On Vice and “honest” expressions of misogyny and disgust

When I was growing up, my dad had one of those family in-jokes – a “dad joke” – that went on for years and years. Whenever I entered a room, he’d put on a ridiculous gameshow host voice and announce “It’s the Fat And Ugly Show! Starrrrriiinng Victoria!”

Obviously I knew this was meant to be a joke and that therefore it was impermissible to show any displeasure (beyond the requisite withering “da-a-ad!” protest). I knew my dad didn’t literally think I was fat and ugly. Nonetheless, whereas ugliness may be a subjective quality, I was measurably overweight, so the “joke” was based in a sort-of truth. My brother was overweight, too, but he never got the Fat And Ugly Show treatment. It was therefore made clear, through the medium of dad humour, that fatness and ugliness were particularly underdesirable qualities in girls.

As I’ve got older I’ve realised that there are many ways in which men express their prescriptions for and/or distaste of the female form. The fact that now few do so directly – that few would write religious tracts comparing the vagina to the gates of Hell – does not mean that many do not find more subtle ways to express their views. One way is humour – the I was only joking, why is she so touchy? approach to making women feel ashamed of their flesh. Another is the I’m only being honest tactic, in which men “bravely” confess to their discomfort with various aspects of women’s bodies, as though to do so is taboo and therefore a courageous act. Continue reading


More than just a hole

When I was three, I knew that boys had penises. I did not know that girls had vaginas because no one told me. I presumed, as I think many do, that my lack of a penis was just that: a lack. Even later on, when I learned about human reproduction, still I found my role in it to be passive, that of a vessel waiting to be filled. The noble sperm battles his way through the harsh environs of Womanland, hunting out the ovum, who is playing hard to get. The continuation of the species depends on the sperm penetrating the boundaries of the resistant egg, or at least that’s the narrative spin that patriarchy puts on it. Woman as creator was never going to fly.

The reduction of women to holes, serving only to define those who fill them, is central to how misogyny perpetuates itself. Our perceived permeability and lack of completion is used to justify the marginalisation of women and the exploitation of our bodies and labour. Our own flesh and blood does not make us weak, but the metaphors derived from it – woman as hell mouth, moral abyss, cesspool, vacant space – have long supported arguments that women are not quite people. We tend not to voice these arguments today but the fundamental assumptions remain. 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

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.

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

The bisexual male: Yet another must-have accessory

I tend to blame my lack of experience with diversity on the fact that I come from Cumbria. For the uninitiated, it’s that weird bit of England that’s north of Manchester and west of Newcastle and not really identifiable as anything. We have the Lake District, which is pleasant, and Sellafield, which is less so. And then there’s livestock farming, which is intermittently interrupted by disease. What we lack is cool, edgy, urban diversity. Almost everyone I encountered while growing up was white and identified, publicly at least, as straight. Perhaps it’s changed (I left in 1993, to go to Oxford University, clearly in search of a posher version of home in terms of cultural mix).

Unlike all the cool chicks from Manchester, London and New York, I have never had a trendy, über-camp yet strangely sexless gay best friend to advise me on fashion and blow jobs. Nor have I (knowingly) had a bisexual boyfriend, which, according to the March issue of Glamour, is the new Big Thing.* Apparently “more and more women” are dating bi guys (“are they naïve – or enlightened? And would you go there?”). There then follows a personal story from a female writer who’s married to a bisexual man, plus – in case it still all feels a bit icky – a nice feature on “Celebrity bi guys” (which sounds like a game show to me, although I’ve not yet worked out the rules). Continue reading

Girl power, loneliness and avoiding “the friendzone”

According to a piece in today’s Guardian, “the girl power generation are confused”. I’m not surprised. I’m confused, too, not least because I’d always assumed was part of said generation. Alas, it turns out I’m too old. Already 21 when Wannabe was released, I can’t be one of the “twentysomething women” who can claim to be “the most liberated and educated women ever”. So liberated, in fact, that they get to be defined by a 1990s girl band (the lack of a corresponding Boyzone generation can be taken as clear evidence that the pendulum has swung too far).

But wait! Said twentysomethings might be liberated and educated, but as you’ve already guessed, they’re still not happy! And not just because previous generations were awarded enigmatic letters such as X and Y whereas they got the sodding Spice Girls. Today’s young women are unhappy because too many people have written too many books telling them what to do. From The Rules to He’s Just Not That Into You, books have bombarded women with “contradictory messages” which leave them “in a bind, and without much help in figuring out what they actually want” (see, that’s what happens when you make the ladies literate): Continue reading

Sex and sexism in university culture: Redefining our regrets

A week before Christmas my partner and I took our children to an underground Christmas grotto in some caves near where we live. It’s the first time I’ve been but there’s a display there every year. First you get your two minutes with Santa, then you wander from cavern to cavern, admiring the decorations. It’s all very nice, but it’s still really just for kids. Hence my partner and I devised a game to keep ourselves occupied: Christmas present shag bingo. All along the walls of the caves were fake presents with different names printed on them. The object of the game was to see how many names of former shags you could spot as you went along. By the end of the visit, my youngest had a cuddly turtle, my eldest a toy fighter jet and my partner a resounding shag bingo victory. Rather disappointingly, I’d only got one name out of the whole sodding cave. That said, I’ve actually slept with three different Simons, hence feel I should have been awarded a higher score for that. Plus I can’t remember the name of everyone I’ve ever slept with (the sign of either a misspent youth or encroaching old age). Anyhow, I lost, but can’t help feeling I deserve to have done better. Continue reading

Mummy, what’s porn?

The dining table, my house, the end of a lovely day

Picture the scene (albeit in a tidier house). My eldest son and I are seated side by side, me with a glass of chardonnay, him with a plate of potato waffles and Dora the Explorer spaghetti. My partner and our youngest are still out doing the weekly shop. It has been a good day and I am feeling proud and motherly. My son looks at me, his fork paused midway to his mouth, pasta flowers a-dangling, and suddenly, out of nowhere, the following conversation ensues:

SON: Mummy, what’s porn? Continue reading

My feminist perspective? You don’t need to read this crap

I am a feminist. I don’t have a qualification in women’s studies. I’ve never been the spokesperson for any pressure group. I’m not tremendously well-read in anything other than German Romantic literature (an area which is not, I fear, particularly pro-enthusiastic consent). I’m still a feminist. So there.

I read feminist literature when I have the time and the energy, which isn’t very often. I like Backlash and The Women’s Room. The New Feminism drove me up the wall, The Myth Of Mars And Venus is ace and I found How To Be A Woman hilarious but tremendously ego-driven. And that’s about all I’ve looked at <guilty face>. Oh, and some Julia Kristeva, which I don’t really count as feminist, just annoyingly vague (guess that’s the semiotic chora for you). And then there’s also a tiny bit of Naomi Wolf – that bit in The Beauty Myth where she discusses anorexia. I used to read that section whenever I popped into WH Smiths (I never actually bought the bloody book). When you have anorexia, as I did, even supposedly feminist diatribes against the beauty industry can serve as a bit of much-needed thinspo. “It is dead easy to become anorexic” – isn’t that what she claimed? Good work, Naomi! Continue reading

Feminism: Is it okay to be a bit crap at “the sex bit”?

This morning I find myself reading yet another review of Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography. It’s really quite compelling, not because Wolf’s ideas seem terribly novel but because, if Jenny Turner’s reading is accurate, the work seems so monumentally bad. And I’m tempted to believe she’s right – not only due to that notorious “cuntini” extract, but also because of a rather more positive review from Sarah Vine in the Times (sample quote: “[Wolf] argues, with really quite commendable courage, that being fulfilled as a woman means being treated like a lady. And if that isn’t a radical feminist message I don’t know what is“. You’re right, Sarah. You have no fucking idea what a radical feminist message is).

Obviously Wolf’s work isn’t the only feminist – or “feminist” – engagement with the cunt, and thank heavens for that. Turner’s Guardian review mentions a ton of other books about vaginas, none of which I’ve read (although apparently they’re way better than this current “effort”). The fact that I’d never heard of these books does disconcert me a little. Am I still a proper feminist despite this obvious lack of interest in the political implications of feeling horny? I mean, it’s not that I’m not concerned about efforts to suppress female sexuality and expression. But when it comes to my orgasm and what it means, I really can’t be arsed. Or vagina-d. Or whatever. 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

Dear West Mercia Police…

Did you know, if you drink excessively, you could leave yourself more vulnerable to regretful sex or even rape?

Copy taken from West Mercia Police’s Safe Night Out Campaign

Dear West Mercia Police

I am delighted to learn that you are taking an interest in whether women who drink excessively end up having “regretful sex”. Having endured many a pissed, regrettable shag in my time, I am overjoyed to see this issue finally being treated with the gravity it deserves. Continue reading

Fifty Shades of Grey: Ladies, you could have it so much better!

Before I go any further, I would like to make it clear that I am not a secret porn writer. I have never written porn and I wouldn’t know where to start. Actually, that’s probably not true. I could make a good stab at it, but I just haven’t been arsed (and with turns of phrase like that, you can see I might in fact be a natural). Anyhow, what I wanted to say was, I’m not a porn writer, but if I was, I’d be really pissed off at all the fuss over Fifty Shades of Grey.

In recent years there have been some great porn novels written for women, and Fifty Shades of Grey so obviously isn’t one of them. It’s absolutely rubbish. I only got halfway through it (see half-hearted review here) but everyone I know who’s read it says the same thing: the writing’s dire, the story’s ridiculous but hey, there are some rude bits! As if there have never been rude bits in books for women before! That’s bollocks (and arse and tits and cock etc.). Continue reading

Total cunt avoidance: We have the technology!

Hey everyone! Been doin’ a bit more blue sky thinkin’ and I’ve come up with an idea I think you’ll like: let’s outlaw all vaginal births!

There, I’ve said it: vaginal. A word that could get you banned from addressing the Michigan House of Representatives, and with good reason, too. After all, it’s disgusting. I was going to phrase it differently and say “let’s make caesarean births mandatory”, but that might sound a bit weird, like I don’t still wholeheartedly condemn all those who are too posh to push. On the contrary, I’m quite prepared to condemn all childbearers under my proposed system. I’m just thinking of the children here.

Both practically and symbolically, being born is of great significance. It amazes me that for so long we’ve put up with the involvement of the vagina upon such a momentous occasion. Let’s just consider it for a moment. You probably celebrate your own birthday. But do you think about where you were and what you were doing on that very first day? It’s totally obscene. If you’re a member of the GOP, it must make your skin crawl.

Vaginas – stinking, fetid vaginas – are all around us. There’s probably one mere feet away from you right this minute. There might be one that’s even part of you. Urgh! That’s just nasty. We need to do something about this straight away.

While in the US women are being banned from debates for even saying the dreaded v-word, over here in the UK Femfresh have been doing their damnedest to try and clean up “down below”.* Intimate wipes and washes offer “expert care for down there”, all marketed under the empowering slogan “woo hoo for my froo froo” (translated into English: “Hooray! My fanny no longer smells like a fanny!”). But let’s be honest, none of this is enough. Not when we still have to touch the filthy things. Not when they’re still, like, there.

By allowing all children to be born by caesarean – or to use Shakespeare’s words, to no longer be “of woman born” – we could at least offer half of them a start in life away from the vaginal taint. In theory, male babies could go on to live full, healthy lives without ever having to come into contact with the v-thing. After all, sex and reproduction are still possible without such unholy contact. As far as I am aware, the word “arse” has never been banned from any US political debate. And turkey basters are cheap and highly effective when it comes to making babies (after all, it worked first time for Jacqui Dixon on Brookside, and she’s not what you’d think of as prime stock).

Of course, there are some men who will still manage to overcome what should become a natural aversion to vaginas. They might still film or watch disembodied versions in hardcore porn, or even sticks their cocks into real ones, regardless of whether or not the owner gives consent. We should pity these men, but we should also salute them for their lack of prejudice. People have all sorts of absurd fetishes. We shouldn’t judge them for this. But we should judge women for having vaginas.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about this last thing. If we were to try to stop women having vaginas, that would be a bit like committing female genital mutilation. And that’s a thing weird foreigners do. Foreigners who live in backward countries where women are considered inferior. We’re nothing like that. And besides, we don’t want to do anything which might impinge on our right to judge the funny foreigners.

Anyhow, all of this is just a suggestion. I realise it will take a while to make the cultural shift. In the meantime, vaginas are here to stay. Looking on the bright side, though, it’s still possible to take action to avoid all cunts. For instance, just don’t make any trips to Michigan any time soon.

* http://www.girlonthenet.com wrote a wonderful post on Femfresh, only I can’t link to it directly as my computer says it’s too rude. Moreover, I am at my in-laws at the moment, so I’m not going to take any risks by trying to override this, especially as they think I’m still working on German grammar.

How to find a boyfriend in 1998

In the summer of 1998, my friend Cath and I were bored. Really, really bored. We were in our early twenties and while everyone else we knew appeared to have moved on with their lives, we both found ourselves spending the “school holidays” back home with our respective parents. I remember the two of us in my bedroom one evening, dancing to “Cigarettes and Alcohol” by Oasis. “It’s true, though”, Cath observed, “that is all we’ve found round here. Cigarettes and alcohol.” The only difference was that Liam Gallagher wasn’t still hiding his fags from his mum and dad (whenever Cath’s mum found cigarettes, they were “mine”; whenever my mum found them, they were “Cath’s”. It would be insulting everyone’s intelligence to pretend that anyone believed this shit).

Both being single, we came upon an idea. Let’s just shag each other! Only kidding; this was a small town in the north of England. And yes, we could have livened things up by re-enacting Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, but we just weren’t that way inclined. So we decided on something else. We would find boyfriends! Sod Cigarettes and Alcohol; it was time to find our Wonderwalls (whatever that might mean).

We were both 23 and had each never had a proper boyfriend. This was, naturally, disconcerting, although we responded to it in different ways. Cath was the joker; I was the total slag. Each response was clearly unacceptable; after all, that was why we were still single. Hence we decided to step things up a gear and take some positive action (although, to be fair, the shagging around could be quite positive at times; but it was time to set aside such ladette fripperies once and for all). And thus, allow me to reveal to you our amazing three-step plan, all conceived and executed in the summer of ’98.

Step 1: Visit a fortune teller

Before one embarks on any serious project, it’s a good idea to know in advance whether it’s likely to work. So we ventured out to see Mystic Mary, deep in the wilds of Carlisle town centre, possibly somewhere near The Lanes. With Cath, once she’d established that my friend hadn’t come to discuss concerns about “coming out” to her family (by then we were looking quite couple-y; probably could’ve pulled off the whole Oranges thing after all), Mary talked about meeting “a man” within the next year. With me, she said I’d meet “a man” within the next two years (it was clear I still had a lot of “personal stuff” to work on). As an extra detail, she mentioned that my man would be taller than me (I’m 5′ 1″, so it was a long shot). Utterly elated at these glad tidings, Cath and I went off to treat ourselves to lager and lime and cheesy chips in a tiny pub ‘neath the shadows of Carlisle Cathedral.

Step 2: Visit the “personal development” section of Bluebell Bookshop 

There we hunted down our essential literature, the bible that would tell us, once and for all, how not to stay single. Thus, when we happened upon a book that was in fact called How not to stay single, we thought we’d struck gold. Alas it was not to be. “How not to stay single” might also have been called “How to stalk and freak out the entire human race until it places a restraining order on you and you have to go and live out the rest of your days, alone, on an island at least 10km away from any other inhabited island, in all directions”. Man, it was freaky. The thing I remember most was the insistence that you say “hello” to fifty complete strangers every week (or was it day? Hour?). The book mentioned the example of one woman who hadn’t done her requisite number of greetings and was running out of time, so positioned herself at the end of a marathon yelling a desperate “hello” into the face of every male runner crossing the finish line. And guess what? One of these men became her husband! Presumably he was too knackered to say no. I just couldn’t go for any of this, and nor could Cath. Where we come from, the random “hello” will just lead to no end of trouble (especially as, while you might think you’re greeting a stranger, it’ll turn out to be a friend of your dad’s and the news that you’ve been smoking in town will just reach home all the quicker).

Thus we descended upon another, more established guide: The Rules for Dating, by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. You’ve probably heard of it; if not, there are lots of rules, a whole book (and desk calendar) of ’em, but these are the essential ones:

  1. Remember you are “a creature unlike any other”. We’re all individuals and you’re no exception.
  2. In spite of your bog-standard individuality, you must act in exactly the same way as any woman following the rules. Otherwise they won’t work.
  3. Play hard to get. That’s the main thing. A man doesn’t like to feel pursued. And he does NOT want to shag a woman who does anything which might indicate she might want to shag him.
  4. Your main objective is not, in fact, “getting a boyfriend”. It’s “getting married”. Always “getting married”. Without that in mind, you’re lost.
  5. Your husband doesn’t have to be “someone nice”. He just has to be “some man”. Don’t worry; it won’t cause conflict. You’ll just fit in around whatever he wants. Still not sure of the point of having a husband if that’s what it all means? Well, don’t be. Just don’t. That’s not one of the rules.

This all sounds like complete crap, doesn’t it? But hey, it all sounded much more doable than what the other book said. So it was time to move on to Step 3.

Step 3: Fuck it all up

So, we were creatures unlike any others. Time to put on some makeup, head off into town and go and sit in the Board and Elbow, looking “mysterious”. As a prop we rented a copy of the Cameron Diaz film The Last Supper from the video shop across the road. It worked! Some boys came over and talked to us! They told us the film was shit! We just smiled mysteriously. After a few more cider and blacks (halfs – a pint is NOT “mysterious” so you just need to get more orders in), we went home “empty handed” (apart from the shit film, which I actually thought was okay), but it was a result!

The next day we ventured further afield – to Pooley Bridge, our nearest Lake District tourist hotspot. And as this was a tourist hotspot, we got even more made-up – short skirts, heels, full-on hair with that extra Sun-in glow. Alas, we had not considered the fact that said tourists were fell walkers. As a feminist I would argue that a woman has the right to dress however she likes without being presumed to be a prostitute. However, if you go to somewhere where everyone else is wearing walking boots, fleeces, waterproofs and rucksacks, and you are wearing a short skirt and heels, you look like a prostitute. Especially if you spend the whole day hanging around in a pub looking “mysterious”. No one came and talked to us. Even if we’d wanted to be prostitutes, we’d have failed miserably. Despite our early success, things were suddenly not going quite so well.

Finally, we decided on having a proper “girls’ night out”. One during which we would look totally independent, to demonstrate that we just didn’t need no man. Of course, lots of men would be attracted to this independence, this not-needing of them. It was genius! We’d start out in the local Italian, then head off to Blues nightclub for Ladies Night, a night in honour of feisty independent women and not, as others might suggest, a total fucking meat market. And indeed, the night started well. Over pizza and copious amounts of chardonnay, we discussed our independence, how much we valued it and how nice it would be to find that special someone who’d value it, too. Then we drank a bit more, and tottered to Blues, fags in hand, buoyed up on cigarettes and alcohol once more but feeling at the top of our game. I’m not sure where it all went wrong. Basically, I was too drunk to remember. I snogged some bloke called Simon (hey! I remember his name!) against the wall of mirrors at the end of the dancefloor, then slurred something along the lines of “no, cantgohomewivoo, amfollowintherools” before Cath pulled me away. It was well classy, but not the behaviour of a Rules girl.

The morning after, through the fog of my hangover, I discovered two things: 1) I’d been accepted to do a masters at Cambridge University, and 2) I wasn’t going to even attempt The Rules ever again. Thus it was that one month later I arrived at Downing College, full of hope and optimism. And thus it was that one month after that, the less “enlightened” of my housemates were already calling me “the college bike” (no mean achievement, when you consider the number of actual, non-metaphorical bikes in a place like Cambridge).


I did not find a boyfriend in 1998. I finally found one, very briefly, in 1999. He was a computer programmer and he didn’t really like me. His friends didn’t really like me, either. For some reason, I liked him, or a made-up version of him, so it lasted four months before he dumped me. I should’ve known it would never last. Hadn’t Mystic Mary told me I’d have to wait two years, not one?

And then in 2000 I met my partner, who is, just as Mary predicted, taller than me. We met at a Pet Shop Boys themed birthday party. I didn’t even know the person whose birthday it was. I’d only been invited because I’d confessed to a fellow student that I didn’t have any friends, having spent the first four months of my PhD hanging out with computer programmers who didn’t like me. When I got to the party, the girl who’d given me the sympathy invite wasn’t there, so I decided to leave. I’d already opened the front door to go when I spotted her. Five minutes later she introduced me to the man I’m still with today. If I’d decided to leave a minute earlier this might never have happened. I’d still be single now, or I’d be with someone else. Or I might have multiple divorces behind me, or be a serial monogamist, or be in a threesome, or in a polygamous marriage. Who knows? Knowing how desperate I can get at times, I sure don’t.

The one thing I do know is that there’s a lot of chance involved in meeting the right person. You can’t achieve it by following rules, certainly not ones that insist you cease to be yourself for the rest of your entire life. And if all else fails? Well, there’s always cigarettes and alcohol (joke. That’s all really passé, anyhow. Twitter and Newsnight, kids. That, not love, is all you really need).

PS Apart changing the name of my friend (who may wish to deny all knowledge that any of this ever took place), I’ve kept to the truth. Shameful as it is, all of this took place. I didn’t even bother to change Simon’s name. I am assuming he’s forgotten me by now. Although, had I not been vaguely attempting to follow The Rules, perhaps we’d now be married with kids.

Yet another pretend ice-cream van

Being someone who grew up with all the advantages of being middle class, yet still ended up, through bad choices, poor timing and the economic downturn, living on a shit council estate does, you’d be pleased to know, still have its funny sides. I mean, I still wouldn’t recommend it. But there are comedy moments, such as buying pâté in Waitrose and finding that your green charity token can be used to help build a community centre for scummers such as yourself (if, that is, your son doesn’t decide that talking books are a more worthy cause). Then there’s the Ice Cream Van of Mystery. It looks like a normal ice-cream van and plays the usual tinkly tune, but it comes every, and I mean every, evening round our way. I’m talking about 8pm in the middle of November when it’s freezing and pitch black outside. Being all middle class and suspicious, I’m thinking “can it really be ice-cream they’re selling? What if it’s DRUGS????”. In reality, it’s probably beer or milk or bread or something totally random. I’m too middle class to ask. Still, my sons know never to ask for an ice-cream from it.

Just as they’ll know not to ask for a free ice-cream from the Ann Summers I Scream van of shite. Visit the van and you can get a free ice-cream with lube flavoured topping (while stocks last). Pull your best orgasm face and allow it to be posted on Facebook and you can win more. Turn up in just your bikini and you’ll get some free swimwear. Way-hey! It’s like 1990s ironic sexism never ended (what’s that? You mean to say it didn’t?). Anyhow, I’m wondering what’s in it for me if I turn up just plain nude with a Rampant Rabbit rammed up my arse. Worth a try, isn’t it?

If I’m out with my sons and we see the van obviously I won’t be nude and with the Rabbit. That’s just for when I’m alone. If they ask, I will also tell them that we’re not getting a free ice-cream from the stupid sexist van of misery. I’ll tell them it’s not for little boys but being sold as part of a promotional exercise for that rudey women shop in the Regent Arcade where we live. It’s not like they’ve never seen Ann Summers before. It’s right there in the middle of our town. Our sons see the window display pretty much every time we’re out.

I don’t deliberately take them past Ann Summers. It’s just that it’s right next to the famous “bubble clock” in the town centre. Every half-hour the bubble clock chimes then plays “I’m forever blowing bubbles” while blowing actual bubbles on the merry toddlers below. So you then get the spectacle of cheery little poppets leaping around to burst as many as they can, right in front of some cheesy blow-up image of a woman in a scratchy-looking bra and pants set.

My sons never really ask about Ann Summers. Once, when my eldest was 14 months old, he toddled over to the window, started licking it and refused to budge. He screamed his head off when we carried him away. No idea what that was about. Maybe the sexy lady looked a lot like Mummy (although that’s unlikely).

When they do start to ask, I’d like to be as honest as possible, on a need to know basis. Thus speaks a smug mum who has never, in fact, been asked about Ann Summers (although I have been honest about the basics of sex thus far. This has simply led to my youngest deciding I’m mean because I won’t let him back in the womb, which is some rough-and-tumble waterpark as far as he’s concerned). Anyhow, if they do ask, I’d like them to know two things:

  1. sex is good in the right circumstances
  2. Ann Summers is shit, in every circumstance

To clarify a bit more, this is what I’d want to tell them:

  1. Vibrators are like pretend willies. Not every woman or man likes a pretend willy. Some of us like people attached to willies. Still, most women will pretend they like vibrators for fear of looking prudish if they don’t. Lesson: Don’t succumb to peer pressure. Tell people what you really like and don’t like. Thing I won’t mention: it took Mummy 20 years to admit she hates her “spotted dick”.
  2. Some people like dressing up for sex. Other people don’t, but this may be because they think the only options are waitress, nurse or uncomfortable woman with lace jammed up her crack. There are in fact lots of things you could wear, or not wear. Lesson: It’s up to you and your partner to be imaginative in your own way. Don’t just buy what the sex shops tell you to. Thing I won’t mention: Mummy dressing in biscuits and pulling a bloke in a caveman outfit, then randomly, five years later, in a completely different town, discovering said man working in an office opposite her flat.
  3. Only give blow jobs if you want to, only accept them if you want to. Always, always ensure that genitals are in some way exposed. The “panted blow job”, as shown in the Anna Span videos due to some legal restriction or other, does not, as far as I know, really work.* Although I’ve never tried it. Lesson: Consent is important before the removal of clothes. But don’t take the removal of clothes for consent. Either way, though, the removal of clothes matters. Thing I won’t mention: Mummy’s attempt to shag in a corridor with her tights still on. The less said about that, the better.
  4. If you grow up to fancy women, be aware that woman can be turned on by all sorts of rubbish. Buying “made for women” porn is not necessarily a safe bet. Or rather, it might be too safe (see panted blow job, above). Yes, Anna Span and Candida Royale (awful, awful name) can be funny. But don’t imagine every woman dreams of being taken from behind by a German exchange student for whom she’s just cooked beans on toast. Lesson: Don’t decide what the boundaries of another person’s imagination are. Listen and see if that’s what you want too. Thing I won’t mention: Mummy actually liked the beans on toast film. Especially the bit at the end when, post-shag, the woman suddenly exclaims “but you haven’t finished your beans!”
  5. Small cuddly teddies with erections are not erotic. Frankly we should feel sorry for them. Lesson: Always wear a condom. Otherwise you’ll look like one of those stupid teddies. Thing I won’t mention: Mummy secretly dreams of liberating the erection teddies. They don’t deserve their fate (whatever it is).

Thus ends Mummy’s imaginary sex education lesson. The real-life one will be much messier than this, much more piecemeal, and prone to lots and lots of misunderstanding. I hope we get there in the end. In the meantime, we’re not getting our ice-cream from Ann Summers. Anyhow, I bet the only flavour they have is vanilla.

* The “panted blow job” is a blow job given, literally, through pants so that no cock can be seen. Never witnessed it? You’re just not hardcore enough.

Massively unrealistic crushes: Who’s on your list?

My four-year-old is currently obsessed with the original Star Wars trilogy. For those of you who haven’t seen it or, more plausibly, were too distracted by the extreme cuteness of Ewoks to follow the plot, allow my son to summarise:

It happened far, far away, which is why you can’t watch it with subtitles. There were baddies and goodies, and also some robots called CP30 and Argentina. The baddies lived in an evil giant football and had better guns than the goodies, but they lost to the goodies because they didn’t concentrate like Mrs Griffiths says you should.

Basically, the ending of The Empire Strikes Back would have been VERY different if Darth Vader had had my son’s reception teacher to guide him. But hey, let’s not dwell on what might have been.

In addition to liking Star Wars, my son likes Lego. Star Wars Lego is, of course, very expensive and not worth the dent it would make in Mummy’s Shoe Fund. Hence in order to feed our child’s obsession/shut him up without spending any money, my partner and I dug out our old Playstation 2 Lego Star Wars game, and spent the weekend teaching our son how to play it. Anyone interested in the idea that video games promote violence would have a field day with this (btw, what is “a field day”? It sounds a bit like a field trip, only less cold and considerably more smug). There’s our cute little four-year-old, leaping about the front room, controller in hand, yelling “kill! Kill! Kill!” (alas, he has a speech impediment and what he actually yells is “chill! Chill! Chill!” Seems we’re a family of accidental pacifists). To be honest, I have misgivings about all this. But I’m not giving up yet, particularly as I’ve grown rather keen on PS2 Lego Star Wars myself of late.

The fact is, I’ve developed a crush on Han Solo. Not the real, Harrison Ford Han Solo – nose is too big – but the Lego one. He’s really cute, especially when he winks during the animation sequences in-between proper play. It’s unrealistic, I know. I’m not made of Lego and probably never will be (not unless Glamour recommends some new treatment to help with this). But to be honest, I’ve never let the total implausibility of a crush stand in my way before, and hell, I’m not going to start now. Lego Han Solo goes on The List forthwith.

Like many couples, my partner and I have “The List”. We are monogamous, but each maintain a select roll of people whom we’ve given each other permission to shag, should the opportunity arise. Of course, the opportunity never will arise, but it makes us feel a little less boring and vanilla. And in the spirit of general “what the hell-ness” I’ve allowed my own list to get more and more insane. And just so you know how non-boring and non-vanilla I am, at least in my imagination, I’ve decided to share it with you now.

So, in order of increasing implausibility, here’s my top five list of people I will never sleep with but definitely would if I could (and didn’t, like, chicken out when confronted by the sheer weirdness of it all):

  1. Andy off CBeebies We’d lock eyes across a toddler-filled room at some random meet ‘n’ greet. I’d take him away with me, get him a haircut, buy him some new clothes. It would be like Pretty Woman, him as Julia Roberts, me as Richard Gere. This isn’t to say I think CBeebies presenters are just like prostitutes. It’s simply an analogy – no offence intended towards either group.
  2. The whole cast of 10 o’clock live apart from Jimmy Carr Charlie Brooker: faux-angry, vigorous sex. David Mitchell: faux-geeky, righteous sex. Lauren Laverne: lush, pouty, cheeky, geordie sex. I like Lauren the best, having been a moderate fan of Kenickie in the mid-1990s. You and I, Lauren, we’d be on our backs looking up at the stars. We’d dress cheap and we’d dress tacky. We’d dance for thrills and our nights out’d get nasty (see, I can quote your own lyrics right back at you. And not to be harsh or anything, but I don’t think there’s that many people can do that these days. Or indeed could back in the mid-90s). Btw, I think we can all agree that the Jimmy Carr bit doesn’t need further explanation.
  3. Morrissey But only in the 1980s when he was fit. And opened his mouth to sing brilliant songs rather than to make horrendously racist pronouncements. A long time ago, basically. I mean, I accept that apart from the time travel issue, there are other complications, such as him being celibate and possibly asexual. And the fact that songs such as “Pretty girls make graves” might suggest that he actively dislikes women. But that’s okay. Don’t “lose [your] faith in womanhood”, Stephen. I’ll sort you out. I’m not pretty and I don’t “make graves”.
  4. Bernard Sumner from New Order, in one very specific live video recording of “Temptation” from 1984 It’s the lovely, sexy voice. And the shorts. The best bit is when he gets all thrusty with his arse in time to the music. Just that moment alone can go on the list. Not sure what I’d actually do with him at that point, what with the guitar being in the way, but I’m sure we’d think of something.
  5. Adam Ant, but only in the “Prince Charming” video Yes, another insanely specific 1980s crush. Plainly ridiculous. But hey, ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

You may of course be wondering who is on my partner’s list. He wanted to have the actress Thora Birch, but got mixed up and actually requested Thora Hird, who died in 2003 (some incident involving a tin bath and a cream cracker behind the sofa). Unfortunately, once you’ve asked for someone to be put on the list, you can’t go back on it. So Last of the Summer Wine-themed necrophilia it is, then.

Woman! Know thy bits!

Why I am a crap feminist, Reason no. 489: I am not 100% sure which bit of me’s my vulva …

… and I’m not 100% sure I care.

I mean, it’d be nice to know, I guess. But really, unless there’s something seriously wrong with it, I’m no more motivated to do my research on this than I am to study the intricate workings of my bowels.*

Obviously I’m not a complete ignoramus about what goes on “down below”. I’ve had sex, I’ve had children, and as far as I’m aware, everything seems to be in good working order. I just don’t need to know how to name each bit. Come to think of it, I’m like that with towns. I can live somewhere for years and years and never know the names of the streets. It’s like “that place near Tesco’s” or “that place that feels ace when you rub it”. I don’t need any more information than that.

There is of course a basic level of knowledge a girl ought to have. My own mother was not keen on imparting it to me so I was nine years old before I even knew I had a vagina. A classmate revealed it to me while we were queuing up to bat in a game of rounders.** We both got ourselves caught out on purpose so we could spend the rest of the afternoon on the playing fields talking about it. The actual word she used wasn’t “vagina” – it was the somewhat less commonly-used “baby hole”, which is either cute and innocent, or the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from a gangsta rapper – “yo, who dat been in yo baby hole, ho?” (rapper pastiche not being my forte).  I have no idea when I finally came across the word “vagina”, but I know that for years I thought it was pronounced “vag-inna” (I sort of still do; it’s everyone else who’s wrong).

My sons are very conscious of each having a penis – sometimes a little too conscious for polite society, I fear. There was a brief phase when Eldest got the words for “belly button” and “willy” mixed up, which did lead to some hairy moments when out and about with his dad (“Daddy, will you do that thing when you blow a raspberry on my willy?” “Er, no son, I think I won’t”). But anyhow, that’s all been cleared up, thankfully without the need for Daddy to go to prison, and Eldest and Youngest are now under no illusions about what bits go where.

I think it was Freud who, with respect to female genitalia, merely commented that “a hole is a hole” (“ein Loch ist ein Loch” – I prefer the English as “Loch” sounds ruddy enormous). Anyhow, Freud was a complete cock (he’d probably appreciate being called that, too). But it’s the ongoing cultural dominance of attitudes such as this – the penis is real, the cunt is “a nothing” – that does make me aware of the need for young women in particular to be more aware of their own bodies. I can see the need for consciousness-raising in the form of plays such as The Vagina Monologues (which I have neither seen nor read, so let’s just skim over that quickly). But – and this is where the justification for my own ignorance comes into it – I don’t see any pressing need to go into the finer details of female genitalia, the flowery flappy bits, as it were.

I’m sorted on vagina and clitoris, thank you. As for the rest – well, I know there are outer and inner lips, also known as labia majora and minora (actually, now I’m writing this, I realise I’m better at this than I thought! Go me!). But I haven’t a clue where the vulva comes into it – is it another word for one set of lips? Is it both of them? Neither? I just don’t know (and yes, I know about Wikipedia and anatomy books. But I’m interested in my own lack of motivation to find out).

Some women are of course really interested in how it all looks down there, waxing themselves bare and having the odd vajazzle (I have no idea how a vajazzle works. Is it just sticking glittery stuff on? Why doesn’t it just come off when you wipe your bum?). Of course, people who don’t go for all this fanny window-dressing tend to get quite sneery about it. It’s all a bit TOWIE, a bit wannabe porn star. Naturally the sneering is directed at the women, never the culture that surrounds them. Even so, I suspect any female celebrity who ventures out with the odd pube sticking out of her bikini bottoms will be absolutely slaughtered these days, so you can’t win. It’s all a bit depressing. I wonder if nine-year-old girls queuing up in PE have really moved on. Do they still discuss “baby holes”, or is it now the advantages of the Brazilian over the Hollywood?

Anyhow, I’d better stop writing this now because I need to head for a wee. I could always have a brief inspection while I’m at it. But alas, I’m not quite sure what I’d be looking for.

*Of course, I am a nice, middle-class lady so I don’t really have bowels.

** The existence of the vagina, not her actual vagina.