Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The debt women owe

I’m in debt to society. And it’s not just my student loan. It’s a debt I’ll never repay, something I will owe forever. But like that library book from about seven years ago, I have no intention of paying my dues. As a woman, I owe perpetual prettiness to society, but send in the bailiffs: you ain't having it.

Let’s start at the beginning. I remember a time when I wasn't self-conscious; the glory days of my childhood when my snap-happy parents would capture me toothless and beaming on a seaside somewhere, caked in sand. Simpler times. But as I grew older, into my tween and teen years, I realised that imperfect photos of myself were no longer funny or silly, they no longer captured an unguarded moment: they were deeply embarrassing and altogether unacceptable. If a photo caught me by surprise, I demanded the photographer delete it, lest I throw a tantrum and reap revenge with similarly coveted images to show our friends – or worse – the boys. My hair couldn't be too frizzy or cover too much or too little of my face, my chin had to be at the right angle to avoid the appearance of a sly second one, my shoulders couldn't be too hunched. Getting a photo that looked even remotely natural was not an option: my image had to be flawless. This fear of perceived ugliness has followed me for years, but never did it become more acute when I found myself on Facebook, ogling jealously at the girls who could look pretty while giggling or smiling with their mouth shut, coquettishly. And even now I have to stop myself from experiencing the same feelings of inadequacy when faced with my own complexion looking back at me. And what’s worse is that I bet not many, but almost all of the women reading this will feel the same about themselves.

Many issues are at play here: we live in a world where perfection isn't desired but required of our female role models. Even women who don’t make a living from their beauty, women who never bought into the beauty industry in the first place, are expected to perk up and slim down and breathe in. Hilary Clinton, Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez: some of the most powerful women of the modern age have been derided as sexless, ugly crones, their minds far less worthy of analysis than a particularly “unflattering” outfit or haircut. But what it comes down to, what I think is ultimately at play here, is the idea that women owe society something. In this case, women owe society prettiness. Prettiness isn’t just an arbitrary added bonus to an already brilliant woman; it is the price she must pay for occupying space in the public sphere. When women take up air time, the very least they can do is titillate the audience while they say their bit and before they bugger off into obscurity again. Those not pretty enough to meet some undefined yet ever-oppressive standard, can either expect to be blocked from the success they’re owed, or forcefully scolded on mass by newspapers, commentators and the trolls of the internet, who are absolutely outraged, literally spitting with fury, that a conventionally unattractive woman be allowed to rear her head above the parapet and actually say something. How dare she? Doesn't she feel mortally ashamed of herself for her inadequate looks?

It’s the same force at play on a smaller scale with me and my wee life in London, with my 500 odd Facebook friends. I’m belligerently forcing myself out of this mind-set but when left unchecked, my subconscious (and usually all too conscious) mind can’t bear to be seen looking less than lovely, for fear that people will think less of me. They may judge me. They may be surprised that such an unflattering image has surfaced. They may think I’m becoming sloppy. And this is because I've been socialised to believe that as a woman, I owe people perpetual prettiness, and that any less than this will result in a personal failure on my part, a failure to behave in a way that I know to be the norm. And when people, particularly women, behave in ways outside of the norm, we make ourselves vulnerable to scorn and harsh judgement. But that judgement is at fault, not your double chin. And in turn that of course means that, as a woman, other women owe you nothing too. You don’t have the right to feel repulsed or offended or incredulous when a fellow woman looks a little less than perfect. That roll of fat is fine where it is and that sweat patch is supposed to be there. I know this is a problem with patriarchal standards, but thanks to internalised sexism women can be as complicit in this problem as men, which makes it all the more tricky to navigate.

You may be thinking to yourself: hey now, lighten up, it’s not so bad. You don’t have to be pretty, nobody will die if you’re not. And sure, you’d be right. If I put a picture of myself on Facebook with a few spots and mad hair, I won’t be thrown from my home and branded a leper. But when women live in constant anxiety about their appearance and whether or not they've met this standard of beauty, it can make life significantly less fun and the internet significantly more hostile. For example, on Sunday I ran the Bupa 10,000 race in London. I've been training for this 10k endurance test for around a month, and as I waited among thousands of runners at the starting line, I nervously bounced from foot to foot, listening to the excitable titters of my peers. Two women directly in front of me were talking about this time last year when they’d run the race for the first time. One woman explained to the other that she’d beaten her target time by over three minutes but the photos that Bupa’s photographers took of her were disgusting. She described herself as mortified by the images. The other woman laughed empathetically and said that if she saw a camera along the route, she’d duck her head down, even if it meant running into a fellow runner. They laughed: I died a little inside. This woman had completed a very difficult physical challenge and exceeded her target by a significant margin, but the take-away lesson was how unacceptable it was that she’d looked sweaty and unappealing while she did it. The pride she felt in her achievement was marred by the way in which her moist, pink face had been captured in the act of her own success. How truly depressing is that? Had I not been crippled by a case of the ‘nervous-need-a-wee’s, I’d have leaned in (as Sheryl taught me) and patiently explained that she didn't owe those onlookers perfection: she owes nobody anything and she should be able to appear dripping with sweat, with seven chins and dodgy wonky boobs and feel absolutely no fear of judgement whatsoever. I refrained because that would have also been entirely patronising and far too complex an issue to tackle mere seconds before the klaxon rang.

I’m not suggesting that as a woman, trying to make yourself look attractive is a poor choice of activity. I get an expensive haircut once every eight weeks, I wear mascara, I wear clothes that suit my shape. I even occasionally pick profile pictures that make me look the nicest I can be. Just because I’m calling out the problem doesn't mean I’m not myself a victim to it, as I probably will be for life. But if a photo exists of you and you don’t look how you want people to think you look, try not to delete it. I hate to break it to you, but that is in fact what you look like. And what you look like is fucking brilliant, not “imperfect”. Also, unless you’re a model, it’s completely irrelevant.

And finally, to the men out there – the ones who this is news to, and even to the ones who get it right 99% of the time, but still grimace when they see a picture of Beth Ditto: women don’t owe you prettiness or sexiness, or a smile. Your gratification means absolutely nothing. Women also don’t owe you a sexy dance in a club, a kiss, or sex. Your entitlement as you stare at me in the street or grab at my hand in a club is ludicrous. If you want to look at a person who works in an industry where beauty is the currency, Google ‘models’ and have yourself a field day. Just don’t expect prettiness to be delivered to you via every medium you choose, then be disappointed when it’s not. 

I also owe this blog to somebody: Erin McKean of A Dress a Day first got me thinking about this a few years ago and I've partially stolen her words. Reading what she had to say for the first time was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. So check it out. And while you're at it, here are the photos Bupa's paparazzi took of me. See, I'm putting my money where my mouth is. Oh, and I beat my hour target and raised £565 for Refuge, so my appearance couldn't be further down my list of things to be proud of right now.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

What do we tell our daughters?

On Monday night I went along to an event held by Pages of Hackney, a brilliant independent bookshop down the road. The event was a panel discussion with Kat Banyard, co-founder of UK Feminista, Nimko Ali, founder of Daughters of Eve, Zoe Williams, Guardian journalist and Melissa Benn, author and campaigner. It was Benn’s book that inspired the evening and shaped the debate: “What do we tell our daughters?”

Benn’s book details the struggle and awkwardness but, ultimately, the empowerment that erupts in the conversations had between mothers and daughters. Sex, relationships, the media, pornography, the elusive female orgasm... Not topics for those prone to blushing. The awesome foursome spoke passionately about what it is we should be telling our daughters, often contradicting each other, frequently profound, occasionally depressing but unanimously honest.
The whole thing got me scratching my chin about what I’d be telling my daughter about the world, if she were here now in 2014 (and of an appropriate age for such conversations). But it’s not the first time I’ve considered it: in 2012 myself and my dearest pal Rhiannon organised an International Women’s Day showcase at our students’ union. We included Vagina Monologues passages, poetry, singing and three of us wrote letters to our daughters. It seemed so easy at the time. Mine was filled with gutsy 'girl power' rhetoric – you can achieve anything you set your sights on, don’t let no manz tell you different grrrl, and for the love of god, the hair under your armpits is SUPPOSED to be there amiriiiiiight. Just two years ago, that felt so authentic, so bloody revolutionary – but I’m not so sure my message would be the same now. The ages of 21 and 23 don’t seem like such a gigantic leap but when you’ve spent a year as one of only two women at the helm of a 22,000 strong students’ union, received violent threats after talking about equality, had a misogynistic 'parody' twitter account dedicated to you, and been reduced to your “sweet arse” by a colleague and peer, the whole “you can do anything, sista!” discourse just doesn’t seem so relevant. Or true.

So I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to fill my hypothetical daughter’s head with sassy feel-good mantras; I want to prepare her for the complete and utter BS she’s inevitably going to face, and give her the insight to reject it. I’m sure if that was the flavour of my performance piece two years ago, I would have been met with 300 pairs of eyes, agog and horrified. So I guess it’s a good job it’s taken me this long to figure it out. So here goes.


The biggest lie you’ll ever be told is that men like sex more than women, or that men have needs to fulfil that women simply don’t have. This is a lie fed to you by films, tv shows, songs, your friends and pretty much any type of media that is driven by men – male writers, male producers, male directors, or just males themselves. The idea that men have “needs” that women don’t feel legitimises the imbalance felt by women in heterosexual relationships; it also legitimises male infidelity and partially legitimises rape and sexual assault. “Men have urges, they can’t control them, they are biologically wired to sow their seed”: this notion that male sexuality has a superior significance does women a huge injustice. At best, women miss out on sexual pleasure and at worst, men feel entitlement over women’s bodies and rape is normalised behaviour. But this isn’t just about women: this idea does a disservice to men too. Thoughtful, kind, passionate and exceedingly well-evolved men. The men who will work their tongues off trying to overcome centuries of female sexual oppression (and make up for lost time) by spending Frank Ocean’s entire album going down on you. The men who stand alongside you at protests over a woman’s right to a free, safe abortion. The men who fancy you loads but who’ll walk you home after a drunken night out, tuck you into bed, then see themselves out. Men are not brutish thugs who rape and pillage – we’ve evolved, get with the programme. But “boys will be boys” and we allow and expect them to behave this way so, of course, some will.
Just to clarify that point: your sexual pleasures and desires are equally as important as a man’s. Your lust is as strong, as potent and as natural. Those who tell you differently are afraid of what women could do if collectively we all realised this. Because there would be hell to pay. Or, more likely, we’d all become lesbians. If you’re a lesbian by the way, I’m totally down with that. I dig chicks.

A sexual relationship should be entirely reciprocal – if they’re coming, you should be too. It may take longer and result in some mild jaw cramping, but that’s the price we all pay for equality. If you’re not having a wild (and safe) time, find someone else to have special cuddles with. Trust me, you really don’t want to be missing out.


Relationships are really hard and usually boring. They’re also incredibly political even when you don’t want them to be – remember darling, we’ve discussed the 'the personal is political' thing before, I hope you were listening. But aside from that, a good relationship should be the most comfortable thing in the world, like wearing a giant woolly jumper in bed with an electric blanket with a packet of chocolate hobnobs. You should feel comfortable showing your partner what you look like in the morning, with no make-up and unbrushed teeth. If you let this person inside you, they should be able to see the outside of you as it really is. You should be able to say things, think things, do things free from fear or anxiety because that person should be your greatest advocate and ally and even the wildest of notions should be comfortably shared.
Sometimes men hit women. This has a lot to do with power and fear and anger and objectification, which we’ll explore in a minute. But sometimes relationships can pain you in other ways, and abuse has many different guises. If your partner ever tells you who you can and can’t talk to, or what you can and can’t wear, leave immediately. I’ll be ready with an open door, a cup of tea and a pillow to scream into. That last one is for me.


Unfortunately this is the most pervasive and inevitable of all these problems. And that’s because it’s at the very heart of bad sex and bad relationships. Sexism looks like many things and you often won’t know when it’s there and when it’s not. You may end up like your mother, where you can sniff it out when it’s probably imaginary, then you walk face-first into it when you were blissfully meandering. It’s the slipperiest, slimiest, stickiest thing: sexism is a slug that crawls across almost everything you’ll ever know or do. Sucks to be us, eh.
When you turn on the television and you see a male pop star in a music video looking pensive while watching a sunset, driving a car – that will seem normal. The next music video will be of a woman wearing a bikini washing a car, sponging her bulging breasts with suds and licking her lips – and that’ll seem normal too. We all accept that men and women look certain ways when they’re portrayed in the media, but this isn’t the way it should be. This is sexism. This shows that women’s bodies are more valuable than their talents, while men don’t have to live up to the same standards. And this will haunt you constantly; you’ll open a newspaper and a topless woman will greet you; you’ll go shopping and the magazine rack will taunt you with gaudy titillation; you’ll walk down the street and a man will wind down his window and harass you. And when you complain about this, people will call you 'over-sensitive' or a 'whiny bitch' or a 'feminazi' and that will be an attempt to silence you.

But this is where my lesson is coming together; this idea of you being silent, subdued or suppressed – sexually, romantically or politically. Even when you feel like it’s quivering or unsure, your voice is your most powerful asset. You must build friendships, relationships and a career around your ideas and your beliefs. Thoughts are incredibly valuable, especially women’s thoughts – those can move mountains when they’ve wanted to. Solidarity and collectivism are the best things ever; I know I’ve been a bit doom and gloom, but knowing that you’re not the only one and that there’s a movement of people supporting, loving and helping each other will lift your spirits when you’re feeling low. Find those people and hold onto them. Plus, things will be a lot better for you than they were for me, and much better than they were for your grandmother; these things take time and constant belligerence, don't forget that. 
And of course, my dear, if you’re horribly bored and uninspired by feminism and politics and the like, I won’t blame you. I’ll still adore you, even if you turn out to be a Conservative – or worse, apathetic – accountant. Just don’t expect the crispy roast potatoes; they’ll be going to your revolutionary brother.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Language is a weapon

So as my last blog explained, I recently attended a course called Writing for Advertising. I was worried it'd be super wanky wisdom like "There's one thing you need to know about copywriting. And that is that there's nothing to know about copywriting" or similar. But in fact, it was a day packed with creative exercises and exploration and I left feeling surprisingly inspired.

One of our tasks during the day was to write 200 words about something that concerned us. Everything concerns me: that made this task tricky. But since we'd been discussing the very intricate nuances of language, I settled on how words, or the misuse of them, keep me up at night.

I'm concerned about how words silence people.

Words are slaps and smacks and bites. They just don't look like them and the bruises aren't visible.

Words we hear on streets, in classrooms, at dinner parties cement our stereotypes, while autonomy crumbles. We burden each other with a baggage we haven’t consented to carry.

Call someone a 'chav' and you affirm their social worth: destitute, frightening, useless and conveniently categorised by the arbitrary sum of money they possess, or their accent.

Call a woman a 'slut' and you affirm her social worth. Her choices warrant scrutiny, her decisions are humiliating, her agency is compromised; she’s conveniently categorised by the arbitrary sum of people she's been intimate with, or the inches of her heels.

And call a man a 'fag', regardless of his sexuality, and you affirm his social worth: repulsive, laughable, shameful, devoid of the acceptable dose of masculinity and conveniently categorised by the arbitrary preference of his partner, or what he wore that day.

I'm concerned that words oppress people: keep them packaged, downtrodden, and silent.

Because words were made to liberate, unify, civilise. To articulate what looking and feeling cannot alone. To lock lips.

So let’s choose them wisely.

... Boom, 200 words precisely. With not a single word to spare, I trail off a little at the end: I would've preferred a suitably rousing call to action but I only had five words and I'm not that imaginative.

The more I think about language, the more I see how the foxy stuff tries to pull a fast one on many of us. And all too often this is directed at women. Quelle surprise. For example, how frequently do we hear in our offices a senior female staff member be called a 'bitch'The same assertive behaviour or seniority exhibited by a man in the same position, however, wouldn't even induce the bat of an eyelid. We expect men to be in charge: when a woman is in control, we're uncomfortable and we project those feelings onto her. Ergo, she's a bossy bitch.

That gets me on to 'bossy'. Oh 'bossy', how I loathe you. I was completely overjoyed to see Sheryl Sandberg and the USA Girl Scouts' #BanBossy campaign, because that seemingly innocuous word has been plaguing me all my life. For a few of the guys in my office who didn't understand why it was such a big deal (and to any male dissenters), I'd ask you this: When you were growing up, did you enjoy taking on leadership roles? Were you encouraged and praised for doing so? Did you ever get called bossy for taking the lead on a task or activity? I'm imaging the answers will be yes/yes/hell no, which is a completely different story for little girls.

Girls are largely socialised to be compliant and quiet, and we see this in the aggressively gendered nature of toy marketing. Girls get pretty dollies to nurture, boys get cool trucks to smash. And helicopters to craft. And Lego to build. Girls are carers. Boys are doers. Girls get used to putting others first and boys get used to standing up and getting shit done. There’s a ton of interesting research behind this, I’m just paraphrasing. Language like ‘bossy’ works in collusion with media and marketing because it punishes and chides girls for stepping outside of their prescribed gender roles. And that’s seriously hefty cultural practise to overcome as a child, or indeed as an adult. 

While I hate to be a killjoy, I think it’s time we all rethink some of the language we use. ‘Bitch’ and ‘slut’ and ‘chav’ don’t have the same historical weight as racially motivated terms like n*gger of course, but any language that seeks to make a person subordinate, ashamed or marginalised is unacceptable. Plus it’s lazy and narrow-minded and that’s not sexy. So the next time your friend calls a bloke in a tracksuit a ‘chav’, ask them why they felt the need to denigrate a working class person. That’s sure to be an awkward conversation.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Move over, Saatchi; there are new kids on the block.

Today I attended a day-long course called ‘Writing for Advertising’. Now there’s nothing I look forward to more than a day of learning (and a day out of the office), but in the last few days my excitement has been marred by a burning discomfort: I hate advertising.

Advertising is an industry that, minus a few notable exceptions, brazenly profits from peoples’ insecurities. An industry that is institutionally sexist, racist, ableist, classist, homophobic and offensive in any other way imaginable. A bit like politics or religion, but with a bigger budget and, worryingly, a bigger audience. It’s run by people who insist on clutching an old, safe, familiar idea about how things should be in the world and then aggressively and intrusively reproduce that idea over and over again until we all blindly accept our place in life and affirm this with our wallets. Fast cars are for men. Fairy liquid is for women.

But I work in advertising: I’m a copywriter for a cancer charity. Sure, I’m advertising great stuff – Think about the needs of others over your own pathetic pain threshold! Spit into a tube and you could cure cancer! If you donate your stem cells you’re the best person, like, EVER!”1! – but I’m in advertising nonetheless. I leap a mile from the association ‘copywriter’ brings with it thanks to Mad Men, because I’m a socialist. I abhor private wealth bound up by a few of the super-rich at the top and anchored off a boat in Morocco, private business that’s exclusively for profit and bereft of social benefit or goodness. The thought of turning my hand to write for Barclays, let’s imagine, makes me cringe. Why would I pour my energy and passion into copy that, if successful, would convince even more people to give their hard-earned money to Barclays, an organisation so deplorable I can only imagine it’s run by pantomime villains who snatch bags of loot and laugh derisively as they speed off in their yachts driven by moustachioed British butlers? And since I’m neither willing nor capable of shutting up about the deep wounds of social inequality that private finance induces, working there would be pretty #awks anyway.

But as I listened to what the bright young things around me on the course were saying, I realised that there were clearly people in advertising that thought a bit like me. In fact, they didn’t reflect what I perceived to be the “advertiser” trope at all; they were just witty and articulate people who started writing stories when they were six and want to write more. One woman worked for a Pharmaceutical company and when we were tasked with writing 200 words on something that concerned us, she chose the unfair distribution of wealth within America’s healthcare system. Another spoke of how she worried that social media was brimming with cats, gifs and Ed Balls, allowing stories like the kidnap of schoolgirls in Nigeria to be relegated as unsexy and irrelevant. Right on, sisters. If these are the sorts of thoughts that fresh faces in advertising harbour, maybe we’re not all quite as effed as I’d thought. If those same people, benefiting from the hard-won and ever-increasing opportunities of women’s liberation, get themselves into positions of power perhaps the sound of our media’s rhetoric will shift. I don’t doubt that the pressure to stick to the status quo will be oppressive, but small steps by the right people are a lot better than strides in the opposite direction. A gay couple here, a boy with a doll there – I’m not fussy. I should embrace the diversity of those going into the field, not simply mourn potential talent lost from the public sector. If a smart-talking socialist got themselves to the top of Barclays, they’d have to compromise during their ascent, sure, but perhaps our nation’s economic landscape would make for a prettier view from the top.

So while private sector work may not be on my horizons any time soon, it’s reassuring to know it’s not an industry entirely filled with mindless arrogant armpits. Hurrah! This celebration may seem premature but since I’m almost constantly filled with despair, it’s nice to get the optimistic moments on paper so I’m less likely to forget them. 

Monday, 4 June 2012

Easy PC

Greetings once more, my five glorious readers! Our numbers have almost doubled since my last blog post - what a triumph! - though I'm afraid to say that such late to the party readers will be sorely disappointed with my future offerings and we are sure to dwindle once more. To those who expressed their delight over my Chinese take-away based quips last time and are expecting more where that came from, do note that such references to my oily past will be sporadic from here on in, if not entirely non-existent. I'm a serious person with serious things to say about serious issues; I will not be reduced to a one trick lemon chicken. Number 80, £4.60.

I won't bother apologising over my abominable efforts to regulate my blogging. I am wholly irregular. One must accept these things in life, much as I have come to accept (though by no means approve of) menstrual cramps, suede, people who breath loudly and queue jumpers. But you are in for a treat: I have been storing up this rant for a very long time. I'll make a 'bold' statement to get us started: I love political correctness. And I shall tell you for why.

I work in a popular pub in Southampton, frequented predominantly by locals but with the odd spattering of students during prime nacho/pre-drink hours. I have become hardened to the racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic rhetoric I so often have the displeasure of overhearing from those that sit at the bar, but every once in a while I hear something so vile a glare of contempt simply won't suffice. The "enraged feminist psychopath" in me was beyond all realms of riled when I was conversing with one such regular punter, a middle aged white fellow with a penchant for Stella Artois. On requesting his drink of choice, I kindly complied. He took a sip and muttered "Mmm, I love a good wife beater". Now I'm not so far removed from mainstream culture to be unaware of Stella's unfortunate colloquial re-branding, so I casually shared my disapproval (of the name generally, not his specific usage) with the drinker:

Chloe: What an unfortunate nickname for a beer, eh?
Punter: Why is it unfortunate?
Chloe: (pause) Because 'wife beater' is hardly an image you'd want your brand to be aligned with, surely?
Punter: (looks confused) Why not?
Chloe: (slightly perplexed) Because domestic violence is ... really unpleasant, isn't it?
Punter: (starts to smirk) Is it? I've got no problem with it. (laughs)
Chloe: Domestic violence is appalling, I think you're being rather insensitive.
Punter: Oh heeeeere we go, am I not allowed to say anything 'politically incorrect' in here?
Chloe: (dumbfounded) Excuse me? I think it's a fair request that you don't mock domestic violence. It's certainly not funny.
Punter: What's it to you?

This absurd conversation has since been playing heavily on my mind. Who was the bad guy here? Of course I'm biased, but I have to say that all my observations point me to the conclusion that I reacted as a perfectly normal human being in this scenario, while he was a complete f*ckwit. The evidence is conclusive and undeniable for an abundance of reasons, but his pejorative reference to 'political correctness' has to be the most convincing and represents a prevailing and infuriating trend in the usage of the phrase.

The concept of political correctness came into public consciousness throughout the backlash of America's New Left against the staunchly traditional, conservative values of the Republican party during the second half of the twentieth century. Though often ironically used within leftist communities, the notion was that language and ideas and behaviours should concern itself with equal opportunities. Political correctness was an instant way of calling bullshit on someone's bigotry and a way of trying to cope and tackle that bigotry: a giant umbrella protecting people from a never ending shit storm of discrimination. Thus, political correctness is inherently excellent. However, it was adopted, reappropriated and warped by the political right in the 1990s due to the perceived Culture Wars, a societal dance-off between the two groups of ideologically opposed citizens and their collective senses of morality. The argument from here can get pretty academic and since I've now finished my degree, I must let go of such discourse. However, in simple terms: it makes bugger all sense that when somebody makes a discriminatory statement and somebody else is offended by that statement, 'political correctness' becomes the scapegoat. Somehow it is not the offender's ignorance, insensitivity or reckless cruelty that is to blame, but the very existence of the offended themselves. Those selfish bastards. Rather than the offender being held to account for outdated ideas of women, black people, homosexuals et al, they can instantly trump the oncoming outrage by playing the card of "political correctness gone mad". This mind-numbingly stupid phrase therefore renders the offended as someone who "can't take a joke" or "takes themselves too seriously": it silences people who are already alienated and sublimated within society. Make a heartless joke about domestic abuse towards women after centuries of fighting for equality and safety within our own homes and funnily enough, I refuse to be apologetic for taking that seriously. It's no coincidence that the most infamously bigoted and slanderous newspaper around, The Daily Mail, is actually responsible for the catchphrase 'political correctness gone mad'.

I recognise that some people will occasionally get a little overworked about not offending people and the results can be rather silly. People not being allowed to wear religious garb, or Cbeebies' Rasta Mouse coming under attack from a lot of whiny white mums, spring to mind. But that shouldn't be deemed the work of political correctness: that's just outright fear. Fear has gone mad. Being terrified of offending women, black people, homosexuals et al and therefore treating them as awkward aliens, I'd argue, illustrates just as much ignorance as shameless hate speech. I champion social sensitivity and that is what political correctness, by definition, is. Unfortunately, just like Stella Artois, political correctness requires a dramatic re-brand.

If you're not convinced, feel free to take me on. But I warn you: I am right. I wrote part of a novel dedicated to fictionalising this rant and did my dissertation on homophobia, and while they may have been inane, self-indulgent undergraduate ramblings, I am super well versed in this argument. Alternatively, trust in the wise words of Stewart Lee. I don't think he wrote a blog about it, but I'm pretty sure he's legit.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Chandler's Victory Dance

Well, dear readership, it would appear that I didn't keep my New Year's Resolution that I pledged in my last blog. The one about blogging regularly, not the other one. That one I certainly kept. All I can say is that I must have slipped into some sort of time/space vacuum on posting my last offering and have only just now been returned to the living, breathing blogosphere that is normality... or something. I think aforementioned vacuum is locally known as 'third year'. Diabolical lapse in efforts, I realise; I can only apologise and rather than promise to keep you posted on all future inane thoughts, tell you all now that I'm horribly unreliable and any commitment to this blog is commitment best committed elsewhere. I hear challenging and pleasurable reading can be had on various internet sources and point you in the direction of those, namely 'Wikipedia' and 'Jezebel'.

Many a metaphorical bomb has been dropped since my last post, all the way back in 2011. Ah, the good old days. That was before my dissertation was a tangible brain-munching shitstorm and existed to me only conceptually, like DisneyWorld Florida - I refuse to believe that's a real place, it's too perfect and simultaneously too appalling. That was before KONY 2012 reared its morally questionable head and then promptly retreated, tail between suspiciously attractive legs. That was before the American presidential race really kicked off, before I knew what 'Santorum' really meant. I advise you google it if you remain in the dark. And speaking of political races - if I really have the gall to call it that - that was before the SUSU elections, the annual churning out of six top notch soon-to-be-graduates who will attempt to handle the wild beast that is 22,000 unruly students. Who would be stupid enough to take on that responsibility, eh? ... I'm guessing that 99% of readers (Harri, Mike Fisher, my Ma) know the punchline, but just in case you have stumbled across this blog by mistake while searching for reviews of Britney Spears' latest album: I would be that stupid. Old muggins over here. The one wearing the daft grin with the ridiculous hair and absurd mole count. And in case anybody was wondering, that album was dire

I'm still in a state of perpetual shock, confusion and incredulousness. Though with a vocabulary that allows for atrocities like "incredulousness", it's no wonder I'm not relying upon my English Literature degree to find me work. Of course I'm terribly chuffed; I actually get to do a job I'll enjoy next year. If I didn't get elected my other option was to head back to Dorsetshire to reclaim my job alongside a dozen fourteen year old girls working in my local Chinese take-away for £4 an hour. You may laugh but that's what got me to university and that's what would have been greeting me on my somewhat dismal return. Forget a street party with a massive paper dragon, I would have been given a packet of prawn crackers and a slap on the arse: it would have been like I'd never left. For that alone, I thank those who voted for me. From the bottom of my chow mein ridden heart. Number 9, £4.80.

But seriously, I'm not quite sure how this has happened. When I retrace my footsteps, I can only feel like some mistake has been made. Year one was spent being praised and condemned - in equal measure, I may add - for my rather unprepared and inarticulate run-in with PM-to-be DC; off to a good start with the liberal voters but despised by the majority of Southampton students. Go figure. Year two was full of KitKat bashing and feminist ranting; my potential voters must have been quartered, the haters thoroughly and justifiably now running amok with scorn. Year three was quiet, I was biding my time, behaving myself and now this? What madness. I have no idea how a hairy-legged socialist feminist with a penchant for ethical tirades and ovaries has won what is essentially a popularity contest. I feel like that day was a good day: for me, for feminism and for the world I hope to one day live in. There is hope for us yet. The apathetic masses - and various others - will disagree I'm sure but the voters have spoken. Cue Chandler's victory dance.

Life goes on: books need a'reading, essays need a'writing, gay porn needs a'watching. All for academic purposes, of course. Currently Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things is keeping me up well into the wee hours, that and the thought of the representation of queer identity in AIDS narratives from 1988-1995 ... It's a long story.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Woman on Woman

I'm a little embarrassed at how long it's been. Not because I feel like I've left you all (mother, Mike Fisher and Harri Notton) bereft of exciting and challenging blog updates, but because I despair to think of how many hours I've wasted on facebook/twitter/wikipedia/eating/watching Sex and the City when I could have been writing exciting and challenging blog updates. New Years' Resolution #1: Write FAR more regularly. As in at least twice a month. None of this three month dry spell shit. Nobody likes a dry spell.

The myriad issues which have riled me over the past three months are enough to fill several hundred blogs and so I must accept that I have very much 'missed the boat' on things like the Occupy movement, My Transsexual Summer, Berlusconi, Florence and her racist Machine, My Tram Experience et al. Do note that I have been feeling wildly and passionately about all above issues however. While the blog has died, my zeal for justice lives on. I'd hate for you to think that I have shut up about anything; I have merely channelled my anger into modes of communication which take less time ie. twitter and The Other F Word, the radio show Rhiannon and I wail on. Following me on twitter is like a quick slap in the face; reading my blog is like me tugging your earlobe for an hour. The latter just seems to NEVER END. And speaking of never ending, we have arrived at my topic of choice for this reunion blog. *Clears throat*: sexism. I am a master of subverting your expectations, I know.

But this isn't sexism in its most traditional sense. This isn't patriarchy and the glass ceiling and objectification. This is a specific kind of sexism which has wound me up beyond belief during this festive season. Possibly the worst type of sexism. The sexism which almost doesn't look like sexism. The sexism which gets branded as "bitchiness" or "gossip" so it slips under your sexism radar and it's only when you're home in bed that it suddenly dawns on you that you were divulging in sexism. Good grief, you think to yourself. This sexism is what I call 'woman on woman' and I find it to be the most abhorrent form of sexism there is.

Have you ever been chatting to a female friend and found the conversation slipping into the realms of cruelty? Of course, you're only human. But have you ever been chatting to a female friend and found the conversation turning to a mutual female peer/acquaintance/friends' provocative outfit she was wearing last night? Or how many men she's slept with? Or how 'slutty' she acts? Or how unattractive she is? Over the years, I have found myself in what must be hundreds of these conversations. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course, but I feel ashamed and repulsed at how for the longest time I bought into woman on woman hatred. And actually enjoyed it.

Woman on woman is when a woman or women verbally attacks, judges, hates on a fellow woman or women. This kind of hatred usually manifests as judgement on sexuality, identity and other life choices. I am fully aware that we are innately judgemental creatures: some judgements can be good and helpful and necessary but some judgements are products of our society's crippling attitudes and inequalities. I mean, is it really helpful or necessary to judge how many men a woman has slept with? Is that in any way significant to your friendship or who she is as a human being? As Jenna Marbles, youtube extraordinaire, once said when responding to similar issues: "Has she got your boyfriend's cock in her mouth? If the answer is no, you have no reason to hate her." Ms Marbles says a lot of questionable shit  but here, in her own crass fashion, she is entirely right. What does a woman's outfit have to do with the rest of us? If she wants to wear provocative clothing and show off the illegal part of her tights, then why on earth not? It has absolutely nothing to do with any of us and is simply a matter of taste. Some women feel comfortable expressing their bodies and their sexuality, while others don't. My anger at woman on woman hate reached a gargantuan peak recently when I discovered that according to a survey done by Amnesty International , 1 out of 4 people believe that a rape victim is partially to blame if they were wearing "sexy" clothing. 1 out of 4 people have some seriously twisted views on rape and sexuality.  Rape is caused by a rapist; flesh does not equate to a thumbs up. Why this is even still being debated is beyond me, it seems as simple as rapists being prosecuted and punished. Oh wait. However, when the hatred for sexually provocative or explicit women is so high and so fierce, we can hardly hope for better statistics.

This needs to be tackled right here and right now. The global movement 'SlutWalk' is tackling the law and the stigma (thank fuck) but it needs to be tackled in the girls' bathrooms at Jesters, where I routinely overhear women hating on the sexual endeavours of other women. It needs to be tackled on television, where "slut" or "whore" are acceptable ways in which to describe a woman and aren't deemed offensive alongside oppressive terms like "faggot" or "mong". It needs to be talked about and questioned and challenged and we need to stop accepting our fate as women. I have been called it all: a slut, frigid, a dyke, a prostitute. Every term used to sexually stigmatise under the sun. And what am I? I am whatever the hell I want to be and I am the only person that can define that. I am the only party to consistently attend all the times I've had sex so how could someone else possibly judge? And I can assure you, it's really not that interesting. The whole 'whore/virgin' dichotomy unfortunately lives on and as an English student who has done countless essays on this pair of opposites throughout history, I can tell you now - it's getting seriously dull. And at the end of each essay, I always wrap it up with the same thing: "'Whore' and 'virgin', the prevailing terminology to sexually categorise women, don't actually mean anything". It makes the last three thousand words seem pretty futile but it is the conclusion I will stubbornly continue to come to. Of course, clinically, we can say what a virgin physically is. But what is a slut? Someone who has slept with lots of men, perhaps. But what is 'lots'? It's a context specific word and therefore 'slut' has no inherent value. Slut only exists in relation to its opposite (virgin, frigid, prude etc): a woman who has had ten sexual partners is a 'slut' when in a community of women who have slept with none while a woman who has slept with ten sexual partners isn't when compared to women who have slept with fifty. So even the biggest 'slut' is only so in certain circles. She is a fair-weather slut, at best.

Have we learnt nothing from Mean Girls? In my opinion, Mean Girls is one of the best feminist films to come out of the 21st century and certainly one of the best to have ever been produced in Hollywood. This is all down to the goddess that is Tina Fey. Tina, how I love thee. Her immortal line to a gym full of angsty teenage girls is perfect: "You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores". TRUE DAT. We have got to stick together in this. And if we all stopped worrying about other womens' sex lives and concentrated on our own, maybe we'd get better at masturbating? Men seem to have perfected this over the centuries - it's probably because they don't think about what men are wearing and doing and sleeping with every ten seconds. Challenge on, ladies. New Years' Resolution #2 (this one's for all of us): Worry less about how many men other women are sleeping with and what they're wearing/Masturbate more.

If you're looking for last minute Christmas presents for women (or open-minded men OR evil bastards who need a good talking to), I'd recommend Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman. It's utterly brilliant and articulates my feelings wonderfully, with far more wit and impressive metaphor. I can't help resenting her though; I was going to write that book. Time to rethink my life plan, I guess. In the meantime, I know what I can spend more time doing...

... Blogging, obviously! Have a fabulous Christmas, my three lovely readers.