Mumsnet: The unmasking of Elena Ferrante shows women writers can’t win

How much of yourself should you reveal when you are writing? The answer, of course, depends on whether you are male or female.

If you are male, it doesn’t really matter. You are the default human being and all experiences about which you write – regardless of whether or not you have actually had them – will be universal.

If you are female it is more complicated. Reveal too much about yourself and you are not a real writer at all, just an over-sharer, wallowing in the petty specifics of a non-male life. Don’t reveal enough and you are suspect, manipulative, a tease. Either way you can’t win.

See the full post at Mumsnet

The Science Museum: Forthcoming exhibitions*

Following on from the brilliant Who am I? exhibition, what’s next for The Science Museum in teaching us who we are today?*

No-tails – our closest relative?

A fascinating look at the lives of those primates who many say are our closest relatives: the no-tails. Born into human communities, but without penises,  the no-tails possess an incredible ability to emulate human behaviour, even acquiring language and, some claim, having thoughts. Most of us are familiar with the ways in which no-tails help us in our daily lives: washing underpants, making sandwiches, even gestating and bearing human children with real, human penises. But what else can no-tails teach us about ourselves? What is it that makes us, so close in so many ways, so much more special than them? And how could this help us to get even more out of human-no-tail relations in years to come? Join us for an amazing exploration of the lives of what some scientists have affectionately called “the lesser humans.”

Where do I come from?

An entertaining, informative response to age-old question: “how are babies made?” While scientists, philosophers and clerics have always known that men make babies, theories as to how they do it have varied. From Aristotle’s idea of menstrual blood as the “matter” which develops the male life principle, right through to today’s more detailed understanding of conception and gestation, men have always been the universe’s experts on the origins of human life. Today we find them pushing the very boundaries of medical science in order to find new ways of planting mini-humans in the potting soil that was once referred to as the “female” body. What could the future hold? Will it always be necessary to gestate new beings in the primitive boundaries of a womb, or can mankind find more sterile, civilised environments? Is a global surrogacy market in which “female” bodies are strictly controlled and force-fed medication from birth the answer? Explore all this and more in this fascinating look at the miracle of life.

Community voices: Pro-ana

Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and perhaps none are so fascinating as the bodies of chronic anorexics. In this, an exhibition set up with the co-operation of the pro-ana and pro-mia communities, we explore what it means to be anorexic or bulimic, the complex interactions of body, mind and community that go to shape what we call “the anorexic experience” and listen to the story of Mary, a young woman who discovered her true identity by starving herself down to five stone and dying of heart failure. Our display includes objects selected by members of the community: laxatives, scales, an actual toothbrush used for self-induced vomiting, carrier bags of actual bulimic vomit, Mary’s daily diet (two Polo mints) and some age seven jeans worn by Mary shortly before her death. A fun way for young people to explore issues of identity and self!

Isaac Baker Brown, medical pioneer

A retrospective on the work of Isaac Baker Brown, 19th century English gynaecologist, surgeon and pioneer in the performance of clitoridectomies on women who didn’t behave like women. While disgraced in his own lifetime, we now recognise him as a forerunner of today’s doctors performing mastectomies on teenage non-binary folk and prescribing testosterone to non-feminine womb-owners. A true Galileo of the medical community, Baker Brown is a fascinating figure, tragically misunderstood as an abuser of “females” in his own unenlightened times.

(*These aren’t real exhibitions. I just think, on past evidence, they really, really could be)

The weird sexism of thinking female journalists invent children to back up their political opinions

Yesterday my eight-year-old son announced that he was going to make us all some chocolate cake. He promptly went into the kitchen and emptied a puddle of vegetable oil all over the floor. His seven-year-old brother looked at him despairingly.

“You’re just like Jeremy Corbyn,” he said.

Their baby brother, recognising the aptness of the comparison, suggestive as it was of someone who promises much that is good and right but delivers a total mess, nodded his head and cried.

It is at this point in the story that I should tell you this was all made up. Ha! I was cleverly parodying all of those ridiculous members of the commentariat who “use their children to back up their political opinions.” As Sam Kriss so astutely observes in Vice, “when the time comes for them to really make their defences of an increasingly unpopular status quo, they seem to be constantly delegating responsibility to their children.” Continue reading

New Statesman: Why we should let all boys wear skirts to school

As Paris Lees once wisely observed, “sexism didn’t disappear when women started wearing trousers.” This is sad but true. Trousers, while a practical item of clothing, have not yet brought an end to sexual violence, reproductive coercion or the male appropriation of female labour and resources. Depressing though this is, there is one glimmer of hope. What if, argues Lees, men were allowed to “adopt feminine styles”? Perhaps that’s what’s been missing all along. It’s not that men benefit from male supremacy; they just haven’t discovered the joys of a nice tea dress or a fetching pair of kitten heels.

I am all for clothing equality. Being 5’1” with an ample chest, I never shop in menswear sections myself, but have always felt the strict divisions in terms of styles – in particular, the prohibition on men wearing skirts or dresses – to be arbitrary and wrong. It is a means of reinforcing the belief that the social and psychological differences between men and women are far greater than those between women and other women and men and other men. While women, having fought for their trouser-wearing rights, are now permitted (in most countries, at least) to emulate the dress sense of the dominant class, for most men, “women’s clothing” remains off-limits. Even the comedian Eddie Izzard, who once said of his wardrobe “they’re not women’s clothes, they’re my clothes, I bought them,” has since backtracked, now describing himself as “somewhat boyish and somewhat girlish” (despite being 54).

When it comes to children’s clothing, the differences are even more stark and ridiculous. Apart from the obvious, the bodies of pre-pubescent boys and girls are not significantly different, so it is not as though shape and size can even be said to be a factor. But enter any children’s clothing department, and you will find the flowery pink-for-girls, rough-and-tumble blue-for-boys stereotyping impossible to avoid.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

In defence of the Highgate Mum

Posh mummies: aren’t they just awful? Hogging the pavement with their designer prams, clamouring to get their precious offspring into the most prestigious schools, hyperventilating the moment their little cherub comes into contact with a non-organic edamame bean. Thank God they have some comedy value, otherwise there’d be no point to them at all.

This, at least, is the view of the twitter account @Highgatemums, described by the Poke as “comedy gold.” @Highgatemums tweets the idiotic (and not so idiotic) musings overheard from the “posh mums of North London.” And some of it is very funny, if stretching the bounds of plausibility (“He gets annoyed that no one realises ‘Jack’ is short for ‘Jacobean’”). It’s hard to read the timeline and not to think how much you’d hate to be one of those mummies (apart from the being rich thing, obviously). They’re so superficial! So dumb! So why would I want to defend them? Continue reading

The Year in Sexism: Notes from Sexism Inc’s 2015 AGM

This year Sexism Inc held their AGM at a top secret location in the south of England. With the help of my undercover contacts I was able to get hold of the transcript of their CEO’s closing speech, which has been reproduced below.

Well, what a year it’s been! An exhausting one but, as I’m sure you’ll agree, one of our most successful.

The market has seen some tough times lately, what with the resurgence of interest in feminism since its early noughties slump. There was a time, two or three years ago, when some of you expressed concerns that we might not get through it. Certainly there was a need for some restructuring but, while we were all sad to see Mr Clarkson and Mr Buchanan go, I know that they, too, saw the need for sexism to move with the times.

It’s important for any organisation, even one that doesn’t prioritise the subjugation of half the human race, to stay nimble and flexible. That’s why in May this year I was absolutely delighted to announce the acquisition of Libfem Corp and its subsidiaries, Everyday Feminism, Amnesty and NUS Women. While these will now operate as part of Sexism Inc family, they will retain their unique brand identities, finding new ways to market objectification and sexual exploitation to women without recourse to the more “traditional” messaging favoured by our more established brands. Continue reading

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

Phones don’t hurt women; misogynists do

The education secretary Nicky Morgan is proposing a “curriculum for life” to help young people deal with what the Guardian calls “modern social issues brought on by the internet age.” These are, we are led to believe, new issues. Brand new, never-been-seen-before, state-of-the-art sources of teenage angst, such as sexting and revenge porn.

True, there was nothing like that in my day. We just had boring, hands-on sexism – sorry, did I just say sexism? It seems we’re not supposed to mention that. It might be the driving force behind this particular misuse of communication technology but no one seems willing to say. Looking for a hierarchy? Nothing to see here. We are meant to think this stuff is just happening at random because “modern times.” There’s no link between rampant individualism and Tory policies, and absolutely no connection between a form of abuse which targets women in particular and sexism at large. It’s just that smartphones were invented before we had time to work out what to do with them. Right? Or are we just finding another way to talk around misogyny because to actually confront it would be more than we could bear?

Morgan mentions NSPCC research showing that “six in 10 teenagers have been asked for sexual images or videos online.” What she does not mention is the very clearly gendered nature of the NSPCC findings. Indeed, the researchers explicitly state that “no understanding of sexting would be complete without an appreciation of the extent to which an often completely normalised sexism constitutes the context for all relationships–both on and off-line”:

As researchers going into the schools to meet with young people, we were distressed by the levels of sexist abuse and physical harassment–even violence–to which the girls were subject on a regular basis. […] Perhaps the broadest level at which sexism operates in the young people’s lives is to be found in the deeply rooted notion that girls and young women’s bodies are somehow the property of boys and young men.

This is not some gender neutral trend. It is young men seeking to claim ownership of young women’s bodies. What’s more, this is nothing mordern at all.

It is utterly pointless to talk in vague terms, as Morgan does, about “peer pressure or coercion” (pressure from whom? who is being coerced?). Pointless, too, to suggest that “the internet and the advance of the digital age […] bring new pressures”; what they bring are new weapons for men to use in their age-old war on women. You can complain about the weapons, sure, but it’s a morally vacuous complaint if you’ve no interest in ending the actual war. Continue reading

Look, men, I’m being reasonable

Recently several women have been making unreasonable and irrational statements regarding rapist footballer Ched Evans. Things such as  “I find the idea of this convicted rapist returning to professional football […] sickening” and “Ched Evans doesn’t know what rape is”. This has upset a lot of reasonable and rational men who wish for order to be restored. They are not angry at Ched Evans; why should anyone else be?

I wish to reassure these men that #notallwomen are as irrational as it currently appears. This is all just a minor blip. On a daily basis we’re eminently reasonable and compliant. Here are just a few examples of how: Continue reading

Between sexism and inclusion: CBBC

According to the online commissioning briefs of CBBC, the channel is “for everyone, everywhere”. Still, let’s not get carried away. The whole thing might sound diverse but apparently “children haven’t changed as much as we might think: girls are still girls and boys are still boys”. But what does that even mean?

If you’re hoping that “Our Guide to the CBBC Audience” might offer further details, you’re out of luck. That webpage is now blank, following complaints about sexist stereotyping earlier this year. Back then anyone hoping to pitch to CBBC would be informed that male viewers were “task focused” while female ones were “emotionally focused”:

Girls are more socially adept and motivated than boys. They will chat enthusiastically, try to support the people they care about and form profound friendships and relationships and develop an interest in boys from age 10. […] [Boys] enjoy achieving goals and completing physical challenges. There is a focus on doing, confrontation and physical strength, and for many their football team is a top priority. […] They often think girls of their age are annoying but like to talk about their body parts and sex.

Interesting, right? And handy, not just if you’re penning the latest white male hero plus ethnic minority male sidekick plus equal-but-not female helper cartoon series (hello, Mike the fucking Knight!). It’s almost as though CBBC commissioners were planning ahead, for a future in which today’s young girls end up passive, patient carers for today’s young boys, who will be out there having their own adventures and not giving a shit about anyone (because hey, supporting people you care about is girls’ stuff!). It’s such a shame that Mumsnet feminists caught wind of all this and forced them to cover their tracks! Continue reading

When a man tells me how to do feminism

Dear Antony Loewenstein

I would like to congratulate you on being brave. So, so brave for writing a piece in the Guardian on why feminists are doing it all wrong. It’s especially brave given what an awful, entitled, sexist piece it is. Still don’t worry. I doubt very much that too many rape threats, accusations of bigotry and no-platformings will be coming your way.

It’s nice that you realise “men have a stake in gender equality”:

… from promoting fair pay and no-fault divorce laws, all the way to stopping honour killings and sexual violence. We are boyfriends, husbands, fathers or friends, and yet too many of us shy away from these sensitive matters, fearing opprobrium.

Do you know what would also have been nice? Also acknowledging that men like you have a stake – a pretty enormous one – in gender inequality, from benefiting from unfair pay, all the way to getting away with rape and murder. Still, never mind. It’s not like it’s your job to point these things out. That’s for the feminists, especially the “western ones,” who are currently too busy having “debates about celebrity red carpet dresses and celeb-feminism” (yeah, that’s totally how all the shelters and rape crisis centres are being maintained). 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

Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius: Not a question of fact, but perspective

When women are killed, we remain just as dead as any man in similar circumstances. It cannot be argued that we have not really died, that the bullet that went through our skull didn’t really hurt us. Our death is an objective truth. It’s just the years leading up to it – all those experiences, thoughts and feelings – that can never quite be verified. For how does one know whether a life has validity unless it was lived by a man?

A man’s story belongs to him. He is more than “just the women”. As Judge Thokozile Masipa said of Oscar Pistorius, not guilty of murder despite firing four shots through a locked bathroom door, “the accused is the only person who can say what his state of mind was at the time he fired the shots that killed the deceased”. His experiences are inviolable. And as for those of the deceased? Alas, she has but one experience: that of being dead, and before then, her experience was that of being the other half; the complement, the accessory, the essential blonde girlfriend in the Blade Runner Story. Oscar Pistorius Charged With The Murder Of Model Lover. What experiences would a model lover have, anyway? None, were it not for the man who magics her into existence. Look! There she is, on his arm! How clever of him to find one like that! Continue reading

Does female oppression exist? (Or are we just useless?)

In How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran offers the following explanation for women’s absence from historical records: “women have basically done fuck all for the past 100,000 years”:

Come on – let’s admit it. Let’s stop exhaustingly pretending that there is a parallel history of women being victorious […] I don’t think that women being seen as inferior is a prejudice based on male hatred of women. When you look at history, it’s a prejudice based on simple fact.

These lines really pissed me off, as I imagine they pissed off many women reading the book. At the time I thought they pissed me off because it was such utter nonsense. It’s only looking back, having spoken to other women about feminism and theories of oppression, that I realise that what really pissed me off was worrying that maybe Moran was right.

It’s a thought that’s always been in the back of my head ever since I noticed women and girls were treated unfairly. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because we really are a bit shit. From an early age I’ve known that we come second. Boys and men need more time, more space, more resources, more praise, more money. We, on the other hand, exist to offer up the time, the space, the resources, the praise, the unpaid labour. That is our role and regardless of the vastly different experiences of women on a global scale (due to race, wealth, culture, religious belief, location etc.), it’s remarkable how similar the overall pattern is. Man does and is, woman reflects, absorbs and supports. That’s what we’re for.

But why? Continue reading

On Vagenda, David Aaranovitch and women’s complicity in their own oppression

Today I read a review of Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s The Vagenda. I have not yet read the book itself, which is aimed primarily at young women. I probably will read it at some point, but for the time being I’ve decided I don’t have to. A man has read the book and offered his own view on womankind’s relationship with popular culture. This has got to be better than anything some stupid Grazia subscriber might think.

David Aaranovitch is not a young woman. He does, however, have daughters. What’s more, he is known to have existed in the proximity of women for most of his life. He walks amongst them, observing their curious ways and idiosyncrasies. Who better, then, to report back to the rational masses on the enigma that is Women Who Do Stupid Things That Facilitate Their Own Oppression? Continue reading

How the Daily Mail forgives women for existing

A famous young woman has died and the Daily Mail launches straight into hand-wringing mode: “Like Paula, she longed to be loved, a perfect mother … and thin” wails the cover. Poor Peaches Geldof. Poor Paula Yates. It’s almost as though some women are cursed.

I see headlines like this and I think one thing: Fuck you, Daily Mail.

I don’t know how Peaches Geldof died. What’s more, it’s none of my business. As a former anorexic, I am of course tempted go all out hunting for ED innuendo, poring over photos of stick-thin arms and corrugated breastbones. I am curious, I admit, in a leering, self-centred way. I almost want certain things to be true and not others, purely in order to prove a point. But this has nothing to do with me. Furthermore, I’m not convinced the current coverage has anything to do with Peaches Geldof either.

Of the cultural forces out there wanting women to be thin, eternally young, perfect mothers, it’s safe to say the Daily Mail is right at the forefront. Projection, much? It’s not so long ago that the same publication was expressing dismay at Geldof’s inability to “learn” how to display her “curvy” body:

Just one day after she appeared to have redeemed herself by showing off her curves in a pretty floral bikini, Peaches Geldof has made yet another fashion blunder.

[…] Peaches, who is dating film director Eli Roth, seemed completely unaware of her faux pas as she enjoyed her leisurely meal – but the outfit drew attention to her for all the wrong reasons. However, despite receiving cruel internet comments about her weight, Peaches has allegedly told friends she is happy with her size.

Allegedly told friends she is happy? Yeah, right. You can’t be happy like that.

Since you can’t know the inside of someone else’s mind, it seems inappropriate to go too far in defining the social context of their suffering. Yet that’s what the Mail likes to do, all the time, only on its own warped terms. We’re meant to shift seamlessly from the usual disapproval of women – for being too fat, too thin, bad mothers, bad daughters, too old, too sexy, too loud – to pretending they inhabit a cultural vacuum, particularly when things go wrong. Nothing influences them at all, save the bad blood that’s already coursing through their veins. They’re not meant to hear the constant yelling from outside. They’re not meant to be bothered that they are, for want of a better word, hated by people they don’t know and who don’t know them.

And then there are the stories of redemption (precarious ones, all the same). Redemption is the only option you have since by being noticed at all you’ve already sinned. You lose weight. You become a domestic goddess. You lose even more weight. Ideally, you comes as close as you possibly can to disappearing without actually doing so. The Daily Mail likes women when there are less of them, both to mock and to ignore. Even if you’re “painfully thin” or “shockingly skinny” you know it’s a damn sight better than being seen to “love your curves.”

Finally we end up with the mawkish tale of a girl who redeemed herself through weight loss and self-abnegating motherhood, a doubling up of feminine virtues. Quite what this fictional girl had done wrong to begin with isn’t very clear. Yet what the Mail and other papers seem to be saying is “we forgive you. Now that you’re dead, we forgive. We’ll make up a story about cursed families, untouched by the outside world, and then we’ll seal off all the rest.” This seems to be the measure of what’s required of famous women, who aren’t permitted any privacy or reality of their own. They are never, ever real, even if they are redeemed.

The Daily Mail has no right to offer forgiveness or pity, or to speculate on the neuroses it ordinarily hopes to inspire in others. To feel an imperfect mother and to long to be thin is everyday life for millions of women. If the Mail really cared about that, it would do the decent thing and fade away rather than asking womankind to do so instead.

Elan Gale’s in-flight tweets: Yet more misogyny “for the good of all”

By now plenty of people will have heard about the quite-possibly-imaginary Elan Gale vs Diane “plane note row”. Depending on where you stand, it’s either hilarious or really fucking frightening. Me, I’m veering towards the latter. Elan Gale, I hope I’m never on the number 12 bus, let alone on a plane with you.

The plane note row (if it actually took place and wasn’t just some misogynist’s wildest fantasy) was live tweeted by Gale last Thursday. It (allegedly) reached its height with Gale sending a note which included the line “eat my dick” to female passenger, having smugly tweeted out said note to all his followers. To put this in context, the woman – “Diane” – had been rude to flight attendants (a crime for which, as far as I am aware, the recommended punishment is not sexual harassment within a confined space). During the exchange that ensued, Gale pressured flight attendants to become complicit in his abuse by transferring the notes between him and “Diane” – who, he happened to tweet, was “in her late 40s or early 50s” and was wearing “mom jeans” (hence not only rude but not even shaggable!).

Continue reading

Difficult truths about gender difference, or why I am a bitch

In life there are always difficult truths which, however much we’d like to avoid them, we each have to accept. Such as: we’re all going to die. The ageing process is grim. David Cameron is a total knob. Such things cannot be altered. We just have to make the best of what we’ve got.

But if that wasn’t hard enough, there are other things — things which, if true, would make our lives a whole lot easier — which can’t ever be proven. Such as: everything will work out fine in the end. Everyone gets what he or she deserves. Women are mentally, physically and morally inferior to men. It’d be wonderful if these things could be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. Inequalities would seem to make sense. The world would feel a much fairer place. There would be no need to confront injustice because you’d know that, deep down, everything was as it should be. Alas, this isn’t the world we have, which leaves us with the choice of either pretending all is well or attempting to make things better.

Continue reading

The all-women shortlist trap

Imagine you’re taking part in a football match. It’s the most important game of the season and you’re ready to give it your all. You know you’re good; your teammates know you’re good, yet for some reason they won’t pass the ball to you. You’re not sure why. You’ve found the perfect spaces yet as far as they’re concerned, you might as well be playing for the other side.

This continues for the first half of the match and most of the second. There are rare moments when you gain possession but then it’s impossible to pass; no one wants to receive from you. Your teammates act as though you are not there or, even worse, they laugh when the opposite side comes in to tackle. Eventually the manager takes you to one side and asks if you want the chance to play properly.

“Of course,” you say.

“Fine,” he says, “I’ll get the boys to treat you as a full team member, only you’ll have to have your shoelaces tied together. Those are the rules.”

Tired of being unable to compete according to the current, unspoken regulations, you agree to this amendment and waddle back onto the pitch, undignified and trying not to fall. Perhaps this time, even though you’re more obviously disadvantaged, you’ll benefit your team through having the chance to play at all. You might as well give it a go.

As soon as they have the opportunity, one of your teammates passes you the ball. You hobble forward to kick but can’t do it with your feet so close together. You try again by half-jumping but end up falling to the ground. An opposing player takes possession while one of your teammates helps you to your feet.

“See?” he says. “That’s why we never pass to you. You can’t play this game. We always knew you’d fall over.”

***

All-women shortlists are a con. Our political establishment remains sexist – desperately, boorishly, brayingly sexist. The majority of those sitting in the House of Commons remain unable to listen to and debate with women on equal terms. Voters believe female involvement in politics started and ended with Margaret Thatcher. Today’s female politicians are mocked by the press, served up as packs of “babes” and “cuties”. If they are silent, they are ineffectual and boring; if they speak up, they are hysterical. Report after report describes a hostile workplace, in which discrimination is rife.

If it’s that hard once you’ve become an insider, how hard must it be to get there in the first place? What level of support will you get? Whose protégé will you be? And yet if you get there at all, you already know that humiliation awaits.

We shouldn’t be at all surprised that women find it hard to enter and progress in politics. The fact that all-women shortlists are proposed as a solution suggests, however, that we are. It’s not as though we’ve actually tried anything else, beyond shouting from the sidelines that the ladies really need to buck up. Sure, the rules aren’t quite the same for them, sure, they’ll be considered outsiders, not quite part of the boys’ club, but they want to play, don’t they? And it’s not as though the club itself can change. It’s not as though politicians themselves can work to change the experience of politics and the perceptions of voters. God forbid, we can’t have that.

So instead women wait and eventually, every once in a while, the all-women shortlist is proposed. We all know what it means. It sounds patronising because it is. Equality bestowed on women by men, reinforcing the fact that they’re not considered equals at all. It is a form of humiliation. Oh, but it’s practical, see? We give you a foot in the door. A foot in the door, perhaps, but when so much of politics is image, projection and reputation, the successful all-women shortlist candidate risks being tripped up before she’s taken her first step over the threshold. The slightest stumble will be equated with her falling flat on her face, whereafter we can go back to agreeing that the old sexism, the silent exclusion, wasn’t so bad after all.

We should feel furious at this state of affairs, furious that our political system has let women down so badly that it comes to this. The all-women shortlist is not even benevolent sexism. It’s a form of bullying from a male elite that refuses to change (despite the fact that it will be them, and not the women, who cry “sexism” the loudest). We should not accept such a dearth of options. We should not have to choose between being patronised and not being accommodated at all. Until politics and politicians cease to be hostile towards women, all-women shortlists are a joke.

According to Edwina Currie, all-women shortlists are bad because “people who have suffered discrimination shouldn’t practice it”

And in practice, women who’ve come through this route have skipped several steps so their skills may be deficient. Often they’re women who’ve come through various women’s organisations, and they’re a bit…well, limp. It may help to explain why so few of Blair’s Babes made any mark in the House of Commons.

Deficient in skills? Or just not respected? Surely it’s frighteningly easy not to make a mark when you’ve merely gained entry into an organisation that still doesn’t want you around? Currie has made her own impression, sure, but I think of her and I think of eggs, salmonella, Strictly and the shagging of John Major. This is what the media tells us but is this really the measure of her as a politician? Shouldn’t she be fighting this rather than dismissing others as “limp”?

Every time we look at a male politician we should ask ourselves whether he’d be where he is today were it not for his maleness. We should worry that perhaps he’s not up to the job. After all, if someone’s had the extra leg-up you get from matched stereotyping and gender preference, perhaps he’s not all that skilled at all. We should ask ourselves this, and we should ask it frequently. As long as the default setting of our political system supports unofficial all-male shortlists, we must necessarily mistrust the talents of men. They should feel the positive discrimination millstone around their necks. They should be handicapped by accusations that they’ve had too easy a ride. It doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not; after all, how can we know whether it is or it isn’t as long as the debating chamber demands little more that frat boy mockery from those fortunate enough to be male?

Of course, it’s not fair to do this, but then no one is playing fair. Until we have the will to solve it – until we actually want to change the nature of political exchange – then women shouldn’t have to be the only ones competing with their shoelaces tied together. We don’t want extra help. We just want to play the game and to play it well.

Clever, yes, but still waiting for Prince Charming

Calling all clever girls! Have you ever worried that the fact you’re so clever will mean that boys don’t fancy you? Do you lie awake at night fretting over the complete works of Nietzsche, string theory AND whether or not your mammoth intellect will lead you to die alone, a barren, lonely spinster with only your trusty cat, Higgs Boson, for company? Do you feel your IQ is in inverse proportion to your Erotic Capital? Then worry no more! Recent news reports show that being a female Einstein — an Einsteinette, one might say — is not incompatible with fulfilling your true destiny as a woman. Rejoice! Now all you have to do is make sure you’re not a total minger (minging does of course remain incompatible with successful womanhood. Sorry, mingers, but that rule ain’t never gonna change).

This evening I read a Telegraph piece on a schoolgirl who is incredibly bright and has the potential to do amazing things. Her IQ is higher even than the IQs of Einstein, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking. I don’t know, precisely, how much to read into IQ tests (my IQ may be too low for that) but I get the impression Lauren Marbe is really special. The most important thing to note, however, isn’t that she’s intelligent but that she’s going to a massive debutante ball in Paris. She might be clever but by god, she is a girl after all!

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