November 2013


By now plenty of people will have heard about the quite-possibly-imaginary Elan Gale vs Diane “plane note row”. Depending on where you stand, it’s either hilarious or really fucking frightening. Me, I’m veering towards the latter. Elan Gale, I hope I’m never on the number 12 bus, let alone on a plane with you.

The plane note row (if it actually took place and wasn’t just some misogynist’s wildest fantasy) was live tweeted by Gale last Thursday. It (allegedly) reached its height with Gale sending a note which included the line “eat my dick” to female passenger, having smugly tweeted out said note to all his followers. To put this in context, the woman – “Diane” – had been rude to flight attendants (a crime for which, as far as I am aware, the recommended punishment is not sexual harassment within a confined space). During the exchange that ensued, Gale pressured flight attendants to become complicit in his abuse by transferring the notes between him and “Diane” – who, he happened to tweet, was “in her late 40s or early 50s” and was wearing “mom jeans” (hence not only rude but not even shaggable!).

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In life there are always difficult truths which, however much we’d like to avoid them, we each have to accept. Such as: we’re all going to die. The ageing process is grim. David Cameron is a total knob. Such things cannot be altered. We just have to make the best of what we’ve got.

But if that wasn’t hard enough, there are other things — things which, if true, would make our lives a whole lot easier — which can’t ever be proven. Such as: everything will work out fine in the end. Everyone gets what he or she deserves. Women are mentally, physically and morally inferior to men. It’d be wonderful if these things could be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. Inequalities would seem to make sense. The world would feel a much fairer place. There would be no need to confront injustice because you’d know that, deep down, everything was as it should be. Alas, this isn’t the world we have, which leaves us with the choice of either pretending all is well or attempting to make things better.

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After taking part in a debate on feminism, the Great British Bake Off’s Ruby Tandoh has found herself accused of elitism. According to the Daily Mail, Tandoh “has admitted she thinks The Great British Bake Off is ‘crap TV’ and that the women who watch it are ‘silly’”. Of course, that isn’t anything like the message she was trying to convey while taking part in the Elle debate on whether feminism needs a rebrand. While I’m still not sure I agree with her point, I think this distinction is important. Feminists should be able to state their beliefs without everything being sent through the anti-feminist distortion machine, in which certain key words (in this case “crap TV” and “silly”) are matched to the most appropriate off-the-peg parody of feminist belief and then thrown back in the speaker’s face. (more…)

To My Sons

Today is International Men’s Day, a day upon which to celebrate all things manly. Being a mere woman / failed role model I’m not sure what all these things are (Top Gear? rewiring plugs?), so I’ve had to visit the International Men’s Day website in order to check.

There are, apparently, six pillars to International Men’s Day (how phallic is that?). These include promoting positive male role models, celebrating men’s positive contributions to society and improving gender relations.  All pretty woolly stuff which, if you squint a bit, actually sounds quite feminist (which is weird given the absence of women over the age of six in all the IMD stock photos). There’s also focussing on men’s health and well being (nice) and creating a better, safer world (which sounds ace, if not terribly male-specific). Finally there’s highlighting discrimination against men (that’s probably the most important one. Don’t ask me why. I just know it is). It’s quite a lot to cover in one day, isn’t it?

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I’ve given this post a really crap title. It’s a title so crap that if, say, Mumsnet were to arrange a debate on it as part of their annual Blogfest, you’d take one look at the programme and think “what a perfectly ridiculous question!” Then you’d swig a bit more free gin and giggle at the famous people but all the while you’d be working yourself up into a state of ever more righteous indignation. Mummy blogger! Feminist! Pah!

Finally the time for the debate would come and you’d be ready, primed to respond to any trigger words the panel (i.e. anyone on stage who wasn’t Alison Perry) threw at you. And then it would begin! They’d say words like “jam”! And “shoes”! And then, horror of horrors, Sarah Ditum would even utter the word “university”! All hell would break loose. There’d be shouting, hissing and fury. See? You just knew that debate would be shit. It was all in the title.

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I realise I’m late to the party when it comes to discussing Lily Allen’s new video, or even discussing how I’m not going to discuss it. Therefore I’m going to discuss it a bit, then discuss people discussing it, and then not discuss it any more. I reckon overall that should do.

Like many people, I liked the balloon bit in Allen’s video but thought the rest was rather like punching someone in the face while telling them you were only offering an ironic commentary on face-punching. I’d like to think it’s possible to encourage people to be critical of sexist, racist culture without simply re-creating it in order to say “LOOK! LOOK HOW BAD THIS IS!” (more…)

Not all choices are feminist choices. It’s a good thing too — what kind of pressure would women be under if, every hour of every day, every single thing they did had to be weighed up on the basis of whether or not it was passed feminist muster? It wouldn’t be fair. It would hold us back, hence we each just have get on and do what we need to.

Some decisions help improve the lot of other women. Some decisions, while beneficial to us, inadvertently send out messages which are used against others. Some decisions do neither. I’d say one objective of feminism should be to help women’s decisions become less loaded. It’s oppressive to have to represent a whole sex in everything you do. I don’t want to do it — would you?

I ask this because, following yesterday’s ‘Can you be a feminist and a mummy blogger?’ debate, I get the impression that some women feel this is precisely what they have to do. It’s not enough to make a choice that’s right for you, or to make the best of a limited range of options. You have to gain external validation for your choices otherwise you’re a bad person. If others fail to see your choice as the only one for women to take, you interpret this as them actively questioning your decisions and indeed your life.

That’s the only way I can explain anyone taking offence at a woman having the temerity to suggest her personal decision to support her family through education is a valid one. It’s the only way I can explain any woman thinking that it is judgmental for another to say having children is not a “full stop” in her life. It’s the only way I can explain a woman believing it is fair, reasonable and right to shout from a balcony that each mother’s breasts have a purpose and that this defines motherhood (sod you, adoptive mothers, mothers who’ve had mastectomies, mothers who for any reason cannot or do not wish to breastfeed — apparently you don’t count). It’s the only way I explain perfectly intelligent women so misunderstanding the difference between making jam not being a feminist act (honestly, it’s not, it’s just jam!) and it being an anti-feminist one that they’ll fire off whole blog posts on the topic, defending a right to make preserves that was never, ever under threat.

I think there was a lot of potential in the question ‘Can you be a feminist and a mummy blogger?’ (contrary to those who would rather rudely use arch-feminist Joss Whedon to refute such a position). I think there is clearly an argument to be made that some elements of mummy blogging form an extension of the 2nd wave feminist attempt to give domestic life the same status as so-called “public” life. Caring for children is not an alternative to living, it’s an essential part of it. We need to challenge the view that only those who earn and those who do things outside of caring should have a public voice. We all know that mummy bloggers (whatever one wishes to call them) have the capacity to lead this challenge. I had hoped — naively, perhaps — we could have moved the debate on to ask which forms of mummy blogging support this enterprise most effectively. Instead one panel member was castigated for failing to boost the egos of those who want constant approval for their choices simply because they’re choices (choice as a principle might be feminist but fawning over the “empowering” choices of each and every woman isn’t. It’s just patronising).

I think Sarah Ditum is a fantastic writer and thinker and I don’t believe she said anything which cast judgement on others. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Charlotte Raven says, but I respect her enormously (especially as she showed a tolerance and receptiveness to other viewpoints sadly lacking elsewhere). As a mother who’s always been in full-time paid work, I don’t take particular offence at those who suggest I’ve not done the right thing. I know what options I had and the sacrifices I had to make. That’s personal to me and while I have regrets, they’re mine, not yours. It takes a particular type of entitlement to fail to recognise that everyone’s life is shaped by different restrictions. I don’t go to the office as some great “fuck you” to stay-at-home mothers. I’m sorry, but you don’t even figure in this decision-making process, just as I’m sure I don’t figure in yours.

Until women have the confidence to take a joke about jam, to permit others to decide when the “full stop” comes in the narrative of their own life and to allow others to make their own judgements about what their tits are for, then I say we need feminism more than ever. It disappoints me to think the egos of mothers are so fragile. You should be angry. You should be shouting. But if you value choice at all, think wisely about who you choose to put in your firing line.

When only one in five MPs are women and 85% of Cabinet ministers are male it’s easy to worry that women’s needs will be ignored. After all, if our policy makers inhabit a world in which the vast majority of people are men, isn’t that likely to colour their view of the people they represent? While it’s clear that women do not all share the same concerns, wouldn’t an environment in which being a woman is not in and of itself anomalous offer a good starting point from which to consider the diversity of all women’s views? I think it would; it bothers me that we remain so far from achieving this.

Of course, it could be that I worry too much. After all, it’s not as though the average MP has no contact whatsoever with womankind. Male MPs might, by and large, have been raised in creepy, ultra-posh all-male environments, but it’s not as though they never come face to face with real, live women in the here and now. They have wives! PAs! Nannies! Cleaners! Some of them even have daughters! What’s that if not an emotional investment in the future of the female population?

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Last night I happened to read an utterly unconvincing argument in favour of maintaining a ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. It is written by a man, Ahmed Abdel-Raheem, who wants to let Saudi women speak for themselves – providing, one assumes, it is via his good self. And as the self-appointed male spokesperson for Saudi women, Abdel-Raheem has this to say on their behalf:

People in Saudi Arabia have their own moral views and needs. What works in other societies may not fit in Saudi, and the reverse. In short, instead of launching campaigns to change the driving laws in the kingdom, the west should first ask Saudi women if they really want this or not, and western countries should accept the result, even if it’s not to their liking.

I don’t know if it’s just me but I think there’s a very basic philosophical problem here. Surely the moment you start asking a person who’s been banned from doing something whether or not they’d like the ban lifted you’ve already ceased to respect the terms of the ban. If Saudi women get to choose whether or not they’re forbidden from driving then they’re not really forbidden. They’re just choosing not to drive. You might not notice any difference on the roads but you’ve already changed the status of all non-driving women, simply by deigning to ask for their views. It seems to me Abdel-Raheem has already conceded the point he seeks to challenge. (more…)

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