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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What shouldn’t women be seeing? On pro-ana, censorship and hunger

When I first became anorexic, way back in the 1980s, we had to make our own thinspiration. Pro-ana websites and online communities didn’t exist. The best you could hope for was the odd Woman’s Own article on Lena Zavaroni or an ITV special on The Carpenters. Most of the time it was reading the same old recipe books and collecting newspaper cuttings of Nancy Reagan. Truly, today’s eating disorder sufferers don’t know they’re born.

By contrast, these days we cater to the needs of the most discerning anorexics, with starve-friendly websites packed with bonetastic images.  Nonetheless, there are concerns that it has gone too far. According to an article in The Daily Beast (helpfully illustrated by a photograph of an emaciated body – get a load of that, thinspo-lovers!), “Italy’s Parliament recently proposed a bill that would criminalize pro-anorexia site authors with a $67,000 fine and up to a year in jail”. Disaster! What if all such sites were banned? Where would your average “friend of Ana” have to go for her next fix? Well, I guess there’s always Closer, or Heat, or Now, or the Sidebar of Shame, or a million other media outlets that regularly concern troll women who are clearly desperately ill (body shock! Starve wars! Size zero hell!). But still, at least you wouldn’t have those sneaky anorexics going off and doing it behind people’s backs, denying the poor publishers some much-needed revenue. Continue reading

So what’s taboo, anyway?

I’ll always remember the first time my youngest son decided to shake social convention to the very core. We were at the dinner table, trying to persuade him to stay on his seat, when he suddenly stood up and announced the following:

I’m going to do a POO on the TOILET from my BOTTOM!

I do apologise for the crudeness, but those were his very words.

Obviously this bombshell woke us from our bourgeois complacency. Not just one, but three rude words in one sentence – how could we maintain the façade of civility now? Indeed, how could one ever conceive of such pointless traditions as “mealtimes” and “rules” ever again? My son was grinning, satisfied with his work, while the rest of us sought to reconstruct some kind of “meaning” from the remnants of family life as we knew it.

Or rather, that’s what my son wanted to happen. The trouble is my son is four. Statements about poo and bottoms are not taboo-breaking when they are made by four-year-olds at the dinner table. If, on the other hand, I’d stood up in a company meeting and made the same announcement, things would have been different. I am an adult. I am expected to behave professionally in an office setting. It’s not the words themselves that matter; context is everything. Continue reading

“But obviously I love it”: Feminism’s problem with sex and lived experience

This post is brought to you by sex. Lots and lots of sex, which I may or may not have had in the past and/or be having right now. The precise nature of said sex shall remain undefined. Suffice it to say that it’s as rude – or not rude – as you want it to be. The point is, I’ve fucked my way to credibility – or have I?

It has come to my attention that in most discussions of porn, sex work and objectification, there’s immense pressure placed on feminists to demonstrate they have the lived experience required to take part. It’s not enough that to have grown up in a patriarchal culture, nor to have felt the daily impact of being reduced to passive flesh. You’re obliged to show your bits. After all, if you don’t do that, how can anyone tell whether you’re not just some sex-fearing neurotic? Disliking sex is not the same as, say, not liking sugar in your tea; it’s become a form of bigotry and thus, as a bigot, you’re not allowed an abstract opinion on how objectification affects womankind. Indeed, even if you’re fond of most things sex-wise, it’s probably best to express unbridled enthusiasm for anything at all that you find problematic, otherwise you may not be permitted to find it problematic in the first place. Does that make sense? Continue reading

Telegraph Freshers’ Week advice for girls: Just don’t be a slag

This week the Telegraph seems to be obsessed with Freshers’ Weeks taking place at universities all over the country. Fair play to them. While it’s easy to mock a self-indulgent nostalgia trip for ageing middle-class journalists, at least it keeps them out of trouble. The more time spent telling worried 18-year-olds “how to dress in Freshers’ Week,” the less time there is to lie to abortion providers or cobble together ill-informed rants about the niqab. Everyone’s a winner!

Unless, that is, you’re a girl (by which we mean grown woman who is off to university). Alas, for the likes of you university’s just as much of a minefield as, say, having reproductive choices or making your own decisions about what to wear. Thankfully, Telegraph Wonder Women have put together a handy guide to keep you out of trouble. Continue reading

Hypersexualisation vs slut-shaming: Should France be banning mini-me beauty contests?

The French parliament is seeking to ban beauty contests for girls under the age of 16. It follows a report from former sports minister Chantal Jouanno, entitled Against Hypersexualisation: A New Fight For Equality. In it, she also recommends outlawing “adult clothing in child sizes, for example padded bras and high-heeled shoes”. While I’m all for fights for equality, this makes me uneasy. Despite not having had a beauty queen past (unless winning a fancy dress contest dressed as Peggy from Hi-de-Hi counts) I know my childhood would have been far drabber without all those glorious afternoons during which I made myself look like a mini Bet Lynch.

I don’t wish to draw huge comparisons between France banning the veil and this move. There are different people and motivations underpinning it. Nonetheless, I think there are some shared cultural currents, not least a desire to protect those deemed “vulnerable”  by regulating what they can wear. The bodies of women and girls become meanings to be managed. When Jouanno expresses concern over “the sexualisation of […] expressions, postures or clothes that are too precocious,” the spotlight falls on little girls themselves and the need of adults to place them within our own deeply flawed categories. To my mind, this simply isn’t fair. Continue reading

The royal pregnancy: A not very big adventure

This evening I read my children a lovely story called The Duchess of Cambridge’s Big Adventure. In it, a beautiful princess called Kate visits her friends Biff, Chip and Kipper, owners of a magic key which takes them on amazing trips to far-off lands and … Only kidding. The Duchess of Cambridge’s Big Adventure is actually the story of a woman in her thirties who looks nice while being pregnant. The end.

Disappointing though it is that Kate Middleton isn’t doing something genuinely adventurous, it’s not entirely surprising. Day after day we’re reminded that she’s “ripping up the royal baby rule book” by planning to stay with her parents once her baby is born. And that she’s whipping Kim Kardashian’s much commented-on arse in the pregnancy fashion stakes. All very exciting, at least for those of us who are excited by staying with parents and wearing clothes. For the rest of the world, it’s just a bit bewildering. You know something’s not quite right, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. Is it the crapness of royal protocol, the shamelessness of royalty itself, the fawning press, the sexism, the infantilisation of pregnant women … or all of these things at once? And is it even worth worrying about it now when it’s only going to get worse? Continue reading

Ladies: Your boobs, explained

As a woman, I often suspect I am just too close to my tits. After all, there they are, just there, morning, noon and night. There are times I’ve longed for a break. Those few days after giving birth when the milk came in and I suddenly find myself with red-hot, rock-hard, agonizing boulders of pain – I’d have happily gone tit-less then. And then there’s early on, back at school when I realized what an object of ridicule these things made me to bra-pinging, girl-fearing classmates –  that’s not an experience I’d call soarawaytastic, either. But still, it’s not all bad; they provide occasional “adult” amusement, plus they’ve fed my kids. On the whole, I’m happy that my breasts are still with me. Like Bagpuss, they might be baggy and a bit loose at the seams, but I love them. Alas, this means I lack objectivity on all matters tit-related.

When it comes to campaigns such as No More Page 3, it’s worth noting that many of those shouting loudest are in possession of womanly bosoms themselves. This is clearly a worry. What can these people – these women – really know about the role of tits in society? Having never been mere passive observers, they’re simply too involved. What can they possibly understand about the representation of breasts and consequent responses to them? Obviously, a man is required to explain all this (preferably one without moobs). Continue reading

Neil Wallis: Voice of the common woman (and her tits)

As a white, university-educated, middle-class feminist, there are many things about which I don’t give a toss. My children’s health and earning enough money to pay the bills, for instance. When it comes to those things, I really couldn’t give a monkeys. I prefer to let the “real women” worry about such mundane trifles. Meanwhile, my children starve / die of cholera (I pay so little attention I can’t remember which it is), which gives me time to ponder bigger issues, providing they’re not too big. Page 3, Special K, the pay gap – that sort of shit I can handle. I think about these things all day long (there’s nothing else to do except mooch around the coffee machine in my imaginary Bridget Jones office).  As for the real things – FGM, forced marriage, slavery – now that I can’t cope with. Thank heavens, then, for people like Neil Wallis. Continue reading

No More Page 3: The aspects that might still get on your tits

That No More Page 3 campaign – it’s all getting a bit bandwagon-y, isn’t it? Everyone wants to be in on it now and frankly I’m not sure it’s cool any more. Indeed, now that Bryony Gordon of the Telegraph has pinned her colours to the mast, I’m starting to wonder whether I should do an about turn and whip ‘em out for the lads. In fact, just in case you’re curious… (btw, getting that link to work is a nightmare. I suspect it’s because my body’s too bootylicious – or should that be boobylicious? – for it). Continue reading

How to stay sexy while breastfeeding

There are plenty of things to worry about when you’re breastfeeding: latching on, achieving let-down, engorgement, cracked nipples, mastitis, pads that make your breasts look like archery targets, disapproving strangers, your baby “oversleeping” so that you wake up, not rested, but with rock-hard, agonizing, leaky boulders … It’s healthy, it can be beautiful, but breastfeeding can also really get on a woman’s lactating tits. And to top it off, there’s the really serious issue, the one that affects not just you but the whole of humankind: your man might not find you sexy any more. Continue reading

Failing to look like Lily Cole? Why not fail to look like Jessica Ennis instead?

Last night my partner and I were watching the BBC coverage of Day 13 of the Olympics, and were struck by one thing, and one thing only: Amir Khan, 2004 boxing silver medalist, is really, obscenely attractive. Honestly, he’s lush. He’s definitely been added to both our lists of pre-approved infidelities (got it, Khan? You’re in there!). Wouldn’t it be great if all young men aspired to look like him? After all, he’s a sportsman, which makes him a healthy role model. And demanding that all young men model themselves on Khan is no more unrealistic than asking young girls to aspire to look like Jessica Ennis. Continue reading

Beach Volleyball and Benny Hill: A Humourless Feminist Response

As a Humourless Feminist ™ of many years’ standing, I have grown adept at recognising The Things That Are Sent To Try Us. Jimmy Carr, Heat magazine, Procter & Gamble, Femail, David Cameron … I have seen them all and always sought to offer a suitably Humourless Feminist response. Now, however, I find myself confronted with the sexism-fest that is Olympic women’s beach volleyball, but I will not rise to the occasion. Bikinis? Dancing girls? Benny Hill? I know Humourless Feminist-baiting when I see it, and I’m not going to play along. Continue reading

Rubbish apologies: From Take That to Loaded

From the perspective of an arts scholar, I’ve long considered Back For Good to be one of the most hugely overrated songs in Take That’s back catalogue. There is one line in particular which I hold responsible: “Got your lipstick mark still on your coffee cup”. You hear it for the first time and think ooh, that’s poignant. It‘s those little things that remind him of what he’s lost. If, however, you listen to it enough times, you’ll come to the same conclusion I have. Lipcote was available in the mid-1990s. Failing that she could have just wiped it off with her finger, as any normal person would. Gary Barlow’s ex was just inconsiderate.

One thing I hadn’t considered before, though (until my partner pointed it out to me), was just how rubbish the song is by way of an apology:

Whatever I said, whatever I did, I didn’t mean it

I just want you back for good

(want you back, want you back)

See I want you back for good

Now as far as I understand it, a prerequisite for being sorry is knowing what you’ve done wrong in the first place. “Whatever I said, whatever I did”? What does that even mean? Is it “sleeping with a best mate” sorry, or just “not taking the rubbish out” sorry? These things actually matter. If you think you can just offer a blanket “sorry” (while making your self-serving motivations clear enough in the very next line), well, that’s not good enough. After all, if, potentially, you didn’t mean anything you said or did, does anything you say or do now mean anything also? What about the bit about wanting your ex back for good? Or even the bit about not meaning the bits before? It’s not quite the Cretan Liar Paradox, but we’re getting there. Crikey, the more I think about it, the more I’d be tempted to leave Max Factor on the crockery and get the hell out of there, too.

Before we leave it at that, though, I’ve found an apology that’s even more of an apology for an apology than that previous apology was. This time it’s not from Gary and the boys. It’s from ex-editor of Loaded Martin Daubney. This time it’s so bad it’s not even laughable. In fact, it’s made me really rather cross.

Daubney was the longest-serving editor of shit magazine Loaded, before he stepped down due to the magazine being sold, sorry, for moral reasons, back in July 2010. Since then he’s come to regret his involvement in peddling soft-porn misogyny and has given all of his ill-gotten gains to charity. Oh, hang on, he hasn’t done that. He’s sold his story to the Daily Mail (click on the link for the article, plus some tit-tastic Loaded covers included for illustrative purposes only i.e. wanking over them just wouldn’t be in the spirit of things). Anyhow, while what Daubney’s written for the Mail is an apology, turns out it’s not one for being a misogynist bastard. It’s an apology for sexual objectification, hardcore porn and rape. And since it’s in the Daily Mail and not in Loaded, it’s far more damaging this time because there are still people actually reading it.

Daubney’s “Loaded is shit” epiphany came, he claims, when his son was born (the magazine having dwindling sales is just a coincidence). Clearly, one needs to be a parent to have any empathy at all. Obviously, I was a right bitch, too, until the arrival of Eldest (if you’re reading this and you’re not a parent, well, I’m sorry; you can’t have any morals yet). Anyhow, prior to the arrival of Sonny, Daubney was a horrible person. I guess you have to be to edit Loaded. It’s not just the content and its crass objectification of women. It’s the editorial view of the clients:

The average Loaded reader — largely white, working class, 20-something blokes — had a simple palate, so we gave them what they wanted.

Ha ha! “Sitting around a boardroom table with six other university-educated men”, Daubney treated women like shit to produce shit to sell to men he viewed as shit. Wow. There’s an awful lot of shit there. But, not being a parent yet, he didn’t notice.

It’s not that no one tried to point this out to him:

Pretty soon, we were accused of being pornographic, and there wasn’t a month when a minor Lib Dem MP or feminist lobby group didn’t try to make a name for themselves by demanding we were placed on the top shelf, or banned altogether.

This is rather marvelous, isn’t it? Anyone who said Loaded was sexist at the time was clearly motivated by nothing more than nasty self-interest. This, remember, is being suggested in Daubney’s retraction of his former ways. How could he have known the damage he was doing when the only people who made a fuss had ulterior motives? You know how it is; the number of perks and bonuses that come with being a high-profile feminist, it all gets confusing. Just ask Andrea Dworkin (oh no, she’s dead. Was it the life of unremitting luxury that got to her?).

So how would having a child change all this for Daubney? Well, it enabled him to stop seeing women as mere objects; now he could see them as possessions and/or the objects of their own children’s gaze!

I started seeing the women in my magazine not as sexual objects, but as somebody’s daughter. Some of Loaded’s models had children themselves, and I’d think ‘what’s your kid going to think of you when they’re old enough to understand Mummy used to get her boobs out for a living?’

To think that the girls who posed for our magazine had once had their nappies changed, had once been taught to take their first steps and had once been full of childlike hope . . . it was almost heartbreaking.

To be honest, I find the whole “had their nappies changed” bit getting towards a whole new level of perviness, but I’d rather not get into it here. The basic point is, Daubney’s “transformation” has fuck all to do with starting to see women as people. As an anti-objectification message, it was already summed up in 1982, when The J. Geils Band released My Angel is the Centrefold (‘my blood runs cold, my memory has just been sold’ – I’ve actually posted about this song before, what with it being one of the worst in human history). This, pretty much, captures the whole of the Daily Mail anti-objectification message. It’s not because women deserve respect; it’s because these tits need saving for their rightful male owners.

And yet, this isn’t the worst of what Daubney is saying. Not by a long shot. Not only does he underplay the sheer nastiness of his magazine, he also overplays its influence, dreaming up a post-Loaded society in which hardcore porn is the norm and women are abused because hey, the poor men can’t help it. The real victims of Loaded are not, apparently, women, but the helpless boys who will grow up to assault them:

How will these tainted children be able to interact with real women later in life if the first ones they ‘meet’ are on-screen mannequins? By allowing children free access to pornographic images, the next generation of young men are becoming so desensitised, I genuinely fear we’re storing up an emotional time-bomb.

Porn objectifies women, demeans and cheapens them, because it sells a fantasy where men are always in control and get what they want.

But real life isn’t like that. In porn, women cry, ‘yes, yes, yes!’ but in real life, they often say, ‘no’. Not all men have the intelligence or moral fortitude to understand they cannot take what they want.

Fuck off, you useless, hateful man! Abusive, misogynistic porn is not all around us. Where we find it, feminists call it out (and not, you’d be surprised to know, to get some kind of status boost, or even the payment you’d get for your average Daily Mail article. Just because it’s, y’know, wrong). Not one of us shrugs our shoulders and says “crikey, since it’s this bad, looks like rape’s an inevitability and it won’t now be the perpetrator’s fault”. Not one of us talks about “an emotional time-bomb”, not least because many of us, like you, are parents of little boys. We don’t think of them as “tainted children”. We think of them as people and teach them that women are people, too.

How dare Martin Daubney overplay the power he had and misused. Sales of magazines such as the one he used to edit are falling rapidly. Hence we also see Terri White, former editor of Nuts, providing her own crappy (but less damaging) mea culpa in the Guardian. Why don’t they all piss off? There’s plenty of intelligent and committed people prepared to take on misogynistic porn for the right reasons. We don’t need Daubney, White and their two-faced apologies (although perhaps they do need the money now they’re no longer the top porn peddlers in town).

Gah! I am actually pretty fucking furious about this. Need to calm down a bit. Will think of Take That.

[5 mins “quiet time”]

Ah, yes, anyhow, another rubbish line in Back For Good is that one about how “we will never be uncommon again”. Has anyone, ever, used that phrase in real life? I also don’t like the bit about “in the twist of separation, you excelled at being free” as it makes me think of the eHarmony ads.

And you? Which bits of Back For Good irritate you most? On a scale of Shine to vaguely listenable, how bad is it really? And, most importantly, how much would you just want to explode if you ever came face to face with Martin Daubney?

PS And another thing: Gary Barlow doesn’t sing the song properly because I’ve now had two comments correcting my rendering of the first offending lyric (amendments duly made). Barlow needs to enunciate properly!

Gamine beauties, you can kiss my bimbo-tastic arse

Over a decade ago, I had a major falling out with someone I’d been friends with for years. We’d argued about stupid things before – state schools vs private schools, the Northern Ireland peace process – but this time the subject was a bit more serious: our respective tit sizes. Looking back, I realize it’s an area we should really have avoided. We’re still not properly reconciled to this day.

Like may such misunderstandings, it started over email. We were having a group discussion and she mentioned a party she’d been to in a strapless dress. Someone else mentioned how nice she’d looked, and she made a comment about how “at least with small breasts you can get away with this without them going down to your ankles”. I happen to have large breasts. They don’t quite reach my ankles yet (or didn’t then), but I still took offence. So I made some quip along the lines of “yeah, but you’ll still always be small”. So then she got similarly offended and asked if there was any other part of her body I’d like to take a shot at. And, being me, and feeling exceptionally annoyed at her failure to recognize that I’d been slighted first, I thought “fuck it” and told her (and everyone else) I didn’t think that much of her thighs, either. It was, I think you’ll agree, all very mature.

She was upset, I was upset. We were both upset because our tits were, and are, in one way or another, the “wrong” size. So we took it out on each other and we’re no longer friends. How fucking stupid is that?

I was thinking of this yesterday because for some idiotic reason I decided to read “In praise of small-breasted women“, that piece from The Good Men Project that’s already gaining cult status amongst those of us who like reading stuff that’s completely and utterly mental. I’m not going to tear the article to pieces here; I can’t do that as well as it’s done here, for starters. In fairness, or to show that The Good Men Project has no idea when to stop, there has been a follow-up piece, “In praise of large-breasted women“. I’ve not read it yet, but I think we should push for the “medium-breasted women” and “women with one breast bigger than the other (and the smaller one has an inverted nipple)” pieces forthwith, just for the hell of it.

Still, all this “aren’t women’s characters and their breasts just one and the same thing?” crap did get me onto another topic, and one which I think is much-neglected in tit-debating circles. And that’s gamine beauties. You know the ones I mean: Audrey Hepburn, Audrey Tatou – essentially, anyone called Audrey (apart from Audrey off Coronation Street). Gamine beauties are thin, fit women drooled over by men who don’t normally drool over thin, fit women. Part of the reason this is permitted is because gamine beauties are classy, that is, they have short hair and small breasts (okay, I’m exagerrating. It’s also because they’re not American and get to act in pretentious films. But believe me, I’m sure small tits play a significant part in all this). Gamine beauties are “the thinking man’s bimbo”. So men get to letch over them and flatter themselves that they’re only doing so because their own IQs are so high. Rather like the nice “thinking” man in the original Good Men Project article.

When I first moved in with my partner, he tried to put up a poster of Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. I said no; I found it hard enough not to get stressed about eating my own breakfast without having a gorgeous anorexia icon staring down at me (btw, I’ve never actually seen “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”; I’m guessing here, but I reckon Holly Golightly chose Special K). This may all sound petty, but he’d never have suggested putting up a poster of Jordan (and yes, I know arty cinema is not the same as “I’m a celebrity get me out of here”, but perhaps the issue is not the natural bimbo-esqueness of the large-breasted, but the under-representation of the large-breasted in arty cinema, so there). Anyhow, we’ve agreed that Katy off CBeebies’ “I can cook” is a reasonable compromise (you can’t generally estimate her breast size due to the apron).

I have nothing personally aganist “gamines”. I am just sick of breast size being associated with intellect, not only in the letched-over but in the letcher himself. I will however admit, there is ONE way in which having large breasts has hindered my intellectual development. When I was at university, the computers in the library were positioned in such a way that when I was standing up to search for resources, my tits just happened to rest on the space bar. This would send the page scrolling down super-quick, and clearly limited my ability to hunt down the vital journals I needed. If it hadn’t been for my ample bosoms, I’d have been a bloody genius. Am I bitter? Just a little. But still, with a rack like mine you learn to get by.