Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Losing my head

Long time no post-y. This is due to a lack of inspiration all round, coupled with moving house and obtaining a new job has left me with little time or energy for the more temporal of my pastimes.

And, I have had a rather big distraction lately.

My hair has been falling out.

Well, I suppose every cloud has a silver lining and all that, as I now have some material to write about, so I suppose that’s something…

My hair started falling out almost three months ago, almost imperceptibly. I played dumb for a bit and pretended it wasn’t happening but now its still happening and its certainly obvious to me. The hair loss has been even, from right across my head, so I don’t have a visible bald patch or anything, but the general volume of my hair has decreased.

The reason, most likely, is due to a series of deeply stressful events over the last year, including; ending a long term relationship, financial struggles and moving house, amongst other things. Apparently this is known as ‘Telogen Effluvium’ – where a big shock causes lots of your hair to die at once and all fall out. Sexy. I have been told that there is little chance of me going bald, which is nice, but that how long it will last for and how bad it will be is harder to pin down.

On the plus side, there have been times when my friends have informed me that ‘you always looked a bit bald around the sides anyway’, so I suppose that I should take comfort from the fact that I have always appeared as if I was suffering from hair loss, even when I wasn’t.

As someone who has fine hair, which I dye black, it has been an interesting journey for me over the last few months. What does hair loss mean to me, to women generally and what impact does it have on your life?

The thing that has surprised me most of all about the hair loss is the way I have adopted various coping mechanisms, which I didn’t even notice at first. For example, I rarely have showers with my contact lenses in now, because my short sightedness means I can’t see how much hair is coming out in the shower. I use my darkest coloured bed linen so you can’t see the amount of hair in the bed. I no longer blow dry my hair, or brush it every day, and my default style is to clip it all back with Kirby grips. It’s not so much the elephant in the room, as the elephant on my head. Completely ignoring my hair has been my main course of action.
Up until about 18 months ago, I had short hair and was never interested in having it long. Then, I decided to grow it and had got it to just above shoulder length before it started coming out. Talk about unfair.

Another surprising consequence of hair loss has been the effect on my emotions. I have felt really bloody angry that this is happening just when my hair was long enough to be styled and worn down. I have also felt incredibly jealous of women with good hair and find myself staring at people on the tube. Don’t even get me started on how it feels to watch shampoo adverts! Herbal Essences makes me feel apoplectic.

The knock on affect of hating my hair is that I have apportioned blame to it. Quite how a bunch of skin cells could knowingly sabotage my life is hard to determine but it has felt like that many times.

What I hadn’t expected, and this might be na├»ve, is the general impact on how I feel about my appearance. I find it hard to feel like getting glammed up for a night out and deciding what to wear has taken on a new significance. What’s the point in wearing make up? Or wearing an interesting outfit? I often feel like I would rather stay in be more homely. I certainly don’t like having photos taken of me at the moment.

Because everyone says you can’t tell, it’s hard to say all of this without sounding like you’re being over sensitive or a bit melodramatic. And they’re probably right. I think there are many, many people suffering a lot worse than me. But it’s the fact that it has impacted on so many parts of my life that I wanted to write a bit about how it feels.

Women’s hair is a big deal; we dye it, cut it, flick it and spray it. Having shiny and big hair a la Cheryl Cole on X Factor is the style many women aspire to, so to see it going down the plughole makes you feel like you’ve failed on some level. I have also felt like I’ve failed because of how much it has bothered me, it’s not like I’m unwell or living with a disease. There has only been one time when I have broken down about it, on my own, because I feel guilty for caring about it.

A rather bitterly ironic twist to my experience has been the work I’ve done with Racoon International (a hair extensions company) and their ‘Hair in recovery’ programme, which offers women suffering from medical hair loss a way to get feminine-looking hair back as soon as possible. It’s amazing as it costs less than NHS wigs and is ethically sourced real hair, a real life line for women coming out of a cancer experience, for example. I hope I don’t sound like an advert!

My point is, during meetings with these guys I was confronted with how people perceive hair loss in a very direct way, at the time when I was just coming to terms with mine. Some of the key things I picked up were:

1. You’re a victim and you will feel isolated and sad.
2. Hair loss should be concealed as quickly as possible, with extensions, wigs or scarves.
3. Your hair is the epitome of femininity and sexuality. The way people talked about it, you
would have thought there was some sort of Samson-like power in female hair to draw in sexual partners.
4. It is the ‘last taboo’ for women to talk about this with their friends and family.

I think it was a low point to be sitting around a table of people who had no idea about my hair loss, talking about this stuff. I don’t think they’re wrong, or that it was unfair, but I hadn’t been prepared for the impact this would have. It was the first time I felt genuinely worried about how other people would see me and what might happen if I lost all my hair. On the plus side, I’ve got contacts with the right people should the worst happen so I suppose I shouldn’t whinge too much… it would be quite cool to get massive page three model hair extensions and see the look on people’s faces.

So what am I doing about it? I have been for blood tests, results not back yet, and seen a doctor. The doctor was…. Adequate. He seemed to think the whole thing wasn’t a big deal and I found it hard not to be upset or angry in the surgery. There was certainly no talk of how we might deal with the emotional impact of it and his first suggestion was that it was a scalp infection. So I walked out of the surgery no clearer on my plan of action and with a prescription for some anti-fungal shampoo. The whole experience was a little odd to say the least.

I have told most of my friends and family, who are supportive and reassuring. I have overcome much of the stress in my life and have started taking more time to relax.

Now all I need is for my follicles to catch up with my lifestyle and I’m on to a winner.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Sardinia in Summary

This time last year, ish, my bestie and I went on a 5 day trip to the lovely Sardinia. We had a whale of a time and it wasn't until I came across an old email that I remembered quite how much. This is what we managed to acheive on just a couple of the days we were away:

On the first night:
My boyfriend at the time was stupid enough to lend his camera to us. We lost it on the first night.

We were drunk and asked for the bill in this cocktail bar about 10 times but they were just ignoring us and so we were like 'so lets just leave' and kept saying it and being all 'yeah, let's just do it, yeah' and then eventually did.

On the way out, sian walked into a chair and they STILL didn't notice. As soon as we were outside the restaurant we were so embarrassed and didn't know what to do and wanted to go back, but couldn't.

So we went back to the campsite and worried about being apprehended by the polizie all night. It wasn't until we ordered a beer and a coffee and we went to take a photo of sian's teeny coffee we realized the camera was gone. What made it worse was that we had taken photos of ourselves drinking cocktails on the camera, so they also knew who we were.

On the last night:

We got hammered on the prosecco we had stored in the boot of the Twingo and passed out in our tent.

Sian wandered off sleep walking and only woke up when she landed on her face after falling down a rock garden. She came back to the tent talking rubbish about losing a shoe and not finding it and the people in the tents nearby laughing at her for falling over and so on, so I ignored her and went back to sleep. The next morning she woke up and found both her shoes and we realized that there was no way anyone would be laughing at her at 3am for falling over since they were INSIDE their tent and couldn't have seen!

Also, the next morning she was still concussed because she said to me "did you just hear that couple say 'did you ever find out who that shoe belonged too?'" just before we realised both her shoes were still there, so she was talking cack. Then I passed out holding on to a tree and had to lie down for half an hour.

The final day:

We sunbathed for 4 hours in 30+ degrees heat wearing onlt factor 15 from poundland. I got so burned I had to sleep on my front for three days when I home and couldn't sit down without involuntarily crying out. The people in Sian's office asked if she had been in a car accident.

She told them the truth, but didn't have the heart to say that on the second day we had managed to accidently 'nudge' an old man whilst driving along the coast. Thankfully he wasn't hurt, just very angry.

Monday, 3 August 2009

I need to stop half rhyming my poems!

I'm coming down with something-
I don't feel so well.

Work is out of the question,
you've made me feel too ill.

I think I have that swine flu-
or something pretty bad.

My hands just keep on shaking,
I think I need my bed.

I’m tired all of the time,
The symptoms must be rare.

Because whatever you have given me,
Isn’t going anywhere.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Another article on female muslim dress


OK, so I'm not going to dissect this article because time is rather short, but regarding the first point in which the author says (of the women who wear the niqab): "They dress in everyday clothing; they get their hair done, go on holiday and even buy lingerie!"... Well, gosh! How lovely. For me, that really isn't the point. There are many academic points about and around which it is possible to build an argument against the wearing of religious dress. For me, this is not about religion, or culture. It is about equality, as I have said numerous times.

The whole problem with expecting women to cover up, dress 'modestly' and all the rest of it is that is something that has been developed by men to subjugate women. To separate them and declare them different from men. If all Muslim people, male or female wandered around with family relative chaperones, wearing the niqab, then I would be far more accepting. But this just isn't the case. As for the part about 'going on holiday'. Well, perhaps they do, but they don't go swimming, that's for sure. Unless it’s at a female only pool session of course.

So the myth that the author is trying to dispel here, in point one, that 'The niqab is a symbol of female subjugation' falls down at the first hurdle.

Because of course it fucking is. It only applies to ONE GENDER.

If people are going to maintain that the niqab has a place in society, could they at least stop pretending that it isn't hugely humiliating and derogatory, and come up with some other reasons for wearing it? Like 'because I have been indoctrinated by my religion to think this', or, 'because I gave it some thought and even though there are valid arguments against it, I decided to wear it anyway', or more likely, 'because I was told to'?

Because whilst I believe everyone has a free choice to believe what they want, and dress how they like, pretending that there are 'good' and religious and fair reasons for it is absolutely not a requirement and simply makes an out-moded point of view an offensive one.

Monday, 27 July 2009

It's not mother's day, but nevermind....

What I want to be
When I grow up,
Is just like you.

Not exactly the same,
That’s just daft,
Of course.

But to be
funny and silly,
and to talk to the animals.

I wonder if I'll ever be
A proper adult like you.

You do get cross
Too easily.
And sometimes, you
have the funniest views.

But what I really want,
When I grow up
Is to be just like you.

Do you think,
One day
Ill drive a tractor too?

To believe in fairies and spirits,
And witches, pixies
And magic.

And have an eye
like a magpie.

I hope when I am an adult
Ill understand people
In the way that you do.

To care for others
Without getting cross,
But still want to work in a morgue.

Im not sure
if this makes any sense
to anyone else.

But what I really want
When I grow up,
Is to be just like you.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Advertising Cancer

I was watching TV the other night (I have to admit that it was the new show on LivingTV called 'Four Weddings' where four brides get to attend each others' weddings and then slag them off afterwards. It was HILARIOUS, mostly because of the narcissistic gay 'bride' who was the biggest bitch I've ever seen making snobbish value judgements about the other contestants)... I digress... and an advert came on for Cancer Research UK, or CRUK as we call them in the trade.


And I had few thoughts about it. Firstly, due to the seriousness of cancer and the impact it has on peoples' lives, I feel I should mention again that I work for a cancer charity and that my thoughts aren't a reflection of the devastating impact cancer has on people but how we should talk about and view people living with cancer.

The start of this advert is pretty good. I think it reflects the fact that cancer really can affect anyone - and it’s pretty positive too. My issue lies with the last 15 seconds when the whole tone of the advert changes and we're reminding that it’s not a battle everyone wins. Now, I am not suggesting we gloss over the fact that more people are diagnosed and that many, many people still die of cancer or its knock on effects, but there was a clear distinction between 'those who live' and 'those who die'. Those who live look healthy and empowered and hirsute. The two women at the end with bald heads or scarves were clearly meant to represent those people who die as a result of their cancer.

I did find it frustrating that the 'non survivors' were represented by the stereotypical bald cancer victim. No one else in the footage had hair loss, only those telling the audience that many people still die from cancer - with the clear message that this might apply to them. Of course this is harrowing and very likely true for these women - and I was deeply moved for them - but I felt almost patronised at the sharp contrast drawn between the two groups represented within the advert.

There are a number of issues with the way this is represented. Firstly, many people diagnosed with cancer do not suffer hair loss, including many who receive chemo as part of their treatment. Secondly, for me it equates hair loss with terminal illness, which hardly seems fair on those in remission and perpetuates the confusion that it's cancer which causes hair loss and not the treatment. Why are none of the 'survivors' depicted with hair loss? Thirdly, does it really 'do' these days to show a bald teenage girl representing the masses of people diagnosed with cancer, who may indeed not survive, but who are far more likely to be older and not necessarily bald?

Having a hard hitting message is necessary in direct marketing campaigns, but playing on the emotive nature of the young 'victim' is not something which I think does the battle for cancer equality (and fundraising) any favours. It is perfectly possible to hit home the significance of cancer and the need to research into it without resorting to this.

Perhaps I wouldn't have minded if one of the 'survivors' had been bald? Perhaps I wouldn't. It would make the whole thing seem less calculated somehow. I feel that we can't talk about empowering people living with cancer whilst continuing to represent them in this narrow minded and rather old fashioned way.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Highbury Fields

We sat down in
Highbury Fields,

about 7pm
on a Wednesday.

I watched the dogs,
you poured the wine

and we both wondered
what to say.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Tuesday night, in the kitchen

Woman 1: “Look, don’t worry about it- you know you’re right, I know you’re right and so if anyone else thinks differently, they can just fuck off”

Woman 2: “I know, I know, but it’s hard not to worry that people will be all ‘nerr’ about it behind my back – I know they won’t but you can’t help but worry if you’ve opened your big gob AGAIN”

W1: “stop worrying about it and drink your wine… Where are the mushrooms?”

W2: “In the cupboard on the left of the oven. So, what EXACTLY did the email say? Was it like ‘I’m asking because I’m interested’ or ‘I’m asking because secretly I just want to know what’s going with her because I’m a nosey bitch’?”

W1: “ No no no, it was really nice and just out of concern for you. Honestly. … argh, where’s the fucking pepper… ah here it is. Literally, they can just bugger the shit off if they think you’ve done it wrong. Work-people are always a nightmare anyway, so just don’t worry about it. ”

W2: “Well, its not like I’ve paraded it around or anything, or rubbed it in anyone’s face, or pissed anyone off knowingly, so I sort of feel like its not really anyone’s business, you know? I wonder if I should email the group and say something like ‘thank you for being so concerned about me, but its all ok, and I got the promotion and no one minds blah de blah’ to shut them all up? Where’s the rest of the wine?”

W1: “fridge”

W2: “cool, fags?”

W1: “table”

W1: “It’s like what happened to me with the whole ‘sarah-moving-departments’ nightmare, and its all fine now, you just find out which people are twats and which people you know you can rely on next time. And if they’re twatty about it, then whatevs man. Stuff like that always comes out in the wash and the people who were horrible always come out worse off. Just play it calm and nice”

W2: “Fine, you’re right. I know that really, I just want to punch people in the face when they react so badly to stuff like that… Do we want to put chilli in this, or shall we just stick to garlic and stuff?”

W1: “ooh chilli, good idea… yeah, I know, but just remember you’re the one who got it, you deserved it and you earned it fair and square. If anyone wants to say different, they can suck your balls, you know?”

W2: “fair point. SO, more wine? And tell me about what that bloke said when you bumped into him on the tube the other night.”

Friday, 3 July 2009

To keep the surname, or not keep the surname?


'Should women take their husband's surnames' is the topic of this article. I would like to make it clear from the outset that I only read the Daily Mail for the CELEBRITY GOSSIP and nothing else. However, when my eye caught this, I got dragged in to reading it.

It’s fair to say that I am a bit of a hardliner when it comes to feminism, and I appreciate now that I am a little bit older and less angry/ shouty that not everyone has the same opinion as me (it’s just that they're wrong.... I'm joking....). But, I do still wonder why this tradition pervades when its origins are so crap. So I’ll consider the origins first.

1. Your husband used to own you in marriage, and all your possessions. You did not count as a separate entity.

2. Women were/ are handed over by the father into the hands of her husband, much in the way that fathers walk their daughters down the aisle today. The word 'husbandry' is used when we talk about farmers caring for animals. Nice.

3. Taking of the name meant that the woman wasn't the responsibility of her family anymore. They pretty much had no rights as heirs, and even if they were the only sold survivor from a family, the money would go to the husband anyway.

I know that nowadays this isn't the case, so much of the stuff that used to happen as a result of being married off isn't something to worry about now, but the symbolism of all this is very much based in ownership.

OK, so what are my arguments against taking your husband's name?

Firstly, there is the issue of tradition, which most of the points above refer to. Tradition is never a good reason to continue doing something if it doesn't stand up to decent scrutiny. There are a lot of things we don't do anymore because they seem dated, like keep slaves or dog fight, or bare knuckle box. We don't have to take our husband's name 'just because'.

Secondly, the other thoughts that go through my head are - ‘Why the hell do I have to take YOUR name? Why not you take mine? Why am I compromising who I am? Aren't we meant to be a team!?’

But for me, ultimately, the bottom line is that it just isn’t EQUAL. And, people, I'm all about the equal.

If, when we got married, the tradition was for the woman to pay the man £5,000 for the benefit of marrying him, would we be so happy about it? What about if you had to build him a house first? Why are we entering into a contract where we must pay consideration in return for no discernable benefit? Unless you have a super sexy rock star surname I'm not sure that 'getting a new name' can really be considered a true offer in the tradition of a binding contract...

Ok, so....

What are the arguments in favour of taking your husband's surname rather than keeping your own?

1) You hate your name
2) You love tradition
3) You haven't ever thought not to
4) you're under familial pressure to do it
5) You just want to...

These are all perfectly fine reasons, and if any of these reasons are important enough to you, then ignore me. I can't think of any more, but I would be keen to hear anything anyone else has to add.... When I considered these different reasons, I realised that all of them are really just 'subjective personal points of view'.

The problem with this is that there isn't really a place for that kind of argument in a semi-academic debate. The whole point of taking an accepted custom and questioning it is that you put your personal point of view to one side and consider only the arguments left after that...

A question for me, then, is whether I believe in marriage at all, then, since I seem to have a problem with so much that comes with it. The thing is I REALLY do.

I define marriage as:

Two people entering into an agreement which states that they will work together as a team, becoming united in their goals of happiness and health, and to share all material possessions equally.

With the recent foot-stamping going on about massive divorce payouts, the 'shared material possessions' stuff is more important than ever. This part of the agreement is unbreakable, meaning that if you decide you want to get married, part of what comes with it is the agreement that you will split everything fifty fifty FOREVERMORE. For that reason, I actually think the law is complicating things for itself by allowing pre-nups to leak slowly into the English legal system.

If you're determined to get back exactly what you put in to your marriage should you break up, then don't bloody well get married. The one remaining purpose of marriage these days is to split everything down the middle - it is no longer about sex, children, religion or gender, so if we allow pre-nups then we undermine the one thing keeping marriage an institution and blur the distinction between marriage and co-habitation further.

I believe there are good reasons for co-habitants and married couples to remain separate, we can't simply go around contractualising co-habiting relationships in order to protect people who aren't married without their permission, for a start.... but this debate is for another time.

I am pro-marriage, pro-unity, pro-two people in love promising to split the good and bad times in half, FOREVER.

However, I am not 'pro- taking another person's name' because I don't see how two people can enter into something together, equally, if one must give up something so closely tied to their identity. This is how I feel. But not how many people feel. It could certainly be argued that the whole thing is an academic moot point, because if it isn't important to the individuals concerned then it isn't important at all.

I know many happy couples who took the name of their husband and are of course not in unbalanced, oppressive marriages! I would never suggest that to be the case. I just happen to feel that what it stands for historically doesn't make me feel comfortable and that it’s outmoded enough for us to ditch it altogether. And I will of course say here, that if you want to take your husband's name, for whatever reason you decide, that is your free choice and I wouldn't ever judge someone for making that decision. The universal top trump card with all these things is, of course, good old personal choice.

There are alternatives to doing it though (pushy pushy...)

- You can double barrel (though slightly pompous sounding depending on the names.) or you can merge two names together and create something new. This gem also solves the issue many people have about their children not sharing a surname with their parents.... you could pick a totally new new name and BOTH change your names....

Or you know, you could go totally mental and just keep your own name. The one you were born with.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Core Temperature

This is like dipping your toes in a hot bath.
Inch by inch, I’m easing my way in
To water which feels like embers on my skin.

This is like burning your hand on kettle steam.
It doesn’t seem to hurt that much, initially,
but then that stinging feeling grabs on to me.

This is like an ice cube from the freezer.
Stuck hard fast and cold to my fingertip.
If I pull too hard on you, I think my skin will rip

This is like a lesson in basic chemistry.
If I turn you up or cool you down
You might burn off, or I might drown

Thursday, 25 June 2009

You'd burka believe it!


So, blimey, I agree with something Sarkozy said. And I don't mean:

"How can one be fascinated by those fights of obese guys with brylcreemed buns? Sumo is not an intellectual's sport!".... As much as that's quite funny.

I am referring to his speech about burkas to the Senate and National Assembly recently, a line of which was:

"It's not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement"

For me, it brings such very strong feelings to the pit of my stomach and the tip of my tongue. I want to say things like 'Of course it fucking does, it’s about the most blatant tool of oppression since the chastity belt', but I realise that intelligent discussion rests on a little more than this.

The whole thing about France banning headscarves and burkas and the like has been going on for some time. An Iranian Muslim friend of mine and I discussed the banning of headscarves at French Universities whilst I was still studying. Our mutual passion for freedom of expression, and all civil liberties, meant that we felt it was rather totalitarian to just ban people from doing stuff. People should be free to cover their head in a way which reflects their religeo-cultural beliefs. However, we were really only talking about the hijabi, rather than the whole black sack and veil jobber. Or at least, I was. Plus, the whole debate has intensified with the rise of the burka and its place in contemporary society. Do the women who wear the burka REALLY do so as an expression of their free will?

So when Sarkozy spoke out against them recently, my initial rather visceral reaction was to agree with him wholeheartedly- "Too bloody right! Ban it! It's awful and tragic and oppressive and not even determined by the Qur'an". Incidently, the call to cover up comes from the hadith – interpretations of the Koran written many years after the death of the Prophet, and largely dictated by prevailing Middle Eastern custom.... so we're not talking complex religious considerations here. Modesty is all that is requested, just like for Jewish people.

I am so passionate about equality, and want so much for everyone to have it that my immediate reaction was to force it upon everyone. I don't subscribe to the anthropological perspective which dictates that we must accept the behaviour of other cultures on the basis that we should not judge societies we cannot understand, so in principle, why the hell not just ban the burka?

I know my view is not world changing or anything, but it is worth mentioning that we do not have to accept the burka just because a particular culture prescribes it.

I am also going to skim past the pro-burka arguments around it preventing female sexualisation/ encouraging rape/ all the other bullshit arguments made my many pro-burka men. The most coherent way I have heard this view presented was that wearing the Hijabi 'levelled the playing field' for women and allowed them to be judged for their intelligence rather than their looks. Initially, this sounds like it could hold some water. But under even the most minimal scrutiny, it collapses.

This assumes, for starters, that being identified as an attractive female is ALWAYS a bad thing. Secondly, that if you are identified as such, that you will automatically be sexually vulnerable and that it would be the woman's fault. Thirdly, it assumes that if you are attractive, people will think you are stupid. Fourthly and finally, it doesn't say much about the male species if we believe we must cover up our women to avoid sending the men into some kind of unavoidable lusty rage. This is akin to covering up table legs in Victorian times in case it incited sexy thoughts in the men of the era.

Which is kind of what got me thinking...

How did the UK get to where it is now with civil liberties and the like? On the whole, we're pretty cool. We don't have slaves, or allow racism, or gender inequality or homophobia (though of course they still exist...). We have legislation ensuring this. Perhaps we should legislate against the burka, in that case, in the name of gender equality. It certainly wouldn't be hard to do.

But when you think about it, this just isn't how it works... our legislation is built in response to the public view, not the other way round. Take fox hunting as an example, the majority agreed it was pretty horrible and so we got round to banning it. Many of the legislators would have been pro-fox hunting, so if our laws were dictated to us in order that the societal norms changed, fox hunting would never have been banned.

Another example is in the Sexual Offences Act 2003- it became manifestly obvious from the case law that it was unjust for offenders to escape the conviction of rape simply because they attacked their victim with a foreign object rather than a penis or finger. So the legislation responded and amended the definiton in response to public need.

Perhaps, when society begins to recognise that it is clearly unjust for women to have to cover up in order to fulfil some foggily defined sense of 'modesty', we could act upon it. The majority already agree this is the case, but we aren't the ones who would be affected by this change in the law. It's a bit like ID cards, in the sense that if it doesn't affect you, then its easy to think something's a great idea.

The need for the change in the law in the above examples was far more important than any civil liberties considerations- rape is never permissable- whereas the burka is rather more complicated.

Freedom of expression, of religion, the right to shape your own identity, must all be weighed against any legislative decisions. And freedom of expression is one of the big boys- it’s SO vital to maintaining a liberated country. That's why it’s so hard when there are radical Muslim preachers / anti-abortion protests going on, because their freedom of expression should not be impinged when they are only extolling a point of view, without inciting violence and so on.

So, as much as my gut reaction was to agree with Sarkozy and think that at least he was prepared to stand up for equality, I realised that true equality does not come from dictum but from social change.

Which made me think, how the hell do we bring about this social change? Looking at the right wing press (yes, I'm talking about you Mr Daily Mail), it can seem a bit hopeless....

"Apparently, 5 year old British girls are being forced to wear the burka in order that they don’t offend the local Muslim community, and aren't allowed to have boys round for tea after school any more in case they behave inappropriately".

Ok, so I made that up, but you get the point.

So I thought about other examples where extreme dress was the cultural norm, so see if there was a way we could go about getting rid of the burka which doesnt threaten our liberties / cause international outrage.

And, I think it is possible to learn something about the burka wearing tradition from food binding.

The tradition started some time late in the T'ang Dynasty (618-906), according to my internet research, and lasted for almost a thousand years. Its origins are uncertain, and there are many different arguments as to why it became so popular. What is clear is that it prevented woman straying too far, it subjugated them and was a symbol of marriability. It also became fetishised by many men, because of the mystery surrounding what an unbound foot would look like, and stories about the way it made women walk making their vagina tighter. It was a symbol of virtue and chastity.

As with being 'honourable', foot binding was a precursor to being marriable, so no one was going to stop the practice until they were reassured that it wouldn’t render the woman a spinster, hence the 'natural foot societies'. Establishing the idea that showing your cheeks doesn’t mean that you're some kind of prostitute is essential for this to take hold...

I accept this is a more complex issue than 'face out = slag', because there is such sexual oppression involved with the burka. Only being able to show your face to your husband and male family members keeps the woman under wraps, it prevents her from being attractive to others. The equivalent of the rather delightful tattoos celebrities get with the name of their owner (sorry, I mean partner) emblazoned on them.

It also smacks of insecurity. The fear that another man might take a fancy to your wife, or possibly deem her to be a bit ugly, might be more than the rather large and delicate ego of this particular kind of Muslim man can take. Hide it away, and you can brag all you like about how hot your other half is, without the risk of having the piss taken out of you. In a society obsessed with honour, doesn't this make at least a little sense?

Foot binding began as a luxury of the rich, since bound footed women could do little around the house, but soon became essential for even the poorest people to bind the feet of their daughters. Just as this tradition started with the aristocracy, it was to end with them.

Looking into the origins of the burka, in particular the burka with the full face veil (referred to as a Chadri in Afghanistan and NW Pakistan), it seems that the origins were similar in nature. The chadri was created by one of Afghanistan's rulers trying to stop anyone from seeing his wives' faces. He came up with the chadri, which in time became a sign of an upper class citizen. When these were banned for being old fashioned, they were given to the working classes, escalating this tradition through all the social classes, just as with foot binding. I thought I would explore the idea of foot binding and the burka just to see where it leads me - this comparison is certainly flawed, but having considered that there will be limitations, I have decided there is still enough in it for me to continue.

How, then, did the destruction of foot binding tradition come about? Principally in three key ways...

1) EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION. A modern education campaign was carried out, which explained that the rest of the world did not bind women's feet and that China was losing face in the world, making it subject to international ridicule. 'Losing face' is comparable to the whole 'honour' thing, and taking control of a social norm like this is an incredibly powerful tool.

2) HEALTH. The education campaign explained the advantages of natural feet and the disadvantages of bound feet. Ok, so this is a tougher one since I'm not sure what possible health impact wearing the burka might have? Other than a possible vitamin D deficiency... however, explaining the limitations on education, finances and ultimately social standing, could be the way to go. Not to be considered as successful as your neighbour would be a pretty good way to change the perception of a patriarchal community.

3) STANDING TOGETHER. Natural-foot societies were formed, whose members pledged not to bind their daughter's feet, nor to allow their sons to marry women with bound feet. There is power in numbers and once a few socially upstanding people were on board, the whole thing became more acceptable. A tough ask, I would certainly think, since these are the guys likely to be most radical, but if it worked once then I feel there must be some hope for it to work again.

Using this approach, the Chinese managed to pretty much get rid of foot binding in ONE GENERATION. I find that amazingly powerful.

What's interesting about this, and perhaps a little different to approach of many rights-based organisations campaigning to end female genital mutilation (to take another example of female subjugation), is that the focus is not predominately female. Let's be honest, if you're compelled to wear a black tent which covers your face virtually all the time, you probably aren’t the decision maker.

Convincing the men in positions of authority that it's a good idea to ditch the burka seems to be the way to go.

The thing which makes me feel that this is not entirely transferable is that foot binding wasn’t based in religious belief. As much as we know the burka has nothing to do with being a good Muslim, this argument is a bit of a show stopper for many who subscribe to it, as the burka is a logical extension of the modesty requirements in Islamic religious texts, for them.

Which raises the question: Are burka-believers ready to listen? Will they change?

I suppose that the Chinese aristocracy weren't ready for it either, until everyone spoke to them in a manner which wasn't threatening or bullying or bossy and which was meaningful to them- 'losing face' has immense cultural power and resonated with the right people in Chinese society.

Therefore, we will not get anywhere by telling burka-believers what to do.

In conclusion, Sarkozy is right when he says 'That is not our idea of freedom'. It is not our idea of freedom either and there is no place for it in a world where woman are equals. But there is no place for the restriction of civil liberties, whatever benefits we think we might reap.

Instead, we need to educate, discuss, even cajole, the right people in the right places to change their practices. When those with respected social standing realise the benefits of social change, we will see it amongst the majority. As can be seen with the example of foot binding, this change can happen quickly.

How fast these things can become history. I hope that the burka and all it stands for soon becomes an example of the female fight against oppression, alongside the right to vote, working rights, and foot binding and contraceptive freedom.

* A note: any facts and stats are gleaned from internet research, so if they're wrong, don’t shout at me. But if it’s an opinion then it’s certainly mine, and if you don't like it then don't read my blog.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Poppies in the hedgerow

Poppies in the hedgerow,

a Japanese water colour.

A look on their faces

Of one eyed surprise.

Warriors in anticipation.

They sway with impatience

for the thrill of the fight.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

We hate poetry


This article is very funny. I do agree with ol' Giles that we don't really like poetry as much as we pretend. Its basically really hard to relate to, waffly, and doesn't do much for the British stiff upper lip. I really don't know much about poetry, other than what I like to write. And that writing silly rhyming poems for my friends makes them smile and keeps me happy.

He does say that contemporary poetry is crap, but I am inclined to disagree (obviously). I think its more to do with the fact that poetry is no longer a tool people use to express themselves. Its quite hard not to be cheesy, or full of cliche. It expects you to follow rules a lot of the time. None of this is as fun as writing waffle on a blog, as I am doing at this moment.

However, one of the things I have been rediscovering is the discipline required to write your about feelings or views on something in metered, regular way. Sometimes it can lead to your thoughts being distilled in a much more meaningful way. Which is nice.

Come on Giles, write us a poem!

A Rage

Blood is pounding in my ears,
I can hardly see for the rage-
even catch my breath to swear.
Thundering heartbeat's all I hear.

I find out what it means to see red.

You’re not who you said you were,
Or even who I thought you were.
I know this sounds so immature, but;

Fuck you, fuck off and fuck yourself.

Monday, 15 June 2009

In Praise of N-Dubz


This post is about my love for N Dubz. I’m pretty sure I’m not part of their usual demographic, but I honestly bloody love them! I do wonder about what their demographic really is though, as I know a number of my friends have been converted to the ways of the Dubz-sters and we’re all mid 20s ‘young professionals’.

There are a number of reasons why I love them. The first of which being that they create really really good pop music. It’s catchy, fresh and fun to sing a long to, or have a dance to when you’re stuck in traffic in London...

The second of which is that I think some of the lyrics are genuinely inspired. You can take the piss out of them for being a bit ghetto, and unashamedly colloquial, but they’re honest and witty and reflective of the world they inhabit. To take an example in ‘Papa can you hear me’:

“When someone you loved, who put you up from the start
Built you up and made you into who you are
Who always believed, saying that you'll be a star
Then all of a sudden they just passed

Dash the reaper from ontop of ma wardrobe
Slap *dem crack rocks outa ma mouth*
Put me on stage infront of a crowd
Now we're picking up awards while he's under the ground

My Daddy this and my Daddy that
Well i found mine dead on a couch in ma flat
So much to say, i wish i coulda said bye
The only time i'll talk to him is when i look into the sky”

These lyrics are striking for me because they lack any self-empathy at all. They’re so matter of fact about drugs, death and coping with loss that it’s quite heart wrenching. The guys in this band are young and have been exposed to an awful lot, and tell the story in the same way they would to their mates. I would struggle to achieve anything this brutally honest and touching.

But what might be more poignant here is that actually, this isn’t that far from the norm for a whole host of young people in the UK. Their success must be down to the way young people relate to them and aspire to be them. You don’t have to be perfect to be a success. These guys have a real talent and don’t need to go on X Factor to achieve something, and can have had some fairly shitty life experiences before going out there and becoming successful as artists.

They grew up in Camden, and have commented on the risks that exist in the area for young people –knife crimes, gang fights – from within the sphere of existence, not standing outside looking in. As much as I love our dear Lily Allen (I would like to take this opportunity to formally ask her whether she wants to go for a pint?), she has talked about knife crime in the UK and whilst I admire her passion, it’s about as convincing as ME doing it. I’m not even sure whether I’ve seen a real knife before.

Another reason for my admiration of them is that they are truly representative of the UK. I wouldn’t like to guess at the ethnicities of the group, since I will no doubt seem ignorant, but they look very much like any gaggle of kids you would see hanging about the shopping mall in Wood Green, North London. What made me think about this in particular has been the wincingly pro-ethnicity response of the public, press and parliament, to the winners of Britain’s Got Talent – Diversity.

Clearly, they do represent the non-white youth population. Excellent. But do they really represent WHO many of the non-white youth really are? Their educations? Lifestyles?

I have just been doing a bit of interweb research about this, to see where they grew up (London/Essex) and what they do. I can’t find enough to pass much more of a comment on this, but I would be really interested to find out more about how ‘diverse’ they are. I guess they must be called diversity in reference to their ability to dance in a number of styles. Perhaps someone should mention that to Gordon Brown….


Dappy, Tulisa and Fazer, I tip my hat to you. Its not one of the snazzy ones that Dappy wears with the big ear-flaps, but I hope that you take my genuine affection for you the right way – I don’t want to jeopardise your street cred, but I think you ROCK.

Friday, 5 June 2009



This is an interesting and insightful article. Being written by Alice Miles is a pretty good quality indicator in my opinion, but this is especially good as it touches on the issue which is so difficult for most people - immigration. There are a lot of people for whom this word is synonymous with race. It isn't. Immigrant has also become a perjorative term. Do I call the American girl who moved here to expand her horizons an immigrant? no. But would I call the South American kitchen cleaner an immigrant? yep. See where that leads you? Knocking right at the door of racism.

The fact is, everyone knows people for whom the BNP would have a broad appeal. Outside of the multi-coloured and multi-cultural London, there are lots of little towns, 98% white, with excellent schools, crime rates and all the rest. It is these people I have often found who react so badly to the issue of immigration. I take an example in my parents. Normal, socially mobile people who 'done good' and worked their butts off to get their own home and good jobs. They have two well educated kids (if I say so myself!), who are lucky enough to have a lot of the things they grew up without.

I think there are a couple of issues at play here. The first of which is the national dislike of anyone getting anything for free. Some 87 year old, newly 'arrived' Pakistani grandma getting free treatment for her Alzheimer’s isn’t going to go down well. We aren't always good at accepting that vulnerable people need help simply because. Whilst I am aware of the over burdened NHS, and that we offer free healthcare to anyone who needs it, denying people treatment whilst they reside here isn't going to do anyone any good. There is a need for a widespread reform of the NHS, and blaming the number of people who have 'immigrated' here is a lazy way of avoiding the real isse, which for me is that this is an old dinosaur of a machine which needs to be reinvented completely.

Additionally, its because the average person in the UK works some of the longest hours in Europe, pays some of the highest levels of income tax, has increasingly urgent pension deficits and some of the worst per capita debt going. This doesn't feel all that hopeful, so if you add into the mix the fear that its all going to 'run out', collapse, and that people will begin to be denied some of the benefits they have always received through being a UK national, there is a bloody great elephant in the room. One with fangs and poisonous venom.

This big green, scaly, poisonous elephant is able to infect anyone who notices it's there, waiting to pounce. Scary thought. And a silly one. But the point is, the people who are most likely to vote BNP are the ones who have noticed that there IS some work to do, that things DO need to be addressed and are just really fucking scared that no one is ever going to do anything about it.

By voting for the BNP, many (and I would confidently say most)people aren't admitting to being anti-immigration - who could do that when their child's Doctor is Bangladeshi, their hairdresser Latvian and their favourite restaurant is run by Cypriots? - so much as admitting that they would really like someone to start talking about this issue openly and with honestly.

This for me, is about trust. I wouldn't trust a friend who kept secrets from me,or wouldn't open up and tell me how they felt about something really vital to me. So, I can't feel angry towards people who turn away from the mainstream political parties to seek out parties who will at least open a dialogue with them about the issues which really worry them.

Britney Spears - Circus

Well, arent I just the luckiest thing! I managed to wangle two tickets for Britters at the O2 for just £6 each, the booking fee essentially. I immediately informed the Bestie about this and set about getting very excited / updating the FB statuses to reflect the importance of this event, etc. Having been a big fan for a long time, not so much of the music, though excellent pop music is a love of mine, but of Britney the Brand. The Identity. The Carwreck.

Having spent the 18 months during her infamous breakdown keeping a close eye on Brit, it was very exciting that we would finally be able to see her in the flesh. This post isn’t really about how awesome Britney was, or her miming, or her lacklustre dancing, so I'll summarise that and move on quickly. Its really about what her stage show represents for young women, and young people as a whole.


Britney looked pretty bloody good on stage. Any remarks pertaining to her weight would be unfair, but basically she looked fit and healthy. Her extensions leave something to be desired but I suppose if a blonde bombshell popstar shaves it all off, what else is there to do but stick it back on again? Her dancing was in time and looked ok, but there was no passion there at all. She was going through the motions for much of it, highlighted only by the almost apoplectic enthusiasm of her backing dancers. Overall, a good pantomime spectacle.

A bit more passion and some live vocals other than the one ballad would have made mediocre in to magnificent. But still, the irrational and undying love I have for the Spears means I still loved it.


How are we to expect young people to be confident and sexually accepting if we present to them such a 2D image of sexual attraction? Initially the discussions Bestie and I had about this were about female self-esteem and the barbie doll ideal being a unhealthy one for girls to aspire to. God knows there were enough girls there wearing schoolgirl uniforms to demonstrate that this is already the case.

However, thinking about it a bit more, I feel that this representation of sexuality is dangerous for everyone -boys included. We want everyone to respect everyone else, and themselves. The thrusting and grabbing stuff the male dancers did was dangerous for female subordination, but the humiliation expressed was equally worrying.

An example of this could be seen in the costume design. At one point all the men were wearing gimp suits and masks, some were blind folded... I know I am saying this at the risk of sounding like a prude, but I'm talking about what we put out there in the public eye, to young people, and what this means for the Feminism movement, equality and contemporary gender roles.

If wearing a gimp suit rocks your world, go for it, but since this was a pop concert and not a fetish show for people on the scene, I'm dubious about its suitability. Even though the demographic of the audience was 80% female and 20% gay men, these images are pumped out through TV and the internet too, I think this is a valid point.

If we stick Ciara (the support act) on a stage with 6 other female dancers, wearing fishnets and leotards, and choreograph a routine which involves them lying on the floor and gyrating their hips to simulate a sort of cartoon-porn-sex, how can we expect it not to become the 'standard' approach to sexual behaviour? Especially if you're an under informed young person, who is just desperate for someone to give them some guidance on what's 'normal'.

This is a source of information for these kids - given that the next point of call is porn from the internet, I feel like there is some kind of duty of care required here. It hardly seems a surprise to me that modern young people are less confident in their bodies, more reluctant to practice safe sex, or wait for the right partner, when we tell them that the most empowering way to explore your sexuality is to use in such a specific and caricature-like way. And that it should define your behaviour - how you dress, how you dance and most obviously, how you behave during sex.

Sex is funny, sweaty, ungraceful and wonderful. I’m not sure which elements of sex the 'freak show' video montage during the interval was supposed to be demonstrating. Projected on 30ft screens, with Marilyn Manson's version of Sweet dreams pumping out, was Britney and her dancers cavorting together in black cat suits and masquerade masks.

Longing looks to the camera, illicit sexual encounters and a sort of 'decadent and damned' film set all made me feel titillated, but also insecure. I certainly don't look like that during any kind of sexual activity - not to mention the fact I don’t make a habit of doing it with my mates around.

The gender roles throughout the dance routine were based entirely around a couple of clear themes:
- little girl gone bad
- bad boy being chastised by domineering woman
- Uncontrollable sexual attraction unwanted by the other party.

For example, at one stage Britney is surrounded by all the male dancers, who then pull their trousers down and all thrust at her at once, whilst she has a look of 'surprised innocence' on her face. This is akin to the FB groups which expound rape as 'surprise sex', in my mind.

At another point Britney is writhing on a chaise longue, in what I would describe as a state of nocturnal ecstasy, fantasising about two men pleasuring her simultaneously. There are also hints towards masturbation throughout this in the lyrics of the song.

I am most certainly not a prude, and would celebrate the right of anyone to desire whatever they like, but there is a big question mark in my head over whether its really suitable for her to be sharing this with the 12 year old kids in the audience. As Bestie said to me, it’s alright for us to be exposed to all of this because we're old enough and ugly enough to be able to remove ourselves from this situation. And we're lucky enough to be pretty well informed so this sort of thing becomes a source of bemused entertainment for us.

I think the crux of my point is that if we want our young people to be happy, healthy and sexually responsible (AND exploratory) we need to give them a balanced picture about what sex is - delivered by the people they want to emulate / are attracted to. There is no room in Britney's sexual picture for gay kids, for example, or kids who have more conservative backgrounds.

Snogging Madonna as a one off publicity stunt merely devalues what it feels like for young people to fancy someone of the same sex, so I wouldn't cite that as an example of a broadened sexual horizon in popular culture.

Overall, it was a really fun night. I'm not sure what the 12 year old girl, there with her mother, made of the whole experience.

Does she know what nipple tassels are? Probably. Does she think they make Britney look sexy and confident? Probably. Does she want to own a pair immediately? Definitely. I just think she might not quite understand why.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Sunday Evening

He had never thought about it much before, but sitting in the garden, drinking gin and tonics with her made him feel a little bit sad.
It was warm and sunny, about 7pm, so the light was really nice. Those annoying little bug things were flying about in the evening haze, telling you it was summer.
He was really tired, to tell you the truth, but it was so simple to sit in that easy silence with her that he didn't bother to mention it.
The debris of a day in the sun lay about them, a newpaper, blanket and plate warzone. Tiny cigarette butt soldiers storming the borders.
These are the moments when you're supposed to feel most at peace, idling away the few remaining moments of the weekend, but he felt rather maudlin. He knew the next logical thing to do was tidy away the crap, have a shower and watch Sunday telly in bed. Obligatory lazy sex could be in order, which, whilst not entirely unappealing, would require an enthusiasm and communication he wasnt sure he could muster.
Having a shower would wash off the little green bugs squished on his skin, and the smell of the wood torches, the aura of the day. Knowing that sitting there with her was a finite pleasure, a short spell before the cacophonic sounds of everything else came back in to his audio focus was almost too much to bear. He felt pretty fucking sad about it.
Disrupting that peacefully mournful silence, she said 'shall we go inside?'.
So, seemingly without moving his lips, he said 'yeah, go on then. I could do with a shower'.

A parcel appeared in the post today

A parcel appeared in the post today
Unexpected, and for me.
Wrapped right up, shiny and new.
Perfectly boxed in. Big, bright, white and clean.
Cold, bare feet in the hallway
approach with trepidation.
What the hell is this thing supposed to be?
I sit down in the kitchen.
The others are asleep.
This is more nerve wracking than is healthy.
I think I might need some tea -
A bit of radio four.
The orange handled scissors in the drawer
wait in anticipation.
And will me to retrieve them.
A glance at the box tells me its still there.
If only someone was up-
So I knew that this was real.
Gingerly run the blade around the box
And peel off the tape carefully,
Like an old tin of Roses.
This feels important, like exam results.
So I take a deep, long breath,
wiggle about on my seat.
And lift up the lid, like a chocolate box.
There were no blinding lights,
or billows of white smoke
Just an empty, pointless, bright white casket.
And I begin to wonder,
with a mounting frustration,
whether whatever it was in this box
has been nicked by the postman.
Or by some kid down the road.
But perhaps this parcel is a question,
Posed unvoiced, only to me.
So I must start asking myself -
What on earth should I be filling it with?

You go in the morning

You go in the morning,
To birdsong and sunlight.
It would be OK, then,
if you never came back.

Fleeting visits allow
me to remain, at least, the
ringmaster of my dreams,
kept hidden from my heart.

I’m curled up, my eyes closed.
I hear the door click shut.
My phone tells me you’re gone
At ten minutes apart.

Leaving used to sit dead
heavy in my gut, but
its Friday now sweetheart
And I don’t want you back.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

When is it ok to laugh about cancer?

Before we begin, I think it's best that I mention that I work for a cancer charity so I'm allowed to question these things. And, that for the majority of the time, it is not cool to laugh at cancer. Now that's out of the way we can begin.

One of the things I find perplexing about the internal structure of the third sector is that the people within it have a complete inability to laugh at themselves. Now, I am fully aware of the importance of taking what you do seriously, especially if you work with sick / disabled / homeless / otherwise disadvantaged people... BUT my thought on this subject is that we reach a point when this earnest-ness can become a disadvantage. A yoke of worthiness which limits our creativity and business savvy.

Working in corporate fundraising, specifically, means I am lucky to see how the big bad corporates make their money. It seems a healthy touch of cynicism goes a long way. Recognising that some ideas are just... shit... is also important, and something charities are appalling at when it comes to thinking of new ways to fundraise. Breakthrough Breast Cancers 'Strawberry Tea' anyone? I know I'm setting myself up for a lashing here, but its just so.... naff. and unoriginal. An for most of these things, the marketing materials are terrible!

Obviously we can't just run about taking the piss out of people with cancer, but for God's sake, sometimes I could just headbutt the table in meetings when we're all talking about the significance of a particular phrase or acronym rather than how to make our charity better at doing its job, or recognising that mascots are hilarious and a bit embarrassing.... or that getting up at 6am to talk to a bunch of employees at the local granny salon is a bit unrewarding but something that needs to be done...

I take another example in naming an event we're starting this year. It's being held on Brick Lane. Apparently 'Brickin It' was too risque for us. If it was for a bunch of pensioners to do some flower arranging then I do totally get it, but this is for 20 somethings to listen to music and get pissed. Taking ourselves too seriously means we run the risk of losing our credibility in a new field.

Brand messaging is MASSIVELY important, but I wonder at what point it is that you're so scared of your viewpoint standing out, that you end up standing for nothing? The most successful brands arent the ones who want to appeal to everyone. They want to appeal to the right people - take Pimm's. it's a really silly advertising campaign, but perfect for the sort of pompous Britishness certain groups secretly love to indulge in during the summer.Or Cheesestrings. We know they're not for kids, every adult I know loves them! The campaign is totally inpenetrable and alienating and, therefore, fabulous in my mind.

I know charities must reach all that need them, so with regards to information and services and campaigns, be as high minded as you like. But to make money, we must behave like a business. We must play to our strengths. And we really must remind ourselves not to sound like we're preaching, guilt tripping on standing on our soap box. Do you think Innocent sold as many pointless bottles of squished fruit as they have by making people feel bad? I don't think so.

I fear this is becoming a pointless post. I am posing more of a question than a viewpoint on this. So - I wonder whether the deep seated self-belief and earnestness with which charities operate actually causes them harm?

I certainly feel that the commercial savvy of third sector companies is compromised by a refusal to accept that to be a success amongst corporate brands, we must learn not to take ourselves so seriously.