August 2014


This morning I came across a quiz which purports to tell you whether you have a male or female brain. Obviously it’s important to know these things because reasons. However, on closer inspection of said quiz, it struck me that the questions were somewhat superficial. So I decided to write my own…

Do you have a male brain? A totally scientific quiz.

Do you feel entitled to apply for jobs for which you are under-qualified?
Do you think half the human race exists to meet the emotional needs of the other half?
Do you fail to notice when 90% of news stories don’t quote people who were not born with penises?
Does Loose Women make you feel threatened?
Do you feel entitled to travel unaccompanied without blaming yourself if you are attacked?
Do you experience a glow of self-congratulation when you deign to do the washing up?
Do you think “strong women” in films and on TV are kick ass, feminist and not remotely patronising?
Do you see your own anger as rational, reasonable and invariably provoked by others?
Do you worry that you might “accidentally” have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you?
Do you think your personal view of the world is in fact an objective one?

Now add up your score.
One or more positive responses indicate that you may have a male brain. Congratulations! (NB unless the rest of the world perceives you as male, this will be sod all use, but you know, congratulations all the same.)
Negative responses indicate a female brain. Bad luck (now put on a pink apron and go make me a sandwich).

Please note, this quiz is in no way authoritative or objective because it was written by someone who doesn’t have a penis. It’s just a bit of fun. These concepts and categories never have any actual consequences in the real world, right?

This morning, while wasting time on twitter, I came across the following tweet:

Anti-date rape nail polish! It changes colour if your acquaintance has slipped something dodgy into your drink! So a bit like those Hello Colour bath time toys you might remember from childhood, only way more sinister!

I look at this and I wonder, what is really being achieved? First we had anti-rape underwear, then hairy leg stockings, now rape drug detector nail polish (also available as drinking straws and cocktail stirrers!). You start to get the feeling that rape isn’t an act that rapists choose to commit, but an inevitability for which all women should prepare, like bad weather or traffic jams. You wouldn’t leave the house without an umbrella, so why leave the house without your anti-rape clothes on? Embrace your role as “potential rape victim”! Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that to some men, that’s all you’ll ever be, life gets a whole lot easier, right? I’m not convinced. (more…)

Years ago I happened to read the mansplainer wankscience classic that is Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Essential Difference (cover quote: “Women will want to talk about it … men will sit silent and brood over its details”). It was every bit as rubbish as my feminine intuition had told me it would be, apart from the appendices, which featured some cool multiple choice quizzes (a bit like the ones Cosmo used to do in the 80s). According to these, I have a high SQ (Systemizing Quotient) and a low EQ (Empathy Quotient), or, to put it in everyday sexism terms, a male brain! Get me!

Naturally, I was rather pleased about this. I may be a feminist but I’m also pretty damn responsive to the sexism that surrounds me every minute of the day. “A male brain?” thought I. “That must mean I’m dead clever!” Of course, this joy was tempered by the fact that my low EQ must mean I’m pretty shit at being a woman. No wonder my partner called me “dead inside” for failing to cry at the end of Ice Age 2! But at least from that point onwards I’d know that it wasn’t my fault for having been debating the merits of US foreign policy with some right-wing tosser on CiF when I was meant to be following the trials of Manny the Mammoth; it was my male brain wot made me do it.

(more…)

Way-hey! Richard Dawkins – who is male and science and think-y – is pro-choice ( sort of)!  He may not be big on women’s rights and consent in general, but he knows an opportunity to have a pop at Catholics and the disabled when he sees one. Let’s send him over to Ireland forthwith, to sort out the issue with reason and logic where all those shouty women have failed.

And yet I do wonder whether boorish, imperialistic tweeting, topped off with some smug-but-irrelevant science facts, is the right way to go about these things. Apart from anything else, the whole angle of analysis seems to me somewhat off – an obsessive focus on what the foetus is (can it suffer? Does it feel pain? What is its chromosome make-up?) and very little on the context of its surroundings. While this makes for a pleasant parlour game, I’m not convinced it gets to the heart of the matter: are pregnant women people?

The abortion “debate”, such as it is, continually revolves around the personhood or otherwise of the foetus. Personally (and I’m a woman so I may have got this wrong) I’ve always thought the pertinent issue was the personhood of the foetus container. After all, person or not, you wouldn’t just destroy something for no reason. And since overall it is considered impermissible to breach another person’s bodily integrity in order to give life to another – rendering forced blood, bone marrow or kidney donation illegal – surely the same should apply to pregnancy, assuming pregnant women are to be accorded the same status as everyone else. Of course, this is an enormous assumption to make, one which flies in the face of our general expectations of womankind (Richard’s in particular), but let’s just explore it for one moment.  Are they actual people or just, conveniently, walking wombs? (more…)

In the late 90s The Fast Show used to feature a recurrent sketch in which a group of men and one woman would be brainstorming for ideas. The punchline was always the same: the woman would be the one to find the solution but no one would seem to hear it until a man repeated it using slightly different words, having not quite understood it, whereupon he’d be treated like a total genius.

I think things are a bit like that in feminism these days. We have decades of serious scholarship and wonderful ideas but unfortunately most of it has come from not just from women, but from stupid old cis women (a bit like your mum, but more bigoted). That can’t be any good, can it? Best repackage it to make it seem more clever and authoritative. Best say it’s coming from someone with a deeper, more meaningful understanding of sex and gender. Best pretend it’s all new, all the better to continue pissing from a great height onto the very people we claim to be liberating. (more…)

Yesterday Buzzfeed published a spoof guide to contemporary feminist terminology. As a contemporary feminist, how I laughed. Laughed and laughed and laughed. Then, after about half a second’s laughing, I thought “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if someone wrote an actual guide to some actual feminism? One that actually mentions male oppressors and doesn’t spend half the time focussed on which feminists hold unacceptable views?” So despite being female and therefore crap, I decided to give it a go.

Gender (noun):

  1. Oppressive hierarchy, situating adult human males (as the construct “man”) at the top, adult human females (as the construct “woman”) at the bottom.
  2. Nebulous thing that makes you want to wear certain clothes, have certain ideas, do certain activities, adopt certain mannerisms etc. Otherwise known as “being a person”.

(more…)

I can’t remember when I first realised my son was a person. I guess as a mother you always know these things. Right from the moment he was first placed in my arms I sense there was something person-y about him, almost as though he might be an individual with his own consciousness, fully capable of developing a sense of himself which was not inextricably linked to gender stereotypes. Quite why this should be, I couldn’t say, but now that he’s older, I believe more and more that I was right. Nonetheless, like any mother, I have moments when I still wonder if I’m failing him.

From an early age my son has liked things. Some of them have been pink and some of them have been blue and some of them have been other colours. He has also liked activities, some of them boisterous and aggressive, some of them gentle and caring. Sometimes he goes through phases of liking more pink things than blue things, or doing more gentle things than aggressive things. A more attentive mother might have sat down with an excel spreadsheet, listed the number of boy activities and preferences in one column, the number of girl ones in another, and come up with a suitable gender for such a child. I never did this. I just looked at him and thought “ah, a male person, albeit one growing up in a world full of crappy categories arbitrarily linked to sex difference. Oh well, we’ll do our best to ignore them”. (more…)

In How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran offers the following explanation for women’s absence from historical records: “women have basically done fuck all for the past 100,000 years”:

Come on – let’s admit it. Let’s stop exhaustingly pretending that there is a parallel history of women being victorious [...] I don’t think that women being seen as inferior is a prejudice based on male hatred of women. When you look at history, it’s a prejudice based on simple fact.

These lines really pissed me off, as I imagine they pissed off many women reading the book. At the time I thought they pissed me off because it was such utter nonsense. It’s only looking back, having spoken to other women about feminism and theories of oppression, that I realise that what really pissed me off was worrying that maybe Moran was right.

It’s a thought that’s always been in the back of my head ever since I noticed women and girls were treated unfairly. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because we really are a bit shit. From an early age I’ve known that we come second. Boys and men need more time, more space, more resources, more praise, more money. We, on the other hand, exist to offer up the time, the space, the resources, the praise, the unpaid labour. That is our role and regardless of the vastly different experiences of women on a global scale (due to race, wealth, culture, religious belief, location etc.), it’s remarkable how similar the overall pattern is. Man does and is, woman reflects, absorbs and supports. That’s what we’re for.

But why? (more…)

This morning I was awakened to the sound of my sons engaged in serious debate regarding the relative merits of Minecraft and Match Attax. In the red corner was 5yo, putting forth the view that defeating zombie pigmen was the finest that twenty-first century childhood play had to offer. In the blue corner, 6yo was staunchly defending the superiority of the football trading card game beloved of all boys in Year 2. Various subtle argumentative techniques were used: shouting, hitting, making up a song about one’s brother’s smelly poo-poo pants and recording it on the iPad. Eventually, the two of them reached a reasonable compromise, one which involved wishing death on one another and thenceforth playing in separate rooms, on Mummy’s orders. They are nothing if not rational, sensible chaps.
It’s on days like this that I’m eternally grateful not to be the mother of girls, who’d no doubt be having some prissy, trivial scrap about Barbie versus Loom Bands or some similar nonsense. As Lucy Mangan sagely notes in her Guardian column today (as sagely as it is possible for anyone lumbered with a prissy female brain to note) girls twat about fighting while boys engage with proper issues. It starts in childhood and continues right through to adulthood, to the extent that women even mess up their own attempts at liberating themselves by being too bloody girly:

My heart fills with despair when feminists and feminism convulse in another self-induced set of agonies. This is women’s besetting sin and reminds me of years of frustration in the school playground trying to play games with other girls, forever arguing about the rules and never starting a bloody game at all. Meanwhile, the boys got together, got on in both senses, and returned to the classroom fitter, stronger, ready for the rest of the day.

Poor, poor Lucy. What a burden it must be to be the only non-crap girl in the village. It’s such a shame she couldn’t have been a boy, really, what with all her serious thoughts and proper opinions.
It’s not as though one of feminism’s main challenges has been countering the view that women’s experiences are trivial, insignificant, not the “real” game. It’s not as though female socialisation constantly teaches women not to fight, not to fuss, not to question the rules, just to play the bloody game even if it’s someone else’s game and you’re already destined to lose. It’s not as though men’s more “serious” battles – war, violence, grossly inequitable political bargaining – aren’t the neat, rational pursuits we’d like them to be. It’s not as though women are told, time after time, that their voices are too shrill, their argumentative techniques too hysterical, their conflicts too unbecoming. It’s not as though “your battles do not matter” is what little girls are taught from the day they are born. It’s not as though pushing back against this – saying “I am real, I define myself and my voice matters” – might, you know, be important. Come on. It’s hardly the World Cup.
As Lucy – poor, too-clever-to-be-female Lucy – says, silly feminists are always “behaving – as the dinner ladies so correctly in all but the politically prefixed sense used to shout at the knotted, tear-stained cliques fibrillating with pointless fury around the edges of their domain – like utter, utter girls”. What a shame we’re not men, wonderful, superior men, fighting over religion and trading cards rather than violence, human dignity and safety for all. If only we could all be men then there’d be no need for feminism at all.

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