Christmas songs that can fuck off.

It has come to the time of year wherein we cannot leave the house without an aural assault of jingle-riddled festive musical tedium. While most are equally intolerable, some merit special mention for the implicit horrors they conceal. These are the Christmas songs that can fuck right off.

Rampant consumerism ahoy!

Capitalism has done a fine job of co-opting Christmas, turning it into a festival of panic-buying and receiving things you don’t really want. It is hardly surprising, then, that one of the most-covered traditional Christmas songs is The Twelve Days of Christmas. In this song, a person is given a series of increasingly ludicrous Christmas presents from a lover, presented through the medium of mind-numbing repetition. The nameless narrator of the song tells us nothing about their lover except that they buy a lot of presents. By the end of the song, the narrator has received 12 drummers drumming, 22 pipers piping, 30 lords a-leaping, 36 ladies dancing, 40 maids a-milking, 46 swans a-swimming, 42 geese a-laying, 35 gold rings, 32 calling birds, 30 French hens, 24 turtle doves and 12 partridges in pear trees. Implicit in this is that there must also be 40 cows to be milked, 46 small lakes for the swans to live in and at least 42 baby geese to soon be hatched. Quite where the narrator is going to keep all of the birds is not explored. Neither is it ever discussed that perhaps sending people as gifts might be slavery, or at the very least prostitution.

It’s immoral, it’s impractical, and it’s a vision of the future the capitalists would like to see. Its bastard lovechild is clearly visible in this godawful Littlewoods advert wherein a choir of children sing about how brilliant their mum is because she bought everyone presents.

Merry Christmas. Buy things. Debt is love.

A woman is left in a horrible, horrible relationship

Fairy Tale Of New York is the Christmas song it’s cool to say you like, because it’s kind of ironic, has a catchy Irish folky riff and Kirsty McColl died tragically early. It features bitter lyrics of a life of hardship and alcoholism, but ultimately, in some sort of Christmas miracle they arguing couple in the song realise that they love each other very much, right? Actually, not quite. Listen to the resolution of the song, at around 2.48. The woman laments that the man “took her dreams”. He replies that he kept them with him, made them his own and can’t possibly live life on his own.

Now, this would be all well and good if he wasn’t consistently portrayed as a complete and utter failure with verbally abusive tendencies. So that woman’s dream-eggs are stuck in a basket of piss, vinegar and toothless uselessness simply because the man won’t let her go. She never gets the chance to point this out, as it immediately becomes a matter of utmost urgency to report on the song choice of the New York Police Department and a bulletin on bell status. After this, we can only assume she overdoses on cocaine as white as Christmas snow, hollow-eyed on the tinsel-strewn rotting corpse of her lover.

Happy holidays!

Let me sing my privilege to the noble savages

Bono is an unmitigated cunt, and when people talk of “the good things he did”, often they refer to his charity work. Bono’s charity work includes the single Do They Know It’s Christmas, and therefore his unmitigated cunt status remains intact. This is a song in which a crowd of mostly white pop stars patronise an entire continent with startling factual inaccuracies.

Africa, as portrayed by the song, is a uniform desert populated entirely by starving people who need Middle England to ride in with their wallets and fix everything. There’s no snow in Africa, not even on top of mountains. There’s no rain, not even in the rich rainforests. There’s no rivers, not even the sodding Nile, the biggest bastard river in the world. The dear little noble savage Africans apparently don’t know it’s Christmas because Africa is such an insufferable shithole, not because many Africans probably couldn’t give two hoots about Christmas what with being Muslims.

It’s a terrible song, with a hefty dollop of misinformation. It may have been done with the best of intentions, but it’s pretty fucking racist, and it seems to have pissed off a few people. Nothing says traditional Christmas spirit like a bit of casual racism with a sing-al0ng chorus.

The date rape song

Baby It’s Cold Outside is another song which can be categorised under “Christmas romance” and tells a tale even more chilling than that recounted in Fairy Tale Of New York.

It’s about rape. Straight-up, it is a song about rape.

A woman tries to leave a man’s house. He gives her a drink. It has some drugs in it. While still compos mentis enough to argue, the woman argues that she cannot stay, says “no” several times, lists people she knows who might be worried about her and again mentions that she cannot leave. We leave her having finally been forced to into sex with coercive tactics and drugs. We’re supposed to find this rape cute because it’s all Christmassy, and who wouldn’t want to be raped by charming crooner Dean Martin? Listen to the lyrics of the song and tell me it is not about that.

As it’s Christmas, I shall conjure up the happiest possible ending for the story. The next morning, the woman goes home. Her family enquire as to why she appears to be shaken and upset. She explains what happened, and her mother, sister and vicious maiden aunt are appalled. These women call round at Dean Martin’s house, just as he is about to pounce upon another trusting, drugged woman and intervene. They then chop off Dean Martin’s raping penis and use it as a Christmas tree ornament. Everyone is very lucky in getting away with this cathartically criminal act, as the police are currently occupied with singing Galway Bay over the frozen husks of a pair of addicts. With support, Dean Martin’s victims find themselves able to move forward from the incident and engage in community activism to try to build a world without rape.

That’s the happiest possible ending, and we still have at least one rape in it. Fills the heart with Christmas cheer, that does.

The song that is surprisingly awesome

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is a song which is intensely, intensely irritating. In all honesty, I would be happy if I never heard it ever again. The thing is, it has a surprisingly positive poly message hidden deep inside all of the twee faux-childish awe: the kid doesn’t give a shit that Mommy is necking with Father Christmas. In fact, the kid expresses dismay that Daddy can’t see the happy occasion.

Of course, Santa is Daddy, but the kid doesn’t know this. The kid is completely cool with Mommy playing with other people, and seems to think Daddy would be too. It is a glimpse at a non-conventional family set up which, for a twelfth of the year, gets played on loop. May the message one day sink in so we never have to hear that godawful song again.

Those are some of the worst, but let’s be straight here: all Christmas songs can fuck off.

The Tories, marriage and families: why are they removing choice?

“Choice” is a word beloved by our not-exactly-elected masters in Westminster. Almost always, when it is trotted out it means anything but choice. It means we are forced to eat a punnet of warm turds because it’s better than the wheelbarrow of kebab-chunder that’s also on the menu. This behaviour is hardly limited to the pantomime we’re told we voted for: society often forces certain default options upon us.

It is becoming abundantly clear, though, that the Tories are determined to remove all semblance of choice from the decision to marry, and we shall all have to marry whether we like it or not. It’s hard to identify exactly where it started, as so much policy in the last year and a half has been directed towards getting people married and forcing them to stay in marriages.

There are the carrots. The government has declared that it will bring in full same-sex marriage, meaning gay monogamous couples can be as married as heterosexual monogamous couples and therefore marriage statistics will jump up. They brought in a tax break for married couples, a little deal-sweetener to put a ring on it. This tax break cost around £550-600 million: which, coincidentally is identical to the figure which was cut from Educational Maintenance Allowance. The tax cut is a clear statement of priorities: fuck the future of our young people, let’s keep people married.

Then there are the sticks. Separating couples will be forced to pay to use the Child Support Agency, a stealth “tax” on divorce. In combination with cuts to Legal Aid, leaving a marriage suddenly becomes an expense which many cannot afford.

Finally, there is this: teaching children about “the nature of marriage and its importance to family life” has been written into the curriculum for free schools and academies. Very little is compulsory in free school curricula: they have to teach the general English, maths, science and RE, but the rest is supposedly completely open for the schools to decide (which is problematic in and of itself, and there are myriad  problems with free schools and academies, but that’s another issue for another day). Marriage, however, has been plopped firmly and prominently on the agenda. Not any other form of relationship, just marriage. Rather ironically, this provision is called Clause 28, a clear parallel with the last time the Tories decided to impose  control on how people had relationships.

Put all of these threads together and a picture emerges: this government is obsessed with trapping people in an antediluvian social arrangement. Even before he was elected, David Cameron was farting on about “family values” and how they would somehow magically solve all of the problems in the world.    These family values translate as something very simple indeed: the classic nuclear family with a breadwinner daddy and a nurturing mummy raising a generation of fresh young Tories. The cuts are hitting women disproportionately, forcing them into greater dependence on spouses. It is hard to believe that this was not by design. Marriage, as has been identified by many before me, serves to reinforce the conservative social order.

So why frenzied drive to remove any choice about how to build a family?

Perhaps it is to do with perceived scarcity: the mythical pot of money which is empty to all unless they are a friend of the Tories. Consider the perpetual bile directed at single mothers, who, if the media and politicians are to be believed, are almost wholly responsible for a financial crisis and are stealing All Of The Money to feed their crack habits. These are women who, for whatever reason, have chosen to raise their children outside of the approved model for a family and are vilified for doing it. It scares the conservative system, and so they are scapegoated.

Similar misdirected aggression is thrown at immigrants, who are apparently stealing all the jobs and all the benefits. Once again, this is nothing more than scapegoating: they are the Jews poisoning the wells, the reds under the beds. The scapegoating is down to nothing more than xenophobia. This is accompanied by hidden, dog-whistle racism from the tabloids, screaming loudly about the number of immigrants and how “British identity” is disappearing. Somehow “family values” are tied in Britishness, as though only certain people may ever breed in certain ways.

I find my lizard brain recoiling at all of this. The rampant scapegoating, the insistence on regressive family values; it reminds me of something utterly terrifying. Rising right-wing ideology has been linked to a perception of scarcity, and these are the times in which we live. Most people believe that there isn’t enough to go round. It is unclear whether the politicians likewise agree, but their social policy and rhetoric certainly seem to be rooted in the “scarcity” line. The great irony is, there is plenty for everyone if only it were distributed fairly. Instead of pursuing this, society is moulded into a shape which suits those in charge.

The policy towards marriage is all about control and removal of choice, whatever its function. It is about the tentacles of the state wrapping themselves around any relationships, choking love until it is a mere legal contract. If we are lucky, it is nothing more than a perverted Tory fascination with how people live and love. If we are not lucky, this is only the beginning.

How to stop your man from cheating

The Sun is hardly known for inhabiting the same universe as the rest of us. The newspaper dwells in this strange limbo where the line between fiction and reality is blurred to nothing. It is hardly surprising, then, that this drivel appeared:

Of course, the solution to partners cheating is not to become a perfect, pliant little domestic goddess. The solution is the following:

SMASH MONOGAMY

SMASH HEGEMONIC HETEROSEXUALITY

SMASH PATRIARCHY

I’m glad the Sun will probably go under soon.

__

Credit to @RupertNeate for bravely combing that rag and finding this, and @jedweightman and @TheNatFantastic for bringing it to my attention.

How to distract an angry population: WEDDINGS!

So, it finally happened. The government have announced that gay marriage–forget your silly civil partnerships, we’re talking full marriage marriage!–will soon be written into UK law. It’s a victory for gay rights, there’s no doubt about that, and one that I wasn’t expecting in the foreseeable future. So why does this victory feel so hollow to me?

First is the obvious: I’d like to see marriage abolished entirely and for people to love freely, away from church and state meddling. To me, this victory means that one more group of people are subjected to an oppressive seal of approval on their relationships–I explain these thoughts more fully here.

The part of this that leaves the truly bitter taste in my mouth, though, is that it is clearly nothing more than a political manoeuvre. The timing of it couldn’t be more obvious: it is the day of the opening of the Lib Dem party conference. What we see here is the senior coalition partners finally throwing their underlings a bone, something that makes them feel like they’re doing good. A little sweetener for their cooperation in their incremental dismantling of the welfare state. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement; the Lib Dems stop feeling so much like sellouts, the Tories move away from their image as the party which introduced Section 28.

It is a shiny distractor for everyone else, too. While we are all busy celebrating the victory for gay rights, and praising our government for finally doing The Right Thing on something, what will be happening? It is the time of year that the redundancies for public sector workers will start to kick in. It is the time when the students return to university, furious and ripe for radicalisation. It is the time of year that with a focus of concerted effort, there might a long shot to save the NHS. And instead, the government are hoping we’ll be cooing over gay marriage and flapping with so much gratitude that we shall not shout. Given the time the consultation is taking place, I wonder what they’re planning in March?

This is not the first time we have been distracted by a big shiny wedding. Back in April, in the midst of all of the Royal Wedding drama, the news slipped out, unnoticed, that the NHS was being cut much more than we thought. Squats were raided, people removed from their homes. People were arrested for crimes they had not committed, on the charge that at some point in the next few days, they might commit a crime. Much of it was lost in the noise, as everyone was too busy gawping at a bride, a groom and a bridesmaid’s bottom. Even those who were less than happy about paying for some aristocrats to throw a party join in with the mass distraction. We dignified it by talking about it. Our voices, when talking about the bigger issues, were drowned out.

The introduction of gay marriage is more important than a pair of toffs getting hitched. It is something big, and it is beautiful. There is now no longer a linguistic difference between a state-approved same-sex relationship and a state-approved heterosexual relationship. In a world where homophobia is still rife, though, and queer folk live at risk from violence, have we really won equality? We have made a baby step in the right direction. But it is being granted equality, rather than liberation. And fuck it, I want liberation. I want to be free from oppression and persecution, free to fuck who ever I like, set up home with whoever I like, without having to ask nicely for the approval from some rich bastards in Westminster in the hope they might grant me it when it suits them.

Of course, providing something that looks like equality is rather savvy for this government. They are courting the “pink pound“, using the provision of an illusion of equality to court voters and donors, and to further feed the wedding-industrial complex. I am not fooled by this. I hope many other people are equally sceptical, and that we do not simply lay down arms in the fight for queer liberation. We’re not liberated here. We’re just consumers, we’re just pawns.

We must not get distracted by this small victory. We must celebrate it by working harder. We must work for true sexual liberation, we must work for true social liberation, and we must liberate ourselves from a government who believe we are stupid.

Update: @helen_bop raises a very good point about the changes to legislation: as there will be no changes to the Gender Recognition Act. In an existing couple one or both partners are trans, they would still have to divorce and remarry; nothing will change for trans people. This is another case wherein the T in LGBT is being woefully ignored. We deserve better than these miserable scraps.

Polyamory: the solution to literally everything!

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for True Blood up to the end of season 4, the most recent episode of Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica and Caprica.  The spoilers do not pertain to anything crucial to the content of the shows, but some people are incredibly spoiler-averse. Also, most of the links in this piece will lead to TV Tropes, so here’s a courtesy warning that if you click any links, you might lose an afternoon.

Sometimes, I shout at the TV. Scratch that. When I am watching TV, I am usually shouting at it at some point. Often it’s at characters waving around an idiot ball or a plot hole I could drive a bus through (and I’m terrible at driving) or a particularly egregious lack of research which leads to ridiculously bad made up science and nothing making a tiny ounce of goddamn sense.

I do not suffer fools gladly. Despite this, a lot of my shouting tends to be loudly offering solutions to a problem.

This week, I watched two TV shows which made me think. The first was Doctor Who, which featured two copies of Amy, one who, due to some magic timey-wimey that I tend to forgive Doctor Who for, happened to be forty years older. At one point, it looked like older Amy would be travelling with our regular characters, and Amy’s husband Rory was struggling to come to terms with having two wives. The choice was rendered moot by said timey-wimey magic. The second was the season 4 finale of True Blood, which saw the love triangle between Sookie, Eric and Bill come to a head. Throughout the season, there had been an exploration of the idea that Sookie was in love with both Eric and Bill, and both Eric and Bill were in love with Sookie. There was even a dream sequence in which the three worked out ways to make this relationship work. Unfortunately, this plot was not resolved in this way. Instead, Sookie decided, rather boringly, to choose neither of the buff, hunky vampires.

Both of these plotlines had something in common: polyamory was explored as a genuine solution to the issues at hand. In Doctor Who, Rory took the idea that he would have two copies of the same wife in his stride, and seemed fairly comfortable with the situation. It was only temporal paradoxes that forced him to make the choice. In True Blood, Sookie’s dream sequence displayed how happy she would be with the idea, and in a later scene in the finale, both Eric and Bill seemed fairly comfortable with feeding from Sookie at the same time.

Of course, mainstream TV is never going to actually propose that polyamory can be a good solution for these plotlines, despite the fact that it is. Being poly is, sadly, still a marginalised way of being, so it is still largely invisible in the mass media.

I can think of one TV programme I have watched in which poly characters are represented. In Caprica, Sister Clarice lives in a group marriage with several husbands and wives, in a house full of children from various combinations of the family. She sleeps in a large bed with some of her spouses. It seems idyllic, until it turns out they’re all crazy religious terrorists.

What we have is TV representing largely heteronormative relationships, and almost exclusively monogamous relationships. Tropes abound from this: characters having to “choose” which potential suitor they want, characters breaking up and making up to allow various permutations of the cast to hook up, cheating lover drama, and the nightmarish love triangle scenario. Drama springs from allowing shows to remain monotonously uniform in their portrayal of the default option of monogamy.

And here’s the thing: I’d rather do without all that drama. I do without that drama in my day to day life, and frankly, I’m sick of seeing all this “you must choose between him or me” bollocks on TV, when it’s perfectly easily resolved by applying poly principles and working out some easy way for everyone to be happy and loved up. I don’t want to see Buffy moping over whether she should choose the sensible, good bloke or the rakish bad boy. I want to see her killing monsters. I don’t want to see some sort of horrible quadrangle sexual musical chairs eclipsing all the cool blowing up robots in space.

For an example of how much better things would be if polyamory was actually visible on TV, I will rewrite part of the third season of Battlestar Galactica, in which two married couples, Lee and Dee, and Starbuck and Sam spent much of the season taking up vital screen time with their affairs.

SCENE: Officer’s quarters

LEE: Dee, I love you very much, but right now I am suffering from some serious unresolved sexual tension with Starbuck. You know that we’ve sort of been flirting for a while, but we never got down to it because she was engaged to my dead brother.

DEE: I feel a little bit upset by this, because I love you very much.

LEE: And I love you very much, Dee. Love doesn’t divide, it multiplies.

STARBUCK: Damn right. I’m madly in love with my husband Sam, but I am also subject to this attraction with Lee. I think I’ve noticed Sam checking you out, Dee, because you’re very beautiful. By the way, even though I’m passionate about Lee, I have to say it’s nice how happy he is with you.

DEE: Thank you. Sam, is this true?

SAM: Yes. I am dull and uncharismatic, but I am also hot. I think your attraction to me is probably physical.

STARBUCK: I love you, honey.

SAM: Blah blah meh, I am so dull and uncharismatic, but I love you.

LEE: Let’s not forget that I’m a really annoying character.

DEE: Oh no! DRADIS says we have incoming Cylon raiders in half an hour!

STARBUCK: Are you psychically connected to DRADIS or something?

DEE: Yes. That doesn’t matter. In about half an hour, we’re going to have a huge epic space-battle.

LEE & STARBUCK: AWESOME!

SAM: Half an hour, you say? Time for a quick orgy!

END SCENE, CHARACTERS NAKED AND RUTTING

And that would have completely improved season three if all of the characters had just been honest rather than having an interminable few months of whinging about their marriages.

Of course, I do not expect to see any positive portrayals of poly relationships on my television in the near future. Consider how long it took for anything close to positive portrayals of queer people and relationships to appear: this 50-minute video showcases just some of the homophobic jokes that popped up in Friends over its run. For the time being, any poly relationship is doomed to fail: the mainstream media lags behind society, and society is only just beginning to learn of the possibility of loving and fucking more than one person.

For now, we’re stuck with monogamous TV, and all the rubbish tropes it brings with it.

Why I’m conflicted about gay marriage

Here is yet another story of bigotry against gay people: a gay woman went to buy a wedding dress. When the shop found out she was marrying a woman, they refused to sell her the dress. So strong was the force of prejudice that the wedding-industrial complex forgot its main motivation of making a profit from a woman perfectly willing to shell out a small fortune on a single-wear garment. Capitalism fail.

Despite this, public opinion in the USA is favourable towards gay marriage, despite a media-based wobble which made the public opinion graph look like the end of a cock. And, of course, you have to be a remarkable bellend to display such naked prejudice as to oppose gay people basic equality.

The thing is, I’m fairly sure I’m not a bellend, and I’m not sure I’m in favour of gay marriage. It is not because I do not think queer people are human beings who deserve equal treatment from society. In fact, I would rather see marriage abolished entirely, for everyone.

As marriage equality advocates have pointed out, it is not very fair that only a certain type of relationship is legally recognised: one man, one woman. However, the marriage equality movement tends to discriminate against other types of relationship. In their rush to point out that same sex marriages would not lead to the world ending, marriage equality advocates often fight against the slippery slope argument and say that all they want is for two people of the same sex to get married, and that anything else is wrong.

I think this is somewhat unfair, and discriminates against people who have loving relationships outside of the traditional monogamous framework. What of poly people? Marriage equality advocates do not care for three or more people in a relationship to put a legal stamp of approval on their relationships, using the same arguments against polyamory as those who seek to deny marriage to gay people. Why only fight for marriage between two people, when consensual, stable, loving relationships can be defined far more creatively?

Here, I suspect the “family” argument abounds: that one of the vital functions of marriage is for building stable families. Yet two parents seems somewhat arbitrary when one looks beyond the basic biological function of reproduction–indeed, even biologically, many children have more than two parents with the advent of IVF and egg and sperm donations. The only function marriage serves is to decrease the ways in which a family can be defined, maintaining the traditional nuclear family as the only way to live.

I have reached the age now where a lot of people I know are getting married, and I have been invited to a lot of weddings. I am not looking forward to this; it will be intensely hard for me to stay quiet when the vicar asks about any objections to the union when my brain is screaming “MARRIAGE IS A TOOL OF SOCIAL CONTROL AND HAS NO PLACE IN A MODERN FREE SOCIETY.” . I am not alone in thinking this: there is a rich tradition in believing in free love without state intervention. My imaginary BFF Mary Wollstonecraft was an advocate. And why should the state have any role in valuing some types of relationship over others? A relationship between two or more people should not be a concern of anyone but the people involved.

Those who advocate marriage while acknowledging the basic tenets of free love tend to defend marriage by saying that it is useful for two reasons: property inheritance and medical decision making–the next of kin status. Both of these problems can be solved without getting married, though. Next of kin status in hospitals is far more fluid than most people think: they tend to recognise “common law” partners, and it is possible to draw up “next of kin cards“, which are like organ donation cards and leave instructions for medical staff in case of unconsciousness. The rationale behind next of kin cards is that families are becoming far more diverse than those which are recognised by the state.

As for the rest, why can people in a relationship which looks to continue for the foreseeable future draw up legal documents together? People in same sex relationships who have been denied the right to legally marry have done so for years. An added bonus of this approach is that the documents drawn up will be unique to every relationship: far from the state-mandated, one-size-fits-all approach, there is an individual legal status for an individual relationship.

Perhaps this sounds somewhat unromantic when compared to a wedding. Here is another problem with marriage: it has been thoroughly co-opted by the wedding industry. Weddings are a capitalist’s wet dream: one day will cost the happy couple on average £18, 605. This cost includes all of the things that marketing has told us we must need or we are Doing Relationships Wrong, such as engagement rings and a big white meringue dress that can only be worn once. Rather than a simple signing of a legal document, which is what marriage essentially is, it becomes a big party where one has to do everything right in a certain order. Weddings reinforce the notion that marriage is the done thing; they make legally linking oneself to another person a rite of passage, rather than something which should be a matter of choice. They reinforce the default optioning of monogamy.

If some people in a relationship fancy throwing a party to show how in love they are, that is fine by me. Why should the party coincide with signing legal documents, though? Why should it also coincide with a pantomime of tradition and ritual, and a vast amount of cash spent which could better be spent on building a life together? You wouldn’t throw a lavish party costing tens of thousands of pounds to celebrate writing a will, or filing a tax return, would you?

Bringing in same sex marriage will not help bring about marriage equality, as marriage itself is so grubbily problematic. In the long run, those who are helped by the recognition of same-sex marriage are those in the wedding industry: suddenly, they have a whole new base of consumers for an army of single-wear suits and flowers that will die and a cake that nobody wants to eat because nobody really likes marzipan.

For real equality, we need to abolish marriage. We cannot have the state and the church dictating how love and families should look. For real equality, we need freedom from marriage.

In a world without marriage, anything is possible.

More Magazine, male-centred sexuality and kissing girls

Let me start by saying, I did not buy More magazine. I found it, and out of sheer curiosity, I read it. I sort of wish I hadn’t.

Imagine my horror, as a queer woman, a feminist, and a person with a tendency to get a little bit angry to be greeted with this article:

How would your man feel if you kissed a girl?

How would your man feel if you kissed a girl?

Apparently this is the most important issue in the world when it comes to discussion of kissing women. Whether it turns men on. In the text of the article, there is absolutely no acknowledgement that perhaps queer women may exist. Kissing women is, according to More magazine, exclusively something that women do in nightclubs “in front of an appreciative male audience”.

The article provides the opinion of two men. One man declares that it is “seriously hot” and that he “can’t help but fantasise about joining the party”. The other man thinks that it is “just attention seeking” and “ugly” and “insecure”. Both men are falling prey to objectification.

What is perhaps worst about this, though, is that no opinions of women are sought. From the title of the article and all the way through, how a woman might feel about kissing another woman is not mentioned at all. This is because, to More, sexuality is constructed as something which is entirely male centred.

The magazine is utterly riddled with such articles. A story about Victoria Beckham’s post-birth weight loss is framed as “POSH SHAPES UP FOR DAVID”. An interview with a pop star which largely discusses her music and her weight is titled “I LIKE MY MEN RUGGED”, as if that were the most interesting thing about her. A story about Cheryl Cole casts her as a passive bystander in the crossfire of a fight between two men. The horoscopes page provides horoscopes for “your man”, so the reader can discover whether the line up of stars will make her boyfriend a little grumpier than usual this week.

The phrase “your man” occurs repeatedly. More‘s construction of sexuality is entirely monogamous: you get your man, and that is who you have sex with. More provides a “position of the week”, which explains “what’s in it for him”. If you are worried about him cheating, it is perfectly acceptable to look through his phone. Beauty products and clothes exist to “wow your man”. The most important thing about a woman is “her man”.

There is no space in More for anything outside of this heteronormative monogamous relationship. You are either in one, or you are seeking one. Someday your man will come. Perhaps you can tempt him with a little bit of girl-snogging?

The picture of sexuality presented in More is as unrealistic for many as the position of the week, which starts with “stand on the edge of your villa’s private pool”. For many women, the heteronormative ideal is undesirable or unattainable: it makes women who wish for the heteronormative ideal feel like failures for being unable to “bag a man”, while queer women may feel invisible and marginalised. It is also bloody awful to suggest to women that their boyfriend is the most important and interesting thing about them, as this is categorically untrue.

Sexuality is so much more than impressing a man or pleasing a man. I do not expect a mainstream women’s magazine to provide good detailed advice on polyamory or lesbian practice (though it would be brilliant if they did). What I would like to see, though, is some acknowledgement that ultimately, one’s sexuality should revolve around oneself: not about “what your man might like”, but about what you might like or want. The things that make you feel sexy.

Perhaps that is kissing women. Perhaps that is fucking women. Hell, perhaps it is kissing another consenting woman just to turn men on. Personal jollies, rather than constant thought of existing solely in relation to men.

It is so thoroughly miserable that even a magazine targeted to women will maintain the patriarchal notion that a man’s opinion is the alpha and omega.

And this is why I am adding More  to my library of publications to burn.

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.

Default options

Despite being the worst book about behaviour change ever written, Nudge has a point: people tend to pick the default option. If the default option is a plain digestive and you have to work a little harder to get a chocolate digestive, chances are, you’ll stick with the plain digestive. It’s still a digestive, after all. By manipulating the default option, one can manipulate behaviour. If one wanted to stop people eating biscuits at all, the default option would be a dry hunk of Ryvita, with hoop-jumping required for digestives, plain or chocolate. Fewer people would eat biscuits.

We are bombarded with default options. Everywhere we look, we do things without thinking.

Businesses know this, and have been capitalising on this tendency of ours. Open up a phone book. Count the number of companies with names such as “A1 Cabs, ABC Cabs, Aardvark Cabs”; the ones that you will call before you ever bother reading down. Consider how shelves are stacked, with the cheap goods at the bottom so the eye is drawn to the identical, yet dearer, products placed at eye level. Think about the last time you went to a supermarket? Did you buy the special offer chocolate near the till, just because it was there?

Not everything comes so naturally and so easily. Sometimes it needs some marketing to point out a problem people never knew existed in order to sell products: many beauty products are targeting ugliness that did not exist before an advertising executive had a smart idea. Removing most body hair has now become default and automatic for women. Make-up is sold as something which does not look like one is wearing any make-up at all. It is, after all, normal and natural for women to wear make-up, so they should paint their faces to make it appear as though they are wearing none at all.

Most of us swallow this without ever really thinking about it.

We then convince ourselves that we made the right choice, and that we consciously chose the product we did.

What it is, is control. We will unthinkingly purchase products not because they are better, but because they’re there and everyone else is doing it. There is not a readily visible alternative, and our big brains are used to taking shortcuts to get things done.

A lot of what we do is based on this. Take monogamy.

There is absolutely no good reason for monogamous relationships to be the only way to have a romantic relationship or to raise a family. None whatsoever.

Yet monogamy is the default. It is taken as a given that relationships should and must contain two people: no more, no less. It is visible in formal forms: always “partner”, never “partner (s)”. It is visible in invitations: “bring a plus one”. It is visible on Valentine’s Day: a restaurant with orderly tables for two set out.

Unthinkingly, we accept monogomy to be normal and natural. Everyone else is doing it. To reinforce this supposedly natural default, a little intervention is undertaken: the institution of marriage. Here, the state validates what it perceives as appropriate ways to love. In the UK, marriage is only available to a couple consisting of a man and a woman. It is not even open to monogamous same-sex couples, who receive a similar but different state-sanctioned seal of approval on their relationship.

Many people claim to have consciously chosen monogamy. When it is presented as the norm, as the default option, how is that a choice at all?

It is a conscious choice in the same way that the slightly pricier, equally inferior noodles you chose to buy was a conscious choice. Everyone else does it, it’s right there, it is sanctioned by external forces who do not present alternative options.

The default is as normal and natural as any other choice. Think. Beware the nudges.