September 2013


It’s not often I feel sorry for our boorish, entitled, mundane-face-of-evil Prime Minister David Cameron. Nevertheless, I don’t have a heart of stone so today I’ll make an exception.

Poor David has been badly advised. During a conference week when his party’s looking as nasty as can be, he’s decided to do one of those “showing my nice side” interviews. Unfortunately, he’s rather overreached himself by attempting to prove that a) he knows all about looking after toddlers and b) he doesn’t patronise women. Oh David, you silly man. You really need to know your limits. (more…)

Dear Victoria Coren,

I’m writing in response to your Observer piece on Roman Polanski and the sin of simplification. I might as well say straight off that I don’t agree with it. But wait, don’t leave just yet! For I have a PhD! From Cambridge! Therefore I’m assuming I’m allowed opinions, too (this may be presumptuous of me; I didn’t get a first and I’m useless at Only Connect, but do bear with me).

You’re aware that your piece has angered many people. Indeed just recently you tweeted:

Ah, those silly, silly people, with their knee-jerk reactions and idiotic binary thinking. As you yourself write, “our modern world does not invite us to treat anyone as nuanced. People are heroes or villains, victims or victimisers; sometimes neither, but never both”. It takes a special kind of visionary to see through all this, doesn’t it? Most people, well, they’re just too busy getting mindlessly self-righteous to sit down, brow a-furrowed, and ponder the ways in which Roman Polanski’s work being “filled with beauty and humanity” sits uneasily beside the fact that he’s also a child rapist (because hey, that’s way too confusing for our little heads! How can he do bad things AND good things? How can anyone, other than an utter intellectual giant, cope with such thoughts without a total brain meltdown?). (more…)

Of many things that annoy me about Tory plans to introduce a Marriage Tax Allowance, one minor irritation is that my partner and I, who’ve been together for thirteen years, wouldn’t even benefit from it. To be fair, I’m not sure I even want to benefit from a policy with which I so wholeheartedly disagree, but if it’s going to happen anyhow … Well, that’s a moot point anyhow. Married or not, we’d gain nothing. We’re both in paid employment so our respective tax allowances are spoken for.

This morning, however, something crossed my mind. I might lose my job! In fact, for reasons I can’t go into, there’s a distinct possibility that I will lose my job! And if I do lose my job, providing we’ve tied the knot, then it’s Tax Allowance a-go-go! Way-hey! Thank you kindly, Mr Cameron!
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So, fellow mental patients, just how mad should we be getting about Asda’s Halloween “mental patient fancy dress costume,” complete with strait jacket, fake blood and cleaver? After all, the supermarket has now apologised for any upset caused, withdrawn the item from sale and promised to donate “a sizeable amount” to Mind. So no point going psycho now. Let’s all calm down, keep taking the tablets and leave the normal people alone.

Given the degree to which mental health stigma has seeped into our everyday language, it’s not all that surprising when retailers think it’s okay to make fancy dress costumes based on The Mad. You can see how it happens. The mentally ill, when they’re not being dismissed as everyday malingerers, tend to assume a mythical status. They’re lurking in the shadows, never to be seen in broad daylight. How can you offend a thing that isn’t even real? (more…)

Fellow feminists! Would you agree that feminism today suffers from “a branding problem”? In a world of iPads and One Direction and, um, other stuff that seems frighteningly cutting edge to me, where does feminism fit in? How well does it market itself? Does it speak to the consumer? And if not, what could you be doing to help?

I ask this because this evening I came across We Are The XX. Now, just to be clear, they aren’t in fact The XX. These people are:

But anyhow, the impostor XX consists of two young women who’d like to recruit the help of just about everyone in “rebranding feminism”. How kind. (more…)

This week the Telegraph seems to be obsessed with Freshers’ Weeks taking place at universities all over the country. Fair play to them. While it’s easy to mock a self-indulgent nostalgia trip for ageing middle-class journalists, at least it keeps them out of trouble. The more time spent telling worried 18-year-olds “how to dress in Freshers’ Week,” the less time there is to lie to abortion providers or cobble together ill-informed rants about the niqab. Everyone’s a winner!

Unless, that is, you’re a girl (by which we mean grown woman who is off to university). Alas, for the likes of you university’s just as much of a minefield as, say, having reproductive choices or making your own decisions about what to wear. Thankfully, Telegraph Wonder Women have put together a handy guide to keep you out of trouble. (more…)

The French parliament is seeking to ban beauty contests for girls under the age of 16. It follows a report from former sports minister Chantal Jouanno, entitled Against Hypersexualisation: A New Fight For Equality. In it, she also recommends outlawing “adult clothing in child sizes, for example padded bras and high-heeled shoes”. While I’m all for fights for equality, this makes me uneasy. Despite not having had a beauty queen past (unless winning a fancy dress contest dressed as Peggy from Hi-de-Hi counts) I know my childhood would have been far drabber without all those glorious afternoons during which I made myself look like a mini Bet Lynch.

I don’t wish to draw huge comparisons between France banning the veil and this move. There are different people and motivations underpinning it. Nonetheless, I think there are some shared cultural currents, not least a desire to protect those deemed “vulnerable”  by regulating what they can wear. The bodies of women and girls become meanings to be managed. When Jouanno expresses concern over “the sexualisation of […] expressions, postures or clothes that are too precocious,” the spotlight falls on little girls themselves and the need of adults to place them within our own deeply flawed categories. To my mind, this simply isn’t fair. (more…)

That Godfrey Bloom, he’s such a card, isn’t he? Yet another ever-reliable rent-a-bigot, always on hand to say the unsayable, PC zealots be damned. Honest to a fault (except when he’s joking — why can’t this hostile press tell when he’s joking?), he’s a breath of fresh air. A less successful Boris Johnson, he’s put the 1970s sitcom back into UK politics. Hurrah! And now UKIP’s loss will no doubt be I’m A Celebrity and The Wright Stuff’s gain.

I ought not to be bothered about the likes of Godfrey Bloom and their pathetic non-jokes, designed to offend the Guardian-reading PC elite, and yet I am. Partly this is because I’m part of said elite, obviously, but I’m not totally deluded about how these things work. I know when someone’s just trying to get attention — I live with a four-year-old, after all. But this, I find, is the most annoying thing about it all. There’s such a pressure to be wise to the Blooms of this world, to raise an eyebrow and say with practised resignation “oh look, the bongo bongo bloke’s at it again”. (more…)

Last week the Telegraph had a white, male journalist telling “pro-choice feminists” that they should be “more appalled than anyone by the sex-selection abortion story”. This week there’s a different one letting us know that “It is not necessary to be a militant feminist to understand that the niqab is deeply demeaning of women”. Thanks guys! Any other Rules of Feminism you’d like to pass on? I’m hoping this will become a weekly feature, leading up to the formal appointment of Boris Johnson and Toby Young as the UK’s Lead Feminists, always on hand to advise women what to wear, what to do with their bodies, what does and doesn’t constitute misogyny etc. Otherwise, how will we know?

As a movement, feminism might be flawed, but there’s nothing I hate more than Telegraph pseudo-feminism. At least when feminists are self-critical – or engaging in cat fights, as our male feminist superiors no doubt see it – the goal in sight remains a better feminism. With Telegraph or Tory feminism (I’m not sure what to really call it, as it’s restricted to neither one newspaper nor one political party) what we’re getting is feminist rhetoric as a means to anti-feminists ends. It’s manipulative, reactionary crap and no one who believes in equality should feel pressured into buying it.

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We all know how damaging it is when someone lies about rape. It can ruin lives, not just those of the people directly involved, but those of all future rape victims, who are less likely to be believed as a result. So why do people do it? Why would someone who has not been raped do something that’s so harmful to those who have?

I don’t think there’s always a straightforward answer, although sometimes it’s obvious. For instance, if you’re an actual rapist you’d probably want to lie about rape if there’s a chance you’ll thereby avoid a prison sentence. Sure, it damages the credibility of the tiny minority of men who are falsely accused of actually raping someone, but what can you do? You’re a rapist! It’s not as though you give a shit. (more…)

The actor Michael Le Vell has been found not guilty of rape and crikey, this makes some people angry. If only he’d been a convicted rapist! Then we could all sleep easy at night.

According to Phillip Schofield, “it’s bloody ridiculous a man’s life and reputation can be so comprehensively trashed in this way”. Is it just me, or is this an odd way of portraying what “being a rape defendant” means? It’s as though being on trial should be considered a crime itself. While I don’t doubt it’s horrible, not everything that is horrible is horrible in quite the same way. No one should be falsely accused of rape, but accusing someone of rape — even without securing a conviction — is evidence neither of malice nor criminal intent.   (more…)

Word order can make a huge amount of difference to meaning. I suspect anyone who writes headlines knows this. Having never written headlines myself, I don’t know the precise rules on making a story a bit less true but a lot more interesting. I know, however, that it doesn’t take much to achieve this. Even the subtlest of differences can make a huge impact.

Right now several news outlets are running reports on Kate Middleton’s experience of giving birth. “Kate Middleton told friends: I had a ‘perfect, natural’ labour” reveals the Hollywood Times. “Kate Middleton calls birth ‘natural and perfect’” says the Christian Post. ”Kate Middleton tells friends of her ‘perfect, natural birth’” announces Yahoo. According to the International Business Times not only did Middleton have a “perfect, natural” labour, she even had a “perfect, natural” pregnancy, too (although anyone who knows the slightest thing about hyperemesis gravidarum might dispute the latter). (more…)

Dear Teenage Girls of Britain

You know those models you look at in magazines? The ones you’d kill to look like? Well, here’s some news: they don’t look that perfect in real life. They’re still ultra-skinny, with amazing bone structure (don’t think for a minute that you could look that good). Even so, in the cold light of day, without all those stylists, makeup artists, hairdressers, airbrushing experts etc., models don’t look quite as model-y. Got that? For some reason, this statement of the obvious is supposed to boost your self-esteem (and if it hasn’t, that means there’s something wrong with you).

In what might be described as the beauty industry equivalent of greenwashing, Vogue magazine has just followed in the footsteps of Dove in making a commitment to “educate” girls about beauty. Because girls really need educating, don’t they? There’s nothing like breaking a person’s self-esteem before selling a substandard version back to them (real beauty just isn’t real beauty without “beautiful underarms”, is it?). (more…)

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