Friday, 21 November 2008

Boot Camp

Over the last few days I have been reading, with a growing sense of extreme sympathy, my housemate's account of having spent a few days at the New You Boot Camp.

Zara is a beauty writer, and thus she gets better freebies than I do (I'm a classical music writer). She gets free haircuts, more make up than she'll ever use, swanky spa treatments, Rapunzel-style hair extensions, and until now I've been quite envious. Not any more.

Zara has just spent a week somewhere that explicitly describes itself as a "military-style weight-loss camp" on a strictly-enforced diet, surrounded by other women who are also on a strictly-enforced diet. When I first heard that she was doing some sort of fitness camp I thought it sounded quite fun - I'm quite the fitness freak myself. But the more I've read her diary, the more horrified I've been.

Lots of exercise? Bring it on.
Healthy food? Yum.
Healthy food in very small portions? Hehe. That's funny. Where's the rest of my food?
5am starts? Eeeep...
No caffeine? WHAT???
5am starts with no caffeine? Oh HELL no!
Swimming in freezing cold water? I wanted my mummy just from reading about that.

It was the swimming in freezing cold water bit that made me realise that I was never, EVER doing ANYTHING like this, no matter how desperate I am to drop a dress size. It also made me wonder why on earth any woman would pay to have some burly guy in an army uniform yell at her and drag her out of bed at 5am to go for a dip in the North Sea in November. Was it perhaps some sort of self-punishment for not being thin? Over tea last night she told me: "I think a lot of it's to do with control. A lot of women have serious issues with food and exercise, and somewhere like this, all of the control is taken away from you. I think a lot of the women are paying for someone else to take responsibility as much as anything else."


Zara is now back from the camp and very much alive, although she doesn't look any thinner...but then again, she was very slim in the first place. I have gained a lot of respect for her, and also an appreciation of the fact that I get sent to concerts for work rather than boot camps.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Target Women

Or "Why I love Sarah Haskins and want to have her babies"

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Things I often hear

But women have the vote and equal pay and all that! What's the point of feminism now?
Women might be legally entitled to equal pay, but they don't actually get it. There have been some extremely welcome changes to the law in the last 100 years, but changing people's attitudes and opinions still needs to happen.

But what's the point of bitching about people telling you you can't drive and harrassing you in the street when millions of women all over the world are really oppressed?
It's true, women suffer much more elsewhere than they do here. Women are held responsible for being raped, stoned for adultery whilst the men involved walk free, banned from working, dying from pregnancy-related complications in countries in which abortion is illegal under any circumstances. 100,000 little girls every year have their genitals butchered to ensure their chastity by preventing them from enjoying sex. I'm not suggesting for a moment that I don't have it pretty damn easy here in comparison. But just because I've been granted the privilege of keeping my clitoris, doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to be respected in the workplace, walk down the street without being harrassed, or be valued for anything other than my physical appearance and sexual availability.

All men are bastards
Try going out with someone nice for a change

All women are bitches

Get your tits out
They're mine. I'll get them out if I want to. And I definitely won't get them out for you.

You're so slim, you can eat anything
You can eat anything too. There's no "Thou shalt not eat carbs if thy waist is bigger than 26 inches" in any legal or religious text that I know of.

She's waaaay too skinny
Oh, mind your own business and get a life. The "size zero debate" is about pressuring a poisonous industry to stop exploitating teenage catwalk models, not about bitching about other women who are either naturally skinny or ill, neither of which really deserve your scorn.

She should not be wearing that
Again, mind your own business and get a life.

But men and women are different
They sure are - just take a look in your pants if you don't believe me. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were meaningful differences in brain anatomy too. But using that as an excuse for blatant discrimination? Making lazy, unsubstantiated assumptions about individuals based on some bollocks survey you read about on a very slow news day? Fuck off.

Feminists are sexist
I admit that the actual word "feminism" is a bit unfortunate. There are some women who call themselves feminists who actully hate men or are prejudiced against them, and this particularly annoys me because they reinforce this stereotype. Equally, there are some men who call themselves feminist/pro-feminist who are actually very sexist. I know a few of these and they are some of the most punchable people you will ever meet. I've heard people say things like, "I'm not a feminist - I'm a humanist" but I think it's pretty much impossible to be a humanist without also being a feminist. Feminism is just one of a set of ideologies that promote respect for one's fellow human beings. The reason that it is so needed as a separate ideology is that it is so often ignored. It's not that feminism is more important than anything else, just that it needs to shout louder to be heard.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

An open letter to all hairdressers

Dear Hairdressers,

Owing to recent bitter personal experience, it would make me really happy if you were to take heed of the following:

* The customer is always right. Sometimes the customer will ask for something ridiculous, in which case you should explain that it's not a good idea. Other than that, your job is to deliver what they want, not to impose your own tastes upon them. If the customer tells you they want to keep the length, do not then chop off 5cm and feel smug that you've "fixed" their hitherto crappy hair and expect them to be all grateful. Suggestions are very welcome. Just going ahead and doing things without asking is NOT.

* Not everybody spends hours in front of the mirror every morning. Just because I don't, doesn't mean I'm some mad bag lady with seventeen cats who hasn't washed since 1984. There is nothing wrong with me, so don't look so fucking disgusted when I tell you that I hardly ever straighten my hair. Curls rock, and burnt hair smells like ass.

* Don't diss my curls. They are not "stubborn", they do not need to be "corrected", they are beautiful and possibly my best feature. I asked you to straighten my hair just for a change and because it takes me ages to do it myself, not because there is anything wrong with the natural state of my hair.

* Blonde highlights? On almost-black hair? You have GOT to be kidding. Quit suggesting it, it ain't gonna happen.

* Don't insult me. I know that the beauty industry works by convincing women that there's something wrong with them that needs fixing. I know that by persuading me that what I really need is a cut that only looks good straight so that I need to fork out £100 for straighteners and blonde highlights that need retouching every few weeks you will make more money out of me. But you are not seriously going to convince me that there's anything wrong with having dark glossy curls halfway down your back.* Quit trying.

* I do not want to look like everybody else. My hair is probably my most distinguishing feature. I'm not amazingly attractive or striking generally, but my hair sets me apart. I know that long curly hair is not in fashion. But I don't want to look like a fashion victim. Besides, I get more compliments on my hair than anything else, so I must be doing something right.

I hope we can get on better in future. If not, you'll have the straightest arse crack in London considering where I'll shove those GHDs of yours.

Luv n hugz!

*Well, as long as they're not sprouting OUT of your back. Even then, it would be pretty damn rude to say anything about it unless I specifically asked for some waxing

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

English Women Don't Get Smug

On Saturday, I ended up buying a copy of French Women for All Seasons, the sequel to French Women Don't Get Fat. It was £1 in the charity shop and had yummy-looking recipes in it, which is why I bought it. The recipes are indeed good, but the bits that aren't actual recipes make me want to force-feed Mireille Guiliano KFC until she explodes. A lot of it makes sense, namely the idea that if you enjoy good quality food in moderation you probably won't end up with multiple spare tyres. But a lot of it is total bollocks, and bollocks that tends to assume that all of these slim glamorous French women are white and middle class at that. I haven't spent an awful lot of time in France, but I've never seen a black woman there who wasn't cleaning a toilet. Do these particular French women have the time and money to spend a leisurely hour dipping asparagus into home-made mayonnaise? I doubt it.

Anyway, the worst thing Guiliano advocates is Magical Leek Soup.

2 pounds leeks

1. Clean the leeks and rinse well to get rid of sand and soil. Cut off the ends of the dark green parts, leaving all the white parts plus a suggestion of pale green. (Reserve the extra greens for soup stock.)

2. Put the leeks in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes. Pour off the liquid and reserve. Place the leeks in a bowl.

The juice is to be drunk (reheated or at room temperature to taste) every 2 to 3 hours, 1 cup at a time. For meals, or whenever hungry, have some of the leeks themselves, 1/2 cup at a time.

Apparently, French women all do this "leek weekend" once every three months. What, really? And because you are basically not eating, you're not to do anything strenuous. It is a weekend for sitting around in your pyjamas (Chanel, of course) reading (Proust, of course) and relaxing. Honestly, who has time for this? And can you imagine what it would do to your digestive system? Who has time to sit around farting leeks for an entire weekend? Don't get me wrong, I love leeks as much as the next foodie. I just have no particular desire to live on pond water for two days.

The other bit that really got me was when she states that a whole banana is two servings. This is the correct, Gallic-approved method of eating a banana:

1. Peel banana.

2. Chop banana in half. Place one half in clingfilm in the fridge.

3. Put the other half on a plate and chop into little bits.

4. Eat the little bits one at a time with a fork.

Can you imagine eating a banana like that? It's ridiculous! If I saw someone eat a banana like that I'd assume she had some form of OCD or an eating disorder.

But of course, the real problem with all this is the self-righteous, punchable smugness that pervades the entire book. I'm a beautiful, slim, glamorous woman, and you too can be like me if you give up your Curly Wurly habit and drink vile leek water instead. Well I'm not giving up my Curly Wurly habit for no Frenchie, I don't care how slim she is. Instead I shall dedicate my efforts to producing a new volume, in order to help those snooty French women be more like us fabulous Brits.


Introduction: The English are a nation of fat ugly munters and we know it

The English diet: Stodge, lard, stodge, chips, burgers and stodge. Vegetables? What are they?

Recipes: Discover just what a spotted dick actually is. And no, it's nothing to do with our chlamydia epidemic.

Chicken: How the proliferation of dodgy fried chicken establishments has made the English waistline what it is today.

Denial: How to convince yourself that if you order a Diet Coke with your doner kebab, it cancels out the calories in the kebab.

Binge drinking: If you puke it into the gutter at 3am, the calories don't count!

Desperation: The Atkins Diet, The South Beach Diet, The Hollywood Diet, The Cabbage Soup Diet, and how to celebrate breaking them all with a family-sized bar of Dairy Milk.

Self-loathing: British women have been told for ages that we are pasty, pear shaped, mousy, flabby, inelegant and generally inferior to our sisters across the Channel. And what are we good for? No 1 in Europe for teen pregnancies, GET IN!!

Reading this book is only the beginning of a wonderful life of self-loathing. If you just stick to these rules of following a lard-based diet, rich in refined carbohydrates and dodgy additives, you will never suffer from the terrible smugness that blights those slim Frenchies across the channel.

What do you reckon? Should I fire off 3 chapters and a synopsis to Guiliano's publishers?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Well, there's a surprise


As a 1930s wife, I am
Very Poor (Failure)

Take the test!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Great comment

I've had a great comment:

A tramp who wanted to fuck a tramp... what a story.

You're a fucking ugly cunt, I've seen you around.

Really? Where?

I can't stand your pathetic blog, you cannot write for shit

Ok, you're entitled to your own opinion n all, but in real life I am a professional writer.

and you come off as an angry vicious cunt.

What, for not accepting patriarchal oppression like a good girl? I have a personality, I'm sorry if that offends you. Actually, no I'm not.

Any wonder the only people that want to fuck you are homeless!

Actually, lots of non-homeless people have recently expressed a desire to fuck me. Some of them were dickwads, most of them were nice guys who I didn't happen to fancy, and one of them was utterly wonderful. And much as it is nice to be considered fuckable, I don't really agree that my worth is defined by it.

Shut your fucking mouth... better yet stick a tramp's cock in it and do what you were born to do you fat slut.

Ooooh, you used the F-word, I'm scared!

You really are a piece of work there sweet tits. I wouldn't fuck you with a ten foot pole.

That's good, I'm not sure I want to be fucked with a ten foot pole.

There are far less crazy skanks out there can take cock and not complain.

Au contraire, I very much like cocks when they're attached to men who I find attractive. And if I were a lesbian, I'd have nothing to do with cocks at all, which is something you really shouldn't have a problem with.

You are absolutely fucking fucked.

Whatever you're going to label me now you slimy fish smelling cunt... remember... I have really seen you around... really... so fucking think. Really think. You cunt.'re allowed to call me a "slimy fish smelling cunt" but I'm not allowed to say anything back to you because you've "seen me around"? Is that a threat? What are you going to do? Fuck me with that ten foot pole of yours? I don't think you have seen me around. Nobody I know would talk to anyone like that even on the internet, and although it's entirely conceivable that someone might find me ugly, I'm definitely not fat. And if you really are so big and clever and not scared of a little cunt like me, why don't you tell me who you are?

I don't know anything about this person. They might not even be a genuine misogynist - it could be someone who for some reason has something personal against me. All I can say about them is that they want me to feel hurt by this, and so I think it's worth examining how they have gone about it, and the material used to achieve their aims.

  • "You're ugly" is considered a terrible insult
  • "You're fat" is considered a terrible insult
  • "I don't want to fuck you" is considered a terrible insult
  • "You suck cock" is considered a terrible insult
  • "You can't take cock" is considered a terrible insult

    These really are the classic one-size-fits-all female insults. Want to make a woman feel bad about herself? Tell her she's ugly and fat. Want to make her feel humiliated? Attack her sexuality. It's simple really. We live in a society that places a disproportionately massive amount of importance on a woman's appearance, her sexual availability and her chastity (all that virgin/whore schtick, we really can't win however we behave, so just fuck who you want, sisters) and so if you want to insult a woman, just pick on those things and you're sure to hit the target. If anyone ever says anything like this to you, it's worth bearing all this in mind. Insults like this are very unlikely to be an accurate reflection of your personal qualities.

    Strangely enough, if this man doesn't want to fuck me, I'm quite happy with that. I sure as hell don't want to fuck him either.
  • Saturday, 12 April 2008

    More hate mail!

    The F-Word is being attacked again. Yesterday I wrote a post about how the Daily Mail article on how a size 16 Miss England finalist is "dangerously overweight" and a "bad role model" was fucking ridiculous and also included some blatant lies (the "ideal" body mass index is 20, according to them, and this is after they've done loads of articles about how wonderfully "curvy" she is and what a great "role model" - *YAWN*). As a result of this, I've been called fat by someone who presumably has never seen me:

    isn't it the norm for feminists to be againstbeauty contests period, why are you now pro-beauty contest just becausea fatty has been included in the line up? Youre also against BMI too.So i'm thinking maybe you're all angry just because you're over BMI 26and rather fat? just a hunch.

    This comment isn't going on the site because we moderate comments to avoid flame wars like the one that this would inevitably lead to, but I thought it deserved airing. Of course I'm fat - the only reasonable explanation for me saying that it was unfair dragging someone who is marginally overweight through the mud as a poster girl for heart disease and type 2 diabetes is that I'm fat. If I wasn't fat, I'd be cheering on the Daily Mail and calling for Chloe to be forcibly removed from the competition and recycled as a bouncy castle.

    Actually, The readers of the F-Word would totally have lynched me if I'd said anything that appeared either to endorse beauty contests or to comment subjectively on Chloe's appearance, so here's another point that I would have made if I'd felt able to do so: Miss England is a beauty contest, and however you feel about beauty contests, that's what contestants are being judged on, not whether they are "good role models". Few people would deny that Chloe is a beautiful girl even if you do happen to find her a little on the porky side, and thus she is eminently qualified to participate.

    As I said in the original post, she is no more overweight than many of her fellow contestants are underweight, so that blows the whole "role model" issue out of the water anyway. Chloe has as much right to compete in this repulsive display of young women as commodities for public consumption competition as anybody else.

    I do think she could have chosen a more supportive bikini top though...

    Thursday, 10 April 2008

    I'm totally psyched about this abortion!

    Yet another reason why The Onion kicks ass.

    To all of you pro-lifers who are trying to rain on my parade, keep it to yourself, because I don't have the time for that kind of negativity. I've got an abortion to plan, and I just know it's going to be the best non-anesthetized invasive uterine surgery ever!

    Tuesday, 1 April 2008


    A couple of years ago I was on a quick lunchtime shoe shopping binge with a colleague. She picked up a pair of high heels, turned them round, and put them back on the shelf with a distasteful, "Eurgh, they've got lesbian heels." Since the heels in question were of a clumpy nature I guess she was buying into the idea that gay women wear ugly shoes and thus are ugly women. Since when did women's shoes become so ridiculously fetishised? How did it come to pass that there is a style of shoe associated with being an unattractive individual? In a way, it's kind of liberating - you can control how attractive people think of you as being by changing your shoes. But it's also just plain weird. And it royally sucks that in order to be considered "attractive" you have to be uncomfortable.

    Why must our sexual attractiveness be tied up in being uncomfortable? Why is a woman teetering in stilettos more attractive than a woman walking confidently in trainers? Why is "sexy" underwear made of scratchy lace, "chicken fillets" and what a male friend of mine charmingly refers to as "arse floss"? Why is it so difficult to find nice, pretty underwear that doesn't involve "arse floss"?

    In so many cultures throughout history, a woman's attractiveness has been directly related to how uncomfortable, and in extreme cases how disabled, she is. There was foot binding, which rendered the victim unable to hobble more than a few metres, and corsets which rearranged the internal organs. There are some cultures today that feed their girls until they are morbidly obese in order to make them more attractive marriage prospects, some that butcher girls' genitals for similar reasons. These are things that parents (usually mothers) do to girls though, in order to increase their prospects in highly patriarchal societies in which the best a girl can hope for out of life is to be well married. High heels and arse floss are things that women do to themselves in a society in which they have the same legal rights as men. They choose to do it to themselves. But then again, and depending of course on what your profession is, being attractive can massively increase one's success at work. Has anybody ever seen that back page of Glamour magazine, where they take photos of random people on the street and critique their outfits? There was a horrid one a while back, in which they'd photographed a woman wearing a suit with trainers and said that this was a massive no-no. It made me spit with rage - this woman probably had to wear horribly uncomfortable shoes at work, and why the hell shouldn't she wear comfy shoes for the journey and change when she got to the office? Are we to look perfectly sexy 24 hours a day? I wonder if Glamour thinks that it's acceptable for us to take our heels off at night?

    There is nothing inherently vile about high heels. I like high heels as much as the next girl. In my wardrobe you will find several stratospheric, spangly, studded creations that would make Carrie Bradshaw weep with envy (although thankfully for my bank balance, none of them are Manolos). However, on an everyday basis you're much more likely to find me in old martial arts trainers. I have worn out several pairs of jodhpur boots in my time, but I have yet to wear out a stiletto heel. Does this mean I'm a minger? Well if it does, at least I'm comfortable. And at least I have a filter for any men who are so ridiculously shallow that their opinion of a woman is coloured by her shoes not being sufficiently sexy.

    I get considerably more male attention when I wear high heels than when I wear flat shoes, to quite an amazing extent. I can simply change my shoes and nothing else, and watch the number of neanderthals who try to grope me in the street skyrocket. I can't believe that they actually make me that much more attractive. I just can't believe that being a few inches taller is going to make a significant difference to my attractiveness - I honestly don't think many men are that bothered about the difference between 5ft2 and 5ft6, surely? Likewise, I don't think looking slightly thinner is going to make much of a difference either. There's also the theory that wearing high heels forces the wearer to arch their back and stick out their tits and arse, but I don't buy that either - I happen to have a lot of tits and arse and a very hollow back even without high heels, and the heels still massively affect the amount of male attention I get. I'm sure it's about more than just how you look in the shoes. Because high heels are stereotyped as "sexy", wearing them gives out a "message" that you are hot and ready and up for it. (I may well be hot and ready and up for it, but not with some creep who yells at me to get my tits out just because I am wearing "heterosexual shoes").

    Most of the time this attention is just annoying, but it can be terrifying. It takes me ten minutes to walk from the tube station to my house, and last Saturday night, whilst wearing a pair of high-heeled cowboy boots with skinny jeans, I had two rape threats during that ten minutes. One of them was particularly unpleasant, involving two guys in a car cruising past me for a couple of minutes wolf whistling and shouting about how they were going to take me up the arse, and then speeding up and turning into a side street which of course made me think they were lying in wait. Of course they weren't waiting for me in that side street - they had sped away by the time I walked past. They'd just been threatening me for fun.

    Because you're more likely to get harrassed when you look "sexy" and because you're more likely to look "sexy" when you're wearing something that in some way restricts your movement, the very time at which you're most likely to be threatened is the time at which you're least likely to be able to physically defend yourself. The main reason I was scared by those naughty men on Saturday night was that I knew I wouldn't be able to run as fast as them, and that a black belt in taekwondo is no good when you're wearing skinny jeans. I wonder if vulnerability = sexiness. Would I have been even more "sexy" if I'd been wearing shoes so uncomfortable I'd been struggling to walk? Is a woman who can't fight back the best kind?

    I know that the official feminist party line on this is "it doesn't make a difference what you wear, women get harrassed regardless" but let's face it, women do get harrassed much more when they are dressed in a manner which the patriarchy defines as "sexy". I know damn well that if I had worn that skinny jeans and bomber jacket combo with flat boots, I would not have received anything like the same amount of harrassment, and the harrassment I had received would not have been so unpleasant. I know this because that is exactly the sort of outfit I wear on an everyday basis with little or no trouble - it's only the addition of a pair of high heels that makes men think it's okay to harrass me in such an aggressive manner. This is one of the most annoying things - you know that if you hadn't worn the heels you wouldn't be being harrassed so much, and so you feel some sense of responsibility for it. Or, if you're me, you don't feel that the disgusting behaviour of such lowlifes should affect your wardrobe choices and so you wear the heels regardless and get very angry at the patriarchy.

    I was out from 6pm - midnight on Saturday night, and during that time I probably walked past hundreds of men. Only three harrassed me, so it's not as if men in general are a problem here. But those three were enough to make me feel petrified, furious, embarrassed and, as ever, astounded at the effect a pair of heels seems to have on what "sort of girl" people think I am. It's frankly weird that the shoes a woman wears are considered to be so heavily indicative of attractiveness, sexual orientation, sexual availability, so many attributes that really have sod all to do with shoes. How did all this happen? Why are we judged as ugly or "easy", gay or straight, depending on whether or not we happen to have chosen spangly stilettos or DM boots to go with our outfits on any given day? And how the hell can we stop it?

    Friday, 14 March 2008

    Happy Steak and Blowjob Day!

    Sorry about the lack of blogging recently, but I have not been feeling my best after having my wisdom teeth out. Incidentally, if you want all the gory details you can find them here.

    Anyway, as you will quite possibly be aware, today is Steak and Blowjob Day.

    I feel as if I ought to be angry about this, but I'm really not. All it is is understandable Valentine's Day backlash. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Valentine's Day is total bollocks. It creates obligation for men (buy women stupid gifts etc) obligation for women (put out cos he bought you stupid gifts etc) and excuses men for any general crapness on the other 364 days of the year, providing they remember to buy you the goddamn roses on Valentine's Day.

    Steak and Blowjob Day is pretty simple. It's not expensive, it doesn't require much effort, you don't even have to put any thought into what to do. Okay, so demanding sex acts is a pretty unpleasant thing to do really, but is anybody actually taking it that seriously? And as for men who don't like steak, or who aren't so keen on blow jobs, I'm sure suitable substitutes can be found.

    I actually feel kind of left out because I really, really, really love steak, much more than I love anything I might be likely to receive on Valentine's Day (except perhaps for jewellery. Hey, a girl can dream, right?) But steak is MAN FOOD. Girls are not supposed to eat steak - it's got saturated fat y'all, it's gonna make you fat y'all. And also, is a blow job such a terrible chore? To be honest, I think I'd probably quite enjoy participating in Steak and Blowjob Day. I would however draw the line at the guy eating the steak whilst receiving the blow job.

    Sorry but I don't find this particularly sexist or offensive at all. The only major problem I have with it is that if I had a boyfriend who was particularly enamoured of steak and/or blow jobs, I would like to think that I would bestow these things upon him more than once a year.

    Tuesday, 26 February 2008

    Scared? You should be...

    It might come as a surprise to you that I am a bit of a wimp. Although I will happily spar with someone twice my size in an open taekwondo tournament, or get on a horse and gallop across rocky terrain, there are some quite ordinary things of which I am terrified. I have a massive phobia of fish. I don't like heights. I can't stand boats. Violent scenes in movies turn me into a quivering wreck. I am petrified of talking to strangers even if it's just to say something as simple as, "Excuse me". The idea of me ever making a first move on a man is frankly laughable. It's embarrassing being such a total wuss, and I know I would enjoy life more if I could at least get over my shyness, but at least it's accepted. My friends accept and embrace my slightly neurotic disposition, they look after me when necessary and they simply accept that this desperate shyness and propensity for fear is part of who I am, even if I do know how to make a man lose bladder control with my bare hands.

    I am currently in the middle of having to face one of my biggest fears: dentists. There is no earthly reason why I should fear the dentist, having never required any dental treatment before in my life, but I do. Horribly so. So discovering that I need to have all of my wisdom teeth removed didn't go down too well with me. Specifically, I was vomiting with fear, crying hysterically (normally I cry about as easily as The Terminator) and unable to eat for the first two days, which has now given way to a sort of numb acceptance brought on firstly by the fact that one of them has started to hurt quite a lot so I'd quite like it if it were no longer there, and secondly by the fact that I've been assured that if I have it done under sedation I won't remember the experience.

    Throughout the last few days, everybody has been fantastically supportive. I have had countless cups of tea made for me. Nobody has been in the least bit unsympathetic or even surprised at my petrified reaction, even people who had no idea I had a problem with dentistry. But it's got me thinking: what if I were a man? Would people be quite as accomodating of a man suffering the same fears? I seriously doubt it. Fear is regarded as a normal state for a woman, but not for a man. When is it ever acceptable for a man to utter the words, "I'm scared"?

    I just think this is terribly sad. It's hard enough what I'm going through at the moment. It would be much, much harder if I felt that my fear was unacceptable, or if everybody around me thought that I was just being pathetic. Perhaps they do think that I'm being pathetic, but either way, they recognise that my fear is real and distressing and that I need to be treated with kindness. If I were a man, I'd probably be being told to pull myself together. I'd be regarded as less of a man, an inadequate person.

    Perhaps this is plain old-fashioned sexism against women - not expecting women to show courage because they are inferior to big, brave, strong men. And I can see that this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy - if girls are taught from childhood that it's acceptable and even desirable to be scared (I remember screaming along with all the other girls at primary school when an insect came into the vicinity, just to fit in) and if boys are taught to suppress their fears, it's not surprising if these attitudes become thoroughly ingrained. Amongst adults, women might well be genuinely more fearful creatures than men.

    But male fear is an enormous taboo, almost uniquely so. I can't think of any emotion that is unacceptable to the same extent in women. I would say it's probably acceptable for a man to be scared if he has a terminal illness, or is about to do a 5000ft bungee jump, but other than that, fear and masculinity are thoroughly mutually exclusive. Women who show bravery are applauded. Men who show bravery are just being men. Women who show fear are comforted. Men who show fear are ridiculed. It might be that people expect less of women because they regard them as inferior, but it's men who really suffer because the illusion is not that women are easily scared but that men are not easily scared. Fear is a natural, human emotion not confined to women and children. It really is time we accepted that both men and women feel fear, and that both men and women can be brave and confront that fear when necessary. Personally, I'm fully expecting to come round from my grisly dental operation with an "I was brave at the dentists today" sticker plastered to my chest.

    Here's someone who thoroughly enjoys going to the dentist:

    Monday, 18 February 2008

    Sunday, 3 February 2008

    Fight like a girl

    Lately I've been thinking about how great it is to be a sporty woman. I think getting seriously involved with a sport is one of the most empowering things a woman can do.

    Three and a half years ago now I took up taekwondo, a Korean martial art based on karate. I'd always wanted to do martial arts, but my parents had vetoed it when I was a child on the grounds of my propensity for getting into fights at school (probably a wise decision I have to admit). At 21, I finally got round to donning some "angry white pyjamas" to learn how to kick ass. I'd acquired enough disposable income to join a gym, but it cost about the same to join a taekwondo club instead, and the rest is history. I'm now just about to take my black belt grading. I'm a much more confident person in general than I was at 21 for a variety of reasons, but taekwondo has probably been the biggest influence in terms of having more confidence in my body.

    As women we are bombarded with pressure from the media, from our peers, sometimes from men, to see our bodies as wayward things that must be kept in check, that mustn't be fed too much, that exist largely if not solely for aesthetic purposes, and that life will not be worth living if we gain a few pounds. A woman's body exists to be beautiful, not athletic, and beautiful according to pretty strict guidelines at that. How we feel about our bodies, and often consequently our self-esteem, is dictated by a cruel lottery of genetics. And if we have drawn a poor or even a not-quite-perfect set of numbers in the genetics lottery, we are to spend our lives striving to improve our bodies, not allowing ourselves to be truly happy or relaxed until we achieve perfection. It is of course much more important that we are attractive than healthy or fit.

    I know that people go to the gym to "keep fit", but for a lot of women, "keeping fit" is synonymous with "keeping thin", and not just because slimness is for most people a by-product of fitness. Virtually every woman I know who has a gym membership sweats it out on a treadmill specifically in order to get or stay thin, and good luck to them for not achieving that just by starving themselves, but it concerns me that women by and large are more concerned with how their body looks than with what it can do.

    If you do a sport rather than just going to the gym, you are doing physical activity for a purpose other than just to look good. Being sporty gives you the same physical benefits of going to the gym, but with none of the weight obsession, wall-to-wall mirrors, lycra, posing, sleazy guys and other assorted annoyances that gyms are associated with. You will get fit, and yes, you will get thin if being thin is the state that your body is destined to adopt when it is at the peak of fitness, but you will do so by focusing on having fun and getting good at something instead of on how your body looks. Much more enjoyable and massively more empowering.

    When you are training or competing in an actual sport, nobody gives a flying fuck how your body looks. When I'm beating the crap out of a focus pad, demonstrating a pattern for some beginners, kicking a 6ft man in the head, or just sitting around comparing bruises after class, it is the only time I feel that nobody, absolutely nobody, cares about how my body looks.

    At my taekwondo club, it is not at all unusual to find men discussing their diets. It's a given that everybody will be watching what they eat to a certain extent, making sure that they have a healthy diet giving them the required energy and nutrients to perform at their best. Being sporty makes it acceptable for men to take an interest in healthy eating. And it makes it acceptable for women to eat proper, substantial food that gives them the energy they need.

    A while ago, I can't remember when, I was getting into the shower when I caught sight of myself in the mirror and suddenly realised that I had no cellulite. Before taking up taekwondo I'd had some - not a huge amount, but quite a lot for a 20-year-old. I hadn't been massively distressed about it, but I hadn't liked it either. I'd occasionally succumbed to that masochistic practice of standing in one's underwear in front of a full-length mirror and thinking, Yuk. And now, after a couple of years of regular exercise, it had gone. But it wasn't the fact that it had disappeared that I saw as significant - it was the fact that I hadn't even noticed its disappearance. At some point, I'd stopped caring.

    These days, if I find myself in front of a full-length mirror, instead of appraising how my body looks, I throw a few kicks and admire my ninja skillz (fellow martial artists, don't try and tell me you've never done this). If I'd spent the last four years at the gym instead of in the dojang I would be just as fit, but I wouldn't be able to do a pretty mean 540 degree turning kick, I wouldn't have a shelf full of trophies and medals, and I'd still be examining my thighs for cellulite. If I was ever in danger of getting involved with the mad body beautiful culture that plagues young women, taekwondo saved me from it. I am no longer a slave to my body - my body is a slave to me.

    Sorry to pontificate but I really think if there's one piece of advice I can offer to every woman it's to find a sport you enjoy and do it. What physical activities did you enjoy as a child? What have you always wanted to try? It's not often that women are encouraged to take up an actual sport as opposed to simply squeezing themselves into pink lycra and going to spinning classes in order to keep their lardy bits in check, and I think that this is a great shame. There is a lot of untapped female sporting talent out there, and a lot of women who are missing out on getting fit in a massively enjoyable manner. There are some who would say that running around like a mad thing and getting sweaty and dishevelled is unfeminine, but to hell with them. Taking up a sport allows you to reclaim your body and to use it to its true potential.

    Tuesday, 22 January 2008

    Who wants to hear about Paul Daniels' pants?

    Whoever knew that men's underpants were so important? I certainly didn't until I read this highly entertaining article in The Independent this morning.

    Apparently, for the first time in ages, women aren't purchasing the majority of men's pants (hooray!) and men themselves are becoming more exacting consumers (good for them). But despite variations in the size of men's tackles, there are no plans to adopt a "cup size" scheme:

    There is one delicate area of pant advancement where men are not yet ready to go – universal package sizing. Stretch fit, says Ruth Steven, marketing manager at Jockey, is currently essential because the same waist measurement must fit a great variety of crotch dimensions. "There are no actual pouch sizes, as there are with women's bra cup sizes. We have discussed it, but I don't think it will happen. Men are a bit shyer than women. Can you imagine having to ask for a double-A size?'"

    Quite. Unlike breast size, with penis size bigger is nearly always regarded as better, and being on the small side is a cause for serious embarrassment. The big difference is that with breasts, everybody can see what size they are and judge you accordingly as either "frigid" or a "nasty slut" if you fall outside of average. It's a good thing that men's penises aren't on display because they'd go through hell if they were. Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, pants.

    I once bought my last boyfriend a pair of Superman Y-fronts and was highly amused when he actually wore them on quite a regular basis. And where I live in North London, there is a ridiculous fashion for young men to wear baggy pants so low their entire arse is hanging out, so you can't help but see their pants (usually tartan print boxers for some reason. I mean, if you're going to have your boxers hanging out, surely Calvin Klein is the way to go? Tartan just makes it look as if your mum still buys your pants, which I'm sure isn't the look they're going for) Other than that, I've never given men's pants much thought. I certainly don't have any "aesthetic preferences" as long as they're clean. Generally, if I've got to the point where I can see a man's pants, I'm much more interested in their contents. Frankly, he could be wearing a loincloth and I wouldn't care just as long as it was coming off. This makes me wonder why women's lingerie is considered so important for impressing men. Are men really that bothered by it? If a woman is posing in lingerie I can understand a preference for it to be of the sexy kind, but surely in real life, if the average guy has a real half naked woman in his bed, he couldn't give a toss whether she's wearing a full-cup or a balconette bra.

    This article also contains the revelation that according to Jockey, the average British woman will spend £20,350 on underwear in her life, compared to just £1,200 for men. That is A LOT of money. I don't really understand how the "average woman" could manage to spend so much on smalls. Assuming that she lives to the age of 80, that's £254 a year.

    Be warned though, this article definitely strays into Too Much Information territory with some of the celebrity interviews. There is the hilarious revelation that Blur, instead of making crazy M&M-related celebrity demands, used to request a new pair of M&S pants every day when they were on tour, but there's also the following from Paul Daniels:

    I wear whatever Debbie buys me: a vast mixture of Y-fronts and boxers, whatever's on top of the pile, and different brands. I don't have a favourite, or a lucky pair – what's inside is lucky, and that's me.

    EEEEEEEEEEEEEEWWWW!!!!!!! Well, at least he didn't describe his tackle as "magic".

    Monday, 7 January 2008

    'Tis the season to be hungry

    It's that time of year again! Christmas is over, and if you're a walking stereotype you'll have stuffed yourself silly and - horror of horrors! - gone up to a size 12.

    Obviously ads for discounted gym memberships are all the rage on the Tube at the moment, and women's magazines are chock full of the latest miracle diets (personally I was always rather a fan of Bridget Jones' patented weight loss method - "Simply replace food with sex"). 'Tis the season to be hungry, not to mention squeezing yourself into a little lycra number and punishing your wayward physique on a treadmill. But that's just advertising n stuff, and there's nothing wrong with it really, especially since a lot of people really could benefit from eating better and getting more exercise.

    However, the mania that women seem to get into for losing weight around this time of year seems pretty extreme. I wonder what the average Christmas weight gain actually is. It doesn't seem to justify the dieting hell.

    It's pretty difficult to get away from. I work in an office full of boys, but at lunchtime today I went to visit a friend in a girl-dominated department and found that all the talk down there was about diets. They were all on diets, and my friend is determined to drop two dress sizes, a change which I personally think will leave her far too thin, not to mention grumpy from chocolate withdrawal, and I told her as much. I certainly felt rather awkward sitting in there eating two desserts (look, I couldn't decide between them, ok?) whilst everybody else in the room was presumably getting through the day on Ryvita - I don't know, I didn't see anyone eat a thing.

    I actually did gain a bit of weight whilst I was on holiday - for someone accustomed to a high level of exercise it's inevitable. But I really don't believe in restricting what I eat. I don't know how girls do it. I just couldn't. When I'm hungry, my concentration goes. I can't focus on my work because I'm too busy daydreaming about sushi, or pasta, or pecan pie, or whatever scrumptious dish I am most craving. I feel light-headed and dizzy. I have to eat. And apart from the risk of passing out, I just refuse on principle to do anything to myself that stops me from functioning properly. I will be strong, alert, quick-witted and good at my job thank you very much, even if it does mean that I am a few pounds heavier.

    Dieting at this time of year is almost a girl bonding ritual. You feel left out if you don't join in. You feel awkward for eating anything except salad. You start to wonder if you could stand to lose a few pounds yourself. And, if you're me, you start to feel pretty pissed off about it and say, goddammit, I reserve the right to eat bread. In fact, because I'm just so naughty I'll have butter on it too.

    All I can say is, thank goodness for boys. I love my female friends but they drive me bats at this time of year.

    Sunday, 6 January 2008

    Happy new year!

    The more eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed a distinct lack of posts recently. This is not because I have seen the light and decided to abandon my feminist sensibilities for a career as a glamour model (although whether or not this is specifically an "anti-feminist" thing to do is of course debatable...) It is because I have spent the last six weeks in Central America eating termites, climbing active volcanoes, drinking “local” alcohol purchased in old Pepsi bottles from street vendors of questionable personal hygiene and other such dangerous activities after which I am probably lucky to have escaped only with a broken toe and an unexplained rash. However, before I departed on my big dangerous adventure, I did promise myself that I would return with as much feminist-type stuff to write about as possible.

    I had of course had fantastic visions of securing killer interviews with downtrodden indigenous women who had undergone forced sterilisation, teenagers who didn’t know what a condom was, people whose relatives had died from back-street abortions and stuffy politicians who thought that women should all go back to the cocina and make them some gallopinto. Unfortunately, the fact that I was more inclined to climb volcanoes than to ask random women about abortion laws, and the fact that my Spanish is far from fluent, meant that I returned with nothing quite so spectacular. I do however have some (rather crude and elementary) musings about young Central American men and their attitudes to women.

    The last time I travelled outside Europe was to Egypt where, as I’m sure many readers are aware, harrassment of women, and Western women in particular, is a serious problem. My friends and I endured horrendous harrassment, the men all seemed oblivious to the word "no" in any language and I managed to escape from a potential rapist who caught up with me and asked me to marry him (I quoted Clueless - "AS IF!!!") So I’m sure you can appreciate that I was a little apprehensive about travelling to Latin America, where I had heard that the men had something of a “Casanova” reputation.

    I’m pleased to say that in Central America, my experiences suggest that this reputation is unjustified. I've already posted about this whilst I was out there so I won't repeat myself, but as a trend I didn’t find the amorous attentions of the men I met out there anywhere near as obnoxious as those of some of the lowlifes I have to contend with back home.

    There was one thing in particular that I wasn’t madly keen on about Central American men though: they seem to think that women are incapable of doing ANYTHING without their help. And I mean anything. It doesn’t offend my feminist sensibilities in the slightest if a man helps me carry something heavy, unscrews a jar for me or fetches me something off a high shelf, but insisting on taking my hand as I climb down a flight of steps? Or helping me with the massively demanding task of walking round a corner? I used to be a gymnast for heaven’s sake! At first, I found this mildly amusing. I didn’t really mind - they were just trying to be helpful, and it seemed rude and ungrateful to scowl and say that I was perfectly capable of doing it on my own, thank you. But after a few days, it began to wear extremely thin. It wasn’t the implication of female incompetence that got to me, but the constant unwanted physical contact. The guiding arms in the small of my back, the grasping hands, the complete strangers insisting on touching me, however innocent and non-sexual it was. I don’t enjoy being touched by strangers, and it set my nerves on edge trying to sidestep all of the outstretched “helping” hands. Alas, the men also seemed much more inclined to offer such chivalry to young, attractive women than to older ones. At one point as a few of us were getting onto a boat, I was behind a sixtysomething woman who was carrying a big rucksack and who would probably have been grateful of a helping hand. But it was me whose hand was taken as I walked onto the boat, not hers. I don’t know if this guy expected me to be impressed with his act of “chivalry”, or if holding some Gringa’s hand for five seconds was the nearest he’d come to getting his rocks off all year, but either way I wasn’t impressed.

    Then there were just annoying little incidents that demonstrated perceived female inferiority. At one point I went on a riding excursion and despite telling the guide that I had been riding since I was a child and could easily handle a forward-going horse, I was assigned a geriatric pony who was apt to fall asleep every five minutes whilst a less experienced male companion struggled to rein in the equine equivalent of Speedy Gonzales. Whenever it came to negotiating with taxi drivers, they were only interested in speaking to the guys. The general feeling I got was that the men out there liked women and certainly didn’t wish them any harm, but didn’t believe them as intelligent or capable as men. As a woman, I was viewed as a sort of oversized child with delusions of adult competence. However, at no point did I feel like screaming or beating anybody over the head with a hardback copy of The Second Sex, so it can’t have been that bad.

    Although all of the countries I visited were more inherently patriarchal than Britain, it didn’t seem that attitudes towards women in general were any worse overall than they are at home. It would be interesting to see if I still had that view after living there for a while, rather than simply visiting. To a visitor, gender disparity doesn’t stand out as a massive problem, and yet in countries (Nicaragua and El Salvador. Oh, and Chile too, but I’ve never been there so can’t comment) where women are denied abortions for ANY reason, it’s impossible to see how this could not be the case. And the fact that I have returned home with lots to say about Central American men but nothing to say about the women is significant. I simply didn’t meet any women at all, other than the ones who were trying to sell me handicrafts in the street with five kids in tow. Perhaps the reason that patriarchy doesn’t stand out as a massive problem over there is that the people oppressed by it don’t have a voice. Or perhaps they are genuinely happy - it's impossible to tell. It’s all very interesting and I wish I had more to say about it.