UK’s vilest women to move to the same town.” This is how the Sunday People announces the news that Maxine Carr, Karen Matthews and Tracy Connelly – “three of Britain’s most notorious female criminals” – are apparently “enjoying life” in the same “seaside resort”. I see a headline like this and I’m not sure how to respond. I have no wish to defend these women’s crimes (even though it appears that our ability to distinguish between them and the crimes committed by the men in their lives has vanished). Nonetheless it seems to me that the headline is sexist in a burn the witches! way.  So we now have a chart for the “UK’s vilest women”? Who else is on it? Since there are, arguably, worse crimes committed by women in the UK, what are the real criteria being used here? Is the Daily Mail’s take on it – Monsters By The Sea – really in line with how the paper would describe men who had not been convicted of any violent crime themselves? And when the Mirror discusses “warped mum Karen Matthews” and speculates on each woman’s weight, is this not gendered in any way?

Perhaps I shouldn’t even go here. When women who are beyond the pale are subjected to sexism, the most sensible thing for any feminist to do is back away. We have a hard enough PR job on our hands without running the risk of seeming to sympathise with criminals “just because they’re women”. The same applies when we’re dealing with right-wing politicians. You can predict in advance what the response will be: if you’re so bothered about someone like Margaret Thatcher or Julia Gillard being a victim of misogyny, you can’t be all that concerned about the victims of her policies. It’s not a logical argument (you condemn both the misogyny and the policies) but the assumption will be that if you are capable of seeing any shred of humanity in such women – without which they would not be capable of experiencing dehumanisation – then you can’t possibly believe they’re all that bad. (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…)

A famous young woman has died and the Daily Mail launches straight into hand-wringing mode: “Like Paula, she longed to be loved, a perfect mother … and thin” wails the cover. Poor Peaches Geldof. Poor Paula Yates. It’s almost as though some women are cursed.

I see headlines like this and I think one thing: Fuck you, Daily Mail.

I don’t know how Peaches Geldof died. What’s more, it’s none of my business. As a former anorexic, I am of course tempted go all out hunting for ED innuendo, poring over photos of stick-thin arms and corrugated breastbones. I am curious, I admit, in a leering, self-centred way. I almost want certain things to be true and not others, purely in order to prove a point. But this has nothing to do with me. Furthermore, I’m not convinced the current coverage has anything to do with Peaches Geldof either.

Of the cultural forces out there wanting women to be thin, eternally young, perfect mothers, it’s safe to say the Daily Mail is right at the forefront. Projection, much? It’s not so long ago that the same publication was expressing dismay at Geldof’s inability to “learn” how to display her “curvy” body:

Just one day after she appeared to have redeemed herself by showing off her curves in a pretty floral bikini, Peaches Geldof has made yet another fashion blunder.

[…] Peaches, who is dating film director Eli Roth, seemed completely unaware of her faux pas as she enjoyed her leisurely meal – but the outfit drew attention to her for all the wrong reasons. However, despite receiving cruel internet comments about her weight, Peaches has allegedly told friends she is happy with her size.

Allegedly told friends she is happy? Yeah, right. You can’t be happy like that.

Since you can’t know the inside of someone else’s mind, it seems inappropriate to go too far in defining the social context of their suffering. Yet that’s what the Mail likes to do, all the time, only on its own warped terms. We’re meant to shift seamlessly from the usual disapproval of women – for being too fat, too thin, bad mothers, bad daughters, too old, too sexy, too loud – to pretending they inhabit a cultural vacuum, particularly when things go wrong. Nothing influences them at all, save the bad blood that’s already coursing through their veins. They’re not meant to hear the constant yelling from outside. They’re not meant to be bothered that they are, for want of a better word, hated by people they don’t know and who don’t know them.

And then there are the stories of redemption (precarious ones, all the same). Redemption is the only option you have since by being noticed at all you’ve already sinned. You lose weight. You become a domestic goddess. You lose even more weight. Ideally, you comes as close as you possibly can to disappearing without actually doing so. The Daily Mail likes women when there are less of them, both to mock and to ignore. Even if you’re “painfully thin” or “shockingly skinny” you know it’s a damn sight better than being seen to “love your curves.”

Finally we end up with the mawkish tale of a girl who redeemed herself through weight loss and self-abnegating motherhood, a doubling up of feminine virtues. Quite what this fictional girl had done wrong to begin with isn’t very clear. Yet what the Mail and other papers seem to be saying is “we forgive you. Now that you’re dead, we forgive. We’ll make up a story about cursed families, untouched by the outside world, and then we’ll seal off all the rest.” This seems to be the measure of what’s required of famous women, who aren’t permitted any privacy or reality of their own. They are never, ever real, even if they are redeemed.

The Daily Mail has no right to offer forgiveness or pity, or to speculate on the neuroses it ordinarily hopes to inspire in others. To feel an imperfect mother and to long to be thin is everyday life for millions of women. If the Mail really cared about that, it would do the decent thing and fade away rather than asking womankind to do so instead.

It is, I suppose, a love story.

It began as a fairytale, cross-culture love affair that played out against the backdrop of the Taj Mahal itself. It ended in darkness and tragedy.

Or rather, it ended in a man stabbing a woman to death before killing himself.

Not to worry, though. She was his wife. These things happen, men killing wives, both in fiction and in real life.

The Independent report on the deaths of Erin Willinger and Bunty Sharma makes for what I’d call easy reading. A murder-suicide, yes, but not the kind that would put you off your breakfast. You have read this story before and know it by heart. A couple falls in love too quickly, then that they find they can’t get along – they “have differences,” we will say – and so one of them has to kill the other (in heterosexual relationships it tends to be the man who kills the woman. This is, we believe, pure coincidence. Or just part of the genre, I can’t remember which). (more…)

Is having Barbie on the cover of Sports Illustrated empowering or demeaning? That’s what the Guardian wants to know, so much so that they’ve set up an online poll. Personally, I find the whole thing baffling, but then again, I don’t know what Sports Illustrated is. Is it a wank mag that everyone pretends is a sports magazine? Or a sports magazine that everyone pretends is a wank mag? I have no idea and what’s more, I can’t be arsed to find out. Hence I shall remain neither empowered nor demeaned, languishing in some liminal state of non-womanhood.

The “empowered or demeaned?” game is of course a familiar one. It’s one of those media bastardisations of feminism that ends up reinforcing the dehumanising extremes it claims to avoid. Are you empowered – a tits out, up for it, ball-breaking capitalist – or demeaned – a prudish, frigid, man-hating victim? Are you taking ownership of your life, busting out of the strictures that confine you, or are you standing back, watching while sexism is done to you? There’s no question, really, as to whether or not Barbie, or Page Three, or rape porn, or unpaid labour count as “objectively” empowering or demeaning. It’s all a state of mind. The impression is that you get to choose. There is no such thing as structural oppression. Feminist critique is no longer a challenge to patriarchy; it’s a personal statement. I am empowered, or, I am demeaned. (more…)

I was 17 when the allegations that Woody Allen had abused his daughter Dylan Farrow first surfaced. I’d never seen one of his films – and haven’t enjoyed any of those I’ve subsequently watched – but I knew straight away whose side I was on: Team Woody all the way.

I just knew, as did everyone else, that mad, vengeful Mia Farrow had made up the whole thing to punish Allen for his relationship with Soon Yi Previn.  Like everyone else, I felt sorry for Dylan, not because I thought she’d been abused, but because she had Mia for a mother. No wonder Woody left her. No wonder Soon Yi betrayed her. What a horrible, twisted individual Mia must be. Back then, I already considered myself a feminist, but I resented Farrow for putting on such a stereotypical performance of woman scorned. She had, I felt, let us all down.

Twenty years later the same story’s still running. Some of us have learned, through hard experience, to question it, others have not. Some of us believe this is the only thing that can make sense. After all, there is logic, of sorts. We already have our villain – angry, unforgiving Mia – and as for the idea that Allen could be an abuser after all? Well, that’s just too weird.

(more…)

This evening I found out what a bikini bridge is. I wasn’t seeking out this knowledge; I was reading the news and it popped out at me, unbidden. The trouble is, now I can’t ever un-know it (to give you a chance, I’m not linking to the piece in question). Bikini bridges will henceforth be stored in my brain alongside thigh gaps, muffin tops, bingo wings, cankles and a million other terms which exist solely to make women hate their bodies a great deal and their minds even more.

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Calling all clever girls! Have you ever worried that the fact you’re so clever will mean that boys don’t fancy you? Do you lie awake at night fretting over the complete works of Nietzsche, string theory AND whether or not your mammoth intellect will lead you to die alone, a barren, lonely spinster with only your trusty cat, Higgs Boson, for company? Do you feel your IQ is in inverse proportion to your Erotic Capital? Then worry no more! Recent news reports show that being a female Einstein — an Einsteinette, one might say — is not incompatible with fulfilling your true destiny as a woman. Rejoice! Now all you have to do is make sure you’re not a total minger (minging does of course remain incompatible with successful womanhood. Sorry, mingers, but that rule ain’t never gonna change).

This evening I read a Telegraph piece on a schoolgirl who is incredibly bright and has the potential to do amazing things. Her IQ is higher even than the IQs of Einstein, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking. I don’t know, precisely, how much to read into IQ tests (my IQ may be too low for that) but I get the impression Lauren Marbe is really special. The most important thing to note, however, isn’t that she’s intelligent but that she’s going to a massive debutante ball in Paris. She might be clever but by god, she is a girl after all!

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Every so often, police, politicians, newspaper columnists and judges take it in turns to reissue what I like to call the Rapeability Checklist. Should you be unsure what this is then I’m guessing you’re not a rapist. Every rapist is an avid reader of said Checklist. It is, one might say, a kind of informal code of conduct for anyone who’s chosen raping either as a full-time occupation or just a hobby on the side.

Thanks to the Rapeability Checklist, every rapist knows which female behaviours and attributes are officially regarded as provocation. Other people may not realise it but this is incredibly important when you’re out raping. Without an utterly dehumanising attitude towards women and a massively inflated sense of entitlement, raping can be really hard work. You might feel guilty. You might think it’s wrong. You might, God forbid, get the idea that vaginas are different entities to unlocked cars or open windows. Thankfully, the Rapeability Checklist will set you straight. Nothing will boost your raping career like the message that you, the rapist, are unchangeable (it’s your natural vocation! You were born to do it!) and that every single woman is obliged to operate primarily as a potential rape victim (after all, isn’t that what women are?). (more…)

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…)

So, fellow mental patients, just how mad should we be getting about Asda’s Halloween “mental patient fancy dress costume,” complete with strait jacket, fake blood and cleaver? After all, the supermarket has now apologised for any upset caused, withdrawn the item from sale and promised to donate “a sizeable amount” to Mind. So no point going psycho now. Let’s all calm down, keep taking the tablets and leave the normal people alone.

Given the degree to which mental health stigma has seeped into our everyday language, it’s not all that surprising when retailers think it’s okay to make fancy dress costumes based on The Mad. You can see how it happens. The mentally ill, when they’re not being dismissed as everyday malingerers, tend to assume a mythical status. They’re lurking in the shadows, never to be seen in broad daylight. How can you offend a thing that isn’t even real? (more…)

This evening I am the parody of a spoilt middle-class feminist who can’t stop herself from getting in a tizz about relatively minor stuff. Oh yes, I am in a strop about a hair care advert. And yes, I know it’s not [insert your favourite “properly” bad thing to happen to women – MRAs are especially good at this]. But still, every now and then, providing you’re in a position to do so, it’s worth getting annoyed about the small stuff, if only because the small stuff remains really sodding annoying.

I’ve just been watching Dove’s latest advert for shampoo. It’s special shampoo because it repairs damage to your hair follicles, smoothing over all the rubbish bits using only the power of science and one quarter moisturiser (which is, as we all know, one of the key elements in the periodic table). Anyhow, I can’t find a link to it so you’ll have to trust me on this. In all probability the shampoo’s amazing. It wasn’t that that irritated me. It was the fact that because they weren’t advertising something linked to bodies or skin or ageing, Dove couldn’t be bothered to slum it with ‘real’ women in their ad. There wasn’t a single minor flaw that isn’t really a flaw only now you’ll think it is because Dove’s made such a big deal of it in sight. This lack of consistency really pissed me off. Either patronize us one way or another. You can’t do both! (more…)

Here are some things which even the most reactionary branches of the news media might set within the broader context of a sexist culture:

  • the under-representation of women in politics
  • female genital mutilation
  • sexual objectification and harassment

And here is one thing which they don’t:

  • the imprisonment, rape and fertility control of women by men who decide they can “own” them

The first three things are misogyny in action; the latter is just pure evil, badness, whatever you want to call it, providing you don’t use words like “sexist” and “patriarchal”, because that just wouldn’t be playing fair. (more…)

Finally – finally! – we get to know just how prevalent false rape accusations have become. As BBC Newsbeat reports “it’s the first time details for England and Wales have been compiled, showing how common the problem is”. From that particular wording, you wouldn’t necessarily think that the answer to that was “not very common at all”. But you’d be wrong. Over the past 17 months there have been two – yes, two – successful prosecutions per month for making false allegations and wasting police time. To put that in perspective, you find an average of 332 prosecutions per month for rape over the same period (something the BBC fails to mention). Even if we set aside the fact that many rapes are not even reported or do not get to trial, it’s quite a contrast. Think of how many times you see stories of false rape allegations reported in the press and imagine if rape convictions were reported in the same way. Every other story you read would be about a rape conviction. But it’s not, is it? Because rape is “the norm” and false allegations are the exception – even if our tendency to focus on the exception means we now think it is the norm (at least if we write for BBC Newsbeat).
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Every now and then, fashion-y  types decide that the most fashionable thing ever is to pretend to be anti-fashion. Witness, for instance, the so-called “anti-fashion” movement of the 1990s (which, from what I can work out from Wikipedia, involved dressing as though you were either very poor or in a CK One advert, providing you were both thin and not actually poor). I’ve always thought this kind of thing was not just bollocks, but snobby bollocks, the kind of thing a manipulative playground bully would try on (“wear this! Ha-ha! Fooled ya! What we actually meant was wear the precise opposite! It’s un-fashion!”). But hey, what do I know? I’m properly unfashionable, as opposed to being fashionably unfashionable, which is something completely different. (more…)

Dangerous schizophrenics, eh? Can’t live with ‘em, can’t lock ‘em up and throw away the key, at least not until they’ve actually done something. It’s political correctness gone, quite literally, mad.

Yesterday evening I watched an ITV News report on Nicola Edgington, official, card-carrying DANGEROUS SCHIZOPHRENIC. Except apparently she has “borderline personality disorder” instead. I don’t know the precise distinctions – beyond the fact that one seems to make you more criminally culpable than the other – but I do know that “borderline personality disorder sufferer” doesn’t sound as good as “DANGEROUS SCHIZOPHRENIC”. Hence the report was at pains to highlight the link between people being DANGEROUS and SCHIZOPHRENIC. It isn’t much of a link, but still, it’s one that’s always worth exaggerating when you’re aiming to be sensationalist, ablist and utterly shameless in your reporting. (more…)

Dear Liz Jones

Today you wrote a column about women like me, that is, middle-class women who became mothers in our 30s. Thank you. Usually no one ever pontificates about our lives, motivations, shriveled eggs, outrageous sense of entitlement when we’re out and about pushing a buggy the size of a 4×4 etc., so it makes a pleasant change. Nevertheless, while listing all of our flaws — and heaven knows, we late breeders have got them — there’s one you missed out. Yes, we might be selfish, overly obsessed with our offspring, fussy, flabby and over-tired, but do you know what else we are? Really fucking patronising. Therefore allow me, Liz, to patronise you. (more…)

Writing in Saturday’s Guardian, Deborah Orr is a bit mean about feminism, suggesting that its “influence […] on contemporary society is overstated”. Obviously this upsets me. Feminism is my fwend. I don’t like people being mean about it. So there. She also proposes that when faced with misogyny “we need to say a great deal more than: ‘This is horrible. Poor us'”. Sod that. I just like saying “this is horrible. Poor us”. There’s nothing like undirected bitterness to fuel the feminist fire. (more…)

Here is an odd fact: whenever there is a twitterstorm surrounding Caitlin Moran, one or both of my children vomits. I don’t know why this is. During the Lena Dunham thing it was Youngest, all over the back seat of the car. This time, with that rather odd Times piece on equality, it’s been both of them in turn, one after the other (to be precise, one onto the pyjamas of his brother, prompting the latter to puke onto the floor – we call it vominoes). Obviously next time Moran plans on tweeting or writing anything remotely controversial, I’d like to be made aware so I can get a bucket at the ready.

That said, I always end up following said twitterstorms, in-between vomit mop-ups. The truth is, if Caitlin Moran didn’t exist we’d have to invent her. For philosophical purposes, obviously. She’s like that tree falling down in the forest with no one there to hear it, or … Actually, I don’t know many examples of philosophical stuff (I only got halfway through Sophie’s World in 1998). But anyhow, Caitlin Moran has meanings that extend way beyond anything she herself has written or said. I’m sure there’s a special word for stuff like that, I just don’t know what it is (I ought to know these words because I’m a privileged person. The reason I don’t is because I’m lacking in intellectual curiosity, busy with two kids and not quite sure how to look up words for phenomena that I don’t quite know how to describe in the first place. So not unlike Caitlin Moran, you could say). (more…)

A week ago I attended the switching on of the Christmas lights in Coleford. If you have heard of this village during the past year, it’s likely to be because it’s where this family lived. I don’t want to write about this particular story because there’s someone left behind and just trying to imagine her pain is impossible. All the same, it was strange being in that place, for that cheery, festive reason. Perhaps it isn’t so strange if you live there all the time, but to me, because I don’t, there was something unreal about it all. How do these things happen and how do communities go on?

Four years ago Jon Ronson – author of the utterly brilliant Them - tried to make sense of the community Christopher Foster left behind after he killed his wife, daughter, animals and then himself. In an article for the Guardian Weekend magazine, Ronson travels to Maesbrook in Shropshire to talk to Foster’s friends and acquaintances:
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