7 Jun 2016

Will it ever be enough?

Recently a friend of mine who is going through major weight loss publicly wondered if they would always feel like "that huge person" or if their mindset would eventually catch up with the reality of the mirror/scales. It took me back to my own musings on weight loss, where I wrote "What no one ever mentions in a weight loss success story though, is that you'll always be a fat girl in your head. It never leaves you." It seemed like it would be dishonest, then, to try and reassure my friend that eventually your mind updates and starts to believe the photographs and realise you're smaller than you were. It's partially true, but it's not the whole truth. This was highlighted by another thing she said - that even her friends who are a "normal" weight still refer to themselves as "so fat." This put me in mind of being 17, maybe half a stone overweight (thanks for highlighting that, doctor who could see from my records that I already had serious eating problems!), and resenting the fuck out of my perfectly slim friend as male attention continued to fly her way, passing me over as if I was a houseplant, yet she still complained about her weight, body shape, face, hair and seemed to loathe the way she looked as strongly as I did my own body. I didn't get it. Why weren't the skinny girls celebrating and walking around like they were hot stuff, when they had clearly won the contest of Who's Allowed to Be Attractive According to Incredibly Narrow Social Dictates? And yes, many teenage girls may appear to walk around like that, but if you've ever been a teenage girl, or spent time with one, you know that any veneer of smugness and arrogance is paper-thin, and will always be stretched to breaking point over acres of self-loathing, self-doubt, and the conviction that they are unsalvageably ugly.

That's the real pisser, though - by the time you've reached an age where your mental defences are sufficient to protect against the waves of confidence-destroying beauty bullshit that assault women every day, there will then be a new battle to fight (ageing, w00t!). The time when you're in possession of the universally worshipped looks is unlikely to align with a time when your personality is strong enough to realise how gorgeous you are and work it for all it's worth. In my case, being something of a, if not ugly, then somewhat grumpy duckling ultimately stood me in good stead, because it taught me never to rely on my looks for anything, and meant that when I did actually start getting some male attention in my late 20s, I was confident enough to feel like it was confirming what I already knew, rather than lavishing upon me something I lacked or wanted. But the point is, society never wants women to get too comfortable. You can be young and good looking, but not confident. You can be older and confident, but then you'd sure as shit better start worrying about ageing. Which leads me to the conclusion that the window in which a woman's confidence and the socially-approved version of the way she should look actually align with each other probably lasts about two days, and even that might be a generous estimate.

In her memoir Shrill, Lindy West echoes exactly my experience:
"As I imperceptibly rounded the corner into adulthood--14,15,16,17--I watched my friends elongate and arch into these effortless, exquisite things. I waited. I remained a stump. I wasn't jealous, exactly; I loved them, but I felt cheated.
We each get just a few years to be perfect. That's what I'd been sold. To be young and smooth and decorative and collectible. I was missing my window. . . Deep down, in my honest places, I knew it was already gone-- I had stretch marks and cellulite long before twenty [Chas: I had both at 12!]--but they tell you that if you hate yourself hard enough, you can grab just a tail feather or two of perfection."


That's exactly what they tell you, and that's exactly why my school friend--who I thought was ridiculous for loathing her looks when they were clearly exactly what society and those pesky things known as 17 year-old boys demanded and approved--was tormenting herself in grasping for that feather. She knew that no one, however much they may appear to fit the thin, white, young, long-haired, clear-skinned femme template, is allowed to rest on their laurels. A beauty culture that profits off women's self-loathing simply cannot have that. Because, as Lindy puts it "The real scam is that being bones isn't enough either. The game is rigged. There is no perfection."

And that's exactly what my friend going through weight loss now is discovering as she looks at the women who she thinks have perfect, enviable bodies--you never arrive at the promised land. As John Candy's character so wisely said about winning medals in every 90s child's favourite film Cool Runnings, "If you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it." Whether it's medals, flash cars, the latest bit of shiny nonsense from Apple or a certain amount of weight loss--none of it can make you someone new, someone better. I want to tell my friend that she was a great person before the weight loss and she remains that same person now. But I don't want to devalue what she's achieved, because I know what a journey it is: I've made it myself, albeit on a smaller scale, and I'm proud to have maintained the results for 7 years. I just want her to know the limitations of physical changes. Yes, I sweat less than when I was three stone heavier, I get acid reflux less frequently, I might even be a bit physically fitter although I'll still always view most forms of exercise with the horror of an overweight child being asked to run in front of the whole class. But my thighs still rub together so much that I have to wear lycra shorts under a dress or a skirt in summer. The scales at Boots still tell me that I "could" lose over another stone and still be in the "healthy weight" bracket for my height. I choose to reject their advice, because this is the weight I decided to stop at. I'm a size 10. I once mentioned my weight loss to a co-worker and she said "I wouldn't exactly call you slender." Instead of interpreting this as the mortal insult it could be perceived as (because the worst thing you can say about a woman is that she's *not thin*), I just figured she was being honest; I hadn't dieted myself down to the spindly-armed, visible-clavicled, bird-legged standard of the modern female celebrity, because I had no desire to. Incidentally, I stopped at the weight I did because once, when the light hit my chest I realised I could see the bones in it, and I'd never seen that before, and I didn't like it. Call it sod's law that even at that point, I still had plenty of flesh around my thighs and stomach, and still do. But funnily enough, I don't see possessing flesh as a sin, and I never saw the end goal of my weight loss to be the annihilation of every millimetre of me that might jiggle. I just wanted to fit back into my old clothes and for the doctor to stop bugging me. I also wanted to reclaim my body after a sedentary office job that I hated had made me depressed and driven me to comfort eat so much. So I quit the job, I lost the weight: achievement unlocked, as they say.

So what would I say to my friend, who fears that she may struggle to ever see her body clearly? I'm not sure there's much I can say that's of use, except to raise the point that the quest to like yourself once you're lighter requires an opposite; the fact you hated yourself when you were heavier. That's not a good starting point from which to proceed. Your body is you - you can't separate the two. Or as Lindy West puts it "I am my body. When my body gets smaller, it is still me. When my body gets bigger, it is still me. There is not a thin woman inside me, awaiting excavation. I am one piece." When I was three stone heavier, I still wore revealing clothes, bright dresses, tight tops, high heels, bold jewellery, colourful make-up, and met the world head on. I never hid or apologised for my weight. I shared my body only with partners who found it gorgeous and sexy and considered it a privilege to see it unclothed. (Incidentally, I was with the same partner during the 9 months that I lost all the weight and I'm not sure he really even noticed the change. Much as women think they're altering their bodies for male approval, I think it's usually other women who really do the scrutinising. Because we're trained to. Whereas a grown man recently asked me the difference between cellulite and stretch marks, because he genuinely didn't know, he just knew they were both things women worried about pertaining to their bodies.) 

Ultimately, I still decided to lose the weight, and maybe that makes me a traitor to the body positivity movement, or a bad feminist, but I tried to at least do it on something approaching my terms--no public self-flagellation, NO being a diet bore, no shaming of my old body, no fooling myself that anything other than my weight was going to change, no bullshit about "I'm SO much happier!" I'm still the same grumpy, misanthropic militant feminist who loathes diet talk, people tracking their jogs on Facebook (no one CARES about your faux-virtue) and the fact weight loss is still considered the apotheosis of women's ambitions. Recently I got violent, awful food poisoning and when I was slowly recovering from 24 hours of vomiting and diarrhoea, a woman in my life who will remain nameless said to me "Did you at least lose some weight from it?" As if that would necessarily be a positive side effect. As if, whatever my weight is, I must automatically wish to reduce it, as if it's impossible that a woman might actually want to stay the weight she is and might consider going under it a negative thing. And as if losing weight from all the food in your body deciding to violently and foully exit from both ends is a good way to go about it. I love this unnamed woman very much, but lady, please fuck off with that nonsense.

It's so culturally ingrained though. Another friend recently posted that they had found themselves gaining weight, and the comments underneath were all from other women either commiserating or sharing their own gripes about weight gain. I suppose there's no point patronising the friend in question (given that they made it clear they were unhappy with the gain) with the suggestion that getting bigger is only seen as a negative thing because we believe that fat is the worst thing a woman can be, and that what every woman must automatically want is to always be smaller. I still did think it to myself, though. That's why I call MAJOR bullshit on Polly Vernon's breezy suggestion in her book Hot Feminist that wanting to be a bit thinner is an entirely neutral act. Yes, she reassures her readers that "wanting to be a little bit thinner is just wanting to be a little bit thinner. It doesn't have to be an unsisterly act of simpering compliance with a restrictive physical ideal." Well of course, no woman is going to stick her hand up and admit to being unsisterly or a simpering idiot, is she - so Vernon's dubious argument gets to stand. But her second point doesn't stop her first point from being utterly untrue. None of us exists in a vacuum. As I've demonstrated above, we exist in a world where the imperative to reduce your physical size permeates every aspect of women's life. I can make all the arguments I want about why I wanted to lose weight, and I'd like to think that health was a factor in there somewhere, but I would never be stupid enough to try and argue that cultural pressures weren't also a factor in my feeling unable to remain three stone heavier and tell every doctor, nurse, family member, colleague, 'well-meaning' friend, magazine, TV show, online article etck to get fucked because I loved myself the way I was. It's enough of a battle just to defiantly refuse to lose any more weight, to refuse to become the bones that will still never be enough.

Wanting to be thin(ner) is not a neutral state of being. It's certainly an understandable reaction to a society that tells you you'll end up unloved, unfucked, unsuccessful, bitter, matronly and sexless if you don't dare to want it hard enough. But it's never just a context-free desire that emerges out of nowhere, and as someone who wrote about how she lost weight through illness and loved the props she received for her her new skinny figure, Vernon should recognise better than anyone the instant acceptance conferred by a (potentially physically dangerous) level of thinness. Who wouldn't want that? 

Ultimately, it's a battle that'll never stop - the friend I originally mentioned might always feel like "that huge person", her slimmer friends may still publicly criticise their bodies. They may do so because they genuinely feel that way, or because it's considered part of female bonding to slag your body off, and it's seen as arrogant to refuse to do so; we'll never know.They would all do well to remember Lindy West's warning that the game is indeed rigged, and you will indeed never win if you're trying to play on our culture's terms, because it will always find you wanting. We agree to love spouses for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and bad. Yet we see no contradiction in then telling our bodies we'll only love them for younger, for thinner, and we wonder why they can never measure up. Goals become the ever-moving end of the rainbow, forever just out of our grasp. Realising all this is the first step to standing up and walking away from the gaming table.

19 May 2016

Feminism ruins everything

Feminism has been accused of a lot of ills. It's been said that feminism causes women to leave their husbands, take up witchcraft and become lesbians (seriously). Feminism has been accused of emasculating men and boys, demanding special treatment for women, wanting to institute a matriarchy and much, much more.

As a feminist, obviously I can see these accusations for what they are; the resentful cries of those who benefit from the status quo disliking the fact they might actually have to cede some spaces at the table of power. I recognise that feminism has only ever benefited my life, as well as that of the men and women around me. Do I have rights over my own body? For that, I need to thank a feminist. Do I have the freedom to have my own bank account, passport and own property? Yup - and for that, I need to thank a feminist. Is any job I wish to do open to me? Yup - thank a feminist. Am I educated? Thank a feminist. Am I free to choose a life without marriage or children should I wish? Thank a feminist. And so on.

However, one way in which I will concede that feminism seriously arses up one's life is when it comes to dealing with popular culture. Once you start becoming aware of the myriad ways in which pop culture perpetuates sexism, it becomes very difficult to enjoy any of it any more. I love music videos, but I've given up flicking through the music channels because I'm tired of the fact that female artists don't seem to be permitted to wear more than a few handkerchief's worth of fabric in them any more, while male artists are of course, always fully clothed. I love films, but I can't watch any of them any more without considering if they pass the Bechdel Test (and pitifully few still do); I was also seriously depressed by the fact that the last two films I went to see at the cinema (The Big Short and Deadpool) both contained totally unnecessary scenes in strip clubs, yet again using the sexualised female form as window dressing to films whose storylines gained absolutely fuck-all from the inclusion of those scenes.

"In a certain light, feminism is just the long, slow realization that the stuff you love hates you." 
- Lindy West

Recently, I tried watching Blazing Saddles, the famous Mel Brooks cowboy film spoof from 1972 that everyone tells me is so hilarious. Given the era, I expected the humour to be somewhat retrograde, but in the end I lasted about 15 minutes after hearing racial slurs against black and Chinese people and homophobic slurs pepper the dialogue so casually that it turned my stomach. I gave up watching; I just couldn't find it funny. It was too vile. Seeing privileged white men leaving two black men up to their necks in quicksand didn't seem like a funny relic from another time - it seemed more like an eerie metaphor for what's still going on in many parts of the USA today.

Intersectional feminism has given me such exacting standards for pop culture that it's ultimately very hard for anything to measure up. I still haven't bothered watching Jessica Jones because 1) I'm tired of being told to be grateful any time a 'kick-ass' female protagonist features - after all, are men expected to cheer every time a man who's not a total twat features in a film or TV show? I think not - and 2) because I'm not sure what exactly is supposed to be so progressive about another young, long-haired white woman who's so slim she looks like she'd struggle to lift a spoon of cornflakes kicking the crap out of baddies. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was showing that nearly 20 years ago. Also, I was pretty dismayed, but not surprised, to read about fat-shaming in Jessica Jones. Seems you can be a heroine as long as you're not fat, or unfeminine, or not conventionally attractive. Woo fucking hoo for progress.

Whenever I watch a film, I'm not just looking out for whether it passes The Bechdel Test - even though it is seriously depressing how few films still contain two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man, I mean how fecking LOW is that setting the bar! - but I'm looking out for whether it portrays women as anything other than slim, young, white and femme.  I'm also asking myself questions like: does the female lead constantly have perfect hair and make-up even when she's just woken up, or is supposed to be trudging through a war zone? Points off (and yo! Jennifer Connolly in Blood Diamond). Are there any old, fat or butch women who are allowed to be full, richly drawn characters? Orange is the New Black has torn up the rule book on how TV shows can depict women, now it'd be nice if film-makers would catch on to the notion that there's a captive audience happy to see women portrayed just as they actually are and give us some female ensemble movies. It'd be even nicer if we reached a point where female ensemble movies were no longer considered worthy of comment. A male friend of mine watched the criminally underrated movie Set It Off the other day, and remarked how he didn't even really notice that the four leads were women.
Maybe that's because women are people, and when you write roles for them that treat them like this, rather than like some exotic, incomprehensible species, gender is irrelevant to whether they're good characters or not.

So yes, I blame feminism for making me aware of all this. I blame it for making me unable to watch the trailer for Eddie the Eagle without thinking "FFS, another underdog film about a man's story. Where's the fucking film about Flo-Jo, or the Williams sisters?", for making me head straight home after watching The Big Short and going online to find out that one of the major players who predicted the 2008 financial crisis was actually a woman; Meredith Whitney, who features precisely erm, nowhere amongst the main (all male) characters even though she was in the book that the film is based on (and also, CHRIST how badly did that film waste the fantastic Marisa Tomei?!). I blame it for making me not willing to give a pass to men who tell me they "just didn't notice" or "just didn't think it was that big a deal" when I mention the above to them, and invariably leave me having to bat away their bruised egos and butthurt demands that I don't lump them in with AllOtherMen when I suggest that perhaps not noticing and not thinking it's that big a deal are actually pretty typical reactions when you're not a member of the group being shat on.

But I thank feminism too, for giving me the confidence to not put up with any of that shit, to not give my attention and money to media that demonstrates little but contempt for my gender, to not tolerate in my life men who are immediately hostile to any mention of feminism while simultaneously demanding to be acknowledged as Nice Guys, to go out and buy books by women, about women, see movies directed by women, starring women, and not just twenty-something slim long-haired white women sporting perfect make-up, but women of color, fat women, butch women, punky women, gay women, trans women, completely average women, ugly women, old women, consume TV series that do more than just pass the Bechdel Test, support art made by women, and pretty much fight the stereotype of the passive moronic consumer who will just take what they're given and therefore justify executives saying "we have to keep making more of the same thing because that's what people WANT." I thank feminism to alerting me to the fact I have a choice in what media I consume, and a choice to make people aware of it (they too, of course, have the choice to reject this awareness and paint me as unreasonable and reactionary, but that itself is also a silver lining because it alerts me to the fact this is a person with whom I probably don't want to have much interaction). I thank feminism for showing me there are other options.

So yes, in one way feminism ruins everything. But it also forces you to wonder: was that "everything" really worth so much anyway? Was it really "everything?" Or was it just the sexist, racist, heteronormative, capitalism-loving slice of mainstream media you were taught to blindly accept?
Long may the ruination continue.

11 Apr 2016

To the anti-choicers who trolled me: Thank you.

I'm no stranger to the wasps' nest that is the American fight for reproductive rights, having interned for Ms. magazine, written various pieces about anti-choicers'* legal tactics that seemed to emerge almost daily, attended a rally in LA against the War on Women, and volunteered as an escort outside a women's clinic. Yet the other day I achieved what must be a true milestone in the life of any feminist writer who covers the reproductive rights beat: I got my first anti-choice trolls.

This was as a result of reporting in my capacity as a Lifestyle freelancer for the Daily Dot on Indiana's new restrictive abortion law, which has to be some of the most transparently pointless legislation I've ever seen. It requires aborted or miscarried foetuses to be cremated or buried, effectively furthering the anti-choice position that foetuses are full human beings, plus the emotionally manipulative tactic of "waarrrgh you've killed a BAYBEEEE, we must now have a little funeral for it just to make sure we don't miss out on any opportunity to guilt-trip you, you heartless bitch." And don't even get me started on the horrific emotional burden this hands to survivors of miscarriage, who are given no choice about how they wish to process the already horrible experience of losing a wanted pregnancy. It's also just a massive waste of time and money and presumably adds to the financial burden already on women paying for what is a simple medical procedure. The law also directly flies in the face of the basis of Roe v Wade (which was the constitutionally protected right to privacy) by stating that foetal abnormality is not an acceptable reason for an abortion. Basically, wimminz, if you don't fancy subjecting a child to a life of disability, pain, limitation and discrimination, or carrying to term a foetus that may immediately die after it's born, or may not even make it that far therefore causing you to carry a dead foetus around inside you, you're shit out of luck. Your "reasons" are not good enough for the mostly male senators and congresspeople who thought up this batshit law and voted it in to practice. 

Anyway, having reported on Indiana women's fitting response to a male governor signing this bill into law (which was inundating him with calls about their periods until he was forced to disconnect his office's phone lines), I saw my Facebook Author page blow up with shares, Likes and... yup, here they came...the anti-choice commenters. The first one was a nonsensical image about Planned Parenthood allegedly selling foetal parts, a report that has been widely debunked. Quite what the poster hoped to achieve I'm unsure; did they imagine that as a journalist who keeps abreast of reproductive rights news that I would somehow have missed that particular attempt by anti-choicers to discredit an organisation that does a fantastic job of providing sexual healthcare? Did they think I'd give any credence to the idea that PP is an evil organ-harvesting profiteer that entices women - who are obviously always too weak and stupid and easily influenced to know what they really want - into having abortions just so they can make a buck on selling on the results? 

Sorry folks, you underestimate me. I know you anti-choicers. I've met you. I've seen you handing pictures of what is most likely doll parts covered in fake blood to a woman who's just come out of a clinic and is standing on a roaring hot city street recovering from an anaesthetic. Your credibility with me is less than zero, not least because two of your folks who tried to sting PP have themselves been indicted by a grand jury on counts of fraud (hoooo, ain't justice sweet?). Also, you know what?  - PP are legally allowed to use or pass on fetal tissue for stem cell research as long as the woman who terminated the pregnancy gives her consent (funny idea, isn't it! the crazy concept that the contents of a woman's body is her business to exercise her autonomy over). They're also allowed to claim back their costs for storing or transporting said tissue. What they're not allowed to do is profit from it, but the rest? Well, I'm sure this will confirm in your heads an image of pro-choicers as heartless murdering harridans, but I'm going to stand up and say Planned Parenthood can go apeshit doing whatever they like with foetal parts as far as I'm concerned. Because I support stem cell research. Because I don't equate a foetus with a baby. And because I'm soooo over tactics nakedly designed to try and emotionally blackmail women out of exercising their legal choice by making aforesaid false equation. Take that foetus-fetishising ridiculousness to someone who's actually fooled by it, please.

Which brings me on to the next commenter (after I had deleted the first comment, and of course banned the commenter from my page and reported him to FB) who posted one of the aforementioned pictures of what's probably corn syrup with red food colouring plus some doll parts in a kidney dish designed to look as gory as possible. Well, shit, have they ever seen what childbirth looks like? That isn't a pretty picture either, and it's 12 times more likely to kill you than an abortion, but anti-choicers don't ever mention that little fact, or even care about it because women are expendable whereas foetuses need constitutional rights, apparently. The snidey comment accompanying it was "Doesn't look like a clump of cells now, does it?" Ah, where to even start with that one. Well, how's about the fact that most abortions, if you could see them (and as if anyone working in an industry so regularly threatened with fatal attacks that security in all abortion clinics has to be better that Fort Knox's would somehow be allowed to photograph the aftermath of the procedure anyway, come the fuck on) would look indistinguishable from a heavy period, because 90% take place before 13 weeks? How about the fact that the ones that take place later are often of wanted foetuses that didn't present with serious deformities until the 20-week scan? Or that other reasons for having later abortions including being abandoned by your partner, being prevented from accessing abortion services by an abusive partner, being diagnosed with cancer, being homeless or being misled by an anti-choice doctor? But ultimately, again, to hell with having to justify ourselves to those who think we should fall to our knees and beg for forgiveness just because they wave around pictures of blood and body parts. I don't give a fuck if abortion is gory. I am unmoved by talk of heartbeats, little hands and feet, of foetuses screaming in pain as they're ripped to pieces (and please, fuck all the way off to Uranus with your medically inaccurate fairy tales anyway). Why? Because my belief in a woman's right to control her body is non negotiable. It will not be chipped away by the goriest story or picture you can manufacture. It will not be softened in any way by romanticising of a foetus at the expense of an already live human. It will only ever be strengthened by your nonsense.

(Which, in case it's not already clear, will earn you instant deleting, banning and reporting if you wish to post more of it here or in any of my social media channels. So before you post that meme, why not use your time better by going and volunteering at the local children's home, seeing as you're so invested in mandatory childbirth regardless of whether kids are wanted or not. Better yet, go get some papers and start the process to adopt or foster as many unwanted children as you can. It's called walking the walk, folks. You want no woman to ever abort again? Then you've got a fuck of a backlog to clear first, folks - 102,000 children are currently awaiting adoption in the US alone)

The fact that anti-choice tactics only ever serve to bolster my determination to fight for women's freedom to choose goes to the heart of the matter, I think. We spend so much time pandering to anti-choice jackasses that we forget to stop and ask ourselves, why are we even bothering? Why are we letting them set the terms of the argument, when they would never extend the same courtesy to us? Why should we feel the need to point out that Planned Parenthood don't just provide abortions, but also provide mutiple other crucial sexual health services such as smear tests, contraception, STI testing, tubal ligations (the woman I mention above, who I witnessed being handed a picture of blood and body parts after she emerged from the clinic, visibly woozy, told me that she had just had that very procedure) and that terminations constitute a miniscule percentage of their overal services? As Imani Gandy says, it doesn't matter how much of PP's services are abortions. It wouldn't matter if 100% of them were. Abortion is legal. They are not doing anything wrong. Except in the eyes of anti-choicers, who will always say that PP are doing something wrong, however we try and mollify them. So why do we bother?

On that note, this pro-choicer is announcing that I'm done with respectability politics. And I'd like to thank the anti-woman morons who reminded me of that fact by taking time out of their day to post the most predictable, easily debunked propaganda on my Facebook wall (oh, and for giving my writing more exposure! Really. Cheers, guys). I'm going to say it all, loud and proud.
I don't care if Planned Parenthood provide nothing but abortions. I don't care whether they make money from it. I don't care if they make use of their legal right to pass on foetal tissue for stem cell research. All I care about is that women who need abortions have access to them.
I don't care if women abort in the 9th week or the 24th week, and I don't give a damn what the foetus might look like at any of those stages. All I care about is that women who need abortions have access to them.
I don't care if a woman has an abortion "as a form of birth control," if she has ten abortions in a row, if she has an abortion at 24 weeks because she just lay around eating chocolate and watching Netflix for the previous 23 weeks and then suddenly decided to get off her butt and do something about her situation. I seriously doubt that's ever actually been the case, but my point is, I'm here for that woman's rights just as much as I'm here for the women who were raped, who were let down by contraception, whose circumstances changed, who got cancer, who were already mothers and couldn't care for more kids. I'm here for all those women. I don't need them to pass a respectability test for me to believe in their right to do what they fuck they choose with their bodies.
Because that's a right that men sure as hell enjoy every single day.

*I refuse to use the term "pro-life" as I believe it's a deceptive and manipulative term that paints those who would deny women access to safe and legal abortion as somehow merciful and positive. They are anything but. They are not pro women's lives, safety or autonomy. They are not pro unwanted babies being supported by the state, or pro single mothers, or low income mothers of colour. They are pro sadistically mandated births, and thus they are anti-woman and anti-choice and deserve to be described thus.

3 Feb 2016

On Civil Partnerships and "Straight Rights"

I have conflicting feelings about the recent (and unsuccessful) campaign led by a heterosexual British couple for equal access to civil partnerships. On the one hand, it reeks of straight privilege; implying that you're discriminated against because you can't utilise the same law as gay people totally obscures the fact that they would never have needed that same law if they hadn't been discriminated against in the first place. (It does also raise the separate question of what purpose civil partnerships actually serve, now that gay marriage is legal in the UK, and the former was often seen as a placatory gesture that fell short of equality anyway). On the other hand, speaking as someone who rejects many traditional heteronormative structures (monogamy, the desire for children, and I'm definitely not sure about marriage) I can certainly see where they couple were coming from.

Last week, Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfield lost their case, which they had taken to the UK High Court, and which stated they were being discriminated against because they could not have a civil partnership rather than getting married. Both options are now open to same-gender couples; only marriage is open to opposite-gender couples. The couple "said they wanted to commit to each other in a civil partnership as it "focuses on equality" and did not carry the patriarchal history and associations of marriage." The government's response was that as the couple's objection to marriage was "ideological", their rights were not infringed by not having access to civil partnership; the government also said that  "civil marriage was an institution that protected the core values of family life and was entirely egalitarian." Hmmm. Now this is where I feel the couple may have a point. And yes, it may technically be an "ideological" objection as opposed to an example of actual illegality, but nonetheless I do have some sympathy.

Yes, legally marriage between a man and a woman is "egalitarian" - long gone are the days when all a woman's property and money became her husband's upon marriage, and when it was much easier for a man to divorce his wife than vice versa, and when a husband automatically got custody of any children in the case of divorce. (The days when rape in marriage were legal are less "long gone," seeing as this was only made a crime in the UK in 1992 - but I digress.)
But socially? Not so much,
The majority of women in the UK still take their husband's name upon marriage. That's entirely their choice, but it remains gesture that his its roots in anything but egalitarianism - indeed, it's born from the law and customs that said a woman became her husband's property upon marriage. If I introduce my partner as my husband, people will assume we have the same last name, furthermore that said surname will be his and not mine, and that they should also call me Mrs (all are prospects I abhor. If marriage is truly egalitarian, why do men remain Mr both before and after marriage? Why is only the woman who is expected to change her prefix? Hence why I'll be Ms for life, regardless of my marital status).
Whereas if I introduce him as my partner, none of those assumptions will be made. 
If I introduce him as my husband, people will assume that he bought me an engagement ring, continuing the tradition that a man must "woo" his wife-to-be with an expensive material gesture, while she's obliged to do...er, nothing, except say yes. Not egalitarian.
If I introduce him as my husband, people will assume that we wed with me wearing a dress coloured to imply that my hymen is still intact (and that that fact is somehow the business of everyone in attendance), and that my father "gave me away" in the most patriarchal gesture possible, implying I am property to be handed from father to husband. Not egalitarian.
If I introduce him as my partner, people will not have these archaic presumptions in mind. They won't think of white dresses, rings, hen/stag parties (bachelor/bachelorette parties), which are to my mind bizarre, divisive rituals affirming irreverance towards the gender of your partners. They won't view our becoming partners as necessarily meaning we also plan to follow another socially dictated step and have children (I don't want children now or ever, and it bothers me that the majority of people are incapable of encountering two adults in a relationship without assuming this is the trajectory they must desire for that relationship).

So yes, I do believe there's a difference between marriage as it currently stands, and a civil partnership. I would possibly be more predisposed to considering some kind of commitment were it divested of all the sexist nonsense that I still view the wedding industry as being swathed in. I still might never do it, considering I'm polyamorous and lean towards the "solo poly" side of that, and am not interested in any traditional types of "nesting" (especially the kind of nesting that involves progeny). But it would be nice to have the option.

That said, I can see how Keidan and Steinfield's campaign could come across as somewhat obnoxious. Although they've been sensible enough not to frame it in terms of "straight rights" or anything so cringeworthy, there is a sense that's exactly what they're asking for. Those pesky gays have been given so many rights they've actually outstripped us straights, WTF! When homosexuality is still illegal in 75 world countries, you'll want to tread a bit carefully in making that claim. In terms of lack of social acceptance and increased risk of bullying, assault, murder and suicide, there is simply no way in hell that you can claim gays are having a better time of it than straights (they're having a much, much worse time on all those fronts and more, in case that wasn't clear) - even in our supposedly enlightened, first world country.

Also, it's worth considering: why were civil partnerships ever offered as an option to gay couples, when they were never a thing open to anyone else before? The answer is pretty clear: because the UK government was too afraid to go "all the way" and legalise gay marriage, so they wussed out and went with an in-between option. They hoped it would appease the gay community while keeping conservative and religious anti-gay factions happy too. Most of us were pretty stunned that it was the Labour government who fell short of full marriage equality for same-sex couples, and the Conservative government who righted this wrong in 2014, but regardless of who did it, the point remains: civil partnerships have possibly been rendered obsolete by the advance in same sex marriage rights. It was telling that, in reference to this case, a government spokesperson said it was"not necessary to undertake the costly and complex exercise of extending civil partnerships in the interim where they may be abolished or phased out in a few years." So perhaps this case will become irrelevant anyway, and if it does, us straights will just have to suck it up and dry our tears on statutes of the marriage rights that we had all along.

But it doesn't stop me thinking it would be nice to have an alternative to patriarchal, heteronormative constructions of marriage. I guess we can either eschew marriage altogether, or try to build new constructions of marriage ourselves (feminist, gay-friendly, truly egalitarian). It's great how many people are doing the latter - I'm sticking with the former for now.

14 Dec 2015

Ageing is not the enemy - beauty bullshit is

Quite why anyone remotely intelligent or considering themselves feminist would ask a plastic surgeon for advice on preventing ageing and expect to get anything other than biased, anti-woman advice is beyond me. However, that's pretty much precisely what Rachel Krantz did in her article for Bustle, "Can You Prevent Aging in Your 20s? I Asked a Plastic Surgeon & Here's What He Told Me." I still clicked on the article, partly out of morbid curiosity, partly because I fully admit to not being immune to beauty culture and like most women I know, fear ageing not because of what it might do to our faces and bodies, but because of what it might do to the way people will treat us. Bustle has made something of a trademark out its "I did X so you don't have to," articles (e.g. going without deodorant for 7 days, actually drinking the recommended amount of water per day, shaving your face for some reason that I so strongly don't wish to know that I've never actually clicked on that article) but I'm not sure there was a hell of a lot of a reveal with this one.

The plastic surgeon - someone who makes their living from people's insecurities about their looks, remember - recommends regular Botox. This is your first sign that someone is not to be trusted. Botox is a poison - the clue is in the full name, Botulinum toxin - yet for some reason we don't regard it as bizarre, harmful and grotesque as when Queen Elizabeth used to whiten her face using lead-based make-up. It can cause symptoms similar to the fatal condition botulism. It works by paralysing your muscles. Under what other circumstances would we ever encourage someone to voluntarily paralyse healthy muscles, except in a society so warped by the fear of natural ageing that we view it as a disease that must be cured?
"It is very typical for everyone when they’re young to believe they are immortal," Dr. Wells told me."But the smart people realize they need to be proactive ... For example, if you never clean your house, it will continue to get dirtier and messier and more unkempt — and that is the aging process. So this is housekeeping for your body."
Um, no it's not. Sorry. Nope. Putting poison into a healthy body is not "housekeeping." It's harm, plain and simple. It does absolutely nothing to increase anyone's physical health or longevity, or decrease their risk of serious diseases. For someone who calls themselves 'Dr', this individual seems to be seriously confused about the distinction between keeping yourself healthy - which is an admirable goal at any age - and keeping yourself looking a certain, socially-dictated way. Comparing the physical ageing process to an unkempt house isn't just lazy and offensive, it's untrue. Ageing is not "untidy," "dirty" or "messy." It's natural. It means - SHOCKER - that you'll look different at 50 than you did at 20. And different at 80 than you did at 50. So fucking what? Only in a society where we're taught to loathe all markers of nature on our bodies, especially as women - hair, wrinkles, rolls, cellulite - could the simply flipping obvious trajectory of the human body over time be compared to letting your home go to shit. If that's really the case, then I compare the use of Botox to applying a substance to the walls of your house which does nothing to improve their structure or resilience and actually destroys their natural function.
Maybe I was just being stubborn by refusing to "protect" my skin, the same way I'd delayed setting up an IRA until this year, or still hadn't figured out what to do about my newly-aching knees after a run.
 Although I empathise with Krantz's fears of ageing - I don't think any woman, save for one who lives in an isolated cabin far from all civilisation with no mirrors in it, would say she has no fears about getting older - I dislike the fact she even entertains the idea that it's somehow obnoxious to refuse to buy into misogynistic anti-ageing culture. Saving for your old age? Smart move, unless you want to work until you're dead. Looking after those achey joints? Ditto, because this body has got to last you a lifetime. But INJECTING POISON INTO YOUR FACE? No, refusing to do this is not STUBBORN, it's FUCKING COMMON SENSE!! If you want to "protect" your skin then sure, wear sunscreen all year round, or a healthy layer of Vaseline, or both. Wear an ice hockey helmet with a visor on it, if you really want to be completely "protected" from all the possible ravages of daily life. But fuck OFF with this rewriting of language, this abandoning of sense, this demonisation of perfectly normal  human processes to the point that you're unreasonable if you don't invite a surgeon to sink a scalpel into completely healthy flesh. You cannot turn back the clock. You cannot stop age from having effects on your body and face, because that's the physical law of this world. Undergoing pointless and damaging procedures that will simply pretend your skin hasn't gone through what it's gone through is not the same thing as getting in a DeLorean and being 18 again.

And why should we want to do the latter, anyway? Why is youth - a time of disempowerment and ignorance - so fetishised? Why, conversely, is ageing considered so criminal? My grandmother recently died at the age of 94, and her life's rich experiences were etched into her 94 year-old-looking face. And that's exactly how it should be. How damn creepy would it have looked if half of those years were missing from her face?

The depressing thing about the piece is how, for someone who claims she's a feminist regularly
throughout the piece, Krantz seems to have no scepticism towards the idea that by getting Botox or cosmetic treatments, she'll automatically "stay relevant in my field and desirable to my partner for even longer." She gives barely any time over to considering whether it's really true that age will have any effect on those areas of her life, or whether it's more likely that women are just constantly intimidated in to having procedures they don't need with the threat of it? Is it really our partners and employers who imbue us with the belief that as soon as we show a grey hair or wrinkle, they'll leave us, or is it magazines, TV shows, beauty advertisements and oh yes, wait for it, PLASTIC SURGEONS, perchance?! Perhaps I'm an idealist, but I like to think that in Krantz's particular field, the same one that I inhabit, what you write still matters more than what you look like. Don't get me wrong, I'm aware that there's been an insidious push for writers to have a public face, and yes I do kind of hate the fact that more and more articles, online and in print, have to be accompanied with a headshot of the author, but that in itself is hardly reason to rush out and get our the skin on our jawlines stapled behind our ears. I just can't understand why - apart from in order to spin out enough material for a whole piece - Krantz would entertain the idea that a (male, incidentally) plastic surgeon is an unbiased source on whether she should be "preventing ageing."

Well, I can tell you how to avoid getting that little crinkle between your eyebrows. Don't ask people who make their living off hating women's bodies and faces for advice.

15 Nov 2015

#NoDickPics - why is revenge porn so gendered?

I posted this tweet recently because, well, it just can't be said enough. Since revenge porn was made a crime in the UK in April this year, the Guardian reports that there are 8 female complainants for every male complainant. Which could make you think that women are going apeshit sending out nekkid pictures of themselves, while men are much more circumspect about the matter. But we know that's not the case: as any woman who has received an unwanted dick pic will tell you, there’s a big demographic who love sending out pictures of their genitals whether the recipients have asked for it or not, and that's straight men. For whatever reason, these men don't seem to end up shamed, humiliated, blackmailed or threatened with exposure (literally) in the way that women who dare to share explicit pictures of themselves with their lovers do. 

As plenty of women in possession of a computer or mobile phone will tell you, you don’t have to be dating, have expressed an interest in, or even made contact with a man for the explicit selfies to start flooding in. As a lesbian woman recently mentioned to me, you don’t even have to be straight; presumably chaps think the allure of their penis is so irresistible that it will “turn” gay women. As I can testify myself, even when you ARE having a sexual relationship with a man, and have explicitly TOLD him that you don't like receiving dick pics, you will get the inevitable, "I know you said you don't really like them, but..." message that warns of an incoming genital image. Two different lovers have done that to me, presuming that while all other penis images must leave me cold, theirs will be the magic one that will suddenly have me rubbing myself against my phone screen with arousal. Apparently there is no arena in which a woman's "no" will not be interpreted as "please transgress my boundaries and I'll surely find it seductive." 

I asked a friend recently "WHY do men DO THAT?" and she theorised that perhaps the men who send these shots really don't have any idea of how common it is to receive unwanted dick pics, and therefore assume they're doing something special, different and interesting. Maybe there's something in that. Maybe it really is pure personal arrogance, the thought that "everyone else's junk must surely look awful, but the image of MINE will be the one that will set this woman's loins afire!" Maybe it's an inversion of (some) men's own wishes, the idea that because they would love it if women sent pictures of our bits to them, the same must be true in reverse. Sorry chaps, but it's just not. I don't know how erotic disembodied genitals ever are, to be honest. Much as I loathe those hoary old stereotypes about "women just aren't as visually aroused as men," (and can tell you they are BS anyway) I'm also not going to lie; if I find someone attractive, I'd rather see a whole picture of all of them (faces are still nice, after all! When did people stop wanting to see those?) than a snapshot of just their junk, and better than that, would rather encounter them in person, and be able to engage all my senses in being near the whole of their person. Also, perhaps one of the reasons women don't find dick pics erotic is because we're genuinely only interested in erect penises as far as we can actually do something with them. I don't find a picture of a vibrator sexy. But I might find playing with it extremely fun. The same kind of goes for men's junk: unless it's here, in person, about to offer me some actual physical pleasure, I'm just not going to get hot and bothered by the sight of it. 

Given the proliferation of dick pics, it does speak volumes to me that the majority of people having their explicit pictures used against them are women. Yes, in an ideal world no one would be a vindictive jackass and try to shame their ex-partners for having dared to share intimate images or videos with them. But since "revenge porn" is a thing, why the hell are the victims almost always women, when there are so many men out there who could also see their jobs, relationships and reputations shattered with a quick upload from a vengeful woman (and not necessarily someone he'd even been intimate with - as we've covered earlier, there doesn't need to be any pre-existing relationship in order for for dick pics to get sent)? To me, it's at least partly a sign that we're stuck in archaic ways of thinking that dictate women should be shamed for having been sexual while it's a source of pride for men; as I say in an earlier post, revenge porn wouldn't be a thing without sexism. Because then having explicit pictures of you made public would not be considered the worst thing that could happen to a woman; it would not be considered humiliating, shameful and traumatising. And perhaps the fact that it isn't considered an equally awful fate for a man is why women are less likely to use revenge porn as a tool to get back at male exes; or perhaps it just doesn't occur to women to try and sexually shame their exes (although that seems unlikely, especially if a breakup has been acrimonious). One woman has recently been blackmailing men via threats to release nude videos of them recorded on Skype, so there is apparently enough money in men's fear of sexual exposure to get the con artists involved. I just think, if next time we encounter a story of a woman being victimised through revenge porn. every woman who's ever received an unwanted or inappropriate dick pic made it public, there'd be a sudden and rapid emptying of workplaces, family homes and pubs, as all the men who think it's OK to impose their sexuality on women ran to hide...