? In a recent piece for the New Statesman, Sadie Smith offers some tips for amateur feminist spotters: the nice ones – those who represent “good, honest feminism in all its manifestations” – tend to be western women who were especially active in the latter half of the twentieth century, whereas the nasty ones are lurking on twitter right this very minute (shh! They might hear you!).

So, we know who’s who, but what’s the difference? The nice feminists are often of high status (e.g. Camille Paglia, Luce Irigaray) and while they might say some strange things, their familiarity breeds a patronising presumption of niceness (a sort of “oh, that’s just Camille having another of her funny turns…”). The nasty feminists, on the other hand, might not have the same status but they are mean. Mean, mean, mean. So it’s best not to provoke them (otherwise it’s “intersectional this” and “check your privilege that”. Honestly, they never stop!). (more…)

Today I made my debut appearance on national radio, speaking on Woman’s Hour about makeovers. I write “debut” as though it’s going to be a regular occurrence but I’m pretty sure it’ll also be my last. I mean, I wasn’t totally terrible. I didn’t just sit there and sob, even though I’d spent the past thirty-five minutes alone in a soundproofed room, face to face with a massive BBC clock ominously counting down time (which for some reason made me feel like I’d turned into the 1970s test card girl, minus the noughts and crosses and the scary clown).* And then when I finally did get to speak, I controlled myself. Even when searching for a metaphor to describe how not all of us can be beautiful, no matter how hard we try, I didn’t just blurt out “you can’t polish a turd”, even though that was the phrase I couldn’t get out of my head (in the end I settled for “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, which I nevertheless described, incorrectly I fear, as an analogy). Anyhow, avoidance of major disasters aside, I don’t think I did Brand Me any particular favours this morning. Just as well I had to dash off for a one-which-turned-into-three-hour meeting on real-life work-type things to take my mind off the experience. (more…)

Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, even someone who believes in “rape shoes” and accuses Katie Price of being “Vichy France” can have moments of feminist glory. I thought this when reading Caitlin Moran’s latest Times column, which is on the subject of Seth MacFarlane’s 2013 Oscars misogyny-fest. In it, she looks at all the excuses that are trotted out for “ironic bigotry; faux misogyny; pretend racism; satirical homophobia” and calls bullshit on the claim that white, male, heterosexual comedians are merely “acknowledging the historical elephant in the room”:

Here’s the problem: in all these instances, the comedians were not acknowledging an elephant that wandered into the room – they brought it into the room. All artists start with an empty page, or a silence – and this is what they wanted to talk about. Over and over.

As Moran points out, there is no need for men to remind women that sexism used to exist and hey, just in case you’ve forgotten, this is what it looked and felt like. What’s so offensive about the whole thing isn’t just that these men are still being sexist, but that they’re using such a self-congratulatory argument to get themselves off the hook: “look, I was only parodying what people used to do to you for real”. If I’m honest, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if one day some clever-clever rapist were to claim he was merely performing a slapstick satire of the days when men used to have sex with women without their consent (it’s hardly his fault if his victim was too unsophisticated to realise it was all a postmodern joke). (more…)

Obviously I noticed your daughter before I noticed you. I expect you are used to that. Legs so thin, how could it be any other way? I tried not to stare but it’s so hard not to. People used to stare at me in much the same way, or so I’ve been told (I never noticed at the time). Once you’d both signed in, you came and sat next to me, with her on the other side of you. I noticed you then but only because I couldn’t see her any more.
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It was incredibly emotional — incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their life fell apart.

CNN reporter Poppy Harlow on witnessing the Steubenville verdict

Like most women, I live in fear of ruining promising lives. The trouble is, it’s so easy to do. We can even do it in our sleep. It doesn’t matter what we wear, where we go, whom we’re with, whether we’re drunk or sober – any one of us could end up ruining a promising life. It could even be the life of a friend or partner (obviously some lives are less promising than others, but as women we don’t get to choose). (more…)

Yesterday evening I suffered the misfortune of witnessing the latest Barclays Bank advertisement. It’s one of those wry, cynical ones which show the customer going through various life stages, from youthful optimism right through to middle-aged resignation as the realities of family life slowly asphyxiate all hopes and dreams. Everyone’s been there, haven’t they? And by “everyone”, I mean all middle-aged, middle-class men, for they are the ones who have Stages Of Life and Related Financial Concerns. As for the rest of us? Why, we’re mere plot devices. Middle-class women exist only to have intermittently swollen bellies which produce parasitical children. Working-class men? Only there to screw over long-suffering middle-class men when they need their car fixed or their drain unblocked. Working-class woman? Doesn’t exist, at least not in bank ad land (perhaps one day she’ll be permitted to pop in, Mrs Doyle-like, with a tea urn and a duster with which to metaphorically “clean up” your finances). (more…)

Finally – finally! – we get to know just how prevalent false rape accusations have become. As BBC Newsbeat reports “it’s the first time details for England and Wales have been compiled, showing how common the problem is”. From that particular wording, you wouldn’t necessarily think that the answer to that was “not very common at all”. But you’d be wrong. Over the past 17 months there have been two – yes, two – successful prosecutions per month for making false allegations and wasting police time. To put that in perspective, you find an average of 332 prosecutions per month for rape over the same period (something the BBC fails to mention). Even if we set aside the fact that many rapes are not even reported or do not get to trial, it’s quite a contrast. Think of how many times you see stories of false rape allegations reported in the press and imagine if rape convictions were reported in the same way. Every other story you read would be about a rape conviction. But it’s not, is it? Because rape is “the norm” and false allegations are the exception – even if our tendency to focus on the exception means we now think it is the norm (at least if we write for BBC Newsbeat).
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Every now and then, fashion-y  types decide that the most fashionable thing ever is to pretend to be anti-fashion. Witness, for instance, the so-called “anti-fashion” movement of the 1990s (which, from what I can work out from Wikipedia, involved dressing as though you were either very poor or in a CK One advert, providing you were both thin and not actually poor). I’ve always thought this kind of thing was not just bollocks, but snobby bollocks, the kind of thing a manipulative playground bully would try on (“wear this! Ha-ha! Fooled ya! What we actually meant was wear the precise opposite! It’s un-fashion!”). But hey, what do I know? I’m properly unfashionable, as opposed to being fashionably unfashionable, which is something completely different. (more…)

Until this week I had no idea that Hugo Chávez formally recognised the economic value of traditional “women’s work” . To be honest, I didn’t know much about Chávez. The one Venezuelan I know didn’t like him, but then none of us like our political leaders, do we? The most I’d assumed was that Chávez didn’t like women overly much, given the state of abortion law in Venezuela. Seems I was wrong, at least where a certain type of woman is concerned. It appears Chávez acknowledged that women who, to use the terminology of the average pay gap apologist, “don’t work because they’re raising children”, were bloody essential to a country’s welfare. Even if things were a bit more complex than that, as a basic principle that seems brilliant. Globally, we pay lip service to the devotion of mothers, yet so often stop short of saying you could actually put a price tag on it.

With Mother’s Day coming two days after International Women’s Day, I can’t help wishing it was more about that – genuine, heartfelt recognition – and less about a bunch of flowers, a pat on the head and yet another year of being horrendously undervalued. Don’t get me wrong, on a very personal level I love it. The card my five-year-old has written for me (“Thank you for all the love yoof givan me”) is just marvellous and I’ll treasure it forever. But as a cultural event, I wish Mother’s Day kicked a bit more arse. The commercial focus of it these days all feels rather KFC “Mum’s Night Off” in how it values what mothers do, bigging up inequality as a noble sacrifice in return for which you get, if not a bucket of chicken, then the only marginally better box of Thornton’s Continentals. It celebrates a particular type of motherhood – twee, self-effacing, repressed, waiting for that one day of the year when it can truly let rip with a half-bottle of rosé wine and a Lush bath bomb. It has got, let’s be honest, fuck all to do in appreciating what a wide range of mothers, all of different backgrounds and with different needs, do for their own children and society at large. If it did have, it would at least offer some form of meaningful response to all the things which piss us off.  (more…)

Dangerous schizophrenics, eh? Can’t live with ‘em, can’t lock ‘em up and throw away the key, at least not until they’ve actually done something. It’s political correctness gone, quite literally, mad.

Yesterday evening I watched an ITV News report on Nicola Edgington, official, card-carrying DANGEROUS SCHIZOPHRENIC. Except apparently she has “borderline personality disorder” instead. I don’t know the precise distinctions – beyond the fact that one seems to make you more criminally culpable than the other – but I do know that “borderline personality disorder sufferer” doesn’t sound as good as “DANGEROUS SCHIZOPHRENIC”. Hence the report was at pains to highlight the link between people being DANGEROUS and SCHIZOPHRENIC. It isn’t much of a link, but still, it’s one that’s always worth exaggerating when you’re aiming to be sensationalist, ablist and utterly shameless in your reporting. (more…)

It would be interesting, if disheartening, to know how much time is spent debating the supposed “rights and wrongs” of rape, sexual assault and harrassment, as opposed to time spent supporting victims and educating potential perpetrators. I’d guess that it’s a lot. We don’t get that many pieces on why rape is bad because apparently that’s something we all know (all of us, that is, apart from the “nutters”, as Caitlin Moran would say). By contrast, there’s plenty of time spent picking over the supposed nuances, the grey areas, the “he said/she said” and whatever other flippantly offensive terms pop up whenever we’re sitting in judgement on those who make accusations (but rarely their accusers).
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When Google’s Sergey Brin suggested that using a smartphone was “kind of emasculating”, he no doubt didn’t mean it to sound as ridiculously sexist as it did. He probably just meant “it’s a bit silly” or “it makes you look a bit of a prat” (still not a great thing for a Google boss to say, but an improvement at the very least). Unfortunately, I and countless others can’t help reading his actual words and hearing them translated into the language of almost every boy we remember from primary school: “Urgh! Smartphones are for girls! Girls are rubbish and smartphones are too!” (to be fair, smartphones didn’t exist when I was at primary school, nor even your basic mobile. But they said this kind of thing about skipping ropes, so it’s plausible that they’d have said it about potentially outdated technology, too).
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