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.