Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Turning compliments into criticisms

Women are strange creatures. Our ability to read between the lines, over-analyse and second-guess is quite remarkable.

It's good when people take time to say nice things to each other. If my friend is looking particularly stunning, it feels like a good thing to tell them so.

Is it just me?

I am gifted with the ability to turn pretty much every compliment into a criticism, and I doubt I'm the only one. I think this is a peculiarly female trait. 

Here are some compliments, and the subtext that I apply when they are given to me:
  • "Your hair looks great today" (Your hair is normally terrible)
  • "You’re looking very slim" (You usually look fat)
  • "You look really well" (You have put on weight)
  • "That was a really great idea" (From someone so stupid, that is remarkable)
  • "That dress really suits you" (I can’t believe some of the clothes you turn up in)
There is no pleasing some people.

Lack of faith

There is a serious point. Maybe you could accuse us of being fickle and unpredictable creatures who are impossible to please, and maybe you'd be right. But the bigger picture is about confidence. So many beautiful, clever, amazing women I know lack a basic faith in their own beauty, intelligence and brilliance.

Of course, many men lack confidence too, but it is particularly prevalent in women. Supposedly one of the reasons for the gender pay gap is that women don't ask for extra money. we don't have the same kind of confidence in our own abilities that a lot of men do.

When someone compliments us, we find it hard to believe that we are what they say because we lack the basic confidence in ourselves. It couldn't possibly be that I have nice hair, and that someone was kind enough to tell me. It simply has to be that I am slightly less of a car wreck today than usual.

Should we stop compliments?

This doesn't mean that we should stop complimenting each other. If anything, maybe we don't say nice things about each other enough, so when it does happen it's hard to believe.

I have observed my family elated over my two-year-old's accomplishments - 'she ate all her dinner', 'she walked all the way to the playground', 'she sang all the words to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'. No one congratulates me for cooking her dinner, carrying her all the way back from the playground, teaching her Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I'm not expecting them to - but we routinely praise children, and rarely say nice things to adults. 

I'm not asking for a round of applause every time I finish my lunch, but maybe we should help each other gain confidence by telling each other (men and women) a little more often when we do something good.

Thank you for reading me. 

Wednesday, 28 October 2015


This word is being bandied about a lot lately. I have heard men saying they 'believe in chivalry', suggesting that this is a desirable quality.

What is chivalry?

The word ‘chivalry’ actually comes from ‘chevalier’, meaning horsemanship (not a promising start).

Chivalry is a Medieval code of conduct associated with knighthood, which included things like honour, love of your country and loyalty. It’s about men fighting other men (it’s not getting any better).

Chivalry also developed into the idea of ‘courtly love’ - the idea that a knight should serve a lady, and after her serve all ladies and be respectful to women.

These codes come from a time when it was never considered that women could have the same abilities as men, that they could make their own decisions or claim equality. It was inconceivable. In that world, where women didn't have opportunities and couldn't earn their own living, chivalry was a way of protecting a vulnerable section of society.

Chivalry is condescending

Chivalry casts women as fragile, delicate creatures in need of protection and special treatment. The moment we accept this designation, we can no longer expected be treated as men's equals, because we are accepting we are their inferiors and we need them to protect us.

I’m all for honour in war and that sort of thing - being polite to people before you run them through with a sword, and only doing it if they’ve done something really naughty like taken your land.

But the subtext of the ‘courtly love’ side of chivalry is that women should sit about looking pretty and appreciative while men charge about wounding each other in their names (jousting), holding doors open for us, and occasionally writing bad poetry.

Women are very capable of opening doors and writing out own bad poetry. We can also engage in dangerous contact sports, should we wish.

Chivalry sets women on a pedestal

The thing about pedestals is they keep women out of trouble. You're up there, looking pretty and sitting on your perch so you're not going to be campaigning for equal pay or anything like that. In fact, why do you need equal pay when some nice chivalrous man can keep you in the manner which you've become accustomed?

The phrase 'I believe in chivalry’ translates as; ‘I’m deeply sexist – I expect men and women to conform to pre-conceived gender roles. I'll hold doors open for you and occasionally buy you dinner, but in return you should do all the cooking and clean the bathroom regularly.'

If a man wants to behave courteously towards women, then that's fine, just don't call it chivalry. Call it being nice. Or just not being an arse.

Hold doors open for us because we're human beings, and it's not nice to have doors slammed in your face. And we will hold doors open for you in return.

Leave chivalry in the past

Looking to the past for a code of how to treat women is a really bad idea. Living in the West today is about the best it’s ever been for women. There may still be improvements to be made, but it’s a sight better than it has been at any time in the past. We really shouldn't be looking backwards.

The best way to be show respect to a woman is to treat her as your equal, not a princess.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Suffragette and playing at feminism

I'm very excited about seeing the film Suffragette. I'm less excited about the views of on of its stars.

For some reason, very little about the suffragettes has ever made it onto film.

The only well-known suffragette on screen until now, as has been widely reported recently, was Mrs Banks, who if she hadn't had such an efficient nanny in Mary Poppins would probably have been guilty of child neglect (an accusation that was regularly levelled at the suffragettes).

By Ch. Chusseau-Flaviens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Had there been a little more cinematic attention paid to some of the incredible stories of these women who campaigned and suffered so that their daughters could be allowed a say in law making in this country, then maybe more women today would understand the importance and the sacrifices made for their right to vote, and take advantage of it.

Playing at feminism

Sadly, the woman playing Emmeline Pankhurst onscreen has revealed that she really was just playing at feminism.

Time Out magazine asked Meryl Streep if she was a feminist. She replied: "I am a humanist, I am for nice easy balance."

Streep San Sebastian 2008 by Andreas Tai.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

"Nice, easy balance"

That's the problem with us feminists (and with the suffragettes). We're all so damn uptight.

What exactly does Streep think feminism is? It's equality between men and women. Or "balance" if you prefer. It's just that it's not been "nice and easy" to achieve.

It took women chaining themselves to railings, force feeding, and in the case of Emily Wilding Davison, a violent death. And that was just to get the vote. Equal pay, an end to forced marriage, FGM - there are plenty more battles to be fought.

Humanism is lovely. It's a philosophy that focuses on reason and respect for other human beings. It doesn't act as a barrier to feminism. You don't have to be one or the other, you can easily be both.

I hate this fear of feminism, this distancing that women do, like feminism has a bad name.

If a high profile, talented woman like Meryl Streep, who has just made a lot of money from dressing up and strutting about as one of the most famous feminists, insists on distancing herself from feminism, then what hope is there for feminism to be able to continue its work of building equality between men and women?

What would Emmeline Pankhurst have made of the woman who played her, who just wants "a nice, easy balance"?

Suffragettes in the news

I'm loving the amount of coverage the suffragettes are currently getting in the media. Here is some good stuff:

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Punishing the brother by raping the sister

A village council in India has ruled that two sisters should be raped as 'punishment' for their brother running away with a married woman from a higher caste.

Meenakshi Kumari, aged 23, and her 15-year-old sister, will then be paraded naked with their faces blackened through the streets, according to a ruling from the all-male village council.

Violating their brother

It would be shocking if the two young women had committed the supposed 'crime'.

The fact that it was their brother, not they, shows that women are considered property in some cultures to the extent that their own human rights simply do not matter. Raping these women isn't considered a violation of their own selves, but of their male relative.

Amnesty International has set up a petition to try and stop the sentence being carried out, but Indian authorities are notoriously reluctant to intervene in the Khap courts that exist throughout rural India, so the prognosis looks bleak. Amnesty petition to demand justice

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Jen, and why can't we escape our biological destiny

Jennifer Aniston 2011 by Brett Cove at
via Wikimedia Commons - 
Jennifer Aniston got married - so there's hope for us all.

Never mind that she was already a hugely successful actor, who even had a hairstyle named after her.

She's talented, beautiful, successful, stylish and has been paid loads of money to appear in lots of mediocre films.

But that meant nothing, because she was single. So she couldn't possibly have been happy.

But it's all OK now. She's married some bloke. I don't know who he is. If you're interested, you probably already know.

Celebrity wedding-off

Compare Aniston with George Clooney. Both had high-profile marriages that ended in the 1990s and both have had several different partners since.

Like Aniston, it was speculated that Clooney would never marry. And then he did.

But the media coverage of their nuptials is very different. For Clooney there is awe that one of the world's most eligible bachelors has finally been netted (and as a society we seem to respect Mrs C more for catching Clooney than for her successful career as a lawyer, which speaks volumes).

For Aniston, the media coverage was a loud sigh of relief that she is no longer sitting on the shelf.

And while there was never any suggestion that Clooney might have been losing any sleep over his wifelessness, Aniston was, of course weeping into her Chardonnay every night as 'All By Myself' played in the background, a la Bridget Jones.

Men, women and marriage

The constant depiction of women as incomplete on their own is unhelpful and even demeaning.

Men who get married are traditionally painted as losing their 'freedom'. It's just not seen like this for women.

There are lots of women who most want in life to have a partner and children. There are also men for whom this is their dearest wish.

But there are also women who put other things first - professional success, independence, travel, having fun.

And of course there are plenty of women who would dearly love to have a partner and children, but don't for all kinds of reasons, and are doing their best to enjoy their lives in spite of this.

By perpetuating the idea that women's sole purpose in life is to get hitched and get hatching, we trivialise our other accomplishments. How am I supposed to come to terms with being on my own when the world constantly tells me that, whereas single men can have a great time, I am supposedly pining for a partner?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Cooking with fire

Man cooks food on fire.
The sun came out, briefly, and so we all rushed outside to cook sausages on charcoal until they tasted unpleasant.

Men across the country rolled up their sleeves, made fire and threw meat on it for their friends and their womenfolk.

It's an odd thing, this barbecuing.

If I go to any other kind of festivity, it will invariably be the women fannying around putting crisps and olives into bowls.

Men are generally much better than women at understanding that parties are for socialising and enjoying yourself. They will turn up, they will bring beer, they will relax. While women do insist on making everything nice, and serving edible food to their guests.

But rock up to a barbecue and the first thing you see is a man slaving over a hot stove.

Even if the host is female, the odds are that a helpful man will have spontaneously, and probably without discussion, have adopted the role of Barbecuer-in-Chief.

Men, meat and fire

There is something about the combination of raw fire and dead animal that beckons to the primordial masculine soul. "Your place is here" it whispers to them through the fumes. So they pick up their tools and tend the smoking carcass.

We women step back to let the men do their fiery thing, We can hand them plates of raw flesh, and we can marinade to our hearts content, but this is basically their show, and we all know it.

I'm not complaining, for once.

This is an interesting point of gender differences. If you're a girl with a yen to barbecue and you're feeling like you can't get a fork in edgewise, then shove the boys aside and find your place at the grill. But I expect most of us are quite happy to let this status quo continue.

Bring me another burger, boys.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Make up and feminism

My daughter is at the phase of development where every day she learns new words. It's a lot of fun. Last weekend added 'tiara' and 'make up' her vocabulary - essential terms in our all-female household.

But am I compromising my feminism by letting a toddler learn about make up?

The curse of cosmetics

There is nothing unfeminist about make up. It's the attitude with which you use it that counts.

Make up becomes unfeminist when we are trapped by it:

  • Can't leave the house without it
  • Think it masks our natural ugliness, rather than enhancing our natural beauty
  • Feel obliged to pay high prices for products before we can be seen by the outside world

It would be a better world if our appearances didn't matter. If what was on the inside was genuinely all that counted. The fashion industry would disappear overnight. Stylists, hairdressers and Maxfactor would all go out of business. we'd probably all be a lot happier. But that isn't going to happen anytime soon. And so we have make up. 

Growing up with make up

I'm a single parent with an only child. My daughter and I live, by necessity, an intimate life. She plays in the bathroom while I shower, she pats my knees while I sit on the toilet, she potters about the bedroom as I get dressed and she jabbers to herself in the mirror as I put on my make up. I think this is pretty normal.

Once she found one of my make-up brushes and expertly brushed her cheek with it. It felt a little wrong, and gave me a pang of guilt that she knew what to do so young.

But is putting on a bit of bronzer that different to putting on a bra? (This is a philosophical question, as obviously they are completely different, unless you put bronzer on your nipples before you go to work).

I can't lock my daughter out from any of these things - she always needs to be near me so I can watch her, and I think it's good for her to see what I do to get ready. This is how we learn. If I don't want her to understand about cosmetics from a very young age, the only way is to stop wearing them myself. I'm not about to do that.

As a grown woman, it's my right to choose to wear make up if I want to, and I do. I wear a minimal amount in my everyday life. But if I'm lucky enough to be going out for the evening I bring out the full works (It's a single mum thing. Trust me. We don't get out much). And I enjoy it. I enjoy buying it, I enjoy putting it on.

Stand up for make up

I don't want my daughter to grow up thinking it's shameful to go to Tesco's without mascara. Or even the pub.

My responsibility is not to keep these things from her, but to teach her to approach the feminine slalom of make up, jewellery and clothes, as stuff that you can have fun with, choices you can make.

So I'm standing up for make up. For our right to wear it, and for our right to not wear it. For our right to do whatever we please. And to teach our children the same.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Taking your husband’s name

Many girls want to be 'Mrs'. They spend evening practising their signature with their boyfriend’s name. It’s something that’s always been a bit of a mystery to me.

Take Mrs Joe Bloggs. She was Deidre Smith, but then she married Joe and hey presto, her identity is entirely eclipsed by that of husband. Mrs Deirdre Bloggs, a slight compromise, is a bit better. But Mrs Joe Bloggs – really? What about her? Doesn't she matter?

Why are we queuing up to give up our appellations in the name of love?

The answer, of course, is tradition. Traditionally women were property. Marriage transferred us from our fathers to our husbands. The name conferred ownership.

The tradition has stuck, so in 21st century Britain, our concept of love and marriage is often inseparable from the idea of taking our husbands' names.

When I said I probably wouldn't change my name, one friend asked me why I was bothering to get married. As if that was what it was about. If that's  the only reason you're getting married, then you may as well just change your name to your boyfriend's by deed poll. It's way cheaper and you won't have to do the first dance.

Making the change

I changed my name, reluctantly after I married. I did it piece by piece, over the years. I wish I hadn't. It feels like a betrayal of myself (I changed it back).

The advantage of changing your name is that you become identified as a family unit. And if you decide to have children, then you can all have the same surname and so clearly identified as the same family. That’s nice. That’s why I changed my name – I wanted our children to have the same name as me. But it reinforces the patriarchy.

Of course, men could start talking their wives names when they get married. But as my (now ex) husband said, “why should I take your name if you won’t take mine?” I could have answered, "because my gender as suffered years of oppression at the hands of yours", but I doubt I’d have carried the point.

And of course, if you dig your heels in and refuse to take your husband’s surname, you are choosing your father’s name over your husband’s – one man over another. I mean, it’s probably not your mum’s name you’re clinging onto, is it?

Finding another way

I looked into what other countries do and was pleasantly surprised:
  • The Netherlands – you remain registered under your birth name, but can use your husband’s surname socially, or join both names
  • Italy – you keep your birth name, but can add your husband’s surname if you want.
  • France and Greece – you have to keep your birth name.
  • Spain – you keep your birth name. Children have two surnames – one from each parent.
  • Germany - a woman may adopt her husband's surname or a man may adopt his wife's surname.
It seems to me that all these countries, which include our closest neighbours, have a more progressive than our routine decimation of the married woman’s identity.

Even the term used to refer to the name we are given at birth - 'maiden name'- carries hideous connotations of matrimonial deflowering.

It’s easy for men to be cavalier about the name thing. They’re not expected to give up their identity – because that’s what a name is. They haven’t for hundreds of years been denied an equal place in society. Neither have I, for that matter, but the freedoms I enjoy today have been hard-won. And it seems wrong to me that we should still defer to men as our lords and masters (because that is what we’re doing) in this matter of what we are called.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Is that Samantha Cameron?

No. This is a different woman in bikini (in case
you needed to know what one looked like).
This weekend I was queuing to pay for my petrol and Sunday newspaper when one of the other titles caught my eye. On the front page was the figure of an elegant bikini-clad woman

'Is that Samantha Cameron', I thought? And moved a little closer (thus playing into the hands of the evil peddlers of this kind of drivel). Yes it bloody well is.

The wife of our prime minister wearing basically bra and pants was plastered across the front cover of the Mail on Sunday.

Looking lovely

SamCam, as they insist on calling her, looks very nice in a bikini. And the comments in the caption were very complimentary. But that's not the point.

I'm guessing she wasn't willingly photographed. She's not looking at the camera and doesn't look like she knows she's being snapped.
A woman wearing clothes. She happens to
be married to the Prime Minister.
Her unvarnished fingernails are hidden in shame. 

I haven't reproduced the picture here because it would be wrong on several levels (including copyright theft). Instead, here's a nice (legal) picture of Mrs C with her clothes on.

Women in the public eye

I also read that during the recent election campaign Samantha Cameron was criticised for going out without painting her toenails. OMG.

Celebrity women have an especially tough time. They are expected to come up to much higher standards than their male counterparts of behaviour, dress and even the size and shape of their bodies.

It's particularly unfair on women who are only famous by association.

I've not heard that Mrs Cameron has objected to the photo. She's probably so weary of this whole thing, she can't be bothered to complain anymore.

But it's disrespectful, that this woman who is in the public eye because of her husband's job, should have to put up with appearing scantily clad on countless newsstands and breakfast tables across the realm.

Exposing women's bodies without their consent is unpleasant, unnecessary and intrusive. And 'woman wears bikini on holiday' is definitely not news.

* I've been told on two separate occasions that I'm a dead ringer for Samantha. This is totally ridiculous. We just both have brown hair. Get over it.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Why should I vote?

I love an election. Exit polls, swingometers, bring ‘em on. But a lot of people don’t, and I can see why.

You’re busy, you're vote won't make any difference, you feel insignificant, you don’t like politicians (I don't like most politicians). There are lots of reasons not to vote.

Reasons to vote

But there are more good reasons why you should vote. Go on, give it a try – you might like it!
  • It’s really easy. Show up at your local polling station and put a cross in a box, That’s literally all there is to it. 
  • We have the right to vote and influence how our country is run – many other people don’t have this right. We shouldn't ignore it. 
  • Voting is your chance to make sure that one of those people hanging out in the House of Commons and making new laws represents the town you live in and the things you care about.
  • Suffragettes gave their lives, liberty and dignity so that women would be allowed to vote. Before that women were not considered capable of making a decision about how their society was run. We were inferior to men. As women who don’t vote we insult their memory whilst benefiting from the more equal society that their efforts led to. 
Who you vote for matters a lot less than the fact that you show up and do it. It’s not a test and no one ever has to know what you wrote on that piece of paper. It can be your little secret.

Whether you put your cross against the local UKIP candidate, vote for the Communist party or scrawl something obscene about politicians, you’re still doing something good.

Voting for single mothers

I’m a single mother. I belong to a group that is stereotyped and reviled by wider society. As a group, we are deeply affected by issues such as childcare, health, education, benefits and taxation.

I hear some heart-rending stories from other single mothers. There are mums wondering how to provide their kids’ next meal, mums living in one cramped room with their children in a hostel, and mums who want to work give their children a better life, but realise that by working they will lose their benefits, ending up with both less time and money to spend on their children.

Maybe some single mums don’t see the link between these problems and politics, but they are linked. It’s politicians that make economic policy, that legislate about child maintenance, subsidise childcare and make the rules on benefits.

And if word gets out that single parents don’t vote, then politicians will never have an incentive to improve anything for us. Why should they if there’s no chance we’re going to elect them?

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Feminist machines

A few days ago I was victim of one of the worst (non-injurious) incidents than can befall a mother.

When I tell my fellow mothers what happened, they wince, roll their eyes and ask how I'm coping. It's been six days now. Six long and painful days.

My washing machine broke down.

People who don't have children appreciate that this must be difficult. People who do have children appreciate the full nature of the calamity

The daily battle to keep my offspring clean is usually dealt with in the short minutes it takes to load, unload, hang up and put away a load of washing (rude nasty girls don't iron). No more.

Washing and feminism

Appliances like the automatic washing machine have set us free. By doing these mundane domestic tasks for us, in a fraction of the time they would otherwise take, they allow us to spend our time doing other things, such as earning money and becoming financially independent.

Once upon a time, laundry was a thing that might take a woman with a family an entire day each week. A day of pummeling and wringing the stains from her whites until her hands were red and sore.

Wealthy women in the past, as now, may have been able to hire cleaners to wash their clothes. And that provided work for other women.

But as washing machines became more affordable, it's meant that those of us who couldn't shell out for a cleaner can deal with this most labour-intensive chore with ease.

Women do more housework than men, even today. Washing machines mean that this doesn't have to take over our entire lives.

Washing around the world

Gender inequality exists for many reasons. Culture, poverty and education all play their parts, and I certainly wouldn't lay the credit for great strides feminism has made in the last 40 years in the West solely at the door of the automatic washing machine.

But it is true that in developing countries where the majority of people are less able to afford labour-saving devices such as washing machines, the opportunities for female independence are far fewer.

The sad fact is that if you are a woman who can't afford a washing machine, you will probably spend a large portion of your life scrubbing your husband and children's socks. You won't have time for a career.

Thank you

The inventor of the electric washing machine is unknown. Whoever he is (although you never know, maybe it was a she), I'd like to plant a big firm kiss on his whiskery cheek. But it would probably be good if he emptied the machine from time to time.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Locking up women seeking asylum

Nothing shouts female emancipation louder than locking away persecuted women the moment they set foot on British soil.

This is what we do, in the UK.

Yarl's Wood detention centre

Imagine arriving in Britain for the first time in your life. You’ve travelled alone. Before this you’d never left your own country. But you been beaten/abused/raped, and fear for your life, all because you spoke out. You clung to the idea that you would be safe when you reached the UK, all through that terrifying journey. You just have to get to passport control and you will be there and safe.

You arrive and are taken to Yarl’s Wood detention centre. And there your dreams of freedom without fear evaporate. You may no longer live in fear, but you’re imprisoned. This is just a temporary stop, but the first night turns into the second night, which turns into the third week, into the fourth month. And so on.

Women are detained at Yarl's Wood for months on end while the authorities check out whether their claims for asylum are legitimate and decided what to do with them. 

There are all kinds of allegations about the mistreatment of women at Yarl’s Wood. Women regularly self-harm and are placed on suicide watch. I wonder why? Possibly because they’ve been through hell only to find themselves not in the promised land but someone else’s nightmare.

I‘ve been lobbying my MP about this. Apparently one of the reason women’s are detained at Yarl's Wood is to 'ensure their health and wellbeing is safeguarded at all times'. In what sense is driving women to self-harm safeguarding their health and wellbeing?

There's a parliamentary review due around these issues. I hope it leads to some changes, although I'm sceptical. Either way, in the months before this is completed, women who are not only innocent  but extremely vulnerable will continue to be locked up for months at a time. 

Women (and men) who arrive in this country in fear should be treated with care and compassion, not thrown into what is essentially a jail.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Justice for Men and Boys

In a few weeks time there will be an election. And some lucky constituencies get to vote for the Justice for Men and Boys party. Lucky them.

This is an openly anti-feminist party - the same people that run it also run an Anti Feminist League.

The basic tenet is that the rise of feminism is impinging on the rights of boys and men, and is also bad for girls and women.

The party is run by Mike Buchanan (left), a former Tory consultant, who radiates white middle class male smugness. I don't like to be personal, but sometimes I can't help it.

Lazy lazy lazy

The ole 'feminists hate men' chestnut is the easiest, laziest way to have a go at feminism. It's so lame, I'm struggling to find the energy to defend it. It's playground argument.

No, feminists don't hate men. We just want women and men to be treated equally. That's not the same thing. Sigh.

Women generally don't hate men, we're just not like that. In fact there's a well known word for hating women, 'misogyny'. There's also a word for hating men - 'misandry'. It's certainly not feminism.

"Balance justice" by Eurobas. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via
Wikimedia Commons -


The party says a number of scary things, bolstered by some badly thought-out arguments.

  • Feminists are trying to destroy the nuclear family: because a unit in which a man and woman work together in an equal partnership to bring up children is clearly a threat to feminism. Down with that sort of thing.
  • Feminism is the pursuit of female supremacy: no, it's the pursuit of equality
  • Lying Feminist of the Month: indeed
  • Women in the boardroom leads to financial decline: women are happier outside the boardroom. When people tell me that I'll be better off not doing something that I want to do, I'm always deeply suspicious. 
My *favourite* thing about the Justice for Men and Boys party is how they make out that they're trying to be helpful to women. They're big on promoting women's roles as mothers, suggesting we shouldn't be pressurised or encouraged into high powered jobs. 

Feminism is about allowing choice. Some women don't want to climb to the top of the career tree because they want to put their energies into being mothers. And that's OK. But for those who want to get to the boardroom, they should have the choice. 

Democracy is about giving people the freedom to stand for what they believe in, so it's important that everyone can air their views, even Mr Buchanan and his friends. But it's sad and a bit scary that feminism has to be seen in a dirty word by this section of society, so much so that they feel they have to form a political party against it. 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

It’s not baby brain – it’s overload

There’s this myth that having a child affects women’s brains, and not just in the short term – the idea that bringing a child into the world makes you more stupid, permanently.

I have had a child. And I can attest that I have not suffered from ‘baby brain’. It is hugely stressful and busy and complicated. And sleep deprivation in the early days means I may not exactly have been firing on all cylinders. But I’m pretty sure it has not affected my brain function in any way.

I realise I'm only a test case of one, but I have lots of friends with children who manage to continue with very demanding jobs. 

Baby brain in pregnancy

I thought that 30 seconds of Googling would yield some research proving that 'baby brain' was a load of rubbish. Annoyingly, I actually found the opposite. But once upon a time I was a journalist, and we never let facts get in the way of a good story. 

Apparently pregnant women’s brains do operate differently. They use the right sides of their brains more, possibly to help prepare them to bond with their child. You can read about it in the Telegraph.

So yeah, OK pregnant women's brains are different (that still doesn't make them stupid).

But it's the insidious use of the phrase ‘baby brain’ way beyond pregnancy has me worried. I have a theory.

The real baby brain

When you have a child the amount of stuff your brain is dealing with is at least doubled. 

Take getting up in the morning. Previously you only had to think about getting yourself up in the morning and showered and dressed and have breakfast. Now you have to do that for a whole extra person, probably without much additional time. And that assumes they are cooperating (they never cooperate).

It’s not that your brain is in anyway impaired by your childbearing, but it is trying juggle a lot more plates and so, inevitably, it’s allowed the occasional slip-up.

Also, when you don’t have a child you might go out the work for the day, then come home and relax with a cup of tea. No more. As soon as I get home I have to go straight into feeding, bathing, and putting my child to bed, then preparing for the next day. There’s not a lot of time for recovery.

As a mother, your brain has not turned to mush. It’s probably working much harder and accomplishing much more than it has ever had to before. Don't insult it.

Blaming it on the baby

There’s nothing wrong with using pregnancy to excuse a bit of minor scattiness. But I regularly hear women who have young children referring to some piece of forgetfulness  as ‘baby brain’ - I've never heard a man say it. 

We can’t afford to go around suggesting that having babies makes us more stupid. The logical conclusion to this would be that mothers shouldn't be allowed to make their own decisions, take charge of a car, vote in an election. 

Maybe I'm being flippant, but equality is hard-won, and feminism still has work to do. By blaming it on the baby we girlishly suggest that power should be handed back to the patriarchy. It's a dangerous excuse.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The beauty of science

Being female and a little bit vain, from time to time I wander into shops selling things that purport to make me look younger, prettier and generally more alluring.

But when I'm browsing the shiny shiny bottles, trying to decide how much cash I can justifiably part with, and wondering if I'm too old for glitter (never), a shop assistant invariably pounces on my indecision.

She's just doing her job - trying to sell stuff - and I'm fine with that. Actually I could do with some help deciding which of these bottles is going to make me most attractive for least money.

But then she (it's always she) tries to blind me with science. And what had been a nice outing to pick up some moisturiser in my lunch hour makes me really wound up.

Here is some sciency sales patter to which I have recently been subjected:

  • 'It has irridescent particles'
  • 'It contains essential oils'
  • 'It's made from stem cells'

Now, I'm no scientist, but I'm pretty sure that what's coming out of her mouth is utter drivel.

I'm not saying that shop assistants aren't capable of understanding science. I'm sure that's not true. As it happens, my grasp of science is appalling. But the sales people are being fed a load of meaningless lines and buzzwords about science and encouraged to come out with them to confuse us into thinking that their product is really great, not just because it smells nice, but because it's got stem cells in it - and that has to be good right?

Now the science bit - stem cell research

Stem cell research is really complicated. I tried to get my head round it for this blog. I failed. (Who'd have thought stem cell science was so hard that a former arts student couldn't master it in an evening?)

According to 'internationally acclaimed plastic surgeon and skincare expert Dr Marko Lens', "stem cells are pluripotent cells with high self-renewal capacity and multi-lineage differentiation ability." So that clears that up then.

In terms of humans and animals I think this sort of means they're the Doctor Who of the cell world. I know what I mean.

However, apparently (I added the word 'apparently' to remind you that I don't know what I'm talking about) the stem cells used in skincare are actually plant stem cells. Which apparently (again) means they are just some cells from the stem of a plant. Different use of the word stem. See what they did there?

So basically they suck a load of stuff out of, say, a dandelion stalk, and then try to make out that it's going to rejuvenate your skin because it's made from stem cells, and we all know that they're amazing. Except it's not those stem cells, it's just a bit of dead plant. Science bit over.

Skincare is a feminist issue

Women are being exploited. We are being blinded and confused with hokey science used to persuade us to spend money on these products.

I'm not saying we shouldn't buy them, but come on rude, nasty girls, we need to stop listening to this crap.

Next time someone tries to sell you a pot of moisturiser on the grounds that it contains 64 essential oils, 12 stem cells and a particle in a pear tree, call them out on it. Ask them, "what exactly do you mean by that?" Ask them what kind of stem cells. The chances are your grasp of science is no worse than theirs.

Confused scientists

In researching this blog I found an article about a proper scientist who tried and failed to understand skincare advertising science. It's really good. You can read it here: 'Baffled by the beauty adverts: so is a Nobel prizewinner'.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Bendable doll - what every girl wants

The next generation of women is in good hands. There is a toy on the market to make sure that they learn the essential skills every woman needs.

I refer to this bendable doll. My friend saw it and thought of me (and my daughter), so she sent me this photo.  

You can bend the doll whichever way you want her (that's the best way with women). And I bet if she bends over in that top you'll catch a nice bit of cleavage. 

But the best bit about Bendable Doll is her accessories. she comes complete with a range of cleaning tools, such as bucket and broom, and also hair accessories. 

Women's main interests in life of course are cleaning and making themselves pretty. Usually for a man. 

Hair, beauty and housework - that's what it's all about. 

'It's a girl thing' proclaims the packaging. Just in case you weren't clear. And in the top left corner they include the gender symbol for female, but adapted into a heart shape, because a circle just wouldn't be girly enough.

Pass me the Lego

I want to say "let's all go back to Lego". A beautiful, intelligent, simple toy that boys and girls can enjoy without resorting to stereotypes.

But then I did a quick search.Typing 'Lego for girls' was asking for trouble. 

The Disney and Friends range comes in pink or purple, of course, because girls wouldn't like it otherwise. Did I mention that I HATE THE COLOUR PINK?

Incidentally, if you search Lego for boys it's just as bad - all Star Wars and Super Heroes. 


The serious point behind these revolting toys is that the next generation of adults are being brainwashed into stereotyped gender roles, with girls nudged towards homely domestic pursuits and boys expected to be macho and intrepid.

How can we expect girls to grow up believing they are equal to boys when they are directed towards toys that teach them only about cleaning and making themselves look pretty. 

And how can we expect boys to see the girls as equal to themselves when they are taught that these strange creatures are only interested in strutting about in pink like princesses?

In 2015 why are we still stereotyping in these ways? Can't children just be children, and toys be toys?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

High heels

Today I write about a topic that has left me feeling alienated and inadequate since I scuffed my way through adolescence in a pair of fake (flat) Kickers.

As an issue of inequality goes, high heels is pretty trivial, but it affects the ways in which many of us wealthy, privileged women comport ourselves.

I have a lot of admiration for a woman who can walk well in heels: a beautiful, poised and elegant creature, she is sophisticated and in control.

Then there are the other ones, who sway gently in the breeze, lurch about and cling onto their boyfriend's jacket in a desperate attempt to stay upright.

I don't know how you acquire this skill, whether it just comes naturally or takes hours of tottering about at home before you can pull it off. I never even tried. I know which camp I'd fall into.

High heels and femininity

High heels are a powerful symbol of femininity. They change the way the entire body moves, pushing bits out, pulling other bits in, making you look slimmer and taller.

A 2012 study (reported by the Independent) found that women wearing heels were rated more attractive than those who wore flat shoes, by both men and women. So they make us look hot. Agreed.

Heels and me

I am a total heel-refuser. I've never even owned a pair. That part of the shop just isn't for people like me (actually that's most of the shop). Can't wear them. Don't want to. 

I once had to learn to walk in heels for a play. It was beyond the comprehension of the women in the cast that I wouldn't be able to do this. The men were more sympathetic and coached me through. All credit to them that I was able to stumble inelegantly around the stage in a borrowed pair of ill-fitting white court shoes.

And I was lucky that on the two occasions I have been a bridesmaid my lovely bridal friends were understanding enough of my stiletto peccadilloes to be tolerant of my choice of footwear (although generally brides don't want their maids towering over them anyway).

If you are a heel-refuser, there is one conversation you will encounter from time to time that will make your heart sink: 'You need to wear heels with a dress like that.'

This is the common assumption that you can't go out in a nice evening dress without wearing high heels. This means I can't go out in a nice dress ever. I will never look properly feminine, ergo, I am not a proper woman.

If you don't wear high heels, you're not a proper woman. It's one of those things, like having your first period and getting your first bra. 

High heels and feminism

On the one hand, heels make you taller, and that can make you feel more powerful. and feeling more powerful is being more powerful, making high heels the ultimate feminist accessory.

If you choose to splash your hard earned (by you) cash on a pair of shoes that make you feel you can take on the world and win, then that there is a feminist act.

On the other hand, high heels make us less stable, more fragile, and vulnerable. and it's more difficult to run away. Never underestimate the importance of being able to run away.

They make us stronger and weaker all at once.


One bonus to the not wearing heels thing is short men. There are plenty of vertically challenged blokes in the world, and there are lots of women who don't want to go out with then because of this. They want their men to be not only taller than them, but taller than them when they're wearing heels.

For an average-height-heel-refuser like myself, this is where we clean up (if that isn't an unpleasant metaphor). Presuming I want to be attached to a bloke taller than myself (actually I don't really care), there is a vast swathe of possibilities who are considered short but are at the very least the same height as me. Hurrah for the average-height heel refusers.

Heels make you taller, and that can make you feel more powerful. and feeling more powerful is being more powerful. Some days, maybe that would be nice.

But tell me I have to wear them and I say one thing in return: cobbles.