Friday, 17 June 2011


"God, that receptionist's such a bitch."
"Which one?"
"The... the black one. Sorry, I couldn't think of any other way to identify her."

Is this what people mean when they say they "don't see colour"? It's like they think people will call them racist if they notice that someone is not white, so they say "black" in a whisper, as if it's the dirtiest word imaginable. Which is productive. And definitely not racist.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Other things I think about while strenuously depilating

Okay. So as I mentioned before, in quite a dickishly flip way, is still true: what this world really does not need is another skinny white cis lady talking about Body Image.

...and yet. I don't know: I don't think good allyness is necessarily not talking about the stuff that bothers you, even if it's an issue that only affects super-privileged-in-every-way-except-being-a-girl people. I don't know if acknowledging my own limitations is enough to prevent my writing becoming part of the problem. Our Sady of the Immaculate Capitalisation put it best when she talked about the worst kind of feminist, the kind of feminist I am terrifying of becoming, when she said:
and oh, does she ever do body image, without taking much note of the fact that as a white, abled, cis person she conforms to the “beauty standard,” and benefits from conforming to it, in more ways than she will ever let on

So take leg hair. It - and its mandated removal - is a big deal to me. However, it is both a bigger and smaller deal for, say, women of colour and trans women. Bigger in that, however much I am socially punished for stubble, for women who are way too often compared to animals, or told that they are In Fact men, an aspect of appearance that is coded both animalistic and masculine could very easily have incredibly dangerous consequences. And smaller in that for god's sake people are getting killed and you're banging on about your leg hair.

And so the responsible path may well be to shut the fuck up. Or it might be to try to use my merry bushels of privilege to talk about something that all women are frowned upon for bringing up - because the frowns won't hit me as hard. Sense? Am I making any? No one knows! However, I live for your comments, especially when they make me smarter, so if I am wrong, wrong and thrice wrong, you are immensely welcome (though not, of course, obliged) to tell me so.

SO. With that in mind: I've realised that what pisses me off about the demands on ladies to remove every last hair on their bodies is not just the demand itself, but its corollary that you never ever talk about it. Because talking about it destroys the illusion: we're not just expected to look "perfect" at all times, but to pretend that we always look like this. That we waft through the world, silky-skinned and follicle-free; no effort, no expense, and no time required.

The first rule of razor club is that you don't talk about razor club.

Razor club sucks.

So my way of coming to terms with this is to conform to the demands - because it makes life easier, because this is a battle I can't win on my own and don't want to fight every single day, and, yes, because I think the hair is ugly - but refusing to shut up about it. Hey, world, you insist I have super-smooth legs at all times? Prepare to hear a detailed description of the waxing process, then! You demand I shave my armpits? You'll have to accept the resulting ingrowing hairs. If you're stipulating how I should look, you can damn well deal with the realities of how I manage to look that way.

Which is probably not enormously productive, and is definitely frightfully teenaged, but there we are: it works for me. Or it makes it less soul-destroyingly bad, anyway.

The thing is, I have no idea how to fix it, on a widespread scale: how to make physical appearance a genuine choice ("conform to the diktats of patriarchal beauty standards" vs "be gawped at, ostracised, mocked and frequently not romanced" not really being an equally attractive set of options). One little me ranting about it is hardly going to unilaterally dismantle the beauty myth. But I am certain that we're not going to get anywhere without talking about it. And not just 'us' the ladies, either; us the ladies, us the dudes, us the everyone who has sex with ladies too: I'm not holding my breath waiting for Cosmo to hail the hirsute-shin as this season's new little black dress, because "you look fine as you are" isn't going to sell any razors. But - speaking for myself, at least - it's not the media onslaught that makes the crucial difference in making body hair absolutely unacceptable: it's other people. Not far-away people on catwalks or billboards, but people you know, people right here, grimacing or staring or shuddering as they pull their hand away.

So given that to-depilate-or-not-to-depilate is so tied up with sex, to make any change at all the conversation needs to include desire.

I don't know how we get to the promised land of body hair freedom of choice. I don't even know what the damn promised land looks like: everyone flying the fuzzy flag? Or just everyone doing what they please, with no judgement resulting from either option? Which means that changing how we look isn't even half the battle - it's about changing what we want. Where 'we' includes the ones wielding the razors, and the ones who, however subtly, demand that the razors be wielded.

Because what this world needs is another skinny white girl talking about Body Image

I sometimes wonder if I'm the only person who, when lying contorted on my bedroom floor waving a piece of cheap machinery around in an effort to depilate the backs of my knees, shouts "Oh, balls to you, The Patriarchy".

Bet I'm not the only one thinking it, though.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The UK's armed forces: saving the women of the world, one bloody great bomb at a time

Standard converstion, 2001:

"Oh, but we have to go into Afghanistan! The Taliban are so oppressive - just look how they treat women."

"Whereas the Coalition of the Wailing are far more politically correct, allowing those women to get blown up in whatever outfit they choose?" (© Mark Steel.)


Let's revisit that in 2011…

Dictionaries: I'll show you mine

Trying to explain disability to able-bodied people can feel frustratingly like speaking another language. It's not just that our experiences differ, it's that the words we use don't even mean the same things.

When you say you're tired, you mean you had a late night. When I say I'm tired, I don't mean I can't keep my eyes open: I mean I don't have the energy to close my eyes. Seriously, last night I was gazing into space for about ten minutes, with the vague awareness that there was something I'd forgotten to do, something that would make me feel better, something to do with eyes, what's that word? Eye... lid? Now why was I trying to remember that?

Some people call it 'brain fog', but it doesn't feel like a fog to me, it feels like a terrifying vacuum: like my mind's been wiped clean and I have no way of finding my way back to a place where words mean something, let alone organise themselves into sentences.

Tired means every sudden movement, every step, jars through my entire body. Tired means every joint aches, and all pain is magnified threefold. Tired, as a word, really doesn't cover it, but I don't have the words.

Luckily I have a blog, though.

Monday, 6 June 2011



Am I right? This seems to be one of those rare topics that feminists and scary social conservatives agree on - at least at first glance. There have been a smattering of these over the years (Andrea Dworkin and porn censorship springs to mind), and the central theme is sex. Which is part of why feminists are painted as anti-sex killjoys.

And it worries me that some of the main victories of the feminist movement over the last few years - like the change in licensing restrictions for strip clubs - fall into this category, because are we making the world a better place for women? Or a better place for people who disapprove of others (read: women) having sex?

But we're not fighting for the same things: the day I agree with Nadine Dorries is the day I abandon any claim to morality and offer myself up to my Comrades In Ranting and beg for mercy.

And we're not fighting for the same reasons. This feminist's take on the whole sexualisation of children and/or society is: the compulsory "raunch culture" of padded bras for 9-year-olds and Playboy pencil cases and Girls Gone Wild and sexting and whatever else the kids are up to these days is limiting, in that it provides only one available model of how to be sexual: one that is plasticky, focused on the male gaze, and far more concerned with performing "sexy" than with having good and enjoyable sex. It doesn't allow for nuance, for individuality, for the idea that you can have an unkempt bikini line and a screaming orgasm at the same time; unheterosexuality is banned except for unenthusiastically kissing a hot girl in front of your boyfriend, and asexuality is invisible. So in objecting to the blanket marketing of "sexy", I'm living in hope of a better sexual culture where everyone can express their sexuality - or not - as they want. (Usual caveats of 'your right to swing your arm ends where my face begins' apply.) In short, I want sex to be better.

Whereas I get the feeling that Dorries and co just want sex to go away. If it has to happen, can it at least be behind closed doors, between one man and one woman for procreative purposes only, can we never ever talk about it and for god's sake feel a decent amount of shame. On the infamous Vanessa Show interview, Dorries talks about how much better things were in the old days when you lived in fear of your parents disowning you for having sex, when the local vicar knew your name and was always around to remind you that you were totally going to hell. That's not a call for "moral guidance", that's the frustrated foot-stamp of someone who can't understand why people don't think sex is bad anymore.

So while I'm glad that the badpornification of culture is being widely discussed at the moment, I think we need to keep a close eye on the discourse and make sure we keep questioning the underlying assumptions of the debate. For the moment, it seems everyone agrees that The Sexualisation Of Our Children is bad - but no one's saying what they mean by that (it's one of those phrases that defines, to each individual, whatever they disapprove of most), and no one's teasing out exactly why we're objecting to it. Which is urgently important. And most importantly, we need to make sure we're not fooling ourselves into thinking we're winning.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

My First Troll: a milestone!

Imagine my surprise when I noticed that a perennially popular search term leading the unsuspecting public to this here blog was "stop feminism". Well, esteemed readers, I'm not sure what advice you'll find on that subject in these grubby pages, other than "kill the blogger", because I am the repository of feminism in its entirety.

With that in mind, one delightful visitor decided to try to Stop Feminism by Stopping Me. You guys: I've got my first troll! I cannot tell you how excited I am. I know, I know, Rule 1 of feminist blogging is "don't feed the trolls", but c'mon - let me have this.

Anonymous said...
Feminism is fucking pathetic, go raise a family and be a whole woman you weak misandrist whore. You are detrimental to society.
YES! I am detrimental to a society which views me as inferior: result! My mum will be so proud.

Oh, so much bile packed into so few lines. Women: nothing but babymakers, and if they dare depart from this sacred duty they are nothing but pure evil (or, in my case, postponing parenthood until I am considerably older, richer, less stupid, and less enamoured with smoking and spending the grocery money on books - pure evil). Pure evil and only half a woman, at that. (Or a third of a woman? Twenty four per cent of a woman? Five eighths of a mile? Inquiring minds need to know.)

Misandrist: oh, famously. The four words my gentleman admirer hears most often are "darling, I hate you", followed by the sound of me rummaging in my capacious handbag for a hacksaw to disfigure his genital region. (We've been together two and a half years now; clearly I suck at misandry. And hacksawing.) I mean, it's kind of sad that I'm so readily reaching for this counter-example, in that I really owe this commenter knob-all and yet feel some need to demonstrate my man-lovin' real-womanliness, but I think I am also motivated by the eternal drive to prove the troll wrong.

And 'whore': well. My absolute favourite thing about this epistle is that it pulls out Sexism 101 moves - an amazing quantity of them in a scant twenty two words - in an attempt to tell me that feminism is unnecessary.

1. Women should have babies at all times, or be fractional bad women.
2. You hate men. I have no evidence for this.
3. Women who have sex are scary. (Women who don't have sex are bitches.)
4. You, a woman, are weak. (Which is why I'm spending all this time trying to stop you doing whatever it is you're doing, which doesn't threaten me in the slightest.)
5. Feminism? What's that for?

Thing is, I am utterly useless in taking criticism. If the troll - henceforth to be known as Epistolero - had dissed my writing style, my powers of reasoning, or the deliciousness of my macaroni cheese, I would be sobbing in the corner with a duvet on my head. (So I guess starting my own blog was a good idea!) And I imagine - well, I know, from hearing seasoned lady bloggers' testimony - that getting a mountain of this crap in your inbox on a regular basis becomes less funny and more grindy downy with every day that passes. Which is why Epistolero and co do it: make it as hard as possible for the ladies to talk about the whole oppression thing, kick their ankles for long enough, stick your fingers in your ears going "lalalalala" whenever they open their mouths, and maybe you can get them to shut the fuck up.

But happily we are not in duvet-head territory. We are in logic-free "FEMINISM IS BAD" territory, where I have superpowers on my side: the powers of whimsy, the power of laughing at trolls, and the power of an unshakeable belief that I am brighter than Epistolero.