Sarah Palin & Feminism: Will This Never End?

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

It’s the debate that looks like it’s never going to die. When Sarah Palin first stepped into the spotlight many were thrilled that a woman was in the running for Vice President. The excitement lasted for, oh, a couple of days until everyone remembered which party she’s a member of and that all the ‘Yay, a woman doing well in politics!’ cries in the world weren’t going to drown out the anti-woman policies of the Republican Party.

Ever since, the subject of how women should feel about Palin has been a hot topic on the news and across the blogosphere. At one end we’ve got Christian fundamentalists saying that as a woman she should not be in public office and that she’s obviously neglecting her role as a wife and mother in the process. On the other end of the ‘strongly dislike’ scale we have liberal and left-wing feminists, fearing for the future of America’s women if she gets any say in matters like reproductive choice.

Everything kicked off afresh last month when, in a speech for the Susan B Anthony List – the political action committee which helps anti-abortion women gain election to congress - Palin used the word ‘feminist’ numerous times and mentioned ‘sisterhood’. Good grief, she even talked about ‘the emerging conservative feminist identity’.

The backlash was immediate. Spearheaded by Jessica Valenti and her piece for the Washington Post on Palin’s ‘fake feminism’, we’ve enjoyed a good few weeks of posts and articles. The main bone of contention? Whether Palin should actually be calling herself a feminist or not. Wrote Valenti:

“It's strategy. Palin's sisterly speechifying is part of a larger conservative move to woo women by appropriating feminist language. Just as consumer culture tries to sell ‘Girls Gone Wild’-style sexism as ‘empowerment,’ conservatives are trying to sell anti-women policies shrouded in pro-women rhetoric.”

Last week icon of the women’s movement Gloria Steinem weighed in on the drama as part of a television interview with Katie Couric, arguing that while a woman who is personally anti-choice can be a feminist, a woman who wants to make these views law cannot.

The incessant wrangling over who gets to call themselves a feminist has left a bad taste in the mouths of many women. Every so often an article or blog post making these sorts of judgements gets written and quite rightly, we get angry that people are taking it upon themselves to be the Arbiter of All That is Feminist, performing the Uber-Feminist Smackdown on those who don’t quite tick all the boxes.

So while we have countless people writing that Sarah Palin has no business whatsoever associating herself with a progressive social movement, plenty are admitting that actually, it makes them slightly uncomfortable to see all these women getting so, well, judgy just because she has conservative values.

When it comes down to it, we know that Palin’s support for women has a fairly narrow focus. She talks about women being smart and strong, talks about the fact that they can be a wife and have kids but also go to college and have an exciting career.

And that’s cool, but what about the lives of women who aren’t white, affluent, married mothers with a loving support network to get them through the bad times? Palin’s version of sisterhood doesn’t have a whole lot to say about them – unless of course it involves cutting welfare, banning abortion and making women pay for rape kits.

Sarah Palin and her critics seem to be making the abortion debate the main focus of feminism today and while we know it’s an incredibly important issue, it’s not the only issue the movement is facing. A commitment to sisterhood and encouraging women to get the most out of life should have a wider focus and I think that if Palin was seen to be showing awareness of this, she might have a few more fans.

Unfortunately the obsession with stamping out abortion above all else continues to be too much of a stumbling block and it’s the one thing that most feminists can’t look past when they see Sarah Palin – as Jessica Valenti put it – dropping the f-bomb. They see a woman reaping the gains of feminism but not wanting to help women who aren’t like her.

There are many disagreements between feminists, covering a whole gamut of opinions and issues – so is being pro-choice an absolute essential? Can women erase conservatives from the movement on the basis of one sticking point? One thing’s for sure – that this debate’s going to run and run.

This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Image via sskennel's Flickr.

Daily Mail Rape Chronicles: Trawling the Archives

Saturday, 26 June 2010

This past weekend I spent some time trawling the archives on the Daily Mail website. Thankfully I only needed to do a couple of searches and it didn't take too long, but what I found most definitely proves the point I was making in my previous post - and that post I made back in January which was also featured in a piece entitled Media bias, courtroom misogyny and police incompetence: how rapists get away with it on The F Word.

What it's easy to see is that while coverage of 'cry rape' cases is not a new thing, the frequency with which they are covered and the venom reserved for the women involved has increased dramatically since the beginning of 2009. I'm not the only one who's noticed that the Mail gets more anti-woman with each month that passes and the disproportionate coverage of these cases combined with their sensationalist headlines and scores of misogynistic, victim-blaming comments are obviously a major factor in this.

Back in 2008 a report entitled Just Representation? Press Reporting and the Reality of Rape concluded that the way rape cases are reported is distorting public opinion and jurors' decisions. The report, commissioned by the Lilith Project, identified the media construct of rape, its propensity to victim-blame and the disproportionate coverage of 'cry rape' cases, attacks made by foreign men and attacks on very young girls. You can find it in PDF format here. The 'research' I undertook at the weekend showed that more than two years on, nothing has changed and that in fact, the situation is worse.

The 2008 report suggested that media depictions of what constitutes 'believeable' - and 'obviously made-up' rape scenarios mean that jurors are more likely to see less 'sensational' rape allegations as untrue or 'not rape'. If that was 2008 I can only imagine how perceptions might have changed.

The following stories have been published since the proposals to grant anonymity to rape defendants first received coverage in the Mail on May 21st, along with several stories on the debates over the proposal itself:

June 25th: Lying mother jailed after making up nightclub rape claim
June 18th: Wicked woman saw four innocent men arrested after slashing her own face and crying rape
June 18th: Innocent man jailed for three years over false rape claim - despite police knowing 'victim' was a fantasist
June 11th: Mother who falsely accused policeman of rape after he spurned her advances is jailed for two years
June 8th: Woman cried rape to escape driving ban after crashing boyfriend's car
June 2nd: One man killed himself, the other had his life destroyed. All because one girl falsely cried rape. So what does she have to say for herself?
May 25th: Jurors in tears as they clear student of rape - then discover another man falsely accused by same 'victim' had killed himself

Looking back before that date, I came across the following stories:
May 10th: Mother of three jailed after making false gang rape claims - to win back her former lover
5th March 2010: Mother of three who faked elaborate rape scenes 'for attention' jailed for two years
16th February 2010: Woman who cried rape after sex in public toilet walks free from court
19th January 2010: Cry rape businesswoman who falsely accused father of two is jailed for 18 months
5th December 2009: Cheating wife cried rape in text message to husband after fit of guilt over affair
7th November 2009: Nursery assistant who cried rape is jailed for four months because 'she made genuine sex attack victims looks like liars'
6th November 2009: Girl 'cried rape after living out fantasy of having sex with two strangers'
2nd November 2009: Student falsely accused of raping woman changed his identity to start new life abroad
1st November 2009: Woman who cried rape after sex with man she met online is jailed for nine months
14th August 2009: Cry-rape girl, 20, dragged man into toilets for sex to claim £7,500 compensation
22nd July 2009: Mother who cried rape after meeting man on dating website is jailed for two years
16th July 2009: Former magistrate cleared of rape sues his accuser for £300,000
3rd July 2009: Mother falsely accused husband of rape because 'she wanted him out of her life'
2nd July 2009: 'Cry rape woman stuffed tights in her mouth and tied herself up to fake attack'
30th June 2009: Policeman's daughter 'cried rape after night with ex-lover'
21st May 2009: Court rules taxi driver falsely accused of rape can receive compensation in legal first
2nd April 2009: Man cleared of rape after court shown phone footage of woman 'actively' taking part in sex
27th March 2009: Thank God I'm free, says chef cleared of raping woman who was too drunk to remember. But my name has been dragged through the mud
25th March 2009: Man accused of a rape that his lawyer victim 'was too drunk to remember'
25th January 2009: BBC personality made 40 false rape allegations against her ex-boyfriend whose life remains blighted by her lies
23rd December 2008: Fantasist 'cry rape mother' who wasted 7,000 police hours and cost taxpayers £300,000 is jailed
17th September 2008: My cry-rape hell': Wrongly accused man tells of his 11-month nightmare
29th August 2008: Jail for Wren who cried rape after seducing her former lover
25th August 2008: Binge-drinking mother jailed after crying rape against devout Muslim taxi driver
18th August 2008: Woman jailed for making false rape claim to get back at family after row during night out
29th July 2008: 'Wicked' woman who ruined a marriage by crying rape jailed for four months
8th April 2008: Schoolgirl escapes prosecution after false rape claim
7th March 2008: Woman who cried rape five times is spared jail for perverting the course of justice
12th February 2008: Jail for young mother who cried rape to cover up her secret one-night stand
13th November 2007: Woman who falsely cried rape EIGHT times is spared jail
14th June 2007: Lovesick lesbian cried rape to frame an innocent man
12th May 2007: Woman 'cried rape to justify lover's attack on ex-boyfriend'
23rd April 2007: Two months for girl whose rape lie ruined cabbie's life
24th March 2007: Lesbian accuses innocent stranger of rape to win back lover
16th March 2007: Jilted lover who lied about rape is jailed

As we move through 2009 and into 2010, it's easy to see how the coverage becomes more frequent and the headlines more sensationalist. I'm not even going to go there on the subject of rape allegations made by and against celebrities, because there's a common theme in the comments made by readers - that if the allegation is made by a female celebrity, she 'must be doing it for attention/to revive an ailing career' and if the allegation is made against a male celebrity, the woman 'must have made it up to cash in/become famous'.

Even the general coverage of rape as an issue has an overriding theme. Here's a Melanie Phillips special which highlights several 'false accusation' stories - and here are just some of the paper's news stories relating to rape:

Notice the way the headlines focus on what women think of rape victims - possibly an attempt to show that *everyone* (not just men) think that rape victims are attention-seeking liars. Notice too the patronising attitude of the stories concerning rape victims who had been drinking or claim to have date-raped. Other newspapers do it, but for the Mail, it's an obsession.

Unfortunately, we know that this coverage influences thinking. It influences decisions made by politicians. If people are reading an - at LEAST weekly - installment of the Mail's False Accusation Chronicles and victim-blaming diatribes and believing that this constitutes an accurate representation of most rape cases...well, we have a problem.

Further reading: Daily Mail & Rape, a post at Angry Mob.

Another plea to the Daily Mail

Friday, 25 June 2010

Alison Clarke is making a plea to the Daily Mail to stop featuring stories about false rape claims.
So, this is a plea to the Mail. Yes, we know that women make up stories about sexual assault. But - and please note this - they are very few and far between.

The fact is that at least 50,000 women are raped every year in the UK, but only a tiny percentage result in convictions of the rapist.
She's not the only one.

A while back I wrote about the way that papers like the Mail report rape cases - nearly every time it will be case where 'an innocent man's life has been ruined' or 'a woman made sickening claims in a revenge attack on her ex' or some such tale. I'm not saying these cases aren't true. I'm not saying that false accusations aren't made. But that fact is they are FAR outweighed by actual rapes and assaults. Of course you wouldn't know this, because the Mail only reports rape cases when the attack has happened to a beautiful, young, virginal, middle class white woman.

Ever since I wrote that post I've been noticing that 'cry rape' stories have been appearing with a terrifying frequency on the Mail's website. Every day it seems like someone is tweeting about another one and despairing at the way that a national newspaper (although I'm not sure its content warrants the 'news' part any more) is creating a picture of a society where 99% of rape accusations are made by evil and vicious liars. And the more the tabloids report rape cases in this way, the more society will believe it applies to the majority of incidents.

I'm not going to lie, it's getting depressing. It's getting beyond a joke. It's no longer just the odd story; it's absolutely relentless (presumably these stories are becoming more frequent as the furore surrounding possible anonymity for rape defendants intensifies).

The question is, what can be done? I've been taking part in a couple of discussions about possible action but find myself wondering what I, personally, could do as I'm not affiliated to any particular group of organisation. There are so many of us who feel the same but it's hard to know where to go next. Any ideas would be welcomed at this point. It's difficult to imagine the paper ever changing its outlook but the way it's going about things is sending out an unpleasant message and we all know the power it has. Whether we like it or not, people believe what they read.

Please discuss via comments! In addition I am talking about it a lot on Twitter at the moment so feel free to tweet opinions and ideas @boudledidge.

Twitter Wars: Bloggers v Magazines

Monday, 21 June 2010

When fashion blogger Blair Hartley flicked through a copy of more! magazine that she’d found lying around at work last Friday, she was disappointed with what she saw. Frustrated to see a number of features centred around the theme of ‘Inside Men’s Minds’ and using what she saw as insulting stereotypes of both men and women, she vented her thoughts on Twitter later that day.

What she didn’t expect to happen, however, was for the magazine to retweet her comments to their followers (numbering well over 11,000), giving them the opportunity to respond to Blair and tell her exactly what they thought of her.

As Blair explains in a post about the debacle on her blog, Blair on a Budget, she objected to:

“…the implications for the self-esteem of the (often impressionable, almost universally young) girls who read it, the creation of a world in which everything boils down to whether men find you attractive or not, in which you should constantly be striving to work out 'what they're thinking' or 'what their drunk talk really means' or 'what's really going on when they're with their mates', where you should constantly be worrying about whether your boyfriend is cheating on you, or whether he's going to, or doing things to stop him from potentially straying.”

She goes on to talk about the tweets she received in reply and comments that this is an interesting, if unprofessional example of how the internet has changed the relationship between publications and their readers in recent years.

When it comes to brands and publications using social media, it's important that members of staff use the company account to interact with fans or readers. So how far should this interaction go? We've all witnessed the public spats between celebrities, bloggers or even our own friends via the internet. When people criticise others publicly, it's bound to happen. But personally addressing someone from the company Twitter account, retweeting comments and thereby encouraging others to get involved? Most people would agree that this is going too far.

Whoever was logged in to the more! account that evening could have responded to Blair directly in a professional manner - perhaps by acknowledging that readers' comments are always taken on board or by asking her how she would make improvements to the magazine's content.

Retweeting her thoughts – complete with a patronising comment - to their followers and responding to readers' subsequent tweets was a bad move. The magazine’s actions have been condemned as 'childish' and 'playground tactics' and although more! has reiterated (via its Facebook page) that a member of staff retweeted Blair’s comments to be ‘open and honest’ about reactions to the magazine, the fact is that its publicising of her remarks encouraged readers to direct a lot of abuse at a blogger who did nothing more than express a personal opinion.

The public are entitled to hold whatever opinion they want about the media. These opinions may not be complimentary, but that's life. The content of women's magazines is a thorny issue at the best of times and on any day you can find countless debates on the subject going on online, so the comments of one blogger are hardly anything out of the ordinary. If all publications responded to every critical remark they saw, they’d never get any other work done.

Social media provides great opportunities for brands to interact and become more in touch with customers and many women's magazines are doing this to great effect. Just look at how the story of Tavi's outsize headgear spread like wildfire and inspired scores of articles – including one by BitchBuzz’s own Cate Sevilla after Grazia magazine tweeted about it just once from Paris Haute Couture week back in January. Other women’s mags like Elle and Red provide excellent examples of how to give good Tweet.

It’s also been proved that reader criticism can result in changes or a positive outcome. In April, Company magazine took note of critics when it published a feature on feminism. The feature included a quiz which many people felt was reliant on outdated, negative stereotypes of feminism and after several tweets to that effect, the quiz was taken down from the magazine's website. And who can forget the Twitter-led backlash against Danny Dyer’s column in Zoo magazine last month?

Furthermore, the staff at many companies personally respond to comments on Twitter and it's entirely possible to do this in a positive way. One example would be ASOS, where employees are known for having personal - but work-related - accounts which give customers a glimpse into their personal tastes and opinions while remaining focused on the industry and promoting the brand.

Publications need to look to the positives of interaction through social networking and utilise it to their full advantage, which might stop people claiming that countless businesses just don't know how to use Twitter 'properly'. Remembering the difference between personal and business Twitter accounts is vital here, because a frustrated rant written on the former can easily turn into a PR disaster on the latter.

This post was originally featured on BitchBuzz.

On Teh Menz...or Why Patriarchy is Bad For Us All

Saturday, 19 June 2010

I was feeling particularly bored and morose earlier this week when i got involved in an interesting conversation with Sian and Elly (and later several other people too) on Twitter. Sian started off by saying that for her, "feminism will always be about liberation from patriarchal systems which repress women AND men". To cut a long story short, this prompted some great discussion and cheered me up a lot. We discussed the ways in which people claim that women's struggles have been won and how they completely ignore the lives and experiences of women who aren't white, cis, straight, middle or upper class and highly educated. It was all good.

Sian's initial comment made me recall that I'd been meaning to write about the negative impact of patriarchal systems on men for a while. Not in a 'what about teh menz?!' kinda way, you understand (because goodness knows we all hate it when someone pulls that one in a comment thread), but because I think it's important and because I think we should acknowledge how equality is good for men too. Quite often when we talk about gains being made by women in terms of society or opportunities or rights, people assume these gains mean the loss of something for men and the beginnings of a set-up where they are treated as something less than a woman.

My first response is always to wonder why the thought of this is so shocking, when many of these same people are quite happy to accept a set-up where women are treated as lesser beings. Here's the thing: our gains are not at the expense of the freedom and opportunities offered to men. We hope to see a world where men and women stand together as equals and treat each other with love and respect, not one where one gender tramples another underfoot.

Equality and the rejection of patriarchy and hyper-masculinity is a positive thing for men and here's why: as feminists we want the freedom to be the women we really are, not forced into a narrow definition of what 'woman' means to the patriarchy, or the media, or big businesses, or some groups of religious believers. And at the same time, all those institutions promote a narrow ideal of masculinity which of course, isn't the 'right fit' for all men and also causes anxiety and shame. A very visible example would be the way we characterize certain personality traits and skills as 'masculine' and 'feminine', with 'feminine' being seen as inferior and as an insult. Hence a boy can be put down by being told that he 'throws like a girl' or a man can dismiss cooking or cleaning as 'women's work'.

There are some great organisations - like the White Ribbon Campaign and MyStrength - doing work with men to try to combat the negative effects a hypermasculine, competitive and often violent expectation of male behaviour can have on everyone. Part of the chat on Twitter the other day dealt with talking to men about rape and other feminist issues and how we shouldn't be shutting them out when trying to work towards equality. I think WRC and MyStrength provide positive examples of this.

While writing this I've been reminded of Nancy R Smith's 1973 poem For Every Woman. It's a poem I love and it sums up perfectly what I'm talking about here.
"For every woman who is tired of acting weak when she knows she is strong, there is a man who is tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable.
For every woman who is tired of acting dumb, there is a man who is burdened with the constant expectation of "knowing everything."
For every woman who is tired of being called "an emotional female," there is a man who is denied the right to weep and to be gentle.
For every woman who is called unfeminine when she competes, there is a man for whom competition is the only way to prove his masculinity.
For every woman who is tired of being a sex object, there is a man who must worry about his potency.
For every woman who feels "tied down" by her children, there is a man who is denied the full pleasures of shared parenthood.
For every woman who is denied meaningful employment or equal pay, there is a man who must bear full financial responsibility for another human being.
For every woman who was not taught the intricacies of an automobile, there is a man who was not taught the satisfactions of cooking.
For every woman who takes a step toward her own liberation, there is a man who finds the way to freedom has been made a little easier."
This is an area of discussion I've been exploring with Luke recently. I think it initially came about because I was getting angry at the brand of hypermasculinity-obsessed Christianity which teaches that being a Good Christian Man means being into war and contact sports and ruling over everything and CERTAINLY not indulging in 'wimpy' or 'chickified' pursuits like caring about clothes or pacifism or being a stay-at-home dad. Like, how pathetic would THAT be?! A man - being like a woman! And besides, if Jesus were alive today he would definitely be the macho, warlike, manbag-eschewing type. Because imposing 21st century, consumer-driven ideals of masculinity on the Son of God is, you know, a totally great starting point for a sermon on being a Christlike man (sarcasm: I haz it IN SPADES). First - belittle and mock women! Next - pretend Jesus is down with that!

Anyway, as I think I've explained before, Luke is not that kind of person. He doesn't expect me to fit inside the box and I don't put him in the kind of box described in the poem above. When I was reading Reclaiming The F-Word the other day a quote on feminist parenting in the chapter on 'Equality at Work and Home' jumped out at me. I showed it to Luke and it prompted a chat about the negative connotations that 'things women do' have in our society. The last sentence of it reads:
"...Above all, those of us who are partnered with the mothers of our children can make clear in words and actions that raising babies is not just a woman's responsibility. Testosterone is no barrier to tenderness."
It reminded me of the feature The Guardian did a few months ago on fatherhood and the way that the men interviewed welcomed a more equal approach to parenting and home life. It reminded me of something I read about countries where governments encourage a more fulfilling family life by giving both partners substantial paid parental leave and limiting the number of hours people can work in a week - and the fact that this correlates with a higher satisfaction with life and relationships. All this is important.

That's why I agree with Sian's words of a few days ago: because it's definitely not all about teh menz, but sometimes it is, just a little bit.

Review: Reclaiming the F-Word

Thursday, 17 June 2010

2010 is a great year for books on contemporary feminism. Just when you’d had enough of everyone despairing (or rejoicing) that feminism is now at thing of the past or that women don’t care about equality any more, several books are published within the space of a few months, proving that actually, feminism is still extremely important to a lot of women.

The latest book to hit our shelves discussing the women’s movement in the 21st century is Reclaiming the F-Word by Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune. Catherine and Kristin decided to write about the state of feminism today after getting sick of newspapers and books proclaiming that ‘feminism is dead’ and ignoring the tireless activism, organising and achievements of thousands of women.

“Our aim in this book is to provide a whistle-stop tour of activity in the UK today and further afield. We will explain why feminism is still vitally important and introduce some of today’s inspiring new feminists, describing what they want and what they are doing,” they state in the book’s prologue.

To help with their research into feminism today, the authors undertook a survey of UK feminists, asking then about a wide range of issues, hoping to find out what’s important to them and what activities they take part in. As one of the women who filled out the survey, I was excited to see what its findings would be, especially considering the fact it is believed to be the largest survey of feminists carried out in recent years.

The resulting book is a fascinating guide to UK feminism since the dawn of the new millennium. It’s broken down into seven main sections, delving into the subjects the authors found that women today care most about: ‘liberated bodies’, ‘sexual freedom and choice’, ‘an end to violence against women’, ‘equality at work and home’, ‘politics and religion transformed’, ‘popular culture free from sexism’ and ‘feminism reclaimed’.

And for fans of statistics, the full results of the survey are published at the back of the book, with quotes from the open-ended questions scattered throughout the main chapters.

If you’re looking for the sort of book which informs the reader that feminism is now ‘trendy’, that it’s ‘no longer about bra-burning’ and that feminists can even enjoy shopping these days – well, you’re probably best off looking elsewhere. As Catherine and Kristin say, the new feminist movement is “optimistic, rolling-your-sleeves-up-and-getting-things-done feminism” – evidenced by the variety of issues that today’s feminists are passionate about and active in.

Each section discusses major issues and lays out the facts, but also features the accounts of women interviewed by the authors and talks about what organisations and individuals are doing to effect change in these areas.

There are interesting statistics and emotive first-hand accounts galore which create a picture of a very collaborative movement, not just focusing on the most well-known names and groups as some newspaper articles and documentaries have done in the past.

It actually makes a refreshing change to read a book which is not just focused on the injustices and horrors of things happening to women, but also what is being done to combat them – taking into account activism all over the world. Since becoming involved with the UK feminist movement I’ve met a lot of great women who are doing so much and it’s a shame when their efforts are written off by those who don’t think feminism exists any more.

I loved the fact that, for further encouragement at the end of each chapter, a ‘Take Action!’ section gives tips on practical things readers can do to get involved. It’s a nice touch that could also serve as inspiration to those who are unsure where to channel their passions and ideas.

The book ends on a thoroughly upbeat note, calling for “a larger, more visible, diverse and inclusive feminist movement” and reiterating why we need feminism.

If you want to know what influences and inspires today’s feminists, what they’re doing for the cause and what they’ve achieved then look no further. Reclaiming the F-Word is, of course, not an exhaustive guide to 21st century feminism, but it does a great job of presenting a picture of a movement which is very much full of life.

Find out more at the Reclaiming the F-Word website.

Kate Bosworth's 'mini meals'

Saturday, 5 June 2010

This time four years ago I was working as a journalist, writing features which I'd usually pitch to women's weeklies. This involved a great deal of looking at said women's weeklies. All of them. I was not the person I am today - in fact I was a big fan of Grazia magazine and the way it blended current events-related stories with decent fashion pages. Back then the magazine hadn't been around for too long and there was such a buzz around it.

I don't buy Grazia any more because although I do still like its fashion pages, I can only look at so many pages on anti-ageing treatments, cosmetic surgery and selfish first world problems before I want to smash things. And don't we all get sick of magazines in general during the summer months, with their back to back features on swimwear, tanning and 'getting the perfect beach body'?

I happened to be in town this afternoon, however - and found myself browsing magazines. Just for a change, Grazia had a picture of Jennifer Aniston on the cover, apparently as part of a feature on how celebrities get in shape for the summer. I had time to kill and decided to have a quick flick through the magazine: first stop the fashion section. Swimwear. And so I eventually ended up looking at this piece on how Jen and all the rest of them get their 'bikini bodies'.

Business as usual - lean protein, squats, leafy greens, exercise balls. Nothing that you haven't read a hundred times before. And then the paragraph about Kate Bosworth caught my eye. It read something like (I'm remembering this as accurately as I can):

"Kate's a fan of mini meals. She eats what she wants but stops after three bites if it's fattening."

Oh and she does an hour of cardio six times a week and an hour of weights five times a week, apparently. It's good to know. For a moment I'm going to return to that bit about 'mini meals' though. Is this for real?! Lean protein and squats I can can deal with. Those 'diet plans' that plenty of other magazines feature every week where you get to eat small and very healthy but essentially nice-tasting meals? I'm not down with the sort of culture and obsessions they promote but at least, you know, you get to eat a whole meal. So does Kate only order three bites' worth of food? Does she throw away the rest? Did Grazia just make this crap up because it sounded like something a celebrity would do?

Actually I don't care that much. It makes me more angry that magazines continue to promote obsessive and unhealthy relationships with food as something we should consider if we want a 'better' body. They told us exactly how to go about the 'baby food diet' - yep, you really do get to eat baby food. Straight out of those little jars. Then there was the one where you eat nothing but some vile mixture of maple syrup and cayenne pepper. But only eating three bites of stuff if it contains certain things? That sounds like unhelpful behaviour to me.

I know that it was being used as an example of how a famous person 'stays thin' and that readers are supposed to see it all as faintly ridiculous. I know it wasn't saying 'you should totes do the mini-meals diet this summer!'. But seriously, is this the relationship with our bodies that we're supposed to aspire to? They can as many features on the terrible consequences of eating disorders and as many pieces on 'loving yourself as you are' as they want. At the end of the day though, Kate Bosworth's only ever eating three bites of something and she's got a fabulous body, which is what matters.

Reclaiming the F-Word: the launch

Friday, 4 June 2010

Yesterday I attended the launch of Reclaiming the F-Word, the new book on feminism by Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune. I've been so looking forward to getting my hands on a copy ever since I heard about it and just from flicking through the first few pages, it's obvious that so much hard work has gone into the book. Back in 2008 when I was up in Sheffield for the day, attending the FEM 08 conference, I completed the survey Catherine and Kristin undertook to find out about the state of the women's movement in the UK today and it's nice to finally see the results in full.

After briefly getting lost in Mayfair after missing the turning to get to the University Women's Club, I had a great evening catching up with a few people and meeting some internet acquaintances for the first time - Sarah of Uplift Magazine, Jamie of MrXStitch, Mary aka MsKitton and Helen of Bird of Paradox fame, to name just a few! It was also good to meet Catherine and learn more about Kristin, whose work I didn't know much about but am now incredibly interested in (always intrigued by people who do work on women and religion).

The book has already had fantastic reviews and although I've only read the first chapter so far, i can't wait to read the rest. The 'new feminist movement' described in Reclaiming the F-Word has had a huge influence on me personally and really impacted my life in recent years so it's wonderful to read a book which really celebrates this and is an encouragement to women (or men!) to get involved, do whatever they can and build each other up, rather than simply providing a depressing list of facts about the terrible state of the world. We know things are bad and that this can't be ignored, but at the same time we need to counter the messages given out by the media - that feminism is dead and buried, outdated, pathetic and ridiculous. This book shows us exactly why this is not the case.

Head to the sticks this summer

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

When I tell people I'm from The Fens I can generally guarantee that they'll have one of two reactions. There's the ‘Where the hell is that?' one or the classic 'Wow, right out in the sticks! Do you know anyone with webbed toes?' response. Unless the person in question is actually from East Anglia as well, in which case you bond over stuff like drainage systems and carrot farming.

Jokes aside, having grown up and lived here for most of my life does have its advantages - the area's proximity to such beautiful coastline for one. And what better way to spend the summer in good old England than on a classic beach holiday?

To me the Norfolk coast brings back fond memories of childhood day trips, sandwiches on the beach, 20-mile tailbacks on the A47 every Bank Holiday - and countless 'seemed like a good idea at the time' windswept New Year's Day walks which could only be described as 'bracing'. In recent years it's become one of the go-to destinations for both wealthy London-based second home owners and the sort of people who use the word 'staycation', enjoy shabby chic and own every single thing in the Cath Kidston catalogue.

But don’t let that put you off. The North Norfolk coast is an area of stunning beaches, picturesque towns, plenty to do and thanks to its renaissance as a ‘trendy’ holiday destination, not short of great pubs, hotels, galleries and shops. If you’re planning a day trip or a longer break I’ve put together a few ideas of places to go and things to see while you're there.

Want your seemingly endless stretches of golden sandy beach peaceful and free from the fairgrounds and amusement arcades of your typical English seaside resort? Look no further than Brancaster or Old Hunstanton. They’ll still be packed on a hot day and have the all-important ice cream vendor/pub combination, but provide a better atmosphere for chilling out than some of the busier resorts. Take a picnic and a couple of good books.

For a taste of the high life and potential celebrity spotting, hit Burnham Market and the surrounding area. Regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in England, this tiny place is a favourite of the second home set, known as ‘Chelsea-on-Sea’ and is consequently home to expensive boutiques, mouth-watering delicatessens and no less than four art galleries.

There’s a wealth of places to stay and eat but the best-known is probably the Hoste Arms, where Stephen Fry can sometimes be found enjoying a drink. Jamie Oliver has also been spotted and Naomi Watts’s mum, Miv, runs her interior design business from the village. Miv’s work can be seen in the Victoria Hotel at nearby Holkham.

Wildlife and walking more your scene? Take in the unique scenery and wealth of creatures via the Norfolk Coastal Path, which stretches 45 miles through a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and takes you through picturesque villages such as Wells-next-the-Sea and Blakeney, where you can book boat trips to see seals in their natural habitat.

There are plenty of places to stay to suit all tastes, but if you’re looking for somewhere quirky on a budget try Deepdale Farm, which is not only a backpackers’ hostel and campsite but a winner of countless awards for innovation and environmental friendliness. If you’re not down with roughing it in a tent, you can hire a tipi or a yurt and sleep in a real bed instead.

On the other hand, if it really is luxury you want, check out Byford’s in Holt, a café, deli, restaurant and B&B rolled into one which describes itself as a ‘higgledy-piggledy world of pleasure’, all housed in a centuries-old building.

As always, remember to pack hats, sunscreen and plenty of layers – you might be pleasantly surprised by the weather but don’t let it lull you into a false sense of security.

This post was originally featured on BitchBuzz. Image via Ned Trifle's Flickr.


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