Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I Pass with Flying Colours!

You Are 100% Feminist
You are a total feminist. This doesn't mean you're a man hater (in fact, you may be a man).You just think that men and women should be treated equally. It's a simple idea but somehow complicated for the world to put into action.
Are You a Feminist?

Monday, March 12, 2007


I haven’t read it for about ten years, but I have just re-read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Am I alone in being utterly chilled by how easily this could happen in our society? If I wasn’t perpetually in the red, I’d be tempted to hoard all my savings under the mattress so no bank account freezing could happen! Although, as is still the case for so many women around the world, it’s unlikely there would be anywhere to run to.

How long before women are forcibly put under the plastic surgeon’s ‘improving’ knife?

How long before those young women deemed ‘desirable’ are forcibly ‘given’ to high-ranking males as rewards for achievement?

How long before the age of consent for girls is reduced because we have a falling birth-rate and need more fertile women ‘doing their duty to their country’?

How long before women are shunted out of the jobs for which they fight so hard, and are banned from having reproductive choice for the same reason?

Nonsense? Paranoia? Overreaction? Maybe. But until we have true autonomy – that is, not just the right to be equal to men but the right to be as women – our hard-won victories will not be secure.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Freedom of Speech

I have a couple of things to say on the subject of freedom of speech, and the first is that all my favourite feminist bloggers have effectively robbed me of it! Every time I think of something angry (often), witty (rarely) or mixed-up (see remainder of post) to say about feminist issues, I find that one or more of them have said it first – and a hell of a lot better than I ever would! So damn your eyes, all of you (but keep blogging, please)!

The main point of today’s ramble is how much freedom of speech we should really have. My reaction would normally have been a resounding: ‘Total, of course!’ but a recent online debate really made me think. Someone had researched the etymology of the word ‘gay’ and soon there were hordes of people weighing in with battle-axes and wet fish* primed for action.

As someone who has, like many of my contemporaries, used the word ‘gay’ as an adjective meaning ‘rubbish’, but without intending it to be in any way anti-homosexual, I was disconcerted by the idea that I might, as the eminent linguist David Crystal argues, be using the word as a weapon - or that its widespread usage showed a subconscious absorption of homophobic attitudes. It’s easy to dismiss this as political correctness and, like anyone else, I can cite gay friends who don’t object to the usage of ‘gay’ in this way and who may indeed use it themselves. The use of the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘homosexual’ is itself the result of etymological evolution, one might argue, and it has been adopted with pride. Who are we to censor another ‘new’ word? The meanings are quite distinct. Yet, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that for every person using the ‘gay’ in an entirely unbiased way, there are five who are as prejudiced as hell – and twenty more who might come to associate ‘homosexual’ with ‘rubbish’ without even meaning to through neuro-linguistic programming.

Equally, while many homosexual people wouldn’t be remotely offended if you remarked that English weather was ‘gay’ while you both strolled along in icy drizzle, some people would be. In the same way, while some women relish a flirty ‘darling’ tacked on to every utterance directed at them by their local barman, I don’t. In fact I hate it. It makes me uncomfortable and angry: I feel that the word is used, intentionally or not, in a diminishing way against me and, more irritatingly, that I can’t easily protest without being branded humourless and/or getting overcharged for my gin.

I’ve debated turning around and adding an insultingly belittling ‘endearment’ to the barman/waiter/whatever in return, but this too has its pitfalls. Unfortunately, if I call someone ‘darling’ or ‘cutie’ I run the risk of him thinking I mean it (I can’t pull off a ‘Cheers, duckie’ or ‘Ta, love’ as though it comes naturally, and anyway I don’t want it to be taken that way – I want it to grate). I am racking my brains for a suitable term to call men who insist on these charming little tags for women they don’t even know. ‘Boy’, perhaps? Suggestions welcome …

Language, as we all know, has incredible power. We’re still fighting the stereotypes that have been superglued to ‘feminist’. Scope had to change the Spastic Society’s name after a medical term became a tool for bullies. So, although I don’t advocate censorship, and I relish the creativity of the English language, I think that from a personal point of view I will try to stop using ‘gay’ to mean ‘rubbish’, because I don’t want to unintentionally perpetuate bigoted attitudes. Or maybe I’m just a big girl’s blouse? I suppose I should take it like a man.

*Would anyone care to volunteer to be hit with a wet fish? I've always wanted to do it … please?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Excuses, Excuses …

While the title might well put you in mind of the tired, trite and torpid excuses our society keeps trotting out for misogyny, the mainstreaming of porn, rape and god knows what else, this is actually a quick post to make my own excuses.

I’m sorry I haven’t posted for months and months, even though I’ve been back in the country since the beginning of the year. I have been job-hunting and house-hunting, and I’ve taken on far too much in the way of studies which, now I’m working full time, are taking their toll on my free time. But I know hundreds of people who do far more than me, so it is actually my lack of discipline that is to blame.

Well I have finished my trip of a lifetime and I want more! There are so many places I want to see … sigh. Anyway the trip was fantastic – it’s an incredibly diverse continent and we saw glaciers, salt deserts, alligator- and capybara- infested wetlands and British-style coasts as well as the expected Amazon jungle and Andes mountain range. The wildlife, history and people were all amazing to experience. We worked in an orphanage while in Bolivia and the kids were great - I wanted to adopt them all.

With regard to feminism, there were sad signs that Brazil, Argentina and Chile, being more westernised, are adopting Western advertising – i.e. flesh everywhere. On the other hand, I saw more female police than male in Argentina and plenty of businesswomen in all three countries. In some parts of Peru and Bolivia, it was interesting to see that the women were keen to preserve their traditional dress, while their husbands would be wearing jeans. Signs of Catholicism were rife, however – nearly every other woman seemed to be pregnant!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

American Dream

Just a quick post really to say that my entries won't be as frequent for a while because I'm on my travels until the end of December. This week I'm in the Deep South (Alabama) in the US visiting my boyfriend's brother and his wife, before we fly to Peru! However, these past few days have been eye-opening themselves in terms of culture. Firstly, I have to say I've been extremely well fed, which is always instrumental in making me cast a genial eye over things. Secondly, I really have had fun. A lot of experiences have been like living in films! We went to an American Football match, a rather evangelical church service (out of curiosity rather than belief) and looking for alligators on a golf course at night. Some things are certainly not to my taste - a 'life group' at the church called 'switchback' on fighting the homosexual lifestyle, for instance - but several are religion based (reading a book about building a happy marriage based on the scriptures revealed that the idea of women submitting to their husbands, and of men treating their wives as they would a 'weaker creature', is taken seriously in some quarters at least). It's worrying, too, that most social activity is sparked by church membership. Other quirks - like men not shaking women's hands - are passing out of use as more women enter the workforce. Overall, women do seem to do all the cooking etc. while men are given 'tool showers' on entering marriage. People do seem to addess my boyfriend before me. I also had to insist on coming along to the alligator trip, although I was treated like everyone else once I was there. My boyfriend, however, pointed out that he felt the sting of sexism when I was invited to look at the ultrasound video of his brother and sister-in-law's baby-to-be and he was assumed not to be interested! Overall, however, everyone has just been extremely warm and friendly and there's a feeling of community you don't get in England (at least where I live). Also - the food is delicious. I know I've mentioned this before but it is a strong cultural impression which bears repetition. Right, I'm off to eat, funnily enough, but I'll try to update as I travel, and to keep up with all my favourite blogs too!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Don't let's argie bargie about it …

My boyfriend and I are off travelling two weeks today. We're spending four months in South America - Peru, Bolivia (including a little voluntary work), Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Now, my trust Lonely Planet and Rough Guide both inform me that South American men have a slightly different way of treating women than their UK counterparts*. They won't mean to be offensive, but they'll leer and whistle, etc. etc. (assuming I'd be 'worth' their attentions, obviously). They are also likely to be concerned about my welfare if I'm on my own. In a conversation with my boyfriend and me, even if I speak Spanish more fluently, they are unlikely to address me, and will talk only to him. This last bothers me the most. I am not accustomed to being ignored and I don't intend to become so. Yet for many, it is travel etiquette to observe and absorb a different culture without criticising or trying to change it. One of the arguments is that a culture may have more to it than meets the eye: a mere outsider cannot understand it well enough to comment. I find this incredibly hard. In some ways I agree: the idea of Christian missionaries trying to convert 'heathens' who are perfectly happy with their own religion/s offends me utterly, so should I consider that I have a right to peddle my beliefs? I don't see why I should allow myself to be treated with any less respect or equality than I expect anywhere else, but am I being colonialist (in a modern sense of the word)? Should I make a point of joining in conversations? Help!

* I am not claiming that this is true, and no doubt there are exceptions (for instance, I'm sure some South American men are just as obnoxious as some UK men - sorry, couldn't resist that). It is my one source of knowledge until I experience it for myself.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Last night I had a long cry. It was because I felt despairing about how society treats and views women, and about our chance of changing it. One of my friends had just told me that she didn't really believe in equality - that she thought men and women weren't equal. She thinks that a company would be quite within its rights not to promote a woman on the assumption that she might want children at some point in the future. And, moreover, that the company should have knowledge of a woman's personal life in order to make such decisions. Having spent the last two years, as I have only recently realised, being shoehorned into a role at work that is considered 'woman's work' (i.e. filing all the boys' work and typing up the boss's letters) I find this attitude depressing beyond belief. Why does this idea have any following at all in my generation, especially among women? I feel as though I am always going to be penalised for being a woman: through spending more money on clothes, shoes, haircare, make-up, bras - not because I am very appearance conscious, but simply to get on in my career; through being overlooked when men are in the vicinity in the workplace; through feeling a hypocrite every time I don a pair of high heels/shave my body hair, but not being able to avoid feeling less attractive unless I do; through having to see objectified images of women everywhere which are making me subconsciously ashamed of my body, terrified that my partner will want someone else or go off me because of my body, and feel mistrust towards other women when I should not; through feeling scared walking home alone. We women in the Western world are the lucky ones in many ways: we have rights and freedoms still denied to so many. And yet we are still so oppressed, and many people don't even realise it! That we have so far to go, but are always being told "Count yourself lucky you didn't live 100 years ago" makes me despondent. I want action and results. What can we do? Does anyone else get these moments of feeling overwhelmed by the obstacles ahead?

Do you know why it's wonderful to be a woman?

Well if you don't know, don't fret, because luckily for us, Good Housekeeping is here to tell us. I was leafing through an old issue and found a back page list of things we have to be thankful for. It was intended, I think, to make women laugh at men and feel smug but it just made me angry. Here are a few of the choice items:

We have to do very little to impress a man with our intelligence - just listen to him and nod. Hmm, so you mean men aren't actually interested in our intelligence, or what we have to say because what they have to say is so important? And we should pander to their pathetic egos by nodding along like puppet dolls instead of displaying our real intelligence? How uplifting!

We don't suffer from impotence and can even fake an enthusiastic interest in sex while we're mentally redecorating the sitting room. So it's good to be having sex when you're not in the mood? It's good that we feel we have to fake enthusiasm to shore up the aforementioned ego of our partner, when they wouldn't extend the same courtesy (if that's what it is - personally, I hate the idea of sleeping with my partner when his mind was elsewhere)? So it's still our job to lie back and think of England? And this is why it's wonderful to be a woman? Wouldn't it be better if our partner made an effort to arouse us, and made sure we wanted to have sex, and we both had a bloody amazing time when we did?

We can wear reinforced knickers to stop our tums rolling over the top of our trousers. Or, more accurately, we're made to think our post-children, or just slightly plump, or just plain normal, stomachs aren't good enough and will make society (men) look down on us in disgust, so we spend good money on uncomfortable restraining pants and still feel grateful we're not in stays. Whoop whoop, this must be revolution!

The list also makes mention of our freedom to give pet names to our cars, buy lots of pairs of shoes, and talk to our friends for two hours about a chance meeting with an ex lasting four minutes (it's good, obviously, to waste valuable time discussing a man who is no longer part of one's life, because things like reading a book, learning a language, or just discussing current issues would be just too dull). Why, why, why, do women's magazines keep producing this tripe? How about some real things to celebrate about being a woman? I know it's hard in a patriarchal dictatorship, but to my mind these are just insults.

adopt your own virtual pet!