Tag Archives: Feminism

How to define a woman?

feminism-295245_1280As I sat cosied up with my coffee this morning, I came across this article by Gaby Hinsliff. Remarking that “if there ever was a universal consensus on How to Be a Woman, it’s dissolving fast”,  she discusses the changing notions of femininity and womanhood. It made me a little uneasy to see various mentions of gender in her article, but none of sex. Because while I support trans rights, I’m really concerned at the erasure of biological sex in the definition of women.

Female biology is important. I was on a volunteer placement in India a while back – where I learned that huge numbers of menstruating girls have no access to sanitary products and where the topic is such a source of taboo and shame that they are kept from school. Where female foeticide (aborting unborn female babies) is so widespread that it has skewed the population demographic. The International Development Research Centre estimates that selective abortion is responsibility for 10 million missing girls in India since 1985.

These are sex-based oppressions: girls and women literally dying because of being female. In the US, the sex-based oppressions are different: a lack of affordable contraception, maternity care and abortion. But if you remove any mention of biological sex from the idea of being a woman, you are in effect saying that these sex-based oppressions don’t matter. You’re also stymying efforts to tackle these problems, because you’re removing the very language that articulates them.

Woman – a loaded word

Living rurally as I do, I couldn’t make the recent women’s marches protesting Donald Trump. But I did buy a knitted pussy hat, and have been strutting about it in ever since. Upon reading that various transactivists were calling pussy hats transphobic (because they represent vaginas), I was really pissed off. I want to be good trans ally, but as someone who has been grabbed by the vagina, twice, I’d say it’s up to me how I respond to those assaults, and what I wear to protest them.

I’ve seen transactivists affirming that the mere mention of female biology is “literally violence”, while Planned Parenthood now refers to women as ”menstruators”. The British Medical Association is also removing the words ‘woman’ and ‘mothers’. To any guys reading this – how would you feel if the word ‘man’ became politically loaded and you were to be referred to as ‘ejaculators’? Would you be cool with that, or would you find it a tad dehumanising?

It goes without saying that trans people need to be actively included when medical providers outline their services, but there’s no logical line from there to erasing the word ‘woman’ and any mention of female biology. There is, there has to be a way of supporting our trans sisters without policing the language that lets us describe the realities of being female.

Anne Brontë – my unsung feminist hero

As a long-time fan of the Brontë sisters (Anne, Emily and Charlotte, in order of preference) I was eager to see To Walk Invisible, the recent BBC drama depicting their early lives.

I was particularly keen to see if the drama would follow the well-trodden path of some literary critics, by lauding Charlotte as a feminist and and ignoring Anne. Although it went some way to quashing the idea of “Anne the lesser sister”, it followed the usual pattern of portraying Charlotte as a feminist before her time. This was reflected in the reviews:  Den of Geek points out that “early in the piece, Charlotte bemoans a woman’s lot in a similar speech to the one she would later give her most famous character, Jane Eyre”.

Although I enjoyed it, the BBC adaptation reignited a sense of injustice I feel whenever the Brontës’ work is discussed: the dismissal of Anne as both a writer to equal her sisters and as a feminist revolutionary. So, this post is about why Anne Brontë is a true feminist hero. And also why we should maybe think twice about plugging the idea of Charlotte the Feminist Trailbazer.

Anne: telling uncomfortable truths

A viewpoint I’ve come across in literary criticism of the Brontës is the need to make a ‘feminist reading’ of Jane Eyre. That seems to mean that if you read it with your feminist hat on, and go mining for feminist goodies, you’ll unearth some. You need make no such effort with Anne’s novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The feminist message sears the page.

Before I get into the text itself, I want to stop to consider another writer I love – Charles Dickens. Dickens used characters like Jo in Bleak House to show the rest of society how poverty and neglect laid waste to the lives of the poor. He pulls no punches – Jo is always “moved on” by those in authority, despite being a homeless orphan, destitute and having nowhere to “move on” to. Jo dies in the street, hapless and penniless, a child with no-one to mourn him. Dickens was revolutionary in that he used his writing to effect social change. He holds up a mirror to society, asking “what kind of culture permits a child to die on the street? How do we remedy this?”

That’s the first step to remedying a societal ill: shining a light on it. It’s not welcome, it often makes people uncomfortable – but we need to see the unvarnished truth.

In the preface to the second edition, Anne wrote ‘My object in writing […] was not simply to amuse the Reader; neither was it to gratify my own taste, nor yet to ingratiate myself with the Press and the Public: I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral’.

Anne Brontë’s truth was an unwelcome one, that her contemporary readers were not ready to hear: why we need feminism.

Helen’s choices (or lack thereof)

Helen Graham, the heroine of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, is young, well-off and beautiful. Beguiled by good looks and charm, she marries Arthur Huntingdon. Arthur turns out to be dissolute, vicious, and a self-destructive alcoholic. They have an infant son together, who Arthur corrupts – by teaching him to swear at his mother and plying him (a toddler) with alcohol. Profligate and unfaithful, Arthur’s initial tenderness for Helen turns to contempt, as he boasts to his friends that “I value her so highly, that any one among you, that can fancy her, can have her and welcome”. Because Wildfell Hall is an epistolary novel, we follow Helen’s disillusionment via her diary entries, watch her brimming hope for her marriage turn to disappointment, regret, then revulsion.

Unsurprisingly, Helen wants to leave Arthur. But though an heiress when she married, all of her money and possessions now belong to Arthur. She exists legally as a chattel of her husband.  Strong-willed and intelligent, Helen is also a talented artist, and plans to escape to a quiet retreat and make a small living selling paintings. Arthur hears of her plans, restricts her access to money, and burns her painting materials. Helen is resourceful though, and escapes with the help of a relative and her servants. She hopes to live quietly at Wildfell Hall, and preserve her son from Arthur’s contaminating influence.

She succeeds. But as a single woman, she is subjected to malicious remarks from the local women and minister, who speculate that she is an unmarried mother and the mistress of her landlord. Those are her choices: stay and watch the ruination of her son, or leave her husband (which is illegal) and become an object of scorn.

Patriarchy, hiding in plain sight

Because of patriarchy, there can be no peace for Helen. She is constantly afraid that her husband will find her place of refuge, remove (and corrupt) their son. Which would be perfectly legal. Arthur already has her money – because she has no right of property, and no money of her own any more.  And although he could divorce her if he chose, she is refused a divorce without his consent.

Anne’s tactic here is similar to Dickens’. Via Helen, she lifts a mirror up to Victorian readers, and shows them just vulnerable women are to the whims of men. And how fucked they are when marriages break down. Eventually, (spoiler alert) Helen finds love with a second husband, Gilbert Markham. But that is not the point of the book. In the preface to the second edition, Anne wrote that “when I feel it my duty to speak an unpalatable truth, with the help of God, I will speak it, though it be to the prejudice of my name and to the detriment of my reader’s immediate pleasure as well as my own”. With icy clarity, Anne shows how women suffer, and how children’s lives are blighted by sexual inequality.

Asking the right questions

Another aspect of Wildfell Hall that makes it so strikingly feminist are the questions Anne poses, via Helen. Early in the novel, Helen learns that another suitor, Mr Boarham, has approached her aunt and uncle (her guardians) to ask for her hand in marriage. Helen answers “I hope my uncle and you told him it was not in your power to give it. What right had he to ask anyone before me?”

What right, indeed. To this day, some men still ask a woman’s father for her hand in marriage. Anne was questioning this back in 1848.

Later, having been introduced to Gilbert Markham and his mother, the three talk about the best way to rear a young boy. Gilbert believes boys shouldn’t be overly sheltered, that “if you were to rear an oak sapling in a hothouse, tending it carefully day and night…you could not expect it to become a hardy tree, like that which has grown up on the mountain-side, exposed to all the action of the elements”. Helen counter this by saying “Granted; – but would you use the same argument with regard to a girl?”

What follows is a debate about the education of girls and boys, in which Anne discusses the sexism at the heart of this paradigm. Why must girls be sheltered, while men are free to experience the world? Are girls innately more prone to moral corruption, that they shouldn’t be exposed to it? It’s a debate that’s still relevant today. Again, Anne was ahead of her time.

What did the public make of Wildfell Hall?

Anne published The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in 1848, the year after Wuthering Heights (Emily’s), Jane Eyre (Charlotte’s) and Agnes Grey (Anne’s first novel) hit the shelves. It was to be her final novel – she died from consumption the following year.

Deemed a “phenomenal success”, the novel sold more copies than Wuthering Heights had the year before. That said, some contemporary critics shied away from the character of Arthur Huntingdon (styled on Anne’s brother, Branwell). They found the subject matter – a wife’s anguish at her husband’s self-destructive alcoholism – too coarse. That said, one critic made what I consider to be a penetrating observation: “[English] society owes thanks, not sneers, to those who dare to shew her the image of her own ugly, hypocritical visage”.

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But Victorian society wasn’t ready to contemplate its “hypocritical visage”. The obvious remedy to the powerlessness of women Anne portrayed would be for men to give up some their power: by allowing women equal rights of property within marriage, or by giving them the vote. Or for that matter, simply acknowledging that Anne had a point. Instead, Anne was deemed coarse-minded for giving voice to the truths she has observed. Her revolutionary message was ignored and snuffed out. Disappointingly, her own sister Charlotte was the biggest detractor of Anne’s work, most notably in her ‘Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell’, published after the deaths of Anne and Emily.

Finding the subject matter distasteful, Charlotte seemingly missed the point that Arthur Huntingdon’s depravity was necessary: to show what women were exposed to. She wrote that “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” by Acton Bell, had likewise an unfavourable reception. At this I cannot wonder. The choice of subject was an entire mistake”.

Writing to her publisher, Charlotte also said that she didn’t think Anne’s book was worth preserving, or reprinting. In fact, she suppressed the reprint when it became due in 1850. And in the now-famous biographical notice, Charlotte laments the poor reception of Emily’s book, opining that “[Anne] wanted the power, the fire, the originality of her sister”. Our contemporary view of Anne is, I believe, tainted by Charlotte’s subjective opinion of her sisters and their writing talents.

If Charlotte had refrained from placing Anne and her work at the bottom of the pecking order, would we have a different opinion of the Brontë novels today? I believe so. Michael Armitage of Sheffield University writes that “Charlotte lived on for another five years [after Anne’s death] during which time her later novels, along with Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights continued to be published, firmly launching these two sisters into literary stardom; while Anne’s masterpiece was completely suppressed”.

As a writer and a sister, it was Charlotte’s prerogative to comment on her sister’s book. I don’t take issue with her right to have an opinion, although I absolutely disagree with her views. What bothers me is the fact that today we celebrate Charlotte as a ‘feminist trailblazer’ – when she suppressed and belittled Anne’s feminist text. Which isn’t very sisterly, in either the familial or the feminist sense. (Her denigrations of Anne as a novelist I’ll leave for a future blog). Anne’s novel – described by Dr Stevie Davis in the preface to the Penguin edition as “a feminist manifesto of revolutionary power and intelligence” wouldn’t be in our hands today if Charlotte had had her way. That’s another reason why I’m uncomfortable when I see Charlotte singled out from among her sisters and lauded as a feminist.

Anne’s legacy to me

I end on a personal note. In my bedroom hangs a print by Joaquin Sorolla that I bought in 2008 from the Prado in Madrid. It’s called María pintando en el Pardo and shows a woman painting in profile. I bought it because it reminded me of Anne’s Helen, painting to earn a living, and bearing up with dignity against a phalanx of patriarchal heartbreak. It’s a totem of calm in a mad world, and it soothes me. But it also pains me sometimes, when I think that Anne created this powerful and subversive book, yet was made to feel ashamed of it. Without denigrating either Charlotte or Emily, it’s time we recognise Anne, my unsung feminist hero.

Cheering Lauren Mayberry, who socks it to the trolls

I love the band Chvrches for two reasons. Firstly, because I spent the tail end of 2013 living in London, blithely dodging traffic while listening to ‘The Bones of What You Believe’, and secondly because its lead singer, Lauren Mayberry, is bloody brilliant at calling out casual misogynists. She casually, caustically flicks them back to their swamp.

Back in September 2013, she penned this righteous rant for the Guardian. In fact, it’s doing it a disservice to call it a rant – it’s a perfectly reasoned article. It asks why women in the spotlight attract misogynistic abuse, and why they should be expected to put up with it.

Before reading Lauren’s essay, I already knew the first answer to the first question. To some men, women who have the temerity to hold powerful positions – or indeed, any position that isn’t submissive, quiet or subordinate – are threatening. Such men try to negate women’s achievements and views by taking them down a peg or two, usually by reducing them to their appearance, or focusing on their possession of a vagina. I’m thinking here of the opponents of Julia Gillard, former Australian Prime Minister, who criticised her ‘big red box’ instead of her politics. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel, termed an “unfuckable lard ass” – by the Italian Prime Minister.  Just last week we had the Combover King Donald Trump, commenting that the Fox moderator who asked him tough questions “had blood coming of her….wherever”.

Back to today – when in typically fearless style, Lauren Mayberry posted a link to the misogynistic comments posted under the band’s new video. Leaving aside the most graphic and gross ones, the least sinister gist seems to be “you’re not allowed to call people sexists and then look nice in your video. Take yourself off and hide in a sack if you don’t want our abuse!” You see, if there’s one thing a misogynist hates more than an uppity woman who doesn’t know her place, it’s one who speaks about it publicly. The appearance of an articulate women – who happens to beautiful – having an opinion sends these misogynists into a rage.

Writing in 2013, Lauren wrote about the grotesque rape threats she had received – simply for being a woman, fronting a band. And, depressingly, she’s not the first – on an earlier blog, I compiled a not-so-nice list of women subjected to violence and rape threats for daring to have an opinion on stuff. These included Laura Bates, Lindy West, Lucy-Ann Holmes, and the Suffragettes.

Increasingly, rape threats and sexual violence have become the standard silencing techniques used to frighten women into submission. That’s why the “don’t feed the trolls” argument is invalid here – more women need to speak out, not less. It’s important to draw a distinction between men who don’t agree with a woman and can lucidly explain why (debate), and men who threaten to hurt and silence women for having an opinion (misogynists). I don’t think I’m exaggerating here when I call these silencing tactics an attack on free speech.

And that why it’s important to applaud the women like Lauren who do speak out. So these misogynists get the message – we are not going anywhere. To quote Lauren – bring it on, motherfuckers.

On judgemental feminists

I’ve recently encountered two problematic instances of feminist writers policing the behaviour of other women. These examples, which I’m about to explore, baffle and annoy me in equal measure. Why are presumably well-intentioned women telling women how to behave? Do they think we don’t get enough of that?

Halloween harlots

Let’s start with my favourite of all the pagan holidays, Halloween. I love dressing up at Halloween, with its implicit freedom to wander the streets dressed as a banshee, a tiger, or Kermit the Frog, without folks passing judgement on my sartorial choices or sanity. That’s not to say I find Halloween costumes unproblematic – why does the Leather Face (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) butcher’s costume have a miniskirt apron? And why is there such a dearth of ‘non-sexy’ costumes for those of us who want to buy them? These thoughts have often gone through my head, and when I hear them articulated by other women, I sympathise.

Where I lose sympathy is the point where feminists tell their adult peers how to dress at Halloween – or equally as annoyingly, how not to. Which brings me to this recent article by Hadley Freeman, who tells us to “dress like a jelly bean, ladies! Yes, it does make your bum look big and, no, no one can see your breasts, and that’s just great”. This is cleverly couched in an article that at first glance is about the lost “innocent joy” (did it ever exist?) of Halloween, yet which goes on to say “I’m not here to slut-shame women who dress like sexy hamburgers for Halloween. But ….. Halloween should be an opportunity for people to show off their creativity, not their side boob”.

As a woman, I really do encounter other people’s expectations on how I should dress (short skirts = rape, remember?) often enough already. I do not need this writer, purportedly on the side of feminism, adding her demands to the mix. It represents yet another voice telling women that our behaviour isn’t good enough (“too much boob! Not enough creativity!”). I’m weary of it: one of the age-old problems women face is being held up to a higher standard of behaviour than men. If we fall short of this, we are punished. And dress is a common, spurious focus of blame: a recent, typical example being the #iammorethanadistraction hashtag, spawned after girls in various American schools were told to cover up or wear “shame suits” based on their clothing choices. People have far too much to say about what women should and should not wear: they need to pipe down. Coming from feminists, this hectoring is especially galling.

There is hope though!  I just came across this tweet from left-wing feminist Laurie Penny. A right-on attitude.

Beng a wife and a complicit misogynist

I found out this weekend that most of my friends are complicit misogynists. By adopting their husbands’ name upon marriage, they have been apportioned some blame for the “centuries of misogyny” that have oppressed other women. Not by me, I hasten to add: this was a comment made by a friend on Facebook, under a BBC article discussing women changing their name upon marriage. Which brings me to my second wearying example of  women judging and policing other women.

I find myself arguing from an odd viewpoint here: I find the idea of exchanging one name for another a pointless tradition, rooted in the times a daughter was literally ‘given away’ by her father; a flesh-and-blood chattel, if you like. I intend to keep my name when I get married next year because a) it’s my identity and b) it’s a link to my father and also my paternal grandmother, who I was very close to.

That said, I have no judgement to offer on the women who decide to change their name to their husband’s.  It’s their name, after all. Judgement – what on earth gives me the right to judge other people? I can understand and respect women who say ”I wouldn’t change my name” (their name, their choice), but not those who censure and belabour other women who choose to do so. It’s an incredibly arrogant standpoint: to condemn every woman who changes her name, when there is no possibility of knowing their individual circumstances and motivations. A recent Vagenda piece where the writer expressed her “ dare I say it – disappointment” when women “shuffle off into marriage” and take their husbands’ name was met by some interesting responses, including:

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I’m generally a big fan of the Vagenda, but its writers have been accused on various occasions of writing from a position of middle class, white woman privilege. This recent article, while containing a lot of fair points, includes a thread of the pitying condescension that attracts such criticism. I can imagine the self-congratulatory writer, pluming herself on her sagacity as she thinks “I’m so cerebral. If only other women would think about these issues as deeply as I do!” As these comments from various women demonstrate, it’s breathtakingly arrogant of her to assume they haven’t.

Censuring women who change their name is another example of the higher standards of behaviour forced on women, by women. Feminism, at its most simple level, is about the right to equality. Surely that includes an equal right to self-expression? To wear what you like, call yourself what you like – as a man would?

To me, those who seek to belabour women for their choices are simply  derailing  the journey to equality:  women should be free to make decisions without  fearfully looking over their shoulder and wondering who they’re letting down: their school,  PTA, religion, or in this case, self-righteous feminists.

Some sisterly solidarity wouldn’t go amiss. And less judging.

Silencing tactics: the sexist shitcake

I wrote previously about the silencing tactics often used on women who challenge damaging sexist norms. It’s something I find galling – the frequency with which a woman draws attention to a piece of sexist/unfair behaviour, to be told it isn’t a problem and to stop complaining.

It’s a double whammy: you have the oppressive silencing tactic handed to you as a cherry on the cake of whatever was sexist in the first place.

I came across a classic example of this today. Retailer M&S is running a ‘Leading Ladies’ campaign that includes models chosen for their achievements. Enter Roma Agrawal, an Indian-born structural engineer who worked on the Shard in London. She got involved to encourage women and girls to become engineers, and to challenge the UK’s perception of girls’ and boys’ subjects in the UK. In her words:

“There’s less of a divide between girls’ and boys’ subjects in India than here. It’s normal there for girls to study science. I didn’t realise that a gender divide existed until I came to university at Oxford. I looked around the lecture theatre and there were about 10 girls in a class of 150. That’s when I thought this was kind of weird. We are designing things for society and if the people designing them only represent a small proportion of society we probably can’t deliver well.”

So far, so good. Kudos to M&S for choosing role models on the basis of their academic/professional achievements, and to Agrawal for trying to show women that science and engineering are valid career choices. Where it turns to shit is the following crap reporting from the Evening Standard:

“This softly spoken 30-year-old in a yellow dress is the woman who made sure the biggest erection in Western Europe didn’t fall down”.

Obviously, what an article reporting on celebrating women for their achievements really needs is an allusion to the women’s sexual appeal. She might have helped construct the Shard but let’s not forget her ability to sexually excite men!

Agrawal’s spot-on response was to challenge the paper, on the basis that “this one sentence contradicts the core message of the article: that women can excel in engineering and other male dominated industries on their merit. I believe women should be judged on their skills and contribution in the workplace and shouldn’t have to fear being sexualised”. The Standard refused to edit or remove the comment, on the basis that it was, in their own words, “light humour”.

So there we have the sexist shitcake. Now for the cherry silencer, which came in the form of a comment from the charming ‘Whigwham”.

 

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Note the helpful copy-and-paste explanation of the word ‘erection’. Silly engineer lady doesn’t know the meaning of the word, and clearly needs to be told!

I was tempted to respond with a correspondingly helpful explanation of the word ‘pun’, but sadly the comments thread had closed. To illustrate that the “light humour” (the Standard’s own phrase, remember) of the comment hinges on the dual meanings of ‘erection’: she helped erect the Shard and she can erect penises too! See what the writer has done there? Clever, eh Whigwham?

“What’s the problem?”, he asks.  (I am assuming it’s a he. If he/she is reading this and wants to correct me, feel free). The problem, dear sir, is that this woman has raised a legitimate objection to a sexist remark, made doubly worse in the context of an article about valuing women on their achievements, not their sexual attraction. But of course, you, being a man, know better. There is no problem, no sexual objectification, and if anything this woman is prejudiced and needs to take a look at herself! Why is she complaining?

Astoundingly, five other fuckwits read that comment and decided that the appropriate response was to recommend it.

You do have to wonder about people who dismiss someone’s rational, well-reasoned point of view so casually. Their thought process seems to be that because they haven’t experienced sexism themselves, it doesn’t exist. It seemingly doesn’t occur to them to listen to their fellow human beings – if they’re women, at any rate.

The Sun’s Page 3: the last refuge of idealism

It’s come to my attention that the editors and in-house supporters of the Sun’s Page 3 are living a lie. They are pretending to be an arrogant  parcel of bogroll-floggers, careless of the soft porn they expel into the nation’s homes  and workplaces on a daily basis. But I’ve caught them out. In reality, they are idealists hiding in plain sight, using the Sun to promote the Bohemian ideals of beauty, freedom and truth.

This first became evident to me when the Sun’s then editor, Dominic Mohan, defended Page 3 to the Leveson enquiry on the grounds it celebrates “natural beauty”. In a world where old-fashioned paper sales are in terminal decline, and it’s every man (or paper) for himself, it’s so edifying to find a good man like Dom, ready to put his head above the parapet and admit he makes editorial decisions to “celebrate” beauty. It’s not about the bottom line people! As the chap in American Beauty says, “there’s so much beauty in the world”, and the Sun just wants to share it with us all.

I assume from the absolute dearth of men appearing on Page 3 that its editorial team thinks men are incapable of ‘natural beauty’. And judging by the rest of the Sun, where men are shown undertaking serious pursuits (oh, and wearing clothes), a sceptical person might conclude that it cynically uses undressed women to sell papers. But that can’t be true. The Sun is just steadfast in its celebration of women’s beauty. Take Reeva Steenkamp, the woman who was found shot dead by her partner. How to position that one on the front page? “Victim of a cold-blooded killer?” “Tragedy of a woman shot in the dark?” Based on the front page the day after she was killed, I assume it went like this: “I know! She’s a blonde stunna and we have a picture of her in a bikini shot with a cracking rack. That’ll do for the front page!” That’s how much the Sun celebrates beauty – even dignity and respect for the newly dead come second.

Freeeeeeedom!

The new editor, David Dinsmore and his fellow freedom fighters at the Sun believe that Page 3 is a great British tradition. I disagree – I think freedom of the press is the real great British tradition. The ability to speak the truth and not be silenced should be protected and preserved to our last breath. This is why I personally believe the government/lawmakers shouldn’t interfere with how newspapers are run.

That is why, when I see something in a newspaper that I find damaging and offensive, I don’t petition the government for regulation and control of the press. I don’t try to have this feature forcibly removed. Instead, I say to the paper in question ‘Here is why this is damaging’  in an attempt to persuade them to stop. Voluntarily.

What I’ve just described is the No More Page 3 campaign. I absolutely fail to see how supporting a campaign based on activism and persuasion amounts to smothering free speech. Perhaps David Dinsmore recognises that too, and is trying to harness the liberal desire a lot of us UK citizens have to protect our freedoms, to discredit the No More page 3 Campaign. But that can’t be right – David is just a passionately Liberal-minded man, committed to maintaining our collective freedoms. His publishing these naked women keeps our freedoms alive.

Ducking the truth

Thousands of people have spoken out in support of the No More Page 3 campaign. Some are teachers citing their professional opinion on the damage Page 3 causes in their classroom. Some are women like me who, as small girls in the 1980s, were bemused by the naked lady in the newspaper. Some are girls in schools today who find themselves crudely compared to the Page 3 girl, when a class exercise requires a newspaper. Yet more supporters are parents who don’t want their sons and daughters growing up with the warped idea that women exist to be pretty for men. In the face of all these professional and heartfelt private testimonies, you have to admire Dom for his steadfast commitment to the truth – his truth at least.

 

Page 3 is about celebrating beauty, it’s harmless, and any attempts to remove it stifle free speech.

My wish for 2014: a women’s magazine that isn’t utter rubbish

Have you ever gone into a newsagent or supermarket, looked at the women’s magazines on offer, and thought, “well, these all look like total tripe”, before decamping to the wine aisle in disappointment?

This has happened to me so often that I don’t even flick through them anymore. I simply don’t hold out much hope of decent content from the publication that poses the question “is tongue the new sideboob?” on its front page (that would be you, Grazia).

The problem with voicing these criticisms – especially to other women – is that it’s very difficult not to sound snooty and pretentious: “ Grazia, you say? I wouldn’t dream of reading such muck. I subscribe to Intelligent Life, and have you read the Madwoman in the Attic? It’s simply an excellent exploration of feminism in the 19th century”.

I really don’t want to be that idiot.

Nonetheless, I have to ask: where are the decent magazines? I don’t have a narrow or limited range of interests: I like music, fiction, theatre, current affairs, anything to do with life in Asia (I have a vicarious interest, until I can afford to travel more), and buying handbags/clothes. What I find odd about the majority of women’s ‘lifestyle’ magazines is that the last item on that list dominates.  I like shopping online for new clothes (in the same passive way I ‘like’ having a cup of coffee) –  but that doesn’t mean I want to read an entire 130-page magazine about it.

I’m not even starting on the parade of celebrities I don’t recognise, articles on celebrity’s children (privacy anyone?), or the unsolicited advice on bikini diets – the latter often confusingly juxtaposed beside exhortations to ‘embrace your curves’.

Clothing (as a topic in a women’s magazine) seems to be an expansive subject. What clothes are fashionable, what clothes are not, red carpet faux pas, who looks fat, whose booty looks good in what skirt, and then the inevitable ‘wardrobe malfunction’. Woe betide the hapless celebrity who has furtively left the house for a pint of milk and not dressed for the occasion. I find two things odd about these articles/features: a) that the person writing/commissioning them gives a crap and b) that they expect me to as well.  (For the record: the only time I’ll be interested in reading about a ‘wardrobe malfunction‘ will be if someone ever owns a rogue Winchester that springs to life,  does a dance, and spews forth dancing clothes, like the one in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I’ll read that article.)

The thing is, I don’t think I’m some weird aberration of the female human race. Presumably the majority of women have a wide range of interests, which are blithely ignored by magazine editors. A recent article in the Economist talked about India and how family roles are changing – with an insight into the figure of the formidable mother-in-law. The BBC did a great feature on a famous neo-Nazi in the UK who led a double life in the Soho gay scene.  Can’t we have something interesting this like sandwiched in among the discussions of sideboobs and Kate Middleton’s baby weight? I know the likes of Marie Claire purports to fill this void, but for me, it’s still too heavy on the clothes/accessories front. Not to mention style advice involving dresses that cost the same as my rent.

So that’s my wish for Christmas: to find a magazine to read in 2014 that reflects even a little more of my own interests. Any suggestions, let me know.

Grazia's December edition: tackling the big issues of 2013.
Grazia’s December edition: tackling the big issues of 2013.