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.