Bringing you regular rage against the patriarchy, drenched in sarcasm and capslocks #FEMINISTFRIDAY

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

The Biscuit Tin Wife

I met with a very good friend of mine this week for one of our frequent 5 hour-long coffees at the weekend. We all have some form of this; the conversations where we put the world to rights, create a new democracy in our heads, discuss the immorality of capitalism and then pay for our several Starbucks. The irony/hypocrisy is lost on neither of us.

In this session though he talked about something his Dad refers to as the ‘Biscuit Tin Wife’ the old Fox metal tins with a picture on the front of a smiling mother serving up the roast, with the Dad looking on, probably wearing a suit and reading the paper – what men do. His Dad says this a problem. This picture is what people think ‘Families’ should look like and subconsciously that’s what people still aspire to (At least I think that’s what he said, I got too caught up in a daydream that went something along the lines of; “Biscuit Tin Wife, I remember those biscuit tins, Mum had loads, they used to have strawberry wafers in them, they should bring back strawberry wafers, I want one now, Starbucks should do strawberry wafers…” I have a very short attention span when someone mentions baked goods.)

Anyway, this became the basis of my conversation with my niece. We talked about wanting it all and trying to have it all. She talked about her mother and grandmother and the difference between them. My mother (her grandmother) is a strong woman, she has had to deal with a lot in her life, but if someone asked what she did they would call her a housewife. And she is. When I was growing up my mother was everything you would see on the front of those biscuit tins (although it wasn’t a roast obviously, it was a damn good curry). But she is, of course, much more than just this. My sister (my niece’s mother) is also the biscuit tin wife. But she’s also the man in the suit reading the paper. She has a 9-5 demanding job and then comes home, grabs an apron and gets the roast on. We were both exhausted just thinking about it. I have no intention of doing this, I will no doubt have a more than demanding job, but the rest can bugger off, that’s why they invented take outs, at least that’s what I tell myself. When I asked my niece what she wanted, she thought about it and said what I expected her to; “I want both, but I don’t think it will be easy.” No, it won’t be.

All of the women in my family are married and almost all have children (let’s bypass the conversations my mother and I have had about this, which usually start with ‘You’re not getting any younger..”) and all of them work hard to have both. All of them, often, look exhausted. But would they give any of them up or relinquish control? No. I used to worry that was a family trait, but apparently it’s not. It’s about meeting modern expectation. I would take the term modern with a pitch of salt though, it is laced in patriarchal tradition of what being a woman is.

Modern expectation of womanhood tells us to have a career, have a successful relationship and be home in time to feed the children. It sounds like walking a tightrope balancing weights for the rest of your life (Well, until your children leave home or you reach retirement). But, if I was to ask women what they would want instead, I don’t think many of them would be able to tell me. If someone asked me to pick only one of the above, I couldn’t. I too, want it all. However it’s difficult to separate out what I want or what I have been conditioned to want.

So how do we go about making these choices without feelings of guilt, feelings of not meeting someone’s (I’m not always sure who’s) expectations? Gender Equality. Obvs. 50% of all the tasks shared between partners (in this case I obviously mean in a straight relationship, as I am comparing traditional roles of men and women, but it could still be compared to same sex relationships depending on what roles are assumed within them). I was listening to Radio 4 (I know, that was mistake in itself) but the show was talking about parenting and a man called in and proclaimed his selfless fatherhood by always taking a Friday off to look after the children, so his wife could work 3 days a week. The hosts applauded him and told him he was a model for others. woo – frickin- hoo. What about the fact that the wife in this example only works a 3 day week so he can work 4? (Let’s do a little pay gap analysis on that shall we?) No one would applaud her, because she’s just doing what’s expected, right? WRONG. she’s being bloody superwoman. Well done. To all the working mums out there: well done, I can only imagine how difficult it is and I can only imagine how unappreciated it goes. Well bloody done. But go and chill out now, yeah? You’re making the rest of us look bad.

We are inching towards a very tired and very over worked female population, one that will continue to be more exhausted and more conflicted about it. Unless we keep striving to get the balance to 50:50. To get paid what we should for being part-time workers, for being appreciated when we’re at home looking after the children and for it not to be something so rare for a man to work part-time to be able to look after his kids and finally for society to not have such high expectation of us or of us to have them of ourselves. I want a biscuit tin where the husband and wife both have aprons on, or better yet, are both in suits (busy getting paid equally) and they’re opening boxes of chinese take out – consequently with obese children sitting at the table.

“So can or should we try to have it all then or not?” My niece asked. The conversation drifted because someone put cake in front of me.

Yes, we can, if we truly want it. But, only when we are in a place where society actually helps rather than hinders us having it. This means everything from equal pay to lowering the cost of childcare, from better paternity leave to supporting more part-time work and, importantly, removing the stereotypes of gendered behaviours – for men and women, and us, as women, being accepting of that change. So yes, but there’s work to do, in the meantime, please continue being tired.


Oi Oi! Lads on tour!

Pass a pint of Stella (or don’t, and if my mother asks I asked you for Appletiser).

Whilst talking last week about objectification, my niece interjected, often, with “Why do guys think that’s ok?” It’s a difficult one because I don’t want her to tarnish all men with the same sexist brush – but it would seem that is, very unfortunately, what my niece is surrounded by. I should note for my lovely male, believers in equality, friends who have a tendency to shout out ‘Oi Oi Lads on tour’ on a night out, I understand you do so in an ironic way, this isn’t about you, although the embarrassment I feel on our nights out is…much love.

She talked, angrily, about how there are some young men she knows who will openly objectify a girl walking past and say degrading things about her, without any recognition of what exactly it is they are doing. She’s not friends with these young men. She’s friends with the nicer ones. The one’s that only do it to the women on TV or in the paper. That’s much better.

When you are in a society where all things are sexualised and a woman needs to be undressed to sell a product, you make it normal, you make it acceptable. I saw an advert a while ago with a pretty much naked women, using a sexy voice to sell me Tana lady…that’s just bad marketing! Or how about that  Oasis advert that gives a Scotch Egg, yes, a Scotch Egg, a sexy female voice…that’s just plain weird.

So when a ‘lad’ talks about a woman in a sexualised manner – it’s already ok. The problem is that it doesn’t stop there. As this has grown and gone unchallenged this ‘lad’ culture has become more dangerous. Its language is becoming violent and it’s being dismissed as ‘banter’. Now I have banter, my banter is excellent. It doesn’t need to sexualise or demean anyone to be that way. A disgustingly perfect example of this is the Uni Lad website, that decided rape and drugging girlfriends was ‘banter’. (There are many very good articles about this: here’s one from the F-Word). But the problem isn’t with the guys that write this. They are, of course, morons and most people, wouldn’t write articles like that or particularly read them. The issue is actually the groundswell of people who respond by simply saying ‘They’re just lads, thinking they’re  funny, it’s not a big deal’. It is a big deal. It is a huge fricking deal. Especially, when the people who say this are guys that my niece would call her friends, and even more painfully, young women, just like my niece, who want people to think they can have banter too.

I asked her what she did when young men acted like ‘lads’, she said she had challenged it one or twice but got the same response: “Get a grip it’s just a laugh” or “Girls are so frigid, they need to get a sense of humour”. After that kind of response, I get why my niece and any other young woman, doesn’t bother challenging it again. It would take a lot of courage to do so. And these are young men who are her friends. But I say again, maybe it’s not their fault, they are buying into a culture that has gone unchallenged, so why would they know better. If you took one of these young men aside and said ‘Why do you think that’s funny?’ I wonder what response you’d get?

“Because it’s just taking the piss”

“Because it’s not real, nobody actually thinks like that”

Or maybe just a grunt and a shrug…perhaps I’m being harsh, that probably because my nephew’s last voicemail sounded that way, I think he wanted a lift somewhere, but I had trouble deciphering that between the grumbles. I guess he was too tired for syllables…

The response wouldn’t be “Because I find reducing women to a sexual object and violence against women highly amusing”. Which, when they laugh along, is exactly what they are endorsing. If only they knew, if only someone would talk to them about it.

Sexism was overt, then there were campaigns, there were laws and it become subtle but just as dangerous. Now that it is challenged less, it seems like it’s becoming louder again but even more dangerous. Why? Because this time round, it has a new way of delivering itself, one that can mask itself in humour and twitterfeeds.

So I told my niece to do something about it: don’t let it go unchallenged, even if it’s your mates – explain why it’s not ok and make sure they understand. For those of you reading, if you don’t already do this. Start.

Can I get some fries with that shake?

The wonder of my conversations with my niece returns. Much to her delight might I add. I mean, who else wouldn’t be ecstatic having their ranty aunt call them on a Friday to discuss feminism at a time when she knows you’ll be free because she may, or may not, have downloaded your class timetable from your university website…? Let’s move on.

I like to think these conversations are having an impact and a little while ago I got a little feedback to support that. I got my niece’s first feminist rant via text.  I don’t think I have ever been prouder of anything or anyone. Here’s what she said (note: this is edited for grammatical reasons –  less proud):

“Something that’s really been annoying me is the topic of women posing for FMH/Maxim etc, all the boys think it’s ok to talk about these women in a really derogatory way, they think it makes them ‘lads’* I find it really disrespectful. I think it makes boys think it’s ok to openly degrade women – not just the ones in the magazines” Turning point number 1.

*Note: the topic of lad culture will be discussed next week, do tune in kids.

So taking this text we discussed, what we always would have at some point, objectification.

It’s a strange word and one that I’m not sure lends itself very well to the cause – mainly because it doesn’t sound offensive enough, but then again, few words end in f*ck.

Sexual objectification refers to the practice of regarding or treating another person merely as an instrument (object) towards one’s sexual pleasure, and a sex object is a person who is regarded simply as an object of sexual gratification or who is sexually attractive. Objectification is an attitude that regards a person as a commodity or as an object for use, with little or no regard for a person’s personality or sentience. (many thanks Wiki)

I gave my niece this definition and her reaction was fascinating. She concentrated and read over again the words ‘instrument’, ‘commodity’ and ‘no regard for person’s personality’. I could tell she was trying to digest it and figure out why this felt so cold and factual. I interrupted her concentration by explaining that objectification is fraught within society and that is why there is such a definition. Her reply?

“For god’s sake, if it has a definition like this, why the hell are people still arguing about feminism? Of course we need it!” Turning point number 2.

I could use this blog to talk about why objectification is bad, but you probably all know that. From the stereotype of a builder whistling at a busty woman walking down the street, to a bunch of ‘lads’ talking about how fit the cover of Maxim is; objectification belittles women into nothing more than anatomy to be used for sexual purpose. It can be the cause of violence against women and creates an unhealthy society, where woman are judged on their appearance and disrespected. Fact. Oh and for those of you wondering, pornography also comes into this definition and is not, in my eyes, sexual liberation for women. That is unhelpful feminism. Also a fact.** So we know this and we agree? Good.

It is her reaction that interested me most. Apparently it struck a chord. Someone calling her an instrument or commodity, made her feel self-conscious. Made her feel less worthy of something. She internalised what the outside world is at fault for, not her. How often does this happen? Women feeling that it is their fault for what they were wearing, how they were acting and how much they were drinking. On how many levels had sexism won there? Somehow, it wins in society but also in our psyches. She then asked about clothing and remarked that maybe wearing provocative clothing is asking for you to be objectified. “Should I dress a certain way?”

Immedietly I said NO (except, kindly informed her that it’s time for the UGG boots to go and orange is a very difficult colour to co-ordinate). It is not the woman’s fault for what she wears, it is sexism’s fault for how it interprets it.

Our conversation ended on an empowered note about how we could change this together. I hope she left feeling strong and then immedietly went to the library to study…obviously.

The purpose of these conversations is to support my niece who wants to learn more about feminism and politics, but also for her to teach me more. And she has. Her reaction taught me something invaluable. To get across the importance of feminism to young women, objectification might be the topic to start with – because it is so personal and because it is everywhere. Her reaction created a lot of internal conflict, a lot of personal discussion and a sudden sense of ownership of her womenhood. THIS is the beginning. This is the turning point at which many young women would sit up, listen and think: that’s not ok.

Think of the debate it could start? A lot of young women suffer from self esteem issues linked to their appearance. Imagine if we could turn that on its head through feminism. Encouraging them to re-think what appearance means and who defines it: Their boyfriends? That billboard? The airbrushed naked picture in FHM, or in fact, Cosmo?

We could have a generation of strong, young, budding, feminists, eager to learn more, all of whom have a healthy foundation and understanding about themselves and how they should be treated. Ahh the hills are alive with the sound of….well, feminism.

It can be done. Follow the rainbow.

**I state my opinion like it is fact. Just so you know.

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