Fighting body fascism and teaching the kids about feminism

As the wedding draws closer, I am starting to feel the pressure that I thought I had done well at resisting: – the pressure to look beautiful, slim, elegant. I am considering detoxing, waxing, and even omitting my nightly glass of wine. This is the result of trying on dresses almost daily in my search for one that I can imagine wearing in public. I realise that I never wear dresses, for the simple reason that they just don’t fit me. They are not designed for buxom women like me.

‘This kind of thing is harder for women,’ I tell my daughter, Chief Bridesmaid ‘we are under a lot of pressure to look nice in our wedding dresses.’

‘Well of course,’ she says ‘the dress is the main thing about the wedding.’

‘Yes, but the men don’t have to worry about that, do they?’

‘Ha ha, well that’s because they don’t wear a dress Mum!’ She laughs at my silliness for some time, before she is struck by a thought.

‘He isn’t worrying about his suit though, is he Mum?’

She is beginning to get the point of my observations. This conversation went better than the one I had the other night with Chief Bridesmaid and my future stepson, Best Man:

Watching an old video for Band Aid, I saw a sea of male singers,

‘Music was just like a boys club in the 80s, wasn’t it? There are NO WOMEN at all in this!’

‘Yes there are!’ the kids like to argue these points with me. When I challenged them to show me the women in the video, they shouted ‘there’s one!’ as John Taylor came into view. It was hard to convince them that any of the members of Duran Duran were male, and as for Boy George and Marilyn – impossible. They then proceeded to shout ‘There’s ANOTHER girl!’ every time a member of Bananarama appeared, until it seemed that Bananarama outnumbered very other band.

The androgynous pop stars of the 80s look very strange to our children.

Magazine cover from the 80s, with Duran Duran (top left) and Boy George (top right)

Magazine cover from the 80s, with Duran Duran (top left) and Boy George (top right)

It’s a different story today.

Magazine cover from 2012 with Rhianna, JLS, The Wanted and One Direction

Magazine cover from 2012 with Rhianna, JLS, The Wanted and One Direction

As more women have become successful in the music industry, gender differences have been emphasised. Women can look almost like caricatures of femininity; from eyelashes to nails, to footwear, they are decorated in bright, impractical colours, while the men are dressed in plain clothes – in the case of JLS, just a white vest in order to show off their muscles.

Brides seem to have always been caricatures of femininity, from the 80s

Princess Diana - the 1980s power princess look

Princess Diana – the 1980s power princess look

To the present day

Kate's tiny princess look

Kate’s tiny princess look

There doesn’t seem to be all that much difference between the two gowns – the Big White Dress look is pretty much the same, whatever the era.

Marriage is, of course, whatever you make it, but the wedding service does seem designed to bring the age-old pressures of a patriarchal world bearing down – I’m worrying about things I haven’t considered worrying about for years, in fact I’m having to work hard to prevent myself being taken back to teenage levels of body insecurity. On this journey with me is Chief Bridesmaid, who is already a little worried about her developing figure. In talking to her about these things, I try to show her that it’s not wrong to feel these insecurities; sometimes they are impossible to avoid. It’s how we deal with them that is important. I hope that she will learn to question why she feels that way, and in doing so avoid being helplessly swamped by external expectations.

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The New House

We are now in the New House, receptacle of all the hopes and dreams of recent times. In the New House, we would turn into better versions of ourselves. The hallway would always be tidy and we spend our evenings playing musical instruments with the children rather than giving them TV dinners. (I am not sure the children were dreaming about this. I think they thought there might be satellite tv and an x-box; neither of which we had in the Old House).¬† After 10 days of unpacking boxes, the dream of a tidy hallway has still not come true. TV-free evenings are a reality though, as we can’t get freeview to work. We have all learnt to play chess. It’s nice to spend quality time with our children, I for one am experiencing¬† a virtuous glow. But, I now realise that the telly was the equivalent of an ‘off’ switch for the children. Now there is no such switch, they follow us around the house, catching us every time we try to sneak a private moment.
‘What can we do next?’ they say.
‘Ah, so nice to spend time with the kids’ we sigh, as we begin to dream of satellite TV and an x-box…and internet. Despite the fact that we have known we were moving for weeks, neither of us thought to set up internet for the New House. The result of this is that the unpacking got done much quicker, and I am typing out this post on a phone which thinks that every time I write ‘will’ I actually want to write ‘Wilkinson’, and when I type ‘the equivalent’ I mean ‘rhetoric equivalent’.
Predictive spelling is not my friend. It is in fact my worst enema…

All about privilege and not much to do with weddings

I have been working hard for the past couple of days. Today I was going to write a post about my engagement ring, but I decided to write about privilege instead, because that is just the kind of mood I am in.

There was a minor media storm lately regarding Caitlin Moran’s comment on Twitter that she ‘literally couldn’t give a shit’ about the fact that the sitcom ‘Girls’ features an all-white cast. Her comments triggered some debate over whether a show which has managed to become successful while focusing entirely on the concerns of the ‘Girls’, providing a rare portrayal of ‘real’ women on TV, should also feature women from ethnic minorities, and whether feminists as a group should ‘give a shit’ about whether it does or not.

Moran has been accused of demonstrating a sense of entitlement in not engaging with this debate. She answered her critics by stating that the question ‘why are the women in ‘Girls’ all white?’ is as relevant as the question ‘why were all the members of Abba white?’.

Abba is a pop group that formed in Sweden in the 1970s, where the population was predominantly white. ‘Girls’ is a sitcom written about life in New York in 2012, where the population is predominantly…oh, hang on…

The writer of ‘Girls’ focuses upon what she knows. She doesn’t extend her writing beyond her own concerns, and neither does Caitlin Moran. They don’t think about their own white privilege, because they don’t have to.

I started to think about this in relation to male privilege. This is something that all feminists can understand; it’s probably what made them become feminists in the first place. For me, it all clicked into place when I had a child. It was then that I felt the brakes applied to every aspect of my life. It was like the change from cycling along smooth flat ground in 3rd gear, to struggling up a hill in 1st. Motherhood engenders a total transformation, a complete rethink of priorities and lifestyle – yet for a father, this transformation is entirely optional.

As a single mother, I would watch news items where children went missing or were abused. The reports would focus on the mother and what she had done wrong: she took her eyes off her child for too long, she went off and had fun and left the child with an unsuitable person, she worked too much – I would marvel at the invisibility of the father; where was he? Sometimes my question would be answered, when the father would pop up on the screen, stating how devastated they were about what had happened to their child while admitting with a complete lack of embarrassment that they hadn’t bothered to see their child for several years. They had, in fact, gone off and had fun and left their child with an unsuitable person – the mother, who they were now stating they always knew was no good. Nobody would suggest that he might have shared some responsibility for the situation. For every single mother who is vilified in the press, is an absent father who is secure in the knowledge that the buck does not stop with him.

Not having to worry about things because they don’t concern you, is what entitlement is all about. Not asking questions about the lives of other people, accepting the status quo as long as it works in your favour, and dismissing other concerns as irrelevant – that’s how to feel comfortable with your own privilege. It strikes me that through reading some of the blogs here, I have gained insights into other lives, sometimes reading about struggles that I have been lucky enough never to have had, sometimes seeing the world in a new and different way – and sometimes realising that I am privileged. I still think mostly about my own experience, of course, but hopefully this all helps to ensure that I would never be the journalist who fails to query the absent father, or the feminist who when asked about race issues, says ‘I literally couldn’t give a shit about it’.

I would like men to question their own entitlements; not to abuse their privilege just because they can. By the same token, I feel that feminists (including myself) have a responsibility to do the same.