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.