July 2013


This morning on Twitter I was distracted by the mention of Loose Women. It’s hard not to be. Every feminist worships at the altar of this lunchtime show in which ALL the regular panel members are WOMEN. I haven’t watched it in years but I know that, whenever I’m in doubt as to whether the feminist vision has been realised, I think of Loose Women and know that all’s well in the world. That Carol who was once married to Chris Evans, and the one who played thingy in Coronation Street, and the singer my dad liked on Cruise Ship — don’t worry, sisters, whatever the problem, they’ll have your back.   

Of course, I shouldn’t be too open about this. After all, as a feminist, it’s important to have something to moan about, otherwise where would we be? Hence I like to pretend that, in a world in which unequal pay, unequal access to education, a lack of reproductive choices, political non-representation, FGM, rape culture, slut-shaming, violence against women etc. etc. remain rife, Loose Women isn’t enough. Thus, along with all other feminists, I spend my time on twitter trolling men’s rights activists telling them that if the world was really fair, we wouldn’t have Top Gear. (more…)

Womanhood: it’s an etiquette minefield. What’s the correct way to respond to a rape threat on twitter? Should one really make a fuss when reproductive rights are under threat? Should the word “feminist” be uttered in polite company? All these questions and more will never, ever be answered. The minute you raise your voice loud enough for them to be heard you’ll get told off for being too shouty.

This is the perennial problem with being female. Embody “feminine” values – be good, keep quiet, don’t push yourself forward – and you’ll be rewarded with sod all. Ask for something more – be dominant, demanding, self-assured – and you’ll get worse than sod all. We’re trying to win at a game where, each time we change tactics, the rules change in response. We can’t possibly win by playing properly. We don’t even have the status of true competitors.

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Does this blog make me look fat? I only ask because, in a recent flurry of hostile comments from men’s rights activists, I’ve found several telling me I’m “fat and ugly” or “fat and bitter” or  – well, lots of things, but it’s always “fat and [something]”. So go on, give it to me straight — do these posts look plump to you? Are these the kind of opinions which might be caught celebrating their curves? Go on, I can take it.

It’s strange that, of all the things that could be used as an insult, “fat” comes up so often. Hell, I can think of a million things that are wrong with stuff I’ve written, but none of them have anything to do with the size of my thighs. When it comes to attacking women whose views you don’t like, “you’re fat” remains the weapon of choice. To be fair, I’m not surprised. It has two advantages: it doesn’t demand any intellectual effort yet it manages to convey female inferiority without even seeming to do so (yes, you can say “you’re fat” to a man but it won’t mean the same thing. Indeed, chances are he might actually be fat, which wouldn’t make you any less of a judgmental fuckwit, but a different kind thereof).
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Should the royal baby be born with a uterus, I dread to think of the miserable pregnancies that await her. Given how intrusive we’ve been this time around — will Kate breastfeed?, is she too posh to push?, is it out yet, is it, is it? — I’m wondering how much further it can go. Perhaps by the time she marries we’ll be having a monthly day of mourning each time our future Queen has a period. The grim two-week wait known by all couples trying to conceive will be tracked by all major news outlets (graphs from the Daily Mail, complex CSV data files from the Guardian). Newscasters will solemnly inform us that since, by this stage, First Response has a 99% accuracy rate, once again we’re likely to be disappointed. Recourse to IVF would be a source of national shame, surrogacy a catastrophe. Actual infertility, or recurrent miscarriage, or stillbirth – well, let’s not even go there.

Today’s focus on the fact that the Duchess of Cambridge is in labour — but how far? How many centimetres dilated? Tell us, tell us! — has really freaked me out. I’m not a fan of the royal family — neither the principle nor the individuals — but I find the media frenzy *prim voice* rather distasteful. I imagine Kate Middleton (or Windsor or whatever she’s now called) doesn’t give a shit at this point in time. For all I know she’s high on pethidine, demanding Rage Against The Machine as birth music and telling William she only ever married him for the money and fame. Even so, this national focus on one woman giving birth seems to me wrong. It shows, not just how much how pathetically obsequious we commoners remain, but how far we trivialise the whole of pregnancy and labour, presenting it as one set narrative with a happy ending. It’s not.

I don’t know how hard the Windsors found it to conceive. I don’t know whether there were pregnancy losses along the way. I won’t ever know because it’s not part of the official plot. True, it’s not my business to ponder how much fruitless, passionless shagging took place in the quest for our third in line, but neither is it my business to know how long the Duchess has been in labour, or whether she’s having pain relief, or countless other things which are meant to be of national importance. We’re not just being fed royalist propaganda, we’re being fed sanitised pregnancy propaganda too. It sits alongside the whole morality tale that insists that those who don’t drink or smoke, take their folic acid, practice their breathing, don’t lie on their right side, make sure the bath water’s not too hot, have a loving, supportive (and ideally rich) partner etc. etc. will bring forth happy, healthy, bouncing babies. It’s this very narrative that makes the millions of people for whom this doesn’t happen feel so alone, while also feeding into the anti-choice lie that pregnancy and birth are mere stages in the pre-born lives of others, and not violent, bloody and potentially highly risky experiences.

When my partner and I lost a pregnancy we were knocked for six, even though we’d known the statistics and tried hard to prepare ourselves not to think too far ahead. This evening my partner commented that if something went wrong with the royal birth, it would be a tragedy for those most immediately involved, but might at least go some way to changing our rose-tinted, moralistic narrative regarding perfect pregnancies and risk. It’s hardly the way you’d want it to be changed, though. But labour can reduce you to your most raw and it seems to me strange that, at a point where (one suspects) the regal mask is most likely to have slipped, we’re doing our damndest to reinforce not just the myth of royalty, but the myth of birth as mere storybook ending.

Quick magazine idea: the feminist version of Private Eye. Like the sexist one, only not sexist, and hence far more aware of the misogyny that runs through politics and the media (sexist Private Eye included). I’ve already planned the reversioning of several features: Rod Liddle would provide a model for the new Glenda Slagg, the OBN would be joined by the MBE (Mansplaining Badge of Excellence), as well as Lookalikes we’d have Sexist-a-likes, Pseuds’ Corner would be joined by Rape Apology Circle (£10 for the most topical submissions, £15 for any starting with the phrase “we all agree rape is an abhorrent crime…”), plus the school newsletter would be set at the Mike Buchanan Academy for Boys and Men (“and the women who love them”). I’ve been struggling to find my new Polly Filler but finally, today, I happened upon him: it’s novelist Tim Lott. More specifically, novelist Tim Lott in his Man about the house column for the Guardian.

I’m not quite sure why Lott has up till now escaped my notice. Perhaps I thought he and Tim Dowling were the same person.* Today, however, someone tweeted Lott’s latest report from the domestic front into my twitter timeline, a piece portentously titled There are no final truths in relationships.** A sort-of review of the film Before Midnight in which Lott a) slyly compares himself to Ethan Hawke’s character (ha!) and b) offers a passive-aggressive critique of his wife’s own habit of criticising him, it’s both hilarious and disturbing.

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I’ll always remember the day my first son was born. “It’s a boy,” said the midwife. “Urgh, take it away,” said I. “I’m a feminist. I don’t do boys.” The fact is, like all card-carrying feminists, I’m contractually obliged not to give a shit about the welfare of non-women. As far as they’re concerned, I’m all out for revenge.

Of course, that’s the theory, but in practice things are more difficult. When it’s your own children who’ve failed (as yet) to identify as female you end up making compromises. Truth is, I’ve found that I love my sons very much. It’s just everyone else’s sons who can sod off. It’s not as though a social structure which discriminates against them will have any impact on my kids, or on the genuinely important ones (aka girls). So let’s crack on with creating a world in which everything is weighted in favour of the latter.

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Earlier this evening I sent a tweet regarding the anti-abortion laws just passed in Texas. Not long after I received this response (from a men’s rights activist whom many of us know and love):

@Glosswitch Well, it’s a start, at least. Our post on abortion in the UK http://t.co/FmMQTr3Ypm

Obviously, when we’re witnessing the rollback of fundamental reproductive freedoms, it doesn’t seem worth getting het up about one MRA’s pitiful decision to gloat about it. Hey, at least someone’s got a brief chuckle out of the real pain and trauma that this ruling will cause. If MRAs want to cause offence, they’ll have to try a lot harder given how offensive the real world is. Nonetheless, curiosity got the better of me and I clicked on the link supplied. Just what IS the world-famous Justice 4 Men and Boys position on abortion? Well, it’s laced with misogyny, naturally. But it’s a peculiarly interesting, childish type that seems especially easy to tackle. Therefore I thought I might as well give it a go. (more…)

“The women who have had nine abortions” screams the Telegraph headline. Then you click on the link and find out that these 33 women – about whose experiences we know absolutely nothing – are mere statistics embedded in a more general piece on “repeat” abortions. That’s a pity, isn’t it? Shouldn’t these feckless baby killers be named and shamed?

You do of course wonder how the Telegraph would react if news came that anyone who’d had one abortion never had a second. Presumably this would mean that all those tragic “abortion industry“ victims / cold-hearted murderers had seen the error of their ways and vowed never to do the same again. In actual fact, though, that’s not what’s happening. Not only are there women who have more than one abortion over the course of their lives but the number who do so is increasing. (more…)

Tonight I am writing about someone else who is writing about someone else who is writing about herself. So forgive me for going a bit meta. It probably makes more sense once you know that the second someone else – the one who’s being written about and who’s also writing about herself – is Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones. Right now, with the publication of Jones’s Girl Least Likely To memoir, everyone wants to write about Liz Jones, although it’s usually to say that the one person who shouldn’t be allowed to write about Liz Jones is Liz Jones herself (still, the fact that Jones is still writing about Jones gives the rest of us something to write about).

I, however, am going to write about Suzanne Moore, or rather Moore’s review of Girl Least Likely To. While I can’t work out whether Moore hates or loves to hate the book, it’s clear to me that Moore doesn’t like Jones. That seems fair enough. I don’t think I’m fond of her, either. Nevertheless, Moore’s attitude towards Jones’s anorexia shocks me far more than Jones’s own brand of deliberate, desperate provocation. (more…)

Laura Trott, originally appointed to advise David Cameron on how his policies will affect women, will now have to cover education and childcare, too. This reminds me of one of my dad’s sayings, which he’d use to explain why men shouldn’t have to do housework: “why have a dog and bark yourself?” The fact is, if you’ve already got one woman to deal equality (whatever that means, eh?), you might as well get her to deal with all the other “calm down, dear” laydees’ issues – childcare, early years, that sort of thing.

I imagine in another 17 months Trott will get tights, makeup and the colour pink added to her portfolio. Maybe they’ll also allow her to stick a broom up her arse and sweep the Houses of Parliament as she goes along (it’s possible they’ve also confused her with the cyclist Laura Trott and think she’ll win them pretty gold medals, too). (more…)

At risk of being deemed yet another person whose sanity is in question or who isn’t a “true feminist[] at all”, I thought I’d write my own response to Christian Jessen’s recent twitter comments regarding rape. This is because they made me angry, the reasons for which I will state below. Or it is because I have mental health problems, for which I take medication and for which I have on occasion been hospitalised. Or it’s because unlike Dr Jessen I’m actually shit at feminism. I guess it’s up to those reading to make their own diagnosis.

There are individual facts about rape and then there’s the broader context in which they’re publicised and discussed. There is no point in discussing the first without taking the second into account because by raising the subject you are helping to shape this broader context. To pretend that things are otherwise is at best naïve and at worst deliberately obtuse. (more…)

For all its flaws, the internet has been great at giving a voice to people who wouldn’t otherwise be heard. Indeed, in recent times there’s been one group who, silent for far too long, have finally been finding their voice. I’m referring, of course, to those who don’t give a shit about things.

In the old days if there was something about which you didn’t give a shit – sexist language, size zero models, the Sun’s page three, images on banknotes – you’d have to just suffer in silence. Obviously you could get on with other things in the meantime, albeit in a purely abstract, imaginary way (the economic downturn and female genital mutilation are, hypothetically, no longer problems due to all of this not-shit-giving). In real life and in public, however, there weren’t that many outlets for ostentatiously demonstrating just how totally not arsed you were about minor, usually feminism-related tussles. Thank god, therefore, for the Guardian’s Comment is Free site. From now on silently feeling furious that other people are feeling furious about things about which you wouldn’t be furious except you are now but only in a meta way in response to these other furious people – anyhow, that thing is a thing no more. (more…)

I’m pleased – well, not exactly pleased – that the death of Amy Winehouse has finally been linked to her suffering from an eating disorder. I’d always suspected that about her but then, having suffered from an eating disorder myself, I never trust my own opinions. I’ve been through phases of thinking that everyone in the entire world has an eating disorder, while at other times I’ve thought no one has, with all the super-skinny people just being bizarrely self-controlled. It’s hard to make sense of it all when the prevailing ideal for body shapes is always marginally underweight.

Between the releases of Frank and Back To Black, Winehouse clearly lost a dramatic amount of weight but the eating disorder rumours were quite never as newsworthy as those relating to booze and drugs. After all, having anorexia or bulimia is, on a day to day basis, decidedly lacking in drama. It’s far easier to tell someone’s off their face than it is to witness their miserable, brain-numbing hunger. Still, at least in the months before her death the Daily Mail pronounced her “healthy” enough to deserve mockery for having the dreaded “muffin top”. (more…)

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