Archive | October, 2012

SO glad to be on the other side of the undergraduate classroom

30 Oct

This is a shocking article about sexism at UK universities. ‘Rape-victim themed fancy dress parties’, seriously?!

I don’t take part in student union events because at almost a decade older than most people there, and with all the responsibilities and experiences that having a child brings with it, I would feel like their grandma. I am ashamed to admit, though, that my university has previously had a ‘pimps ‘n’ hoes‘ event, and it didn’t really seem out of the ordinary.

These kinds of attitudes are not just limited to the student body though: ‘mansplaining‘ is alive and well in my department, particularly for people (read: women) like me who are perceived as not very confident and professionally inexperienced due to age or lack of opportunities.

Just as worryingly, a junior academic in my department recently related their experience of evaluating applications for a lecturer position together with a senior academic: this senior academic, upon pulling an Israeli Jewish applicant’s CV out of the stack, apparently exclaimed ‘oh no, we don’t want any Jewish people’. When they realised that the person they were talking to was actually also Jewish, they quickly added, ‘oh, you’re ok, we just don’t want anyone like this, they’ll probably be all political’. As this exchange took place fairly recently, it seems that not much has changed since an Egyptian UK academic sacked two people simply for being from Israel.

In defence of the girlification of breast cancer

23 Oct

I used to sneer at all those silly Facebook posts about the colour of your bra, or about moving to x country for y amount of time. After buying a pink Filofax when I was 19 because I liked it and thinking ‘oh well, if it supports cancer research, then even better’, I quickly got fed up with pink ribbons, pink pens, pink KFC buckets?!, pink everything. I was on the side of those people who said those status updates don’t teach people to check their breasts and notice changes, pink things turn cancer into a gender-essentialist consumerist affair.

But yesterday someone from my year at school died of cancer. I didn’t know her well at all, we were part of the same group of 13-or-so girls who hung around together at lunchtime, and I probably talked to her twice in my life because I was intimidated by how pretty, popular, funny and nice she was. In the last couple of years she became a veritable celebrity in our small city because of her fight against cancer. She was involved in all kinds of charity events: attending Race for Life, charity fashion shows and coffee mornings, one year she helped raise tens of thousands of pounds for Cancer Research UK, and she was chosen to carry the Olympic torch for part of its route through the city this summer. The local paper frequently featured stories about her, most recently about her ‘bucket list’, which saw offers pouring in allowing her to try out all kinds of exciting things. An article in the paper was also how I found out her cancer had spread to several places, and through our shared friends’ Facebook posts I learned that she sadly passed away yesterday.

People talk about ‘battling’ cancer, and that is what she did. She seemed to have dedicated the last four years of her life to raising awareness and funds, and coping with her treatment, as well as trying to stay the positive person she was known to be. In the end, there was nothing anyone could do to help her, but I’m pretty certain that her friends rallying around her and helping her with all these events must have made a difference to her.

There is no doubt that cancer is an awful disease, and I can’t claim to have any idea what it’s like to have to live life with that diagnosis. Buying pink stuff won’t make anyone better, but looking down on people who do won’t change anything either. If surrounding themselves with pink stuff and stereotypical girly things helps people to get through the day, week or month, then that is ok. ¬†When I was 20, I spent some time in hospital, and after the first time I was admitted I went out and bought myself the pinkest, fluffiest dressing gown I could find because it seemed to make the grey world of hospitals slightly less oppressive and alienating. Perhaps having cancer or being close to someone who does makes people seek out the opposite of what they are going through, and perhaps that is bright pink stuff and fashion shows because nothing can counteract the terror of knowing you haven’t got much time left on earth.

I hope my former schoolmate enjoyed all those experiences afforded to her. It feels very strange to know she’s not around anymore.

(I won’t go out and buy masses of pink stuff, but I am slightly reassured that by breastfeeding my daughter for more than two years I am helping to reduce both her and my risk of breast cancer.)

“The Internet says, you know, the rest of your life you will find enormous boobs out there”

21 Oct

This article is mostly about Lucy Kirkwood’s play NSFW which is due to open at the Royal Court Theatre in London soon, which sounds like it could be very interesting, by the way, but it also contains some to-the-point analysis of the pornification of society.

For example, Kirkwood’s friend, a teacher, had to leave her job when a 15-year-old stuck a camera up her skirt to take a photo. It’s unbelievable. I would say ‘that would never have happened in my day’, but at my school some boys two years above me were gently reprimanded, I’d say, for photoshopping their female classmates’ faces onto pornographic pictures and distributing them at school. Everyone laughed it off as a ‘boys will be boys’ prank and no action was taken.

I think porn and teenagers is a complex issue. Some might turn to porn to figure out how the whole sex thing is meant to work. Some might be pressured into watching or buying porn by their mates in order to test their bravado. Some, sadly, might be used to a page three culture from home so that objectifying and evaluating women is nothing new when they become teenagers.

One danger which comes from the general availability and ubiquity of porn, in my view, is the blurring of the line between socially acceptable porn consumption on the one hand, and behaviour more akin to addiction on the other. For example, some studies have found that boys who are sexually abused under the age of about 10 turn to internet sex addiction at some later point in their lives. Apart from the issues caused by the unrealistic expectations regarding sexual practices, power balance and women’s appearances which porn seems to elicit in some men, a teenager’s inappropriate behaviour relating to porn might not simply be the result of age-related experimentation, but rather an expression of something more sinister.

This is one of the reasons why porn becoming more acceptable and easily available can be risky: people become complacent. Women are dismissed as ‘uptight’ or, my least favourite word, ‘frigid’ for objecting to porn. But this so-called open-minded attitude (because it is not really open-minded to expect women to conform to a narrow artificial norm) to porn could lead people to miss the signs of something being wrong. If more and more porn becomes available in more public media (secret visits to dingy ‘specialist shops’ are no longer necessary), excessive consumption and preoccupation no longer seems excessive.

I don’t think porn should be banned. But to understand the absurdity of the current situation, imagine an alien spaceship landed next to a newsagent. If the aliens wandered into the shop, after realising the British clearly have some obsession with multicoloured foil bags filled with some kind of crunchy salty concoction, they would think that breasts are enormously revered, but their bearers are feared. Pictures of naked women’s faces are clearly thought powerful enough to exert some special power over the viewer; they are God-like, a golden calf: they must not be displayed. Pictures of breasts are prominently shown on magazine covers, but women are dehumanised and marginalised – not worth the same level of admiration as their body parts and much better out of the picture. And then imagine what those aliens would think if they had studied Freud before going into that newsagent’s…

That Damien Hirst Statue

16 Oct

Not sure what to think about this, Damien Hirst’s bronze ‘Verity’. One half of the statue is quite beautiful, and the other exposes her insides, milk glands, thigh muscles, baby-in-utero and everything. I like that she will be standing up and holding a sword high up in the air, the ‘artist’s impression’ looks quite powerful. But I don’t yet understand what the exposed insides are supposed to symbolise. Any views?

Happy International Day of the Girl!

11 Oct

Why is there an International Day of the Girl, and not of the Boy? Because most days are for boys.

Mindbending

5 Oct

“Mummy, how does it get later?”

“This one is bigger than that one, and that one is bigger than this one. They are both bigger than each other!”