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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“Dads don’t babysit (it’s called ‘parenting’).” So says the T-shirt created by Al Ferguson of The Dad Network, in response to the assumption that a father seen caring for his own offspring is simply playing the role of temporary childminder.
The t-shirt has prompted a great deal of debate, not to mention marketing opportunities (you can already buy a “my dad doesn’t babysit” onesie for your little one). It seems more and more fathers want to be recognised as equal carers, and who can blame them?
From a feminist perspective, it’s easy to see why describing fathers as “babysitting” their own children is a bad idea. It lowers the expectations placed on fathers, putting them on a level with people who have no emotional ties to their children and are merely providing a service.
Read the full post at the New Statesman
Hi! Most of you know me as a woman but today I’m coming out – as a human being.
I know this might be confusing to some folks but I’ve felt this way for a long time. It’s something I’ve found myself suppressing due to fear of violence, isolation, being told I’m an uppity bitch who deserves to die in a fire etc. But I can’t keep living a lie.
For those of you who don’t know, gender is a social hierarchy that positions people with vaginas as less human than people with penises. We get so used to this we rarely question the fact that some of the vagina-d people have an inner sense of “being human”. Certainly this feeling of human-ness is something that’s been with me regardless of the number of times I’ve been ordered to shut up, dress nicely, be a good little object for the patriarchy’s pleasure.
I realise a common response to women saying “we’re human” is disbelief. People think we’re making it up. It threatens the safe boundaries they’ve created, whereby there’s a nice, reliable class of people who’ll do the majority of the world’s unpaid work, suck it up and won’t complain. The violence of not being seen as fully human is painful (albeit not as painful as the violence of being hit in the face because you didn’t cook tea properly or being pushed up against a wall and groped for the crime of being a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time). Ever since Mary Wollstonecraft first “came out” as human, other women have been doing the same, but there’s still a long road ahead of us before we’re fully accepted as complete people, with our own thoughts, feelings and inner lives.
Still, from now on I’d like you all to at least try to treat me like a human being – in terms of address, work, pay, respect, sexual and emotional expectations. Don’t worry if you slip up now and then – thanks to decades of female socialisation, I won’t hold it against you!
In 1980’s The Sceptical Feminist Janet Radcliffe Richards makes the simple but important point that “it is quite misleading to think of masculinity and femininity as similar sorts of things; equal degrees of adaptation to different situations”:
In fact masculinity has traditionally been no different from general success in whatever is valued by society, and virtually the only way any reference to women comes into the concept of masculinity is in the demand that no man should be subordinate or inferior to a woman.
The problem for the feminist – and for women in general – is not with femininity per se. It is not that taken individually, so-called “masculine” characteristics are in any way better or more useful than “feminine” ones. It is that femininity functions within a system that places women and men under very different social pressures, the primary aim of which is “to ensure that women should be in the power and service of men”.
This is basic feminism. It makes no judgment on what individual men and women are “really” like, rather it points out that the idea of inherent differences between men and women has been used to facilitate male people’s oppression of female people. As Richards puts it, “much of what is believed about women stems from what is wanted of women” (submission, chastity, unpaid reproductive, emotional and domestic work).
Fast-forward 36 years and it seems we’ve forgotten the basics. It’s not that we no longer use gender to extract resources and labour from one class of people for the benefit of another. Men still own the vast majority of the world’s material resources. Women still struggle for safety, visibility, education, reproductive autonomy, freedom from abuse. But for some reason we’ve stopped bothering to analyse gender as a social hierarchy. Perhaps it got too hard, or maybe it just got boring. Either way, these days it’s every woman – or non-man – for her/theirself. Continue reading
I’ve never been comfortable with the idea that once you have anorexia, you never quite recover from it. It sounds too fatalistic, too hopeless and yet at the same time too self-indulgent.
I am 40 years old. It is nearly three decades since I was first diagnosed and I have been what is considered a healthy weight for most of the past two of them. While my eating habits are not necessarily normal, I would not describe myself as still suffering from anorexia itself. If anything, what I suffer from is not being anorexic any more.
I am not at home in the body I have. I’ve never got over the desire to tell people, the first time I meet them, that this isn’t the real me. The real me is thin, breastless, narrow-hipped. This version of me is a poor compromise, a pathetic accommodation. I look like a woman but actually I identify as a human being.
In Hunger Strike, Susie Orbach describes the way in which refeeding programmes imposed on anorexia sufferers betray a desire to “normalise” women not just physically, but socially: “The general consensus is that the patient has recovered when the normal weight is reached and appropriate sex role functioning is achieved.” Yet, she goes on to point out, “if the body protest statement could but be read – be it one of fatness or thinness – it would be seen to be one of the few ways that women can articulate their internal experience.” I look back on the force-feeding to which I was subjected and see in it a type of conversion therapy. Womanhood, I had decided, was not for me. I sought to roll back puberty and remain stuck in time. The medical profession said no, you must go forward. And so I did, but it hurt because the world I went into remained one in which femaleness and personhood are not always permitted to co-exist. Continue reading
My children have a book called Wibbly Pig Likes Bananas. In it, a little pig called Wibbly reveals his likes and dislikes and invites children to think about theirs, too. Do you, like Wibbly, like bananas, or do you prefer apples? Would you, like Wibbly, play with the ball, or would you rather cuddle the bear?
The message, as you might have guessed, is that we’re all different and that’s perfectly fine. I like this message. It’s a message with which I can get on board. However, I’ve started to wonder about the identity politics of it. If Wibbly likes bananas and hats and balls, is he even a pig at all? Continue reading
According to the writer Jay Griffiths, “the much maligned paramenstrum (defined as the two days before a period and the first two days of it) floods you with insight, with surges of instinctual thoughts, with demanding intensity, with burning innerness, thinking at full feeling”. This may be something you recognise. Alternatively, like me, you may find it a time for donning your ropiest pair of pants, stuffing your face on Wispa Duos and curling up in bed, nursing a hot water bottle and a sense of grievance that set in when you were 11 and has never gone away.
Just how the modern woman should approach menstruation has yet to be defined. Should it be something we celebrate, boldly, in defiance of age-old taboos that have held the female body in check? Or should we all just admit that periods are pretty rubbish, really, and bond over a monthly misery shared? Either way, the one good thing is we can be open about their existence. It wasn’t always like this.
Read the full post at the New Statesman
You know the trouble with heterosexual relationships? One party desperately wants marriage and babies while the other doesn’t, and the lengths to which the former will go to tie down the latter are frankly staggering.
We all know, for instance, that straight marriage doesn’t offer women as much as it offers men. Getting married boosts men’s health and income, while the only thing boosted for women is the number of pants to wash. Women are more likely to initiate divorce and less likely to suffer ill-health as a result. Recent research has suggested that single, childless men want babies more than their female counterparts, hardly surprising given who pays the highest price in health risks, workplace discrimination and domestic drudgery. So is it any wonder that poor, needy men have been forced to come up with elaborate schemes in order to snare independent, commitment-phobic women? Otherwise what straight woman in her right mind would ever end up walking down the aisle?
For the full post go to the New Statesman
Last week, a national newspaper ran a piece on the shortage of people in the UK willing or able to sell a kidney.
“It’s terrible,” said one interviewee, a stockbroker forced to buy his kidney from an organ farm in Mumbai. “UK regulations need to change so we can have this service closer to home.”
Another customer agreed.
“It’s very distressing to know that if someone over here sells you their kidney, they can change their mind. The ownership documents aren’t worth the paper they’re written on as long as your kidney’s still busy filtering waste products in the body that grew it.”
Read the full post at the New Statesman
So this week I found out that I am just like the singer Adele. Not in the being any good at singing or having loads of money or attracting legions of fans way, but in the one way that truly counts: we both let our sons dress up as female characters from Frozen.
Turns out Adele’s son is an Anna. My middle son’s more of an Elsa, complete with a little plastic crown to hurl off dramatically whenever he gets to “the past is in the past” in Let It Go. I don’t know where Adele does her shopping, but my son’s blue dress and sparkly wig were £15 at Sainsbury’s (paid for by a grandparent, who then sent me an email expressing concern at my son wearing his new outfit anywhere other than at home. He’s since worn it twice to the school disco, with no ill effects). Continue reading
If there’s one men’s rights campaign that even the most ardent feminist can get behind, it’s this: the right of men to wipe babies’ arses. For far too long men have been excluded from the joys of dodging the sudden-exposure-to-cold-air wee, or removing a soiled vest without getting faeces on the baby’s head. If equality means anything, it’s ensuring that female demands for equal pay don’t come at the expense of male ones for equal poo.
In keeping with this, the #dadsforchange campaign is highlighting the best and worst UK changing facilities for fathers and their babies. As Dad Network founder and campaign leader Al Ferguson explains, “many dads have been in situations whereby they have not been able to safely and hygienically change their own baby’s nappy when out and about. […] Society is going through a cultural shift seeing more and more dads take active, hands on roles in parenting and public facilities need to reflect this.”
Read the full post at the New Statesman
In 1990, Dan Logan, executive director of the men’s rights group Free Men, made the following killer argument:
We always treat reproductive rights as a women’s subject and something they control. I think the fact that women carry a womb in their body is an accident of biology. It could just as easily have been men.
Can’t fault that logic, can you? Yes, there might be only one class of human beings who gestate, but there might not have been. It’s all totally arbitrary, so best not to go making legal arguments on the basis of reality. This is, after all, only one of an infinite number of possible worlds.
25 years later, and Logan’s case for pretending human reproduction is completely random is now being made by trans activist CN Lester on Newsnight. “The idea of sex as we know it now really emerged in the nineteenth century in French sexology,” they opine. “The idea of male and female is far more complicated than what we were taught in GCSE biology.” Thus it would be foolish to go claiming that, say, people with uteruses are more likely to get pregnant than people with penises. Sure, this might be what actually happens, but “proper” sex is, like, way more complex. It’s pure coincidence that me, you, Lester and everyone else on the planet had to start life in the TERFy environs of someone’s womb. It could just as well have been via the stork. Only it wasn’t.
It’s not that anyone minds the fact that only one group of people gestate, give birth and breastfeed. Just as long as they STFU about it. Sure, the female role in reproduction is hard and sometimes it might kill you, but it doesn’t do to make a big deal of it. Aristotle had the right idea, arguing that women were just the potting soil in which the active male principle could grow. That’s far more inclusive, right? Let’s all deny the existence of a reproductive class, since it’s not as though that will stop us benefiting from their labour. It just removes the need to attach any status or significance to it, while also clearing the way for some healthy free market exploitation. Continue reading
This year Sexism Inc held their AGM at a top secret location in the south of England. With the help of my undercover contacts I was able to get hold of the transcript of their CEO’s closing speech, which has been reproduced below.
Well, what a year it’s been! An exhausting one but, as I’m sure you’ll agree, one of our most successful.
The market has seen some tough times lately, what with the resurgence of interest in feminism since its early noughties slump. There was a time, two or three years ago, when some of you expressed concerns that we might not get through it. Certainly there was a need for some restructuring but, while we were all sad to see Mr Clarkson and Mr Buchanan go, I know that they, too, saw the need for sexism to move with the times.
It’s important for any organisation, even one that doesn’t prioritise the subjugation of half the human race, to stay nimble and flexible. That’s why in May this year I was absolutely delighted to announce the acquisition of Libfem Corp and its subsidiaries, Everyday Feminism, Amnesty and NUS Women. While these will now operate as part of Sexism Inc family, they will retain their unique brand identities, finding new ways to market objectification and sexual exploitation to women without recourse to the more “traditional” messaging favoured by our more established brands. Continue reading