Thursday, 30 August 2012

A Study in Objectification: Sons of Anarchy Credits

So! We have covered What Objectification Is at some length. We have learnt, for example, that one indicator of objectification is depicting just one body part rather than a whole person. So today I would like to take you on a tour of the Sons of Anarchy credits! Now, every cast member in these credits is only represented by one body part - and never their face (that most human and expressive part of the anatomy). But I would argue that only two (three, at a push) of the eight characters featured are actually objectified in the sequence.

Guess their gender!

The most noticeable difference between the depiction of men and women here is that the male characters are active - they're shown Doing Things - whereas the female characters are passive. In order, we have Jax, grabbing a gun:

Followed by Gemma, having breasts.

Bobby, playing guitar!

Tig, pumping a shotgun!

Chibs, brandishing a knife!

Unnamed lady non-character, having legs.

Tara, being naked.

Clay, smoking a cigar...

And finally, Jax, being naked, with a really good muscle twitch right at the end.

(NB These images are just screen-grabs from a crappy video hosted online, hence the dubious quality, interesting cropping decisions and the random little light bulb in the corner on Tig's pic.)

This phenomenon - men as active, women as passive - has been documented extensively, most often in the context of kids' toys catalogues. You see boys playing with microscopes, building train tracks, brandishing pirate swords; and girls... looking at dolls. The implicit takeaway is that men are there to Do Stuff - and women are decoration.

Which is especially bizarre in the case of Sons of Anarchy. Although the women sure are decorative - all the female main characters are slammin' hotties, as opposed to, say, Bobby, Tig, Piney, Clay, Opie... (no accounting for personal taste, of course, but Gemma and Tara - and Jax - conform to mainstream notions of Hot. Women can be interesting characters as long as they're hot as well: men can just be interesting characters.) - they are also fucking fascinating people, and far from passive. Gemma's actions and decisions are absolutey pivotal in the show, and while Tara tends to be more reactive, her choices were the driving force behind the story arc of season four. So it's bizarre that the titles go to the default, of presenting them as nothing more than decorative bodies.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Why accusing Assange of rape is the least effective way of getting him to shut up

I haven't had much to say on the whole rape-centric clusterfuck that's been going on this week ("legitimate rape": the only GOP-sanctioned contraceptive! Rape - or just bad manners? "Not everyone has to be asked prior to each insertion", apparently! THIS IS GEORGE GALLOWAY'S IDEA OF 'HILARIOUS EXAGGERATION', rather than AN ABSOLUTE BARE MINIMUM OF HUMAN DECENCY! Being a 'freedom fighter': like being an 'artistic genius' or 'having had a hard life': it now entitles you to one free rape! But is Assange freedom fighty enough to get two?), not because I'm not unbearably furious and depressed by mainstream opinion on the topic, but because everything I could have said has been covered in exhaustive detail.

"After being indoors for so long, Assange is going to look so pasty and creepy"

But there's one thing which is driving me up the fucking wall. It's the idea, suggested by Assange's more blinkered supporters, that getting a man accused of rape is a super-convenient way of blackening his name.

Off the top of my head, here are a few things it would be easier to get someone convicted of:
  • benefit fraud
  • corporate tax evasion
  • murder
  • revolutionary feminist anti-capitalist "hooliganism" 
  • aggressively planting leylandii hedges in your neighbour's garden by cover of darkness
  • being an actual vampire and using your undead superpowers to commit benefit fraud, corporate tax evasion, murder, revolutionary hooliganism, AND illegal horticulture, all for the forces of darkness.
We all know that, for example, the rape conviction rate in England and Wales is around 6%. (We do all know this, right? Turn to the person next to you and make sure they know it too.) We also know that rape reporting rates are extremely low: Fawcett estimates that only around 29% of rapes are reported.

So taking Fawcett's estimate that 47,000 rapes occur in the UK every year...
and noting that, in 2005/6, 13,712 rapes were reported...
and that 6% of 13,712 is 823...
we can establish that the actual conviction rate for rape - the percentage of rapists who will spend a day in prison for their crimes - is 1.75%.

(Oh yeah, and studies show that most rapists don't stop at one rape - the median number of victims per rapist is 5.8.)

So what about Sweden, famous paradise of gender equality?

Well, Amnesty notes that 4,000 rapes are reported in Sweden each year, and in 2008, these resulted in 262 convictions - a conviction rate of 6.65%. But given that the annual number of actual rapes is estimated to be 30,000, that gives us an actual conviction rate of 0.87%.

So just for the sake of argument, say Assange did rape two women, once each. The probability of his being convicted is all of 1.75%.

Slam dunk.


Okay, you're thinking, so he won't get convicted - but what if that isn't the point? What if they just want to throw the accusation out there, so that people will think he's a rapist, and never trust him again? Knock him off his pedestal and ensure he can't lead Wikileaks anymore?

Forgive me, but that is the most staggeringly naive idea I've ever heard. Mike Tyson: convicted of rape, boxing comeback, multimillion dollar endorsement deals, role in rabidly successful movie. Polanski: pled guilty to "unlawful sex with a minor", went on to be one of the most successful and critically-feted film-makers in the world. Hey, want some more examples? Or are you feeling sick yet?

Chances are, being accused - or convicted - of rape will have absolutely zero impact on Assange's career (if anything, history suggests it will enhance his martyr status), while destroying the lives of the women involved. From Fawcett:
“In no other crime is the victim subject to so much scrutiny during an investigation or at trial; nor is the potential for victims to be re-traumatised during these processes as high in any other crime.” (HMCPS & HMIC, 2007)
When the accused rapist is a high-profile man whose work people admire, you can multiply that by about a thousand.

Every woman in the world knows what they would have to go through if they were to report being raped. Every woman in the world knows that the blowback they will suffer - their every decision questioned, their entire sexual history laid bare, their motives assumed to be heinous - will be proportionately more invasive and traumatic according to the fame of the man they are accusing. That's rape culture. We're not doing this for fun.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Dear feminism: Rihanna does not belong to you

Apparently the best way to deal with domestic violence is to slam survivors of domestic violence.

Charities accuse Rihanna of 'sanctioning' violence, says the Independent.

Which charities, you ask? Wifebeaters Anonymous? The Royal Society for the Propagation of Violence Against Women? 
Erin Pizzey, the campaigner who pioneered aid for abused women by setting up Britain's first refuge centre for victims, added: "This sends out a very dangerous message to teenagers that roller-coaster relationships with violence-prone personalities are edgy and exciting. They're not. The relationship is toxic and unhealthy. Both are in need of help and that is the message that young people should be receiving."
Oh great. Nice work, feminism: demanding that a domestic violence survivor becomes the figurehead for anti-violence efforts, and never strays from the script, never says anything which betrays ambiguous or protective feelings towards her abuser (you know, like abuse survivors frequently do, because being abused by someone who is supposed to love you is, apart from everything else, a colossal mind-fuck, and an occasion for potentially catastrophic cognitive dissonance?) - never, in fact, says anything which might suggest that she is a whole and complex person rather than the Violence Is Bad Automaton 2012.

Rule one of Not Being Awful: when a person has been through something traumatic, YOU DO NOT GET TO TELL HER HOW TO DEAL WITH IT. Your question is, 'What do you need?' It is 'Is there anything I can do to help?' It is not, it is really fucking not, 'This is what you must do, for the good of yourself and the thousands of other people who you now have responsibility for because I said so, or you are EVIL.'

Dear everyone in the world: back the fuck off Rihanna.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Quick hit: caveman armpits and GUM fun

A thought: funny, isn't it, how the people who are all "men and women evolved differently, so men have to cheat, and women just fucking love gathering pink berries", never seem to argue that "but men and women evolved to have hair under their armpits, to trap pheromones and aid sexual attraction, and you can't fight nature". Oh no, when it comes to body hair, suddenly civilisation and conscious thought are king again.

In other news, on a trip to the GUM clinic t'other day, the very nice doctor kept translating everything I said into the simplest terms possible. I'd be all "blah blah blah labia" and she'd say, "blah blah blah the lips on either side of your vagina". I'd refer to my cervix, and she'd say, "lalala the cervix, which is the opening to your womb". DUDE. I know what a cervix is. I have one. I just used the word. Do I look so dim that you have to define everything I say in case I think my cervix is actually the opening to my defective brain?

The guy who did the actual examination was allegedly more senior to her, but hadn't really got his bedside manner down - I jump whenever someone touches me and I'm not expecting it (like, including my boyfriend, when we're hugging on his sofa: if I don't see the hand coming, my response is usually "wooARGH!"), so sticking a lolly stick up my shame cave and then saying "we are now going to insert the speculum..." is pretty much guaranteed to freak me out. I'm not particularly self-conscious about getting naked in front of strangers - after a couple of years of practically biweekly ECGs, I'll whip my tits out in front of any medical professional who asks - but after this particular investigation session I was so flustered that I put my knickers back on inside out. Which would have been fine, had I not been wearing a sanitary towel. The walk back home was... sticky.

Friday, 10 August 2012

In other news: search terms

I sure am glad that post on objectification is being found by its target audience.

growing up in public: back in the day

 I have a strange fascination with American high school dramas - particularly the kind where the ugly/abrasive/shy/intellectual/artsy girl gets noticed by the hottest guy in school and omg gets all the boyfriends. (Shocker.) I think in part it's down to my unusual teenaged years, and some lingering regret I have for not having done those years in the traditional way. But time has given me the distance necessary to see the good in it, the freedoms we found to grow up how we needed to.

overdressed and underage

From the age of 15, I took the train up from boring old bland old Southampton to the bright lights of London town to go dancing. Through the magic of the internet I found myself a gang of like-minded waifs and strays, and for a few years that was what we did: we spent our pocket money on cheap vodka and wore ridiculous clothes and generally acted like idiots, but it was fun.

We were the kids who had got bullied at school (well, I still was the kid getting bullied at school*), and were celebrating the fact that we had, finally, found a whole world of people who were uncool by mainstream lights, who read too much and listened to "weird" music and had moist-pants-feelings for people of the same sex and didn't do performative gender very well and made our own clothes by safety-pinning photocopied Andy Warhol prints of Judy Garland onto our mums' t-shirts (true story) ... 

* With the important caveat that: remember that episode of 30 Rock where Liz Lemon doesn't want to go to her high school reunion because she remembered everyone being mean to her in school, but it turned out that she was the bully all along and everyone was scared of her because she was so nasty? I FOUND THAT EPISODE QUITE DISTURBING. Yes I was picked on; no I was not the "poor disadvantaged humble accomplished genius polite admirable humble underdog downtrodden perfectly behaved humble governess oh poor her underdog perfect" Jane Eyre figure I thought myself to be.

Embarrassing as the aesthetics, pretensions and outfits are in retrospect, I'm realising more and more how lucky we were to come of age in that milieu. In stark contrast to the cultures we'd grown up in, not being straight wasn't "tolerated" or frowned upon, it was (forgive me) fabulous. Ladies could go dancing in charity shop party dresses or gentlemen's three piece suits. Boys who weren't wearing eyeliner and glitter and stripy tights and padded bras and Ann Summers nurses' dresses (or, on one memorable occasion, a dressing gown) when out on the town would have been considered somewhat strange.

In part it was simply a localised youth fashion, but in contrast to mainstream fashions - requiring girls to be skinny and boys to be hench, girls to be girls and boys to be boys, everyone to look as attractive as they could without looking like they'd tried too hard, and most importantly everyone to look as similar to everyone else as possible - it was so freeing, like unlacing a tightly strung corset after a very long day.

It wasn't theoretically discussed, but looking back, it seems to me that we were playing with notions of gender in our dress: I'd never been able to do 'girl' very well, so now that I was in a place where I could do it on my own terms, damn was I going to do 'girl', to a ridiculous extreme: vertiginous heels and plunging necklines and nipped in waists and stocking tops on show. GIRL. Some of us went in other directions, appropriating cross-gender clothing, or playfully mixing up signifiers - a luxuriant moustache with a luxurious lace camisole. We were young, we were trying to figure out where we belonged on this expansive spectrum, and we were so lucky to be allowed to do it in a place which didn't simply require us to choose between Boy 1 and Girl 0.

oversexed and underweight

Oh yeah, and along with doing 'girl', there was also the doing of girls. As I've mentioned before, it was pretty much assumed that everyone was bi - or perhaps a better way to be put it would be there weren't generalised assumptions. I could hit on someone and they could refuse because they didn't fancy me, because they had an exclusive partner, or because they didn't like girls (or, hey, they could joyfully accept! That was fun too): whereas in the outside world you assume people are straight, and only hit on them if you think their orientation aligns with yours, in this little bubble you could just ask. What's the worst that could happen? By asking, you might imply that they're (ye gods!) gay? In a world where gay isn't an insult, that's not much of a barrier.

You know that common response when people come out - "but if you've never kissed/fucked/etc a girl, how can you know you like boys?" The asker never thinks to turn that question on themselves. What should they know of straightness who only straightness know? We've turned out in all shades of sexuality and gendering, but even the straightest of us got in a bit of youthful experimental dalliancing, and didn't just assume themselves to be straight because, well, everyone is.

It wasn't anywhere near as idyllic as I'm making out - quite apart from being strange and fucked up and in many cases mentally ill, most of us were teenagers - but the older I get, and the more I hear about other people's coming of age experiences, the more I realise what a liberating environment it was. Maybe we all would have turned out the same anyway: I doubt going to a few clubs made any of us gayer than we were naturally, or less inclined to perform our allotted genders in socially acceptable ways. But what freedom, to be allowed to figure that out for ourselves, in a world where deviations from external norms were welcomed, celebrated, the height of fashion.

overwhelmed and underpaid

So that was how I spent my formative years, if you were wondering. Though I have no desire to squeeze into my stillettos or slip on my satin elbow gloves, and I'm too tired to go dancing and drinking all night these days, and I probably did all of it too young, it was exactly what I needed, at the time.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Miracle on hirsute street

Sophia Loren, famous minger
And lo it came to pass, in the Year of Our Alleged Lord 2012, a summer. Well, an alleged summer - more occasional fleeting hours of sunshine surrounded on all sides
by unrelenting rain. But even during the rain, quite warm it was; warm enough to require naked legs and al fresco armpits. And in this year, a miracle did occur: Hannah completely stopped caring about ensuring every inch of skin was devoid of Unsightly! Unseemgly! Unladylike! hair before leaving the house.

And Hannah saw this, and she said that it was fucking awesome.

And no one died. No one stared and pointed. None of the many medical professionals who have been poking round in her privates in the last couple of weeks ran away screaming. Children did not hide behind their mothers, begging for protection from the horrible hair-beast that had come to attack them with her monstrous legs of death.

There was no road to Damascus moment heralding this beautiful day; Hannah did not hurl down her razors in disgust, crying, "No more, The Patriarchy, no more! No more will I waste time, energy and money on this fruitless, unachievable, and ultimately empty attempt to attain someone else's ideal of female bodily perfection! BEHOLD MY CHIN HAIRS AND TREMBLE!"

Rather, it was rebellion by default: warm it was, on this day; hairy of leg, was Hannah on this day. Leg shaving before work would not fit into her patented three-minutes-from-alarm-to-pavement schedule. So on went the skirt with the split to the knee, and out to the world went the legs of hirsute horror, and... no one died.

Truly, a miracle of our times.

It is unlikely that this furry state of affairs will become the modus operandi, given that a day's worth of armpit stubble warrants The Look Of Doom on the part of our heroine's gentleman friend, but glorious it is to know that one has the option of doing whatever one damn well pleases regardless of the smoothness of one's pins.

Sometimes it feels that to Do Woman properly in this society, you have to hate yourself. So finding strength not to do so, in whatever way you can find, is such a joy.

Bliss it was in that dawn to be hairy, and not to give a flaming shit about it was very heaven.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


I have an odd relationship with pop culture. I tend to ignore it when it's current, submersing myself instead in years old tv shows, decades old movies and centuries old books, and then become obsessed with them long after everyone else has moved on. But every now and again, I have a sudden urge to rejoin the zeitgeist. Which is why I have watched all four Twilight movies in the last week. (I was prepared for the interminable wait for them to make with the sex. I was not prepared to sit through eight hours of film without anyone making a single facial expression.)

Which is also why I have, despite all my wisdom and politics and love of well-written pornography, read Fifty Shades of Grey.

I was pretty solid in my disgust for the entire trilogy until reading this Laurie Penny article, which points out, quite rightly, that the level of vitriol aimed at the series can only be explained by misogyny: it's written for girls, therefore it must be crap. And worse - women who might be old are having sexy feelings because of it! Like, eeeuwww!

But in the same way that it gets exhausting using your feminism to defend Ann Widdecombe and Sarah Palin (funnily enough no one's so bothered when it comes to left-wing female politicians), I have better things to do with my time, energy, and misogyny-smashing hammer than defend this steaming crock of shit.

You know what bothered me most? I can believe in a woman who hasn't had any of the sex by the time she's 22. I can believe that she's never had a boyfriend, never held someone's hand, never heard of BDSM. But what I find frankly laughable is the idea that she has never, in two decades of life on this planet, felt a single frisson of desire - not the tiniest minge-twinge - but within twenty minutes of meeting Captain Shagpants instantly mutates into a six-times-a-day quivering lust bomb.

And while I'm sure there are women in the world who come from penetrative sex the very first time they get naked with someone, I have never met any of them.

Yes, I am aware it's porn, and therefore can suspend some of the laws of sexual physics for the purposes of wish fulfilment. But to be honest, these departures from reality detract from my arousal rather than heighten it: good sex writing is about good sex, preposterously good sex, the best sex you could ever imagine having - not sex that is basically a physical impossibility.

And damn, can you tell that the books started life as fanfic. Which is not to diss fanfic itself - I've whiled away many happy hours alone with my laptop and Buffy/Faith hate!slash - but Fifty Shades epitomises the worst aspects of it; the writing is deeply amateurish, desperately crying out for a ruthless editor with a big red pen. (My first comment, had I had that job, would have been: okay, a sex scene every two pages - great idea. But do they all have to be exactly the same sex scene in slightly different outfits? Surely there is more than one way to describe an orgasm.) Thing is, for every ten shoddy, uninspiring, unoriginal and unarousing fanfics you skim through, there will be one that is fucking fantastic. Make you laugh, make you cry, make you come. There's no reason porn has to be this abominably dire. No, we're not reading it because it's great literature - but it's hard to be whisked away on the Sex Train to Happy Town if your concentration is broken every other sentence by cringing at the unbearably cliched prose.

So no, I'm not dissing it because it's porn (but for girls!). I'm dissing it because it's such spectacularly bad porn.

And please, for the love of all that is wonderful and sticky and deliciously filthy about sex, STOP REFERRING TO YOUR VULVA AS 'THERE'. There are a plethora of delightful terms to choose from, spanning the spectrum from 'cunt' to 'lady garden', so IF YOU'RE GROWN UP ENOUGH TO HAVE SOMEONE'S MOUTH ON YOUR CLITORIS, YOU ARE GROWN UP TO REFER TO IT BY ITS NAME.

So I will end this with a plea: is there any contemporary popular culture that will not make me want to tear my hair out in furious despair? Recommendations sought urgently. Until then I will be spending some quality time with Susie Bright and my On Our Backs compendium.