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…)

I knew my sons were boys four months before they were born. For each, a penis was visible on the twenty week scan. They were not, shall we say, “modest”, which is just as well, because I wanted to know in advance. I wanted to be able to prepare myself, by which I do not mean purchase a vat of blue paint and a range of suitably gendered toys. I wanted to know what, in a viciously gendered world, we’d be up against: the conditioning that tells my children to be violent, unfeeling, dominant, unable to admit to vulnerabilities, or the conditioning that tells my children they must be passive, self-effacing, nurturing, mere objects for the purpose of another’s self-definition. I wanted to have time to think about how to protect them (but there’s never enough time for that).

My sons are boys because they have penises. They are neither female nor intersex. They are male. They are not boys in the gendered sense of the word: their character, emotional life, intellect and world view are not shaped by the fact that they have magic boy brains. I am not, however, naïve; I know that much of what is shaping their experience as human beings comes from the fact that others believe such boy brains exist and will treat my children accordingly. This is why, as a feminist, I am against what gender is and does. It might be a hierarchy which implicitly positions my sons at the top, on the arbitrary basis of reproductive difference, but it is one that harms them, too. They are unique, creative, wonderful little people, not “a gender” (what is that, anyhow? How many genders would we need to allow them to be utterly individual? 7 billion? What, you mean like having no genders at all? Don’t be such a bigot!). (more…)

As a feminist I’ve spent a great deal of time worrying about one thing: misogyny, that is, the hatred of women for being women. Over the past few days, however, something has come to my attention: it doesn’t actually exist! You know that global phenomenon whereby women and girls are valued less than men and boys – paid less, silenced, treated as goods to be exchanged? Turns out it’s all a massive coincidence. It might look like there’s more to it than that but don’t worry – it’s all one big misandrist fib (NB misandry does exist, obviously).

You might think that, say, gender stereotyping in toys and clothing was linked to attempts to “naturalise” oppressive gender roles. Turns out it isn’t. Gender stereotypes are totally cool; the only trouble is we keep giving the wrong toys to the wrong kids, a bit like getting odd socks out of the wash. Once we’ve got that sorted it’ll be fine to keep stereotyping by gender (there won’t be any actual reason to do so, but still, it’s got nothing to do with misogyny, since that’s a figment of our collective imagination). In the meantime the important thing is to remember that all mix-ups harm boys just as much as they harm girls – otherwise that wouldn’t be fair, right? (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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Gender stereotyping has a tendency to feel like a poor relation to full-on, in-your-face misogyny. While it’s not ideal that Kinder Surprise eggs now come in pink and blue versions, or that girls now get their own, super-girlified versions of Jenga and Lego, just how much of a worry should this be? Aren’t there more serious issues to think about? And anyhow, is it really sexism or just habit, laziness or a bit of harmless fun? It’s annoying, yes, but is it all that bad?

Today I received the 2013 Oxfam Unwrapped catalogue and discovered that it, too, had fallen prey to crass gender stereotypes. You’d think that the gift of a working well or a fuel-efficient stove was pretty gender neutral, but apparently not. Such things can, with a little imagination, be split into “Gifts for the girls” and “Gifts for the guys”. While it’s harder for Oxfam than it is for most other companies (for whom men’s gifts = crap gadgets, women’s gifts = over-packaged toiletry sets), the company has nevertheless pulled it off. I’m irritated, yes, but I’m also slightly impressed. (more…)

Womanhood: it’s an etiquette minefield. What’s the correct way to respond to a rape threat on twitter? Should one really make a fuss when reproductive rights are under threat? Should the word “feminist” be uttered in polite company? All these questions and more will never, ever be answered. The minute you raise your voice loud enough for them to be heard you’ll get told off for being too shouty.

This is the perennial problem with being female. Embody “feminine” values – be good, keep quiet, don’t push yourself forward – and you’ll be rewarded with sod all. Ask for something more – be dominant, demanding, self-assured – and you’ll get worse than sod all. We’re trying to win at a game where, each time we change tactics, the rules change in response. We can’t possibly win by playing properly. We don’t even have the status of true competitors.

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I’ll always remember the day my first son was born. “It’s a boy,” said the midwife. “Urgh, take it away,” said I. “I’m a feminist. I don’t do boys.” The fact is, like all card-carrying feminists, I’m contractually obliged not to give a shit about the welfare of non-women. As far as they’re concerned, I’m all out for revenge.

Of course, that’s the theory, but in practice things are more difficult. When it’s your own children who’ve failed (as yet) to identify as female you end up making compromises. Truth is, I’ve found that I love my sons very much. It’s just everyone else’s sons who can sod off. It’s not as though a social structure which discriminates against them will have any impact on my kids, or on the genuinely important ones (aka girls). So let’s crack on with creating a world in which everything is weighted in favour of the latter.

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Poor old Daddy Pig! As usual, he’s in trouble. This time, however, he’s not broken his lawnmower / dyed his football strip a girly shade of pink / chosen a Christmas tree that’s too big to fit in the car / mistaken a field of potatoes for Potato City. He’s been found guilty of being a bad role model. Ho ho!

According to a Netmums survey, 93% of parents “claim children’s shows don’t represent real-life dads this Father’s Day” (and, one presumes, at any other time):

Almost half of parents polled (46%) slammed books, adverts and children’s TV shows like Peppa Pig, The Simpsons and even the Flintstones which show dads as lazy or stupid. Almost a third of parents (28%) claim it is “a very subtle form of discrimination against dads” while a further 18% were more strident, saying it makes children believe dads are “useless” from an early age and there would be an “outcry” if it was done against mums.

Misandry a-go-go! Or possibly not. This is, after all, Netmums, not exactly known for enlightened views on gender equality. I don’t trust them on feminism (or feMEnism, as they like to call it), so I’m hardly going to take their word for it as far as Daddy Pig’s concerned. (more…)

I am the mother of two boys. I know I’m not perfect but I do try to be a good parent. Unfortunately it appears that for the past five years I have been remiss. I have failed to “channel” my sons’ boisterousness.

According to James Delingpole – now the Ross Kemp of posh rightwing journalism – “we seem to have forgotten that boys will be boys”.  I for one am guilty of this. I look at my boys and think “they’re boys”. But rarely do I go on to conclude “and thus they will be boys”. This might sound like a minor omission but it’s not.  What it actually means – and this is a serious fact, because the Telegraph says so – is that they’ll grow up to beat the shit out of other boys. And possibly also girls. And maybe even household pets. Basically, because my boys have not been allowed to “be boys” (as defined by the Victor Book for Boys circa 1964) they will grow up to be violent hooligans as opposed to men of courage – the kind of men who win wars, slaughter beasts and present Top Gear.
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I wrote this post in a fit of rage-fuelled inspiration. Only kidding. I am, after all, a mere woman. What I actually did was take hours, nay, days to plod diligently through several drafts, listening to the creaks and groans of the slow-moving cogs that drive the female brain. Hopefully it’s therefore an okay piece. I mean, I’ve tried my best. What more can we women do, given that pure unadulterated genius – or failing that, just the ability to think quickly – is way beyond our reach?

I am a well-educated person – possibly over-educated, given that a) I’m a woman and b) I have kids. I have lots of qualifications, partly due to my class background, partly due to luck – but mostly, it could be argued, due to fortunate timing. After all, I took my GCSEs in 1991, only shortly after the introduction of the exam. As we all know, GCSEs favour girls. Had I been born a few years earlier I’d have had to take O-levels and we all know that boys, being innately clever as opposed to innately arsed to do coursework, consistently outperformed girls when it came to these. We all know that, and yet it’s actually total bollocks.
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Until this week I had no idea that Hugo Chávez formally recognised the economic value of traditional “women’s work” . To be honest, I didn’t know much about Chávez. The one Venezuelan I know didn’t like him, but then none of us like our political leaders, do we? The most I’d assumed was that Chávez didn’t like women overly much, given the state of abortion law in Venezuela. Seems I was wrong, at least where a certain type of woman is concerned. It appears Chávez acknowledged that women who, to use the terminology of the average pay gap apologist, “don’t work because they’re raising children”, were bloody essential to a country’s welfare. Even if things were a bit more complex than that, as a basic principle that seems brilliant. Globally, we pay lip service to the devotion of mothers, yet so often stop short of saying you could actually put a price tag on it.

With Mother’s Day coming two days after International Women’s Day, I can’t help wishing it was more about that – genuine, heartfelt recognition – and less about a bunch of flowers, a pat on the head and yet another year of being horrendously undervalued. Don’t get me wrong, on a very personal level I love it. The card my five-year-old has written for me (“Thank you for all the love yoof givan me”) is just marvellous and I’ll treasure it forever. But as a cultural event, I wish Mother’s Day kicked a bit more arse. The commercial focus of it these days all feels rather KFC “Mum’s Night Off” in how it values what mothers do, bigging up inequality as a noble sacrifice in return for which you get, if not a bucket of chicken, then the only marginally better box of Thornton’s Continentals. It celebrates a particular type of motherhood – twee, self-effacing, repressed, waiting for that one day of the year when it can truly let rip with a half-bottle of rosé wine and a Lush bath bomb. It has got, let’s be honest, fuck all to do in appreciating what a wide range of mothers, all of different backgrounds and with different needs, do for their own children and society at large. If it did have, it would at least offer some form of meaningful response to all the things which piss us off.  (more…)

When Google’s Sergey Brin suggested that using a smartphone was “kind of emasculating”, he no doubt didn’t mean it to sound as ridiculously sexist as it did. He probably just meant “it’s a bit silly” or “it makes you look a bit of a prat” (still not a great thing for a Google boss to say, but an improvement at the very least). Unfortunately, I and countless others can’t help reading his actual words and hearing them translated into the language of almost every boy we remember from primary school: “Urgh! Smartphones are for girls! Girls are rubbish and smartphones are too!” (to be fair, smartphones didn’t exist when I was at primary school, nor even your basic mobile. But they said this kind of thing about skipping ropes, so it’s plausible that they’d have said it about potentially outdated technology, too).
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I have in my time been called a “humourless feminist”. Obviously this is something of which I’m very proud. I think if you’re not called humourless at least once – preferably by someone who’s also speculating on where you are in your menstrual cycle – then you’re doing feminism wrong (this rule applies regardless of whether or not you’re someone who actually menstruates. I’m pretty sure my partner’s been accused of having PMS in his time, although clearly not by me). (more…)

Top tip for partners: If you and your partner have children together and there’s one bit of parenting you don’t usually do – let’s say it’s getting everyone ready for the school and nursery run – and it just so happens that one day you get to do it – let’s say you’re setting off for work a bit later – and it turns out it’s really, really difficult, do you:

  1. think “crikey, this is stressful” and make a note that while your partner may not have to start work as early as you do, that doesn’t mean life’s necessarily much easier?
  2. stomp about wondering why no one has got a better routine established, intermittently asking the kids pointed questions that start with “but don’t you usually …” or “doesn’t Mummy get you to …”?

The correct answer is of course (1). The second one does NOT accurately describe the way my partner behaved this morning, but it just felt that way. Because I’m stressed and tired and so is he. We’re really, really tired and even though our children are lovely, they don’t half whine about irrelevant crap. (more…)

Come Christmas Day, my three-year-old will be getting the pink doll’s house he’s been asking for for weeks. Or rather, he’s been asking me for it for weeks. I’ve only recently discovered that his whims seem to change depending on who’s around.

During my son’s nursery Christmas Party last week Father Christmas asked each of the childen what he or she would like to receive. Much to my surprise I discovered that “a pink doll’s house” becomes “a lorry” when other children are around. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t all that surprising. He’s at the age at which one starts to learn what it means to be a girl or a boy within a highly gendered culture. He’s starting to realise he’s not really “allowed” to like pink things, at least not in public. From now on his beloved Suzy Sheep socks are for bedtime only. (more…)

So feminists don’t do chivalry? Frankly, I find the very suggestion reveals a complete lack of politesse. I’m a feminist yet I’ve always been a friend of courtoisie. Indeed, I’ve read whole books that seek to define appropriate ritterliches Benehmen (I didn’t study medieval literature for nothing  – well, actually, it’s starting to look like I did. But still …).

The debate on chivalry has been “restarted” by an article in the Atlantic (a publication which I sometimes feel was set up with the sole purpose of rewriting Femail in Pseud’s Corner-friendly language). You know all that stuff about how feminists get really mad if men hold doors open, so then men get told off for holding doors open, then women – who are not the same as feminists – get pissed because the told-off men have stopped holding doors open etc. etc.? Well, it’s that. Again. “The breakdown in the old rules, which at one extreme has given rise to the hookup culture, has killed dating and is leaving a lot of well-meaning men and women at a loss.” Blah blah blah – you know the drill. Except – except! – there’s a sort-of social sciencey bit.

According to Emily Esfahani Smith, a recent study has shown that “chivalry is associated with greater life satisfaction and the sense that the world is fair, well-ordered, and a good place” – so a world not unlike the end of an episode of Mike the Knight. Who could possibly be unhappy with that? Well, the authors of the study to which Esfahani Smith refers, for starters. What Kathleen Connelly and Martin Heesacker actually observe is that benevolent sexism – a term which the Atlantic piece immediately dismisses as a kind of Orwellian doublespeak – “is indirectly associated with life satisfaction for both women and men through diffuse system justification”. This isn’t quite the cause and effect scenario that Esfahani Smith would like to suggest. Still, never mind – where made-up social science stumbles, let’s throw in some made-up history instead! (more…)

I like to watch the clouds roll by,
And think of cherubs in the sky;
But when I think of cherubim,
I don’t know if they’re her or him.

The Cherub, Ogden Nash

I haven’t studied theology and I’m not a great reader of the Bible. Thus when it comes to the nature of angels in a Christian context, I’d say I’m pretty ignorant. I think there’s some debate about whether they are male, female, intersex or none of the above, but I’m worried this is just me confusing Christian representations of the divine with the above Ogden Nash poem. I’m pretty sure one was called Peter Gabriel and that Satan used to be an angel before the Emperor turned him to the Dark Side or something like that. But that’s about it. If you want a definition of angels (and you don’t mean the Robbie Williams song or the 1970s hospital drama) please don’t ask me. And yet, despite my professed ignorance, here’s one thing I don’t think angels are: simpering girlies in pretty white dresses, all trying desperately hard to look like Beyoncé while swishing their hips in a saucy manner. (more…)

Imagine there’s an issue you really, really care about. It’s a serious one, one which causes harm to billions of people the world over. In some cases it leads to death. You attend conferences about it, write articles on it, try desperately hard to raise awareness. And then someone asks you what this issue really is – what are its causes, how does it operate – and you tell them “personally, I don’t really care”. Wouldn’t you find that just a little bit odd?

This is the problem I’m having with Ally Fogg’s Guardian piece on International Men’s Day. As the mother of two boys – and, on a far more basic level, as a human being who at least tries not to be a total tosser – I have no objection to engaging with problems that are more likely to be faced by men than women. I don’t want to have rights that my sons couldn’t also enjoy nor for them to feel afraid of expressing views that hold no stigma when they are voiced by women and girls. All the same, I tend to think that in order to challenge what Fogg describes as the “spider’s web” of “specific social injustices that specifically or disproportionately affect men and boys”, the most obvious port of call would be feminist analyses of gender injustice. If something is happening to men and not to women, it says something about what we think of women as well as men.
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In my household I am outnumbered. On the pink side there’s only me while on the blue there’s my male partner and our two sons. Obviously this causes no end of troubles when it comes to purchasing food, but thankfully our kitchen has plenty of cupboards. Once the weekly shop is done we tend to use our space wisely to maintain an appropriate level of gender-based food segregation.

In my cupboard (painted pink) we have: Galaxy bars (for when I’m sad / wistful), Maltesers (for when I’m up for Loose-Women-style japes), Ryvita (for miserable lunches with unfunny friends) and the full range of Special K products (for when I fundamentally hate myself). Meanwhile, in the men’s cupboard (blue), we have: Yorkies and Snickers bars (the only chocolate straight men are permitted to eat), extra thick-cut crisps (since Skips are way too effete) and various Big Soups (since, unlike women, men are presumed to eat because they’re hungry – and to want to consume something genuinely substantial, as opposed to some deceitful “fuller for longer” salad nonsense). We used to have a shared cupboard for things we were both allowed to consume (it was painted yellow, obviously). Alas, it mainly contained carbs, which are now men-only and thus belong in the blue cupboard (although I’m considering creating a neutral shelf in the fridge for cheese and bacon – except I think the new rule is that women can only have these if they have nothing but these. And I’m not giving up my Galaxy – I might get all weepy and need it). (more…)

I was born in 1975. I do not recall a time in my life, ever, during which sexism, racism or homophobia were not considered to be passé. Discrimination always happened yesterday. Then today becomes yesterday and suddenly we realise that today wasn’t too great, either. Apart from “today today”, 2012. Finally, at long last, we’re totally sorted. Prejudice doesn’t exist. It’s not as though thought there’s the remotest possibility that in twenty year’s time we’ll look back and say “actually, I don’t know why we all thought that was acceptable”. (more…)

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