May 2009

Once again, the world proves that it really has its priorities right. In a move that one can only call implausibly bigoted, the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, deemed the recent gay rights marches in Moscow “satanic” and called gays and lesbians “weapons of mass destruction“.

Seriously? How can a person in his position with supposed credibility keep a straight face while saying this? The damning of homosexuality is usually the arena of half-witted religious fanatics, not politicians within a civilised and democratic country (then again the democratic nature of Russia is pretty dubious). It worries me that this positively medieval homophobia is rife so close to home. If Russia hopes that hosting Eurovision will change the world’s perspective of them, then they are greatly misguided. Pretty lights, cheesy songs and awful dancing may provide a glossy vaneer, but it has never prevented the competition from getting political before.

I hope (in vain, perhaps) that the participating countries demonstrate their disapproval, but the sad fact of the matter is that the prevailing attitudes in mainland Europe lean towards latent homophobia, which has meant that people like Yuri Luzhkov have been left unchecked, allowed to hold office and allowed to express the most awful opinions.

*On a slightly lighter note* I shall be eschewing Eurovision anyway, after many years of watching country after country objectify women in what they think would be a winning song. Why do I want to see gyrating-belly-dancing-stripping-nigh-on-pornographic routines with girls who can’t even sing properly? It’s a fucking SONG contest. Tell me when they find some real talent.


In the latest round of Brown-bashing I happened to witness, the usual moaning and grumbling took place, ‘If I was in his position…blah blah blah etc…’ which annoys me enough as it is, as I’m sure we’d all struggle to hold it together, but this time I was especially annoyed. Especially annoyed as someone suggested that if the Prime Minister were a woman, none of this financial mess would have happened. None of this mess, nor indeed most of the mess of the last few years, concerning wars and poverty and general plights on society.

This is when, of course, I stepped in to say what an utter load of bollocks that was. Being a Feminist, I obviously think a female Prime Minister would be brilliant. But, just because she is a woman, does not automatically make her a peace-loving and caring person. Take Margaret Thatcher, for example. She was one of the most formidable politicians, who perhaps ticked all of the ‘masculine’ boxes, and had no problems with starting wars and obliterating whole communities in her ruthless economic plans. In response to her typically masculine behaviour satirists branded her a man and most famously in Spitting Image portrayed her in a suit with a cigar. However, no matter how vile you find the woman, the criticism should rest soley on her actions, not on whether she conforms to gender norms.

This kind of gossipy self-righteous drivel, propagated by the ‘Loose Women’ culture harks back to the Victorian views of women being angels and men beasts. This regressive step is harmful to society and also the political process. The way the media scrutinise female politicians so closely causes them to censor their actions according to how society says they must be; everything they say, do, wear – even their hair styles are commented upon and criticised for not being feminine enough, or being too dowdy or frumpy. Outspoken female politicians are derided for being whingey and nagging – which is enough to put potential female politicians off the job.

None of the women I know are as morally superior as some people would have them. If women ruled the world, wars would still be fought, crimes would still be committed and the economy would still fail us at some point. No one can be a super hero, we are all human and therefore bound to make mistakes. The thing is, at the end of the day it’s not about men versus women, it is about choosing whoever is best for the job.

Via The F-Word, a dispiriting post that starts with the question: “Ever wondered what we’d get if “two of Britain’s most outspoken feminists” (Julies Bindel and Burchill) had a conversation in The Guardian’s G2? Let’s see…

As it happens, I wasn’t aware that Julie Burchill actually identified as feminist – or anything like it, for that matter. Certainly, when I lived at home and snuck away with Mum’s issue of the Guardian at the weekend, I never noticed anything that suggested that she did.

And on the subject of Julie Bindel, I know a little. I know she’s on Facebook; I know she’s been embroiled in a large and wide-ranging argument on the subject of trans people’s rights, which, as far as I can tell, she doesn’t really care about; I know she does care about lesbian rights, although she’s been reported to have said that lesbianism is “a choice”; and, bizarrely, I know that she’s been recently “made up” by an Avon representative. Like you do.

I got this information – all of which I’d already gained from other sources – from the first page of a Google search.

After my 10-minute foray into the wilds of Julie Bindel’s unofficial Google biography, what I’ve gained is shock that she didn’t manage to say anything worse in this latest Guardian article. She certainly doesn’t have a good track record.

I’d love to say that I wouldn’t normally criticize somebody without their knowledge, but that is clearly a lie. I do it all the time, usually with BBC reports, and, by implication, the reporters. And if they can get the special “Rachel” treatment, I see no reason not to extend that honour to her, too.

You know, I read somewhere once (and wish I’d made a note of it) that feminism, at least in the academic sense, stopped being relevant to one woman when she could no longer talk to her mother about it. And I think this is something that ought to be added to my list of Things Feminists Often Get Wrong: academia has its place. And that place is in libraries, looking smug. Out in the real world, real women are affected by real things that real people do and say. And it’s all too easy for a privileged group to think of the issues of a nonprivileged group in terms of theories, or camps, or controversies, or whatever the buzzword of the year is. But when you try to apply theories to the real world, they often don’t fit. Even I know this, and I’m a mathematician. I live in an academic swamp of theories and corollaries and even laws, but when it comes to things like mechanics, these get handed down to me with the disclaimer that sometimes this isn’t true.

For example: one thing you learn is that a feather and a rock should, in theory, fall at the same rate, and hit the ground at the same time if dropped from the same height. This is fine, if you’re on the moon. But here on Earth, there is air resistance, which means that the law, although technically true, is not actually very helpful, and if you were of a gambling disposition, you would have just lost money. Unless we were on the moon.

All of this is a slightly lengthly way of shoehorning a mathematical analogy into a post that didn’t need to include one. But it’s also a way to point out that at the end of the day, theories are all well and good, but if the people you’re theorising about tell you that you’re wrong, and be damned the problems it might cause your worldview, it tends to be a good idea to listen to them. Yes, even if they’ve just damned your faulty worldview. As it turns out, I don’t much care about that either. If the theory breaks when applied to real life, it’s either not a good theory at all, or something vital is missing from it, and that’s your problem. Clearly, it is not the feather’s fault that it doesn’t match up. And I wouldn’t expect the feather to care.

And all of this is an even longer way of saying that reputations live on. Like I said, it was the first page of a Google search. And if you can pick up reputations by association, this is one association I will happily – and determinedly – choose to live without.

Given all this, and if I lived in happyland where unicorns farted rainbows, I might be a little surprised that the Guardian had picked Julie Bindel to represent feminism. As it happens, though, I’m not at all surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. Which brings me rather neatly back to the title, and means that I should probably stop writing!

Yes, it’s that time again; I’ve managed to carve some free time into my weekend (slightly extending the definition of “weekend”) and what better way to spend it than to cast a beady eye over this week’s stalwart BBC reporting?

First off, lest we forget that marriage has a long and unsavoury history with legally sanctioned rape, there are two stories from Northern Ireland which caught my eye: a teenage boy (link is to a video report; transcript under cut) who violently raped an American woman in a park in Belfast has been sentenced to 8 years imprisonment, while a 29-year-old Polish man from Derry was given 5.5 years for raping and threatening to kill his then wife. I should also point out that the second man was deemed to pose a high risk of reoffending. To have been given a significantly lower sentence than the first seems somewhat surprising.

Another news story with a somewhat tenuous link to Northern Ireland is this report on research that has been condensed down to “female binge drink rates double”.

That makes for an interesting headline, but, as you might expect, doesn’t actually pick up on much of the study. What they’ve said on the subject is this:

Although there is no standard definition of binge drinking, it is typically defined as drinking more than twice the recommended daily limit on any one day. This corresponds to more than eight units of alcohol in men and more than six units in women.

Ladies, be warned. If you drink more than three double JD&cokes on a night out, you’ve binged! In fact, “revised methods for calculating a unit of alcohol have been introduced recently… [This] effectively doubles the units of alcohol calculated for a glass of wine“, which by my count means that two glasses of wine send you over the binge limit, too. Of course, that’s only because of the “trend for using larger sizes of wine glasses“. I’m now reminded of that greetings card featuring a woman in her 30s curled up on a sofa, holding a wine glass as big as her head, with the caption saying something along the lines of being “good” and “cutting down to one glass a night”.

And, of course, nobody wants to be reminded that “women are less likely than men to drink and women who do drink consume less than men.” That would be far too boring, and besides, why ever would we chastise men for their drinking habits? I myself consider it mere laddish larking about when I hear the sounds of men vomiting and fighting outside my window, whereas the sounds of women giggling – well! That is clearly not the kind of behaviour suitable for a respectable young lady to be party to!

In fact, what has happened, in general, over the last 15 – 20 years, is that ” the drinking behaviour of women that has increased toward that of men“. Apparently,

This might be interpreted as one expression of the historically recent emancipation of women in Western society, the pressure of positive advertising and also the increased financial security and independence of women.

I am shocked. In fact, I may swoon. So, there are two things going on here. Firstly, our glorious tradition of rampant capitalism means that alcohol companies have discovered that, in fact, women are quite capable of drinking, and that, therefore, there is money to be made. You can also see this being played out with the increasing number of Manly Cosmetics For Men (TM), which are packaged in blue, black, white and silver in order that women, who can only see pink (possibly because of berries in a forest) will not buy them, and also so that men (who see in black and white, possibly because of hunting zebra in the savannah) will want to hunt them down and take them to the checkout, just as in days of old they would have taken them to the fire. Or something. Secondly, the studies have noted that the behaviour of women has “increased toward that of men“, and This might be interpreted as one expression of … the increased financial security and independence of women”. This is also not surprising. If men drink more than women and women’s drinking increases, where else would women’s drinking increase towards? These studies don’t allow for identifying outside of the gender binary, which means you’re a bit stuck for anywhere else to go. And indeed, you might find that women with more money and more independence, in a culture which is more accepting of women’s presence – unaccompanied by men – in bars, might be drinking more.

An interesting question might then be, in this age that finds a barrage of articles every summer proclaiming that “feminism is dead” (which to my mind gives it more lives than a very lucky cat), why is it that women are not drinking as much as men? Can it all be attributed to women’s lower tolerance of alcohol, or are there other social factors still in play? Discuss.

In other news, Harriet Harman has been talking to The Fawcett Society about the Equalities Bill. So that’s nice. Somewhat annoying that it’s described as “controversial new legislation“. Because, as I’ve said before, “when you have a white male director general of five male executive directors being quoted in a serious publication on the subject of inequality, of course it’s fucking necessary.” And also, it shouldn’t be*cough*womenstilldon’thaveequality*cough*controversial. Can I mention those “feminism is dead” articles again yet?

Lest this post goes on forever, I shall stop here. Pausing only to mention that a male contraceptive injection that “could be as effective at preventing pregnancies as the female pill” could become available in five years or so. Which would mean that those men who believe that women exist solely to steal their sperm, have their children and then drain their bank accounts and/ or marry them, divorce them and take exactly half of everything including half of the tv using a chainsaw would finally be able to make sure it doesn’t happen. Of course, they would have to be injected. With needles. And it might be, you know, effort. And they then might not be fully fertile for a whole six months afterwards. Which would be a blow to their manly manly identity, which rests on virility. But I’m sure they’ll welcome it, nevertheless!

I’ve been seeing a really annoying advert for Dove’s new hair minimising deodorant and have been vaguely niggled to write something but it wasn’t until today when looking at that I realised I really ought to.

The advert, if you haven’t seen it, is about a new deodorant that makes hair grow in slower and appear finer. Don’t you love the use of the word “appear”? It’s like “results not typical”. There’s a Telegraph article about it here. (And yes alright I wouldn’t usually be linking to the Torygraph but it’s a fairly neutral article)

In typical fashion the advert insinuates that the young female in question – we’re the target audience, don’tcha know – can’t possibly go out and have fun because she has omg! hair under her arms. So of course she must use this New Product so she can just stop worrying about that ghastly hair and wear a sleeveless top with pride!

Now, I’m not the first feminist to write about this, so I’m not going to bang on about it. (I’d find links but I’m having Firefox issues and it’s crashing all the time – I expect this post to go soon, to be honest.) I also don’t shave. Often. I never wear sleeveless tops so no one ever really sees my underarms.

But I also don’t ever wear trousers. I own precisely one pair of jeans and I last wore them last August. Trousers just piss me off. I’m a skirt girl and yes, they’re always long skirts, but still, sometimes, you can see my leg hair. Then there’s the fact that I go swimming three times a week. There, everyone can see my leg hairs and yes I’m VERY used to suspicious looks.

I’m sick of my lack of shaving being some kind of affront to my femininity. On the one hand I really do feel like it’s a big FUCK YOU to the patriarchy – after all, no one makes my husband shave HIS body hair, do they – but on the other hand it’s a combination of sheer laziness and the fact that I have sensitive skin. Shaving, waxing and hair removal creams all HURT, damnit. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve literally burnt myself with that damn Veet cream.

Anyway, while I’m fairly secure in my decision to only shave once my leg hairs are getting to an inch long, and secure in my femininity thank you, and prepared to defend my right to fuck the patriarchy all I’d like, I’m still aware that I’m not writing anything particularly new here.

But then I was browsing (if you’ve never been, be ready to lose a few hours) and found this, and it made me laugh

Advert caption reads "put an end to that prickly feeling". Graffiti reads "Don't shave".

I feel like we should all deface these adverts thusly.

I was watching ITV1 last night. In fact, I am ITV’s wet dream on a Monday, because I turn the channel on at 7.30pm for the first instalment of Coronation Street and don’t turn it off until I go to bed. I don’t even turn over at 8pm since I don’t watch That Other Soap on BBC. At 8pm it used to be the Tonight programme which was always good for a laugh at the scaremongering that the British press indulges in on a regular basis, but last night it was Airport, which involves a lot of irate people shouting at airport stuff. Which is also good for a laugh. Last night 20-odd Geordies found themselves stranded in Bristol facing paying £100 each to get back to Newcastle which is 300 miles away. Apparently Ryanair felt it had fulfilled its duties since it had brought them back to the UK. They hired cars. Good for them. And people wonder why I don’t fly…

At 9pm, after the second instalment of Corrie, is an ITV Drama Premiere which is either a drama mini-series or a made-for-TV two hour film. This year has seen some good ones already – the moving Unforgiven starring the excellent Suranne Jones and the thrilling Whitechapel starring the always delicious Rupert Penry-Jones.

Last night was a two hour film called Compulsion. It starred Parminder Nagra (Bend It Like Beckham, ER) as a young, wealthy Camgridge graduate who’s father was trying to get her to agree to an arranged marriage with the son of a business associate. The family’s chauffeur, Ray Winstone (Scum, King Arthur), volunteered to disgrace this son if she agreed to spend the night with him.

She agreed, the son was disgraced, she slept with him and then fell in love with him. The son got murdered, her brother got embroiled and so did her new fiance, etc etc. In the end she stabbed Ray’s character and married the fiance, although the look on her face at the end gave the impression that she didn’t want to have.

The fiance was a white guy, which is why she hadn’t introduced him to the family to begin with. Once they did meet him, they approved of him and her father even gave him money to set up his business.

So why am I talking about all this? Well because something quite startling happened. There was not one mention of religion throughout the whole thing.

What? What’s that? Asian people on the television and there’s no mention of religion? You know, just like you can with white people? Oh my. Surely not.

I feel like I need to explain that in the UK if you say “Asian” you generally mean someone from South Asia – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh – whereas in the States and maybe in Canada you mean otherwise? I also feel like I need to explain that I’m from West Yorkshire, where there’s the joint highest Pakistani population in England and Wales, as well as sizeable minorities from all sorts of other kinds of ethnicities. I went to university in York which is extremely, incredibly white, and I really found it strange. I now live in a very white part of South Yorkshire and still find it strange. My husband is almost from the whitest place in Britain and I find dealing with my in-laws a battle on this matter.

(See, for instance, their calling of one of the shops in the village the “Paki shop”. I always, always call them up on it, because it’s offensive. My four year old niece now tells them off for it. She is FOUR, and she knows it’s wrong. Maybe there is hope)

Racially, I am as white as the driven snow. Ethnically, I am not. My grandfather (& his siblings) was born in India, had dual citizenship, and was culturally Indian. In a lot of ways, in way I can’t tell you but in ways that touch me some forty years after his death. I also studied Theology at university and these things interest me.

(What is the difference between race and ethnicity? I’ve been thinking about it all day. To me, race is biology and ethnicity is culture. But I could be wrong. What do you think? I also am fully aware of my white privilege, and I apologise for any errors herein)

So for me, for a TV programme to not only feature but STAR an entire Asian family WITHOUT mentioning religion is nothing short of miraculous. I have no idea now if this family was religious, and if they were whether they were Sikh or Hindu or Muslim or Baha’i or Jain or Buddhist or Christian or Jewish or I don’t know, bloody Jedis for all I care. It didn’t matter to the story. Of course in 2009 that should be the case, it SHOULD be the case but so often it ISN’T.

ITV Drama: ur doin it right, apparently. Who knew?

It’s a Bank Holiday here in sunny England, which means that I have a decent excuse for being late with my Weekend News-Surfing. The other decent excuse is, of course, that this is the first real day off I’ve had since Sunday last week – that is, seven days ago. Hence the strange thinking. Remember, children, the 48-hour working time directive was put in for a reason: so that temps could opt out of it! Of course, I jest. I haven’t opted out of it, per se – I just study full-time and temp to make sure I can eat each week. The total is more than 48 hours’ work, let me tell you. Especially once you include housework in the mix. Which I reckon I can do, because if I were doing it for someone else it would be considered work. Anyway. My financial and temporal predicament (i.e, not enough hours in the day) is not the concern of this site. So, to business:

Samantha Orobator, who has been imprisoned in Laos since August 2008, is now five months pregnant and facing death by firing squad for allegedly entering the country with 1.5lb of heroin. The question that has either not been asked or answered is, of course, how did she end up pregnant whilst in prison? Given that “British Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, have visited Miss Orobator a total of six times since her arrest… limited to a period of about 20 minutes once a month“, I rather doubt that any kind of significant other would have had more luck seeing her. Time will tell.

Continuing the theme of pregnancy stories I wish hadn’t happened, a woman in Dubai has been found guilty of manslaughter after she was involved in a traffic accident, nine months pregnant, which caused the death of her foetus. I’ve seen arguments about the criminalisation of abortion, and what that might lead to, and this story is one of those things. I wish with all my heart that this had stayed a hypothetical argument.

Moving on, I have a strange feeling of deja-vu: “These kind of incidents, in such a busy area, are very rare, however I would like to reinforce personal safety advice for women in the area, not to walk alone during the hours of darkness and to contact police if they feel threatened at any time“. Such are the words of wisdom of Det Insp Andy Cunliffe, after an 18 year old woman was raped behind a pub in Bolton. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. That’s not fucking helpful. Women go out. True story. Some women work in pubs. Also true. What do you think they should do, sleep in the pub till morning? What if they’re raped in the pub? And does anybody else remember this story? The one where the police ignored that woman who repeated told them she was afraid that she’d be killed? Remember how she ended up dead?

The BBC have also got hold of the story about the 17 year old Australian boy, Alex, who has got permission from the courts to have a double mastectomy. Catholic groups are predictably outraged, but he’s also been taking hormone treatment to prevent menstruation, which I think probably counts as “birth control”. Why they’re outraged about the breast removal and not that, I can’t fathom. At least the BBC got the pronouns right, even if they did start the article by calling Alex a girl. Beppie over at Hoyden About Town is suitably enraged with one of the less considerate Australian publications for not managing to grasp this rather simple concept.

Finishing up for the evening, I’ve got one good piece of entertainment news, one bad. Bad would be Andrew Sachs thanking Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand for “raising his profile“. Good to know that a nasty, spiteful act of misogyny doesn’t matter when fame’s involved, even if it was regarding his granddaughter. So much for the old “but what if it was your [insert female relative here]?!” argument.

Good news, which isn’t really news, but pleases me, is Carol Ann Duffy becoming Poet Laureate. And saying that she’ll give away the money, but she wants the butt of sack (600 bottles of Sherry) upfront. That is many kinds of awesome. And I have fond memories of my notoriously grumpy English Lit teacher reading Frau Freud aloud, realising that not one of her 17-year-old students would be persuaded to read a list of synonyms for “penis”. Especially not when that list included “love-muscle”.

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