Why do female MPs complain about sexism then indulge in it?

In recent years, Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Jess Phillips have been some of the most passionate and prominent feminist campaigners. Creasy has famously promoted abortion rights in Northern Ireland and cautioned Toby Young several years ago on his misogyny. “I really hoped that you would get with the 21st century and stop tweeting about women’s tits in Parliament”, she told Young on Newsnight, receiving much praise. Phillips has her own book – Everywoman – to remind the sisterhood they can “kick-ass”. In a blog for The Huffington Post she once wrote that “gender equality is the key to solving so many of our current national challenges”.

Fair enough, but with all this in mind, it did seem odd to me yesterday that these two MPs accepted an invitation, along with Lucy Powell, to speak on This Morning. It was not for any intellectual discussion, instead to muse over the proceedings of ITV’s Love Island. “Oh yeah, I’ve watched it with Harriet Harman in the Lady Members’ Room”, boasted Jess Phillips. I’m sure Harman has never been so grateful for the mention… Afterwards Creasy, Phillips and Powell pouted for a photograph.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with MPs relaxing over Love Island. The question is: why do women get asked to talk about it on television? Would Margaret Thatcher, for instance, have pondered Dani and Jack, or Megan’s buoyant boobs? One imagines Dennis Skinner being asked to comment on The Hideaway, and the mind boggles. A male MP wouldn’t have been asked to chat about such matters in the first place.

As a society, we are often reminded that sexism has many discrete and subtle forms. The depressing reality is that not even those who are most informed and educated on it can see it staring them in the face. In journalism I see similar instances of sexism in the tasks women are asked to carry out. Why is there no demand for men to discuss their sex lives, dating disasters or mental health in the same way women are encouraged to? Female suffering has become a type of currency – all the while men are expected to do Brexit and economics. This double standard will not stop until women learn to say no to an opportunity or two.

Creasy, especially, ought to know better. As one of the most talented, articulate parliamentarians, her energies are wasted commenting on a series that barely passes as low-brow entertainment. The pity is when women take up these opportunities, they reinforce limitations on what all of us are allowed to comment on. Next time ITV rings, the sisterhood would be thankful if the Labour ladies hang up the phone.

 

 

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Sadiq Khan: how censorious can you get?

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I wish people would get a sense of proportion about advertising, but all they do is worry about proportions. Case en pointe: last year, a famous poster featuring a slender model, with the slogan “Are you beach body ready?”, sparked immense outrage among young women. Protesters called its subject too thin, and petitioned to have the poster removed – on the grounds that it would promote unrealistic body standards.

I thought the matter had been laid to rest, until today – when I heard that Sadiq Khan had launched a new and rather censorious crusade. Distressed by the saga of 2015, the Mayor plans to police adverts on the tube that could cause confidence issues, particularly among young women. Speaking about his campaign, he said: “As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies”, adding that: “Nobody should feel pressurised, while they travel on the Tube or bus.”

It’s difficult to know where to begin with Khan’s latest effort, which seems stupid at best, dangerous at worst. Perhaps the biggest issue with it is that it diminishes the role of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – which has, for years, been a largely accepted and appreciated authority on what can stay and go on our billboards. Last year, despite receiving 200 complaints, the organisation resisted when asked to remove the “Beach body ready” campaign. I was glad to see that its representatives did not cave to a humourless, oversensitive mob.

But thanks to Sadiq, the mob will have its way. TFL now has to block any advert that could be accused of body shaming. This is ridiculous, as what might constitute body shaming is such a nuanced and subjective thing. Given the upset over the “Beach body ready” posters – that featured a real person – I wonder who on earth will now be allowed to grace our tube lines? Who will be deemed as not offensive?

The fact of the matter is that adverts are aspirational. When I buy a shampoo from L’Oreal, I do not suddenly believe that I am going to look like Cheryl Cole. Posters and their stars are not designed to reflect reality – but to promote an idealistic image, which we can buy into. What kind of wet society are we living in, where people have to be protected from things that look nice. Instead of dividing adverts into the good and bad, we should get a dose of reality – and accept that we can’t all look “Beach body ready” (but we can try).

If this is one of Sadiq Khan’s best ideas as Mayor, I’m seriously concerned. It shows a desperate lack of humour, and someone who will simply censor things he does not like. Perhaps worst of all, it demonstrates a man who will abandon all logic to be Mr Popular.

He should take some lessons from the ASA; an institution that firmly understands the importance of policy before populism.

There isn’t a statue of a woman outside Parliament. And?

Mahatma Gandhi statue erected in London’s Parliament Square

Isn’t awful? Doesn’t it make you want to gasp in outrage? There’s no statue of a woman outside parliament.

Feminist journalist Caroline Criado-Perez spotted this while out for a jog with her dog. As she sped past the area, something felt awry. Pausing for thought, she noticed that there were eleven statues, none of which were of women.

Criado-Perez’s not happy about this and has drawn up a petition to set matters right. “Put a statue of a suffragette in Parliament Square”, reads the thing on Change.Org.

The petition has gathered immense momentum, and – at the time of writing – had 69,000 supporters (out of the 75,000 it needs). This is no doubt thanks to its author’s past success getting Jane Austen on the £10 bank note, as well the numerous celebrity backers who won’t sleep until Parliament Square gets a dose of oestrogen. Signatories include Caroline Lucas, Emma Watson and J.K Rowling.

But does anyone actually care that Parliament Square doesn’t have a statue of a woman? I’m not convinced, particularly as it took a jog for someone as politically astute and educated as Criado-Perez to notice. This was not only slightly embarrassing, but demonstrates a sort of ambivalence about statues I expect many of us feel.

It doesn’t matter, anyway; the crusaders won’t rest until there’s a suffragette on Parliament Square. Their reasoning is simple; they believe omission is enough to belittle women’s contributions to society. And that young impressionable young girls might walk around the area, and have their dreams quashed upon noticing the lack of female statue.

Like I say, I struggle to accept that anyone’s that bothered. In fact, most of the people I know who trot around Parliament Square – aside from politicians – aren’t activists or those who might fall victim to sexist messages, but bumbag-wielding tourists. And they’re not thinking about gender inequality; more like, ‘how do I read this map?’ Or staring at a statue of their favourite historical bloke: Jan Smuts, perhaps (who?) or the 3RD Viscount Palmerston… Yeah.

This latest campaign is just another example of arbitrary feminism. In recent years, instead of trying to actual problems for women, such as FGM and arranged marriages, campaigners have become quite proficient at inventing issues (that aren’t really there). It’s a sort of empty nest syndrome of feminism: “what’s there to tidy up now?” Justified on the basis that these small issues matter. Let me tell you, they don’t. Unless you’re trying to get a Guardian column.

That there aren’t any statues of women at Parliament Square is of little consequence; a legacy of history, rather a representation of contemporary sexism. And I suspect the suffragettes who the campaigners wish to represent would have said, “come on, ladies. Haven’t you got better things to do?”

Dancing with trolls: could feminists ‘kill off’ the enemy with a bit of kindness?

Guardian

If there’s one thing that terrifies most people, it’s fear of the unknown. Horror films prey on the human ability to be spooked by mystical entities that do not rear their heads, yet make their presence known.

Perhaps that’s why we’re all so scared of Twitter trolls. The person throwing stones from the other side of the computer can seem far more threatening than they really are.

The Guardian’s feminist brigade has given an unprecedented amount of attention to trolls in recent years, yesterday bringing out a video to shed light on this digitally-savvy enemy. Footage features peeved female journalist after peeved female journalist reading out nasty messages they’ve received from angry keyboard-tappers:

‘A bit of rape never harmed anyone’, spews one.

‘Kill yourself, c-nt nugget’, says another.

They’re not the only individuals to campaign. Caroline Criado-Perez regularly appears in the paper waxing lyrical about her ambitions to fight trolls.

Don’t get me wrong, as a possessor of two X chromosomes, I’m vexed by the nature of some of these messages. But from my own experience with trolling, I can’t help but feel we’re giving too much airtime to a group that has extremely limited intellectual credibility.

What you find, if you really start to examine trolling behaviour, is that far from being a menacing group of individuals, most of them are surprisingly inarticulate. Having published things on the internet, what I found most poignant about being attacked was not the horror of someone being rude to me, but just how grammatically inept they were as they slung their mud.

Trolls are a sort of terrorist – albeit not that dangerous – in that they are desperately keen for attention, but a bit uncertain about how to get it. Perhaps because they lack the literacy skills to compete with Criado-Perez et al, they take the easy route to getting noticed. Being a pain. Far from fearing or being angry with Twitter trolls, feminists might do better to pity this academically inferior group.

I have found that, like with babies when they throw their things out of the pram, trolls’ temper tantrums can be alleviated not by being ignored, or ticked off, but with a bit of TLC. When I have engaged with members of the cantankerous community on Twitter, Reddit and even the forum of my own blog, I find they quietly pipe down with a bit of attention. They just want to be loved, and most of all: noticed.

Feminists are noticing the trolls at the moment, but they are in dangerous territory of justifying a number of complaints against women (‘we cry easily’, type thing) by shrivelling into victims as soon as a Reddit user hurls some jumbled up swearwords at one of us.

We could learn – as they know in many service industries – that there is a certain amount of truth to the idiom ‘kill it with kindness’. Engaging with, and indulging, trolls to a certain extent can extinguish their flames of fury and also help to reinforce that we’re the ones in control.

Why Miley Cyrus reminds me of a block of cheddar cheese

Just cause you put triangles in it doesn't make it classy
Just because you put triangles in it doesn’t make it classy

She’s gonna go moldy one day

A long time ago I watched Miley Cyrus on an episode of Graham Norton – back when she was singing about climbing mountains and having a grand old party in the USA. She came across as savvy and intelligent, with opinions far more astute than those of her counterparts.

And then her music selling tactics took a strange turn. We all saw that performance with Robin Thicke at the MTV VMA Awards 2013. Cyrus had worked out that sex sells, and golly gosh, was she going to sell.

Out came the buttocks, the strange outfits, and then the statements. In an article for Paper magazine the other day, Cyrus announced her bisexuality, saying “I don’t relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl”.

Forget rent a gob – Cyrus is ‘rent a cliché’, for every time she speaks she seems to produce statements that we all know will get her publicity, but don’t sound particularly authentic.

More than anything, I feel exhausted by the endless stream of Cyrus photos that all seem to say: ‘look everyone, I’ve got nipples’. I’m sure I’ve seen the woman’s vagina more than my dog’s balls.

It’s clear the Cyrus considers herself radical and feminist, as if by sharing her butt like Jesus with his fish she has started some sort of revolution. But her artistry is predictable and sexist, and no more profound than Loaded magazine spread. In stripping off she reveals a horrifying level of cultural ignorance and short-term way of thinking.

I understand why Cyrus wants to get naked. First of all, she looks good – and who wouldn’t want to show off the effects of personal training? But mostly she is hungry for fame and attention and has exploited women’s fast track route to this. Beauty.

Now you may not say after watching Cyrus cuddle up to a – slightly alarmed – pig in Paper that she looked particularly beautiful, but the fact is that her body is appealing, and most of her success comes from allowing all and sundry access to it.

You see lots of girls who understand the importance of their bodies too, and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to be sexy. They go through a bit of a ‘shallow era’ as they realise that the physically attractive girls at school are the ones prized by boys, and that intellect or interests are secondary factors in desirability. If your boobs look good, your status becomes immediately elevated.

But then most of us grow out of it, at varying speeds. Aside from being a bit annoyed about being judged by our body parts, perhaps a lot of that is to do is with the realisation we’re going to get old.

I feel like Cyrus is still stuck in that shallow stage though – and I doubt the thought has ever occurred to her that one day her boobs might fall to the ground. That she might be in fact signing her own death warrant by by using her body to garner love.

Bodies age, and more than that, people tire of bodies. Once you have exposed every part of your anatomy, there is nothing else to show. And why would anyone be interested in your personality? It was never part of your original sales pitch, so there you are. Expired.

You’re the next Jane Birkin; Brigitte Bardot; Jacqueline Bisset of the era. Beautiful one day, forgotten the next. And when you’re wrinkly, who’s going to want to read about your sex life in Paper magazine?

It’s a false economy to believe sexiness equals longitude. If you look at older women who are still around – the Hillary Clintons and Gloria Steinhams – you will find that they weren’t the most aesthetically pleasing or sexually provocative. They actually had interesting things to say – not just ‘I’m bisexual’ – that have given them immortality with women and men.

But Cyrus is just a block of cheddar cheese. I say that because right now she’s in date, on the front aisle – her body taste and fresh. And yet cheddar goes moldy – and so will Cyrus too. And what happens to cheese when it goes moldy? It goes in the bin, because no one wants to eat it.

The only thing that differentiates Cyrus from cheddar cheese is she has a soul and is not – despite what it seems like – just an object for people to devour. So I suggest she stops parading her lumps for the world to see, and instead focuses on all those things I saw on The Graham Norton Show all those years ago – a feisty, interesting singer who just happens to have a nice body.

Why are feminists so intent on nurture?

Nostrils of love: it's no wonder women are falling in love with Tim Hunt
Nostrils of love: it’s no wonder women are falling for Tim Hunt

If women want to prove they can be scientists then they must stop discounting the facts 

No gal on earth would have been happy when Sir Tim Hunt – fellow of the Royal Society and Nobel prizewinning scientist – made several ill-considered comments about women in laboratories. Apparently we ‘cry’ too much, and also make men ‘fall in love’ with us.

So big was the fallout from what he said that, today, Hunt has resigned from his post at UCL.

Joking though he (apparently) was, Hunt’s words opened up a huge debate about barriers to women in science.

‘Hunt has made at last explicit the prejudice that undermines the prospects of everyone born with childbearing capabilities’, wrote Anne Perkins for The Guardian.

Others complained that he’s just another cog in the stereotype machine, putting women off from cutting up dead mice. They argue that the reason why so many women don’t want to pursue biology, chemistry and the rest is because we’ve been subjected to sexist opinions like his.

But I think it’s time we got a bit scientific about this. Because women aren’t that feeble; we can handle people like Hunt.

There might be a far more straightforward reason why not as many of us are in science: biology.

Oh no she didn’t
It has become incredibly fashionable these days to discount it. The idea of nurture is popular with the left because it stands for equality; the notion that we can be anything we want with the right social conditions. But that is far from the truth.

As soon as we are born we are already injected with a huge personality stamp from mummy and daddy. As much as 50 percent of our genetic variance is biological – which means being you is half out of your control.

Women and men are wired differently. Studies over time have shown men to be more proficient when it comes to spatial awareness, and as adults they do better on engineering and physics problems testing. In contrast, women are better at tests of verbal fluency, and social and emotional recognition. Young boys are statistically more likely to pick up mechanical toys, whereas girls go for things with faces like dolls.

You can even see gender differences in animals, with rats likely to be better at navigating mazes than their female counterparts.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

There are also mental disorders, which highlight differences – and deficiencies – in our brains. Women are far more likely to suffer from emotional disorders whereas men suffer far more from things like autism (five times more prevalent), Tourette’s, ADHD and psychopathy.

See, it’s not that great being a bloke.

Of course nurture does play a bit of a part in the equation. As one of my psychology teachers once said ‘the nature and nurture debate is like asking which side of a square is more important than the other’. They are both important and actually interact to give us our individuality.

But at the moment, feminists are in dangerous favour of nurture – and I’m not sure why.

It’s not a bad thing that the ‘feminine’ brain might not be attracted to science – just like it’s not a bad thing the ‘masculine’ brain might not be attracted to journalism. Because wherever we have a weakness in the brain, there is a compensating factor elsewhere.

That’s not to say that being a woman means you can’t be a scientist – it’s just to point out that the natural wiring of the average male brain confers an advantage when it comes to certain tasks.

It might also suggest that our teaching methods need to adapt, so that women can learn about science through different approaches.

If women really want to be scientists, they will be scientists. If Tim Hunt was a journalist and said to me one day, ‘women shouldn’t be writers because they cry and make men fall in love with them’, or something worse, would I care?

No.

You hear popstars talk about how they got rejection after rejection after rejection before being signed to a record label. The point is – if you’re passionate about something, you’re going to do it. In fact, it’s sexist to say that women can’t cope with negative comments.

But it’s not sexist to say that there are sex differences in intelligence; it is biologically accurate. And if women really want to prove they can be scientists, they must listen to the facts.

It’s #JustATampon (but what if PERIOD PHOBIA is good for women?)

Tampon Jon
He’s got a tampon, and he’s not afraid to use it

Blud be scared by da blood

It takes a tough man to handle periods. The fact is, most guys are grossed out by them – which can be annoying when you’re hungry, or have a face like someone at a rosacea conference, and can’t complain to anyone that you have Julius Caesar’s death in your downstairs.

A load of celebrities are trying to make periods more of an open thing, with a wonderful Twitter hashtag circulating: #JustATampon. It’s designed to mark International Tampon Alert Day.

You can already see it: men standing out on their house balconies, waving a red and white flag. Viva la period!

Or not.

Because the idea of a woman’s time makes them shrivel up like a sanitary towel tossed into a bin.

I guess if I didn’t have periods I would find them a bit gross too, and start imagining weird things about them. Like one boy told me he imagined a tampon is like a plug in your v-jay jay that you pull out and then loads of blood spurts out, so I had to inform him that it’s more absorbent than the metal thing that goes in the sink.

Others run away at the sound of the word ‘period’, like someone had announced they have ebola.

For ages I thought it was a bit rubbish how men didn’t really care for periods, but then I started to think of all the wonderful advantages of their fear. What if PERIOD PHOBIA is actually a good thing for women?

The first real benefit of this I saw was when I was having a fight with my brothers. Now even though I am 26 and five foot one, and there’s three of them, they do like to test my strength. But one day I noticed that if I talked about periods, there was no need to use my normal tactics like biting or scratching, because they all just ran away.

Women: if you want men to run away, just talk about periods.

Further to that I’ve realised that any sort of image associated with periods is aversive in itself. That’s in spite of that weird tampon advert a few years ago where manufacturers made them look like sweets: ‘ooh darling, fancy one of these?’ (The only problem is where they go to unwrap them, of course).

I’m sure if you had a box of tampons you could shoot them like bullets at ‘undesirables’ on the street – sending all the whistling builders and miscellaneous perves scuttling off into the sewers (where I imagine they live). You can even fight crime with your period by sticking all your prized possessions in your sanitary boxes! Forget safes, if there’s one place a male burglar isn’t going near it’s a box of sanitary products.

(And I know male burglars won’t be reading this and finding out about my secret because just the word ‘period’ in the title is like staring into Medusa’s eyes for them.)

It’s not only crime periods help with – there’s a number of social situations. For example, you’re dating but you’re not interested (‘sorry, I’m waving the red flag’); you’re trying to converse with your girlfriend and need your man to disappear (‘we’re talking about periods, babezzz’). Or maybe you’re being a bit of a – as Kate Moss would call it – basic bitch.

Don’t blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, just blame it on the period. All you need say is: ‘it’s not me, it’s Mr P’. Guys won’t probe any further because menstruation = men’s frustration.

But let’s stop all this ‘cuddle my tampon’ business. We’re never going to get men to like periods, because who likes a bleeding lady.

Chris Brown?

Perhaps. But for other chaps it’s a mystic river down there that they don’t want to wade in. So let’s just keep it that way, and use our periods to our creative advantage.