Saturday, July 31, 2010

Judging Other Women, Judging Ourselves

One of the reasons I stopped reading women's magazines was due to the way they helped to create a mindset within me of judging other women's appearances. And in turn, my own.

All those pap shots, or red carpet shots, with captions such as "OMG, Celebrity A wore item X with item Y. The shame!" always made me start thinking "oh, I'm not supposed to wear X with Y? Since when? What else do I not know? Do I look stupid?"

And "OMG, Celebrity B's appalling outfit just draws attention to her problem areas, not flattering at all!" made me start seeing women's bodies in terms of 'problem areas' and how we must disguise them at all costs.

For what it's worth, I don't even consider the parts of my body that don't work so well as problem areas, so I hated applying that destructive judgement to my bits that are simply more bulgy than others.

But reading those hateful comments made me see similar 'sins' in real life, and the language of body fascism started to invade my consciousness. I was making snap judgements about other women's appearances. As soon as I clocked each thought, I'd immediately challenge it and reassure myself that I didn't think that really, but I hated that the snap judgements were happening at all.

And the more I judged others, the more those judgements affected my own self-esteem. If I could judge Celebrity C, even momentarily, for an unflattering top, when she is frankly at most 1/3 of my size and is conventionally beautiful, then really, what did I look like? And if the women who wrote these magazines, and other women who read them, judged conventionally beautiful and improbably slim women so badly, what on earth would they think of me?

So I stopped reading those magazines. I stopped reading reactionary statements about the supposed fashion sins committed by other women, and I stopped making those judgements about other women, and I began to stop making them about myself. It was one of the best things for my self-esteem and for my self-respect that I have ever done.

With this in mind, I was interested to read this blog post from polimicks.
I have been making a concerted effort to remove appearance-related insults from my vocabulary. Because honestly, if I'm pissed off at someone, it has NOTHING to do with what they LOOK like, and everything to do with what they ARE like.
This rang very true with me. Happy as I always am to argue endlessly against the politics of, say, Ann Widdecombe, I would also endlessly defend her when people criticising her resort to making fun of her appearance and weight. And they invariably do.

Firstly, there is no need. It is cruel, it is nasty, and no contribution for the advancement of women is ever made when politicians are only critiqued on their size and perceived attractiveness. Secondly, it is entirely irrelevant, and unhelpful to the argument anyway. If you want to slate Ann's position on abortion rights, go ahead. But you only devalue your own argument if you make any reference to her never needing one because 'she's so fat and ugly that noone would want to impregnate her'. And yes, I've heard that numerous times. This undermines any valid point within the rest of your argument, as well as being needlessly shallow and hateful.

Criticising other women's bodies goes counter to everything that feminism should stand for. It is hurtful to other women, and it is hurtful to ourselves. And it is irrelevant to any other criticisms of a person, be it their politics, their acting skills, their singing ability, their ability to read the news, or, frankly, anything at all.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Oh, the Outrage!

Certain newspapers are renowned for creating outrage and horror out of the smallest things, but this example had me howling with laughter. That might be related to the painkillers I'm currently on for an excessively painful period, but that just makes it all the more relevant.

It appears that somebody on set thought it would be funny to add 'jam rags' and 'pile cream' to a blackboard shopping list in Marlon Dingle's kitchen. I agree, I think that is quite funny.

I had actually never heard the term 'jam rags' for sanitary towels before, so I've learned something new. And it highlights the fact that just as characters in soaps are rarely seen going to the toilet, they are also rarely seen as having periods. Funnily enough they never watch other soaps, either.

The Fail tells us:
Vivienne Pattison, director of Mediawatch, said: 'Clearly whoever wrote that knew exactly what they were doing, and they certainly didn't need to.
'It's not a particularly helpful phrase to refer to sanitary towels as "jam rags" , and it is unnecessary.
Sharon Kennedy, 26, from Kingstanding, Birmingham, said: 'I couldn't believe my eyes when it appeared on screen - it's not the kind of language you expect to appear in one of our oldest soaps.
'I had to cover my young son's eyes because I didn't want to have to explain that kind of crass language to him at such a young age.
Mother-of-two Jean Walker, 38, from Lichfield, Staffs, added: 'I was stunned when my son, who is only seven, turned around and asked me what a jam rag was.
'It's not the kind of thing you want your kids seeing, so it was disappointing to see it on a programme like Emmerdale just after dinner.
'You hear phrases like that used in the street or in the pub sometimes, but to use it in front of millions as part of a TV soap is a pretty silly thing to do.'

These people don't appear outraged, or scared for the moral health of their child, regarding the current storyline of a murdered man's body being found in the woods, or an older woman's admission of graverobbing, or the sad death of the chronic alcoholic pictured in that screenshot that very night (yes, I watch Emmerdale!). But a mention of sanitary towels in slang terms - UNACCEPTABLE!

Oh my. Somebody think of the children!

I use medical terms and slang terms to refer to periods. I try and avoid overtly negative ones like 'the curse', despite my endometriosis and PCOS making me feel quite cursed on days like today. When I lived in France, periods were often referred to as 'les Anglaises' - nobody quite knew why, but one theory was the shade of red that white Brits turn when they holiday in sunny France, and another was to do with the red coats that the guards of Buckingham Palace wear.

So I'm on the blob, I've got the painters in, Liverpool / Arsenal / Man U are playing at home, I'm menstruating, I have my period. There's nothing offensive about that, it's a fact of life, and talking about it shouldn't horrify anyone.

Because I've always had problems with my periods, it is something I have had to talk about regularly. I also had to come to terms with the fact that periods weren't shameful. Buying sanitary towels as a teenager might have felt mortifying, but now I barely notice doing it. There really is nothing to be ashamed of.

The Onion has a nice collection of euphemisms for menstruation, my favourite probably being It's 'that time of the month' where 'I'm not at my best' because 'my vagina is bleeding'. The Museum of Menstruation has the most comprehensive collection of words used to describe menstruating I have ever, ever seen. That site is actually endlessly fascinating, with extensive information on anything and everything to do with periods.

So, what are your favourite period euphemisms? Do you prefer to use less euphemistic language? Would you be horrified to see 'jam rags' on a shopping list? Or is any mention of our 'monthlies' offensive at all?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Budget Impact on Disabled Women

Jess posted that women will bear the brunt of three-quarters of extra taxes and benefit cuts from the latest budget. Disabled people are also at risk, especially with the proposed changes to benefits, so disabled women will be particularly adversely affected.

In a 2004 study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, on the extra costs of living associated with being disabled, it was found that disabled people living on benefits face a weekly shortfall of £200 compared to the amount required for them to ensure an acceptable, equitable quality of life and minimum standard of living. And those results were for people on maximum benefit levels.

With many people who are too sick to work being 'pushed into seeking work without any help or support', and the continuing rolling out of ESA, a system condemned as 'unfit' by one of the very people who designed it, along with proposed 'savings' (by which we mean cuts) to Disability Living Allowance (DLA), many disabled people living on benefits will be even more limited.

The cost of living for everybody, as well as the particular extra costs of living for disabled people, continues to rise, and will do so especially with the increase in VAT. As benefits are frozen and essentially cut, disabled women in particular will be seriously adversely affected.

For working disabled women, there will also be more problems. The Joseph Rowntree report found that disabled people with high-medium needs would find themselves with a shortfall of £80 a week, not even including possible PA costs. Add to this that more disabled people tend to work in the public sector than the private sector, where cuts are of course being made, and the situation is frightening. In addition, disabled people who work can claim Disability Living Allowance, so cuts and limitations will affect them too. In fact, some working people can only work because of the way they use their DLA to cover additional costs, so cutting that could well mean that some working disabled people would have to stop work, and claim benefits.

The proposed budgetary changes threaten to send many more women into poverty. They threaten to send many more disabled people into poverty. So for disabled women? It is a very scary time indeed.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Misc Freebies

I have never been known to turn down a freebie, at least not that I can remember. There have been a few very cool ones lately, so thought I'd share.

Firstly, you can get a free bag for life, made from recycled plastic bottles. You can choose your colour. It is associated with Procter and Gamble, so as long as that doesn't bother you, go for it!

Secondly, free food! I got in the post today a box of lovely healthy food, all free! You can too, from The code for getting it free is 2DK1RCP. You do have to sign up with payment details, but it's easy to cancel once you've got your freebie. However, I won't be cancelling for now at least, because yum! Full disclosure: if you sign up with that code, I get £1 off a snack box!

Thirdly, a directory of free wi-fi locations.

Fourthly, find your local freegle or freecycle group, and you can give stuff away for free as well as get it :)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

You look fine. You really do. All of you.

It is no longer enough to hate your breasts, face, stomach, legs, nose, ears and lips enough to get them sliced and diced or injected with poison. It's no longer enough to have society tell you that your body is so very unacceptable that you should risk your life having major surgery in order to make it fit patriarchal 'rules' about thinness, pertness, tightness, hairlessness and perfection.

Now, you have to apply the same thinking to your vagina. Are the muscles stretched? Are your labia too big - or too small? Is your mons pubis too big - or too small? Ditto clitoris. Well, you can have those cut up too.

That article actually says,
So, if you or your partner is not satisfied with your vagina, a rejuvenation procedure can work wonders.

Your partner? If s/he is not happy with your vagina, that is entirely their problem! And is not ever a good reason for you to have it chopped up. In fact, if they are criticising your vulva or vagina, they certainly don't deserve you.

Amy Clare's review of a Channel 4 programme about 'designer vaginas' is worth reading.

I have had surgery twice this year, and the fear and pain associated with them made me think a lot about, and seriously question, why people would put themselves through that voluntarily. Just how strong are society's pressures, that they cause women to go through massive pain and lots of health risks, to get a smoother face or less saggy boobs?

When a woman chooses to have cosmetic surgery, I feel sad. Until we live in a society where what we look like is not used to oppress us, I question how much free choice we ever really have to make these decisions.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Help Make It Stop

Via Women's Views on News, I discovered this video from the Metropolitan Police, telling people to dial 999 if they hear domestic violence attacks through the walls from their neighbours.

It shows the shocking statistic that almost 1 in 5 murders in London are the result of domestic violence, and ends with the statement, You make the call. We'll make it stop.

It's an issue that has provoked discussion with my friends over the years. Many, many of us have been in this situation, hearing arguments next door escalate, and wondering what to do.

I personally have dialled 999 when things sounded like they were getting really out of hand, but it wasn't an easy decision. When you do dial 999, you fear that you will make things worse for the woman, when the man is released, if he is taken into custody at all. You fear that the police will not take it seriously. You even fear that you may be misinterpreting the situation, despite the smashing and screaming that you really can't mistake.

But I did dial, on more than one occasion, because I feared that that would, indeed, be the time that he would kill her. Because I could not bear to hear her suffering and terror any longer. Because I could not live with myself if I just sat there and allowed it to happen. Because she was being beaten, her furniture was being thrown, and nobody should need to tolerate that. Because I could hear her daughter crying upstairs.

I dialled 999, but even having done it I was never 100% sure it had been the right thing. If it would make him more aggressive to her later. If the police would 'make it stop' at all. In the end I spoke to my neighbour alone, asked her if I had done the right thing, and asked whether I should I do it again, if necessary. She was a proud woman, and said she was fine, but did eventually agree that if it sounded really bad, I should call for help.

So what about you? Have you dialled 999 in that situation? Have you wanted to, but not dared? Have you decided against it? And why? What made you call, or what made you not call?

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Rapist Urged Not to Rape

My local paper has published an article following the sexual assault of a woman. They report that the police are urging a change in behaviour to prevent further rapes. Sadly, contrary to the title of this post, the change in behaviour they are encouraging involves the behaviour of local women, who are advised to not walk alone on the paths of the Dearne Valley Trail.

So, I would like to make a few changes to the article. My alterations are in bold
POLICE have issued this image of a man who subjected a 50-year-old woman to a terrifying sex attack as she walked her dog at a South Yorkshire beauty spot.
The man assaulted the woman as she he walked alone on a secluded path on the Dearne Valley Trail, near Elsecar, Barnsley, at around midday on Thursday June 24.

The stockily-built attacker was white, around 30 years old, with short fair hair and a round face. He was wearing blue shorts and a white T-shirt and fled towards Elsecar Park following the attack.

Police are warning people using the trail to be vigilant and report suspicious activity immediately. They are also urging women not to walk the paths alone. They are particularly urging the rapist to stop raping, and want men to be aware that if they walk the paths alone, they may cause alarm to the women in the area, due to this recent attack.

Det Sgt Steve Trigg, from South Yorkshire Police, said the woman was left "traumatised and in shock" after the serious sex assault, and feared she might be killed.

Anyone with information about the attack should call 0114 2202020 ext 736551.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Not Ever

Rape Crisis Scotland have created a TV advert, aimed at tackling prejudice against rape victims.

It follows a survey carried out by the Scottish government, which found that 23% of people thought a woman was partly responsible for being raped if she was drunk at the time of the attack, and 17% if she was wearing revealing clothing.

Their campaign ad helps to make the point that a woman is never, ever responsible for being raped. Never. Not if she is drunk, not if she has said yes before, not if she said yes to your friend, not if she is naked in the street.

Their website is a good source of information, and also has posters available for download, and details of a national helpline.

As I learned on my first ever Reclaim the Night march,
"Whatever we wear, wherever we go,
yes means yes and no means no".