New Statesman: Anorexia, breast-binding and the legitimisation of body hatred

In 1987 I underwent the first of three hospitalisations for anorexia. I was force-fed via a nasogastric tube. This led me to gain a significant amount of weight, which I hated. Furthermore, it made my overall psychological state not better, but worse.

Upon discharge I lost the weight again and in the years that followed I tried to play a game of keeping myself just thin enough to manage my anxiety, not so thin as to be coerced into further treatment. I was not always successful. I used to fantasise about the peace I would experience if only people were to leave me alone. The expectations they had for my life, my body, were not my own.

Decades later I have not come round to other people’s point of view. I still think force-feeding was violent, traumatising, if not downright abusive. I still reject the idea that one might somehow, by sheer force of will, learn to accept a body in which one does not feel at home. The portrayal of anorexia as some invading enemy, or a sly, toxic friend, is one I find wholly ridiculous. There was no battle between the “real” me and a manipulative, alien “Ana”. Every thought I thought, every feeling I felt, was mine.

Should this sound like the start of The Pro-Ana Manifesto, I would like to stress that anorexia robbed me of a great deal. It almost killed me. Perhaps, if I had been “left in peace”, I would not be around to write this today. Yet there was no simple cure, no demon to kill. There was, in the end, no Ana, no skinny mean-girl shadow stalking me, whispering in my ear. There was only me. There was only ever me and a world for which I desperately wanted – and still want – to be the right shape.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

New Statesman: Gender pay gap – women do not choose to be paid less than men

Is it just me, or does Mansplain The Pay Gap Day get earlier every year? It’s not even November and already men up and down the land are hard at work responding to the latest so-called “research” suggesting that women suffer discrimination when it comes to promotions and pay.

Poor men. It must be a thankless task, having to do this year in, year out, while women continue to feel hard done to on the basis of entirely misleading statistics. Yes, women may earn an average of 18% less than men. Yes, male managers may be 40% more likely than female managers to be promoted. Yes, the difference in earnings between men and women may balloon once children are born. But let’s be honest, this isn’t about discrimination. It’s all about choice.

Listen, for instance, to Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs:

When people make the decision to go part time, either for familial reasons or to gain a better work-life balance, this can impact further career opportunities but it is a choice made by the individual – men and women alike.

Women can hardly expect to be earning the same as men if we’re not putting in the same number of hours, can we? As Tory MP Philip Davies has said, “feminist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it.” Since we’re are far more likely than men to work part-time and/or to take time off to care for others, it makes perfect sense for us to be earning less.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

New Statesman: “I did not want her to become a decrepit old hag.” Why elderly men kill their wives

“I did not want her to become a decrepit old hag. I loved her too much for that.” Those are the words of 89-year-old Philip Williamson, who last week received a suspended two-year prison sentence for the manslaughter of his 83-year-old wife Josephine.

A retired teacher, Josephine was suffering from dementia and becoming increasingly dependent on her husband, who had terminal cancer. Philip claims to have been following his wife downstairs when “something took over me and I pushed her”. Once she had reached the bottom, he also strangled her. The judge presiding over the case, Joanna Cutts QC, accepted that in killing Josephine Philip “felt this was the only way to limit or prevent her suffering”.

Philip Williamson is not the first husband to make such a decision on behalf of an elderly wife suffering from dementia. In December last year Ronald King, 87, shot dead his wife Rita, 81, at the care home where she lived. King told staff that his wife “had suffered enough”. He was found guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, in what the investigating police officer described as “a particularly sad and tragic case”. Other cases, such as that of Angus Mayer and his late wife Margaret, who had Alzheimer’s, have yet to come to court.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

The weird sexism of thinking female journalists invent children to back up their political opinions

Yesterday my eight-year-old son announced that he was going to make us all some chocolate cake. He promptly went into the kitchen and emptied a puddle of vegetable oil all over the floor. His seven-year-old brother looked at him despairingly.

“You’re just like Jeremy Corbyn,” he said.

Their baby brother, recognising the aptness of the comparison, suggestive as it was of someone who promises much that is good and right but delivers a total mess, nodded his head and cried.

It is at this point in the story that I should tell you this was all made up. Ha! I was cleverly parodying all of those ridiculous members of the commentariat who “use their children to back up their political opinions.” As Sam Kriss so astutely observes in Vice, “when the time comes for them to really make their defences of an increasingly unpopular status quo, they seem to be constantly delegating responsibility to their children.” Continue reading

New Statesman: The “kindness revolution” sounds like yet more women’s work

Imagine a world in which care and compassion are valued more highly than wealth and possessions. One in which violent crime is rare and sexual assault virtually non-existent. It’s a world where individuals set aside personal ambition, focussing instead on the needs of others. All the misery and greed of unfettered neoliberalism has been cast aside.

Alas, such a world does not yet exist. To ask everyone to adhere to its values would be impossible. But wouldn’t it be good if we could at least get halfway there? What if half the population could adopt these principles? Wouldn’t that be a start?

Well, fellow dreamers, we’re in luck. It may seem as though contemporary politics is meaner than ever before, but there’s a backlash – a kindness revolution – taking place, and it’s not just about individual figures such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. As Diane Abbott notes, “the insurgency on both sides of the Atlantic is about millions of people realising that ‘a better way is possible’ and wanting to move beyond neoliberalism.” What’s more, there are huge swathes of people who’ve already taken the plunge and opted out. But if you’re wondering where these people are, you’re unlikely to find them on a platform at the latest rally. They’re back home, engaged in a radical anti-capitalist practice which transforms our whole understanding of “work” and situates love and inclusion as the central principles of human endeavour. Or “doing women’s work,” as it’s usually called.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

We need to call breast-binding what it really is

Yesterday I shared a post on the rise of breast binding among school-age females in the UK. I’m not supposed to call them young women. They’re non-binary individuals or trans men and that, we are supposed to think, is what makes the binding okay. Whatever the risks – “compressed or broken ribs, punctured or collapsed lungs, back pain, compression of the spine, damaged breast tissue, damaged blood vessels, blood clots, inflamed ribs, and even heart attacks” – binding is justified because of the psychological benefits. There’s no other way, you see.

I look at arguments such as these and I literally want to scream.

I don’t disbelieve the accounts of pain and suffering. I don’t doubt the psychological distress of not wanting a breasts or a female body. I believe it all and empathise. Nonetheless, I find contemporary responses to this suffering unconscionable. Treating dysphoric young females as subjects in need of physical correction is both deeply regressive and misogynistic. We’re not giving these girls a chance. Continue reading

New Statesman: Meet the hot, funny, carefree Cool Mums – the maternal version of the Cool Girl

I suppose we should all be thankful. Time was when “mum’s night off” came in the form of a KFC value bucket. Now, with the advent of films such as Bad Moms – “from the gratefully married writers of The Hangover” – it looks as though mums are finally getting permission to cut loose and party hard.

This revelation could not come a moment too soon. Fellow mums, you know all those stupid rules we’ve been following? The ones where we think “god, I must do this, or it will ruin my precious child’s life”? Turns out we can say “sod it” and get pissed instead. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore said so.

I saw the trailer for Bad Moms in the cinema with my sons, waiting for Ghostbusters to start. Much as I appreciate a female-led comedy, particularly one that suggests there is virtue in shirking one’s maternal responsibilities, I have to say there was something about it that instantly made me uneasy. It seems the media is still set on making the Mommy Wars happen, pitching what one male reviewer describes as “the condescending harpies that run the PTA” against the nice, sexy mummies who just want to have fun (while also happening to look like Mila Kunis). It’s a set up we’ve seen before and will no doubt see again, and while I’m happy some attention is being paid to the pressures modern mothers are under, I sense that another is being created: the pressure to be a cool mum.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Who knitted Jeremy Corbyn’s jumper?

My first full-time job was for a company that organised arms trade fairs. I didn’t know this when I applied to work for them. My own job was in a completely different division, editing school books. I only found out about the arms trade part when some protestors came round the office distributing flyers. Obviously I resigned on the spot (only kidding. I stayed, paying my rent with tainted money, finally leaving two years before the company stopped hosting the fairs due to pressure from shareholders and staff).

I was reminded of this earlier today, when I tweeted an article about female Labour MPs calling on Jeremy Corbyn to tackle what they describe as “an extremely worrying trend of escalating abuse and hostility.” Shortly afterwards I received this response:

Can we all remember that @RuthSmeeth used to work for @Nestle. The company that killed African babies in the 80s.

Smeeth is one of the letter’s signatories. Presumably we are supposed to think “why, we cannot possibly take it seriously when such an impure, immoral person is calling out pure, righteous Jeremy Corbyn!” Never mind that Smeeth is one of 44 women expressing fear and asking for support. Never mind that one female Labour MP was assassinated just over a month ago. Never mind all that. Smeeth’s a baddie, Jeremy’s a goodie. She is tainted, Jeremy is pure.

Perhaps Corbyn’s more thuggish supporters would be fully committed to tackling misogyny if only those complaining about it were a bit more trustworthy. It’s always the way, isn’t it? You never know when a woman’s got ulterior motives. What if Smeeth only signed the letter because she knows Corbyn’s opposed to killing African babies and she wants to get her revenge? What if all these bloody unreasonable women simply want to make Jezza look bad because he’s nice and they’re mean? Honestly, I wouldn’t trust them if I were you. Which is, of course, somewhat convenient. The left never, ever has to tackle misogyny because it’s something that only ever happens to women and women are, as we all know, less pure than men (menstrual blood, original sin and all that). Continue reading

New Statesman: In super-rich divorce cases, I find myself cheering for the Gold Digger

Being female is an expensive business. It’s not just that the lipstick and high heels don’t come for free. Financially you are hobbled from the day you are born.

There’s no way of putting an exact figure on how much being a woman costs. There are various ways in which people have tried, estimating gender pay gaps, comparing pensions and savings, even checking how much more parents spend on presents for sons than for daughters. But so much of this is unquantifiable. What’s the cost of your time, your emotional labour, all those things you do or don’t do because the world belongs to men and you are not one of them? How does the impact of your sex intersect with your class, your race and your location? It’s impossible to get a precise figure for how much each of us is really owed. Still, since no one’s offering us any actual compensation, I suppose we don’t have to anyway.

At primary school in the 1980s we used to sing a song called Supermum. Vastly inferior to Billy Connolly’s Supergran, it was a study in patriarchal passive aggression:

Supermum, you’re wonderful, but very underpaid.
Supermum, you’re cook and cleaner, handyman and maid.
If you put in a bill, for all the work you do,
There’d be an awful lot of wages due.

Ha! How better to indoctrinate little girls into the ways of the patriarchy than by piling on the insincere praise? It’s not as though “Supermum” ever would ask for payment for her labours; indeed, that she doesn’t is the whole point. While we might occasionally see articles which fancifully estimate what the yearly salary of a stay-at-home wife and mother should be (£159,137, apparently), these are meant to be all the reward a woman needs. You don’t need the actual money, just someone to tell you (ideally via the medium of song) that your labour could be considered economically valuable. It could be, but it isn’t. Soz about that.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

The Pool: Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean getting wiser about body image

The last time I was ID’d when buying alcohol I was 32 years old. This may not sound too bad, except before I’d had the chance to respond, the cashier looked up and said “actually, it’s alright – I just hadn’t seen your face.”

I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it, other than that I didn’t look under 18, which ought to have been fine, since I wasn’t. But of course I went home and scrutinised my obviously-not-underage face. “You ought to be pleased,” said my partner, “it must mean your body looks younger than your head.” I told him this wasn’t helping.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who worries about looking old, not least because that’s the kind of thing old people do. I’ve got enough to worry about, body-image wise – the tops of my thighs, my uneven smile, acne scars and a midriff I can’t even bear to touch. I had always assumed that by the time I was bothered about crow’s feet and a saggy neck, I’d have stopped noticing the rest.

I imagined there being a finite amount of body image worry a person could have. You were allocated it at birth and once it was used up, you were no longer capable of giving a toss. I even fantasised that having suffered from anorexia and bulimia throughout my teens and twenties, I’d have “used up” my worry faster than everyone else. Soon I’d be safely on the side of not caring. Now, at 41, I’m starting to fear this might never happen.

Read the full post at The Pool

Andrea Leadsom’s Maternal Unthinking

In 1989 the philosopher Sara Ruddick published Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace, in which she sought to identify “distinctive ways of conceptualizing, ordering, and valuing” that arise out of maternal practices. “I am not,” she wrote, “saying that mothers, individually or collectively, are (or are not) especially wonderful people […] For me, ‘maternal’ is a social category. Although maternal thinking arises out of actual child-caring practices, biological parenting is neither necessary nor sufficient.”

I do not expect Andrea Leadsom to have read Maternal Thinking, let alone agreed with its precepts. For instance, Ruddick takes particular care to tease out the interplay of selflessness and self-interest that goes into mothering a child who one wishes to become a successful member of a community (regardless of whether one supports the values of one’s own community in absolute terms or not):

Maternal practice assumes a legitimate special concern for the children one has engendered and passionately loves as well as for the families (of various forms) in which they live. Any attempt to deny this special form of self-interest will only lead to hypocritical false consciousness or rigid, totalistic loyalties. Mothers can, I believe, come to realize that the good of their own children is entwined with the good of all children, that in a world divided between exploiter and exploited no children can be both good and strong, that in a world at war all children are endangered.

Compare this with Leadsom’s approach to maternal politics in her hours-old yet already infamous interview with The Times’ Rachel Sylvester:

But genuinely, I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake, you know, I mean [Teresa May] possibly has nieces, nephew, you know lots of people, but I have children who are going to have children, who will directly be a part of what happens next. So it really keeps you focused on what you are really saying, because what it means is you don’t want a downturn but never mind let’s look to the ten years hence it’ll all be fine, but my children will be starting their lives so I have a stake in the next year, the next two…

Whereas Ruddick envisions maternal self-interest as a one possible stop gap on the road to recognising that a world divided into exploiter and exploited is unsustainable, Leadsom identifies self-interest as a good in itself. There’s no need to move on to a more collective politics of care, just as long as you’ve done enough to ensure your own child isn’t totally screwed in the short term. Continue reading

New Statesman: I’m disappointed about Brexit – but the snobbery of some pro-EU protesters is hard to take

Of all the brilliantly scathing lyrics on Pulp’s 1995 classic Different Class, my favourite has to be this line from I Spy: “Take your Year in Provence and shove it up your ass.” Even if you’ve not read your Peter Mayle, you know exactly who the target is: a self-satisfied middle class who’ve mistaken educational privilege for intellectual and moral exceptionality, and are to be found using cultural tokens – the cottage in France, the wine from Tuscany, the opera tickets for Bayreuth – to state and restate their presumed superiority over the common masses.

I couldn’t get this lyric out of my head when looking at images of last Saturday’s anti-Brexit March for Europe in London. I didn’t want to think of it. I’m an out-and-out pro-Remain Europhile. I studied languages at university, completed a PhD in German literature and have worked in modern language publishing for the past 12 years. My relationship with European culture is not a casual one – it is committed and passionate. Yet there’s something about that march, and about pro-Remain discourse in general, that is making me uneasy.

For instance , this is how Spiked’s Tom Slater wrote up what he called the “march against the masses”:

For all the Remain camp fearmongering about post-Brexit xenophobia, its own fear and loathing of the Leave-voting masses was on full show.[…] Anyone who believes in democracy, whether Remainer or Leaver, should be appalled by the bald, elitist sentiments now being expressed.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

New Statesman: What does it mean when major football tournaments increase incidents of domestic violence?

On Monday evening my sons went to bed in tears. While my seven year old had been taking the fall of the pound surprisingly well, and eight year old had responded calmly to growing anxieties over the UK’s leadership vacuum, the England football team’s defeat by Iceland finally sent them over the edge.

Obviously I tried to tell them it wasn’t all bad. If anything, the sheer ridiculousness of this defeat added a degree of comedy to the national crisis and besides, if incompetence was to be our new speciality, couldn’t it be argued that actually, we were the real winners here? They were not buying this. “Football,” they told me, “isn’t just a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that.” (Okay, so they didn’t. But they did cry, a lot.)

Elsewhere in England, fans big and small were absorbing the news that their team had been vanquished by a nation with no professional football league. There will have been disappointment and there will have been anger, not just at players and coaches, but also at fellow supporters and loved ones. It has long been suspected, and more recently been proven, that incidents of domestic violence increase during major football tournaments. According to one chief constable, “many people drink, there is the emotional stress of the game, and there is a whole issue around competitiveness and testosterone levels. Most people will watch the game and will never do anything violent but a small minority will become deeply aggressive.”

Read the full post at the New Statesman

The wrong coffee

I don’t know when I realised I couldn’t stand instant coffee any more. It was at some point in my mid-thirties, around a decade and a half after I’d left home. The bitterness turned my stomach but it remained the only thing my parents would buy. Once or twice, going up to visit, I brought my own ground coffee supplies. I felt an utter twat for doing so – fifteen years down south and look what she’s turned into – but with small children I needed my caffeine and decided my pride would have to take the hit. It would have been fine if that had been the only thing that changed.

I grew up in a house where everyone read the Mail, the Express and the Telegraph (and, for the brief period when it was around, Today). It was only after going down south that I started reading different papers and absorbing different views. It wasn’t long before I started to find the opinions I’d drunk in so enthusiastically back home too bitter. Once again my stomach was turned. The election of George W Bush and the 2003 invasion of Iraq confirmed that I wasn’t the person I’d been before. I didn’t agree with my parents. I’d become the enemy.

And I felt, and still feel, as much of a twat for having the wrong politics as I do for liking the wrong coffee. Because it means I’ve gone posh. Because it means I implicitly look down on them. Because it means I’m throwing all their hard work back in their faces. They hadn’t meant to make a person who thinks like this. There are times when even the littlest details– the fact that I don’t share a surname with my sons, that I let my boys wear pink and have long hair, that I studied languages rather than English or law – seem to be experienced as a slight. I am stroppy teenager meets Notting Hill mummy. I’m only doing it because I’ve decided I’m better than them. And so it goes on. Continue reading

New Statesman: Ellie Butler murder: Are the female partners of abusive men responsible for their crimes?

On Tuesday Ben Butler was sentenced to a minimum of 23 years in prison for the murder of his six-year-old daughter Ellie. It’s a death that is particularly tragic because not only was it predictable, but it was predicted, again and again.

Ben Butler was a violent man, with prior convictions for assaulting an ex-girlfriend and two strangers. He was jailed for attacking Ellie when she was six weeks’ old, but this conviction was later quashed. He and Ellie’s mother, Jennie Gray, won back custody of Ellie in 2012, despite Gray’s father protesting that this would lead to the little girl’s death. It took just eleven months for this prediction to come true.

Gray was not present when her daughter died, but she later helped Butler in his attempt to make the death appear to have been an accident. She has been sentenced to 42 months’ imprisonment for child cruelty. The Daily Mail describes her as “the twisted mother who sooner saw [Ellie] die than turn against the savage thug who beat her to death,” while according to the Mirror she is “evil” and “scheming”. But Gray was also a victim of Ben Butler. Despite her own protestations to the contrary, the physical suffering and mental torment endured by Gray – who wrote secret “letters of prayer” begging for Butler to “stop being angry, hateful and violent” – should not be in any doubt.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

New Statesman: Why we should let all boys wear skirts to school

As Paris Lees once wisely observed, “sexism didn’t disappear when women started wearing trousers.” This is sad but true. Trousers, while a practical item of clothing, have not yet brought an end to sexual violence, reproductive coercion or the male appropriation of female labour and resources. Depressing though this is, there is one glimmer of hope. What if, argues Lees, men were allowed to “adopt feminine styles”? Perhaps that’s what’s been missing all along. It’s not that men benefit from male supremacy; they just haven’t discovered the joys of a nice tea dress or a fetching pair of kitten heels.

I am all for clothing equality. Being 5’1” with an ample chest, I never shop in menswear sections myself, but have always felt the strict divisions in terms of styles – in particular, the prohibition on men wearing skirts or dresses – to be arbitrary and wrong. It is a means of reinforcing the belief that the social and psychological differences between men and women are far greater than those between women and other women and men and other men. While women, having fought for their trouser-wearing rights, are now permitted (in most countries, at least) to emulate the dress sense of the dominant class, for most men, “women’s clothing” remains off-limits. Even the comedian Eddie Izzard, who once said of his wardrobe “they’re not women’s clothes, they’re my clothes, I bought them,” has since backtracked, now describing himself as “somewhat boyish and somewhat girlish” (despite being 54).

When it comes to children’s clothing, the differences are even more stark and ridiculous. Apart from the obvious, the bodies of pre-pubescent boys and girls are not significantly different, so it is not as though shape and size can even be said to be a factor. But enter any children’s clothing department, and you will find the flowery pink-for-girls, rough-and-tumble blue-for-boys stereotyping impossible to avoid.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

New Statesman: Does the outrage over the Stanford rape case do anything to help victims?

In her 1989 polemic Misogynies, Joan Smith notes that “three or four times a year, we in Britain go through a ritual known as Outcry Over Judge’s Remarks In Rape Case”:

What usually happens is that, faced with an offender who has terrified or beaten some poor woman into having sex against her will, a judge imposes a ludicrously light penalty with the observation that the victim’s ordeal wasn’t really so bad – or, indeed, that she should have known better than to get herself into the situation in the first place. Women’s groups and MPs protest; in the very worst cases, the Lord Chancellor may even issue a rebuke. Then the whole business dies down – until it happens again.

Almost thirty years later, it’s fair to say things have changed. Thanks to 24-hour news streaming and social media, we are far less parochial when it comes to Getting Outraged About Rape. We still follow the same routine – the outcry, the anger, the hope that this time, this particular survivor will change the way sexual assault is understood – only now we’ve gone global. Unlike, say, drinking tea or playing cricket, making ludicrous excuses for rape and then watching the backlash unfold is a well-known ritual the entire world over.

Right now the full force of a global backlash is focussed on the appalling case of Brock Allen Turner, the former Stanford University swimmer who was sentenced to just six months in jail for assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. The case has attracted attention not just because of the shockingly low sentence, but because of the brilliant, brave letter Turner’s victim read aloud in court to her attacker..

Read the full post at the New Statesman

The Pool: Instagram “fit moms” aren’t the problem – policing pregnant bodies is

Performing motherhood, you soon discover, involves positioning yourself at extremes. If you can’t be perfect, you must excel at ineptitude. Just bumbling along in the middle, being “good enough,” simply will not do.

Take our approach to health and beauty. At the time of writing this I am rocking a “full-on slummy mummy” vibe. I have one breast significantly larger than the other, thanks to my baby son’s insistence on feeding from one side only, and I’m housing a family of nits, kindly donated by my shaggy-haired seven-year old. I can’t remember the last time I exercised, beyond the odd, panicked pelvic floor clench. Some might call this slovenliness; I call it “taking an organic approach.”

At the other end of the spectrum we find the women currently being hailed as the “fit moms.” Like their predecessors, the MILFs, they don’t see making a real, live human being with one’s own body as any excuse to let oneself go. On the contrary, women such as Sia Cooper, owner of the Instagram account @diaryofafitmommyofficial, are to be found working out on the very day they give birth (apparently giving birth itself doesn’t count as a workout, at least if you’re not doing it in the downward facing dog).

Read the full post at The Pool

New Statesman: To ignore someone’s educational background isn’t “fair play” – it perpetuates inequality

Privilege is a very complicated thing, as privately educated white men know only too well. No one gets to choose who their parents are, not even people whose parents happen to be extremely rich. Hence it would be terribly unfair to judge a child on the basis of which school they attended. We should all aspire to be class-blind, even those whose inferior education has made them less likely to hold opinions that matter anyhow.

Thus it is with horror that many have received Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock’s suggestion that companies should ask job applicants whether or not they went to a private school in order to “develop a national measure for social mobility”.

Quite how such a measure will counteract the UK’s horrifying gap between rich and poor is unclear, but it is enough to strike fear into the heart of every defender of those great British values: meritocracy and fair play.

According to the Telegraph’s Charles Moore, Hancock “is trying to impose . . . systematic bias in employment”:

“Instead of employers working out who is the best candidate for the job, he is trying to conscript them into his babyish attempt at class war.”

Meanwhile, Lord Waldegrave, a former Conservative minister, now Provost of Eton, has threatened to resign from the party over the proposal, describing it as, “quite wrong to punish children for decisions taken by their parents, and to run the risk of choosing crucial public service jobs not on the basis of merit but of social engineering”.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Re-reading Wide Sargasso Sea

I first read Wide Sargasso Sea because I had to. It was a set text for my English A-level. I loved it then, even though I’d fallen out of love with reading (I loved the idea of reading, of being seen as a person who read, but not the reading itself. The activity had been ruined, alongside many others, by the obsessive compulsions which had by that point taken over my teenage life).

I couldn’t have told you why I loved it. I felt sorry for the first Mrs Rochester, as one is supposed to, and angry for her, too. I liked the heat and colours of the book, the intensity, the feeling of remaining in a very small space however far you travelled. I found the rhythms of Antoinette’s voice, set against the drab entitlement of Rochester’s, perfect in their disorder. She got inside my head. Such a sad book and it felt like a sanctuary.

Our A-level teacher was a feminist. She used the title Ms and the boys would linger over it – Mzzzzzzzz, like the buzz of a bee – in an attempt to undermine her. A whole bunch of them, 18, white, middle-class and male, and already disturbed to meet a woman who wouldn’t define herself according to which man, husband or father, presumed to own her. We’d sit around the table, drawing spidergrams based on each character (poor Annette, poor Antoinette, surrounded by serious men with surnames – Cosway, Mason, Rochester – who would not listen). Then some boy would raise a hand to ask a question – was the treatment of women really so awful? – and he’d never, ever forget to slip in that little, buzzing reminder of misplaced pride at his male heritage. We’ll use the name you ask for, Mzzzzzz, but what we call you is not what we’re thinking. Always remember that. Continue reading