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”.

In a strange coincidence, this news is brought to you by Dr. Allan Pacey from the University of Sheffield.


It is hardly surprising that men can and do have fertility problems. It’s something that ought to be a corollary of Sod’s Law: if one thing has any form of input into another thing, there is potential for the first thing to be broken, causing problems with the second.

Only in a society which has a long history of believing that only women could be infertile, which pathologises the female body, which venerates the male, the masculine and the phallic, and links those things with virility, strength and power, could we even be seeing such a nonsensical item of non-news.

If a woman is automatically worth less in our society because of the genitalia she posesses, so too is a man worth more by virtue of the genitalia he posesses. And when we have a set-up that means that men are over-represented in the sciences, where such research should be carried out, and when the tacit support of the patriarchal status quo is the default for reporting, why on earth would research into male inadequacy ever be carried out?

Dr. Pacey, that research would be valuable, if only to try to even the score a little with all of those studies that show women as lacking.

What about Teh Menz, indeed?

If ever J’s mother had watched Pinky and the Brain, our recent, brief conversation about the new Equalities Bill might have gone a little something like this:

Her: “Have you heard about the equalities bill, Pinky?”

Me: “Yes – what are we going to do about it, Brain?”

Her: “The same thing we do every time we get annoyed about gender issues, Pinky – try to take over the world!”


Unfortunately, however, I don’t believe she’s familiar with the cartoon, which means that such a scenario will never happen. The scenario that actually happened was similar, up to and including the part where we try to take over the world. I maintain that it could happen, and apparently she’s coming round to the idea, because last night she requested that I start drawing up our manifesto – apparently our tyranny will spawn from the existing democratic model!

Anyway, I mention her now, not because I’m planning on taking over the world in the imminent future, satisfying though that might be, but because, but for that conversation, this post might never have happened.

According to the BBC:


“Many employers will be made to reveal how much they pay men compared with women, under the Equalities Bill.
Firms employing at least 250 staff would be required to publish average hourly rates for men and women by 2013.”


Many employers? Not by the ONS numbers. As of 2008, out of the 2.16 million registered businesses, only 0.4% of companies were employing 250 or more staff. Or, to put it another way, for every 1000 businesses registered, only 4 of them will be required to publish their average hourly rates.

Contrast that with those businesses employing less than 10 staff: 89%. Even if you assumed that every one of those businesses was employing just 2 people, that’s over 3 million employees. Add in the further 9.1% of businesses with 10-50 employees (and assume they all have only 10), and the 1% of businesses with 50-250 employees (and assume they all only have 50) and you have a total of over 6.8 million workers. Does the government really think that targetting that miserable 0.4% that makes up the “large company” category is actually going to help? For the numbers even to be equal, every single one of those (8,640) large companies would have to employ 797 staff. Realistic? I think not.

And, to be honest with you, it’s easy to manipulate numbers, if you know how. Does the government propose to lay out in detail the manner in which the records must be kept? Which “average” are they going to use? Arithmetic mean – add them all up, and divide by the number of employees? Median – put all of the hourly rates in order, then find the one in the middle? Mode – find the rate that’s paid most often?

That these don’t give the same answer is obvious when you consider even five wages. Say you had a kitchen. You might have one Head Chef (£20), three chefs working for him (£10) and one pot-washer (£5). Well, if you take the mean of those wages, you get £11. If you take the median, you get £10, and if you take the mode, you get £10. So, if you wanted to make it look as though you were paying your staff more, you might use the mean. If not, you’d probably use the median.

But what if you had two kitchens? The first would be as above. But in the second, you might have a different Head Chef, and only pay her £17, but pay the three chefs underneath her £11 each. You’d still get a mean of £11. But you’re not paying the male Head Chef and the female Head Chef the same wage. And you’ve just successfully disguised that fact.


The story continues, and on the subject of gender inequality, it doesn’t get much better.

Harriet Harman has said that businesses will have until 2013 to voluntarily publish the data.

With quotes like this:

This is a further example of unnecessary regulation at a time when companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, are struggling to survive” from Miles Templeman, director general of the Institute of Directors (and, by the sounds of it, part of the Department of Administrative Affairs), I think I’m permitted to feel a little skeptical.

It’s heartening to know that such an august gentleman might, like myself, have trouble with his eyesight. Probably quite severe trouble, actually, since he seems to have confused the word “large” with the words “small and medium-sized”. I suppose I should recommend my optician to him.


On the other hand, never let it be said that I pick on only the negatives. The bill, in broad terms, is heartening in its consideration of other discriminated groups – in particular, the working class and the elderly – and the BBC has had no trouble in placing sentences for maximum irony:

“Ministers want older people to pay for services, such as insurance, based on the actual risk they face, rather than an arbitrary age-based cost. This has the backing of charity Age Concern and Help the Aged. However, the Association of British Insurers has denied its members’ policies are unfair, saying they simply take account of risk.”

Indeed. arbitrary age-based costs are not arbitrary, but simply take account of risk. In other news, war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.*

So: do I like the bill? Well, roughly speaking, yes. I’m pleased with efforts to address inequalities, even as I feel that some policies could have been better thought-through, or better explained, or both. It may well be that those who are writing the bill have taken into account the kinds of concerns that I have mentioned. They might even have thought of things that I haven’t. But until I can find more than a rough outline of the bill, I’m stuck with critiquing what is here.

Do I think it will help? Perhaps. It depends on how co-operative companies are with the legislation.

Do I think it’s necessary? You know, I could write a whole other post and more about the necessity of legislating what privileged groups won’t do by themselves. But the short answer is this: 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.


*gratuitous 1984 quote. If you haven’t read it, go and do so, please!

Earlier today, I tried – and failed – to write a post about a programme that I was told I should watch because “it’ll make you want to kick things.”

That programme was Nigella Express: Instant Calmers, and oh, the irony of having the word “calm” in a programme that was (as promised) so very infuriating.

However, trying to come up with a sensible critique of it, I noticed something that made me uncomfortable enough to put the post on hold. Perhaps I should explain at this point that, as with any male-dominated industry, there’s already something to pick up on whenever you see a woman doing well. And professional cookery – being known as a chef – is nothing if not a male-dominated industry. It’s one of those peculiar patriarchal double-thinks, that women are seen as the more capable sex in the kitchen – so long as that kitchen is in a home.

More pervasively, there is something of a trend to show men as chefs, and women as cooks. Again, it’s the professional versus the personal, but there’s more than that, because this is English and in English there are many, many opportunities to be negative without ever saying a technically negative word. It’s like the difference between being a tailor, and being a seamstress – a distinction that caught my imagination the other day, when I wondered what word you could use for a male seamstress. A seamstress might work professionally, or she might just be a good amateur; a tailor is assumed to be professional, and skilled, and male. In the same vein, a cook might work professionally, or not; but to be a chef is to have a vocation, and in some places, a qualification, or more. And again, to be a chef is to be assumed to be male.


As it happens, Lawson is not a trained chef. She’s been quoted as saying that she doesn’t pretend to be, and thinks that her appeal is in her “relaxed” approach. And that’s fine. I’ve worked with chefs – over twenty of them men, and only two women, and this in an environment where the Executive Chef actively encouraged the hiring of women – and it’s a very masculine environment. Training in that kind of atmosphere is certainly not something that I would want to put myself through. Unfortunately, Lawson feeds the narrative of men as professional, women as amateur – as well as feeding her family!

When I got angry with her show, it was a roughly even split between anger at common sense errors, and anger at the feminine stereotypes. I tried very hard not to get angry with her. As I say, I worked with chefs. In fact, if she’s never been formally trained, then I have more qualifications than she does, as I still have a basic food hygiene certificate. And as any of my aquaintances will know, there are some things that happen in kitchens that make my blood boil, in testament to that training (and the training my mother gave me, years earlier).


So, this is my critique, thoughtfully held back until now.

  • I never once saw her wash her hands. Presumably she did, and it’s possible that somebody involved with the programme assumed that the intended audience (I would suggest middle-aged, middle-class, relatively affluent women, probably with a family) would already know such basic steps. I counter that by saying that it’s incredibly jarring, as somebody who knows that hands need washing, not to see it happen. And if I were watching that programme and didn’t know that hands needed washing, I wouldn’t have got that information.
  • Her hair – carefully styled – was loose for the entire programme. This is just not nice. There’s no way I could have not seen a bit where she tied it back, so I can’t give her the benefit of the doubt. I can say that there was probably enough hairspray in her style to keep it attatched to her head, but on the other hand, would you want to risk eating hairspray? There were other issues I had with her hair, but I suspect they come under the “stereotype” heading, so I’ll leave that for now.
  • The very first recipe was cooked in its entirety without Lawson removing her coat. It very nicely led on from the home-after-a-long-day story, but looked both fake and daft. I mean, who actually comes home and starts cooking without removing their coat? Even if there weren’t mobility and cleanliness issues (running the risk of sleeves trailing in food and arm movement being restricted), if you cook wearing a coat, your coat will smell of your dinner. This is not rocket science. And even if it were, it would be the “don’t let it crash” area of rocket science – that is, blindingly obvious.

That, for now, is the non-feminist portion of the rant. Yes, I am a product of my environments. Cleanliness matters, people! Moving on to the feminist-themed criticisms, I start to sound a litte different:

  • There was a recipe for chocolate cookies. Yum. I like chocolate. Many people do. My father, for instance. My uncles. My sister. My brother. Note the non-gender-specific, non-age-specific distribution of chocolate-lovers in my family. However, in a cultural narrative, there can only be one reason to eat chocolate: you are an adult woman, and you have Relationship Troubles (TM). Cue an entirely staged scene of Lawson on the phone:

“no, no don’t do that, whatever you do, do not ring him, and do not text him, no. Look, I’ll tell you what to do come round here, I’ll give you something to eat, you’ll feel a lot better. OK, come now.
[to camera] I think you may have got the picture there – sobbing girlfriend on the phone, and a small bit of tea and sympathy is required, but I think an express batch of chocolate chip cookies will administer all the comfort that’s required.”

Ah, yes, of course. Cookies. Perfect for when your empathy skills go AWOL. Don’t know what to say to somebody? Give them a cookie, they’ll forget why they ever came to see you. And all women love chocolate! In fact, they love chocolate far more than they might ever have loved their partner! (As long as said partner is a man. I have not yet come across a here-sad-lesbian-friend-have-chocolate-to-get-over-your-heartbreak narrative, but then, I’m thinking of mainstream – read “heteronormative” – TV, so I suppose it was always unlikely.) So, to conclude: chocolate cookies! Eat one, and you’ll hardly remember that man you used to live with! Eat two, and turn into Alice in Wonderland!! …. no?

  • I said I was going to come back to the hair issue, and this is it, or part of it: she kept flicking her hair. Irritating from a hygiene point of view (again, hairspray, anyone?!) but even more so because of the hair-flicking was only a small part of a very cultivated femininity. Of course, masculinity and femininity are constructs, and I could – and do – also argue that the posturing competitiveness of masculine male chefs is an irritating trait, but today I’m focussing on the feminine. Because it’s not just that she’s got long, feminine-styled hair that flicks, it’s not just that she’s been heavily made-up for the cameras, it’s that these things and more are used to sexualise her. In clips that you simply would not see of male chefs, or indeed any other male TV personality, there is a focus on licking fingers (and did I mention that she didn’t wash her hands?), eating slowly from spoons, leaning forward from the waist… the list goes on. It’s infuriating. Perhaps if there were more narratives for women available, I wouldn’t mind seeing her eating suggestively. Perhaps if I saw women be something other than sexy, it wouldn’t bother me that in the lead-up to the last recipe (a midnight snack, “doughnut French toast”) she’s shown in bed, wearing a black satin nightgown – that she proceeds to cook in (and yes, those sleeves trailed too).


Difficult not to attack Lawson for this personally. Difficult not to judge her for what she’s doing, for the image she’s cultivating. But at the end of the day, this is all we’ve got. You can be a child, or sexy, or a wife-and-mother, if you’re female and want to be considered “good”. For those who aren’t “good”, there’s a choice of  frigid, slut, lesbian or bitch. Then there are the women that supposedly don’t exist – anybody who isn’t convenient, like ethnic minorities, and the elderly (a group which starts at forty, don’t forget) and people outside of the gender binary, and the disabled, and the poor. Lawson is doing well in that she gets to be both sexy and a wife-and-mother. She wouldn’t have been on TV, of course, in her role, if she weren’t “good”.

I can’t blame her for finding a niche within the system that we’ve got, and milking it. Who am I to say I wouldn’t do the same? But I can blame the society we live in, for being so damned crap for most of the population. I can blame the stereotypes that tell us, in great detail, and with varying consistancy, what women should be, and do, and say, and think. I can blame the BBC for promoting, consciously or not, the idea that women are amateur, men are professional. I can blame them for promoting the idea that women are caring, men are confrontational. (Another of their programmes, Take on the Take-Away, was entirely made up of men, with the professional chef competing against the professional kebab-shop owners to create the best kebab, to be judged by two other men, neither of whom knew how to cook, and who, in consequence, knew a great deal about kebabs.)

Sexism. It’s everywhere. I knew there was a reason I don’t own a TV.

What. The. Fuck?

In the search terms table today: “racism is funny”.


For whoever came here by searching for that, I have a short answer and a long answer.

Short answer: Fuck you, you nasty, malicious, pointless pile of excrement.


Long answer: No, it isn’t, douchebag. It isn’t, it never has been and it never will be. Why? Because people have died, and continue to die because of it. Needlessly and horrifically. Racism is never funny, like sexism and ablism and ageism are never funny, like homophobia and transphobia and xenophobia are never funny, like any other form of discrimination that I’ve missed are never funny, because  people have died.


  • An Indian man, Gregory Fernandes, was killed in a racist attack in 2007. His attackers pleaded guilty to manslaughter in February this year.
  • A 62 year-old disabled woman, Jennifer Macaree, was left to die in her car after she was stabbed repeatedly. This was just two weeks ago.
  • A transwoman, Robyn Browne, was murdered in 1997 , while she was working as a prostitute. Her alleged murderer, James Hopkins, is pleading not guilty.
  • Michael Causer, a gay teenager, was battered to death in July last year. James O’Connor has pleaded guilty to his murder.


And that is such a tiny sample of the people that discrimination has targeted. Those people were all in the UK, and I have only used stories that appeared this year. I haven’t even begun to touch on the stories of people who have been attacked for not being white-able-heterosexual-males that survived. I haven’t even begun to talk about rape. I haven’t begun to talk about all of the people in other countries who have been targeted for being seen as “deviant”. I haven’t – because I can’t – talked about those people who have been killed, or attacked, or harrassed, whose stories haven’t made it into the news.

So many people have been hurt over the years, so many lives have been destroyed. So many of these victims will go unnoticed, unnamed, because this is so common. Because they’re not interesting enough to the mainstream (white-able-heterosexual-male) media. It happens to them because they are who they are. And then their experiences are not recognised, because they are who they are.

How is that in any way funny?

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!

What can I say?


This story came to me in a somewhat convoluted manner – through Tiger Beatdown, via Shakesville. The original article is in the Guardian.

Briefly, because I have unfinished coursework coming out of my ears, the story is… well, not a story.

One quote that stood out for me:

“The brain scans showed that when men saw the images of the women’s bodies, activity increased in part of the brain called the premotor cortex… The same area lights up before using power tools to do DIY. “It’s as if they immediately thought to act on these bodies,” Fiske said.”

It’s not like it surprises me, it’s just the way it’s put. “They immediately thought to act on these bodies“. Not women. Bodies. Things. To be acted on. This is the researcher saying this. The one supposedly pointing out sexism. Being… fucking horrible. Ugh. I feel unclean.

Also, in a comment that perhaps illustrates the value (ha!) of those headless pregnant women, “the men best remembered images of bikini-clad women whose heads had been digitally removed.

Well, there’s a good, solid patriarchal reason to not wear makeup, perhaps the first I’ve ever found – ladies, the sexist, patriarchal men are only going to remember your torsos! No wonder those men always express bewilderment at “how long you take to get ready” – they never even look at your face!