Is feminism sexist? It’s a question men’s rights activists have been posing for decades, to which the response from feminists has tended to be “no, it bloody isn’t. You’re sexist, mate”. For most of us, the sheer ridiculousness of this question is obvious. Of course feminism focusses on differences in the social and economic status of men and women. Of course feminism claims women experience forms of discrimination that men do not. Of course feminism identifies a power imbalance that is reinforced via gender. But feminism does none of these things in order to reinforce oppression; it does so in an effort to eradicate it. “I see no gender hierarchy,” pleasant as this is for the person not seeing, is of no use to those still stuck at the bottom of the (apparently invisible) pile.

And yet the “is feminism sexist?” question persists, even amongst feminists themselves, even if the latter don’t use quite the same words. Take Catherine Bennett’s current Observer piece, which seeks to inform us that “the idea that violence is gender-based is widely held, but sadly female pacifism is just another myth”. It’s a curious non-sequitur to start with – women don’t have to be actively pacifist for male violence to be a significant problem – but it gets worse as the article goes on. Bennett, ordinarily sharp on women’s issues, genuinely seems to believe there is something horribly sexist in stating the obvious: women simply aren’t as violent as men. (more…)

There is universal acceptance that women are constantly under threat of attack. It is in the air we breathe. Don’t go there, don’t do this, don’t wear that, remember I’m only telling you this because it’s common sense. We live our lives exposed, vulnerable and never able to forget it.

I think it is rare for a woman to walk anywhere alone without weighing up the risk, not just of being assaulted but also of being held responsible for any potential assault. I do this as a matter of course. It doesn’t stop me moving from place to place – I barely acknowledge that it’s happening – but it does mean I’m constantly feeling “I shouldn’t be here”. As a woman, wherever you are – at home, the workplace, somewhere in between – you know that this isn’t really your space. Men know it, too. Women are penetrable, weak, raw meat on show; there’s no way of redeeming them, so the only thing to do is keep them in the background as much as possible.

So we talk about what women can do to minimise the risk as they make their way through this foreign territory known as the entire world. The risk comes not from men, of course, but from women themselves; it’s our very being that is the problem. Talking about male violence – as something men do to women because they are raised to believe it is their right – is considered not only pointless, but offensive. Because #notallmen, right? Because what does “male” mean anyhow? Because aren’t you just putting women at greater risk by telling them there’s an alternative to this hunter-prey relationship? Because actually, isn’t it essentialist and conservative to talk about male violence (but not at all essentialist and conservative to tell women to simply suck up the fact that this unnameable thing is all around them)? Because aren’t there always “bad people” out there (ignoring what it is that over 90% of said “bad people” have in common)? Because, because, because. (more…)

To be a feminist is to be brave, but it is also to be fearful. How could you not feel fear, given the power structure with which you’ve chosen to engage? This fear is not an irrational phobia, some deep-rooted disgust in response to sex or naked flesh or cultural transgression. It’s a perfectly rational fear: the fear of male violence. It justified and it is logical.

It is logical to be afraid of sexual assault, rape, beating, harassment and murder. It is logical to fear those who might do these things to you, and to fear those who keep the power structures which enable them in place.

It is not a question of reinforcing #notallmen. You know that not all men will do these things, but you also know that some might. You are reminded of this every day, by newspaper headlines, TV plots, nudges on street corners, gropes on public transport, words called out as you walk down the street pretending to be impermeable while your cheeks burn. You are always moments away from the next message that will whisper in your ear you are not safe, not in that body, not in these times. If you thought about it long and hard – really, really dwelt on it – perhaps you’d never step foot outside your front door (oh, but even there you’re not safe, you know that too, two women per week killed by intimate partner violence). There is no safe space in which to be a woman, other than in your own head, providing you’re lying to yourself about how bad things are. (more…)

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An adaptation of the post that accompanied the above image:

Buried away somewhere in our collective subconscious is the knowledge that hundreds of thousands billions of children women are human beings aborted every year in the UK As a civilised, democratic society we have somehow to square what we’re allowing to happen to these young lives with our need to view ourselves as decent, compassionate and caring.

Cognitive dissonance is a term first coined by psychologists to describe the unease we feel when facing a situation which causes a conflict between our attitudes, beliefs or behaviours.  This feeling of discomfort leads to an alteration in one of the beliefs or behaviours in order to restore balance.

So for instance, I might think that it’s important to vote in my local election (belief) but I can’t make it to the polling station on time.  I have some options to reduce the dissonance this causes me: I can either drop what I’m doing and make sure I do get to the voting station on time (change my behaviour) or alter my belief that voting’s important by telling myself that my vote doesn’t count anyway (change my belief).

On a societal level we’ve developed a veritable arsenal of tools to relieve our collective cognitive dissonance about women abortion.  Unwilling to change our behaviour (we allow what is effectively the terrorization of an entire sex class abortion on demand) we reduce the discomfort this causes us as a nation by altering our attitudes to women abortion.   Among the beliefs promoted to ease our consciences are that the woman has men have the ultimate right to choose what happens to ‘her’ body control women’s bodies and labour and that there are too many people with full human rights (aka men) in the world already. (more…)

Over the past year I have seen far too many feminists – brilliant feminists, who put their heart and soul into fighting for women – denounced as “violent TERFs”. There have been articles demanding that others shun them. Men demanding that other feminists do not support them (and said other feminists complying). Misogynist diatribes speculating on these women’s sex lives on the basis that this is the least they deserve. Bullshit articles holding these women responsible for the deaths of 50,000. And I haven’t said very much. What little I have said has been enough to get me classed as a “violent TERF” too.

There’s a problem with saying anything, of course. If someone says “you’re an X”, there’s the risk that in saying “I’m not an X”, all you’ve done is validate the concept of X-ness and associate yourself with it. So it is with TERF-dom. A TERF would say she wasn’t a TERF, therefore any denial is, witch trial-style, evidence of guilt. And a TERF just would say TERF is a slur when it’s actually a purely descriptive term used to denote a political position: the political position of some stupid bigoted bitch who deserves to die in a fire. So what can you do? Say nothing, or join in with the kicking, just so you can tell yourself it won’t ever happen to you.

And yet it still might, since it’s hard to keep denying that sex class analysis matters in feminism. If you can’t think why, study some de Beauvoir or some Firestone. Go out into the world and look at what is happening to women and girls. Read some Crenshaw and think about how difference matters – and what a difference being female makes. Ask whether you really believe an oppressor class’s external perception of what women are, no matter how “fluid”, gives the oppressed enough of a voice. If after all that you still believe there is some band of devil women who experience membership of a marginalised group as belonging to an exclusive club, then knock yourself out, but don’t kid yourself you’re a feminist. Allowing an oppressed class the right to their own self-definition and boundaries is Feminism 101.

Anyhow, today I am angry. I am angry because a violent male has been sentenced to four days – just four days – in prison for a sustained sexual assault on a female victim. We are required to refer to the perpetrator as a “she”. We are asked to call the rape of a woman, using a penis, a “lesbian” assault. We are expected not to call this male violence, for that would make us “violent TERFs”. But it is male violence. It is.

If there is a problem with terminology here – if the right to self-define clashes with the right to call violence by its proper name – then that problem is not caused by feminists. It’s caused by males who rape women and all those who refuse to identify them as such. It’s caused by a gender hierarchy which non-feminists both defend and refuse to acknowledge. Feminists don’t owe anyone a solution to the linguistic contradictions emerging from this mess. It’s not for us to tiptoe around with language so that no one feels “erased” by the description of a male penis violating female flesh. It’s not our fault. We didn’t create this gender hierarchy. We challenge it. If you prefer to micro-manage it, making tweaks here and there while those at the bottom of the pile continue to suffer, go ahead. But again you are not a feminist.

I know what the standard narrative for this particular news item will be. All “violent TERFs” do. Just as every act of male violence against women and girls is wickedly “exploited” by feminists who wish to name the problem (making feminists, not murderous men, the baddies), a trans woman committing rape will be “exploited” by TERFs to put the vulnerable trans community at risk. Because those written off as the penetrable class are not vulnerable themselves. Because naming male violence within a community makes you responsible for male violence inflicted on that community. Because you can vilify a whole group (feminists) for violent acts that have not been committed by a single one of them. Because extrapolating that there are issues with language and categorisation which put women at risk is an act of violence in itself, deserving of a lifetime’s denigration and exclusion. Rape? We’ll give that four days. Four days and no one speak a word, because you know the rules for male violence: isolated incidents. Always remember that and never forget that you’re only words away from being denounced, forever, as a violent TERF.

According to Kirstie Allsopp, nature is not a feminist. On the face of it, it’s hard to disagree. Gloria Steinem, Andrea Dworkin, Audre Lorde? Feminist. Nature – plants, trees, flowers and stuff? Not feminist. There, that was easy.

Of course, this isn’t exactly what Allsopp means. Her comment comes in the midst of an online “debate” about fertility, one of those in which you’re meant to take a position on when a woman, any woman, should reproduce. The most ridiculous thing about it is the suggestion there might actually be a right answer. Too early? You’re feckless and just won’t cope. Too late? You might have missed your chance. Somewhere in the middle? Way to piss off your poor, hard done-to employer, you traitor to the cause! Face it, would-be breeders, you’re destined to fuck it up, and besides, we haven’t even taken into account the specificity of your situation. We’re talking about this as though it’s an abstract choice, in which issues of safety, wealth, culture, interpersonal relationships etc. don’t play any part (best not start looking into those things, too, or your head would explode). (more…)

When women are killed, we remain just as dead as any man in similar circumstances. It cannot be argued that we have not really died, that the bullet that went through our skull didn’t really hurt us. Our death is an objective truth. It’s just the years leading up to it – all those experiences, thoughts and feelings – that can never quite be verified. For how does one know whether a life has validity unless it was lived by a man?

A man’s story belongs to him. He is more than “just the women”. As Judge Thokozile Masipa said of Oscar Pistorius, not guilty of murder despite firing four shots through a locked bathroom door, “the accused is the only person who can say what his state of mind was at the time he fired the shots that killed the deceased”. His experiences are inviolable. And as for those of the deceased? Alas, she has but one experience: that of being dead, and before then, her experience was that of being the other half; the complement, the accessory, the essential blonde girlfriend in the Blade Runner Story. Oscar Pistorius Charged With The Murder Of Model Lover. What experiences would a model lover have, anyway? None, were it not for the man who magics her into existence. Look! There she is, on his arm! How clever of him to find one like that! (more…)

I wish I wasn’t pear-shaped.

My nose is too fat.

Laxatives are definitely the answer.

Why can’t I be thinner?

Does all this sound familiar? If you’re a woman, it should. While these statements were taken from the walls of the ladies’ loos in a burger bar, they’re meant to represent what all of us are really thinking. Go on, admit it. We hate ourselves. We’re women; it’s what women do.  If you’re not drowning in self-loathing, you’re not in the club.

Staff at Almost Famous, Leeds, have now painted over their fresco of female insecurity, in response to a blog by food writer Helen Graves. The wall was a shitty idea, poorly executed. Nonetheless, you can’t blame the owners for trying. Why not cast an ironic eye on female self-hatred?  It’s what all the cool kids are doing. Twenty-five years after the publication of Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth – bright, fiery and full of anger – women’s hatred of their bodies is seen not as a scandal but an inevitability. We no longer deny that women hate themselves but write it off as part of what women are. (more…)

When I first became anorexic, way back in the 1980s, we had to make our own thinspiration. Pro-ana websites and online communities didn’t exist. The best you could hope for was the odd Woman’s Own article on Lena Zavaroni or an ITV special on The Carpenters. Most of the time it was reading the same old recipe books and collecting newspaper cuttings of Nancy Reagan. Truly, today’s eating disorder sufferers don’t know they’re born.

By contrast, these days we cater to the needs of the most discerning anorexics, with starve-friendly websites packed with bonetastic images.  Nonetheless, there are concerns that it has gone too far. According to an article in The Daily Beast (helpfully illustrated by a photograph of an emaciated body – get a load of that, thinspo-lovers!), “Italy’s Parliament recently proposed a bill that would criminalize pro-anorexia site authors with a $67,000 fine and up to a year in jail”. Disaster! What if all such sites were banned? Where would your average “friend of Ana” have to go for her next fix? Well, I guess there’s always Closer, or Heat, or Now, or the Sidebar of Shame, or a million other media outlets that regularly concern troll women who are clearly desperately ill (body shock! Starve wars! Size zero hell!). But still, at least you wouldn’t have those sneaky anorexics going off and doing it behind people’s backs, denying the poor publishers some much-needed revenue. (more…)

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.

This morning @FeministPics tweeted a newspaper report on the fascinating story of Harriet Capon, who spent two years presenting as a boy. When asked to explain herself, Capon claimed her motivations were economic:

I am one of a family of six. My mother, I regret to say, is in very precarious health, and about two years ago I started thinking seriously about how I could add to the household income to the best advantage. Of course everyone knows that a man can make more money than a woman in industrial employment. I cogitated for a long time, and finally I decided to become a ‘man’.

All of this took place a century ago. There was no Equal Pay Act, no anti-sexual harassment legislation, no maternity leave, none of the safety nets for which feminists have fought long and hard. Capon’s assumption – that if one wanted to make money in industrial employment, it was easier to be a man, even easier than it is today – was absolutely correct.

A short while after @FeministPics put out the report a tweet from another twitter user appeared, mentioning “Charles Capon, #trans boy for 2yrs during WWI”. It referred to the same story, only now it was presented in a completely different light. Suddenly it is suggested that Capon acted, not in response to a gender hierarchy which values males more than females, but because she was indeed one of the ‘higher value’ individuals. I’ve rarely seen a clearer example of neoliberal identity politics being privileged over economic, social and political oppression. Given the pitifully low status of women and girls the world over, this matters. (more…)

In his brilliant blog post on purity leftism, Matt Bruenig describes a group of activists whose “interest is not in reducing oppression as much as it is in reducing their own participation in it”

Above all else, they want to be able to say that they are not oppressing, not that oppression has ended.[…] A purity leftist that carries out some action or campaign does not care whether it achieves anything. Just participating in the action, although a meaningless gesture, is a gesture nonetheless.

We all know the type: someone who boasts loudly of their revolutionary credentials but who avoids all practical commitments for the simple reason that the moment you start doing something, you are tainted. It might be that your organisation has to ask the wrong people for money; perhaps you’ll need to use products that aren’t ethically sourced; maybe your resources are limited and you’ll need to choose whom you can and can’t help. For whatever reason, the moment an idea becomes a deed, it’s never as pure as it once was and for some people, the damage this would do to their self-perception is just too much.

You can admire purity leftists as people who stick to their principles and never compromise or you can see purity leftism for what it is: privilege in action. People not getting their hands dirty because they simply don’t have to. It has much in common with choice feminism, described by Michaele L. Ferguson as a feminism that is “motivated by a fear of politics”:

It arises in response to three common criticisms of feminism: that feminism is too radical, too exclusionary, and too judgmental. In response, choice feminism offers a worldview that does not challenge the status quo, that promises to include all women regardless of their choices, and that abstains from judgment altogether.

Way-hey! A feminism that enables you to see yourself as the most principled, inclusive person while never, ever having to lay your own neck on the line. You never have to make a decision about who can be admitted to a shelter, or whether or not certain forms of work have a negative impact on women as a class. You just get to sit in judgment on those who do and that in itself can be your “activism”.

Becky, who founded the ethical clothing company Who Made Your Pants?, is neither a purity leftist nor a choice feminist. In a country with horrendously weak employment laws, in which employers are well within their rights to do the bare minimum for their employees – and in which most do — she founded a business that does more than that. She employs women who desperately need jobs to make clothing from recycled materials. The conditions in her factory are excellent. That said, it is not a perfect business. It is based in the UK, not on a fluffy cloud in Perfectland where nobody ever has to make compromises. It is a business which, on the spectrum of “never good enough”, strives to do as much as possible rather than as little as one can get away with. For this Becky deserves admiration.

And yet, for the likes of Brooke Magnanti, writing in the Telegraph, this is not good enough. To Magnanti, Becky’s project deserves not applause but derision. For how can it ever be free from the taint of capitalism? Isn’t everything, when you think about it – as first-year politics students often do, after several pints down the student bar – just all part of the same fucked up process? As Magnanti notes,

I can claim to be wearing an ethical jumper that I knitted myself, but where was the wool from? Shorn from what animals, in what conditions? What’s the dye? I can’t buy local wool; everything produced in the part of Scotland where I live goes off to stuff mattresses in Italy. And don’t even get started on the environmental wreckage of cotton crops. Ethical consumerism can’t be assessed on a single metric, and those who do so are laughable. It also does not mean the same thing to everyone in every circumstance.

She’s right, isn’t she? It’s complicated, oh so complicated. So complicated, in fact, that we might as well all sit on our privileged arses and do fuck all. Or better still, get paid to write about how complicated it is. At least then we’re not lowering ourselves by making pants that lack the requisite level of ideological purity.

Still, in a world that is so, so complicated it’s a good job there are still some occupations that aren’t complicated at all. Take sex work, Magnanti’s previous profession. In this case, one transaction between two (hopefully) consenting adults has no impact whatsoever on anything else in the entire world. It has no impact whatsoever on the extent to which all women’s bodies are objectified, commoditised and dehumanised. For some magic reason, upon which Magnanti never expounds, sex work is totally self-contained. Here, ethical consumerism can indeed be assessed on a single metric, despite the enormous power imbalances between men and women, and between clients and sex workers. It’s only when we’re dealing with pants and jumpers that being immersed in the capitalist-patriarchal mire happens to be of any relevance, or so we’re meant to think.

Do you know what? I am struggling to buy this bullshit, based as it is on a merging together of choice feminism, purity leftism and pure, naked spite. I would rather, a million times over, support someone who exploits people’s anxiety over capitalism than someone who exploits men’s anxiety over female sexual autonomy. I would rather, a million times over, support someone like Becky, who changes the material conditions of other women’s lives, than support someone who feeds off the fear of judgement that allows individualism to masquerade as feminism.

So, go ahead, Brooke. Choose your non-ethical pants, choose your column in the right-wing press, choose to believe you’ve fucked your way out of being privileged, white, and middle class. Choose all of these things but don’t ever, ever choose to try to make a difference. You’ll never meet the requirements of your own prudish politics so you might as well not try.

It was the free eyeliner that did it. After over a year of avoidance I caved in and bought a copy of Glamour and yes, it’s as rubbish as it ever was (but “hey, it’s okay if your new sandals require strategically placed plasters to be wearable”. So, there’s that).

Peak Glamour Rubbishness comes on page 91, with a piece by Stephen Armstrong on “girl envy” (yes, I know). It’s one of those sleazy, sugar-coated MRA-in-disguise articles that tells you “hey ladies, you’re so great, what with your ability to multi-task, always look perfect, bear my children and do lots of shitty jobs so that I don’t have to!” Gee, thanks. Always good to know my subjugation is appreciated.

The piece goes on for three pages, providing plenty of choice nonsense to pick from. My particular faves include Armstrong quoting a fellow journalist, George, on what women are like once they’ve had given birth:

Mid-life crisis? Women have no time for that shit. From the outside, pregnancy looks like a nine-month crash course in the meaning of life. We men, on the other hand, seem destined to spend our late forties seeking enlightenment in Lycra that doesn’t fit, on carbon fibre bikes we can’t afford, doing triathlons. Yes, childbirth might do us a favour.

Yes, George. That is EXACTLY what it’s like. Post-natal depression? Never heard of it. Unhappy mothers in their late forties? Don’t exist. And then there’s Armstrong himself on why it looks like we ladies are “having a lot more fun”:

When we see you across the room – through a bustling party, in a high-powered meeting, back to the table after 15 minutes in the powder room or walking towards the bed – there’s something about the way you move, your mischievous smile, the smart joke and the totally sorted view of what’s needed that stops our heart and catches our breath.

It’s at this point you start to wonder whether Armstrong has met any women in real life or bases his whole reading of half the human race on TV adverts and rom coms. Certainly, he doesn’t seem to think women have an inner life in the way that men do. We don’t have any of those messy crises. We don’t feel conflicted or challenged or incompetent. We just sashay across the room, spreading sweetness and light, making everyone feel better with our “totally sorted view”. Jesus Christ. Thank god we’re not actual real, live people since that would really make things inconvenient for Stephen and George. (more…)

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