Laurie Penny has a colouring book:

It’s called Finding Gender, and it was sent to me by an activist who knows how much I love social justice and felt-tip pens. In the book, a small child and a robot go on marvellous adventures, and children and nostalgic adults get to scribble on their clothes and costumes, their hair and toys. It’s an ordinary colouring book in every respect, apart from the fact that the child isn’t identifiably male or female. Neither is the robot. The person with the crayons gets to decide what they’re wearing, whether they’re boys or girls, or both or neither.

It sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? I wonder if there are other books in the series. Finding Class, for instance, where the child isn’t identifiably rich or poor and the person with the crayons gets to decide whether he or she has a pony and a yacht or a half-eaten bag of chips. It’s such a wheeze when an oppressive, abusive hierarchy can be reduced to a few self-indulgent, superfluous stereotypes. You could almost – almost – convince a child that they get to define their own place in a classist, misogynist social structure. As for adults … well, you’d hope most would have a sense that this isn’t quite how things work.. (more…)

In response to yesterday’s post I have received a lot of well-meaning messages informing me that “gender is not a binary”. This is, I assume, to disabuse me of the foolish notion that there’s only boring old male and female. I am reliably informed (as if I didn’t know it already) that there is plenty more in-between. Hence we don’t need to panic about gender itself oppressing people. There’s enough to go round! Don’t fear it, queer it! Everything is awesome! etc.

I am not convinced by this argument, not because I have any doubts about the number of gender identities currently on offer. There are loads. It’s like being in an Eastern Bloc country just after the Fall of Communism – look at the choice! No more shall we join a uniform stream of Men and Women trudging miserably out of the People Factory. We’re free at last! (Or at least we would be if it wasn’t for those pesky TERFs still clinging on to their Stalinist views on gender equality.) Gender is not a binary – it’s not! That Facebook drop-down provides all the empirical evidence we need. The trouble is, it might not be a binary, but it sure as hell is a hierarchy. (more…)

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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Poor Tam Cowan. The comedian – and, by all appearances, total knob – is the latest to fall victim to “the liberal elite” aka “the baying mob” aka “the media firing squad” aka [insert your own not-at-all hysterical synonym for ‘people who don’t agree with total knobs’]. Other victims include the Daily Mail, Page Three, smacking and private schools, those great British institutions which are constantly under attack from smug, privileged, obscenely powerful people who just don’t know the common man (at least, not in the way Boris Johnson or Paul Dacre do).

Cowan is in trouble – or, to use the words of Kevin McKenna, accused of “crimes against humanity” — because he wrote a pathetic, sexist little rant about women’s football. Because of this he is facing “a lynch mob” or, to use a slightly less tasteless expression from McKenna’s defence, facing one of the liberal elite’s regular “executions”. That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it? I mean, yes, he’s written a steaming pile of crap but surely he doesn’t deserve to die for it? Come on, metropolitan chattering classes, have a heart! (more…)

It was the lovely Mark Steele who pointed out that, when it comes to spending money, it’s the poor who have all the choices, “swanning around in charity shop cardigans and galavanting on shopping expeditions like the women in Sex and the City, squealing ‘Hey let’s go to Poundland and buy a dishcloth’, in ways the rich can barely dream of”. Meanwhile wealthy people like James “I’m not a rich person” Delingpole are scrimping and saving in order to give their offspring the same pricey schooling they received. No Poundland dishcloths, charity shop cardigans or, um, skiing holidays for him. Instead, it’s school fees all the way and what’s more, according to the chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, wonderful parents such as him are made to feel like “social lepers”.

It’s not fair, is it? As Delingpole points out,

I could have done the decent thing and used my earnings to help drive up property prices in a good state-school catchment area; or I could be splurging the same amount of dosh on an annual skiing holiday, a safari and a lease on that nice, chunky Range Rover I’ve always coveted. But instead, miserable, selfish bastard that I am, I’ve chosen to squander my money on my children’s education. What kind of monster must I be?

What kind indeed? In his view, “a loving, caring sort of monster”. In mine, just a rich one, no better nor worse than anyone else, were it not for his truly monstrous dishonestly regarding the broader inequalities in play. (more…)

This week the Telegraph ran a piece that purported to ask the question “has motherhood ever been so political?” Beneath the obligatory “pregnant woman in boring, inexplicably tidy office” photo, Judith Woods outlined the hard choices faced by mothers in today’s deeply unequal society.

Few people realise, for instance, that when mothers choose to stay at home “it’s not about luxury”. Nor is it about not having a job, or only having one that’s too poorly paid to cover childcare expenses. According to Woods, for these mothers “it’s about replicating the secure, traditional upbringing they had”:

In the process, they forgo holidays abroad, avoid glossy magazines full of the latest fashions they can’t afford and drive battered cars worthy of Only Fools and Horses.

I know, I know, it’s heartbreaking. But don’t use up all the tissues — there’s worse to come: (more…)

If only I’d been born three years earlier! Then I’d stand a chance of being a decent feminist. Alas, ‘tis not to be. Since I fall (just) in the 20 to 40 age bracket, I fear I may be one of those women who, according to the Independent’s Yasmin Alibhai Brown, “have squandered  the hard-won achievements of the original feminism”. And she’s not happy about it:

I squarely blame the young, who, through foolish apathy, criminal self-indulgence and sometimes uninformed loathing of the women’s movement, have ensured that our social, political and economic environment is less fulfilling, much less safe, less equal and less nurturing than it was even in the 70s and 80s when we old Fems were burning bras and raising hell.

Oh dear. That’s a telling off and a half. But Yasmin, seriously, do you mean the likes of me? I suspect you probably do. (more…)

This evening I read my children a lovely story called The Duchess of Cambridge’s Big Adventure. In it, a beautiful princess called Kate visits her friends Biff, Chip and Kipper, owners of a magic key which takes them on amazing trips to far-off lands and … Only kidding. The Duchess of Cambridge’s Big Adventure is actually the story of a woman in her thirties who looks nice while being pregnant. The end.

Disappointing though it is that Kate Middleton isn’t doing something genuinely adventurous, it’s not entirely surprising. Day after day we’re reminded that she’s “ripping up the royal baby rule book” by planning to stay with her parents once her baby is born. And that she’s whipping Kim Kardashian’s much commented-on arse in the pregnancy fashion stakes. All very exciting, at least for those of us who are excited by staying with parents and wearing clothes. For the rest of the world, it’s just a bit bewildering. You know something’s not quite right, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. Is it the crapness of royal protocol, the shamelessness of royalty itself, the fawning press, the sexism, the infantilisation of pregnant women … or all of these things at once? And is it even worth worrying about it now when it’s only going to get worse? (more…)

So, fellow feminists, here’s a quick quiz. Are we:

  1. Too obsessed with class?
  2. Insufficiently obsessed with class?
  3. In the Goldilocks zone as far as class is concerned?

Because frankly, I’m confused. One week Louise Mensch is telling us that feminism’s far too full of “debates about middle-class privilege” to get anything done, the next John Pilger’s complaining that “class is a forbidden word” amongst the feminist elite. “Whose side are you on?” asks John. Well, not the side of those who think the feminist agenda has to be restricted to their own privileged experience of reality. Equality is not achieved by treating the whole world like an op-ed, waiting to be populated with one’s own broad-brush caricatures and overbearing sense of righteousness.

So a woman who enjoys class privilege thinks feminism should focus more on gender, and a man who enjoys male privilege thinks it should focus more on class. Amazing! Perhaps, feminists, we should all give up now. Let’s all go home and cook tea, assuming cooking tea is something feminists do. I’m not sure whether we’re too busy “high heeling [our] way up the corporate ladder” or ”sitting around frenziedly checking [our] privilege”. Certainly, we don’t do mundane things such as read the news, which is why people like John Pilger have to read it for us, before explaining it, boorishly, in terms we can just about understand. (more…)

Maria Miller is proposing that parents of girls receive “info packs” to help broaden their daughters’ career aspirations. In the face of falling numbers of women in executive positions, what could be more beneficial for both equality and economic growth?

According to Miller, “making sure women can be successful at work and in business is essential if we want a strong economy”:

A vital part of future career success is the aspirations that girls have early in their lives, and the choices they make about subjects and qualifications. Parents are vital in helping girls make these choices, and we know that many parents want help with that. This campaign will give parents the knowledge and confidence they need to make sure that their daughters make choices which will help them realise their ambitions

Way-hey! Get influencing, mums and dads! Because that’s a major thing that’s holding this country back, quite possibly the whole reason why we’re in this sorry mess today – women and their stupid, girlie choices. (more…)

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…)

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:

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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…)

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…)

Yesterday evening I suffered the misfortune of witnessing the latest Barclays Bank advertisement. It’s one of those wry, cynical ones which show the customer going through various life stages, from youthful optimism right through to middle-aged resignation as the realities of family life slowly asphyxiate all hopes and dreams. Everyone’s been there, haven’t they? And by “everyone”, I mean all middle-aged, middle-class men, for they are the ones who have Stages Of Life and Related Financial Concerns. As for the rest of us? Why, we’re mere plot devices. Middle-class women exist only to have intermittently swollen bellies which produce parasitical children. Working-class men? Only there to screw over long-suffering middle-class men when they need their car fixed or their drain unblocked. Working-class woman? Doesn’t exist, at least not in bank ad land (perhaps one day she’ll be permitted to pop in, Mrs Doyle-like, with a tea urn and a duster with which to metaphorically “clean up” your finances). (more…)

For reasons best known to no one, my children have got back into reading, watching and listening to Thomas the Tank Engine. As you can imagine I am devastated. I thought we were over this phase. We’d put it all behind us, weren’t going to speak of it ever again. The hateful phrase “really useful engine” was set to become a distant memory, but suddenly, out of nowhere, the old obsession has returned.

I really hate Thomas, and by that I don’t just mean the series, I mean the individual. “Thomas, he’s the cheeky one”. The cheeky one? He’s the most self-satisfied, obstructive, arrogant little prick on the whole of Sodor. Every single “adventure” involves him smugly deciding he’s going to outshine everyone else in being “really useful”. This invariably leads to some kind of major fuck up, usually involving a crash and some paint / bunting / milk churns, whereupon Thomas seizes on the opportunity to pile on the smarm in his efforts to “make amends”. God, I truly DETEST his supercilious little half-smile. Not that the other engines are that much better. The only one I like is James, except the TV series has got his accent wrong. Rather than chirpy Liverpudlian, it should be pure Leslie Phillips. He’s a rake, is James, welcome to chuff into my tunnel any time he likes *cough*. (more…)

In 2004 Hilary Mantel wrote a piece for the LRB on saints, fasting girls and modern-day anorexia. I read it back then and was not overly impressed (when it comes to disagreeing with Mantel pieces in the LRB, I was way ahead of my time). Looking back on it now, I still find the piece disturbing. Dressed in clever language, it’s essentially a pro-ana piece based on the over-interpretation of what anorexia looks like from the outside (rather like Rachel Cusk’s more recent “anorexic statement” piece for the New Statesman). The arguments are wrong but they are finely crafted and seductive. Mantel, inhabiting a body she dislikes, presents the female anorexic as someone who is able to “opt out” of the restrictions placed on women because of their physical form:

Most anorexics do recover […]: somehow, and despite the violence visited on them in the name of therapy, the physical and psychological invasion, they recover, fatten, compromise. Anorexia can be an accommodation, a strategy for survival.

As a recovered anorexic, I want to say “no, it’s not like that, not like that at all”. And indeed it isn’t. All the same, I read Mantel’s words and feel that I, too, have “fattened, compromised”. As though anorexia gave me ownership of my body and now I’ve lost it, albeit not as dramatically as I lost it once.
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February’s issue of Glamour features an interview with the fashion designer Jonathan Saunders. It is, shall we say, illuminating:

“It’s reactionary,” says Jonathan, of the process of designing a new collection.

Too bloody right it is.

“Last season was about a very prim, buttoned-up, put-together woman.”

Riiiiiight.

“That smart woman is still at the core of what we do, but she’s now showing more skin. And I think she’s a little younger.”

Hmm. So Jonathan Saunders designs for an imaginary woman who ages in reverse. Brilliant. And yes, I suppose it’s just a “look”, not a person. But isn’t that the whole problem? It’s not about people, and yet there’s this discomforting pretence that it is, that it could even be about you, if only you weren’t so crap. (more…)

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