What if I don’t want to be sexy?

8 January, 2011

Let’s see if I can get through this post about body image and issues without telling you what kind of body I have, and you see if you’re comfortable not knowing at the end of it, okay?

Much as I try not to be Twitter incrowdy (my excuse for never blogging), this did arise from a Twitter “event”. One idiot was promoting “managed anorexia” because he felt only thin was valuable, and a lot of great people responded by trying to get #curvesaresexy trending. Then some less great people started labelling thin bodies as unsexy, and some other people objected and…

This is how it goes, though. Bodies – pretty much invarably women’s bodies – are where the discussion is at. Whether we value curves, bones, or all kinds of bodies, women’s bodies are a site for discussion in a way that men’s are not. And I don’t think that changing the object is as helpful as changing the subject. Laurie Penny put it beautifully in her moving piece on recovering from anorexia:

[T]he real breakthrough came when I stopped defining myself merely by my dress size. Once I started to believe that my worth as a person had nothing to do with how my body looked to other people, I began to give myself permission to take up the space I needed.

Put it like this: if offered the chance to never be treated as a body-object again, on the condition that neither would anyone ever find me sexy again, I’d take it. That is, of course, from the vantage point of being a mother, and therefore devoid of public sexuality in most environments anyway. (Seriously – for a start, it takes about 12 times the effort to communicate that I am, in fact, a lesbian, once people know that I’m a mother.) And I’m in my mid-30s, so moving past the realm of mainstream sexy, anyway. But not moving past the point where my body is a defining factor in how I am perceived, how I perceive myself, and where who I am is positioned in culture. Worthy of notice or not worthy of notice, that judgement in itself requires that my body be noticed. Unsexy, mumsy, frumpy, dykey, MILF, invisible because physically unremarkable, all of those require an evaluation of my body.

And I would just rather not. I don’t want to be a mainstream or a countercultural or a fetishistic sex object. I want to be a subject, and my subject, largely, is not my own body, or even my own sexuality. I want my daughter to stop thinking it’s important to call me “pretty”. I want her to stop thinking it’s important when people call her that. I want to remove the instinct I have right now to tell you that, of course, she is beautiful. Can I tell you she’s valuable? That you are? That I am? Can we leave it at that?

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Why do you vote Green?

9 November, 2010

If you do, of course. I raise the question because at Scottish Green Party conference this past weekend, we were discussing who should get to decide whether we accepted a coalition deal. Conference, after a lively discussion which is continuing over here on Bright Green Scotland, we decided that we wanted both the Party’s National Council and an EGM open to all members to endorse any coalition deal.

I spoke up (no, really, try and pretend to be surprised) for the motion, because I think that, fundamentally, going into a coalition, particularly as a junior partner which, realistically, is the most likely for us Greens right now, means breaking election pledges, and that is something that needs serious consideration from people who aren’t steeped in the discussions with other parties, hopped up on the heady air of the political bubble.

Councillor Martin Ford, however, takes the other view, and takes it forcefully. I hope I’m paraphrasing him reasonably* when I say that his point was that voters vote for candidates expecting them to seize and use power to the maximum, and that turning down an offer of coalition was a betrayal of what voters want when they vote for us.

And it made me think: really? When people vote for Greens, particularly in Scotland where we have small (at the moment!) numbers on councils and in the Scottish Parliament, what do they think is going to happen to their vote?

I think it’s safe to say that, while Green voters may well dream of a Green majority government, it’s not in the sole hope of that happening that they entrust their votes to us. Something other than (short of?) government is clearly an aspiration worth voting for, too. Must that be to be as close to the centres of power as possible? What’s it worth laying aside to have a finger in that pie?

To me, the other option is more persuasive. We don’t have all-or-nothing presidential government. A vote that is unlikely to contribute to electing the First Minister is not a wasted vote in a Parliamentary (or council) system. MSPs from a non-governing party can develop and introduce legislation, affect policy, lead rebellions. And, of course, do the consituency/ case work that is the less public side of being a representative.

Formal arrangements short of coalition, such as “confidence and supply” are another way to influence Government without, quite, being part of it. But this isn’t so much about what’s possible as what people want when they cast their vote.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the ConDem coalition. Did most of the people who voted LibDem in May this year think that their vote would lead to the implementation of most Tory election pledges? I think probably not. Do most of those people think those Tory policies are a price worth paying for the concessions made to the LibDems? I will not even try to get inside the mind of a LibDem voter, but I think it’s certainly not a definite “yes”.

So, people who vote Green, or, I suppose, for other parties unlikely to form a majority government, what do you think you’re voting for? Good people whom you trust, as close to the heart of power as they can get? For the manifesto policies to be implemented? How? For meaningful opposition to other parties you disagree with? For good local representation?

What’s in a vote? I think if we asked everyone to write on their ballot papers what hopes, dreams and dreads they were putting into that simple cross or row of numbers, we’d get as many answers as papers. But I also think it’s a question we need to ask, as we face a future where we will probably have chances to influence government in any number of ways.

*James thinks I have overstated MF’s views, by the way, and not mentioned that he’d rule out a lot of coalitions.


Who benefits?

4 October, 2010

I’m not sure how I feel about higher rate taxpayers losing Child Benefit in general. As a believer in Citizens Income, universal benefit is a good thing. However, the people complaining that a household income of £44,000 (the lowest possible – this would be for a single-income household) is “just getting by”, as someone on BBC Radio 4 news did earlier today, are wrong. It’s twice the national average income, therefore, logically, the average two-income household earns only that much. And they’re insulting the millions of families who get by on far less. Mine, for a start, and we do far better than “get by”.

However, what I’m sure of is that this is an attack on women, and on the way the welfare state can seek to support their empowerment.

It was a big deal when it was decided that CB would, by default, be paid to the child’s mother. It was, probably, the biggest single act of redistribution of income within households that the welfare state has ever achieved. Now, CB will be withdrawn based on household income, and not paid to women who, as non-employed mothers, have no other income in their own name. That is a regression, a typically Tory acceptance of the traditional macro-economic view that everyone in a household has equal access to the household’s money. That is not true. There are many men who control their female partners by controlling their access to money, and non-employed mothers are among the most vulnerable. (And there are people in all other gender combinations of relationships in the same position, but typically it’s the former.)

So the Tories have decided that child benefit does not belong to the mother by default, but to the household. A backward step for mothers. We need to watch this government like a hawk: they do not understand gender, and they do not care to improve their understanding.

This is just a quickie post – also have a look at Caroline Crampton in the New Statesman on the implications for the National Insurance gap for stay-at-home parents


Working at home

25 September, 2010

I’ve just started back at university, doing a postgraduate diploma in Occupational Therapy. Which is overwhelming, mindblowing, and hard work. I will have to process it more (and manufacture some extra time) before I write about it, but meantimes, here’s something about school, parenting, and where each belongs in a child’s life.

So, last week I went to Firstborn’s school for a “consultation evening” on homework. I’m not a big fan of homework. Firstborn is five, just starting her second year at primary school, and can’t reliably put her shoes on the right feet. She needs to work on eating without becoming the centre of a Saturnian ring of debris; she needs to spend time processing the complex emotional transactions of friendship; she needs to build stuff with Lego. And I need to chat with her, cuddle, cook, sing, argue, read, bounce, tidy, garden, build dens, prod worms, and rattle sticks along railings.

This is really what I wanted to say to her headteacher. But when all the other parents laughed at the idea that “some parents think there should be no homework at all,” I realised that it wasn’t going to be the place or time. Instead, it was the place to discuss what parents can doat home to “support” what their children were doing in school. We can let them handle the money while out shopping, to support numeracy work in school. And here I was thinking they did numeracy work in school so they could operate in the outside world (among other things).

But who could possibly argue against reading with your child in the evening? Who could say it’s bad to make musical instruments out of plastic bottles? Well, me. Because, for a start, I find it pretty difficult to comply with Firstborn’s homework regime all the time. We can’t read every night with her – sometimes she’s throwing a tantrum, sometimes she’s too tired, sometimes we’re in the middle of an awesome book that doesn’t feature bloody Biff, Chip and Kipper, and we’d rather get on with that. And sometimes I’m exhausted or busy or dealing with her small brother. Sometimes I’m handling both of them creating drama and Partner is out; sometimes we’re having a great evening singing together (scatting is their most favourite thing at the moment). Sometimes I’ve dumped them in front of the TV and gone to my bedroom to read so I don’t thump them. And we are a pretty well-functioning household: two parents, both literate and healthy; two children, both without particular additional difficulties. So what happens to homework when things aren’t so straightforward?

But the point is that this is life and school is part of it. And I am their mother. I’m not an adjunct to their teacher. Yes, I could get their teacher to use her clout to make Firstborn comply with her homework better,as someone suggested at the consultation. But I don’t actually want to. I don’t want her to be compliant with the orders from her workplace even when she’s at home. I want her to know that life is about a million different things. And, maybe in the school-centric, achievement-focussed world all those other parents inhabit, I’m selfish, but I also want to be just simply her mother, not her teacher’s enforcer.

Besides, I’m raising rebels. They shouldn’t assume I’m on their side without question and reservation.

In the end, I wrote on one of the bits of paper with the carefully-framed questions: “sometimes it’s just parenting, you know?” and felt like I was on the wrong planet.


Job-sharing MPs? Yes please.

10 September, 2010

(Just a note – I love my RebelRaising identity, but have lots to say about things other than parenting, so I’ve decided to revive this blog for all of those things. Parenting, (green, feminist, radical) politics, and possibly some knitting.)

This post started as a comment to Stephen Glenn on this post, entitled “Is Job Sharing MPs Idea Sexist?”. Green Party of England and Wales leader Caroline Lucas has proposed that MPs be able to jobshare. Stephen argues that it’s retrograde to suggest that “offering women part-time jobs” is the best way to retain/ get talented women into Parliament(s). So here’s what started as a comment to that.

What a load of nonsense. Other people with caseloads job-share all the time – doctors, nurses, therapists, teachers. And MPs already have constituency workers who form part of the team on constituency cases; ministers likewise have civil servants in their teams (some of whom might be job-sharing). If it would be completely impossible for someone else to take over your job if you fell under a bus, you’re doing your job wrong.

As for “demeaning to women”, what’s demeaning to women is saying that, because we have the Equal Pay Act, we should just pull ourselves together and participate in the all-hours, all-consuming job world, when the reality is that it is still women who do most of the household and childcare work. It might be nice if this were not the case (though in my two-female-adults household, I’m not sure what the other options are, apart from maybehiring a houseboy), but I don’t see why we should be willing to wait for utopia before women can have tolerable lives as parliamentarians. And what is demeaning to both men and women who want a life alongside work is to suggest that this doesn’t have the potential to make them people with richer experience, and hence better representatives of their constituents.

Two problems: parliaments demand unreasonable things from their members; and women are, on average, dispropotioantely unable to meet those unreasonable demands.

Personally, I think that even if job-sharing were only a part-time stop-gap to get women able to meet the demands of an M(S)P job until we reach that glorious utopia where everything is equal, it would be worth doing. Saying “but there shouldn’t be sexism, so we won’t do anything to address its real effects here and now” is just nonsense.

But more importantly, I think, why should it be the business of women and others who are unwilling to give up their lives to this all-consuming job to “get over it” and do so? Isn’t there a problem with Parliament(s) if standing for them is something ordinary folks with family commitments and hobbies cannot consider? Doesn’t it lead to a Parliament full of weirdos and anoraks? Now, I’m both a weirdo and an anorak myself at times, but even if I could get and afford someone else to mind my kids all day every day, evenings and weekends as well, I would actually not want to do that. But I think I’d be a pretty good representative, both in Parliament and as a caseworker and in all those other things M(S)Ps do. You might disagree (and indeed, the people of Edinburgh North and Leith did disagree this May, placing me a (fairly respectable) 5th. Love y’all anyway.) but surely you can think of someone who would?

Let’s release the Parliamentary potential of a much wider part of society – disproportionately but not exclusively women. Support Caroline Lucas’s proposals.


Bountiful/ Bounty-less

15 March, 2010

I was reading this excellent post from Fertile Feminism about the pernicious “Bounty lady” on postnatal wards in the UK, when something I’d been wondering about clicked.

The pack contains a few inoffensive and even useful things, certainly — Child Benefit and Child Trust Fund forms

Oh. Is that where everyone else got them? I had both my babies at home and nobody, ever, has mentioned child benefit to me, or explained how to get it. What with general new-baby blur and, in both cases, postnatal depression, it was months before I managed to get into town to an open post office, locate a form, fill it in and send off the documentation. In both cases, I lost some money because of my late application. And if I’d grown up in another country, there’s no reason why, to this day, I’d know that I was even entitled to Child Benefit.

So, I’d been thinking this was a sad state of affairs for an allegedly “universal” benefit: that it was available only to mothers who knew about it, and could manage to go through the several steps of obtaining it while dealing with a tiny baby. Turns out the reality is perhaps more bothersome: the distribution of benefits information is left to commercial interests in maternity hospitals, and not provided at all to home-birthing mothers. Why isn’t it given when you register your child’s birth, an experience that actually is universal? Hmm.


Stonewall and Nestle: ethical consumerism and its discontents.

10 November, 2009

On 6th November, Stonewall‘s e-bulletin to supporters included this PS in the introductory letter from its Chief Executive, Ben Summerskill:

There was one encouraging footnote to the Jan Moir incident. Top advertisers including BT, M&S and Nestle led the way removing their advertisements from the Daily Mail website which featured the article in protest. At Stonewall we believe in ethical consumerism, supporting those businesses which support us. So if you have the chance, please switch to BT, pop into M&S or buy a Kit Kat this week!

(Note: the Jan Moir incident, for those who might have not noticed/ forgotten.)

I’d be surprised if many people reading here have never heard of the Nestle boycott. For those who haven’t, the Baby Milk Action website and the Boycott Nestle blog are a great place to start. In short, though, Nestle are among the worst offenders of artificial baby milk manufacturers for breaking international agreements and violating simple morality to undermine breastfeeding and sell expensive and risky artificial milk, in both the developed and developing worlds. Their actions, over several decades, have made them the most boycotted company in the world.

Yes, they may have requested to remove a single advert from a single piece of vile homophobic writing; this doesn’t undo their complicity in the deaths of infants. And if Stonewall think that supporters of LGBT equality care nothing for the lives of babies or for ethical consumerism in any other sphere of life, I really, really hope they’ll be disappointed. Let’s not live up to the bullshit image that queer rights is all about rich white Western gay men. We want freedom for all, including the freedom to live healthily.

Please, folks, let them know how disappointed and angry you are about this. The email address they make public is info@stonewall.org.uk, or their phone number is on the website linked above. They also use Twitter on @stonewalluk.