April 2013


This morning I was pissed off because my house is a tip, I’m behind at work and the kitchen ceiling is leaking because the sealant round the bath has gone. None of these constitute massive worries in the grand scheme of things, but they’re enough to make me think “I’m a bit rubbish at this whole ‘being an adult’ business”. In the grand hierarchy of privileged people, I’m not exactly what you’d call one of the alphas. Or so I thought …

This evening I discovered that I am in fact an Alpha XX female. Who’d have thought it? Go me! Watch that glass ceiling smash! (more…)

As the magazine More! is about to close, I decided to buy a copy. I’m pretty sure I bought the first ever edition so it seemed fitting to be there at the end. I haven’t bought it much in the intervening 25 years – and for that my sexual repertoire will no doubt have suffered – but I felt it might be interesting to see what the magazine’s like now. Short answer: still crap.

Long answer: possibly even worse than it was before. I don’t know for sure. I was twelve when More! was launched and while I didn’t religiously follow all the advice the glossies threw my way, I didn’t actively question it, either. I absorbed it passively, as you do when you’re working on the assumption that there’s lots of adult stuff out there which might look weird but that’s only because you don’t get it yet. Sometimes you question it, briefly, but ultimately hurry back to acceptance. After all, who are you to know better? I remember watching James Bond films in the 1980s, disturbed by the fact that it looked as though the Roger Moore character was raping women but concluding that he couldn’t be because mainstream films, like glossy magazines, are “proper”. And after all, this is 007 and he’s a goodie, isn’t he? Now I’m older I ask questions more, but to a certain extent I still have to force myself to do it. If everyone else appears to think something is acceptable, it feels arrogant to argue otherwise.
(more…)

Why do the non-rich throw away food? Because we’re stupid and we’re losers. That goes without saying, otherwise we’d be rich, wouldn’t we? As Tory minister Richard Benyon tactfully notes, we’re so stupid we wouldn’t even think to wrap up a piece of cheese after we’ve opened it (assuming we’re in the 13% of the population who don’t practise cheese-wrapping). Then again, even if we weren’t so ignorant of cling-film, we wouldn’t do it anyhow. That’s because we’re lazy and entitled. We’d be all shall we save that cheese? Nah, why bother? If we run out the welfare state will provide!

I am not rich and I waste food. Can’t stop myself, me. My waste-food bin floweth over. Even so I would like to point out that there are reasons other than the ones given above for throwing away food when you’re not rich. I feel it necessary to do so for no other reason than I strongly suspect that Richard Benyon, whose own fridge is to be found somewhere here, has very little experience of budgeting for food on a daily basis. So especially for you, Richard, some reasons why the food of the non-rich might head binwards:

(more…)

Baby bump: a stomach swollen to beyond its usual size due to the presence of a fetus. Precise size of bump will vary, dependent on age of fetus, genetic heritage of stomach owner and sheer bloody randomness. And, um, that’s about it as far as baby bumps are concerned, only that’s not saying much. So here are some further facts I’ve compiled, mainly out of annoyance at all the inexplicable admiration that the Duchess of Cambridge is getting merely for having a small one:

  • If you are famous, it is not possible merely to go out and about while in possession of a bump. You “debut” said bump, then “flaunt” it. To be fair, you might then go on to do a nude magazine cover with arms “tastefully” covering your tits but at this point why not? Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.
  • Small bumps are, generally, good.* For instance, if you’re the Kate Middleton-as-was it’s really classy. Reporters can’t shut up about how petite it is, with the Express claiming that Kate “will be the envy of many pregnant women as she’s still modelling a tiny figure despite being six months gone”. Meanwhile reality TV star Kim Kardashian “blooms”, that is to say she is distastefully large. So too are Jessica Simpson, Lara Stone and “Channing Tatum’s wife Jenna Dewan” – pregnant porkers, one and all. Bet William’s relieved he didn’t pick one of them to produce his heir.
  • It is possible to “dress” a baby bump. For instance, in this picture Kate has dressed her bump in a “gorgeous blue cocktail dress”. Unfortunately she’s ended up having to put the rest of herself in it as well – meaning it doesn’t look any different from just her wearing a dress – but it’s the thought that counts, at least until they develop invasive intra-uterine styling.
  • Alongside housing a fetus, one of the main purposes of a baby bump is for use in advertisements for body lotion and financial services. Or any other advertisement seeking comic effect via the owner of a bump grumpily demanding rubbish food combinations in the early hours of the morning.
  • Once you have a baby bump, you are public property in a way that you weren’t previously. People will smile benevolently, even take the liberty of patting your stomach. It’s annoying, yes, but worth remembering that those who beam at you on the bus one week will be glaring at you the next if you dare to stagger on with a screaming newborn. So you still have to “enjoy” it while you can.
  • Baby bumps can be used for making political statements. You could write “100% pro-choice” on yours. Or “future anarchist leader”. Or you could just put “baby on board”, “under construction” and/or “it started with a kiss”. But know that I will judge you for it.
  • Once a baby is born, a baby bump becomes part of what is known as “baby weight” i.e. that weird, liminal fat that clings to a woman’s post-pregnancy body but isn’t really her. According to Grazia, you can “get rid of your post-baby mum tum with the Gowri Wrap […] an elasticated corset that helps restore your pre-pregnancy stomach” and costs £75. Or you can just not. Personally I’d recommend not.

So those are my baby bump facts. Personally I miss having one but do appreciate the whole “being able to lie on your own stomach” thing. And also the “being able to get drunk” thing. And there’s also the “having the actual children around” thing. So yes. Swings and roundabouts, really.

* Small bumps are sometimes rubbish and a sign that you’re a bad mother who’s not taking care of herself aka her baby (see Kate Moss).

Forced motherhood is a kind of slavery, because motherhood and autonomy can never coexist.

Tanya Gold on abortion, Comment is Free

I am a mother. I’m also pro-choice. Much as I appreciated Tanya Gold’s recent piece on the human cost of anti-choice ideologies, the above statement, which appeared in the final paragraph, has got to me – and stuck in my mind ever since. When Gold writes of motherhood and autonomy never coexisting, does she mean all motherhood or just the forced motherhood of her earlier clause? Is this merely a case of over-editing or an actual belief about every experience of being a mother? If it’s the latter, I’m unsettled (and would advise Gold to steer well clear of anything by Rachel Cusk).

Mothers are not a different class of human beings, or rather, if they are, they shouldn’t be. They are people with a wide range of experiences, beliefs and responsibilities. We shouldn’t have to big up the magnitude of motherhood in order to convince ourselves that reproductive rights matter. If we are able to value women regardless of their reproductive status then that should be enough. (more…)

People, behold! For I have made a great discovery. I have in my hands this very minute the worst diet book EVER!

<dramatic pause>

Now admittedly, I’ve not read all the other diet books available. In fact, I haven’t read very many at all. I’ve been on loads of diets but tend to go for kamikaze, self-devised ones (I might self-publish a book of them one day). However, I fail to believe that any other diet book can possibly be as bad as Dukan: Love Your Curves.

I started reading this book while waiting in a queue at the post office. My local post office happens to be inside WHSmiths so I decided to grab a random book I had no intention of purchasing to distract me during the wait. Rest assured I was under no illusions that Dukan: Love Your Curves would be a self-esteem boosting tome that would encourage me to adore my own arse. I’ve fallen for this crap before. I’m wise to it. Two years ago I bought Gary Taubes’ The Diet Delusion, thinking it would strengthen my resolve not to buy into this diet nonsense any longer. Turns out The Diet Delusion is merely the belief that any diet other than a low-carb one is the way forward. It’s rather like if Richard Dawkins were to stop midway through The God Delusion and go “aha! But as for fairies, you should totally believe in them! I do, don’t I, Tink?” (more…)

This morning I took down a post I’d written the night before. No one asked me to and I didn’t feel particularly bullied or intimidated into doing so. I took it down because I tried really hard to achieve a particular objective and I failed, badly. I know writing stuff isn’t magic and most of it makes no difference anyhow but sometimes, the feeling that you rarely, if ever, have genuine exchanges with people who see things differently – and that all that really happens is you gain the approval of people who would have agreed with you anyhow – is just a bit grim.

I don’t think there is anything at all I can add to debates on feminism, twitter, intersectionality, privilege and bullying – other than that I think no one else can add much, either. It has reached a point where, in essence, in order to try and defend people I like without appearing to be “one of them” or “taking sides” I feel the only option is to defend them badly, with so many qualifications and ifs and buts that what I’m writing becomes impenetrable (or rather, it becomes terribly nuanced, so nuanced that anyone who so wishes can see a “hidden message” – and such a message can mean different things to different people). Hence there’s no point. If every single argument you make has no value because it’s just the kind of argument you would make – because your argument itself demonstrates your bias, hence invalidating itself – then there is absolutely no point in making an effort to connect. You might as well just patronize people by pretending to agree with them all the time or shut up. (more…)

I’m not sure why I started reading about Rehtaeh Parsons. The briefest summary of her life and death (at age 17) leaves you in little doubt that the more you read, the angrier you’ll get. That’s assuming you care about girls being sexually assaulted, photographed and then bullied by their peers until they kill themselves. Of course, Parsons’ assault remains alleged rather than proven. The same is true for the rape of Audrie Pott. Pott committed suicide at age 15 after photos of her alleged assault went viral around her school. According to reports, Potts was unconscious during the attack and awoke to find messages of “X was here” written on her body. There was more than one assailant, many more who saw the photographs.

How strange, these little pockets of society where suddenly the idea that rape is acceptable – a spectacle for the amusement of others – bubbles up from deep underground. How strange, given that we usually disapprove of rape. Sure, we argue about it – about what causes it, about how it can be proven, about whether some rapes are “worse” than others – but not about whether it is A Bad Thing. Even George Galloway won’t stoop to that. All the same, I’m starting to wish that he would. (more…)

Over the past few days I’ve been deciding what I think of Femen (this has involved a lot bra unfastening and re-fastening while I make my mind up). On the one hand I’m quite drawn to the idea of knocking down great oligarchs with a rebellious, well-aimed tit swing.  And on the other I don’t want to impose boob-centric values on others. Argh! Will it be okay if I expose just one breast? Come to think of it, should I just dig out one of my old nursing bras for ease of selective flashing? Finally, I’ve come down on the side of covering up (even though I’m writing this in the bath, so I’m not actually wearing anything. Just saying). What others choose to do with their bodies is their business – or rather it isn’t, but self-aggrandising, racist rhetoric isn’t going to change this. (more…)

Sexism: it’s wrong, right? But what if it’s in the name of a greater good? I find myself pondering this, as I knew I would, following the death of Margaret Thatcher, knowing that each time her legacy is analysed some small part of me will be on the alert, waiting for all those little reminders that she was just a woman after all. I know it will make me angry but also that I’ll hate myself for feeling this way; after all, they’re just words. Sexism kills, sure, but so did Thatcherism, so isn’t this one scenario in which we’re allowed to call it quits?

Like many people of my generation I have a resentment of Thatcher that is at least in part manufactured. I didn’t feel it when it mattered. I was too young and besides, the north of England I grew up in was rural. We didn’t learn anger until BSE and foot and mouth crept up on us later. During the 1980s, I was blissfully unaware of politics, or rather I thought it was a kind of sitcom, genuinely believing that Thatcher and Michael Foot were married and hammily acting out their strife before a delighted audience. I can’t even remember when I stopped thinking this; disturbingly late, for sure. Once I did work out Thatcher was Prime Minister, I couldn’t help feeling it was at least a good thing that she was a woman, not because it made her a better person but because it ought to make everyone else less bothered about sex and gender. I thought a lot of stupid things when I was younger. (more…)

If you are a feminist it can be difficult to understand the position of any woman who isn’t. Gloria Steinem claimed “a woman has two choices: either she’s a feminist or a masochist” (what this says about the choices of feminists who are into BDSM I do not know). Julie Burchill, meanwhile, has argued that “there is a short and sharp way to deal with women who say they are not feminists”:

If a woman answers ‘no’ to the question ‘Are you a feminist?’, she should immediately be stripped of her voting rights, her right to institute divorce, her legal protection from domestic violence and marital rape – oh, and her pay should be cut to 19% less than that of her male colleagues. Then she could lead the carefree, non-ball-breaking life she so desires, and not be forced to take advantage of all those unpleasant and exhausting social gains which those nasty butch feminists in the 20th century forced on her.

To which one is tempted to respond “oh, sod off, you attention-seeking transphobe”. Yet could it be that in this one instance Burchill has a point? Shouldn’t those who refuse to acknowledge their oppression be made to experience its full force? After all, aren’t they complicit in every other woman’s oppression, too? (more…)

Remember being a child and finding it incredibly annoying that adults, who clearly had more money than you, chose to spend it on crap like bills and bus fares? What was that all about? Why didn’t they spend it on cool stuff like toys or, better still, just give it to you? You’d have put it to good use. None of that moping around over a brown envelope demanding payment for something entirely intangible and definitely not as good as Optimus Prime. Well, anyhow, remember that feeling, because I reckon that’s what it’s like to be IDS, George Osborne or David Cameron all the time. Yes, they might be the ones with the money these days, but man, they deserve it. The rest of us? We’d only fritter it on rubbish like the electricity bill and shoes for our kids. (more…)

On the same day that the Guardian frets over whether feminism has been failing working class women, Joanna Moorhead produces a Comment is Free piece which, to my mind, epitomizes a lot of what feminists of all classes should seek to avoid. And yes, I realise how judgmental that sounds. But really, while feminism can touch upon many issues – from violence to body hair, from education to glossy magazines – if there’s one thing I don’t think it should be about, it’s enabling “big dreamers” to have “big lives”. This is a drive towards equality we’re dealing with, not an X-Factor trailer. Is that what, for some commentators, it boils down to? A “successful” life, one in which you’ve found the key to Sunday supplement-perfect living? One in which you’ve risen above all the little people with their piddly little dreams? The truth is, it all sounds a bit “strivers vs skivers” to me. Shouldn’t we be asking for more – and be demanding it for everyone?

Moorhead is worried about work-life balance. Well, aren’t we all. It’s a global issue. Most of us would rather be “living” than working, unless we’ve got an ace job – which most of us haven’t. Yet Moorhead still pushes that form of feminism which rests on the idea that without workplace gender discrimination, we’d all be choosing between a brilliant career or a brilliant “life” (understood in heteronormative terms  as  husband and kids). And what then? Well, then the only real “problem” would be that, ooh, it’d be so hard to choose which to focus on most! Ace career or ace husband? It’s worse than the classic Daddy or chips dilemma! So why not, says sage mother-of-four Moorhead, have a bit of both? Why not indeed! Here’s what she advises her daughters (“especially the university ones”):

Number one, plan your life (if the plans go wrong, you can always re-plan; but it’s the people without a plan who are most often unfulfilled). Number two, see your life in the round: happiness doesn’t come down to just one thing. It’s not just about a great job, or a great relationship, or a happy home, or a gaggle of kids; it’s about many of those things (and, incidentally, you’ll rarely have all your ducks lined up in a row, so don’t expect to be fulfilled on every front at every point in your life; you have to be adaptable, you have to keep striving). Number three, follow your dreams: don’t be afraid to dream big, in any part of your life. Big dreamers have big lives.

And yet, the trouble is, how much money, education and support will all this dreaming, striving, adapting, planning and re-planning cost? How easy is it to dream big when you’re nothing to fall back on? What if you don’t have any “ducks” to line up at all? It’s not that women are afraid to follow their dreams, it’s that they have low-paid jobs they can’t afford to leave, violent partners they can’t escape, children they can’t afford to send to nursery, pregnancies they don’t want and can’t choose to terminate …. Feminism does – or at least should – offer some route out of this, but it’s not by encouraging individuals to buck up and dream.

To my mind, feminism is about women having the same rights as men – over both mind and body – and enabling them to live with respect and without fear. Money plays a big part in this, of course. As long as the majority of low-paid and unpaid work is done by women our freedom to make decisions, change our environment and / or escape abuse will be limited. Nevertheless, this sits within a broader context of gross and growing financial inequality. The economic disadvantage experienced by women on a global scale overlaps and intersects with geographical, racial and class inequalities. If we’re asking why we’re locked out of the boardroom, shouldn’t we also be asking whether there should be a boardroom at all? If we’re asking why privileged women can’t have the options open to privileged men, shouldn’t it bother us that no one else has them, either?

I don’t think middle-class feminists are bad people – after all, I’m one and clearly I care about the issues which directly affect my life. When people offer a blanket apology for “middle-class feminism” I get suspicious. If you can’t be bothered to distinguish between valid and invalid criticism of the feminism for which women of your class have stood, how seriously are you taking the criticism in the first place? What matters most – saying sorry for everything because you want working-class feminists to like you or focussing on what it is you represent that really does cause them the greatest harm? It’s hard for me to tease all these things apart. After all, there are experiences I lack, privileges I don’t recognise and an ego I want to protect. But when I read Moorhead’s piece, I do think that’s the feminism I don’t want to stand for – and for which at times I most definitely, without even noticing it, still do.

I am writing this in my study, sat before front of a state-of-the-art computer, a cup of coffee in one hand, a cute, plump baby in the other, a phone cradled on my shoulder. You may therefore be wondering how I am capable of typing. Rest assured, I am. For I am a middle-class feminist and I am Living The Dream.

Unfortunately, this morning a shadow was cast over my perfect, glass-ceiling-shattering existence. According to a report in the Guardian, “feminism has let down working-class women”. And by “feminism” we are of course meant to understand the movement which has enabled women like me (see pic) to have it all while doing fuck all for anyone else. In response to this article, I have but one eloquent, apologetic, middle-class thing to say: fuck you, Guardian. If you cared at all about women – any women – you’d fuck right off with this pathetic attempt to use one group of woman to undermine another, without any regard for accuracy, nuance or constructive criticism. (more…)

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