There are many people and many events that never really get represented in mainstream literature. This much is obvious to me when I think about who – and what – is represented. So this isn’t going to be a post that says “hey! I’ve had this idea about a phenomenon I’ve noticed, and I shall call it…. privilege!!!”

It’s a question, actually.

Can anybody think of any book aimed at adults that mentions a woman dealing with her period, other than in the “um, it hasn’t come, I should probably get a pregnancy test” scenario?

I mean, I can remember reading a few books aimed at teenagers that feature a girl getting her first period, but that’s different. Especially since those books were aimed at girls specifically – I’m thinking of authors like Judy Blume and Jaqueline Wilson here. For a matter-of-fact depiction of periods as something that the girl is already used to, I can only think of Michelle Magorian’s A Little Love Song, in which Rose, the main character, is relieved to find blood running down her thigh when she gets out of bed, a few days after having sex for the first time. Even then, it’s mentioned as a plot device, because it shows that she is not pregnant.

I can’t think of a single adult book that talks about periods. Not even in chick lit, which, being aimed at women, you might expect to be more forthcoming about it. Admittedly I haven’t read much. I veer between reading fantasy, sci-fi and historical fiction usually, and these tend to either change the way the women work (e.g. because they’re werewolves and go hairy instead), change the way the world works (e.g. you only get your period after specifically praying for it, which the lead female character conveniently never does), or only consider bleeding in terms of failure to reproduce, respectively. But I did read all of Lisa Jewell’s books at one stage, and while I can remember her writing about pregnancy, being fat, leg-shaving, bikini-waxing, heterosexual sex, men wanking and sexual assualt, I can’t remember her ever writing about a female character being on her period.

And now I’m wondering why.

Recently, I’ve been ploughing through various books of a feminist nature. Sometimes that urge takes me, even though I am a number-cruncher by trade.

One of those books was Sexing The Body, which I believe I mentioned as something Not To Read Whilst Ill. There were various things that interested me within the book, some of which I may turn into publishable thoughts, and which might therefore require me taking it out again (even though short-term loans, which last a whole two days, do not please me).

Among these half-formed thoughts, I was intrigued by the idea that young children (up to around the age of 6 years old) find it very difficult to identify the gender of a child without relying on external markers like clothes and hair length. This, at least, was the impression I gained. I can’t remember what studies Anne Fausto-Sterling relied on, but I have found mentions of studies that seem relevant, although somewhat old.*

Anyway, two things come to mind when I think about this: it makes me wonder how this might apply to discerning the gender of adults, given the number of individuals that in some way deviate from the gendered norms of  long-hair-and-pink-skirts / short-hair-and-blue-trousers, and it reminds me of this post that I found today.

It would seem that, sometimes, it’s not only children that have difficulties in recognising gender without appropriate markers.

*a long-winded Google search turned up a link to an study, McConaghy, MJ: The Gender Understanding of Swedish Children, 1980, (among with some potentially annoying links *shifty eyes*), which references various others, to do with American children:

  • Thompson SK: Gender labels and early sex role development, 1975.
  • Slaby RG, Frey KS: Development of gender constancy and selective attention to same-sex models, 1975.
  • Thompson SK, Bentler PM: The priority of cues in sex discrimination by children and adults, 1971.

Apologies for my absence last week; I became infected with a particularly evil strain of the Lurgy which gave me a high temperature that ignored all of my attempts to counteract it with paracetamol. It’s a good thing this feature is filed under “semi-regular”, I suppose.

Now, I get fairly picky about the use of language. This is why I sometimes find myself having online arguments with people that lasts for twelve days over the sexism inherent in one word. That word, for those of you that missed that fascinating (ha!) debate, was chairman. Interestingly enough, I recently retrieved my copy of Man-Made Language from the back seat of J’s car where it had been languishing for months, and found this quote, which I thought particularly apt. In fact, my first thought on reading it was regret that the argument was not still going on. Because I am masochistic that way. Bear in mind that this was published in 1980:

“We will probably witness the rise of such usages as female flight attendant (since steward/stewardess has been abolished), woman salesperson (since salesman/saleswoman has been outlawed), as well as lady police officer and madam chairperson. They may be cumbersome usages but they will do the job: they will allow the sexist semantic rule to continue to function. The allocation of negative semantic space to women will go unchallenged.”

Emphasis in original.

Interestingly enough, the only one of those “new” phrases which I have ever seen used was the last – madam chairperson. On the other hand, I do still hear (or say) salesman – but only in the phrase “car salesman”, and then only if the person referred to really is, or appears to be, a man – and policeman – but again, only if the officer in question really is, or appears to be, a man. Perhaps we are making more of a difference than Dale Spender gave us credit for?

Well. I say that. But there are other problems with language that hit just as hard as the pernicious man-encompassing-woman nonsense. One of those problems is in the use of the word “sex”. For example, in the headlines:

The first story is the one that I’ve already mentioned twice in these features – the taxi driver who claimed he’d won the lottery, offered his lone, female victims spiked alcohol and then either raped or sexually assaulted them. Bear in mind, this man has now been convicted of rape. But you wouldn’t get that information from the headline, or even the first paragraph. Instead, it is buried halfway down page, 13 paragraphs from the top.

The second relates to a teaching assistant who has admitted to what the BBC report as “[having] sex with two teenage pupils”. What he’s actually been convicted of is “sexual activity with a child by a person in a position of trust”. I did think that this came under a catch-all heading of  “statutory rape”, but it would appear that since new legislation came into force in 2004, that is no longer the legal description. Perhaps it never was.

The good news in that story is that he’s been banned from working with children indefinitely. The bad news is he’s been jailed for less than 3 years.

Continuing the nasty “sex” with children theme, how about this gem: Guard made 14 year-old pregnant.

But of course, Scotland’s rape laws are, at the moment, pretty fucking awful, as I believe I’ve mentioned elsewhere. So he’s admitted to “intercourse” with the girl, who was described as being “vulnerable because of her learning difficulties”.

Lucky for him that he pleaded guilty. Because, as the judge reminded him, he could have been imprisoned for five whole years otherwise. As it is, he gets 3.5. Joys.

Oh, and thinking of sentencing, take a look at this article. One man, the father, was found to be in possession of over 10,000 images of child pornography. For this, the other man, his son stabbed him, 16 times.

One of the two men was jailed for seven and a half years. One of the men was given a three year community order. Which was which?

Well. It’s not like we haven’t seen this kind of thing before. However, I’m feeling generous, so if, like me, you were entirely unsurprised to discover that the man given the community order was the father, give yourself a gold star.

Clearly, it was sensible to imprison the son. Much though I’d love to be a one-person vigilante group, I recognise that my summarary judgement is not socially acceptable, and this man doesn’t have a leg to stand on. And besides, any man who is capable of driving from Birmingham to Northampton in order to stab his father is not somebody I want walking around – who knows who else he might consider deserving of violence?

On the other hand, I’ll admit to being frustrated that posessing such a vast quantity of child pornography didn’t result in at least a small prison sentence. Goodness knows it’s not like I expect anything more than that, given that you only get 3.5 for actually having “sex” with a child, but still.

This entire edition is, sadly, full of things that are not nice. So I’ll leave you with news that, during one of my forrays into the unimaginable wealth that is a university library, I came across a book that I had to take out. Despite the fact that the damned thing’s in Spanish, and despite the fact that even when I was taking my A-level Spanish (over two years ago) I was never even approaching fluent, I had to take it out for two reasons.

Firstly, although the precise meaning of the title eluded me, I could take a wild stab at understanding the subtitle, mujer y moralidad durante el franquismo, which, translated, means something along the lines of “women and morality during the Franco years”. And secondly, because of a quote inside the book attributed to Lawrence Durrell, which I believe says “because the living have to always remember what those who died could never forget”. So that sounded pretty cool, if a little academic in nature.

Imagine my amusement, when I got the book home, and the word in the title that had been troubling me could be translated – it turns out that Un Inmenso Prostibulo is, in fact, A Vast Brothel. Not at all what I was expecting, but it only makes me even more intrigued to know what the book says. Expect regular updates on this… or, to link this back rather neatly to the start of the post, perhaps I should say, expect semi-regular updates!

This from the BBC:

“To help get boys reading we need a boys’ bookshelf in every secondary school library in the country, containing positive, modern, relevant role models for working class boys.” – Alan Johnson, Education Secretary


Well, I know my school was a girls’ school, and I’m biased, but you know what?

I think boys can have their own, special bookshelves when they put an LGBTQ section in too. Until then, they’ll just have to lump it, the poor things.

And when I think that virtually every computer game I’ve come across is made to be played from a male perspective, when I remember the stories that said that J.K. Rowling used her initials because publishers said that no boy would read anything written by a woman*, when I remember how male was – is – the default in just about everything – newspapers, history textbooks, cartoons… – I don’t think the problem here is with boys being under-represented. Perhaps, just perhaps, we should be looking at the culture we’re living in, that teaches boys not to develop their attention span, not to sit quietly and read, but to expect to see themselves represented everywhere, immediately, to the exclusion of all others. And to immediately switch off, if the book they are given is obviously written by a woman. Perhaps that, and the assumption that “boys” means “white, able-bodied, straight boys”, is what we should be working to change. Because I can’t think of a single disabled boy that I’ve found in all the years I’ve been reading fiction, and the number of gay  or ethinic-minority boys was pretty damned limited, too.

*Links here and here to articles mentioning the intent of the publishers, and a quote here from J K Rowling herself.

Because I’ve been entertaining Kirsten for the weekend, which has meant running around bookshops and taking part in the general lewd debauchery of the Friday night social, I had little time to check out the horrors of real life.

Instead, I’m broadening my cultural horizons with a book I found in an Oxfam shop:

Facing the Mirror: Lesbian Writing from India.

So far, I’ve found my one word of Hindi (“didi” – “sister”) and my Spanish has come in useful, too (“Que bonita! Nuestra Senorita de la Cocina!” – how beautiful! Our young Lady of the kitchen!”).

And I’ve found references to Anglo-Indians, which pleases me immensely, given that I’ve got some Anglo blood in me. My mother (who likes that kind of referencing, and who once came into my bedroom for no other reason than to tell me, “it’s a shame you’re not a lesbian- I’m so tolerant!”) would no doubt be very approving of my reading material!

Apologies for a noticeable lack of life on the blog front – I’ve been living as a softy Southerner for the last week or so (by which I mean that I went back to London to spend some time with my family, and thus wasn’t around on the internet).

You see, once again, driven by a need to have money to buy food, I’m back in the sordid world of catering.

Actually, I quite like catering. There’s free food, lifts home if your shifts go on too long, and as long as you can remember the ingredients in the canapes, you’re fine.

However, there is a drawback. I’m doing this again because I have little money. Therefore, I have little money to spend on clothing. Unfortunately, with the possibility of work comes the necessity of uniform. So off I went on a uniform hunt. I have had to shop in the men’s section of Primark for every single item, bar the trousers. I was not happy.

White, long-sleeved shirts with a button-able collar. They should have been simple to find. They weren’t. The theory seems to run something along these lines:

“Most women have breasts. I shall design women’s shirts only for women who have breasts of a certain, average or fashionable size. Women who have breasts may wish to emphasise their breasts. I shall design women’s shirts to always emphasise their breasts. To emphasise breasts, it is good to leave some shirt buttons undone. Since I have decided that all women wish to emphasise their breasts, I shall design all women’s shirts in such a way that they cannot be buttoned to the collar, because no woman would wish to button the shirt to the top.”

So, button-able collared shirts didn’t exist for women. So I went to the menswear department. On the plus side, I now know what size collar I take – and who knows when that might come in useful?! And I’ve got cheap shirts.

Not so good is the fact that although the shirts button over my breasts, they do not button over my hips. Luckily, the (men’s) waistcoat and high-waisted trousers cover this up. This might seem like a little thing to be annoyed about, but it’s bloody infuriating. It’s infuriating that I can’t find generic workwear to fit properly. I’m not asking for the moon, it’s just a plain white shirt. What’s so difficult? And it’s irritating that the buttons on “male” shirts are on the other side of the shirt compared to “female” shirts. There’s no good reason for it. Trust me, you know if you wear a shirt not designed for your body shape. It’s not rocket science. Yet another tiny little thing to make it clear that socially, there’s meant to be some kind of Great Divide between the genders.

And on the subject of the Great Divide, one of the fems recently lent me the book Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein. It’s definitely worth reading. It’s a very personal book about the less popular end of the LGBTQI umbrella, but without being a “woe is me” memoir. Which means that it sits very neatly alongside Whipping Girl (Julia Serano), a book that isn’t really personal at all. Both are worth a read, although I think I’d recommend Whipping Girl first.

While Gender Outlaws is mostly very interesting, it did remind me of Cunt in places – the difference being that whilst Inga Muscio has a chapter or two that involve a lot of moon and goddess worship, Bornstein had shamanic rituals and a copy of her play.

It was a very good play, but that’s not really the point.

Perhaps being a little peculiar is necessary for radical feminism? Maybe that’s just how these things work – the radical people do a lot of hard work and a lot of activism, the liberals do some work, some activism, talk lots and try to get the media to write nice things about the cause, and then people like Germaine Greer decide they’re bored and want to stir shit.

And, in doing so, emphasise the Great Divide. A whole article dedicated to, of all things, Michelle Obama’s dress – and the dresses of their daughters – only serves to highlight the different ways that men in politics and women in politics are treated. Because of course, Barack Obama was wearing a suit. Like every man in politics. Not much you can say about that, unless for some reason his tie was the wrong colour.

Well, perhaps one day it won’t be like this. Perhaps I’ll live to see the day when women can buy whatever style of shirt they need, and aren’t vilified for what they wear. Maybe. When my optimism doesn’t look like this:

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