In the wake of Jemma O’Leary’s interesting column ‘Ultra-Feminism is Eroding Our Values’ on the university times website, a lot of people asked the question just what is an Ultra-feminist? Well I’d like to take up this mantel and proudly declare myself an ultra feminist. I claim it not because I think all the lowly men-folk in this world ought to be made slaves that carry me around like Cleopatra and feed me grapes for the rest of my life, but because I am a screaming, raving, hardcore fan of feminist theory. I’d just like in the spirit of sisterly debate to rebut a few points Ms. O’Leary made in her piece. I promise that I’ll try not to oppress anyone too hard under the hard sole of my Doc Martens and sexual liberation.
I just really like critical theories that point at the world we live in and go ‘hey, here’s some stuff that seems RIDDLED with problems. Can we get some maintenance guys in to look at this? There’s a light bulb gone in the gender relations department.’ Feminism is essentially a strand of critical theory- It was created, generally, by people looking around, seeing that there is a whole world of stuff to examine through the prism of gender (or class, or race, or whatever) and went with it. That’s all. Much as I would love to think that feminism has become so influential in the corridors of power that it could even approach being an oppressive force, I don’t think that’s true sadly. In a country that doesn’t even have free right to choice for it’s citizens and less than 10% of the parliament is represented by women, I don’t think Ms O’Leary has a strong case.
Ms O’Leary also talks about how she, in her personal opinion, thinks feminism has gone ‘far enough.’ Well, I think I can agree with her in so far as it’s done wonders for women like us- both university students, both from presumably comfortable backgrounds. She’s right that generally speaking, we’re doing okay. We get to sit around in seminar rooms and read about all this stuff and decide for ourselves what we’d like. We have protection in employment, pretty good maternity leave ahead of us and anything that we need that our country doesn’t offer to us, we can pay to travel out of Ireland to get it (we also have the freedom to travel wherever we like without suspicion, as western ladies) Yeah, We white middle class western ladies have it pretty sweet.
It’s like Lucinda Creighton when she spoke of how proud she was to be an Irish woman, and how she thinks it’s a grand county to be a lady in. Well, it’s great if you’re university educated, middle class, in a well paying job and don’t have to look beyond your own experiences for things. If my and Jemma’s experiences were the sole barometer by which we measured how all 3.5 billion odd women in the world were getting on, I might agree that we ought to tone the feminism down a tad. Perhaps.
But it’s not. We live in a world where class, gender, sexuality and race all intersect in fascinating ways to create the accepted structures of power. That’s how you get cases like Slanegirl- Variously described by the delightfuls on twitter as a ‘skanger’, a ‘knacker’, a ‘dirtbird’ and a good old fashioned slut. It’s not that all the feminists were crowding around to defend this girl to the hilt; it’s that in the face of a torrent of online abuse and mirth at the picture of a public sex act, it was the girl getting all these names thrown at her. The man in this story was ‘a pure lad’ a ‘lucky bastard’ or a ‘dirty fucker’- but there was still a sort of shrugging ‘eh… fair play’ reaction to his part in the act. The girl was the dirt bird. It goes back to all these double standards we have about sexuality, and the roles we give people in sex. Which while we’re at it, sucks for everyone.
Women are told by society that sex is a chore and something that needs to be endured to please men. Men are also told this and that reinforces the idea that women need to be sort of coaxed into the act. Like they’re an easily spooked pony, you must always approach a lady from the side. I’ll also point out that the entire field of masculinities is a feminist critique of the expectations placed on men by a gender binary and how deeply screwed up it is. Just look at the absolute goldmine of essays on breaking bad and masculinities recently. The expectations placed on dude by the patriarchy are crushing for the men who don’t easily fit into them. Personally, I strive for a feminism that allows us all to shag without shame and with respect for each other.
I just question what ‘values’ Ultra Feminism is eroding and why they’re such a great idea anyway. Why is that value that sex is basically dirty and gross and people are gross for doing it something that needs to be protected from erosion by the sea walls of patriarchy? Why does the value that women ought not to criticise or speak up but rather elegantly and gracefully take it on the chin something that ought to be preserved? Ms. O’Leary doesn’t make a decent case for this at all. The entire idea of Critical theory is that it challenges these norms and forces us to examine them. It’s the similar to Marxist critique of capitalism- just because you have a few problems with the way the world works doesn’t mean every single Marxist is out there tearing it down. Feminists simply point out inconsistencies in our social world. That can be uncomfortable for us all- being forced to acknowledge our own privileges and biases- but it’s important work and it certainly doesn’t need to tone it down.
Let’s call a spade a spade here- O’Leary isn’t talking about the erosion of ‘values.’ She’s talking about the erosion of norms, and not making such a hot case for why they’re so great in the first place.
Really at the end of the day, Ms. O’Leary is saying people are ‘ultra fems’ (I do love this term, and hope that she won’t mind me nicking it for my own purposes in future) are out of control because they dare to criticise. ‘Critical’ is a very loaded word when it comes to women. All their lives women are cautioned against being a shrew or a nag, or being too loud. Being ‘Critical’ is kind of code for ‘being a bitch’ or ‘thinking too much into these things.’ But when you really examine feminist theory- And I mean get a cup of tea, a pack of biscuits and really sit down to get to grips with it- you’ll find a multitude of voices.
It’s not a monolithic structure with ONE opinion, that opinion being CRUSH THE MEN. There are actually lots of ideas and opinions about lots of things- about body image and policing, about gender roles, about Trans women, about race, about class- and yes, some of these theses don’t include a disclaimer that says ‘by the way we recognise that men aren’t all pigs, some of them are rad.’ That goes without saying. You’re not going to get much out of feminism if you just read The Second Sex and How to be a woman then dust off your hands and declare it all a bit of a faff (although I do recommend reading both as an excellent articulation of basic theory and a silly but enjoyable memoir respectively). If you look at the wealth of feminist literature out there- From the big guns of the 70s like Greer and Dworkin right through to the bloggers and activists of today, you’ll see a lot of variety and lot of discussion.
So yeah, I don’t think Ms O’Leary is, as she so elegantly put it ‘a cold-hearted bitch.’ I think she’s a little blinkered, possibly a bit sheltered to the wider field of feminist theory and activism. I think she probably forgets that she, like me, grew up in the age immediately prior to camera phones being carried by every person in Ireland connected constantly to twitter and Facebook. We both had our teens played out in relative, blissful privacy and all our moments of ill judgement or drunken revelry were carried out away from social media and only the stuff of mere rumour. I think in short that she’s being a little judgemental in writing a piece that writes off an entire field of critical thought as going ‘a bit too far’.
Sorry if you were expecting me to smash a table or scream ‘INTERNALIZED MISOGYNY’ at you for a few paragraphs. That’s not how the Ultra Femmo rolls.
Niamh ‘Battle cry of the Ultra Femmo’ Keoghan
Any regular readers of BHT will know that I’ve been on a weight loss kick since last September and so far, I’ve done pretty well. Since then I’ve lost a stone and five pounds. Over the months a few people have asked me about how I did it, what kind of diet I used and do I have any advice for them. I’m always reluctant to say anything- I’m not a doctor and I don’t know what will work for other people. I’m also coming from a place where I spent years hating my body quite intensely and comfort eating to an alarming degree. A lot of the people who asked me about weight loss were also not overweight themselves, which really changes the game. The difference between losing a stone when you’re already 3 stone too heavy is very different to dropping nine pounds from the upper threshold of a healthy weight. I didn’t really diet so much as I started weight watchers, which is cool because it’s more about monitoring how much you eat and the quality of that amount- basically what a diet should be with no gimmicks. That idea of ‘not eating like you’re preparing to hibernate’ served me pretty well, and then I started exercising, which has got me going again.
I’ve become aware of the fact that once you start losing weight, it does become a sort of personal challenge, and I’ve begun to beat myself up a lot when I don’t lose anything for a few weeks. Not out of anger at how I look (I look and feel fantastic overall compared to a year ago when I’d just eat another bag of crisps and cry) but because not losing makes me think I’ve started ‘slipping back’ on my good habits and that I’ve done something wrong. I think I’ve discovered the root of my problem- the fucking Bathroom scales.
owning the number
We recently got a lot of work done in the house and part of the work was a shiny new bathroom with shiny new tiles and a shiny new bathroom scales. We’ve never had a scales in the house before; as a teenager I’d weigh myself at my grandmothers on her absolutely flawless set of scales from 1980 but because that wasn’t a regular thing I wasn’t able to put the number on the scale into context. Until I was 17 I didn’t know what my healthy weight ought to be. I just had the vague knowledge that I was some degree of ‘fat’ and lived with it. When I started weight watchers I got used to being weighed once a week. Being weighed once a week is brilliant. It’s just long enough to keep a watch on it but also not so long that you can do any serious damage. I’ve never gone up by more than 4 pounds in one week before I brought it back down. But then we got the scales in the house.
It started that I’d just ‘check it’ on a Sunday to make sure I was keeping on track to losing that week. Then it was every time I had a shower. Then it was every morning. The scales became a daily habit, something to tick off having done. Since we got them in February, I haven’t lost any weight. I just go up and down around the figure of 13 stone. And every single day the needle would stay on that number and madden me. I began to get very depressed. Even my dad noticed, which means it must have been bad. I started skipping meals and fasting, which is just fucking stupid. it was my dad who actually had the quote that snapped me out of the mindset- ‘Up a pound or down a pound, it doesn’t fuckin’ matter- you’re still alive you know!’
I finally understand what people meant when they cautioned me not to get obsessed with my weight. Having a scales there every day in open view is a nightmare, because weighing in every day is pointless- having a cup of tea can add on a pound, peeing can take it off again – at least when it’s once a week you can take that number away and work on it. So no more daily weigh ins and no more depression sessions about it. The amount of frustration and reduction that number creates is frightening- no matter how fit or good you feel that day, it still marks you down as ‘fat’. Not fun. See I like the Weight Watchers model- I know it sounds strange, going in to get weighed. It does *sound* very judge-y, but I’ve always found it to be a very positive way of keeping a handle on things. The person running the class is usually someone who has successfully lost weight themselves (personally, my local weight watchers leader is HILARZ) and it’s always framed in a very positive manner. Obviously not for everyone and at a tenner a week, not the sort of thing everyone can afford, but I’ve found it useful.
So yeah, fuck bathroom scales, fuck daily weigh ins and fuck that level of body monitoring. It’s scary how easy it is to fall into that habit and how natural it feels- even now, I have the itch to go and check my weight even though I was weighed AT 6PM THIS EVENING. It’s scary. My only advice to anyone trying to lose weight is this- only weigh yourself once a week. And do it in the morning or just before you go to bed. And do a big poo before you get on the scales.
One thing that has become clear to me is that eating a healthy diet, avoiding fast food and just generally trying to moderate my comfort eating has taken me as far as I can go with this whole journey. I still feel quite doughy and unfit, while having this lighter, more mobile body that I can put to use. So I tried running for a bit which was a disaster. I’m just still too darn heavy and my knees were bearing the brunt of that. Swimming is a lot of fun but it’s a pain getting out to my pool now so instead I managed to get what I’ve been hankering after for a while- a brand new bicycle.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find a shop that stocked Penny farthings (Actually that was fortunate because they’re actually really hard to ride). It had to fit two important criteria
1- sturdy enough to cope with moderately long cycles
2- girly enough so that my brothers wouldn’t ever be inclined to ‘borrow’ it.
The second criteria ruled out anything like a racer and my childhood of bounding around on a series of rusty mountain bikes has left me with a bias against them. I finally found a nice heavy roadster that looked nice.
They see me rollin’, they hatin’
So I set out for the first time and tried cycling around my area. The great thing about cycling is that you can feel like the cat’s pyjamas rolling out of the drive way and speed through your estate to the coast all in fifth gear, then you turn around to go home and find a subtle uphill climb waiting for you. There’s something very satisfying about it. It’s the same sort of satisfaction I got from walking, except you go faster and farther. There is a strange, simple satisfaction found in bringing yourself to a new place by the force of your own feet (and some forgiving down hill slopes). As exercising, it’s rewarding. You sweat all over and your knees feel like jelly.
The honeymoon was short. After a day, I had my first puncture and after 2 days had my first crash into a parked car on an empty road. The next day my mother came home with a hi vis vest and shouts at me if I don’t wear it.
BUT, the best thing about cycling everywhere isn’t the weight loss part of it (I actually haven’t gotten any lighter since I started- I’ve gone up a little bit because I’m eating more and making myself crave sugar). The best part is after three weeks starting to feel my body get a bit leaner and fitter. Hills are still an absolute BASTARD but I’m recovering faster and I’m lasting longer. now that I’ve got a feeling of control over my weight and my body, I can actually do fun things with it. That was my problem all along- I didn’t have a weight problem, I had a control problem. I felt utterly powerless and out of control when it came to my body. I was a slave to my compulsive eating, which meant I was a slave to being overweight, and then a slave to whatever clothes they had in my sizes.
It’s nice to feel like you’re putting your body to good use rather than just losing weight to sit around and look better. Being lighter means I can actually do stuff that before was just so fucking hard. Seriously no lie, I had a mountain bike last year and every hill I came to I had to get off and wheel the thing up. I was just too goddamn heavy to pedal myself up the hill. The bike was constantly punctured and I’m pretty sure that was a combination of being an old bike and being unable to carry my weight. Probably the best thing about getting fit again though is all the time I spend on my bike is time spent thinking about blogs and writing, which I’d fallen out of doing since my commute ended.
So in summation- Bathroom Scales bad, Cycling good.
Niamh ‘Can all car drivers please look for cyclists before they fling their doors open onto the road’ Keoghan
-Elected on the fifth vote of the conclave, one more than was needed to elect her predesessor Pope Benedict XIV
-Benedict, now Pope Emeritus, will take up residence in the granny flat at the end of Pope Bey’s garden and shout at her how he’d do everything better. His duties will now included cutting the grass, wearing sandals with socks and being grumpy about retirement.
-will adopt the Papal name Pope Bootilicous I, after her classic pop hit, ‘Bootlicious.’ Speaking from the Balcony of St Peters she informed adoring and jubilant crowds that her body ‘too bootilicious for ya babe’ and that the crowd was ‘not ready for this jelly.’ she then led the crowd in song and prayer before delighting them with her patented ‘single ladies’ move.
-First American, black, married and second female pope. Also first grammy winner and oscar nominee to win the papacy in a move that media outlets speculate is an attempt to modernize the church.
-A native of Houston Texas, Bootlicious was a surprise choice, not being a cardinal, ordained in the church, baptized Catholic or present in the Vatican during the vote. However through copious viewing of MTV bases’ countdown of Beyonce’s 47 best dance move, Cardinals unanimously agreed to make the shock appointment.
-Of of course, none of this happened and instead they elected a conservative elderly man who hates gays and democracy. But close enough!
Niamh ‘The Pope can’t handle me’ Keoghan
Lately, on my wanders through this world, I’ve encountered a strange phenomenon in Ireland and the discussion around feminism. This is when I throw up one of my feminist cards- like talking about rape culture, or casual misogyny, or consent- I’m usually rebuffed with ‘well what about the MEN? Men get oppressed by sexism TOO, you know?’ And this makes me sad. Because most of the people who say this are very cool, groovy, right on people who are concerned with justice and fairness. We’re on the same page, guys. We shouldn’t be fighting! But most alarming to me in the ‘mens rights’ camp is one John Waters, who has been on my radar for a long time. Oh Mister Waters. I used to read you column in the Irish Daily Mail back when I was a baby writer. You taught me more about writing than anyone else- I just didn’t do whatever you did. Lately he’s got a gig trotting onto various radio shows and wailing against feminism and women’s rights as infringing on the rights of men.
Now, Mister Waters is absolutely, 100% right in saying that men are oppressed. Try getting married to your male partner or adopting a child to raise together or indeed, even try walking around town at night holding hands. You’re pretty certain to get a shit storm of abuse. Also rather oppressed is the Trans man, who some feminists have said very mean things about and who a lot of people will still be really resistant to accepting. Oh, if you’re a working class man or a man with a mental illness, you’re likely to get shit too. If you’re a man from the travelling community you’re probably getting a fair bit of ‘we have the right to refuse admission’ off bouncers and dying about 10 years earlier than your settled peers. So yes, men are oppressed.
But the men that are decidedly NOT oppressed are ones like John Waters and David Quinn. Middle class, comfortably employed, conservative, catholic broadsheet columnists are doing pretty okay in this country. You’re not being oppressed on the basis of your religion or your gender. If you’ve been interned without trial for simply being a catholic well then you’re totally being oppressed, but somebody talking about the massive industrial scale slavery that religious orders ran or the institutional rape that was covered and perpetrated by the Catholic church isn’t. If I have to as a feminist deal with the stupid shit Caitlin Moran has said on twitter then you guys have to deal with the criticism of your religion’s hierarchy.
I should probably point out here that I have heaps of what is now fashionably called ‘privilege’. I’m white, straight, comfortably supported financially by my parents and studying at university. I get misogynistic comments and sexist bullshit but it’s usually of a sort that doesn’t ruin my life or severely impede my liberty. I get a little bit more bother for being outspokenly atheist and left wing than I do about being a woman, generally.
That being said, I do get some strange comments. When I’m told to cover up and not get drunk in order to avoid getting raped- guys, why doesn’t this attitude to rape bother you more? I give out about rape culture and a lot of guys take offence to the idea that women are always victims and men are always the rapists. But this ‘look after yourself and avoid dressing a certain way’ is so insulting. It basically says the men can’t control themselves- that if given the slightest chance, they would rape a woman for showing skin or being vulnerable. It reduces men to animals unable of control or restraint or respect for bodily autonomy. I think about the men I know- the kindest and most polite gentlemen you’d ever meet- and I know that’s wrong.
But yknow, women do get oppressed and in Ireland, we were fucking chronic for it. In my lifetime, there were Magdalene women imprisoned in laundries. Women had to sneak over the border to get contraception and sneak it back. The original premises of the Irish family planning association had a back exit just in case they were raided. Information about abortion- not even the procedure itself but information about it- was banned from distribution. Women weren’t even trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies with all the relevant information and options. Symphesiotomies happened until 1986. In the same year a fifteen year old girl gave birth and died in a grotto in Longford. People see Nell McCafferty on telly and roll their eyes. I get hounded for expressing the apparently radical opinion that I should have a voice.
Really what John Waters and David Quinn are afraid of isn’t being oppressed. They’re afraid of losing the position of power and privilege that the Irish catholic male has held since 1922. They don’t like women speaking out because they then lose the ‘right’ to speak for them, act for them and make decisions for them. They wail oppression when the old taboos are broken- when we criticize the church openly and bitterly, as it should be criticized as an institution. You can’t claim to speak for ALMIGHTY GOD and ask us to lay off when your massive rape ring is uncovered. That’s insulting to your members, your followers and insulting to everyone else.
Women don’t always just get oppressed for being ‘the women.’ Often it’s influenced by race, by ethnic background, by social or economic status. One of the challenges of feminism now is how we collate all these different little bullshit things and kick them down. But whatever the complications and challenges of the movement, You simply can’t ask women to get back in the box. It’s arrogant. Please stop politely and reasonably asking to be treated as something more than a baby and cake dispenser, because you’re oppressing John Waters. Stop politely and reasonably asking for reform so that childcare and custody are equally shared between parents. Stop politely and reasonably asking for equal marriage and gay rights. Stop politely and reasonably asking to change things, because it’s making John Waters feel challenged. Yeah.
I’ll get right on that.
Niamh ‘crushing you with the boot of my polite requests for fairness’ Keoghan
This column originally appeared on the StudentStandard.ie on 26th February, 2013. Additional editing by Keith Broni.
I think everybody likes breasts. Who wouldn’t? They are providers of food, arousal and can be all-in-all aesthetically pleasing. Let me just make that clear: I’m very pro-breast. I am a tits-positive feminist. But also increasingly, I feel like I have less and less ownership of my girlies. Generally when I see jokes made about boobs, they’re all made by definite non-breast owners. Like Seth McFarlane who had a whole song dedicated to lady bits at the Oscars. Unless Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had a song dedicated to the cock when they did the Golden Globes, I am going to absolutely 100% file this under ‘sexist bullshit’ (McFarlane was also heaps of unfunny overall, but lets just focus this on tits).
I’ll concede the point that tits are just a lot more aesthetically pleasing than penises (up for debate but generally, I mean), but that still doesn’t condone their massive overuse in media, marketing and advertising. And alarmingly, I don’t feel like I’m in control of mine a lot of the time. They are disembodied from me: my disembodied tits, if you will. Floating just separate from the rest of me, two ghostly orbs to be objectified. Both slagged and admired.
Often I have reflected, while lounging in the bath pouring water over my head from a plastic jug because our showerhead doesn’t work, that my girls are a good reflection of who I am. They’re a bit lopsided and awkward, but they dress up nicely (in a nice bra they can be killer). They’re a bit small but they’re also resilient and determined. Essentially, my breasts are just some plucky kids trying to make their way in a crazy mixed up world. I can empathise with their struggle. But sometimes even though breasts are everywhere in our culture, I often feel like my girls are not my own. I feel like they’re out there in the public realm despite the fact they live here, under my shirt and very few (very lucky may I add) people actually see them.
I see a lot of dudes making the breast-related humour and breasts being used to sell to them. I read the A Song of Ice and Fire series (on which the Game of Thrones HBO series is based) and have often noted how Daenerys Targaryen seems to be extremely aware of what her tits are doing at any particular moment. Are they swollen, bouncing, swaying gently in the breeze? Doing their accounts for the year? Sometimes the way they are described is as if they’re like a little principality beyond the rest of her body: sharing a landmass but also a state unto themselves. This is a mistake a lot of guys make about breasts: they assume that ladies are super aware of what they’re doing at all times. I think a lot of guys assume tits are the same as their penis. Having to gently explain to a seventeen year old boy that no, squeezing them will not arouse a lady nor is it a particularly pleasant sensation was quite mortifying. It took the girls a full year to recover from the awkwardness of that ill-advised grabbing. [EDIT- After being told by a good griend that this seems to generalize a bit on what ladies like done in the boudoir, let me expand just a tiny bit on the story. I left this part out of the standard column because it is a reputable publication and not a place for my sexual misadvantures to be recorded- that’s what this blog is for. The unfortunate boy I was referring to here grabbed onto my girls as we had an awkward, unpleasant shift in an alleyway out his back garden. He, not being schooled in the ways of actual subtlety or indeed, basic human biology, sort of kneaded my girls the way you’d test a melon for ripeness or a piece of bread for freshness, and then asked the immortal question- ‘Are you gonna come?’ No. No, aimlessly poking at a girls boobs is not the way to make the vast majority of women orgasm. This is also the boy who could not locate my vagina while his hand was up my skirt. ANYWAY. Poor boy. Left my girls in a state of trauma for years.]
It’s like we all love tits, but they’re public property so we’re not allowed own them. The sort of tits you see exposed (in mainstream non-porn media anyway) are a very specific kind of tit. Usually white, not too big but not too small. Kate Winslet and Emilia Clarke are both famous owners of great tits and I’m struck by how similar they are. Again not too big, small or ethnic. Just your good garden variety, well-proportioned, English breast: the sort you’d grow in a garden or buy from an organic farmer’s market. They are the golden ratio of boob.
Because most things are advertised to the heterosexual white male, the power and appeal of the boobs are placed solely in their hands. I’m not allowed to make jokes about tits aimed at other women. How many comments are there going to be about this very column calling it ‘brave’ or ‘honest’ or indeed ‘fucking disgusting’ when ALL I’M DOING is talking about these poor beleaguered breasts that I’ve been hitching along for the ride since they arrived from the puberty fairy in 2004? This isn’t bravery: it’s just me owning me bleedin’ body, lads.
Tell me anyone who doesn’t like breasts? Straight men and lesbians of course like them and within consensual jolly sexy times they are a wonderful thing to share. Children like them because food and the often overlooked fact that they make a lovely soft pillow with built in mother’s heartbeat to fall asleep to. Gay men and straight girls can appreciate tits for their aesthetic qualities: how they look in bras, how they move and how women can just rock them. I know there’s a whole spectrum of people I’m leaving out here but I still stand by my point: give me a person of any gender or sexual identity and I will give you back a person who can appreciate breasts. Of course individuals can not like breasts, but what I’m saying is, we’re generally living in a pro-tits world. But maybe we’re just a bit boob drunk, and we need to lay off them for a bit. Maybe we need to get off everyone’s tits, collectively.
We also need to discard the idea of the ‘perfect tits’. It’s a fallacy and we’re only limiting ourselves. We need OWNERSHIP. We need a revolution in private ownership of the breasts. I now implore you all, as I oft implore, to stand on a chair/table/raised platform, grab your breasts through your shirt with both hands and scream “THESE ARE MY GIRLS AND I WILL HAVE AGENCY OVER THEM.” We need to reclaim our girls, ladies. It’s okay for us to share them with our partners and our children and everything, but we need to do so with the firm conviction that they are OUR girls.
The world gotta understand that there are ours; that we are sole purveyors and monopolists of breast. We need to topple this empire of the golden ratio. I want to see everyone with ownership over their respective girls: big, small, black, white, working class or high society. But always owned and operated solely by the body they’re attached to. I’m calling this social movement pro-tits feminism. Say it with me now (if you’re still standing on that chair/table/raised platform so much the better) loud and proud: I AM A PRO TITS FEMINIST!
Niamh ‘Girls just wanna have fun’ Keoghan
I hate the friendzone. I hate the word. It’s a shockingly clever concept- a catch all term for shaming women who turn a guy down, or decline their romantic advances, or just plain don’t want a relationship. It has a close connection to the concept of ‘leading one on” wherein a woman is oft accused of stringing a hapless everydude into her web with those feminine wiles only to cut him off cruelly for her own amusement. Most troubling for me is how women have started to use these terms I’ve heard girls say ”’he friend zoned me” or ”I wish he hadn’t led me on”. Hell, I’ve used these terms because there are out there people who will mess you around a little bit, and flirt outrageously. But these people aren’t friendzoning you. And generally this is a guy on girl trope- Some of parlance has begun to creep into lady talk, but it’s an institutional of hetrerosexual men to begin with. (Note- Not all straight men are ‘Nice Guys’in the way I describe them here. I have a lot of male friends and I’m not hating on the menfolk at all, just commenting on something I’ve experienced. Blah, I don’t hate men, these sexist concepts hurt men too, whatever x)
They might be kind of dick, but they’re not friendzoning you because and this may shock you so hold onto your hats and assort beverages the friendzone doesn’t exist. Sorry everyone. It’s just not real. I’ve seen women get messed around by men and men messed around by women, and I’ve never seen evidence of a real life friendzone. I did do a bit of research I stood around while my friends talked about relationships, and have also been in a few disastarous ones, and been on either side of the ‘let’s be friends’ equation. It’s also linked to another concept- that of Nice Guyism that we’ll talk about and discuss why it’s really fucking creepy. Bad romance is my specialist topic- so let’s talk the friendzone.
In the zone
In basic parlence, the ‘friendzone’ is where men who have romantic and sexual notions on a woman are placed when those women declined their advances- ususally with a phrase like ‘I don’t want to mess up our friendship’or ”Í don’t think of you that way’or ‘I love you!… as a friend!’ The zone is the purgatory men go to when women selfishly withold the sex that they are entitled to. Because hey, why does that girl have to be such a bitch and turn you down? You’re a nice guy, you treat her really well, you’re always interested and looking out for her. But okay. Here’s the thing nice guys- Somebody being nice to me is my BASIC prerequisite for continuing to even associate with someone. A guy being polite, courteous and listening to me is my baseline for being his friend- It’s not some magical perk that will automatically make me spit out a sexy time token, and that’s what it’s really about at the end of the day.
And further, the whole nice guy… thing is a bit creepy to be on the receiving end of. Lads, we know when you’re genuinely being nice and when your interest is forced only to make us think you’re nice. I have plenty of male friends who have little to no interest in hearing me discuss the finer points of my as yet unfinished novel, and in return I have no interest in hearing about the details of their record collection. You don’t have to take boundless interest in every single thing I care to mention or be involved in; all encompassing adoration and undying interest are as unsettling to receive as it sounds. It’s not nice. It makes me feel like I’m living in a world of plastic automatic yes men, all poking my ego until sexy time coupons pop out.
The scary thing is when men, after frantic and endless prodding, delude themselves into thinking a sexy time token HAS popped out, and that they ARE entitled to more of me than I am willing to give. That’s when I politely decline, and they scream, with arms thrown to heaven ”’FRIENDZOOOOOOOOONED!”
Sexy Time Tokens
I know I’m the last person that should be complaining about romantic attention heck, usually I’m complaining that nobody’s into me and how much that sucks. But the opposite extreme is scary and unpleasant. I was trying to quantify what makes one a ‘nice guy’ in the sex coupon seeking way I just described, and I have a very handy litmus test to discern between genuinely nice people, and ‘nice guys’-
If asked to give you some space to think and breath, a genuine person will do just that, and back off. They might be confused sure, or hurt or think you’re being dramatic, but they will still give you the space you’ve asked for and respect your feelings. A Nice Guy however, will ignore your requests for space and continue to bombard you with increasingly false-sounding declarations that they will understand and listen to you. They’ll completely ignore the fundamental point of what you’ve asked, and continue to steamroll you. And that’s the point of the Nice Guy, and the Friendzone.
In this whole unpleasant scenario, the woman is just an object to the nice guy. His feelings and his ego are the important things. It doesn’t matter how scared or uninterested or even hostile the object is, she still owes him something; He can wrap it up as a relationship, but in the end, the object becomes his possession, and in that possession there are obligations the object must fill. And if you refuse to play the game, check out and decline the thrilling chance to become an object?
Well, you’re just a frigid bitch who dumped that poor nice guy into the friendzone. You MONSTER.
Niamh ‘Offside in the friendzone’ Keoghan
This column originally appeared in the Student Standard volume 1, issue 1 on the 12th February 2013. The Student Standard is NUI Maynooth’s independent new source and can be read online here
published here with kind permission of Keith Broni, editor of the Standard.
Bank Holiday Tuesday 12th February 2013
Another year, another Superbowl Sunday passed with me in bed early, not willing to stay up until 5AM watching the most excruciatingly boring sport known to man (Worse than Cricket, Curling and Lawn Bowls put together because AT LEAST those sports don’t stop for a little rest every every. single. Play) only for the faint promise of nine minutes of Beyonce that I could catch on YouTube the next day. No, I experienced the superbowl the way I also experienced the Late Late show’s debate on marriage equality last week- tucked up in bed with a hot chocolate, following the proceedings via twitter.
Twitter is a great medium for experiencing telly, a crowdsourced annotated commentary of whatever happens to be on. It’s basically watching highlights that are tailored to your own personal tastes- so in my case, the Superbowl coverage I saw was mostly ‘When’s Beyonce on?’ Then hysterical tweets when she actually did come on (SHE’S SO GOOD AT WALKING!) all about the dancing, the costume, the choice of song (‘Baby Boy?’ Really? That song was lame back in 2004. Come on Bey, do Bootilicious, come on-OH MY GOD THEY’RE DOING BOOTILICIOUS) and of course, the fact that Destiny’s child had ‘reunited.’ When really, all that happened was that Bey got her moderately famous backing singers back. I always liked Kelly Rowland. She reached a minor solo peak around 2003 when I first got into pop music. Sadface. Oh wait, now they’re doing single ladies- I have to do Single ladies on this deadly silent train now, excuse me.
The Bey halftime show was a bit of an experience for me, watching it on my phone on the train to Maynooth Monday Morning. It was when I finally sort of ‘got’ Beyonce. We’ve long had a complicated relationship because she just doesn’t really have a lot of songs I can groove to. Bootilicious and Single Ladies are aggressively good and that is Beyonce at her best. Telephone is an over produced masterpiece of pop excess. If I were a boy and her other break up jams always felt a bit flat to me. It never really captures the actual pain of a break-up- they’re more like revenge dreams. I’d theorise that ‘If I were a boy’ is really a dissing of the sort of casual misogyny that’s common in most hip hop and rap.
Beyonce isn’t particularly titillating. She’s too fucking scary to be titillating. Compare some of her earlier videos- writhing on a beach because Sean Paul is just too hot to comprehend (note- it was 2004 after all) in baby boy, to the aggressive dominance of the Single Ladies dance. Single Ladies is an aggressive, iconic song. It’s not sensual- it’s a war cry. She’s strong and she will fucking TRASH YOU in a song if you wrong her. She’s not pandering to sexism so much as sticking a sharp heel through it. Men do fancy her (note-I fancy her. everyone fancies her. don’t lie.) but she’s not for a moment subservient to any man. She consistently out-earns her husband. All you need do to set off any woman born between 1980 and 1993 is to go up to her and ask earnestly ‘Kelly, can you handle this?’. You will be treated to every woman in the vicinity shrieking the lyrics to ‘Bootilicious’ at the tops of their voices.
Which brings me to the title of her new tour- Mrs Carter. Using her husbands name on her solo tour has been a bit… confusing to people who have always seen Beyonce as a strong independent figure. Personally, I had actually forgotten Beyonce had a surname at all. ‘Knowles’ sort of became redundant after Sasha Fierce came out- She’s reached Cher levels of ‘first name only’ recognition. I had also forgotten Jay-Z had a surname either, in fact I just assumed they were monarchs and didn’t have a need for one, you know? Privately, Bey and Jay apparently both hyphenate their names, going as the ‘Knowles- Carter’ family. Bey has said publically that when she’s stressed, she likes to go make love to her husband to chill out. She is one of the most athletic and accomplished dancers of our generation- I’d argue her choreography will define the dance of our generation in the same way Michael Jackson defined the 80s. In the promo for this tour she’s dressed in a Louis the XIV style leotard and a fur cape. She’s Beyonce. LADS. She is Beyonce. Beyonce is allowed name her tour whatever she wants.
Niamh ‘I don’t think you’re ready for this Jelly’ Keoghan
Let me marshal my thoughts as best I can; I’ve just finished watching the Late Late Show debate on marriage equality, which I experienced first via the so called ‘river of bile’ on Twitter- a surprisingly moderate, inoffensive river all things considered although I do think calling Wendy a cunt and telling her to stick things up her fanny was unhelpful and immature- on the whole, twitter was being it’s usual twittery self. I think it says an awful lot of David Quinn blacklist of bile-y tweets mostly consisted of balanced, moderate comments and a kind of eye rolling disdain for the usual weak arguments against marriage equality. A few things did strike me about the debate hat I think I, as something of a feminist and general know it all, ought to clear up.
1. The ‘gender equality’ point
Both Darren and Wendy set forth this point; that in every other area of society be it in politics or business, we’re always striving for an equal number of men and women representing on boards and in government. The argument seemed to be that in these areas, there was a recognition that you needed both men and women for there to be fairness and equality, so why is it different when children are being raised? It was said that this notion of gender equality recognizes that men and women have different skills and approaches that are both valuable.
The thing is, that’s not what gender equality really stands for, or at least my conception of it. The idea is, quite radically, that gender doesn’t actually matter in these cases- that men and women can both do the same job equally well without difficulty. The problem emerges when there’s such a massive disparity in the gender balance of a company board or parliament- because if gender really, honestly wasn’t the issue, we’d have a 50/50 balance of men Vs Women. The whole basis of this is that like race, gender doesn’t actually tell you anything about the person. Women can be just as aggressive, stoic or tough as men, and men can be just as passive, emotional or sensitive as women. There’s nothing wrong with being whatever- people are simply people, their gender can inform their identity but it doesn’t define them.
2. Biological mammies and daddies are best
The first thing that strikes me about this entire argument is how insulting it is. To reduce the love I have for my parents- who have cared for me, protected me and given me a stable home for 20 years, loved me no matter what my difficulties have been- to reduce a relationship so complex and fulfilling to biology is woefully simplistic. I have a mother and father, but to reduce their roles in my life to simple cardboard cutouts of ”MAM’ and ‘DAD’ fitting into this narrow gender binary is ridiculous.
When I was a child, my father worked nights and my mother worked during the day in town. At the time I was sure that she basically owned a company and so was very happy mammy went to work in the day. Because my dad worked nights, I spent most of my day with him- we’d get up and watch sesame street, then we’d go in the buggy to town, or to the park, or to any number of places. My dad changed my nappy everywhere because there were no changing facilities outside of the ladies toilets in an era before parenting rooms, so he improvised, most famously on the grave of an archbishop.
My Dad is very stoic. He’s not a very touchy feely guy. He’s told me he loves me exactly once in his life- on the phone, after my mum had gently informed me that my grandmother, his mother, had passed away while I was on Holiday in Galway. He’s an old fashioned, Colm Meany in the commitments sort of Dad. He doesn’t say he loves me, but he certainly shows it- everything I’ve ever needed is provided for. I’ve never gone hungry or been cold or scared. He’s worked hours of overtime to pay for my education and my school trips. He was a very hands on father when I was a kid, sharing the parenting duties with my mother. As well as my mum and dad, I was cared for by two grandmothers who without fail babysat us four days a week when dad started working in the mornings again.
My mother worked in town full time for most of my childhood. When I was a little kid, she’d ring from her office in town once during the day, and then arrive home in a big beige 90s style rain mac, usually holding an umbrella and her handbag. On the weekends, she’d cook a spaghetti bolognese on Saturday and a roast on Sunday. We’d all go on outings- my mum, dad, brothers and usually my grandparents- together as a family.
Bottom line- my parents both mucked in and got on with it. I wasn’t particularly aware of gender roles when I was a kid- if I cut my knee, I ran crying to either parent. As I got older and needed help with other problems, I gravitated towards two people- My mother, and my uncle Fran. My uncle is like me in personality, articulate and great at conversation. I don’t gravitate towards my mother because women are just naturally better at dealing with their daughter’s problems, I do it because my dad just happens to not be as easy to talk to. My brothers go to my mum with problems too, the same way if we have a wobbly desk we go to dad.
It’s not to say that they have set roles that are defined by their gender- they’re just two people primarily, who raised a family together. The really important thing that they gave us was stability- I never had any doubt that my parents were a team, and working together. It’s stability, not gender, that’s really important to a kid.
3.Marriage is only for makin’ babies
This obsession with kids being the only outcome of marriage kind of irks me. No it bloody isn’t. The primary function of marriage as a social institution? I would have imagined it had something to do with the people actually getting married and not just their potential offspring. This also discounts people unable to have children, or who just plain don’t want them. Again, reducing marriage to just being about biological reproduction is ridiculous. There’s also the question of adoption- Sometimes the sad fact is that biological parents aren’t capable of raising children alone or together, and that’s okay- kids get adopted all the time, and it doesn’t fundamentally distort them. I suppose it’s okay for them to be adopted by straight couples because then there can be a pretend biological bond, by Darren and Wendy’s logic.
To me, the biological argument is bullshit. It insults adoptees and children raised diligently and happily by step parents, grandparents and any of the other million grey areas there are in the world. The ‘protecting the children’ rhetoric also completely ignores the legal limbo that the children of gay parents now exist in, with only one official parent. It doesn’t make sense to me.
4. George Hook is kind of the man.
Has to be said because I have done mean impressions of him on many occasions and he was a total dude up on that podium.
5.They’re gonna ruin marriage for everyone
God you know, as a straight, cis female who wants to someday have children, I know exactly what will put me off marriage forever- two chicks being able to do it, amirite? I mean, what would be the actual point of getting marriage and having babies if the gays are going to come in and RUIN MY MARRIAGE? It’s just not bloody fair. An entire generation of straight women and men would be discouraged from getting legal protection and starting families because sure now EVERYONE can do it, it won’t be cool anymore. Or something. The opponents to marriage equality are never very clear about how that bit works…
The idea that my relationships are cheapened by somebody else’s just confuses me. I don’t care if gay people can marry- my ability to produce more of me doesn’t somehow make me a magical, sacred person capable of deep sorcery that my gay friends don’t have- it just makes me fertile, and I’m a lot more than that. My relationships, both romantic, platonic, meaningful and shallow, are all based on more than that.
In the end, marriage equality isn’t really just about kids, though that seems to be the way the debate is always framed. it’s also about legal protection, clarity and the reinforcement of the principle that it actually doesn’t matter what you choose to do with another consenting adult. The re appropriation of ‘gender equality’ for something that’s just reinforcing the very divisions we’re trying to remove is laughable, and David Quinn’s river of bile is probably the most rational, balanced thing ever posted to the Iona institutes website.
Niamh ‘did not get onto the rivers of bile list. devastated’ Keoghan
You know, I’ve been at this for a few months, and consensus seems to be that I’m pretty…. ‘Honest.’ Yeah, I get told I’m ‘honest’ a lot. A few people have seemed a bit uncomfortable with the amount that I share, and I’m kind of surprised about that. Really? I didn’t realise I shared *that* much. I certainly find it really difficult to talk about things that I actually am a bit insecure about- I’ve chickened out on pieces about my body image, self loathing and depression, not to mention today’s topic, periods. I think I’ve tried to write this about five times, with varying slants and approaches. Here is my big confessional; everything you ever wanted to know about periods.
I will never get those purple pants back
It was actually 10 years ago that I got my first period. I was 10, which is pretty young. In fairness to younger me, who I often chastise for being a melodramatic, uneasy girl, I took it like a total pro. After the initial shock of my mother explaining it to me, calmly and carefully in our kitchen, eyes darting to the door to make sure my younger brother wasn’t ear wigging, that for the next 40 years, I’d start bleeding for a week, and not to be scared or upset when it started. A few months later, I started getting tummy aches- the very first cramps that have since become the routine of my month.
I do have a distinct memory from the night before it started, getting into bed thinking ‘I reckon it’ll start tonight.’ and sure enough, when I woke up, I felt an unpleasant wetness in my pyjamas, and wriggled my pants down to investigate. The first time you see the stain, it’s quite visceral. It was dark, rich, and had soaked a circular patch into my purple underpants. I stared at it for a minute, feeling a bit dizzy. It was a Friday morning, around 6AM. I was too shy to say ‘I got my period’ to my mother, so I went downstairs in my pyjamas clutching the stained pants in my hand, and showed her.
All in all, it wasn’t too bad. Mam showed me where the pads lived (she’d already explained how they worked so I was a total pro with the wings) and then, after some hesitation gave me the day off school. I sat in my pyjamas watching cartoons eating cereal. I didn’t have any of the later cramps, emotions or unpleasantness that my period would bring along with it. The next I thought about it was the next week, when my granny took my hand as we walked home from school. ‘Your mammy tells me you’ve joined the ranks of womanhood’ she says pointedly.
‘Eh, yeah, I guess I did.’ I reply primly.
My period is not dirty
Girls, can we all stand on our chairs (or in my case, my bed, where I’m typing from) and say out loud ‘Periods are not dirty’? Because they aren’t- not really, they’re a bit messy and can smell, but they’re not infectious or liable to make you ill upon contact with another period-haver. It’s a fallacy I often see- People comparing Menstruation to pooing or weeing. In reality apart from taking place nearby where pooing and weeing occur, periods are nothing like it. Mostly I hear men make this comparison- ‘You’d be grossed out if I talked about having a shit, wouldn’t you?’ This ignores two things-
1-I live with brothers, and therefore hear men talk about poo all the time [So much that I got into the habit of announcing ‘I have to pee’ when in company, which is very embarrassing.] It is so much more common to see jokes about it in media too- There are poop jokes all over TV; when’s the last time you saw a period joke on a kid’s show?
2- There is nothing like a period. Okay, men, let’s get this out of the way. I will never ever know what it’s like to be kicked in the nuts, but I accept it bloody hurts. In the same vein, you won’t ever really know what it’s like to bleed for a week and not die. Menstruation is a common experience, but not a universal one- Some women have them, some don’t, and men never will.
On the whole, I’ve always maintained that the things we use to hide the fact that we’re menstruating are the real dirty things here. On it’s own, period blood is at it’s most offensive, slightly smelly and scary looking (The first time there were clots in mine, I actually had to have a little cry at how horrifying my body was being). But I will attest that the smell of an over flowing bin of disposed soiled sanitary products smells SO MUCH worse. The smell of old sanitary pad is overpoweringly bad. Tampons have the even more horrifying side effect of potentially poisoning you.
The worst thing I ever heard when I was at school
Because I was a bit young donning my menstruation sombrero, I was already having them for a year before we got ‘the talk’ about hygiene when we were in school. Mam had mentioned tampons to me, but didn’t really explain much about them beyond ‘they go in you, and they’re a bit harder to use until you’re older.’ So I didn’t really know anything about them. It was during this talk which included mild mannered things like ‘remember to wipe and freshen up when you’ve had a wee’ I learned about tampons and toxic shock syndrome.
Basically it’s the worst fucking buzz ever. Tampons are coated in bleach and then put into hard plastic applicators that you jam into yourself for up to four hours. They dry your vagina out by absorbing the fuck out of everything in there- blood, mucus, general vagina-fluids doing their vagina-fluid job, stopping you being dry. They are COATED in BLEACH. The lady explained how they can’t get ‘lost’ up there (A sincere worry of 12 year old pre-menstrual girls. Actually hell, I was worried about that until I was 16) and in the same breath, cautioned that if left in for too long, You could go into septic shock and be poisoned by your own rancid sanitary product.
I could not deal with this information. I could die? If I forgot about a cotton bud? I have let PLANTS sitting on my desk right next to me wither from lack of water. My Chia pet died because I forgot to replace the water! How can I be expected to remember to remove things! Oh dear god! Basically everything about it scared me so badly that I can’t look at tampons without getting very upset indeed.
I got cramps in my back and I ain’t afraid to show it, show it, show it.
I really, really hate it when people blame my hormones for making me emotional and cranky. Like, again, this is something I don’t think guys generally understand. Maybe I’m totally wrong in saying this but in general guys don’t have to deal with massive shifts in their hormone levels on a monthly (sometimes weekly) basis. It affects all women differently. Everyone has their own crazy unhappy side effects to periods. Mine began to emerge around the age of 14- for the first three years, I was too busy dealing with the irregular pattern and getting used to the sight of blood to really notice anything else, but it started to get bad.
Mam had knowingly never told me that periods can make you moody and irrational, thinking that I’d use it as an excuse to be bitchy. But it came anyway, a horrible wave of anxiety and depression. I’m prone to excess anxiety anyway, and I go on highs and lows all the time, but nothing like the dark places I go to when I’m on the rag. For a while when I was very overweight, the dark days got so bad that I was genuinely worried about some of my thoughts. Adding to this problem was the pain.
Oh my god. I don’t like to think of myself as a mimsy- I soldier on when I feel sick, or at least I try to. It’s hard to describe the pain because I’m so accustomed to the sensation now. Firstly, imagine feeling constipated. Then add a gnawing, constant, hot pain in your lower back. then tense every muscle in your lower body and stomach. That’s sort of what it feels like. To be frank for a moment, period cramps are basically the uterus contracting and pushing out the old lining, and it fucking hurts. Other women I know vomit, and others just get weepy or angry, but those are my things. I get anxious, sore and deeply depressed.
I live tweet my Codeine high
The pains got so severe that basic paracetamol wasn’t helping at all, so we went to the chemist for something a bit more specialist. We were pointed in the direction of feminex, a pink-boxed painkiller designed to get at cramps. Does anyone else find the packaging of ‘woman pain killers’ in pink boxes a bit brilliant? I love the campy neon pink of panadol woman, gender norms be dammed. That’s what box I want my meds to come in. Anyway, Feminex is a fucking trip- Codeine, caffeine and the stern advice not to become addicted.
I was like a fairy. It took the pain away, but also left me with a nervous, drunken high. My heart was racing from the caffeine and my head was light from codeine. I wrote some amusingly out there facebook posts, tweeted my hysteria and then crashed, sleeping for 15 hours. I did the same basic routine every time I had a bad period. I still have the box of Feminex somewhere, but I stick to Panadol woman now. I get a bit too happy on Feminex. It’s a trip.
The absolute worst thing I ever learned was that the best natural painkiller for cramps is in fact orgasm. It completely un-clenches tensed muscles and gives you a rush of happy hormones. I will never, ever forgive the universe for designing me with the ability to remove this pain by doing the one thing I really don’t feel like doing at that time.
I am sorry I am so obsessed with my period you guys
And so considering this- that it’s a monthly source of pain both emotional and physical- I hope it’s easier to understand why I go on about it so much. I mean, all the effort that goes into concealing it is ludicrous. Jokes about menstruation are still considered really far out unless they’re jokes about women being all irrational and weepy on their periods, which I point out kind of dis empowers them. You never see jokes about menstrual blood, or cramps, really. People still bristle unhappily when periods are mentioned, even in passing.
I try to be really super delicate when I talk about them- well, not here, but in company. In company, I call it ‘lady pains’, trying to avoid even the mention of the C word. It can’t be a thing of horror for me anymore. It never has been, really. Since the age of 11, I haven’t the luxury of being grossed out. I, like a good deal of women, just have to get on with it. I have to get on with the maintenance and the smells and the countless pairs of nice pants ruined by bloodstains that never really wash out, no matter how much cold water you rinse with.
So that’s the deal. If I have to live the next 30 years bleeding once a week, I’m allowed crack jokes about it. It’s my little way of taking control and agency over myself. It’s uncomfortable and at times difficult to keep in line, but it’s my body. I’m genuinely sorry if that makes people uncomfortable, or if it’s being too honest. So yes, ladies. Everyone up on their chair/bed/ottoman
‘We all got periods, yo!’ Say loud n’ proud.
Niamh ‘I bleed out my vagina and y’all gotta deal with that’ Keoghan
A rather upsetting trend I’ve noticed recently is that of popular mainstream feminist broadsheet columnists in the UK being total wankers on twitter when they are met with criticism. I mean, I rather like Caitlin Moran. I think her books are funny. I do honestly think that despite every silly, often ill- judged thing she’s said or crack she’s made, she is essentially well meaning. I’m not as familiar with Suzanne Moore, but I’d have given her the benefit of the doubt too. Problem is, these writers, when discussing gender, sexism or modern feminism, are often in for stiff criticism from the feminist blogging community. Most of the criticisms concern their treatment of race (i.e. Moran doesn’t discuss it at all) or pointing out unhelpful language in otherwise well meaning pieces (i.e. Moore’s now-infamous ‘Brazilian Transsexual quip), and it can admittedly get very intense- I can only imagine because most of the blogs written in response to Moore’s article are articulate, indignant and blisteringly intelligent.
If it had been me, I’d be sitting there going ‘Ooooo fuuuuuck, she’s right.’ because the criticisms are valid- don’t ostracize Trans women. Either we’re in it together or we’re not- there’s nothing nice in excluding anyone from the woman party. It’s really important to recognize that in the world, different women are treated badly for different reasons- because of race, class, age, nationality, sexuality or even their physical body (btw Moore, the status of a woman’s genitals is never ANYBODY’S business except her own). And all the current transphobic bullshit getting thrown around seems to boil down to ‘Stop giving out about this, we have BIGGER THINGS to worry about! Like the Daily Mail, and page 3!’ and this is exactly the thing women have been told all down the years when they complain about things that bother and oppress them. ‘Focus on the real problems, gawd.’
The backlash to Moore’s comment in her article was swift and sharp and at first, I went ‘really?’ I read the piece and the critique, and was like ‘all this for one throwaway comment that was a bit off colour? That seems extre- Ooooooh, the tweets..’ Yeah, Moore responded to sustained criticism by taking to twitter with some incredibly ill-advised comments about mutilated genitals and similar transphobic comments. It was hideous, unpleasant and unprofessional as a writer. And in the face of even more vitriolic criticism, she then left twitter altogether, while the British journo gang on twitter all mourned her departure and berated those who ‘bullied her off twitter’. That’s where I get a bit bothered.
People had every reason to call Moore out on such horrible language. It doesn’t matter if she’s nice in real life, and that she’s your mate- writers, recognize when you have inadvertently offended someone or been wrong. This has happened a few times- Caitlin Moran, who as I’ve said I enjoy a lot as a writer, said on twitter she ‘could not give less of a shit’ about non-white women when she was called out on her lack of comment of the issues of race surrounding feminism. It was so, so disappointing Moran was cool to me, she complimented my jumper and signed my book. I like how she describes things and her writing style is somewhat similar to mine. It was really disheartening to see a writer that has a lot of charisma and talent be so… childish about criticism.
And that’s what I’ve observed. A whole group of well meaning, right on, cool feminist columnists who will not ever take heed of criticism. Maybe they’re used to lots of ‘LOL, ur shit’ comments online, or maybe they’re jaded from years working in media, but it’s a killer blow to any writer- to think you’re above being called out on shit you get wrong, even if you’re doing it with a well meaning point, or for the LOLz like I usually am. Just because your friends all gather around to defend you, it rings hollow because you actually were really offensive and nasty to an already marginalized group. One of the most intelligent things I ever heard anyone say was when Caitlin Moran said ‘Always make sure you’re kicking up [When you write]. Get at David Cameron, don’t attack some schmoo in the back with a bad hat’. That’s the kind of philosophy I like in my comedy and in my writing. Kick up, at the elites and the movers and shakers and let them know when they’ve gone wrong.
When you attack trans people, you are pretty decidedly not kicking up. Some of the most liberal, right on, feminist, LGBT-allied people I know are still a bit… weird about the idea of trans people, and in the idea of reassignment surgery. Trans men and women have it unspeakably hard in a world where even the right on liberals are iffy about them. Trans people are still a cruel punchline in comedy in a way that is considered waaay more acceptable than gay people, or women. ‘Whoops! That bird you nearly scored is ACTUALLY a MAN! LOL!’ that’s bullshit and it’s not fair. But for the ‘Moore getting bullied off twitter’ narrative to hold, Julie Burchill had to cast Trans people as the elite, so that she could kick up. She criticized the ‘trans lobby’ for their perceived abuses and language, Comparing the word ‘Cis’- used to describe anyone who’s gender matches their physical sex- to ‘cyst’. Worth noting that ‘Cis’ actually derives from latin and also refers to men as well as women and has NEVER BEEN USED as a derogatory term. Unless you count ‘Cissie’, which you don’t, obvs.
Now, obviously I don’t know what it’s like to be under sustained criticism like that. I am a teeny tiny drop in the sea of internet blogs. I just faff on about whatever I feel like, I have no overreaching agenda or theme other than having ROFLs and the odd angry post about sexism, but at the end of the day, I am just being funny for an audience of friends and friends of my friends. In fact I do shy away from really getting into deep questions about gender and feminism simply because there are so many razor sharp, clever feminist bloggers who I fear will tear my shit up- it’s a very intense field of debate and I don’t think I have the moxie for it, tbh. I acknowledge my own privileges- I’m white, I’m cis, I’m heterosexual, I’m from a reasonably comfortable background.
Does this mean I’m ‘not allowed’ write about race, or the working class, or LGBT issues? I say heck no, I can write about what I want, but it does mean I have to make extra sure I have my facts straight- and accepting criticism when it’s needed. The only time this has happened really was when I made a quip about the ‘suicide clause’ that’s causing so much debate over the new abortion legislation. I posed the question of why a woman would fake suicidal thoughts when she could just GET THE BOAT TO LIVERPOOL (Embarrassing emphatic caps lock is my own) My friend Emma commented on that piece, explaining that not all women have the money or resources to travel for an abortion, and their desperation can’t be ignored. And I was very, very embarrassed that I could have made such an error in reasoning, admitted my flippancy and moved on. That’s what you do. You take it on board. If you’ve caused offence, you apologize. Don’t fight back, or be a wanker on twitter. Just say ‘my bad, I’ll try to be mindful of this in future’ and move on. Amend the piece if you can. But don’t start kicking down at those who you should be listening to.
Let this be my pledge. If I should ever, in the course of my writing, be a wanker about criticism, someone take me to the side and say ‘dude, not on. Stop being a wanker.’ Don’t let me stamp and shout and be a knob on twitter (I am always a knob on twitter, but I mean like, a proper offensive, mean spirited knob).
Niamh ‘Still likes How to be a woman even if it’s problematic’ Keoghan