New Statesman: Just face it, being a parent will never be cool

My children call me various things. Mummy. Mum. Poo-Head. One thing they have never called me is Mama. This is only to be expected, for I am not cool.

Last year Elisa Strauss reported on the rise of white, middle-class mothers in the US using the term “mama” as “an identity marker, a phrase of distinction, and a way to label the self and designate the group.” Mamas aren’t like mummies or mums (or indeed poo-heads). They’re hip. They’re modern. They’re out there “widen[ing] the horizons of ‘mother,’ without giving up on a mother identity altogether.” And now it’s the turn of the dads.

According to the Daily Beast, the hipster fathers of Brooklyn are asking their children to refer to them as Papa. According to one of those interviewed, Justin Underwood, the word “dad” is simply too “bland and drab”:

“There’s no excitement to it, and I feel like the word papa nowadays has so many meanings. We live in an age when fathers are more in touch with their feminine sides and are all right with playing dress-up and putting on makeup with their daughters.”

Underwood describes “dad” as antiquated, whereas “papa” is an “open-minded, liberal term, like dad with a twist” (but evidently not a twist so far that one might consider putting on makeup with one’s sons).

Read the full post at the New Statesman.


They used to call it rape

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

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

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

What’s a dead woman, anyway? Reeva Steenkamp and the stories of men

To be a woman is to be penetrable, there to take whatever men wish to ram inside you. It can be anything, from words to ideas to body parts, just as long as there is no reciprocity. Nothing of your own reality – your words, your ideas, your body – can make an impression on anyone else. You raise your voice but you might as well still be gagged. You say the same words, again and again, but until they’ve been uttered by someone male, they might as well not have been said at all.

At times this is a joke, as in this Fast Show sketch. Ha! Men! They never listen to women! At other times, our penetrability, set against men’s refusal to absorb in return, can be lethal. Reeva Steenkamp took what Oscar Pistorius chose to force inside her: bullets. Now what remains are his words, his ideas, his living, breathing body. As women we’re meant to suck it up because what’s the alternative? His story is the only one on offer; if we tried to tell another, who would listen? Continue reading

Fast Show Feminism

In the late 90s The Fast Show used to feature a recurrent sketch in which a group of men and one woman would be brainstorming for ideas. The punchline was always the same: the woman would be the one to find the solution but no one would seem to hear it until a man repeated it using slightly different words, having not quite understood it, whereupon he’d be treated like a total genius.

I think things are a bit like that in feminism these days. We have decades of serious scholarship and wonderful ideas but unfortunately most of it has come from not just from women, but from stupid old cis women (a bit like your mum, but more bigoted). That can’t be any good, can it? Best repackage it to make it seem more clever and authoritative. Best say it’s coming from someone with a deeper, more meaningful understanding of sex and gender. Best pretend it’s all new, all the better to continue pissing from a great height onto the very people we claim to be liberating. Continue reading

An Uppity, Non-Compliant Guide to Feminist Language

Yesterday Buzzfeed published a spoof guide to contemporary feminist terminology. As a contemporary feminist, how I laughed. Laughed and laughed and laughed. Then, after about half a second’s laughing, I thought “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if someone wrote an actual guide to some actual feminism? One that actually mentions male oppressors and doesn’t spend half the time focussed on which feminists hold unacceptable views?” So despite being female and therefore crap, I decided to give it a go.

Gender (noun):

  1. Oppressive hierarchy, situating adult human males (as the construct “man”) at the top, adult human females (as the construct “woman”) at the bottom.
  2. Nebulous thing that makes you want to wear certain clothes, have certain ideas, do certain activities, adopt certain mannerisms etc. Otherwise known as “being a person”.

Continue reading

Femmephobia: What are we really afraid of?

Recently I started coming across the word “femmephobia” to describe critiques of pinkification, female stereotyping and the beauty industry. The femmephobe is someone who exhibits an irrational fear of all things traditionally associated with femininity. She is prejudiced against people who use femininity as a means of expression. It’s not because she’s identifying an oppressive structure which limits everyone’s choice, but because she just doesn’t like girly girls. She is, in short, a bigot.

I’d say I’m a bit of a femme myself. I like make-up and prefer dresses to trousers. I think cars and football are boring (because they bloody well are). I’d rather do crochet than play on the Wii, unless it’s a relatively fluffy platform game that doesn’t involve too much killing. Hence I have a degree of sympathy with those who cry “femmephobe!” I can see the position as a distant relative to that adopted by earlier feminists who sought to re-evaluate traditionally female activity and culture. There is nothing inherently trivial about the work “feminine” people do, the poses they adopt, the means by which they express themselves. Moreover, devaluing “the feminine” is not just sexist but culturally imperialistic, since definitions of femininity vary between cultures. Continue reading

Pink, orange, lellow

My four-year-old son likes the colour pink. He likes it on everything: pink socks, pink toys, pink paint, pink glitter. Sometimes he even wears a pink plastic ring to school.

My son also knows that he is a boy, and that boys are not allowed to like pink. Not one to be deterred, he’s come up with his own solution. From now on, pink will be called orange and orange, pink.

“Are you wearing your pink ring today?”

“Don’t be silly! It’s orange! It has to be orange because orange is for boys!”

Let’s be clear: there’s no real reason why pink should be pink and orange should be orange. They’re just identifying words. Sometimes it won’t even be clear which one you should use, or if either is appropriate. Is salmon pink really orange? And coral? And what if your paint was pink but then you added more and more yellow? Ultimately it doesn’t really matter. There is pink and there is orange but not everything needs to be judged on how pink or how orange it is. They’re just the outer shades, not the things in themselves. Even so, I wish my son didn’t feel the need to switch words around solely on the basis that pink is not allowed. Continue reading

Slut-shaming, whorephobia and “that” word

A few days ago I used a neologism which caused a lot of disagreement. I knew exactly what I meant and I was also clear about what I didn’t mean. However, difficulties do arise if for other people, for whatever reason, it comes to mean something else, particularly if that causes hurt. I’m genuinely sorry for that and hence I’m not going to use it here, but I do want to write about what lies behind it. To me it refers to something important (and whatever it ends up being, I still think we need a word to describe it).

Funnily enough, I don’t have a position on whether one should be openly discussing sex or having lots of sexual partners or none at all. I don’t see why I – or, in an ideal world, anyone else – should. I do, on the other hand, have strong opinions about objectification and about how we weigh up the cost of broadcasting particular messages within an unequal, patriarchal society. It’s a cost that isn’t necessarily offset by the free choice of individuals to participate in the creation of these messages, at least if these messages risk having a far broader impact on the freedom  and safety of others. I think this should be fairly obvious (regardless of the final judgment one reaches) and yet when it comes to campaigns such as No More Page Three, Lose The Lad Mags and banning rape porn, somehow it isn’t.

Feminism and the art of not giving a shit

For all its flaws, the internet has been great at giving a voice to people who wouldn’t otherwise be heard. Indeed, in recent times there’s been one group who, silent for far too long, have finally been finding their voice. I’m referring, of course, to those who don’t give a shit about things.

In the old days if there was something about which you didn’t give a shit – sexist language, size zero models, the Sun’s page three, images on banknotes – you’d have to just suffer in silence. Obviously you could get on with other things in the meantime, albeit in a purely abstract, imaginary way (the economic downturn and female genital mutilation are, hypothetically, no longer problems due to all of this not-shit-giving). In real life and in public, however, there weren’t that many outlets for ostentatiously demonstrating just how totally not arsed you were about minor, usually feminism-related tussles. Thank god, therefore, for the Guardian’s Comment is Free site. From now on silently feeling furious that other people are feeling furious about things about which you wouldn’t be furious except you are now but only in a meta way in response to these other furious people – anyhow, that thing is a thing no more. Continue reading

Why be a feminist? A personal view

If you are a feminist it can be difficult to understand the position of any woman who isn’t. Gloria Steinem claimed “a woman has two choices: either she’s a feminist or a masochist” (what this says about the choices of feminists who are into BDSM I do not know). Julie Burchill, meanwhile, has argued that “there is a short and sharp way to deal with women who say they are not feminists”:

If a woman answers ‘no’ to the question ‘Are you a feminist?’, she should immediately be stripped of her voting rights, her right to institute divorce, her legal protection from domestic violence and marital rape – oh, and her pay should be cut to 19% less than that of her male colleagues. Then she could lead the carefree, non-ball-breaking life she so desires, and not be forced to take advantage of all those unpleasant and exhausting social gains which those nasty butch feminists in the 20th century forced on her.

To which one is tempted to respond “oh, sod off, you attention-seeking transphobe”. Yet could it be that in this one instance Burchill has a point? Shouldn’t those who refuse to acknowledge their oppression be made to experience its full force? After all, aren’t they complicit in every other woman’s oppression, too? Continue reading

On online feminism and privilege

Unless you are an MRA and therefore hate all feminists, you’re probably amendable to the idea that some of them are nice and some of them aren’t. But how can you tell who’s who? In a recent piece for the New Statesman, Sadie Smith offers some tips for amateur feminist spotters: the nice ones – those who represent “good, honest feminism in all its manifestations” – tend to be western women who were especially active in the latter half of the twentieth century, whereas the nasty ones are lurking on twitter right this very minute (shh! They might hear you!).

So, we know who’s who, but what’s the difference? The nice feminists are often of high status (e.g. Camille Paglia, Luce Irigaray) and while they might say some strange things, their familiarity breeds a patronising presumption of niceness (a sort of “oh, that’s just Camille having another of her funny turns…”). The nasty feminists, on the other hand, might not have the same status but they are mean. Mean, mean, mean. So it’s best not to provoke them (otherwise it’s “intersectional this” and “check your privilege that”. Honestly, they never stop!). Continue reading

Emasculating women: Sergey Brin, smartphones and gendered metaphors

When Google’s Sergey Brin suggested that using a smartphone was “kind of emasculating”, he no doubt didn’t mean it to sound as ridiculously sexist as it did. He probably just meant “it’s a bit silly” or “it makes you look a bit of a prat” (still not a great thing for a Google boss to say, but an improvement at the very least). Unfortunately, I and countless others can’t help reading his actual words and hearing them translated into the language of almost every boy we remember from primary school: “Urgh! Smartphones are for girls! Girls are rubbish and smartphones are too!” (to be fair, smartphones didn’t exist when I was at primary school, nor even your basic mobile. But they said this kind of thing about skipping ropes, so it’s plausible that they’d have said it about potentially outdated technology, too).
Continue reading

The best way to market feminism? Let’s all make it less feminist

So I’d been having one of those days and I decided, in a moment of complete stupidity, that I’d wind down in my lunch hour by going on Twitter (yes, I know!). And then of course the first thing I spotted was this:

Now, it’s not necessarily a bad question. And on a good day I’d have been thinking hmm, interesting. I’d say it’s a mix of influences such as … (at which point I’d have realised there was no way of putting this into 140 characters and given up). But I was having a bad day so my immediate response was Well, that’s f***ing obvious. It’s because most people are useless and young women are no exception. And that’s only 100 characters. I didn’t tweet it though as I thought it would annoy most people (what with them being useless).

Of course, I found myself looking at the responses Vagenda did get. Pah, I thought. Even the feminists are useless. Blaming other feminists for the stereotypes promoted by anti-feminists. When actually feminists are ace. Apart from these ones, who are useless.

Judgement duly passed, I then stalked off to retrieve my sandwich. Continue reading

Political correctness: The world’s greatest shorthand for everything that annoys people I don’t like

What do each of the following have in common:

  • the inappropriate use of apostrophes
  • advertisers using “pan fried” when they could just use “fried”
  • the belief that bulimia is an illness rather than a moral failing
  • the idea that there can be more than one meaning for the word “gender”
  • the notion that people other than smokers, motorists and fox-hunting aficionados can be persecuted
  • having to use the term “African American” when you just want to say “black”

All of these things are, of course, examples of political correctness, about which I am now an expert. Continue reading

Free speech: The rules

I am trying to negotiate the rules are on free speech. Obviously that’s assuming that there are rules (you’d really think there shouldn’t be, what with said speech being “free”, but I don’t think that’s how it works). Because I am morally immature (liberal, feminist, atheist) I can’t do this on my own, so I’m using Cristina Odone’s response to Nick Clegg’s same-sex marriage “bigot” gaffe to help me.

This is what I’ve been able to work out so far (if you are similarly immature in terms of moral development, please pay attention – it’s perhaps more complicated than you’d think): Continue reading

Does this post sound whiny to you?

It’s SO unfair! I’ve just had yet another comment left on my blog accusing me of “whining”. Me? Whine? How could anyone write such a thing? That is just MEAN and WRONG and I’m NOT going to talk to ANYONE EVER  AGAIN.

<stomps off to listen to Joy Division in darkened room for, like, ten million years>

[ten million years later]

Right, okay, I’m back now. I hope everyone’s sorry. As you can see, I just don’t do whining – passive-aggression’s much more my thing. Continue reading

So who’s going to be mum?

On Sunday my eldest child will turn five. To put this another way, on Sunday my eldest child will be halfway to reaching ten. To put this yet another way, on Sunday my eldest child will be one quarter of the way to reaching 20. In short, give or take a decade, my son is practically an adult.

Obviously he’s excited about his birthday, and especially enthused about the Jabba the Hut cake which I have no idea how to make but will somehow magic up in two days. Every day he remind us that his birthday is coming (and, to his younger brother, he will add with particular glee “and yours isn’t!”). As his mother, I have to say I’m less pleased than about this forthcoming event. It’s not because I think he’s missing his milestones (since I haven’t a clue what the “turning five” milestones are). It’s not even to do with the flipping cake. It’s because the older he gets, the more likely it becomes that I will have to cease being Mummy. Continue reading

The GCSE / O-level debate: Everyone’s a bloody expert

In all the kerfuffle over GCSEs and the potential return of O-levels, one question remains unanswered: why doesn’t everyone just ask me? After all, I’m the sodding expert. If ever there was a moment where I could say “hang on, I know stuff!“, this, surely, is it. And given how often I rant about stuff about which I know nothing, I really ought to take the opportunity to rant about an issue about which actually, for once, I have something to say.

In case you’re wondering, here are my actual credentials regarding the education debate:

  1. I’m a parent
  2. I read the Daily Mail
  3. I did exams, once.

That’s pretty good going, isn’t it? Oh, but there’s some other stuff: I have a job that is linked to education. I actually read exam specifications! And past papers! I even read some this week! BUT I’m not a teacher or an examiner, therefore I’m not just in the business of covering up the fact that I am, apparently, crap at my job. Hell no, I work in the private sector, so I’m totally efficient and shit. In addition to all this, my partner used to be an academic (i.e. he could have been writing exam specifications for me to read) except he’s now training to be a primary teacher (i.e. he’s gone thick and lefty and useless, and I get to see this transformation at close hand). And in case all this wasn’t enough, I am, like, dead clever. I have an MA from Oxford and a PhD from Cambridge, so Michael Gove should love me.* Especially as I went to a grammar school. I am just totally Gove-tastic, me.

I was thinking of all that this morning when I was reading an Independent blog post on how useless young people, sorry, GCSEs are. It’s written by Liam O’Brien, who got 9 A*s at GCSE in 2005, but isn’t about to get overawed by his own success: “But even as I sat the papers, I was aware that these grades were completely worthless“. Which is obviously news worth passing on to all those millions who don’t get 9 A*s. How mega-thick must they be? Even I find it hard to imagine such a level of thickness and I’m dead clever, me.

Liam is annoyed about all of the GCSE subjects being too easy, but he has a particular go at MFL:

In the most recent French reading paper, students could obtain a mark for recognising that “piscine” means swimming pool.

Well, I’ll tell you something, Liam – it does! Piscine does mean swimming pool! And actually, getting a mark for that is a real achievement if you’re 16, since first you have to overcome the urge to die laughing at the fact that the French swim in something that sounds like “piss” (what, you mean you never did that?). Well, piscines aside, Liam goes on to tell us exactly how GCSE MFL exams work:

In modern foreign language and Latin classes, we would sit O-level papers as practise [sic.] for the real thing, safe in the knowledge that nothing as difficult would ever appear on the real exam. In some cases, a C grade would translate to As and A*s. In those days, language papers required some understanding of the subject. Now, it’s a case of whether you’ve adequately prepared your strict vocabulary lists because – never fear – there will be nothing “off-road” on the exam.

This is, you might be surprised to know, complete and utter merde. In each of the GCSE specifications 60% of the marks are for speaking and writing, i.e. productive work which does not rely on simple vocab recognition (in addition to this, 20% of the remaining marks are for listening, which relies on vocab recognition in an entirely abstract context, in which you can’t see the speaker. This is hard. Especially if someone says something that sounds a bit like “piss”).

Speaking and writing are currently examined using controlled assessment. As a method this is rubbish and MFL teachers hate it. This is of course because they are teachers and therefore lazy and useless. Or actually, it might be because they’d like to do some actual teaching and controlled assessment gets in the way, involving extended preparation periods during which teachers cannot help students even if they’d like to. Some students use the preparation time to memorise work and then reproduce it. This is not a great way of encouraging fluency in communication (and it is often exposed when students face an unexpected – unexpected! – question in the speaking and can’t string a sentence together). Basically, controlled assessment isn’t working. But it’s not because it’s easy or because it’s a mere vocab test. Only someone who can’t be arsed to examine the problem up close would suggest that.

I’m not saying such a person is necessarily stupid. They might, for instance, have 9 A*s at GCSE. I’m just saying that if we want to improve achievement in a subject such as MFL, we should do so by finding assessment methods that encourage actual fluency, and not just by making the subject “harder“, whavever that means (cryogenic floatation tanks rather than swimming pools? I don’t even know if such things exist but hey, they sound a bit more hardcore than the sodding piscine).

Whatever the problems with current exams, I have serious issues with journalists and people in general trying to downplay the value of what students achieve (sorry, I’m meant to say “pupils” aren’t I? Don’t want to be bigging them up, although actually, you could interpret my use of the word “students” as a way of downplaying the achievements of university undergraduates as well). I don’t think GCSEs are perfect. However, I find it bizarre that we are talking, not about improving learning and knowledge, but simply about “hardness”. It’s dead easy to write hard stuff. You could, for instance, just get academics to set university-level exams for people at school (oh, hang on, we’re meant to be doing that). It doesn’t improve knowledge and its delivery in any significant way.

I would love young people to be passionate about languages. My own view is that this can be done through greater cultural engagement, and fewer meaningless scenarios in which you talk about the different items you store in your pencil case (and don’t get me started on what’s in “ma chambre”. You don’t want to know). I don’t hold with claims that GCSEs are “a national disgrace”; on the contrary, I worry more about the future of MFL when it’s being suggested that the main reason for learning a language is to beat our “competitor” countries on the education league tables (intercultural understanding? Donnez-moi un break). This seems to me, fundamentally, to push against valuing knowledge and creativity, precisely the things which make learning useful (both personally and perhaps, dare I say, economically).

Well, that’s what I reckon. And you should listen to this because I, like, know stuff. A bit. For once.

*A previous post on this blog does mention the fact that I failed my PhD first time around. Which might suggest I’m not a total genius. However, young people experiencing academic failure is also Gove-tastic. Hell, I tick all the boxes!

Eric Pickles, Über-northerner

At a time when the Government, especially the Tory side of it, is being pummelled by accusations that it is out of touch, Pickles is a rare voice of authenticity.

Matt Chorley interviewing Eric Pickles for The Independent

Ahm from oop north, me. Therefore ah speak as ah find and if there’s owt yer don’t like about it, yer can fook reet off, yer soft southerner.

I am in fact genuinely from the north of England, Carlisle to be precise. However, while I had planned to do the whole of this post in a hammy pretend northern dialect, I can’t keep it up. While I might have an accent, that’s not actually how we talk or write unless we’re on Coronation Street (which is, in any case, a show about southerners, at least if you’re from Cumbria) or unless we’re MPs trying to show we have the common touch. Oh, and unless we’re writing the ‘Nobbut laiking’ column in the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald (‘a Cumbrian view on topics near and far’ – I bet David Cameron devours it every Saturday).

I have, to be fair, long since abandoned my northern salt-of-the-earth credentials. Not because I moved down south and went native (I actually live in a much worse area than I did when growing up in the wilds of Penrith). No, the trouble is, like many northerners, I failed to do the decent thing and turn into a narrow-minded, right-wing, tactless tosser the moment I reached adulthood. I am, alas, not the kind of person who “speaks as she finds” and “calls a spade a spade”. I am, on the contrary, the kind of person who expresses opinions without referring to the place I was born as some kind of random justification for potentially offensive views. Moreover, I’m the kind of person who’s so averse to posing as a righteous northern thicko that I even know the etymological origins of “calling a spade a spade”; it’s the French “appeler une pelle une pelle”. I bet Eric Pickles doesn’t know that (except he probably does; bet he’s a right posho behind the scenes).

Eric Pickles is one of those political über-northerners. Indeed, you look at him and wonder how you ever thought two-jags/jabs Prescott was bad. I could never be like that (see previous post on being a feminist, atheist, republican woman of the people). I wouldn’t want to be like Pickles either, though. It seems to require a huge amount of posturing and dishonesty, combined with a total lack of concern for how other people think and feel. You become an apologist for precisely the people who don’t give a shit about policies that disadvantage people from poorer areas, many of which are, of course, oop north. Here’s Pickles on David Cameron and George Osborne:

Just because you’ve got a bob or two or been educated at a good school, I don’t think that disqualifies you from wanting to do something about the lives of people who don’t.

In a formal scenario, the average northerner would say “Just because you are rich and have been educated at a private school”. Honest! We use normal words! And yes, while everyone uses colloquialisms specific to where they come from, people tend to adjust their register in response to different situations. For instance, I don’t go into meetings at work and say “I’d like to invest a bob or two in X”. The only time you’d use colloquialisms in formal context – say, an interview with the Independent – would be to make a point about how you’re still in touch with your roots. You might have betrayed an entire social class, but you still know the lingo. You’re still Eric from the Block.

Matt Chorley conducted the Independent interview with Pickles. He probably got selected on the basis of his surname, on the assumption that Pickles would say “Chorley? Aye, ‘appen ah’ll talk to a lad wi’ a name like that” (one presumes Pickles isn’t so northern as to raise the War of the Roses as an objection). Chorley (the man, not the place) is clearly in awe of Pickles:*

If Eric Pickles came round to your house and declared: “You’re ruining your life – get yourself sorted”, you’d sit up and take notice.

Well of course I would. I’d want to tell him to stop being such a judgmental ignoramus but I’d be scared. After all, he’s massive (perhaps Matt Chorley is scared, too. After all, “Pickles can switch from jolly uncle to “Don’t mess with me” in an instant”. Well, that’s the kind of consistency you want from someone making major decisions about other people’s lives).

Chorley describes Pickles as “a straight-talking, northern bit of rough to offset an ultra-smooth, privately educated leader”. To be honest, if we hammed it up a bit, that could be me and my partner. We could spice up our sex lives by indulging in a bit of Cameron and Pickles role play (I still haven’t been in the mood since reading half of Fifty Shades of Grey). Actually, I’d probably love playing the Pickles role. In-between steamy sessions, I could lay into my sons’ cuddly toys for being no-good layabouts, “fluent in social work” (whatever that means).

Like any full-on über-northerner, Pickles loves attacking “political correctness”:

Politicians of all parties have “run away from categorising, stigmatising, laying blame”. All sorts of verbal contortions have been deployed in lieu of plain speaking.

One presumes these aren’t the kind of verbal contortions that involve describing mega-rich old Etonians as having “a bob or two”, but a different kind. The kind used by those whom Chorley obediently describes as “the Gruffalo-reading, Baby Gap-loving generation of parents”, who are dead soft and presumably all southern. The kind of people who might question Pickles’s stitmatising, blame-ridden approach to mending Broken Britain, but who, Chorley writes, “may well struggle to suggest an alternative”.

To be honest, as a Gruffalo-reading and Baby Gap-sock-buying parent, I do struggle to suggest an alternative to this particular method of recasting doing fuck all as in fact saving people from themselves. It’s really fucking, or even fookin’, ingenious. Ooh, you’ve really rolled up your sleeves, mucked in, told it like it is, cracked on, shown some common sense, made the hard decisions, not minced your words blah blah blah. Hell, I’m impressed. Really fookin’ impressed. Labeling 120,000 families as “troubled” while using John Wayne as inspiration and sticking a photo of Che Guevara in your office “to remind me that if I’m not constantly vigilant, the cigar-chomping commies will be back”. I’m impressed, and I’m really fookin’ scared.

The thing is, I might read a bit of Julia Donaldson, but I also come from a troubled family, with people who’ve been on benefits for decades and never, ever worked. I’m not going into any major details here because they’re my family. Plus, scratch the surface, and you’ll find stories much more complex than anything that can be captured by a homely, northern “get the fook to work!” anecdote. But it doesn’t matter anyhow. I just remembered – my dad’s a barrister. We are middle-class! Sod the “troubled” label! The rest of us can do whatever the hell we like! (Thanks, Dad.)

“A rare voice of authenticity.” Eric Pickles, you offer the hammiest, stupidest, meanest parody of northern identity that I’ve ever encountered. And now, allow me to appeler une pelle une pelle when I say: fuck off.

*Actually, my nan lives in Chorley. Chorley (the place, not the man) probably is also in awe of pickles (the foodstuff, not the man). At least, my nan likes them.

Chesney and Matt, you were right all along

Kids do say the funniest things! For instance, a friend of mine who teaches Year 6 recently overhead one of her pupils discussing plans for her 11th birthday:

Dunno what I’ll do, really. Probably just have a party with the girls.

My friend and I both found this highly amusing. “The girls”! She said “the girls”! Who does she think she is? Carrie sodding Bradshaw? How we laughed. Laughed and laughed. And then we stopped laughing, first because it’s not actually all that funny (we were a bit drunk at the time), and second because it seemed a bit unfair. After all, who has the most right to refer to herself as one of “the girls”? An actual, real live girl or an imaginary shag-a-lot columnist who’s off her face on apple martinis?

The trouble is, we grown women, we’re all girls now. We’re appropriated the appellation “girl” regardless of whether the genuine girls whether like it or not. And to be honest, while I’m not a real girl, but merely one of “the girls”, I don’t particularly like it, either.

There are of course positive associations to do with being a woman-girl: female camaraderie, cackling about sex, getting a free pass to tell certain men to piss off (“this is GIRLS ONLY!”). The negative associations are, however, far greater: everything “the girls” do is defined as “empowering” (so in actual fact nothing is) and all of “the girls” are aggressively heterosexual ( “it’s not REAL lesbianism, this is a GIRL CRUSH!”). Both of these are bad enough, but the worst thing of all about being one of “the girls” is of course being co-opted in the absolute shit-fest that is a Boots advert.

Here come the girls! Here come the girls, with their hilarious, inexplicable addiction to all the crap we sell them, faffing around for hours at the office party while all the men just look on in justified bafflement. Here come the girls, getting their perfect model bodies “bikini ready”, eternally grateful to Boots for providing all the equipment with which to remove their unseemly non-girl hair. Here come the girls, getting everything ready for Christmas and the summer holidays while their men do fuck all, because that’s just THE WAY THINGS ARE, and anyhow it’s funny. Ha ha! Let’s laugh at the girls! Because they’re insecure mugs, and they know it, and if we make a long-running joke out of it, they’ll be even more insecure and buy even more stuff! Brilliant! Look, here they come!

Ahem. I’m not a big fan of Boots adverts, me.

Now, I’m not suggesting that adult men don’t suffer from similar pressures, each getting co-opted into being one of “the boys”. In fact, this has been such an issue that during the late eighties, several leading pop stars produced protest songs about this very issue. “Drop the boy, drop the boy!” sang Matt Goss of Bros, before adding a particularly impassioned “groo-er!” Then along came Chesney Hawkes, insisting that he was “a man and not a boy”. And did we take them seriously? Did we heck as like. “Away with you, you young whippersnappers!”, we said. Even I said this and I was only 12. And yes, I regret it now. “I’d like to be in politics, can’t take another visit to the zoo” protested Matt. And there we were, bundling him off to see the orang-utans once more, when actually, if we’d played our cards right, we might now have Prime Minister Goss in No. 10. Let’s face it, it couldn’t be any worse.

Still, no point dwelling on might-have-beens. It’s probably too late for the men-boys. But it may not be for us, fellow women-girls! Let’s see if our own pop heroines can pick up where Chesney and Matt left off. I recommend we start with Madonna. It’s about time she released something that said “look, I’m in my fifties and I’ve already been through a hippy-ish phase and I now do  imperialistic charity work in Malawi and stuff, so could everyone please FUCKING WELL STOP CALLING ME “THE MATERIAL GIRL”! You tell ’em, Madge. But obviously in a more lyrical, less sweary way than I’ve just done.

What with me being a feminist, I don’t believe in letting “girls be girls”, on the basis that it means fuck all. But I believe in letting actual girls call themselves girls, what with them being girls and all. So you, Year 6 girl, you have your party with “the girls”. You drink your apple martinis and shag your Mr Big and then write a column about it for the school magazine. Actually, on second thoughts, don’t do any of that. But see? This is precisely the kind of confusion to which this all leads.