Thursday, 27 November 2014

Hoseland security

For the first time in my entire life, I actually feel financially secure. Not like the giddy spendthriftery that comes with the first student loan payment ("I can buy a DRINK! In a PUB! I don't have to smuggle in my own booze!!") or the fortnightly coming up for air when your JSA comes through or the monthly cash injection of an actual pay cheque that never lasts more than three weeks. But genuinely secure, to the extent that I'm going to put money in a savings account, like some sort of responsible person.

I knew I'd reached some marker of adulthood when I realised that when my tights got ripped, I didn't have to keep them ("well, this one has a hole in the shin, so I can wear it with boots; this one has a hole in the toe, so I can tie a knot in it, it's not that uncomfortable; make do and mend, don't you know there's a war on?"). I had, finally, got to the point where I had enough confidence in my income that I believed that if I had runs in all my tights, I would have enough money to buy a new pair.

Then I think, this is what rich people must feel like all the time!

It's like when I switched meds and got the SSRI high for the first time. I felt fucking invincible, man; I slept for eight hours a night and woke feeling refreshed and minor hassles did not bring me to tears and gentle criticism did not instantly trigger visions of gouging a dirty great hole into my left arm. It only lasted about a month, but it was the best I've felt since I hit puberty.

And that, I guess, must be what sane people feel like most of the time!

Don't get me wrong, I know that mentally healthy people don't all have easy lives; I get that life isn't wall-to-wall sunshine and periwinkles for everyone who isn't me. I imagine even rich people have feelings of some sort. But there is a meaningful difference between "not having a perfect life" and "tube journey making you want to actually die".


But tights are really a perfect example of our disposable, oil-guzzling, decadent western lifestyle, aren't they? Usually made of synthetic fibres derived from oil; easily damaged; impossible to repair, so you just have to keep buying them, buying, buying, forever.

So it was lucky that my "I can afford to buy tights!" realisation came at the same time that I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and This Changes Everything and started actually thinking about The Environment and that and stopped using my vegetarianism, lack of a driving license and sustainable menstruation practices as a get out of jail free card.

So I can't send the tights to landfill. They're probably recyclable, but the likelihood of my finding the nearest collection point and actually delivering them before the ever-growing pile of manky old nylon drives the boyfriend to distraction is... slim.

The answer, of course, is to cut old tights up into strips and knit with them.

Even better, I can knit little bags to put Christmas presents in, removing the need for wrapping paper.

I'm pretty sure this idea is either pure genius or utterly insane.

I just hope someone stops me before I end up in a yurt woven from my own leg hair, eating nothing but wild dandelions and drinking only dew.

Monday, 24 November 2014

A hard day's mug

I have somehow ended up on the Conservative Party's mailing list.

This concerns me.

To reiterate: "While Labour are bankrolled by the trade unions, we rely on hardworking people like you."

Okay. Trade unions aren't like gigantic piggy banks, though, are they? Their money comes from members' subscriptions, members who are... "hard working people", like me, actually. And don't think I didn't notice your sneaky use of the phrase "bankrolled", implying that Labour and the unions are rolling in money. You can try and deflect it all you like, but you're still the fucking Tory party. Pointing at someone else and calling them rich does not change that.

And claiming that the Conservative Party is funded (exclusively, by implication) by "hardworking people like [me]"? Seriously?

It took me two minutes on google to find out that

In the first decade of the 21st century, half the party's funding came from a cluster of just fifty "donor groups", and a third of it from only fifteen. In the year after the 2010 general election, half the Tories' funding came from the financial sector. 
For 2013, the Conservative Party had an income of £25.4 million, of which £749,000 came from membership subscriptions. (Source: Wikipedia, of course!)

And thirty seconds on a calculator to figure out that "hardworking people like me" are providing a whole 2.9% of the party's income. Fair enough, though; it must be hard to  twist "we are funded by the financial sector. Yes, by bankers. Who are our current folk devil, for good reason." into a cheery invitation to buy a mug.

Fun as this was, I really don't need bullshit missives from David Cameron gumming up my inbox on a daily basis, so I shall send the above back to him, unsubscribe, and brew myself up a cup of proletarian tea in a mug that does not taste of lies and the destruction of the NHS and pure, pure evil.

Mmm, tea.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Meet my new husband

I am an American man, and I have decided to boycott American women. In a nutshell, American women are the most likely to cheat on you, to divorce you, to get fat, to steal half of your money in the divorce courts, don’t know how to cook or clean, don’t want to have children, etc. [Damn, that is a pretty big nutshell. ~ Ed.] Therefore, what intelligent man would want to get involved with American women?
American women are generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible, and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting, to say the least.
This blog is my attempt to explain why I feel American women are inferior to foreign women (non-American women), and why American men should boycott American women, and date/marry only foreign (non-American) women.

Such was the strident call to arms left by An American Man disgusted by American Women, on a blog post predominantly about the bacterial inhabitants of my vagina.

I'm curious: does he think I'm an American Woman (GET AWAY FROM MEE-HEE, as Lenny Kravitz would say, before he became a fashion designer in the Hunger Games and approximately 900% more cool) and is therefore coming to tell me what an immature, selfish, arrogant, self-centred, mentally unstable, irresponsible and highly unchaste woman I am, by virtue of the bacterial inhabitants of my vagina?

ARTIST'S IMPRESSION: why would any intelligent man want to get involved with this cheaty divorcing fatty half money stealing uncooker or cleaner? WHY, GOD, WHY?

Is he aware that I am an English woman, and therefore within his Foreign Women Group, and therefore asking me to join his valiant crusade against American Women? (This would be difficult: boycotts rarely work unless you tell the people you're boycotting a) that you're boycotting them, and b) why. I am friends with around ten American Women on Facebook, so could inform them by a handy group email that I am Boycotting them because of their immaturity, selfishness, etc, but there are several million other American Women who wouldn't know that I was deliberately choosing not to date them. Perhaps some sort of nationwide poster campaign? Or, hey, I know! I could trawl the internet for blogs that are probably written by American Women, and post my manifesto in their comments section, for no real reason! YES!)

Or... given that I am, by his rules, a Foreign Woman, could this possibly be a marriage proposal?

I'll be over here, in Foreign, pulling petals off daisies and hoping that he faxes me a big fat blood diamond.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The capitalist-patriarchal anti-vagina complex: on feminine freshness sprays

Once, years ago, a guy drunkenly asked me about the relationship between sexism and capitalism. (My reputation for being fun at parties, clearly, precedes me!) I'd just finished Lindsay German's Sex, Class and Socialism, so briefly outlined concepts like middle class women as a reserve army of labour (who can be encouraged into factories when lots of workers are needed, like during WW2, before everyone suddenly remembers that actually biology dictates that they should be in the kitchen hoovering up spilt fake-baby-milk-powder, like in the 1950s).

What I really should have said, though, was: Femfresh. That one product is the best example of how capitalism and sexism work together in perfect harmony to make money out of exploiting female insecurities created by sexism.

Femfresh's argument is: "Your vagina smells GROSS! Everyone around you is secretly thinking, my GOD, that vagina smells SO MUCH LIKE A VAGINA, because your vagina smell is SO STRONG that it can penetrate three layers of clothing, and possibly walls too - which is why your neighbours hate you! You'd better spray our fabulous vagina deodorant all over your vagina to stop passing strangers passing out from the toxic vagina fumes."

As a marketing strategy, it's fucking genius: firstly, harness the widespread cultural belief that vaginas smell bad. Second, convince the vagina-enabled that the only possible solution to this infernal stench is to use your product. Thirdly, cackle madly with evil-genius glee at the fact that your product will in fact make the normal smell into a bad smell, ensuring that your customers are locked in to a never-ending arms race of vagina fumigation, for the rest of time.


Nine years ago, I came home one day to find that the entire house stank to high heaven. My housemates and I ransacked the place, trying to figure out where it was coming from - was it the mouldy yoghurt in the fridge? The sanitary towels in the bathroom bin? Had Mrs Next Door turned her house into a pop-up slaughterhouse and forgotten to tell us?

Turns out it was a dead rat decomposing under my floorboards. Over the next few weeks I had the chance to get intimately familiar with the smell, as the estate agents outdid their usual uselessness by dealing with the problem by sending us an air freshener. Super: now my bedroom smells of sickly-sweet vomitous pink chemicals, as well as rotting flesh! What joy!

So when I got a similar whiff the other week, there was no mistaking it. Somewhere, something had died, and the odour of its decomposing cadaver was permeating the flat. I hunted high and I hunted low; I sniffed into cupboards and behind appliances; I considered training the cat as a corpse-hunter. It took a couple of hours of this incredibly gross Easter egg hunt for me to realise that the smell seemed to be following me around.

And that, my friends, is the story of my first encounter with the exciting condition known as bacterial vaginosis.

Too much information, you say? Well: I say this is just enough information to make it entirely clear why using "feminine freshness sprays" is a ridiculously bad idea.

As we learned from Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, the vagina is a self-cleaning organ. That's what its usual clear discharge is for. If you mess with its very precise internal balance of microbes (penicillin was my downfall) or increase its pH by using soap or feminine fucking freshness sprays, things go wrong. Good bacteria get crowded out by bad bacteria. And bad bacteria? In this instance, they smell like something has crawled up your cunt and died.

The point is that if you think your snatch smells bad, go to a damn doctor. Go to your local sexual health clinic to reassure yourself that you don't have AIDS, or syphilis, and to load up on free condoms. (I'm told the Soho clinic is very groovy.) If it does smell bad, that's a sign there's something wrong, and the correct course of action is to ask a vag-specialist: not to smother it in glorified air freshener.


I'm sure you'll be relieved to hear that I'm better now. My lady garden does not smell of lemon thyme and rainbows, nor does it smell like a rat turning itself back into its constituent parts: it smells like a vagina.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Alias nothing

Weird things that happen when you rewatch Alias for the first time in five years:

1. OH GOOD GOD THE CULTURAL DRAG IS FUCKING UNBEARABLE. Nope, dressing up as a geisha or an Indian lady is really, really not the same as doing your sneaky spy biz disguised as a maid or a soldier or a hot girl. Other people's cultures: not your fancy dress.

2. Speaking of Hot Girl, good grief there is a whole lot of pandering to the male gaze going on. Are you aware that Jennifer Garner has breasts? She does! Two of them, right there on her upper chest! Barely covered with a filmy layer of nothing! Let's take a long, slow, camera-trawl over them, taking in some stomach and butt and legs for good measure.

"The key to doing this well," Sydney informs Marshall, is to "be inconspicuous". And what's more inconspicuous than a skin tight rubber mini dress?

I mean, I get that there is more than one way to be inconspicuous, and that dulling evil doers' suspicions by hypnotising them with your tits before kicking them in the head and stealing their microwave bomb laser could be construed as a quasi-feminist girl power kind of dynamic, but the entirely gratuitous "HEY LOOK BOOBS!" shots that are apparently obligatory every time she changes outfit (ie. six or seven times per episode) take the shine off this message of empowerment somewhat.

3. Thinking about it, the scenes where she's at home, having discarded all aliases and disguise, she's usually dressed in jeans, no apparent make up, no "FOLLOW THE BOOBS" camera work: the implication being that this is Sydney in her natural state. This posits femininity as performance, inherently artificial, and used to deceive and befuddle men - which is troublesome enough. But it also implies that the other cultures she plunders for her dressing up box are equally artificial, whereas early 21st century urban middle class life is neutral, default humanity.

4. At the same time that I was coasting through season three, I was reading up about MKUltra and Project Artichoke, and the roads that led to Guantanamo. The cognitive dissonance between "the CIA are wackily, bizarrely, and yet grindingly prosaically evil" and "the CIA are our only defence against cartoon villains with nukes designed by a 15th century prophet, go team USA!" is kind of odd.

5. The phones look so quaint.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Chastity: the new rape defence

And the award for Today's Most Hilarious Troll goes to...


I'm glad he's called Larry. I've never met a Larry I didn't want to avoid the heck out of.

So, a quick recap: a 17 year old girl became pregnant as a result of rape. When she discovered this, she became suicidal, and requested an abortion. Too bad for her, she was in Ireland, and didn't have a visa to travel to England, so her only option was to become an unwilling guinea pig for the shiny new Protection of Life During Pregnancy, If Two Psychiatrists And An Obstetrician Agree That You're Going To Be Really Very Dead If You Carry On Being Pregnant, Maybe, Maybe, We'll Let You Make A Decision Regarding Your Own Uterus Act.

So the psychiatrists supported her claim, while the obstetrician - you know, the one whose job isn't assessing people's psychological health - ruled against.

In utter desperation, she went on hunger strike.
[She] believes that the government deliberately delayed her case – both through the state’s decision to ignore psychiatric experts and via her inability to travel because of her legal status – so that she would have to carry the pregnancy at least through the fetus’s viability. After going on a hunger strike, she was forced to undergo a caesarean section at just 25 weeks into her pregnancy. 
That’s 17 full weeks after she first sought help.

She first requested an abortion at eight weeks, by the way.

You know what, that is unbelievably fucking depressing. And infuriating. And heart breaking. We need a break: let's generate an artist's representation of what "Larry" looks like.

Eurgh, Larry.

So in response to this case, Larry thinks we should focus less on the desirability of killing babies, and more on the virtues of chastity.

Chastity does not actually mean never having sex. That would be celibacy. Chastity means having the appropriate amount of sex for your circumstances, as defined by the baby Jesus: it includes nuns and single people saying no to nookie, but also honeymooners fucking like bunnies. So presumably Larry isn't aware of the hundreds of married women who contact ASN each year.

But bringing up the "don't have sex unless you're prepared to have a baby!" argument - which is gross at the best of times - in a case where the woman is pregnant as a result of rape, is just mind-blowingly cruel.

"Sorry love - you played by The Chastity Rules, but your rapist didn't, and you know who should pay the price for that? Yes! It's you! When life gives you lemons, the Irish government gives you major surgery against your will!"

Thursday, 14 August 2014

An arm through a doorway

That thing men do when they insist on holding the door open for you, even when you both got there at the exact same time, and the door is opening towards you, so it would be much easier for you to hold it for them to go through.

Firstly, it's annoying, in a basic "what, my spindly lady arms will snap if I open a door for myself?" kind of way.

Secondly, it's annoying on a more complex, "I am being chivalrous and demand that you accept my chivalry, or I will castigate you as ungrateful, unfeminine, and out to symbolically castrate me" level.

Thirdly, it's actually kind of invasive: unless it's a very wide doorway, you're basically forced to slide your body incredibly close to his, hoping that he won't take advantage of the configuration of your two corporeal forms to grope you or grapple you or press his wang into your hip on your way past.

It's one of those moments where you see so clearly that this system of social relations that makes life so difficult for women is not perpetrated exclusively by moustache-twirling patriarchal villains, but, sometimes, by individual men who think they're doing a nice thing. Who can't step out of their own experience for thirty seconds to understand what an interaction looks like from someone else's point of view. Who don't deal with the daily encounter with Schrödinger’s Rapist, and don't realise that women do.

This is one of bell hooks' many vital concepts: that those on the margins must understand the rules of those in the centre, but those in the centre can live in total ignorance of what life is like on the margins. I understand that every guy who's ever held a door for me is not trying to piss me off or violate my personal space, either to enjoy the exercise of his tiny little power, or to remind me of my subordinate place in The Grand Pecking Order Of Oppression. But he doesn't know that this is exactly the impact it has on me.