Tag Archives: Feminism

The Weight Loss Cul-De-Sac

I’m subscribed to a charity request service for journalists. They send a message to the list asking for case studies to be included in their articles and features. Sometimes its possible to get a plug for your charity if you help the writer.

The stories in question are mainly for ‘Women’s Glossies’. Here’s a request I just received from a freelancer that is typical:

I am pulling together a really positive feature for a monthly glossy magazine called ‘why thinner isn’t always better’ and I am looking for some very specific women to talk to.

  • a woman who lost weight but has been left with lots of excess skin which she dislikes as much as the weight. Maybe she is waiting for surgery or would like to have it removed but can’t afford to/is afraid of the procedure
  • a woman who says that after she lost weight friends were jealous of her and behaved differently towards her

The message goes on, but you get the gist. The journalist signs off with this:

In all cases I will need a picture of the lady before she lost weight, when she was at her smallest and now.

In many other cases, the request for case studies is accompanied by the promise of a tasteful makeover and photo-shoot, courtesy of the magazine.

On the face of it, this looks like a positive and feminist article. It’s part of a backlash against the propaganda of the beauty industry, a billion-dollar complex that trades on women’s insecurities about their body image. Continue reading

Malala-Yousafzai

Why I am glad that Malala did not win the Nobel Prize

I’m glad that Malala Yousafzai did not win the Nobel Peace Prize.

This is not because I do not applaud her bravery and support her fantastic campaigning work. Rather, I worry about the effect of thrusting the prize onto someone so young.

Previous Nobel Laureates have reported that winning the prize is incredibly disruptive to their career. Peter Higgs, who was awarded the Chemistry prize last week, tried to escape media inquiries. But they tracked him down eventually,

Our media is full of stories of child prodigies pressurised into excellence and unhappiness. Child actors regularly seem to end up in rehab units, and the career trajectory of child pop-stars like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus makes everyone uneasy.  We angst over the plight of Royal babies, born into incredible wealth but no privacy. Continue reading

The Incompleteness of the Abortion Debate

Mehdi Hasan has provoked a big online debate about abortion, after publishing a column in the New Statesman on whether abortion is a Left/Right issue in politics. Mehdi says that although the Left is usually identified with the pro-choice* argument and the Right with pro-life*, the arguments deployed are (in his view) the opposite of what the Left and Right usually deploy. The Left use the language of individualism and choice, while the Right use the language of vulnerability and equality.

This article sparked a furious online debate about the central issue – Kenan Malik has an excellent pro-choice rejoinder to Hasan’s piece.  There has also been a meta-debate about whether it was even possible to have a reasoned debate about the issue. I was taken with Hopi Sen’s analysis, comparing what a person thinks they said with what people on the opposing side actually hear (see these amusing stanzas for a shortened version).

I tend to think of the central question as a Devil’s Alternative type question. Whatever you choose, the outcome is bad. Trying to devise rules – legal or ethical – for a Devil’s Alternative problem seems futile. Is abortion right? is a trick question: The stuff of utilitarian philosophy lectures and episodes of 24, where you try to work out the course of action that causes least hurt… Knowing full well that any choice you make leads to permenant unpleasant consequences. Perhaps the only way out of the mire is to punt on the central ethical question, declaring it essentially incomplete in Gödel‘s sense: we are not equipped to process such a question properly. It is undecidable. A paradox that exposes the limits of our language and ethical structures. Continue reading

Two Essential Testimonies on Date Rape

Occasionally, this website forgets it is a blog and descends into sheer self-promotion. Not so today, when we share a couple of pieces posted elsewhere on the sensitive issue of so-called ‘Date Rape’ (the qualifying prefix to which is actually superfluous).

Two things have sparked another collective conversation over this issue. The first is the ill-advised, point-missing defences of Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, who is wanted for questioning in Sweden on sexual assault charges. The second is the wilfully ignorant remark by US Congressman Todd Akin (R-MO), that a victim of ‘legitimate rape’ rarely gets pregnant.

In response, two women have bravely written personal testimonies about how they were forced to have sex without their consent, and the feelings of confusion and shame that followed the ordeal. Both articles are accompanied by the phrase ‘Trigger Warning‘ (which I confess I had not encountered before). Continue reading

Feminism Enabled Gay Marriage

Feminism enabled gay marriage, and that’s a good thing.

Last week we heard the Catholic bishops parroting the tired old line about marriage being “between a man and a woman”, and that the secular government was somehow redefining the concept for the rest of us. This argument sounds more and more pathetic every time I hear it.

Marriage has often been redefined! In the Old Testament we had polygamy, a practice that continues in many parts of the world to this day. When that fell out of favour, the bond of marriage was still very much a transaction in which the girl had no input. This practice, of a father arranging a marriage on his daughter’s behalf, is still very popular in many parts of the world and many British citizens still submit to it. The idea of romantic love leading to marriage is also a new innovation (at least, new when compared to the idea of marriage itself). Literature, from Tristan & Isolde, to Romeo & Juliet, to the Jane Austen œvre, is full of stories of romantic love colliding with the more traditional view of marriage as a financial arrangement.

Continue reading

Women as a News Commodity

Alastair Campbell feels the same unease that I have been trying to articulate over recent news reports about Madeline McGann.

There are some people so famous, so much the focus of media attention and public conversation, that they cease to be viewed by many as human beings. Britney has joined them. She is a news commodity, stories about whom are so marketable that the true ones are gorged upon and, when the true ones dry up, the invented ones keep the market moving along nicely.

In the case of Britney, I think she probably sees herself as a news commodity too. Last week’s pictures of her sitting in the gutter (unavoidable if you were using public transport in London, where the London Lite and the londonpaper are ubiquitous) seemed to be taken from particularly close quarters, yet she seems oblivious. Like the chirruping of crickets in tropical climates, Britney has tuned out the clicking and flashing that follows her everywhere.

Obligatory ad hominem

The problem that Alastair Campbell complains about, the “journalism utterly devoid of humanity” is its disingenuity. The Express, with their regular Monday morning Diana stories, claim to care deeply about our lost, troubled princess… when in fact we know they care very little about her, or how her sons might be feeling. Likewise with the McGann’s, and the faux sympathy which can disappear on a sixpence. Unfortunately, Mr Campbell spent eight years as the government’s disingenué in chief, and I worry that his column will be greeted with nothing but cynicism.

I googled “Britney Spears”. Within 0.11 seconds, up popped 81,500,000 results.

Also, he needs to cut down on the Google clichés.

Hubris

I was in the Royal College of Surgeons for a conference the other day, and wandered past this vast canvas.

A portrait in the Royal College of Surgeons

It is one of a number of paintings hanging around the place, depicting various committees and groups of Fellows of the Royal College. The other pictures depict small groups of people in natural looking poses. The result is a convincing ‘action shot’ of the Great and the Good, and they look quite dignified. This one, however, is clearly a composite of dozens of individual portraits, and the inaccuracies of scale and sightlines make for a slightly disconcerting effect. It was surely conceived as a pacifier to satisfy the members of some bloated committee.

Most bizarre is the inclusion of a tea-lady, centre-right. She has a neat plait, and her head turned shyly away from the viewer. Even so, she towers above the Fellows she is serving, and is by far the most compelling figure in the image.

The Contradictions of Beauty

Pickled Politics has a 100 comment debate on the politics of skin whitening, after Bollywood superstar Shakrukh Khan endorsed a product (h/t Tyra). The paradox is that white people spend money getting a tan to make them look browner, while brown people buy these creams to make themselves whiter. The grass is always greener, yet equally cancerous, on the other side of the fence…

Other beauty paradoxes I have noticed: Hair straighteners for those with curly locks, sold next to hair curlers/rollers for the straight locked.

Oh yes, and of course: Women in the supermarket who put make-up, and make-up remover, into their basket… without so much as a bat of an eyelid to disturb their mascara. I’ve always liked this verse from the London-Brazilian slam-poet Hoberto Afiado:

This is the girl who is under age
So she works at the shop for a minimum wage
Who took the job to earn some cash
So she could buy a makeup stash
Who smears the lipstick on her face
So she can go to the drinking place
And when each night is at an end
She’ll rub the make-up off again