Bodily independence

Following up on my previous post, Bleeding Over Africa, about campaigns to distribute disposable menstrual products for African girls and women, I wanted to flag up a site which is running a more sustainable campaign.

Goods for GirlsGoods 4 Girls are seeking donations of (new!) cloth pads, either home made or bought specially, for a project distributing these in conjunction with aid organisations who can ensure that they are used to best effect.

There are links to patterns if you feel up to making your own.
Edited to add: the campaign runs out of Seattle. If you live in the UK, making them and shipping them to the US for onward shipping to Africa may not be the best plan. You can still buy them via the internet and have them delivered direct to the Seattle address.  :)

(Via amygeekgrl @ blogher)

I can’t personally vouch for them, obviously, but this seems like a far better effort than the idea of sending out disposable pads.

Check it out!

Scene 1

Three or four nights ago at bedtime.

ME: “Oliver Dunkley has a pond in his garden, and on that pond lives Mucky Duck…”

(I’ll cut to the final scene in which the two of them have just had a bath and are settling down to a bedtime story with a cup of milk each – which, incidentally, gets spilled, which is the punchline up to which the whole story has been building…)

HER: What they got there?
ME: Some milk to drink at bedtime.
HER: That’s not mummy milk.
ME: No, it’s cow’s milk.
HER: Don’t they have mummy mo?
ME: No they’re having cow mo. I guess they are too big for mummy mo.
HER: Oh. I’m not too big for mummy mo.
ME: No, you’re not.

Scene 2

Last night, about 1 minute before bedtime, shortly after glugging down a cup of cow’s milk.

HER: Mummy, can I have some more cow mo?
ME: We’re just about to go to bed! You can have some mummy mo upstairs.
HER: I don’t want mummy mo I want cow mo.
ME: You want cow mo instead of mummy mo?
HER: Yes, like Oliver Dunkley.
ME: Are you sure?
HER: Yes, I want cow mo. I don’t want mummy mo.

(I was somewhat dubious, but sure enough after half a cup of warm milk in bed she went to sleep perfectly content… First time *ever* that she has gone without her bedtime mummy mo, unless you count the two or three times when she passed out from sheer exhaustion and had it later after two or three hours sleep.)

Scene 3

This morning, whilst not doing anything in particular. NB we were fully clothed in case the content of the following exchange should leave you with any doubt…

HER: Oh look mummy there’s your booby.
ME: So it is.
HER: Can I have some mo now?
ME: You can have some at bedtime.
HER: And I can have some now as well?
ME: Nope.
HER: Yes I want some at bedtime please.
ME: Unless you want to have cow’s milk instead like Oliver Dunkley?
HER: No I want mummy mo.


I have been neglecting my poor old blog of late, as I’ve worked on white noise and learned some things about my own white privileged attitudes and behaviours. Mostly I’ve been learning how much of a clue I haven’t got. Ho-hum. Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to finish East of Eden so I can get on with reading something more enlightening, and the search for Pink Rabbit goes on… you wouldn’t believe how much money he is making by selling himself on Ebay.

And in the midst of all this, what I want to write about is knickers.

The other day I was walking past Debenhams in Gloucester and I was just struck by the lingerie displayed in the windows on mannequins. Honestly, I wish I’d had a camera. It just struck me how flimsy and hateful these items of “clothing” really are. I’m not just talking about those stupid strings at the back that cut your bum in half, I’m talking about the fronts, I’m talking about the bottoms.

I don’t know about your body, but for me the area of flesh that a pair of comfortable knickers needs to cover is a pretty fair size. I want a gusset that covers my entire vulva, and then I want the fabric at the front to cover all my hairy bits and leave a wide enough band of fabric for the sides to be comfortable against my hips and for the back to keep itself well out of my bumcrack.

Do these knickers look comfy to you?

The gusset can’t possible cover a vulva fully. Just by looking at it I can feel labial irritation. And the sides are so stringy that they would either fall off you or cut into you. But the front? How can a woman wear this without removing her pubic hair? Is she to have fuzzy bits exposed all around? Somehow I think not, since that furry image is in no way compatible with the sleekness that these lingerie makers are trying to sell. There is a reason why all lingerie models are completely hairless down there.

How about these knickers? Look comfy to you? Those strings again, and this time the front is actually transparent. Nowhere for your ugly pubes to hide. Wax or be damned.

I mean, seriously, when we have to buy knickers like this to please our husbands or boyfriends* – how can we retain our dignity? How can we avoid the conclusion that that hair down there has got to go. Or at least, that it has got to be tamed, trimmed, perhaps delicately sculpted into a heart shape and pinked with Betty dye?

[*I don't do that stuff any more, and as long as I remain free I will never go back to it - but there was a time, young'uns, when I too believed that "sexy" (as defined) was the thing to be. Thank you feminism.]

And I mean, seriously, when we wear these string-gusseted torture devices, and it irritates our labia – how can we avoid (if feminism hasn’t taught us better) wondering whether our protruding labia are the problem? If we can’t even wear comfortable knickers, then how can we sensibly resist the cosmetic surgeons who promise that they can correct the “problems of discomfort” that stem from our “enlarged labia”*?

[*Yes, they do - see here and here - what contempt for woman they have.]

I’m busy just now with a new, exciting project – you’ll soon see ;)

Meanwhile, I’d just like to share this article with you as it filled me with a little hope when I read it yesterday. It is about the visit of Vernon Coaker (Home Office minister) to a pro-Swedish-model conference on sex trafficking in which he made some really encouraging statements about the possible forthcoming step-change in Government thinking about men who buy women for sex.

[Vernon Coaker] told a packed conference hall… that the time had come for a major cultural shift in Britain regarding prostitution and sex trafficking. He said:

“One of the vilest crimes that threatens our society is the trafficking of human beings. This modern day slavery is an evil practice, perpetrated for profit with no regard for the consequences for the victims or society as a whole. It is often the product of organised criminality that knows no borders and that feeds on the exploitation of the vulnerable.

“Some men might question perspective a man can bring to leading the government’s agenda of dealing with these awful crimes. For me, the fact that the victims are women, and sometimes children, and that the crimes are very often perpetrated by men, makes it even more important that men should be taking some responsibility for the solution. As a result, I’ve taken a strong personal interest in this issue.”

CHASTE’S Chief Executive Dr Carrie Pemberton told delegates from India, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Australia and the UK how it was crucial to tackle issues surrounding demand:

“It is time to wake up to human rights in the 21st century. How come in the 21st century that trafficking for sexual exploitation is one of the fastest growing areas of global trade, amassing hundreds of thousands of pounds for those involved, and being fuelled by a growing demand for casual sex for payment with no societal accountability?… The time has now come that we simply have to pay attention to the demand which is driving the engine of this abuse…

Sweden’s pioneering legislation in 1999 has enabled the world to take a fresh look at the way governments and society can address the multiple abuses involved in purchasing sex. With a standard fine or a maximum imprisonment of six months for the offence, hundreds of men in Sweden have been prosecuted to date, and more importantly attitudes have been significantly altered – particularly amongst the purchasing target group – 20-55 year old males.

This is in stark contrast to Germany where legalisation of prostitution has triggered an extraordinary increase in demand, with one survey returning a statistic of 1.2 million German men daily purchasing sex…

“We need to take steps now in our general culture, legislation, education and media to properly inform one another of the real human costs of purchasing people for sex in our contemporary world.”

In view of the flurry of posts today – HT Grace, Debs, Sparkle, all worth a read if you feel like sharing a bit of righteous anger – on a new government campaign to raise awareness (ahem, like nobody thinks this already) that women who drink are to blame for being raped because 1 out of 3 rapes happens after a woman has been drinking…

I give you this:

A study published in the Journal of Sex Education & Therapy found that almost 70 percent of sexually assaulted women reported that their assailant had been drinking.”

That’s 1 out of 3 rape victims – and 7 out of 10 sexual assailants. Do the maths – for which group, victims or attackers, is drinking the big problem?

So here is my new campaign:


A survey out yesterday, courtesy of the National AIDS Trust, has shown shocking levels of ignorance among old people and young on the subject of AIDS and HIV. About a fifth of the adult population could not identify “sex without a condom” (man/woman or man/man) as a way of getting HIV or AIDS. About a third could not identify that “sharing a syringe” might lead to infection. Only a handful (mostly women) knew that a breastfeeding mother could pass infection to her child.

Almost all the figures were worse than the last surveys in 2000 and 2005. Scarily, the group that seemed least clued up is the group in my age range, those who were subjected to relentless awareness campaigning back in the 1980s and early 1990s when people actually seemed to give a damn and Tom Hanks was in Philadelphia and everything. This is the group who are now raising their own children.

Why is sexual health awareness going backwards? How did we get so ignorant? How did so many of the children I went to school with just forget what was drummed into us all those years ago? These aren’t rhetorical questions. I want to know. This shouldn’t be happening. It is the stuff of despair.


Having said that, it is not surprising if some people are getting confused when sloppy reporting results in misinformation.

Take the Metro. Oh, how I despise the Metro. Today, they report that “the four main ways” that HIV is spread are: “unprotected sex, blood transfusions, shared needles and via breast-feeding” (my emphasis).

That is just wrong.

The NAT survey and press release did NOT suggest that breastfeeding is one of “the four main ways” that HIV is spread. What the survey did was to list possible transmission routes (e.g. “Blood transfusions”, “Spitting”) and participants had to say which were correct and which were false. Although the survey report did suggest that the four transmission routes mentioned were “key” and could itself have been clearer, it certainly did not say that these were the main ways of passing on HIV.

And anyone with any knowledge about this area – let’s face it, someone working as a health correspondent on a national daily newspaper ought to have some background knowledge – knows that breastfeeding is not a main way of catching HIV.

Breastfeeding can in some cases be a transmission route* , but it isn’t either fair or accurate to say it is among the top four risks.

[* Especially if appropriate precautions are not taken e.g. ensuring that breastfeeding is exclusive for six months, and that breast problems such as sore nipples or mastitis are treated promptly.]

For one thing (according to UNICEF) breastfeeding only accounts for about a third of parent to child infections – which is less than the number that occur during delivery (about half), so that right there is one way of spreading HIV that is more significant than breastfeeding.

More to the point, the problems of sexual transmission / infected needles / infected blood are much much bigger than parent to child transmission. Breastfeeding isn’t even in the same ballpark.

In fact, the dangers of denying breastmilk to children can be so serious, especially in developing countries where access to clean water and adequate supplies of formula is just not readily available, that they significantly outweigh the risks of infection.

One study in Africa showed that (a) the risk of a mother passing on HIV to her breastfed child is as low as 4% if the child is breastfed exclusively for six months and also (b) the mortality rate for exclusively breastfed infants was much lower than for exclusively formula fed infants: Fifteen percent of babies with HIV infected mothers who did not breast feed them died by age three months. Only six percent of babies who were only breast fed died at age three months.


Incidentally, when I visited the NAT site they had a survey: “Do you think Gordon Brown should make sex and relationships education compulsory in schools?” I think you can guess how I voted. 91% agreed.

Stick-up tree

[Image: Immense towering many-pronged phallus. Seen on Crickley Hill, where all the Catholic bishops walk their dogs.]

The UK Catholic church wants to get a firmer grip on Catholic schools, and to control the curriculum and materials to which children have access by preventing them from seeing or hearing about anything that does not accord with Catholic beliefs.

Take the Bishop of Lancaster, Patrick O’Donohoe. He has recently issued a long document to all Catholic schools in his diocese. Remember, while reading the following list of his requirements and instructions, that these schools are primarily state-funded: almost all the funding that these schools receive comes from taxpayer’s money.

So, here are the headlines from Patrick’s list of requirements (for which he has since had the full backing of the Vatican):

  • Stop safe-sex education, which is “dangerous and immoral”.
  • Only mention sex within the “sacrament of marriage”.
  • Insist that contraception is wrong and emphasise natural family planning.
  • Place crucifixes in all classrooms.
  • Cease all support for charities or other organisations that promote or fund pro-choice policies, however peripheral this may be to their central aims (e.g. Red Nose Day or Amnesty International).
  • Use science to teach about “the truths of the faith”. (WTF?)
  • Remove any anti-Catholic polemics from school libraries i.e. remove any books that criticise or critique the Catholic faith.
  • And, finally, silence any other possible dissenting opinion: ‘Under no circumstances should any outside authority or agency that is not fully qualified to speak on behalf of the Catholic church ever be allowed to speak to pupils or individuals on sexual or any other matter involving faith and morals.’

Which translates as: keep children ignorant about sex and certainly do not teach them how to protect themselves from harm; teach children that the rights of the unborn trump political prisoners or children who are starving in the developing world; use pseudo-science to support unscientific religious claims (and don’t let the children develop any skills of critical thinking, whatever you do!); censor all opposing voices (the final nail in the coffin for critical thinking).

Imagine an Islamic school that prohibited all criticism or debate about Islam, that insisted on lying to its pupils using pseudo-science, that insisted on promoting its own strict view of acceptable gender roles and allowed no “dangerous and immoral” contrary viewpoints to be expressed… Do you think that such a school would be permitted and celebrated? No, thought not.

And these men are so churlish and petty. When Barry Sheerman, chairman of the parliamentary cross-party committee on children, tried to meet up with Arthur Roche, the Bishop of Leeds, to talk about setting up a proposed inter-faith school he was stalled and stalled. Eventually, a meeting was agreed but before it could even take place, Arthur had a letter read out in every church in Kirklees and Calderdale accusing politicians of undermining Catholic education. Churlish? Petty? Surely not.

Meanwhile, back in 2005, when Scotland unveiled its new, anaemic sex education policy, in which abstinence was to be the first principle, and sex education was to be optional in its entirety anyway, Scottish Catholics leapt for joy – especially Cardinal O’Brien, a rabid anti-education campaigner who fought the idea of a more comprehensive policy tooth and nail.

So where next?

The good news is that the government is apparently stepping away from the strategy of those twin Catholics, Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly, which was to heavily promote the idea of more faith schools being brought within the state sector.

The bad news is that there are seven thousand faith schools already being funded by the state in England alone (all of which will continue to exist with state funding) – the vast majority of these are Christian schools and over two thousand are Catholic schools.

Oh, and PS – To the Telegraph – please don’t conveniently forget to mention when reporting about the Government’s decision not to promote faith schools that the fundamentalist Christians, especially the Catholics it seems, are just as bad as if not worse than the fundamentalist Muslims who you like to blame for everything.

And where is it all going to take us?

With a bit of luck, we might be able to engineer a bit of a backlash and advance the cause of, say, compulsory sex education, at least in state-funded schools. I’m not generally a great believer in compulsory anything education. But we just can’t allow these zealots to ruin the lives of young women for whom they have accepted educational responsibility: they want to keep young people in the dark about sex and then they will wash their hands of it all when young women get pregnant as a result. It’s not on.

Something has to give and, unless someone has a better idea, I’m for compulsory sex ed.


Guardian, 14 Nov 2001
Guardian, 30 August 2004
BBC Scotland, 30 August 2004
Guardian, 20 Mar 2005
Guardian, 30 Dec 2007
Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 4 Jan 2008
Telegraph, 7 Jan 2008
Telegraph, 11 Jan 2008
Independent, 17 Jan 2008

You may recall that I have blogged previously about the “Qatif girl” case (see here, here, here and here) in which a young Saudi woman was gang raped and then sentenced to 200 lashes and 6 months in prison for her part in the crime.

I wrote at the time to my MP asking him to find out what was up with the British government, who were strangely quiet and had expressed no public condemnation of these events. My MP promptly wrote to the foreign office and at last a reply has been forthcoming. Kim Howells (minister responsible for relations with Saudi Arabia) says:

“The UK Government raised the case with Saudi authorities. The facts to hand on this case are disturbing. We urged the Saudi authorities to review the case again. We understand that King Abdullah has granted a Royal pardon to the victim.

We remain concerned to hear that the victim’s lawyer will be brought before a disciplinary committee for defending the case. The committee may decide to suspend or revoke his licence to practice law. Our Embassy in Riyadh continues to monitor this case.

The UK Government remains concerned about the overall human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, including discrimination against women, non-Muslims, homosexuals, the retrictions on freedom of expression, movement, assembly and worship, the implementation of UN human righst instruments and issues relating to the judicial process.

The UK Government is committed to improving human rights in Saudi Arabia and have intertwined and inseparable interests: in our economies, in the fight against global terrorism and in regional stability. However, this relationship does not reduce our commitment to human rights or prevent us from raising difficult issues with the Saudi Authorities.”

Kim Howells suggested that we see also The only thing on there of much interest in relation to KSA is this state visit FAQ prepared last October when King Abdullah came to visit the Queen in London.

So what do you think? Are we impressed?

As anyone who knows anything much about breastfeeding an older child will tell you, “twiddling” is a fairly common phenomenon. For the uninitiated, “twiddling” refers to the nursing child playing about with the spare nipple as she or he nurses on the other side. Can be annoying, can be nice – either way it stimulates oxytocin and thereby gets the twiddled breast ready to deliver loadsa milk once the child is ready to switch sides.

I’ve often wondered how a child learns this, that twiddling a nipple will increase milk flow. Turns out, based on my statistically insignificant sample of one, that they don’t.

ME: Hey you, why do you play with my boob like that?
HER: [No answer, too polite to talk with mouth full]
ME: Honey? Why are you playing with my booby?
HER: [Mouth still full, but not so full that she can't reply witheringly - I could almost here the "duh" at the end.] BECAUSE, I like your booby.

So there you go. She just likes it, no ulterior motive involved, any lactational advantages an unlooked-for bonus.

Before the end of last year, the UK government admitted that it was dismally failing to meet its targets for reducing teenage pregnancy. The target in 1999 was to halve the rate by 2010, yet new figures show that the rate as dropped by only about 11%, while the total number of teenage pregnancies has actually increased.

(Note – Depending on who you listen to, about a third to about half of teenage pregnancies in the UK end in abortion. Many pregnancies are carried to term simply because they are not identified or reported early enough – a problem that will only worsen if anti-choice campaigners succeed in reducing the time limit for abortions.)

The reaction has been, perhaps unsurprisingly, to point the finger at the way that young people are taught about sex in schools. However, instead of berating our schools for failing to teach young people enough about sex and protection, the line most often taken seems to be that schools are teaching children too much.

The argument is that sex education strategies, and in particular the safe sex message combined with improved access to contraception, have “backfired” by encouraging teenagers to have more sex, rather than encouraging them to have sex more safely. The safe sex message isn’t working, critics say – because when a teacher says “if you decide to have sex you should use a condom”, the pupils apparently just hear “decide to have sex” and filter out the rest. Because kids, as we know, are too hormonally charged (read, thick) to hear more than what abstinence-only advocates believe they can hear. Therefore, apparently, we should stop teaching children about safe sex.

Well, here are two interesting facts.

One is that, while lambasting the UK for having a teenage pregnancy rate six times that of the Netherlands, most of these commentators completely fail to mention that the Netherlands has achieved this by giving its students more and better education about sex and sexual life – not by lecturing them to keep their pants on.

(See here, for a rare exception – in the Telegraph, Laura Donnelly summarises the Dutch approach – “Liberal campaigners in [the UK] point to Holland’s permissive health policies, including compulsory sex education in schools from the age of five, as being key to its success… Dutch campaigners say Britain’s schools tick the box for sex education by providing biology lessons and free condoms, without arming teenage girls with the confidence to say no to unwanted advances, or to care for their sexual health.“)

The second interesting fact is that the UK’s much complained about “liberal” sex education curriculum is not actually compulsory. Parents can opt their children out. Whole schools can and do (especially in the case of faith schools, especially in the case of Catholic schools) opt out of teaching their pupils anything at all about sex beyond the mandatory biology lesson covering human reproduction. Nobody knows how many parents or schools actually do this because it is one of the few remaining areas of life where the Government does not collect and record statistics.

Polly Toynbee reports on this issue here, in the Guardian. She describes a recent survey of young people which showed that many of them get no or very little sex education at all – 40% rated the sex education they had received as “poor or very poor” and more than half had never been shown how to use a condom or told where to find their local sexual health clinic.

In conclusion, teen pregnancies are going up and it’s because we are teaching our children too much about sex. Even though in the Netherlands where teenage pregnancies are far less frequent the sex education given to children starts earlier and covers more ground. Even though about half of our young people never actually receive any real sex education at school. But lala we’re not listening because we know it’s all the fault of our freakishly liberal sex education policy. So there.

(Other sources: Press Association, Telegraph, The Sun, DoH 2007 annual report, DoH 2006 abortion statistics)

« Previous PageNext Page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.