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real issue is not women ‘demeaning’ themselves or nudity per say, it’s that page three perpetuates inequality and the outdated belief that women’s bodies are there to please men.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.

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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.

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

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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.

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I wrote a piece for The Independent about Idris Elba and James Bond

Still from The Independent online

Idris Elba for Bond! I wrote a little thing on the matter for The Independent (and you can read it here), or take a gander at my unedited version below. The self-denied racism that has accompanied this affair is something I’ve found quite shocking (‘it’s not about him being black, it’s about James Bond being white’ – that sort of thing) and I may write a follow up blog about it soon. Hope you enjoy… x

It’s not often that colossal noggined rapper Kanye West has something interesting to say, but as the debate over whether actor Idris Elba could take over the reigns as fictional character James Bond rages, he’s finally hit the jackpot. Speaking to The Sun this week he said: “Artists should be visionaries. A black James Bond would be visionary no doubt. Something that 30 years ago would have seemed crazy should now be something that is a real possibility.”

Elba has all the credentials of a perfect Bond – he’s suave, intelligent and he looks damn fine in a suit. Yet the idea that a black man could play the martini-swilling spy has gotten some stirred, and a few more shaken. “Isn’t 007 supposed to [be] handsome?” Elba tweeted a few days ago alongside a selfie showing his beautiful – oh so beautiful ­– face, contorted into a half-squint. A reaction that showed true Bondesque grace and humour in the face of the unabashed racism that followed the Sony Hacks leak suggesting he could be in the running for the role.

The most prominent of these racists is perhaps controversial American talk show host Rush Limbaugh. “But now [they are] suggesting that the next James Bond should be Idris Elba, a black Briton, rather than a white from Scotland” Rushbo fussed on his show last Tuesday. “Fifty years of white Bond because Bond is white. Always Scottish. Always drank vodka.”

This is an argument riddled with inaccuracies. There has only been one Scottish Bond, Sean Connery. The others were English, Welsh, Irish and even Australian. In fact, Ian Fleming only invented the character’s half-Scots, half-Swiss heritage after the cinema release of Doctor No in order to honour Connery. He hasn’t always drunk vodka-based cocktails either – as a functioning alcoholic he’ll drink anything from Dom Pérignon champagne to a Campari-based Americano.

A man with such a penchant for booze, you might think, would die young, but if his Authorised Biography is anything to go by, he would be 94 by now. Yet the actors who have played him have ranged enormously in age – George Lazonby was 29 in Her Majesty’s Secret Service while Roger Moore was 57 in A View to a Kill. Craig was hardly an archetypal Bond either with his blue eyes and blonde hair. The spy franchise has always adapted, always stayed fresh in order survive. Because that’s the beauty of fiction – you can do what you want with it. It exists to be visionary.

Elba – who is 42 – has said that he doesn’t want to be known as the ‘black Bond’, others in the role were never defined by what made them different. And nor should he be. However, the movie industry’s track record of substituting white actors for characters of other ethnicities is not great. The recent film Exodus caused a Twitter riot due to its “whitewashed” portrayal of Egyptians and Israelites. Laurence Olivier once blacked up to play Othello in the 1965 film of the same name. Isn’t it about time Hollywood evened things out?

 

Breakfast TV: Why are female presenters so glam at 6:30am?

From the Daily Mail

From the Daily Mail

I was asked to write a piece for the Guardian G2 Shortcuts. Hope you enjoy…

Once upon a time, if a conversation arose about breakfast glamour, it would probably have been concerned with shiny high-class toasters. But something has happened to breakfast TV over the past few years, it’s gone sexy. So sexy, in fact, that Clare Balding said in an interview with the Mail on Sunday last weekend, that the female presenters look “as though they are going to a cocktail party.”

While most of us are still wiping the lip cheese from our mouths at 6:30am, presenters such as Good Morning Britain’s Susanna Reid are already glossy and preened. Even at this ungodly hour, they manage to bring us the news in killer heels and dresses as tight fitting as a lace wetsuit. More controversially, the trend for plunging necklines is revealing a bit more tattie than most people are ready for prior to their morning caffeine hit. Especially when the only growths you were looking for were the ones concerning the war in Syria.

“Why do you have to do that?” Balding said, pointing out that women should be judged by their talent, not their appearance. “Why would it be wrong to sit there in trousers? Why don’t they wear a dressing gown, present the show in their pyjamas once a week, maybe every Friday?”

And she’s right, the worth of female breakfast TV presenters – who, after all, are just doing their jobs, not running for Miss England – is assessed far more on looks than their male counterparts. A few weeks ago, Australian TV anchor Karl Stefanovic admitted to wearing the same blue ­suit for a year in order to make a point about the way his female colleagues are unfairly judged. He came up with the idea after hearing that co-presenter, Lisa Wilkinson, had been sent a letter by a viewer telling her to “get some style”. But predictably, no-one noticed despite the fact that blue, like, isn’t even his colour.

In the eighties, our wake up call came from Anne Diamond in an array of high-necked blouses and garish jumpers. In the nineties, it was a floppy haired Kirsty Walk. Today’s presenters might look as though they’re about to be whisked off to an impossibly classy soiree (not a single Ferrero Rocher in sight), and it may not be progressive, but with women in the media now under such close scrutiny, it’s understandable.

In the interview, Balding also talked of how she’s uncomfortable wearing “a skirt or dress because it is difficult to look good sitting down… I want to feel like nothing is going to distract from the job I am doing.” But until things do change, it’s likely that even pyjama-Friday would be a glamour-fest.

I wrote a piece for the Independent about vegan and veggie stereotypes

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I wrote a piece for Independent Voices – although I didn’t choose the old Secret Cinema selfie – about the tired stereotypes surrounding vegans and vegetarians. I’ve been a veggie for most of my life for non-moral reasons (I hate it), but as I get older I start to see more and more sense in abstaining from meat. It turned out to be a popular topic, it got a lot of shares on social media. A few people got in touch via Twitter and I even got an email from PETA offering me some statistics in case I want to write about it again. Which was a bit of a surprise, considering.You can read the sleek and fancy one here, or my orig below. 

Like 3% percent of the UK population, I’m a smelly, tie-dye wearing lentil-muncher; an underweight, pallid weakling; a patchouli-scented carnivore-hater. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t eat meat. It’s no secret that, with the world’s population expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050, we all need to reduce our meat intake, yet ridicule of vegetarians and vegans is still par for the course.

Much like the old breast or thigh quandary, abstaining from meat, and perhaps dairy consumption too, is an entirely personal preference. It doesn’t directly affect the health of those around you in the way that, for example, smoking can, yet it’s sometimes treated with a similar level of hostility. Last week, the co-owner of an Australian burger bar, Mark Clews, came under fire for mocking a vegan diner who was “wearing a tie-dye t-shirt”, labelling her “single minded” and “Nazi like” on the restaurant’s Facebook page. In an exercise in customer relations that Ryanair would have been proud of, his comment went on to say that veganism “was inspired by some tragic childhood event, or a divorce, or a car accident or some crap” before securing his seat as Vegan Basher General by adding: “They lack physical strength because of zero red meat in their diet!”

These stereotypes are all too familiar. They would take pride of place in a round of defensive omnivore bingo alongside ‘but don’t you miss bacon?’ and ‘I don’t trust anyone who lives off rabbit food’. But the supposedly archetypal militant, sickly, non-meat-eater is just a caricature. Like most stereotyping, it’s part of a defence mechanism that protects a person’s – or in this case, meat-eater’s – belief system from being challenged and attempts to project a superior place in society. But recent decades have seen the meat consumption of rich countries increase, sending grain prices and obesity levels spiralling, causing widespread deforestation and adding unnecessary pressure to already strained resources. We have reached the point where beliefs need to be challenged.

Organisations such as PETA are no help in the matter. Their recent London ‘die in’ – which saw naked protesters lie on the floor of Trafalgar Square in a blood-smeared jumble in order to promote veganism – did little to highlight the important health and environmental issues connected to meat consumption, and everything to confirm suspicions that meat-free also means sanity-free. So although I’m not full-vegan, I’d like to address a few of these myths. I have voluntarily forgone the consumption of dead flesh for the best part of my life and eat little dairy.

For starters, while I was probably still supping from tippy-cups the last time I allowed a chunk of red meat to pass my lips, my physical strength is enough that I ran the London marathon this year (although it’s perhaps best if we don’t discuss run-times). I don’t hate carnivores, in fact, my boyfriend is a one and is free to practice that as he chooses – my home is not the scene of a fascist dictatorship. Not with regards to meat, anyway. I rarely eat lentils, have never, ever worn tie-dye and often cook Sunday roasts for my carne-loving friends. Perhaps, most shockingly, I can’t stand Morrissey. You see, veggies really are just normal people.

Until now, I’ve not preached to anyone about eating meat either. My choice not to eat it was born not from a tragic childhood event, but a genuine dislike of the stuff (yes, even bacon). But this month is World Vegan Month and what better way to celebrate than by trying to go without consuming animal products for just one day? You won’t turn into a hippy, I promise.

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.

I wrote about EastEnders and comebacks for the Guardian

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I wrote a piece for the Guardian on a topic of GREAT importance: EastEnders. I’ve been getting a bit peeved with the heavy flow of characters making a comeback recently, especially as the new(ish) Carter family are simply wonderful, and more than enough for me. So I wrote a short little thingy for the TV and Radio blog. You can read it here, or my full version below.

Last week, EastEnders gave us the somewhat inevitable slick-haired and black-clad second coming of Nasty Nick Cotton. And just when you thought that was enough soap resurrection to be going on with for a while, the latest round in the EastEnders comeback extravaganza was revealed with a whopping four characters set to be raised from the dead for this year’s Children in Need special. All before you’ve even had a chance to perfect your best oak-tinged ‘hello Ma’.

The sketch will see Ian Beale knocked unconscious. Oh sorry, that’s not the good bit – and later he is confronted by the ghosts of mum Kathy Mitchell, aunty Pat Evans (although whether her voluminous taste in earrings has been allowed to continue in the afterlife is yet to be confirmed), ex-wife Cindy and daughter Lucy, whose murder earlier this year is still to be solved in one of the most achingly drawn out storylines in TV history. But after a slew of recent comebacks, EastEnders is becoming more like a tedious Facebook meme than a soap – ‘like’ if you remember Kathy getting beaten up by Phil!

Since Dominic Treadwell-Collins – DTC to fans of the show – took over the reigns as executive producer of EastEnders in late summer last year, the tally of returning characters has racked up more notches than Max Branning’s bedpost in an attempt to boost flagging ratings. So many, I simply haven’t got the word space, or patience, to mention them all. Along with Dot Cotton’s dastardly son, recent revivals have included: Womanizing David Wicks, Stacey Slater, broody – and no doubt less of a hit with female viewers following the hard-hitting Linda Carter rape scene – Dean Wicks, wet-flannel Sonia Fowler, Ben Mitchell with yet another new face – as actor Harry Reid took over the role – and even a brief surprise appearance from Peggy. With Martin Fowler’s return looming and rumours that frankly dull Charlie Slater, last seen in December last year, is to make another appearance, this extended trip down memory lane is becoming boring.

“It’s good to have one foot in the past while looking to the future,” said Treadwell-Collins in an interview with Radio Times earlier this year. “My idea is to make the show feel fresh with the Carters, but also a bit nostalgic by bringing back characters we love.”

And surprisingly to anyone who anyone who sat through the frustrating rehash of the Phil-Mitchell-gets-shot-and-sadly-survives storyline, he also said that “EastEnders has got to shake up the audience. We don’t want to do cover versions of greatest hits. EastEnders has to sing new songs…”

However, the episode, which saw Shirley shooting Phil in a jealous rage after he married Sharon, did bring in 7.13m viewers. It’s a long chalk from the 17m it received the first time round in 2001, but after ratings slumped to less than five million last summer – lower than Corrie and Emmerdale – he must be doing something right. Nasty Nick’s return has further boosted the show’s audiences, too, but how many characters can one show bring back? Will we be seeing a wet-tongued return from Wellard soon, or a surprise home visit from Doctor Legg?

Too much nostalgia can turn to indulgence, and indulgence inevitably leads to flabby storylines and before you know it, we’re going to need a forklift truck to get this thing up and running again. With the run up to the 30th anniversary in February under way, it’s easy to see why Treadwell-Collins is keen to relive some of the soap’s history, and who could be so mean as to deny the show a little whimsy for a good cause? But once the Children in Need festivities are over, enough with the comebacks – this girl’s had enough.