May Day, Haymarket and some awesome women

May Day is all about the workers. So, if you’re a worker or unemployed, give yourself a pat on the back for not being the oppressor, at least in terms of class. Yay, us.

The history of the day comes from the Haymarket massacre. Workers in Chicago were striking, demanding an eight hour day. Someone threw a bomb at the police, and the police did their aggressive dispersal thing. In the aftermath, seven anarchists were sentenced to murder at the hands of the state for something they were later pardoned for, once it was far too late.

Oh, and a lot of workers in the world still don’t have that eight hour day, and end up working longer hours, often unpaid.

A positive outcome of Haymarket, though, was it turned some awesome, smart women on to anarchism. So let’s give a round of applause for two of my sisters across time, Voltairine de Cleyre and Emma Goldman.

de Cleyre had her faith in the state’s justice system ripped away when she saw what happened to the Haymarket anarchists. You can read her journey into anarchism here. Goldman’s experience was similar. Watching the state kill innocent people, it seems, can turn quite a few people onto anarchism.

Both Goldman and de Cleyre went on to think very good things, and I’m going to take a moment to link to my favourite works of each of them. Obviously, they also said some dodgy things at various points in their lives, but frankly, it’s the positive legacy which has stood the test of time. The more problematic gets buried under the sands of time, after all.

From Goldman, I can’t stress enough how much I love her essay on women’s suffrage. She had a radical critique of the women’s suffrage movement while it was happening, emphasising how little would get done by simply inviting women into an arrangement which was thoroughly broken. She  also criticises the movement for throwing other women, particularly sex workers, under the bus. She concludes that the key to women’s liberation is not the ballot box, but:

First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc.; by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities, by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and public condemnation. Only that, and not the ballot, will set woman free, will make her a force hitherto unknown in the world, a force for real love, for peace, for harmony; a force of divine fire, of life giving; a creator of free men and women.

From de Cleyre, I adore “Sex Slavery“, an exploration of moral standards and obscenity. She makes a wonderful and witty observation:

What would you think of the meanness of a man who would put a skirt upon his horse and compel it to walk or run with such a thing impeding its limbs? Why, the “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” would arrest him, take the beast from him, and he would be sent to a lunatic asylum for treatment on the score of an impure mind. And yet, gentlemen, you expect your wives, the creatures you say you respect and love, to wear the longest skirts and the highest necked clothing, in order to conceal the obscene human body. There is no society for the prevention of cruelty to women.

And of course, no discussion of de Cleyre is complete without a link to “Direct Action“, which is one of the finest calls to arms I’ve ever had the privilege of reading.

I’ll finish, now, with another quote from Goldman, from her autobiography about anarchism and joy. It is so pertinent to every social movement, and we would all do well to find the joy in liberation struggles.

I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to behave as a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.”

Why I never signed the No More Page 3 petition

The other day, while I was busy being snowed on outside a courthouse that had been locked to keep people like me out, there was apparently a development in the ongoing No More Page Three campaign. It had sort of passed me by, I’ll admit; the only news that day that came to my attention was the papal resignation (it’s alarmingly disconcerting to emerge from the toilet to discover the pope’s resigned. Makes one wonder just how unholy one’s urine is).

It seems, though, that Rupert Murdoch has alluded to modifying Page 3 to make it all fashionable or something, and possibly taking the boobs off the dedicated boob-page. This has breathed new life into the No More Page Three campaign, and it’s been everywhere once again.

I’ve tried to bite my lip on the No More Page Three campaign, being painfully aware of my burgeoning reputation as that feminist who spends too much time shouting at other feminists, and thinking it ultimately rather harmless and easy to ignore. The thing is–to use a figure of speech befitting the theme–the No More Page Three campaign has been getting right on my tits. At best, it won’t get much done, and at worse, its supporters will think this lack of things getting done is some sort of a victory.

Let’s start with a tweet from an online repository of jokes, many of which are sexist, ableist, racist, cissexist, heterosexist and any other form of oppression you can name (and probably some that don’t even have names):

Strangely, this tweet actually manages to Get It far more than vast swathes of the No More Page Three supporters. The Sun is a buzzing wasp nest of misogyny: itsjustahobby documented just a day’s worth of sexism in the top stories of their website alone. I find Page 3, with its large picture of boobs taken with the woman’s consent, actually somewhat better than all of the other pages of longlensings and body-shaming and gleeful rubbing over celebrities and their mental health, and so forth. That’s not even including the frequent bouts of overt racism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism that pepper its foul pages. The whole publication is absolutely fucking vile, and participates actively daily in outright harassment of women who have the misfortune of being famous, or poor, or brown, or whatever other excuse they can conjure to invade their privacy and pretend this is somehow in the public interest. Whether words or images, all of this is irrevocably harmful to both the individuals “exposed” by this pathetic excuse for journalism, and to society for thinking believing the propaganda in the Sun is anything other than hideous.

And when you think about it that way, you realise that the whole of the media is rotten all the way down: all of the tabloids stoop to the same low tricks as The Sun, and everyone else is complicit. They all revealed their true colours as they closed ranks against the findings of the Leveson Report. Combatting a single page of a single newspaper doesn’t even leave a dent in this apparatus. It feels almost like going after this one page legitimises the rest of the sorry mess by its omission to even address this.

Now, one could say this campaign is a transitional demand in ending the objectification of women. However, that’s ignoring the fact that objectification is itself a symptom; the problem of objectification did not magically spring from nowhere: it is a product of capitalist patriarchy. Sex sells. And to end that, one sort of has to absolutely rip this shit out at the roots and enact a global revolution, which is a bit of a big ask for liberal feminists. Even on its own terms, getting rid of that single page in a single newspaper won’t exactly do much for ending the objectification of women, because this shit is absolutely everywhere.

However, that’s assuming that No More Page Three is actually about objectification, which many of its supporters argue it is. I’ve read the text of the No More Page Three petition. I read it before deciding–with all of these criticisms already in mind–not to sign it. And it is just about boobs. It’s literally just about the presence of boobs and how they’re not on This Morning and other such stuff. I couldn’t agree with the fact that boobs shouldn’t be in a “family newspaper”, which is all that the text of the petition said, so I didn’t sign it.

And actually, if anything, we need more boobs everywhere. Diverse boobs. Parents breastfeeding openly, pictures of all colours and shapes of boob captioned “look, boobs, aren’t they pretty?” and boobs depicted like they ain’t no thing, because a lot of people have boobs. And not just boobs: cunts and cocks and bums and naked bodies in all their glory. Willingly shown. The human body is kept a mystery, and nobody knows what’s normal these days: the truth is everything and nothing. When I was young, I thought I had a weird cunt because it looked nothing like the narrow range of cunts society saw fit to show me: textbook illustrations and porn. It was only when I started fucking other women that I became sure there was nothing wrong with mine. The naked body needn’t be anything to do with sex (although it’s nice when it is), and it’d be lovely if we got over all our hangups about nudity and were just naked more, in film, print and in person.

But of course, this dream can’t be realised because of the aforementioned capitalist patriarchy which is in dire need of a smash and it’s very difficult to have that revolution in the buff.

Unfortunately, the No More Page Three campaign is not part of this revolution. It’s largely orchestrated and supported by those who would never buy The Sun in the first place, probably for at least some of the reasons I’ve already discussed (or perhaps for others, e.g. Hillsborough, phone hacking), and, due to the way businesses work, they really don’t give much of a flying fuck about people not buying the product continuing to not buy the product while also hating it. Asking nicely doesn’t really cut it. You need to be vicious and take action that’s a little more direct. Once I annotated a copy of The Sun that I found in a greasy spoon, highlighting sections which were particularly egregiously racist or sexist to the next reader who picked it up. It wasn’t much, but it was something which might have changed someone’s mind.

To me, No More Page Three feels like a synecdoche for the shortcomings of a particular flavour of liberal, bourgeois feminism. It’s something which is nowhere near enough and popular precisely because it will not rock the boat for those in power. And it’s a compromise I see no point in making.

What is the optimal level of clothing to avoid prison?

In shit-I-can’t-believe-I-need-to-say-in-20-fucking-12, people shouldn’t be sent to prison for the clothes they choose to wear. Or not wear. But yet, apparently I need to say this shit because apparently the legal system doesn’t fucking get it, and neither do various cheerleaders for the legal system.

First there’s the “naked rambler”, who, as his title suggests, rambles while naked. It’s a completely desexualised nudity. It’s just a naked bloke walking through the countryside. Who keeps getting sent to prison, because apparently the law doesn’t like it when people walk around naked.

Then there’s the young woman who was arrested for refusing to remove a scarf at the culmination of a campaign of police intimidation. Ellen Yianni was cleared, and the judge was quite, quite horrified by the state of the police testimony.

Then there’s  the case of Barry Thew, who went to prison for wearing a T-shirt. The T-shirt in question was somewhat distasteful and very crudely made, saying something about killing police. He has been sentenced to an eight-month prison sentence, of which he’ll serve at least four.

The thing is, the mainstream media has reported the whole thing very badly, making out like he made the T-shirt upon hearing that some police officers had died and just went around trolling the world for no goddamn reason whatsoever.

In fact, a more detailed local news report reveals the truth to be far more complicated than that.

He was wearing the t-shirt before the incident. The T-shirt went from being “somewhat distasteful” to “highly fucking distasteful” because he happened to be wearing it on a day that some police officers were killed. On any other day, he would have gone out in that T-shirt and yes, people would have been offended, but he probably wouldn’t have gone to prison. A coincidence contextualised the T-shirt into being more offensive than it otherwise would have been.

And so, if context is pertinent, i.e. that he was wearing the T-shirt on a day some police officers died, then it’s important to look at other context to the story. Like the fact that Barry Thew had mental health problems, and was taking medication. The judge didn’t think this was relevant, instead opting for swivel-eyed retribution.

Or another piece of crucial context, unremarked upon by most of the mainstream stories: three years ago, Barry Thew’s son was killed by police.

Now, I’m not surprised the media didn’t bother mentioning this. They have a cosy relationship with the police, and it’s in everyone’s interest to make out like it’s inexplicable and Barry Thew was merely some sort of funeral-picketing monster. Mentioning these important details might have the effect of generating a degree of understanding and thus increasing outcry against the sentence.

Which, by the way, would still be ridiculous if Barry Thew had just quickly knocked up a T-shirt about dead cops upon hearing the news, with no prior grudges against the police, just to troll the fuck out of the world.

What one wears or does not wear should not be a matter for the police, the legal system or prison.  To use the state to crack down on the garments people wear is absurd, and hardly fitting for any country that calls itself democratic. They might call a flapping dick on a rambler obscene, but what’s really obscene is that they’re using their disproportionate power to regulate what people wear.

In which I gush about Christina Aguilera

I will confess here to a not-even-guilty enjoyment of Christina Aguilera, and her latest video is a thing of brilliance. In short, it features her looking amazing in a variety of costumes and killing men. Watch it:

See? Isn’t it EVEN BETTER than I described?

Xtina plays around with costumes which represent various facets of “slut”: sometimes she goes for the Beverley Hills look, other times, a tight black dress and sometimes even a dreadlocked grungy girl. These are the women who will, under patriarchy, often end up as victims and blamed for what happened to them. Not so in this video: they are granted strength.

Each of these characters picks up a man and then murders him. Delightfully, the killings feature an aspect of traditional femininity: a car is blown up in a cloud of pink fire; a man’s head is smashed into a shower of glitter, and, my personal favourite, a man is murdered in the loo with arcs of blue blood, reminiscent of the blue liquid used in sanitary towel adverts.

Even the song is far better than what pop culture generally shits out: it’s about a woman who just wants to fuck a guy, and nothing more. The juxtaposition of this with the violence of the video literalises a word that doesn’t actually exist: “mankiller”, the heterosexual female version of the heterosexual male “ladykiller”, a man who seduces a lot of women. There’s a reason there isn’t an equivalent for women: we’re not supposed to have any sexual agency.

Ultimately, it’s a provocative video and will probably create a bit of a temper tantrum from those who didn’t understand the point of the SCUM Manifesto: that we live in a society where violence against women is endemic, to the point where the very notion of the roles being reversed and women suddenly having the same level of power over men is unthinkable and causes everyone to freak the fuck out. At the same time as Xtina wields a baseball bat in very stylised violence, Chris Brown is topping the charts despite having put his girlfriend in hospital and proudly displaying a tattoo of a woman with very similar injuries. Xtina’s video, like SCUM before it, puts men on the back foot for once, allowing them a taste of the fear that we live in.

It’s fun, it’s provocative, it’s sexy, and it’s bound to make the MRAs whinge about reverse sexism. Sterling stuff from Ms Aguilera all round.

The US Army, branding, and institutional prejudice

The mantra for the US Army personal appearance has always been “neat, conservative and discreet”, of which only the second word tends to apply to the institution’s actual behaviour. It seems, though, that soldiers are not being neat, conservative and discreet enough, as they have seen fit to update their regulations. The official article on this is utterly fascinating, and there is plenty to unpick, all pointing in the direction of an institution riddled with prejudice.

First of all, the changes. The poor sods are no longer allowed to get their combat uniforms commercially pressed, instead having to take time out of murdering and oppressing to hand iron their garments. They are also banned from “eating, drinking, smoking and talking on cellphones while walking”. Visible tattoos are not allowed. Body piercings are not allowed on duty. For men, they are not allowed at any time. Likewise, men are banned from wearing any cosmetics. Women, meanwhile, are only permitted to wear “natural” make-up. Gold teeth are verboten for all. Men are allowed to carry black umbrellas (though women are not). Many of these changes also apply when in civilian dress.

Within these new regulations hangs a crackdown on indicators of queer culture–to add a little context, recall that last year Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was officially repealed, and therefore queer people are now allowed to die in pointless wars while openly queer. The sexism in the umbrella issue is also apparent: presumably women soldiers can just stand under one carried by a man. Furthermore, gold teeth are typically associated with African American culture, suggesting a degree of racism which crops up again in an example given to clarify the new regulations:

Other changes are easier to define. Chandler gave an example of a senior sergeant major who dyed her eyebrows blond. She was black, and this was clearly not her natural hair color.

The weird thing here is, I read the existing regulations. Hair can be dyed natural colour. It doesn’t specify how plausibly natural the colour can be on a specific individual, and besides, being of colour does not mean one will necessarily never have blond hair.

The justification for these changes is particularly interesting (emphasis mine):

The new rules are neither a part of drawdown nor a tool of attrition, the sergeant major said. Instead, this is a concerted effort to project professionalism in the Army uniform and brand, and give soldiers the tools they need to educate troops and enforce the standards.

Branding is everything these days. From numerous stories of employees being sacked for dyeing hair to London turning into an authoritarian dystopia to protect the Olympic brand, corporate appearance has become an obsession for those in power. What they do is irrelevant, it’s what they look like that counts.

There is a further, and equally unpleasant reason behind the new Army dress codes:

“The uniformed services, we all generally look the same. Now, if you have a tattoo that draws attention to yourself, you have to ask the question, are you a person who is committed to the Army? Because the Army says you are part of the same organization. We all generally look the same. And we do not want you to stand out from the rest of the Army. Yes, we want you to set yourself apart and do great things and so on, but that does not mean tattooing yourself or doing other extreme things that draw attention to you, the individual. You are part of something larger.”

That’s right. The classic subsuming of the individual for the good of the Party brand. The military thrives on deindividuation. If people started appearing as individuals they might–God forbid–start to act like individuals.

Their deindividuation tactics and branding, though, all hinge on a certain type of appearance, and that appearance is the complete removal of any markers of any culture that represents The Other. To all look the same, they must all look as white, heterosexual and cis as they possibly can. Any deviation towards The Other will be punished.

Of course, almost all professional dress codes have this exact purpose. In a way, we should feel relieved that finally one brand has been reasonably open about this.

The cops can strip women in the streets.

Trigger warning for humiliation and forced undressing.

Sometimes, you see things which are almost too chilling to put into words.

In this video, a young woman protester wearing a tent as a costume is surrounded by police. We cannot see much of what happens; we see what appears to be a knife being passed along and the woman shouting “this is not consensual, don’t take my clothes off”. She is then left in her underwear, clearly distressed, sitting on the grass.

It is a genuinely horrifying scene. A woman is forcibly stripped and humiliated in public by people with more power than her. Most people who watch this video will surely be disgusted and appalled by such behaviour; it appears to be such flagrant abuse.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture where victims of such abuse are blamed for what happened to them. People are frightened of the notion that the police are not exactly a benevolent protective force, people are frightened that they might find themselves victims of humiliation or abuse. And so the circus of victim-blaming for this woman began.

A local news article is careful to point out that the police asked her politely to undress first. This is hardly surprising coming from a Murdoch-owned rag, yet it is mild compared to the bile that came from self-professed feminists. Apparently she should have worn more than just underwear under her costume. Apparently she was “entrapping police”. The poor police cannot be to blame for forcibly stripping a woman in public.

No. What the police are doing here is utterly unacceptable. Any feminist should understand that it is never acceptable for some powerful people to strip a woman in public. Any supporter of the police should know that police guidelines involve them not making people strip in public. There is no justification for this whatsoever. It’s abuse, plain and simple.

I don’t want to live in a world where the police can forcibly tear my clothes of if they think my outfit is a bit silly. I don’t want to live in a world where people seek to justify that in any way.

This is wrong, thoroughly wrong. It must never happen again.
__

Thanks to @alxsm for linking me to the story and @Orbsan for the local news article.

A few quick notes on body policing

A small row broke out in the comments under the post on Topshop and its use of a photograph of a model who was unrealistically, unattainably thin. The row was essentially about body policing and how it applies to women of all shapes and sizes.

Gwendolyn made this good point:

I am a size 4. There is nothing wrong with being a size 4. Size 4 and 6 girls get so demonised by people who forget there are a lot of people who are naturally small and slim. I have never dieted or over exercised, i am just healthy, being my size and shape is what is healthiest for my body yet bloody Gok Wan, the media and other women tell me and all the other women my size and shape that we’re not ‘real women’.

It is certainly true that the “real women have curves” ethos is just as harmful as the notion that the ideal body shape is that of the unattainably thin model.

Another commenter, Zoe Rose, then said this:

One of these days, I’m gonna snap. One of these days, some lady is going to say those stupid little words – ‘you’re so lucky to be so skinny!’ – and I’m going to snap.

And then I’m going to tell her that it must be awesome being so fat.

Zoe Rose does make a good point about the body policing thin women face, and that it is sometimes disguised as barbed comments about luck. The retort and solution, however, is completely wrong. One does not react to body policing with more body policing. That is never right.

Then commenter Het won the internet with one of the finest, most eloquent summaries of the harms of body policing I have ever seen:

It’s hard being A WOMAN. Of whatever size. If you’re thin, as you say, you have those problems to contend with, of inconveniences of finding clothes that fit you, or being excluded from some bogus definition of “real” femininity. But it’s not as if bigger (both fat and also those who are not particularly thin) women don’t have to face different but equally important problems.
At least if you look in a magazine you can see people who look like you. At least you’re not being encouraged to have dangerous and unnecessary surgery.
But it’s not a competition. Capitalism benefits from women fighting each other instead of it.

My point is, the fact of the matter is all femininity is an unreal construct. It seems to me that the issues you are describing that affect you are part of the same problem faced by bigger women: the problem of society feeling it owns all women’s bodies and has the right to control them and to make money from that control. The fact that you can say that you are made to feel that people think you are not a “real” woman, and that I as a fat woman can say the same surely proves that we are in the same boat: that of the impossible and self-contradictory demands made upon women’s bodies that aren’t meant to make sense but rather to procure money from our discontent and divide our gender in arguing about who has it worse.

One minor quibble with this, though: body policing is not only harmful to women: it is also harmful to men. This rather fantastic blog explores the unattainability of the masculine body ideal, providing examples of the horrifying things male models must go through to present the ideal male body:

And the illusion being sold by the fitness magazines is that this hyper-masculinity is attainable. If you just work out longer and harder; if you’re just more careful about your diet; if you just take the right supplements and drink the right sports beverage… then you, too, can have a body like a fitness model. A cartoon image of fitness is being sold to men as if it were actual fitness. And men are being taught that there’s something wrong with them if they can’t get there.

But this ideal of masculinity isn’t just difficult to achieve. It isn’t just narrow; it isn’t just rigid; it isn’t just out of reach for some or even most men. It is, quite literally, unattainable. Even the fitness models themselves can’t attain it: not without nightmarish physical ordeals, camera tricks, and Photoshop. It is a carrot being dangled in front of a donkey — which the donkey will never, ever get to eat.

Body policing and idealised body shapes and sizes are harmful to all, and inextricably linked to prescribed gender roles. This is another reason to fight patriarchy where we see it.

Reasons to hate Topshop

I do not have real, human enemies. There are, however, institutions which I hate as deeply as though they had crapped in my shoe. In fact, what they do is a lot worse than crapping in any shoes.

Take, for example, Topshop. There are so, so many reasons to hate Topshop.

Firstly, I have an almost Pavlovian reflex to quickly utter the phrase “pay-your-tax” following the word Topshop. A quick history lesson for the uninitiated: Topshop is owned by a company called the Arcadia  Group. The Arcadia Group’s business is run entirely by one Sir Philip Green, who is also, coincidentally, a government advisor on which public services to cut. Despite Green’s active role in the company, Arcadia is registered in the name of Green’s wife, who happens to be a resident of Monaco. In Monaco, one does not have to pay tax on personal tax. By exploiting this loophole, Arcadia have avoided paying approximately £285 million of tax. In December, Topshop was targeted by activist group UK Uncut, who exist mostly to point out how thoroughly unnecessary any cuts to public services are, when one could just ensure that the super-rich paid all of the tax they are supposed to pay.

That Topshop do not pay their fair share–no more than anyone else, just the amount they are supposed to pay–is thoroughly unfair when vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected by government policy. To put this into perspective, from £1.2 billion pounds, no tax was paid. The £285 million tax bill avoided would hardly make a difference to the Greens, and push the full dividend to slightly less than a billion pounds in one year. Despite this, they decided to grow richer. £285 million on its own is more than one could reasonably spend in a lifetime, yet it is equivalent to a year’s pay for 20, 000 NHS nurses. This money could mean the world to many.

In order to further maximise their profits and procure Philip Green yet another yacht, Topshop and the Arcadia Group use sweatshops for labour. This report suggests that workers who manufacture clothes sold by Arcadia are paid about 40p per hour. For comparison, the unpaid tax bill alone is worth more than £32, 500 per hour. This horrifying exploitation of people–human beings–in the name of allowing the already-rich to grow even richer is unjustifiably wrong.

Then there is this image, which until yesterday was featured prominently on Topshop’s website:

The model is so slim, it seems as though it has been photoshopped, like the classic botched airbrushing in which a Ralph Lauren model ended up with hips smaller than her head. I do not know whether the image has been doctored or if it is a photographic trick, or if, indeed, the model really is that thin. I am disinclined to believe the latter, as in all of the other photographs, the model does not look that unrealistically thin.

The article which managed to catch the screengrab before Topshop took it down calls for discussion over whether such images are a risk for eating disorder, but such a discussion is not necessary: science has cleared up the matter [article sadly paywalled]. A large number of studies have been conducted to understand whether exposure to “thin-ideal” pictures in the media is linked to eating disorders. Some have found that it is, while others found that it is not. In order to work out what the “true” effect is, the authors in the study above took all of the available data and put it together in the same spreadsheet. This is called a meta-analysis, and basically means turning a lot of small studies into one huge study. The authors found that exposure to images in the media like the image Topshop thought appropriate to use was linked to body dissatisfaction, internalising the thin-ideal, and effects on eating behaviours and beliefs about food. In other words, these images are dangerous. While they may not be sufficient to trigger an eating disorder on their own, they are certainly a contributing factor. For Topshop to run such a picture is therefore highly irresponsible.

Not only could this picture possibly facilitate eating disorders, it also represents some fairly tired gender stereotypes, selling women the ability to look “ladylike”. “Ladylike” is one of those unpleasant words used to regulate women’s behaviour. Being ladylike is submission, being ladylike is to accept the role prescribed for you, and, apparently, being ladylike requires buying Topshop’s products. Make sure you stay polished, ladies! That the words were run next to that picture speaks volumes: to be ladylike is to be feeble, frail, fragile. It is not enough to capitulate to docile femininity. You have to buy your own oppression. It is, frankly, fraudulent.

But perhaps you don’t care about how Topshop is a case study in the interplay between the foul side of capitalism and murky misogyny, with just a splash of dangerous body policing. Maybe you don’t care because this sort of thing doesn’t bother you much. Perhaps you don’t care because it is not like Topshop is the only company doing this. Let’s face it, they’re all at it. We just have the numbers and brazen evidence for Topshop. Even if you don’t care, there is still reason enough to hate Topshop.

Their products are really awful quality and terrible value for money. They are not built to last. They are horribly overpriced for what you get. I should know. Before I declared Topshop my nemesis, I bought clothes from there. It was always dimly disappointing.

I cannot go in there any more. I have participated in UK Uncut actions in Topshop, I have tweeted vitriol about them with my name and my face, and the last time I tried to enter a Topshop I was told politely by security to leave. By Topshop security’s standards, I understand that this was fairly lenient treatment.

I do not feel a sense of loss. I do not feel like I am missing out on their sub-par clothing, or their Stone Age attitude towards women or the opportunity to donate to Philip Green’s yacht fund.

If anything, I am relieved. I do not have to waste my energy on a boycott.

How To Be A Woman: in which I review a book that I read

I have just read Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, a semi-autobiographical book which has been hailed as The Next Big Thing in feminism, and has received rave reviews from noted feminists such as Jonathan Ross and Nigella Lawson. On the back, it says that Moran “rewrites The Female Eunuch from a bar stool and demands to know why pants are getting smaller”. Overall, it seems exactly like something an angry feminist such as myself should despise with all of the burning fires of hell.

The short review is that I didn’t hate it. I only hated some of it, actually quite liked some parts, and the rest only left me with a bitter tinge of disappointment.

The writing style veered from engagingly, chattily conversational to annoyingly CAPSLOCKY and RIDDLED! WITH! EXCLAMATION MARKS! It is easy to tear through, in the manner of a sunlounger bonkbusting tome, and I found myself rather liking Moran: she has a good sense of humour and an honesty about her own flaws.

Moran is absolutely spot-on about some issues, and I found myself nodding in agreement in sections on pornography and lapdancing, where Moran argues that while there is nothing inherently wrong with fucking on film or stripping, but it is a problem with the industry. I also very much liked her discussion of what to call one’s cunt (Moran favours “cunt”, but was reticent to teach it to her daughters as it is still a taboo word), and her very frank account of her abortion and her suggestion that this is something we should talk about honestly and openly, and it is all right to feel good about having had an abortion. Moran also puts across good points about society’s expectation about how women should want babies, and this is not right, and not reproducing is perfectly all right, too.

This last good point, though, is sullied by a massive clanger. Talking about childbirth, Moran says:

In short, a dose of pain that intense turns you from a girl into a woman. There are other ways of achieving the same effect–as outlined in Chapter 15 [the chapter on abortion]–but minute for minute, it’s one of the most effective ways of changing your life.

Right there, Moran has declared that use of one’s reproductive organs is the only way to truly become a woman. This line of reasoning is a minefield: it automatically writes off the experiences of infertile cis women, of trans women, of cis women who have been fortunate enough with contraception never to find themselves pregnant. It jars with the rest of the book, the “anything goes” approach, yet it says it there as clear as day. Reproduction is the only path to womanhood. Before that you’re a girl.

When I read that paragraph, I considered rethinking my embargo on burning literature and setting fire to that book there and then. I decided to plough on. Perhaps Moran did not mean what I thought she had meant. Indeed, this is never mentioned again. I still cannot think of another way to interpret that sentence, though.

No other individual part of the book is quite so starkly, shockingly problematic: much of the rest of my issues with it lie in the tone. It smacks of privilege: an amusing point-and-laugh at the working classes here, a throwaway usage of ableist language (“retard”, “thalidomide pasties”) and fat-hating (Moran draws the distinction between “fat” and “human-shaped”) there, and a sort of vaguely patronising view of gay men as nothing more than arbiters of excellent taste in music bars. I prickled in rage each time I saw these.

This privilege also fans out into what is part of the central thesis of the book: that perhaps everything would be improved if we treated humankind as “The Guys” and sexism as “just bad manners”. For a woman in Moran’s position, perhaps this is possible. For many, it is not, and sexism is not dead, and is unlikely to be killed without confronting it head on. I take umbrage to her phrasing viewing everyone as “the Guys”, too, particularly as it jarringly occurs pages after I had been smiling in agreement at Moran’s acknowledgement that men are viewed as “normal” with women as the other. This hypocrisy goes unmentioned, perhaps unnoticed by the author.

The thing is, for much of the book, I was not angry. I was just disappointed. Firstly, Moran seems to have a confused relationship with feminism and feminists. She identifies as such, and, indeed, encourages her readers to identify as feminist as it is not a dirty word. This is laudable. Unfortunately, Moran seems to have a rather dated view of feminist writing, falling back frequently on Germaine Greer as though this is the only feminist she has ever read, and beginning statements with “feminists think”, then falling back on to a straw feminist trope. While Moran wishes fervently for more women to identify as “strident feminists”, the book itself is not particularly stridently feminist.

Most of the issues discussed in the book were very trivial concerns. An inordinate amount of space was dedicated to clothes and shoes and bras and knickers. Rape is given a cursory mention in one sentence somewhere. At no point in the discussion of whether marriage is necessary was it acknowledged that perhaps romantic relationships or traditional monogamous relationships may not be necessary either. The truth is, it all feels a little superficial: talk about handbags is favoured over broader feminist issues. For many women, after all, there are a lot of things more worrying than pubes or ill-fitting knickers.

Take, for example, a point where Moran recounts the story of having met Jordan and being struck by how obsessed Jordan was with selling things and selling herself as a brand. At this juncture, it seems like a fairly obvious place to segue into discussion of the relationship between capitalism and feminism. Instead, Moran just tells the story, then contrasts it with meeting someone whom she considers to be a genuine feminist icon: Lady GaGa.

I sometimes wonder if perhaps Moran knew she could have done this. Much of the book seems to be driving at good points which are never made. Perhaps the editor of the book cut all of the good bits out? Certainly, the editing of the book was poor; I noted numerous typos and the editor was very lenient about allowing all of the CAPITALS and ENHUSIASTIC! PUNCTUATION! to stay in. As I said earlier, I rather like Moran, and I wanted this book to be better than it was.

In the conclusion to the book, though, it becomes abundantly clear that Moran’s feminism–at least, as presented– is shallow, bourgeois feminism, concerned with consumerism: just don’t buy the things you think might be oppressive, is her message. I was thoroughly disappointed by this message. I had hoped for much better, much more. I had hoped for depth.

If this book is our generation’s The Female Eunuch, as it says on the back cover, we are well and truly fucked. The good news, is, I do not think we are. This book is not harmful, it is simply trivial, inconsequential fluff. It is something to read on holiday, and then forget about once the tan has all peeled off. Had the book ended with a list of other (better) feminist books and resources to check out, I would probably see it as a decent, readable, primer to feminism for those who had never thought about the issue before and may be inclined to learn more. It may have also been improved vastly by shaving out the patronising bits and replacing them with something vastly more substantial.

As it stands, though, it is just fluff. This book will not change the world, for better or worse. For that, I am thoroughly disappointed.

Kallistei: the curse of Eris

Eris, the goddess of discord and strife, was pissed off. The other gods were having a party and nobody had thought to invite her. Perhaps they had snubbed her; she had a habit of ruining parties by disagreeing with everyone and trying to start a fight. Nobody liked to sit next to the goddess of discord when all she did was whisper gossip into their ears. “Hera finds your hunchback repulsive, Hephaestos”; “Demeter thinks you smell a bit fishy, Poseidon”; “You are literally the only Olympian Zeus wouldn’t fuck”.

It pissed Eris off, being left out like that: a perfectly enjoyable night of low-level discord at a wedding, which doubled the fun. She had been planning on seeing just how much she could ruin the happy couple’s union before the marriage were even consumated. If they had only invited her to the party, perhaps she would have played nice and spent just one evening without deciding that the world needed more wars and it was her job to make that happen.

Eris thought hard about how to spoil the party for those bastards who excluded her. Something simple, something divisive, something that would fuck shit up entirely. Turning an apple over in her hands, a plan formed.

Catfight, Eris thought. A catfight so epic it will be remembered for thousands of years to come.

Taking a knife, she carved a message into the apple. One word, a few letters with the potential to bring down cities.

ΚΑΛΛΙΣΤΗΙ.

The wedding feast was in full swing. Gods and heroes danced together, wine flowed. They did not see her there. Eris could have joined the party, but she was pissed off.

Eris lobbed the apple, high into the air. It tumbled, glinting gold. Heads turned skyward.

The apple landed with a bounce between three goddesses. Eris stood back to watch; a smile playing at her lips. They read the message.

Kallistei. For the fairest.

Aphrodite, goddess of love, declared that it must be hers. She was beautiful, she embodied passion and love. Surely it must be hers?

Cow-eyed Hera, the goddess of marriage, claimed the apple for her own. Her own marriage was a shambles: her husband Zeus fucked his way around the pantheon. They had never had the conversation about boundaries and limits. If they had, Zeus would not have heeded it, so Hera responded to his transgressions with vengeful wrath. Her insecurities led her believe that someone must see her as the fairest.

Even smart Athene, clever Athene, goddess of wisdom and warfare, fell prey to the apple’s message. Athene wished fervently that she were the fairest. She declared it hers.

To settle the dispute of who was most beautiful, the goddesses took what they believed to be the only democratic approach: they would ask a man to validate their beauty. They petitioned Zeus, king of the gods with a roving eye for beauty.

He refused. His relationship with his wife was fraught enough. Any answer he gave, he thought, would be wrong.

And so they chose a mortal man, Paris of Troy, who had a decent track record in settling disputes. The three goddesses agreed that he could judge their beauty and tell them, once and for all, who was the fairest, and who owned the apple.

Eris smiled.

Paris chose Aphrodite in the end. She had the power of enchantment and love, and promised Paris the love of the most beautiful mortal woman alive. The other goddesses bickered, knowing Aphrodite had played dirty. They were gratified as a war began. Athene returned to her rightful place, strategising over the Trojan war. Troy fell after a war of ten years.

Eris smiled.

The golden apples of the days of gods with human failings shift forms. They were, after all, only symbols of scarcity.

Yet the curse of Eris remains as potent as ever. Kallistei, emblazoned across this season’s must-have Louboutins. Kallistei, tattooed on the arm of the rock star boyfriend. Kallistei, vajazzled across a bald cunt. Divisive symbols, belonging only to the fairest.

We squabble, we beg men to validate our beauty, and Eris smiles.