July 2007


Marie LaveauI got tagged for the latest random facts meme by reSISTERance (woo hoo!) so here are the requisite 8 random facts (and/or habits?) about me:

1. I have 3 uncles (one of whom is my dad’s identical twin – and even now it is spooky how they have the same mannerisms and tones and how alike they are) and 1 auntie, all on one side, all of which were camping with their respective spouses and et ceteras in the Lake District with me last week.

2. I am probably as femininely dressed today as I have been for a dog’s age. I’ve even got a skirt on. (“Does that make me a bad feminist?” “No!”)

3. I generally leave chores – all of them – for as long as possible before doing them, on the basis that sometimes if you leave a chore long enough you won’t have to do it at all: the need will disappear, or if you’re really lucky the job will get done by someone else. Or at least, if you leave yourself with little enough time you will do a quick, dirty job that will take far less effort and be almost as good as if you’d spent all day on it. For example, I should be sorting out the laundry and stuff I brought back from my friend’s house (the one with running water) preparatory to going to work tomorrow and getting ready to go camping again later this week. But I aint. I’m on here.

4. I just read the following in The Women’s Room and went “hell, yeah!”: “But weren’t you often lonely when you were married? And isn’t it nice to be alone sometimes? And sometimes when you are alone, aren’t you feeling sad mostly because society tells you you’re not supposed to be alone? And you imagine someone being there and understanding every motion of your heart and mind. When if someone were there he – or even she – wouldn’t necessarily be doing that at all? And that’s even worse. When somebody is there and not there at the same time. I think if you have a few good friends and good work to do, you don’t feel lonely. I think loneliness is the creation of the image makers. Part of the romantic myth. The other part being, of course, that if you find your dream person, you’ll never feel separate again. Which is a crock.”

5. I can’t stand butter. I hate the taste, I hate the texture, I hate the smell. Ditto butter substitutes like margarine. I only eat such things if they are in cakes (or whatever) and you can’t taste or smell the butteriness.

6. When I was little I wanted to be a princess. Now I want to be a queen. Or a witch.

7. When I was a teenager I went to the doctors, I think just for a general check-up because we’d changed doctors or something. I was told, flat out and in the briskest possible tone, that I was obese and needed to lose quite a lot of weight. Up until that time, I hadn’t even thought of myself as “fat” (and certainly not “obese”) – podgy maybe, but not “fat”. It was quite a shock to my teen-aged system. I felt attacked. Violated. Insulted, even. I didn’t lose the weight. Nor did I go back to the doctor. Fortunately, I didn’t need to.

8. I have a mildly addictive personality, coupled with a will of iron. Weird mix.

I’m supposed to tag 8 people now. But that is an awful lot and, let’s face it, I don’t even have 8 friends! Doesn’t matter – just do it, if you feel like wasting half an hour of your oh so valuable time on this. And drop me a link cos it’ll be fun. ‘Kay?

We camped!
It rained!
We conquered!

Meanwhile, back in Gloucester, it has flooded, there have been powercuts, and nobody will have any water at all for a fortnight, and there are fights breaking out over the inadequate supply of drinking water even in spite of police and army presence, and still people pollute and waste what little we have. Oh my!

Pictures, audio, video, news: http://www.bbc.co.uk/gloucestershire/floods/

Eastern Avenue, Floods

Nursery is closed. The office is open, and is running on the strength of 12 outdoor portaloos for a building that normally operates about 100 flushing toilets. Woo-hoo!

I felt during the last few days – urgently seeking news as to whether I had a habitable home to return to, and what was going on, and what about nursery and work, and cherishing every last minute of battery time on my phone, arranging refuge with a friend who has water (hooray!) – it felt as though I was getting a taste of something. An insight, however brief and trivial, into the perspective of a refugee from disaster. The same sense of being a refugee as I drove home, still unsure whether my house would be habitable and knowing only that I was very unlikely to have any running water.

We are at home now, but only briefly. I brought some water back with me, and we have plenty of rainwater collected, and a bowser not too far away, and a stream over the road which we can bucket into the cisterns for flushing toilets. Still, no bath and no washing machine. And we are grubby.

So we are going to stay with the aforementioned friend for a couple of days, just so we can get the washing done and have a hot bath. Thereafter we will take things as they come.

We are going camping again next week. – And hoping that the water will be back on once we get back… Eek!

In short: Consider any blogging over the next 10 days or so as a bonus.

Very wet glastonbury

This is actually a shot of Glastonbury festival. However.

We are in the middle of utterly chaotic camping preparations. I am driving with a toddler for at least four hours (plus breaks) to go on a camping holiday. To the lake district. With – among other family members – an uncle notorious for bringing rain wherever he goes. Especially if he goes under canvas.

The forecast for the six days we will be there:
Light rain.
Rain.
Light rain.
Few showers.
Partly cloudy.
Light rain.

I am packing everything I own that is waterproof.

Symbiosis
A close association between two or more organisms (usually of different species). There are four types of symbiosis: amensalism, commensalism, mutualism, and parasitism.

Amensalism
Two or more organisms living together where one is harmed by the relationship without harming or benefiting the other.

Parasitism
Two or more organisms living together where one is harmed by the relationship and the other benefits.

Commensalism
Two or more organisms living together where one is unaffected by the relationship and the other benefits from it.

Mutualism
Two or more organisms living together where both benefit from the relationship. In obligative mutualism, the benefit is critical and irreplaceable: the two organisms are interdependent and cannot survive without one another. In facultative mutualism, the two organisms derive a less critical benefit and could survive without one another.

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In Psychoanalysis (with a capital P) , the relationship between a mother and her dependent infant is referred to as symbiosis. It is, apparently, a stage between autism (in the “dictionary” sense of utter self-absorption rather than the medical sense of having the developmental condition of that name) and individuation. It is a stage of gradual separation in which the physical unity of a pregnant woman gradually evolves into two separate individual human beings with two separate identities.

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What kind of symbiosis?
What can a child give to rescue its all-consuming need from the charge: parasite.

A mother clenches inside with the need for her child.
A mother cries out – bring me my baby!
A mother rocks, empty.
Empty.

A child can fill that need. Like a rare magic.

A mother smiles gently as she caresses the softness of her tiny beloved.
She catches herself at heights.
She dreams.

Joy.
Hope.

A mother can go to the ends of the earth, the ends of existence.
A mother can die for that child.
Even a mother who cannot kill, can die.

Strength.

A mother watches the well-meaning relatives, the neighbours, the friends, and she burns with waiting, longing to be alone. And “alone” doesn’t mean “alone” any more, yet she is barely even conscious that a child has entered into the meaning of “alone”.

Kin.

The child of such a mother is no parasite.

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And then – the symbiosis ends, and independence takes over. This takes a long time – which is good because the shock of separation is a shock that can break a person.

The loss of mutual dependence is as much a cause for grief as the discovery of autonomy is a source of joy. Each little milestone is a sign of gradual birth; but also a sign of gradual death. The birth of autonomy, the death of mother-love.

Except mother-love does not die. It potters on, not needed, but still hanging about the place, like a wardrobe in the garage that is too big for the new house – but it might come in handy someday, right?

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Baby (Leboyer)

I am warm.
I am warm.
A noise!
A safe place. Warm.
I am the world.

I am born.
Pain, light, noise, change.
Pain inside me.
The world is going wrong. What happened to the world? My world?
Where am I now? Where is my world, my warm, warm me?

I am warm.
This dulls the pain, muffles the noise, darkens the light, softens the change.
This milk is me.
I am not the world any more, but this milk is me, and I am it.
And it is warm.

Baby (Leboyer)

This world is not so scary.
The lights are pretty, the noise is funny.
And as for the pain – this milk is my protection.

Where is my milk?
It is me!
Where am I!
Help!

Here it is.

Sometimes this milk that is me isn’t here.
Sometimes this milk that is me doesn’t seem to be me.
Is this milk me, when it goes away sometimes?

Here it is.

Yet I am not so sure that this milk is me.
And if it is not me, what am I to do when I need it?

Here it is.

But what if it were not?

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MUMMY!
MUMMY!

MUMMY!

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Mother rabbit and bunny
Slowly, Ariel has grown.
Once she was a part of me. Like a limb.
Now she is not.
She has her own limbs.
I am her limb.
And one day I will be her appendix.
Or, a prologue.
Baby, I wish you joy.
Baby, don’t leave me yet.

Half birthday cakeIt’s Ariel’s half-birthday today – she is two and a half:

HER: No mummy I not two and half, I two.
ME: Do you want half-birthday pizza?
HER: Yes. And cake.

We had a nice day, just playing together and stuff. She walked all the way to The Little Shop (Lidl) and back and then we sang a lunch-making song which went more or less to the tune of “I can sing a rainbow” with words along the lines of:

Eggs and bacon and beans and toast
Eggs and bacon and beans
We can make our lu-unch, make our lu-unch,
make our lu-unch now.

After a sleep we did building – it was meant to be a bridge, since Ariel is very keen on bridges at present, but we kept adding blocks until it was a bridge about 3 feet tall that you could just about drive a small toy car under. Then some puzzles and a DVD (“deeby-deebies”) and some drawing and some pizza and a bath and bedtime. Ariel drew butterflies, and they are beautiful, although I am glad she did not ask me to guess what she had drawn.

Half birthday - butterfly drawing

(You may also spot her first attempt at writing “M-for-Mummy” although I think she has thoroughly scribbled over coloured in most of her writing efforts.)

Protest bus

It’s a ringing phrase, that came out of the feminist second wave (although as far as I can make out nobody is sure exactly who coined it). It makes us feel like we are saying something meaningful. But what does it mean? What does it mean to you?

To me, it means lots of things. Mainly, it means the following:

Item One

Often what seems to one woman like an individual, personal problem – one that she can solve (or could have avoided) by acting differently or having different attitudes – is actually something bigger.

Society has long encouraged women to see their problems as caused by something that is wrong with them personally: a woman who does not fit or take pleasure in her pre-ordained feminine role is personally aberrant, she is in need of treatment for her hysteria – or punishment for her depravity. This is why women are the main customers – sorry, patients – for those who seek to treat the symptoms of misery: from Freud on down. We are taught to view our unhappiness as an abnormality requiring treatment rather than a sign that something is wrong with the wider world.

But it is not just one aberrant woman who cries in the night because her life is so empty of meaning. It is not just one aberrant woman who cannot enjoy sex, who cannot enjoy food without guilt, who feels guilty about her abortion, or who doesn’t think or feel or want or do the things that she thinks she is supposed to think or feel or want or do. It is not an individual problem, but a problem common to women all over the place.

Understanding that a problem is not yours alone is the first step towards understanding that its causes may go beyond the idiosyncrasies of one individual.

The first step towards an analysis of possible wider causes.
The first step towards a political understanding of apparently personal problems.
The first step towards a solution that seeks to change society rather than the individual.

This aspect of the slogan “the personal is political” shows us why consciousness raising is so important. Why sharing our personal stories can help bring a sharper awareness that we are not alone, that we are not aberrant. It can bring us to an understanding of social causes, an identification of political solutions, and the strength to pursue them.

2Item Two

Sometimes, actions and choices that seem to be private and personal are not.

I’m talking about whether or not we choose in our personal lives to take a path that reinforces political and social ideals that we criticise in our political lives.

I’m talking about whether in our personal lives we comply with a fake beauty ideal, or a fake man-centred heteronormative sexuality ideal, or any other harmful aspect of the fake femininity we are sold from the day we are born.

I’m talking about whether in our personal lives, despite an expressed political opinion that discrimination and prejudice are wrong, we discriminate against or have prejudices about people based on their race, sex, sexuality, gender identity, disability or anything else of that sort.

I’m talking about whether in our personal lives we actively take steps to redress the injustices we claim to detest: whether we put our money (or time, or strength, or whatever resources we have ) where our mouth is. Do we actively invest time or money to help further those causes? Do we actively choose to spend money with businesses that share our values rather than those who have contempt for our values? Do we do it enough?

The injunction “the personal is political” is an injunction to ensure that the personal choices we make are consonant with the political opinions we express. It is an injunction against hypocrisy and an injunction to put your money where your mouth is. It is an injunction to think carefully about whether and how choices that seem like personal choices can have political consequences (even if “only” in reinforcing the status quo rather than challenging it), and to let those political consequences influence our choices.

It is this aspect of the slogan that we think about when we say it is a feminist act to grow our body hair or ditch our uncomfortable high-heeled shoes, when we withhold our small bit of cash from Nestle, when we volunteer for a women’s group and when we send a little bit of spare money to a women’s charity, when we stop going to church, when we refuse to stay silent. These may be small personal acts, but to the individual they are important steps to reinforce and support the underlying political beliefs – and to others they can be a shining example of liberation and solidarity.

3Item Three

Patriarchy is invasive – it enters into our private and personal sphere as much as our public and political one. It does not distinguish between personal and political. It is the water in which we swim.

Many of us are entirely ignorant of its existence and cannot even see it. Those who see it, see it sometimes clearly and sometimes not. Sometimes we understand its influence on us (in which case we can consciously accept or reject that influence) and sometimes we miss it altogether, or get so tangled up in seeking an exit from the matrix that we give up trying and just do what seems or feels right, accepting that it may be based on a mistaken understanding.

So when a woman’s personal acts do not accord with our political beliefs, or even with her own expressed political beliefs, that does not make her stupid or bad or a hypocrite. When a woman’s beliefs and attitudes about her personal acts are inconsistent with what we believe about those personal acts, that does not make her stupid or bad or a hypocrite either.

If a woman shaves her legs, it is a political act supporting the patriarchy.
If a woman shaves her legs, it is (almost certainly) because of the patriarchy.
If a woman believes that her personal choice to shave her legs has nothing to do with politics or feminism then that is (almost certainly) because of the patriarchy, too.

And all that applies regardless of whether the woman in question is a feminist who understands feminist theory and knows what the patriarchy is. It applies regardless of whether she is an innocent who sees nothing, a (self-)deluded feminist who fails or refuses to see what is clear to others, or a clear-eyed woman who knows exactly what she is doing and why, and makes her choice accordingly.

It is this that we think of when we throw up our hands in horror and say – the patriarchy is everywhere! nobody can escape!

And it is this we should remember when we look at a woman and criticise her personal choices for the political consequences they may have or for the hypocrisy or illogicality or ignorance that we think they may betray.

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Acknowledgements:

These remarks were partly inspired by the following two posts, which helped to crystallise and galvanise the thoughts I have tried to express herein:
Den of the Biting Beaver: The Politics of Penetration
Ballastexistenz: No Good Guys or Bad Guys Here

Well I bit the bullet today and finally cleaned out my fish tank.

I had read somewhere that you should just leave it be during the cycling process, rather than risk disturbing the developing bacteria colonies by mucking about with their home (the filter).

But it has been 5 or 6 weeks since I put the fish in, and the tank does have brown algae in it, and I had a suspicion that the filter may not be working as efficiently as it should.

Also, I have various camping trips planned over the next few weeks, and didn’t want to leave cleaning the tank until afterwards – which means doing it well in advance so as to give me time to help the tank recover from any blips caused by mucking about with the filter colony.

Anyway. I’ve done it.

The filter was absolutely full of brown stuff, I assume this is brown algae as there was an algae bloom over other parts of the tank as well. I haven’t scrubbed everything very thoroughly as I didn’t want to stress out the fish too much all in one hit, but I’ve given the filter a good rinse (in a bucket of water taken out of the aquarium, so as not to kill of the bacteria by washing them in chlorinated water!) and wiped over the surfaces where there was visible algae. Plus, changed some water and hoovered up some debris with the gravel siphon jobby.

The tank looks a bit nicer, the filter seems to be filtering away and the fish came out to play once I’d put their tank back together again. All in all, hooray!

(Although I will check things carefully over the next couple of days in case anything horrible has happened to my bacteria colony…)

Today is Friday the 13th. It is also a New Moon. It is a day of blood.

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Frigga and her distaffFriday is Frigga’s day. (Or Freya’s, depending on who you listen too: and although she is not the same goddess, she is related in that she too is a goddess of love and fertility.)

Frigga is the queen of the chief Norse god Odin, is the goddess of heaven and of married love, of fertility, motherhood and domesticity. Also, of frigging, one assumes.

She liked to dress up in finery, too – beautiful clothes she wove herself, and rich jewels. I can imagine her, decked out for her weekly celebration of womanhood, in vibrant fabrics and a glittering array of jewels. She is blue, and orange, and yellow, and green.

She is associated with Venus, which is why Romance languages call Friday things like vendredi (French) and viernes (Spanish) and venerdi (Italian) and vineri (Romanian) while Germanic languages stick to Frigga-based words such as – apart from “Friday”, obviously – Freitag (German) and vrijdag (Dutch) and fredag (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish). Some European languages, such as Hungarian, Russian and Portuguese, distance themselves from the pagan roots of the day name, and use a word meaning “sixth day” or “fifth day” (depending on whether they count Sunday as the first or last day of the week).

Friday, a day sacred to the goddess queen, mistress of the skies and of the heart and of the hearth, a seer and a magician as well as a noble, loving spirit. A woman.

Tarot, Death, 13And thirteen, a number that is considered to have great power in many belief systems, and seems to hold the world in thrall somehow. It is the number of that most striking of Tarot cards – Death. And as such, it is deeply womanly, tied in with the 13 lunar cycles each year, that bring us the blood of death which is also the blood we shed in preparation for new life.

It is more than that.

Did you know, for example, that 12 spheres around a 13th sphere create a compact geometrical shape in 3-dimensional space? A thing of perfect simplicity and beauty?

And in history, we see twelve disciples and their leader, Jesus; we see 12 knights of the round table with their leader, Arthur.

There are 12 constellations related to the sun.

A coven is said to be made up of 12 witches and 1 other: Freya was sometimes said to be the 13th witch in a coven, sometimes it is a man in black, some say it is Satan.

Baker’s dozen, anyone?

13 also occurs and recurs in nature. For example turtles, often used to symbolise motherhood, have 13 cornea plates on their shell. Crabs have 13 plates on theirs.

13 is the seventh number in the Fibonacci sequence to (1,1,2,3,5,8,13), an important, mysterious and powerful sequence of numbers that is also related to the Golden Section. It is also a prime number. I can’t get enough of prime numbers, myself.

So there is something all-round magical about the number 13. But for our purposes today, the most magical thing, the most sacred thing, is the link of this number to the moon and to menses. It is the number of lunar cycles, the number of menstrual cycles in a solar year. It is the number of a woman.

Friday the 13th is therefore doubly lucky, doubly womanly, doubly sacred – if you are the sort of person to make these connections. Friday, the day of a powerful goddess – allied with 13, a sacred and powerful number intimatey connected to womanhood.

Small wonder that the Church had – shall we say, at least – an interest in creating a slur on and a fear about this day, for which Pagan women must have felt something of a connectedness. We hear of the unlucky Last Supper – held on a Friday, with 13 present – at which Jesus’ fate was sealed by the 13th man, Judas – and after which the Lord was crucified (on a Friday). We hear stories of Knights Templar holding Friday the 13th sacred, and being brought low on Friday 13th.

Interestingly, although the Romans did not on the whole go in for weeks as a measurement of time, they did regard Friday as unlucky and tended to carry out executions on that day. They were not over-fond of the number 13 either, preferring the number 12 as the more natural. They had 12 months in the year, for example, rather than the 13 months of other cultures.

Which all means that the aversion to Friday and to 13 was not wholly created by anti-Pagan activity on the part of the early church (although it is fair to suspect that the church may have encouraged it). It does not mean that this aversion is unrelated to misogyny, though: Rome was for centuries a pagan empire, but it was by no means woman-centred. It was, you know, a patriarchy.

So if Pagan women have long honoured both Fridays and the number 13, and if as a result Friday and 13 are seen as feminine (and, worse, as related to monthly bleeding), then it is hardly surprising that the patriarchal culture of Rome would have developed a disdain, an aversion, a contempt of some kind for those associations.

Hmmm. Stuff.

FGM victimAs we approach the school summer holidays, spare a thought for the thousands of British girls who could be returning to school in September with a secret mutilation.

Police are gearing up with a campaign to raise awareness of the practice of FGM among British families, offering rewards for information leading to justice for the victims of this unspeakable practice. Some send their daughters abroad for the mutilation to be done where it is legal. Some do it illegally in this country. (Actually, it is also a crime under British law to send a person abroad for mutilation, for what that’s worth.) Either way, they do it in the summer holidays so that their daughters will have time to recuperate from their ordeal before school begins again after the summer break.

The police are anxious to distance themselves from any suggestion of an attack on the culture of those who practice FGM. It is not about attacking anyone’s culture, they say. It is about preventing horrendous child abuse.

That’s a pretty wet but pretty inevitable line of spin. I mean, if a person’s culture is child abuse, then by attacking the particular form of abuse they practice you most certainly are attacking their culture. And why shouldn’t you, if it results in the torture of innocents? “Culture” is no excuse for torture. None.

However, at least the police do not hold back from their characterisation of FGM as a wholly unjustifiable and horrendous act, albeit one given an air of legitimacy by repetition, generation after generation.

Not so the BBC.

In this article they do address the horrors of genital mutilation, the terrible and long lasting effects that can never be reversed. The audio for Julie Kelly’s report is absolutely on the money. (Please do not listen to this if you do not wish to hear the screams of a small girl undergoing FGM. I heard it twice, once on the radio news programme this was taken from and later on the edited report online. Each time I could not help but cover my head and face, and cry out, and physically twist inside. Even me and, as is well documented, I am a hardarse with nothing to trigger.)

But also, somehow, the BBC have found house room for Dr Munir Fawzi. Dr Fawzi claims, contrary to the findings of every UN or otherwise humane investigation or report, that FGM is sometimes beneficial for the woman, to the point of being “necessary” in preventing dangerous infections. In the full report, Dr Fawzi also claimed that FGM was required on religious grounds, at least to a limited extent – which is totally false.

Dr Fawzi is on the record as saying:

“Female circumcision is entrenched in Islamic life and teaching.”

“Our mothers, aunts and sisters have been doing this for years and no one was complaining.”

“I’m a university professor and I can decide whether a patient needs to be reduced* or not. I will do it for medical reasons,” [said with a smile, apparently] [* "reduced"??!! pokes eyes out with stick]

Fawzi is also responsible in part for the 1996 Egyptian ban on FGM being overturned by Egypt’s administrative courts, on the basis that it inappropriately restricted his practice. This is from PubMed:

“According to news reports, the court cited research purporting to show that failure to perform FGM harmed children, as well as quotes from Mohammed, which FGM advocates said endorsed the procedure under Islamic law… The suit against the ban had been filed by Sheik Youssef al-Badry, a conservative Islamic cleric, and Munir Fawzi, a Cairo gynecologist… Egypt’s highest Sunni Moslem authority contests the endorsement of FGM under Islamic law.”

Failure to do FGM harms children? Yes? The way failure to perform leg amputation harms children by putting them at risk of developing inflamed knees later in life? Egad. And Egypt’s highest Sunni Moslem authority isn’t the only one to contest Islam’s endorsement of FGM. Most Islamic leaders and scholars will tell you that the Islamic law in no way mandates FGM. In. No. Way. Not even a little bit.

Sources:
Women under Islam
PubMed (Reproductive Freedom News)
NoHarmm

So much for Dr Fawzi, to whom the BBC gave in this report not only a voice but the all-important last word. Do the BBC really think that there is any actual question over the harm done by FGM? Do they really think it appropriate to question this with apologists like this dirtbag Fawzi? Really?

And what else did the BBC give us on FGM today? How about a piece on Waris Dirie (victim turned supermodel turned anti-FGM activist) – entitled “My Mother Held Me Down“.

Never mind that Dirie goes to some lengths to say that she in no way blamed her mother, who had little choice but to obey, and directs her criticism at the men who perpetuate FGM, the men who her mother obeyed.

Never mind the wise words of activist and healthworker Comfort Momo who says (in the other BBC article linked above): “The men need to make a stand and start saying we’re happy to marry uncircumcised women.”

No, what we really need to know is that: “When Waris was five, her mother held her down on a rock while another woman cut off parts of her genitals with a razor blade.”

Because, God knows, it aint the men who do this. It’s the mothers who do it. The men are invisible, God love and bless them. Nobody talks about them. Because they’ve got it all worked out so they needn’t lift a finger. All they need to do is insist that they will only marry a mutilated woman, and women will mutilate themselves. That’s all it takes.

And this is the world we live in.

For shame.

Inspired by this post of Erika’s, I’ve spent far too much time over the last two or three days making this video, the heart-warming story of a chick who couldn’t say hello, and the narrator who tried to help her.

Warning: contains seductive chick shots. No, really.

PS You might find this plays better direct from YouTube, especially with full screen. When I previewed it from WordPress it was a bit skippy :-(

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