Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Gordon Brown and Bigotgate

Ok, so the country has finally shown that it's dangerously close to insanity once again. Today, it's 'Bigotgate'! Gordon Brown called a woman he had just had an uncomfortable conversation with on the subject of immigration a 'bigot'. He was having a private conversation afterwards but didn't realise he was still mic'd up. 

I don't know whether Gillian Duffy is a bigot or whether Gordon Brown was justified in calling her one. Probably not on both counts. But I am heartened by the fact that we currently have a Prime Minister who cares whether someone is a bigot or not. 

I wonder how much longer that will be the case? 

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Equality and all that (men have feelings too)

I am a fair and reasonable person. Don't believe me? Well, I'll prove it to you then. I did a couple of posts recently with a feminist flavour, now I'm going to stab the sisters in the back and big up the fellas - who may or may not deserve my support. We'll see.

What I want to talk about is emotions. No, don't run away men. There will be no tests on how well you were listening at the end, I won't bring this chat up in 17 years time and throw it back in your face and I certainly won't try and cuddle you and ask you what you're thinking. My gripe is with the way that women claim a monopoly on feelings. They have an infuriating tendency to use men's reticence to open up as an opportunity to reduce him to a nought. And then, having created this amazing stroke of luck, they grab the chance to write a whole, convenient story of neglect/total devotion/heartlessness/adoration/irresponsibility/utter shitbagness onto him. I should know, I've done it. Well... the shitbag one. 

Unfortunately, neat little trick though it is, it's a short term gain one. You've misrepresented the truth, not recreated it and it'll get you nowhere. Where it gets all of us (women) is tarred with the same brush. I  don't think of women as any less logical than men, any less capable of reason and presence of mind. But in the face of one of these hysterical rants, it's hard not to feel embarrassed. It's just so manipulative.

I understand the pain of heartbreak. I understand how emotions pick you up by the scruff of the neck and toss you around the room until you're dazed and helpless. But I also know that, thankfully, reason will tap you on the shoulder at some point and have a reassuring word in your ear. Providing you'll listen of course. 

A favourite of women who've been dumped is, "Oh, he must really hate me." No. He Doesn't. If he hated you he'd be phoning you up 2o times an hour and screaming about smearing dog shit all over your car windscreen. In short, he'd be acting like you. The reality is, he doesn't care - and that's really hard to take and therefore easier to project. 

I can understand where the confusion comes from. When you feel such misery, you imagine there must have been a purpose, a plan to get at you and reduce you to this state. But while it's a nice stab at reasoning, it falls way short. You may have been cheated on, lied to or treated appallingly. Whatever the case, people do bad things to you without caring to make it personal. In a funny way, that's more heartening isn't it?  

But that's an extreme version. More commonly women use their emotions to manipulate men because they know they don't know how to deal with it, and even better, rarely meet like with like. It's a license to hold full dominion. One minute women want to know how men feel, then they're not happy because he feels all the 'wrong' things, then he's refusing to admit to feeling anything - at which point she unleashes her full arsenal of weepy weaponry upon him. 

If I'm painting men as an innocent party here, I don't mean to. He may well have acted like an absolute twazzock. Maybe both parties have. The point that I'm trying to make is that, while winning points for grand emotional displays may seem clever, it's not. Fine, let someone know you're angry and that you're justified in being so. But trying to constantly trump men on the feelings front achieves nothing but making us all look foolish. Dare I mention having a little self-control here?

So, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned*. True enough. But hell hath no boredom like the company of a man during the World Cup so it all evens out in the end. 

*I am aware that this is not a Shakespeare quote but in fact by William Congreve. And I am also aware that this is not even the correct version of the quote. So please leave me alone. 

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The sociably acceptable method of appearing insane

Today, on my glamourous trip to Tescos, I passed the usual thousand cyclists. Rarely do they reduce me to hysterical fits of giggling, but today one special, little soul broke that unwritten rule. I glanced up to see him bike pass and pull the most extraordinary expression that can only be described as " John Prescott sucking a lemon full of bees with liquid celery in their stings". 

And I was off. And walking on my own. 

I spent the next 5 minutes spluttering and gurning, pretending I had a cough, was sneezing, or had an itchy nose. All in order to not appear like a normal woman who'd seen something funny. Instead I favoured the, "christ, the meds are wearing off, but what a release!" air. 

Monday, 19 April 2010

Empowering pole of feminism? Shove it

Given that my last post had a distinctly feminist slant to it, I'm in the mood to comment on David Mitchell's latest column - Actually, you won't find female empowerment halfway up a pole. And he's quite right of course. Women being sold the idea that they will blossom and be ready to take over the world on account of their sexy gyrations is ludicrous. 

If anyone was to say to me, "Here's a pole, explore your sexuality" I would waste no time in telling them where to stick it. 

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Sugar and spice and padded bikinis tops

A debate has been raging over on the Guardian CIF section on whether it's ok for young girls to wear the padded bras and bikinis that are being sold by Primark at the moment. Actually, I call it a debate but in fact Laurie Penny has written a piece that, while in the main discourages a narrow interpretation of womanhood, she also states that restricting a young girl's blossoming sexuality is puritanism - the lack of debate stems from the fact that the vast majority of people totally (and angrily) disagree with her. 

To be fair to Laurie, I think she had a point to make and got carried away with another one entirely and the two seemed to crash into one another. Yes she is right that girls should not be made to feel ashamed of their sexuality. But I think she is completely wrong to suggest that external indicators have anything to do with their inner sexuality in the first place. In fact, take the argument further and it goes full circle. When sexuality is stamped onto you, you lose control and self esteem inevitably suffers. 

Whatever the rights or wrongs of shops selling this tat, it saddens me that it is getting girls onto the treadmill of looking good that women labour on day after day. The ideal of the perfect woman has become so divorced from reality, just to look normal has become one of the most time consuming aspects of women's lives. 

And for what? Sure, beauty is appreciated but ultimately what does it get you? Respect? The world's most beautiful women certainly show that beauty sells and reap the financial rewards so it's obvious why teenage girls would look up to them. But these women are also portrayed as bimbos with nothing of worth to say, no real understanding of the world and their so called 'imperfections' get the Circle of Shame treatment in Heat Magazine. 

If a young girl or woman told me her ambition was to become a doctor I'd be delighted. Similarly, I would be if she said he wanted to be a mum. Both are productive and valuable and can provide a sense of purpose. But the pursuit of beauty for beauty's sake is essentially shallow and should be recognised as such. People often justify fashion as just a bit of fun but it doesn't quite wash when it seems more like an obsession that is running out of control and into little girls' clothes ranges. I actually like to look nice - I enjoy attention and a bit of therapeutic shopping as much as the next girl. But it loses its shine when it becomes a necessity and a chore on account of other people's expectations of you. And this is what I feel society is doing to girls and young women with its current mantras. 

Maybe girls and women are naturally more disposed to displaying their attractiveness as a part of their sexuality. It's certainly nice to be appreciated and boosts the confidence. But having your desire to be desirable repackaged, sleazed-up and sold back to you is as insulting and diminishing as the cheap price tag attached to it. And this goes for both girls and women alike. 

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Did Stephen Fry pop your Twitter cherry?

I've been Twitter surfing (the new youtube for hoovering up my oh so precious time) and I have noticed an astonishing amount of people opt for Stephen Fry as their first to 'follow'. I confess I didn't but then he took a break at about the same time I joined. Nevertheless, I feel like I've committed a terrible faux pas. Am I, as ever, doing something terribly wrong?

Election 2010 - These guys are not for turning

All I, and everyone else, is hearing in the UK election agendas at the moment is that bloody word "change". And I, and everyone else, is sick of it. So despite them telling us that they're listening to our concerns, why will they not desist using it? 

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Conservatives Believe in Marriage and in NO Way Ever Get Involved in Sleaze

The Conservatives have rolled out their latest gimmick to try and win over voters using the ever popular tactics of desperation and flattery. The plan is to allow married couples and those in civil partnerships to be able to transfer part of their tax allowance over to their partner as long as they are below a certain threshold in terms of earnings, happy to participate in a scheme that will cost the nation £550 million and are so morally virtuous their glowing halos dazzle and shame their single/divorcee shit-munching friends. 

"This is sending a signal that we understanding the value of commitment", said David Willetts. Apparently they don't value good grammar. 

Being single, you would expect me to be outraged and therefore, predictably, I am. So you win. But apart from the fact that the maximum value to any couple would be £150 and as good as useless - thereby meaning there is nothing to be jealous about - it is the pointlessly insulting hypocrisy that riles me the most. 

They mean to aim it at families of course and this is why they are using the terms 'married couples' and 'families' interchangeably. And who could possibly argue against the fact that the children from homes where feckless parents fail marry or even stick around deserve to be left out? It's only right and just. For the sins of the fathers (or mothers for that matter) and all that. It is the perfect solution to 'Broken Britain' and righteous judgements are the only way forward.

Being married and staying married is not nothing. It is admirable enough and can obviously contribute to the happiness and stability of a person's or their child's life. Many people work hard to make this so. But to marginalise everyone else is foolish. Some people don't agree with marriage but are otherwise good people. Some people haven't been fortunate enough to find someone to tie the knot with but are otherwise valuable. And some people just weren't lucky enough to keep a failing marriage together despite their efforts. Much as many successfully married people may not like to admit it, this is a tax break for the lucky in our society. So business as usual for the Conservatives then. 

There are many societal reasons why marriage and commitment are failing and people throughout the nation are suffering whether they are part of the cause of the problem or not. This measure doesn't address the issue, it sticks two fingers up to it. Mind you, if they do scrap the 10% cider tax, we'll all be able to drown our sorrows in our characteristic devil-may-care fashion. Slumped in doorways, we can shout at passing marrieds, "Got any spare 150 quids?"

My final reason for groaning at the sight of their latest agenda is the knowledge that, whether they get into power or not, the paper's have been given all the justification they need to pry into the private lives of Conservative party members. Given their track record in solid, family values and fidelity I literally cannot wait to see the sleazy love rat stories splashed (appropriate term) across the headlines. I wonder if they will consider revoking their rights to the marriage tax break? The answer is no, they will all be above the earnings threshold anyway. 

Friday, 9 April 2010

David Cameron, The Guardian and the "Magic" of Demographics

With the UK Election 2010 already turning into the single, most critical subject to bore the pants off us all it seemed like the perfect topic for me to turn my attentions to. And my first stop, you'll be delighted to know, is David Cameron (Conservative leader in case you've been living on the moon, or outside the UK, or in a blissful utopian land where there is no need for him to exist in the first place) and, more specifically, the piece he has written for the Guardian. And boy is it FOR the Guardian. 

I confess that I am a Guardian reader and therefore just the sort of wishy-washy, spineless liberal that this article was aimed at. All our favourite topics are there, along with all the right buzzwords to have us weeping, emoting, empathising and wailing. Hand-wringing across the readership must have been at fever pitch from the off with this little gem from the opening paragraph:

Gordon Brown heaps taxes on the poor, blocks plans to improve gender equality, allows rape crisis centres and special schools to shut.

Second sentence in and we've already got taxes, the poor, sexism, rape and special schools! He goes on to call Brown "reactionary" and "illiberal" and slags him off over ID cards, education, health and detention without trial. To quote David again..."the list is endless". 

At times, it certainly felt like it David. Because a list is all this article is. Nothing is explained, expanded upon or remotely insightful. Concept after concept is used as a mere trigger as if the liberal brain is no more sophisticated than a lab rat trained to recognise coloured buttons; education = good = David Cameron. It is formulaic and devoid of anything to really believe in or identify with. It's hollow. So much so, that if I owned any text to speech software I'd have been tempted to run this article through it to see what it sounded like with added warmth and sincerity.

It is now de rigueur for me to point out that this is what politics has come to. But seriously, it is. It reads like a series of tick boxes designed to tick off a box on the Conservative campaign list that would lure us in to ticking the tory box on 6th May! Really, have demographics EVER proved to be the magic formula for understanding people? Who has ever had to fill in a form or a questionnaire and thought, "why, that's me to a tee. I can now rest easy that I have been fairly and accurately represented." I doubt anyone could ever recognise their own form again and consequently, their own self. 

Behind all these words and soundbites are aspects of people's lives and serious matters that they have deeply felt beliefs on and experiences of. Therefore, behind these words would a real opportunity for a politician to communicate and even inspire some much needed faith in the public. Drop the profiling, start caring. Should it be necessary to point this out? 

David says that "as Conservatives, we trust people". It is a shame that he didn't trust us enough to spot when cynical manipulation takes the place of our own, personal values. 

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Jokes and Judgements

As luck would punch me in the face, I spent the evening last night with a sanctimonious arse. Don't ask me why but it certainly wasn't my choice. Predictable topics of conversation came up -the May election, taxes, immigration and how fuckwittingly clueless everyone else in the world is (happen to agree with his views on this one).

But I was struck, as I always am, by how these views are spewed forth by those who, outside of a bad day at the office, have very little experience of hardship and human suffering. Don't misunderstand me, I'm all for being opinionated. It adds flavour to one's personality. But so equally does taking a little responsibility over what you say.

I wonder why people are like this? Is it purely ego driven? Because in the same way that people use jokes and dark humour to deal with the things in life that terrify them, I think it likely that they use simplistic judgements to diminish and distance the lack of control we all too often have over our lives. Example: much easier to denounce single mothers as money grabbing harlots than to think about societal changes, the nature of modern relationships, the importance of fathers and, heaven forfend, that one could end up in the same predicament. Far better to label, criticise and fictionalise them as 'other'.

The sense of satisfaction and superiority is enough to last a lifetime. You hope.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Offending the Bald and Tatty

Being a glorious, Easter Saturday morning, I have just been out for a stroll. I was wearing a red jumper and black jeans with baseball boots for the sake of comfort. My hair was clean and tidy enough and styled into my usual 'can't do bugger all else with it' bob. Yes, I was wearing make-up but it was understated and unlikely to cause a stir in any circles, let alone the ones I was promenading in. I will admit to optimistically wearing sunglasses but I was by no means the only one. We are, after all, terribly cosmopolitan here in Cambridge.

'Yeah, and...?' you're thinking at me. 'Well, precisely...' I reply.

Because I can't have been out for more than 5 minutes before I encountered a strange man - balding, a bit tatty, late middle aged and unlikely to ever have been described a looker - who looked at me with unambiguous disapproval and abhorrence. And it wasn't fleeting either, it built up the closer he got to me. He looked me up and down, jerking his head back and forth like a mean faced Pez sweet dispenser and kept it up right to the point of us passing each other by. The more he looked at me, the angrier I made him. All I could do was look back at him with correspondingly growing surprise.

So for the rest of my walk I spent too much time looking at other people's faces to see if I inspired the same reaction. I didn't I'm happy to say, and was incredibly thankful for it. This is what it must feel like being Jamie Oliver.