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: 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

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

Announcement

<deep breath>

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!

The right way for women to disappear

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

Does Eddie Izzard like bananas? The Wibbly Pig guide to gender

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

New Statesman: Trousers for all: Why are girls still being required to wear skirts for school?

Who wears the trousers in your relationship? In my case, it’s definitely my partner. I’ve always been a skirt and dress person. Unnecessary cloth-based leg separation just isn’t my thing.

Nonetheless, while I question both the practical and stylistic merits of trousers and shorts, I will defend to the death the right of other women to make their own sartorial choices. For this reason I am broadly in favour of Trousers for All, a UK-wide group campaigning to give girls the option of wearing trousers as part of their school uniform.

While most schools already permit this, there remain a number who do not. This week, as part of The University of Manchester’s social justice festival JustFest, academics Dr Katia Chornik and Professor Claire Hale will argue that this is in breach of the Department of Education’s School Uniform document and The Equality Act 2010. “Both documents,” says Chornik, “emphasise the need to avoid uniforms which are expensive and which treat one sex less favourably than the other. In our view the practice of banning trousers for girls is gender discrimination and prejudice against females.” But is it really?

Read the full post at the New Statesman

How to dress your son as a female character in Frozen

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

New Statesman: The “Dads for Change” campaign is a good start, but it’s no parenting revolution

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

Playing the victim

Back in the olden days, sexism was so straightforward, even a person with a uterus could understand it. It was the belief that men were superior to women — more intelligent, more important, more human — and while it affected different groups of women in different ways, feminists were in a position to identify who benefited from it and who was harmed. Of course, nowadays we can see that this was a very simplistic way of understanding gender-based oppression. It was simplistic not least because it had been thought up by people who don’t have penises (such people are generally known to be less intelligent, less important, less human than everybody else). These days sexism is different. It isn’t about the appropriation of female sexual, domestic and reproductive labour or anything so crude. These days we’ve realised that the people who do this unpaid work are privileged enough to want to do it, freeing us up to focus on the more important task of validating everyone else’s sense of self.

Unfortunately this means that some women — particularly those who didn’t get the memo and remain on the wrong side of history — still think some things are sexist when they’re not (tell them this and they’ll accuse you of gaslighting, but that’s only because they don’t understand what gaslighting is). Porn is one area where they make this mistake, stupidly assuming that men getting off on women being abused could be in some way related to men getting off on women being abused. Drag is another. There are proper, long, thinky explanations as to why porn and drag subvert the very systems that those with an old-style understanding of sexism think they reinforce. Haven’t read said explanations? Then simply take your gut reaction and assume the direct opposite. Continue reading

The worst thing about being a woman

According to Shania Twain, the best thing about being a woman is “the prerogative to have a little fun.” Meanwhile, according to Caitlyn Jenner, the worst thing about being a woman is “figuring out what to wear” (hint: “men’s shirts, short skirts,” apparently).

Somewhere between these two extremes we find the entire range of female experience – or we would, were it not for the fact that female experience cannot be categorised in any way, shape or form. There are infinite variations thereof and to pin down anything at all is to exclude. Hence it turns out even Shania and Caitlyn are on dodgy ground. What about women who aren’t allowed to have fun? What about naturists? Not every woman wears clothes, Jenner, you bigot! Continue reading

Old women’s bodies: On Germaine Greer, ageism and misogyny

Sometime during the late 1990s, we stopped having bodies. After thousands of years of sickness, pain and death, we’d finally found a way to think ourselves beyond all that. It is, we told ourselves, a construct. None of it is really “real.” And from then on we no longer had to wait for any Afterlife to become pure spirit. Paradise, in which the individual mind defines and redefines itself on its own terms, is with us now. Thank you, Judith Butler, and all who preach the gospel of the postmodern, transcendent self.

Of course, there were some people who carried on believing in bodies that leaked and bled and bred. Bodies that produced other bodies, then had to care for them, feeding them with their breasts, mopping up their waste. Bodies that creased and sagged and weakened. Bodies that took their place in a hierarchy of bodies that gave and bodies that took.

Some people still believe in all that crap. Idiots. Essentialists. TERFs. Continue reading

Plastic Woman, Cardboard Man, or, Can you have a feminism which doesn’t expect men to change?

In her masculinity-in-crisis moananthon The End of Men, Hanna Rosin introduces us to two characters: Plastic Woman and Cardboard Man. Their purpose is to help us understand why today’s men are losing out to their female counterparts. It’s not that women are better than men, nor even that this whole “losing out” thing is a myth. It’s because women are adaptable and men aren’t. Lucky women. Poor men.

According to Rosin, Plastic Woman has “throughout the century performed superhuman feats of flexibility” while Cardboard Man “hardly changes at all.” On the face of it, this sounds rather flattering to women. Men just plod along, being man-like, whereas we get to transform ourselves, Mr Benn-like, depending on whatever the circumstances (i.e. men) require. How cool is that? It’s in line with a lot of recent commentary on gender difference, which seeks to celebrate supposedly “feminine” characteristics – flexibility, patience, empathy – at the expense of supposedly “masculine” ones – rationality, stability, individualism. Women are, we are told, the new winners, both in the home and in the newly “feminised” workplace (it’s just unfortunate that those who live with us and those who decide on our salaries haven’t quite cottoned on to this. But never mind, the future’s female – it’s only the present that never is). Continue reading

On sex, gender and Socialist Resistance

I originally wrote this piece for Socialist Resistance – in response to an idea that came from them, not me – but asked to have it withdrawn in light of this editorial announcement. I think it’s important for women’s work to be represented fairly and I don’t consent to my work being presented in contexts which don’t reflect the actual commission. The insistence that women’s voices in particular – particularly when women are describing their lives and needs – require “trigger warnings” is patriarchal to the core. When people are offended by women speaking or writing, it’s rarely women who are the problem.

In this particular instance I think Socialist Resistance need to be honest about their editorial policies and their political principles. There is a word for people for whom discussions of female bodies, female labour and male violence cause “offence and distress.” That word is not “trans”, “queer”, “marginalised” or “oppressed,” but “misogynist” (it’s been around for quite some time). If that is a publication’s desired readership, fine, but it is frankly bizarre for it to then use the term “socialist” when any analysis of the means of production expressly excludes the exploitation of female bodies and the experiences of female people as a labour class.

Moreover, if an editor believes it is contentious to claim that the exploitation of women is something which benefits a more powerful group (as opposed to something based on a random, free-floating “phobia”); if he or she thinks it is triggering to suggest male violence should be named; if he or she is unconcerned about the age-old exclusion of female bodies from understandings of what human bodies are, then that editor should say so. It’s not okay to make glib statements about not “supporting the exclusion of transwomen from women’s spaces” when that is not what is being debated. If you’re going to slap a trigger warning on someone’s writing and make dog-whistle references to phobias, you need to give precise reasons why. And if your “socialism” is actually “redistribution amongst male people while female people carry on cleaning up everyone’s shit,” you need to be clear about this. Because selling your publication on the back of moral principles you don’t have simply isn’t fair.

***

I am wondering if an alternative title for this piece should be “why are some feminists so mean?” After all, this is the assumption made by many upon hearing that when it comes to trans inclusion, many feminists still want to talk about difference. “But trans women are women!” we are told, as though this will make everything alright. But it doesn’t. The impression is that we are cruel. Surely what is at stake matters a great deal to trans women but very little to us? Why can’t we just loosen up and let everyone join the “being oppressed as a woman” party on the same terms? Shouldn’t the excluding be left to the men?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that, at least not if feminism is to mean anything as a political theory which analyses how and why women are oppressed, with a view to dismantling the structures which dehumanise, objectify and exploit. This is no more an abstract discussion for feminists than it is for trans people. It is not a matter of discomfort with particular words. It’s about real, flesh-and-blood suffering. If we cannot talk about how patriarchy arises, how it functions and who benefits from it, then we cannot help ourselves, let alone each other. We might as well go home.

In a 2014 piece for the Guardian, the trans journalist Fred McConnell describes gender as “one’s innate sense of self.” This is not a definition that many feminists would use. To us, gender is a hierarchical system aimed at enforcing women’s subservience. It is neither natural nor innate. As the philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards writes, “much of what is believed about women stems from what is wanted of women.” If you decide that woman = innately predisposed to meet the needs of men (and dress it up in fancy wording which suggests womanhood is actually to do with being pretty, nurturing, communicative etc.), you have a ready-made justification for abuses which have endured for millennia and are going on to this day. That is what gender means to us.

I am conscious the feminist definition of gender sounds a little depressing compared to the trans one. Maybe so, but it is a description of what is. Forced marriage, unpaid wifework, reproductive coercion, sexual slavery, educational exclusion … all of these things continue to be justified by the insistence that women are “naturally” subservient, caring, decorative etc. Moreover, the women to whom these things happen do not have the opportunity to identify out of their oppression because this oppression remains material in basis. Saying “I’m not a woman – my innate sense of self tells me I’m not THAT!” does not work (I write this as a pregnant woman and believe me, no amount of insisting “I’m a pregnant PERSON!” grants me an exemption from laws which were written on the assumption that women, as a reproductive class, should not have full bodily autonomy at all times in the same way that men do).

So what is the solution? Feminists propose that we abolish gender and accept that both male and female people are human, free to express themselves however they choose regardless of their sex. Trans activists propose that we abolish sex difference (as if one could) and accept that whether one is male or female depends upon how one identifies, using gender as a guide. Quite how the latter option deals with the material exploitation of sexed bodies under patriarchy – beyond making it unmentionable – isn’t very clear. Nor does it tell us how we might confront male violence (over 90% of all violent crime is committed by male people, regardless of how they identify). Are we therefore to assume that a predisposition to violence is merely a part of someone’s innate sense of self? And is it now up to perpetrators to say whether their violence really counts as “male violence,” dependent on how “male” they feel? Indeed, under the rules of trans politics, can we identify any forms of material oppression and dominance at all?

When feminists point out that trans women are not biologically female, we are not, as some would have it, behaving like “knuckle-dragging bigots.” We’re saying our bodies exist and matter, too. This isn’t a minor point. The idea that male bodies are the default bodies is patriarchy 101. Eve is constructed from Adam’s rib; Freud clocks our lack of penis and comments drily that “a hole is a hole”; modern medical research is still biased towards using male bodies. Denying sex difference by making male bodies the only “real” bodies is not some modern stroke of genius; it is conservative to the core. Moreover, it is directly contrary to the feminist objective of ensuring that biology is not destiny.

Many people find this hard to understand, thinking that to associate being female with having a female reproductive system is akin to “reducing women to their genitalia.”  It’s a non-argument that’s rather akin to saying anti-capitalists “reduce people to their earnings” or anti-racism campaigners are “obsessed with skin colour.” If we don’t talk about biology – and hence never demand the structural changes which ensure the world is built to suit the needs of all bodies – then for female people, biology always will be destiny. For instance, it’s highly unlikely that company bosses ever sat down and decided to actively discriminate against people who look like they might have the potential to get pregnant; they just built the rules on the assumption that the default employee is someone who definitely can’t. This then leads to enormous inequalities, forcing women into lower-paid, part-time work or excluding them from employment altogether (while allowing male people to continue to benefit from the disproportionate share of unpaid caring work undertaken by female people; unfortunately males who see “woman” as an identity rarely seem to identify with the floor scrubbing and arse-wiping aspect of the whole experience).

In all this it’s worth asking who really gains the most from trans politics in its current anti-feminist guise. Female people don’t and if we’re honest, neither do most gender non-conforming males. Whereas feminism seeks to dismantle male dominance, trans politics reinforces traditional masculinity by insisting that any quality that is considered insufficiently manly is shoved into the “woman/not man/other” box. Not only does this offer no challenge whatsoever to the global epidemic of male violence, but it ensures that women can continue to be blamed for it (If women were only more accommodating, men wouldn’t have to beat anyone up, as said by every single misogynist since the beginning of time). Moreover, this is entirely in keeping with a feminist analysis of gender as a hierarchy. When self-styled cis men order feminists to accept that “trans women are women,” what they’re really saying is “accept that my dominance is natural” (any admission that male people might freely identify with so-called feminine qualities without having to declare themselves female would be far too unsettling; it might show that patriarchy is a house built on sand after all).

A recent poster campaign asking feminists to be “more inclusive” showed a trans person trying to decide which toilets to use. On the door of the ladies’ were the words “get yelled at”; on the men’s, “get beaten up.” That’s patriarchy for you; men learn violence, the most women can do is seek to raise our voices. The trans solution? Demand entry into the “get yelled at” space, even if this also means granting entry to potential beaters as well as yellers. Accept male violence, but not female dissent, as a fact of life. The feminist solution?  The opposite: no to male violence, yes to raising our voices. Confront the system that enables the beaters. Do so even if it means you get yelled at and called a TERF and told to die on a daily basis. Do it because you know male violence is wrong, that no one deserves to be beaten and that all people should be free to express themselves how they wish, regardless of sex.

I know which option I’d choose. Other people can make their own choices, but let’s be honest: this is not about identity and inclusion. It’s about power. Think about who and what you’re propping up.

***

Postscript: An email trail

Bizarrely, members of Socialist Resistance are seeking to deny commissioning this article, despite it appearing on their site. This is the text of the email from Socialist Resistance that commissioned it:

The idea is that there will be an accompanying article by a trans activist and the context is that we are trying to get our heads around the debates. My view is that minuscule Trot groups shouldn’t take a line on these issues but do have an obligation to be aware of the debates. At some point in the next few months we hope to have a public meeting of some sort on the subject and it’s been quite a revelation how vociferous some people are when expressing their point of view.
So, I suppose the brief is “why do many feminists think people who used to be men are different from people who were born as women?’
As for the deadline – the first person who was asked didn’t deliver on schedule. Is Sunday evening too much of a rush?

 

This was their response to the piece I submitted, which is, word for word, as reproduced above:

Thanks Victoria. I can’t imagine anyone will find that controversial. What name would you like it to appear under?

And this is an email I sent querying their proposed title on the basis that people might consider it transphobic:

I just wanted to mention one other thing – I’m not sure what you’re proposing for a title but I wonder if something along the lines of “why do many feminists think people who used to be men are different from people who were born as women?’” might be a hostage to fortune on the basis that many trans activists (e.g. Paris Lees and Janet Mock) would say they’ve always been women, just not recognised as such, and also some feminists would say this isn’t what they think. Perhaps something like “feminists and transgender: why is there a debate?” would be more neutral?

All rather odd in light of subsequent misrepresentations. I’ll let people draw their own conclusions about the gender politics, group communication skills and editorial principles in play here.

Choosing between misogyny and feminism: A practical guide

I’ve written this post partly as a response to the recent behaviour of Rupert Read, the philosopher and Green MP who decided to be a half-hearted feminist for a bit then backed out once he realised that – surprise, surprise – feminists get loads of shit and said shit is, like, dead upsetting and stuff. It’s set me thinking on just how beneficial unacknowledged misogyny is to both men and women, and how so many people like to think they’re against the sexism but don’t link this to what would actually happen to them if they made a stand against the status quo. This is because people don’t really think about sexism very much, not even philosophers, but well, there you go. These are my thoughts on it and I don’t care whether you like them or not

Here are some things which will not happen if you speak out on behalf of women as a class: you will not get loads of people listening to your carefully worded, nuanced thoughts and saying “hmm, interesting, let me think about this some more”; you will not get people who disagree with you saying “sure, I think that’s one angle, but perhaps we could discuss it a little more?”; you will not get hordes of women eager to express their support and gratitude in public; you will not find people making connections between the problems you’ve highlighted and the surface-level examples of sexism they’ve noticed elsewhere.

If you expected any of these things to happen, then really you shouldn’t have spoken out in the first place. This is because such things would only happen if the class-based discrimination you are describing didn’t actually exist. If you have failed to consider this rather obvious point, assuming instead that since we’re all “basically in support of equality” it would therefore be fine for you to broadcast your important and valuable thoughts with impunity, then you still don’t get what “being oppressed as a class” actually means. Continue reading

Contemporary feminism needs a broader definition of “woman”

What is a woman, anyway? This question has been asked time and again, and still we don’t have a definitive answer. Why would that be? I have a theory: because under a system – patriarchy – which is invested in dehumanising females, the obvious response – “a female human” – would give the game away. Conscious of their own humanity, women might get uppity and stop letting men objectify their bodies, exploit their labour and generally piss about being violent. This would never do. Hence “woman”, unlike “man”, has to be really, really hard to define (so hard that you need a super-clever brain – the kind of brain that shares a body with a penis – to get it just right).

Mount Holyoke’s cancellation of its yearly production of The Vagina Monologues has given rise to a great deal of pseudo-philosophical babble regarding “reductive” and “exclusive” definitions of womanhood. According to a student spokesperson:

At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman. Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who have participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive.

Oh dear! According to Jezebel this is all part of an “ugly battle” regarding “the expansion of the definition of ‘woman’ on college campuses”. Clearly, women are not walking vaginas (they are, as previously stated, human beings). But it seems to me that all the current “let’s make womanhood more inclusive” statements are rather missing the point. Continue reading

On lady staplers and feminine weakness

Today I found out that a special “light touch stapler” is being marketed as “easy for ladies to use”. I for one am relieved to hear this. I am sick and tired of asking male colleagues to staple together my documents for me (right after I’ve made them forge my signature due to the fact that my office refuses to stock pens that are suitable for my delicate lady hands).

Of course, even with light touch staplers, the world is still a rough, tough place for a weak, fragile woman. Office stationery is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things that are too hard to handle. Take doors, for instance. We can’t open doors to save our lives. What’s more, the evils of feminism have left men unsure whether to help us with this or not, leaving us standing helplessly outside rooms until we’ve forgotten why we wanted to enter them in the first place. Then there’s driving (despite all evidence to the contrary, we’re crap at it) and holding positions of authority (hormones – which only women have, apparently – always get in the way). And as for politics – until they make a cutesy, mini Houses of Parliament, ideally one that looks more like the Happlyland Fairlyand Bluebell Boot, we’re all just going to feel alienated. It’s not that male politicians remain braying, misogynistic boors who talk over women; it’s the fact that the seat of government is not pink (and the doors are too heavy, and the stationery just too male).

Thankfully there are some things women are physically and emotionally strong enough to take on, which is just as well since otherwise we’d be really bloody useless. Take caring work, for instance. Delicate ladies who cannot lift a pen unless it is “designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand” turn out to be just fine at wiping shit-covered toddler arses and lifting sick, elderly relatives twice their weight. It’s funny, isn’t it? Women – those fragrant little flowers – end up doing the vast majority of unpaid caring work: fetching and carrying, cleaning up blood and vomit, doing all that emotional heavy lifting that men just aren’t equipped to do. We even give birth to the next generation (ideally not by being “too posh to push”; let’s face it, staplers are hard but pushing a human being out of your vagina? Piece of piss).

Of course, a cynic might say that the whole weak woman construct is there to create the illusion that men are caring and providing for women when in fact it’s the other way round; we’re the ones providing the physical and emotional resources that enable men to faff around earning money, kicking footballs, killing each other and whatnot. Obviously that’s a crude way of putting it. I prefer to take a more nuanced line, which is that: yes, we women are clearly crap at staples and pens and power (the important things). It’s just as well we have our magic unpaid carer strengths to compensate. Sorry, men, that we can’t be more useful than that.

Can 2015 be the year in which men become the Other?

Who is your Person of 2014? Nigel Farage? Russell Brand? Or could it be … A woman???

Only kidding, obviously. Having a woman as Person of the Year would be political correctness gone mad. Woman of the Year, yes.  Person? Don’t be silly. People are male.

I could live with The Times naming Farage “Briton of the Year” (NB all humans defined by nationality are male, apart from Swedes, who are sexy blondes). I could live, almost, with the vast majority of positive alternatives to Farage being male. But when George Monbiot named Russell Brand his “hero of 2014” due to his apparently obvious distinctness from the “grand old men of the left”, something in me snapped. Continue reading

Erasing the outlines: A personal post on anorexia, feminism and gender

There are times in your life that you find yourself going back over, again and again. For me the years 1987 to 1996 have a particular resonance. Filed away somewhere is the sense that then, and only then, I was really me. I know it’s not true – I was a dull person, a thin shadow who thought only of food and cold – but I still feel that I came closest to owning myself. Never close enough, of course, but what more can a woman expect?

I’ve just finished reading Elaine Showalter’s The Female Malady. It’s a brilliant book but one that I’ve found incredibly triggering (and “triggering” isn’t a word I often use). It has set off a lot of memories for me, and a lot of resentments that usually bubble under the surface of my fleshy, ageing exterior. It’s a book about women as people – real people with real inner lives – and it surprises me how rare that is. It’s about women trying to make themselves heard and then watching it veer off course, again and again. At the risk of sounding self-obsessed (and this is a self-obsessed post) I can identify with that. It reminds me of my own experiences as an anorexia patient and the scars that haven’t gone away. Continue reading

On high heels and stupid choices

Why do women wear high heels? It’s a question men can ask but feminists can’t. When men ask it they’re being light-hearted and humorous, expressing jovial bafflement at the strange ways of womankind. When feminists ask it they’re being judgemental bullies, dismissing the choice and agency of their Louboutin-loving sisters. So it is that Ally Fogg can get away with writing a piece for the Guardian on why he, Fogg, does not like women wearing heels (I defy any woman to do this without being considered a raging femmephobe – just ask Charlotte Raven).

In said piece, Fogg tells the story of a female friend – a kind of Everywoman in stilettoes – “grumbling about the blisters and bruises being caused by her latest proud purchase”:

I muttered something about taking more care when trying things on in the shop and she looked at me as if I had started speaking fluent Martian. “I’d never not buy a nice pair of shoes just because they didn’t fit!” she exclaimed, then we sat gawping at each other while silent mutual incomprehension calcified the air.

It’s a real Mars and Venus moment, suggesting that when it comes to shoes women are a bit, well, irrational (bless ‘em). Fogg later comments that he is “more attracted to a woman who looks like she can drink me under the table then carry me home, making a sturdy pair of DMs just the ticket”

I live in hope that one day the human race will view high heels with the same horror with which we view foot-binding. Women would be spared innumerable podiatric agonies and men would, I think, just about cope. Until then I shall content myself with the knowledge that I’m right and the rest of the human race is a bit daft.

I can see the good intent here. No one wants women to have ruined feet (unless it’s feminists who are making that point, in which case ruined feet become empowering). But “a bit daft”? Really? Femininity, and the way in which it shapes women’s supposed free choices, is a little more complex than that. Continue reading