Women in the Noughties: Self-loathing and scared?

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

“…for the first time in the whole of our history, our unhappiness didn’t come from men or oppression. It came from us. From other women. From within. The Noughties was the decade of self-hate.”

This was the depressing conclusion Camilla Long came to as she reviewed the decade in terms of women’s issues for this week’s Sunday Times.

Apparently we should have spent the Noughties celebrating the joys of being female. Freed from the bondage of inequality, by the dawn of the new millennium we'd "conquered men and marriage and boardrooms and babies". Surely this should have been our time to shine.

Alas not. Long believes we've ended up slaves to fashion, consumed by worries about our body hair, obsessed by Botox and boob jobs and neurotic about our weight. Inevitably all the standard Noughties clichés get a mention - footballers' wives, the 'size zero debate', reality television, Carrie Bradshaw. Yes, she says, we made up for the emptiness of our lives by maxing out our credit cards and attempting to find happiness through shoes and binge drinking.

As if that wasn't enough, the misery doesn't end here - oh no - we're completely unhappy and depressed with our lot in life. Here she references The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness, the much-discussed study released by the national Bureau of Economic Research earlier in the year, which asked women to rate their happiness. The study showed that women’s' happiness has steadily declined since the 1970s and spawned a rash of anguished newspaper and magazine articles.

Of course there's plenty of truth in the article. Many women have spent the past ten years becoming more and more obsessed with achieving the 'perfection' of eternal youth, a bikini body to die for and career success. We will remember this decade as the one where the cosmetics industry and media-approved beauty myth became so unattainable that it could only truly be achieved by way of a combination of starvation and digital retouching.

On the other hand, the article certainly doesn't speak for all - or even most - women when it speaks of the equality we'd supposedly achieved by the beginning of the decade, the supposed lack of oppression from men, or indeed the factors that supposedly rule our lives. A few women did manage to 'conquer' men, reproduction and boardrooms – those lucky few who often had plenty of privilege to start with.

And although many women strive for the ideal of thinness and beauty, cosmetic surgery and ‘It bags’ aren’t even a consideration for most of them because they cost far too much.

As Long rightly points out, we’re pressured to succeed academically, in the workplace, as mothers, domestically and even when it comes down to finding the perfect partner – but the fact there has been no significant shift in men viewing women as equals or sharing the responsibilities of childcare and housekeeping often means yet more stress and worry as we try to juggle everything.

“The Noughties has left a generation…feeling puzzled and scared,” sums up Long – blaming a lack of positive role models, obsession with celebrity and too much pressure to achieve.

This may be, but it was her parting shot that left me feeling truly puzzled:

“That role model, of course, used to be feminism. Where, in this open dishwasher of female emotion, has feminism gone? Well, feminism just…went away,” she finishes, admitting that she finds this “kind of sad”.

I know it wouldn’t really be in keeping with the doom-filled tone of the piece to discuss any recent resurgence in feminist activity but the efforts of many thousands of women over the past decade can’t just be dismissed and ignored.

Revived Reclaim the Night marches. Fantastic events for International Women’s Day. Women’s organisations involved in a whole host of activity from campaigning against injustice to running arts festivals to helping the abused and setting up book groups. Young women flying the feminist flag at our universities and schools.

The 2006 launch of a new feminist magazine, Subtext. Numerous books being published and of course, the explosion in networking, discussion and organisation provided by the blogosphere. Efforts by women to change existing legislation or bring about new laws. Sites like this one, or Women’s eNews, or The F Word, providing news for those of a feminist persuasion.

Society may have spent the Noughties trying to give feminism and feminists a bad reputation. Some women may be reluctant to label themselves as feminists – but it doesn’t mean we don’t exist. For the past decade we’ve been portrayed as catty, miserable and hysterical, out only to bring each other down and promote self-loathing. As the next decade begins, we need to fight this as much as we can.

This post was originally written for BitchBuzz. Image via Virgin Media.

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Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Last month I started writing a piece a week for women's lifestyle site BitchBuzz. I'm contributing to the News and Life sections and am really excited to be part of something which aims to provide women with a diverse selection of news and opinions - not just those, as the site says, that are 'fluffy and out of touch'.

Since I started contributing I've posted about a prominent headteacher's comments on women 'having it all', Reclaim the Night London, our fascination with celebrity 'meltdowns' and the proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda. In this week's piece I'm revisiting the awesome PinkStinks in light of their Christmas campaign and the backlash it has received from the public and some sections of the media ('PC gone mad', 'Feminazis', the usual).

For updates and news add Bitchbuzz on Twitter.

On Marriage (Part Two)

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The expectations on us in the run-up to our marriage were frustrating but I wouldn't say they caused major problems. In the same way, I don't feel that we've found negotiating certain expectations of us within marriage particularly difficult either.

When we talk about equality in marriage I don't necessarily see it in terms of an exact division of labour or an exact division of finances. As I mentioned in Part One both of us were under no illusions about housework - we both live in the house, therefore we both help with its upkeep. The way this has played out over the past couple of years is as follows: if we're both in at a weekend, we do the housework together. We'll take a couple of rooms each. If one of us is away or out, the person who's in does the majority of what needs doing and we'll often try to get bits and pieces done during the week so there's less for that person to do. Our approach to cooking is basically the same. I think what's more important than the exact sharing out of tasks is that housework is not considered 'women's work', with no expectation that her partner should help her out.

Talking about how we negotiate housework may seem faintly ridiculous but it's interesting how people react when they find out that we both do it. Some former work colleagues of Luke's were outraged that he was clearly 'under the thumb' and told him in no uncertain terms that he 'shouldn't have to do all that'. The reaction from a lot of women is that I've 'got him well-trained!' and that some degree of 'nagging' must contribute towards him doing a bit of cleaning or tidying up because men are 'useless' around the house.

Many blogs written by conservative Christians place great emphasis on being an exceptional 'homemaker' and that this is a major justification for married women not working outside the home - the implication being that there's plenty to keep women busy. A lot of these blogs actually seem to place the most emphasis on being fanatical about tidiness and organisation, crossed with idolisation of some sort of very white, middle-class, Martha Stewart-influenced, picket-fence crafts-loving way of life which fails to acknowledge the fact that women may come from cultures where no-one feels that making seasonal table centrepieces in complementing colourways is essential to being a good wife or mother. They may be less affluent (like me) and not be able to afford the luxury of staying at home, or (again, like me) just don't feel like they're a let-down as a wife because they have a 'junk drawer'. Or in my case, several junk drawers, a junk wardrobe, three junk cupboards and boxes and boxes of, yep, junk.

As it happens, I don't really know anyone who embraces that vision of wifeliness but since I've been married I've found that some people tend to ask me 'And do you work?' rather than 'What do you do?'

A couple of weeks ago I was reading an essay on a Christian website about the roles men and women should play within marriage. I didn't know whether I was more amused or depressed to read that (to paraphrase) 'critics of Christianity are wrong when they say that the wife cannot make decisions. It is appropriate, for example, for the wife to have the final say on matters of shopping or home decorating'. The author went on to say that of course, decisions involving money, parenting, church, careers etc should always be down to the husband. Sadly I'm not making this up.

Surely making decisions on such important aspects of life should be a joint endeavour? I don't think it's responsible, for example, for one partner to have total control of finances while the other has no involvement or knowledge of where money is coming from, going to and how much of it there is. We firmly believe that decisions affecting both of us are for both of us to make and this will definitely include decisions regarding children, when (and if) they come along in future.

Speaking of children, that's another subject that people love weighing in on. Plenty of people ask if we plan to have children - that I don't mind so much. It's when people ask when we're going to have them, or ask how long we've been married, in a 'what - haven't you started trying yet?!' kind of way. Really, that's no-one's business but our own. I've realised it's pointless to use the reasoning that we can't afford to have children because someone will always say 'You can never afford children (ha ha ha)!'. Or if they don't say that they'll make a whole host of assumptions about us. That we're clearly just 'selfish' and just want to blow all our money on material possessions rather than babies, for example. Someone I know asked 'Couldn't you just get your mum to look after the baby when you go back to work?'

A really big part of me wishes that parental leave rights were more equal, easily allowing either partner to be a stay-at-home parent, or for the total leave period to be split between them. People tend to assume automatically that the mother will stay at home with young children, despite the fact that fathers want more time with their children and better paternity leave. I'm currently the higher earner of the two of us (just) and that for much of the last year I've actually been the 'breadwinner' as Luke has struggled with redundancy and a series of temporary jobs, a victim of the recession. Our culture and parental leave as it stands doesn't take any of this into account, instead pressuring men to 'provide' everything and women to give up their careers (guilt-tripping tabloid pieces about the evils of 'working mothers' are particularly good at this).

My sudden 'breadwinner' status proved to be a great source of amusement for some acquaintances and even relatives. The days where a husband was considered less of a man if his wife 'had to go out to work' are behind us but that attitude is still around to a certain extent in that many people expect a man to earn much more than his female partner and be able to support the household singlehandedly. At first this really impacted Luke's self-confidence but going through problems with employment and money ended up really changing the way he saw issues like 'being the provider' and childcare, bringing us round to a much more equal perspective. He's always wanted to be a very hands-on, involved father which is great but I know now that he feels much more relieved of the pressures regarding earning and expectations of masculinity.

When discussing the issues surrounding marriage with my Christian friends recently I've tended to find that they agree with me regarding a more equal approach which is definitely refreshing (although this does depend on whether you're talking to complementarian or egalitarian Christians). In the past I've come up against a certain way of thinking that a job, for a woman, is just a stopgap until she gets married and has children, or that it's not right for her to sort out the family's finances, or that she should always submit to her husband's authority - and these attitudes don't really help or encourage anyone at all.

An open letter to my Christian sisters

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Being a Christian feminist can be difficult. It's something I've really wrestled with and I went through a long and confusing journey to reconcile these beliefs. I know well that feminism has a bad reputation among a lot of Christians and that many people I know particularly disapprove of it as a concept. If you're a Christian who wants to find out more about feminism and decides to do some research on the internet, looking at popular Christian sites and blogs, then you're going to find an exhaustive amount of information on why feminism is so contrary to God. According to a few I've looked at recently:
'These [feminist] leaders minimize women’s roles in the home as daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers. They don’t seem to see women as bearers and nurturers of life, as caregivers, as those privileged to shape the character of the next generation.'

'A daughter can no longer expect to be protected by her father; a woman finds it hard to trust her husband's leadership and feel secure in her marriage, with the divorce rates so ridiculously high; a lady cannot expect chivalry anymore.'

'...hate femininity (which they see as weakness) and loath women who choose traditional roles (try voicing support of housewives in any college women's studies course and see what happens). Stay-at-home moms are seen as traitors to the Cause.'

'From the time the first feminist (Eve) came on the scene, until now, we have been in a cosmic battle against the flesh and Satan because he hates the image of Christ and His Church...Feminism was, and will finally be, defeated when the Seed crushes the Serpent (Gen. 3:15).'

'The feminist leaders - humorless, militant, pugnacious, and angry with their particular lot in life, launched programs that were anti-God, anti-capitalism, anti-family, anti-birth, anti-heterosexual and fostered a virulent hatred of anything having to do with males. They no longer wanted to equalize the status of women, but instead wanted to irreversibly alienate women from men and vice versa.'

'They belittle a woman’s calling in the home, marginalize motherhood, sneer at modesty, and abhor wifely submission.'
When you look at a lot of sites bearing information like this, we're painted as monsters. Monsters who hate men and children. Monsters who hate stay-at-home mothers and domesticity. Monsters who want to see the world cleansed of men so that women can rule over the earth in some sort of all-female dictatorship. If we're not being portrayed as monsters, we're being quietly mocked or disapproved of for being 'career girls' (who naturally, put our career aspirations over everything else in life) or being 'shrill' or using the title 'Ms' or hyphenating surnames.

Sometimes we're begrudgingly accorded some praise, usually with a statement saying something along the lines of 'the initial aims of feminism - such as the right to vote and access education - were necessary and have helped women, but now things have gone too far'. In other words: 'Good grief, you can go to school and vote now; what more could you possibly need?' It's important to point out here that the missives I've posted above are always written from a white, middle-class perspective. In other words, by people who have been able to reap the benefits of what feminism has achieved as far as economic and educational freedom goes and also the benefits of living in a wealthy country. People who talk about the early gains made by the women's movement as if every woman now enjoys these privileges and could not possibly need anything more. Women who have never had to work because their husbands earn enough to support the whole family. Women who don't have to fight for survival. It's easy to live in a privileged bubble, but we must not assume that life is the same for everyone else.

Aside from addressing privilege, there's the basic fact that these sort of claims are wrong. As feminists we're extremely aware of the potential we have as mothers to shape future generations. To many of us the fact we can bear new life is extremely important to us. Feminists the world over are mothers and homemakers and women who aren't particularly bothered about being 'high-flying career girls'. It's bizarre and downright ridiculous to paint us as a group of people who hate children and 'the home'. Some women don't plan to become mothers, this much is true. But this isn't a phenomenon peculiar to women who identify as feminists. Mocking stay-at-home mothers and housewives? That's not my feminism - and every other feminist I know would say the same.

As for the old man-hating/abolishing males forever stereotype, that gets trotted out at every opportunity by the media and anti-feminists the world over. Does that make it true? Of course not. Gaining equality for women is not about taking away the rights of men and this is an important distinction to make. Men may have subjugated women for centuries but the aim of feminism is not to reverse this oppression. What would be the point of fighting for equality in the first place if all we want is a world where men are obsolete?

It's also important to recognise that misogyny, men treating their wives badly, domestic violence, family breakdown and objectification are not a result of the late 20th century women's movement. This is an assertion I've seen pretty frequently in anti-feminist Christian writings. As I mentioned above, the subjugation of women and lack of respect for them as people was happening long before the 1960s. And it was most definitely happening within Christianity. The line of thinking which portrayed women as the root of all evil is pretty common knowledge, as are the methods used to deal with women who did not fit the church's expectations of womanhood. Divorce is often used as example of the negative impact of feminism, but when it was less 'acceptable' countless people were forced to remain in unhappy and abusive marriages. It's naive to assume that a married couple is a happy couple and there's little point in idolising a time when women had little choice but to marry because they had few other options, rights or life choices.

Aside from mangling the facts, attacks on feminism by Christians have a very narrow focus which totally ignores the majority of things feminists are fighting for - things that everyone with a heart for change can get behind. Access to equal opportunities in education, the workplace and childcare for all women. Wishing for an end to poverty and deprivation. Stopping discrimination by age, class and race. Protesting rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence. Educating the next generation of boys to treat women with respect. Fighting attitudes of domination and control in relationships. Giving women easier access to healthcare, contraception and sanitary products. Working to lower maternal mortality due to lack of resources. Helping the broken and abused. Fighting the sexualisation of young girls and the objectification of women. Trying to stop the exploitation and dehumanisation of pornography and trafficking. Hoping for a world where a woman's worth is not measured by little more than the way she looks. I refuse to accept that any of these examples is 'contrary to God's plan' seeing as God is opposed to and angered by injustice and the fact that people have been stripped of equality and dignity by all that is mentioned above.

I find it's a common feature of anti-feminist Christians that they claim to love and respect women, yet express disgust and derision at those who don't fit the narrow mold of complementarian Christian womanhood. And yes, that includes mocking 'career girls' and women who use the title 'Ms' and women who don't have children. This is not love and respect. Jesus went beyond societal convention in his treatment of women and reacted against negative attitudes towards them. Women must be free to pursue their gifts and callings whatever they may be. If that is outside 'the home', so be it. So when denouncing us as monsters, please remember that we fight for a better world rather than a broken one, just like you. Yes, you may not be able to get behind some things feminists believe and do, but do we agree with all things done in the name of Christianity?

Why demonising Kate Moss is hypocritical

Monday, 23 November 2009

I'm pretty sure this is being said here, there and everywhere so apologies for being late to the party but I was busy all weekend at Reclaim The Night and travelling to and from London. Here is a bonus picture of me looking a bit damp and wearing my fabulous marching hat. Anyway. Kate Moss. I missed the initial uproar over her "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" comment, only managing to catch up with it last night. People have been (quite rightly) pointing out that actually, plenty of things taste as good as skinny feels, at the same time as lambasting Kate for her 'irresponsible' comments and accusing her of fuelling the eating disorders of young women. So far, so predictable.

But all these outraged people, intent on blaming Kate for the misfortune of every eating disorder sufferer the world over, have generally failed to point out one thing. While she did make an ill-advised comment which just happens to be the mantra of many eating-disordered people, it's a comment that isn't so very different to the message pushed on us every day by television shows, magazines, books and plenty of other celebrities. They may not use those exact words, but everyone knows it's what they mean.

When I worked with women's magazines, one thing I used to notice was the very narrow weight range that was 'acceptable' for a celebrity. I remember an interview in which a member of Girls Aloud bemoaned how 'fat' she felt when she weighed her heaviest - 112 pounds. I remember a soap star telling a journalist that she weighed 125 pounds, but hurriedly 'justifying' such a weight by adding that much of that was muscle and was down to all the time she was spending at the gym. Admitting you weigh 125 pounds without justification is only acceptable if you're a reasonably tall celebrity, known for your 'curves'. And by the way, 'curves' means 'larger than average breasts'.

That was three years ago, but of course nothing's changed today. Women's magazines fixate on dieting to the point that the 'advice' they give about avoiding snacking and 'naughty' foods isn't so different to the tips you'd find on a pro-eating disorders website. In this month's Elle magazine, Kate Hudson is quoted as saying:
"I'm pretty solid, actually. I'm not, like, 110 pounds. But I'm probably heading towards that."
Maybe we should be grateful for small mercies - at least the interviewer went on to point out what a particularly 'Hollywood' definition of 'solid' that is.

Oh, and I bought a muffin from the canteen at work recently. The woman serving me tutted and said "Naughty naughty!" as I paid for it. This isn't the first time I've been admonished for buying something sweet from the canteen. Oh no. On purchase of a packet of Minstrels last year, the woman who took my money told me they would make me fat. Yes - one packet of Minstrels: a lifetime on the hips. Try as you might, you can't escape the implication that enjoying what you want, when you want is very bad indeed. Or at least something to berate yourself for, promising to work extra hard at the gym later because you ate some chips for lunch.

Kate Moss may have said it, but plenty of other people, publications and companies imply it with everything they do. Let's not demonise one model and ignore the rest. Doubtless, Kate is a role model for many young women, but young women take inspiration from plenty of other sources. For the media to display outrage is just hypocritical, not least because for them it's yet another opportunity to indulge in a favourite past-time - cricising a famous woman and the way she looks.

Part Two of On Marriage to follow this week, hopefully.

On Marriage (Part One)

Saturday, 14 November 2009

This week I remembered that I once said I'd blog about my marriage and what it means to me from a Christian, feminist perspective. This year, Jessica Valenti tied the knot. Several newspapers and websites featured the story; from her engagement to the planning to the day itself, people were fascinated to see how a 'feminist wedding' was going to pan out. Many were eager to congratulate her and wish her all the best, but others felt her decision was a betrayal of her feminist ideals. Would she take her partner's surname? Would she wear a 'traditional' dress? What was she going to do about the fact that same-sex couples are denied the right to marry? In blog posts and newspapers, people debated whether a feminist marriage is even possible.

I married Luke on May 19th, 2007. This shocks people. Sometimes it's because I'm a feminist who's married, but usually because we were both 22 at the time. I've lost count of the number of people who have asked me, in complete shock, why I could possibly want to get married so young. They ask why I wanted to 'settle down' before having 'lived a bit', as if getting married means the end of having a life. Or how, at just 22, I could commit to one person - never to date anyone else again. For some, their 'shock' barely masks their snobbery - nice, middle-class professionals don't marry until they're at least 30. No really. Look out for the slight sneer. This happens a lot. Yes - baking, all things Cath Kidston and imploring each other to 'make do and mend' may be en vogue but going retro by marrying before your late 20s isn't the done thing.

The only place my married status isn't a shock to people is at church. Christians love marrying young if they can. In some churches, it's very much the norm. When we were at university one of my pet peeves was the culture of 'marrying off' which existed in some Christian unions and churches. The pressure to get hitched (or at least be engaged by) the same year as your graduation in some quarters was ridiculous. It was almost as if we'd gone back to the days of being firmly 'on the shelf' at the ripe old age of 23. It used have everyone over the age of 24 sick with worry that there was no-one out there for them and wondering if it meant God wanted them to be single...FOREVER. That Stuff Christian Culture Likes post about hoping the rapture doesn't happen until after your wedding night? It happens. While I was totally against this sort of pressure and still am, I was also very much in a relationship.

Luke and I went on our 'first date' in November 2001. By late 2004, having survived the first year of university intact (just), we were starting to talk about 'the future'. Yes, we were one of those couples who discussed it all first. I knew he was going to propose, he knew I was going to say 'yes'. Luke had decided he was going to do the whole thing 'officially', though. So I was proposed to - in the manky kitchen of his student house in February 2005, in case you're interested. The next day, we told our parents. After discussion with them we agreed that we were going to get married in 2007, giving us time to have finished studying and (hopefully) have been working for a while. My mum in particular was pretty concerned about any effect getting married might have on my working life; she worried that 'settling down' could negatively impact my career choices and independence which of course is true and something I have had to deal with over the past couple of years.

So I'd got a ring on my finger. Off goes the starting pistol in the Feminist Marriage Olympics, right? I could definitely lose points for an engagement ring. In our favour, Luke didn't ask for my dad's 'permission' first. Jokes aside, I think it's so easy to get like this, analysing each choice couples make for its links in patriarchal tradition and while this isn't wrong at all, it can mean focusing on small things at the expense of the bigger picture. Something which invariably came out of online discussions on weddings earlier this year was a rejection of 'traditional' weddings, weddings 'the way they've always been done'. I'm in agreement with this one. There can be so much pressure from family, friends and companies who just want you to buy their stuff to have the expensive dresses, the huge reception and the 'perfect' cake. I can't stand the hype around weddings perpetuated by women's magazines, wedding shows and even the wedding-themed television channels which now exist. I didn't want to spend several months beforehand having skin treatments or fork out a small fortune on personalised favours, all in pursuit of 'being like a princess for the day'. For several years now the beauty industry has been using weddings as an opportunity to make us spend money on yet more things we don't need. Skin peels, anti-cellulite treatments, 'countour wraps', you name it and somewhere, a company will be telling brides-to-be that they need it to feel and look their best on the big day. Not going to lie, after nagging on my mum's part I did make futile efforts to scrub and moisturise away the keratosis pilaris which covers my upper arms through the winter. Did it work? Not really - much like all those anti-cellulite, anti-ageing products.

For us, our wedding day was about being united and committing to one another for the rest of our lives, not putting on some sort of show for the benefit of our families and friends. All too easily these days weddings start to revolve around what the guests would want or how best to please them when it's about the couple and the vows they're making to each other. Our Christian faith meant we wanted a church wedding and the religious aspect of the marriage was, and continues to be important for us as a couple (more on this in Part Two). I wanted the focus of the wedding to be on the service and we spent a lot of time choosing which songs and readings to use, picking ones which were of personal significance to us. A dear friend of Luke's family provided the music, along with two violinists I knew from my time playing in local youth orchestras.

The 'major' issues I'm sure you all want to know about:

- Yes, I changed my surname to Luke's. I wanted to take his name in some way and was all ready to hyphenate, until I actually thought about it and realised how stupid the two names sound when put together. No really, they do. Whenever I tell people what my name would have been, they think it's hilarious. When I got engaged, one of my flatmates told me it sounded like 'slang for an unspeakable sexual practice'. I decided it would be better to just take his name and avoid the sniggers every time I introduced myself. Besides, I'd had my dad's surname up until then so either way I was going to end up with a man's name. I know that if I'd married a man with a less...tricky...surname, I would be using both names.

- I did not promise to 'obey' Luke as part of my vows. This was something I'd planned to talk to the vicar about because I had raised the issue with Luke and he agreed with me that it wasn't right for us. However, when we got the order of service booklet we discovered that the church did not use the 'obey' version of the vows anyway. The Church of England started to offer alternative wording in 2006, releasing a report recognising that 'obey' is a problematic word which could help to reinforce a domination/submission aspect to marriages and could also be used by perpetrators to justify domestic violence. There's some pretty interesting information on the report here.

- I didn't wear a white dress. A couple of people I know were actually slightly miffed at this and couldn't see why I didn't want to. Aside from the virginity-obsessing aspect of it all (I think I feel the same about it as I do about purity rings, purity balls and mentioning a couple's virginity as part of the marriage service), I never actually wear white. I can't imagine myself in a white outfit and wasn't going to change that for my wedding day. I did, however, wear a 'traditional' wedding dress. The colour was champagne. Yes, there is a difference between 'champagne' and 'white'.

It was a wonderful day. I'd tried not to get stressed about it and thankfully didn't until a couple of days before, when I started to wonder if I'd drop Luke's ring, or mess up the vows, or trip over my dress and end up in hospital. To be honest it's all over so quickly that anxiety for months beforehand just isn't worth it. Weddings are easy to deal with when you think about what comes afterwards.

Part Two will deal with married life; how it fits with my faith and feminism and decisions we've made on gender roles.

Fun Feminist Tuesday

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

I know I posted earlier this afternoon, but a friend just alerted me to something which I can't help but talk about.

If you're in any doubt that a woman cannot be 'feminist' and 'feminine', look no further. You need the patronising wisdom of Karen Salmansohn, who is so uncomfortable with the word 'feminist' that she thinks we should invent a new word to show that "Being a strong, powerful woman doesn't mean you have to be tough, overworked and unattractive." She opens her article, Are You A Feminist or a Feminine-ist? with a truly unbelievable anecdote:

My friend David got mugged at a bank machine by a beautiful, leggy, sexy woman.

"Actually, it might have been a transvestite," David corrected himself.

"It's okay if you were mugged by a woman," I told him, smiling.

Now embarrassed, David said, "The more I think about it, the more I'm sure he was a transvestite."

I laughed but was also intrigued by why David would be so embarrassed to be mugged by a beautiful, leggy, sexy woman, but not a man.
Salmansohn claims she finds the negative connotations associated with the word 'feminist' "shameful and highly unhelpful". Which is fair enough. So do I. Yet her solution to the problem?
"I'd like to put forth that starting today, the word 'feminism' be updated to become the new word 'feminine-ism.'"
In case you didn't feel queasy enough by this new addition to the funfeminist lexicon, have some more choice quotes:
"Whenever I do take the time to tap into "feminine-ism"—this energy of simply being by indulging in a meditative and self-nurturing manicure, a facial or a hot bubble bath—that's when I feel my most powerful."

"I am here to tell you that feeling sexy is what helps me to be my most powerful and successful self, and being powerful and successful also helps me feel damn sexy!"

"With the word "feminism," it might have been embarrassing for a man to say he was a supporter because it might sound like he was admitting to supporting of a group of controlling, bitchy women. But with new pro-sexiness, pro-sweetness, pro-balance words like "feminine-ist" and "feminine-ism," what's not for a man to love?"
And in case you weren't quite taken aback by the 'transvestite' anecdote, have some musings on Western vs Eastern 'femininity':
"It seems that America has been fighting against the perception of being feminine for a while now...If you compare America to countries in the East, you'll see what I mean. If America were to be personified, it would definitely be a real guy's guy—running around, talking loudly, smacking you on the back in greeting, occasionally belching—a lovable, rambunctious guy's guy.

Now, imagine a country like India personified. It would embrace more feminine qualities like stillness, meditativeness and spirituality."
So what are you waiting for girls? Go forth, believe in equality, but don't forget to make sure you're still sexy and fun! Thankfully everyone commenting on the piece seems pretty horrified.

Further reading -
Terra's Tales
Heartless Doll

Quentin Letts: officially a nasty little man

Quentin Letts's misogyny knows no bounds. Today, one of my favourite Daily Mail idiots completely outdoes himself in a piece entitled The First Ladette: How Germaine Greer's legacy is an entire generation of loose-knickered lady louts.

Before I start I think it's worth pointing out that Letts doesn't just confine his hate to women. In fact, i think he hates almost everything and in this piece alone he manages to mention (to name a few) people who sleep in late, the younger members of the Royal Family and men who shave their heads. Particularly concerned by this last one, he wails:

"...would you trust a dentist who had chosen to go bald? Would you want your children treated by a doctor who had shaved his head?"

I can't say it's something I've thought about. After all, they don't tend to my hair.

But coming back to the main focus of the story - us wimmin and our hard-drinking, knicker-flashing, twinset-binning ways. Yes, he actually mentions twinsets and the fact that sadly, you don't see women wearing them these days. Instead of wearing pearls and blushing, we're behaving, as Letts tells us in no uncertain terms, like "slappers". In his world, women who don't drink are mocked and labelled "frigid". I don't know who he hangs out with, but I know a fair few women who don't drink for a variety of reasons. Their friends and acquaintances are totally fine with it. Even when I was at university and someone I knew derided a friend for not drinking, everyone took a pretty dim view of this.

If Letts thinks he writes out of concern for the 'fairer sex' and reverence for those 'ladies' of a lost era, his language smacks of pure contempt for women. He reviles their "fat faces", their "flab-mottled bellies" and "goose-pimpled thighs". He's clearly one of those men who claims to care for and respect women, yet actually shows nothing but disgust for all but those who fit his definition of perfect womanhood - and that includes the way they look. I see this so often among men who claim to care. They put the image of woman as the traditionally feminine, frock-wearing, quiet, married homemaker on a pedestal, claiming that they adore women yet put down those of us who don't fit the mold.

Who's to blame for all this? Germaine Greer, of course. Letts tuts at her for encouraging women to assert sexual power and objectifying the opposite sex (clearly that's something only men should be able to do). She's the godmother of all who drink too much, flash their flesh, make too much noise and sleep with whoever they want. A few weeks ago I wrote about a man linking women's struggle for equality with an increase in violence and rape. Letts again makes the link between misogyny and 'women's lib', claiming that:

"The very notion of being a gent became redundant if men and women were the same"
Nice one Quentin. So if we go back to an age before equality, men will magically stop being sexist? He can't resist the opportunity to shoehorn in a nod to 'PC gone mad' either, as only a Daily Mail journalist could do:
"When the RMS Titanic sank in 1912, a large proportion of the female passengers survived, but 80 per cent of the men on board went down with the ship, doomed by chivalry. They had observed the code of 'women and children first' to the lifeboats.

Would that happen today? After the onslaughts of sexual equality, it seems unlikely. Anyone using such a term on a modern-day Titanic would probably find himself rapped on the shoulder by the ship's diversity champion and told he had uttered a sexist comment which would be investigated by the relevant authorities, just as soon as the lifeboats reached land."
Bizarrely he attempts to address the privilege of middle-class feminists by pointing out the hurdles faced by working-class women when it comes to jobs and motherhood. But never fear, it's peppered with offensive statements and ends with a tirade about discrimination against married couples to the benefit of all those terrible young single mothers. Like much of the right, Letts yearns for a return to that imaginary pre-1960s paradise where everyone was happily married, all children grew up in stable, loving homes, men respected women and women never strayed far from the kitchen. Like much of the right it's clear he chooses to ignore the darker side of that 'paradise', mistaking the fact that more women were married or the fact they had fewer abortions for happiness and stability. He mentions Germaine Greer's infidelity during her marriage as if cheating is somehow a newfangled, post-1960s invention of the 'women's lib' set. He sees misogyny as a direct result of women no longer knowing their place and (shockingly) wanting to be treated on equal terms.

The answer to today's societal problems is not a return to the values of the 1950s. The blame for today's societal problems does not lie with the women who have struggled for a better deal for their sisters. Letts tries to make out he cares about the state of our 'broken' country, but this article was nothing more than another chance for the Mail to blame women for society's ills. Going to work? Selfish, makes us bad mothers. Not getting married? Responsible for the breakdown of society. Equal rights legislation? That's just taking things too far! Getting raped? We shouldn't be drinking/wearing short skirts/walking anywhere without a chaperone. What exactly CAN we do right?

Allow me to retort

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Rape, objectification and misogyny - the price we silly women pay for embracing feminism and calling for equality, apparently.

Oz Conservative, a particularly charming anti-feminist blog, has used my post 'This Is What A Feminist Looks Like' to illustrate just how us women have let ourselves go over the past few decades. Allegedly I'm part of a scary group of women (I'll admit, I can be a pretty scary woman; this much is true) who are obsessed with 'sex liberation'. Since the 1970s, we've thrown out the idea of relationships which involve marriage and 'romance' to pursue relationsips based on SEX ALONE!

Before these brazen 70s hussies demanded fulfilling sexual relationships, blogger Mark Richardson claims, 'romantic love' ruled all and men tended to 'idolise women' and focus on 'feminine beauty and goodness'. He talks sadly of his dismay at going to university and encountering 'liberated women'.

I'm guessing that a lot of men were, like me, confused by what was happening. Uni women dressed in a plain, mannish way, cut their hair short and wore no jewellery or make up. They had started to drink heavily and to swear in public.

And the result of these shocking displays of behaviour?
...I found the women too unappealing to pursue.
I'm sure the feeling was mutual. God forbid that a woman should exist for some purpose other than looking appealing to men. Short hair?! No make-up?! I may have to have a lie-down. As a direct result of this, claims Richardson, men became more misogynist and obsessed with objectification. In short, that women wanting equality made men treat them with less respect. Reading this tale of woe, you'd think that women were revered and adored prior to the supposedly immoral decades following the 70s. As opposed to, you know, seen as intellectually inferior, denied control over their own lives, forced to stay in marriages they didn't want to be in and to carry babies they didn't want, abused, seen as little more than the property of their husbands, denied equal pay and rights to work and carted off to mental health institutions or outcast by society when they showed dissent. Not to worry, at least they still wore pretty clothes and got married, right?

What disgusts me, what actually angers me the most is the next part of the post (that's the part which mentions me!):
But at the very same time that [Hannah] objects to a culture of male sexual liberation, she also makes it clear that she thinks women should behave sexually as they want without consequences.
And what would those 'consequences' be? here we have a quote from my post (Richardson's emphasis):
...a culture that encourages women to do all they can in a neverending quest to appeal to men yet berates them for what they wear, how much they drink and how they behave if they become the victim of sexual assault or rape.
Do I think that women should behave as they want without 'consequences'. When you're saying that these 'consquences' are sexual assault and rape, then yes I do. What a disgusting example of victim-blaming. Men don't rape women because of the clothes they're wearing or the fact that they've been drinking or how they've been acting. Men who rape do it for the same reasons they've done it since the dawn of time. Yes, even when when women shut up, sat down, wore 'pretty' clothing and never strayed too far from the kitchen, there were men who raped women. Their girlfriends and their wives too, just in case you were convinced by that whole 'focus on romantic love' thing. Seeing as wanting a satisfying sex life - and talking about it - is apparently 'immodest' (here Richardson also lampoons Laurie Penny's brillant post 'Angry Feminist Tuesday'), why should we be surprised when men objectify, assault and rape us?

Incidentally, women covering up, playing up the meek factor, watching their language and giving up drinking doesn't stop men from raping them and treating them with disrespect. Why? Because it's not their fault in the first place. Men who rape are the ones at fault. It's been said a million times and it never gets through. When a man rapes a woman, the man is at fault because he's the rapist. The experiences of women the world over for thousands of years are surely testament to the fact that a rapist will attack a woman whatever she's wearing, however she's acting, whatever she looks like and yes, whether she's married or not.

Going back to a society where a woman's only aim is to get a man and married is not going to 'cure' men of misogyny and stop them from abusing us, Mr Richardson. Women will stop suffering rape when men stop raping.

Changing attitudes at Christmas: Advent Conspiracy

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

I had to make a trip into the city centre last Saturday, something I generally try to avoid on that particular day of the week at this particular time of year. The Christmas cards and decorations have already been on sale for weeks, but it's only this month that I've started to notice the explosion in the number of shoppers. You can tell they're shopping for Christmas because they're usually weighed down with armfuls of bags and look vaguely harrassed. Or they're carrying a list and wondering aloud just how many female relatives they can cross off it by taking advantage of several '3 for 2 at Boots' offers. Indeed, it's only a matter of time before stories about local authorities 'TRYING TO BAN CHRISTMAS!' are all over the tabloids like a rash. In Peterborough, residents have already been at war with the council over the Park and Ride bus services specially laid on for Christmas shoppers.

Since I got married we've tried to keep Christmas fairly low-budget and low-key. Admittedly the low-budget side of things isn't particularly out of choice so much as necessity. Christmas 2005 always sticks in my mind because that was the year I found myself out of a job on December 23rd. My then fiancé was in his final year of university and living off fish finger sandwiches (advertised fish content of 10% highly optimistic). In the pub that lunchtime, I was 'celebrating' my impending redundancy and chatting to a colleague about Christmas. I told him that Luke and I had decided to limit ourselves to a spend of £10 on each others' present that year. He was greatly amused and smugly informed me that he'd already blown £700 on presents for his girlfriend.

Everyone knows that Christmas has become 'an orgy of consumerism' for many. Whether you're a practicing Christian or not, I think the pressure to make Christmas about the buying, the presents, the eating and the Boxing Day sales gets worse every year. Last year I briefly came across the website for Advent Conspiracy and was interested by what it had to say. The organisation calls itself an international movement restoring the scandal of Christmas by substituting compassion for consumption and uses four points to illustrate its objective:

- Worship fully
- Spend less
- Give more
- Love all

Even if you don't celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas and therefore would prefer to focus on the second, third and fourth points I think a lot of people would admit that we could do with 'rethinking Christmas'. The way we focus on consumption. Spend money we don't have on presents for people out of nothing more than obligation. The rush for the sales after Christmas where we spend more money. There's nothing wrong with giving presents at Christmas, but Advent Conspiracy talks about the idea of 'giving relationally', loving our friends and family and giving them our time and our efforts instead, while remembering the poor, the forgotten, the overlooked and the sick by giving resources and time to those who need it the most. When the organisation was set up, it challenged the congregations of four churches to give one less gift at Christmas and donate the money they saved to those who needed it more - over half a million dollars was raised.

Advent Conspiracy seems to be US-centric although according to the website, people from the UK, the Philippines, Zambia, Liberia, Nicaragua and El Salvador are also supporting its work. As a Christian the side of its message relating to Jesus is important to me but whatever you think about my religion, I believe the concept of reassessing how we celebrate Christmas is relevant to everyone.

Things which have interested me this week:

Shakesville - Wow: discusses an article on Spike.com which asserts that female actresses are only good for as long as they're 'hot'. Then it's ok to lampoon them for being 'chubby', 'too thin', the shape of their chin and how much of a 'ho' they are, at the same time as calling for the end of their careers because they're 'past it'. Awesome.
The Enemies of Reason - Hmm...Remember This?: certain tabloids expressed 'outrage' at Nick Griffin's appearance on Question Time last week, but any other week of the year they can be seen echoing his views.
Jon Henley in The Guardian - The Berlin Wall: where are the remains?
Liberal Conspiracy - Right-wing attempts to legitimise BNP policies: on public opinion vs right-wing blogs folowing last week's Question Time.

Fun with search terms

Thursday, 22 October 2009

I keep track of how people reach my blog and so far I've been surprised that the majority of hits come from people searching for helpful and positive things. Last night however, someone found their way here via a search for

dogs drink from lesbian's mouth

So there you go. I'm quite intrigued that Google came up with my blog in response to this. Let's hope that the person in Springfield, Missouri who ended up clicking on my blog as a result found some food for thought here as opposed to, well, dogs drinking from lesbians' mouths.

Since When Is A Women's Enterprise Centre 'Sexist'?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Currently concerning Peterborough residents is the news that retail 'giant' Panasonic will not be opening a store in the city because it cannot rent the premises of its choice. The empty unit has been earmarked by the city council for the past six months as the site for a new Women's Enterprise Centre, but despite the fact that there are more than 70 empty units in the city centre, Panasonic claim it's 7 Bridge Street or nothing for them.

When the story broke, furious Peterborians left over 100 comments to the tune of "You could not make this up, sheer madness!" and "Words fail me!". I often get the feeling that 90 per cent of people who comment on the Evening Telegraph's website do so because they're against every single decision the council makes and really enjoy pointing this out (and when they're not doing this, they're furiously submitting outraged comments on the Daily Mail's website), but reading through the comments made me genuinely sad at the amount of sexism and patronising language on show. Many people commenting said that opening a Women's Enterprise Centre is 'sexist', 'discriminates against men' and ''; it was intimated on a couple of occasions that the council should be concentrating on creating jobs for men instead. As was pointed out at the Feminism In London conference last Saturday, recession poses a big threat to women's rights - equal pay and women's services are seen as less important as focus returns to men. Surely an organisation which offers support and advice and empowers women in business can only be a good thing? The centre, which is to be funded by the East of England Development Agency and based on the successful Women's Employment Enterprise and Training Unit in Norwich, could certainly help to drum up new employment opportunities and raise aspirations.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before people commenting in support of the enterprise initiative were accused of being 'feminist nutjobs' and someone even seemed to think they were being accused of being a 'raging lesbian' (I'm not quite sure where this came from either). I like to call it Jeremy Clarkson Syndrome - you know, when generally privileged members of society really enjoy railing against the 'attacks on their rights' as men and how Britain is the worst place to be right now if you're white, male and middle class? That's the one. Cue comments on how the council should start opening 'Polish, Lithuanian, Croation, Muslim, Christian, Catholic, Afghanistan, Iraqi, Iranian, Gay, Lesbian etc etc etc Enterprise Centre[s]'.

Council leader Marco Cereste offered his opinions on the matter yesterday in an attempt to settle the matter:
"If we continue to be short-termist in Peterborough, we will end up as we are now with shopping centre shops empty, educational attainment only average and the aspirations of our community no higher than at the moment.

"Wouldn't that be really sad when this tremendous city really deserves the life and vibrancy that other cities have?"

Nevetheless, the debate rages on, with several readers writing outraged letters to the editor.

Many (less offensive) commenters felt that the enterprise centre is not the best use of a unit in a city centre in dire need of new and exciting retail attractions - but as Cllr Cereste has pointed out, there are many other empty shops that Panasonic could use. Peterborough certainly has some serious socioeconomic problems and efforts towards regeneration are being made, but we've been hit hard by the recession with many businesses closing down - from companies employing over a thousand to small branches of retail chains. There are already numerous specialist and department stores selling electrical goods both in the city centre and on retail parks further out of town which has made me wonder - do we even need yet another one, particularly a premium brand whose products retail for considerable sums of money? I know the council also wants to focus on bringing 'high end' shops to the city, but I'm inclined to think the Women's Enterprise Centre is a better use for the premises at present.

A central and conspicuous position will ensure the new Women's Enterprise Centre is better used. Peterborough already has a Women's Centre already which deals with many different areas of support, runs courses and helps a lot of women - but very few people I know actually know where it is or what it does. It's actually on the outskirts of the city centre, but easy to miss if you don't know where to go. Having the new centre on one of the Peterborough's main streets would encourage women to visit and make it more easily accessible. I genuinely hope that the initiative will bring success, independence and empowerment to women in my city - it's just so frustrating and saddening to see the sort of opposition ideas like this come up against.

When waifish, white and wealthy wins

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

I used to look at quite a lot of fashion sites and style blogs. While not obsessed, I do have an interest in fashion and the explosion of blogs over the past few years, coupled with the popularity of sites such as Lookbook means that you can spend hours looking at the way 'real people' dress. However these days I'm finding I look at them less and less. It was a while ago now that I started to feel completely uninspired by most of the blogs I was reading, not because they were full of badly-dressed people, or because I'd lost interest in clothes, but because it was difficult to find anything new. Many fashion bloggers are building up an incredibly high profile for themselves now and I've always hoped that this could bring a bit more diversity to the images of style and beauty the industry gives us. An end to - or at least the beginning of the end for - the dominance of the rich, the white, the very young, the very thin and the generally privileged when it comes to clothes and what's considered attractive. But while a variety of bloggers have gained fame and fans on the internet, it seems that the fashion industry is proving resistant to change, preferring to work with those who fit a certain mold and don't deviate from the classic 'model' image we're used to seeing in magazines and on the catwalk.

Fashion bloggers at the Weardrobe NYC Conference earlier this month (image from nyc.weardrobe.com)

In terms of what people on the internet want to see, you can tell nothing has changed simply by looking at the highest-rated photos on Lookbook or any similar site. Despite some variation in ethnicity what you end up with is a very uniform collection of extremely young, thin people with the same features, the same hairstyles and the same 'look'. They're the 'most popular'. The 'highest rated'. What hope for everyone else? I feel over the hill just looking at those pictures - and I'm only 25. I know that a lot of other people feel downhearted when they see this sort of thing for other reasons - they see nothing which represents their style, their size, their shape. I've seen people say as much in discussions online and witnessed people commenting back with no offence, but they 'don't want to see pictures of fat and ugly people on fashion blogs' (how on earth can this be a case of no offence, but?). Clearly this attitude comes through strongly when people decide what they want out of a blog.

Obviously there are plenty of bloggers and fashionistas out there who are challenging the status quo and gaining recognition despite not fitting in with the industry-approved image and many of them have to deal with a hell of a lot of criticism because of it. But when high-profile bloggers are seen at huge fashion events, or start modelling, or design their own collections, or get courted by of-the-moment designers, they become the 'ones to watch' and inspire young women who are just starting up blogs of their own. And because these are invariably the well-connected, catwalk-thin, conventionally-attractive bloggers, it remains that there's a sadly small range of people being seen as 'inspirational' - hence the seemingly identikit host of blogs about at the moment. A couple of days ago I started a discussion about this online and got some interesting responses - the definite feeling was that a lot of bloggers who make it big stop being 'one of us' and become something 'unobtainable', with the ideals of the fashion industry and magazines still being the ones which young bloggers want to aspire to. Many of the young women who commented on the discussion expressed a desire to see more popular bloggers who were 'like them', or otherwise more daring and outspoken - women who are defining fashion on their own terms rather than sticking to magazine-approved 'looks' to 'flatter' their figures and 'disguise' their 'bad bits'. One even talked about how she'd been heavily into style blogging and Lookbook but decided to stop because she didn't like the way it made her feel about herself and the way she felt towards others. Another said she didn't like the fact that (on fashion communities on Livejournal) 'as long as you're white, thin and wearing something designer, your outfit will ALWAYS be applauded'.

Part of the problem is undoubtedly the fact that designers are still very reluctant to embrace your average person on the street, with their average body types, heights and facial features. In the past week alone, the news that a stylist walked out on designer Mark Fast over his decision to use size 12 and 14 models at London Fashion Week has generated a lot of debate. And that's size 12 and 14 - still smaller than the average woman. It's been recognised that sample size clothing has got so small that models have trouble fitting into it - and although many professionals are calling for a more realistic standard to become the norm, many others in the industry are resisting. As long as this mindset is in place, I don't think the internet will have the democratising effect on fashion that there is such potential for and challenge current beauty standards as much as it could. Privilege always wins and people still idolise the catwalk, the classic 'model' physique and expensive clothes. It doesn't challenge us, but people go for it every time.

As part of my discussion, I asked people to come up with their favourite style blogs or the ones they find most inspiring. Here are a few of them:

Style Bubble
Kingdom of Style
Young Fat and Fabulous
Flying Saucer
Saks In The City
Corazones Rojos
Style Rookie
Hail Mary
The Fashion Void That Is DC

Feel free to comment with more inspirational finds!

Adventures with my food processor (Part One of an occasional series)

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Luke and I love making food but as all of you who work full-time probably agree, time-consuming and exciting cooking isn't always what you feel like doing when you get home after a busy day. Recently we felt like we'd been getting into a bit of a rut with our evening meal, making the same things week after week and not particularly caring about our food. We decided to have a whole week of making completely new dishes that we'd never cooked at home before. It was great. But on one night that week, we were going out and had to make something which would be ready quickly.

Pasta with some sort of sauce and vegetables. Gnocchi with some sort of sauce and vegetables. Everybody eats it, right? It's quick, it's easy and you don't have to slave over a hot stove for two hours in order to produce it. Since we've been training for the Great Eastern Run we've become quite conscious about what we put in our mouths and cooking most of our meals from scratch has become a priority for us. A while back we decided to stop buying sauces in jars, when we could - seeing as we recently acquired a food processor we thought we'd better crack on with using it. And I decided to make a vegetable-filled, delicious sauce from scratch.

What I used to serve two people:
200g sunstream tomatoes on the vine
One red pepper
One yellow pepper
One red onion
Three fat cloves of garlic
One medium-sized red chilli
Olive oil
A handful of fresh basil leaves
Sea salt and pepper

1. Roughly chop all ingredients except basil and place in a baking tray.

2. Season well with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and roast at Gas Mark 6/200C/400F for half an hour.

3. Pour the entire contents of the tray into food processor, add basil leaves and whiz until mixture is as smooth or as chunky as you like.

4. Serve over pasta (normal or stuffed), gnocchi etc. There's mine with some gnocchi, mixed leaves and freshly-grated parmesan.

Really simple, full of goodness and tastes delicious - the chilli gives it a nice kick.

Mail Fail of the Day

Monday, 14 September 2009

The Daily Mail reports on Asda's new range of Asian clothing for women - believed to be the first collection of its kind available on the high street.

As we all know, a story like this is guaranteed to have the Mail's most bigoted readers mopping their brows and asking for the smelling salts and the comments definitely don't disappoint. You can just imagine 'David, Darlington' foaming at the mouth as he typed:
'Ok - another appeaser off my list of places to shop. No doubt alongside halal meat, barbaric!!'
There you have it - it's not just a cause for outrage, it's barbaric. Presumably David's good friends with the person who claimed that the results of a recent survey of teachers asking which names they associated with naughty children signalled feral Britain at its finest!.

'Tailgunner, Essex' makes a mistake common to Mail readers and confuses the word 'Asian' with 'Muslim' as he or she furiously types:
'A turning point indeed! The islamic colonization of our country shows no sign of slowing down, infact it's gathering pace as the tipping point approaches.'
'John B, Wakefield' is so incensed that he suggests that everyone living in the UK should wear clothing personally approved by him:
'Sorry, but isn't ASDA aware of the existing social problem of Asians failing to integrate ? I believe that this is an ill conceived idea, as our Asian residents should be adopting western clothing as the norm whilst living in the UK.
I wonder if he'd feel the same and swap his 'Western clothing' for the clothes of a different culture if he moved abroad? Somehow I doubt it.

My absolute favourite, however, comes from the no doubt charming and personable 'Sue Daley, England':
'So, no patriotism allowed, no free-speech allowed, don't mention the BNP, don't complain about green-belt building to accommodate the influx, don't dare say you're a Christian, don't complain that your local church is now a mosque, don't be alarmed if your local town now looks like Islamabad. For Gawd's sake, is there no end to the destruction of Englishness? When I shop in an English shop, I want to see English things.....is that so hard to understand? Asda, you've seen the last of Mrs. Daley's lolly.'
Presumably she didn't get the memo when Asda became part of WALMART in 1999.

I'm holding out for the comment which ends England has gone to the dogs. I'm glad I moved to Spain when I had the chance!. The only thing worse than a bigoted, racist Daily Mail reader is a bigoted, racist, expat Daily Mail reader.

Further reading:
Do Mail commenters create a toxic environment for brands?
Asian clothes makes Daily Mail readers' heads explode

This is what a feminist looks like

Saturday, 5 September 2009

fem·i·nism (f m -n z m). n. 1. Belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. 2. The movement organized around this belief.

Here I am (on holiday, hence the tan) - we do indeed come in all different shapes and sizes. A good couple of months back, Anna Corbett wrote a feature called Confessions of a Brand New Feminist for The F Word. In it, she detailed how she came to call herself a feminist and the changes this decision had brought to her life. It inspired me to start jotting down some notes about my own journey from someone who never really thought about feminism to someone who considers it a huge part of her life. Life got in the way a bit, then more women started blogging about their own journeys towards feminism for Women's Equality Day and at this point, my laptop was laid up with a virus so I couldn't do anything. One complete reinstall later, it's back in my possession and I've spent the week catching up with everything. I'm not sure if my story is typical although I imagine that it's recognisable to many women who started to identify as a feminist while at university.

I honestly don't remember ever thinking much about the word 'feminism' during my years at school. I knew I believed in 'equal rights' for women in terms of politics and education but I don't believe I was ever exposed to much which made me think about the sort of issues that affect us as women. I had a pretty quiet, sheltered childhood - I was very bookish and introverted and so were most of my friends. I stayed in every evening and got my homework done. My life revolved around getting good grades, orchestra and choir, whatever bands I was into, teenage friendship dramas. I had all sorts of privileges that I didn't even think about - being white, middle-class, straight, living in a stable home with both parents (who both worked). Nothing you could write a misery memoir about. I don't ever remember anyone I knew talking about feminism - none of my friends were interested in politics or activism.

If you'd asked me, as a teenager, about women and equality, I would have said that we'd achieved it. But then I'd never had a relationship, hadn't entered the world of work, didn't really have more than a couple of male friends if I'm honest. I remember studying women's struggle for enfranchisement in A-Level history and being quite affected by it in the sense that I realised how important it was - and how important the women's rights movement in general has been, but I don't remember dwelling on it that much or feeling that it still had relevance today.

And so I went off to university. Well-meaning and encouraging relatives told me that I'd meet 'loads of like-minded people' at university and that it would be 'much better than school' in that respect because people would be 'more mature' and 'have different interests'. As every single one of you who's ever been a fresher knows, that's not necessarily the case. I remained introverted and socially anxious - living in halls seemed like one big popularity contest sometimes and those who talked loudest, partied hardest and looked conventionally attractive came out on top. It became noticeable that so much casual misogyny was bandied about. Bottom line - if you weren't considered 'fit', you weren't worth much. Events put on at the union, contests and parties did nothing to dispel this. We had beauty contests, Playboy-themed events, constant pressure on women to take their clothes off to win drinks or prizes.

I don't think it hit me entirely until I'd spent a few weekends visiting my boyfriend, then a fresher at a different university. He was also in halls and lived on a corridor with a big group of guys who were mostly single. Many of them made it quite clear that they considered me a hindrance to his university experience, to the extent that they encouraged him to get rid of me so he too could play the field at the union every Friday night. To top it off they were big fans of porn and lads' mags. Every time I visited Luke I would pick up his student magazine and was often speechless at the misogyny I encountered. The university hosted events put on by Nuts and FHM at a time when some stories about 'raunch culture' (as it came to be known) and the impact of lads' mags on women were starting to appear in the news.

I despised how this culture made me feel as a woman. I knew I was worth much more than how many boxes I ticked on the list of 'conventionally attractive attributes' and how many men wanted to have sex with me. It depressed me that so many people, male and female, were clamouring to be a part of a culture that encourages women to do all they can in a neverending quest to appeal to men yet berates them for what they wear, how much they drink and how they behave if they become the victim of sexual assault or rape. I met people whose low self-worth and experiences with men had caused them a whole lot of pain and I started to see how these things all tied together. My self-esteem was at rock-bottom when I started looking at websites such as About-Face and One Angry Girl. I was reading about advertising, eating disorders, empowerment, exploitation and a lot of anti-porn resources. All of a sudden - in the summer of 2004 - my personal journal was crammed with rants about objectification, lads' mags and the beauty industry. I was reading stuff written by women who called themselves feminists and realising that I was one too.

The blogs and organisations I'd found online, along with experiences I'd had at university, led me to start considering a whole spectrum of issues facing women that had never really worried me before. Rape, domestic violence, equal pay, forced marriage, abortion, the right to education, human trafficking. At first, realising how privileged my life had been, I felt ashamed that none of this had ever been an issue for me before. I started answering back to those who think feminism is somehow ridiculous, or that women have 'achieved equality', or that casual misogyny is hilarious. It started to enrage me when people pulled the good old 'what about teh menz?!!' line or when people told me that 'surely equality would mean having an International Men's Day as well' (as if, you know, it hasn't been International Men's Day every single day for thousands of years). I felt a level of solidarity with other women that I'd never felt before and so much more compassion. I realised how important it is to check my privilege. The internet has been invaluable to me in my journey towards feminism. I've sometimes considered the fact that we spend a lot of time blogging and discussing things on forums and maybe less time than we should involved in direct action and being out in the world, but you can't deny the importance of the internet in consciousness raising.

On International Women's Day 2007, I posted the following statistics in my personal journal:

- At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in her lifetime. This figure comes from a study based on 50 surveys from around the world.
- More than 60 million women are “missing” from the world today as a result of sex-selective abortions and female infanticide.
- Women make up 51% of the world's population, do 66% of the world's work, earn 10% of the world's income and own 1% of the world's wealth.
- 70% of the 1.3 billion people living on less than a dollar a day are women.
- The World Health Organization has reported that up to 70 per cent of female murder victims are killed by their male partners.
- In every country where reliable, large-scale studies have been conducted, results indicate that between 10% and 50% of women report they have been physically abused by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
- Population-based studies report between 12 and 25% of women have experienced attempted or completed forced sex by an intimate partner or ex-partner at some time in their lives.
- Over a quarter of the world's population live in countries where abortion is entirely prohibited or only permitted to save a woman's life

- Around 1 in 10 women (9.7%) have experienced some form of sexual victimisation (including rape) since age 16.
- Around 1 in 20 women (4.9%) have been raped on at least one occasion since age 16.
- Under 6% of rape cases reported to the police result in a conviction.
- Many women do not report rape through fear of being put on trial – women are still asked what underwear they had on and whether they have had abortions or been “promiscuous”.
- In heterosexual couples, even where both partners have full time jobs, in seven out of ten cases the woman does most of the housework.
- 17.2% hourly pay gap between women and men working full-time.
- The hourly pay gap between what women working part-time earn and men working full-time earn is 38.5%.
- Women make up just 19.7% of our MPs.
- Two women a week are killed by their current or former partner.

These are just some of the reasons I am a feminist. What about you?

PS: I loved this - Raising a feminist/raised a feminist

Finding my identity as a Christian woman (part two)

Friday, 14 August 2009

This is probably going to be a long one. Sorry.

2007 was the year I got married. It was also the year I hit an all-time low in terms of my identity as a Christian woman. Having struggled for several years with other personal issues I had finally left them behind and was eager to get more involved in church now that I had a permanent base nearby and had 'settled down'. Going back full-time to the church that we'd only attended occasionally for three years was an 'interesting' experience. At the time there were only two young, married, childless couples in the church and although we tried hard, we found it hard to fit in with the older couples who were the same age as our parents and grandparents, or the couples a decade older than us who had young children. Aside from the friendship aspect of church, I was again becoming increasingly uneasy with male-only leadership and its implications for women who felt called to lead or preach. By late 2007 our attendance was again sporadic and unenthusiastic. In early 2008 our church network's magazine published an interview with Mark Driscoll and it made me so angry I couldn't stop thinking about it for days. Why? I won't go into much detail here but if you search for info on him you'll probably find out. Just as a taster, here he is explaining why stay-at-home dads are an issue worthy of church discipline (it's hard to 'respect' them as men, apparently) and this Facebook group gloriously details his most misogynist quotes. At the time I had just been a steward at the very first Million Women Rise march and it disgusted me to find out more about his views.

Since I was 18 I'd been attending various festivals and conferences put on by Soul Survivor, an organisation whicvh runs events for young Christians of all backgrounds and denominations. Something I'd always loved about Soul Survivor and its '18-30' incarnation, Momentum, is that you'd come into contact with so many different church groups, styles of teaching and messages over the course of a week. Women preach on the main stage there. They lead mixed-gender seminars. Looking back on personal journal entries from this time I can see I was incredibly worried that the meek, passive, docile, unopinionated stereotype of (complementarian) 'Biblical Womanhood' was just not me and that, not being able to change this, I would be forever on the outside when it came to serving God. It was at Momentum that I attended some seminars hosted by two incredibly inspirational women who changed my outlook on my identity.

Social justice is one of my passions and on arriving at Momentum I immediately decided I was going to attend a seminar called 'Global Women', hosted by Elaine Storkey. Thinking that I might be on to a good thing with Elaine Storkey, I decided to go to one of her other talks - 'Faith in a Pluralist Society'. I took away so much from these sessions. In her talk on faith and society, Elaine stressed the importance of people of different faiths working together for the common good and why state-imposed religion is a bad thing. In the other session she discussed women and poverty, gendered violence, maternal mortality, selective abortion/infanticide of female children and the environment. It was fascinating and I came away so happy to have heard such an inspiring and passionate woman speak. On returning home I looked into more of Elaine's writings online and found a great extract from one of her books which spoke to me so much. I could really relate to much of what it said about women being marginalised, given 'low status' jobs within the church and made the target of subtly sexist jokes from the pulpit (link at the end of the post).

The second inspiring encounter I had that week was with Jo Saxton. We'd heard Jo preach on the main stage that week and when I saw that she was hosting a seminar entitled 'Equipping Female Leaders' I knew I had to go. The seminar room was packed. Jo started off by explaining that the session was aimed at young women involved in/hoping to be involved in all aspects of leadership, whether that was in the church, the workplace, university or the home. She then asked us if we'd ever had a bad experience due to being a female who was gifted in leadership. Hands went up around the room. One young woman talked of how an elder at her church had told her she had a 'Jezebel spirit' because she'd told him she felt called to lead. Another told us that other women at her church had said she'd 'never find a man with an attitude like that'. The room was full of young women who had been hurt by words like this spoken over them to put them down.

Jo trains emerging female leaders - she'd heard a lot of this before. Over the next hour she talked about problematic theology and interpretations of the Bible which are often used to deny women rights within the church. The very first point she made was on the word 'helper'. That word which had worried me for so long. The word which is translated from the Hebrew 'EZER', used in the line The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18, NIV). In Jo's blog post on the subject, she talks about how this often makes women feel:
For some, the heartbreak just deepens with the feeling that women were set on earth soley to compliment, help, make a man look better. They feel as though it meant they had no contribution of their own to bring. At times suitable has been exchanged for lifesaver, one who brings out the best in their partner. Which doesn’t sound bad at all really. Unless you are single. Then what’s your purpose? Are you a nobody because you didn’t get married?
Jo explained how the word 'ezer' is used many times in the Bible, often to refer to God as He helps people. At other points it can be translated as 'protector', 'defender' and 'strength'. Moving on to the word for 'suitable' - 'KENEGDO', she talked about how it translates as 'facing' or 'standing alongside' - as an equal. As I've seen it described somewhere else, a power corresponding to a man.

For the rest of the seminar Jo talked about issues within other books of the Bible. Another thing I took from this was her explanation of the Greek for 'submit' as it is used in the New Testament to refer to wives, which translates as 'behave responsibly, show courtesy, be united, have respect'. I came away from the seminar feeling as if a weight had been taken off my shoulders. For so long I had felt genuinely upset at the connotations of such words. To me they siginifed inferiority, silence, being restricted and belittled. I'd seen them mentioned in blog posts urging wives not to expect husbands to help with housework and childrearing 'because that's not his role', or articles denouncing the women's rights movement as 'contrary to God'. To see them from a different perspective made all the difference. In the summer of 2008 my husband (also an egalitarian) and I started attending a different church in our city. At first I was very unsure when it came to making new friends and connecting with people. I wondered if I would feel the same as I had before - like I didn't 'fit in'. Thankfully things are much different. Our church has women in leadership and management. Women preach on a Sunday to a mixed congregation. As I've got to know women in the church I see them being encouraged and raised up according to their strengths. As a couple and individually we've made a lot of friends with people of different age groups and I don't feel worried about speaking my mind, airing opinions or being myself.

I know it's not a requirement that your fellow Christians accept all your opinions but it puts me so much more ease to feel I can speak up about my politics, my convictions, my interests and my career and not be judged negatively. Over the past year the feelings I had in the past have virtually disappeared. I respect the fact that all Christian women have very different personalities but know that we may not always feel at home together - I don't think you can expect anything different. Unfortunately a lot of Christians have a certain view of feminist women - that they hate men, hate children and hate stay at home mothers/women who do not have jobs. This couldn't be further from the truth and it saddens me when I hear someone denouncing feminism in this way. I'm still outraged when I read certain blogs or websites or hear certain views being aired but my personal journal is no longer full of concern about how these could impact me. God gifts women in many different ways and I feel this should be acknowledged. In the Bible, there are many examples of strong women who lead, preach and are important figures. Whatever I may feel called to do in the future, it makes me happy to know this.

Further reading:
Elaine Storkey on women and the church
An article on Evangelical Feminism
The Council On Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a complementarian organisation which represents the opposite views on gender and Christianity to my own.

Finding my identity as a Christian woman (part one)

Thursday, 13 August 2009

I want to do two posts on this subject. Finding my identity and becoming proud to be a Christian AND a feminist was something which took a long time for me. It caused a lot of pain and made me really struggle with accepting myself. I've never been able to find too much on this subject in the blogosphere so thought I would tell my story here. It's pretty personal but I feel it may be helpful to some people and provide insight.

Gender issues and the church were never something I thought about very much when younger. In fact there are only three incidents which stand out, the first being my mum's reaction when it was decided that women could be ordained in the Church of England: 'It's about time!'. The second was a bit of a fuss at church one week because one (female) member of the congregation refused to take communion from a woman and the third was hearing that a (male) teacher at my school had become a Catholic due to his disagreement with the ordination of women. I wasn't the sort of teenager (and I don't expect there are many teenagers like this anyway) to delve deeply into scripture and theological issues; when I started attending a different church at the age of 18 the fact that there were no women in leadership positions there was not something I noticed. I was part of the youth group and so was never in the main meeting to hear the sermon so if they had ever dealt with gender issues, I wouldn't really have known.

All this changed when I went to university and joined the Christian Union, again something I hadn't really researched into and naïvely assumed was a group for all denominations and types of Christians. As it turned out, the CU was part of the UCCF and composed solely of evangelical students. Knowing what I do now I would not want to be involved with the UCCF if I was to go back to uni, but i digress. As you can imagine there was a lot of emphasis on relationships - often, I felt, to the point of obsession. But then that's not uncommon in an organisation made up primarily of 18-21 year olds. At a seminar on relationships I heard, for the first time, the concept of the woman as 'helper', in submission to men and also the 'equal but different' mantra which always has and always will unfortunately remind me of Separate But Equal.

It was clear to me that the 'woman as helper' idea was very important to the CU in the context of relationships and marriage. It wasn't long, however, before I started to feel completely disillusioned with what I was hearing. I had started going to a church in my university city - part of the same group of churches as my home church. One Sunday, a woman who was being welcomed into the church was giving her testimony and talked about the fact she had had to overcome her belief that women could preach or be in leadership and that she now knew this belief was incorrect. I was deeply confused. I didn't understand why it was incorrect or why the woman had to change her beliefs. At this stage in my life I was starting to become interested in feminism but my thoughts on the matter extended to little more than a rejection of 'raunch culture' and 'I think men and women should be equal in all things'.

So I went home and started looking into it all. I discovered that the church movement I had been part of for a year did not permit women to hold leadership positions on their own or preach to men. I read into the reasons for this and what various people thought about the matter. For the first time I found the terms 'complementarian' and 'egalitarian' (I hadn't yet looked into Christian Feminism). I knew that I fell on the 'egalitarian' side of the debate but it began to worry me. Was I wrong to feel this way? Did it mean I was going against scripture? As it happened, I was dealing with other personal issues at the time and these worries ended up taking a back seat for a couple of years. I moved around a lot for university, college and work so my attendance at church was sporadic and I never really settled into one place. I had decided not to continue attending the church I had first found at university for a number of reasons. I often went to church with my fiancé when I went to visit him at university, but again I felt very unsettled there - almost as if I didn't fit in. I started to get the feeling that the church was not for women like me.

I must stress that this experience came from attending CU meetings and two churches while I was a student/young adult. When I use the term 'women like me', I mean that I felt my personality and interests were out of place somehow. The people I encountered in these years seemed to fit a certain mold which I did not. I met some lovely people but at the same time i frequently felt uncomfortable, as if I couldn't be myself. My faith was not affected - I knew I was a Christian and nothing would change that, but I began to feel increasingly ill-at-ease in church. It didn't help that in searching for enlightenment on the issue, I had come across many hardline complementarian websites and blogs which I found made me angry and upset. There was much talk of 'the poison of feminism'. Since feminism had recently impacted my life in a huge way (for the better, I might add), it did nothing to help me out. All this probably came to a head in 2007, when I was newly-married and definitely identified as a feminist.

What happened next will be detailed in Part Two.

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