Wednesday, 12 November 2008


Unfortunately, there are a few too many articles like this these days. Thank you MSN for publishing an article that is so incredibly insulting to women.

Apparantly, 'real' female beauty is a result of the 'beauty secrets' the author has listed in the article. So you are only beautiful if you have a brazilian wax, a fake tan, push-up bra, an hour-glass figure and hair extensions. And even though it clearly says that a brazilian wax is extremely painful, women must have it because "Guys love the look". So in other words, it does not matter what women want - they have to look exactly as men want them to in order to be attractive.

The fake tan, even though it is known to increase the risk of skin cancer if it is achieved through a sun-bed, is seen as a must-have because it gives a "healthy glow" apparently. It wasn't that long ago that being pale was considered to be a sign of beauty. So now they think that having a tan is being 'really' beautiful. Do they not know that 'beauty' is a social convention? It is something created! Our society has a view of what is beautiful and it is foisted upon women at every turn, perpetuated by articles such as this MSN monstrosity.

Every single 'beauty tip' in the article actually seems to be aimed at men, which is odd considering it is women who would be carrying out the 'procedures' (which some of them really are!). A push-up bra gives women a cleavage "we're happy to let our men admire". Hmm, in that case would women also be pleased if a complete stranger gave their breasts a good stare? Women's bodies are not there for the sole enjoyment of men. "[T]hat little black dress hugs our perfectly primed curves for your viewing pleasure" - your viewing pleasure? Are men reading this now as well? But hang on, I thought all these tips were meant to be secret. For women only.

"Women will drain their savings accounts for hair extensions, but they won't utter a word about where the money has gone" - thank you for generalising all women there. Not only do we ALL apparently do these things, but we have to keep it a secret (shhh) incase men find out we're doing it. After all, men are supposed to be left in the dark and think that women are naturally hairless and primped. And more to the point, the majority of women are NOT as frivolous as to empty out a saving's account on something so ridiculous as hair extensions. Women's lives do not completely revolve around looking good for men.

What I want to know is, why is the title of the article 'Her Shameful Beauty Secrets'? Is it shameful because women are not 'naturally' beautiful without all the 'help' given in the article and thus it's shameful because it's a secret we are keeping from men? Hmm, what I think is shameful is that women are constantly told that they are not beautiful without spending at least half a day primping themselves.

Quite honestly I am flabbergasted at the propaganda unleashed within this article. It is insulting and detrimental to women as a whole.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Atheist Buses?

It was only a matter of time before I wrote something about the new atheist marketing campaign on buses. When I first heard about it I thought it was a great idea - I only have to go into the city centre and there are evangelists preaching about us all going to hell unless we embrace God. There has been an increase in the number of such evangelists in the city centre as well lately, which is not really surprising considering the 'credit crunch' - people are in more need of a grand narrative which provides a reason which they can understand (news programs and websites dress financial and business matters in such impenetrable language at times that it's no surprise that many people cannot understand it) for the current situation, and religion provides that. So I thought an atheist advertising campaign would be beneficial - I thought maybe it could entice people to think about the events in their lives from a more rational standpoint.

However, as soon as I saw the actual slogan being used - 'There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life' - I was rather disappointed. First of all there is no conviction to the statement. It's almost like a watered-down version of atheism. Evangelists who sound certain of their beliefs - i.e. there is a God - are more likely to be taken seriously than an agnostic who says 'there might be a God'. Atheists should sound sure of their convictions also, otherwise religious people are only going to suggest we are not sure. Of course, if you're not sure then feel free to say so - there is much discussion that could be had about the subject. But the term atheist is generally used to denote a person who does not believe in God, and if you don't believe in God, you cannot say there may not be a God. The whole thing smells of trying to make people think without offending anyone in the process.

The second problem I had with it is summed up quite nicely in this post which I found linked to from here (thank you A Sceptical I). The slogan suggests that atheists do not worry about anything, that they do not take life seriously. Whether or not there is a God is not the only thing in life worth worrying about, and I'm sure that religious people don't only worry about there being a God. The slogan, unintentionally, plays into the stereotype of atheists - the one which says they are not moral because they don't believe in God. Someone who does not worry about anything could not be moral because they would have nothing which they value - when we are faced with a situation in which we must act, our values suggest which actions would be relevant to the situation. Someone who did not have any values could pretty much do anything they wanted in that situation without feeling any repurcussions on his/her conscience. There are already too many people who think atheists are guilty of the above; atheists themselves don't have to suggest they are right with messages on the side of buses.

Therefore, it was a nice idea which could have been an effective counter to evangelists, but the way it was done was extremely disappointing.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008


First of all I would like to apologise for the ridiculously long time since my last post. I recently started a college course in computing and for some reason I've not written a post since then.

Something BJ said to me last night struck a cord with me - she said that the world is "such a dangerous place for women at the moment". And something which happened this morning really demonstrated that statement to have some truth to it. One of the women in my class had taken the elevator down to the lower floors and whilst in there a man, accompanied by his friend, had pointed a video camera at her. She said "don't point that thing at me" - she clearly didn't want to be filmed without her consent even though, as one of the other passengers in the lift said, "it was just a bit of fun". *rolls eyes*. Yes, just a bit of fun filming someone without asking them first. Anyway, on being told to turn the camera away the friend said "don't talk to my mate like that", and he started threatening her, calling her "just a little girl", at which point he even threatened to kill her. All because she had told him to turn the camera away from her.

This disturbed me considerably. I mean, men do not have the right to do whatever they like to women and then threaten them should they tell them not to, yet for some reason many men seem to think that they do. I have noticed many times that when women tell a man that his attention is not welcome they react as if somehow she is insulting his masculinity, and in order to defend one's masculinity one must blatantly show it. And what counts as masculine behaviour? Threats of violence, swearing, etc. In the elevator once she had reacted negatively to the man pointing a video camera at her, it was almost as if he and his friend felt they had to defend themselves as heatedly as possible - perhaps they did not like being told off by a female. Perhaps they thought it somehow demeaned them as men to have a woman tell them off in front of other people. Hence the threats.

And all this is in a world where women are constantly told that they've won the war. We haven't won the war, we've won a few battles here and there, but as the above story shows we certainly haven't won the right to consider our bodies our own. Men and women are not at the moment equal, no matter what anyone may say. Women are constantly demeaned, objectified and treated as if they can't do anything quite as good as men can. We are considered the lesser sex, and when we try to gain some advantage we are threatened.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Catholic Schools Denying Girls the Right to Choose...

Catholic schools have been up in arms recently about a vaccination that is going to be given to school-age girls to protect them against two strains of a sexually-transmitted virus called HPV. This virus can result in cervical cancer. The Catholic church's objection to this vaccination is that it could promote promiscuity.

The church has currently said that it will allow the vaccination at Catholic schools... but at a price - girls will not be given any sex education about 'artificial contraception', which of course includes condoms and 'the pill' (article on this here). Hmm, I was under the impression that if girls were given more information about their bodies and how they would react to sex (i.e. teaching them the ability to say 'no', because sometimes the facts of STDs aren't enough if a girl feels she cannot say 'no' or a boy feels that he has a right to sex), rather than just the same old 'penetration is sex' nonsense, they would be much more well-informed to say 'no' if they didn't want sex and 'yes' if they were ready for it. So in other words, girls will pick up information about sex at school whilst socialising that is not necessarily correct and there will be no opportunity to gain an insight from sex education lessons. Presumably girls will still be informed of the mechanics behind pregnancy, but even that posits the egg as passively waiting the active sperm (see here), thus portraying women's internal biology (as well as their external bodies) as passive receivers of men during sex.

When I was at primary school, sex education was for children of ten years old. Parents were invited in to see the videos first, and then they would decide whether they wished their child to see them. That was all sex education consisted of - those three videos. The first one was about sex, which pretty much described there being only one form of sex - penetrative and in the missionary position, which (as they made abundantly clear) was the ideal position for conception. The second one was about male and female genitalia (Jeez, I hate that word). The video showed diagrams and how everything worked. But, the mechanics of the female genitalia was only talked about in the context of conception - i.e. where the sperm would go. Everything was given a name, but the parts that really had no purpose in conception were not given a function. The look on the headmistress' face when the presenter suggested that girls get a mirror and use it to look at the position of everything 'down there' was classic. She told us that she wouldn't recommend us doing that. Anyway, the third video was about childbirth, and featured a man and woman walking naked around a house. I don't recall any information given about contraception - I think I would have had more knowledge of it when I got to secondary school if it had been in those lessons.

In sex education, sex is always posited from the perspective of men - the man ejaculates as a result of sex. But from the education children are given, I'd be forgiven for asking What happens to the woman? And more to the point, penetrative sex is not the only form of sex. The mainstream posits sex as being preceded by foreplay (unless you're reading a fifties magazine, of course), but the actual sex isn't portrayed as starting until penetration. This, again, gives the impression that women are passive receivers, because it's the men who do the penetrating.

According to this, by law girls have the right to accept the HPV injection if their parents refuse it, or refuse it if their parents accept it because "[t]he law recognises that it's her body that is about to be invaded or protected - according to your viewpoint. The decision is hers. It follows that she should be fully informed on the matter". I assume that "according to your viewpoint" bit is because the Catholics don't believe that a woman's body (or indeed a man's) is her own - it's God's. What I have a problem with, other than that last sentence, is that parents seem to have to decide whether they think their child is going to have underage sex (because the vaccination can protect them against those two strains of HPV if they do). Surely that's something that no parent could know. Parents are not privy to everything that goes through their child's mind - they have a private world that should be kept private so they can develop some degree of independence of thought.

The author of the above linked article (in the previous paragraph) states that she is concerned about the vaccination because of the amount of chemicals young girls have already taken in the form of other vaccinations, and will go on to take in the form of oral contraceptives on the grounds that "they are born with the eggs that will become the next generation". I would like to point out that there are choices for women other than giving birth. Regardless of what mainstream society says, women can have a career and choose to live their lives on their own terms without having a child dependent upon them and without a man. Women are not to be constantly perceived as mother-figures!

Anyway, she goes on to say something extremely important - "isn't it time that men carried some of the cost and responsibility of this shared business of sex and reproduction and its untoward side effects? It is only women's bodies that are doctored. Why?" I can answer that question for her - it's because contraceptive is still considered to be the female's business. Afterall, men don't get pregnant. And don't even think about spouting that nonsensical term that men say when they're delighted that their partner's pregnant - "we're pregnant". Yeah, right. Unfortunately, the article's writer does not dwell on this.

Girls should have the right to choose for themselves whether they want the vaccination. They should be given the statistics of cervical cancer and they should be given information about sex (which, along with the 'how women get pregnant' bits, includes information about STDs, contraception, women's role in sex (not from a male perspective), what happens to a woman during sex (also not from a male perspective), that sex doesn't have to involve penetration, and, SHOCK HORROR, the female orgasm). The more information they have, and the more assertiveness they feel they have in deciding to have sex, girls will be more likely to make educated and rational decisions about sex.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The Punishment of Women for Men's Own Failings...

Last Saturday night I was witness to the phenomenon of men punishing women for their own failings. I had been invited round to a friend's house for a house party. There were predominantly men there, and only three women including myself. So it was to be expected (at least with my male friends) that there would be sexist 'banter' (some of the puns were cringeworthy). And to go off on a tangent for a moment, what really annoys me is when they treat the acquiring of a girlfriend (like they're searching for a new car or computer) as a way to procure sex - if they happen to like her personality as well, that's just a bonus. Shouldn't it be the other way round? You get to know someone as a person, finding out their likes and dislikes, their philosophy on life, politics, that kind of thing, and then if both parties are in agreement then sex may happen - men should not treat sex as a given. There are more ways than that to have a relationship with somebody - friendship, companionship, etc.

Anyway, back to my story. One of my friend's girlfriends arrived. He had been pretty critical of her before she arrived, mainly against her musical tastes and generally suggesting that she was a bit 'wafey'. And there was much laughter from the other men in the room. And when she arrived he ignored her. He went into the kitchen to talk to two of the other men until one of the women told him to offer her a drink. Now personally I wouldn't have waited to be offered a drink - I've never understand that 'convention'. And if I was being ignored by someone who was supposed to be my boyfriend I wouldn't have given him the time of day. Anyway, the worst is yet to come. When he finally did acknowledge that she was there, he promptly kept lunging at her, making some kind of growling noise (like a lion or maybe a tiger - either way the implication was clear: he was the predator, she was the prey), and she, whilst trying to take it in good part, was clearly trying to push him off her (she was cringing away from him for goodness-sake). All this behaviour seemed to be aimed (subconsciously or not) at letting her, and anyone else in the room who cared to be noticing, know that he was the one in charge of the relationship.

Thinking about this afterwards I considered maybe I had been mistaken. Maybe he was just being playful, afterall she was laughing (albeit a bit nervously). And anyway, I was the only one who seemed to be thinking that there was a problem. Maybe I was over-reacting. But then I realised that I was 'normalising' the behaviour. I was 'normalising' the fact that he was treating her like an object, a possession that he could treat as he wanted. I was 'normalising' the fact that he was treating this woman as if she was there for him to impose his will upon her.

To fully understand how this relates to the title of the post. Some brief background information is required. All the men in the room had at some point had their heart's broken (I don't like this sentimental term, but it's the only one I can think of). And the man in question had his heart broken quite badly - his girlfriend had left him for someone else. However, his previous girlfriend was quite strong-willed - she would never have let him maul her like that or ignore her. She would have got her own drink for a start. And her having a good time would not be dependent on him being there. But it seems to me that he, and all the other men in the room, had picked, since breaking up with their original girlfriends, women who would be a bit dependent on them and would not complain if they treated them a little roughly. They picked women who they could have a modicum of control over - they are punishing women for their own failings, as if to say 'if the relationship ends this time, it'll be me who does it'.

Ironically, in this case, it seems to be that these men (I'm including the other males who were at the party) cannot control their emotions - ironic as it's traditionally women who are accused of this. It's almost as if they think it was a fault to treat their previous girlfriends as actual people (i.e. a fault because the behaviour is not masculine enough), and now they're making up for it by being as overbearing and overwhelming as possible. They are exerting male-sexual privilege upon women because perhaps they think that their girlfriends then won't leave them in that case - the old myth that women like a man who will take charge and take all the difficult parts of life into their capable hands. It's downright sickening!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

So, the Conservatives think they have got it all solved...

The Conservative Party are currently arguing that 'lad's mags' portray "a very narrow conception of beauty and a shallow approach towards women. They celebrate thrill-seeking and instant gratification without ever allowing any thought of responsibility towards others, or commitment, to intrude" (read the whole article from the Independent here). Reading this, they are superficially right. Lad's magazines do portray women as there for the sole purpose of gratifying men without the notions of actually participating in a long-term relationship with women. But let's not fall into the trap of thinking that Conservatives are listening to what feminists have to say. They don't claim that men should not expect women to have sex with them, rather that when they do, if pregnancy results, they must 'do the right thing' and stay with the mother. Because, you know, well-rounded individuals only come from families which have a mother and father, regardless of how that mother and father get along with one another.

The Conservatives are merely playing into the recent question (which isn't new by any means) of whether a woman's place is in the home. Single mothers cannot always stay at home to look after the children full-time - they have to work to bring money into the household. But if the father of the child lived in the same house, he could go out to work and the mother could perhaps 'choose' to stay at home. Am I the only one who's noticed this implication? I'm not taking into account benefits here, because I think it's an unfair assumption that all single mothers live off benefits and are a drain on the economy (although the Conservatives would have us think so). If the father lived with the mother, the implication is, if benefits were taken into acount, that the mother could stay at home whilst the man works, because, you know, a woman can't support herself without a man present. There is a telling statement in this article by Sarah Churchwell - "Women without a family don't, of course, exist. Never have". And this is true - you very rarely (if at all) hear of women outside of a family environment, not a 'normal' woman anyway. They're traditionally termed 'spinsters' - even though we're not called that anymore, the implication is still there evidenced by the look on a friend's face when I answered his question of "you've been single for a while now so you'll be looking for a man" with "actually I'm fine being single". You hear of men all the time having left the 'embrace of the family unit' to create a life of their own, making a mark upon the world. It would seem that 'the powers that be' would prefer it if women instead chose 'family life' to leaving a mark on the world with their intellect.

It appears that the Conservatives are pandering to the framework of male-sexual privilege. They suggest that they don't want women to be viewed as sex-objects there for the gratification of men, but rather as mother-figures who have to shoulder responsibility for children when the father is absent (here's the cue to take pity on the poor, vulnerable, defenseless creatures that are women); because women who do not give up their whole self-hood to their children are horrible monsters. The Conservatives are still within the framework of patriarchy as the focus is still on how men create the image of the female rather than asking women how they would like to be perceived themselves.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

A Problem Solved... Where I Wasn't Aware A Problem Existed...

This (and I warn you, the music played in the background becomes extremely annoying) is yet another example of manufacturers thinking that women have nothing better to do with their time than making sure their bodies are hairless. Braun have brought out a new shaver for 'those inbetween days' when women have stubble on their legs. This gives the impression that women sit at home worrying that when they go out, if they are wearing a skirt or shorts, men (and women because women are conditioned into being in competition with one another you know) will notice they failed to take good care of themselves in making sure they have hairless legs. And, of course, hairy legs on women are equated with 1) being unattractive; 2) not making an effort with one's appearance; 3) not being 'feminine'; and 4) being a feminist (woe betide any woman who is accused of being a feminist!). So now women are not supposed to worry about their legs once every 2-3 weeks, but also a few days after shaving them incase there's the minutest level of stubble. I for one can't be bothered with all that nonsense. I have a lot more important things to be doing with my time.

Nowhere in any magazines or adverts does it say that there is no need for women who wear trousers to be worried about their legs. I mean, who's going to see them? It's almost as if women are supposed to feel self-conscious about hairy legs even if no-one can see them. It's all propaganda which suggests to women that the most important things they need to worry about in life are having a hairless body (apart from the head, because a woman with a shaved head is 'unfeminine' - I mean, the amount of women who are undergoing chemotherapy and purchase wigs are evidence enough for this), being attractive to men, and outdoing other women in their attractiveness to men.

This all reminds me of the advert for Gillette's Venus Breeze with its tagline 'Reveal the Goddess in You' and something BJ once said to me - 'because that Goddess is hiding under all the body hair'. It's true - the implication is that the sole point of a woman's life is to be beautiful.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Beauty Queens...

Last Monday, BBC3 showed Sasha: Beauty Queen at 11. The main focus of the program was an eleven year old school girl from Burnley who wanted to become a model. Her mother was obsessed with the idea and would cover her daughter’s face with make-up and take her on fashion shoots where the girl would be constantly told that she looks older then eleven. Sasha’s mother wanted her to be successful in the beauty pageants held in America, so they packed their bags and headed over there so that Sasha’s mother could live her dream of becoming a beauty queen vicariously through her daughter.

The lack of self-worth which Sasha had as a female was palpable. When asked to describe herself in three words, her reply was ‘pretty’, ‘blonde’, and ‘dumb’. She went to great lengths to explain that she was ‘stupid’, explaining that her father often told her that was the case as her brother was better than her at maths. She said that she did not need to have brains as she had her looks, and that would enable her to get a “fit” boyfriend – “ugly” girls get “sweaty” boyfriends with bottle-bottom glasses. Nowhere did she say what kind of personality she wanted a prospective boyfriend to have, or how she would expect him to treat her (she also didn’t seem to be aware that ALL men sweat). Seemingly, the only criterion she was interested in was that he be good-looking. Considering her answer to the question ‘what do want to achieve in the future?’ consisted of the answer ‘I want to be famous’, and her answer to the question ‘why?’ was ‘I want to be on tv’, it is no wonder that she has no aspirations to be clever (and no wonder that she claimed her idol to be Jordon) – to be a celebrity these days you don’t actually have to be good at anything. In fact, it’s preferential if you do something extremely stupid – bad news is interested, good news is not.

Sasha’s mother was adamant that her daughter practice her beauty pageant ‘talent’ routines at every possible moment – in restaurants, at the bus-station, at the airport – on the grounds that “a guy” might see her and think she has talent and thus push her on her way to stardom. The truth comes out – Sasha’s appearance is cultivated solely for the eyes of men. At eleven years old the girl is being taught that for a woman to be successful in life she must be pretty, that that is her most important asset. And Sasha is seemingly powerless to stop it as her mother is so unbelievably obsessed with her being ‘successful’ in this way. In this case, the girl is being objectified by her mother, as well as by men, because her mother is looking at her from the perspective that a man would take.

Sasha explains to the viewer that school is about wearing make-up and looking good. Apparently, all girls wear make-up at school (funny assumption that, considering I never did). This reminds me of this blog where the ‘back to school’ edition of Seventeen magazine is analysed – the suggestion in the magazine is that with make-up, girls cultivate the appearance that they are serious about school (apparently, grades and doing the actual work are not good enough). Women everywhere are told that they should turn themselves into an ‘artform’ – a mainstream ‘artform’, of course, considering Goths who put effort into painting their faces in a way that confronts the mainstream often get attacked in the streets. It is amusing how notions of beauty in England have changed over time – in the early eighteenth century, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu claimed that she did not like the appearance of women in France because their faces are covered in make-up. She much preferred looking upon an “unsullied complexion” (Montagu, Turkish Embassy Letters (London: Virago Press, 1994). p. 161). Of course, she was fully aware that the impression which a woman gave to those in her company was extremely important (and is still considered so), but she put more emphasis on the refinements that ‘natural beauty’ afforded (unfortunately, as long as women ‘naturally’ resembled the artistic renditions of the Graces (Montagu, Turkish Embassy Letters. p. 59 – The Graces, in Greek mythology were the daughters of Zeus), so beauty, for her, was a class concept, and also an ironic one).

Sasha was treated, in essence, as the property of her parents. She had no privacy – her father, for example, put the camcorder over the top of the changing cubicle whilst she was trying on a dress, even though the fact that she’d gone in there alone to try on the dress suggested that she wanted some privacy – and whenever she tried to say something whilst in the company of her mother the latter would always interrupt and do the talking for her (Sasha’s mother actually threatened her with a grounding if she didn’t get accepted into a modelling agency they were visiting, because it would apparently be her fault for not smiling enough). Never have I seen a more striking example of a mother living vicariously through her daughter. What was striking was how when they were at the ‘beauty pageant’ in America, there were only three boys competing in the male division, suggesting that it is thought that boys perhaps have better things to do than singing off-key in a ‘talent’ competition and walking ‘perfectly’ across the stage in an outfit styled for someone twice their age. And to be honest, the boys who were competing looked extremely uncomfortable. But that was allowed. What was not allowed was for any of the girls to look uncomfortable, because the pageant was deemed to be their calling in life and to look uncomfortable would be a sign of failure.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Metal and rock genres and male sexual privilege...

First of all, take a look at this. I would like to thank BJ for drawing my attention to this blog as it inspired me to complete the ‘male sexual privilege’ post I had planned.

I had never really given much thought to the portrayal of women in music genres other than pop music, because it is that particular genre that has always made my blood boil somewhat. Watching scantily clad females ‘bopping’ around a stage singing about ‘love’ (a very narrow definition of love I might add) is not my idea of fun. It gives the impression that for a man to ‘love’ a woman (i.e. want to have sex with them), women must be attractive. I remember a television interview with The Pussycat Dolls – when asked what their image was all about they responded that they are all about ‘looking good’ and ‘being seen with the right people’. Am I the only person to see the shallowness in this? They are perpetuating the notion that women are only valued on how they look. And don’t think they are the only group to pass along that message.

When in Sainsburys the other day, I glanced at the magazines in the vain hope that maybe they stocked the music magazine Terrorizer. Suffice to say they did not. What they did stock however was what must have been about twenty different women’s magazines all stating that they have the answer to female problems. These problems are not life-threatening, although you would think so by the way they are talked up. These problems all relate to a woman’s appearance. How to make one’s hair shine, how to apply make-up evenly, how to have a flatter stomach this summer, how to lose weight (that’s the most popular one), how to have an even tan, the latest cosmetic surgery treatments. And those are just a few! Nowhere does it say that make-up IS NOT necessary, nowhere does it say that women do not have to aspire to a thinner figure.

Germaine Greer was not wrong when she claimed that “Every woman knows that, regardless of all her achievements, she is a failure if she is not beautiful” (Greer, The Whole Woman, 1999. p. 19). One only has to take a look at programs such as 'How to Look Ten Years Younger' to see this in action. The edition a few nights ago portrayed a woman who was fantastic at DIY. But this was somehow portrayed as irrelevant because she did not look ‘feminine’. The narrator even claimed that due to all that work her ability to use make-up had sadly been left to one side, hence putting across the prevalent notion that women who do not try to live up to ideals of female beauty are careless, lazy, and put no effort into their appearance - forget that they may spend their time engaged in other things. This sort of propaganda does nothing but place upon women an unfair pressure to look a certain way and be a certain way. The ‘contestant’s’ friends and daughter even paid little attention to her DIY abilities, focusing instead on how that ability had scuppered her chances of looking attractive. But don’t worry, Nicky Hambilton-Jones was there to help. The very same woman claimed a couple of weeks ago that she doesn’t “believe in feminism. Being sexy is one of a woman's biggest assets. To downplay that is madness. I don't want to compete with men. I want to play on my strengths while they play on theirs - and let's see who wins.” (see whole interview here). It makes me want to scream!

So now I ask the questions What does being a woman entail? What is being a woman like? What does it mean to be a woman? These are all questions appropriated by advertising that more or less propounds a message that scratches the surface yet claims to be exhaustive – being a woman, for such advertising, means being concerned with the condition of her hair, or the tone of her skin, the smell or hairiness of her body to a much more obsessive degree than males. And yes, I do mean obsessive. Women are conditioned from birth to be overly concerned with their appearance. Germaine Greer puts it wonderfully when she claims that whilst BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder) “is pathological behaviour in a man”, it is “required of a woman” (Greer, p. 20). One only has to look at toys aimed at girls to see that women are primarily valued by how they look. Dolls where girls can primp and colour the hair and apply the make-up are nothing more than a practice for adult life that is increasingly becoming earlier and earlier for girls who are coerced into thinking that wearing make-up is something ‘natural’ that all women do, that it is part of being a woman. It is the toys and advertisements that do the coercion, portraying all the ‘popular’ girls as those who wear make-up, and by ‘popular’ I mean ‘popular’ with boys. Everything seems to convey the message that the point of a female’s existence is to cultivate one’s appearance so that men will find them attractive.

Being a woman entails in many senses being the lesser sex – ‘lads-mags’ portray this message perhaps the most comprehensively. Homogenous, airbrushed, flat-stomached women arranged in increasingly provocative positions, tagged with the words ‘Take her to a motel room and bang her like a beast’ (Nuts, July 2006 – more quotes here under the leaflets section). Women are always the ones being enjoyed – even when the female is in a sexual position deemed more under a woman’s control, it is the male’s pleasure that is focused upon. ‘Lads-mags’ are widely available in newsagents and they all portray the message that women are there to be enjoyed. Even more disturbing is the suggestion that women like a man who will ‘take control’ in the bedroom, that women are thrilled with this male-appropriated take on sex. This is where notions of ‘she’s playing hard to get’ come in. Ideas like this ensure that some men believe that ‘no’ does not mean ‘no’, that it in fact means ‘please continue trying to get me into bed, I’m actually enjoying this forceful coercion’ (and, of course, the coercion may be justified later by the male claiming that it was ‘just a bit of fun’, something which usually gets the offender off the hook as the phrase implies ‘shared knowledge’ amongst men, and thus is a method of trying to get other men to see his point-of view). The woman’s ‘voice’ is not taken into consideration unless, of course, it is moaning in pleasure at the controlling man.

This is all nothing more than evidence of an insidious male sexual privilege that men and women are conditioned into from birth. Men think they have a right to sex, and it is women who are expected to provide themselves for it. Think about it – when in a relationship men expect that they will get sex. If they don’t get it, they look somewhere else for it under the innocent line of ‘this relationship isn’t working out’. A woman’s explanation for why she might not want sex at that particular point in the relationship will, in essence, fall on deaf ears. There is an unspoken number of weeks whereby a man can expect his girlfriend to ‘put out’, and if that number of weeks is not met then the relationship is over. This may sound somewhat melodramatic, but it is true. It is incredibly telling how defensive men get when women point out to them this notion of male sexual privilege. It is almost as if they want us to shut-up just in case any other women overhear and also realise it to be true. I'm not, of course, suggesting that women don't enjoy sex. A lot of women do. I'm just pointing out the expectations that males place on us when it comes to sex.

The above is why the blog I linked to at the beginning is so interesting. Women in the rock and metal genre are expected to be more forthright. I have never met a woman into metal that likes the portrayal of women in generic lads-mags such as Nuts or FHM. Yet, many will wear ‘gothy’ lingerie on an Ann-Summers theme night or in a bikini contest (on a side note, I remember when being a goth meant showing as little skin as possible, but then again I’m confusing being a goth with being into rock music).Wearing these clothes are not for the women’s benefit. They’re deceiving themselves if they think it’s a sign of women’s liberation. It is just perpetuating the notion that to get any attention from men, women have to fit into a narrowly defined ideal of female beauty – in this case the ideal is different to the mainstream as it requires more of an edge (spikes, dark reds (because it’s the colour of blood?), blacks, metallics), yet the ideal is still prevalent throughout the ‘rock scene’. Thus male sexual privilege is at large within the ideals here as well. When I say that such women are expected to be ‘forthright’ I mean defined as having a loud voice, willing to act violently, and swearing a lot. Personally, I would prefer women to be forthright in the sense that they are able to put across a rational view forcefully rather than shouting violently any old nonsense.

Being loud is not going to liberate women – if anything it’s just the masculinisation of women. Germaine Greer beautifully describes a vision of womanhood that is not subject to a male perspective: “[A] woman who [does] not exist to embody male sexual fantasies or rely upon a man to endow her with identity and social status, a woman who [does] not have to be beautiful, who could be clever, who would grow in authority as she aged” (Greer, 1999. p. 5). Now this is an ideal that could be relevant both across the mainstream and the rock and metal subcultures – women as no longer valued on how they look, but for their intellect and strength of character.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Grief, or rather the lack of it...

I went to the cemetery today to visit the plots where my grandparent’s ashes were scattered. And it was beautiful. The aesthetics of the place were amazing, and by that I don’t mean that everything was laid out in a specific way or that there was order and symmetry. It was the disorder of the place that was something special – a grassy verge with bunches of flowers laid against the blossom trees, birthday cards resting against plaques, father’s day cards, ornaments (even though there was a sign which said that such things were not allowed). It was an emotional aesthetic and I could not help but be moved by it. I didn’t know that people took birthday and father’s day cards to relatives that were dead. The thought had never even entered my mind. Yet, although I marvelled at the aesthetic of the place, I somehow could not understand it. Death has always been a somewhat elusive concept for me in that I do not seem to have the ability to grieve. Whether or not this is a character flaw on my part I do not know, but when told that my grandparents were dead I did not feel a single melancholic emotion even though I loved them both very much and were very close to them. This might sound a little disturbing to some people, but it is described perfectly in We Need to Talk About Kevin where the main character Eva writes that

“We have explicit expectations of ourselves in specific situations – beyond expectations; they are requirements. Some of these are small: If we are given a surprise party, we will be delighted. Others are sizable: If a parent dies, we will be grief-stricken. But perhaps in tandem with these expectations is the private fear that we will fail convention in the crunch. That we will receive the fateful phone call and our mother is dead and we feel nothing. I wonder if this quiet, unutterable little fear is even keener than the fear of the bad news itself: that we will discover ourselves to be monstrous” (Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin, p. 92).

I have never thought myself to be monstrous, but it is easy to see why people would think I am as I’ve uttered the unutterable – I do not feel anything when relatives die. Do not think that I am completely without sentiment or that I’ve not latched on to some integral part of life – I understand that I am expected to grieve, expected to be sad. I even expected myself to be melancholy when my grandparents died. But the most sadness I felt was directed towards my mother because she was sad and I could not understand why I was not. I am told that sometimes it takes months or years for the death of someone close to really settle in and grieving to begin. I guess I’m still waiting.

Grief, to me, is the melancholic expression of loss. It is a melancholic reaction to a certain void, a lack, a space that has suddenly opened where the deceased once was. I cannot understand this. Surely when a person dies, the immediate first step should be to celebrate that person’s life? Instead of ‘mourning’, why not consider all the things the deceased accomplished in his or her life and perhaps think about how their take on life matches up to your own. Death is the perfect time to consider whether your principles are ones that will give you the opportunity to live a worthwhile life because it is perhaps the most significant reminder that we are all going to die one day.

There is an aspect of the language of death that strikes me as awkward. People speak of their relatives as looking down on them as if they are some kind of omnipresent entity. Am I the only person who finds this notion disturbing? Relatives would not only look down on you when you’re doing something that would make them proud like winning a rowing contest or passing a degree, you could not pick and choose what they look down on. They would look down on your most sordid moments and your most unpleasant moments. So although the notion of omnipresent relatives may be a form of relief to some people I would find it somewhat constricting if it were to be true. Of course, I cannot rationally believe it to be true. Because I cannot conceive the mind and body to be separate, I cannot rationally believe that the mind survives after the brain dies. When the brain dies, so does consciousness, and that is the end. Yes, it’s a difficult concept to grasp because we have such a strong sense of self, but because I know that death will be the end of ‘me’, the ‘I’ that constantly recreates itself throughout life, I feel an urgency to make sure that my life is one which is worthwhile.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

A Bit of Background...

First of all, welcome to my blog.


I first discovered Nietzsche’s philosophy when I was embarking upon a philosophy and english degree at university. Of course, I’d heard of him before, but like many others I had associated him with anti-semitism. The idea that Nietzsche was anything resembling national socialist is a myth, as it was his sister who edited his works after his death and geared them towards a more unpleasant direction. It is easy to see how a misinterpretation of his philosophy could be made though – the Nazis wanted to create a super-race, and Nietzsche’s ideal of the Ubermensch (which can be translated as the ‘Superman’) may, on a superficial reading, be construed to be aimed at the same end. The ideal of the Ubermensch, however, was aimed as an attitude towards life. Along with his ideal of the Eternal Return, it is a way of living life, a way of being able to affirm life (I would like to point out here that the Ubermensch can be a concept applicable to women as well, even though at the time the concept was thought-up it would only have been applicable to men).

The Ubermensch attitude towards life allows one to take on the burden of one’s past experiences and redeem them, as will be discussed in further blogs relating to the Eternal Return. The Ubermensch is “Master of himself” (Hollingdale, 2003. His emphasis), not the master of others. In self-overcoming an individual gains power over him/herself. Nietzsche claims that having mastery over the self is much more powerful than having mastery over others. True power lies in self-mastery, and thus the Ubermensch, who is master of him/herself, is the most powerful individual. Therefore, Nietzsche’s philosophy lauds the emotionally strong rather than the physically strong, although he claims that those with the Ubermensch attitude, through attaining self-mastery, would be the healthiest and happiest of individuals.

A facet of Nietzsche’s philosophy that I cannot agree with, however, is the notion of there being no teleology outside of ‘human nature’ to which our lives should aim. He claims that through self-overcoming we should just become, as an over-riding teleology towards which we aim would be far too constricting. It was not uncommon during the Enlightenment (c. 1600-1850) for philosophical theories to evade or completely deny the importance of teleologies. Science had begun to answer questions that religion could no longer explain – if the movements of the planets could be explained non-teleologically (i.e. God was not moving them) then so could human beings. Thus, where religion was rejected, so was teleology. Like other Enlightenment philosophers, Nietzsche explained moral values non-teleologically by identifying features of human nature to justify them against. He does this by claiming that it is human nature to pursue the gaining of power, and thus anything which prevents individuals from gaining power over the self is ‘bad’, whilst that which is involved in gaining power is ‘good’ (Twilight of the Idols, p. 127-128).

However, surely the point of morals is that we try to overcome our subjective perspective of the situation in front of us by applying some over-riding framework separate to our human nature (and by this I do not mean some kind of religious doctrine), an example being that I might be looking forward to going out to the pub but a friend calls me in tears needing to talk just before I leave the house and asks if she/he can come round for the evening – I want to go out, but I value the feelings of my friend so I forego my plans and stay in to comfort her/him (I value the feelings of my friend as part of a framework of what type of person I want to be, separate from my human nature). It is possible to will the Ubermensch attitude into existence as part of a teleology of what type of person you want to be – gaining mastery over the self (and thus one’s past) is inextricably tied up with your relations to other people because in creating a future for yourself that could justify your past you must have some sort of idea of what sort of person you want to be, and that involves how you would help people other than yourself when they are in need. This is something which Nietzsche does not take into consideration (I would not have wanted to be the type of person who left my friend in tears whilst I went out and had fun, because it would have been cold and cruel – I want to aspire to mastery over myself but I cannot affirm a life in which I did not help my friends when they needed it, and life-affirmation is one of the main purposes of the Ubermensch). I will elaborate more on my views upon the Ubermensch attitude in future posts.

Therefore, in relation to moral issues, you may find me taking more of a Contextualist perspective rather than that derived from the Enlightenment period.