Thursday, 18 September 2008

Mini-Skirts cause car crashes. And in other news, the Pope's a Muslim

Mental news from Uganda - the country's ethics and integrity minister is concerned about the detrimental effects of the mini-skirt on traffic safety, so much so he's seeking a ban on the item of clothing.

My favourite quote: "If you find a naked person you begin to concentrate on the make-up of that person and yet you are driving."


Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Hypocrisy Alert!

How sick is this online game created by the online degredation device Monkey Mag? Paedogeddon (see what they've done there?) players are invited to rid the world of those pesky "kiddy fiddlers". Afterwards they can "GAWP" at women in their "skimpies". Why not go the whole hog and put the women in "sexy schoolgirl" get-ups? Where do men stop being "Jack the lads" and start being perves...and does that line need a bit of reassertion? I think so. Wrong.

Regular Feature #1!

I’m sure we’re all in agreement that one of the most commonly held opinions about feminists is that we’re a miserable bunch of moaning singletons with one or more cats. As ill-informed as this undoubtedly is, I concede that I find it a bit too easy sometimes to allow the injustices of the world get me down and I don't want my blog to turn into a negative diatribe. So, I have decided to introduce a bit of light relief to the blog in the form of (drum roll please)…Manly Musing which will appear weekly.

The idea for this was borne of an impromptu mini-interview with two of my male work colleagues which I reported on the blog a while back. As well as a very interesting insight (ahem) into the consensus of feminism through a man’s eyes, their answers were undeniably humorous and elicited quite a response (proving indeed that humour and an interest in feminist issues aren’t mutually exclusive – wowzers!).

So, Male Specimens # 1 & 2 are back and will be answering my questions on something that I feel is a suitable current affairsy topic.

Please note that the views expressed are not my own but those of two men in their mid-twenties – proceed with caution and tongue firmly in cheek!

Manly Musings, Wednesday 17th September

The Bra-Burning Issue – Sarah Palin

Male Specimen # 1

Do you think that Sarah Palin, the Republican running mate of John McCain and potential Vice President of USA is a good role model for the modern woman?
I think that the work that Palin did with Monty Python was brilliant and changed
the face of comedy. Also, I loved the series Around the World in 80 Days, although I do think the BBC are milking it by still showing it on BBC World! He made the series in 1989, so I don’t think you can take his views or comments made in that programme as good for modern women as they are nearly 20-years-old. The fact that he talks about the USSR should not be taken as a slight against his knowledge on current affairs, he is very much modern and taking his 1980’s comments out of context would make him look much worse in terms of being a role model for modern women!

What do you think of her being pro-life but also pro death penalty? Is this a c
Pro life and pro death penalty? She sounds like the kind of woman that likes to give
things a try, you can’t say she’s backwards in coming forwards! I like to think she’s the kind of woman who likes a nice buffet. Would you like some chicken? Yes please. Would you like some pork? Yes please. Would you like some salad? Yes please! Give life a chance? Yep. Give death a chance? Deffo!

Realistically, she obviously is a Christian and thinks babies deserve to live and killers deserve to go to hell for some Devil-prodding, obviously mis-trial is not an option to her! I guess I can understand her point of view but I’m afraid nothing’s as straightforward as she might like to believe. Forcing a rape victim to give birth to the child is absurd, killing someone who turns out to be innocent is also disgusting!

That seems like a pretty good way of doing things to me, always up for it, whatever the

If you were American who would you vote for and why?
I would vote for Obama because I’m not an idiot! Invasion of Iraq – wrong! Creationism – wrong! Give everyone as many guns as their chubby little hands can carry – wrong!

As a sensible, logical human being, you surely can’t vote for the Republicans. But, enough being sensible, if I were American I would vote for the Republicans
because Arnie is a member and I loved Conan the Barbarian and Twins, and Kindergarten Cop is my favourite film ever!

Male Specimen # 2

Do you think that Sarah Palin, the Republican running mate of John McCain and potential

Vice President of USA is a good role model for the modern woman?
She’s a tasty piece of ass and she has a kid called Trig. You have to love her and you
definitely would!

What do you think of her being pro-life but also pro death penalty? Is this a c
They are extreme life values but if you do good you deserve good. If you do bad then
you deserve bad. She feels the ultimate crime deserves the ultimate punishment. A woman should do what they see as fit when it comes to making the choice about their future babies' lives.

If you were American who would you vote for and why?
I am so, so glad I’m not American. I would probably go with the majority and go for
Obama but I couldn’t tell you why!

The Verdict: Heads seem to be screwed on...just.

Teen Mums - from Celebrity to Reality

An interesting piece in the Observer this Sunday used the Bristol Palin pregnancy debate as an inroad to a discussion about media glorification of teen pregnancy and how this is juxtaposed by the simultaneous demonising of lower class teenage mothers. The small sea-port city of Gloucester, Massachusetts was recently subject to some unwarranted media attention when news emerged of a pregnancy pact that saw 150 teenagers receive tests in the same month. Residents of the town had complained that their girls were being labelled as red necks, their babies a “shameful consequence of a regrettable mistake”, while Bristol Palin – in the public eye, supported by a middle class family - is being heralded as a brave and responsible role model for upstanding Christian teenagers (slightly tenuous considering that whole no sex before marriage thing, but that’s another can of worms). Something doesn’t sound quite right here does it?

The furore surrounding teenage girls and their likeliness to have children early is almost always linked to their position in society and the debate inevitably becomes one of class. The anthropological (and the less so) theories as to why young girls end up having babies range from the simplistic to the tenous. Is this an evolutionary tactic of certain socio-economic groups to ensure survival/upward mobility? Is it more to do with education; or religion; or the media’s treatment of these girls and their own resignation in the face of it? Of course there can be no finite reason for the incline in teenage pregnancies in communities like Gloucester and all contributing factors should be looked at most carefully.

There is definitely a palpable absence of objective sexual education and advice in the US. George Bush’s fondness for promoting abstinence as birth control and the increasingly evangelistic religious climate have impeded on the progress of sexual health initiatives in the US to the point where teenagers are unable to obtain contraception without parental consent – undoubtedly a factor in 41% of those teenagers interviewed in Gloucester admitting to having had unprotected sex at least once in their lives.

And what of the other factor at play here? In a society dominated by media consumption and our easy access to it, what role models do teenage girls have? Increasingly, pop stars and actresses (getting younger by the minute thanks to Hollywood’s unabated thirst for nubile cash cows) represent what teenage girls think of success. Girls like Bristol Palin, Jamie Lynn Spears (sister of Britney, who isn’t exactly a beacon of hope for young mothes everywhere), Ashlee Simpson, Charlotte Church are worshipped by their fans and elevated by the media and they have all had (or are expecting) children at very young ages. Yet they have not been admonished, and instead are lauded for their achievements, paid to pose with their babies for all to see on the covers of the magazines that peddle gossip to the exact demographic most likely to fit the “teenage mum” mould – if there is such a thing.

The cult of celebrity asserts that the rich and famous can do no wrong, so having a child in pre-formative years and out of wedlock is portrayed as a blissful and welcome life choice. In the glossy world of the media (on both sides of the pond) parenting appears deceptively easy – a veritable carnival of designer baby-gros and celebrity god-parents. Sometimes you don’t even have to go to the trouble of pushing – just head for the nearest disadvantaged country and bring one home in your Louis Vuitton hand luggage. Exaggeration aside, the obvious concern is that babies are being conceived as the next designer accessory. Remember the absurdity of the famous Harry Enfield and Chums episode wherein Waynetta Slob bemoans her lack of “one of those black babies.” Not so funny when positioned alongside Madonna and her Malawian escapades. How long before Paris Hilton trades in Tinkerbell for a cuter and somewhat more Homosapien model?

As much as I enjoy American-bashing, it is intrinsically wrong (or so I’m told) and although I am loathe to admit this, the situation is little better in the UK – as this terrifying article on the Daily Mail website inadvertently illustrates. Nothing outlines the hypocrisy that’s going on here better than this piece of crap brandishing teenage mums as “silly girls” after a council house and a way out of school exams placed alongside a link to a positively glowing report of the happy stateside Spears family (complete with 17-year-old Jamie Lynn and her 3 month old daughter).

Fay Weldon, in the same vein as Carole Malone and other middle class halfwits using the tabloids as misguided moral soapboxes, dismisses sex education as a solution to this teenage pregnancy “epidemic” because she thinks it will encourage children as young as eleven to want to turn theory into practice. Hopefully this is an attitude towards teaching that won’t make it mainstream – because what’s next? Stop teaching kids about World War II in case they all join the Nazi Youth? Outlaw French to prevent mass child emigration?

Besides the fact that sterilising teenagers against their will – which is what this article seems to be seriously considering - would be a massive infringement on human rights (this point should be too obvious to warrant labouring) Weldon seems to think it’s a simple solution to this unsavoury condition; one which she says makes Britain a “disgrace among [other] nations”. Far simpler than say, providing the proper resources for children to make their own minds up armed with all the facts. To know that they had the support they needed might also be nice, but sadly what’s in store for teenage mothers in this country is a lifetime of being reminded about their mistake by hypocrites like Weldon, who think it’s acceptable to describe them as the producers of low “quality” children who are – more likely than not – destined to end up the recipient of an ASBO (if male) and another teen mum (if female).

Had Weldon bothered to do any research, she might have been surprised to find that while the propensity to have children younger is more prevalent in lower socio-economic groups (in both the US and the UK), those that do often end up achieving more than their childless counterparts. Subtext magazine published a fantastic expose of this media aggression towards teen pregnancy in which Heather Kennedy dispelled some of the myths about young mums. That teenage mothers are embarking on a downward spiral by having a child so young is a misconception (mainly of the middle classes who identify teen pregnancy with stigma and social deprivation far more than the working class do) – in actual fact many of these girls see the birth of their children as “an impetus to sort their lives out and focus on the future”.

A documentary last year following Kizzy Neal, mother at 14 years old did an excellent job of portraying a teenage girl who was struggling with motherhood, but enjoying it and getting on with her life. If only it wasn't tucked away, post-watershed on BBC3, the controversial idea that teenagers are capable of making the right decisions wouldn't be so absent from social conscience.

Similarly Elizabeth Day notes that according to Dr Mike Males, a sociologist and senior researcher at the Centre on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, teenage motherhood is seen by many as a viable social strategy. In fact, in a 2005 study, Males found that “former teenage mothers who are freed from child-raising duties by their late twenties or early thirties have, by the age of 35, 'earned more in income, paid more in taxes, were substantially less likely to live in poverty and collected less in public assistance than similarly poor women who waited until their twenties to have babies'”

So Weldon’s theory of these girls being a drain on the tax-payer is slightly skewed, and who she might think is more deserving of housing and benefits than our own citizens (however old they are) remains a mystery. Seemingly giving these teens and their offspring the best start in family life is not a priority for Weldon, as apparently these children are doomed from their conception…ridiculous. Aside from being a terrible written argument (who publishes this woman’s books?) this utter tripe is exactly what’s wrong with the whole situation.

To make generalizations that paint a picture of a young mother slapping her children in supermarkets and rubbing her hands together in glee when the two of them are shipped to a grotty bedsit to scrimp on government hand outs is seriously damaging the work that groups like the YWCA is doing to a) prevent young girls having children too young and b) help those that do. Its also damaging the self esteem of the girls that end up in this predicament – its time people realised that Vicky Pollard is a very cleverly put together character spawned of a stereotype and nothing more. Headlines that draw upon this reference to justify dehumanizing vulnerable children are to be deplored.

Of course class is the major deciding factor in whether a teenage mother is celebrated for her pro-life abiding, responsible family values or taunted for her sexual promiscuity and social inferiority – this has always been the way. The fact is – an easy one to overlook – that the mothers up for debate here are children themselves, surely that’s why this is such a mess?

So, what do we do – teach our children the facts? Encourage them to aspire to great things but support them when those aspirations are interrupted by an unexpected pregnancy, and stand by them if those aspirations simply are to be a mother, as controversial as this may be? No, surely a better way of controlling the situation is to bombard teenage girls with images of their celebrity idols as the glamourous poster-children for modern motherhood, give them little information about the true facts, and – of course – carry on attacking them when they end up pregnant. But only if they’re not rich and famous – that would just be wrong.

Friday, 12 September 2008

After my own heart...

Finally I have found the online manifestation of my own internal feelings on the simpering drivel that is the Observer Woman Monthly supplement in what is an otherwise excellent newspaper.

Observer Woman Monthly Makes Me Spit (or OWMMS) is wickedly devoted to dissecting each horrendous issue of OWM with endless wit and bile.

I have long harboured hatred for this ghastly excuse for a magazine so am positively thrilled there is an outlet for my spite – good work!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

One small step for Palin, One giant step backwards for Womankind

Interest seemed to have waned of late in the impending American election. After the initial hysteria that surrounded the Clinton/Obama battle, there was a brief intermission – but it seems the issue is at the forefront of the news again and in my opinion quite rightly. Who gets put in charge of the most powerful nation on earth is a bit of a big deal, isn’t it? At times I’m not quite sure that the citizens of America (most of them having never set foot outside of the ‘Land of the Free’) understand this as well as the rest of the world, particularly those most unlucky recipients of one of their ill-advised missions of liberation/protection. I still find it difficult to fathom that an intelligent western country could appoint George W as their figurehead even once, let alone twice. This is the same incredulousness I reserve for several political topics; the lack of interest America has taken in the Zimbabwe situation considering their “humanitarian” actions in removing other tyrannical dictators; the recent Beijing Olympics effectively smoke-screening the status-quo in Tibet; Russia and Georgia…the list could go on.
As much as I’d like to believe that it couldn’t happen, there is a very real possibility that the votes could go John McCain’s way. Which is a chilling thought, even for those of us who try to wriggle out of being tarred with the Guardian-reading, left-winger, women-libber brush. A right wing, anti-fundamental human rights septuagenarian – is this the free world or the Catholic church? Fnar. Forgive me for that, but the parallels that modern day America and its disjointed population are drawing with religious tyranny in order to control the masses can’t be ignored…can they? Apparently not. Worryingly though, the American public seem to identify with this kind of mentality and furthermore, favour it. The rigid religious views of the Bible Belt (where Bush could always rely on support) are unfortunately an incorrigible influence on the tally of votes that end up swaying towards the Christian right in the US. We’re told frequently by those Americans that are desperately aware of the political landscape that “not all” Americans feel this way, that there are Bush dissenters across the pond in equal number to those over here. The media circus engulfing their supposedly democratic political system of late must have them gawping disbelievingly at their Fox News bearing TV screens then. Because let’s face it, to the outsider, these American elections are structured mainly around the frenzied propaganda facilitated by the non-objective media institutions and the dialogue of false promises. Of course, we’re talking politics and the borderline between truth and lies will always be heavily marred, but America takes this to another level. While us “civilised” Europeans like to think that we’re aware of the corruption that goes on in modern politics, the average American (or so many of us are led to believe, due to a distinct lack of evidence to the contrary) believes these exaggerations of character and intent and their voting decision is influenced by the farcical nature of the preceding chaos. So, it’s into this confusing fray that Sarah Palin – running mate to the decrepit John McCain – is thrust.

The first question I have (and there are many) is why her? There is a theory that she’s been leveraged as a paradoxical anti-Hillary, in that her gender is being used as a tactic to ensnare those voters who were voting for Clinton based only (or mainly) on her gender. There are worrying reports that a number of angered Clinton supporters have allegedly vowed not to vote for Barack Obama on principal, and indeed 1 in 5 Clinton supporters are now backing McCain. That these formerly Democratic citizens are now either intending to vote for the opposition or not vote at all (which will effectively help the opposition) is a disturbing revelation, but indeed the demographic that John McCain has his sights set on converting is suburban white women, or “soccer moms” as they are being colloquially referred to. These women were an easy pull for Clinton, but McCain has now secured a 44% (to Obama’s 38%) majority stronghold among them. Worrying stuff. Palin certainly appears your typical middle American woman – mother to five ridiculously named children; former beauty queen turned self-confessed “hockey mom” - at first glance Palin seems positively wholesome and really rather harmless. Which makes it unfortunate that this is the closest many American’s will actually look. Look a little bit further though, and some of her interests and actions are verging on reprehensible. Of course there is no doubt a Spitting Image style assassination of Sarah Palin’s past and private life going on in UK and international press (and her interesting range of hobbies and eating habits help construct an excellent charicature) so it all must be taken with a pinch of salt. However, the emerging picture of Sarah “The Barracuda” Palin is inescapable when imagining what sort of an influence she may have on the political future of America.

The integrity of McCain’s vetting procedure has been thrown into question at her appointment and has already lost him a decent number of followers, although not as many as he stands to gain. For all her popularity her post as Governor of Alaska was relatively small-time in terms of political kudos and she had only met McCain once before he appointed her as running mate. Add to that the fact that she allegedly orchestrated the dismissal of Walter Monegan, Public Safety Commissoner, who had refused to sack her sister’s soon to be ex-husband and the cookie-baking housewife image is shot to…well, suffice it to say the average mother doesn’t normally find shooting Moose in the head a relaxing hobby. Then there’s the unsavoury revelations that have emerged since Palin became a very public contender to be Vice President of the United States, and the first woman to have a hope of doing so. That her daughter Bristol, seventeen and unmarried, is five months pregnant; and that her husband is a convicted drink driver are stories that have been newsreel fodder in the past week and some would say unfairly used as evidence that she’s unfit for her position. Personally I feel that politicians are as entitled to a personal life as the rest of us (no one really begrudged Bill Clinton’s did they?)but when there’s a clear discrepancy between what a potentially very powerful human being advocates in private and the image being sold to the public, things start to get a bit murky. The old adage “Do as I say, not as I do” springs uncomfortably to mind.

As a feminist, it’s difficult to stomach Palin. We should be rejoicing at the fact that for the first time in American history, a woman is in with a chance of being a Vice President. Palin’s gung-ho career woman persona should also stand in her favour, but in my opinion its already damaging to women that this particular one is in the running. Should she end up as VP of the most powerful country in the world, the implications for women are nothing less than catastrophic. Yes, she is a woman – but as Gloria Steinhem has publically stated, she is the “wrong woman” with the “wrong message”. For a start, her political agenda is absurdly outdated. Seemingly not interested in progression of any kind, Palin – in her eagerly anticipated speech at the Republican party convention – mocked Obama for his “elitism” while positioning herself as the champion of small town USA (only 20% of which have ever travelled outside the US and have any idea about what goes on there). A news item on the BBC yesterday interviewed a few of her supporters, one of whom cited her “normality” as her most appealing quality. This “normality” has to be looked at in context – if “normal” means evangelical, pro-life, pro-hunting, rifle-toting, politically inexperienced and inept – then that’s certainly what Palin appears to be – clearly the ideal choice for the American public. Of course Palin is also a member of the National Rifle Association, and her biggest political achievement thus far has been to do with that all important American currency unit…oil. Fair enough, she was only the chair of the Alaskan Oil and Gas Conservation Commission – but still, I wonder how long this interest in gas will remain a domestic concern should she become more influential? Palin has already voiced her belief that the deployment of troops to Iraq was a “task set by God.” Rather paradoxically, she also said quite recently: "individual freedom and independence is extremely important to me and that's why I'm a Republican.”

I wonder how free and independent her teenage daughter, Bristol is feeling at the moment, having been dragged into her mother’s quest for votes and paraded around as proof of her doting parent’s pro-life leanings? According to Palin, Bristol and her hockey player boyfriend had always intended to marry regardless of the pregnancy and they still intend to do so, but I can’t help wondering if Bristol’s decision would have been the same were her mother’s beliefs not being touted by the Republicans as the best thing to hit America since fried chicken. I don’t know the circumstances any further than the news reports, but if Sarah Palin – or her political manifesto – is forcing her daughter into a marriage of convenience, we have a situation that is basically defecating all over years of feminist progress – progress that has rather ironically afforded Palin the professional position she is now able and allowed to be in. Interestingly enough, Palin’s opposition to increased spend on sex education back in 2006 seems to have shifted – although technically she conveniently refuses to talk about it these days. Ultimately we’re not just talking about Pro-Choice in terms of abortion laws when the running of a country is at stake – we’re talking about the basic human right of the American people to choose what goes on in their country, in personal circumstance and public sphere. What concerns me most about the whole thing is the enduring inability of American governments to trust their citizens in making the right choice. Like Bush before her, Palin appeals to the most basic ideals of the small town citizens she claims to be one of, mollycoddling them into believing that intrinsic faults in the last administration were actually OK, or worse - some sort of religious destiny. John McCain’s election to President and the consequent appointment of Palin as his deputy – if it happens – can’t be looked at as anything other than at best misguided and at worst abhorrent.

This is a topic that I feel I haven’t even scratched the surface of and as the unfortunate occupier of a day-job, not much research has been done. What I have read has all been fascinating, so I would advise you to learn more – from far more learned folk – here:

Guardian Online

Menstrual Poetry

The Boston Herald

Associated Press

Times Online

The F Word