Thursday, 8 November 2007

It's rude to stare

It's pretty well accepted that however a woman dresses and wherever she walks, sexual assault is wrong. Most people would agree that shouting lewd things also is wrong. But I go one further: I think staring is wrong. I'm not talking about just looking at an attractive woman, noticing her, appreciating her beauty, eyeing her up in a covert manner or entertaining lustful thoughts. There's clearly nothing wrong with that. What I'm talking about is the lascivious, aggressive stare of a man who wants you to know that he's staring at you. He wants you to know that it's his God-given right to look you up and down like that and there's nothing you can do about it. It's as much a display of dominance as telling a woman to get her tits out. It can make you feel just as violated as being groped.

It's also an unbelievably cowardly thing to do. If you grope a woman, you risk her hitting back. If you tell her what a nice arse she has, you risk her saying something cutting that could - shock horror! - undermine your masculinity. If you just stare, there's nothing she can do because you haven't technically done anything wrong.

When I was a little girl and my mother caught me staring at someone, because they were fat or thin or ugly or beautiful or disabled or disfigured, she told me it was rude to stare. When I was old enough to know better, she scolded me for it. Everybody knows it's rude to stare. It's not just quaint British etiquette, it's a deep-rooted anthropological phenomenon - even primates use it as a display of aggression. In some cultures it is considered rude to make eye contact at all. Even a non-aggressive stare can make the victim feel extremely uncomfortable. This is basic manners. Why do manners go out of the window when a sleazy man is faced with an attractive woman? Why is it considered acceptable to stare blatantly at her?

A lot of people seem to think that this is the inevitable consequence of being a red-blooded testosterone-driven heterosexual male. I say this is bollocks. Noticing, appreciating and lusting after attractive women is the inevitable consequence of being a red-blooded testosterone-driven heterosexual male. Staring at them aggressively is NOT. If I see an attractive man, I will look at him, but if he catches me looking I will look away quickly, possibly with a friendly smile, firstly because I don't want the embarrassment of him knowing I was eyeing him up, but secondly because I don't want to make him feel uncomfortable. I see men doing this too. No man is incapable of manners, however rabidly heterosexual he is.

"But they're neanderthals!" I hear you cry. "They surely are incapable of not expressing their desire to stick their dick in every piece of skirt that walks past!" Poppycock. I have irrefutable evidence that these red-blooded testosterone-driven heterosexual males can behave when it suits them. I know for a fact that these neanderthals are perfectly capable of curbing their natural instincts. I know this because I have never, ever, EVER been so much as looked at by one of them when I'm in male company. There's a sort of code of honour amongst these sorts of men, that you don't harass another man's bird. How courteous of them.

I don't think it's even to do with physical dominance, from what I've observed. Last summer I had the experience of walking down the street to meet a male friend and receiving six cases of unwanted harrassment within ten minutes (oh yes, I counted). But when we met up and went for a long walk together, nobody even looked at me the whole time. Now, my best friend has lots of wonderful qualities, but brawn most definitely is not one of them. I on the other hand have biceps that could give an East-European weightlifter a run for their money. There's no way any of the men who chose not to harass me when I was with him made that decision because they thought he might defend his lady's honour by beating them to a bloody pulp. They left me alone because they thought that we were a couple, that I was his property, and that you don't steal another man's girl. If you're with a man you are immune to harassment. The man's assumed desire for you not to be sleazed on is automatically respected, but any protests you make when you're alone, whether in the form of fighting back or ignoring them and staring at the floor, fall on deaf ears. Doesn't that say so much about the inherent misogyny in this?

The way I see it, if they can leave me alone when I'm with a man, then they can bloody well leave me alone when I don't have "protection". The next time one of them blatantly eyes me up, I'm just going to say, "Didn't your mother ever teach you it's rude to stare?" I suggest you do the same.

Thursday, 25 October 2007


Feminism gets a pretty bad rap in general. There is this hideous stereotype of the mad, hairy, bra-burning lesbian for starters. But something else feminists get accused of is man-hating and "emasculation".

The man-hating thing is partly a myth constructed in order to foster distaste for feminism and to introduce the idea that feminism is actually inherently sexist. It's also partly the fault of women who go around saying things like, "All men are bastards," which frankly is usually because they only go out with bastards. It has extremely little if anything to do with feminists themselves.

Emasculation however does have a lot to do with feminism. Masculinity and femininity are cultural concepts that have little to do with gender. They have been constructed by a patriarchal society to exaggerate massively the small differences between men and women (men are generally more aggressive and women are generally more nurturing, and that's about it - and we can blame our hormones for those trends, not our brains) and to perpetuate a culture in which men rule the roost whilst women make the tea. The pressure to fit into these stereotypes and the male dominance inherent in them is something that feminists generally are not too happy about.

However, I don't think men should be emasculated any more than I think women should be de-feminised. Everybody should have the right to be who they want to be, within reason. I feel more feminine when I wear make up and pretty clothes and remove my body hair. This might be because I have been indoctrinated by the patriarchy to define my femininity in such a trite manner, but it's harmless and it makes me feel good about myself. Likewise, I don't begrudge a man anything that makes him feel more masculine, just as long as it doesn't involve him being a complete shit.

If a man's definition of masculinity involves raping, beating or lacking respect for women, seeing women as second class citizens, feeling superior to someone because he has a penis and they don't, refusing to do housework or valuing women solely for their fuckability, then I am only too happy to emasculate him. This "you're just trying to emasculate men" attitude is often used as an excuse for the perpetuation of misogyny by equating masculinity with scurrilous behaviour and attitudes. All feminism seeks to break down is misogyny, and therefore the only way a person could believe that feminists hate men is if their definition of masculinity is entirely tied up in the idea of all men being total gobshites.

Feminists hate misogyny
Masculinity = misogyny
Feminism = emasculation
Feminists hate men

If a man feels that his God-given right as a male is to earn more than female colleagues, get away with rape, visit dodgy brothels and value women only according to their sexual availability, then of course feminism is going to make him feel emasculated. Much as I try to avoid making sweeping statements about feminists in general, I think it's fair to say that none of us want to chop anyone's balls off. If you feel castrated by the thought of equality, you need to reassess your definition of masculinity.

I think that masculinity should be about self-identifying as male. Beyond that, there's not much to say. In terms of relations between the sexes, it should be about using one's greater size and strength for protection rather than dominance. It should be about being confident enough to be glad that women aren't stuck in the kitchen. It should be about valuing women as human beings even if you don't want to pork them.

Basically, be nice and we won't emasculate you :)

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Only thin candidates need apply

The lovely Lynne Miles of The F-Word has been blogging recently about the true cost of being fat. Our Lynne is an occasional member of Weight Watchers, and receives emails from them. She was horrified when the following popped into her inbox:

"The worst thing was when I went for a job interview, knowing full well I had all the skills needed. But I never got the job."

Susan believed she was turned down for the job on the basis that she was overweight. Proof of this came six months later when she applied for the same job again - this time much slimmer - and got the job.

"It was embarrassing," she says. "I had the same skills, did the tests in the same way and got the same results. The only difference was I was 3st lighter."

Although the idea of losing weight if one is unhealthily overweight isn't a bad idea, this story is being used as a motivational tool to help fatties lose weight, rather than as a demonstration of how employers discriminate against people who don't look the part. It's pretty fucked up that anybody could read the above and not be outraged.

Lynne thinks that this sort of discrimination affects women more than it affects men and I sort-of agree. I do think that men are almost certainly discriminated against for being fat. However, I suspect that the level of obesity men have to achieve before receiving the same level of discrimination is probably significantly higher.

If an interviewer saw a candidate of either gender who was morbidly obese, I can absolutely understand them being put off by that. Somebody who is so hugely fat they don't walk so much as waddle and get out of breath climbing a flight of stairs is unlikely to be a healthy employee. It's pretty much impossible to be that fat without having either physiological or psychological problems and whilst it's unfair, it's understandable that employers might not be keen for that reason.

Beyond that, it's just mindless discrimination. And as Lynne points out, as physical appearance is considered more important for women than for men, women are bound to be more affected by it. Employing someone who's a size 6 instead of someone who's a size 26 is kind of understandable. Employing someone who's a size 6 over someone who's a size 16 is outrageous. No man who was heavily built and/or slightly overweight would suffer such discrimination unless he was going for a job as a Speedo model, but women live with it constantly. If you don't believe me, take a walk around the City and see if you can spot a female suit who's above a size 12. How "too fat" is defined for women is considerably more exclusive than how it is defined for men, and thus a far greater number of women suffer discrimination. Not that I would think it were any more acceptable if it happened to men too, but if it happened to men too people would probably make a fuss about it.

I actually got chatting about this with someone a while back who told me that he had once employed an enormously fat woman precisely because of her size. She had many great qualities but what really clinched the job for her was that he felt that any woman who could achieve the impressive CV that she had and to go through life in such an image-obsessed society as a functional, confident human being whilst being that fat, had proved herself to be a very strong and determined individual.

I agree. Although the human capacity to endure is far greater than anybody ever imagines until they're actually going through something, I can't envisage going through life as a very fat woman without ending up with rock bottom self esteem. However much you believe that being physically attractive isn't that important and that other people's opinions don't matter, how one is perceived by others is important and does affect one's self image. Even Lynne, who is a bit fat but in no way unattractive, tells me that she receives random abuse from people in the street on average about once a week. I don't even understand why anyone would do that. Why yell abuse at someone who's done nothing wrong other than to be a few pounds heavier than you think they should be? People suck.

Perhaps one of the reasons that "fattism" isn't treated with the outrage it so richly deserves is that the women who suffer from it are too ashamed to speak out. We are taught that fat women are barely deserving of existence. Of course there are notable exceptions in the form of high profile fatties such as Jo Brand and Dawn French, but as a whole, fat women are not exactly flavour of the month. I've said it before and I'll say it again: physical appearance is considered by far the most important trait for a woman, and so if a woman doesn't conform to a certain standard, her worth as a human being is massively diminished. It takes an incredibly self-assured fatty to make a fuss about discrimination, rather than simply to shuffle away and tuck into a low fat yoghurt. Susie Orbach springs to mind.

Most women don't appreciate the extent to which attractiveness-based discrimination happens because most women go through life at pretty much the same level of attractiveness all the time. Susan knows what it's like to be both fat and thin, she knows how much more accepted she is with her slimmer physique, and yet she is using her experience not to speak out about how appalling the treatment of fat people is but to speak out about how you too can be a size 10 to please all of those unmitigated arsewipes who won't employ you if you're carrying a few extra pounds. If you manage to lose weight and keep it off, good for you. But you shouldn't have to do so in order to be valued as a human being. You shouldn't have to do so in order to get a job. Fattism should not be accepted.

Part of the problem is that people think that losing weight is easy and that anybody who's a bit porky just needs to lay off the pies a bit and get some exercise. Usually the people you hear saying that are the sort of people who stay slim no matter how many pies they eat. If it really were that simple, do you think anybody would be overweight? Nobody chooses to be overweight. Hell, if it were easy to control one's size, few women would be above a size 8. It's illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of race for example, but not on the grounds of fat. If it were possible for black people to bleach their skin white, would people consider it acceptable to shout racial slurs at them in the street because "they could change if they wanted to" or to discriminate against them in the workplace because they "obviously lack self-respect"?

In my not-so-humble opinion, it's time people accepted a few things:

  • Some people find it easier to stay slim than others
  • Being slightly overweight isn't likely to affect one's health significantly
  • Being fat doesn't make a person sub-human
  • Women don't exist just to look pretty
  • Being fuckable isn't an important criterion for a job interview candidate
  • You can't discriminate against discrimination. It all sucks, whether it's to do with a person's gender, sexuality, the colour of their skin or their waist measurement
  • Friday, 12 October 2007

    Good role model?

    Whilst doing my customary skim-read of the Times website this morning, I saw a standfirst that really annoyed me:

    We caught up with Lily Allen at Chanel’s Paris salon. Here she talks about Lagerfeld, her weight and being a role model.

    It seems that there are two massive issues for any young women with a prominent position in the media - her weight and being a role model - and that the two are inextricably linked.

    Be too thin, and you will be continually derided for being a poor role model, as if young girls have nobody to look up to but vacuous pop princesses whose every coke-snorting escapade is lovingly splashed across the latest issue of Heat, as if you are directly responsible for the existence of anorexia.

    Be a healthy size 8-12 though (no fatter than that, because of course that would be, like, gross!) and you will be lauded as a great role model for young girls and your 'gorgeous curves' will be lovingly praised in patronising drivel that implys that until the reader saw your 'rubenesque' figure in a bikini they were locked in a cycle of hating their figures so much that their only solace was an entire box of Krispy Kremes consumed alone in front of America's Next Top Model.

    This immediate assumption that being a role model is part of a celebrity's job generally only applies to female celebrities. You don't see the media going potty every time a male celebrity goes on a drinking binge or loses a few pounds. And yet, this is the same media that goes nuts over single mums, lack of male teachers in primary schools, the fact that not having any men in their lives can be damaging to boys. Whether it's actully hugely damaging or not (I haven't a clue and suspect it depends largely on the individual) the fact is that boys are statistically less likely than girls to have lots of role models in real life. If anybody needs celebrity role models, it's boys not girls.

    And then, there's the vacuous nature of the manner in which this role model business manifests itself. It's almost completely to do with weight. It helps if you don't drink or smoke, but basically, in order to be regarded as a 'good role model', it's all about the curves and very little else. The trashy end of the media (which, let's face it, is most of it) will print photographs of a talented actress or musician, but all they will discuss is her weight fluctuations, with finger-wagging accusations of eating disorders, labels of 'poor role model'. Is not being anorexic all girls are to aspire to? It's the media that's creating the idea that no matter how talented and successful she is, a woman is nothing but a body, whether skinny or fat. And that, my friends, is a poor example indeed.

    Tuesday, 9 October 2007

    The "double standard"

    This "double standard" you'll hear feminist types ranting about quite a lot refers to the phenomenon of men being applauded for promiscuity whilst women are derided for the same behaviour. However, I've never really been that convinced of just how prevalent this is these days. I've often been derided for *not* being promiscuous - both men and women have accused me of being "frigid" for not being interested in shagging random strangers in nightclub toilets. It has always seemed to me that the expectations of people with regards to sexual behaviour have evened out, that now both men and women are expected to shag everything that moves.

    I'd like to say at this point that I have absolutely no moral stance on sex whatsoever - the reason I don't do casual sex is just that I'm too shy and that it takes me a while to feel physically comfortable enough with someone to actually enjoy it. I have to know someone for a little while before I can seriously lust after them. And I'm buggered if I'm doing anything I don't feel comfortable with just because Cosmo tells me I've got "issues with sex" if I'm not shagging someone by our fourth date.

    We all know of course that sleeping with someone on the first date is a big no-no. He won't respect you in the morning! And yet, if you hold off until the third or fourth date, he will be a lovely romantic creature who will provide gargantuan quantities of respect, adoration, jewellery and cunnilingus. Fuck that - I'd suggest that if he's the type of guy who won't respect you in the morning, then he's a misogynistic arsewipe and definitely not relationship material, so it doesnt matter whether you sleep with him or not.

    I was chatting to a fellow feminist at a party a few weeks ago, who told me that she always sleeps with people on the first date, because she's not sure if she'll get a second date. Although the girl in question immediately became my personal hero, she was at pains to tell me that people often reacted very badly to her shagging antics. Many men really did lose respect for her. Obviously I was very wrong in my theory that both men and women are supposed to be racking up as many notches on their bedposts as possible.

    But what is a girl to do? I've got a bit of a controversial take on this: I think all of this double standard and virgin/whore arsemongering is actually very liberating. Women can't do anything right. There is no ideal. However you behave sexually you will be judged, called names, whatever. You can't get it right, so don't even try. Just do exactly what you want to do in the happy knowledge that however you conducted your sex life, somebody would be pissed off about it. And here's a hint - if you feel like sleeping with someone, do it. He might not respect you in the morning, but at least that way you get laid.

    'Studies have shown' precisely sod all

    Deborah Cameron has written a book entitled The Myth of Mars and Venus, published last week by Oxford University Press. As she explains in an interview in The Times today, men and women are all from Earth, but perhaps John Gray is from Uranus.

    Extracts from this book appear in The Guardian. I was going to provide lots of choice quotes, but it's all so fascinating, insightful and comprehensive that I felt like quoting all of it, so you'll just have to read it for yourself. The basic premise is, women don't talk more than men - just more than the patriarchy would like them to. This is what I've always suspected and it's great to see it in print.

    This table presents a realistic picture of what scientific research has actually discovered about the differences between men and women, where 'd' is the value of overall gender difference: minus values indicate that women are ahead of men and plus values indicate that men are ahead of women. As Cameron points out, the only reputable studies that have revealed significant differences between the sexes have measured athletic prowess and aggressiveness, at which men outperformed women. In other words, this is what you would expect from differences in muscle mass and testosterone levels, with little or nothing to do with the manner in which male and female brains are 'wired up'.

    Of course, the stereotype of the grunting, knuckle-dragging buffoon is pretty insulting to men:

    The literature of Mars and Venus, in both the self-help and popular science genres, is remarkably patronising towards men. They come off as bullies, petulant toddlers; or Neanderthals sulking in their caves. One (male) contributor to this catalogue of stereotypes goes so far as to call his book If Men Could Talk. A book called If Women Could Think would be instantly denounced; why do men put up with books that put them on a par with Lassie or Skippy the Bush Kangaroo ("Hey, wait a minute - I think he's trying to tell us something!")?

    From The Guardian

    An unfortunate side-effect of these patronising gender stereotypes however is that they can excuse loutish, petulant behaviour in men. As Cameron explains, this can have serious consequences:

    Cameron cites one rape trial in Canada in the 1990s where the female complainant is asked: “Did it occur to you through the persistent behaviour that maybe your signals were not coming across loud and clear”, while the male complainant states simply: “She said that she was tired but she never said like ‘no’, ‘stop’, ‘don’t’.”

    Cameron argues that both men and women are perfectly capable of understanding what a woman saying ‘I’m tired’ and feigning unconsciousness means, but no one thinks to ask why the defendant is being so obtuse. The complainant, on the other hand, is roasted for not being direct enough. The myth of Mars and Venus bolsters a great escape route for the defendant: miscommunication.

    From The Times

    So, big up to the Deborah Cameron massive. But the one major beef I have with all of this is that nobody seems to be tackling the commonly-held belief, often backed up in the same manner by dodgy sensationalist 'studies', that women can't read maps and have poor sense of direction and spatial awareness. If Cameron manages to debunk the myth that men are useless neanderthals who can't communicate but people continue to believe that women can't navigate their arse from their elbow, we could end up in a nasty situation whereby we swap rigid, equal-but-different gender stereotypes for perceived male superiority. Perhaps there's another book in the pipeline. I hope so.

    There's plenty of evidence to suggest that all of these differences between the sexes are minute, with far more variation between people regardless of gender than between the genders themselves. But as Cameron explains, "A book called Men and Women Understand Each Other Pretty Well Most of the Time isn’t going to sell too many copies, is it?”

    Alas, Deborah, you've hit the nail on the head. Newspapers, magazines, books and documentaries don't tell you the truth. They tell you what you want to hear. And people want to hear that women can't read maps and men need to be more 'in touch with their feelings', whatever that means. I work in the media. I know how this works. You go for the most exciting stories, which doesn't necessarily correlate with the most accurate representation of what's actually going on. And if someone's produced a bollocks study, for example, deciding that the female love of pink is genetically hardwired by asking 208 people what their favourite colours are, this is the sort of thing that readers will salivate over. The media ignores the thousands of other, more reputable studies that prove that there's not much difference between the sexes because it's not what the readers want. That's not what sells papers or improves viewing figures. Nobody wants to read that women are capable of parallel parking or that men are capable of picking up their own dirty socks. Actual news is a different matter, but when it comes to features and fluff pieces, most people want to read nice, comforting drivel that confirms their own opinions, which of course were formed by such drivel in the first place.

    And then people actually start living it. Who has ever been in a room full of women actually boasting about how bad their maths skills are, presumably because it somehow asserts their femininity? Likewise with men claiming not to understand anything but the clearest of entirely verbal cues. Most people who don't happen to be completely useless in the areas in which the patriarchy tells them they're supposed to be completely useless suppress their strengths. I was the only girl out of 25 in my A level maths class, and everybody at school thought I was a lesbian. Not because I displayed any 'dykeish' behaviour but because the only possible explanation for my greater aptitude for maths and science than humanities was that I was a raving carpet-muncher. Apparently heterosexual girls just didn't do maths.

    Even when people genuinely want to be good at things that don't correlate with their gender roles, it's difficult. Society has been shaping their self-image since they were tiny children. Most women really do think that they can't read maps. Most men really do think that they're insensitive slobs. In some cases this is true and that's fine. But it's not fine that millions of people find it difficult to fulfil their potential because we all feel the need to pigeonhole each other.

    Saturday, 6 October 2007

    Ali G does feminism

    Very old, but very funny.

    Thursday, 4 October 2007

    Love the skin you're in

    Dove have produced a new short film in conjunction with the Campaign for Real Beauty:

    This is a great film and promotes a really important issue - that the cosmetics industry negatively affects young girls as well as grown women. However, these campaigns that try to persuade us to love our bodies, warts and all, really bug me sometimes. Basically, cosmetics companies seem to be using two types of women in their advertisements these days: Models, and Real Women.

    The models, those leggy, perma-tanned, airbrushed gazelle-like creatures, have been around for a while. But the Real Woman is a relatively recent phenomenon. The Real Woman is voluptuous, relatively small-breasted and uses few cosmetics. She loves her body and she revels in her cycles and curves. She holds her head up high despite the fact that she is positively gargantuan by Hollywood standards, because she knows that she is beautiful and she loves her body. Well, I'm a size 6, I have E-cup breasts and I own so many sparkly eyeshadows I wouldn't be surprised if I am single-handedly keeping Barry M in business. Am I less "real" than the women in the Dove adverts? It's just another representation of female beauty to which few of us conform, even if the "message" behind it is rather more positive than that of traditional advertisements despite being just a sugar coating for selling us stuff.

    There seems to be this assumption that women hate their bodies because of the constant bombardment of unrealistic images thrust at us by Hollywood and the cosmetics industry, and so we all need to learn to love our bodies in order to compensate for it. Fine. But why should I love my body? It's just a body. Men aren't expected to love their bodies. Loving your body makes as little sense as hating it. What we really need, in my opinion, is just to quit being so obsessed with our bodies in the first place.

    The reason that loving your body is considered so important is that women's bodies are considered so disproportionately crucial to their worth as human beings. From childhood, women are taught that their self esteem should be tied up in their looks. There's this idea that you can't walk down the street with your head held high if you don't adore every inch of your body. This is bullshit. You don't have to love your body in order to be confident, because you are much more than just your body. I may have the shortest legs in the known universe, but I also have sharp wit, an optimistic disposition, kindness and intelligence. I may have big jugs, but I am also uptight, pedantic and socially inept. I am more than my physical appearance and I refuse to let my self image revolve solely around it.

    There's also the uncomfortable truth that it's much easier for some people to love their bodies than others, whether from genuine attractiveness or the extent to which they fit some sort of media 'ideal'. If I do love my body, it's probably because it happens to be relatively close to the 'ideal' plastered all over billboards rather than because I actually have sky-high self esteem. And I realise that in an image-obsessed society in which women are regarded primarily as decoration with their worth measured by how fuckable they are, this makes me extremely lucky.

    This pressure to love your body is just that: more pressure, on top of the pressure that women already feel with regards to the way they look. Loving your lardy arse is just as self-absorbed as punishing it with cellulite cream. You are only truly free of the beauty industry and the airbrushed standards it promotes if your lardy arse is not an issue in the first place.

    The Campaign for Real Beauty, whilst coming up with some great films, totally skirts the issue. Although 'Love Your Body' is a big step up from 'You Need Cellulite Cream' the issue that would really be helpful for them to push is, 'Your Body Isn't Actually That Important'. But then, that won't help them sell any body lotion.

    Thursday, 20 September 2007

    Here's some tits - now buy our product

    Londoners (and possibly those further afield - I'm not sure how far this campaign has spread) can't fail to have noticed that The Sun is now 20p. The reason they can't fail to have noticed is because of the advertisements emblazoned across the side of buses, featuring a topless woman whose tits are covered by two giant 10ps.

    People have understandably been up in arms about the vile objectification inherent in this, but I don't think I've ever heard anybody mention, with regards to this or to similar such campaigns, what really pisses me off about it: the assumption that the consumer is a heterosexual male.

    To be honest, I'm not that bothered about the assumption that I don't read The Sun. But sexualised images of women's bodies are used to sell so many products and services that have little or no male bias. I was living in Reading a couple of years ago and once saw a billboard at the train station that made me shriek with rage (actually shriek, on a train platform...nobody took any notice though - there are a lot of nutters around these days). It was an advertisement for a local printing company, featuring a woman whose modesty was concealed by strategically placed bits of paper, with the suggestion that she might remove them if you were to use this company for your printing needs.

    Uptight types might have been appalled by the idea of any flesh on show at all, liberal types might have been appalled by the idea that impressionable people such as teenage boys are subjected to such blatant objectification, but what I found so unbelievably offensive was the idea that this company was only marketing itself to heterosexual men. The implication was that a woman (or indeed a gay man) couldn't possibly have responsibility for deciding what printing company to use, because women just file things and answer the phone. Or indeed pose as bait for men, who are of course ruled entirely by their dicks.

    I hope the company went out of business - they certainly deserved to. Even if they provided a good printing service, I'll bet that even men who appreciated the aesthetic qualities of the advertisement and weren't bothered by its sexism would have been turned off by the idea that they made no mention of how great their products or services were, instead using the cheap shot of a naked woman.

    I actually fail to see how a campaign such as this could possibly be effective. Heterosexual males comprise less than 50% of the population. Unless you are actually just selling porn (and even The Sun doesn't fall into this category) it's utterly, incomprehensibly stupid just to target this one group. What are they thinking? WHY does this sort of thing continue?

    Friday, 14 September 2007

    Barbie execution

    Okay, so it's not exactly politically correct. But this is rather amusing.

    Tuesday, 4 September 2007

    Men like women with curves

    I cringe every time I hear this. It usually assaults me from the pages of some trashy publication, the latest being the news pages of Cosmopolitan, which advised me that, since nine out of ten men would rather shag a size 10 glamour model than a size 0 supermodel, it was now okay to eat doughnuts.* Thanks for letting me know - I will now allow myself several of those yummy custardy ones with a side order of deep-fried mars bars without feeling guilty. Goodness knows why I still read women's magazines - perhaps I just enjoy defacing them with my red pen. But what really annoys me is when this statement comes from men themselves. Nice, thoughtful men who think they're being really helpful.

    "Men like women with curves, so why should you diet to achieve a size zero? Hey, don't worry, eat that chip butty if you want it, because I don't mind if you have a lardy arse. Men like something to grab hold of."

    This isn't exactly breaking news, much as it is treated as such every time some dodgy survey corroborates it. We all know that most men have a preference for women with rather more flesh on them than the average Hollywood actress. If women were motivated by wanting to please men, nobody below a size 12 would ever think about dieting. But they do. And it pains me to hear well-meaning men try to solve the problem by telling their female friends that hey, a few extra pounds don't matter to the average bloke.

    By suggesting that women should have curves, you are not making an enlightened pro-feminist statement - you are simply perpetuating the idea that women have an ideal to which to conform in order to please men, whatever the nature of that ideal may be. Women's bodies do not exist for male gratification. Women do not shun cake in favour of low-fat low-carb no-taste diet food in order to impress men with their jutting collarbones. The female obsession with weight loss will not be solved by men giving us permission to eat. It's such an arrogant attitude and it really, really annoys me.

    An unnaturally (for most women) slim figure is associated with wealth, status, social mobility, stylishness, femininity... There are even crazier factors than that at play - like the fact that skinniness is a trump card for female competitiveness, and that moaning about the size of one's hips facilitates female bonding:

    - My hips are so huge!
    - Noooo, they're tiny! Mine are enormous!
    - Noooo, you're so skinny! I have a jelly belly!
    - No you don't! You're tiny! Look at my muffin top!
    - Pssshh - if you've got a muffin top I've got an entire wedding cake!

    This is repeated ad nauseam, with the slimmer party becoming gradually more and more smug, and the porkier party becoming more and more distressed. But crucially, it gives them something to talk about. There are of course two clear-cut rules: 1 - One must not admit to being happy with any part of one's anatomy; and 2 - One must violently disagree with anything the other party says. Then there's the fact that, since breasts are supposed to be at least medium-sized, any woman who does have a skinny physique can moan about her lack of boobage. See - nobody's left out. It's rather clever really. Of course, there's always the chance that the slimmer woman will attack her peer by saying, "But you've got such a lovely figure! So curvy!" which is as backhanded as compliments get.

    Believe me, the body image issue is a frickin' minefield. And if you go in armed only with, "But men like women with curves," don't expect to get out of there alive.

    *By the way, this was BLATANTLY an advertorial for Krispy Kremes

    Tuesday, 21 August 2007

    Barbie through the ages

    First ever Barbie commercial - 1959

    Barbie Meets Ken - 1961
    Barbie manages two years without a boyfriend. Ken seems to have changed quite a lot in appearance since 1961 - he looks positively ancient in comparison to the blond Prince Charming figure that I grew up with.

    Color N Curl Barbie 1965

    Superstar Barbie 1976
    Whatever that girl's on, I want some.

    Super Hair Barbie - 1980s
    "Glamorous" jumpsuit? I beg to differ!

    Great Shape Barbie - 1983
    This is absolutely revolting. Really, really worrying. Is it any wonder that the girls who were in the target age group in 1983 are now paying extortionate gym memberships and devouring creepy women's magazines instead of carbs? You're looking good, Barbie!

    Olympic Skater Barbie
    The first advert I've come across on YouTube for a Barbie who does anything not directly related to improving her appearance.

    Dance Club Barbie

    Glitte Hair Barbie - 1994

    Teacher Barbie - 1995
    A Barbie that does something non-gender specific. Hooray!

    Splash & Color Barbie - 1996

    Olympic Gymnast Barbie - 1996
    1996 was the year that the US gymnastics team won the Atlanta Olympics. Here, Barbie embodies the American Dream...

    Barbie Hair Highlights - 2006

    Top Model Barbie - 2007

    And finally, the whole Barbie theme is subverted in this 90s advertisement for Cool Shaving Ken. Look how ridiculous it seems when the Ken doll is subjected to his own beauty regime...

    Something that really strikes me is that in advertisements featuring children playing with the dolls, the children themselves seem to have got older and older. In 1965, they look about six - around the same age as the target audience. In that 2007 commercial they look about fourteen. I wonder what's happening here - if Mattel are trying to expand the age range of their customer base, or if they're going for an even more aspirational theme.

    I was never allowed to have Barbies as a child, but boy did I want them. It wasn't just about peer pressure - I wanted a Sega Megadrive and a BMX bike because of peer pressure, but neither of them had quite the same delinquent appeal. I think a lot of the time, particularly with the children of parents who disapprove of this sort of thing, part of the appeal of Barbie is that girls know that there's something a bit naughty about liking something that's just about being pretty. Mattel know damn well that what little girls want is not Nuclear Physicist Barbie, or UN Diplomat Barbie, or Human Rights Lawyer Barbie. What they want is Pop Idol Barbie, Glamour Model Barbie and Botox Barbie. Barbie has always been presented as a vacuous model with an IQ inferior to her waist measurement because that's what consumers want from her.

    I think if I have daughters I'll be inclined to let them have Barbie dolls if they want them. I see no real harm in them in the context of a relatively gender-neutral upbringing and besides, banning things just draws attention to them. I think once a child wants a toy, any damage associated with it has already been done. Banning after school television makes much more sense than banning the toys advertised on it.

    Seeing that Great Shape Barbie commercial really brings home for me how far we've come in the last twenty years. I really don't think that a commercial such as this would be tolerated now. I'd like to live in a world in which six-year-old girls aren't encouraged to be obsessed with dresses and make up, but I'm glad that I no longer live in a world in which six-year-old girls are encouraged to be obsessed with the circumference of their thighs.

    Thursday, 16 August 2007

    The Daily Mail can't spell "misogynist"

    It's not that surprising really, but still highly entertaining. Witness three different spellings of the same word, only one of them correct.

    Perhaps I should send them here.
    (NSFW, extremely sweary and hugely offensive to disabled people...but very funny)

    Wednesday, 8 August 2007

    Carbs are the new fat

    Virtually any women's magazine you will ever read will have a feature or two on diets. Something that's really interesting is how the content of these features and the advice given has changed over time.

    Ten years ago, fat was the antichrist. Women were advised to eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, lean protein, fruit and vegetables, but no fat! Don't eat fat - fat will make you fat. Fat must be banished from your diet. Fat is bad and evil and wrong. Men are allowed to eat fat, but any woman who eats fat will be punished by her hips expanding to grotesque proportions so that the whole world can see that she's eaten FAT.

    Ooooh, I'm scared.

    These days, carbs are the new fat. Now we're supposed to be eating lots of fruit and vegetables, lots of protein, and fat is allowed but no carbs at all. Pasta is evil. Bread is the antichrist. Potatoes? You've got to be kidding! They'll make you FAT.

    I blame Dr Fatkins, sorry, Atkins. Ever since his bonkers diet came back into fashion and loads of Hollywood celebrities attributed their lean figures to it, the media has taken up the no-carbs mantle, trying to persuade us that eating even a small portion of the best wholegrain organic bread will turn you into the 400lb Angry Mom on Ricki Lake.

    These magazines always manage to get quotes from "respected nutritionists" backing up what they have to say. Funny that the whole of nutritional science seemed to turn on its head as soon as Jennifer Aniston went on the Atkins. What's also interesting is that dieting is always linked with health. A "healthy" meal is one that won't make you fat. Even articles that have no specific weight-loss angle bang on about it. I read something in Cosmopolitan a couple of years ago that made me absolutely seethe. It was an article in which three women tried out different "healthy" diets without the explicit goal of weight loss at all. One of the women was very sporty and had previously eaten a carbohydrate-rich diet. The nutritionist put her on a low carb diet, chiding her that, "If Lucy didn't eat a carb-based snack after going to the gym, she wouldn't undo all her hard work." Right. So the only reason Lucy goes to the gym is to lose weight.

    At least this U-turn from low-fat to low-carb a few years ago demonstrated just how fickle the media is when it comes to this sort of thing. What we're supposed to eat goes in and out of fashion almost with the same frequency as what we're supposed to wear. Low carb is in fashion just as skinny jeans are in fashion. Being on an 80s style, low fat, high carb diet is as unthinkable as being seen in shoulder pads with a frizzy perm.

    All nutritionists always seem to have agreed on is the following:

  • Too much saturated fat is bad

  • Refined carbohydrates are bad

  • Vegetables are good (fruit is a bit controversial because is has - gasp! - CARBS in it)

  • If you want to lose weight, you need to get lots of exercise
  • Monday, 16 July 2007

    Alli oops

    From tapeworm eggs to heart failure, diet pills have always been a fairly controversial subject. But now a new over-the-counter drug has become available in the US, which works in part by punishing users for eating too much fat by making them lose control of their bowels. No, really.

    Why is this a feminist issue? Well, because prescription-only diet pills are quite rightly only available to people who are medically overweight. Over-the-counter diet products are aimed at those attempting to lose weight from either a normal or only slightly overweight frame - i.e. women. It's only women who are under pressure to lose weight from an already-healthy physique, and so any over-the-counter or black-market weight loss aid is bound to be aimed mostly at women and to have more female consumers.

    Perhaps it's just the fact that I've never actually been fat talking, but I find it incredible to think that any normal-sized person would be so desperate to lose weight. If the only thing standing between you and a chip butty is the prospect of soiling your trousers, then perhaps it's time to break your diet.

    Thursday, 12 July 2007

    The F-Word

    When I was on the Tube this morning, a fat lady got on at Wembley Park. She wasn't huge - she was of average height and I'd guess about a size 18. However, her mere presence, not being able to help pushing past people, caused a skinny woman to give her what I call a "bitch stare". You know what I'm talking about - that slouching, hands-on-hips, scoffing, disgusted expression that all the popular girls at school did at you when you were twelve, and which I will readily admit to having regularly practised in front of a mirror at that age in a desperate bid to become victor rather than victim (I never quite managed it, but my impersonations of that type of girl never fail to amuse people now, so I suppose I did achieve something in the end).

    Anyway, Fat Wembley Park Lady was the victim of this particular bitch stare for the terrible sin of taking up more than her alloted amount of space, not looking as if she aspired to New Woman's idea of attractiveness, and looking as if she ate calories on a regular basis. Perhaps Bitch Girl was just grumpy because she had low blood sugar.

    Fat Wembley Park Lady then sat opposite me and I considered, as we continued our journey on the stinking hell-hole that is the Metropolitan Line at 8am, that she didn't in any way fit the stereotype of a fat woman. She was dressed well in a manner which flattered her figure (Trinny and Susannah would have approved), she had good skin, she was wearing make up and nice shoes - she looked as if she took care of herself. If I had been asked to describe her appearance to a third party, I would have hesitated to use the F-word not because she wasn't fat, but because she didn't fit into the stereotype of the fat woman.

    The fat woman is greedy, lazy, slovenly, lacking in self-control, lacking in self-respect, and she has let herself go. Therefore, one can't describe a woman as fat without also describing her as all of the above. That's why we come up with these patronising euphemisms for fat. Fuller-figured, larger lady, curvy (used by bitchy women as a backhanded compliment - for, "You've got such a lovely figure, so curvy!" read, "You fat ho"), voluptuous - they're all ways of saying "fat" whilst distancing the person from all of the negative baggage that goes with that particular word.

    The fat woman constantly has to prove that she does not conform to this hideous stereotype. If a slim woman chooses to go out in sweatpants with no make-up, that's fine. But if a fat woman does this, she has let herself go. A fat woman has to be seen to have self-respect, because the implication made by her size is that she doesn't, because no woman would allow herself to get fat if she had any self-respect or self-control. Self-control, yeah, because the only reason women get fat is that they stuff their faces with cream cakes all day. There are a number of reasons why a woman might be fat, and none of them have anything to do with laziness, greediness or lack of self-control.

  • She's give birth at some point in the last five years

  • She was fed crap and never encouraged to do any exercise as a child. Fat children become fat adults, and when one has been fat all one's life it's virtually impossible to change

  • She has an eating disorder. Compulsive eating is just as distressing for the sufferer and just as medically serious as anorexia or bulimia, but it's not taken seriously by the public, the media or the medical community because apparently all the chunkmonster needs is to lay off the pork pies a bit

  • That's just the way she is. It's a terrible cliche, but people really do come in different shapes and sizes. Obviously there's a point at which nobody is naturally that fat, but if she's just a little on the tubby side it's likely that that is programmed into her genes. Since appetite and metabolism are controlled by the body's genetic predisposition towards a particular amount of body fat, it's extremely difficult to fight one's natural physique

  • She suffers from a medical condition or is on medication that makes her gain weight

    None of these descriptions suggest a lack of self-respect, apart from that of the compulsive eater, who needs help rather than judgement.

    I'd really like to see the word "fat" as no different from "tall" or "blonde" or even, dare I say "thin". It's a physical description, not a loaded judgement. I'd like to be able to describe fat women as "fat" without insulting them and without implying that they do nothing but devour cheeseburgers in front of Ricki Lake and that they deserve all the type 2 diabetes they get. It's okay to call a man fat, because a fat man is just fat. I'd like fat women to be just fat too.
  • Saturday, 30 June 2007


    Ever since I first heard of the Mooncup I've been meaning to try it. For those not in the know, this is a reusable device that is inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood. Once full, it's simply emptied, rinsed and re-inserted. If in a public bathroom, the instructions state that it's fine to skip rinsing it as long as one does so the next time it's emptied. And it can be boiled regularly for sterilisation.

    The Mooncup costs a princely £18.99. However, if it works it's a solid investment considering that most women probably spend about £3 on tampons and sanitary towels every month, meaning that the Mooncup will pay for itself in less than a year. There's also the environment to consider. As the average woman uses 10,000 tampons in her lifetime, this is definitely an eco-friendly choice.

    The Mooncup comes in two sizes - one for women under 30 who have never given birth, and another for everyone else. Unfortunately, being a woman under 30 who has never given birth and who is also of short stature and small build, I found the small size to be uncomfortably large. In fact, inserting the Mooncup was a pretty uncomfortable process in general. The technique involves folding it into quarters, which then expand when in place. However, the Mooncup seems hell bent on reverting to its natural circular state as rapidly as possible. I know a lot of people are into S&M and good luck to them, but repeatedly thwacking my most sensitive parts with high-velocity silicone rubber is not my idea of fun.

    Despite initial problems, a few minutes after I'd managed to insert the thing I hardly knew it was there. And despite the scepticism that had made me buy a pack of Bodyform's finest landfill fodder "just in case", there was absolutely no leakage whatsoever.

    Taking it out however was just as difficult as getting it in. I found myself squatting on the bathroom floor with two fingers shoved up my chuff, laughing at the gross squelchy noises it was making as I tried to coax it out. It was like trying to give birth to a rubber chicken.

    This is obviously not a valid option for women who are disgusted by their own menstrual blood, or who have a problem with touching themselves. Insertion and removal require you to fiddle around down there much more than for the insertion and removal of tampons, and although tipping its contents down the sink and rinsing it out doesn't exactly qualify as a heinous experience, some women are going to have a problem with it. When I told my mother that I had bought one of these things, her reaction was a resounding, "Eeeeeeewwwwww!" I invited her to peruse the instruction leaflet and she wouldn't even look at it. This woman is a hardened second-wave feminist. She has given birth. She is so disgusted by the idea of this product that she won't even look at the instruction leaflet. Hmmmm. Perhaps if this product were a bit more mainstream women like her might be more accepting of it, or perhaps women like her simply need to learn to accept their own bodies.

    Despite practical difficulties, I'm going to stick with my Mooncup. I like the idea of never using tampons and sanitary towels again, partly because it's better for the environment and partly because most of the adverts for "feminine hygiene products" bang on about "discretion" and "freshness" in a manner which suggests that menstruation is something to be ashamed of, in addition to suggesting that skydiving in white drainpipe jeans when you're on the blob is perfectly normal. I'm sure that there's a simple knack to inserting and removing the Mooncup that I haven't yet got, and the temporary discomfort caused by it being a bit on the large side is no worse than the discomfort of removing a tampon. I'm sold.

    Monday, 25 June 2007

    Consider me pissed off

    I was at the gym earlier this evening after work. You know I'm not entirely comfortable with gym culture in general, but this evening was positively hellish.

    I'd just got myself installed on a cross-trainer when one of the sleazy men who works there came up to me and asked if I might be interested in joining in with a free step class. I hesitated for two reasons. Firstly because I am a serious sportsperson, I come to the gym to do hardcore interval training and suspected that the class would be too easy for me, and secondly because the image I have of step aerobics is of bitchy women in leotards bopping around to shit music whilst visualising their thighs shrinking. But then I thought, what the hell, I should try anything once, and hey, it's free.

    I began to feel a little apprehensive however as I observed Sleazy Gym Boy collecting more recruits. He was only inviting women. And all the women he was inviting were young, attractive and wearing lycra.

    "Is this a women only class?" I asked him.
    "No, anyone can join in!" he breezed.
    "So why are you only asking women?"

    He mumbled something incomprehensible before enthusiastically introducing me to the instructor (a young, attractive woman in lycra).

    At this point, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was a free class, probably a sample for something they were hoping to get clients to pay for later. Thus it made sense to target a specfic demographic, and frankly given my own prejudices about step aerobics I didn't blame him for going after gym bunnies in lycra.

    The studio at my gym has a viewing area at the top, where anybody can watch classes in progress. In order to get from the changing rooms to the gym one must walk both through this viewing gallery, and past the entrance of the studio. It's not a quiet, private, anonymous location at all. So when the class started I felt pretty self-conscious about the fact that all of the male staff were hanging around by the door watching us. Soon I realised why. They knew what was coming. They knew that the choreography for this step class was verging on pornographic, with the instructor getting us to stick out our asses like strippers or lapdancers. They knew that in that overheated dance studio, pretty soon they'd have ten sweaty, lycra-clad twentysomethings gyrating for them. They all nodded approvingly at us as we shook our nubile tushes. We also attracted a plethora of men in the gallery above, who had a prime view of our behinds. One charming gentleman took photos with his camera phone. Basically, we spent half an hour putting on a show for them.

    I don't think for one moment that the gym deliberately organised this class in order to produce soft pornography, but that is what happened. I was disgusted. I wouldn't have minded the cheesy quasi-pornographic choreography at all had we not had a male audience. It would have just been a bit of fun had it been in a private location, but with thirty slack-jawed pairs of eyes on our behinds I felt as if I was starring in a Lynx commercial, in which the heroic gym instructor douses himself in Lynx and coerces a bunch of hot, scantily-clad babes into dancing for all his mates. I was insulted - do I really look that cheap? I find it more comfortable working out in a dri-fit top - does this say something about my sexual availability? To some people it does.

    I'm cancelling my membership tomorrow. I know it would be an enlightened statement to walk into that gym in my lycra top with my head held high, but the fact is that since my taekwondo instructor is starting another club near me I can now train five times a week, thus making the gym redundant. I won't miss it one bit.

    Sunday, 24 June 2007

    Less than 190 calories per pack!

    I love Maltesers, but boy does that graphic on the bottom right hand corner of the packet piss me off. In case you can't read it, it says, "Less than 190 calories per pack" and there's a Malteser with a friggin' HALO above it.

    Advertisers constantly encourage women to have an emotional relationship with food, or capitalise on their existing emotional relationship with food - it's difficult to tell which came first, but they feed (pun intended) on one another.

    It can be misleading too. "Less than 190 calories per pack" isn't particularly saintly at all when you consider that for your 190 calories you're getting only about 10 of the things, and flipping the packet over reveals them to be 25% fat and 63% sugar with virtually no positive nutritional value. You could get something much more satisfying and nutritious for around the same number of calories - half a Snickers bar for example would be much more filling and provide you with lots of protein and monounsaturated fat. But you can't eat a Snickers bar because it's man food - "Snickers really satisfies" is a man slogan. Maltesers though - "The lighter way to enjoy chocolate" - give a woman permission to stuff her face with impunity.

    Man adverts stress functionality. Food is there to satisfy hunger. Snickers really satisfies. Girl adverts equate chocolate with sex, validation of self-worth, "naughtiness" (this is so creamy and chocolatey and naughty, oh go on, be naughty) or "saintliness" (half the calories, so you can eat twice as much!)

    Why on earth does chocolate advertising have to be so gender-specific anyway? I would have thought it a rather silly approach, only marketing to 50% of the population. Having sat here racking my brains for quite some time, I can only think of one truly gender-neutral chocolate bar and that's KitKat. I'd hazard a guess that it's not just the well-established nature of the brand that makes KitKat the UK's best-selling chocolate bar. It's the fact that they don't market themselves solely to sexually frustrated women in their early thirties suffering from hypoglycaemia brought on by the sodding Atkins diet.

    Perhaps I ought to boycott "girl chocolate", but I like Maltesers and Kinder Buenos too much to do that. It's a terrible dilemma. Perhaps I ought to have some Maltesers whilst I think about it.

    Monday, 18 June 2007

    Honk if you like my Manolos

    Last night I had a bizarre experience. I was on my way to meet up for a drink and gossip session with a friend. As I waited at the bus stop, I was the victim of five (yes, I counted) incidents of men slowing down their cars to take a really long, sleazy look at me. In addition to this, one motorcyclist saw fit to stare and to honk his horn at me, despite the fact that he was doing about 100mph at the time and really ought to have had his eyes on the road.

    I don't think this in itself is a massive problem. Obviously it's demeaning and degrading and shouldn't happen, but it's relatively harmless. What really bemuses me is the criteria by which a woman is judged as being deserving of this sort of attention.

    Last night I was wearing bootcut jeans and a vest top with a cardigan over the top, with a waterproof jacket. The only manner in which this outfit differed from my normal attire was that I was also wearing stiletto heels and sparkly make-up. I can't believe that the presence of a particular style of shoes and a bit of glitter actually affects one's attractiveness. This isn't about being pretty. It's about what those shoes signify, the message that that bright green eyeshadow radiates. Last night I had obviously made an effort with my appearance and it is that that's rewarded, rather than genuine attractiveness. Perhaps it's because a woman who makes an effort is considered more easy. Perhaps it's because there is an assumption that she wants the attention. I don't know.

    Something else I noticed was that as soon as I met up with my male friend, the attention abruptly disappeared. No man even looked at me. Obviously there's a code of honour - a woman on her own is fair game for harassment, but you don't even look at someone else's bird. I wouldn't be surprised if most men were utterly oblivious to the casual harassment experienced by women for this very reason. Firstly, most men are not rude or sleazy enough to harass women in this way themselves, and secondly, they are never going to witness it happening to their friends, because it's just not going to happen if they're there. A woman on her own will be harassed. Women in pairs will be harassed. Women in groups will be harassed. But enter a man into the equation - even if it's a group of twenty eighteen-year-old girls in mini skirts and only one man - and they will all be left alone.

    Another thing that I realised when I got thinking about it was that this particular friend that I met up with last night was the only straight male in my life for whom I would make this sort of effort with my appearance if we were just meeting up for a drink. He said he felt rather smug about that, but the reason for it is not because I particularly want to impress him. It's just because I'm a girly girl at heart and really love dressing up, and because this is my oldest, dearest friend who knows me well enough to know that there's nothing more to it than that. I don't have to worry that he thinks I'm trying to seduce him, which I realise is something I might worry slightly about were it another man. Even on a date, I'd be inclined to swap the stilettos for trainers lest the object of my affections get the wrong idea.

    Obviously stiletto heels do signify something. I'm aware of it myself, which is why I don't generally wear them despite my love of beautiful shoes. But where does it come from? Why is a pair of vertiginous heels so strongly associated with sexual attractiveness and availability? And why, for the love of God, why are these cretinous excuses for men too bloody cowardly to honk their horns at me when another man is around?

    Thursday, 7 June 2007

    Are you allowed to eat?

    A while ago, I was tucking into a particularly delicious slice of cheesecake at my desk. It was proper cheesecake, none of this low-fat, low-carb, no-taste malarky, caramel flavour with chocolate sprinkles on top. A colleague came up to me and swooned, "Ooooh, you're so lucky, you're so thin, you can eat anything."

    On another occasion a couple of years ago, a friend came and sat with me whilst I happened to be making light work of a Snickers bar. I broke off a piece for her - as you do - and she looked at me in a knowing manner and said, "Ah, sharing the guilt, are we?" No, actually I was sharing my chocolate. If you ascribe guilt to food that's your problem - don't try and drag me into your way of thinking, or assume that I feel the same way.

    Only thin women have permission to eat. If your clothes size is in double figures, you might be allowed to eat, but only if you feel very guilty about it before, during and after.

    I don't eat what I want when I want because I have "permission". I would like to think that if I were - shock horror! - a size 12 rather than a size 8, I would still have been eating that cheesecake. I would like to think that whether or not to eat it would not have been a painful, emotionally charged decision, aided by other girls telling me that of course I was thin enough to eat cheesecake whilst secretly hoping that it might make me fatter than them. I would like to think that it wouldn't have caused me so much guilt that for the rest of the afternoon I was too busy imagining a plague of cellulite settling on my hips to concentrate on my work.

    The phenomenon of fat people, particularly fat women, eating only salad in public and eating fattening food only in private where they are not open to ridicule, is well-documented. I often find myself doing the opposite - stuffing my face with chip butties to prove that I am naturally slim and not one of these stupid girls who diets. If I'm eating out, I'll have a tendency to pick lardy options and get my salad fix at home. This might seem silly, frankly it is extremely silly and now I've admitted to it in writing I'm rather ashamed of myself, but I no more want to be associated with Diet Coke Girls than a naturally fat girl would want to be associated with chunkmonsters who spend their evenings stuffing their faces with nachos in front of Ricki Lake whilst cultivating interesting fungi in their sweaty flab rolls. The point is, a woman's figure dictates what it is socially acceptable for her to eat.

    Something I noticed when I started secondary school was the physical manner in which girls used to eat. If a boy was eating, say, a big phat chocolate muffin with big phat chocolate chips, he would take bites out of it, or break off large chunks. If you wanted some of his chocolate muffin, you'd have to ask, because he wouldn't automatically offer it to you. If a girl was consuming the same delicious oversized chocolate cake, she would daintily pick tiny bits off it at several second intervals, popping them into her mouth in a bored, vacant manner which suggested that she wasn't really interested in it at all. She would shove the muffin into her friends' faces, trying to share as much of it as possible. A cake that would take a boy approximately two minutes to devour would take a girl at least twenty minutes to dissect. As I pointed out at the time to anybody who would listen (which admittedly was very few people at my dodgy London comprehensive) it was as if by the physical manner in which girls ate cake they were simultaneously apologising for eating cake.

    Where on earth did it come from, this idea that women are not supposed to eat? That picking at your food is somehow dainty and ladylike, and not just a symptom of a raging eating disorder? Has anybody ever read the diet pages of a magazine and wondered how on earth anybody could possibly live on such little food, and then realised that they were reading about what the "victim" purports to have lived on BEFORE they went on the diet?

    Okay. In the absence of any rational female attitude towards food, any high-profile champion of food-slash-gender-based politics or indeed anybody who seems to talk any sense about it at all, I am hereby giving you permission to eat. Yes, you. Whether you're a size 6 or a size 36, you are allowed to eat. Eat what you feel like eating when you're hungry, stop eating when you're full. It's not love, or guilt, or your best friend or your worst enemy. It's just food.

    Friday, 1 June 2007

    Fatty fatty boom boom

    Indian Airlines air hostesses are being grounded for being "too fat".

    I wish I could say this surprised me. Air hostessery(?) is one of the very few professions left in which female employees are explicitly required to meet certain standards of attractiveness, and it's certainly the only profession I can think of in this category where physical attractiveness has no implication whatsoever for a woman's ability to do the job.

    When I was a child, all of my girl friends wanted to be air hostesses when they grew up. It was seen as a glamourous career, on a par with being a model or an actress.* I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up, because quite frankly the idea of flying a plane appealed to me much more than the idea having to smile for several hours whilst serving coffee to rude businesspeople. Astigmatism may have quashed my dreams of becoming an airline pilot, but I would still rather stick with my publishing job than one in which I had to mince around in a pencil skirt and smile as if I was on a drip-feed of Prozac. Goodness knows I'd need a drip-feed of Prozac if I was having to live on celery and rice cakes.

    Indian Airlines are citing physical fitness as the reason for monitoring stewardesses' weight. Fair enough in extreme cases - I can see that a seriously overweight air hostess is probably less physically fit than slimmer colleagues. If however it came down to a situation in which a knife-wielding maniac had to be restrained by a stewardess, I'd feel much safer if she had a BMI of 25 rather than 19.

    If physical fitness really is the concern, then perhaps airlines would like to put their employees through a fitness test instead of standing them on a scale. And if agility is so important, why do their uniforms consist of high heels and pencil skirts?

    With the exception of professions in which employees' appearance is directly related to their ability to do their jobs, airlines are the last bastions of body fascism in the workplace. There's justifiably a lot of press these days about reducing one's carbon footprint by avoiding short-haul flights. I'd say refusing to support companies that treat their employees like this is another very good reason to avoid flying wherever possible.

    *Personally I think it's worrying that little girls always seem to aspire to careers in which they will be mercilessly judged for their looks, but this is another rant for another day.

    Thursday, 31 May 2007

    Buzz off!

    I wonder if Sex and the City has done more for the humble vibrator than any advertising campaign. Who remembers Charlotte pulling a sickie on a girls' night out to spend some quality time with her Rampant Rabbit, and Carrie having to march down to her apartment and snatch it from her? Was I the only one who wanted to yell, "Don't you know where that's been?" And then there was the episode in which Samantha's favourite "back massager" breaks from overuse and she brazenly demands an exchange, refusing to adopt the pretence that women buy them for their backs.

    Apparently, a woman can only achieve an orgasm with the help of a vibrating phallic neon piece of jelly-like plastic with prongs. Quite apart from the fact that many of these devices look quite frankly terrifying or just plain baffling, I take issue with the implication that I need mechanical assistance getting myself off.

    Vibrators are seen as symbols of modern emancipation. Women are being told what they should enjoy physically by much the same sort of pop-feminists who told them they were not supposed to enjoy penetrative sex in the 70s. They are being encouraged to be utterly obsessed with their own orgasms, told to collect more and more bits of phallic silicone in order to achieve extreme ecstasy the likes of which one could never experience with a mere man. We are being sold these devices on the back of a post-feminist bandwagon which states that we must assert our independence from men. Simply masturbating is not enough. We must own a vibrator in order to make a statement that we masturbate. Yes, I am a woman, I have sexual urges, I'm going to buy this piece of mass-produced latex crap and as God is my witness, I will go home and have a wank!

    Masturbation is not proof that you don't need a man. Try becoming financially independent, emotionally stable, genuinely happy to be single - that's proof that you don't need a man.

    I'd much rather it was like this than a hundred years ago, when women weren't even expected to enjoy sex and the thought of a woman masturbating was completely abhorrent. I just can't help feeling that we're all taking it a bit too seriously. You're not having a romantic evening for one. You're having a wank. Get over it.

    Tuesday, 15 May 2007

    Nice tits, love!

    I am thoroughly sick of unwanted attention and people - male and female - assuming that I am both thick and sexually promiscuous because of the size of my breasts.

    When I was fourteen years old, a boy once asked me, "Hasn't anybody ever told you a handful is enough?" People just assume that women choose the size of their breasts. If they did (surgery notwithstanding) then life would be much easier because the signals that our breasts radiated would actually be accurate.

    Part of the problem is that there are no respectable, intelligent, attractive big-bosomed women in the media - just porn stars and page 3 girls. Consequently our society lacks respect for women with large breasts. Virtually no prominent media figures with large breasts are renowned for anything other than their bust - essentially, they are walking pairs of tits. In some cases they have deliberately built careers around their bosoms and in some cases the one-sided media attention has been thrust upon them, but either way, a woman with large breasts is not allowed to be anything more substantial than a page 3 girl.

    Another incident from when my breasts first grew to mammoth proportions is still burned into my memory, although at 24 I am now mature enough to be angry and amused about it rather than ashamed as I was then. My mother had dragged me to John Lewis for a long-overdue fitting. The assistant, a middle-aged woman named Sheila who was very perfectly polite and pleasant to my face, had measured me and had left the cubicle in order to find me some suitable attire to try on. As soon as she left however, and bear in mind that there was only a fabric curtain between me and the outside world, I overheard the following, "'Ere Tracey, we've got a 28E in here! You never seen nuffink like it!" If I hadn't been only fourteen, and if at that time John Lewis hadn't been the only shop that stocked bras in my size, I would have got dressed and walked out, possibly complaining to the manager on the way. It's like having a terrible skin condition or disfigurement, except that because it's largely considered attractive it's okay for people to stare and to comment.

    The larger a woman's breasts are, the less they belong to her. The more people feel that they have the right to comment. Breasts are considered male property - if I had a pound for every time I'd been told (by both men and women) that I should be happy with my large breasts because men find them attractive I'd have enough for a deposit on a flat in London - which would make me considerably happier than my enormous knockers ever have.

    Saturday, 21 April 2007

    Who gets cravings for choclit?

    We all get cravings for choclit, don't we? No food is as emotionally loaded as choclit.

    Who remembers these Flake ads? I mean, she's virtually fellating it.

    Why have cotton when you can have silk? Why indeed.


    Okay, I'm the first to admit that I know bugger all about the history of chocolate advertising, but for as long as I can remember, chocolate has been marketed almost exclusively to women and almost exclusively with sexual imagery and undertones and/or the idea that it is a naughty/indulgent treat.

    The best example I can think of to illustrate just how powerful marketing can be has little to do with feminism at all. Everybody remembers the Ferrero Rocher adverts - Mr Ambassador, with these Rochers you are really spoiling us! Ferrero also make this stuff called Nutella, which is marketed as a chocolate spread for kids. Now, I don't have any concrete proof of this, I have not sent samples off to the lab or anything, I only have my taste buds to guide me on this one, but after, erm, extensive research, I am damn sure that the soft centre of Ferrero Rocher is exactly the same as Nutella. Same stuff, different positioning.

    Come to think of it, the chocolate and diet industries kind of feed off one another's advertising campaigns:

    1- Chocolate manufacturers convince woman that she should be "naughty" and stuff her face with chocolate

    2 - Diet companies (Special K, anyone?) make woman feel ugly and fat and in need of their services

    3 - Woman feels guilty. She gives up chocolate and eats Special K bars instead.

    4 - Woman feels emotionally deprived, not to mention bloody hungry. That family-sized bar of Dairy Milk has never looked so good.

    5 - Repeat from Step 2

    Why should a food make you feel emotionally deprived? It's just food. Chocolate will not make you happy, nor is eating it a terrible sin. You're not a chocoholic - you've just been duped into thinking that because you're a woman you need the stuff, particularly when you're on your period.

    I love chocolate, I really do. And occasionally I do get cravings for it, which are usually satisfied by a small bar of Green & Blacks milk chocolate. Or Cadbury's Whole Nut. Mmmmmmm.....nuts...... Well, you are what you eat. I also have a particular fondness for Curly Wurlys, Chomps, Toblerone (especially those mammoth ones you get in airports!), Twirls (like Flakes but less messy) and Creme Eggs.

    I have nothing against chocolate in itself, but I wish that women would stop seeing it as their friend, saviour, ultimate source of comfort, etc etc, because it's quite frankly pathetic.

    What to wear to flatter your figure

    The latest issue of Glamour brings us another of those “what to wear to flatter your figure” articles. I can’t help noticing however that the models used to represent these six types of figure all look EXACTLY THE SAME. Could Glamour not bring themselves to sully the pages of their magazine with a voluptuous or pear shaped model? Apparently not. Perhaps the pictures are there not to represent what type of figure the reader has but what type of figure to which they are to aspire.

    I hate these articles anyway. For starters, I always feel like a freak for falling into more than one category. Petite girls: tight trousers will make your legs look longer. Hourglass girls: steer clear of tight trousers – they will make your arse look like an elephant’s. Bugger! But there’s also the implication that you’re supposed to be changing the way you look, hiding your flaws. Wear this to make your legs look longer, wear that to make your bum look smaller, wear this to make your boobs look bigger, steer clear of horizontal stripes, hide your tummy, conceal chunky thighs, only skinny girls can wear skinny jeans, wrap dresses are flattering, wide-leg trousers skim your curves - fuck off!

    Friday, 20 April 2007

    Boycott Special K!

    Some things are easier to boycott than others. Nestle for example - I like KitKats as much as the next girl, but there are plenty of equally yummy alternatives that don't involve giving money to baby murderers. McDonald's* isn't too difficult to boycott either, because their food is utterly vile. I do however have trouble with Special K. It's the most delicious cereal ever invented, and yet their advertising campaigns make me want to hurl my bowl of the stuff at the television.

    I was really hoping that I'd be able to find loads of clips of these nauseating adverts on YouTube, but sadly (?) nobody has uploaded them so you'll have to make do with a description: Smug, slim, scantily-clad woman talks to camera in conspiratorial honeyed tones about the secret of her svelte figure, whilst idiotic neanderthal male model runs around after her like an adoring puppy. I'm a smart woman because I eat Special K and thus keep my figure. If you eat Special K, you too can be a smart, sultry woman, wearing red hotpants despite the fact that she is pushing thirty, cocking her perfectly-plucked eyebrow at fatties in their living rooms. You too can turn your man into a dribbling imbecile with a killer six-pack. Eat Special K, keep trim and get a man. Excuse me whilst I vomit.

    These advertisements are unusually obnoxious in that they manage to insult both men and women. They imply that women have a duty to maintain their figures and that they will be less attractive if they eat normal cereal. They imply that the ultimate achievement for a woman is to have a man wrapped around her little finger. They also imply that any man will turn into a slack-jawed goon in the presence of a svelte Special K eater.

    Another reason for boycotting Special K is of course the fact that it's twice as expensive as any other cereal. Anything marketed as a diet product is always way more expensive than calorific alternatives, because manufacturers and retailers know damn well that women are going to pay for it. I'm buggered if I'm paying twice as much for a packet of cereal just because it's "diet food".

    Special K isn't actually marketed as a diet product, more as a "weight maintenance aid" if there is such a thing - it's a lifestyle choice that women are encouraged to make on a permanent basis in order to maintain their figures. This is not a question of paying through the nose for the stuff for a few weeks in order to shed a few pounds - it's a question of paying through the nose for life.**

    I'm not the only person of the opinion that Special K is the yummiest cereal ever - it's definitely got the popular vote amongst everybody with whom I have ever discussed cereal preferences, male and female, dieters and non-dieters. They don't need to market it as a diet product. But as long as they continue to do so in such a vomitous fashion, and as long as the price reflects this, it's cornflakes all the way.

    *I have nothing against globalisation in theory - it was their advertising campaigns that made me vow never to set foot in the place. Aggressive campaigns aimed at children, specifically stating that their products will make you happy? Ronald McDonald had better cock off before I shove his burgers where the sun don't shine.
    **Actually, they have started marketing it as a diet product recently, in a copycat version of the Slim Fast programme (for anyone whose mum lived on milkshakes in the early 90s). I have to say, all credit to them, when I put my height and weight into their BMI calculator and came out with a figure in the normal range, the advice was not to go on the diet.

    Sunday, 15 April 2007

    So, you wanna lose weight?

    We like the Oasis Sports Centre.

    The Oasis Sports Centre is very close to my office, and a large number of my colleagues go there. After much nagging, I told them that I would join on one condition: If at any point during the induction process it was assumed that I was joining the gym for weight loss purposes, I would tell them to naff off.

    I joined a gym for a while during my first year of college. As I was filling out all the forms, I was asked by my slimy new "personal trainer", "So, you wanna lose weight?" Ridiculous enough under normal circumstances, but particularly risible considering that having suffered from a chronic loss of appetite during my last year of school, I was actually trying to gain weight at the time. It's a fundamentally bad question to ask: if the woman in question is fat, it's insensitive. If she's not fat, then it's just plain stupid and she shouldn't be being encouraged to lose weight. I don't honestly know if they ask men the same question in the same way, but I suspect not. In any case, since men by and large are not so sensitive about their weight it wouldn't really matter so much if they did.

    On Friday, I went along to Oasis and headed to the enquiries desk, ready for battle. I have to admit that part of me was quite looking forward to making a scene, but in the end I didn't have the opportunity to do so. There was a question on one of the forms asking me why I was joining the gym, one of the tick boxes being "weight loss", but that is an entirely reasonable question posed in an entirely reasonable manner. Other than that, it was just general medical stuff that they'd need to know. Overall, I'm pretty pleased so far.

    My induction session is on Wednesday, and we have yet to discover what that will bring. Will my "personal trainer" give me diet tips? Will they pinch my imaginary rolls of flab? Will they give me specific exercises to do in order to make me thinner? Will I punch them? Watch this space!

    Sunday, 8 April 2007

    Math is hard!

    Today I've been thinking about an acquaintance of mine. This girl has lots of lovely redeeming features, but something that really annoys me about her is her stubborn refusal to admit to any competence in anything traditionally "male".

    A while ago, she asked me to show her how to use basic HTML tags (and we really are talking basic here - just line breaks and stuff). She sat at her desk sporting a rabbit-in-headlights expression, repeating phrases such as "Oh no, I really don't understand this" "I'm so useless with computers" rather than actually concentrating and making any real effort to learn how to do it for herself. The same goes for anything maths related, anything computer related, anything vaguely logical, carrying heavy things*... It may come as no surprise that this girl irons her boyfriend's shirts. (Actually, I used to iron my last boyfriend's shirts. But only because I was better at it than him. And he used to make me breakfast whilst I was doing it.)

    This is the case for quite a lot of women. They assert their femininity by refusing to become proficient in "male" activities, as if coding their own HTML will magically turn them into a fat ugly cow. Women are not supposed to be good at certain things. There is a long list of skills that women are not allowed to have. This is just what I can think of off the top of my head:

    Computer programming
    Parallel parking
    Wiring plugs
    Assembling flat pack furniture
    Reading maps

    On average, women are slightly worse at these sorts of activities than men. On average, women are better at language and communication, and have better empathy. But what you never ever get told when bollocks newspapers report on all these bollocks surveys that for some reason scientists manage to get funding for is firstly that these differences between men and women are tiny and probably attributable to differences in upbringing rather than brain chemistry, and secondly that there is massively more variation between people regardless of gender than there is between the genders themselves. Bottom line is, we're all different. Some talents and shortcomings might have a greater bias towards one gender than the other, but if you happen to be good at parallel parking this does not make you any less of a girl. You wouldn't regard a considerate man with a wide vocabulary a poofter. A man has nothing to fear by excelling in anything to which he puts his mind. A woman is regarded as unattractive for being good at the wrong things. I myself was repeatedly accused of being a "lezzer" at school because I took maths and physics A levels. Nobody would have batted an eyelid had it been English and history, but nor would they have batted an eyelid had a boy taken these subjects.

    Because women are all too happy to perpetuate this myth that they are incapable of adding up because it makes them feel more "feminine", men are all too happy simply to go along with it, seeing as it asserts their superiority. You don't see men bemoaning their narrow vocabulary for example, making a show of asking women for help in writing letters. Attention is not drawn to male "shortcomings" in the same way. Therefore we have an image of men as competent in everything, including "female" activities, but of women as incompetent in these traditionally "male" fields. We have a general culture of inferiority perpetuated by social conditioning that tells girls that math is hard and that they'd better not grow up to become a computer programmer or else they'll be a greasy-haired freak in NHS glasses playing World of Warcraft at three in the morning and never getting laid, ever.

    And then of course, there's the fact that at school, more value is placed on the "male" maths and science subjects - they are regarded as more difficult than "female" arts or humanities. If you subscribe to this theory, then check this out. It's an online version of the entrance exams that Cambridge admissions tutors are using to put potential undergraduates through their paces these days. I don't know about you, but I sailed through the maths/spatial awareness/data analysis type questions to the extent to which I wondered if they were trick questions, whilst really, genuinely struggling with most of the more humanities-biased questions.

    Anyway, bottom line is, unless you are genuinely bad at something and genuinely want help with it, do it yourself, because you are just as competent as a man. And if you're so unsure of your gender that you feel the need to bemoan that math is hard, just take a look in your pants.

    * Actually, I do think that as a general rule, men should help women carry heavy things. It's good manners. There's no shame in accepting that men have more brute strength than women. I was however none too impressed by the man who once offered to help me (an attractive nineteen-year-old at the time) carry my bags with which I was clearly having no trouble, ignoring the fat old lady next to me who was struggling with hers. That is not chivalry.

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