Tag Archives: Feminism


Patronising Pa’s Parenting Prolongs the Patriarchy

Every Friday I take some or all of my kids to a playgroup at the local church hall. It is run by a group of wonderful women, all retirees, and they charge a paltry £1 per family. Since I bring more children than most to the group, I always feel like I am gaming the system or abusing their goodwill. But no, they say, it’s a straight £1 no matter how many kids you bring. For that I also get a cup of tea plus juice and biscuits for the kids.

The group is advertised as a ‘Mother and Child Playgroup’. But I’m a father. Continue reading Patronising Pa’s Parenting Prolongs the Patriarchy

You’re not going out dressed like that!

this-girl-took-us-to-churchOn social media, a friend shares the above exchange, on the subject of sexual assault and the clothes women wear.  The responses to the guy who compares women’s bodies to a bank vault are as good a refutation of this line of thinking as any you will see. (h/t Noodlemaz, and here’s a link to the conversation on Tumblr if you want to reblog it.)

There was more debate in the comments to this image.  One person (again, a man) said that refraining from dressing in a provocative manner was just being “realistic” about human nature. He seemed not to have considered the idea that, as thinking beings, a man who forces himself on a woman is not succumbing to human nature, just accepting without question the worst messages of our sexist culture.

This is a blinkered outlook.  There is nothing to say that our society cannot be changed and made better.  Whenever anyone resorts to the idea that something is “human nature” we must remind them that this observation is unlikely to be correct… And even if it were, that should be the start of the conversation, not the end of it. Continue reading You’re not going out dressed like that!

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 The Weight Loss Cul-De-Sac


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

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 The Incompleteness of the Abortion Debate

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 Two Essential Testimonies on Date Rape

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 Feminism Enabled Gay Marriage

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.


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.