Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Wither art thou, Sexism?

I got called a cunt yesterday.

I know! Not really that unusual: we get called that, and worse, every day, for the crime of being a lady and talking about it. And as street harassment goes, it was a fairly unambiguous, not particularly painful episode. A dude was smoking outside the pub on the corner of my road - it's a nice little boozer, serves curried goat and fried locusts, shows football and is the perfect place to curl up with an afternoon Guinness and coddle your hangover - and as I walked up, he started singing at me, something along the lines of "Oo-ooh honey baby, you're so fine you blow my mind I'd like to put my penis in your vagina, yeah yeah". I'm paraphrasing a little, but you get my drift.

He asked for the time. Because this was approximately the fifteen-thousand-and-twenty-ninth time this has happened, I made the snap decision not to engage: you give him the time, he asks your name. You tell him your name, he asks for your number. You refuse, he follows you to the tube. And what then? So no. Just, "no."

"CUNT."

Now, there's something about the instant switch from "you are a sexy lady!" to "BITCHDYKECUNTWHORE", the turn-on-a-dime reversal that happens when you don't simper and giggle at a guy's advances, that somehow never fails to amuse me. In a wry, bitter, what kind of a fucking world do we live in sort of way. So I burst out laughing, and turned round, and mentally flipped through my Dealing With Sexual Harassment Survival Tips garnered over the years - Remain Polite, Name The Behaviour, Do Not Get Angry Or Use Profanity, etc - and went for the ultimate come-back: "well, FUCK you sideways."

"CUNT."

I'm never sure what I think about that word. I never really understood why it was officially ratified as The Worst Word Of All The Words: I've challenged people for using "pussy" specifically to mean "crap and weak, like a woman", but "cunt", when it's bandied about between men, just doesn't make me feel anything in particular. These things are subjective; it's not rocket science.

When it's directed at a woman by a man, though, it feels like a punch in the gut.

"CUNT."

A dear friend once asked me - long ago, before we got close - whether I'd ever experienced sexism. I'd been talking about The Feminism a lot, and I guess he wanted to know if I had some sort of personal stake in it. More than, you know, just being girl. I was utterly floored at the time - what are you asking? Have I been raped? Have I been beaten? Have I lost a job because I'm female? I haven't, but imagine if I had: if I say "no", I lose the argument; if I say "yes" I'm revealing intensely personal information to a pub full of my colleagues.

But also because it was such a ridiculous question. Have I ever experienced sexism? As if Sexism happens as isolated, discrete episodes, and then you go back to living your Normal Life. As if it's not there, all the time, colouring every single conversation you have. It's 10:40 am, and today I have been offered a seat on the tube because I'm a woman, been groped in the queue for the escalator, given up on an argument because nice girls don't answer back and because the dude in question is actually incapable of conceding to a woman, and had my interest in football been ridiculed because girls don't really care. (OH YOU BIG MAN, EXPLAIN THE OFFSIDE RULE TO ME AGAIN, MY POOR LADY BRAIN CANNOT COMPREHEND SUCH COMPLEXITY.) That's just off the top of my head. They're only the most obvious examples. It's ingrained into the fabric of our lives.

But for well-meaning people who don't live with this reality, the big blatant clear-cut Episodes Of Sexism are a necessary introduction. Hollaback and the like are fantastic resources, but you don't go looking for them unless you're already aware of the problem. So today, when people ask how I am, I will be answering:

"Good, ta, new job, new eyes, nearly Christmas, oh but yesterday I declined to give a guy the time, so he called me a cunt."

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Back of the net, back of the queue

In episode 2 of A Romantic Comedy About The Patriarchy (title provisional): people go out of their way to show you the sexism. Not in a malicious way, not trying to get a rise out of you (though that happens too, oh joy), but because it's the sort of thing you're interested in and they're trying to help out. Which is fun, usually: you're braced for it, so it rarely hurts that much, but also bizarre: someone who cares about you is basically saying "Look! Someone thinks you're less than human: check it out!"

(I'm guilty of this myself. Memorable example: "Look at this! The racism!" "Uh huh. I don't really want to read that now." "But look! It is racism!" "You're being a dick." "I am? Oh. I really am.")

All of which is a long preamble to an article my manpanion sent me, on today's "sexist man is also pretty cavalier about gay rights" shocker. Yes, that's right, Sepp Blatter's still a dick. WHO KNEW.

This is a dude who's lamented the "modern slavery" of footballers (how hard! it must be! to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a week! And how totally comparable to other victims of modern slavery!) and who has suggested that we could generate more interest in women's football by introducing "tighter shorts and low cut shirts". And now Captain Sensitivity Training has chuckled away concerns about how unstraight fans are likely to fare at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar - where the gay is illegal - suggesting that they simply "refrain from any sexual activities" during the tournament. If Putin banned all penis-in-vagina sex tomorrow, I'm sure Blatter would be totally cool with frisky fans getting slapped with a hefty fine and thrown in prison for their socially-sanctioned shenanigans in 2018.

Then again, I guess to him it is quite the laughing matter: football is so "macho", after all, so surely gay men won't be interested, and there aren't any female fans, anywhere (as you can learn in one five minute Sky Sports ad break any day you choose), so luckily no one will be required to repress one of their most fundamental human drives for the pleasure of watching a deeply boring England campaign! Score!

That said, I'm a bit wary of features which focus on how crap it will be for foreign fans having to hide their sexuality for the duration of their stay: going to a country where you are officially an abomination would be rubbish. Being an LGBT Qatari person: probably worse.

Oh yeah. And the corruption thing. But if I talk about that it'll be obvious that I'm just a bad loser.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Dawson's Creek and rape culture: the connection they thought couldn't be made

Here's a strange and possibly embarrassing admission: what I'm looking for in relaxation-television is, pretty much, a tragic, star-cross'd, I-love-you-but-we-can't-but-I-love-you type relationship. Whether the dude is best friend of the lady's recently-paralysed boyfriend, best friends with the lady's ex, from the wrong side of the tracks and constantly punching the lady's ex, wrongly accused of murder and best friends with the lady's ex,  or just a vampire, the presence of such a storyline is a major factor in whether I will get hooked on a TV series.

I mean: you are reading the words of someone who paid actual money to own a series of Dawson's Creek. As an adult! If you want to stop reading right here, I would not blame you.

So I was watching Friday Night Lights (oh Higgins, follow Lyla to college, FOR LOVVVE) and it suddenly clicked, in one of those "how was this not blindingly obvious?" moments, that the one thing all these storylines have in common (apart from exes, or often vampires) is: it is always the dude following the lady around saying I LOVE YOU LET'S MAKE LOVVVE, and the lady saying I can't I can't OH WAIT I CAN, because if it was the other way around we would say "damn, pushy lady, get your ensnaring ovaries off that poor guy!"


We frame the male pursuit of women as natural, as sexy; a guy forcing a kiss on an unwilling woman until she relents because she wants it really is shown as hot, not as assault. Bombarding a woman with flowers and impromptu Frankie Valli performances and breaking into her car to leave presents are shown as romantic, "persistent", not as stalking. This dynamic is taken to its logical extreme in Buffy: "I know you felt it. I'm going to make you feel it." And with that one line, the show lays the grotesque underpinnings of this trope bare.


I mean: it's a fantasy. We can suspend disbelief and enjoy it because we accept the internal logic of the storyline, which is that the girl does welcome his attentions, and so whatever the guy does in the cause of True Love is justified: the fact that in reality these would be less romantic gestures and more arrestable offences doesn't matter, because the story of "I love you / no no I can't / I love you, you love me too / I do! I love you too! Let's have lots of hot sex but then break up because the world is against us but I will love you foreverrr" makes for better TV than "I like you / you too / let's get drunk and have sex and after a few months observe that we're feeling a lot less frisky and a lot more concerned with who does the washing up". What we want from TV and what we want from our lives are not the same thing. (Fact.)


I'm not a big fan of policing fantasy; I don't think anyone is, really: I'd imagine we can all agree on the basic ground rules that "if you're not hurting anyone and all your sex-shenanigans involve only consenting grown-ups, then whatever gets you off is lovely, well done". I don't think the fact that I'm susceptible to this particular romantic narrative makes me a bad person, or a bad feminist, or a rape-apologist, and I don't think it's something I need to fix. But I find it interesting to wonder why it has such a pull on me, where it comes from, what it means.


And I keep coming back to this:
Rape culture is regarding violence as sexy and sexuality as violent. Rape culture is treating rape as a compliment, as the unbridled passion stirred in a healthy man by a beautiful woman, making irresistible the urge to rip open her bodice or slam her against a wall, or a wrought-iron fence, or a car hood, or pull her by her hair, or shove her onto a bed, or any one of a million other images of fight-fucking in movies and television shows and on the covers of romance novels that convey violent urges are inextricably linked with (straight) sexuality.
Pursuit, conquest; yielding, submission. They exist on a fictional continuum from Ryan Atwood the loveable rogue (with his complete lack of facial expression - a running theme, perhaps?) to Spike the attempted rapist; the fire at the PG-13 end of the spectrum relies on the ugliness at the other.

Obviously I will still be rooting for those two crazy kids to work it out somehow (but you LOVE EACH OTHERRR), because my love of US-high-school-centric soap operas exists somewhere separate from my intellectual patriarchy-bashing brain: I can be merrily dissecting the troublesome messages purveyed by a show while simultaneously getting swept away by the incredible heart-tugging cheese of it. There are people who refuse to watch TV with me because it can be hard to hear the dialogue over my never-ending mutters of "oh right, so every time you kiss her she pushes you away and says DON'T KISS ME, so obviously the sensible thing to do is carry on kissing her? WHO SAYS ROMANCE IS DEAD".

Then again, these people might just be refusing to watch TV with me because I am watching Dawson's Creek.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Introducing Dr Dickface McBullyo, the NHS's finest

Good gracious, how time flies: you trip, you fall, you get laser eye surgery and a new job, and suddenly it's been two weeks since you've last shared your Very Important Thoughts with the world at large. So what else has been big news in the Feminist House of Alarmist Llamas?

Apparently The British lie to their doctors, for a start: specifically MORE WOMEN THAN MEN (a difference of a whole 6%!) downplay how much stress they are under. Yeah, colour me stunned.

A short story about talking to your GP about stress: to protect my doctor's anonymity, I will call him by the nom de wanque "Dr Dickface McBullyo".

PATIENT: Hi there, medical practitioner. I have been experiencing some abnormal and uncomfortable heart rhythms. Maybe we could check that out?

DR DICKFACE MCBULLYO: I see from your file that you have a history of depression. You're having panic attacks.

PATIENT: No, I have had panic attacks in the past, these are not panic attacks. Also, when the odd heart rhythms are occurring, I'm not panicked, and you'd think I'd notice if I was under so much stress that my body was initiating a fight/flight response, no?

DR DICKFACE MCBULLYO grabs PATIENT's arm and points vigorously at five-year-old self-harm scars.

DR DICKFACE MCBULLYO: What are these, then? You did these yourself, didn't you? You're having panic attacks. I can prescribe some anti-depressants.

Two weeks later, PATIENT ends up in Accident & Emergency having passed out on the tube. Because of an abnormal heart rhythm!

And so begins the medical chapter in a seemingly endless career of being patronised by people who are stupider than I am.

So what have we learned from this particular scene? We have learned that Doctor always Knows Best, especially if his diagnostic process is not hindered by any extraneous information like "symptoms" or "the patient's subjective experience" or even, god forbid, "doing some tests and detecting a fairly common heart abnormality". We have learned that if you have ever experienced mental illness, you are automatically stupid, untrustworthy, and unable to reliably describe your own health - and we have learned that any health complaints you may have in the future are indisputably a result of that mental illness. We have learned that the best 'bedside manner' for such irrational crazy types as yourself is to shout at you while grabbing your body parts without warning or permission. We have learned that your opinions mean nothing, your reasoning is impaired, and your personal space can be invaded at any time.

So yeah, if you're stressed, you should totally tell your GP. That always ends well.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

In which Peter Crouch helps me smash biological determinism

Let's talk about sex differences. Again, the Guardian suggests; in response, one commenter sighs, "must we? please! can't we talk about something else? it's boring."


And you know? At the risk of relinquishing my Robofeminist cred...


Small interlude while I share my favourite Google image search result for 'robofeminism':
Who knew?
...I couldn't agree more, actually. It is fucking boring. It would be awesome if we could declare a moratorium on the endless search for Natural! Biological! Unconquerable! Differences between MEN who are from MARS and WOMEN who like KNITTING! and get on with, well, anything else that we could be spending our time on. Like, in my case, knitting.

But as long as people continue banging on about how men are HARDWIRED to cheat, overspend, 'be extreme', ignore their wives, or be masters of orienteering, I feel duty bound to counter the onslaught with Facts, Science, and Eye-Rolling. As Important Activism goes, proffering some alternative viewpoints to "But men and women are different!" (Actual. Quote. Oh, unnamed relative, you slay me with your evidence-based reasoning.) is probably not top of the patriarchy-smashing priority list, but it's the only one I cannot physically stop myself from doing. Every day. You shut up first. No, you shut up first. Okay, we'll both shut up together.

(They started it.)

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Tell me a story

So every time someone writes a blog post saying, "Hey, I love this TV series! However, given that it was produced in a racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, disableist and class-ridden society, unsurprisingly it has a couple of bits I'm not entirely comfortable with! I shall use this as a springboard to discuss these issues, and the way in which culture is shaped by and plays its part in shaping wider society - join me!" there's always some chump - let's call him Len - who comes along to sulk. Loudly. "CENSORSHIP!", he cries; "PROPAGANDA! IT'S ART! GET YOUR POLITICS OUT OF MY PRIME-TIME SOFA EXPERIENCE!"

Safe to say Len is missing the point somewhat.

I may be naive, but I tend to see feminism as a neutral moral stance, or an absence of cruelty: in the same way that not being a giant racist isn't an achievement as it is the bare minimum level of decency one should be able to expect from other human beings. So what I think of as a Feminist TV Show, and the image that phrase conjours up in Len's mind, are pretty different. Mine is one that passes Bechdel, that has actual female characters, that isn't just populated by a job lot of stereotypes from the Backlash Bad Fiction Warehouse (Ugly nerd! Vapid cheerleader! Embittered career woman! You know the drill). It's a show which doesn't constantly remind us that sex will kill us and trying to have a family and a career is a pipe dream. It's a show that explores characters with disabilities, rather than just gawping at them as a tragic morality tale. It's a show that recognises that gay people are, like, people (shocker!) and trans folks aren't just punchlines. It's a show that's interested in more than just the stories of rich white dudes.

Which, to be honest, doesn't sound like that much to ask. This isn't Political Correctness Gone Mad. I'm not calling for a quota system. I'm just suggesting that there are a lot of tales to tell. And when something comes along that hits some of these shockingly high targets, the point is that Len probably wouldn't notice it: it doesn't require writers to shoehorn in long speeches about how the feminist movement has failed and attacked trans people, or have the main character attend a seminar on the ways poor women of colour have been pressured onto long-term contraception, or basically anything as ridiculously overt and preachy as Len would expect. (Not that such discussions are preachy or boring! They are my favourite thing! But their place is probably not in a teen soap.) Issues which affect the ladies, and the Ells, Gees, Bees and Tees, people with various disabilities and Characters of Colour come up as a matter of course when you're writing a story which features people who - say it with me - aren't all identikit rich white dudes.

Ladies, gentlemen, and those who identify outside the gender binary, I give you: Veronica Mars! (I'm so 2008; I'm so 2000-and-late.) So: it has ladies! Lots of ladies, talking to each other about things that are not boys! Lots of silly villain archetypes as well, sure, but also: the lead character is the most believable and complex lady I have seen written on a teen TV show in many a long year (just ask Sady Doyle). It features people of colour who don't always get reduced to lazy stereotypes! (Sidekick, baller, oversexed bitch; okay, I admit, I'm setting the bar pretty fucking low here. But - Alicia? Carmen? Leo? Jackie, from about halfway through Season 2? Weevil, to an extent? And Wallace may be a sidekick - and a baller, two for one at Lazy Stereotype Warehouse - but he's a whole person too.) It has people with disabilities whose disabilities are not their sole storylines. Taking anti-depressants is normal: you still have to deal with the death of your sister and go to school and fight with your best friend. Being Deaf is just being Deaf: it doesn't have a huge bearing on the fact that you had an affair with a teacher and got pregnant and he abandoned your baby in a toilet cubicle. One episode featured a trans character in a way that didn't make me wince, groan, and throw the nearest projectile at the telly's off button out of sheer fury.


That said, the show also 'punishes' a Bad Man by 'tricking' him into wanting to have sex with a trans lady. Which is funny, right? Haha how humiliating! Funny! Gross! Also: the least sensitive and/or clever thing you could possibly have done, writers.


In tiny, subtle ways, the writing shows you everyday casual sexism ("I don't know which bothers me more: 'foxy' or 'stacked'.") and racism ("Lurking? You mean 'standing while black'?"; "Describe this biker guy to me." "Uh... brown?"); short stories and plot arcs deal with class privilege, child abuse, domestic violence, and, of course, rape.

Rape is everywhere in Veronica Mars. It pervades the show in the exact same way it pervades our lives. And yet we are not subjected to endless supposedly sexy pornified breathy scenes of heaving bosoms and contorted faces.
"[R]ape in movies and books and TV doesn’t focus on what women remember from their rapes because rape is not meant to be depicted as an experience of women, to resonate with women, and to acquire an audience of women ... I do not remember, I do not think about my boobs, or about physical pain, or what my face looked like. I think about his hand on my shoulder. I think about what the trees looked like as I stared out the window. I think about how bright the room was. But I guarantee you, go find some rape scene to watch, and you will have close-ups of boobs and a woman’s face contorted in pain and fear." (Harriet J)
No. It's small, and it's sad, and it's fucking terrifying because of that.
"[Y]ou see a girl passing out, then waking up to realize what has happened ...You see these things through the women’s eyes. You do not, as is usual, see things through the eyes of a voyeur, or a rapist." (Sady, again.)

Plus sometimes, if you squint your eyes a little, it's just like watching Buffy!


And that's always fun.

It's not perfect. That goes without saying. The fact that it reaches such giddy heights at times make its failings even more obvious: surprise, Veronica, you weren't really raped, even though you were drugged and have no memory of the apparently consensual sexy times - it was your boyfriend, and you liked it, so it's all cool! Haha, rape is funny when men are the victims! (However good your 'rape is bad' credentials, once you've accepted the concept of a 'deserved raping' you've really lost the moral high ground.) Surprise, the Angry Feminists totally faked a rape to get attention! (This storyline was even more infuriating given that they dealt so amazingly well with the Abuse Victim Is Making It Up trope in Season 1 ). I mean, I get it; I've read my Agatha Christie and I am familiar with the Least Likely Person plot twist. But, in the cultural milieu in which the series is made, the idea that aquaintance rape isn't really rape, or that Angry Feminists are lying castrating bitches, is hardly the least likely scenario: it's the obvious solution. And every TV show that features these storylines feeds into rape culture, just as every TV show which casts all black people as stupid criminals adds a drop to the big scummy bath of racism we're all wallowing in, and it's boring, and it's so annoying when done by a group of writers who have shown over and over that they are capable of better.

But every time a TV show shows a girl as clever and pretty - or a trans person as a devoted loving parent - or a Latina student as a sweet, academic, law-abiding type whose race is not relevant to her storyline - or a Deaf lady who is not defined by her disability - it chips away a tiny bit of the giant invisible edifice of Instutitionalised People Being Rubbish To Each Other. It puts different stories out there. It reminds us all that straightwhiterichcistabguys are not the default, not the only people who get to do something other than embody the Difference Of The Week. In Veronica Mars, girls can be sleuths and fix their rustbucket cars, skint Latino boys struggle in boring jobs and worry about their grandmas, trans women enjoy classic cars and the work of Kevin Spacey, white guys with epilepsy fight with their parents and run for student council. They're people. Like, y'know, people on this side of the screen are.

So, Len, and writers of every other TV show which treats ladies as nothing but love interests and anyone who isn't straight, rich, white, cis, TAB and male as the Issue of the Week: learn from what you see here and, in the immortal words of Scroobius Pip, get better .

Friday, 19 November 2010

STOP: Man time.

THE ARROW REPRESENTS A PENIS.
You guys: happy International Men's Day! Oh, the things that pop up on my Google news alerts.

See, I was all set to go for the traditional "oh it must be so hard to be you, EVERY DAY IS INTERNATIONAL MEN'S DAY, fuckoffandgetoverit" smackdown, which to be honest would have been the logical reaction to the first article I read about it:
At a time when evolution of women is taking place, position of men in the society cannot be ignored. A man is the head of the family and on his shoulders depends the security and success of a family.
 My heart bleeds for you.
Men work in much more pressure than women and are also subject to much more long and difficult working hours.
Uh huh. There is this wacky new concept called the "Second Shift". Just throwing that out there.
With growing awareness of women issues, we also have to remember that not every man is bad and dangerous.
Goddamnit, I knew I'd forgotten something! Maybe I could tie a bit of string round my finger? Or we could come up with a handy mnemonic: Not Every Man Is Bad And Dangerous, or NEMISBAD, which helpfully sounds like it could be the name of a fjord or possibly a town in Narnia. Then again, I could just look to my left, and say, "Hi, beloved colleague! It's awesome how you are not Bad And Dangerous, allowing us to be friends." Best friend, boyfriend, favourite colleague: they serve as excellent reminders that judging people based on their gender identity is a fucking stupid idea.
Men contribution to the society cannot be ignored. Be the tedious job of a architect or a managerial post, men play the role optimally. 
OH THE HUMANITY. Is all your money JUST TOO HEAVY TO CARRY AROUND? The pain! The paiiiiiin! THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF PRIVILEGE!

 ...but then I did that 'research' thing (what? Wikipedia is research) and, hey, International Men's Day? Sounds quite cool. Focusing on men's and boys' health? Whoop! Improving gender relations and promoting gender equality? Love it! Highlighting positive male role models? Sign me up! I'm not entirely sold on the aim to "highlight discrimination against men and boys in areas of health, family law, education, media or other areas" - not that this discrimination doesn't exist, but it seems like every anti-chap stereotype operates on the back of a 'boo, women' sentiment; "men: they are incapable of changing a nappy or toting a mop!" leads naturally - and conveniently - to women doing the vast majority of the care-giving and housework. And countless other examples.


But the idea of focusing on masculinity, on what it means and how it works and how gender roles fuck all of us up, is solid. It's possible - indeed, essential - to think all this through, to dissect mannishness with as much thoroughness as we do ladyism, without descending into WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ whining. It's impossible to dismantle the House Of Patriarchy (for such is my evil-genius spinny-chair naked-cat plan) by only smashing the windows on one side. Unscrew the damn doors! Kick out the damn jambs! Get really pissed off about a culture which allows men to only feel good about themselves if they are bored architects!


So may I, without any sarcasm (pay attention - unsarcasm may never appear on these pages again), wish you a very happy International Men's Day.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Miracle cure: scheduled for a week on Friday

Questionable decisions I have made lately: scheduling laser eye surgery thirty six hours before I go to see the new Harry Potter on the biggest cinema screen IN EUROPE. It'll probably be fine, right? It probably won't feel like Voldemort is clog dancing on my retinas?

(You know, I'm honestly not sure whether this is, like, totally deep'n'meaningful or self-indulgent drivel. The uncertainty probably suggests it tends towards the latter, but hey, such is the joy of the blogging learning curve! Join me in my mistake-strewn path to enlightenment!)

This is really hard to write, because I'm so painfully aware that I'm treading on fucking dangerous ground. That dude who ambles into a feminist discussion on sexual harassment and says "I totally know how you feel, because a girl hit on me one time"? The straight people arsing around on the It Gets Better bandwagon? The rich kid who is "down with the working class because s/he waited tables in college"? They are dicks! I do not want to be them! So, to be clear, what I am very much not trying to say is "I have crap eyesight and as such am an authority on the experiences of ALL DISABLED PEOPLE EVER." If I am being that dick, I implore you to tell me, loudly, and I will shut up faster than a Wetherspoons at closing time.

What I am trying to do is build bridges across experiences. I can read all the blogs in the world and find people with every disability imaginable saying that, actually, they're not interested in being fixed, don't see their lives as inferior, and really wish the world didn't view the Miracle Cure as the only possible happy ending to their stories, and I can take those opinions on board and respect them - but I can't necessarily get it, on a gut level. It feels so far from my own experience that it's hard to find a way in. And, obviously, I'm full of ableist brainwashing which says that able bodies are just better: why wouldn't you want one?

But what I can do is try to trace links between what I'm feeling, and these feelings that seem so alien, and notice the common threads: finally get that click moment when you realise that you're not so different after all.

So: I've been short-sighted since I was eight. I don't really remember what it's like, being able to see unaided. And now, due to a near-miraculous set of circumstances, I am able to have laser eye surgery. Zing! Pow! Jesus says you can SEE!

I am ridiculously excited about this. I'll be able to lie down to watch TV! I'll have peripheral vision, so useful for subtly checking people out or judging their choice of tube reading material! I'll be able to go swimming on a whim without half an hour's prep time, and without The Fear that my contacts will flow right off of my face and I'll have to stumble home with no clue where my feet are! In my mother's delightful words, "when you're woken up in the middle of the night, you'll be able to see the burglar!" (There's a certain strain of cheerful stoic pessimism in working class northerners of a certain age, which can be summed up as "Well, the worst is clearly going to happen, so let's make the best of it. If we find ourselves in Hell, at least we'll be warm" that gives me true hope for humanity.)

I've never really thought about what it would be like to suddenly have perfect vision, because the possibility of somehow being able to afford it was just too ridiculously remote: it's like daydreaming about going to the moon. Sure, might happen one day, but it's so close to impossible that you can't really get attached to the idea. But now it's here, it's happening, and I've only just realised that part of me is kind of sad about it: I'm becoming aware of what I will lose in joining the Clear-Sighted Majority.

I love my glasses. I love being a person who wears glasses. Speccy Girl is bright, Speccy Girl is bookish; Speccy Girl always gets the cutest boy in school in all those late 90s transformation rom-coms. (There is a reason I still love She's All That.) You know how when you look at someone over the top of your glasses, and if done correctly it can be quite intimidating in a "bitch, please" sort of way, but what they don't know is that The Look reduces them to a meaningless blur in your eyes? Yeah, you probably don't, unless you're short-sighted too, and I will forget, the way you forget what being broke is like when you're luxuriating in a supra-minimum-wage pay cheque; the way you forget, when not in the grip of a depression, how it feels to be sure you're dying incrementally with every hideous second that passes. I will lose that strange sense of camaraderie that can sometimes spring up between fellow myopics: it would be pretty ridiculous to speak of a Short-Sighted Community, but it can be something to bond over in otherwise awkward social situations.

Short-sightedness is obviously not a disability. But there's no physical benefit in it (other than better luck with Magic Eye pictures, but as it's not the early 90s and we are not in Mallrats, I'm cool with surrendering that superpower). And I doubt that anyone with traditionally-shaped corneas would ever think that there was something to value in it - but this lingering sadness at the prospect of relinquishing an aspect of my identity still remains. And I, as a Physically Able Bodied Person, have no idea what it's like to be a wheelchair user, or Deaf, or have a long-term illness, and it might seem to me that there would be any reason not to be thrilled at the prospect of a miraculous cure.

I mean: basic decency dictates that if someone says "I do not want to be 'cured'", you respect that. But there's a difference between respecting an idea and understanding it. And I think, maybe, I've got a little closer to understanding. Fluffy bunny utopia where we all live together in peace and harmony on pianos will surely soon follow.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

"the ancient British roar of "Tory scum'"

Every fucking time.

Every fucking time an overwhelmingly peaceful demo takes place, the black bloc dickheads start smashing stuff (not in a fun HULK sort of way), a police officer breaks a nail and several protesters end up in hospital. And every fucking time, everyone cries a vast river over the poor coppers, tormented by those nasty violent class war types.

Some insightful comments from my delightful colleagues:
"Yeah, well, I'm not saying police brutality's okay, but at the end of the day, if someone's hitting you with a stick, I think you should be allowed to hit them back, push them over, whatever. Common sense, hurhur, let's be honest, it's political-correctness-not-kicking-people-to-death gone mad."
Oh, the classic "I'm not being a racist/sexist/bastard/fan of kicking the proles when they get out of line, but, I hate black people, women, everyone who isn't me, and especially the proles." And no, you don't have the right to lash out, even if "they started it": not if you're the representative of the state. At the very pissing least you have a responsibility to abide by the very laws you are supposed to be enforcing. And mad props on suggesting "pushing people to the ground" - we all know that always ends well!
"Idiots. I bet they don't even know what they're protesting about, they just like kicking off."
Well hey, that's a super-shrewd remark, Idiot Colleague: it's good to know your incredible unbiasedness allows you to look into every single marcher's mind, all the way from your nice warm Canary Wharf office. You haven't spoken to a single person there, you've never been on a protest in your life, but you just know. It's like magic! For people who aren't very bright!
"Hur, hur, doesn't look like any of them are too poor to go to university!"
Because it is only allowed to care about things that affect you personally: there is no such thing as empathy, or even joining the dots and observing that decreased social mobility might have a knock-on effect, forming the kind of society that you yourself don't want to live in. Nah. They just "like kicking off".

Luckily all the not-very-bright Tory twats sit on the opposite side of the desk, and my side is populated by the Sensible Left. We are sharing furtive grins, swapping placard slogans, and emerging to issue concerted SMASH when the Tory chorus just gets too much. Just in case, I'm holding back my ace: photographic evidence of the students who really ruined it for the rest of us...

Edit: My manpanion has made the best comment on proceedings. In response to someone's observation that the SWP was "up to its old tricks", he simply remarked that SWP has no tricks. Funny to approximately seven people.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

In which my childhood heroes get all up in my uterus's business

"Are men not allowed to offer opinions about abortion?"

Every day I find myself humming the same tune. It's a dirgeful whine of a song by Vin Garbutt, telling the story of an Irish woman who gets pregnant, travels to England for an abortion, and returns to find that her mother has taken in another woman who fell unexpectedly pregnant and they're living in happy pro-life bliss. If only she'd told her old mum! She wouldn't have had to "kill her baby!" They could have stood strong against the "pressure" from her "so-called friends" to "terminate her pregnancy"!

Go over to England, where it's no disgrace now to end a child's life...


Yeah, actually Mr Garbutt, we still frown on that.

The thing is, I listened to this guy's music all the time when I was younger; it was part of the soundtrack of growing up: songs about mining and potatoes and enchanted knights and unions and massacres, all on third- or fourth-generation tapes which had been stretched to hell. You never knew whether the fiddle solos had been warped over time or if they were just 'in the key of folk'. Me, my sister, my dad, we all knew all the words off by heart, even if their meanings had wandered in our minds from the original - one of my favourites had a refrain about Janet's "kirtle green", which she tied "a bit above her knee"; I was convinced she was lugging around a cattle grid. (Clank, clank, clank.)

The point being, this album means a lot to me. Not long ago I bought it in a fit of nostalgia, having not heard any of the songs since the ancient cassettes finally went to the big charity shop in the sky, and at the first wheezing pipe notes I was tearing up with the relief of meeting an old friend you thought you'd lost forever.

And so finding out that said old friend thinks that you promote murder feels a bit like he's kicked you in the face.

Thing is, I can't make an intellectual argument against men weighing in on abortion: if you genuinely believe that Life Begins At Conception and Abortion Is Murder, I can see that you could feel a moral obligation to express that, and to do whatever you can to Save The Poor Innocents. All I can say is that it feels really fucking invasive, and rude, and inappropriate. You don't approve of abortion? Cool! Enjoy not having one! Meanwhile, let me get on with making my own decisions regarding whether or not to grow an entire new person inside of me.

I can't say that you morally should not express an opinion on abortion. I certainly can't suggest that you should not be allowed to do so. I can only say that it would be greatly appreciated, that I would consider it polite, if you would refrain from pontificating on the philosophy and morality of a decision which you will never need to face. It's an abstract brain teaser for you. It's not for me.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Feminism says I need to go shopping (but not how you'd think)

Fun fact: there will be no Hollywood movies in 2010 with lady-leads. Which is nice! Half the human race is, apparently, not worth telling stories about! Which brings me to one of my favourite topics: the Bechdel Test. It is a delightful way of illustrating the woefully lacking portrayal of the ladies on the big screen. To pass, a film must:

1. Have at least two women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man


and it is incredibly depressing to tot up just how few stories pass this not very taxing criteria. (Seriously, check it out.)

Now, I like the movies, but my first love? Books. I am a written word fiend to the extent that many of my favourite books have bite marks on them because I loved them so much and could find no other way to encompass the joy they inspired in me. (Anyone getting all Freudy and suggesting an unresolved oral retentive complex will be subjected to a detailed exposition on how I was breastfed - be warned.)

To demonstrate:

And I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I'm quite into feminism and that. Just in case you need a visual:

So one could reasonably assume that I'd have a whole lot of lady-centric books, nein? Sadly, nein. I do actually go out of my way to look for books by and/or about the ladies as well as everyone else in the world, and yet look how many have two named lady characters, who talk to each other, about something other than a dude:


And how many don't:


Yeah, I own a Dan Brown book, what is your point.

For comparison, may I present the massive wealth of books that fail the reverse of the test: books which do not feature at least two male characters, who talk to each other about something other than a lady:


To conclude: I need to go book shopping.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Be aware... be very aware

Happy Movember! There's nothing like the combination of excellent facial hair and raising money which goes directly to research and support. I don't know, though, doesn't it sound a bit tame...?

SAVE THE BUMHOLES! Come on lads, check your prostate - or I will! Nudge nudge, wink ha! If I had balls,  I'd appreciate them! Save whatever base someone putting their finger up your anus is! Let's all wear brown, like poo, ha ha! Sshhh, don't tell the girls, but let's all post where we like to keep our monkey wrenches on Facebook: "I like to keep mine up the bum!" Let's all post the colour of our colons! That'll raise awareness! Are you aware? I'm aware! But I'm not aware ENOUGH! I must be sexier! Awareness is sexy! Objectifying your prostate is sexy! (Get a load of that, ladies!) Sexy is the only way people will possibly care about life-threatening diseases! Let's make the prospect of you or your loved ones dying fun! Teehee! TEEHEE!

Oh sorry, I thought that's how we approached cancer these days.

Edit: Damnit, I'm late.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Trying to make molehills out of mountains: please employ me

Do you consider yourself to have a disability?

I have no idea. I have a gammy heart. I've been dealing with depression to varying extents since I was fifteen. Standing up on public transport has, on a number of occasions, made me faint. I've been exhausted for the last two years. I have no clean-cut diagnosis to explain either of the last two; my GP likes to respond to pretty much any ailment (including supraventricular tachycardia, postural syncope and recurrent ear infections) by raising my anti-depressant dosage (but, lord alive, that is a story for another time).

The Equality Act 2010, defines a disability as:
“A physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities” An effect is long-term if it has lasted, or is likely to last, more than 12 months.


Do you consider yourself to have a disability?


It's only very recently I've started to feel comfortable using the label 'depression': it's not that bad, I'm just tired, I'm just a bit sad, it's not like I'm hacking'n'slashing or wanting to die or anything, I'm just tired, tired, tired... And 'disability' is such a loaded term: we see it as an either/or distinction, where one is either Disabled or Not Disabled, the end. What if by claiming the 'disabled' label I'm muscling in on an identity I'm not entitled to? It's not like I'm in a wheelchair, for heaven's sake. Because the wheelchair, the white cane, are the borders beyond which they live, where we keep disability, in a box, separate from our lives.

Substantial ... normal... impairment...


I don't know. Is it substantial enough? Does the life I'm able to lead - able either to commit fully to my job, sacrificing my social life, or be there for my friends but start to slip at work, but never both - fall within the bounds of 'normal'?


Because however I end up organising this in my own mind, I don't trust potential employers not to think - whether consciously or not, Equality Act or no - "woah, no crazy ladies here please, can't trust them to administer our database!"



Monday, 25 October 2010

Prince of the big gay darkness

Last night my Manpanion took me to the movies with Jon Snow and Peter Mandelson. I was close enough to the latter to bite his knees. (We go on the best dates ever.)

A brief explanation of the Mandelson for you lovely non-UK folk (and hi, by the way! Your readership makes me giddy with happiness!): former Labour MP, kicked out of government twice for corruption, now a Baron, of all things; architect of New Labour, known as 'The Prince of Darkness' and, since his ennobling, the 'Dark Lord'; general underworld God King of the last administration and strangely hypnotic evil genius.

Oh, and he's gay.

How awesome is it that I always forget that bit? That it's so rarely mentioned? I don't mean "hooray for the erasure of gay identities"; I don't think of him as straight, I just don't think of his sexuality at all*. Like I never think of Cameron or Brown or Blair as Straight Politicians, Getting Their Rocks Off In An Officially Sanctioned Fashion - because straightness is 'normal' while the big gay is 'other', and also because thinking of David Cameron in flagrante is just frightening.

I have no idea why this is - he's a skilled media manipulator, the ultimate spinner, so maybe he's used his influence to have his actual actions and policies talked about, rather than his love of cock - or maybe he's just such a bizarrely fascinating character that his orientation is quite far down the list of interesting personality quirks. Either way, the fact that he gets to be A Politician rather than A Gay Politician is ace.

* I would be well interested to hear The Gays' views on this - if I'm way off the mark do let me know.

Edit: My extensive team of fact checkers have pointed out that this is actually kind of bollocks - see the "Mandy" nickname and the whole Gay Mafia screeching. I can only say I wasn't paying much attention in 1998, due to being 12. However, I think my argument holds for the later years of Mandelson's reign of doom - my complete lack of awareness could be put forward as evidence supporting that contention (or it could just be ignorance - whatever).

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Women as sociological ducks

If freedom is reduced to the freedom to shop ... then is it any wonder that so many women suffer from depression and feelings of meaninglessness or worthlessness?
From Women as Weapons of War.

Well, yeah, but also: get your pontificating theory the fuck out of my brain.

I mean, I am a history geek; sociology is my friend; I see a day in which I haven't analysed the wider social forces shaping our actions as a day wasted. But there's a difference between this, and reducing people to mere vessels for Social And Historical Factors. In The Dustbin of History, Greil Marcus warns of the risk of losing sight of individual genius when talking about the blues: yes, it was created in response to slavery and oppression, but centuries of slavery and oppression only produced one Bessie Smith. Seeing Strange Fruit as the inevitable product of the horrors of American history denies the incredible personal achievement of Billie Holiday. And painting female depression as simply a product of the patriarchy denies the personal experience of mental illness to every single sufferer.

I mean, The Pressures Of Modern Life don't exactly help. Having to get to work by eight and charm the heck out of customers all day and get spruced up to go out for dinner and organise Christmas presents for my boyfriend and stop by for a quick drink with friends and try to figure out whether sacrificing sleep to make tomorrow's lunch is better than spending three quid on a sandwich and getting up to do it all again tomorrow and look good the whole time and never let on for a second that I'm not feeling the strain is really fucking hard work, and really not conducive to cranial serenity. And yes, I'm aware that this is an incredibly privileged existence, even compared to other white western cis pass-for-straight relatively-financially-okay women: I don't have to care for children, or older or disabled family members; all I really have to do is try to look after myself while meeting the expectations of work and family and friends.

And a lot of that is informed by patriarchal demands: I have to spend a whole load more time getting pretty than gentlemen do, and get judged for any failures; maintaining a smiling, helpful disposition is deemed more crucial to my professionalism than it is for guys working in my department. And I think there's more of an onus on women to paper over the cracks, to deny the very existence of the cracks, to paddle madly under the surface to produce the illusion of effortless calm.

(I came up with that metaphor while feeding the ducks in Clissold Park.)

But I'm also me, and me happens to have a history of depression, for whatever chemical and psychological and personal reasons, and I resent being painted as nothing more than the inevitable outcome of Several Millennia's Oppression Of Women. My name is Hannah, I enjoy knitting and swimming and melted cheese, and I take medication to deal with an illness. I am more than just a symptom of social malaise.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Navigating intersectional privilege: you're doing it wrong

Today, Cherie Blair is saving the women of the world using only the power of Snake 2. Well, alright, not exactly; her Foundation For Women has launched an initiative aiming to halve the 'gender gap' in mobile phone ownership in developing countries. The women of the world aren't entirely convinced.

I really love that someone was so proud of this achievement that they put a picture of it on the internet.

Rule #1: anything which involves the word "empowerment" should be treated with grave suspicion. In my experience, it seems to be code for "we're not going to give you any rights, or access to resources, or even any, like, power, but here, have some sugar-coated sop!"

Rule #2: The most basic principle of Helping Other People With Whom You Share A Common Oppression Without Trampling All Over Them In A Privileged Haze Of 'Hurrah, I Shall Save The Foreigners, Am I Not Marvellous!' is, surely, listening: if you say "hey, want me to empower the heck out of you using mobile phones?" and they say "thanks, but actually we'd quite like some schools if you've got the money going spare!" MAYBE YOU SHOULD HELP THEM BUILD SOME MOTHERFUCKING SCHOOLS.

Or better yet, you could start off with the very simple phrase, "how can I help?"

Or, Snake 2.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

"I don't have low self-esteem. I have low esteem for everyone else."

"Teenage abortion not linked to low self esteem!" trumpets some random website that pops up in my Google news alert for "abortion" (because I am the coolest and also funnest). Said website prides itself on being an "internet news channel" because they "believe in the power of instant news". Shame they're way late on this one!

"For years", they claim, "medical officials and researchers have believed that pregnant teens that have an abortion are likely to be depressed and have low self esteem for a significant amount of time." Well, no, actually, for years it's been a heavily contested issue (ha, unlike everything else concerning abortion), with various studies showing wildly different results, each with their own wealth of problems - because it's an incredibly difficult subject to research. 


Think about it: your hypothesis is "women who terminate a pregnancy are more likely to experience mental health issues." More likely... than who? Women who've never been pregnant? Women who became pregnant unexpectedly, but decided to continue with the pregnancy? The closest thing to an ideal control group is to take a group of women who don't want to continue their pregnancies, and randomly assign them to 'get their abortion' or 'refused their abortion' groups. Which is - obviously, I would hope - ethically catasfucktrophic, and also wouldn't tell us much because being forced to carry and give birth to an unwanted child would be, for many, really quite unpleasant. Like, the kind of thing that may upset you, even trigger some kind of mental illness, maybe?


For further reading, may I recommend the Science & Technology Select Committee report on Scientific Developments relating to the Abortion Act 1967, which, again, is the kind of thing I read for kicks.


The upshot being that the lovely people at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists - who I would tentatively include in Knowlty.com's "medical officials and researchers" - have concluded that "there is no causal association between an induced abortion for an unwanted pregnancy and future psychiatric illness or self-harm." Woohoo! So high fives, Knowlty.com, for catching on. That's only been the stated position of the UK's highest relevant medical body since 2004.


But my favourite part (this is the fun cherry at the bottom of the Empirical Statistical Evidence sundae you've just munched your way through - congratulations for getting this far!) is the link at the bottom: an unassuming little line inviting you to improve your self esteem.


AND HOW.


Hi.... my name is Dr. Robert Anfield and i am hear to SAVE YOU from the terrible pit of low self-esteem caused by abortion and paying too much attention to the rules of punctuation.....IMPOSABLE THOUGH IT MAY SEEM.




Your Level Of Personal Self Esteem Is The Very Foundation For Future Success And Fulfillment In Your Life. And happily not dapendant on Whether Or Not you have Terminated a Pregnancy.

And that, kids, is your inspirational thought for the day.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Jimmy McNulty: 21st century career woman

The first time I watched The Wire, I abandoned it not long into the final season - I got distracted; maybe that was when I started on Mad Men, or commenced by bi-annual all-seven-seasons-of-Buffy marathon (a key plank in my Maintaining Mental Health game-plan).

But the main thing was that McNulty was really hacking me off. I hated how he was disappeared in the fourth season - "we've married him off, he's happy now, and happy is boring" - and only became a major character again once he was All Fucked Up. I was furious with him in a way I never was in previous seasons. I spent every episode wanting to kick him in his stupid smug caped-crusader face, and after a while it just wasn't fun anymore.

But I'm back, and I've persevered with season five, and something's just occurred to me.

He's written as being basically incapable of stably combining a happy relationship and an important, demanding career. His work makes him a shit father, a shit husband, and makes him act pretty shittily to himself: he's spread too thin. To be a good detective he must be full of rage, brimming over with a righteous fury at injustice, and that doesn't make for a fun dinner companion. He stays out late, he misses his kids' plays, he fucks around.

Which basically sounds like a Daily Mail caricature of a Career Woman.

The idea of a hard-workin' man blowing off steam is nothing new - I just had a few beers after work, love, I needed to wind down. My job's hard. You don't understand. I'm sorry, okay? The meeting overran, I couldn't make it to your piano recital, I'll make it up to you. But it's usually presented with bravado: a justified way of coping with a world The Wife just doesn't know.

When women do it, obviously they are monsters. And everything is focused on the impact their career has on The Children.

I wish we saw a little more of how McNulty's workaholism affected his kids - there's one quietly heart-ripping scene where he ambles sheepishly into their room, asks about the play that he missed, tries to banter about music. "Death Meadow?" he grins. "What's wrong with the Ramones?"

The boys share a look, and while it contains the usual Daaad, stop trying to be cool teenage contempt, there's a lower, sadder undercurrent,and it's full of rage. How fucking dare you do this now? After everything, after all the ways you've let us down, now you want to be 'friends'? We don't need a friend. We need a father. And some bullshit chit-chat about kids-music-these-days is not going to make up for anything.

(It's possible I'm projecting a little here.)

It just seems that gentlemen who go off the rails, work too hard, and aren't around for their families are usually portrayed as daring rakes, whereas a lady who works late a couple of times is an unmaternal unfeeling man-eating DEATH MACHINE. (Not in The Wire, particularly; mainly in the Mail.) The implication is clear: if Mummy cares about her children, Mummy shouldn't work. It feels almost radical for The Wire to suggest that maybe if Jimmy wants to be any use to anyone, including himself, Jimmy shouldn't work - at least not at what he does best. And I've never seen such a horrible portrayal of a guy putting too much into his job and failing at every relationship in a grotesque, self-sabotaging cycle of fuckingupitude, and I hate it, because it feels far too real.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

A sphincter says, "Twitter?"

Nadine Dorries. MP Nadine Dorries of the "twenty reasons to reduce the abortion limit to twenty weeks" campaign; also, of "Britain will become the ABORTION CAPITAL OF THE WORLD" panic. (As an aside, is all this just to make us feel special again? Enable us to perpetuate the endearing notion that Great Britain remains a Great Power? "Selfish and hedonistic wasteland"! "Geopolitical epicentre of a culture of death"! Stop it, guys, you'll make us blush!)

Sorry, Nadine Dorries, Member of Parliament for Mid Bedfordshire, thinks MPs should not blog. She told us this... on her blog.

She also thinks that Twitter is a greater threat to public health than smack.

And finally, she thinks that using Twitter is a sure sign of committing benefit fraud, inviting the friends of such people to shop them to the DWP.

Now, I could get my fisk on and give you fine people a line-by-line dissection of exactly why she's wrong, out-of-touch, smarmy, irritating, and wrong, but this excellent person has already done that for me. Instead, I wish to point out one thing:

I'm going to have to set up a Twitter account again so that I can check this out for myself!... Not.
 NADINE DORRIES HAS ESCAPED FROM WAYNE'S WORLD. There is no other explanation.


"If you want to restrict abortion access, ban benefits claimants from using the internet, and have a penchant for wince-inducingly 90s phrasing, LET ME SEE YOUR THUMBS IN THE AIR!"

 

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Lies, damned lies, and complete and total bollocks

"Well, I had a couple of hours to kill before the ASN meeting, and there's an amazing wool shop I've been meaning to visit just round the corner, so I picked up some bamboo 7mms and nice chunky yarn for a Christmas scarf..."

"Sorry, just to clarify, you bought knitting needles and then took them to an abortionist meeting?"

This is my current favourite way to gauge just how pro-choice someone is.

So, hey, abortion! According to "2009 figures" which nobody seems to want to give me a source for, poor women are having more abortions than the rich! I mean, shocker, right? The article says that "3723 abortions were performed on women from the most deprived areas", and only 1753 on more well-heeled ladies. Now, I don't have the actual stats (BECAUSE NO ONE WILL GIVE ME A SOURCE, MY GOD), but I would guess that there are more poor women in the world than there are rich women, so "poor women have more abortions" is a pretty fucking meaningless statement unless you feel like giving me some percentages, population info, or basically anything that puts those numbers into context. I could say "more poor women in England can read than rich women!" and we could all have a good hang-wring over the ILLITERACY CRISIS CLAIMING OUR UPPER CLASSES, unless someone was sensible to point out that this statement demonstrates precisely zero understanding of statistics and also is based on complete bollocks.

(An aside: "the most deprived areas" of where? Scotland? Aberdeen? Is it actually the most deprived areas of rural Andalusia, and Lib Dem Health Spokesperson Jamie Stone is just weighing in because she's bored?)

But! Let us be generous and assume that the study itself had some sense in it, and this is simply a problem of poor reporting. Just for a giggle, assume that there is a different incidence of abortion per head for wealthy and deprived communities: that ladies of limited means are more likely to terminate a pregnancy than their better-off counterparts.

...um, and?


Is anyone surprised? Is it really so shocking that "being broke" and "deciding you're not able to raise a child" are correlated?

Surely it can't be that simple. We haven't castigated the working class nearly enough today; it must be their fault somehow. Luckily, aforementioned Jamie Stone is here to help, pointing out that logical analysis misses the most important fact of all:
"Young women from deprived backgrounds ... see abortion as a simple alternative to contraception."
Of course they do.

Friday, 24 September 2010

On how rebellion against stereotypes maintains their power, with Football and Feelings

One of the more peculiar aspects of being a Person Who Talks About Gender, A Lot, is that you're almost constantly aware of how your actions/hobbies/opinions/abilities will be interpreted as representative of all ladies everywhere.



So on one level, I take a perverse delight in subverting people's expectations, because that thing guys do when they find out you like football (or any traditionally Masculine endeavour, but in this edition of A Romantic Comedy About The Patriarchy, we will mostly be focusing on football), do a double-take, and gaze at you like you're a magical unicorn hitherto assumed to be a myth - it's fucking hilarious. And any time you can disrupt people's ideas of What Girls Are Like can be an opportunity to chip away at the ridiculous structure of oppositional sexism, and that's always fun.

But it's actually pretty sad, because by positioning yourself as the Exceptional Girl, you are accepting that Girl Stuff is fundamentally uncool; the very concept of the Exceptional Girl is predicated on the idea that girls, as a rule, are boring, bitchy, annoying and frivolous, and I think there's a word for that.

1. Once upon a time, while discussing La Liga with his associates, my manpanion turned to me and explained that "El Clásico is when Real Madrid play Barcelona."

My actual response was "I KNOW, dickwad, remember how JUST THIS MORNING you saw me reading a book on the EXACT SUBJECT of rivalries in Spanish football? I have, in fact, many interesting thoughts to share about the interplay between nationalism and football fandom! Also on the way in which some clubs can be wildly successful and yet still maintain the 'underdog' narrative as a central part of their identity! ASK ME ABOUT THE NOMENCLATURE OF JOHAN CRUYFF’S SON!”

But what I should really have said was

“Oh really dear? Can you explain the offside rule to me again?”


2. Watching said manpanion play football, while knitting the welt of a jumper - the stereotypes play out beautifully; not only for the gender-segregated choice of leisure activities, but for my exemplary demonstration of Feminine Multi-Tasking (okay, you try knitting perfect 1x1 rib on skinny little needles while following the finer points of a seven-a-side match).

3. Cooking the manpanion dinner while he watches a game on telly. The details are a little fuzzy, but I'm willing to testify that I was wearing an apron.

Needless to say, I was also making exactly this expression.
So there I was, contentedly humming to myself while imagining the children I will doubtless be raising in the near future, when my domestic bliss was shattered by the thumpthumpthump of hurried feet, heralding the entrance of a discomfited manpanion. He needed me to save him. From a spider.

RAAAAAAAAAARGH!

Consequently, whenever we watch Match of the Day with company, I am now amusing myself by demanding "Goddd, stop watching football, talk about my feelings, talk about your feelings, why aren't we married yet, I want a baby, FEELINGS."

Because sometimes the only way to smash gender stereotypes is to parody them to the point of Bridget Jones.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Are feminist immigrants giving the memory of Diana AIDS?

I freely admit that sniggering at a Daily Mail article is the lowest form of blogging, but this gave me such a happy that I can't help but share it with the world.


"Has feminism killed the art of home cooking?" is, in a shocking development, not a product of the Daily Mail-o-Matic, but an actual argument put forward in an actual national newspaper.


"Yes, it’s feminism we have to thank for the spread of fast-food chains and an epidemic of childhood obesity."


Damnit, they've rumbled the secret plot to have fat kids bring down the patriarchy! Plan B, guys - it's time to send in the pythons.


Friday, 17 September 2010

Commuting blues

At 6:55 on Monday morning I was huddled in a bus shelter, wrapped up against the early autumn chill and drawing on the last dregs of the first cigarette of the day. I was dreading going into work, the usual weekday litany of oh dear christ another eight hours in front of the screen faking niceness to idiots, how long has it been now and when am I getting out, I fucking hate the tube and it's always raining in Canary Wharf and it's seven o'clock in the bastard morning and I've been tired for the last year and a half, for fuck's sake.

A lady came up and asked for a cigarette. She looked scared, tired, and about as keen on the idea of going to work as I was. I offered her a light. She thought I'd asked if she was alright. I don't want to project, to turn her into some stereotyped autovictim, but I got the impression that nobody had asked her that in a long time.

"I'm just, I've got caught in the wrong profession and I can't get out, and" - she leaned in closer, and whispered, "prostitution", with a wry smile. "That's why I'm up so early, and I - it's just a nightmare, thanks for the cigarette, you're a life-saver, your bus is here."

I touched her sleeve, and smiled, shakily. "Take care, love, okay?" Stupid, what does that even mean? The bus took me away, and I stumbled onto the tube, and I sat dumbstruck under the glaring strip lights and cried, because this is how much I dread going to work, and my job doesn't involve unwelcome dick getting stuck in me. Because we spend so much time theorising about people's lives and so little time talking to them. Because who does carry around contact details for prostitution exit services, just on the offchance? People who don't have the luxury of thinking that people like her live in a different world.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Deathmatch 2010: China vs bunnies

Say, you know what the best way to forward the cause of animal rights? Grievously insult one billion people! That always works. Fluffy little bunnies are getting liberated right as we speak, all thanks to Morrissey and his clever tactics of referring to the Chinese as a "subspecies" of the human race. "Thanks, Moz!" say the bunnies. "All better now!"


Now, I'm aware that I am quite possibly the least bothered-about-animal-rights vegetarian on the planet (or at least the general north London area), but to be honest, if we could eradicate racism forever at the cost of dooming all those fluffy bunnies to eternal torment - I'd be okay with that. As this is not an option (as far as I know! If you're running on an anti-racism-via-rabbit-sacrifice platform, let me know - you've got my vote!), it would seem fairly logical to avoid conflating the two issues - if only because a cause that needs massive racism to get its point across is a pretty rubbish cause.


But anyway - this whole episode actually made me wish I was a racist. Okay, weird, I know, but bear with me.


We have seen many times how this kind of thing plays out:


1. Someone does a racist thing.
2. Someone says "that thing is a racist thing".
3. Some people agree.
4. Some disagree.
5. Some chumpnugget comes along and slays the entire argument with his shining sword of truth: he has managed to find one single person in all the world who is a member of the 'being offended by this particular racist thing' target group, and yet IS NOT OFFENDED: Ergo, says chumpnugget, there is no way in the world that this thing can possibly have been a racist thing! Some Of My Best Friends are not offended: SMACKDOWN!


So, given the fact that the person who alerted me to this story is (a) Chinese, and (b) not offended (on the fairly logical grounds that it's like being offended by the Pope being a misogynist or a bear defecating in heavily wooded areas), this would be my golden opportunity to play Derailing For Dummies and get my gold medal in Missing The Fucking Point.

But, me being me, I choose to think Morrissey's a dick.