I wrote a piece for the Telegraph about whether foreign women are safe in Turkey

Are expats safe in Turkey?

This weekend’s twin blasts in Ankara were devastating to local residents. Before this summer’s elections and the violence that followed the AKP failing to gain their majority, I wrote this for the Telegraph’s Expat Zone. Just goes to show how much the next election in November matters. You can read the edited version here

Between the threat of terrorism and questions about women’s rights, Turkey has been making the headlines a lot lately. According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it is the 18th most likely country in the world for Brits to require assistance while abroad, with violence against women on the increase, too. Last month saw protests in cities across the region following the violent murder of 20-year-old female student Ozgecan Aslan, although it was the male demonstrators in skirts who attracted the most attention.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that since I moved to the Turkish capital, Ankara, from London almost six months ago because of my partner’s work, the thing I’ve been asked most by friends and family is: “Are you safe?”. It’s a tricky question to answer.

Let’s start with terrorism. It’s hard not to be a little on edge considering warnings of heightened security risks across the country and the recent suicide bombing of Istanbul’s busy tourist district, Sultanahmet. One American told this paper late last year that she felt an “unnerving sense of doom” and likened the atmosphere in Turkey to pre-war Germany. Others talked of making escape plans and avoiding crowded places such as shopping malls.

I was jumpy during my first few months here too – every low flying plane or loud noise set my heart racing. However, how many major capital cities are there that aren’t at risk from terrorism? The UK’s terror threat level is set to ‘severe’ and I’ve been having mini-heart attacks following loud noises in London since 7/7.

The longer I’m in Ankara, the less I worry. Turkey has the second largest military in NATO and, along with armed police, soldiers are omnipresent. It’s a little authoritarian, yes. Ankara’s government buildings are so dystopian they could have been pulled straight from the pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Yet when there are frequent warnings of planned attacks on the city – particularly the US embassy, which I live alarmingly close to – a spot of austerity and few weapons can be surprisingly comforting.

Gender inequality, is, for me, a stickier topic. Turkey ranks 125th out of 142 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2014 gender gap index, meaning little has been done to tackle inequality. To put that into context, India was 114th. 300 women have been murdered in the last year alone and UN Women have warned that: “Two out of every five women in Turkey are exposed to sexual and physical violence.”

It can be hairy at times being a woman in Turkey. Two of my friends have been followed in the street and a group of young men once tried to solicit sex from me when I accidentally wandered into the old town after dark. However, if I’m honest, despite my concerns over the treatment of women in Turkey, on a day-to-day basis I don’t feel repressed or unsafe. It saddens me to admit though, that this has a lot to do with where I live – in Kavaklıdere, a posh part of town that could perhaps best be described as the Kensington of Ankara. It’s an area dotted with embassies, trendy bars and restaurants close to the city centre. It’s liberal, young and politically fervent – on Fridays nights women get their glad rags on and drink/dance/chat their working weeks away as they might anywhere in the UK.

That being said, the US government rates Ankara’s crime levels as ‘low’ meaning that, despite Turkey facing its fair share of issues, it wouldn’t be that crazy to class Ankara as a fairly safe city. Unlike London, there is little street crime. If you absent-mindedly leave your phone on the table in a bar, more often then not, it will still be there when you get back. There is, however, one side of Ankara life that does scare the life out of its residents. Oh, how I wish drivers would pay attention to the roads

 

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I wrote a piece for the Guardian about man-shaming portmanteaus – they need to die

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I wrote a thingy for the Guardian about man-shaming portmanteaus – mansplaining, manslamming, manterrupting, manspreading, etc. They’re stupid, stop it – men are people too, I suppose. Male entitlement is an issue. Derogatory words highlight the problem (and are fun, let’s be honest), but fuelling gender-squabbling isn’t doing equality any favours. Funnily enough, this seemed to be a popular piece with men-folk. Fancy version here, unedited version below. 

Men. If they’re not ‘mansplaining’ things to women they’re ‘manslamming’ us in the street, ‘manspreading’ on the tube or ‘manterrupting’ us during work meetings. Even as a hairy, sensible-shoe wearing man-hater – otherwise known as a feminist – the rise and rise of the man-shaming portmanteau has left me feeling a little uncomfortable.

First there was mansplaining, which was declared 2014’s Aussie word of the year by Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English this week. It refers to the very real tendency of some men to explain things to women, whether they need them explaining or not, because of an ingrained assumption that they’re too ignorant – their pretty little heads too full of boys and make-up, no doubt – to understand.

The term is thought to have been first coined by feminist commentators in 2008 following the publication of Rebecca Solnit’s scathing essay, Men Explain Things to Me. The piece recounted the painful tale of the time an over-confident and clueless man at a party explained her own book to her – an experience that many women can sympathise with to some degree.

One of the problems with simplistic terms like this however, is their ease of use and humour risk diluting any message. They become an easy-to-mouth solution for a more complicated problem, and this one quickly took on more pejorative meanings. It became a go-to phrase for mumbled or garbled explanations and the trump card in arguments, but this sort of overuse just desensitises us to the real issue which is that, yes, some men really do talk down to women.

More recently, manspreading reared it’s ugly, er… head. According to the New York Times, who announced a Metropolitan Transportation Authority campaign to banish it from the New York subway late last year, that’s when men “spread their legs wide, into a sort of V-shaped slouch, effectively occupying two, sometimes even three, seats” on crowded trains. Then New York Magazine hit us with manslamming: pedestrian collisions caused by the refusal of some men to make space for other people using the same pavement, especially women. They said of the two issues that “arguably, both are symptoms of a culture that teaches men to self-assuredly occupy any and all space available to them, regardless of who’s nearby.”

While a sense of entitlement certainly causes some people to behave inappropriately towards others, privilege is far more complicated than man versus woman. Aside from a few word derivatives – such as ‘whitesplaining’ – the man-shaming portmanteau ignores other socio-economic factors associated with entitlement like race, class or aesthetic values.

The most recent lexical blends to enter the fray are Time magazine’s manterrupt and ‘bropropriate’. The former blending ‘man’ and ‘interrupt’ to describe an unnecessary interruption of a woman by a man, often in the work place, and the later denoting the stealing of a woman’s ideas and taking credit for them. It puts me in mind of an old Fast Show sketch where three men are discussing how to break into a car, presumably one of them has accidentally locked his keys inside. Arabella Weir, who happens to be strolling past, suggests putting a half a tennis ball over the lock, “then smash it with the palm of your hand and the air pressure forces the lock up”. The men ignore her and then pass the idea of as their own while she looks on, horrified: “can any of you actually here me?”

While women are certainly not equal at work, a recent survey found that female employees felt they were held back by negative office politics, neologisms like manterrupt risk trivialising the problem and undermine feminism’s message of equality, not anti-male rhetoric. They serve to polarise people rather then unite us against gender-based social discrepancies and invite absolutism – “manterrupting? Never speak when a woman is speaking because she is a woman,” raged one Redditor.

It reeks of gender essentialism – the idea that specific physical, social and cultural traits are native to a particular gender. It may be satisfying, refreshing, even empowering, to give men a hard time, but I can’t help imagine how I would feel if faced with similar accusations – ‘womanterrupting’ or ‘womansplaining’ for example. It would be degrading.

Besides, bad behavior is not exclusive to the male half of the species. I’m guilty of at least a few of these terms. I’ve had the odd fracas with tortoise-paced members of the public during a frenzied morning commute. Not because of their gender, but because in the awful time-sparse world of a city dweller they were – and I’m not proud of this – collateral damage. On the tube, I find it comfortable to sit with one leg crossed over the other, despite the fact that it means accidentally kicking standing passengers sometimes. I have patronisingly explained the obvious to intelligent people on more occasions than I care to recount and, sometimes, on intercity trains, I leave my coat on the seat next to me so people think I have a friend in the toilet.

Entitlement is still a problem. However, before we go smooshing any more man-words together, it might be worth remembering that a prat is a prat, whatever their gender.

The ‘return’ of page three: Why it’s not just harmless fun

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All my life, I thought The Sun was just a lame celeb rag with a penchant for sexism and bad puns, but it turns out they’re comedy geniuses. Get this, right – they started putting bikinis on their page three models so all the stupid hairy lesbian feminist types and champagne socialists that read the Guardian would get all excited about a small shift towards equality. But then, once all the jumped-up ugly women – who hate the pretty models because they’re so wizened no man would look at them – started calling it a victory, they brought the titties back. Ha ha ha ha, ha ha, ha… ugh.

They should be up for a comedy award, they could certainly give supposed King of Comedy, Jack Whitehall, a run for his money.

Yes, unfortunately The Sun’s uncharacteristic move towards the 21st century was all a big ruse and topless models are back on page three along with mutterings about a brief ‘mammery lapse’. Heaven forbid a national newspaper might treat half the population with some respect. As a result, the debate has intensified with feminists likening the paper to a lecherous uncle who doesn’t get the message and, er, other-ists claiming that smelly militant man-haters ought to butt out – the models like posing, don’t you dears?

Sadly, all too many seem to misunderstand the argument. Glamour model Chloe Goodman wrote in the Independent that it is her with the power, not the men looking at her (despite the paper’s editor and owner both being men who undoubtedly hold the real power), and Jodie Marsh took to Twitter to ask feminists – “if I stop shaving my armpits and wearing make-up, can I still [topless model]?” But the real issue is not women ‘demeaning’ themselves or nudity per say, it’s that page three perpetuates inequality and the outdated belief that women’s bodies are there to please men.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 16.00.07Page three legitimises an over-sexualised view of the female form because it’s a ‘family’ daily, not a porn mag. We have a culture that balks at the sight of a woman breast feeding in public – which is what boobs are there for – yet is happy with breasts being exploited for male titillation (that is the difference, nay sayers, between page three and art or beach nudity). I am all for nudity, in fact, I think we could do with more nudity in general, but not when it fetishises women’s bodies. This sort of imagery points to male privilege which, at its most extreme, can lead to further inequality, harassment and sexual assault.

Feminism is merely a belief in a woman’s right to choose for herself. Choose to pose naked, choose not to be a feminist – whatever the decision, it’s a woman’s right to make her own life choices. No one is telling anyone to keep their clothes, or body hair, on. It doesn’t bother me one bit if someone decides that nude modelling is their chosen career, tits are great and the female body is beautiful. But we do have a collective responsibility to ensure that material that subjugates women does not appear in a context that implies it’s normal – i.e. a week-day current affairs publication.

Of course, many argue that if you don’t like it, don’t buy The Sun. I can’t claim to be much of a Current Bun reader. Not just because of the online paywall or the fact I now live in Turkey, but because I’m a ‘soppy wet lefty’ who’s not that interested in whether or not someone from Big Brother had sex with a sadist immigrant hamster, or whatever. Besides, everyone claims they ‘only read it for the sport’ and that’s not really my thing either. Buying the paper or not buying it will not change how I feel about page three – I don’t subsidise Isis or watch their videos, but I still take issue with their work.

Others argue it’s a matter of freedom of speech and the right to offend, a la Charlie Hebdo, or that feminists would be better off spending their time fighting FGM. While I agree there are far more extreme cases of sexism out there, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the issues that enable base-level sexism. Everyday sexism. Women are more than tits, fanny and arse.

NMP3

Freedom of speech also means a freedom to criticise and groups like No More Page 3 (NMP3) have tackled the issue with protests, articles and by lobbying commercial outlets to stop stocking the paper. Ultimately, any change will be driven by financial decisions as Rupert Murdoch is no feminist. The fact that nipples were replaced, briefly, with bikinis proves that. But before they do roll over on the matter once and for all, as BBC analysts have predicted, they wanted to have one last hoorah – a last act of humiliation in the face of the inevitable rejoicing of feminists and many other media outlets. Their PR officer even trolled selected journalists by tweeting them nuddy pictures.

It’s desperately sad, when you consider that many of the campaigners were children. The Girl Guides are keen supporters of NMP3. What sort of message does that send out?

I don’t find the disparity between The Sun’s portrayals of men and women ‘cheeky’, ‘fun’ or ‘entertaining’ as Jodie Marsh described it, I find it an affront. I feel uncomfortable in pubs when someone opens The Sun and everyone nearby is trying not to look because they don’t want to be caught looking like a perve. This is not, as many have said, because I am a prude, because I’m not proud of my body, because I want to tell others what to do with theirs. I don’t have a problem with women wearing make-up or provocative clothes (feminist stereotypes are ridiculous – by the way, I shave my armpits too). It’s because it’s 2015 and I have the right to bare, or not bare, my own body, free from the assumption that that means I want sex.

Thoughts on Justice for Men and Boys, the anti-feminist political party

Graphic

Some ramblings on men’s rights

It’s a tough old world if you’re a man – lazy women who naturally put less effort into their careers are stealing all your jobs, they’re over represented in government, have infiltrated the criminal justice system, and to top it all off, every time I click my fingers (click, click), an innocent man’s life is ruined by another false rape claim. Thanks to feminism’s evil dominance, it’s a woman’s world now.

This is life according to political party Justice for Men and Boys (JMB) who are hoping to win over some marginal Tory seats in Nottinghamshire at this year’s general election. It was founded in 2013 by Mike Buchanan – ex-Conservative party consultant, men’s rights activist and, no doubt, lady killer – in an attempt to stand up for Britain’s men (click) in this appallingly unequal “anti-male state”. Some of the comments above came from his interview last week with the Independent about “vile” feminists, my favourite comments I’ve included below:

“Whereas women are born with worth, they grow up knowing they’re valuable… men just have no worth as human beings.” They’re nothing more than “walking wallets”.

A statement my boyfriend will no doubt be most upset by – he’s always considered himself pretty good at washing up too.

After a brief glance at their manifesto, its main focus appears to be the supposed marginalisation of men. Women – feminists – have driven them out of the work place, out of families and marriages, destroyed their education by employing female teachers and compromised their health care. To be honest, it reads a bit like a teenager having a strop – ‘it’s all their fault’.

JMBPolicies include removing women from government, reducing the legal time-limit for abortions, GBH convictions for women who drink during pregnancy, anonymity for sexual offenders and compulsory paternity testing for babies. Sorry, which gender is attacking which?

Although valid men’s issues such as high suicide and fatal accident rates feature, the main rhetoric is one of ignorance and thinly-veiled mysogony – “there are no ways in which the state disadvantages women and girls,” “women continue to seek partners who are better-off than themselves” etc.

And then there’s ‘male genital mutilation’. While circumcision at birth is something I don’t agree with, the JMB manifesto implies that efforts to combat the awful practice of FGM (born with worth – really?) have in some way solved the problem – it’s now taking up an unfair amount of attention. This makes my blood run cold.

I have nothing against efforts to address issues concerning the health and wellbeing of men (the little mites have got to fill their time with something) – Keele University recently fought off NUS opposition to keep its men’s rep. Fine. But JMB’s policies are something else entirely. Something that goes hand-in-hand with another recent story about an American cardinal who blamed feminism for peodophile priests. It’s an attempt to undermine equality, to restore male dominance under the guise of victimisation.

Women fight inequality every day of their lives in some way or another. Denying that is not men’s rights and it has nothing to do with male disadvantage or identity crisis, it’s about taking women down a peg or two. But there is some good news – this sort of backlash can only mean one thing: we’re winning.

CLICK

I wrote a piece for the Guardian about vaginas (well, feminine hygiene products)

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I wrote a piece for the lovely Guardian women’s blog about some of the more ridiculous things women have been convinced to do to themselves in the name of fanny-improvement. As always, you can read the original here, or my original below. 

Ever worried that your vagina doesn’t smell like soft fruit? Me neither. Yet last week, in a spectacularly unpopular attempt at foof-commodification, two Silicon Valley startup bros unveiled plans for a new probiotic supplement that enables women to biohack their nether regions, leaving them smelling of peaches. While the product’s official use is as an anti-microbial, the scent serving as an indicator that it is working effectively to protect against problems such as yeast infections, it’s an uncomfortable proposition that has caused outrage online. Especially as the pair’s other fragrant collaboration is a probiotic that makes pet dung smell like bananas.

“All your smells are not human. They’re produced by the creatures that live on you,” said Austen Heinz, CEO of Cambrian Genomics who plans to make Sweet Peach Probiotic using DNA laser printing technology. Adding: “We think it’s a fundamental human right to… personalise it.”

Science has long been misappropriated in order to sell products, particularly those aimed at women. Some products have used vagina-guilt to sell totally unrelated products: “We all perspire up to 2 to 3 pints a day, scientists say,” claims one 1920s advert for Lux soap flakes. “Undies absorb odour. You don’t notice it, but others do.”

Other products however, have adopted more of what you might call a full cuntal assault – if eau-de-peche sounds a little fanciful, then how about smelling like toilet water, literally? During the first half of the 20th century douching – or the rinsing out of the vaginal cavity – was a popular method of treating infection, deodorising and even used as a contraceptive (though it is not generally recommended by medical professionals now as it can upset the sensitive bacterial balance of the genitals). The most popular douche brand in the US was Lysol, an antiseptic disinfectant advertised both as a household germicide for use in toilet bowls and a feminine hygiene product. Until 1953 it also contained cresol, a toxic methylphenol that can cause inflammation to the skin and burning. According to motherjones.com, use of the product killed 5 people and resulted in 193 cases of poisoning before 1911. Yet, it was still marketed as safe, employing aggressive ad campaigns that implied that, without it, women were doomed to a life of loneliness with a distant husband. One poster entitled “Love-quiz… For married folks only”, shows a forlorn wife whose man is about to walk out of the door, and reads: “Why does she spend her evenings alone?” before finishing with a solemn warning: “Always use Lysol.”

While companies are unlikely to get away with claiming that a lack of internal bleaching will render a woman forever alone in the 21st century, we’re still not free of unnecessary vag-products. My New Pink Button, for example, the feminine dye for graying vulvas that comes in four shades and brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘having the painters in’.

Following the backlash and subsequent withdrawal of funding from some Cambrian Genomics investors, Heinz admitted his pitch had been incorrect. Pitching partner Gilad Gome – who had spoken before of hacking microbiome to make vaginas “smell like roses and taste like diet cola” – was in fact not involved in the project and the founder of Sweet Peach Probiotics was actually previously unmentioned “ultrafeminist”, Audrey Hutchinson. The importance of scent in the product, she said, was grossly exaggerated and it really was intended for the much more useful task of curing thrush.

Yet until now, who’d considered that personalising fanny-cologne was even a possibility? It seems as far-fetched and pointless as wishing for tomato-flavored eyeballs. But it could well be a hint as to what to expect from feminine hygiene in the future – a healthy dose of biotech.

On sex and the English language

jesus-vagina

Dick, prick, cock, knob, willy – are you offended yet?

Twat, gash, pussy, cunt. How about now?

After years of listening to drunken spats while working in pubs, where the English language is usually at its most colourful, I have learnt two things. Firstly, that whisky chasers and prolonged sun exposure are a terrible mix and secondly, that if you really, really want to provoke someone, you call them a cunt. And that’s not just limited to the world of recreational drinking, it works across most sectors of the community. I’ve tried.

However, last week, 14 year old Tuesday Cain‘s downstairs bits, or her unusual confidence in talking openly about them, became the subject of an internet firestorm. She’d been protesting a new highly restrictive anti-abortion law in her home state of Texas and her protest banner read: ‘Jesus isn’t a dick; so keep him OUT of MY VAGINA!’ Many – mostly Republicans, pro-life campaigners, trolls and religious nutters – branded her, rather strangely, a ‘lesbian.’ Now aside from the obvious Jesus obstacle, which is a whole other topic, what seems to have caused the most offence is the word ‘vagina’.

While male sex words may be mildly offensive to some, it’s the ones pertaining to the lady bits that have an awesomely dark power to enrage. In an over sexualised society, our use of language is very telling. No single word conjures up images of grotty porn more than ‘pussy’. ‘Twat’ doubles up, rather darkly, as slang for hitting someone and ‘gash’ is just downright twisted. ‘Vagina’ is the official medical word, it’s not sexy ergo using it makes you a lesbian. That’s right – a desexualised attitude towards the female body means you must be gay (which is still an issue for some idiots). It still goes against the grain to say vagina. Some people even take it to mean something anti-male (look at last year’s Vaginagate scandal).

There is no male equivalent, not penis, dong, wang, sausage or throbbing member, that invites quite the same sort of prejudice. We tend to find the penis funny while the vagina continues to be a detached political entity. Interestingly though, according to an old Guardian survey, more women than men are offended by these words. I’d like to think that’s due to some deep-rooted feminism, but it’s more likely because of an awkwardness towards the body all together.

Personally, if I had to pick one term to jump up and down on it would have to be ‘pussy’. It immediately makes an everyday body part seem seedy – all greasy lube and fake nails. But at least one thing’s come out of the Tuesday Cain affair, now I know how to really piss off an American.

That’s right, you’re a vagina.

I will leave you with a video that I found on Jezebel. It’s a subverted retelling of Robin Thicke’s highly questionable ‘sound of the summer’ Blurred Lines (the one with all the naked women that makes me want to hurt people) by Seattle boylesque troupe Mod Carousel.