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.

Can everybody just stop please?

For anyone who doesn’t possess a TV, the internet or happen to glance at the covers of tabloids, Susan Boyle is a 48 year old Scottish woman who appeared on Britain’s Got Talent and became an overnight internet sensation, with her performance being viewed over 2 million times in one  night.

Why, exactly, has this video been so popular? Apparently, it is the ‘discrepancy’ between her voice, and her FACE. Oh yes. What? Were you not aware that (subjective) attractiveness is VITAL to the pleasing functioning of one’s vocal chords?

Here is some news: some people can sing. Susan Boyle is a person. She can sing. Thrilling news.

‘With her ghastly frock, wedge of frizzy hair and cowboy-like gait, Susan Boyle surprised us all’. DID she now? Is it really newsworthy that an ‘unconventional looking’ woman can sing? Do you have to be stunningly attractive (by superficial standards, I might add) in order for your vocal chords to work?

I cannot stand it.

The only ‘news’ part of this story is that it is still ‘news’. It is frankly upsetting that not only does the media and society judge people as unattractive solely on their looks, but judges these people as incompetent and untalented if these looks are not what are desired, BEFORE THEY HAVE EVEN OPENED THEIR MOUTHS. People sniggered as she walked on stage – just because of how she looked. When she declared a desire to be a famous singer, the laughing got louder. And when she began to sing – a fair performance – people gasped, Simon Cowell’s eyes bugged out of his head, Amanda Holden opened her mouth with joy, Ant and/or Dec exclaimed “weren’t expected that were ya?”

It’s pathetic.

Edit: Might I add, there was not nearly so much fuss when a fat middle aged BLOKE won the goddamn competition. Women’s worth is more than the sum of their looks.

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.

Well, Easter is over, and I’ve got no excuse for not going News-Surfing.Does it surprise you to learn that I wasn’t best pleased with what I found? It seems that every time I bow out of popular culture, each return to it is always more painful than the last. It’s like drinking a double shot of vodka after being teetotal for a couple of months, only without the pleasing tipsiness, and with twice the headache. On that note, I hereby refuse to watch The Apprentice ever again. Last year, their habit of calling the women “girls” annoyed me. This year, the infuriating stereotypes involving women and cleaning made me yell epithets at my laptop and stop watching after 10 minutes.

So, without further ado:


Five women have died in unrelated incidents all over the UK. Strangely, nobody seems to care.

  • Claire Atkinson, 33, was found stabbed to death in a car in Lancashire that crashed whilst trying to overtake. The as yet unnamed, 52-year-old male occupant of the car is being treated for head injuries but has been arrested on suspicion of murder.
  • Stephanie Parker, 22, was found hanged in Wales. The article doesn’t explicitly say so, but the tone of the piece makes me suspect that the death is being treated as suicide.
  • An unnamed woman, 62, was found dead in Maidstone. A 61-year-old man has been arrested, with police appealing for information.
  • An “elderly” woman may have been dead in her home for over a year. Police are trying to trace her relatives.
  • Another unnamed woman, 34, was found dead in a property in North Wales. It’s currently an “unexplained” death, until the pathologist’s report comes back.

Two women have been raped, one in Essex after the man tried to steal her bicycle, and one in Glasgow. No surprises here that both rapes were “stranger rapes”, and no surprise either that we’ve got a story of a woman being attacked by a black man who had already marked himself as criminal. Further, since “whiteness” is the default in the BBC – which you can work out for yourself when you ask yourself whose races are emphasised, and whose are not – we can assume that the woman was white. Need I point out that we’re looking at stereotypes here?

On a similar note, the second woman was described as “uninjured but badly shaken” by police, which to me says nothing about the woman and everything about the male police officer making the report. Or perhaps it’s a failing of official language, which minimises the effect of rape. Perhaps both. I have never been raped. I don’t want to speak for anybody. Besides, they speak for themselves in the Shakesville Survivor Thread.


Moving away from the subjects of violence, because too much reading of that kind of thing makes me want to crawl into a corner, I’ve found some stories that push buttons ranging from “minor annoyance” and “frustration with the patriarchy” to “incandescent fury”.


Minor annoyance says “many unaware of alcohol calories“. This is a problem, not because drinking in any quantity is likely to make you not want to eat (thereby depriving you of actual nutrients if you do it too often), but, predictably, because of the Obesity Crisis (TM). Heather Caswell, from the British Nutrition Foundation, is quoted as saying:

“Most people would baulk at consuming a full glass of single cream, but wouldn’t think twice about a couple of pints. But the calorie content is similar and, over time, excess alcohol intake is likely to lead to weight gain.”

Hey, Heather – you know what else leads to weight gain over time? Time! Amazing, isn’t it!

Also, of course you’d baulk at the idea of drinking a glass of single cream. That would be because it’s not meant to be drunk. On the other hand, if I poured that glass of single cream over some smoked salmon trimmings, heated it through and served it with pasta, black pepper and brown bread, I bet you’d eat it (barring vegetarianism, allergies or difference in taste). Ironically, this article about the Obesity Crisis (TM) has made me want to eat cream. I’m sure that’s not the effect they were going for.


Frustration with the patriarchy would be this story: “female hairiness health warning“. In a similar vein to the alcohol = obesity panic above, female hairiness is a problem because, well, who likes women to be hairy? The report’s author, Dr. Swingler, is reported to have said that the condition “is distressing and can be particularly upsetting for young women”. Presumably, that would be because young women have a duty to remain hairless and “sexy” at all times, as opposed to older women, who are only useful in the role of asexual mothers or mother-substitutes. Shockingly enough, this attitude is not expanded upon.

As it happens, hirstutism can be a sign of PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) which may also affect a woman’s fertility. The cynic in me says that it’s not at all surprised that this story has been picked up on, given the number of ways in which it relates to women’s ability to attain their feminine stereotypes.


Lastly, in the “incandescent rage” pile, would be the news that Carol Thatcher is still as offensive as she was last time

I wrote about her, if not more so. I suppose this is where we see the intersectionalities of privilege – she may be a woman, but she’s white, and moneyed, and clearly used to people listening to her. This combines into a truly revolting “interview”, which becomes little more than a platform for Thatcher to say that her collection of golliwog fridge magnets (I can’t believe they’re even made!) has gone up, due to racist well-wishers sending them to her. Oh, and political correctness – apparently it needs “some common sense injected to it”. This from a woman who is breathtakingly rude, and clearly has no common sense. Because, you know, common sense would suggest that it’s not a good idea, after having the bleedin’ obvious pointed out (you know, that “golliwog” is a fucking rude thing to call anybody), to claim that you used it “in a context”.

Yeah, that context would be that you, as a white woman, used a racist epithet to refer to a tennis player in conversation with a white man. That doesn’t make it better. And your explanation at the time, that you “made a light aside about this tennis player and his similarity to the golliwog on the jam pot”, that doesn’t make it better either. You know, because there’s that undercurrent of “ha! Black men, they all look the same, amirite?!”. That would be a racist comment, right there, regardless of what your spokesman said. Oh, and also – for a comment supposedly “made in jest” – it wasn’t fucking funny.

I don’t think I actually expected her to understand that what she did was wrong. Not really. But I never expected her to try to defend them a second time around. That’s not just cluelessness, that’s smacking-you-in-the-face-privilege. I should probably say at this point that Boris Johnson was vocal in his support of her. Not that that will come as any great shock to anybody. But of course, America has a black president now, so presumably we’re living in a post-racist world. I have to wonder whether Carol Thatcher would have refered to him as a “golliwog”.


Well! On that cheery note, I’m ending this weeks’ thrilling instalment. Join me next week, when no doubt there will be more for us all to get annoyed about.

Firstly… Hello! I am entirely new to this sort of thing, so any feedback would be really welcome (as long as it’s all totally positive and fawning and all…)

Now. To the point.

There was an incident in the past few weeks that caused me to reflect upon tradition as an argument against change. During a seminar, a young woman claimed that it is instinct for a woman to nurture, and that it follows that women belong in the home. A minor kerfuffle ensued, leaving me fuming, and desperate to respond in some way other than being very, very red. This it it, I guess.

It is generally accepted that, as human beings, we are able to transcend our base instincts. This is how we are distinguished from animals. It must always be kept in mind that ‘tradition’ does not equal ‘natural’. It is tradition in some countries to mutilate the clitoris. This is not natural. Obviously this is a horrific example, but because it is so extreme it illustrates that enforced gender roles are just that – enforced, not natural. The young woman of my seminar claimed that nurturing on the part of the woman is natural, and breadwinning by the man is the same. Leaving aside the fact that she and I are currently studying the Renaissance (widely acknowledged by our tutors to be the period in which early modern gender roles were formed) we can look at nature itself. Female mammals give birth, and feed their offspring. Both sexes are involved in protecting the young from predators. Once the offspring are weaned, they’re on their own. Exactly how does this compare to our elaborate nurturing rituals? Answer: it doesn’t. These are as constructed as gender roles: roles that exist by tradition, not nature.

Further, even if it is instinct for a woman to nurture, there is no evidence that this is right. Again, we are humans and have a sense of morality. Animals instinctively have sex for procreation – there isn’t a whole lot of choice involved. Humans have choice – we have sex for recreation as well as procreation. If someone ‘instinctively’ tried to have sex with me, this would be rape. They couldn’t justify their actions by saying they were doing what was natural, and therefore right. It would be immoral, because we have a choice to not follow our instincts.

Lastly, and more childishly, because I’m still angry: if you feel so strongly that women belong in the home, my tradition-loving friend, why on earth are you at university? Get back in that damn kitchen where you NATURALLY belong.

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.