Eloise Parry was not stupid

I am so sorry for being so stupid.“

Eloise Parry wrote these words in a text to her tutors, hours before she died of an overdose of the diet pill DNP, following an all-night binge-and-purge session.

Eloise Parry wasn’t stupid. She was bulimic and she was frightened. I can imagine doing what she did. I think a lot of women could.

Right now I could provide a very long list of the dangerous things I have done because of an eating disorder. I am, however, too embarrassed to do so. They are not dangerous in a way that lends itself easily to romanticisation. There is nothing poetic and edgy about them. They are, by and large, secretive, disgusting things. Continue reading

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Special

As “the face of trans teens,” Jazz Jennings is special. I have not followed Jazz’s story in any detail, but Jazz has a documentary series, a YouTube channel and advertising deals. Yesterday I caught sight of an interview between Jazz and Cosmopolitan. I read it and while I can’t say I felt particularly enlightened by a narrative which equates “plastic princess heels” being a girl, one thing did interest me: what it must be like to be the sister of Jazz Jennings.

Obviously I have no idea what it is like. I only know what it is like to be the sibling of someone “special” in other, less interesting ways. Growing up I had a role in a different family drama, one that was not filmed, nor the subject of interviews, but in which someone else, another child, played the “starring” role. My sibling was not the face of trans or any other kind of teens; my sibling was ill. But still it sucked up all the air until it was impossible to breathe.

In the Cosmo piece, the following exchange takes place between Jennings and the interviewer:

I read a Twitter chat you did where you said the hardest part of being trans is not being able to have your own biological child. Why does that stand out now, even though you’re so young?
It’s really hard for me to look at that because with such an amazing mom, I always wanted to be the greatest mom ever. People say, “Oh, you can always adopt,” and I completely agree with that. I can adopt. But, like, I’ll never have that moment where she comes out of my vag and I can say, “That’s my baby.” But since my sister has my same DNA, I’m convincing her to carry the baby for me.

Oh, good! It can come out of her vag.
We’ll take my hubby’s sperm and throw it in there and fertilize it.

I don’t know how serious such an exchange is meant to be. Jennings is 14, perhaps too immature to understand the full implications of pregnancy, surrogacy and birth (and certainly lacking a good understanding of DNA). I don’t know if Jennings’ sister is bothered by such flippant exchanges or not. What I do know is that when one child is positioned as special – more interesting, more needy, more unique – his or her siblings become bit-part players in the special child’s Noble Struggle For Self Realisation. It disturbs me to see such a narrative reinforced so harshly and so crudely, with no recognition of the other power imbalances (e.g. reproductive exploitation, secondary sibling status) which underpin it. Continue reading

Note to David Cameron: You don’t get to do feminism

One of the first rules of twenty-first century feminism is that no one gets to say who is or isn’t a feminist. Well, today I’m going to break that rule. David Cameron, you are not a feminist.

Yes, I know you have daughters and that you do not actively disapprove of a) women working, b) women voting and c) women earning the same as men providing the economic system you support deems them to be doing “work of equal value” (ha!). Furthermore, I understand that you and George Osborne wish to take credit for the fact that most of our lowest paid workers are women and hence will “benefit”  most from your living wage that isn’t actually a living wage. I am sure you see the women around you as semi-equals (after all, they’re rich). The thing is, none of this is enough.

In a piece for The Times today you bravely exploit the “male politicians can use their families as examples without it undermining their professional status” double standard in order to tell us that “when [your] daughters, Nancy and Florence, start work, [you] want them to look back at the gender pay gap in the same way we look back at women not voting and not working — as something outdated and wrong that we overcame, together.” It may surprise you to learn that women have always worked. By that I don’t just mean working-class women or stay-at-home mothers. I mean all women. Throughout history, even upper-class women have taken on political and administrative roles, albeit often within the private sphere (female leadership did not start and end with Margaret Thatcher). That women’s work has been invisible, appropriated and/or unpaid does not mean that it hasn’t existed. We are dealing, not with some bizarre prejudice which has meant that women were not “allowed” to work, but with a structure known as patriarchy. Patriarchy has no issues whatsoever with women working – indeed, patriarchy depends on female labour – just as long as it continues to get the work for free (also, as an aside, “you” did bog-all to overcome the “outdated and wrong” political disenfranchisement of women. You might be posh, but you’re not Emmeline sodding Pankhurst). Continue reading

They used to call it rape

They used to call it rape, back in the day. For one brief, shining moment, we thought we knew what rape was, if not how to stop it. Oh, but that will come next, we thought. Now that we have our words, we can use our voices.

It didn’t turn out that way. Yesterday Morwenna Ferrier wrote a piece in the Guardian in which she described how, in Rihanna’s BBHMM video, “the themes of sexualised violence, seemingly gratuitous nudity and non-consensual BDSM sent segments of the world’s media into a state of apoplexy.” Images of spluttering, red-faced Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells instantly sprung to mind. Imagine getting angry over non-consensual BDSM! God, I hate those bigots who spend all their time stigmatising the BDSM community!

So what is non-consensual BDSM? Well, I guess it’s like sexual abuse, but with the focus on the “sex” bit and with greater empathy with abuser, now recast as taboo-breaking participant. It’s a bit like Bill Cosby’s “sex” with the women he drugged, only edgier and way cooler. Don’t panic, though, because in the former scenario it’s just art and the way we use language to describe art has no connection whatsoever to the way we use language to describe real-life interactions (only joking!). Yeah, we used to call these things abuse, we used to call them rape. But what does it matter? Language changes, cisters. Some of the things we called abuse aren’t abuse any more. Get with the programme. Continue reading

Privileged Bitches: White women, white men and BBHMM

[standard introductory bit about how I shouldn’t be writing on this topic since everyone else has already and it’s obviously a bloody minefield blah blah blah]

On Thursday I watched the video of Rihanna’s Bitch Better Have My Money. Since then I have felt extremely upset. Yeah, I know. White lady tears. Pass me the smelling salts and a string of pearls to clutch etc. etc. I found the whole thing, and responses to it, deeply triggering, especially in relation to violence I have suffered in my own life. Should anyone else give a shit about this? Possibly not. But there it is.

I know that it is complex. But it reminded me of how violence against a certain female stereotype – the “privileged bitch” – is excused, negated or justified within specific cultural contexts. Furthermore, it reminded me of how this happened to me over the course of several years. It made me wonder what, if anything, feminists who focus on other narratives – ones which are equally valid and worthy of discussion – would have to say. It made me afraid, for the first time, not only that they wouldn’t care, but that they might actually approve. And I don’t know what to do with that.

As many have pointed out, the Accountant in Rihanna’s video only gets his comeuppance at the end; the long scenes of torture and humiliation are reserved for “his” woman, his property. But for me the problem went beyond that. I don’t think it’s just a case of “he’s male therefore we don’t objectify him” (welcome to the whole fucking world). I think there is a particular cultural narrative – a misogynist one, one that is particularly prevalent in abusive heterosexual relationships and in MRA circles – which positions the white woman as more privileged than the white man and therefore more deserving of punishment and abuse (cf “masculinity in crisis,” “the end of men,” “the extinction of the poor white male,” the very existence of Ally Fogg etc.). It is my view that Rihanna’s video picks up on this narrative and grants it a form of validation. Continue reading