General subversion and assorted rants


Despite being a non-heterosexual woman-centred celibate woman, I apparently still get to go “He’s quite tasty!” when the moment arises. I tend to react that way (oh dear, how predictable) to rugby players, men in uniform or black tie, and a few Professional Ugly Blokes like Gerard Depardieu and Gordon Ramsey. I’m such a useless stereotype, it’s actually embarrassing.

The above is by way of being an introduction to a post about something else, because I had one of those kinds of conversations with someone the other day and it set me musing about this and that.

It should already be clear that my rating a man as tasty does not mean that I would like to have any sort of relationship, or even casual sex, with him… No way!!

For one thing, I learned from trial and error (oh, college days) that the best looking ones are always the most selfish, in bed and out, but especially in. No – you always go for the slightly nerdy-looking bloke with a twinkle in his eye – not the one who never pulls, but the one who just happens to have interests in life other than getting off with girls. Honestly. It’s not just the “he’s so grateful you even looked at him” nonsense, it’s also the fact that because he is neither drop dead gorgeous nor obsessed with sex, he hasn’t been trained since puberty to expect that women (girls) will throw themselves at him, hasn’t learned contempt for us, hasn’t learned to view us as entirely replaceable and to take our availability for granted. So he treats women – or is more likely to treat us, at least if he isn’t a porn monster (which, if you pick right, he isn’t) – like human beings deserving of, you know, consideration.

In any case, the moment some bloke – especially Some Famous Bloke – opens his mouth is usually the moment I lose interest, so I tend to admire from a distance, or with the sound turned off… I guess that’s why firemen and rugby players are good to choose, they don’t talk much while they’re on the job.

Yes it’s all very dysfunctional and somewhat laddish. I blame the patriarchy, or something. But all that is by-the-by. (This is clearly doomed to be a meandering post where I get distracted at every turn, and I must keep hauling myself back on track. The trouble with trying to write a post on sexxiness, or even a post that isn’t actually supposed to be about sexxiness at all, is that you end up going down all sorts of by-ways and unplanned diversions. OK, I’ll stop looking at Jason Robinson’s torso now.)

The nutshell I got to on Tasty Blokes was, more or less, that just because men may sometimes be quite sexy doesn’t mean I want anything to do with them… It’s not that all men are stinky and mean – clearly, that isn’t true, although if the cap does fit… Ahem. Nor is my decision to steer clear of men, however tasty, a political one rooted in some ideal of a far-off feminist utopia, although of course my chosen way of life is definitely rooted in the feminism that gave me the eyes to see it and the courage to live it.

As I was saying, it’s not that men are all horrible creatures from the deep, or that they are politically unacceptable to me. No. What puts me off the idea of having a (sexual) relationship with a man is the way they just take over your life.

Seriously. One day you’re an independent woman doing your own thing and enjoying every minute, the next you’re worrying about whether you have time to cook the lovely meal you have in mind cos you need to have a bath and get yourself ready for Stud Man. A month later you start taking an interest in his darts league; after a year you’re wondering why you never have time to see your friends any more; five years down the line and you’re a haggard wreck because you can’t cope with the fallout from his depressive mood swings or his mid-life crisis.

Screw all that.

Of course, it may not turn out quite like that every time. But what is true of all relationships – all the ones I’ve had, anyway – is that there is never peace. There is never time to just be; you are no longer a person but only part of a unit; suddenly somebody else’s problems all become your problems too.

It is what I think about when I see ants – when you disturb a nest they all run about madly, grabbing eggs and making a run for it, busy, busy, busy. But why should an ant, a worker who will only live for a few days anyway, waste its precious time saving somebody else’s eggs? Because the ant is not an individual; the ant is part of a collective, a mindless collective, an ant unit. Is that what I want to be?

I’ve been reading Possession and although it is seriously stagnant for most of the plot, there are moments that speak to me. There is talk of a clean, white bed. Another of the main characters writes of solitude as freedom, she uses intense privacy and voluntary isolation as her means to achieve freedom and independence – but when she allows a man to penetrate her solitude, when she allows herself to be blown off course by romantic love, it all comes crashing down.

Screw all that.

Just give me a bed of my own.
It needn’t be white, or even especially clean.
Just a bed, a space, a sanctuary, a time and place to be – something that is all my own.

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The other day I came across a report produced by the Advertising Standards Agency recently. They have done a survey of advertising compliance in the cosmetics industry and discovered that 93% of the adverts surveyed complied with the law. That may sound good – 93%! – but then even gambling adverts have a 99% compliance rate while food and drink advertising is at 99.2% – and both of these industries are held to special higher standards with tighter controls than is the case in the general law. There are seven times more non-compliant beauty ads than either gambling or food and drink ads. Skin cream adverts were the worst offenders with a 19% breach rate.

It interested me, so I share it.

I could go on a bit – I could refer back to The Beauty Myth and body fascism and talk about how horribly the cosmetics industry perpetuates and exploits women’s socially created insecurities, trying and too often succeeding at making us all feel inadequate and unacceptable for not being supermodels, blah blah blah. I could relate it to the woman and her two male friends who thought it was OK yesterday to make loud remarks (from a safe place on the other side of a high fence) about how unacceptable my tits are, my tits which do not even try to be “acceptable” and yet which still felt humiliation at having their inadequacy pointed out so loudly, pointedly, rudely, aggressively. Poor boobs. Lovely boobs. Stuff’em.

Or maybe I could go in another direction. I could get into an ASA groove and relate an adjudication I read about today on four TV ads for a gambling website, which featured the (self-)humiliation of a number of people with dwarfism. The adjudication considered at great length to consider whether or not the ads were juvenile and therefore likely to appeal to young people and encourage them to gamble. They were also careful to refer to the characters in the adverts as “persons of restricted growth” or “persons of short stature”. Which is all very sensitive – yet why is the horribly offensive nature of the advert – which features little people participating in stunts designed to belittle them, to humiliate them, to make them look silly, to use their bodies as entertainment, as entertaining (so reminiscent of the freak shows and the dwarf tossing of days gone by) – why is this overlooked entirely? I’m not sure to be frank whether to call this kind of advert “ableist” as it may depend on whether you consider dwarfism to be a disability… but surely, whatever you call it, it isn’t acceptable in a just society?

Well I could go on and on and on, following these little avenues or maybe some other avenue or – like – whatever.

The trouble is, I’ve been deep inside a place at the centre of me, looking out, pondering, looking in, allowing slow thoughts to come clear. Digging, thinking, working things out. Planting seeds and allowing them to germinate in their own good time. Gardening starts to teach you patience, starts to make you think, a little, of the long view. This is all jumbled up because it is that time when jumbling happens, when clear thoughts emerge from soup. Have patience. The seeds are here.

What I’m saying is that – in the scheme of things – skin cream? Skin cream?

People are dying out there. Women are dying. They are under boots and behind doors and inside the Woman’s Room. We are being beaten and tortured and imprisoned and starved and raped and ignored. All over everywhere. And I put on my boots and I dig in the soil and I look forward to harvesting – what? That sneaky “we”, it isn’t “we” at all… And I can talk about this guy, or this woman, or this company, or whatever and – it all comes back to – the woman looking in a soul mirror, a woman looking in her mirror and seeing blood. But not her own. Not my own.

I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn
As you have done to this.

That oath. It was sworn long before me, long before my babe who lies safe, safely sleeping – yet both of us have the blood on our hands, our innocent hands. The oath sworn, before either of us, nevertheless binds us both, just as surely as it binds every woman and every man on this entire planet. I am not afraid of blood, but whose blood is it? And what can I do to heal the wound it came from, to unwind the oath and save the babe? Whose babe? Not mine, for she is safe asleep, with blood on her hands too.

Oh, and I want milk. I want milk.
But whose babe will go without?
And how much of this is menstrual poetry?
And how much of it is real?

I am remembering the heady days of 1997. I was one of the idealistic 20-year-old student types who stayed up all night to watch the results came in. I was one of those who saw more women than ever being elected. I saw the back of the Tories who had been seemingly inevitable, in power for almost my whole life, hated by everyone I knew yet voted back in, time and time and time and time again: the sleaze, the stinking self-interest, the cesspool of complacency and corruption and – ohdoweallremember? – the simple sword of truth.

I was one of those who wept to hear Tony Blair in his first hours as Prime Minister. I cried to hear him speak. Education, education, education: I remember it all. It was like having hope, it was like seeing the people in charge and believing that they were on your side, believing that they would be honest and true and fair and that Things Could Only Get Better.

Not so idealistic now, not quite so easily manipulated, I have still found myself a bit of a sucker for “vote for us because even though we’re crap, it’s better than letting the other lot in” politics. Time and again I’ve turned up to support the least bad of the two unappealing options. Remember Thatcher, remember sleaze, remember the Tory years, the 18 years of hurt – and never let it happen again.

No more. My vote means, in the grand scheme of things, very little. I am just one person with one ballot paper and one little X to give. If my little X makes all the difference between maintaining the barely-sane status quo and switching over to all-out-attack-on-everything-I-believe-in, then so be it. Don’t blame me, blame the barely-sane politicians whose manifesto is so unpalatable – OK?

But I’m not a great believer in voter apathy as a means of “sending a message” to the people in charge. You’ll send a message to someone by – er – keeping entirely silent and abandoning even the very small amount of say you do have over what they do? Seriously. If you really think it’s all a load of crap you should turn up and spoil your paper. Write “This is all a stupid con and politicians are a waste of space” if it makes you feel better. But staying at home is just – lazy. Staying at home is just two fingers up the nose of all those people in all those countries that are literally dying for democracy.

Gordon Brown has just cut housing benefit and abolished the 10p tax rate for low-paid workers, while giving the comfortable middle classes a well-timed – or not-so-well-timed in view of the local election results – tax cut. David Cameron thinks abortion should be even less freely available. And I didn’t even know until today that That Old Bloke is no longer in charge of the Lib Dems… who is this Nick Clegg chap anyway? I really can’t be bothered to read up on him, but the picture they have on Wikipedia suggests that he has a certain public schoolboy charm about him. Something like a cross between Hugh Grant and the dim one from The Vicar of Dibley.

So which of this crew needs a boost from me?

Well – I’m giving my unwanted tax cut to Refuge – I’ll try to remember Nick Clegg’s name – and, yes, I promise that the very next time I get pregnant by David Cameron, I will absolutely not have an abortion later than 21 weeks (not unless I really need one, anyway). I hope that cheers them all up while I offer my vote to the useless Greens.

I heart the useless Greens: like apathy, only ethically superior.

Today is a double celebration in that this post marks both International Women’s Day and, more or less, the anniversary of my moving this blog to WordPress.

Woo, as they say, hoo.

I’m unable to get excited about this year’s event. I guess it is just the sheer depressing fact that today, and all its excited preamble, merely reminds me that the other 364 days of the year (365 in the case of 2008) are International Men’s Days.

Anyhow, this blog is year-round woman-centred and often international – so where would be the fun in getting all excited over a woman-centred post especially for 8 March? Really? So, in satirical mood, I hereby declare 8 March 2008 as Touchingly Naive Men’s Day, my day to focus on da menz.

I struggled to think of anything much to celebrate about “how far men have come” and it wasn’t easy coming up with “issues men still face today”. But I am woman enough to acknowledge that men *do* have their problems and today I would like to focus on a very real area of specifically male oppression. Yep, I thought of one…

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Beards. Who likes beards? I don’t. They are – beardie.

In my personal facial hair hall of fame/shame, I would rank men’s bearing choices as follows (most acceptable first):

  • Clean-shaven. Smooo-ooooth.
  • Full beard with moustache – as long as it’s not *too* bushy!
  • Then a few that tied for third place: just a mustache, no beard; stubble but not a full-grown beard; or a “lovely” sculpted goatee.
  • Great big bushy beard, complete with monster eyebrows… honestly, have these people never read The Twits?
  • And finally, least acceptable bearding choice of them all – a big, full-grown beard with no moustache. Seriously, this is the worst – the “hair that goes all the way around your face” look. What is this? You carefully shave your upper lip every day, but leave everything else to grow like topsy? Why?

I must admit that, since I am not in fact a manhater etc etc, I have been making some effort to overcome my beard prejudice. After all, if we castigate men who expect us to shave our body hair, surely we should bring a little consciousness to the party and stop judging men as acceptable or not based on their shaving choices…

…And this is much easier once you have decided that you are never actually going to snog a man ever again so there is no danger of stubble rash as a result… 😉

In the spirit of critical analysis, I have to wonder – why is it that we have a cultural preference for clean-shaven men? I know very few men with beards. I know several who have grown beards in the past, come under enormous pressure to debeard, and then received universal praise for their “new, younger” clean-shaven look once the beard finally goes. The pressure on da menz to shave their faces is just as intense as the pressure on women to shave their legs and armpits… Of course, the context is difference because men are not the sex class and are unlikely to face, say, actual disgust and job discrimination if they refuse to comply. But, still.

Why? Why do we expect men to be clean-shaven?

It isn’t just because we like to kiss / be kissed by clean-shaven men*, because since when did the sexual or romantic preferences of women get to dominate cultural norms? Since when did our ideals even get taken into account, let alone become an oppressive social requirement? Since never, is when.

[* Anyway, kissing someone with a proper beard can be just as nice a feeling – albeit a different one – as kissing the smoothest face there is. And at least with a decent beard you won’t be caught unawares by stubble. Ouch. Maybe we like to kiss smooth men because we can close our eyes and imagine, subconsciously at least, that we are kissing women. Hehehe, evil laughter. Another possibility is that we like smooth men because they remind us of when we were girls kissing boys, and we like to pretend that we are still just a girl, just kissing a boy. That would make sense – the men win too if we believe we are girls kissing boys, that none of it is very grown up or meaningful; if we deep down understand kissing as a time when we are girls and they are boys, then we won”t act as full-grown women or make grown-up demands on the other person… Hm, stuff.]

So anyway – if the pressure to shave isn’t for snogging purposes, why is it?

Jacob was a smooth man; Esau was a hairy man.
And Esau, trusting Esau – got screwed.
No wonder our value system prioritises the smooth men – we have the bible to prove that hairy ones get screwed.

And it is probably no coincidence that, as noted above, shaving helps a person stay younger-looking, which is so the thing to be, right? Adolescents don’t have beards; nothing says “old man” like big ol’ beard.

In this regard, of course, men’s oppression is very different from women’s oppression in kind if not in form. We are expected to shave our body hair (all/most of it) so that we can be marked out as the infantilised and subjugated sex class, so that we can present as pre-pubescent and therefore as non-threatening – on pain of disgust, on pain of exclusion, on pain of hear and hate. The same does not apply to men because they are not infantilised, subjugated, unmanned or de-clawed by this pressure to shave.

Perhaps this stamp of youth helps men in patriarchy to prove their thrusting, virile status as members of the dominant class, to gain acceptance within patriarchy.

Or maybe – am I cynical enough yet? – it is quite simply a matter of marketing. How many razors, blades, gels, lotions and other assorted shaving paraphernalia would Gillette and their ilk sell, if we valued a hairy chin instead of a naked one?

As a woman who has been married and who has a child to show for it, I am usually assumed to be heterosexual.

As a fully satisfied celibate woman who has no intention of getting into a relationship with anybody any time soon – and certainly not a man – I generally permit that assumption: it is habitual, comfortable; it is not (overtly or immediately) detrimental; it is easy just to let it be. And why question if it makes no difference anyway?

This is why, when listing my privileges (the ones of which I am conscious, I mean), I have fallen into the habit of describing myself as “more or less” or “pretty much” heterosexual. What I mean by that is that all of my sexual relationships and 98% of my sexual adventures have been with men. What I mean is also that I have experienced het privilege all my life, because I have always performed, and always been read as, a heterosexual woman. What I also mean is that even if this has not been exactly contrary to my natural inclinations, certainly it has not involved the full expression or development of my natural inclinations.

If I were in a free universe I would almost certainly not identify as heterosexual.

It’s difficult to know how I would identify. Based on my life story to date, I would identify as a woman-loving celibate. But the only reason I have that life story, the only reason that I have come to be a woman-loving celibate is because I do not live and have never lived in a free universe. So who knows? In that mythical free universe I might identify or not as anything I pleased, whenever I pleased, and who knows what would please me if I had not had this heterosexual indoctrination?… But stop! I don’t want to get side-tracked by imagining how things might have turned out different in some parallel but fundamentally freer universe. What a waste of time. 😉

I am not in a free universe, but I am free in some places. In my real-life heart I am free, and in my real-life heart I can and now do identify myself, to myself, as a woman-loving celibate. That’s a start.

In the real world outside my own body, I am not free and as such I am… a single woman presumed heterosexual who is troubled by all that this means. Because I don’t actively sleep with women, I am claimed almost against my will by the heterosexual in-group, the ones who don’t even realise that they are a group, the ones who generously assume that you are “normal” just like them unless and until you start putting evidence right in their faces that in fact you are a deviant.

I can’t abandon heterosexual privilege, because short of wearing a sign on my head that says “I AM A LESBIAN”, there is no way to prevent heterosexual people from lazily assuming that I am One Of Them. In truth, “can’t” may be an excuse for “won’t”. Although I wish that there was no such thing as het privilege in the first place, now that I have it, I can’t honestly stand up and claim that I even particularly want to abandon it in favour of the oppression that would replace it. I don’t know what abandoning the privilege would mean, what it would look like, how it would play out in my life, whether anyone would even take me seriously, and in any case – what would be the point?

I have heard a lot at various times about political lesbians and in all honesty I can’t see any appeal in that “identity”. It sounds too much to me like privileged straight women, purposefully single, magnanimously extending sisterhood to real lesbians, garnering feminist credibility for pretending to abandon their heterosexual privilege, without actually examining or understanding the very real differences in their experiences of privilege and oppression. Without try to see how it all works in real life, how it might feel as a real lesbian to be “offered” sisterhood (read, to be claimed in sisterhood) by a bunch of privileged singletons who think they have some sort of clue what it is like to actually live as a woman-partnered woman. I wonder how many of those singletons would be willing to walk around with an “I AM A LESBIAN” sign on their heads?

Where does that leave me? I’m pretty much back to square one, except for this:

At least in the places where I am free, I will stop aligning myself with men by referring to myself (even with qualifiers) as heterosexual. Instead, when called upon or otherwise moved to identify myself, I will identify as a woman-loving celibate. This plays well in my heart, much better, much more aligned with my own self than the labels that I have hitherto felt forced to apply to my lived reality.

In the context of acknowledging privilege, I will not pretend that I do not have heterosexual privilege because that would be inaccurate. That would be denial. But I will prefer to express it as something like “closet privilege” rather than het privilege. Because “closet privilege”, although it sounds kind of lame and evasive, also expresses well how this privilege feels to me. It feels like a privilege that stifles, that forces me to pretend to be someone I am not in order to be accepted by those around me.

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I have more to say on this, about how it fits in with my growing consciousness of race privilege, my thinking about the privilege of lightness as being of a kind, in some ways, with closet privilege. The two separate ideas connecting, banging together, exploding into brightness that hurts and cleans at the same time.

In the meantime, I just wanted to link this post of Dark Daughta’s and the Marilyn Frye piece Dark Daughta refers to, which have both been a part of the analysis I have brought to this post and to the one I will write soon on lightness.

Eggs are shaped the way to keep them safe in case of being laid on a cliff, ledge or other high place. It’s so they can’t roll in a straight line, so they can’t roll off the cliff and get splatted. If they roll, they will just go around in a small circle.

Another question I have recently managed to answer is: how do you address a business letter in a professional manner that avoids the throwback conventional formulation of “Dear Sirs” as though no company or firm could ever contain one, some or even all female members (as is the case with at least one firm that I have in the past addressed as “Dear Sirs”).

Answer: you just put: “Dear [firm name]”. As in “Dear Pinsent Masons” or “Dear Leaky Plumbing Group” or whatever.

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Aside:

On a related point, while we are engaged in questions and answers, how do you address a formal letter to a woman when you do not know her preferred title? Most of the usually touted options are likely to be annoying to at least some recipients, so personally I just stick to using the person’s full name. As in “Dear Andrea Dworkin”.

And how to respond effectively when someone addresses you in an irritating way?

The trouble is, because most people don’t think how they address you is important, they tend not to take too much effort over it and they think you are petty if you correct any errors. Yet how is it petty to want someone to use your own name instead of deciding for themselves what they will call you?

Anyway, the irritation factor is so huge that I have resolved just to say it, regardless of whose feathers I may ruffle. The trouble is that in my job I have to be, or at least to appear to be, a serious professional, and making “petty” complaints about what name people use doesn’t help with that image. So I’m working on different tones for telling people to use my name. Note the repeated use of the words “just” and “a bit”.

One I personally hate, especially when a man does it, is where an e-mail addressed to two or more women is begun “Dear ladies”. WTF? It happens to me a lot, because I work in a small, all-female team.

To the “Dear Ladies” e-mail, I respond to the actual content and then say something like: “PS One small thing I wanted to mention. It’s just that I personally don’t like to be addressed “Dear Ladies” – [although if you use my actual name that totally won’t annoy me at all.] Thanks!” If asked to justify myself, then depending on the context I might say “I just personally find it a bit patronising” or “Have you seen Little Britain?

People tend to get the message, although the last time I picked someone up on that, just the other week, the guy has never written me another e-mail to me – not even to say thanks for answering the question that he raised in the first place. Patronising and rude, all in one happy package.

The other one that ticks me off is where people start off a conversation using an over-familiar name, usually a shortened version of my name (which I do not like at all) or sometimes “love” (grrr!).

For these people, I generally interrupt them with something like: “Oh hang on, before you go any further, can I just ask you to call me [my name]” possibly followed up with “I know you didn’t mean anything by it but I get a bit annoyed when people call me X” or “I just feel a bit uncomfortable with being called X” or “I just prefer [my name]” depending on what kind of annoyed I am. I’ve never yet had to go so far as to say “Well, because it’s my name.” But I would if I had to: it’s the Big Gun.

There is one guy I deal with occasionally who randomly decided to start shortening my name, a couple of weeks ago – I explained in a friendly tone that I prefer to be called by my unshortened name, and then had to spend a good 2 minutes reassuring him that I wasn’t annoyed that he used the shortened name, that I understood that he wasn’t to know any better, that I just wanted to mention it so that in future he wouldn’t inadvertently annoy me before a conversation even begins, soothe, soothe – although, actually, where the hell does he get off thinking he can just mess about with my name, huh? So anyway he now pronounces it with great care every time I speak to him as if it is some huge effort of will just to use my actual name. Bear in mind also, that this guy is several levels below me in what passes for the management hierarchy so he hasn’t even got “superiority” to use as an excuse for being rude.

So anyway – gah! It may seem like a small thing, but this is just so rude. Where do people get off thinking they can (re-)name me against my will?

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Oh dear, I got sidetracked. My third question was going to be something completely different but now I can’t even remember what. Instead, I started ranting and my “aside” turned into the whole rest of the post. Oh well.

via Sparkle*Matrix
🙂

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