Toxic best friend: Glossy magazines and me

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with glossy magazines. The reason this blog is called Glosswatch is because I originally conceived of it as a place where I’d go to rant about the publications to which I was still, inexplicably, subscribing in 2012.

I knew how these magazines functioned. I could see the way in which, like a toxic best friend, they eroded your confidence by drip-feeding you advice on ways in which to improve yourself. I knew that the solutions they offered were to problems you hadn’t even realised you had. I knew they didn’t really want you to be happy with yourself, since a woman who is happy with herself does not spend vast amounts of money on trying to make herself look like someone else. But I bought them all the same. I’d been buying them for decades.

Twenty-five years ago I used to spend my lunch money on whatever was available in WH Smiths in Penrith. My selection criteria used to be based on how much content a magazine was running about food, weight and diets. If it had an article about eating disorders, ideally illustrated by photographs of anorexic women, I felt I’d struck gold. Day-in-the-life food diaries were also good. Otherwise I’d settle for anything with a special feature on how to make less of yourself. I never actually followed the diets – my own calorie limit tended to be way below the ones on offer – but I liked reading them anyhow. Continue reading

New Statesman: Tattooing your name on your partner’s forehead is an act of control, not devotion

“I do it because he’s paranoid and wants to have me branded.” These are the words of Kourtney Leigh, who has the name of her boyfriend, Ryan Wibberley, tattooed across her forehead.

According to Wibberley, she is not the first of his girlfriends to have his name inscribed on their bodies, although none of the others have gone for quite so obvious a location. “It’s a laugh,” he tells the Sun, “It’s not taking advantage because they want it done.”

Should we be judging Leigh for consenting to be, as Wibberley puts it, “branded like Heinz Beans”? Or is it an act of devotion, perhaps not all that dissimilar to Johnny Depp’s famous “Winona forever” – now “wino forever” – tattoo? There might be a gendered context to this, but isn’t getting your partner’s name tattooed on your forehead on the same continuum as changing your name to his? Or reassuring him that the children you bear are definitely his? It’s all about ownership, when all’s said and done.

Read the full post at the New Statesman.

New Statesman: No, single men do not have a “right” to reproduce

Last year Katha Pollitt wrote an article for the Nation in which she asked why the left was simultaneously making progress with equal marriage while falling behind on abortion rights.  “The media ,” she wrote, “present marriage equality and reproductive rights as ‘culture war’ issues, as if they somehow went together. But perhaps they’re not as similar as we think.”

Pollitt went on to highlight the multiple ways in which the right can afford to cede ground on marriage equality while remaining unwilling to pay the price of granting females bodily autonomy. She is right to do so. While both reproductive choice and gay rights may be classed as gender issues, each has its own very specific relationship to patriarchy.

A woman’s desire to control her reproductive destiny will always be in direct opposition to patriarchy’s desire to exploit female bodies as a reproductive resource. The social institutions that develop to support the latter – such as marriage – may change, but the exploitation can remain in place.

This has, I think, caused great confusion for those of us who like to see ourselves as progressive. We know that the idealisation of the heterosexual nuclear family, couple with the demonisation of all relationships seen as “other,” has caused harm to countless individuals. We refuse to define marriage as solely for the purpose of procreation, or to insist that a family unit includes one parent of each sex.

Read the full post at the New Statesman.

New Statesman: HBO’s Divorce is uncomfortable viewing for feminists

In Episode 2 of HBO’s Divorce, Thomas Haden Church’s Robert visits his friend Nick in hospital. Nick has had a heart attack following a violent row with his wife Diane.

“Seems like it’s open season on men around here,” notes Robert, before adding that it must be “hell” for Nick to be lying there, “can’t speak, clucking hens all around you.”  In case Robert’s anger at womankind has not yet been made clear enough, he then tells his wife Frances’ friend to “get the fuck away from me you old harpy.” As far as Robert is concerned, women are the enemy.

One could say he has good reason to be mistrustful. Not only was he almost shot by Diane, he recently found out Frances has been having an affair with a granola-making academic. Having changed the locks on their home, he asks Frances whether she ever slept with both her lover and him on the same day: “Because officially that would mean you were gang banged.” He tells Frances that he is going to make her miserable: “And more to the point I’m going to make our children hate you.”

Divorce is written by Sharon Horgan and executive produced by Sarah Jessica Parker, who also plays Frances. It would be difficult – and unfair – to argue that this is a dramedy in which female perspectives on relationships have been sidelined. Even so there’s something about Robert’s embrace of misogyny, almost as a form of liberation following years of repression, that I find deeply discomforting. It’s not unfamiliar territory in TV shows or films relating to the topic of separation, but still it leaves me, as a viewer, on edge.

Read the full post at the New Statesman.

I don’t believe the outrage over Donald Trump

It’s that time again, when the liberal left pretends to be totally outraged by some heinous act of sexism which they’d ordinarily condone. Perhaps I should feel relieved. Perhaps I should think “well, at least one sexist out of the many millions is getting his comeuppance.” But instead I feel tremendously depressed. I don’t believe the outrage over Donald Trump. Yet again it’s feminism being used for anything but the purpose of liberating women.

So the GOP has chosen Trump’s “lewd” admissions of grabbing women “by the pussy,” caught on tape, as the excuse to distance themselves from him. Fair enough. They’ve known about the creepiness, the misogyny, the rape accusations, for long enough, but better late than never. They could of course have drawn the line over some other form of discrimination – one which, as many liberal commentators have helpfully suggested, affects actual people, such as men – but you can’t have everything. Hey, at least a trivial issue such as sexual assault is being used for the greater good.

I don’t believe anyone is actually outraged, though. Not women, nor men, either, and not merely because this is “what they’re all really like.” It’s just another of these increasingly false dawns, a cleansing ritual of sorts, whereby everyone gets to performatively express horror at one man’s sexism and by doing so absolve themselves of guilt. Take our sins upon you, oh tiny-handed one, that we may once again be pure (and not have to liberate women in any meaningful, practical way, which might cost us time, money and our precious ‘rights’).

There are few people who genuinely believe a man’s wealth should not grant him access to the bodies of vulnerable women whenever he wants it. Fewer still who would dare to say that the ‘male’ in ‘male sexual entitlement’ has any actual hierarchical or political meaning. Those who do believe and say these things are roundly vilified, by men of both left and right, and by mainstream feminism. Feminism these days is nothing if not pussy-grab inclusive. Anything less would be sex negative, exclusionary and wrong.

I am bored to death of the consciousness-raising rituals whereby we women all share our experiences of sexual assault. “Isn’t it awful, what men do to women!” we all say, “isn’t it common! Why, it’s happened to all of us!” But who are these men assaulting these women? What is ‘man’? What is ‘woman’? Oh, best not to police those boundaries. If the person who’s assaulting you says they’re a woman, you must accept that narrative, regardless of your own experience within the social hierarchy that is gender. Hence the whole performance becomes meaningless. We have robbed ourselves of the tools of analysis. Why would one group of people want access to the bodies of another group? Are there any differences between those bodies? You’re simply not allowed to ask.

According to Lindy West, “if you have derided and stigmatized identity politics in an effort to keep the marginalized from organizing” you are no better than Donald Trump. Because “doing feminism” is all much of a muchness to Lindy. You read from the script, which changes from hour to hour. Feminism must allow women boundaries and self-definition; feminism must allow women neither boundaries nor self-definition. Feminism says women are not objects for sale; feminism says women are objects for sale. Whatever. As long as you have a specific baddie somewhere – Donald Trump, meanie men on the internet, “exclusionary” feminists – you can reassure men as a class that their rights to female subjectivity and flesh will remain intact.

“You can do anything,” says Trump in the recording. Power, fame, money, male privilege, all of these things allow you to exploit the bodies of women. Why get squeamish about this now? Isn’t that what the left wants with their current approach to pornography and sex work? Surely it’s only the pearl-clutching prudes who have issues with such an exchange and wish to stigmatise those involved in it. How do you know they’re not consenting? Aren’t you just concern trolling now?

The truth is, men can still pretty much do what they like, unless other men see a broader class benefit to placing limits on this. To write what I have just written – about sex work, gender, identity – would, I am sure, be far more damaging to any presidential candidate than literally admitting on tape to sexual assault. Good job Hillary’s not a TERF.

Theresa May isn’t a feminist, but I’m sick of everyone reminding me of this

News just in: Theresa May isn’t a feminist, despite the fact that she once wore a Fawcett Society t-shirt claiming that she was! This will no doubt come as a shock to the many amongst us who take t-shirt slogans to be gospel truth (indeed, I now find myself worrying in case I am not in fact brilliant and everyone else is an arse).

I have to admit, though, I’ve suspected for a while that May’s feminism wasn’t all that it seemed. It’s that whole being leader of the Conservative Party thing. That whole “holding views which are not just not particularly feminist, but which are in direct opposition to very principles of feminism” stuff. It’s always made her look – how shall I put it? – more of an anti-feminist. Not exactly a men’s rights activist (I’m not sure the Tories are keen on most men having rights, either) but certainly someone who isn’t trying, to use Andrea Dworkin’s words, “to destroy a sex hierarchy, a race hierarchy, an economic hierarchy, in which women are hurt, are disempowered, and in which society celebrates cruelty over us and refuses us the integrity of our own bodies and the dignity of our own lives.” I really don’t think Theresa May is into all that.   Continue reading

Mumsnet: The unmasking of Elena Ferrante shows women writers can’t win

How much of yourself should you reveal when you are writing? The answer, of course, depends on whether you are male or female.

If you are male, it doesn’t really matter. You are the default human being and all experiences about which you write – regardless of whether or not you have actually had them – will be universal.

If you are female it is more complicated. Reveal too much about yourself and you are not a real writer at all, just an over-sharer, wallowing in the petty specifics of a non-male life. Don’t reveal enough and you are suspect, manipulative, a tease. Either way you can’t win.

See the full post at Mumsnet

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: 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: “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

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

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: 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

New Statesman: As pilots fight to pump breast milk at work, why is society so ashamed of lactating women?

People do not like to be reminded of the fact that human beings are mammals, members of the class in which females secrete milk for their young. It all sounds so primitive, placing us on a level with the beasts of the field. We’ve risen above it, haven’t we? All of us, that is, apart from those who still lactate.

Take the four female pilots who recently filed claims aimed at forcing their airline, Frontier, to make it easier for new mothers to pump breast milk at work. 12-hour workdays and five-hour flights are not, it turns out, convenient for the average lactator. One of the women had already received a written reprimand for pumping in an airplane toilet. Apparently this “raised safety issues” – but why wasn’t it thought of before?

Because nobody likes to think about the practicalities of breastfeeding, that’s why. We may live in a world in which every new mother is put under an inordinate amount of pressure to do it, but to consider the logistic and economic problems this raises? Hell, that would mean looking at actual business structures, and that’s difficult. Shaming women, on the other hand, is easy.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Thoughts of a person, with breasts

Breasts are curious things. They sprout on you, unbidden, transforming you from child – generic, self-contained, human – to woman, that cartoonish parody of a person.

The way in which they develop will influence the way in which the world receives you. Small-breasted women are bookish, intellectual, perhaps slightly repressed; large-breasted women are cheap, available, maybe a little dumb. Either way, growing breasts makes you fresh meat. It puts you on the market, regardless of whether that’s where you want to be.

I am a small-breasted virgin in the body of a large-breasted whore. A flat-chested non-binary in the body of a matronly ciswife. I have never quite been able to get the right personality in place to match my tits. God knows, I’ve tried.

For almost ten years I starved myself into almost-flatness, rolling back the first-girl-at-school-to-get-breasts humiliations of my final year at junior school. Then when I lost it – and lost it badly, so many cup sizes, almost running out of alphabet – I attempted to occupy my own space, sleeping around, taking sexist jokes on the chin, taking time to realise that one’s space is not a thing a woman gets to define for herself. Then there were the almost-breast reductions, two operation appointments turned down. I wasn’t sure what parts of me to keep, which to reject. I’m still not sure years later, stretched and tired by a third round of breastfeeding. My baby son sometimes moulds and plays with the flesh while he drinks, as though he’s handling plasticine. That’s what my breasts feel like to me: insensitive, roughly formed, shoved onto me while I wasn’t looking. A bad joke, a “kick me” sign pinned to my back. Continue reading