Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Why I Am Not a Feminist

(Are you sitting comfortably? I fear this is going to be a long post....)

Feminism has been much in the news recently so this is, I suppose, a good time to admit that I have been there, done that and bought the boiler suit.

In the high and far-off times, I talked the talk, walked the walk - still do; I can't shake off a determined stride that is death to kitten heels - and stood shoulder to shoulder with the Sisterhood, Reclaiming the Night, subscribing to Spare Rib and running a university Women's Group (through which I achieved my sole claim to media fame; being (mis)quoted in Private Eye's 'Wimmin' column).

So what happened? Well, for one thing, many of the issues for which we marched have been resolved - in Britain, at least - through legislation, rule changes and the natural wastage of residual misogyny among those in high places, some of whom, back then, had been born to mothers who could not vote until the age of 30.

Today's young British women are looking at a world where very few doors are closed against them, and most of those for medical or anatomical reasons, as legal and economic pressure opens their way into such former bastions of masculinity as sporting clubs, the Church of England, public schools and even, potentially, front-line combat.

Like racism, discrimination is apparently a one-way street, making it acceptable - if not desirable - to select all-women shortlists and promote women in preference to men; equality is clearly not a consideration.Thus Gordon Brown could announce in 2010 that  'Under Labour, there are more students at university than ever before and I'm happy to say the majority of them are women'.

With the demise of these time-honoured establishment targets, feminists might have turned their attention to those British women whose freedoms are still curtailed by cultural and religious attitudes or by their own low expectations and early single motherhood were it not for the small matter of politics.

For left-leaning feminists, the idea of reform from the top down was a pleasing one; criticising potential working-class Labour voters or confronting the less agreeable aspects of the multiculturalism we were told to 'celebrate' was quite another matter. In the same way, many feminists are strangely reticent on the subject of women's status in less enlightened parts of the world.

In any case, liberation is relative: as Robbie Coltrane's character in the TV series 'Cracker' once pointed out, "While you're out lecturing on Women's Studies and career opportunities, some poor cow's got her arm half-way round your U-bend". There are plenty of high-flying self-styled feminists who apparently see nothing incongruous in their household outsourcing the domestic chores to an assortment of low-paid females.

What was needed was a less contentious target, which brings us to the elephant quietly gestating in the corner of the room; as Lynne Featherstone helpfully explained, “One of the main barriers to full equality in the UK is the fact that women still have babies" (some have even managed to outsource that to other women but surrogacy is, as yet, comparatively rare).

Until we reach Huxley's Brave New World, biology still has the upper hand and modern feminists are really, really annoyed about it. Motherhood is, of course, their right and prerogative, but how dare this helpless infant require their presence when they could be climbing the promotion ladder and hammering on the glass ceiling!

Fortunately childcare, too, can be outsourced, thanks to a host of feminist-approved government policies subsidising nursery places for babies as young as six weeks. The doctrine of 'quality time' theoretically allows mothers to return to work with a clear conscience, reassured that two days with the baby at the end of a busy working week is enough.

Imagine the outcry if zoo staff walked into the primate cages on weekday mornings and removed every infant chimpanzee or gorilla from its mother's arms to a distant crèche until the zoo closed for the night. While human mothers may not suffer - consciously, at least - in the same way as their ape counterparts, what of the helpless infants consistently deprived of their mothers' presence throughout their waking hours?

Many of the feminists of my day, celebrating centuries-old traditions from a variety of cultures, embraced the idea of motherhood as an equal and alternative assertion of female power and identity; for today's colder, harder activists, it has become a lifestyle choice which must not be allowed to get in the way of advancement, even if the mother herself would prefer to stay with the child.

My brief official involvement with feminism coincided with the last years before Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman unleashed their progressive ideology and overturned the idea of the traditional family in the political arena. While men are viewed with hostility, some of today's feminists reserve their fiercest criticism for well-qualified stay-at-home mothers who have chosen, whatever the financial sacrifice, to take a career break.

I firmly believe that a woman is the intellectual and social equal of a man and should be treated as such - with the proviso that a dependent infant is biologically more important than either man or woman and its needs should come first. With the exception of a few physically demanding jobs, the mind is what matters in the workplace and the hardware that accompanies it should be irrelevant.

But when the term 'feminist' is applied, seemingly without irony, to callipygian celebrities famed for suggestive dance routines or to politicians who seek to separate mothers from their children, and when self-styled feminists celebrate women being promoted over the heads of equally-qualified men, those of us who merely seek an amiable parity and mutual respect need to find another name.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Wild Women of Wonga

You know those scenes in post-apocalyptic films where the survivors of some global catastrophe battle desperately to secure the few remaining resources?

It seems the phenomenon is closer to home than you might think:
Women were seen fighting over Disney 'Frozen' merchandise during the opening of a new Poundworld store in Merthyr Tydfil.
Since there was already a pound shop in town, the managers had to come up with something special to attract bargain-hungry locals and their Disney-themed opening certainly seems to have done the trick .

Hundreds of customers queued in the rain for over an hour before the doors opened on Wednesday and the company expected 'a record 10,000 shoppers' over the opening weekend.

The truly startling statistic, however, is to be found in the company policy for allocating the sought-after Disney merchandise:
Due to high demand the stock was limited to 50 items per customer...
Fifty items? Fifty? Even in a pound shop, that surely represents a substantial outlay by most people's standards, particularly when spent on ephemeral tat.
... and goods including 'Frozen' lip balms, money tins and stationery sold out in less than 40 minutes.
We're often told that hard-pressed customers are driven to pound shops by the high prices of essential items elsewhere; for some, at least, those 'baskets piled high' with film tie-in merchandise tell a different story.

Always assuming the whole article wasn't concocted by Poundworld's PR department to drum up trade (though it's not a great slogan - 'shop here and get into a punch-up!'), I wonder where the money is coming from...


If the title sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because you saw this back in the 1980s...



*******
A bonus helping of Schadenfreude has appeared to brighten the start of the working week in the shape of the souped-up Toyota bemired by a boy racer in the tidal mud of Burnham on Sea.

It has now been recovered,but I don't think its owner is going to be very happy...
Five days after it sank, rescuers pulled it free, shovelling mud from the vehicle's interior and fixing chains to the frame after knocking holes in the windscreen.
******

Finally, if you haven't already done so, I recommend paying a visit to Caedmon's Cat for a Dark Ages feline perspective on the current industrial action.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Storm in a T-shirt

Oh dear! One piece in praise of a politician might be seen as an unexceptional phenomenon; two is starting to look like a bad habit. Nevertheless, I cannot let David Cameron's apparent refusal to wear a slogan T-shirt pass without comment.

While prepared to give a suitably supportive quote for the campaign, Cameron supposedly stood firm on the issue of wearing the T-shirt even after being asked five times to don the garment - which starts to look a lot like unmannerly pestering on the part of a magazine eager for sensational (and marketable) images.

Naturally this sparked outrage in the expected quarters with all the usual suspects shoehorning in references to the Bullingdon Club and pointing out that 'Nick Clegg did it. Benedict Cumberbatch and Ed Miliband did it too', to which the answer is surely a resounding 'So what? '

Like so many campaigns with a catchy slogan, this one is less simple than its promoters would have us believe, not least because of questions over the exact definition of a feminist. As it happens, I have been reading up on Feminism in the music industry this week so I am in a position to inform you that this is what a feminist looks like...


and this...
and this...






(all pictures from, predictably, the Mail)

If you thought that the revealing selfies or the 'one-rip-and-the-world's-your-gynaecologist' dance routines of today's pop divas were a throwback to the days when scantily-clad females were used to sell a new album or any other commodity, send yourself for immediate re-education! Such displays are, apparently, 21st century woman's way of asserting her independence (though I don't recommend trying it when you clock on at the office next Monday).

Never mind the fact that these women are surrounded by sycophantic hangers-on applauding their egregious sartorial and terpsichorean inventions (and, perhaps more significantly, all the personal protection money can buy); the argument is that they represent feminism in action - the concept of good taste and decorum presumably being regarded as an outdated manifestation of the evils of oppressive patriarchy.

These are powerful women, certainly, but their power is derived primarily from selling an image to fans and the media, and, in order to keep selling, they must continue to provide what a sensation-hungry public wants. However much they talk of 'empowerment' - and they use the word a lot - it is ultimately as shallow and exploitative as the 'Girl Power' that made so many merchandising fortunes in the 1990s.

The T-shirt demand is typical of the kind of media stunt Cameron is quite right to avoid. It was never about equality and freedom for half the world's population; the magazine just wanted an image for its cover - a hostage to fortune that would have put him in the same semantic box as Miley Cyrus and Harriet Harman.

This is far too big an issue for one post so there will be more to come. Meanwhile, however, we are in the unprecedented situation of raising a second glass to the Prime Minister for putting his principles above emotional blackmail.


Update: with a certain depressing inevitability, the hypocrisy continues...
  • Feminist T-shirts worn by politicians are made in'sweatshop' conditions
  • Migrant women in Mauritius are making the £45 tops for 62p an hour
  • They say: 'We don't feel like feminists. We don't feel equal. We feel trapped'
  • Machinists sleep 16 to a room and earn less than average wage on island