The Science Museum: Forthcoming exhibitions*

Following on from the brilliant Who am I? exhibition, what’s next for The Science Museum in teaching us who we are today?*

No-tails – our closest relative?

A fascinating look at the lives of those primates who many say are our closest relatives: the no-tails. Born into human communities, but without penises,  the no-tails possess an incredible ability to emulate human behaviour, even acquiring language and, some claim, having thoughts. Most of us are familiar with the ways in which no-tails help us in our daily lives: washing underpants, making sandwiches, even gestating and bearing human children with real, human penises. But what else can no-tails teach us about ourselves? What is it that makes us, so close in so many ways, so much more special than them? And how could this help us to get even more out of human-no-tail relations in years to come? Join us for an amazing exploration of the lives of what some scientists have affectionately called “the lesser humans.”

Where do I come from?

An entertaining, informative response to age-old question: “how are babies made?” While scientists, philosophers and clerics have always known that men make babies, theories as to how they do it have varied. From Aristotle’s idea of menstrual blood as the “matter” which develops the male life principle, right through to today’s more detailed understanding of conception and gestation, men have always been the universe’s experts on the origins of human life. Today we find them pushing the very boundaries of medical science in order to find new ways of planting mini-humans in the potting soil that was once referred to as the “female” body. What could the future hold? Will it always be necessary to gestate new beings in the primitive boundaries of a womb, or can mankind find more sterile, civilised environments? Is a global surrogacy market in which “female” bodies are strictly controlled and force-fed medication from birth the answer? Explore all this and more in this fascinating look at the miracle of life.

Community voices: Pro-ana

Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and perhaps none are so fascinating as the bodies of chronic anorexics. In this, an exhibition set up with the co-operation of the pro-ana and pro-mia communities, we explore what it means to be anorexic or bulimic, the complex interactions of body, mind and community that go to shape what we call “the anorexic experience” and listen to the story of Mary, a young woman who discovered her true identity by starving herself down to five stone and dying of heart failure. Our display includes objects selected by members of the community: laxatives, scales, an actual toothbrush used for self-induced vomiting, carrier bags of actual bulimic vomit, Mary’s daily diet (two Polo mints) and some age seven jeans worn by Mary shortly before her death. A fun way for young people to explore issues of identity and self!

Isaac Baker Brown, medical pioneer

A retrospective on the work of Isaac Baker Brown, 19th century English gynaecologist, surgeon and pioneer in the performance of clitoridectomies on women who didn’t behave like women. While disgraced in his own lifetime, we now recognise him as a forerunner of today’s doctors performing mastectomies on teenage non-binary folk and prescribing testosterone to non-feminine womb-owners. A true Galileo of the medical community, Baker Brown is a fascinating figure, tragically misunderstood as an abuser of “females” in his own unenlightened times.

(*These aren’t real exhibitions. I just think, on past evidence, they really, really could be)

New Statesman: Action against sexual harassment in schools is more about protecting the male orgasm than girls

How much pain and suffering is the male orgasm worth? Is there ever a time when a man’s right to access hardcore pornography is outweighed by the rights of young women to feel safe?

I am wondering this in light of today’s Women and Equalities Committee Report into sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools. The way in which young men see their female peers is tainted, poisoned by broader cultural narratives about what female bodies are for. Boys are not born with a need to hurt and humiliate for pleasure, but they are acquiring it, and fast.

The findings of the report are dismaying, if not altogether surprising. It states: “A number of large scale surveys find girls and young women consistently reporting high levels of sexual harassment and sexual violence in school.”

Data published in September 2015 found that over 5,500 sexual offences were recorded in UK schools over the course of three years, including 600 rapes. Almost a third of 16-18 year old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching in school, while 41 per cent of girls aged 14 to 17 in intimate relationships reported experiencing sexual violence from their partner. Sexual harassment starts in primary school, with lifting up skirts and pulling down pants, driving some girls to wearing shorts under their school skirts.

Read the full article at the New Statesman

New Statesman: Allowing boys to be boys won’t bridge the GCSE gender gap

According to Tory MP Karl McCartney, UK schools need to spend more time celebrating the traditional masculine roles that men were “born to do.” As a mother of school-age boys, I’m obviously very concerned about this. Does my sons’ school offer lessons in manliness? If not, how can I be sure they won’t mistakenly end up doing things women are “born to do,” such as hoovering, ironing and remembering to send birthday cards?

Not only that, but how can I be sure that girls – any girls, I don’t care which – won’t get better exam results than my brilliant boys? This stuff keeps me awake at night (this, and fuming over white male MPs standing up in parliament to complain about the “shrill equal pay brigade,” but best not to dwell on that now).

There’s a long history of boys underperforming, by which we mean “not doing as well as girls.” The assumption is that boys should naturally be doing as well as their female contemporaries. This is not an idea of equality we apply to all areas of achievement. We do not, for instance, talk about women “underperforming” at sports. We do not insist that men have no innate physical advantage (something that would be quite obvious were the Olympic 100m sprint to be replaced with competitive menstrual bleeding or breastmilk squirting). Yet we refuse to accept that girls could just be better at certain academic subjects. Of course not. There must be something wrong with the way these subjects are being taught.

Read the full post at The New Statesman

New Statesman: A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter“ – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Read the full post at the New Statesman.

Why I wear the iron maiden: One woman on dressing modestly in everyday life

We live in a very shallow society, where far too many women are obsessed with moving, speaking and not being dead. Wearing an upright metal coffin, with sharp spikes going through my internal organs, gives me the freedom not to worry about all that. I wear it because it’s my choice.

I grew up in a culture where wearing the iron maiden was not the norm. Women and girls would wear clothes which allowed them to walk about, breathe and not release torrents of blood from gaping open wounds. Like so many before me, I was to witness first-hand the consequences of female clothes-wearing.  Men and boys would cat-call, grope, call names, commit rape, even murder. It amazed me that so many women continued to put themselves and their daughters at risk.

One of the best things about the iron maiden is it liberates me from the male gaze. I don’t get ogled or harassed when there’s several inches of moulded iron between me and the outside world. It’s a way of dressing that gives me safety and security. I don’t judge other women for choosing to be fresh meat, available to all and sundry, but they need to respect my choices in return.

I know many women choose to be outspoken in public and experience death and rape threats as a result. Being already dead, I am liberated from this but even if I wasn’t, having a spike going into my mouth and piercing the back of my throat offers me further protection. I know some women who only go so far as wearing the scold’s bridle and that’s their decision. As long as no man is forcing them to do this, I’m happy to support them in undertaking their own empowered harassment avoidance strategies.

Some women may take the opposite route and wear no clothing whatsoever, or have several rounds of surgery in order to become numbed, emotionless Barbie doll sexbots. I am as accepting of them as I am of women who buy their own ducking stools, put themselves in the stocks once a fortnight or cut off their legs at the knee in order not to be spotted by gangs of marauding males. We’re all just non-people, after all, making our own choices about which kind of non-people we want to be. It’s not as though we can challenge the way people, that is, men, respond to us in the first place.

There are downsides to wearing the iron maiden. There are men with their “dead chicks with spikes in them” fetishes. There are the gangs of drunk youths who yell “oi, metal tits!” whenever they spot me. There are the men who insist any woman in an iron maiden that isn’t locked up in a vault at a top secret location is just asking for it. But I think, as a woman, these are just things that you have to accept. As long as you’re happy with your own choices, that’s all that matters.

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: “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

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

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

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

New Statesman: Birth wars: The politics of childbirth

Birth is divisive. It divides women from men, and women from women. It requires of the body an opening up, at times a cutting, or a tearing apart. “But to let the baby out,” writes Maggie Nelson in The Argonauts, “you have to be willing to go to pieces.”

So going to pieces is precisely what women do.

To be of woman born is a universal experience, yet women themselves remain a diffuse, fractured group. “What is a woman, anyway?” is still considered a deep, meaningful question to ask. The polite answer is, of course, “whatever anyone wants it to be”. More than that would close off the vessel, seal the hole, glue back together the broken shell. There’s a sense in which women are simply not meant to be whole. We need to be in pieces so that men can survive intact.

I have given birth three times and each experience has a different colour. For the first, I lay in the bedroom of our terraced house, staring at the brown wardrobe opposite, trying to think my way beyond pain. With each contraction I pictured a hill (“some women like to imagine themselves ascending and descending a mountain peak,” said the birthing guide) but it was grey, dull and unimpressive. Then just as the pain peaked, I’d see a figure emerging over the crest, a grey-faced man in a top hat and black overcoat. Jack the Ripper, eviscerator of wombs, an involuntary visualisation.

Read the full piece at the New Statesman