Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Abortion: You Be Her Judge

I liked this. I also really despair of some men, sometimes. I'm not going to go into it too much, as the article smacks down the pillocks quite thoroughly, and I have other things on my wandering mind.

I read all the comments on that piece, which I tend not to do on blogs (I don't enjoy trollfights, as a rule), and I continue to be fascinated by some of the arguments that anti-abortionists come out with, as well as those put forward by "centrists" or "moderates". I mean, this one-per-customer idea - what good is that going to do anyone? Once is alright, but twice is murder? Obviously I know why they suggest it, because they tell me. It's about responsibility. We must be responsible for our own decisions. Translation: I feel that I have the right to control your body if I don't like what you're doing with it. It astonishes me that anyone feels they have the right to tell women when and how often to have sex, and then when and how often they can have a medical procedure. The arrogance of it is astonishing. They think they get to decide who is allowed medical treatment. I mean, I don't like smoking - I think it's stupid, a filthy habit, and can only do you damage, but I cannot imagine saying to a smoker, "Lung cancer? That's your own fault. Fuck off and die in the street."

I also find it difficult to take seriously the position of those who believe abortion should be illegal except in case of rape or incest, et cetera. Why? If you believe it's child murder, then why is the "child" who is the product of rape any less of a child and more worthy of murdering? If we take the favourite crappy trope of the forced-birth crowd: Well, You Wouldn't Murder A Three-Year-Old, would it be more acceptable to murder a three-year-old child who was the product of rape? Obviously not. I firmly believe that the majority of anti-abortionists don't give a shit about children. They make the rape/incest exception because those women can still be redeemed; they can still be Good. Those who had sex on purpose are Bad and must be Punished. It's about control of our sexual habits. It's about transporting us back to this idyllic 1950s state that nobody I know remembers actually existing. Since I first became aware of abortion, I've heard people say: well, it shouldn't be used as a form of birth control. And yeah, that would be a bit dumb. We have much better forms of birth control readily available to us (I know this is less true for Americans, who have to pay for the Pill, but we Englishwomen get ours for free). And if "not as a form of birth control" was meant to mean "don't be bloody stupid about it and learn about contraception", fine. But it doesn't, does it? At its most harmless, it means "I judge sluts." At the other end of the scale, it means "I hate sluts and think I should get to deny them medical treatment." We know it's not about abortion being murder, because otherwise they'd object to all abortion, substitute birth control or not.

You don't often come across people (from a British perspective) who will happily announce that all abortion is murder and nobody should ever be allowed to have one. We mostly get "Well, I could never have one" (which is fine), that strange breed of wishy-washy sort-of-Conservative who firmly believes that we will one day be able to pinpoint exactly the moment during gestation when a foetus becomes a child, or those who sort of vaguely think it's a bit icky but don't support either side of the debate. Of course, we do have an occasional whackjob. No, I promise I won't link to Nadine Dorries again, but she is getting her own tag.

So our abortion debates, such as they are, are often led by the second group. Where and when does life begin? We must find it. David Cameron apparently thinks life begins at twenty weeks in the womb. Why? We don't know. He pulled the figure out of his ass. Should we ask him - which I promise you I will, given the slightest opportunity - he would probably make some noises about scientific advances (one of the arguments I hate most because it implies that one day we will have the technology to outlaw abortion), but I bet you his true feelings lie with the third group: he vaguely thinks it's a bit icky. I use David Cameron as an example partly because I still can't stand him and haven't had a go at him for a while, and partly because he's such a good symbol of England in regard to the abortion debate. We think a fertilised egg is clearly not alive and a thirty-nine-week-old foetus is clearly a baby, so somewhere in between is the point where a magical transformation occurs and what is clearly a ball of cells turns into what is clearly a human being. We don't think of it in those terms, of course, because it just sounds daft. We like to make noises about "viability", but what does that even mean? Foetuses can be "viable" at twenty-four weeks because we have some impressive technology these days. And as I said, at some point, we may well have the technology to make all foetuses "viable". Does this mean abortion should be outlawed when we have made such advances? We would still say no, I think. I think we might also say that removing a six-week-old foetus and incubating it for eight months is a little creepy.

Abortion is a hugely contested subject, but most of us have no idea what we think about it. We might know that we're pro-choice or pro-life (hate, hate, hate that term), but for almost all of us there are questions that would make us go "...huh. I don't really know." I don't know what the time limit should ideally be. I know I don't think it should be any lower, but why couldn't it be higher? I don't know. I just sort of defer to the consensus of the medical profession and gloss over it. If I were in America, I wouldn't do that. I don't believe there should be a limit on how many abortions a woman can get, but if I were to hear that a woman had had twelve abortions, I would want to know why. How stupid is that? Why, even in my own head, am I asking this hypothetical woman to justify herself to me? What if she'd had all twelve because she was careless and didn't use contraception? Well, what if? Why on earth should that make any difference to me whatsoever? Why should she have to set out her precise reasons for me so that I may judge her a slut or an idiot? (I hate the whole concept of "slut" so I'd never do that, but I absolutely see myself judging her as an idiot. And maybe she is an idiot, but what has that got to do with me?)

It shocked me a little when I started thinking about this - I throw huge stroppy fits about anti-abortionists judging women for their choices, so why is it alright when I do it? I don't believe that every choice a woman makes is necessarily feminist, or that it must be the right choice because a woman made it, but I clearly think abortion is alright. If one abortion is a personal, private medical decision to be kept between a woman and her doctor (plus partner and/or family if she so chooses), why aren't twelve abortions just twelve personal, private medical decisions to be kept between a woman and her doctor? Why, instead, do twelve abortions carry some heavy statement about the woman's life? The reason she had one abortion wouldn't matter to me, so why would I demand her reasons for having twelve? Is it because most of us pick up a little of this vague "abortions are icky" from society and have to consciously fight against it? Or maybe because we all feel that we have the right, to some greater or lesser extent, to judge a woman for her sexual behaviour? It's probably both. Unless we work to get over it, we look at the gestation of a pregnancy and pick a point between "clearly just cells" and "clearly a baby" as the point where life begins, just we look a woman's sexuality and pick a point between "clearly a prude" and "clearly a slut" as the point where we as a gender should ideally sit. The whole thing is subjective and ultimately pointless, but most of us have 'em, and they slide up and down as we change, as we think we've learned more and therefore it's alright for us to judge these women now because I've learned.

Have you?

Sunday, 28 December 2008


I could use a little help here. Can somebody please explain this to me?

Apparently, Claire Sweeney has purposely gained two stone in order to show the horrible, disastrous consequences of being overweight. I don't see the point, but that's not what I need explained. Take a look at the photos of her at a "healthy" weight and then "obese". Then please explain it to me. Is it me, or does she look exactly the same? She has a slightly bigger stomach (and to be frank, I can create that sort of difference in the size of my stomach by holding in then pushing out), and a bit of a double chin, which most of us can get if we hold our heads in a certain way. Is that what "piling on two stone" looks like? Where has she put it? How has she managed to put on two stone and fit into the same bikini? She is the same damn size. The Mail insists she's gone from a C cup to a G cup. Not in those pictures she hasn't.

I am somewhat tempted to call shenanigans on these pictures. Why does she have exactly the same line running across her lower abdomen? She looks THE SAME. If I lose two stone, is that all the difference it's going to make? Full disclosure: I am fairly close in weight to "Fat Sweeney", and am a little taller. I can't wear a string bikini. I have DD breasts and they will not stay in a top that size. Oh, and that stomach does not contain two stone of weight. It just doesn't.

I feel bad for sitting here and analysing another woman's body like this, but it scares the crap out of me that Fat Sweeney is being held up as HUGE SCARY OBESE UNHEALTHY GO AND HIDE IN THE LETTUCE. I'm also confused by the premise: apparently she travels to Hollywood where she's told she'll never make it unless she loses weight. In response to this, she decides to deliberately overeat in order to prove that Fat Is Bad... why? What was the point of that? We're told that she went on the Atkins Diet a few years ago to try and lose weight, and she collapsed with a kidney infection after four weeks. So she decides to go out and bravely prove that Fat Is Bad? What the hell is going on here? Oh, and in case you hadn't gathered, she looks exactly the same. I've put on two stone before. I did not look exactly the same. Perhaps she genuinely did put on two stone, but they forgot to take Before and After photos so they dragged her into the studio once she'd lost all the weight again and faked it? I don't know. All I know is, I do not get this. I would very much appreciate someone explaining it to me.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

You Don't Count

I shall attempt to post something festively cheerful later today, but first this needs a little attention:

"Infamous prosecutor Ken Starr has filed a legal brief -- on behalf of the "Yes on 8" campaign -- to nullify the 18,000 same-sex marriages performed in California between May and November of 2008."

YOU ASSHOLE. You nasty, weasly little piece of pond scum. I'm quite happy to fuck up your lives because you're not really people. You don't count.

It really, really pisses me off. These people go on and on about the breakdown of scoiety and how horrible the divorce rate is and why can't couples just stay together and work things out for the children, but they'll quite happily force it on eighteen thousand couples who don't want it. Look through that slideshow. Tell me those people aren't really married. Tell me their love doesn't matter. Tell me they're screwing up our society by doing something that makes no difference whatsoever to you. Tell me any of those things, and I will kill you.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Punching Women Is Funny

Since my ex and I split up, I've been processing the past five and a half years and wondering what lessons I can take from this, because I haven't quite managed to shake off my self-help book past. There's a lot of processing to do, because my memory is annoyingly good. And about twenty minutes ago, I remembered this:

We wander into a local pub. We go to the bar to get drinks, as one tends to do in a pub. Standing at the bar with a pint is a cheerful-looking elderly chap. He smiles affably as we approach, and watches us order our drinks. He makes a little small talk. He mentions something his wife said him the other week. Then he says: "I told her if she ever said that to me again I'd smack her."

I do my bug-eyed "Excuse me?!" face. He turns to my ex with a friendly face and a male-bonding laugh. "Eh?" he says. My ex says nothing. Loud, loud silence from him. "Oh," says cheeky chappie, "can't say anything while she's here, I get it!" He still looks genuinely friendly, laughing good-naturedly as though the three of us are enjoying a joke, even though my "Excuse me?!" face has turned into my "I am seriously appalled and must leave NOW" face. My ex lets out a weak laugh and we turn to go and sit outside.

I'm not sure why this little scene should suddenly have popped back into my head, but I remember several like it. Horrible domestic violence jokes or insults about me as a stand-in for all women, usually coming from a source that genuinely seemed to think they were good-naturedly joking around. And (duh) it upset me. Hugely. I would say this to my ex, and every time he would tell me that he knew the jokes were horrible, but he wasn't going to say anything, and I had a choice: either I could back off and let him say nothing, or he would get into a physical fight with the joker. Those were my two choices. Shut up and take it, or tell him to get punching. He said there was no other way to go, because were he to say anything, the other guy would take it badly and want to start a fight. Some of these men were our friends. One was (is, indeed) my friend's partner, and I could well believe that he thought these jokes were welcoming. Were you to respond, I would say, to a joking comment that you are totally screwed now that we're engaged with a smile and "Actually, I'm really lucky", that would provoke nothing more than a grumpily affectionate "Sappy git." No, he insisted, it would start a fight. I know men.

No, you don't. Or at least I hope he doesn't. I don't think he does, but the one thing I've been left with post-break-up is a huge, steaming pile of uncertainty. I've heard a lot of men make those jokes. I believe that had their blithe assumptions that said jokes are funny to all been met with a cheerful yet firm refutation, they would have stopped. I don't think men say these things with the intent to force other men to into fist fights. I just think there are a lot of people who think that on a theoretical level, punching women is funny. And as all comedy fans know, if your joke falls flat, find a better topic and fast. If you make a joke, it's because you're trying to be funny, and only really terrible comedians punch people who don't laugh at their jokes.

Scary, though, to realise that so many people do think this is funny, and scarier to realise you spent five years with a man who thinks that whilst they're not funny, they're certainly reasonable. Misogynistic jokes are a reasonable part of modern life, but isn't it a pain when your girlfriend takes exception to them? Isn't it a pain when she expects you to be bothered too? Bloody women, wanting to go out without hearing how men would really like to punch their partners in the face/tie them up and shove them in the boot of their car? (We had this one too - my ex's response was a long silnce and then "She wouldn't fit.")

Punching women is funny, and moving on is really, really tough.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Oh, David.

I'm very upset at having to do this, but I must.

*grits teeth*
*takes deep breath*
*silently apologises to personal comedy gods*

Shut up, David Mitchell.

Ouch. That hurt. I am a great lover of the divine Mr Mitchell - his ranting, his inability to understand music, his ordering of David Cameron to just shut up and do things. Love him. This article, however, I do not love. I can find nothing to love about it. I can't even love that it's ripe for a smackdown, because it isn't. It's so self-importantly smug that it makes me want to hit him in the face, and since I believe that violence is never the solution, I can't go line-by-line on this one. What I can say is this:

I was offended by Brand and Ross. David Mitchell is obviously not offended by Brand and Ross. Fine. If he wished to write an article detailing why he was not offended, I would write an affectionate post asking him to please check his privilege. But that's not what he's done. He's written an article that says, several times, that Brand and Ross were definitely wrong. He then spends four paragraphs patronising us about it - it's so obviously wrong that nobody should have said anything. It's so clearly wrong that nobody should be allowed to complain about it.

Wait, what?

He then goes on to tell us: if you complain about a broadcast, you have no life. If you weren't diligently listening to the broadcast when it was originally aired, you don't get to complain (well, you can, but I will then cover you with a large dollop of Unwarranted Snide. It now comes in strawberry flavour!) Oh, and if you complained, you're an idiot, because Brand and Ross were so obviously in the wrong it would be the same as saying "Post office closures in rural areas cause widespread inconvenience."

Uh, David? People do complain about that. That's how they get them not to shut the post offices. It doesn't always work, sure, but what good will it do them to sit at home and say "No, I'm not going to bother complaining about the post office closing. It's so obviously wrong, they'll think I'm an idiot if I say anything." When we think something is wrong, we complain, otherwise people KEEP BLOODY DOING IT. If there had been no complaints at all about the incident which I will not call Sachsgate or Brandgate or Rossgate or Hahaha-I'm-sweary-and-he-sleeps-with-a-lot-of-womengate, you think they would have got together after the show and said, "You know what we did was so obviously wrong that I now feel heartily ashamed of myself. Let's never do that again"? Do you think? Or might they have thought, "That was funny. We should do that every week. Who else have you slept with, Russell?" And it can't be wrong, can it, since nobody's complaining.

What really irritates me, though, is that he finishes up with that tired old trope about how comedy is all about taking risks and they've been pretty successful in the past so why are we complaining when...zzzzzz. Sorry. First of all, if they knew it was wrong, as you keep insisting, then it wasn't a risk, it was just assholish. Second of all, do you remember that time Russell Brand phoned 999 during a gig and tied up the operator for quite some time pretending he'd seen a man wanted for multiple sexual assaults? Remember when he potentially put lives in danger and took the piss out of women whose attacker was still on the loose? Do I get to complain about that, David? Do I? Even though I wasn't there and it's quite clearly a stupid thing to do? Russell Brand is not a sensible man. He's not "taking risks", he's just doing whatever he feels like and couldn't give a shit if real people get hurt. We have to say No, Russell. Stop it, Russell. We have to tell him no every time. Because he does not get it. Perhaps you haven't noticed?

And thirdly, please see my quote of the year:

"They mocked the weak. You have to aim a bit higher than that."

Perhaps talk to Bill Bailey sometime, David. Perhaps try to understand that just because someone is a comedian doesn't mean we have to accept "I was trying to be funny" as an adequate explanation. We have the right to say no, not good enough. You get paid truckloads for this, go back and come up with something that's funny. We also have the right to say that harassing people isn't funny, humiliating people isn't funny. You would agree with that, right? I mean, it's obvious. But it's not obvious enough to stop them from doing it. It wasn't obvious enough to make either one of them think, "Hang on. Calling up Andrew Sachs and leaving message after message about how Russell Brand fucked his granddaughter isn't actually funny" or "Wow, that would be a colossally mean-spirited thing to do to him and a horrendously disrespectful thing to do to her. Let's not do it." That didn't happen, did it?

So, in conclusion, David, don't you dare talk down to me for stating the obvious. "Kids shouldn't ring doorbells and run away," you say. But they do. So we tell them to stop, and/or complain to their parents. "Post offices closures in rural areas cause widespread inconvenience," you say. Yes, they do. But they're still being closed. So we protest, and we complain, even when we don't use the specific post office in question. "Donkey homelessness is a crying shame," you say. Yes it is. So we raise money for sanctuaries, and we complain when we hear of animal mistreatment. You then go on to imply that anyone who would dare to complain about Russell Brand thinks that drug addicts deserve to be homeless, for which I would really like to give you a clip round the ear, but I can't, because your ear is currently up your backside with the rest of your head. Don't you dare condescend to me like that. Don't you dare call me an idiot for having a problem with something that's wrong. Yes, it may obviously be wrong, but it's STILL HAPPENING. Which is why we COMPLAIN. Yaaaaarrrrrgggghhhh.

I'm being harder on David Mitchell than maybe I should be, but I'm doing so because I'm a fan. And I became a fan because not only did he not need to do the easy-target jokes, he called out other people who did them. He got cross with Angus Deayton for focusing on Ann Widdecombe's looks rather than her highly unpleasant political stances, told off Frankie Boyle for making a "Chinese sounds a bit funny" joke and ranted at a studio audience for laughing at a rape joke and booing a "Peaches Geldof won't have a very long marriage" joke. This is why I love him so much, and this is why I hold him to a higher standard than those who aren't in my Dara/Bill/Ross pantheon. To hear him spew out the comedy-is-risk crap when Bill Bailey so neatly and wonderfully buried that argument in one sentence is somewhat painful. You have to aim higher, you have to be better. Yes you do. And above all, you have to stop using such bizarre logic as, "It's obviously wrong, therefore you shouldn't complain about it." Please, David. I love you. Stop it.

Note: I have decided to add a "Bill is My Guru" tag for such posts as these - when I expect more of someone, be it a comedian, a politician, a friend, or myself, Bill is my guru. This is the new motto of LLS - you have to aim a bit higher than that. I realise this is a fairly lofty motto for a blog that goes on about America's Next Top Model and occasionally stops to pick apart grammar, but I can if I want, dammit.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Ew, Hair.

And so to the minor feminist issues, the ones which don't - or shouldn't - really matter, but hell, we know what kind of world we're living in and we have to deal with them.

Body hair, specifically women's body hair, is gross and weird and wrong and should never ever have to be viewed by the human eye. This is what we learn from a pretty young age. We see the world shocked and outraged by Julia Roberts displaying armpit hair in public, and we all know that the shock and outrage goes beyond the shameless display of said hair in public and extends to a misogynistic disgust at the existence of body hair at all.

It's bizarre, when you think about it. A woman raises an arm to wave at a friend, or her adoring public, and the whole world goes, "Ewwww! Hair!" And the world can say whatever shit it likes about reasons of hygiene, but if that had any real weight then men would be expected to do it too. Suggest that to any given man (well, except Len Goodman) and watch him try to comprehend what on earth might possess him to do such a thing. It's really a nonsensical thing to do. But I do it, just like most women do it. My mother is a professional waxer and does my armpits every few weeks. I'm a bit more lax with my legs. I have less hair there, and I'm English. My legs never see daylight. My bikini line is off-limits. I've tried it, it hurts, it's bloody stupid. My mother is also a practitioner of electrolysis, and if you think pouring hot wax on your crotch is stupid, try having an electrical current zapped through it. I only let her do that once.

This is one of those subjects where we all have an opinion and none of us have an answer. I mean, we could all rise up as one and chuck out our wax and razors and blow a giant raspberry at men and tabloids alike, but some women like being hairless. It's also one of those subjects where we all have to make some sort of compromise between the ideal and real life, and I've made mine: I will remove public hair, not pubic hair. I will remove societally-condemned hair that will be exposed to the world in general, but societally-condemned hair that remains a secret between me and my underwear will stay where it is. I'm quite alright with it being there. I don't feel unclean, it doesn't make me uncomfortable, and removing it is a real pain in the arse (or somewhere thereabouts). Any man that has a problem with this doesn't get to go down there. It's as simple as that. I've been fortunate enough never to be with a man who demanded or even slyly encouraged me to get rid of it, but now that I have been thrust back into the world of singledom with a new and fundamental distrust that I will ever meet a nice man who will accept me, I anticipate such an event with a sort of gloomy resignation. And when it does happen, I will tell him to go first. Oh, and get his back waxed. And keep it waxed.

As I've said before, I hate this stupid idea of feminine mystery, and any man I ever go out with is going to know what a time-consuming, expensive, painful and ultimately pointless process I and most other women go through in order to look the way we're supposed to. If no sex is preferable to sex plus hair, I will not go there. I will wax if I'm going to be out in public in a vest top, but I cannot and will not sleep with a man who expects to see shiny hairless me every single time we have sex. Sometimes I have hairy armpits. I'm a person. Deal with it.